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Published 1 October 2007

Shakespeare on Football

In King Lear, Act I, Scene IV, 76-84, there is the following dialogue:

Lear:
"O! you sir, you, come you hither, sir.
Who am I, sir?
Oswald:
My Lady’s father.
Lear:
’My Lady’s Father!’ my Lord’s knave: you whore-son dog! you slave! you cur!
Oswald:
I am none of these, my Lord; I beseech your pardon.
Lear:
Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal? [Striking him]
Oswald:
I’ll not be strucken, my Lord.
Kent:
Nor tripp’d neither, you base foot-ball player. [Tripping up his heels]

We can thus see that one of the most violent insults of the time was to call someone a football player! [1]

I tend to think that, on the whole, Shakespeare got this point, like so many others, right on...

Notes

[1The footnote to this passage in my Arden edition of King Lear, edited by Kenneth Muir, reads :
Football was regarded as a low game in Shakespeare’s day. It was played by idle boys in the streets to the great annoyance of the citizens.