Quips, Retorts, and Reproofs in Shakespeare

I was just reading Shakespeare’s As You Like It (because that’s the kind of classy guy I am) when I got tripped up on some of Touchstone’s dialogue in Act V, scene iv, but after giving the matter some thought, I think I’ve figured it out. Of course, Shakespeare scholars will likely say either A) Duh! or B) that I got it completely wrong, but anyone who’s in a high school English class and found this post by Googling something like “Shakespeare WTF?” or “As You Like It Touchstone” may find the following explanation edifying.

Here’s the passage in question:

                                                     I did dislike the
cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word,
if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the
mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous.
If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he
would send me word, he cut it to please himself:
this is called the Quip Modest. If again ‘it was
not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is
called the Reply Churlish. If again ‘it was not
well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this
is called the Reproof Valiant. If again ‘it was not
well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the
Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie
Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

And here’s my interpretation of different types of replies that Touchstone is talking about:

  • Retort Courteous: We agree to disagree.
  • Quip Modest: I don’t care what you think.
  • Reply Churlish: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • Reproof Valiant: You’re wrong.
  • Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: You’re lying.
  • Lie Circumstantial: You’re lying to suit your own ends.
  • Lie Direct: You’re an out and out liar.

In any case, I hope this is helpful for anyone out there who’s studying this play, reading it for fun, or planning to see a live production.

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