Who said that — Martin Luther or William Shakespeare?

Martin Luther, left, and William Shakespeare. Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(RNS) — Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther not only single-handedly sparked one of the major religious movements of all time, he was an endless fountain of pithy quotes and garrulous insults.

Exhibit one: the Luther Insult Generator, a delightful time-suck that spits out one inventive personal smear after another, each taken from Luther’s own writings.

“Even if your writings were from an angel from heaven I would take this horrible document, and, after having used it as toilet paper, wipe its nose” is a personal favorite.

But the grim-faced German was not the only man of his era who could spew sparkling, shocking prose with the best. England had a native son named William Shakespeare who could hold his own against all comers.

“Thou fusty elf-skinned bum-bailey!,” the Shakespearean Insult Generator produces. “Thou wimpled dismal-dreaming mumble-news!”

So here is an opportunity to match wits with the Great Reformer and the Great Bard, both scribbling away in the 16th century. Who produced the following quotes? The answers are at the end. No peeking, “you abominable abomination.” (Luther!)

Each section has two quotes, one by Luther and one by Shakespeare. Do you know which is which?

  • On marriage

  • On beer

  • On death

  • On politics

  • On God

  • On angels:

  • On women

  • On music

  • On the devil

  • On sin

  • On repentance

  • On heaven

  • On dogs

RNS graphic by Chris Mathews

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • The grading system is slightly skewed, 1-3, 4-6, 7-10(?), 10(?)-13; I was correct on 10, am I a vicar or a great reformer? My misses were #3 Death, #10 Sin, #12 Heaven. I wonder what that means psychologically.

  • You missed a golden opportunity for #14: “The Jews”
    (a) The Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.”
    (b) “To be ruled by my conscience, I should stay with the Jew my master,
    who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil; and, to
    run away from the Jew, I should be ruled by the
    fiend, who, saving your reverence, is the devil
    himself. Certainly the Jew is the very devil
    Always remember who we’re remembering.

  • I got 20 correct. I dislike poetry and know nothing of Protestant theology. How did I get 20 correct?

    Well, just look at the English style. Some teacher (I forgot the name) considered two sentences that mean the same thing, but have a different English style:

    Sentence 1 : There is no God but Allah.

    Sentence 2 : Islam is a religion of unqualified monotheism.

    English style like Sentence 1 => must be a poet

    English style like Sentence 2 => not a poet

  • And that’s too bad, if I were as gifted a textualist as Shakespeare, my body of work as a poet and literary artist would be far superior and of much greater volume.

  • I, knowing nothing of Luther, scored in the highest range. I simply recognized the rhythm and language of Shakespeare, and his residual Catholic thinking.