SAMPSON       My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back thee.

GREGORY       How, turn thy back and run?

SAMPSON       Fear me not.

GREGORY       No, marry, I fear thee!

SAMPSON       Let us take the law of our sides, let them begin.

GREGORY       I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as they list.

SAMPSON       Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them if they bear it. (1.1.29-36)

Sampson is now transparent: despite his much-vaunted naked weapon, he wants Gregory to pick the fight; he is all say and no do, all mouth and no trousers (as it were), a coward. (The degree to which words are to be backed with blows, embodied, performed is one which will be central to the play, at all levels of the characters and plot.) Gregory not only doesn’t fear him, but rather doesn’t trust him, doubts him. And while Gregory remains the one who can see the ridiculous in the situation – he is going to pull a scary face – Sampson continues blind to bathos. To bite my thumb may well be an obscene gesture, but part of the joke here is that the tiny, impotent phallus is obviously Sampson’s own as much as it is implied to relate to those whom he seeks to insult.

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