… is an odd construction. We don’t say “Joy on you”, or “Pride on you”.*
I speculate (please correct me if you know better) that it’s a saying with deep roots – from a time when shame was a more powerful – almost tangible – thing.
We most often use it as a kind of reproach intended to change someone’s feelings when we think they should feel ashamed but apparently don’t – equivalent to “You ought to be ashamed.”
But said in different ways it could be…
Descriptive or observational: “I see you’ve got some shame on you.” (I imagine a caveman observing this: “Shame. On you.”)
An invocation: “You apparently have no shame… but with these words I am putting shame on you.” (I don’t care if you feel it – there is now shame on you.)
An accusation or apportioning of blame: “There is shame on us, but it’s your fault – this one’s on you.”
I find myself wondering about this last one, and our ancestors. What shame would you apportion to them?
A Message from Shakespeare
Duke of York: York would have lost his life, before
France should have revolted from England’s rule.
Duke of Somerset: Aye, so thou mightst, and yet have governed worse than I.
York: What, worse than naught? Then a shame take all.
Somerset: Shame on thyself, that wisheth shame.
Queen: Somerset, forbear; good York, be patient…Shakespeare – Henry VI (Alternative Quarto text)
What sort of ancestor will you be?
Once we’ve got shame on us, how do we get it off?
*In the more – and better, more evidenced – speculation here on Stack Exchange that I came across while writing this, we’re reminded that the Aussies do indeed say “Good on you.”**
**…to which all of the readings above can also be applied.