Monday, June 30, 2008

The Bawdy Bard

A quick note to all my dear readers. You are in for a devious treat! We have a surprise guest blogger with us today, Maire Jolie, my brilliant critique partner. As I am currently on vacation, I am away from all my books and resources, so I pulled in the next best resource I have...Maire!
Please leave her a commentary and do be warned. This is not your mother's Shakespeare....
Delilah Marvelle

First and foremost, thanks Delilah for inviting me to post! I love this blog and love working with you. So without further ado, onto today’s post.

What, with my tongue in your tail?
The Taming of The Shrew

It’s epidemic. This time of year, Shakespeare is everywhere and outdoors. It’s finally glorious summer and thousands of fans head out to the green grasses, plunk their bums down on the hard ground, crack out the wine and sit back and revel in the fabulous magic and bloody (sometimes quite literally) good wit of this long gone playwright. I myself am fortunate enough to work behind the scenes of one of our countries fine Shakespeare festivals. And yet, I am here today to discuss my favorite part of the bard. His baaaadness. Will was a very, very naughty boy who liked to get down and get dirty.
In the grand tradition of academia, Shakespeare devotees fall into two camps. Those who read and those who do. The ideas of the two groups are continually at war what with iambic pentameter, plosives, assonance, etc. etc. Those who read, glory in Shakespeare’s poetic form. Those who do, well, they have a tendency to like to rock and roll with the more cheeky parts. Sadly, most high school students, and I dare say victims of university literary professors (though not all) are subject to what I like to call purists.

Webster defines a purist as someone who believes in the “strict observance of or insistence on precise usage or on application of formal, often pedantic rules.” Acck! Why would you want to apply this to Shakespeare? And yet, countless people around the globe insist on the purity of Shakespeare’s form, the use of his scansion, and the fact that there is only one way to do Hamlet. I ask you, would Shakespeare’s plays have survived so long if there were only one way to do them . . . and if they didn’t have lots of naughty bits? As Benedick says in Much Ado About Nothing, “No! The world must be peopled!” And though Shakespeare only had three children (the first conceived out of wedlock and with what today we might call a cougar) he certainly liked to write about copulation. And from his sonnets and plays there’s no doubt he probably had a lot of experience with it.
For those of you who think of Shakespeare as boring, posturing, and pompous, I give you Sonnet 135.

Sonnet 135
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I, that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

Innocent enough right? Its beautiful, it has sonnet form. It scans. Mwahahahaha. Now. Read it again. And at *Will* replace Will with penis and or vagina. See how it reads then. Or if you want the easy way out, courtesy of No Fear Shakespeare:

Sonnet 135

Other women may have their little desires, but you have your Will , and another Will as well, and more Will than you need. I, who am constantly pestering you for sex, am more than enough to satisfy you, adding another willing penis to the Will you already have. Since your sexual desires (and vagina) are both so enormous, won't you agree just once to let me put my desire inside yours? Are you going to be attracted to everyone else's will (penis), but reject mine? The sea is entirely made of water, but it still accepts additional water whenever it rains. So you, who already have a William, should in addition to your lover William accept my will (penis), making your sexual appetite (or vagina), which is already huge, even huger. Don't kill an eager seducer by being unkind to him. Treat all your lovers as a single lover, and accept me (and my part) as part of that lover.

Anybody need a fan? How often does your guy offer you his penis to please your enormous desire when ever you want and how often you want? Hmm? But in all honesty, during the Elizabethan/early Stuart period, Will was synonymous with penis, sometimes vagina, and sometimes also desire. Interestingly, enough ring frequently meant vagina which gave a whole new meaning to the guys giving their wives’ rings away in The Merchant of Venice. Try reading the end of that play with that new view. And nothing quite literally could mean No Thing. And well ladies, you really have no thing, right? So Much Ado About Nothing might be translated as Much Ado About Vaginas and given the nature of the play that wouldn’t surprise me if that’s exactly what it meant, and people in that period certainly would have known about the dirty little joke.
It doesn’t come close to stopping here. We could take a walk through the never ending double entendre of The Taming of the Shrew but instead, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at Shakespeare’s opinion on virginity.
Okay, so when he wrote the dad parts, there’s no question; girls were to keep their legs locked firmly together and any opening of them would condemn said daughter to the fiery pits of hell. However, when Shakespeare wrote the young guy parts his opinion on virginity did a 180. Romeo can’t stand it that Rosalind won’t give it up. And frankly, when Juliet sends him off, he wants to know why she “will leave (him) so unsatisfied.” But the real coup de grace, the one that takes it all is from All’s Well That End’s Well. So, I’ll leave you with this saucy section with Parolles and Helena.

Virginity being blown down, man will quicklier be
blown up: marry, in blowing him down again, with
the breach yourselves made, you lose your city. It
is not politic in the commonwealth of nature to
preserve virginity. Loss of virginity is rational
increase and there was never virgin got till
virginity was first lost. That you were made of is
metal to make virgins. Virginity by being once lost
may be ten times found; by being ever kept, it is
ever lost: 'tis too cold a companion; away with 't!

I will stand for 't a little, though therefore I die a virgin.

There's little can be said in 't; 'tis against the
rule of nature. To speak on the part of virginity,
is to accuse your mothers; which is most infallible
disobedience. He that hangs himself is a virgin:
virginity murders itself and should be buried in
highways out of all sanctified limit, as a desperate
offen dress against nature. Virginity breeds mites,
much like a cheese; consumes itself to the very
paring, and so dies with feeding his own stomach.
Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle, made of
self-love, which is the most inhibited sin in the
canon. Keep it not; you cannot choose but loose
by't: out with 't! within ten year it will make
itself ten, which is a goodly increase; and the
principal itself not much the worse: away with 't!

So, I’m not a fan of losing my virginity (though I can’t exactly lose what I’ve already lost :D) just to get more virgins, i.e. have children. But hail Shakespeare for declaring it a cold companion. Have a closer look at this scene Act 1, sc1 with No Fear Shakespeare.
Thanks for the chance to chat about the bard with you all!


Kris Kennedy said...


What fun! Thanks so much for the lesson.

It feels like another example of how we humans so love to take something amazing, something w/ so much verve and applicability, and turn it into dogma~~The One Right Way to do Shakespeare. Without sex or even innuendo.

A pox upon them!



Eliza Knight said...

Thanks for the awesome post Maire!

I thoroughly enjoyed it! And I do remember while reading Shakespear in high school and college wondering about such things... I did actually have one teacher who pointed out the double entrendres, and it all made so much more sense.

Here-Here! For the naughty Shakespeare!


Lenora Bell said...

Wow, Maire, that was such a great post! How cool that you work for a Shakespeare festival. I'm sure they approve of your bawdy romance writing alter ego. I love the word bawdy. I want to use it every day.

Thanks again!

xoxo --lenora

Maire Jolie said...

I am so glad you're all enjoying it! And yes, I do think it is in human nature to try and create rules and restrict things. Sad but true. That is why it us up to us merry makers to prevail and bring naughtiness back into the world!

Maire J

Maire Jolie said...

Ahem. I forgot to mention that yes, I agree. A pox upon them indeed!

I very much enjoy the word bawdy myself and it pretty awesome to be a part of putting together Shakespeare's plays for outdoor performance. Challenging but wonderful.

The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick said...

I love the Bard! I have a framed brass rubbing and stone bust of him in my living room. I love that even way back then, he had a clever and wild side to his writing.

Maire Jolie said...

He certainly could be crazy and wild. And he was definitely willing to push the envelope in plot, emotion, and relationships. That's so great about the bust and brass rubbing. Have you been to Stratford. Its so much fun there especially around his birthday when the flowers are out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Maire: Delilah suggested I post this comment which I made on the Beau Monde loop.
When I taught high school, I insisted that students either buy an unexpurgated version of any of the plays or get one from a library as all textbooks cut lines or left off the footnotes on Elisabethan slang. I contend that if you are not old enough to read the plays or poems as the Bard wrote them, you are not old enough to read Shakespeare period. I don't suppose I could get away with that now, but I sure would try. Explaining, as someone said above, is important to understanding the plays or the poems. If you cut out, as textbooks do, all references to sex in HAMLET, how does the student understand what is driving the prince crazy about his mother's marriage to his uncle? ARRGH! Well, at least that is my opinion - and Delilah's also. Any comments anyone?

Anonymous said...

Well it would certainly cut out serious dimensions of the plays. Particularly Hamlet. It just shows that negating one of the main aspects of humanity just won't work. Shakespeare adequately reflects humanity and to cut out the sex is to deny humanity.

I think children can be introduced to the themes of Shakespeare, but I do get a little iffy when parents and or their children then assume they understand the plays. I knew a group of 5th graders that did a production of Macbeth. One of the mothers, a librarian, claimed that the children understood it perfectly. I wonder. . .

Fabulous comments