Richard Knows Where the Bawdy’s Buried

[WARNING: This blog entry rated R for sex and language… proceed with caution!]

Allrightythen, it’s time for our monthly excursion into the sophomoric, our trip to Bawdy-ville!

Here are some nuggets:

Act One, Scene Four:

As York is surrounded by Clifford and Margaret’s forces, he mutters to them, “I am your butt, and I abide your shot” (I.iv.30).  The clean way of interpretation has butt meaning “shooting target” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0])… of course, the bawdy way is butt as we most regularly see it today, the buttocks; in other words, York is ready to be screwed (figuratively), a kind of late sixteenth-century version of FML.

learned that one from my teen son… look it up

[CONTENT REDACTED: In this blog entry, I made reference to Dr. Pauline Kiernan’s work and book on bawdy in the Bard, Filthy Shakespeare; in doing so, I have offended her by my tone and use of her material. I apologize for the offense, and have thus redacted the reference.]

Act Two, Scene One:

After Richard and Edward witness the “wondrous strange” (II.i.33) rise of three suns, Edward says that henceforth he will put three “fair-shining suns” (II.i.40) on his shield.  Richard responds, “Nay, bear three daughters — by your leave I speak it: // You love the breeder better than the male” (II.i.41), punning suns with sons, and making the semi-dirty joke that Edward (remember “wanton” Edward) likes to bear–weight as in sex (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 78)–daughters (“breeder(s)”).

Act Two, Scene Two:

When Edward demands that Henry kneel to him, Margaret responds, “Go, rate thy minions, proud insulting boy!” (II.ii.84).  While minions can refer to “a favorite of a sovereign,” it can also mean “a lover” (both OED)… again, wanton Edward.

[CONTENT REDACTED: In this blog entry, I made reference to Dr. Pauline Kiernan’s work and book on bawdy in the Bard, Filthy Shakespeare; in doing so, I have offended her by my tone and use of her material. I apologize for the offense, and have thus redacted the reference.]

Edward then goes on to berate Margaret:


Helen of Greece was fairer far than thou,
Although thy husband may be Menelaus;
And ne'er was Agamemnon's brother wronged
By that false woman, as this king by thee.

— II.ii.146

remember there was some doubt (unspoken, but extant) as to who really fathered Prince Edward… Henry always seemed a dubious donor of sperm…

Here, Edward insults Margaret by comparing her to mythic Helen.  Of course, Helen was more beautiful than Margaret, but in this comparison, Helen is also a wanton woman, one who has wronged Menelaus, her husband, and made him a cuckold.  By saying this, not only is Edward impugning Margaret’s character, but also the paternity of her son.

Act Three, Scene Two:

During Lady Grey’s petition to Edward, Richard and George carry on a series of bawdy asides:

Richard says of her, “I see the lady hath a thing to grant, // Before the king will grant her humble suit” (III.ii.12-13).  Richard is being both ambiguous and dirty here: thing could just that, an item or request, or it could be “pudenda” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy; page 259); Richard intimates that Lady Grey has her pussy to grant to Edward.

After her request, Lady Grey wants to know her answer quickly:

LADY GREY
May it please your highness to resolve me now;
And what your pleasure is, shall satisfy me.

RICHARD
[Aside to GEORGE]
Ay, widow? then I’ll warrant you all your lands,
An if what pleases him shall pleasure you.
Fight closer, or, good faith, you’ll catch a blow.

GEORGE
[Aside to RICHARD]
I fear her not, unless she chance to fall.
yield to copulation

— III.ii.19-24

She wants to know what his pleasure, or will is; but as we shall see below, will–and thus, pleasure–can mean sexual desire as well.   Richard knows his brother, though; she’ll get her lands if she “pleases” Edward.  She must fight him off, Richard says, or she’ll “catch a blow” or feel a “sexual thrust” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy; page 84).  George doesn’t fear for her, though, not unless she “fall” in either stumbling in her suit, or “yield(ing) to copulation” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy; page 131).

After Edward asks Lady Grey how many children she has, we hear:

GEORGE
[Aside to RICHARD]
I think he means to beg a child of her.

RICHARD
[Aside to GEORGE]
Nay, whip me then: he’ll rather give her two.

LADY GREY
Three, my most gracious lord.

RICHARD
[Aside to GEORGE]
You shall have four, if you’ll be ruled by him.

— III.ii.27-30

George thinks Edwards is “beg(ging) a child of her” which can mean one of two things: either asking her to allow him to take the child as a ward (which could be a way of making money off the child), or ask her to have his child (demanding sex).  Richard has another idea: maybe Edward will give Lady Grey two children, presumably bastards from his “wanton” days.  When she responds that she has three children, Richard goes back to George’s idea: Edward will give her a fourth child through sex.

When the brothers can see that the petition has come to some kind of conclusion, Richard says, “The ghostly father now hath done his shrift” to which George responds, “When he was made a shriver, ’twas for shift” (III.ii.107-108).  Richard ironically and perversely compares Edward finishing hearing Lady Grey’s petition to a priest hearing confession.  George jokes that when Edward is made a priest or confessor (a shriver), it is only for “shift.”  Shift has two meanings here: “a jest” or “women’s underclothing” (both OED).  Edward is either doing this as a joke, or to get into Lady Grey’s panties.

Hmmm, if Edward is so wanton, which do you think?

When Edward leaves with an admonition that the lords “use (Lady Grey) honorably” (III.ii.123), Richard–now left alone–virtually drips with disgust:

Ay, Edward will use women honorably.
Would he were wasted, marrow, bones and all,
That from his loins no hopeful branch may spring,
To cross me from the golden time I look for!
And yet, between my soul's desire and me--
The lustful Edward's title buried--
Is Clarence, Henry, and his son young Edward,
And all the unlooked-for issue of their bodies,

— III.ii.124-131

His first attack is ironic and sarcastic and on his own brother.  Edward will “use women honorably,” not just Lady Grey… and the use Richard has in mind is less than honorable.  In fact, his next line outlines the results of such dishonorable use: “wasted, marrow, bones and all” by venereal disease because of his “lustful” behavior.  Then, when he names the line of succession between him and the throne (“the golden time [he] look[s] for”), they aren’t people so much as “issue” from “loins”… they’re all nothing but ejaculate…premature (“unlooked-for”) at that.  And Richard will have none of it.

Act Four, Scene One:

When George attempts to tell Edward that there may be repercussions to his choice of Lady Grey as a wife, Edward responds, “I am Edward, // Your king and Warwick’s, and must have my will” (IV.i.15-16).  Sure, Edward will have his way, but he is also saying that he will have his “powerful, sexual desire” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy; page 284) or lust satisfied.

Now, those are all pretty straightforward.  Let’s up the degree of difficulty and try something really demented, shall we?

Act Five, Scene Five:

After Prince Edward has been killed by the York brothers, Margaret yearns for death (and remember, death had an alternate meaning for Shakespeare’s audience):

QUEEN MARGARET
Nay, never bear me hence, dispatch me here,
Here sheathe thy sword, I'll pardon thee my death:
What, wilt thou not? then, Clarence, do it thou.

GEORGE
By heaven, I will not do thee so much ease.

QUEEN MARGARET
Good Clarence, do; sweet Clarence, do thou do it.

GEORGE
Didst thou not hear me swear I would not do it?

QUEEN MARGARET
Ay, but thou usest to forswear thyself:
‘Twas sin before, but now ’tis charity.

— V.v.68-75

admittedly, this is a real stretch… but go with me…

Queen Margaret has nothing going for her now.  Her husband? Deposed.  Her son? Dead.  She’s always wanted power.  Now she’s had it stripped from her.  What could regain for her some sense of power?  Another heir, especially one from the ruling family.  “Sheathe thy sword”: a wonderfully sexualized image of a phallic weapon to be slid into her.  Her “death” in orgasm.  George won’t “do (her) so much ease”… is she reclined and splayed, urging him to mount her?  She implores him as “sweet”… enticing?  What was “sin before … now ’tis charity.”  She wants a pity-f#ck, in hopes of producing another heir.

We’ve seen her use sexualized language before in multiple occasions.  So the stretch here, while large, is not unimaginable.  And to turn her from the overly-masculine butch queen she has been in this play to a Joan-like French whore (“She-wolf”) would take only some carefully chosen phrases and a desire to read into them.

and I’m just the man to do it…

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