The Boys of Bawdy-Town: Signor Love and Monsieur Melancholy

[EXPLICIT CONTENT AHEAD… SKIP IF EASILY OFFENDED] OK, let’s start off by saying that despite Eric Partridge calling As You Like It a “comparative(ly) innocuous” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge Classics, 2001; page 58), the play is not completely clean… as we shall see…]

A few days back, when we dipped our toe in the bawdy pool for As You Like It, we focused on the ladies, Celia and Rosalind. Today, let’s splash around a little with Signor Love, Orlando, and Monsieur Melancholy, Jaques.

When Rosalind give Orlando the chain after the wrestling match, he cannot respond:

Can I not say, I thank you? My better parts
Are all thrown down, and that which here stands up
Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block.
  • I.ii.236-8

Can you say “erection”? I thought you could.

While one interpretation of this is that he’s “a mere lifeless block” unable to speak, there’s another, greasier interpretation. His “better parts”–his faculties, judgment–are all “thrown down,” but he has one part “which here stands up” and it’s a quintain, or “a stout post” (“quintain, n.; 1”: OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 31 July 2014.). He’s got a part that’s up, a post.

When Jaques tells Duke Senior of his meeting of a fool in the forest (Touchstone), he recounts the conversation:

Good morrow, fool,’ quoth I. ‘No, sir,’ quoth he,
‘Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune:’
And then he drew a dial from his poke,
And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, ‘It is ten o’clock:
Thus we may see,’ quoth he, ‘how the world wags:
‘Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’
  • II.vii.18-28

In and of itself, not too dirty. But it can be in its performance. If you’ve had the chance to check out the excellent Shakespeare’s Globe presentation, directed by Thea Sharrock, you’ve seen the bawdy twist her Jaques, Tim McMullen, gives the speech. Here, the angle of the clock’s hour hand are pantomimed as the angle of a standing erection, growing from ten to eleven, until after a gestured orgasm, it “hangs (like) a tale.”

Of course, Duke Senior’s response to the story and Jaques’ subsequent stated wish to be a fool and wear motley, is less than supportive. Allowing Jaques to play the fool would be a

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin:
For thou thyself hast been a libertine,
As sensual as the brutish sting itself;
And all the embossed sores and headed evils,
That thou with licence of free foot hast caught,
Wouldst thou disgorge into the general world.
  • II.vii.64-69

It’s bad enough that Jaques is melancholic, but his history of being a libertine (“A person (typically a man) who is not restrained by morality, esp. with regard to sexual relations; a person of dissolute or promiscuous habits.” [“libertine, n.; 3” OED Online]) means that he wouldn’t be sharing his wit so much as the venereal diseases (“embossed sores and headed evils”) he has caught over his years.

Compare our last entry’s female bawdiness (indirect references to the results of sex) to these examples of male bawdiness (hard-ons and [the Elizabethan equivalent of] herpes).

Of course, nothing of this compares to the king of As You Like It’s king of horniness: Touchstone… but we’ll leave that for another day…

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