Much Ado About … the End of Bawdy: A Pike, a Vice, Hard Horns, and the Big Brain on Benedick

ONE LAST WARNING: as this concerns the further bawdiness of Much Ado About Nothing, you are forewarned that this blog entry will contain some nudge-nudge wink-wink, adult language, and sophomoric sensibilities… skip to the next (and undoubtedly) cleaner entry, if you’re quickly offended or blush too easily…

When we last left the Much Ado About Nothing bawdy-ville, Claudio had sucked all the wink-wink from our nudge-nudge. Luckily, after the villains (well, Borachio at least) have been captured, the prince and Claudio chastened, and Hero’s name cleansed, we can get back to some good ol’ dirty talk.

In Act Five, Scene Two, Benedick is working on a sonnet for Beatrice (without much success), and asks Margaret for assistance. When she asks if he will then will write one for her, Benedick responds,

In so high a style, Margaret, that no man living shall come over it; for, in most comely truth, thou deservest it.
MARGARET
To have no man come over me! why, shall I always keep below stairs?
BENEDICK
Thy wit is as quick as the greyhound’s mouth; it catches.
MARGARET
And yours as blunt as the fencer’s foils, which hit, but hurt not.
BENEDICK
A most manly wit, Margaret; it will not hurt a woman: and so, I pray thee, call Beatrice: I give thee the bucklers.
MARGARET
Give us the swords; we have bucklers of our own.
BENEDICK
If you use them, Margaret, you must put in the pikes with a vice; and they are dangerous weapons for maids.
  • V.ii.6-22

While Benedick means that no man will be able to outdo (“come over”) his style, Margaret spins it into a decidedly dirtier direction: in the second half of the statement, she (cleanly) means “Will I always be living in the servants quarters?” (downstairs), but in the first half of the statement, she uses a seemingly more modern meaning for “come”: an orgasm (“come”, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge, 2008; pages 102); and “come over” is to have sex with (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 103).

Benedick catches her meaning, and compliments her quick wit, comparing it to a greyhound, to which she responds that his wit is more like a “blunt…fencer’s foil, which hit but hurt not” (V.ii.13-4). Now this can be either flirty-mean (with the sword/phallus connotation), or just mean-mean (Benedick is dull). Regardless, Benedick deflects the response, saying that his wit is a manly one, so that he would never hurt a woman, and says that he will “give (her) the bucklers” (V.ii.16-7), or shields to protect her from his sword.

Margaret’s response is purely yet subtly bawdy: she (and all women) already have bucklers, vulvas (“sword and bucklers”, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 254) or hymens (a membrane type of shield for virgins) ; what she (and all women) want is swords, or cocks. At this point, Benedick seemingly gives up on trying to respond chastely and responds that if she’s going to be that way, she’ll need to put the cocks (pikes) in the pussy (vice, or screw-hole in the center of the shield where the phallic pike is attached). And with that dirty rejoinder, she’s satisfied, and she exits to get Beatrice (and to possibly smoke a cigarette).

As Benedick waits for Beatrice, he ponders his lack of poetical skills, delineating all the poor rhymes he has devised including, “for ‘scorn,’ ‘horn’ — a hard rhyme” (V.ii.37-8). Needless to say, since learning of Beatrice’s feelings for him, Benedick has had a perpetual hard horn.

Beatrice arrives, they begin their merry skirmishes, but as their tone softens, they receive the good news of the discovered conspiracy. When she asks if Benedick will go with her to her uncle’s, he responds that he is hers, “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes” (V.ii.95-6), which sounds clean enough, until you remember (as we mentioned in our last discussion of bawd-ily functions) that “to die” had another meaning. He wants to have an orgasm in her lap.

As the final scene’s better wedding (at least compared to Act Four, Scene One’s) nears, Benedick attempts to ask Leonato and the friar for assistance in marrying Beatrice, but the mere concept of it has thrown his diction and syntax for a loop:

But, for my will, my will is your good will
May stand with ours, this day to be conjoin’d
In the state of honorable marriage:
In which, good friar, I shall desire your help.
  • V.iv.28-31

Beyond some awkward meter in those last two lines, there’s a whole lot of “will” (sexual desire) there, plus a “stand” … looks like the little head, his hard horn, is messing with the big brain on Benedick.

The worst part for him is that it’s apparent to all. Don Pedro and Claudio see Benedick’s “February face, // So full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness” (V.iv.41-2), and conclude it must be love and that he “thinks upon the savage bull” (V.iv.43), the one same savage bull Benedick referenced in the play’s first scene, the one whose horns should be “set in (his) forehead; and let (him) be vilely painted…’Here you may see Benedick the married man'” (I.i.250-1, 253-4). Claudio even goes so far to tell Benedick, “All Europa shall rejoice at thee, // As once Europa did at lusty Jove” (V.iv.45-6), saying that the entire continent of Europe will rejoice at Benedick’s love just as the Phoenician princess Europa did when Jove when he seduced her (or ravished her) in the form a a bull.

Horns, bulls, and ravishings. All’s well that ends bawdy.

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