The Bawdy of Julius Caesar (wait, what bawdy?)

Eric Partridge, in his (pretty much indispensable) work on the racy bits of the Bard, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, says of our current play under discussion, Julius Caesar:

After Richard II, the cleanest historical play; and cleaner even than A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest
  • Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge, 2008; pages 55

No lie, Mr. Partridge.

The only bit of anything remotely bawdy I can find happens in the first couple of dozen lines in the play. When the commoners crack wise to the tribunes Flavius and Murellus, the cobbler says,

Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl. I meddle with no tradesman’s matters nor women’s matters
  • I.i.21-3

So, an awl is a long pointy instrument, definitely phallic. In Shakespeare’s day, one of the meanings for meddle was “To have sexual intercourse (with)” (“matter, n.I.4” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 20 November 2014.). And “matter” could be seen as an innuendo for genitals (at least that’s what the footnote in the Pelican Shakespeare edition I’m using states). However, the cobbler says he does NOT meddle with his awl. So that’s pretty thin.

And that’s it. That’s all (awl) I can find.

Needless to say, there will be no “parental discretion advised” podcast for Julius Caesar

2 thoughts on “The Bawdy of Julius Caesar (wait, what bawdy?)”

  1. The “voluntary wound” may also refer to her willing sexual congress with Brutus. The word “thigh” is often a euphemism for the genitals.

    1. Very true, it may… especially since–though it’s not stated in Shakespeare–Portia and Brutus had a child after this point in their history together…she could have been pregnant at this time (which, of course, would not have happened without “sexual congress”).

      It’s important to remember, though, in the Plutarch source material, he does go into much greater detail on Portia’s self-injury:

      She took a little knife, such as barbers use to cut the finger nails, and after banishing all her attendants from her chamber, made a deep gash in her thigh, so that there was a copious flow of blood, and after a little while violent pains and chills and fever followed from the wound.

      –Lives, Brutus: 29074

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