Lordy Lord Bawdy Bawd

It’s that time again, our monthly sophomoric drive into Bawdy-Town, our periodic thrusting into that warm, runny center of linguistic gooey goodness that is the naughty bits of (for this month, at least) The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

So here’s the usual warning: if you are easily (or not so easily) offended, stop reading now and proceed to tomorrow’s entry (these are not the excerpts you’re looking for…).

The naughty bits begin early enough, in Act One, Scene One, after Valentine leaves for Milan.  Proteus, alone, muses that Julia has

Made (him) neglect my studies, lose (his) time,
War with good counsel, set the world at nought;
Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.

— I.i.67-69

It’s not profane, barely bawdy… probably transparent for most readers.  The slippery word?  “nought” … which has multiple meanings, according to the Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0):

  • nothing
  • worthless
  • worthless character or conduct
  • bad or wicked (said of actions)
  • immoral

What’s even more interesting is nought’s soundalike brother: “naught” which can mean either “moral wrong” or “evil or wicked” (OED), and which is the basis for “naughty”: “obscene” (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 197).

and though I can’t find the reference at hand, I’ve always heard that the origin of the “naughty” meaning is a linking of evil to naught/nought, nothing, an emptiness, an empty vessel… the vagina … once again(?) linking women to evil (Eve and the apple, anyone?)

Like I said, this isn’t very dirty, but it does show a realization on the part of Proteus that love (or whatever Julia’s hold on him is) will set the world (and the world of our play) to wickedness.

kind of neat preamble for the bawdy, eh?

It doesn’t take long for bawdiness to take effect; within lines, Speed enters and we begin the naughtier references: “horns” (I.i.79) for cuckoldry; “laced mutton” (I.i.97) meaning “a prostitute” (Bawdy, 169); “stick” (I.i.101) meaning “to pierce or thrust” (OED), with the implication of thrusting with a penis; “noddy” (I.i.112) a play on “naughty”; and finally, “stones” (I.i.137) meaning both “precious stone(s)” AND “testicle(s)” (both OED).

We get a couple more sexualized references from Julia in the next scene.  Julia talks of “this foolish love” (I.ii.57) that will compel one to “kiss the rod” (I.ii.59).  While the surface meaning is the foolish kissing of the “instrument of punishment … one straight stick,” the alternate meaning of “A wand or staff (of wood, ivory, or metal) carried as a symbol of office, authority, or dignity” (both OED) is undeniably phallic.  Later, when she talks to Lucetta of the tune of “Light o’ Love,” she asks, “Heavy? Belike it hath some burden then?” (I.ii.85).  As we’ve noted before in earlier bawdy-fests, the term “burden” carries with it {“carries with it” … get it? heh heh} the connotation of “the weight of a man’s body during intercourse” (Bawdy, 92).

In Act Two, Scene One, Speed banters with Valentine about his master’s new love, but he tells him that he “know(s) her not” (II.i.44).  Valentine doesn’t understand; he knows that Speed has seen Silvia.  He doesn’t get it, but we do; we understand that in this case, “know” is “to have carnal knowledge of” (Bawdy, 168) Silvia… and as Speed has not had sex with Silvia, he is truthful in saying that he doesn’t “know” her.

In the next scene, we have Launce’s soliloquy on his tearful familial goodbye, and his acting out of the scene with articles of his clothing.  He decides to use his left shoe to represent his mother because it is “the shoe with the hole in it” (II.iii.17).  Why?  Because the hole is representative of her pudenda (Bawdy, 155).  Later, when Panthino joins Launce, Launce warns Panthino that he may lose his tongue in his tale; Launce is obviously known for his bawdiness, as Panthino mistakes the “tale” for his “tail” (II.iii.48), his asshole.

Three scenes later, when Launce meets with Speed, Speed asks how Proteus and Julia “parted” ways (II.v.9).  Launce responds that “after they closed in earnest, they parted very fairly” (II.v.10-11).  Here, Launce plays with the double meaning of “closed”: while the two may have “come together in contact,” what Launce really means is sex–“To fill up (a gap or open place); to bound, shut in. (Often with the notion of filling up or completing)” (both OED).  Later, Speed asks,

Why, then, how stands the matter with them?

Marry, thus: when it stands well with him, it stands well with her.

What an ass art thou! I understand thee not.

What a block art thou, that thou canst not! My staff understands me.

What thou sayest?

Ay, and what I do too: look thee, I’ll but lean, and my staff understands me.

It stands under thee, indeed.

Why, stand-under and under-stand is all one.

— II.v.18-28

In this passage, we get multiple penile references, particularly in the verb “stand.”  The “matter,” or Proteus’ penis, “stands” or becomes erect both by Proteus own urging (“with him”) and by Julia’s manipulation (“with her”).  When Speed “understands (Launce) not,” Launce is incredulous, saying that even his walking stick or “staff” understands what he is saying.  Of course, staff here is just another phallic symbol, especially with the under”stands” references.

[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.]

As we noted before, the clowns leave near the end of Act Four.  But the bawdy references leave even earlier, with the last one coming (no pun intended) in Act Four, Scene Two.  Silvia asks Proteus, “What’s your will?” (IV.ii.92), wondering what it is that he intends to do.  But Proteus interprets “will” differently, as “passionate sexual desire” (Bawdy, 284), as he answers, “That I may compass yours” (IV.ii.93).  Here, he intends to either “embrace” or “win” (“compass”: both OED) her and her sexual desire.  Well, a man can dream.

So, all in all pretty innocuous.  A few rod/stick/staff references and one extended blow job joke… after last month (and its notorious hunt scene), this feels incredibly tame.

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