Our Monthly Visit to Bawdyville (for shizzle… or is that for “pizzle”?)


The First Part of Henry the Fourth, while not as “dirty” as either the Second Part and Henry the Fifth that come after (at least according to critics… and btw, did you see what I did there?), has more bawdy references than the almost virginally clean Richard the Second.

Let’s take a gander, shall we?

Our first reference is by Hal to and about Falstaff, when he wakes the old man and speaks of “bawds…leaping-houses… (and) a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta” (I.ii.8-10). Not much hidden there, save for the passage of time; Shakespeare’s audiences easily understood pimps, brothels and prostitutes (I especially like the flame-colored taffeta). As the two continue to talk, their discussion turns to paid sex:

Why, what a pox have I to do with my hostess of the tavern?

Well, thou hast called her to a reckoning many a time and oft.

Did I ever call for thee to pay thy part?

No; I’ll give thee thy due, thou hast paid all there.

— I.ii.47-53

The hostess of the tavern (and we’ll get to her later) can be seen as a kind of madame, but the key to Hal’s first line is “pox” which was the Elizabethan euphemism for syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 214). When Falstaff responds that Hal has “called her to a reckoning,” this–in a clean mind–can mean to pay the bill, but in a dirtier mind (and I’m here to play that part), it can mean to set up a sexual session with a prostitute. Lest we think our Hal has been screwing whores, Shakespeare uses the next two lines to show that Hal has been paying for Falstaff to have sex (“thy part” not “my part”).

The next time we see Falstaff, it seems he has a certain part of the male anatomy on the brain. In Act Two, Scene Four, he complains to Hal, “If manhood, good manhood, be not forgot upon the face of the earth, then am I a shotten herring” (II.iv.121-122). Here, beyond the whole “manhood” thing, it’s the “shotten herring” that’s of note: a shotten herring is one that has ejaculated its eggs and is now deflated, a limp dick. When Hal teases Falstaff about his husky stature, Falstaff responds with a number of “skinny” retorts, most of which are phallic:

'Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck

— II.iv.235-238

though it IS interesting that Falstaff gets sidetracked with some descriptions of distaff genitalia: “sheath” and “bowcase”…

Starveling and elf-skin, skinny for sure. But “neat’s tongue”? Remember its phallic use Remember its phallic use in The Merchant of Venice… “Bull’s pizzle” is exactly what you think: bull’s penis (Snoop Dogg would be so proud). The “stock-fish” is another way of saying thin dried fish. Both “tailor’s-yard” (yardstick) and “standing tuck” (a type of stiff sword) point to a certain erectness of penis.

When Lady Percy rejoins Hotspur at Glendower’s estate, we get a few more playfully flirtatious dips into the pool of bawdy. [yes, I know I’m skipping their first scene together… I’ll get to it… jeez, take a cold shower…] Hotspur tells his wife, “Come, Kate, thou art perfect in lying down: come, quick, quick, that I may lay my head in thy lap” (III.i.225-226). Lady Percy must be used to such double entendre, as her response is a mere “Go, ye giddy goose” (III.i.227), with “goose” having a rather erotic connotation, meaning “whore” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 149). As the scene continues, the flirtations go on:

Now God help thee!

To the Welsh lady’s bed.

What’s that?

Peace! she sings.

— III.i.240-243

Teasing flirtations of liaisons with other women. Timeless (or is that just me?).

When we next see Falstaff, he is a man deflated, and his bawdy jokes show it. He talks of going “to a bawdy-house once [PAUSE] in a quarter [PAUSE] of an hour” (III.iii.16-17, PAUSES mine). Such a frequenter of whorehouses would know the risks, and he tells the hostess that “Bardolph was shaved and lost many a hair” (III.iii.59-60) in her place of business. The loss of hair could have two possible causes: his being shaved, or–more bawdily–through balding, a consequence of syphilis. When Falstaff argues with the hostess (Mistress Quickly… Quick LAY), her ladylike behavior is called into question:

There's neither faith, truth, nor womanhood in me else.

There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune; nor no more truth in thee than in a drawn fox; and for womanhood, Maid Marian may be the deputy’s wife of the ward to thee. Go, you thing, go

Say, what thing? what thing?

What thing! why, a thing to thank God on.

I am no thing to thank God on, I would thou shouldst know it; I am an honest man’s wife: and, setting thy knighthood aside, thou art a knave to call me so.

Setting thy womanhood aside, thou art a beast to say otherwise.

Say, what beast, thou knave, thou?

What beast! why, an otter.

An otter, Sir John! Why an otter?

Why, she’s neither fish nor flesh; a man knows not where to have her.

— III.iii.110-128

and one has to wonder if the modern “beaver” vaginal connotation finds its roots in this “otter” reference by Falstaff…

Stewed prunes were served in brothels. Maid Marian has become a chaste and heroic figure to us because of her connection to Robin Hood. But those connotations did not appear until Victorian times. From the onset her legend, Marian was the Queen of May Day (spring rites of growth and vegetation; Robin was HER male counterpart, what with his phallic ARROWS, and all). By Shakespeare’s day, though, Maid Marian had become a dirty joke. Falstaff here says that Maid Marian would be respectable compared to the hostess. Falstaff’s final “knows not where to have her” is, of course, a reference to having sex with her.

Falstaff’s final bawdy punchline is a swaggering, macho declaration: in regards to his story of having killed Hotspur, he says,

I'll take it upon my death, I gave him this wound in the thigh: if the man were alive and would deny it, 'zounds, I would make him eat a piece of my sword.

— V.iv.147-150

Sure, it could mean that Falstaff would kill any detractors by shoving his sword into the man’s head… of course, it could also akin to a rapper’s “suck my dick.”

OK, so we’re done, right?

Not even.

Let’s go back to “that” scene between Hotspur and his lady, Kate. When he fails to tell her what’s been keeping him up at night (no pun intended here… yet), she goes on the attack:

Out, you mad-headed ape!
A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen
As you are toss'd with. In faith,
I'll know your business, Harry, that I will.
I fear my brother Mortimer doth stir
About his title, and hath sent for you
To line his enterprise: but if you go,--

So far afoot, I shall be weary, love.

Come, come, you paraquito, answer me
Directly unto this question that I ask:
In faith, I’ll break thy little finger, Harry,
An if thou wilt not tell me all things true.

Away, you trifler! Love! I love thee not,
I care not for thee, Kate: this is no world
To play with mammets and to tilt with lips:
We must have bloody noses and crack’d crowns,
And pass them current too. God’s me, my horse!
What say’st thou, Kate? what would’st thou
have with me?

Do you not love me? do you not, indeed?
Well, do not then; for since you love me not,
I will not love myself. Do you not love me?
Nay, tell me if you speak in jest or no.

Come, wilt thou see me ride?
And when I am on horseback, I will swear
I love thee infinitely.

— II.iii.84-1000

Earlier in the month, we alluded to the “play with mammets” and “tilt with lips” line. “Mammets,” from mammals, from the mammary glands… breasts. In fact, according to Partridge, mammet is “an echoic word, symbolizing the baby’s gurgle of satisfaction when given its mother’s breast (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 187). “Tilt” is more interesting: it means to joust. In jousting, there is a certain thrusting of the lance… the question is which “lips” is Hotspur referencing. Either way, it’s sexual. As is the “on horseback” image: when he is riding her, he “will swear // (He) love(s her) infinitely.” Again, sexual; again, flirtatiously teasing.

[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.]

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