Me So Bawdy


OK, let’s start off by saying this is one rowdy, bawdy play. I’m not saying it descends into the Love’s Labor’s Lost ‘s territory of the gutter, but damn, it’s been a progressively deeper slog into the bawdy pool from Richard the Second, to the First Part to The Second Part of Henry the Fourth.

We don’t even get two lines in of Falstaff’s first appearance before we get our first off-color reference, as he asks his young page, “Sirrah, you giant, what says the doctor to my water?” (I.ii.1). And, yes, the water he’s referencing is his own piss.

Later, when we meet Mistress Quickly again, she’s out to have Falstaff arrested. And why?

Alas the day! take heed of him; he stabbed me in mine own house, and that most beastly: in  good faith, he cares not what mischief he does. If his weapon be out: he will foin like any devil; he will spare neither man, woman, nor child.
If I can close with him, I care not for his thrust.


Mistress Quickly may not know that she repeatedly employs double entendres when referencing Falstaff (“stabbing,” “weapon,” and “foin”), but Officer Fang surely does, as he cares not for Falstaff’s “thrust.” Later, Quickly is at it again, saying that her “case (is) so openly known to the world” (II.i.29). While her “case” may be the legal action she’s taking against Falstaff, it is also slang for the part of her body that can “encase” a certain part of the male anatomy… her vagina.

When Falstaff arrives–to the repeated accusations of Quickly, he responds by saying, “Throw the quean in the channel” (II.i.46), calling her a whore. When she continues to complain, he dismisses her: “Away, you scullion! you rampallion! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe” (II.i.58-9). Beyond calling her a fat floozy (fustilarian), his tickling threat is also obscene, as catastrophe also had the meaning of “the posteriors” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]).

If Falstaff considers Quickly to be a whore and a floozy, she’s not the only one in the play. When Hal and Poins hear of Falstaff’s companion, they have the following exchange:

This Doll Tearsheet should be some road.
I warrant you, as common as the way between Saint Alban’s and London.

— II.ii.157-159

When Hal refers to Doll Tearsheet (her last name is even a description of the rowdiness of her lovemaking), he calls her a road, something to be ridden. And ridden often, according to Poins, as he names the thoroughfare between Saint Alban’s and London.

All of this, however, is prelude to the nudge-nudge-fest that is Act Two, Scene Four.

When Falstaff sees Tearsheet, the air fills with sexually charged talk:

  • “her sect” (II.iv.35), meaning “sex (in illiterate use” (OED)
  • “You make fat rascals, Mistress Doll” (II.iv.39), meaning she makes his rascal fat… gives him a chubby, or a hard-on
  • “For to serve bravely is to come halting off, you know: to come off the breach with his pike bent bravely, and to surgery bravely; to venture upon the charged chambers bravely,–” (II.iv46-50), with references to sexual servicing (“serve”), retreating from the pussy with a spent and flaccid cock (“come off the breach with his pike bent”), and being around smaller dicks (“charged chambers” or little cannons). Doll can only respond with “Hang yourself, you muddy conger, hang yourself!” (II.iv.51), calling him a dirty cock (a muddy eel).
  • While these two know their sexual references, Quickly is still oblivious, saying that Doll must forbear (“bear” [II.iv.56]) as she is “the weaker vessel” (II.iv.57); Doll, however, sees more in Quickly’s “bear”: “Can a weak empty vessel bear such a huge full hogshead?” (II.iv.58-59), using “bear” as in bearing Falstaff’s weight in sex.
  • “Barbary hen” (II.iv.93), another prostitute reference

The sexual references grow to a climax, as it were, with Pistol’s entrance:

Welcome, Ancient Pistol. Here, Pistol, I charge you with a cup of sack: do you discharge upon mine hostess.
I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets.
She is Pistol-proof, sir; you shall hardly offend her.
Come, I'll drink no proofs nor no bullets: I'll drink no more than will do me good, for no man's pleasure, I.
Then to you, Mistress Dorothy; I will charge you.
Charge me! I scorn you, scurvy companion. What! you poor, base, rascally, cheating, lack-linen mate! Away, you mouldy rogue, away! I am meat for your master.

— II.iv.105-120

The sequence opens with calls to toast and drink (charge and discharge), but “discharge” moves from drink with, to release upon, as Pistol says the he will release his two bullets (balls) on Quickly (Quick-LAY). Falstaff says that Pistol can’t offend her, as she cannot be harmed by cocks (“Pistol-proof”). The oblivious Quickly then unknowingly says that she will drink no proofs (of Pistol) nor none from his balls. When Pistol then turns his “discharge” upon Tearsheet, she takes offense, saying that she is Falstaff’s “meat,” not Pistol’s.

[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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