The Merry Wives… and the Bawdy Boys, Part Three (with one last lingering leer at the old boy)

NOTE: This post is rated NA-17. Or at least a hard R. If you’re easily offended or blush too quickly, turn back now. You HAVE been warned.

A couple of days back, we hit the first half of the bawdiness in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and yesterday we “touched” upon the Latin lesson.

Well, today, the final scene and our old boy Falstaff…

When he arrives on stage at the beginning of Act Five, Scene Three, our “greasy” (II.i.98) old knight, really is horny. He’s wearing the buck horns of Herne the Hunter.

And if his head is horned, so are his words, lust-filled, definitely playful and giddy almost incoherent in the spewing forth of his linguistic seed, so to speak:

The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on. Now, the hot-blooded gods assist me! Remember, Jove, thou wast a bull for thy Europa; love set on thy horns. O powerful love! that, in some respects, makes a beast a man, in some other, a man a beast. You were also, Jupiter, a swan for the love of Leda. O omnipotent Love! how near the god drew to the complexion of a goose! A fault done first in the form of a beast. O Jove, a beastly fault! And then another fault in the semblance of a fowl; think on ‘t, Jove; a foul fault! When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do? For me, I am here a Windsor stag; and the fattest, I think, i’ the forest. Send me a cool rut-time, Jove, or who can blame me to piss my tallow? Who comes here? my doe?
Sir John! art thou there, my deer? my male deer?
My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Green Sleeves, hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes; let there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here.
Mistress Page is come with me, sweetheart.
Divide me like a bribed buck, each a haunch: I will keep my sides to myself, my shoulders for the fellow of this walk, and my horns I bequeath your husbands. Am I a woodman, ha? Speak I like Herne the hunter? Why, now is Cupid a child of conscience; he makes restitution. As I am a true spirit, welcome!
  • V.v.1-28

The greasy knight begins with an invocation to the “hot-blooded gods,” requesting assistance from the “lecherous” (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 159) gods. And who’s the most lustful of gods?  Well, if you’re talking Greek (mythology, not the language), then it’s Zeus… migrate that to Rome and you’re talking Jupiter or Jove. So it’s no surprise that this is the deity Falstaff invokes. He recalls the god’s transformation into a bull so he could kidnap Europa and his transformation into a swan so he could seduce–er, make that rape–Leda. Both cases have Jupiter changing forms, and both are not exactly reciprocal relationships. He rationalizes his own actions by asking when the gods “are amorous” (“hot backs” Shakespeare’s Bawdy, page 73), then “what shall poor men do?” (‘cept sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band… wow, Johnny Depp in full Keith Richards regalia as Falstaff… yeah, I know the weight’s off, but still… the mind reels)

Noting the Herne the Hunter horns on his head, he proclaims himself a “Windsor stag; and the fattest, I think, i’ the forest,” and all this exertion has the old guy hot and worn out. He craves a cool mating season (“rut-time”) or otherwise he might “piss (his) tallow.” Now, in the animal world, this would mean a loss of weight through sweat or activity (bucks in mating season will drop weight), but there’s a more sexualized meaning as well: premature ejaculation (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, page 208). If all this excitement doesn’t subside a little, he may shoot his wad too early. Before he can go much further down that path, the buck sees that his “doe” has arrived.

It’s interesting that in this text (and in others I’ve looked) Mistress Ford greets him as “my deer… my male deer.” I’m surprised that no text I’ve looked at has her using the homophone (and term of endearment [no pun intended]) of “dear.”

Falstaff keeps the deer metaphor going with his reference to her as the “doe with the black scut,” or tail. While that might just be descriptive of her rear end, since deer mate from behind, there’s also a lewder meaning there. From there, he wishes for food–no surprise there–but specific sexual-aiding foods: sweet potatoes (which for the Elizabethans were aphrodisiacs), “kissing-comfits” or candied breath fresheners, and “snow eringoes” or candied sea holly root, another Elizabethan aphrodisiac. One has to wonder that now that he actually has a woman with him, if he doesn’t need an assist here (today, he might call for a little blue pill).

Into this dialogue, Mistress Page joins in, calling him “sweetheart” (if it was Mistress Ford, would that have read “sweet hart” to maintain the deer-but-not-dear metaphor going?).

With two women there, Falstaff calls for them to divide him like a “bribed buck” or stolen stag (in a Shakespearean foreshadowing of the phrase “drive it like you stole it”), with each taking a thigh and buttock. He moves up his own body, saying that he’ll keep his “sides” (is this a subtle stage direction that he should have his arms around each woman, drawing them to his sides?), and giving his shoulders to the groundskeeper (after all, why would he need anything else above the arms [or neck–like his brain]), and the horns to their now cuckolded husbands.

In his mind. he’s now a “woodman,” a hunter (like Herne), but also a womanizer, or “wencher” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, page 288). And this is right, as Cupid is now “mak(ing) retribution,” making up for Falstaff’s indignities and humiliations of the buck basket (and isn’t that phrase now even more fitting) and cross dressing.

Of course this is all ironic, as he is just lines away from further humiliations, at the hands of the entire community. And, not surprising, there is no major bawdiness from this point in the play to the end.

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