A Clown Called Bawdy: Touchstone

[EXPLICIT CONTENT AHEAD… SKIP IF EASILY OFFENDED] OK, let’s start off by saying that despite Eric Partridge calling As You Like It a “comparative(ly) innocuous” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge Classics, 2001; page 58), the play is not completely clean… as we shall see…]

For the past few entries, we’ve been discussing the bawdier aspects of As You Like It, starting with the ladies, then taking up Orlando and Jaques. Today, we turn our attention to the clown Touchstone. Now, when we talked about names last week, we mentioned that according to the OED, Touchstone can mean “That which serves to test or try the genuineness or value of anything; a test, criterion” (“touchstone, n; 1b”: OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 2 August 2014.). However, Touchstone is a dirty joke itself, as Partridge notes that “stone” also meant “testicle” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, page 250). So, let’s see what the OBC (ol’ ball cupper) has to say…

and yes, it’s now August and this old man’s thoughts turn to the upcoming college football season, thus the oblique reference to South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, the Ol’ Ball Coach

When Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone enter the Forest of Arden, and they hear Silvius discussing his unrequited love for Phebe, the clown remembers his own childhood love:

I remember, when I was in love I broke my sword upon a stone and bid him take that for coming a-night to Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batler and the cow’s dugs that her pretty chopt hands had milked; and I remember the wooing of a peascod instead of her, from whom I took two cods and, giving her them again, said with weeping tears ‘Wear these for my sake.’ We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.
  • II.iv.43-52

The speech is filled with imagery both phallic (sword, batler, peascod) and testicular (stone, cods). Throw in for good measure the images of breaking a sword, Jane’s hands milking (an udder), and Touchstone giving her (the contents of?) two cods (again), and the imagery takes a turn for the multiple climactic. (and don’t get me started on “wear these for my sake”). I don’t know exactly what he’s saying her, but I know it’s not chaste.

After Touchstone discusses the anal glands of cats (“civet”) and “the copulation of cattle” with Corin (III.ii.64, and 75-82), Touchstone turns his unchaste poetical talents to a mocking parody of Orlando’s love poems for Rosalind:

If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalind.
If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalind.
Winter garments must be lined,
So must slender Rosalind.
They that reap must sheaf and bind;
Then to cart with Rosalind.
Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,
Such a nut is Rosalind.
He that sweetest rose will find
Must find love’s prick and Rosalind.
  • III.ii.98-109

The first couplet discusses the male and female genders of deer, thus asking if a man needs a woman, let him seek out Rosalind. The second couplet gets a little more straightforward: a tom-cat “seek(s), sexually, (its) mate” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 167), and so would Rosalind. The third gets a little bawdier: here, “lining” is slang for stuffing, for having sex with: “To line is to cover (originally, with linen) on the inside; hence, to fill as if with lining; hence, to cram, to stuff” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 178). The fourth couplet turns Rosalind into a prostitute, as bawds and whores were “cart”ed through town as a punishment. The Rosalind nut in the fifth couplet can either refer to a “seed” (“nut, n.; A.I.1.b” OED Online.), or “something of trifling value” (“nut, n.; A.II.3.a” OED Online.), or “a cup” (“nut, n.; A.I.2” OED Online.), something to be filled (in this case, with seed). And the sixth couplet drives the metaphor home: the man who is looking for the “sweetest rose” (the “pudend” [Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 228] or “vulva” [OED pudendum,n]), will find love’s prick (“penis” [“prick, n.; I.12.b” OED Online.] and Rosalind (though some critics believe that it’s less “and” and more “in”, so that the prick is in Rosalind).

And if that discussion is less than chaste, then his conversation with his new fiancee is all about (non-)chastity.

Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.
I do not know what ‘poetical’ is: is it honest in deed and word? is it a true thing?
No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.
Do you wish then that the gods had made me poetical?
I do, truly; for thou swearest to me thou art honest: now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign.
Would you not have me honest?
No, truly, unless thou wert hard-favored; for honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.

Well, I am not fair; and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.
Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.
I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.
Well, praised be the gods for thy foulness! sluttishness may come hereafter. But be it as it may be, I will marry thee, and to that end I have been with Sir Oliver Martext, the vicar of the next village, who hath promised to meet me in this place of the forest and to couple us.

Well, the gods give us joy!
Amen. A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; for here we have no temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts. But what though? Courage! As horns are odious, they are necessary. It is said, ‘many a man knows no end of his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and knows no end of them. Well, that is the dowry of his wife; ’tis none of his own getting. Horns? Even so. Poor men alone? No, no; the noblest deer hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man therefore blessed? No: as a walled town is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a married man more honorable than the bare brow of a bachelor; and by how much defense is better than no skill, by so much is a horn more precious than to want.
  • III.iii.10-59

When Touchstone proclaims his wish that the gods had made Audrey “poetical” but doesn’t clarify the statement, she asks if being poetical is a “true” thing. Touchstone, using poetry=imagination//imagination vs. reality logic, says that poetry lies, lovers love poetry, and they lie. Audrey asks if he wants her not to be honest, but Touchstone uses the “virtuous as regards sexual morality, chaste” definition of the word (“honest, adj. and adv; A.3.b” OED Online.), and horny devil that Touchstone is, he says no, he doesn’t want her honest unless she is ugly (“ill-favored”). Audrey in a moment of low self-esteem or coyness, says that since she is not beautiful, she hopes the gods have made her honest. Touchstone says that this is true since giving chastity to a “foul slut” would be useless. Now, while Audrey responds with “I am not a slut,” and she uses the definition we are most used to (“a hussy”: “slut, n.; 2.a” OED Online.), Touchstone may have just been using the clean version (A woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance [“slut, n.; 1.a” OED Online.]). It could be possible that Audrey is using this definition as well, but since she follows her denial of sluttishness with thanks that the gods made her foul (“Grossly offensive to the senses” [“foul, adj. and adv; A.I.1.a” OED Online.), I think we’re safe in going with the more sexualized meaning of “slut.” Touchstone then launches off her use of “foul,” hoping that “sluttishness may come hereafter.” The final bawdy bit of this scene circles back a subject that the two ladies used–horns and cuckoldry–and that we discussed earlier. Could it be that Touchstone is attempting to get away from the earlier misunderstanding of words and ensure the same meaning of words with Audrey by employing what–in this play, at least–has been feminine bawdiness?

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