Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawdy, Miss(es) Bawdy: Celia and Rosalind

[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…]

As we enter into the second of our two months of discussion of As You Like It, this is as good any any time to dive into the pool of that which we call bawdy.

Let’s start with our two ladies of the court, Celia and Rosalind.

After Rosalind meets Orlando, and she seems depressed, Celia asks if she’s thinking of her banished father (as that was bothering her one scene earlier). No, it’s not her father, Rosalind says, but rather “(her) child’s father” (I.iii.11). It’s not filthy, but you can’t get to birth without a little sex, so there’s something there. And there it is again, once they get into the Forest of Arden, and Celia teases Rosalind about the writer of the love poetry hung through the woods, “So you may put a man in your belly” (III.ii.200). Again, still pretty tame, an ex post facto allusion to sex.

Later, when chiding Orlando for being late, she tells him that she would rather be wooed by a snail,

for though he comes slowly, he carries his house on his head; a better jointure, I think, than you make a woman: besides he brings his destiny with him. … horns, which such as you are fain to be beholding to your wives for
  • IV.i.50-3, 55-6

Here in the guise of the boy Ganymede, Rosalind pushes her imagery a bit further from an allusion of past sex, to past adultery, as the “horns” represent those of a cuckold, or a husband whose wife has taken a lover.

Still on the ridiculing-the-male-gender front, Rosalind/Ganymede, tells Silvius that “love hath made (him) a tame snake” (IV.iii.69). Ganymede tries to bolster Silvius by telling him that Phebe has him so henpecked that he’s no longer a man, but a tame snake, or rather his penis is a tame snake. We’re getting a little dirtier here.

When Ganymede talks to Orlando about his brother Oliver’s quick courtship of Aliena (Celia in disguise), she says,

in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage which they will climb incontinent, or else be incontinent before marriage; they are in the very wrath of love and they will together; clubs cannot part them.
  • V.ii.35-8

Like a guy in a locker room, Ganymede talks about another couple’s sexcapades. As we noted back in our Act Five synopsis, “Incontinent” had a double meaning in Shakespeare’s day and Ganymede plays on both meanings here: they will climb their stairs to marriage “immediately” (“incontinent, adv.; a”: OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 31 July 2014.) else they will become “wanting in self-restraint: chiefly with reference to sexual appetite” (“incontinent, adj.; Ai”: OED Online)… Ganymede goes on by saying that they are so much in “the ardor of passion” (“wrath of love”; “wrath, n.; 3b”: OED Online), that not even clubs and separate them. Finally, Rosalind has burst through the membrane of verbal restraint and brought forth an actual image of sex.

So, you have to wonder: is Rosalind reveling in her disguise as it allows her to say things she never would have as a woman?


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