Troilus and Cressida: The Trip to Bawdy-ful, Part One–signs along the way


According to Eric Partridge’s discussion of the naughty bits in Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Troilus and Cressida is “only slightly bawdier than Hamlet” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge Classics, 2001; page 57). I’m not sure I buy the “only slightly” (given I know I spent two entries on Hamlet’s nudge-nudge wink-wink, and I figure it’ll take three to do Troilus and Cressida’s), but I would agree to his addendum: “yet, all in all, it leaves a nasty taste in the literary mouth” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 57).

And, of course, now I’m thinking back on the statement I made about the bawdy in Hamlet… that it has had the fun sucked out of the bawdy… that would indeed lead to that “nasty taste in the literary mouth.”

The Trip to Bawdy-ful begins quickly enough, with Pandarus toying with Troilus’ language in the first scene of the play: Troilus is anxious for Cressida’s love, but Pandarus suggests patience, “He that will have a cake out of the wheat must tarry the grinding” (I.i.14-5). Yes, the wheat must be ground… but grinding also has the sexual connotation of rubbing one body against another. And even if Troilus can tarry the grinding, he must also wait for the “bolting” (I.i.17), a much more explicit sexual phrase (as “To let off or discharge like a bolt; to shoot” [“bolt, v.; 4.a.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 15 June 2015]). And after the bolting? Well, then there’s the “leavening” (I.i.20), fermenting, rising–much like the swelling of pregnancy.

After Pandarus leaves Troilus, the elder man’s bawdiness continues with his niece Cressida. Here, though, she also is playful in her language, discussing how she could recognize a man after she “knew him” (I.ii.64), with not only the casual but sexual connotations of the verb. Pandarus refers to Troilus’ “not come to’t” (I.ii.82) yet, meaning he has reached maturity, with a sexual implication–Troilus is a virgin. Cressida has confidence, though, that Troilus will succeed… by getting the necessary erection (“stand to the proof” [I.ii.126]).

Later in the scene, when Pandarus asks Cressida what “season(s)” (I.ii.249) a man, she responds that a pie needs to be seasoned with dates (the fruit), but if a man is not seasoned, “the man’s date is out” (I.ii.251), or past his sexual prime. And Cressida has no patience for impotency, as sex and its results are important to her:

If I cannot ward what I would not have hit, I can watch you for telling how I took the blow—unless it swell past hiding, and then it’s past watching.
  • I.ii.261-3

What’s “not hit” is her virginity; “taking the blow” is losing said virginity; and “swelling” is the pregnancy that follows. This is the natural course for Cressida. Using Pandarus to bring them together, however, is less than natural(ly romantic): shee sees Pandarus acting as “a bawd” (I.ii.274) or pimp.

When Thersites discusses the war, he says that it is all “for a placket” (II.iii.19), which Partridge describes as “an opening in–or the opening of–a petticoat…placed in contiguity with the pudend” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 209), or pussy. According to Thersites, the “argument (of the war) is a whore and a cuckold” (II.iii.71), Helen and Menelaus. Not exactly the heroic stuff of Homer.

In Act Three, Scene One, Pandarus goes to meet with Paris and Helen. Pandarus tells the servant that he will “make a complimental assault upon (Paris), for (Pandarus’) business seethes” (III.i.39-40). The word “assault” here feels much like the use of “accost” in Twelfth Night, a kind of sexual act. His business seethes, and the servant picks up on both the “assault” undertone, as well as the idea of seething, or boiling, by calling Pandarus’ “Sodden” (or boiled) business, “a stewed phrase” (both III.i.41), with a stew relating to “a brothel” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 249). In the very next speech, with Paris and Helen’s entrance, Pandarus greets her with “fair queen” (III.i.45). Nice enough, but the servant and the audience, privy to the previous exchange about brothels would note the homophone of “quean” which meant “prostitute” (“quean, n.; 1.” OED Online.).

I’m saving Helen’s bawdiness for a later entry (so you’ll just have to wait for that) but when she demands a love song from Pandarus, he treats her with this bawdy ballad:

Love, love, nothing but love, still love, still more!
For, O, love’s bow shoots buck and doe.
The shaft confounds not that it wounds,
But tickles still the sore.These lovers cry “O ho!” they die!
Yet that which seems the wound to kill
Doth turn “O ho!” to “Ha ha he!”
So dying love lives still.
“O ho!” awhile, but “Ha ha ha!”
“O ho!”groans out for “ha ha ha!”—Hey ho!
  • III.i.111-120

Oh, where to begin with this? Buck and doe, male and female? Love’s bow and shaft? Think back on that greasiest of scenes, the archery scene from Love’s Labor’s Lost. Shaft? Cock. Wound? Yes, injury, but also an opening in the skin, again, the pussy… and the shaft doesn’t injure (“confounds not”) that what it wounds (go figure). Instead, the shaft tickles the sore. “Sore” was a buck in its fourth year (“sore, n.; 2.” OED Online.), but also an opening in the skin (see above). The cock tickles the pussy. The lovers cry, then “die”… and don’t forget to die was “to experience a sexual orgasm” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, 118). There’s much more sighing and “groan”ing… and remember our discussion of groaning for love in Hamlet.

Whew. If I smoked, I’d want a cigarette about now. That was the most bawdy fun we’ve had in the Project in a long while.

Don’t get comfortable… the nasty taste will return.

When Pandarus later brings Troilus and Cressida together, he says, “I will show you a chamber, which bed, because it shall not speak of your pretty encounters, press it to death” (III.ii.202-4). Pandarus the pimp, “provide(s) this gear” (III.ii.206). They all say, “Amen” but this is the anti-wedding, or at least putting the cart before the horse (or the bedding before the wedding). [NOTE: I’m no prudish moralist. I’m only writing like one for the moment… but it does seem strange that there is NO discussion of marriage.] The next morning, Pandarus’ first question to them are “How go maidenheads?” (IV.ii.23), asking of their lost virginities. Interestingly, Cressida seems to feel the same cognitive unease as I just voiced: “Go hang yourself, you naughty mocking uncle. // You bring me to do — and then you flout me too” (IV.ii.25-6). It’s unfair to Cressida for Pandarus to bring her her to fuck, then shame her after. Pandarus continues to mock, as he calls Troilus a “naughty man (who would not) let it sleep” (IV.ii.32-3). Remember our discussion of “nought/naught” from way back in Much Ado — “naught,” nothing, the hole (not whole), opening. Troilus was the “naughty” man, focused on the pussy, and not letting “it” sleep all night.

Of course, as with any play about the repercussions of Menelaus losing his Helen, there are many references to horns (five by my count) and cuckoldry (five, too), but that goes without saying (if not without counting).

And thus ends the “general” discussion of bawdy.

Tomorrow, homosexuality.

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