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The Bawdy Bard: Doubles Entendres in Shakespeare's Plays
The existence of sexual innuendos in Shakespeare's plays has long been noted and belongs to a widespread tradition of Elizabethan and Renaissance literature. We all understand the implication of "All I seek, is upon my love to die"; we know that Hamlet's injunction to Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery" refers not to a convent but to a brothel. And every school boy remembers these famous lines from Act 2, Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet:
ROMEO Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give you?
MERCUTIO The ship, sir, the slip; can you not conceive?
ROMEO Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and in such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.
MERCUTIO That's as much as to say, such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams.
ROMEO Meaning, to court'sy.
MERCUTIO Thou hast most kindly hit it.
ROMEO A most courteous exposition.
MERCUTIO Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.
ROMEO Pink for flower.
ROMEO Why, then is my pump well flowered.
MERCUTIO Well said: follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain after the wearing sole singular.
ROMEO O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness.
MERCUTIO Come between us, good Benvolio; my wits faint.
ROMEO Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a match.
MERCUTIO Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five: was I with you there for the goose?
ROMEO Thou wast never with me for any thing when thouwast not there for the goose.
MERCUTIO I will bite thee by the ear for that jest.
ROMEO Nay, good goose, bite not.
MERCUTIO Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a most sharp sauce.
ROMEO And is it not well served in to a sweet goose?
MERCUTIO O here's a wit of cheveril, that stretches from an inch narrow to an ell broad!
ROMEO I stretch it out for that word broad; which added to the goose, proves thee far and wide a broad goose.
MERCUTIO Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature: for this drivelling love is like a great natural, that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.
BENVOLIO Stop there, stop there.
MERCUTIO Thou desirest me to stop in my tale against the hair.
BENVOLIO Thou wouldst else have made thy tale large.
[Enter Nurse and PETER]
MERCUTIO O, thou art deceived; I would have made it short: for I was come to the whole depth of my tale; and meant, indeed, to occupy the argument no longer.
ROMEO Here's goodly gear!
MERCUTIO A sail, a sail!
BENVOLIO Two, two; a shirt and a smock.
Nurse My fan, Peter.
MERCUTIO Good Peter, to hide her face; for her fan's the fairer face.
Nurse God ye good morrow, gentlemen.
MERCUTIO God ye good den, fair gentlewoman.
Nurse Is it good den?
MERCUTIO 'Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.
Nurse Out upon you! what a man are you!
ROMEO One, gentlewoman, that God hath made for himself to mar.
Nurse By my troth, it is well said; for himself to mar, quoth a'?
And here are two famous sequences from Hamlet:
Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Lying down at OPHELIA's feet
No, my lord.
I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ay, my lord.
Do you think I meant country matters?
I think nothing, my lord.
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
What is, my lord?
You are keen, my lord, you are keen.
Ay, 'twould cost thee a-groaning to take off my edge.
The innuendos are clear. But what is often missed is the significance of the phrase, "country manners." Rather than explain it, I prefer to suggest a method of reading the phrase: Place heavy stress on the first syllable, pause for a full second, then enunciate the following three syllables.
Capisce? Perfetto! In Edmund Spenser's words, "Such peerless pleasures have we in these places."