Shakespeare’s Bawdy, The Sequel

Apparently there are still undiscovered sex references in Shakespeare’s works. Heloise Senechal, working on a new edition of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works, says that she’s used “computer techniques” to find previously unrecognized double entendres. Apparently they’re hoping to go for a more realistic appreciation of Shakespeare’s time in their footnotes. They’ll emphasize the base nature of the work to get away from the idea that it was all high class.

I don’t know what sort of computer techniques she’s using, exactly, but the rules seem pretty obvious, and completely Freudian (although he came later): anything longer than it is wide is a phallic symbol, and any reference to “hole”, “gap”, or any other sort of space where one might want to put something is…..well, I run a family blog here. Although it appears Shakespeare was a bit more generous in his descriptions of the ladies, as you’ll often discover that food references (pie, “fruit dish”, etc…) are also a common one, and often when speaking of birds he was referring to ladies of, shall we say, low morals.

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3 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Bawdy, The Sequel

  1. As any school teacher knows, teenage boys will turn anything into sexual inuendo (I suspect teenage girls do the same, but, as an English Gentleman, refuse to admit it).
    I am afraid this smacks a little of over interpretation (No inuendo intended).
    Language becomes unusable if every possible interpretation of meaning is allowed.
    And the “aimed at the working classes” is just pure rubbish – there were no ‘working classes’ in Shakespeare’s day: That is a failure to grasp the concept of ‘popular culture’ and to reduce it to common, uneducated prolitarian yobs verses sophisticated, educated, aristocratic snobs.

  2. While I agree with you, Alan, that teenagers will turn anything into sexual innuendo, I think they have to be comfortable with the topic first. If I knew about the sex references in Shakespeare I think it would have been much more interesting. At least at my high school we were taught the “high road”, so to speak, and no real mention was made of any sort of innuendo. I remember figuring out Taming of the Shrew’s “what, with my tongue in your tail” line all by myself. (And much, much later, Hamlet’s “it will cost you a groaning to take off my edge” remark to Ophelia). Tell the kids what it means and they’ll think it’s great stuff. But I don’t expect that most of them will be comfortable enough to read it, think they saw something sexual, and assume that it’s ok to make that leap.

    A friend teaches Romeo and Juliet, and has nothing but bad stories to tell about how her kids just don’t care. She walks them slowly through all the “chopping off their maidenheads” talk at the beginning, hinting as closely as she can at the meaning without getting herself in trouble (you never know these days) but from what she tells me she just can’t get them to take the bait.

  3. Now, I do take the age into consideration, but usually give full details and have had a lot of success with Shakespeare in the classroom: But, I haven’t taught the thing in the USA where I suspect matters might be less ‘country’.
    One of the worries I have with over interpretation is it takes the sting out of the bawdiness by spreading it too thin. The opening of R and J is deliberately rude to make a point – not just to entertain the masses. The sharp contrast between Romeo and these characters is deliberately set up to make us question our attitudes to marriage and sex.
    (And I have to tell you the word verification I have to type in now (kdnakett) couldn’t be more appropriate.)

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