Spotted this question about nose painting on Reddit, but it’s not getting much conversation over there and I think it’s interesting.
The question is this: When the Porter in Macbeth says that drink provokes “nose-painting, sleep and urine,” what exactly is nose-painting? The student in question assumed, as do many online resources that it refers to the idea that your nose turns red when you drink too much. His teacher apparently told him that it was more vulgar than that.
But here’s the thing. Look at the context:
What three things does drink especially provoke?
Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and
urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes
away the performance: therefore, much drink
may be said to be an equivocator with lechery:
it makes him, and it mars him; it sets
him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him,
and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and
not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him
in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.
So his first joke was that drink makes you want to sleep, urinate, and … well, you know. But then he starts calling it “lechery” and does the rest of the speech about how drink “takes away the performance”, and the more I read that, the more I realize that almost every word is a euphemism for something sexual. “Stand to and not stand to” is particularly illustrative on dear Mr. Shakespeare’s part.
That doesn’t seem to flow. “Drink provokes sex, sleep and urine. Sex, it provokes and unprovokes…” What?
“Drink makes your nose red, makes you sleepy, and makes you need to pee. Sex? Sex is funny when you’re drinking. You want it, you just cant do it.” Makes more sense to me.
I believe that Macbeth is the only place Shakespeare used nose-painting, so we can’t compare context elsewhere. All of the online references I find suggest that it is the “your nose turns red” thing, not the sex thing.
What do you think? Anybody got some more academic references, like an OED, where we can get something definitive?