Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sex and Swearing in Shakespeare

Over the years as I’ve been working my way through the works of William Shakespeare I’ve came across a lot of passages that are…well, let’s say, risque. Swearing, sauciness, filth, that sort of thing. Very much out of keeping with the Shakespeare we were forced to read and learn about at school. In fact, more akin to carry on movies, or even the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Anyway, in this post I thought I’d simply catalogue what I’ve came across so far.

Twelfth Night

Believe it or not, in the play Twelfth Night, Shakespeare actually makes a joking reference to the word cunt. (My apologies to anyone offended). In the play the character Malvolio speaks the line “these be her very c’s, her u’s, and her t’s, and thus she makes her great p’s” when speaking of a letter supposedly received from the Countess Olivia. The word 'and', between the ‘u’ and the ‘t,’ apparently representing the letter ‘n’ - spelling out the word, C, U, N…you get the picture.


Another reference to the C-word comes in Hamlet, of all places. In this play Hamlet speaks of “country matters” when trying to lay his head down in the lap of Ophelia. A clear pun on the word.

Henry V

Yet another pun on the word comes in Henry V when Katherine laughs at the word gown because of its similarity to the French word con. It would seems that Shakespeare was quite fond of the word. (Actually, I should point out that thus far I haven’t actually read this play, so I’m not entirely sure about this particular one. When I finally read it I’ll give an update.)


This rather risque passage comes from the play Cymbeline. It concerns the character Cloten who is trying to woo the character Imogen by having music played outside her bed-chamber.

Cloten. I would this Musick would come: I am advised to give her Musick a Mornings, they say it will penetrate.
Enter Musicians.
Come on, Tune; if you can penetrate her with your Fingering, so; we’ll try with Tongue too; if none will do, let her remain: but I’ll never give o’er.

The Shakespeare Apocrypha

Now onto the Shakespeare Apocrypha - the plays once attributed to William Shakespeare, but now thought to be the work of other writers. A lot of this stuff will have already appeared in my other posts, but I’ll repeat it here as well.

The History of Sir John Oldcastle

This passage from Sir John Oldcastle concerns the servant Harpool, a Constable and a character named Doll, the mistress of a priest. The language is a little opaque but you can’t fail to get the general sense of it.

Harpool. Welcome, sweet Lass, welcome.
Doll. I thank you, good Sir, and Master Constable also.
Harpool. A plump Girl by the Mass, a plump Girl; ha, Doll, ha. Wilt thou forsake the Priest, and go with me, Doll?
Constable. Ah!, well said, Master Harpool, you are a merry old Man i'faith; you will never be old now by the Mack, a pretty Wench indeed.
Harpool. Ye old mad merry Constable, art thou advis'd of that? Ha, well said Doll, fill some Ale here.
Doll (aside). Oh, if I wist this old Priest would not stick to me, by Jove I would ingle this old Serving-man.
Harpool. O you old mad Colt, i'faith I'll ferk you: fill all the pots in the House there.
Constable. Oh! well said, Master Harpool, you are a Heart of Oak when all's done.
Harpool. Ha Doll, thou hast a sweet pair of Lips by the Mass.
Doll. Truly you are a most sweet old Man, as ever I saw; by my Troth, you have a Face able to make any Woman in Love with you.
Harpool. Fill, sweet Doll, I'll drink to thee.

The Tragedy of Locrine

This passage, from one of the comic scenes in the play Locrine, concerns a character named Oliver who tries (with his son William) to force the character Strumbo to marry his daughter. It would seem from the following dialogue that Strumbo already knew her quite well.

Oliver. [...]will you have my Daughter or no?
Strumbo. A very hard question, Neighbour, but I will solve it as I may; what reason have you to demand it of me?
William. Marry Sir, what reason had you when my Sister was in the barn to tumble her upon the Hay, and to fish her Belly?
Strumbo. Mass thou say'st true; well, but would you have me marry her therefore? No, I scorn her, and you, and you: Ay, I scorn you all.
Oliver. You will not have her then?

If I come across anymore of this sort of stuff over the coming months I’ll add it to the list.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The Tragedy of Locrine

Just read ‘The Tragedy of Locrine,’ another play from the apocrypha body. Again, the general consensus is that this play wasn’t written by Shakespeare, although some commentators accept the possibility that it may have been ‘revised’ by him. The play is centred around the mythical Trojan founders of the English nation - king Brutus and his sons, Locrine, Camber and Albanact.

The main focus of the play is Locrine, who becomes king after his fathers death. Firstly Locrine has to fight off the invading Scythians, killers of his brother Albanact. Then, having fell in love with Estrild, wife of the defeated Scythian king, he has to face the wrath of his spurned wife, Guendoline, and her accompanying army. Defeated, both he and Estrild kill themselves in classic Shakespearean fashion.

To my untrained eye this play feels very much like a Shakespeare play and I see no reason to doubt that it is. However, Wikipedia describes the play’s verse as ‘stiff,’ ‘formal’ and ‘un-Shakespearean.’ Personally, it doesn’t seem anywhere near that bad to me. Although, of course, it clearly isn’t a classic.

And lo!, what’s this? Yet more Shakespearean filth. This scene, one of the comic scenes from the play, concerns a character called Oliver who, along with his son William, tries to force the character Strumbo to marry his daughter for having, let’s say, relations with her.

Oliver. [...]will you have my Daughter or no?
Strumbo. A very hard question, Neighbour, but I will solve it as I may; what reason have you to demand it of me?
William. Marry Sir, what reason had you when my Sister was in the barn to tumble her upon the Hay, and to fish her Belly?
Strumbo. Mass thou say'st true; well, but would you have me marry her therefore? No, I scorn her, and you, and you: Ay, I scorn you all.
Oliver. You will not have her then?

Would this in itself be enough to de-Shakespeare it? I wonder.

Actually, in an earlier post I wrote;
“It seems that anything earthy, set in contemporary England and full of social commentary is generally consigned to the non-Shakespeare pile.”
Perhaps I should add risque innuendo to that list as well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Non-Existence of Time

Over the years I've been thinking about the nature of time a lot. I've basically come to the conclusion that it doesn't exist, at least not in a scientific sense anyway. I now believe that time is an illusion caused by our perception and measurement of change.

What led me to this conclusion was my consideration of what a clock is. When you break it down a clock is just something that has (seemingly) regular motion. The Earth moving around the Sun, the ticking hands of a watch, the human pulse or heartbeat - anything really that provides regular, repetitive motion.

Anyway, when we use clocks to measure the changing world we're not actually measuring time per se, we are actually just measuring movement - the general movement of everything that's happening against the regular movement of the clock, be it the regular ticking of hands on a clock face or simply the Earth spinning on its axis. There is no actual need for time, time is simply the currency of change. In fact you could say that time is simply another word for change, or more accurately change that has been measured against a regular change - again, the general change of everything that's happening against the regular change of ticking hands or planetary motion.

For example, when we say that something happened many years ago we could just as easily say that it happened many changes ago, for time simply is just change. It's only the way we divide change up by measuring some changes against others that creates the illusion of real passing time.

I think time exists as a concept, but that it doesn't exist scientifically speaking. At least that's my opinion at the moment anyhow.

Anyway the reason I'm posting this now is because I recently read an article in Scientific American that seems to be suggesting a similar thing (I think!). Needless to say I'm quite pleased about this as I thought I was out on a limb with all this stuff. The article is titled 'Is Time An Illusion?' and appeared in a special edition of the magazine dedicated to the topic of time (Vol. 21, No. 1). I'll quote from it below;
“Some physicists argue that there is no such thing as time. Others think time ought to be promoted rather than demoted. In between these two positions is the fascinating idea that time exists but is not fundamental. A static world somehow gives rise to the time we perceive.”
The ‘time’ issue in relation to general relativity and quantum mechanics was particularly interesting;
“Physicists who think quantum mechanics provides the firmer foundation, like superstring theorists, start with a full-blooded time. Those who believe that general relativity provides the better starting point begin with a theory in which time is already demoted and hence are more open to the idea of a timeless reality.”
The following paragraph also sounded interesting;
“Canonical quantum gravity emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when physicists rewrote Einstein’s equations for gravity in the same form as the equations for electromagnetism, the idea being that the same techniques used to develop a quantum theory of electromagnetism could then be applied to gravity as well. When the late physicists John Archibald Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt attempted this procedure in the late 1960s, they arrived at a very strange result. The equation (dubbed the Wheeler-DeWitt equation) utterly lacked a time variable. The symbol t denoting time had simply vanished.”
My general feeling is that a lot of the wacky stuff in relativity and quantum mechanics (the stuff that goes against basic common sense) will eventually disappear once we figure out where we stand philosophically regarding time.

Shakespeare Apocrypha: A Yorkshire Tragedy

Just finished reading ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy,’ another play from the Shakespeare Apocrypha. This one is commonly attributed to Thomas Middleton these days, but apparently there are still some commentators who advocate a Shakespeare authorship. It’s quite a short play and centres around a gambling, wife-beating husband who in an act of desperation tries to murder his wife and children. It’s apparently based on a true story about a man who was executed in 1605 for murdering two of his children and stabbing his wife.

The play is pretty much a morality tale. Personally, I can see why people would choose not to attribute this to Shakespeare as in some ways it’s not in keeping with what we would normally expect from him. However, stylistically speaking, I think it bears some of his hallmarks. Some of the monologues are excellent.

Having read a few of these apocrypha plays I’m now starting to see a pattern emerge. It seems that anything earthy, set in contemporary England and full of social commentary is generally consigned to the non-Shakespeare pile. Maybe this has happened because of political reasons, maybe just out of sheer snobbery. It isn't too hard to imagine scholars purifying the canon by removing anything deemed too base or unworthy. Maybe this is why Shakespeare seems so detached to us. Of course, saying that, it could just be that Shakespeare wasn’t that arsed about the hoi polloi.

On another slightly conspiratorial note I noticed this in the play;

Husband. Are you Gossipping, prating sturdy Quean,
I'll break your Clamour with your Neck,
Down stairs; tumble, tumble, headlong.
[He throws her down.]
So, the surest way to charm a Woman's Tongue,
Is break her Neck, a Politician did it.

This is uttered by the murderous husband as he throws a maid down the stairs. I couldn’t help but see it as a reference to the death of Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl Of Leicester. She famously died falling down the stairs, although some believe she was pushed. The suspicion being that she was killed so that Robert Dudley would be free to marry his reputed lover, Elizabeth the First, Queen of England. As it transpired Dudley never married Elizabeth of course, but conspiracies still abound. Some pointing the finger at Dudley, some at William Cecil (as a plot to keep her away from Dudley) and some even at the Queen herself.

It would be interesting if this was a reference to that famous incident, even more so if the play was actually written by Shakespeare.

Update; I've just checked the Amy Robsart Wikipedia page. It mentions it, so it was reference to her.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Two Pence Piece Value

The current scrap value of the copper in a British 2p coin (minted pre-1992) is now 3.3p. 

The scrap metal value of a 2p coin (pre-1992) is now 3.3p, 20.9% less than at this time last year.
And the value of the (cupro-nickel) 5p coin is now 2.1p, 22.1% less.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Puritan or, the Widow of Watling-Street

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Puritan or, the Widow of Watling-Street,’ another play from the Shakespeare Apocrypha.

Wikipedia says of this one;
“The Puritan was published in 1607 and attributed to "W.S." This play is now generally believed to be by Middleton or Smith.”
Now personally I quite liked this play and it felt fairly Shakespearean to me. Lots of silliness, everyone gets married at the end, that sort of thing. It also had the odd flourish of insight;
“[A]n honest War is better than a bawdy Peace.”
Again, this is another play it seems a shame to relegate. I can’t help but feel that the Shakespearean canon has been purged by later experts of anything that doesn’t quite make the grade. We know so little about Shakespeare - hence all the conspiracy theories. Generally I believe that if people in the 17th century believed these works to be the work of Shakespeare we should keep them as part of the collected body of work - even if we do so with the caveat that this play or that play probably wasn’t written by the man himself.

For all we know the works of Shakespeare could have been a group effort anyway.

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The History of Sir John Oldcastle

I’ve recently finished reading ‘The History of Sir John Oldcastle,’ a play about the Lollard dissenter Sir John Oldcastle who was hanged and burned for heresy in 1417. The play was originally attributed to Shakespeare but has since been demoted from the Shakespeare canon.

Wikipedia writes;
“Sir John Oldcastle was originally published in 1600, attributed on the title page to "William Shakespeare". In 1619, a second edition also attributed it to Shakespeare. In fact, the diary of Philip Henslowe records that it was written by Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathwaye, and Robert Wilson.”
This dairy entry obviously suggests that the play wasn’t written by Shakespeare, so my theory that some of these relegated plays were actually genuine works by Shakespeare doesn’t really hold up in this case. Still it was a really interesting read and it would certainly be a shame if this play was lost to history simply because it wasn’t written by the right guy.

One of the things I’ve found most interesting about some of these apocrypha plays is the social commentary. A lot of sympathy for the common man contained within. Witness this short passage spoken by a ‘poor’ soldier;

“God help, God help, there’s Law for punishing,
But there’s no Law for our necessity:
There be more Stocks to set poor soldiers in,
Than there be houses to relieve them at.”

Could have been written today really.