Friday, October 24, 2014

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The Merry Devil of Edmonton ...(and Some Musings on Swear Words)

I've recently polished off The Merry Devil of Edmonton. The play owes its attribution to Shakespeare from the fact it was found in the library of Charles II in a book titled Shakespeare Vol. 1 along with the plays Fair Em and Mucedorus. However, it's generally accepted today that it belongs to the hand of another author.

I really enjoyed this one and again my untrained eye could find no reason why it shouldn't be a Shakespeare.

Touching on the theme of swearing and profane language in these Apocrypha works I noticed yet again the word firke. I've came across this word in other plays from the period (sometimes spelt firk) and it always suggests the word fuck to me. Whether it's a substitution for that word or just a variant on its spelling I don't know, but its context always seems to make this interpretation look correct.

In this play it pops up in a sentence spoke by the character Sir Ralph.

Sir Ralph. ...if I doe find knavery under cowle, Ile tickle him, Ile firke him..

I had a search on-line to try and throw some light on things and came across this book on Google Books; A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature by Gordon Williams.

According to this the word firk is pretty much a variant or substitute for fuck.
"Firk copulate with (aided by the word's similarity to fuck)."
So yeah, I guess it's more evidence for why these plays would be deemed unsuitable (and therefore un-Shakespearean) by prudish Victorian commentators and the like.

I feel a bit childish searching around on-line for naughty words, but it's a bit of a bugbear of mine. We live in countries with free speech, we can speak any word in any other language with no restrictions, we can even make up our own words if we please, yet this handful of English words we call swear words we aren't allowed say. Even to the extent that the force of law can be used at times to stop us. It's kinda crazy.

When they're bleeping out the word fucked in a Mumford & Sons song you know it's gone way too far.

Also I find swear words quite interesting. Just looking at the terms used to describe them - curse words, swear words, profanity. They all suggest a religious sense. To put a curse on someone, to swear an oath. A profanity - profane - something that shouldn't be spoken. Similar to the way the true name of God (the vowel-less JHWH) is said to be sacred and not allowed to be spoken. Spell means word, hence Gospel - God's Word. To put a spell on someone you simply need to speak.

I had a wild theory that maybe our swear words were once words that had a religious significance, and that's why we can't say them now. Maybe the word fuck once meant God - or the Devil ...that would be pretty cool. Or maybe, considering the sexual nature of our swear words, they hark back to a time when sex was more intertwined with religion, and sex and sexual words were deemed sacred.

Some people also believe that certain words and sounds have an actual power or meaning due to their acoustic properties. I always assumed that the words fuck and cunt sounded so powerful because they were forbidden and that their forbidden, rebellious status give them that ability to cut through everyday speech, but maybe the words themselves have an acoustic power that exists regardless of their cultural context. Saying something is fucking amazing, sounds so much more powerful than saying it's very amazing. Why?

When someone hits their finger with a hammer or stubs their toe they invariably shout out a swear word or a religious phrase. Bloody Hell!, Jesus Christ!, Fuck!, Fucking Hell!, For God's Sake! Proclamations all of them. Swear words seem so close to religion in this context. I'm surprised more people haven't noticed this.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Recently Read: Henry IV Part II.

I've just finished reading El Shakespearo's Henry IV Part II. Just a great play. Yet again the character Falstaff steals the show. And again there was a lot of bawdiness. Entertaining read.

The version I was reading was a PDF of an edition published in 1740. I noticed a few smileys in the text. They were unintentional, of course, but they amused me a little.


'saith he, you are in an ill name' sad face

But then later:

'That I and Greatness were compell'd to kiss' smiley face

I'd like to start some sort of theory where Shakespeare invented emoticons, but I don't think I'd get away with it. Maybe it might be a good April Fool to use one day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shakespeare Apocrypha: Mucedorus

I've also just read the play Mucedorus. This is another apocrypha play and was linked with Shakespeare because it was a King's Men play. I don't really have much to add about this one, although I should say I did really enjoy reading it.

On a wider note I should mention that I'm starting to feel a little out of my depth regarding the whole apocrypha thing. I've been reading about the First Folio and it seems that the Shakespeare canon was decided not long after his death and the absence of the apocrypha plays rests as much on the fact that they weren't included in this as it does on anything else. So I've maybe jumped the gun a little in blaming later generations. I guess they were just being true to the First Folio.

It still all seems very odd and dodgy though. I'll learn my lesson and keep plodding on. I'll get there in the end.

Recently Read: The Tree of Common Wealth

I've recently read The Tree of Common Wealth by Edmund Dudley - of the famous Tudor Dudley line. I found it on Google Books by accident whilst searching for other things. It was written while he was imprisoned in the tower awaiting execution for high treason, in the early days of the reign of Henry VIII.

The book basically sets out the rules for managing a good and prosperous kingdom, using a tree and its various fruits as a metaphor. The treatise was interesting in of itself, however what aroused my curiosity also was that the edition I'd came across had been published in the 19th century by a Rosicrucian order.
Now first Printed from a Copy of his Manuscript

for the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.

Later on in the preface it then states;
This small contribution to the literature of the Tudor period is respectfully offered to the student and lover of history by The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.
I thought that was pretty cool, but then again I have read a lot of conspiracy stuff.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shakespeare Apocrypha: Arden of Faversham

I've just finished reading Arden of Faversham. To be fair this is a play that was attributed to Shakespeare after the 17th century, so I can't really complain about its non-inclusion. However, it does fit quite neatly with some of the other apocrypha plays - it's set in England (based on a true story), it's quite earthy, bawdy and common, and it doesn't quite have the flowery loftiness we normally associate with Shakespeare. However, it was quite an enjoyable little read.

There was also a little bit of swearing :)

It comes when the character Black Will is stating that he'll quite happily murder the main character Arden.

Will. Plat me no platformes, give me the money, And Ile stab him as he stands pissing against a wall, But Ile kill him.

Actually, the character named Black Will is partnered by another murderous rogue named Shakebag. So the phrase Will & Shakebag pops up, which seems like a parodic reference to the dude himself.

I thought this picture looked quite cool too ;-

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sea-Christ and Mary Mermaid

A while back I posted about how the name Mary Magdalene could be rendered as Mermaid - Mer/Mary meaning sea, and Magdalene being a variant of Maiden/Madeleine. Anyway I've been thinking about this some more and I think I've came a little further.

I was thinking along the lines of Mary equals Marry. Today a marriage is a ceremonial coupling of two people, however I think originally to marry someone would've simply meant to have sex with them. In days of yore people would've no doubt simply had sex, bore children and settled down together. I'm sure a marriage is just a formalised celebration of this.

If marry meant sex then that would explain the meaning of the term marred or mar - spoiled, impure. It would also make sense in regards the term getting merry. It would likewise explain why in Tudor times (and no doubt earlier than that) the term mermaid was used as a euphemism for prostitute - Mary Queen of Scots famously being described as such. Mermaid (marry-maid) would simply translate as sex-maid or alternatively mar(red)-maid. This brings us back full circle to Mary Magdalene - her name would be rendered likewise, and this'll be why she's universally decried as a prostitute or fallen woman.

Incidentally, merrymaids was an old English name for mermaids.

When applying this translation of Mary to the Virgin Mary things make equal sense. Virgin Mary simply becomes Married Virgin or a Virgin who's had sex. Hence, Jesus being born of a virgin simply means he was born as a product of sex, like everyone else. Maybe with the added interpretation that he was born of an honourable, married or chaste woman.

In other posts I've argued that Jesus was simply a symbolic everyman - not a real historical figure. In this light the Virgin Mary is likewise simply an idealised personification of motherhood.

On a slightly different topic, mermaids often appear in the paintings of Saint Christopher carrying Christ across the waters in Medieval churches. I've been trying to work out where that would fit into things, but it eludes me at the moment. There were more wall paintings in English churches of Saint Christopher than of any other saint. His name means 'Christ-bearer', but I wonder if maybe Chris equals cross - like the term criss-cross. Having just looked up the etymology of crisscross I'm told it's from the term Christ's-cross. It just looks like the same word repeated to me though.

Is Christ someone who crosses water? Is there some sort of birth symbolism there? Crossing the threshold into this world, via birth? I should remember that the symbol for Christ was the fish. Again it seems to tie in, but I'm not quite sure how. The fish symbol correlates with the Vesica Piscis - the shape created when two circles intersect. In medieval art Christ was often depicted within a Vesica Piscis - which some people say was a symbolic representation of the female genitals.

I think the whole Christ story is a symbolic tale about man's place in the universe.