Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Holy Shit, Shakespeare!

So William Shakespeare was this guy who wrote a lot. You may have heard of him if you've ever taken an English class. Or are in any way culturally literate. Or if you've just had one or two conversations. He comes up sometimes.

I could talk about how Shakespeare was the most influential writer of all time. I could talk about how he coined thousands of words and phrases that we still use today. I could talk about how there is almost literally no work of fiction written in English (or possibly other languages) since the Elizabethan Era that is not, in some way, informed and inspired by Shakespeare. But that's not my style.
People's Daily Newspaper Building
I prefer a subtle approach to comedy.

Nah, I'm gonna talk about genitals. Because that's the way the Bard would have wanted it. He was, after all, a product of his time. And his time was bawdy. They don't tell you that in school because it's uncomfortable to acknowledge, but as Terry Pratchett put it, "Elizabethans had so many words for the female genitals that it is quite hard to speak a sentence of modern English without inadvertently mentioning at least three of them."

Take, for example, the word "nothing." Because Elizabethans apparently had the anatomical knowledge of a 12-year-old boy, "nothing" became slang for "the nothing that is between a woman's legs." Which means that Much Ado about Nothing may as well be called Much Ado about Beatrice's Vagina.

And don't think it's limited to the comedies. Take a look at this scene from Hamlet, possibly the most famous tragedy ever written (the relevant part starts at about 4:56):

If you missed that, here's a transcript:
Tenth Doctor Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia: No, my lord.
Tenth Doctor Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap.
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Tenth Doctor Hamlet: Did you think I meant cunt...ry matters?
Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
Tenth Doctor Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maid's legs.
Ophelia: What is, my lord?
Tenth Doctor Hamlet: Nothing.
Ophelia: You are merry, my lord?
You get the idea. Or maybe you don't. Hamlet is basically being a frat boy. Everything Ophelia says, he twists it around and makes it about her genitals. And David Tennant's delivery on the "country matters" line might be the least subtle that it's ever been. I leave Ophelia's "merry" line in the transcript there because that's part of the fun. "Merry" is an Elizabethan slang term for "horny." Hamlet harps on her privates over and over, and she responds by more or less saying, "Jesus, somebody's frisky today."
Shakespeare Collection
That's his merry face.

So don't think of Shakespeare the way you've been taught. I'd wager that you could find similar scenes in all of his plays. I'd do it now, but nobody's gonna stick around that long. Maybe I'll make a series out of Shakespeare's dirty jokes. The man's plays were performed in a brothel. I mean, honestly, how prim and proper could he be?

And yes, that is true. The Rose was both a brothel and a theatre.

Holy shit.

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