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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Representations of Clergy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0987  Tuesday, 13 October 1998.

[1]     From:   Stanley Wells <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Oct 1998 15:51:55 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0980  Re: Representations of Clergy

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Oct 1998 15:06:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0980  Re: Representations of Clergy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stanley Wells <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 12 Oct 1998 15:51:55 +0000
Subject: 9.0980  Re: Representations of Clergy
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0980  Re: Representations of Clergy

Before our lewd interpreters get carried away, it might be worth asking
whether there is any evidence that Thomas or Peter might mean 'penis' to
an Elizabethan ('Will' I grant you.) Partridge in his Dictionary of
Slang dates this sense to the mid nineteenth century. (It is not now
current in English English usage.) Gordon Williams notes neither word in
his excellent 3-volume 'Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in
Shakespearean and Stuart Literature' (Athlone, 1994.)

Stanley Wells

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Oct 1998 15:06:59 -0400
Subject: 9.0980  Re: Representations of Clergy
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0980  Re: Representations of Clergy

I will burn in academic hell for the "Thomas and Peter are euphemisms
for penis." I can't source it either. BUT of all the names he could have
chosen, what a coincidence.

My reasons for still believing it's true? Will could pun faster and more
completely than anyone the English language has ever known. The reason
for his depth, for the countless Ph.D.'s gained for analyzing his work,
is that his words seem not to have one of their appointed dictionary
meanings but, sometimes, all of them.

In his time, "tomfool" was "a fool or an oaf," and "tomboy" was, among
other meanings, an effeminate boy. Shakespeare used "fool" as a synonym
for "penis." TS, Katherine: "Aye, if the fool could find it where it
lies." My guess, knowing how careful he was about names, is that he
backformed those toms to Thomas with an underlying meaning of "flaccid
penis" to contrast with Peter "Upon this rock I found my church,"
"Throne of St. Peter"-the menacing Catholic church and its conspiracies,
and its Greek meaning of "stone, rock." Peter's the erection. Don't
forget those soaring cathedral towers.

In the same play, MM, he uses the name Claudio which means "lame," for a
young man with a lame excuse for his actions. Hamlet's Claudius and Much
Ado's Claudio are also men with lame excuses. "Lame" itself was used by
Shakespeare as a euphemism for "impotent." Claudius and the two
Claudio's are likely NOT impotent, but they have used their sexual
impulses badly. The impotence in these men is in their judgement.

Isabella means "consecrated to God." Angelo means "angel." Vincentio
means "victorious one, vanquisher." But the Duke is running away from
the mess he created, leaving Angelo to clean it up; Angelo behaves more
like a devil; and Isabella, well, she hasn't taken the oath consecrating
her to God yet, has she? These names were chosen for deliberate irony.

There's something else about the friars. Thomas appears once, in the
early part of the play when the Duke's behavior is the most craven, and
isn't mentioned by name in the dialog. The friar who deals with the Duke
when he has taken charge of events is Peter, and the name is mentioned
once. There is no logical reason for two friars. Certainly they could
have doubled the tiny parts.  In the same play, there's a Gentleman 1
and a Gentleman 2. So why were Thomas and Peter named at all?
 

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