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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: June ::
Re: Ado Fencing Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0601  Monday, 29 June 1998.

[1]     From:   Robert Dennis <
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 >
        Date:   Friday, 26 Jun 1998 12:11:38 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0579  Ado Fencing Question

[2]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Jun 1998 11:51:49 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Fencing (Upward Thrusts)

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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 >
        Date:   Friday, 26 Jun 1998 13:08:57 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0598  Re: Fencing


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Dennis <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Jun 1998 12:11:38 -0400
Subject: 9.0579  Ado Fencing Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0579  Ado Fencing Question

On Wed, 24 Jun 1998, Judy Lewis <
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 > wrote:

   >In the first scene of Much Ado, Beatrice refers to
   >Benedick as Signior Mountanto, which the notes in
   >every edition I have consulted tell me is an upwards
   >thrust in fencing.  Knowing nothing about fencing -
   >and being unable to find out from any source I have
   >consulted - I am wondering if this is as uncomplimentary
   >as Beatrice's other references.  Is a mountanto a sneaky
   >manoeuvre, or a perfectly legitimate thrust?  Can anyone
   >enlighten me?

This allusion may have almost nothing to do with fencing.  I have always
read it as a sexual pun regarding Benedick's "playing the field", so to
speak, using a combination of the English "mount" (we know what that is)
and Spanish "tanto", meaning "so much".  So it seems she is making fun
of his amorous exploits calling him Senor "Mounts-so-much" or
"Mounts-a-lot".

I have never seen my interpretation in the literature, but, I am a
reader of Shakespeare, not a Shakespeare scholar.  Partridge did not
apparently take it that way for his Shakespeare's Bawdy, and I have not
seen this reading in the notes of any of the editors I have some
familiarity with.  Indeed, most editors appear to scrupulously avoid any
sexual puns in their commentary.

Still, I think it is quite possibly the intent, and fits quite well with
the overall joking of that scene and the rest of the play. I believe
Partridge does point out that the word 'Nothing' was slang at that time
for a woman's pudenda.

Whether or not you then consider the context of this usage
'uncomplimentary' or 'sneaky' would depend.  I read the "nickname", as
well as her other repartee as light but quite pointed humor on the part
of Beatrice (and Benedick); a kind of flirting going on at advanced
levels, nothing literal at all.

Sean Lawrence <
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 > also wrote that:
   >Mountanta(19): is to carry your rapier pommel in the
   >palm of your hand resting it on your little finger with
   >your hand below & so mounting it up aloft, & so to
   >come in with a thrust ...

This literal detailed imagery supports quite nicely the interpretation
above. So maybe W.S. was giving the audience some rich humor.

Sincerely,
Bob Dennis

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 26 Jun 1998 11:51:49 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Fencing (Upward Thrusts)

Thanks to Sean Lawrence for his erudite explanation of the
"mountanto(a)." Alas, it appears that the move is not illegal or
illegitimate. It's really too bad that theory must give way to hard
facts.

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 26 Jun 1998 13:08:57 -0400
Subject: 9.0598  Re: Fencing;
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0598  Re: Fencing;

Sean Lawrence's scholarship on the meaning of "mountanto" is very
helpful, for example, his comment that one of the definitions

> sounds like the movement from fourth parry to
> thrust in modern foil fencing,

In other words, a riposte, which, in the modern idiom at least, fairly
describes much of the dialogue between Beatrice and Benedick.  Does
anyone know if "riposte" carried this secondary metaphorical
significance in Elizabethan England?  (I don't have an OED handy.)  Of
course, even if the word was not commonly used that way, it would have
been typical of WS to create the figure.
 

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