The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2040 Monday, 22 November 1999.
Date: Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:07:18 -0500
Subject: War & Lechery
The other day I was musing (not on virginity, however) about the
similarity between Helena and Angelo, not only as participants (although
one as instigator, one as victim) in bed tricks, or characters in plays
probably written at about the same time, but as "dedicated" (in the
computer sense) sexual obsessives. That is, each has an uncharacteristic
obsession with one particular person, rather than being lecherous as a
Then I realized that I couldn't think of any Shakespearean character who
is shown or even reliably reported to engage in promiscuous sex-yet one
would think this a reliable source of comedy. There are innumerable
cuckoldry jokes, but few about skirt-chasers or their female
Even Hamlet doesn't think Gertrude is having inappropriate sex with
anyone except Claudius. Parolles does describe Bertram as "very ruttish"
and "a whale to virginity," and Lucio calls the Duke a bastard-rearer
and beggar-snogger, but you can't trust either of them. There doesn't
seem to be any evidence for Berowne to call Rosaline a whitely wanton
who will do the deed although watched by Argus. Cressida loves Troilus
and has good pragmatic reasons for securing Diomedes as protector. It
has been remarked that Falstaff's motives in "Merry Wives" are far more
financial than sexual...and too much sack keeps you out of the sack if
you see what I mean, and I think you do.
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more,