The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1502 Thursday, 14 June 2001
From: Rainbow Saari <
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2001 11:54:59 +1200
Subject: Re: R & J Query
Thanks to Robin Hamilton for putting me straight on origin of the 'one
is none' phrase. Robin writes
"There's enough overt bawdry in_Romeo and Juliet_ (do Mercutio and the
Nurse spring to mind here?) without dragging it, higgledy pigglety by
the scruff of several linguistic misconceptions, into a context where it
Enough ? I'll agree there's plenty of 'overt bawdry' in Romeo and
Juliet, but I don't see why that precludes the presence of covert
ribaldry as well. Shakespeare's plays seem to me to contain plenty of
examples of both. I looked again at this passage and I still stand by
my earlier perceptions. ( I noticed WS uses the word 'stand' 26 times in
R & J, exploiting its wide variety of meaning.)
In the first scene of R & J, Gregory informs the audience that "to be
valiant is to stand." They are soon bragging about what they will do to
the Montague men and women;
I will be civil with the maids - I will cut off their heads.
The heads of the maids?
Ay, the heads of the maids or their maidenheads, take it in what sense
They must take it in sense that feel it.
Sampson states "Me they shall feel while I am able to stand, and tis
known I am a pretty piece of flesh." This second use of the word
'stand' clearly carries the additional connotation of male sexual
readiness. When he's directed moments later to "draw thy tool" , his
reply " my naked weapon is out " must surely have raised a chuckle
amongst those with an arguably 'smutty' sense of humour; the scene
continues, interweaving sexual and martial language.
My point in mentioning this is that when the next scene begins, with
Capulet and Paris discussing Juliet's marriage, the 'ear' of at least
some of the audience is primed to hear in the phrase " may stand in
number, though in reck'ning none" the possibility of a sexual allusion.
The 'earth-treading stars', the' fresh female buds' that Capulet
describes are also, to use Sampson's words, at one level "pretty
piece[s] of flesh" and I think the language Capulet (Shakespeare) uses
suggests this, albeit in a subtle way.
These lines from Marlowe's ed. Ovid's Amores Bk 1.10 come to mind
The whore stands to be bought for each man's money
And seeks vild wealth by selling of her cony.
Surely by choosing the name Paris for Juliet's suitor ( I don't know if
the name occurs in his source texts) Shakespeare is connecting the
character to the Paris of Trojan War fame; the young man, son of Priam
and Hecuba, who chose Venus as the most beautiful over Juno and Minerva;
who abandoned the wife of his youth, Oenone, and abducted Helen, wife of
Menelaus, thus initiating years of ' war for a placket' ( Troilus and
Cressida 2.iii). A man of questionable sexual integrity?
When the servant Peter is given instructions to invite the persons on
Capulet's list to the evening's festivities, his reaction is to say "It
is written that the shoemaker should meddle with his yard and the
tailor with his last..." etc. He links each artisan to the wrong tools (
! ); the shoemaker meddles with / mends soles of shoes, to be worn on
peoples feet, on his last. Many in the audience would hear a sexual
play on words in 'the shoemaker should meddle with his yard" because a
man's 'yard' was then a common term for his penis, as indeed both the
words 'foot' and 'sole' could mean penis or vagina. (See Martin Green's
the Labyrinth of Shakespeare's Sonnets ) I do not believe I am dragging
bawdry into the Capulet/ Paris scene; it is surrounded by scenes that
utilise sexual imagery and their discussion contains overt sexual
imagery. When Capulet says "Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride" he is employing what I call the
language of fecundity; 'pride' , to stand proud, equates to male sexual
readiness. Juliet's 'ripe'-ness refers to,( among other considerations,
no doubt ), her sexual readiness, her being ripe for the taking. I doubt
the sexual connotations of this would be lost on the original audiences.
I don't claim the 'one is reckoned none' of Son. 136 and the line from R
& J mean the same. However I do see the author deliberately playing with
the ribald potential of the same collection of words in both Sonnet and
Play and that is what I meant when I said I saw a 'corresponding subtext
in the Capulet/ Paris scene' . Perhaps I didn't make that clear.
I was recently given a copy of Frankie Rubinstein's A Dictionary of
Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and their Significance and it pleases me to
note that she also sees in many words that begin with 'con' ,depending
on their context, carry the burden of puns on cunt. Such puns are
indeed aural, as pointed out. I note that Marlowe ( above ) rhymes
'money' with 'cony'. If beauty exists in the eye of the beholder then
puns surely exist in the ear of the hearer. She directs the reader (
pg. 55) to Measure for Measure, 2.iv, where Angelo instructs Isabella to
"Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite" One sense of this, undoubtedly
crude, is 'make ready your cunt for my sharp [sexual] appetite'. She is
told to "Redeem thy brother By yielding up thy body to my will'. Will
here, must have echoed in the minds of many original auditors as
'penis'. Earlier in this same scene there occurs this exchange.
Isabella; Sir, believe this. I had rather give my body than my soul.
Angelo; I talk not of your soul. Our compelled sins
Stand more for number than for account.
Interesting, the similarity of language to Son 136 and the passage from
R & J, here, where Angelo definitely is talking about his immoral
interest in becoming the possessor of Isabella's 'soul', where he is
asking her to prostitute herself to save her brother's life.
As I read Shakespeare's works and those of his contemporaries, I'm
endeavoring to develop a sense of what an Elizabethan or Jacobean
hearer would/ could understand listening to them. I want to learn to
think, as much as is possible, like an Elizabethan. One of the levels I
greatly enjoy is their earthy/ bawdy/ ribald/smutty/witty humour, their
willingness to 'call a jade a jade'. I think Shakespeare was unashamedly
crude/ smutty at times, but such definitions are based on our own
sensibilites, not necessarily those of his own time. The language of his
plays passed the required censorship, overt and covert sexual allusions
Not every reader/ hearer will pick up on ( or, I can appreciate, want
to! ) the sexual undercurrents of the language used in the
Capulet/Paris scene, but I maintain those meanings are still there. The
author has used words he knows can have multiple dimensions of meaning.
It is up to the audience to take it in what sense we will.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Webpage <http://ws.bowiestate.edu>