The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1631 Monday, 15 July 2002
Date: Friday, 12 Jul 2002 09:31:09 -0500
Subject: 13.1562 Re: Duke as Count
Comment: Re: SHK 13.1562 Re: Duke as Count
I suppose it was inevitable that I would be misunderstood on this
subject, and sent to consult Partridge (whom I have all but memorized
over the years), and accused of thinking that Shakespeare would never
commit lewdness or something. So I'll try again, because I think the
point worth making.
I consider the putative joke on Malvolio -- that he inadvertently spells
out c-u-n-t, to the great delight of at least part of the audience -- to
be hopelessly cheap, not shockingly lewd. On the one hand, it is
unnecessary. Malvolio's self-aggrandizement through fantasy and
self-deception through reading the anonymous letter are very funny
without any such joke. On the other hand, humor based solely on the
shock value of tabooed words remains silly and tawdry no matter who
It's possible, if we could ring up the author and ask him about it, he
would say, "Sure. I tossed that in. Got a big laugh, too." To which I
could only reply, "Right, Will. Sure wish you hadn't." A man who could
make as many wild and wonderful lewd puns as WS hardly needed to stoop
to something as obvious and irrelevant as spelling out a tabooed word.
That does not mean he didn't; just that he didn't need to.
(Before somebody pounces, I am aware of those who feel that this joke is
neither silly nor tawdry, but profound and relevant like the coarseness
of Mercutio. I can't supply any answer to that. They see it one way, I
another. I like my lewdness either subtle or crazy.)
(Sorry to be so late in responding. I have been otherwise occupied and
am only now catching up.)
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