Slang and sexual language

Early editions of Shakespeare's plays sometimes ignored or censored slang and sexual language.

Here are some examples of slang or sexual language which may have been clearly understood to Shakespeare's contemporaries, but may be less obvious to audiences today.

These examples were put together by Heloise Senechal, from the Complete Works of Shakespeare (2008) published by the RSC and Macmillan.

1. From The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, 2.1.10-25

MISTRESS QUICKLY: Alas the day. Take heed of him: he stabbed me in mine own house, and that most beastly. He cares not what mischief he doth, if his weapon be out. He will foin like any devil. He will spare neither man, woman, nor child.

FANG: If I can close with him, I care not for his thrust.

MISTRESS QUICKLY: No, nor I neither. I'll be at your elbow.

FANG: If I but fist him once, if he come but within my vice —

MISTRESS QUICKLY: I am undone with his going. I warrant he is an infinitive thing upon my score. Good Master Fang, hold him sure: good Master Snare, let him not 'scape. He comes continuantly to Pie-corner —savingyour manhoods — to buy a saddle, and he is indited to dinner to the Lubber's-head in Lombard Street, to Master Smooth's the silkman. I pra'ye, since my exion is entered and my case so openly known to the world, let him be brought in to his answer. A hundred mark is a long one for a poor lone woman to bear, and I have borne, and borne, and borne, and have been fubbed off, and fubbed off, from this day to that day, that it is a shame to be thought on. There is no honesty in such dealing, unless a woman should be made an ass and a beast, to bear every knave's wrong.

stabbed hurt financially / penetrated sexually house inn / vagina weapon sword / penis foin thrust close with fight / embrace sexually fist punch / masturbate come advance / orgasm vice grip undone ruined financially / sexually, in terms of reputation going departure / sexual activity infinitive i.e. infinite, huge thing item / penis score tavern bill, accounts / vagina Pie-corner area in London famous for cooks' shops, saddlers and prostitution ('pie' and 'corner' were both slang terms for the vagina ) manhoods honours / penises saddle horse's saddle / whore indited i.e. invited exion action / vagina case lawsuit / vagina hundred mark £66 / large penis borne been patient / borne the weight of a man during sex fubbed off fobbed off / fucked dealing behaviour / sexual activity wrong wrongdoing / shaming penis / illegitimate child

2. From All's Well That Ends Well, 1.1.127-129

PAROLLES: … Your date is better in your pie and your porridge than in your cheek. And your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears: it looks ill, it eats dryly.

date fruit/age/penis pie plays on the sense of 'vagina' porridge plays on the sense of 'vagina' cheek i.e. as a sign of age French withered pears oldfruits/syphilitic vaginas eats dryly tastes dry

3. From Romeo and Juliet, 2.3.61-64

MERCUTIO: Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting: it is a most sharp sauce.

ROMEO: And is it not then well served into a sweet goose?

MERCUTIO: O here's a wit of cheverel, that stretches from an inch narrow to an ell broad!

sweeting sweet apple sharp sauce biting riposte/bitter sauce for food And … goose? alludesto the proverb 'sweet meat must have sour sauce', but shifts the sense of sauce to 'semen' so that served plays on the sense of 'served sexually' and goose on the sense of 'prostitute' wit plays on the sense of 'penis' cheverel easily stretched leather ell forty-five inches/penis

4. From The Life of King Henry the Eighth, 2.3.44-51

OLD LADY: 'Tis strange: a threepence bowed would hire me,
Old as I am, to queen it: but, I pray you,
What think you of a duchess? Have you limbs
To bear that load of title?

ANNE: No, in truth.

OLD LADY: Then you are weakly made: pluck off a little:
I would not be a young count in your way,
For more than blushing comes to…

bowed bent, worthless/puns on 'bawd ' queen it play the queen/be a prostitute ('quean') bear … title endure the title of duchess/support the weight of the duke during sex/receive the duke's semen/give birth to the duke's child pluck off come down (in aspiration; literally 'undress') count i.e. lower than a duke; puns on 'cunt'way path/condition (of being a virgin).

Developed with Macmillan and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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