Slang and sexual language
Early editions of Shakespeare's plays sometimes ignored or censored slang and sexual language. But the First Folio reveals a text full of innuendo and rudeness.
Here are some examples of slang or sexual language which were clearly understood by Shakespeare's original audiences, 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.
From Henry IV, Part II, Act 2, Scene 1MISTRESS 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
close with fight / embrace sexually
fist punch / masturbate
come advance / orgasm
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
From All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 1PAROLLES: … 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.
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
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
From The Life of King Henry VIII, Act 2, Scene 3OLD 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).