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So I now have 17 days to get to the end of this WIP! How did that happen?? Last time I looked it was January and I had weeks and weeks until deadline, but it always happens this way. Now I am living on green tea and protein bars as I try to wrap up the story arc, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with these characters in this time period, learning more about Mary Queen of Scots and life in Scotland in the early 1560s.

There are so many things I love about the Elizabethan period–the raw passion of the era that inspired such a golden age of the arts (there was never a time when more genius poets and playwrights and composers were living in one place at one time!), the clothes, the strong women, the dances, the earthiness and bawdiness. It can make such an exciting backdrop for romantic tales! And since I have no creativity left in the well at the moment, I will turn this post over to Shakespeare, the personification of the era.

Warning: Dirty words ahead! But they’re Shakespeare so they’re good for you… One of the books I got with my Christmas giftcards is a delightful look at Shakespeare’s real themes–Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s Most Outrageous Sexual Puns by Pauline Kiernan. I laughed so hard at some of them I almost fell off my chair. It’s too bad they don’t teach this stuff during the obligatory Shakespeare unit in high school–I’m pretty sure it would catch students’ attention in a big way….

The Introduction features a quick look at life in the Elizabethan era, the major role the theaters played in everyday life, the importance of espionage and codes, and bits like “Dildos and the rediscovery of the clitoris,” “Women win the prize for raunchy punning,” “The Bard makes up a new word or two, or three thousand and counting,” and “Shakespeare’s sexual puns sizzle” where the author states “Shakespeare’s sexual puns are sometimes simple, often complex, and range from the cheeky and playful to the blatantly filthy. A ribald joke…is invariably a means of revealing character, creating mood and tone, exploring the moral world of a play, or even forwarding the action. He can offer straightforward, obvious sexual quibbles like other playwrights of time, but he often does something more…expressing subtle, ambiguous interpretations of a character or a situation where we are not quite sure of the precise meaning. Creative, inventive, clever wit makes many of his sexual puns sizzle.” (There’s also an extensive appendix at the end listing Elizabethan slang terms for sexual acts and genitalia–very useful!)

I knew some of the hidden meanings in Shakespeare’s plays and poems from my college work, but many of these took me by surprise or were deeper than I imagined! Here are a couple of the cleaner examples I came across:

From a chapter titled “Pertaining to Dildos” from The Merchant of Venice (the play text in blue, the hidden meaning in red):

Portia: They shall think we are accomplished
With that we lack. I’ll hold thee any wager,
When we are both accoutered like young men
I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
And I’ll wear my dagger with the braver grace,
And speak between the change of man and boy
With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps
Into a manly stride, and speak of frays
Like a fine bragging youth, and tell quaint lies
How honorable ladies sought my love,
Which I denying, they fell sick and died…

Nerissa: Why, shall we turn to men?

Portia: Fie, what a question’s that
If thou wert near a lewd interpreter!
But come, I’ll tell thee of my whole device
When I am in my coach…

Portia: They’ll think we’re equipped with pricks which we haven’t got. I bet you anything when we’re both dressed like young men, I’ll prove the sexier of the two, and wear my false penis with its most fine erection. I’ll certainly be well-hung. I’ll turn two mincing steps into a manly stride, and speak of sexual conquests like a youth talking out of his arse, all cock and codpiece, and tell quaint lies about the cunts of chaste ladies who wanted to make love to me. Ladies who, when I turned down their advances, crouched down and begged to be f*****

Nerissa: What, shall we turn into men and f*** women?

Portia: Don’t be stupid! What sort of question is that? You’re talking like a greasy interpreter! But come on, I’ll show you all of my vagina and my dildo when I get into the privacy of my coach…

And from the chapter “Pertaining to Virginity” from The Tempest:

Prospero: Take my daughter. But
If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be ministered,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour-eyed disdain, and discord, shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both.

Prospero: Take my daughter, but if you break her virginal membrane before all sacred ceremonies are carried out with full and holy ritual, no sweet-tasting showers of semen shall the heavens let fall to make this marriage grow. Barren hate, cruel-eyed disdain and discord shall be strewn on the union of your semen with weeds so abhorent that you shall both ending up hating to have sex.


And that doesn’t include anything from the other chapters like “Pertaining to the Clap” or “Pertaining to Brothels”! What are some of your favorite “dirty” works in literature? And what are you planning for St. Patrick’s Day this week???

(Here are a few Shakespearean scenes to enjoy for your Tuesday! The last clip from Get Him to the Greek is not, of course, strictly Shakespeare, but Aldous Snow struck me as a weirdly modern Shakespearean character–plus the song is hilarious)

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I’m not a great fan of new year’s resolutions because I think they’re asking for trouble and disappointment, but there are some things I’d like to accomplish this year (in addition to the big fat sales).

One is to go and see this exhibit, Marketing Shakespeare, at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The exhibit opened in September. It ends on Saturday so unless I can scoot off from work early tomorrow, I must go Saturday morning. The exhibit is of Shakespeare-inspired artwork from the fashionable Boydell Gallery (1789-1805), plus tchotchkes and Shakespeare souvenirs. The illustration below, courtesy of the Folger, is a colored engraving of As You Like It from 1800. One of my resolutions, were I to use the term which I’m not, is to go to more stuff–I live near Washington DC where we have all sorts of amazing free museums and exhibits, yet the amazing thing is I hardly ever go to any of them. I’m not alone–living here, you take it for granted that the museums will always be there, and if you miss an exhibit, you’ll be able to catch something equally good the next week, or month.

But this is also tied into my other resolution, which is to put the joy back in writing. I tried Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way technique–I even have the books somewhere–but anything which requires me having to get up early is doomed. One task she suggested, of which I approve highly, is to take yourself out on cultural expeditions, and that’s something I plan to do much more. And if it has some weird side benefit of cranking up my writing and enjoyment level thereof, well, I’m not complaining.

And what else for 2008? Well, obviously, much less of this sort of thing (yum). But I’d rather concentrate on the positive–on giving and enjoying rather than denying. And hopefully writing will be one of the activities I’ll enjoy. I must say I like it well enough once I’ve got going, but getting going is the problem. One technique I use is to absolutely ignore word/page count and just write; you can always format later. There’s something very seductive about the getting ready to fix starting to prepare to …[insert your favorite procrastinatory phrase]… write; no wonder so many people claim they’ve always wanted to write a book, happy in the knowledge that they probably never will.

What are your new year’s resolutions (if any?)–or whatever you want to call them?

Get a generous quota of calorie-free whipped cream every month via the Riskies newsletter; send an email with NEWSLETTER in the header to All contests all the time–enter to win a signed copy of Jane Lockwood’s Forbidden Shores in a contest sponsored by Pam Rosenthal ; and read an alternate ending to The Rules of Gentility and enter to win a prize at

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Today is the anniversary of two military events that had nothing to do with the Regency period: In 1415, Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt, one of the attempts by England to get a foothold in France (and am I the only person who prefers the Olivier version over the Branagh film?).

And in 1854, thanks to bungled orders, political infighting among officers, and the famed stiff upper lip, the Charge of the Light Brigade took place, when the 13th Hussars charged directly into enemy guns during the Crimean War; as a French general commented, “C’est magnifique mais ce ne pas la guerre.” (Roughly translated as: it’s magnificent, but not war. Well, it sounds better in French.)

I’d hazard a guess that we remember these events by the two poets who immortalized them rather by the history. Here’s an excerpt from the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech by Shakespeare:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Tennyson, another master of the soundbite, immortalized the Charge of the Light Brigade, a peom that, if you are an English person of a certain age, you had drummed into you at school, or at least the more quotable bits of it:

Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Would we remember these two events–the English tried for a couple more centuries to claim bits of France, but failed; and the famous Charge was a tactical blunder of monumental stupidity–if it weren’t for the poets?

What are your favorite quotes? Any from romance?

Jane Lockwood is blogging over at History Hoydens today and there’s a contest! Also don’t forget to sign up for the Riskies newsletter at

Hurrah! I finally got my hands on John Philip Kemble’s version of Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE.

For those of you who don’t know — during the Regency (and for a while before), Kemble was an actor and manager at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and later Theatre Royal Covent Garden. He valued Shakespeare highly. Under his wise yet despotic rule, London theatre saw (for the first time in a long time) Shakespeare plays that the bard himself might actually have recognized.

By contrast, the Great Garrick (the theatre despot in the early to mid 18th century), although respected for also being a restorer of Shakespeare to high repute, nonetheless produced things like “Florizel and Perdita” and “Catherine and Petruchio” — hour-long things that were part Shakespeare, part bizarre rewriting. Even better: in Garrick’s King Lear, Lear and Cordelia live, and Cordelia marries Edgar.

Kemble, though, did his best to be true to Shakespeare.

The illustration here, by the way, is Sarah Siddons playing Hermione in THE WINTER’S TALE.

My favorite part of reading Kemble’s versions of Shakespeare is seeing just how prudish (or not prudish) the Regency stage was. My conclusions in the past have been that, though Regency theatregoers clearly tolerated less vulgarity than their Elizabethan ancestors, Kemble’s scripts are far closer to Shakespeare’s than to Bowdler’s.

Or, to be more precise, sex and violence are welcomed on Kemble’s stage, but indelicate expressions rather less so. (For example, the characters still talk about virginity, but don’t use such a crude word for it, instead terming it purity or honour or the like.)

(To read my earlier posts on the subject, click Regency Shakespeare or Regency AS YOU LIKE IT.)

So much for my past impressions of Kemble’s changes. Now, today’s project: let’s find some bits in THE WINTER’S TALE which Kemble changed!

This is a picture of Drury Lane Theatre in 1804.

What follows is the original passage of Shakespeare’s in which King Leontes rants (half-madly) about his conviction that his wife has slept with his best friend, and is pregnant with the friend’s child. I have put in purple the portions that Kemble cut out:

There have been,
Or I am much deceiv’d, cuckolds ere now;
And many a man there is (even at this present,
Now, while I speak this) holds his wife by th’ arm,
That little thinks she has been sluiced in ‘s absence
And his pond fish’d by his next neighbour, by
Sir Smile, his neighbour; nay, there’s comfort in’t,
Whiles other men have gates, and those gates open’d,
As mine, against their will. Should all despair
That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind
Would hang themselves. Physic for’t there’s none;
It is a bawdy planet, that will strike
Where ’tis predominant; and ’tis powerful, think it,
From east, west, north, and south; be it concluded,
No barricado for a belly. Know ‘t,
It will let in and out the enemy,
With bag and baggage: many thousand on ‘s
Have the disease, and feel ‘t not.

When the first cut above appears, Kemble has Leontes trail off (indicated by a long dash), and a hand-written stage direction reveals that another character approaches Leontes at this point (the implication perhaps being that Leontes would have finished the thought, had he not feared being overheard.)

So, that’s one example of things Kemble cut out. What are some passages, risque though they might be, that Kemble let alone? Here are a few:

You may ride us,
With one soft kiss, a thousand furlongs, ere
With spur we heat an acre.

How she holds up the neb, the bill to him!
And arms her with the boldness of a wife
To her allowing husband!

Go, play, boy, play;–thy mother plays, and I
Play too; but so disgrac’d a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave;

My wife ‘s a hobby-horse; deserves a name
As rank as any flax-wench, that puts to
Before her troth-plight:

There you have it! Kemble’s alterations of Shakespeare — one of my little obsessions.

However, I have no idea if any of you are at all interested in this subject. I could happily do more posts detailing which bits of Shakespeare Kemble left in, and which he cut out — but I’ll only do so if I know it’s of interest to someone! So if you’re interested, do let me know in a comment.

And remember: our next Jane Austen bookclub meets the first Tuesday in September, to discuss the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson version of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY!

who thinks those flax-wenches got a bad rap

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Yesterday, Keira suggested I tell you all how fared the production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale that Todd and I were in, which closed on Saturday.

She also suggested I share some pictures. (All photo credits, by the way, go to Bob Paz, Caltech’s photographic genius.)

Ahem. Well. Let me start by saying that this was a visually stylized (and sometimes dramatically stylized) version set in feudal Japan. We had very odd hair and make-up, and lovely costumes which, however, did not flatter any woman who had a figure.

Did I say odd hair? For some of us, that meant odd wigs. Very odd wigs. And the women’s makeup consisted of nothing but a thin layer of very pale base, and a large amount of very pink rouge bracketing the eyes. This lady here (not me) is an example of both wig and makeup!

There — now that I have prepared you — you are prepared, are you not? You won’t laugh (too much)? Very well.

Here’s Todd as King Leontes, going mad. (He did a lot of that in this play.) This is when King Leontes becomes suddenly (and wrongly) convinced that his wife, Queen Hermione, has been cheating on him with his best friend — and that the child she’s pregnant with is a result of this (nonexistent) affair.

And, yes. Todd is wearing a wig. A huge wig.

Now here’s me, in purple. And let me just say that I know the wig, the makeup, and the fifteen-foot-long obi wrapped around and around my waist, aren’t flattering to me. I know it. And I was remarkable in my restraint during this play in how little I stressed about it. (Honest! Well, maybe.) But I’m just saying.

(I’m just saying, it’s all Keira’s fault. She made me show you these pictures.)

Okay. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yeah. In the above picture, my character, the lady Paulina, comes up with a brilliant plan. I will show Queen Hermione’s now newly born baby to mad King Leontes — who will of course melt at the sight of the cute little baby, and snap out of his madness.

And here I am again as Paulina, with the baby, and with Antigonus, Paulina’s husband. Paulina breaks in on the king and insists he listen to her yell at him a lot (he yells too, of course — very Shakespearean), and insists he look at the cute little baby. In this picture, Paulina’s husband (who I suspect knows the king a bit better than she) is trying to get his wife and the baby out of the room before the king decides to execute them all.

But does the king listen? Of course not! (I suspect Shakespeare thought that if men listened to women more often, the world would be a better place.) The king orders the baby be abandoned in the middle of the forest by poor Antigonus (the guy in green above). Then comes the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” The bear, of course, makes poor Paulina a widow.

Meanwhile, the king defies the Oracle’s proclamation of Hermione’s innocence. So as the good always suffer for the sins of the wicked, King Leontes is punished by the gods by having his older child and heir, Prince Mamillius, die for his sins. (Not that the prince ever did anything bad!) In shock, Queen Hermione falls down dead of grief. In the above picture, Paulina is telling Leontes just how really really bad he is. This time, he believes her, and is really really sorry.

Sixteen years go by, and Leontes is still sorry, and Paulina is still making sure he stays that way. (You see how stern I look!)

Meanwhile, the abandoned baby has grown up as a shepherdess, and a prince (son of Leontes’ old best friend) falls in love with her, and there’s lots of comedy and happy star-crossed love. (The first three pictures at the top are from this part of the play.)

Eventually, everyone comes together, and they discover the shepherdess is really the daughter of King Leontes. Now everyone is mostly happy — so Paulina decides to show them the statue she has of dead Queen Hermione. And — surprise, surprise! It comes to life.

Guess Queen Hermione wasn’t really dead after all. Or…was she?

Here’s Paulina, stealing center stage, more or less saying “can I help it if I can work miracles?”

Well, there you have it! Lots of pretty pictures. Lots of weird wigs. Lots of Cara pretending not to whine.

So — which costume (or hair) do you like best here? Or hate the least?

What’s the weirdest setting you’ve seen for a Shakespearean production?

When Shakespeare plays or movies are set in different times or places (e.g. McKellen’s Nazi-ish Richard III) do you love it, hate it, or think it all depends?

Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester and obsessive Shakespeare fan

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