The vagina(-shaming) monologues of King Lear

Many extol King Lear as Shakespeare’s greatest play. Some even vaunt it as the very height of the Western canon. For their claims, they point, inter alia, to the strength of the tragedy’s language.

Take the mad monarch as he roves the wild heath: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!…Singe my white head!” (3.2.1-6). Or the broken father when he cradles his deceased daughter: “Thou’lt come no more,/ Never, never, never, never, never!” (5.3.306-07). The Bard’s language plunges us into the depths of Lear’s despair.

But King Lear doesn’t just feature some of Shakespeare’s strongest language. It also showcases some of his, well, strongest language. And when we give it a closer look, much of it is truly below the belt.

Continue reading

Going down the coney hole

Easter: It’s a fuckable feast.

For its Christian observers, of course, Easter marks the salvific resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. A cornerstone of the faith, the holiday teems with symbols of new life and fertility. Celebrants observe it during the flowering of springtime. Related to the word east, Easter etymologically evokes the rebirth of “dawn.” Eggs hatch baby chicks. And rabbits…well, they fuck like rabbits.

Easter is an ancient, complex, and venerable occasion, no doubt, but this is Strong Language. Here, we like to hunt for the sweary Easter eggs scattered throughout the lawn of language. I’ve spotted one in the holiday’s cute and cuddly icon: the bunny.

Continue reading

A dirty sense of humor: the dramatic climaxes of Antony and Cleopatra

You want to hear a dirty joke? You don’t have to go to a schoolyard, locker room, comedy club, or even a Republican presidential debate. No, simply go to your bookshelf, theater, laptop, or wherever you consume masterpieces of English drama and check out one of Shakespeare’s most tragic – and erotic – love stories, Antony and Cleopatra.

I read the play for the first time a few weeks back as part of my ongoing effort, as you may now be well familiar, to take on Shakespeare’s corpus this year 400 years after his death – and boy, is this some hot stuff. The play, no doubt, continues to reward viewers and readers with its complicated and sexualized construction of power and politics in the “infinite variety” (2.2.241) of its leading lady, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Further developing this theme, the play also rewards audiences with some of its strong language – here, centered on taboo topics of sex and genitalia.

Continue reading

Pardon my French: Lewd language lessons in Henry V

In terms of plot, Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry the Fifth (Henry V) is fairly straightforward: invading France after making a claim on French territories, a vastly outnumbered King Henry (Harry) dispatches them at Agincourt, uniting the two kingdoms through his subsequent marriage to the French princess. In terms of language, however, the play has a lot of texture – not to mention the Bard’s ambivalent depictions of power and war that complicate this historical drama.

With its extensive cast of characters, Henry V features a range of linguistic registers. The lofty commentary of the Chorus frames the historical action of the play. The clergy’s academic discourse convinces Harry to mount his siege. Simple peasants malaprop in prose while the King rallies his troops with impassioned battle cries: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” (4.3.60). And the French princess, Catherine, says cunt.

Continue reading

Merry thoughts, naughty bits: putting the ‘bone’ in wishbones

At the Strong Language table this U.S. Thanksgiving, we’ll be having none of that euphemistic white or dark meat first served up in the polite speech of 19th-century American English. No, we’ll be piling our plates high with turkey breasts and thighs.

But there’s another part of the turkey that may be a bit naughty if we look to its linguistic history: the wishbone.

Continue reading