Home > Multimedia Essays > A Naughty Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s other influences on Modern Music

A Naughty Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s other influences on Modern Music

Shakespeare is obviously known for his masterful way with words. He is clever at playing around with them and one area where he uses this talent is when he inserts puns and/or sexual innuendos in his plays. These have actually been a subject of critical interest as many versions have decided to omit or change some objectionable passages, while some critics appreciate Shakespeare’s bawdy jokes and puns, and find that the clever wit of his sexual innuendo not only has comic significance, but is used to develop character, themes, and plot as well.

Here are a few of those passages that have been said to have double meanings, along with a suggested modern music equivalent that Shakespeare’s puns and innuendos might have inspired.

1. Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Scene 1

Context: Costard, Maria, and Boyet are discussing archery.

Text:

MARIA:

A mark marvellous well shot; for they both did hit it.

BOYET:

A mark! O, mark but that mark! A mark, says my lady!

Let the mark have a prick in’t, to mete at, if it may be.

MARIA:

Wide o’ the bow-hand! I’ faith, your hand is out.

COSTARD:

Indeed, ‘a must shoot nearer, or he’ll ne’er hit the
clout.

BOYET:

An if my hand be out, then belike your hand is in.

COSTARD:

Then will she get the upshoot by cleaving the pin.

MARIA:

Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.

COSTARD:

She’s too hard for you at pricks, sir; challenge her
to bowl.

BOYET:

I fear too much rubbing; good-night, my good owl.

Modern Musical Approximation:

I’ve got my love gun loaded, with hugs and kisses
And when I pull the trigger, there will be no misses
Ain’t no need to hide, ain’t no use to run
‘Cause I’ve got you in the sights of my love gun

– Albert King, The Hunter


2. The Birds and the Buttons: Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

Context: Laertes is warning his sister, Ophelia, against pursuing a relationship with Hamlet.

Text:

LAERTES:

Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain

If with too credent ear you list his songs,

Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open

To his unmaster’d importunity.

Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister;

And keep you in the rear of your affection,

Out of the shot and danger of desire.

The chariest maid is prodigal enough

If she unmask her beauty to the moon:

Virtue itself scopes not calumnious strokes:

The canker galls the infants of the spring

Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d:

And in the morn and liquid dew of youth

Contagious blastments are most imminent.

What it could actually mean: Don’t have sex with the young and immature bastard.

Modern Musical Approximation:

Don’t let life push you around
Make your own path
Never look back
Some things are to come undone
Zippers are one
Keep your pants on
Keep your pants on
Keep your pants on

Young MC, Keep Your Pants On


3. Happy Camper: Venus and Adonis

Context: Venus runs into Adonis in the woods and falls madly in love with him.

Text:

VENUS:

I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;

Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:

Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,

Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.

Within this limit is relief enough,

Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,

Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,

To shelter thee from tempest and from rain:

Modern Musical Approximation:

Come go with me, babe
Come go with me, girl
Baby, let’s go
To the cabin down below

-Tom Petty, Cabin Down Below


4. Capital Offense: Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 5

Context: Malvolio is reading a letter and thinks he recognizes the handwriting.

Text:

MALVOLIO:
By my life, this is my lady’s hand: these be her very
C’s, her U’s, and her T’s; and thus makes she her great P’s.

At First Glance: Yup, these are my lady’s C’s, U’s, T’s, and P’s alright.

Pay Attention To: the fact that the “and” in “and her T’s” would be pronounced like the letter “n”; the spelling of certain four-letter words; the pronunciation of “her great P’s”

Modern Musical Approximation:

All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy

– Britney Spears, If U Seek Amy


5. Hamlet

Context: Hamlet to Ophelia. He makes much ado about ‘nothing’ — which is what a woman has between her legs .

(puns oh-so-rudely on ‘country matters’)

HAMLET
Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

Lying down at OPHELIA’s feet

OPHELIA
No, my lord.

HAMLET
I mean, my head upon your lap?

OPHELIA
Ay, my lord.

HAMLET
Do you think I meant country matters?

OPHELIA
I think nothing, my lord.

HAMLET
That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.

OPHELIA
What is, my lord?

HAMLET
Nothing.

Modern Musical Approximation:

All you ladies pop that thing like this
Shake your body, don’t stop, don’t quit
All you ladies pop that thing like this
Shake your body, don’t stop, don’t quit
Just do it, do it, do it now,do it good

Lick this, just like you should
Right now, Lick it good
Lick this just like you should
My Neck, my back

Lick my … just like that

– Khia, My Neck, My Back

****

Another interesting song to mention is Elvis Costello’s “Mystery Dance.” The song makes a reference to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the lines

Romeo was restless; he was ready to kill.
Jumped out a window 'cause he couldn't sit still.
Juliet was waiting with a safety net,
Said "Don't bury me, 'cause I'm not dead yet."

This song has been said to have been about sex as it was made obvious in the following lines:
Why don't you tell me 'bout the mystery dance
I wanna know about the mystery dance
Why don't you show me
'Cause I've tried and I've tried
And I'm still mystified
I can't do it anymore and I'm not satisfied
Dancing was used as a euphemism for sex, and the song is about a young couple trying to have sex for the first time.


Sarah Amanda Buendia
Ateneo de Manila University
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Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. sangmeelee
    February 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Sarah! I really found this essay funny and interesting especially because of how you were able to put side by side modern music and the numerous puns and innuendos found in Shakespeare’s plays. Speaking of Shakespeare’s influence on language, I read somewhere that he added or introduced around a thousand (probably more) words and phrases to the vocabulary that we now know today. Some of these phrases include “full circle” and “seen better days” – expressions that we still use in everyday conversation. He borrowed from classical literature and foreign languages which actually made me thought of our own current language which is a mixture of all sorts (English, Filipino, Spanish, Chinese, etc.).

  2. February 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Interesting. I like how you were able to integrate those scenes with modern day music. It takes an eye and ear for details to be able to notice those things! It’s funny how we consider the time before to be more conservative and traditional, and then the output of our time to be liberal, when all it really seems to be is that each period has their own way of making sexual innuendos.

  3. February 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Interesting. I like how you were able to integrate those scenes with modern day music. It takes an eye and ear for details to be able to notice those things! It’s funny how we consider the time before to be more conservative and traditional, and then the output of our time to be liberal, when all it really seems to be is that each period has its own way of making sexual innuendos.

  4. March 11, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    It’s true that Shakespeare’s “naughtiness” is largely due to his bawdiness, and yet the sexual innuendos he makes in the plays can also be terribly funny, even in “Hamlet”, and are dominantly linguistic, unlike Chaucer’s in “The Miller’s Tale” where slapstick, bodily humor plays a prominent role. I especially liked the citations from “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and from the scene where Venus meets Adonis. Reading these pregnant lines in a way should relax the expectant mind and the serious countenance of the beginning Shakespeare scholar: when Shakespeare himself has his “naughty” side, his comic side, and therefore his “playful” side, why at all times should he be read so sycophantly, so worshipped so divinely?

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