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Ken Houghton

I always assumed it was a muff reference out of Chaucer.

And don't leave Brokeback Mountain out of your list of Hathaway films, especially since there are more breasts (including Ms. H's; ride 'em, cowgirl) and clits on display than penises.

Erika

I guess I have a dirty mind because I assumed Viola was wishing "she" had pubic hair -- wryly poking fun at a boy who hasn't sprouted a beard yet, and also likely hasn't produced anything down under.

Lance

Erika, that's an interesting take. I hadn't thought of it.

It's not a question of having a dirty mind though. After all, I have a dirty mind. Ask anyone who knows me. The question is, how dirty is Viola's mind? There are plenty of sex jokes and in Twelfth Night but if Viola is making one here it's the only one she makes in the whole play.

Bill Altreuter

I'm with your reading, but, as I commented at Slate, what makes the line great is its nuanced ambiguity. Even though one of the highlights of my summer every year are the Shakespeare performances that are held in Buffalo's Delaware Park, I'm really more of a Shakespeare reader, where layers of meaning can be enjoyed without the scrim of actors' or directors' interpretations.

Arun

Reading this, my first impression was the beard reference was about oral sex- the old joke of calling a mustache a "womb broom" came to mind.

actor212

Frankly this is tortured nonsense; if you don't do the dirty joke, you're repressing the vitality of the sexuality Shakespeare embedded in the line, the kind of body-part joke he rarely resisted.

I'm with Erica on this one. Viola may intend Orsino's whiskers, and indeed, her immediate reaction should be one of embarassment.

When we studied this play in company, we assumed the line to mean (for Feste) that Cesario wished he was older (presumably so he could woo Olivia, and that is how we played it in production (sadly, I was too old to play Orsino and settled for Malvolio).

Too, we felt that this line "I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus" serves to indicate if not Feste's knowledge of Viola's plight, at least his complicity in helping Cesario.

The best Feste I've ever seen was Ben Kingsley in the Trevor Nunn movie starring Imogen Stubbs as Viola and Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia. Nunn toned down the outward comedy to get to the nub of the drama of the plot, which actually made for a funnier film.

MikeT

It's a dirty joke either way, but I agree that Viola wouldn't intentionally make a dirty joke, so we have to decide which reading makes sense for her to accidentally make a dirty joke?

As an aside, I wonder how far back the slang meaning of "beard" as a woman married to a gay man goes back? Anybody have a clue?

Rana

MikeT, my guess would be that it only goes back to a time when "being gay" was recognized as an identity, instead of a set of behaviors - ie, the 20th century. Earlier than that, there were men who lived as permanent bachelors and had male lovers, men who dressed and behaved effeminately (what we would now categorize as queens, transvestites, or transsexuals) and there were men who had sex with other men but didn't see this behavior as anything really having to do with their personal identity. None of these groups would need to marry a woman to hide their gayness; the first two groups were open about it, and the last didn't consider themselves gay - their sexual activities with other men had about as much significance as sexual activities with women would have - it was something they did, not somebody they were.

Or put another way, the first two wouldn't be marrying women in the first place; wives of men in the last group would simply be wives of men who fooled around. (It's not unlike the situation these days of married black men enjoying homosexual activities "on the down low" - the wife isn't needed to hide these men's secret gay identity, because these men don't consider themselves gay. Engaged in illicit sexual activity, yes, but not gay.)

Kathleen Maher

Ah ha! (I read your posts backwards when I've missed a slew of them.) The pudendum! Excellent choice, very Nabokovian.
Are you and THE BLONDE coming to NYC to see "Twelfth Night"? Manny and I have discussed various schemes for hanging around, all day if necessary, which it will be, and scoring the free tickets.
If you've got your plans set, say no more. But if you'd like a few know-nothings along, who were awed by last year's not as well received "Hamlet," let me know. Or let Manny know. We play a game sometimes to see if we can read each other's unspoken social agenda. He claims he doesn't vy for attention--it just comes to him. And all the faster because unlike me, he never jumps up and down and waves his arms.

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