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The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew


by William Shakespeare

Analysis: Steaminess Rating

Exactly how steamy is this story?


If you ever catch a performance of Taming of the Shrew your mom won't make you cover your eyes, but she might make you cover your ears. There's no nudity and definitely no sex on stage, but there are lots and lots of raunchy jokes and many graphic allusions to sex acts. Plus, there are references to sex happening off-stage. It's easy to miss some of these things if you're not fluent in "Elizabethan dirty talk" but you'll be glad to know that some of Shakespeare's slang isn't much different than our own. Warning: Do not keep reading if you're sensitive to crude euphemisms.

So, what's Shakespeare's favorite slang? Here's a brief list:

Bush: "Bush" meant the same thing then as it does now. Bianca makes an allusion to Petruchio (her brother-in-law) "hitting" hers in the play's last scene, revealing that she's not as chaste or silent as she pretends to be at the play's beginning.

Tail: Yep. Same as it ever was and all the guys in the play are after it. Petruchio famously makes an allusion to oral sex using the word "tail" when he first meets Kate in Act 2, Scene 1.

Fingering: This one's a bit more complex. OK, not really. Everyone knows that "making music" can be code for messing around. Chaucer knew it, Kafka knew it, and Shakespeare sure as heck knows it in this play. When Hortensio gives Kate music lessons on the lute (a guitar-like instrument), she gets mad at him when he tries to show her some "fingering" techniques. He's giving her a music lesson, sure, but Shakespeare also implies that there's a bit more on. Kate's response? She breaks his "instrument" over his head. Then Bianca tells Hortensio to go "tune" his instrument while she "studies" with Cambio. Go ahead and guess what that means. Don't believe us? There are plenty of Shakespeare scholars and historians who have spent years and years thinking and writing about this.

Going to bed: Everyone knows this but let's discuss anyway. When Sly tells his wife to come to bed, it means it's time to have sex. However, Sly's "wife" is a really a boy dressed up like a noblewoman. The joke is that Sly doesn't know it's a boy, but Elizabethans were not necessarily opposed to admiring the beauty of youngsters. Not to worry though, it never happens because Sly is forced to watch a play instead. (Shakespeare seems to be having some fun with the idea that his theater is a replacement for sex.)

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