An educated dissertation on the Bard and the brown hole.
words :: Feet Banks, BFa
Someone who signed up for the Pie Quarterly newsletter was so disappointed at the amount of “cursing” in the Pie universe, he felt he had to write and let me know that “educated people have a larger vocabulary than this.”
So this one’s for you Carl C. Even though there was a pop-up profanity warning when you first hit the site, it’s still my motherfucking pleasure to present an “uneducated” (according to you) examination of ass eating in William Shakespeare’s second-tier hit comedy, The Taming of the Shrew.
For those unfamiliar with the play, Shrew is about two sisters—the amicable Bianca, and the headstrong, assertive, “shrewish” Katherina. Their rich father has declared that no suitor can marry the desirable, compliant (idealized) Bianca before his eldest daughter finds a husband. Since Katherina has no interest in such a life, one of Bianca’s plethora of suitors pretends to be a music tutor in order to get close to the young dish and enlists his wedding-thirsty buddy Petruchio to lure Katherina into nuptials. Cue the witty banter and comedy as Petruchio attempts to woo and tame the shrew.
Believed to be written sometime around 1591, The Taming of the Shrew has been adapted numerous times for stage and screen, most famously in a 1967 theatrical rendition starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and the 1999 high school comedy flick10 Things I Hate About You (starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles). Among educated scholars (so, not me apparently), the popular discussion nowadays is about Power and Gender— does the Taming of the Shrew advocate sexual inequality, or does it exemplify and critique men’s attempts to subordinate women?
But no one ever talks about the ass licking. So let’s forge new pathways into a well-explored text. Let’s part the pubic, jungled vines of time and slide o’er the glistening mound of subjective interpretation in order to wipe the mud from the dark portal of understanding and dive head-first into the fact that one of the English language’s most celebrated scribes was all about that rim job.
Exhibit A: much of the Taming of the Shrew is built on the verbal tug-of-war between Katherine’s independence and Pertruchio’s (at times brutish) dominance. The play is filled with witty banter and innuendos—this is a comedy after all—but amidst all this wordplay, Shakespeare begins to show his hand…or at least a moistened finger or two.
Act 2, Scene 1— Lines 194-198
Why, what’s a movable?
KATHERINA A joint stool.
Thou hast hit it. Come, sit on me.
Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
Women are made to bear, and so are you.
Certainly, on the surface the “ass” in question is a donkey, Katherine is calling her new mate dumb for thinking she would ever “sit on him”, and Petruchio flips it into a sex/pregnancy thing—to bear a child. But the “come sit on me” hints at more penetrating thoughts, and the foundation of ass has now been laid. Be it pounding or licking has yet to be revealed. Though the subtext screams for an educated guess. Oh, the tension!
No worries though, just a dozen lines later, the Bard lays his cards on the table and openly brings ass eating to the forefront:
Act 2, Scene 1—Lines 212-21
Come, come, you wasp! I’ faith, you are too angry.
If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting — in his tail.
Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
What, with my tongue in your tail! Nay, come again, good Kate, I am a gentleman.
Obviously, the bold font is mine (it would have taken Shakespeare considerable effort to create bold fonts with a quill and ink), but looky here—blatant ass-licking in a 420+ year-old work from one of the most celebrated storytellers of all time. Later in the play Ol’ Willie gets into cocks and crabs, but we’ll stick with the ass licking for the time being, because—at least through the lens of English literature—licking hoop was all the rage back in the day, and ever since.
Geoffrey Chaucer serves up one of the earliest written examples in the late 1300s when he penned The Canterbury Tales. The 17,000-line text contains a scene where a woman tricks her suitor into kissing her “arse” rather than her lips. Egad!
However, faces and mouths in or around the rectal area had long been a trope in the visual arts. In her book Sin and Filth in Medieval Culture: The Devil in the Latrine, Martha Bayless notes that Christians have always considered ass licking to be sinful (Editor’s note: which means they all probably did tons of it behind closed doors) and this is ““why medieval illustrations of devils often had faces on their groins or backsides, to show that their bodies were as disordered as their morality. Kissing a rear end meant that your morality was distorted.”
Other English scribes (post-Shakespeare) to hint at putting tongues in the out hole include John Cleland (Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1748) and the poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The French, as expected, were far ahead of the times and even had their own phrase for the act: faire feuille de rose,” or “to do rose leaf.” This term appeared all over their written works, most famously in 1893’s Teleny, a deeply pornographic work possibly written by Oscar Wilde and a bunch of his depraved friends. (Though they inherited “Cunnnilingus” and “Fellatio” from the ancient Romans, the English didn’t come up with the term “analingus” until 1886, when Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the phrase in his book Psychopathia Sexualis.”
By the late 1800s, all sorts of filthy acts, including the now-classic tail-tonguing, found their way into print via The Romance of Lust, an anonymously written, four-volume tome about Charlie, a protagonist with a large wang and a voracious sexual appetite. According to Charlie, who will penetrate any hole that moves and half of those that don’t, “the tongue is good for so much more than tasting food.” (Shout out to Pie Quarterly subscriber Max for bringing this example to light.)
In contemporary society, chucking one’s tongue in a tail is old hat. Grasping for relevancy in the digital era, Playboy magazine even published an essay on it in 2014. (And a year later Cosmo followed suit with a how-to guide.)
Let’s close it down with a quote from my favourite ass licker, my friend “Kat” (name changed to align with the play). She puts it this way, “You don’t reflect on it or go in with a plan. It’s always in the moment, it’s about taking pleasure in giving pleasure. I’ve never had a gnarly taste or a bad shituation. Not everyone is down and if they say stop, you do it. Even though it’s a bummer.”
So there we have it. A highly educated discussion for all you ass lickers and cornhole chewers out there: take solace in knowing you are partaking in a time-honoured practice carried on and written about for centuries.
And oh yeah, Carl C, it’s perfectly fine for you to not like how I write or speak on my own webpage. And it’s 1000% OK to write in sharing your opinion and explaining what it’s founded on. But insulting someone’s education level and intelligence to justify your own personal views on the usage of an ever evolving language is just an asshole move. So after you finish eating a bag of shit-covered dicks, how about you grow the fuck up and learn to live and let live without thinking you’re superior to everyone different from you? Ass.
Actually, Carl’s right. I’m not that educated— a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Writing major, double-minor: Film & Philospophy) is not all that fancy. I just didn’t like his condescending fucking tone. Also, is swearing really all that bad? Psychology Today says maybe not. And so do the scientists who published this paper in the journal Science Direct. And i quote:
“The overall finding of this set of studies, that taboo fluency is positively correlated with other measures of verbal fluency, undermines the POV view of swearing. That is, a voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies.”
Bibliograhpy (how educated right?): You can read Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew here. Thanks also to The Daily Beast, The Cut, and Vice Magazine for treading some of these skidtrails before me and creating helpful research materials.