David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 2

 — 4.2 —

A male pandar, a female bawd, and their servant Boult were in a room in their brothel in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos.

“Boult!” Pandar shouted.


“Search the market closely and see if you can find a woman we can buy. Mytilene is full of gallants who are willing to frequent brothels. We lost too much money this latest market time by being too wenchless. We need another prostitute.”

“We were never so much out of creatures,” Bawd said. “We have only three prostitutes, who are of poor quality, and they can do no more than they can do, and they with continual action in entertaining customers are just as good as rotten.”

“Therefore let’s have fresh whores, whatever we pay for them,” Pandar said. “If there be not a conscience to be used in every trade, we shall never prosper.”

By that, he meant that every business needed to follow ethical business principles. Since he and his wife, Bawd, ran a brothel, they needed to provide good whores in return for good money.

“You say the truth,” Bawd said. “It is not our bringing up of poor bastards — as, I think, I have brought up some eleven —”

She meant that ethical business principles meant more than bringing up the bastard children who had been born to the whores.

Bolt interrupted, “— yes, you brought them up to eleven years of age, and then you brought them down again; that is, you made them work in the brothel. But shall I search the market?”

“What else, man?” Bawd said. “The stuff we have, a strong wind will blow it to pieces — these whores are so pitifully sodden.”

The whores were sodden because they had spent time soaking in hot tubs as a treatment for venereal disease.

“You say the truth,” Pandar said. “They’re too unwholesome; they are diseased — my conscience makes me admit that. A Transylvanian lay with the little baggage — one of our whores — and now the poor man is dead.”

“Yes, she quickly cheated him: He gave us money and she made him roast-meat — that is, he acquired a venereal disease, roasted himself in hot water, hoping for a medical cure, and then became food for worms,” Boult said. “But I’ll go search the market.”

He left to carry out his errand.

Pandar said, “Three or four thousand chequins — Italian gold coins — would be a pretty good nest egg that would allow us to live quietly, and so stop running a brothel.”

“Why should we stop running a brothel, I ask you?” Bawd said. “Is it shameful to make money when we are old?”

“Our reputation is not as good as our profit, and our profit is not good enough to justify the dangerous risks we take,” Pandar said. “Therefore, if in our youths we could pick up some pretty fortune and property, it would be a good idea to keep the door to our brothel closed. Besides, the bad relationship we have with the gods is a persuasive reason for us to retire from this line of work.”

“Come, other kinds of people offend the gods as well as we,” Bawd said.

“As well as we!” Pandar said. “Yes, and better, too; we offend worse. Our profession is not a trade; it’s no calling. It is certainly not a religious calling. But here comes Boult.”

Boult entered the brothel, with the pirates and Marina following him. Marina was still wearing the clothing of an upper-class woman.

Boult said to Marina, “Come this way.”

He then said to the pirates, “My masters, you say that she’s a virgin?”

“Sir,” the first pirate said, “there is no doubt about it.”

Boult said to Pandar, “Master, I have gone through negotiations for this piece — this woman — whom you see. If you like her, good; if not, I have lost my deposit I gave these pirates to bring her here so you could see her and decide whether to buy her.”

Bawd asked, “Boult, has she any accomplishments?”

“She is pretty, speaks well, and is wearing excellent clothing. She needs no other accomplishments than these for this line of work.”

Bawd asked, “What’s her price, Boult?”

“I cannot negotiate a price even a cent lower than a thousand gold coins.”

Pandar said to the pirates, “Well, follow me, my masters, you shall have your money at once.”

He then said, “Wife, take her under your care; instruct her in what she has to do, so that she may not be raw in her entertainment. She needs to know how to entertain her customers.”

Pandar and the pirates went into another room of the brothel where Pandar kept his money.

Bawd ordered, “Boult, note her distinguishing physical characteristics: the color of her hair, complexion, height, and age. Go to the marketplace and describe her and say that her virginity is guaranteed. Cry, ‘He who will pay the most money shall have her first.’ Such a maidenhead will not sell cheaply, if men still are as they have been in the past. Do this now.”

“I shall do it,” Boult said as he exited.

Marina said, “I regret that Leonine was so slack — so slow — in doing his duty! He should have struck me down without speaking to me! I regret that these pirates were not barbarous enough! They should have thrown me overboard into the sea so that I could go and seek my mother!”

“Why are you crying, pretty one?” Bawd asked.

“Because I am pretty,” Marina replied.

“Come, the gods have done well by you.”

“I am not accusing them of anything.”

Bawd said, “You have fallen into my hands, and here you are likely to live.”

“I blame myself for escaping from the hands of the person who was likely to kill me,” Marina replied. “It was very likely that I would die.”

“You are likely to die here,” Bawd said. “Here you shall live in sexual pleasure.”

In the slang of that time and place, “to die” meant “to have an orgasm.”

“No,” Marina said.

“Yes, indeed you shall,” Bawd said, “and you shall taste gentlemen of all fashions. You shall fare well. You shall have the difference of all complexions. You will have sex with men of all kinds and colors. Why are you covering your ears?”

“Are you a woman?”

“If I am not a woman, then what do you think I am?” Bawd asked. “What would you have me be, if I am not a woman?”

“I would have you be an honest — that is, chaste — woman, or no woman at all.”

“Darn you, little goose — you greenhorn,” Bawd said. “I think you are going to give me some trouble. Come, you’re a foolish young sapling, and you must be bent as I would have you. You must do what I tell you to do.”

“May the gods defend me!”

“If it pleases the gods to defend you by men, then men must comfort you, men must feed you, men must sexually stir you,” Bawd said. “You will make your living by men. Look, Boult’s returned.”

Boult entered the brothel.

“Now, sir, have you advertised her throughout the marketplace?” Bawd asked.

“I have cried loudly and described her in detail, almost even telling potential customers the number of her hairs. I have drawn her picture with my voice.”

“Please tell me what was the reaction of the people, especially of the younger sort?”

“Indeed, they listened to me as they would have listened to their father’s last will and testament to see what he had left them. There was a Spaniard whose mouth drooled; he was so taken by my advertisement that he metaphorically went to bed with her description.”

“We shall see him here tomorrow with his best clothing on,” Bawd said.

“He will be here tonight, tonight,” Boult predicted. “But, mistress, do you know the French knight whose legs are unsteady?”

Unsteady legs were a sign of syphilis.

“Who, Monsieur Veroles?” Bawd asked.

The name was derived from the French word for syphilis, so it was as if the Frenchman’s name was Mr. Syphilis.

“Yes, he,” Boult said. “He attempted to cut a caper — jump in the air and click his heels together — after hearing my proclamation, but he could not and groaned, and he swore that he would see her tomorrow.”

“Well, well,” Bawd said. “As for him, he brought his disease hither: Here he does but renew it.”

Syphilis was known as the French disease. The Frenchman had already been infected with the disease before he entered the brothel; once inside the brothel, he made sure that the disease would not be cured.

Bawd continued, “I know he will come in our shadow — under our roof — to scatter his crowns of the Sun.”

French crowns were known as crowns of the Sun; they were gold coins on which the Sun was shown over a depiction of a shield.

“Well, if we had of every nation a traveller, we should lodge them here with this sign,” Boult said, motioning to Marina.

He meant that every traveler would want to have sex with Marina.

Bawd said to Marina, “Please, come here for awhile. You have a fortune coming to you. You will make a lot of money. Listen to me: You must seem to do that fearfully which you commit willingly, and you must seem to despise profit where you have most gain. You must pretend to cry because you live as you do — as a prostitute. You must pretend to hate being a prostitute. If you do that, your lovers will pity you and give you money. It is seldom in life that pity will give you a good reputation and that a good reputation will make a good profit.”

“I don’t understand what you are saying,” Marina said.

“Take her home, mistress, and speak plainly to her,” Boult said. “These blushes of hers must be quenched with some immediate practice.”

“You say the truth, indeed,” Bawd said. “These blushes of hers must be quenched. Brides go to do the act with shameful blushes although the brides are allowed to do the act by law. Brides blush, but they do the act.”

“Some brides blush, and some do not,” Boult said. “But, mistress, since I have bargained for the joint —”

Bawd, who knew what he wanted, said, “— you may cut a morsel off the spit.”

Pandar, Bawd, and Boult all regarded the prostitutes as merchandise rather than full human beings. To them, prostitutes were creatures and stuff and pieces, and now a piece of roast meat. Certainly, Marina was a piece — a masterpiece of virtue, not the piece of ass they thought she was.

Bawd would allow Boult to have sex with Marina — after her virginity had been sold.

“I have permission, then?” Boult asked.

“Who would deny you permission?” Bawd replied.

She said to Marina, “Come, young one, I like your clothing well.”

Boult said, “Yes, indeed. Her clothing shall not be changed yet.”

He meant that soon enough Marina would wear the clothing of a prostitute, but for now her fine clothing increased her price.

Bawd gave Boult some money and said, “Boult, spend that in the town. Tell everyone what a guest we have here. You’ll lose nothing by men visiting our guest because you shall earn some tips.

“When nature formed this piece, she meant you a good turn. You will make some money from this piece and have a turn with her in bed. Therefore, tell everyone what a paragon of beauty she is, and you will make a profit out of your advertising.”

“I tell you, mistress, thunder shall not so awaken the eels in their muddy beds as my describing her beauty shall stir up the trouser-snakes of the lewdly inclined,” Boult said. “I’ll bring home some customers tonight.”

Boult exited.

“Come,” Bawd said to Marina, “and follow me.”

“If fires are hot, knives sharp, or waters deep, untried I still my virgin knot will keep,” Marina said.

She meant that she would commit suicide if that was what it took to remain a virgin.

She then said, “Diana, virgin goddess, aid me and help me keep my virginity!”

“What have we to do with Diana?” Bawd asked, amused. “Please, come with me.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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