David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 6

 — 4.6 —

In a room of the brothel, Pandar, Bawd, and Boult talked about Marina.

“I would pay twice what I paid for her if it meant that she never would have come here,” Pandar said.

“Darn her!” Bawd said. “She’s able to freeze the god Priapus, and undo a whole — as well as hole — generation.”

Priapus was the male god of fertility, and his idols depicted him with a huge erection. Cold results in shrinkage, and freezing cold results in lack of erections. Marina was so talented at not losing her virginity that she could freeze Priapus and so prevent a new generation of children from being born.

Bawd continued, “We must get Marina to lose her virginity. We must either get her ravished — rape is what I mean — or get rid of her.”

The phrase “to ravish” is odd. One meaning is “to rape”; another meaning is “to fill with delight.”

Bawd continued, “When Marina is supposed to do for clients what prostitutes are supposed to do and show them the kindness of our profession, she instead has her quirks, her reasons, her master reasons, her prayers, and her knees.”

One of Marina’s “quirks” was an unwillingness to be forced to have sex for the financial improvement of Pandar, Bawd, and Boult.

Bawd continued, “Marina would make a Puritan of the Devil if he should ever attempt to buy a kiss from her.”

Boult said, “Indeed, I must rape her, or she’ll disfurnish us of all our cavaliers, and make our swearers priests. We will lose all our customers because she will make them virtuous.”

Pandar said, “I wish thatthe pox — syphilis — would fall upon her greensickness for me!”

Maidens sometimes suffered from greensickness when they reached puberty. People of the time felt that the sickness resulted from unrequited love. If the love were requited — cynical people might say, with a roll in the hay — the sickness would be cured.

Bawd said, “Indeed, there’s no way to be rid of greensickness except by the way that leads to the pox.”

She heard a noise, looked up, and said, “Here comes the Lord Lysimachus; he is disguised.”

Boult said, “We should have both lord and lower-down, high-class and low-class, if the peevish baggage would just give way to customers. If she would just do what a prostitute is supposed to do, she would be a very successful prostitute.”

Lysimachus said, “How is everyone?” and then he joked, “How much does it cost to buy a dozen virginities?”

“Now, may the gods thoroughly bless your honor!” Bawd said.

“I am glad to see that your honor is in good health,” Boult said.

Anyone interested in deflowering a dozen virgins must be in good health.

“You may be glad indeed,” Lysimachus replied. “It is better for you if your customers stand upon sound legs. If their legs are unsteady, they may have the pox — and may have gotten it here! What wholesome iniquity do you have that a man may deal with, and yet defy the surgeon? Do you have a healthy whore I can sleep with and not have to see a doctor later?”

Bawd replied, “We have here one, sir, if she would — but there never came her like in Mytilene.”

“If she would do the deed of darkness, you would say,” Lysimachus said. “That is what you were going to say, right?”

“Your honor knows well enough what I was going to say.”

“Well, call her forth, call her forth.”

Pandar left to get Marina.

Boult said, “Flesh and blood, sir, are white and red. When you see her, you shall see a rose; and she were a rose indeed, if she had but —”

He stopped.

Lysimachus knew the proverb: No rose is without a thorn — that is, a prick. He also knew that the word “rose” was slang for “vagina.”

“If she had but what?” he asked.

“Sir, I can be modest,” Boult replied.

“Modesty dignifies the reputation of a bawd, no less than it gives a good report to a member to be chaste,” Lysimachus said.

He meant that modesty was as useful to a bawd or a pandar as it is to a male member, aka penis.

Pandar returned with Marina.

Bawd said, “Here comes that which still grows attached to the stalk; this rose has never yet been plucked, I can assure you. Isn’t she a beautiful creature?”

“Indeed, she would serve after a long voyage at sea. A sex-starved sailor would love to have a go at her. Well, there’s some money for you. Leave us.”

“I ask your honor to give me permission to say a word to her,” Bawd said. “I’ll be done quickly.”

“I give you permission, but be quick.”

Bawd said privately to Marina, “First, I would have you note that this man is an honorable man.”

By “honorable,” Bawd meant “high-ranking.” By “note,” she meant “know.”

Marina replied, “I hope to find him honorable, so that I may worthily note him.”

By “honorable,” Marina meant “virtuous.” By “worthily note,” she meant “treat him with respect.”

“Next, I want you to know that he’s the governor of this country, and a man to whom I am bound,” Bawd said.

She was bound to him because he had not shut down her brothel.

“If he governs the country, you are bound to him indeed — you are a citizen of his country and you should be a good citizen. However, I don’t know how honorable he is as governor.”

“Please tell me, without any more virginal fencing — without any fencing with words to guard your virginity — will you treat him kindly? He will line your apron with gold.”

Women in some professions can lift their aprons and catch money in them. The lifting of the aprons — and other articles of clothing — can result in financial gain.

“What he will do graciously, charitably, and like a gentleman, I will thankfully receive.”

Bawd lifted her eyes to the Heavens.

Impatient, Lysimachus asked, “Are you done yet?”

Bawd replied, “My lord, she’s not paced yet. She has not been broken in. You must take some pains to work her so that she will do what you want her to do.”

She was referring to Marina as if she were a horse that needed to be broken and trained.

She then said to Pandar and Boult, “Come, we will leave his honor and her together. Let’s go.”

Pandar, Bawd, and Boult exited.

Lysimachus was cynical; he doubted that Marina was a virgin. Therefore, he said to her, “Now, pretty one, how long have you been at this trade?”

“What trade, sir?”

“Why, I cannot name it without causing offense.”

The trade Lysimachus meant was prostitution, but Marina now interpreted the word “trade” as meaning “way of life.” Her way of life was being a virgin.

“I cannot be offended by my trade,” Marina said. “Please name it.”

“How long have you been of this profession?”

The profession that Lysimachus meant was prostitution, but Marina now interpreted the word “profession” as meaning “character or nature.” Again, she was a virgin.

“Ever since I can remember,” she replied.

“Did you go to it so young? Were you a gamester at five or at seven?” Lysimachus asked.

Lysimachus was using “go to it” to mean “to have sex,” and he was using “gamester” to mean “prostitute.”

A gamester plays a game, and Marina knew that she was a virginal player in the game of life.

“Earlier, too, sir, if now I be one,” Marina said.

Thinking that there was no “if” about it, Lysimachus said, “Why, the house you dwell in proclaims you to be a creature of sale.”

A creature of sale is a prostitute.

“Do you know this house to be a place of such entertainment, and yet you will come into it?” Marina said. “I have heard that you are a man of honorable qualities and that you are the governor of this place.”

“Why, has your principal told you who I am?”

A principal is a manager or superior.

“Who is my principal?” Marina asked.

“Why, your herb-woman,” Lysimachus replied. “She plants seeds and roots of shame and iniquity. She helps men to plant their seeds — their semen. Oh, you have heard something of my power, and so you stand aloof for more serious wooing. You want a long-term relationship with me. But I protest to you, pretty one, my authority shall either not see you, or else it will look friendly upon you. I will not use my power to hurt you as you practice your profession. I will either ignore you or perhaps even help you. Now take me to some private place with a bed. I am impatient.”

“If you were born to honor, show it now. Act like the honorable man you are,” Marina said. “If you have acquired the reputation of being honorable, then show that the judgment is good that thought you worthy of it. By acting honorably, you can show that you deserve your reputation of being an honorable person.”

“What’s this? What’s this?” Lysimachus said. He was impressed by Marina’s words. “Speak some more; be sage. Speak wisdom.”

“I am a maiden, although most ungentle fortune has placed me in this pigsty, where, since I came here, venereal diseases have been sold for a higher price than medicine. I wish that the gods would set me free from this unhallowed place even if it meant that they would transform me into the humblest bird that flies in the pure air!”

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the gods sometimes transform maidens such as Daphne and Syrinx into other beings such a laurel tree or a bed of reeds to help them escape rape. In one story, Neptune pursued a virgin named Cornix as he tried to rape her. Minerva, a virgin goddess, pitied the girl and transformed her into a crow. John Gower wrote about her escape in his Confessio Amantis.

Like other lecherous men to whom Marina had spoken, Lysimachus reformed. He was embarrassed about his lechery, and he now tried to deny that he had been lecherous.

“I did not think you could have spoken so well,” Lysimachus said. “I never dreamed that you could. Had I brought here a corrupted mind, your speech would have altered it. Wait, here’s gold for you. Persevere in that clear way you are going, and may the gods strengthen you!”

“May the good gods preserve you!” Marina replied.

“As for me, think that I came here with no ill intent because to me even the doors and windows here stink vilely. Fare you well. You are a masterpiece of virtue, and I doubt not that your training has been noble.

“Wait, here’s more gold for you. A curse upon that man — may he die like a thief! — who robs you of your goodness! If you ever again hear from me, it shall be for your good.”

Lysimachus opened the door to exit. Boult, who was standing outside the door, said, “I beg your honor, give me a tip — one coin.”

“Get away from me, you damned doorkeeper!” Lysimachus said.

Boult did keep the door. Part of his job was to stand outside the door until the john had finished doing the deed with the whore.

Lysimachus said, “Your house, except for this virgin who props it up, would fall and bury you. Get away from me!”

He exited, and Boult entered the room.

“What’s this?” he said to Marina. “We must take another course of action with you. If your obstinate and perverse chastity, which is not worth a breakfast in the cheapest country under the sky, shall ruin a whole household, then let me be gelded like a cocker spaniel. Come with me.”

“Where are you taking me?” Marina asked. “What do you want with me?”

“I must have your maidenhead taken off, and if I don’t, I’ll make sure that the common hangman executes your maiden’s head,” Boult said. “I am going to take your virginity away from you. Come with me. We’ll have no more gentlemen driven away. Instead, you shall do your duty like other whores. Come with me, I say.”

Bawd entered the room and said, “What’s going on? What’s the matter?”

“Things get worse and worse, mistress,” Boult said. “Marina has spoken holy words to the Lord Lysimachus.”

“How abominable!” Bawd said.

“She makes our profession out to be one that would stink before the face of the gods.”

“Hang her up at the end of a rope forever!”

“The nobleman would have dealt with her like a nobleman and tipped well, but she sent him away as cold as a snowball,” Boult said. “He was saying his prayers, too.”

“Boult, take her away,” Bawd said. “Use her at your pleasure; do what you want with her. Crack the glass of her virginity. Break her hymen, and make the rest malleable. Once she ceases to be a virgin, she will become a whore.”

“Even if she were a thornier piece of ground than she is, she shall be plowed,” Boult said.

Plowing this particular ground sometimes results in the crop of a baby.

“Pay attention, you gods!” Marina cried.

“She conjures!” Bawd said. “She is calling for supernatural help! Away with her! I wish that she had never come within my doors!”

She said to Marina, “May you be hanged!”

She said to Boult, “She was born to ruin us.”

She said to Marina, “Will you not go the way of womankind? At one point or another, women cease to be virgins! Accept it, you fancy dish of chastity with rosemary and bay leaves!”

To Bawd, Mariana was a dish — an object — to be consumed.

Bawd exited.

“Come, mistress,” Boult said to Marina. “Come with me.”

“What do you want with me?”

“I want to take from you the jewel — your virginity — that you hold so dear.”

“Please, tell me one thing first.”

“I am thinking about your one thing.”

In this culture, “thing” was slang for genitals.

“What can you wish your enemy to be?”

“Why, I could wish my enemy to be my master, or rather, my mistress,” Boult replied.

He meant that if his enemy should be his master or, better, his mistress, then he would have no enemy because his enemy would be his friend.

“Neither of these — master nor mistress — are as bad as you are; they better you by giving you a job. In addition, they are better than you since they have an advantage over you because you are in their command — they give you orders.

“However, although they benefit you by giving you a job, you hold a position for which the most tortured fiend of Hell would not exchange places with you for fear of hurting its reputation. You are the damned doorkeeper to every scoundrel who comes here looking for a whore. Your ear is liable to be pounded by the angry fist of every rogue. Your food has been belched on by infected lungs.”

“What would you have me do?” Boult asked. “Would you have me go to the wars where a man may serve seven years and lose a leg, and not have money enough in the end to buy himself a wooden one?”

“Do anything except what you do now,” Marina said. “Empty filth from old receptacles such as sewers and use the common shores to remove it.”

The common shores were places on the seashore where the general public was allowed to put filth to be swept out to sea at high tide. Boult’s job would be to remove sewage by placing it on the common shores.

Marina continued, “Serve as an apprentice to the common hangman. Any of these ways of making a living are better than this job that you are doing now. If a baboon could speak, he would say that he would not do your job because it would lower his reputation. I wish that the gods would safely deliver me from this place!

“Here, here’s gold for you. If you want to benefit your master, proclaim in the marketplace that I can sing, weave, sew, and dance. I have other virtues that I’ll keep myself from boasting about. Say that I will undertake to teach all these. I don’t doubt that this populous city will yield many scholars. I am sure that this city has many pupils whom I can teach for money.”

“But can you teach all these things that you speak of?” Boult asked.

“If you prove that I cannot, then take me into your home — this brothel — again, and prostitute me to the basest fellow who frequents your house.”

“Well, I will see what I can do for you,” Boult said. “If I can find a place for you, I will.”

“Be sure to find me a place among honest — chaste — women.”

“Indeed, my acquaintance lies little among them,” Boult said. “I can’t say that I know many chaste women. But since my master and mistress have bought you, I can do nothing except with their consent; therefore, I will tell them what you are proposing. I am sure that I shall find them agreeable enough. Come with me, and I’ll do for you what I can. Come with me.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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