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Sex in the City: Messina, Vienna, Troy, London -or- ‘from the casque to the cushion ’ the comic turn Sexual intercourse began In nineteen sixty-three (Which was rather late for me) – Between the end of the Chatterley ban And the Beatles’ first LP.

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Sex in the City: Messina, Vienna, Troy, London


‘from the casque to the cushion’

the comic turn

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(Which was rather late for me) –

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.

Up till then there’d only been

A sort of bargaining,

A wrangle for a ring,

A shame that started at sixteen

And spread to everything.

(from Philip Larkin, ‘Annus Mirabilis’)


For his [honour], it stuck upon him as the sun

In the grey vault of heaven, and by his light

Did all the chivalry of England move

To do brave acts. He was indeed the glass

Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves

( Kate on Hotspur, 2 Henry IV, 2.3.18-22).

My dear, dear lord,

The purest treasure mortal times afford

Is spotless reputation. Take that away

Men are but gilded loam or painted clay…

Mine honour is my life. Both grow in one.

Take honour from me, and my life is done (Mowbray in Richard II, 1.1.176-183)

[Othello’s occupation] … the plumed troops and the big wars

That makes ambition virtue! … the neighing steed and the shrill trump,

The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife,

The royal banner, and all quality,

Pride, pomp and cirucmstance of glorious war! (Othello, 3.3.354-59)

Othello’s occupation’s gone.

Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore (Othello, 3.3.362-64).

Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men (Othello, 5.2.6).


It is held

That valour is the chiefest virtue, and

Most dignifies the haver.

(Cominius in Coriolanus, 2.2.79-81)

For men, then, ‘valour’ = ‘honour’ = active ‘virtue’ = state of DOING

What is ‘virtue’ for women? What constitutes ‘virtue’? What constitutes female ‘honour’? Answer: a state of BEING. Honour = chastity

And the loss of female honour = ?

Notice: men who betray men are called traitors. Women who betray men – Emilia, for instance, betraying Iago (‘I charge you, get you home’; ‘Be wise and get you home’: ‘Perchance, Iago, I will ne’ er go home’) by telling Desdemona’s truth – are called whores (‘Villanous whore!’). Men’s betrayal is politicised. Women’s betrayal is sexualised, which is to say, that women’s sexuality is politics. And to kill a woman for adultery or ‘folly’ is to punish her failure of honour. The killing is an ‘honour’ killing, and the killer an ‘honourable murderer’ (or so Othello frames himself at the end).



how do men rate female honour?

how do men construct femininity?

how do men manipulate that construction to emasculate other men?

Is chastity an absolute value, equivalent to male honour, the ‘purest treasure mortal times afford’, so that ‘[her] honour is [her] life’? See Othello and Much Ado About Nothing (‘Yet she must die’; ‘Give not this rotten orange to your friend’). Or is chastity (like Falstaff’s honour) something altogether less absolute, less prized, more negotiable, ‘commercial’, a bargaining point between men? See Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.


Male hysteria?

Claudio: She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour: Behold how like a maid she blushes here! … But she is none;

She knows the heat of a luxurious bed… [I mean]

Not to be married, not to knit my soul

To an approved wanton. (Much Ado About Nothing, 4.1.31-43)

Male phlegmatism?

Lavatch: He that ears my land spares my team, and gives me leave to in the crop. If I be his cuckold, he’s my drudge. He that comforts my wife is the cherisher of my flesh and blood; he that loves my flesh and blood is my friend; ergo, he that kisses my wife is my friend. If men could be contented to be what they are, there were no fear in marriage.

(All’s Well that Ends Well, 1.3.39-45)


Shakespeare in the City Shakespeare writing the City

Observation 1: Wherever Shakespeare takes us – Rome, Venice, Elsinore – he’s always writing about home and the present. Consider this view of pre-imperial Rome that ‘looks’ like the London of Essex’s martial progress, en route to Ireland 1599: ‘All tongues speak of him, and the bleared sights / Are spectacled to see him. Your pratling nurse / Into a rapture lets her baby cry / While she chats him. The kitchen malkin pins / Her richest lockram ’bout her reechy neck / Clambering the walls to eye him. Stalls, bulks, windows / Are smothered up, leads filled and ridges housed / With variable complexions, all agreeing / In earnestness to see him … such a pother!’ (Coriolanus, 2.2.191-204). In Shakespeare, ‘away’ = (also) here; ‘ago’ = (also) now


Observation 2. In comedy, the city location produces generic affect. See for contrast the ‘green world’ ‘festive’ comedies and the ‘sea’ comedies, which deal in romantic love and which resolve to ‘wonder’ and end in ‘miracle’. City comedies talk about sex, not love. They end problematically. The ‘miracles’ feel like the work of charlatans and mountebanks. The controversies that polarise urban life remain unresolved. There’s ending without closure -- leaving a sour taste in the mouth.

City problems: enclosure; over-crowding; sanitation; law and order; disease; noise; pollution; commerce. A place already/always ‘fallen’, ‘corrupt’? Highest invention of ‘artful’ mankind improving ‘nature’? Or predatory trap? (See Gail Kern Paster, Shakespeare and the Idea of the City)


Troy in Troilus and Cressida

Vienna in Measure for Measure

London in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside

Messina in Much Ado About Nothing

a transition…a household…a coming of age…a ‘boy eternal’ growing up…the story of Claudio


Considering the title:

  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Nothing = No-thing
  • Nothing = Noting

Matthew Macfadyen as Benedick and Saskia Reeves as Beatrice in Cheek by Jowl’s

Much Ado About Nothing (directed by Declan Donnellan, designed by Nick Ormerod, 1998).


Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,

  • Men were deceivers ever;
  • One foot in sea, and one on shore,
  • To one thing constant never.
  • Then sigh not so, but let them go,
  • And be you blithe and bonny,
  • Converting all your sounds of woe
  • Into “Hey, nonny, nonny”.
            • Balthasar’s song, 2.3.60
            • [‘Oh these men, these men. Dost thou think Emilia …?]

Claudio: Thus answer I in name of Benedick,

But hear these ill news with the ears of Claudio.

Tis certain so. The Prince woos for himself.

Friendship is constant in all other things,

Save in the office and affairs of love.

Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues:

Let every eye negotiate for itself

And trust no agent; for Beauty is a witch

Against whose charms faith melteth into blood.

This is an accident of hourly proof

Which I mistrusted not. Farewell, therefore, Hero! (2.1.156-167)


Benedick: Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?

Beatrice: Yea, and I will weep awhile longer.

Benedick: I will not desire that.

Beatrice: You have no reason; I do it freely.

Benedick: Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged

Beatrice: Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!

Benedick: Is there any way to show such friendship?

Beatrice: A very even way, but no such friend.

Benedick: May a man do it?

Beatrice: It is a man’s office, but not yours.

Benedick: I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?

Beatrice: As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you. But believe me not – and yet I lie not. I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.

Benedick: By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.

Beatrice: Do not swear and eat it.

Benedick: I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love you not.

Beatrice: Will you not eat your word?

Benedick: With no sauce that can be devised to it…Come, bid me do anything for thee.

Beatrice: Kill Claudio.

Benedick: Ha, not for the wide world.

Beatrice: You kill me to deny it. Farewell. (4.1.255-290)