User:Jahsonic/AHE/Baroquerotica/The beginning of the British libertine tradition
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The most hilarious piece of erotica of the 17th century is undoubtedly Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery by John Wilmot (1647-1680). And with Wilmot, we find ourselves back on English soil for the first time since Chaucer. During the early modern period, the English region has escaped the reach of the erotomaniac's radar, so to speak, simply because there is so little going in the field of eroticism, apart from a few isolated poems and miscellanea. 1
One of these isolated poems is the precious "It is not four years ago", a poem about a man who offers a girl a decent sum of money to sleep with him and who is coldly rejected. After some time, the girl changes her mind and offers her charms to the man, each time for ever smaller amounts. Now the man turns her down time and time again, until the woman offers herself for free. Only then does he accept and says that she is much dearer to him gratis than for a high price.
It is not four years ago,
I offered forty crowns
To lie with her a night or so:
She answered me in frowns.
Not two years since, she meeting me
Did whisper in my ear,
That she would at my service be,
If I contented were.
I told her I was cold as snow,
And had no great desire;
But should be well content to go
To twenty, but no higher.
Some three months since or thereabout,
She that so coy had been,
Bethought herself and found me out,
And was content to sin.
I smiled at that, and told her I
Did think it something late,
And that I'd not repentance buy
At above half the rate.
This present morning early she
Forsooth came to my bed,
And gratis there she offered me
Her high-prized maidenhead.
I told her that I thought it then
Far dearer than I did,
When I at first the forty crowns
For one night's lodging bid.
Who is it, who puts, apart from the above one-hit wonder, England on the map of voluptuousness? They are two, one is Thomas Nashe (1567-ca. 1601) and the other is the already mentioned notorious libertine John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester. Thomas Nashe acquires fame with The Unfortunate Traveller (1594), the first English picaresque novel, which is still in print today. He is also attributed with the scabrous poem "Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo", written in the nineties of the 16th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary this poem is the first to use the word 'dildo' in the English language.
- My little dildo shall supply their kind,
- A knave that moves as light as leaves by wind,
- That bendeth not, nor foldest any deal,
- But stands as stiff as he were made of steel
John Wilmot is also quite fond of the cock, as would appears from his poem "Signior Dildo" from 1673. The British film The Libertine, which stars Johnny Depp as John Wilmot and John Malkovich as his protector and patron Charles II of England, paints an excellent picture of the then literary culture, which is strongly marked by libertinism, both in England and in mainland Europe. In The Libertine a very special theatrical piece is staged, to which we referred at the beginning of this chapter, Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery. It is a short piece and features in the leading roles Bolloximian, King of Sodom; Cuntigratia, his queen; Prickett, young Prince and Fuckadilla, Maid of Honour. In the film Sodom is performed for the king, to the general hilarity of the court and deep indignation of the king. Ladies enter the stage dancing, and after a few minutes each take a huge dildo and perform a round dance with it and finally start to make thrusting movements with it, as if having an intercourse with a huge strap-on device. Then comes the 'pièce de résistance'. A grotesquely huge penis, ridden by a dwarf, appears onto the stage. Do we known if the play was ever performed for the King? Not really, it has yet to be shown conclusively that Sodom, printed in Antwerp in 1684, was actually written by John Wilmot.
What we do know is that John Wilmot paid dearly for his love for the cock and his sexual freedom in general: he dies at the age of 33 from the effects of syphilis, but not without having repented first. The career of Thomas Nashe was also short-lived. After his exile, nothing is heard from him after 1599 and most sources indicate he died in unknown circumstances in 1601, aged 34. The life of a libertine is not an easy one: exiles, trials, venereal diseases, executions by burnings and other discomforts often lead to an early death.
1 I leave Shakespeare out of the picture, although he actually deserves a place here. In 1947, the British lexicographer Eric Partridge dedicates a work to the sexual references in his work: Shakespeare's Bawdy. A large part of the sexual metaphors Shakespeare used has become incomprehensible for contemporary ears . It has been Partridges merit them back to unveil them.