Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's a popp'rin' pear?

James Wheaton reported yesterday in the Jackson Citizen Patriot that the Michigan Shakespeare Festival high school tour of Romeo and Juliet was criticized for inappropriate content -- "Some take issue with sexual innuendoes in Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s High School Tour performances of ‘Romeo & Juliet’":
Western [High School] parent Rosie Crowley said she was upset when she heard students laughing about sexual content in the play afterwards. Her son didn’t attend the performance Tuesday because of another commitment, she said. “I think the theater company should have left out any references that were rated R,” Crowley said. “I would say that I’ve read Shakespeare, and what I was told from the students, I’ve never read anything that bad.” She said she objected to scenes that involved pelvic thrusting and breast touching and to a line in which Mercutio makes suggestive comments to Romeo after looking up the skirt of a female.
The problem with cutting out the naughty bits in R&J is that one would be left with a tattered tale, indeed. In Filthy Shakespeare, author Pauline Kiernan says:
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous tragedies about love in Western literature. It is also one of Shakespeare’s bawdiest plays. Its plethora of sexual puns gives the play a levity which some critics have found inappropriate.
One might make the argument that any naughty bit that must be glossed might be considered titillation-free. Kiernan gives this example of Mercutio's gutter-minded exuberance when speaking in Act II, scene 1 of Romeo's first-love Rosaline:

O, Romeo that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a popp'rin' pear.

This open-arse, Kiernan says, is a reference to a Medlar fruit that has a cleft (like a peach, perhaps) and is nicknamed in Elizabethan parlance an “open-arse”. The popp’rin’ pear is a Poperinghe pear from Flanders/Belgium -- perhaps what we call a Buerre Bosc pear -- that was shaped like an erect penis. 

That's a long way to go for a little amusement.

Mercutio's line objected to by parent Crowley: “What has thou found. No hare, sir, unless a hare, sir, sit in a Lenten pie.” is similarly dense -- something about a whore and no meat. I don't get it.

Jackson Citizen Patriot 4/21/10 article by James Wheaton
A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and Their Significance by Frankie Rubenstein (McMillan, 1984 & 1989)
Filthy Shakespeare by Pauline Keirnan (Cuercus, 2006) by Jeremy Abrams

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