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Quaint Knowledge: A “Body-Mind” Pattern Across Shakespeare’s Career

  • Laurie JohnsonEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind book series (SHPM, volume 15)

Abstract

Shakespeare was prone to bawdiness in the name of entertainment but never resorted to downright profanity. The commonly used noxious term for female genitalia is not to be found in his writing, for example. Yet studies of the plays easily unpack a raft of puns on the word. My interest is on a euphemistic term that seems to have eluded the work of most readers, possibly owing to the fact that it began to fall into disuse, according to the OED, in the period immediately after Shakespeare was writing. By 1623, when the First Folio was published, it is likely that many cultured readers no longer knew of the euphemistic double meaning of the word ‘quaint,’ or at least they cared not to know even if they retained memory of its use for that purpose over the previous three centuries. Of even greater interest to me in this paper is the prospect that via the euphemistic meaning of ‘quaint,’ the verb ‘to acquaint’ acquired a none too subtle sexual meaning at this time, which Shakespeare exploited on numerous occasions in the plays and sonnets. It is no coincidence, I think, that the verb associated with ‘knowing’ also acquired a relation to ‘knowing’ in the Biblical sense, as another euphemism puts it, which in turn gave expression to a particularly gendered differentiation around two distinct forms of knowledge. It is my contention that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets thereby participate in the formation of—and interrogation of—a gendered distinction in the field of knowledge about knowledge at the turn of the seventeenth century, just as the euphemistic associations of ‘quaint’ begin to fall into disuse.

Keywords

William Shakespeare Body-mind Cognition Bawdy Intersubjective form 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Memory Research CentreUniversity of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia

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