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Monday, January 12, 2009

More Jests

I may be turning into the foolish gentleman of jest lore, but sometimes I wish more early modern jokes came with an explanation. To wit: anyone care to explain Bull #216 from the fine 1636 collection mentioned by Greenwit, A. S., Gent., The Booke of Bulls, Baited with two Centuries of bold Jests, and nimble-Lies (STC 4941.5)?
One refusing to eat Chees-cakes, was askt his reason, hee told the[m] he lov'd the flesh well, but was afraid of the bones.

Bull #216 happens to be included in Richard Brome's The New Academy, as is Bull #217: "One asking whence Lobsters were brought, his fellow repli'd, one might easily know their countrey by their coat, they are fetcht surely from the Red Sea." I assume you, like me, get this one, but it now seems churlish not to add, "Because the shells of lobsters are red."

  • At 1/13/2009 01:26:00 AM, Blogger Doctor Cleveland wrote…

    I'm going to go with the standard guess for the period: syphilis joke.

    He "fears the bones," i.e. the symptoms of later syphilis in his bones, even though he "loves the flesh," i.e. sex. Cheesecakes here apparently being prostitutes.

    And certainly, I have often wished that jokes in early modern plays would have a bit of clumsily redundant explanation. "Then was ginger hot much in request, because the old women were all dead. You know, because of the plague. And the folk remedy involving ginger." Something like that would be a big help.


  • At 1/13/2009 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Susan wrote…

    The shells of live lobsters are at best speckled with red -- the bright red color comes in cooking.

    Sorry to be prosaic, here...


  • At 1/13/2009 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Any chance that "Chees-cakes" does not mean cheesecakes but "chess cakes" (an English tart, I believe--not the kind Dr Cleveland means). Then you'd have something like the flesh (meat/the actual cake) but not the bones of the chessmen that the guy foolishly believes one makes chess cake out of.

    A long way round, I admit.


  • At 1/13/2009 02:22:00 PM, Blogger Fretful Porpentine wrote…

    I thought the joke was simply that the guy was very, very unclear on the concept of cheesecake, but I rather like the syphilis theory.


  • At 1/13/2009 03:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I also suspect that the foolish fellow doesn't understand that cheese lacks bones (and love the possibility of a v.d. joke lurking here somewhere). The confusion of cheese with flesh, though, might make sense in light of Lenten fasting traditions. Even though they aren't meat (and fish was generally considered non-meat), cheese, eggs, butter, and cream were categorized as "flesh" and thus not okay during the Lenten fast. (Of course, this leaves us with the question of what a joke about Lenten fasts is doing in a book from 1636....)


  • At 1/13/2009 08:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    cheese, eggs, butter, and cream were categorized as "flesh"

    Weren't they known as the "white meats," as well? Perhaps that designation works even without taking Lent into account.


  • At 1/14/2009 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    So when we put all these insightful responses together, the joke hinges on the dual meaning of "flesh." The guy loved "cheese," which was considered to be "flesh" ("white meat"), but "flesh" also meant "sexual flesh," which is why he feared "the bones" (syphilis).

    I hope the editors of the new online Richard Brome edition somehow come across this discussion.


  • At 2/26/2009 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Paul wrote…

    Well, I thought it was very, very funny just read straight as somebody who was, as an earlier commenter said "very, very unclear on the concept of cheesecake". Bones in cheesecake indeed. You just couldn't make this stuff up.


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