Anonymous 2: This Time It’s Anonymous

March 22, 2012

As many of you are probably aware, I have been terribly harsh to Shakespeare deniers, er, I mean independent Shak-spear scholars. The very first post on this blog dealt with the Shakespeare authorship controversey. In particular, I have been quite mean and snarky about Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, as well as the propaganda educational materials released in association with the film. I have even been known to suggest that the title is a silly misnomer: if Edward de Vere produced plays under the name William Shakespeare, then those plays were by definition pseudonymous rather than anonymous.

I now realize that my support of the hidebound traditional theory was based on trivial reasons, such as the mountain of evidence that suggests that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were written primarily by William Shakespeare, actor and son of a Stratford glover, and the paucity of evidence that anyone else was the main author. I can now admit how closed minded I have been (or “close minded” as the more open minded often say). I have been a pawn of Big Shakespeare; I just wish I had been one of its better paid shills.

Yes, that’s right–the conspiracy theory is true. All Is True. But it goes so much deeper than anyone realizes. Shakespeare deniers skeptics often ask how Shakespeare could have had the knowledge to write all those nifty plays and poems. But, my golly gosh, how could any mere mortal? And how was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, able to continue to write plays after he died?

Is it possible that the Earl of Oxford was a time-traveling alien? Could he have written not just the works of Shakespeare, but many other literary classics as well? Why the hell not?

I have a “theory:”* as a member of the nobility, Oxford was, of course, a reptilian alien. I believe that’s actually requirement. “Blue blood” isn’t meant figuratively, you know. Unlike many of his little alien friends, he wasn’t really into piling up big rocks into pyramids or putting them in circles. He liked words–not alien words, which tend to involve a lot of z’s and k’s. No, bless him, he liked English in all its forms, so he traveled through time, scattering classics around like the others scattered big rocks.

What, you want evidence? Fine, here’s some evidence: the Ellesmere Manuscript is one of the most important copies of The Canterbury Tales (along with the Hengwrt Manuscript by the same scribe).

Who was one of the early owners of the Ellesmere MS? John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, (not quite direct) ancestor of our friend the 17th Earl. Coincidence? I think not.

Clearly Oxford lived in the 14th and 15th centuries disguised as his predecessor. He wrote great poetry and used the flunky Geoffrey Chaucer as a front.  I mean, how could Chaucer, the son of a vintner, have known Latin, French and Italian? How could he have had knowledge of the astrolabe? Hell, the guy couldn’t even spell his own name–he spelled “Geoffrey” “Galfridum”!

But wait, there’s more! The 17th earl was briefly a pupil of Lawrence Nowell. And who the hell was Lawrence Nowell, you ask? Well, there were actually two cousins, both named Lawrence Nowell. One was a churchman, and the other was an antiquarian who at one time owned and added his name to the Nowell Codex.

The Nowell Codex is the Beowulf Manuscript proper (at some point it was bound together with a later MS, the Southwick Codex; the combined text is called British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv). How did the Beowulf MS get into Nowell’s possession? Oh, I don’t know, maybe he had a time-traveling alien pupil who gave it to him. Hmmmm? I mean, how could Anonymous, the son of a ??, have written Beowulf? Not only could he not spell his name, he didn’t even have a name! How could he have written the poem when we don’t even know if he could write?

It’s all making sense now, isn’t it? Well it would, if you’d just open your mind. I find that a chainsaw helps.

*”Theory”: Wild speculation or insane declaration, proclaimed loudly and drunkenly. Not to be confused with anything known to scientists or scholars as a theory.

Chaucer’s Cunt

January 18, 2011

Now that I have your attention, I regret to inform you that he didn’t have one. On several occasions recently, sometimes in conversations about censorship, I have heard people say that Chaucer used the word “cunt.” Indeed, Wikipedia says, “The word appears several times in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (c. 1390) in bawdy contexts, but it does not appear to be considered obscene at this point, since it is used openly.” Similarly, RationalWiki proclaims that “Chaucer used the word unblushingly in his Canterbury Tales.”

Oddly, these statements are followed by quotes from The Canterbury Tales that belie them, for the word that Chaucer uses is not “cunt,” but “queynte.” “Queint,” as a noun, literally means “a clever or curious device or ornament” (Middle English Dictionary) or an “elegant, pleasing thing” (Riverside Chaucer). When used to refer to a woman’s genitalia, it is both a euphemism and a pun.

Chaucer uses “queint” several times in his earthier tales. The Miller’s Tale is a fabliau about a carpenter, his much younger wife, a young Oxford clerk who is lodging with them and another clerk, who is somewhat squeamish about farting. Both clerks have naughty feelings toward the young wife, and she reciprocates the lodger’s lust. The tale involves adultery, farting, pissing, a badly misplaced kiss, a burning poker in a very sensitive area and a fake deluge. One day, when the carpenter is away, the lodger, Nicholas, begins “to rage and pleye” with Alison, the young wife, and…

As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte,
And prively he caughte hire by the queynte,
And seyde, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.” (MT I (A) 3275-3278)

(As clerks are very ingenious and clever, and discreetly he caught her by the pleasing thing and said, “Indeed, unless I have my will, I will spill (die) for secret love of you, my dear.”)

Chaucer also uses “queint” in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue. In lecturing one of her husbands, she says that, as long as he has enough of what he wants, he shouldn’t care what other folks get:

For, certeyn, olde dotard, by youre leve,
Ye shul have quente right ynogh at eve (WBP III (D) 332-333)

(For indeed, old dotard, by your leave, you shall have plenty of the precious thing (or, more generally, sexual gratification) in the evening.)

Later she asks,

What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone? (WBP III (D) 444-445)

(What ails you to complain and groan so? Is it because you alone would have my precious thing? NB One of the manuscripts, Cambridge, University Library II.3.26, does read “cunte” in this passage)

A few lines later, she refers to her favorite body part as her “bele chose” (Fr. belle chose, lovely thing).

“Cunt,” like many naughty words for body parts and bodily functions, probably has its origins in Old English. It certainly has cognates in other medieval Germanic languages, such as Old Norse kunta and Old Frisian, Middle Low German and Middle Dutch kunte (Oxford English Dictionary). There are no known instances of it in Old English, however. James McDonald, in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo, suggests that it may be related to Old English cynd, which means “origin, generation, birth, kind, offspring” and can also mean “genitalia” (Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary).

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest use of “cunt” is in the street name “Gropecuntelane” (c. 1230). The earliest instance of “cunt” used to refer to the vagina comes from around 1325 (OED, MED). McDonald also cites several personal names that incorporate “cunt” (a number of these are earlier than “Gropecuntlane”). He lists the women’s names Gunoka Cuntles (1219) and Bele Wydecynthe (1328) and men’s names Godwin Clawecuncte (1066), Simon Sitbithecunte (1167), John Fillecunt (1246) and Robert Clevecunt (1302). Ladies, if you ever meet a man named Godwin Clawcunt or Robert Cleavecunt, run!

According to McDonald, “cunt” was used to refer to the vagina without any suggestion of vulgarity until roughly the end of the fourteenth century. Chaucer, who died in 1400, was therefore writing The Canterbury Tales at a time when cunts were disappearing from polite society; consequently, he hinted at the word without actually using it.



Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Gen. ed. Larry D. Benson. Boston: Houghton, 1987.

Clark Hall, J. R. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Suppl. by Herbert D. Merritt. 4th ed. Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 14. U of Toronto P, 1960.

McDonald, James. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo. Ward, Herts.: Wordsworth, 1996.

Middle English Dictionary Online. University of Michigan.

Oxford English Dictionary: OED Online. Oxford UP, 2010. Subscription only.