Landscaping the body: Anatomical-geographical bawdy in Aristophanes and Shakespeare, and politically incorrect humour

  • Francois Pauw University of Stellenbosch


In this article two bawdy passages are compared. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Athenian and Spartan negotiators, driven to a state of desperation by their women’s sex-strike, map out their respective sexo-territorial demands on the sexy body of the personified Reconciliation. In Shakespeare’s The comedy of errors, again, Dromio of Syracuse is trying to escape from the rotund kitchen maid Nell, who believes that he is her husband, Dromio of Ephesus. In both passages a woman’s body is imagined as a geopolitical entity to be mapped out by men. Thus, geographical allusions occur which ostensibly denote real contemporary geopolitical entities in 411 BC or AD 1592, but often connote allusions, some of them obscene, to female body parts.In taking issue with the interpretation that real women are debased by the depiction of fictional women in these passages, I base my arguments on (i) the underrated positive function of humour; (ii) the generic function of comedy; (iii) the illusionary nature of dramatic representation; (iv) the carnivalesque; and (v) the probable composition of the audience.