Those ribald scholars who had such fun with “Moby Dick” last year are back with another card game based on Shakespeare’s plays.
“Bards Dispense Profanity” springs from the silly-smart mind of Tim Cassedy, an English professor at Southern Methodist University who grew up in the Washington area. Last year, he and a few of his former students released “Dick,” an innuendo-soaked game that invites players to complete sentences with phrases from Herman Melville’s 19th-century classic. Awash with success, they started casting about for another fish to fry.
“The texts that work the best seem to have three qualities,” Cassedy explained: “They are verbally intricate; they are considered serious literature; and they are morally complex. Shakespeare was the obvious next step.”
In the new game, released this month, a designated Profanity Judge lays down a card that shows an uncompleted sentence, such as: “I’m getting a degree in English. It’s basically four years of _______.” Players select appropriately suggestive Shakespeare cards from their hand, e.g.
“youth blasted with ecstasy.” — Hamlet
“a lewd day-bed.” — Richard III
“making the beast with two backs.” — Othello
“bellowing like bulls.” — The Tempest
The Profanity Judge then chooses the best entry. “Play until you get bored,” the instructions advise.
As you might imagine, a deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays is not an essential requirement for winning this game. But Cassedy notes that “If you don’t know Shakespeare well, ‘Bards Dispense Profanity’ is an occasion to be surprised at his strange, punny earthiness.”
There may be more meaningful ways to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, but probably no more entertaining ones. Cassedy says that he and partners are already planning a second printing of the game to meet demand.
In an age that seems to have abandoned all standards of taste, there’s something oddly charming about this celebration of Elizabethan lewdness. “Shakespeare was certainly very, very good at exploiting English vulgarity,” Cassedy says — possibly with a touch of envy. “He is extremely good at vulgar writing in the sense of intentionally offensive language, but his more important vulgarity is that he writes in vulgar language in the sense of vernacular language — the language of common people and the language of the streets. Even 400 years later, I think that this resonates with us instinctually.”
Aside from the potential mirth of this game, the study of offensive language is a surprisingly rich field. The words that societies prohibit — or limit — suggest what matters to them. Cassedy points out that for centuries, the most offensive phrases in English related to religion, such as “Go to hell” or “God’s teeth.”
But beginning in the 19th century, he says, “a major shift took place whereby profanity about the body started to seem more offensive than profanity about religion. This is the profanity paradigm that we continue to live under today.”
As King Henry V says, “The game’s afoot!”
Ron Charles is the editor of Book World. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.
Why So Ever. 475 cards. $19.99