Dildos in Early Modern Period

glass dildoIn the early 1590s, the English playwright Thomas Nashe wrote a poem known as The Choice of Valentines, Nashe’s Dildo or The Merrie Ballad of Nashe his Dildo. This was not printed at the time, due to its obscenity but it was still widely circulated and made Nashe’s name notorious. The poem describes a visit to a brothel by a man called “Tomalin”; he is searching for his sweetheart, Francis, who has become a prostitute. The only way he can see her is to hire her. However, she resorts to using a glass dildo as he finds himself unable to perform sexually to her satisfaction.

Dildos are humorously mentioned in Act IV, scene iv of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. This play and Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist (1610) are typically cited as the first usage of the word in publication (Nashe’s Merrie Ballad was not published until 1899).

John Wilmot, the 17th century English libertine, published his poem Signor Dildo in 1673. During the Parliamentary session of that year, objections were raised to the proposed marriage of James, Duke of York, brother of the King and heir to the throne, to Mary of Modena, an Italian Catholic princess. An address was presented to King Charles on 3 November, foreseeing the dangerous consequences of marriage to a Catholic, and urging him to put a stop to any planned wedding ‘…to the unspeakable Joy and Comfort of all Your loyal Subjects.” Wilmot’s response was Signior Dildo (You ladies all of merry England), a mock address anticipating the ‘solid’ advantages of a Catholic marriage, namely the wholesale importation of Italian dildos, to the unspeakable joy and comfort of all the ladies of England:

You ladies all of merry England
Who have been to kiss the Duchess’s hand,
Pray, did you not lately observe in the show
A noble Italian called Signor Dildo? …
A rabble of pricks who were welcomed before,
Now finding the porter denied them the door,
Maliciously waited his coming below
And inhumanly fell on Signor Dildo …
This ballad was subsequently added to by other authors, and became so popular that Signor became a term for a dildo. In the epilogue to The Mistaken Husband (1674), by John Dryden, an actress complains:

To act with young boys is loving without men.
What will not poor forsaken women try?
When man’s not near, the Signior must supply.
Signor Dildo was more recently set to music by Michael Nyman for the Wilmot biopic, The Libertine.

Many other works of bawdy and satirical English literature of the period deal with the subject. Dildoides: A Burlesque Poem (London, 1706), attributed to Samuel Butler, is a mock lament to a collection of dildos that had been seized and publicly burnt by the authorities. Examples of anonymous works include The Bauble, a tale (London, 1721) and Monsieur Thing’s Origin: or Seignor D—o’s Adventures in London, (London, 1722). In 1746, Henry Fielding wrote The Female Husband: or the surprising history of Mrs Mary, alias Mr. George Hamilton, in which a woman posing as a man uses a dildo. This was a fictionalized account of the story of Mary Hamilton.

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