Launce’s first monologue is lines 1–30 of Act 2, scene 3. Some scholars consider its placement right after Proteus’s parting from Julia in scene 2 strategic, in that Crab’s indifference to Launce’s tears (as we’ll see) ironically parallels Proteus’s indifference to Julia. This strikes me as something of a stretch, in that Proteus is not indifferent to Julia in scene 2; he only becomes indifferent after he falls for Silvia. So at best Launce’s scene foreshadows 4.2.82–136, in which Proteus woos Silvia in Julia’s disguised presence, or 4.4.39–105, in which Proteus bids Julia give Silvia the ring Julia gave him as a token. (The problem with the latter is that the immediately preceding 4.4.1–38 is Launce’s second monologue.) Further, whereas Proteus is parting from Julia in 2.2, Launce has taken Crab with him.
Whatever the merits of the Proteus-Crab analogy, here is the monologue:
LAUNCE. Nay, ’twill be this hour ere I have done weeping; all the kind of the Launces have this very fault. I have received my proportion, like the prodigious son, and am going with Sir Proteus to the Imperial’s court. I think Crab my dog be the sourest-natured dog that lives; my mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands and all our house in a great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear. He is a stone, a very pebblestone, and has no more pity in him than a dog. A Jew would have wept to have seen our parting. Why, my grandam, having no eyes, look you, wept herself blind at my parting. Nay, I’ll show you the manner of it. This shoe is my father. No, this left shoe is my father. No, no, this left shoe is my mother. Nay, that cannot be so neither. Yes, it is so, it is so: it hath the worser sole. This shoe with the hole in it is my mother, and this my father. A vengeance on’t—there ‘tis. Now, sir, this staff is my sister; for, look you, she is as white as a lily and as small as a wand. This hat is Nan, our maid. I am the dog. No, the dog is himself, and I am the dog. O, the dog is me, and I am myself. Ay, so, so. Now come I to my father: “Father, your blessing.” Now should not the shoe speak a word for weeping. Now should I kiss my father—well, he weeps on. Now come I to my mother: O, that she could speak now, like a wood woman! Well, I kiss her. Why, there ’tis—here’s my mother’s breath up and down. Now come I to my sister: mark the moan she makes. Now the dog all this while sheds not a tear nor speaks a word; but see how I lay the dust with my tears.
This big long block of text would be easier to follow with the help of a performance. I haven’t found any videos online I really liked, but this is the best; it’s got plenty of the physical business Shakespeare obviously left room for (you can find at least two others in which Launce just stands there holding Crab! Which seems to me to miss at least half the point).
The jokes need little if any explanation but a few points are worth making. Notice how the anthropomorphized cat, wringing her hands, contrasts with Crab, who has “no more pity in him than a dog”—well, what were you expecting? And yes, that’s a very broad joke (like “sheds not a tear nor speaks a word” at the end), but that’s the nature of this passage. The same goes for the business with the shoes. In his Shakespeare, Sex, and Love, Stanley Wells protests:
Some sexual jests are so simple-minded that no pun is required to signal them. So when Lance . . . says, “This shoe with the hole in it is my mother . . . the hearer needs little intelligence to understand why something with a hole in it may be identified with the female of the species. This is a kind of “groan-joke”—so obvious that the hearer may even feel a kind of comic resentment at being expected to find it funny (90).
Well, yes, it is a groaner, but tastes in humor vary, and I’d say that puns, to which Launce is also addicted, can just as easily be groaners. In fact, Wells has just cited a perfect example, when Speed asks “What news with your mastership?” (a term used by inferiors to address superiors, here an obvious sarcasm) and Launce replies “With my master’s ship? Why, it is at sea.” Speed even underlines the labored effect by replying “Well, your old vice still: mistake the word” (3.1.275–279).
I confess I find the innuendo a bit of a relief after that. Two other points: first, it’s sharpened by the subliminal hint of incest (if the shoe with the hole in it were Julia or Silvia, the effect would be entirely different), and more important, it allows for a bit of physical business if Launce waggles his finger through the hole (as he does in the clip). I suspect it was Will Kemp who had the main input here.
Even crude sex jokes can be funny, just like fart jokes. Which brings us to Launce’s second monologue, in the next post.