In Shakespeare's Macbeth, what is "nose-painting"? 

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, what is "nose-painting"?


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charsteph88 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 2, Scene 3 of Macbeth, on the second page, the Porter says that drinking provokes "nose-painting, sleep and urine." While we know what the last two things are, it is a little more unclear what the term "nose-painting" refers to. While many people assume that it means the turning red of your nose when you drink, other sources point to the real meaning being a little more bawdy than that.

Shakespeare uses many euphemisms to refer to sexual acts, and this might be no exception. If we look at the context surrounding the quote, we get a clue as to what it might signify: "Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance... makes him stand to and not stand to." If we take this to mean that he is using these phrases as a metaphor for sexual behavior, such as the desire to perform and not to perform and the ability to "stand to" (achieve an erection), then we might assume that painting one's nose could refer to some sort of sexual act. 

Furthermore, the term "lechery" is used, and this is a strong indicator of a sexual reference. Lechery is defined as excessive sexual desire, or lustfulness. This seems to suggest that although the drunk person in question has the desire to engage in sexual activity, he will be unable to "get it up," so to speak, and will thus be unable to perform sexually. 

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