A Little Levity: Codpieces, an Illustrated Guide

What with the earthquakes, tsunami waves, and damages nuclear reactors, this week has been particularly tumultuous for many people, and tensions remain high as the health and safety of millions, and potentially billions of people hang in the balance. So, without further ado, I present…

Great Codpieces in History, Vol. I

There are great and numerous drunken arguments that attempt to determine the greatest codpiece in the history of humanity. I’m just going to cut to the chase here and posit that there is no single greatest codpiece, and that there may never be one so gloriously over the top that it would outshine them all—literally, perhaps. But this does not make all codpieces equal. The best way to prove these codpiece-related ideas may not be a best-of list, but simply a chronological list of notable codpieces throughout history. Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Hot Nuts in Warm Places: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759-1766)

It is not my business to dip my pen in this controversy—much undoubtedly may be wrote on both sides of the question—all that concerns me as an historian, is to represent the matter of fact, and render it credible to the reader, that the hiatus in Phutatorius’s breeches was sufficiently wide to receive the chesnut;—and that the chesnut, somehow or other, did fall perpendicularly, and piping hot into it, without Phutatorius’s perceiving it, or any one else at that time.

The genial warmth which the chesnut imparted, was not undelectable for the first twenty or five-and-twenty seconds—and did no more than gently solicit Phutatorius’s attention towards the part:—But the heat gradually increasing, and in a few seconds more getting beyond the point of all sober pleasure, and then advancing with all speed into the regions of pain, the soul of Phutatorius, together with all his ideas, his thoughts, his attention, his imagination, judgment, resolution, deliberation, ratiocination, memory, fancy, with ten battalions of animal spirits, all tumultuously crowded down, through different defiles and circuits, to the place of danger, leaving all his upper regions, as you may imagine, as empty as my purse.

With the best intelligence which all these messengers could bring him back, Phutatorius was not able to dive into the secret of what was going forwards below, nor could he make any kind of conjecture, what the devil was the matter with it: However, as he knew not what the true cause might turn out, he deemed it most prudent in the situation he was in at present, to bear it, if possible, like a Stoick; which, with the help of some wry faces and compursions of the mouth, he had certainly accomplished, had his imagination continued neuter;—but the sallies of the imagination are ungovernable in things of this kind—a thought instantly darted into his mind, that tho’ the anguish had the sensation of glowing heat—it might, notwithstanding that, be a bite as well as a burn; and if so, that possibly a Newt or an Asker, or some such detested reptile, had crept up, and was fastening his teeth—the horrid idea of which, with a fresh glow of pain arising that instant from the chesnut, seized Phutatorius with a sudden panick, and in the first terrifying disorder of the passion, it threw him, as it has done the best generals upon earth, quite off his guard:—the effect of which was this, that he leapt incontinently up, uttering as he rose that interjection of surprise so much descanted upon, with the aposiopestic break after it, marked thus, Z…ds—which, though not strictly canonical, was still as little as any man could have said upon the occasion;—and which, by-the-bye, whether canonical or not, Phutatorius could no more help than he could the cause of it.

Though this has taken up some time in the narrative, it took up little more time in the transaction, than just to allow time for Phutatorius to draw forth the chesnut, and throw it down with violence upon the floor—and for Yorick to rise from his chair, and pick the chesnut up. (2: LXII)

If this was too lengthy or flowery for your sensibilities, our narrator, Mr. Shandy, describes the reactions of a man who is unfortunate enough to have a hot chestnut roll off the table and into his loose codpiece. It is a classic 18th-century slapstick scene, and must be appreciated as such.

2. Do You Bite Your Codpiece at Me, Sir? Romeo and Juliet, dir. Franco Zeffirelli (1968)

I’m sure that there were codpieces aplenty in Shakespeare’s time, but the grapefruit-sized lumps in the trousers of the male actors helped this production take the Oscar for Best Costume Design at the 1969 Academy Awards. Perhaps The King’s Speech could have taken the costume design category this year if only Colin Firth had had the courage to make the cock-pocket sacrifice.

3. Malcolm McDowell’s DeLarge: A Clockwork Orange, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1971)

Again, let’s not dwell on the source material when we have wonderful little images like the one above. Perhaps the more frightening thing about this particular codpiece is the very real possibility that we might just see what’s under it, and it could be the last thing we ever see.

4. Sean Connery’s Floating Head: Zardoz, dir. John Boorman (1974)

Say what you will about the movie, but don’t say it here. This is not a film review. After the obvious, there’s really not much to say about this fine piece of pelvic craftsmanship. It speaks for itself, and is one of the prime examples of a codpiece thought by some to be the greatest in all of cinematic history. We shall see.

5. Humungus’s Humungous: The Road Warrior, dir. George Miller (1981)

Who gives a hot fuck about Mel Gibson prancing around in the desert, when you’ve got a badass like Lord Humungus? Yes, the studded leather pouch makes him an aristocrat. It’s right here in the rules. Look it up.

6. Sting’s Meat Shield: Dune, dir. David Lynch (1984)

This here is another hotly contested Most Glorious Codpiece Ever nominee. Not only is it a character in itself, but it is one of the best parts of this movie, second only to Sting, who chews up every molecule of scenery around him except for this bulletproof cock blocker.

7. The Silver Lining: Labyrinth, dir. Jim Henson (1986)

This one is subtle, for a while, until you see it, and then you see nothing else. Allow me to demonstrate.

Now look back at the first picture. Notice anything different? If you look closely at the credits to this movie, you’ll see that David Bowie’s giant codpiece has its own billing. The ‘80s were a very progressive time in the film industry.

8. Cameo’s Cameo: “Word Up” (1986)

The year of our Lord 1986 yielded a bumper crop of fantastical codpieces, the wearing of which seemed to be spearheaded by musicians. Cameo’s “Word Up” music video is nutty enough on its own, but this red latex monstrosity makes it one of those videos you show to teenagers when explaining what the ‘80s were like. Want a closer look?

not pictured: years of therapy

It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

9. Comics Get Cocky: Doom Patrol #70 (1993)

Before you ask, yes, that’s a laser cannon strapped to his crotch. Apparently it doubled as the kind of power tool a Cosmopolitan sex advice columnist could come up with. And, yes again, his name was Codpiece. Comic books in the early ‘90s went completely off the rails. I don’t know if it was the heroin, grunge rock, or just post-Cold War ennui, but the lives and costumes of superheroes and supervillains got really weird. Thank goodness we’re past all that now.

10. Stallone’s Detective Shield: Judge Dredd, dir. Danny Cannon (1995)

Again with the crazy comic book stuff gone horribly wrong. At least this time it was its transition to film that caused the real weirdness. Oh well. At least it’s not particularly memorable.

11. Sex Machine: From Dusk Till Dawn, dir. Robert Rodriguez (1996)

I’m not sure what it was about the ‘90s and dick guns, but they certainly were big back then. Perhaps without the Internet being as big as it is now, memes didn’t burn themselves out so quickly. Still, this one, like a very few lolcat macros, stands out in the sea of cock rockets because of its inventiveness and practicality.

There are many, many more codpieces out there, some fantastical, some dignified, and some just plain obscene. Perhaps, one day, we will catalog them all, stand back and gaze upon our collection, and finally find the best one of them all. Until then, however, the search continues. Onwards and upwards, lads.

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