Saturday, March 18, 2017

Shakespeare's Beautiful Monsters

It seems to me that the extraordinary range and power of the imagination of Edward de Vere came to be viewed as potentially disruptive. The wonder and astonishment created in a reader by a beautifully expressed thought or a particularly brilliant metaphor could be viewed as an illicit force – its enchanting effects obtained by abuses of language.Ornament and pleasure were legitimate ends for some courtiers - but as political winds changed so did literary fashions - and aristocratic extravagances were refigured as excesses and Error.

Many of the posts in this blog have been collections of evidence that Ben Jonson identified ‘Shakespeare’ as an unrepentant and incorrigible/unreformable writer of ‘MONSTROUS TEXTS’ – (with Jonson crowning his castigations of Shakespeare with the ‘seeming’ praise of the monstrous encomium that appears at the front of the First Folio):

Jonson P R O L O G U E. Every Man In His Humour

Thou Need make many Poets, and some such
As Art and Nature have not better'd much;
Yet ours, for want, hath not so lov'd the Stage,
As he dare serve th'ill Customs of the Age,
Or purchase your delight at such a rate,
As, for it, he himself must justly hate:
To make a child now swadled, to proceed
Man, and then shoot up in one beard and weed,
Past threescore years: or, with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot-and-half-foot words,
Fight over 
York, and Lancasters long jars,
And in the Tyring house bring wounds to scars.
He rather prays, you will be pleas'd to see
One such to day, as other plays should be;
Where neither 
Chorus wafts you o're the seas,
Nor creaking Throne comes down, the boys to please;
Nor nimble Squib is seen, to make afeard
The Gentlewomen; nor roul'd Bullet heard
To say, it Thunders; nor tempestuous Drum
Rumbles, to tell you when the Storm doth come;
But Deeds, and Language, such as men do use:
And Persons, such as 
ComÅ“dy would chuse,
When she would shew an Image of the Times,
And sport with Humane Follies, not with Crimes.
Except, we make 'em such by loving still
Our popular Errors, when we know th' are ill.
I mean such Errors as you'll all confess
By laughing at them, they deserve no less:
Which when you heartily do, there's hope left, then,
You, that have so grac'd MONSTERS, may like Men.



Hobbes's sense of his place in cultural history is key to understanding the character and the contradictions of Leviathan. Early and late in his long writing career, he represents his philosophical life as a battle against MONSTROUS TEXTS. De Cive's "Preface to the Reader" narrates a Hobbesian myth of the fall, in which a golden age of power and authority enjoyed by sovereigns is destroyed by the "disputations" of private men. 1 To illustrate his point, Hobbes cites the classical fable of Ixion's adulterous courtship of Juno: "Offering to embrace her, he clasped a cloud; from whence the Centaurs proceeded, by nature half men, half horses, a fierce, a fighting, and unquiet generation" (2:xiii). His allegorization of the fable is Baconian both in its method -- its derivation of philosophical truths from mythology -- and in its attribution of the origins of political sedition to seditious language and seditious desires: "private men being called to councils of state, desired to prostitute justice, the only sister and wife of the supreme, to their own judgments and apprehensions; but embracing a false and empty shadow instead of it, they have begotten those hermaphrodite opinions of moral philosophers, partly right and comely, partly brutal and wild"
Hobbes is fond of metaphors of the monstrous, and his employment of them, especially in crucial accounts of his own vocational ambitions, is recurrent and revealing. His claim to having spent a career battling the metaphorical monsters of false systems of knowledge complements his lifelong attacks, I will argue, against the monsters of metaphor. Viewed from a broad historical perspective, Hobbes's attack stands as one characteristic, albeit especially fierce, expression of hostility to metaphor on the part of the seventeenth century's new philosophers. Monsters, as marvels of nature, have their verbal counterparts in metaphors, the marvels of speech. As Paul de Man argues, within metaphors, as inside the most violent catachreses, "something monstrous lurks."  (The very word catachresis means an "abuse" of language.) Metaphors can appear dangerous, even monstrous, because "they are capable of inventing the most fantastic entities by dint of the positional power inherent in language. They can dismember the texture of reality and reassemble it in the most capricious of ways, pairing man with woman or human being with beast in the most unnatural shapes."  As a consequence, de Man argues, metaphor has been "a perennial problem and, at times, a recognized source of embarrassment for philosophical discourse." 6 That embarrassment becomes especially acute during the seventeenth century because of metaphor's association with subjective imagination, passion, and the monstrous, with all that contrasts with objective judgment, reason, and the natural. As a result, the opposition between the literal and the figural underlies many of the crucial polarities of the century's discourse: the divide between truth and falsehood, natural philosophy and poetry, philosophical discourse and rhetoric, to name only a few. 7 Especially in the civil war years, a hostility to metaphor becomes acute, too, because as a monstrous rebel to linguistic law, metaphor is associated with the monstrous rebels of mob rule. To attack metaphor is to attack the monstrous mother of all seditious philosophies, and a monstrous breeder of sedition itself.


One of the great paradoxes of the seventeenth-century intellectual tradition, and part of the strangeness of Hobbes's title, is that a book setting out so mathematically to destroy metaphorical language should present itself as an extended trope, a Leviathan. At every stage of its [End Page 795] argument, from the description of the commonwealth as a body to the account of the Roman Church as a kingdom of faeries, Hobbes relies heavily upon figurative language to advance his arguments. The contradiction between Hobbes's theory and his practice offers one of the text's primary and peculiar challenges. There can be no doubt about the existence of the contradiction. Within the tradition of the seventeenth-century's new philosophies, his condemnation of metaphor is among the most uncompromising. For Hobbes, metaphors and other "senseless and ambiguous words," are mere ignes fatui proceeding from the errancy of impassioned imagination (3:37). Note the materialist's pun: words that do not adequately cohere with things are "sense-less." To reason upon metaphors "is wandering amongst innumerable absurdities; and their end, contention and sedition, or contempt" (3:37). Verbal chaos leads to cultural chaos. (The association of metaphor with natural marvels, ignes fatui, is telling and characteristic.) Among the four kinds of language abuse, Hobbes gives metaphors a primary place, describing them as words used "in other sense than that they are ordained for; and thereby deceive others" (3:20). Deceit and equivocation are main themes in his opposition. Counsellors to the sovereign are forbidden to employ tropes because they "are useful only to deceive, or to lead him we counsel towards other ends than his own" (3:246). In matters of demonstration, counsel, and "all rigorous search of truth," Hobbes admits that "sometimes the understanding have need to be opened by some apt similitude.... But for metaphors, they are in this case utterly excluded" (3:58-59). The same judgment appears in his statement that "in reckoning, and seeking of truth, such speeches ['the use of metaphors, tropes, and other rhetorical figures, instead of words proper'] are not to be admitted" (3:34). At the end of an early chapter on speech, Hobbes deems "metaphors, and tropes of speech... less dangerous" forms of "ratiocination" than morally charged signifiers such as gravity and stupidity, but he does so only "because they profess their inconstancy; which the other do not" (3:29). The dismissal of metaphor from the rigorous search for truth (and certainly the Leviathan is that) is absolute and unqualified.

Shakespeare – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

…..Let me, then,…submit this question to minds emancipated alike from national, or party , or sectarian prejudice: - Are the plays of Shakespeare works of rude uncultivated genius, in which the splendour of the parts compensates, if aught can compensate, for the barbarous shapelessness and irregularity of the whole? (note – see Disproportionate Droeshout Figure NLD) – Or is the form equally admirable with the matter, and the judgment of the great poet not less deserving our wonder than his genius? – Or, again, to repeat the question in other words: - is Shakespeare a great dramatic poet on account only of those beauties and excellences which he possesses in common with the ancients, but with diminished claims to our love and honour to the full extent of his differences from them? – Or are these very differences additional proofs of poetic wisdom, at once results and symbols of living power as contrasted with lifeless mechanism – of free and rival originality as contradistinguished from servile imitation, or, more accurately, a blind copying of effects, instead of a true imitation of the essential principles? – Imagine not that I am about to oppose genius to rules. No! The comparative value of these rules is the very cause to be tried. The spirit of poetry, like all other living powers, must of necessity circumscribe itself by rules, were it only to unite power with beauty. It must embody in order to reveal itself; but a living body is of necessity an organized one: and what is organization but the connection of parts in and for a whole, so that each part is at once end and means? – This is no discovery of criticism; - it is a necessity of the human mind; and all nations have felt and obeyed it, in the invention of metre, and measured sounds, as the vehicle and involucrum of poetry – itself a fellow-growth from the same life, - even as the bark is to the tree!
     No work of true genius dares want its appropriate form, neither indeed is there any danger of this. As it must not, so genius cannot, be lawless; for it is even this that constitutes is genius – the power of acting creatively under laws of its own origination. How then comes it that not only single Zoili, but whole nations have combined in unhesitating condemnation of our great dramatist, as a sort of African nature, rich in BEAUTIFUL MONSTERS – as a wild heath where islands of fertility look the greener from the surrounding waste, where the loveliest plants now shine out among unsightly weeds, and now are choked by their parasitic growth, so intertwined that we cannot disentangle the weed without snapping the flower? – In this statement I have had no reference to the vulgar abuse of Voltaire, save as far as his charges are coincident with the decisions of Shakespeare’s own commentators and (so they would tell you) almost idolatrous admirers. The true ground of the mistake lies in the confounding mechanical regularity with organic form. The form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a predetermined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material; - as when to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. The organic form, on the other hand is innate; it shapes, as it developes, itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms; -  each exterior is the physiognomy of the being within, - its true image reflected and thrown out from the concave mirror; - and even such is the appropriate excellence of her chosen poet, of our own Shakespeare, - himself a nature humanized, a genial understanding directing self-consciously a power and an implicit wisdom deeper even than our consciousness.

 Jonson, Discoveries

Oratio imago animi. - Language most shows a man: Speak, that I may see
thee. It springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us, and
is the image of the parent of it, the MIND. No glass renders a man’s
form or likeness so true as his speech. Nay, it is likened to a man;
and as we consider feature and composition in a man, so words in
language; in the greatness, aptness, sound structure, and harmony of

Jonson, Cynthia's Revels

He that is with him is Amorphus
a Traveller, one so made out of the mixture and shreds
of forms, that himself is truly deform'd. He walks
most commonly with a Clove or Pick-tooth in his
he is the very mint of Complement, all his Be-
haviours are printed, his Face is another Volume of
Essayes; and his Beard an Aristrachus. (Jonson, Cynthia's Revels,

Amorphus. That's good, but how Pythagorical?

Phi. I, Amorphus. Why Pythagorical Breeches?

Amor. O most kindly of all, 'tis a conceit of that FORTUNE,

I am bold to hug my Brain for.

Pha. How is't, exquisite Amorphus?

Amor. O, I am rapt with it, 'tis so fit, so proper,
so happy. --

Phi. Nay do not rack us thus?

Amor. I never truly relisht my self before. Give me
your Ears. Breeches Pythagorical, by reason of their trans-
migration into several shapes.

Mor. Most rare, in sweet troth.

He walks most commonly with a Clove or Pick-tooth in his Mouth: Amorphus/Oxford/Shakespeare

Cultural Aesthetics. Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornamen
Patricia Fumerton

     Trivial arts saturate this world [the world of the Renaissance aristocrat] with the pretty clutter of the fragmentary, peripheral, and ornamental. If the identity, the "self," of the aristocracy is to be located, it must be glimpsed here in this fantastic universe of discontinuous trivia, this gigantic miniature cabinet in which it is the artifacts that guide, regulate and control the way "selves" walk, stand, sit, eat, look, and all the other actions of life. It was the trivial aesthetics of these artifacts, I have argued, that composed the fractured mirror of ornament into which the Renaissance aristocracy looked to see its identity and into which we, struggling to repiece the pretty shards together in something like their original discontinuity (for the mirror was never whole), now peer to glimpse and even more removed version of that identity.
     Or again, for "fractured mirror of ornament" we might say"fractured mirror of history." As I have said in chapter 1 and implied throughout, the ornament that was the medium of the Renaissance self was also the medium of its experience of historical reality. The self lived historical reality in its experience of the fragmentary, peripheral , and ornamental. Cultural life was the practice of sustaining a fragile sense of identity amid decorative bits and pieces of reality that refused to cohere in a single reality, that voided identity even in the process of creating it. The history of self was the practice of social ornament. (p.172)


Nabokov, Bend Sinister, Intro

The term "bend sinister" means a heraldic bar or band drawn from the left side (and popularly, but incorrectly, supposed to denote bastardy). This choice of title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life, a sinistral and sinister world. The title's drawback is that a solemn reader looking for "general ideas" or "human interest" (which is much the same thing) in a novel may be led to look for them in this one.



Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's force,
Some in their garments though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks and horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
   Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
   All this away, and me most wretched make.


Vladimir Nabokov:

Amid grandees of times Elizabethan
you shimmered too, you followed sumptuous custom;
the circle of ruff, the silv'ry satin that
encased your thigh, the wedgelike beard - in all of this
you were like other men... Thus was enfolded
your godlike thunder in a succinct cape.
Haughty, aloof from theatre's alarums,
you easily, regretlessly relinquished
the laurels twinning into a dry wreath,
concealing for all time your  MONSTROUS GENIUS
beneath a mask; and yet, your phantasm's echoes
still vibrate for us; your Venetian Moor,
his anguish; Falstaff's visage, like an udder
with pasted-on mustache; the raging Lear..
You are among us, you're alive; your name, though,
your image, too - deceiving, thus, the world
you have submerged in your beloved LETHE...

Correcting Shakespeare:

To the Deceased Author of these Poems...William Cartwright 

by Jasper Mayne

For thou to Nature had'st joyn'd Art, and skill.
A QUILL, RUL'D by sharp Judgement, and such Laws,
As a well studied Mind, and Reason draws.
Thy Lamp was cherish'd with suppolied of Oyle,
Fetch'd from the Romane and the Graecian soyle. (snip)


Cartwright, William, Jonsonus Virbius

...Blest life of Authors, unto whom we owe
Those that we have, and those that we want too:
Th'art all so good, that reading makes thee worse,
And to have writ so well's thine onely curse.
Secure then of thy merit, thou didst hate
That servile base dependance upon fate:
Successe thou ne'r thoughtst vertue, nor that fit,
Which chance, and th'ages fashion did make hit;
Excluding those from life in after-time, 
Who into Po'try first brought luck and rime: 
Who thought the peoples breath good ayre: sty'ld name 
What was but noise; and getting Briefes for fame 
Gathered the many's suffrages, and thence 
Made commendation a benevolence: 
THY thoughts were their owne Lawrell, and did win
That best applause of being crown'd within..


Excluding those from life in after-time – Cartwright to Jonson
IMO, Oxford’s beauties were buried under a load of figurative trash in the First Folio and by the 'virtuous' efforts of the Sidneians in Stratford.

Greville - Life of Sidney

Neither am I (for my part) so much in love with this life, nor believe so little in a better to come, as to complain of God for taking him [Sidney], and such like exorbitant WORTHYness from us: fit (as it were by an Ostracisme) to be divided, and not incorporated with our corruptions: yet for the sincere affection I bear to my Prince, and Country, my prayer to God is, that this WORTH, and Way may not fatally be buried with him; in respect, that both before his time, and since,experience hath published the usuall discipline of greatnes to have been tender of it self onely; making honour a triumph, or rather TROPHY of desire, set up in the eyes of Mankind, either to be worshiped as IDOLS, or else as Rebels to perish under her glorious oppressions. Notwithstanding, when the PRIDE of FLESH, and power of favour shall cease in these by death, or disgrace; what then hath time to register, or FAME to publish in these great mens names, that will not be offensive, or infectious to others? What Pen without BLOTTING can write the story of their deeds? Or what Herald blaze their Arms without a blemish? And as for their counsels and projects, when they come once to light, shall they not live as noysome, and loathsomely above ground, as their Authors carkasses lie in the grave? So as the return of such greatnes to the world, and themselves, can be but private reproach, publique ill example, and a fatall scorn to the Government they live in. Sir Philip Sidney is none of this number; for the greatness which he affected was built upon true WORTH; esteeming Fame more than Riches, and Noble actions far above Nobility it self.

"Then make the summe of our Idea's this,
Who loue the world, giue latitude to Fame,
And this Man-pleasing, Gods displeasing is,
Who loue their God, haue glory by his name:
But fixe on Truth, who can, that know it not?
*Who fixe on ERROR, doe but write to blot*.

"Who worship Fame, commit Idolatry,
"Make Men their God, Fortune and Time their worth,
"Forme, but reforme not, meer hypocrisie,
"By shadowes, onely shadowes bringing forth,
"Which must, as blossomes, fade ere true fruit springs,
"(Like voice, and eccho) ioyn'd; yet diuers things." (Greville)
Sonnet 111
O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew'd;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

Oxford remains unnamed in Greville's account of the tennis court quarrel in his ‘Life of Sidney’.

Sidneians – tended to favour Parliament
Oxford – Royalist (?)

Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric, and Politics,

1627-1660. - Review - book review
Criticism, Spring, 2000 by Fritz Levy

Long after it was all over, Thomas Hobbes looked back at the civil war to search out the causes for an event he continued to think unnatural. How was it that men abandoned the duty owed their governors and instead followed the guidance of their own wits? Envy and ambition had a great deal to do with it, of course, Hobbes contended in Behemoth, or The Long Parliament (ed. Ferdinand Tonnies: 2nd ed. [1967]), but the critical element in promoting insubordination was attendance at the universities, where such men became persuaded that they lacked no "ability requisite for the government of a commonwealth, especially after having read the glorious histories and the sententious politics of the ancient popular governments of the Greeks and Romans, amongst whom kings were hated and branded with the name of tyrants, and popular government ... passed by the name of liberty" (23). Hobbes hammers the point time and again, concluding at last with the question: "Who can be a good subject to monarchy, whose principles are taken from the enemies of monarchy, such as were Cicero, Seneca, Cato, and other politicians of Rome, and Aristotle of Athens, who seldom speak of kings but as of wolves and other ravenous beasts?" (ibid., 158). It is easy to write off Hobbes's comments as exaggeration, and to treat the "classical republicanism" to which they refer as a minority opinion, held by a few malcontents, but of no real political importance. Easy, yes, but perhaps not altogether correct. For we have been learning that the language to which Hobbes referred was in use long before the fighting started, and was understood even by those who did not share its assumptions.