Monday, March 22, 2010

Shakespearean Deformations and Abuses

Sidney, Defence of Poetry

But grant love of bewtie to be a beastly fault, although it be verie hard, since onely man and no beast hath that gift to discerne bewtie, graunt that lovely name of love to deserve all hatefull reproches, although even some of my maisters the Philosophers spent a good deale of their Lampoyle in setting foorth the excellencie of it, graunt I say, what they will have graunted, that not onelie love, but lust, but vanitie, but if they will list SCURRILITIE, possesse manie leaves of the Poets bookes, yet thinke I, when this is graunted, they will finde their sentence may with good manners put the last words foremost; andnot say, that Poetrie abuseth mans wit, but that mans wit ABUSETH Poetrie. For I will not denie, but that mans wit may make Poesie, which should be EIKASTIKE, which some learned have defined figuring foorth good things to be PHANTASTIKE, which doth contrariwiseINFECT the FANCIE with unWOORTHie objects, as the Painter should giveto the eye either some excellent perspective, or some fine Picture fit for building or fortification, or containing in it some notable example, as Abraham sacrificing his sonne Isaack, Judith killing Holofernes, David fighting with Golias, may leave those, and please an ill pleased eye with wanton shewes of better hidden matters. But what,shal the ABUSE of a thing, make the RIGHT use odious?


Shakespeare's 'Monstrous Texts':



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." 4 (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." 5 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.

Sonnet 121

'Tis better to be vile than vile esteem'd,
When not to be receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost which is so deem'd
Not by our feeling but by others' seeing:
For why should others false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel;
By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown;
Unless this general evil they maintain,
All men are bad, and in their badness reign.


Jonson, Discoveries

De vere argutis. - I do hear them say often some men are not witty, because they are not everywhere witty; than which nothing is more foolish. If an eye or a nose be an excellent part in the face, therefore be all eye or nose! I think the eyebrow, the forehead, the cheek, chin, lip, or any part else are as necessary and natural in the place. But now nothing is good that is natural; RIGHT and NATURAL LANGUAGE seems to have least of the WIT in it; that which is writhed and tortured is counted the more exquisite. Cloth of bodkin or tissue must be embroidered; as if no face were fair that were not POWDERED or PAINTED! no beauty to be had but in wresting and writhing our own tongue! Nothing is fashionable till it be DEFORMED; and this is to write like a gentleman. All must be affected and preposterous as our gallants' clothes, sweet-bags, and night-dressings, in which you would think our men lay in, like ladies, it is so curious.


Davies, Scourge of Folly

Of the staid furious Poet FUCUS.
Epig. 114

Fucus, the furious Poet writes but Plaies;

So, playing, writes: that’s, idly writeth all:

Yet, idle Plaies, and Players are his Staies;
Which stay him that he can no lower fall:

For, he is fall’n into the deep’st decay,
Where Playes and Players keepe him at a stay.


Jonson, Timber

...BUT WHY DO men depart at all from the RIGHT and NATURAL *WAYS* of speaking? sometimes for necessity, when we are driven, or think it fitter, *to speak that in obscure words*, or by circumstance, which uttered plainly would offend the hearers. Or to avoid obsceneness, or sometimes for pleasure, and variety, as travellers turn out of the highway, drawn either by the commodity of a footpath, or the delicacy or freshness of the fields. And all this is called åó÷çìáôéóìåíç (eschematismene) or FIGURED LANGUAGE.


Dangerous readings and Shakespeare's Sonnets:

To *reason upon metaphors* "is wandering amongst innumerable absurdities; and their end, contention and sedition, or contempt" --Hobbes



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


SONNET LXV. -- Greville

CAElica, you (whose requests commandments be)
Aduise me to delight my minde with books,
" The Glasse where Art doth to posterity,
" Shew nature naked vnto him that looks,
Enriching vs, shortning the wayes of wit,
Which with experience else deare buyeth it.

Caelica, if I obey not, but dispute,
Thinke it is darkenesse; which seeks out a light,
And to presumption do not it impute,
If I forsake this way of Infinite;
*Books be of men, men but in clouds doe see,
Of whose embracements Centaures gotten be*.

I haue for books, aboue my head the Skyes,
Vnder me, Earth; about me Ayre and Sea:
The Truth for light, and Reason for mine eyes,
Honour for guide, and Nature for my way.
With change of times, lawes, humors, manners, right;
Each in their diuerse workings infinite.

Which powers from that wee feele, conceiue, or doe,
Raise in our senses through ioy, or smarts,
All formes, the good or ill can bring vs to,
More liuely farre, than can dead Books or Arts;
" Which at the second hand deliuer forth,
" Of few mens heads, strange rules for all mens worth.

False Antidotes for vitious ignorance,
Whose causes are within, and so their cure,
Errour corrupting Nature not Mischance
For how can that be wise which is not pure?
So that Man being but mere hypocrisie,
What can his arts but beames of follie be?

Let him then first set straight his inward spirit,
That his Affections in the seruing roomes,
May follow Reason, not confound her light,
And make her subiect to inferiour doomes;
*For till the inward moulds be truly plac'd,
All is made crooked that in them we cast.*

But when the heart, eyes light grow pure together,
And so vice in the way to be forgot,
Which threw man from creation, who knowes whither?
Then this strange building which the flesh knowes not,
Reuiues a new-form'd image in mans minde,
Where Arts reueal'd, are miracles defin'd.

What then need halfe-fast helps of ERRING WIT,
Methods, or books of vaine humanity?
Which dazell truth, by representing it,
Since outward wisdome springs from truth within,
Which all men feele, or heare, before they sinne.


Prospero. You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and 1880
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve 1885
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled: 1890
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.


Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish;
A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower’d citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon ’t, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air: thou hast seen these signs?
They are black vesper's pageants.
Enorbarbus: Ay, my lord.
Antony: That which is now a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct,
As water is in water.


Jonson's 'monstrous' encomium deliberately 'enclouds' Shakespeare:


Jonson 'abuses' Shakespeare by praising him the 'Wrong' way:

To draw no envy, SHAKSPEARE, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;
While I confess thy writings to be such,
As neither Man nor Muse can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these WAYS
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
For seeliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, BUT ECHOES RIGHT;
Or blind affection, *which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance*;
Or crafty malice might *pretend* this praise,
And think to ruin where it seemed to raise.
These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron; what could hurt her more?
But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,
Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
I therefore will begin: Soul of the age!


P R O L O G U E. Cynthia's Revels, Jonson

IF gracious silence, sweet attention,
Quick sight, and quicker apprehension,
(The lights of Judgments throne) shine any where;
Our doubtful Author hopes this is their Sphere.
And therefore opens he himself to those;
To other weaker Beams his labours close:
As loth to prostitute their Virgin strain,
To ev'ry vulgar and adult'rate Brain,
In this alone, his Muse her sweetness hath,
She shuns the print of any BEATEN PATH;
And proves new *WAYS* to come to learned Ears:
Pied ignorance she neither loves nor, fears.
Nor hunts she after popular Applause,
Or fomy praise, that drops from common Jaws:
The Garland that she wears, their bands must twine,
Who can both censure, understand, define
What merit is: Then cast those piercing Rays,
Round as a Crown, instead of honour'd Bays,
About his Poesie; which (he knows) affords
Words, above action: matter, above words.


Jonson, _Timber_

The parts of a comedy and tragedy. - The parts of a comedy are the same with a tragedy, and the end is partly the same, for they both delight and teach; the comics are called διδασκαλοι, of the Greeks no less than the tragics.
Aristotle. - Plato. - Homer. - Nor is the moving of laughter always the end of comedy; that is rather a fowling for the people' s DELIGHT, or their fooling. For, as Aristotle says rightly, the moving of laughter is a fault in comedy, a kind of turpitude that depraves some part of a man' s nature without a disease. As a wry face without pain moves laughter, or a deformed vizard, or a rude clown dressed in a lady' s habit and using her actions; we dislike and scorn such representations which made the ancient philosophers ever think laughter unfitting in a wise man. And this induced Plato to esteem of Homer as a sacrilegious person, because he presented the gods sometimes laughing. As also it is divinely said of Aristotle, that to seen RIDICULOUS is a part of DISHONESTY, and foolish.

The wit of the old comedy. - So that what either in the words or sense of an author, or in the language or actions of men, is awry or depraved does strangely stir mean affections, and provoke for the most part to laughter. And therefore it was clear that all *insolent and obscene* speeches, jests upon the best men, injuries to particular persons, PERVERSE and SINISTER SAYINGS (and the rather unexpected) in the old comedy did move laughter, especially where it did imitate any DISHONESTY, and SCURRILITY came forth in the place of wit, which, who understands the nature and genius of laughter cannot but perfectly know.

Aristophanes. - Plautus. - Of which Aristophanes affords an ample harvest, having not only outgone Plautus or any other in that kind, but expressed all the moods and figures of what is RIDICULOUS oddly. In short, as vinegar is not accounted good until the wine be
corrupted, so jests that are true and natural seldom raise laughter with the beast the multitude. *They love nothing that is right and proper. The farther it runs from reason or possibility with them the better it is*.

Socrates. - Theatrical wit. - What could have made them laugh, like to see Socrates presented, that example of all good life, honesty, and virtue, to have him hoisted up with a pulley, and there play the philosopher in a basket; measure how many foot a flea could skip geometrically, by a just scale, and edify the people from the engine. This was theatrical wit, right stage jesting, and relishing a playhouse, invented for scorn and laughter; whereas, if it had savoured of equity, truth, perspicuity, and candour, to have tasted a wise or a learned palate, - spit it out presently! this is bitter and profitable: this instructs and would inform us: what need we know any thing, that are nobly born, more than a horse-race, or a hunting- match, our day to break with citizens, and such innate mysteries?


Shakespeare to thee was dull, whose best jest lyes
I'th Ladies questions, and the Fooles replyes;
Old fashion'd wit, which walkt from town to town
In turn'd Hose, which our fathers call'd the Clown;
Whose wit our nice times would obsceannesse call,
And which made Bawdry passe for Comicall:
Nature was all his Art, *thy veine was FREE
As his, but without his SCURILITY*;

William Cartwright

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Foolish and Indiscreet Figure

Bvt as it hath bene alwayes reputed a great fault to vse figuratiue speaches foolishly and indiscretly --Puttenham


Puttenham, Shakespeare, and the abuse of rhetoric. By: Hillman, David, Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter96, Vol. 36, Issue 1

Around the turn of the seventeenth century the English language saw a remarkable proliferation of words denoting the idea of separation: "discontinuity," "segment," "disjunct" and "disjunctive," "dissect," "analysis" and "analyse," "disparate," "distinctive," "distinguishable," "dividable" and "dividual," "discretive," "split," "separative" and "separator," "disunion," and "dichotomy," among others, are all cited by the OED as first occurring in the language between 1570 and 1610.[ 1] The surplus of terms manifested by this list is to some extent simply a part of the huge expansion of English vocabulary during this period; it may also be attributed to the radical epistemological changes taking place in Western Europe at the time. Ernst Cassirer has argued that "the fundamental drive of the age . . . is the impulse to clear delimitation and articulation, to distinction and individuation"; and Michel Foucault points to the turn of the seventeenth century as the period when the main "activity of the mind" ceased to "consist in drawing things together, in setting out on a quest for everything that might reveal some sort of kinship, attraction, or secretly shared nature within them, but, on the contrary, in discriminating, that is, in establishing their identities."[ 2] Such "discriminating," of course, holds the potential to be practiced with a more or less overt ideological intent. In what follows I want to examine some specific ideologically inflected uses of the term "discretion," a term that came to mean "separation or disjunction" only toward the last decade of the sixteenth century, and one that became during this period, to use V. N. Volosinov's phrase, "a little arena for the clash and crisscrossing of differently oriented social accents."[ 3]

The way in which this criss-crossing shaped the uses of the word "discretion" in early modern England is the subject of this essay.

The term came into prominence in a wide range of texts and acquired a new range of meanings during the early modern period. According to the OED, the word had, prior to 1590, denoted personal 'judgement," "discernment," or "prudence," as well as juridical "power of disposal" (in addition to being an honorific title, in such phrases as "your high and wise discretion").[ 6] But early modern discourse saw a burgeoning of overlapping meanings in a variety of cultural spheres. These included personal attributes (tact, propriety of behavior, or secrecy--in explicit contrast to madness, impertinence, and rashness); a social classification (the separation of those who possess these attributes--the "discreet"--from those who do not, and of those who have reached the "age of discretion" from those who have not); the legal power to enforce this stratification (the authority or "discretion of the law"); and the ostensibly purely aesthetic separations of literary decorum (the discrezione or "discernment" of Italian neoclassical literary theory; the Indo-European base of the word--[*][s]ker, to cut--is in fact the same as that of "critic"). The Latin root of "discretion"--cernere, to sift out--was reunited with the word only at the end of the sixteenth century, when it again began to mean, quite simply, "separation"; and it is this meaning, separation as such, that underlies the potential of the word to be used, in all these diverse contexts, to ground a hierarchical ideology.[ 7] The word was almost invariably used in Elizabethan England as a means of constructing social, cultural, or aesthetic difference.[ 8]




This Figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle SHAKSPEARE CUT,
Wherein the graver had a strife
With Nature, to OUT-DOO the life :
O could he but have drawn his wit
As well in brass, as he has hit
His FACE ; the print would then surpass
All that was ever writ in brass :
But since he cannot, reader, look
Not on his picture, but his book.


Puttenham, Shakespeare, and the abuse of rhetoric. By: Hillman, David, Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter96, Vol. 36, Issue 1

I want first to look at George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie (1589), a text in which the word appears numerous times, most prominently in the third-to-last chapter of the book, entitled "What it is that generally makes our speach well pleasing and commendable, and of that which the Latines call Decorum."[ 14] The adverb "generally" (and compare Hoskyns's "generall figure of figures") points to the importance of the moment in the argument. It implies the universality of the rule Puttenham is trying to depict, while at the same time suggesting the vagueness or elusiveness of this rule. It is no less significant that Puttenham has left this discussion to so near the end of his book: as Puttenham undoubtedly knew, normative rhetorical theory dictated that in the organization of discourse the "generall," the "source of ordered and reasoned argument," was to be placed first in the disposition of discourse, the order then "descending" to the particular or "special."[ 15] Puttenham reverses the trajectory, "preposterously" putting the rule of "generalitie" (p. 269) after the plethora of examples that make up the main text of The Arte of English Poesie. If the tortured logic of this chapter is anything to go by, we might guess that he would have preferred to leave out this discussion entirely.

Puttenham uses a string of terms to signify the "Decorum" that is "the line and leuell for al good makers to do their busines by" (p. 268), the proliferation pointing, as Derek Attridge has suggested, to the elusiveness of the standard Puttenham is attempting to evoke: "good grace," "decencie," "seemelynesse," "comelynesse," "aptnesse," "proportion," "conformitie," "conueniencie," "decorum" (pp. 268-9).[ 16] It might be helpful here to point out an analogy between Puttenham's procedure and the procedure Michel Foucault adopts in his theorization of cultural practices. As his contemporary Michel de Certeau describes it, "Foucault offers a variety of synonyms, words that dance about and successively approach an impossible proper name: 'apparatuses' ('dispositifs'), 'instrumentalities,' 'techniques,' 'mechanisms,' 'machineries,' etc." Foucault, according to de Certeau, tries to create a discourse for a set of "rites, customs or reflexes, kinds of knowledge which are no longer (or not yet) articulated in discourse."[ 17] Puttenham tries (somewhat less successfully) to do the same for Elizabethan poetic practices. This, and the attempt to reduce a diverse set of practices to a totalizing (or "generall") theory, are precisely Puttenham's "difficultie," as he himself puts it:

But herein resteth the difficultie, to know what this good grace is, and wherein it consisteth, for peraduenture it be easier to conceaue then to expresse, we wil therfore examine it to the bottome and say: that euery thing which pleaseth the mind or sences, and the mind by the sences as by means instrumentall, doth it for some amiable point or qualitie that is in it, which draweth them to a good liking and contentment with their proper obiects . . . the mynde for the things that be his mentall obiectes hath his good graces and his bad, whereof th'one contents him wonderous well, th'other displeaseth him continually, no more nor no lesse then ye see the discordes of musicke do to a well tuned eare.


Puttenham, George . The Arte of English Poesie

Of Ornament Poeticall.

As no doubt the good proportion of any thing doth greatly adorne and commend it and right so our late remembred proportions doe to our vulgar Poesie: so is there yet requisite to the perfection of this arte, another maner of exornation, which resteth in the fashioning of our makers language and stile, to such purpose as it may delight and allure as well the mynde as the eare of the hearers with a certaine noueltie and strange maner of conueyance, disguising it no litle from the ordinary and accustomed: neuerthelesse making it nothing the more vnseemely or misbecomming, but rather decenter and more agreable to any ciuill eare and vnderstanding. And as we see in these great Madames of honour, be they for personage or otherwise neuer so comely and bewtifull, yet if they want their courtly habillements or at leastwise such other apparell as custome and ciuilitie haue ordained to couer their naked bodies, would be halfe ashamed or greatly out of countenaunce to be seen in that sort, and perchance do then thinke themselues more amiable in euery mans eye, when they be in their richest attire, suppose of silkes or tyssewes & costly embroderies, then when they go in cloth or in any other plaine and simple apparell. Euen so cannot our vulgar Poesie shew it selfe either gallant or gorgious, if any lymme be left naked and bare and not clad in his kindly clothes and colours, such as my conuey them somwhat out of sight, that is from the common course of ordinary
speach and capacitie of the vulgar iudgement, and yet being artificially handled must needes yeld it much more bewtie and commendation. This ornament we speake of is giuen to it by figures and figuratiue speaches, which be the flowers as it were and coulours that a Poet setteth vpon his language by arte, as the embroderer doth his stone and perle, or passements of gold vpon the stuffe of a Princely garment, or as th'excellent painter bestoweth the rich Orient coulours vpon his table of pourtraite: so neuerthelesse as if the same coulours in our arte of Poesie (as well as in those other mechanicall artes) be not well tempered, or not well layd, or be vsed in excesse, or neuer so litle disordered or misplaced, they not onely giue it no maner of grace at all, but rather do disfigure the stuffe and spill the whole workmanship taking away all bewtie and good liking from it, no lesse then if the crimson tainte, which should be laid vpon a Ladies lips, or right in the center of her cheekes should by some ouersight or mishap be applied to her forhead or chinne, it would make (ye would say) but a very ridiculous bewtie, wherfore the chief prayse and cunning of our Poet is in the discreet vsing of his figures, as the skilfull painters is in the good conueyance of his coulours and shadowing traits of his pensill, with a delectable varietie, by all measure and iust proportion, and in places most aptly to be bestowed.

How our writing and speaches publike ought to be figuratiue, and if they be not doe greatly disgrace the cause and purpose of the speaker and writer.

Bvt as it hath bene alwayes reputed a great fault to vse figuratiue speaches FOOLISHLY and INDISCRETLY, so is it esteemed no lesse an imperfection in mans vtterance, to haue none vse of figure at all,


Sidney, Defence of Poesie

But I have lavished out too many words of this Play matter; I do it, because as they are excelling parts of Poesie, so isthere none so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused: which like an unmannerly daughter, shewing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesies honestie to be called in question. Other sort of Poetrie, almost have we none, but that Lyricall kind of Songs and Sonets; which Lord, if he gave us so good mindes, how well it might be employed, and with how heavenly fruites, both private and publike, in singing the praises of the immortall bewtie, the immortall goodnes of that God, who giveth us hands to write, and wits to conceive: of which we might wel want words, but never matter, of which we could turne our eyes to nothing, but we should ever have new budding occassions. But truly many of such writings as come under the banner of unresistable love, if I were a mistresse, would never perswade mee they were in love: so coldly they applie firie speeches, as men that had rather redde lovers writings, and so caught up certaine swelling Phrases, which hang togither like a man that once tolde me the winde was at Northwest and by South, because he would be sure to name winds inough, then that in truth they feele those passions, which easily as I thinke, may be bewraied by that same forciblenesse or Energia, (as the Greeks call it of the writer). But let this be a sufficient, though short note, that we misse the right use of the material point of Poesie. Now for the outside of it, which is words, or (as I may tearme it) Diction, it is even well worse: so is it that hony-flowing Matrone Eloquence, apparrelled, or rather disguised, in a Courtisanlike painted affectation. One time with so farre fet words, that many seeme monsters, but must seeme straungers to anie poore Englishman: an other time with coursing of a letter, as if they were bound to follow the method of a Dictionary: an other time with figures and flowers, extreemely winter-starved. But I would this fault were onely peculiar to Versefiers, and had not as large possession among Prose- Printers: and which is to be mervailed among many Schollers, & which is to be pitied among some Preachers. Truly I could wish, if at I might be so bold to wish, in a thing beyond the reach of my capacity, the diligent Imitators of Tully & Demosthenes, most worthie to be imitated, did not so much keepe Nizolian paper bookes{169}, of their figures and phrase, as by attentive translation, as it were, devoure them whole, and make them wholly theirs. For now they cast Sugar and spice uppon everie dish that is served to the table: like those Indians, not content to weare eare-rings at the fit and naturall place of the eares, but they will thrust Jewels throughtheir nose and lippes, because they will be sure to be fine.


with neither DECENCIE nor DISCRETION

Sidney, Defence of Poesie

But besides these grosse absurdities, howe all their Playes bee neither right Tragedies, nor right Comedies, mingling Kinges and Clownes, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the Clowne by head and shoulders to play a part in majesticall matters, with neither DECENCIE nor DISCRETION: so as neither the admiration and Commiseration, nor the the right sportfulnesse is by their mongrell Tragicomedie obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment: and I knowe the Auncients have one or two examples of Tragicomedies, as Plautus hath Amphitrio. But if we marke them well, wee shall finde that they never or verie daintily matche horne Pipes and Funeralls. So falleth it out, that having indeed no right Comedie in that Comicall part of our Tragidie, wee have nothing but scurrilitie unwoorthie of anie chaste eares, or some extreame shewe of doltishnesse, indeede fit to lift up a loude laughter and nothing else: where the whole tract of a Comedie should bee full of delight, as the Tragidie should bee still maintained in a well raised admiration.


Hamlet, the Gravedigger, and Indecorous Decorum
Maurice Hunt

...Hamlet's and Horatio's reactions to the gravedigger's little song are revealing. Hamlet is a true Sidneyan in his insistence upon DECORUM. "Has this fellow no feeling of his business, the 'a sings at gravemaking?" Gravediggers, in Hamlet's opinion, should be consistently grave, especially when they are about their mystery. Hornpipes and funerals should not be mixed in Hamlet's tragic world. His neoclassical attitude perhaps derives from his profound disappointment over his mother's unseemly and hasty remarriage. He has heard Clausius, with oily art, exclaim:

Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
The imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as 'twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife:

It was the marriage mirth disturbing the solemnity of his father's funeral that partly alienated Hamlet and helped solidify his philosophy of decorum, which is succinctly phrased in his advice to the Player about suiting "the action to the word, the word to the action". Hearing the gravedigger happily sing of love in the midst of death, Hamlet assumes that the Clown, like Claudius, has "no feeling of his business." The word "feeling" in this context is ironic. Hamlet of course means "Has this fellow no proper understanding of his somber role in society?" The gravedigger does have a "feeling" here - an affection for a beloved that Hamlet overlooks in his judgment. Like Sir Philip Sidney, Hamlet will not admit the tragicomic view of life.


Enter Hamlet and three of the Players.

* Hamlet. Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you,
trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our
players do, I had as live the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do
not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all
gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say)
whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a
temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the
soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to

tatters, to very rags, to split the cars of the groundlings, who
(for the most part) are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb
shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipp'd for
Termagant. It out-herods Herod. Pray you avoid it.

* First Player. I warrant your honour. 1895

* Hamlet. Be not too tame neither; but let your own DISCRETION be
tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with
this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of
nature: for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing,
whose END, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as
'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show Virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his
form and pressure. Now this overdone, or come tardy off, though
it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the JUDICIOUS
GRIEVE; *the censure of the which one must in your allowance
o'erweigh a whole theatre of others*. O, there be players that I
have seen play, and heard others praise, and that highly (not to
speak it profanely), that, neither having the accent of
Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of Nature's
journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated
humanity so abominably.

* First Player. I hope we have reform'd that indifferently with
us, sir.

* Hamlet. O, REFORM it altogether! And let those that play your
speak no more than is set down for them. For there be of them
that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren
spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered. That's villanous
and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Go
make you ready.


And so Sepulcher'd in such pomp dost lie, [ 15 ]
That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die.

(Defacement/disfigurement of Earl of Oxford prefigures 'defacement/decapitation' of
King Charles)

Lines of Authority: Politics and English Literary culture, 1649-1689
By Steven N. Zwicker

…In (Eikon Basilike) the king compounds social and aesthetic
elevation through style; Charles’s poise and moderation as a perfect
gentleman are echoed in the balance and elevation of his manner. The
verbal art of the Eikon Basilike allows prose to make the man: the
rhetoric of moderation and the balance of carefully weighted periods
argue refinement of manner, and more purposefully, they express the
king’s deliberative intelligence. Charles’s moderation is a bulwark
against faction and partiality (EB, 3), his prose a hedge against
intolerance, zeal and popular heats. More, however, was at stake; for
social rebellion and political betrayal – the “exquisite methods of
cunning and cruelty” (EB, 131) – are also conceived as cultural
barbarism. The destruction of monarchy spelled the decay of learning
and the demise of the verbal and visual arts. Milton countered the
politics of such an argument by deploring the foolish imagery, the
aesthetic confusions, and the plagiaries of the king’s book. But the
aesthetic case was too important to Milton’s work in Eikonoklastes for
him to rely solely on abuse. The dialectic that he proposes is not
between sublime and trivial are but between truth and lies, reason and
deceit. Milton would tear the veil from the king’s shows and pretenses
as he “speaks home the plain truth” (E, 341). The political suspicion
of art has, of course, ancient roots, but it is given an urgent
contemporary turn in Eikonoklastes because of the associations between
courtliness and poetry and because of the reception of the king’s book
in the months following his execution. The association of visual
imagery with superstition was long-standing in a country where
religious reform had more than once inspired iconoclastic violence (E,
343). Yet despite popular iconoclasm this was a nation, Keith Thomas
reminds us, where segments of the populace were still addicted to such
images and to the nostalgic lore associated with the power of images.
The attack on the theatre had been given recent legislative authority;
but the generic arguments that Milton launched against the Eikon
Basilike, his ridicule of the impropriety of lyric and romance forms,
and the charge of aesthetic disproportion and triviality lend a
particular urgency to his work as literary critic. Just as the king
denounces oppositional language by dismissing it as railing and
cursing, and condemns nonconformity for the modes of its piety – its
“affectations, emptiness, impertinency, rudeness, confusions,
flatness, levity, obscurity, vain and ridiculous repetitions” (EB, 97)
– so Milton has urgent work to perform as literary critic in

That work has two main foundations: the genres, literary sources,
and decorum of the king’s book, and its literary integrity. In
Milton’s exposition of these issues, he frequently mixes questions of
decorum and originality, but I want to begin with the more purely
aesthetic matters that Milton trails before his reader in the preface.
Here he first raises the matter of the book’s patchwork mixture of
genres and devices when he glosses the aim of those who published the
Eikon Basilike. By those devices they intended “stirring up the people
to bring him that honour, that affection, and by consequence, that
revenge to his dead Corps, which hee himself living could never gain
to his Person” (E, 342). The “conceited portraiture” (E, 342) of the
frontispiece and the Latin motto that closes the book are devices
intended to “befool the people” (E, 343) and transform the king into a
martyr and saint. They reveal, however, not the king’s saintliness but
the “loose and negligent curiosity of those who took upon them to
adorn the setting out of this Book, “ loose and negligent because
“quaint Emblems” and “devices begg’d from …some Twelf-nights
entertainment at Whitehall” are inappropriate materials with which “to
make a Saint or Martyr” of the king (E, 343) The pagan and polluted
sources of such materials, their trivial and secular character, the
failure of DISCRETION and DECORUM in their display – the self-
conscious affecting of “a civil kinde of Idolatry” (E,343) – argue
generic and aesthetic indiscretion as moral corruption, variations on
the “Court-fucus” with which the king “washes over…the worst and
foulest of his actions” (E, 247). It was surely Milton’s conviction
that politics, aesthetics and morals are always bound together, it was
also, at least in part, to his argumentative advantage in
Eikonoklastes to make that case. He had to dispute the king’s handling
of history and politics, but it was aesthetics to which Milton brought
his most familiar, his most intimate, and in some ways his most
authoritative hand. Aesthetics offered him not only familiar territory
but a way to strike at moral probity and undermine the powerful
affective charge that the Eikon Basilike so clearly carried. Decorum
and decency as aesthetic matters allowed Milton to ridicule Anglican
claims to spiritual propriety and decorum; but most important, the
issue of aesthetic propriety allowed his repeatedly to locate the
king’s book within those damaging environs of the aesthetic, the
realms of fancy and fiction.


Samuel Daniel, Cleopatra dedication to Mary Herbert

...Now when so many pennes (like SPEARES) are charg'd,
To chace away this Tyrant of the North:
GROSS BARBARISM, whose power growne far inlarg'd.,
*Was lately by thy valiant Brothers WORTH,
First found, encountred, and provoked FORTH...
Wherby great Sydney & our Spencer might,
With those Po-fingers being equaled,
Enchaunt the world with such a sweet delight,
That theyr eternall songs (for ever read,)
May shew what great Eliza's raigne hath bred.
What musique in the kingdome of her peace.

Puttenham, Shakespeare, and the abuse of rhetoric. By: Hillman, David, Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter96, Vol. 36, Issue 1

A similar transformation occurs toward the end of Hamlet, another play heavily involved in the problem of the contested nature of a reality caught between objective and subjective structures of thought. The play, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, heavily exploits the language of rhetorical ordering; Parker contrasts the rhetorical "disposition"--the elaborately ordered speeches of Claudius and his court--with Hamlet's language of mad puns and "impertinent" comments.[ 39] Thus, Claudius can evoke "discretion" as a justification for the brevity of the mourning for Old Hamlet--a fine instance, this, of the abusive potential of the term:

Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him.


The clash with "nature" reveals the artificiality of Claudius's "discretion," its highly constructed quality. The limitations of the term are hinted at, too, by Polonius's "it is common for the younger sort / To lack discretion" (II.i.113-4) in his (mistaken) ascription of Hamlet's madness to his love for Ophelia. Hamlet's understanding of the term seems to move in a trajectory from something like an acceptance of such standards to a perception of just how constructed, and worthless, they may be. His advice to the players closely follows the precepts of neoclassical representational theory, as he instructs them to "let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature" (III.ii.16-22). Hamlet demands an adherence to a Sidneian conception of mimesis; in his formulation, however, "discretion" and "nature" are hardly opposed. And Claudius's absolute, abstract use of the former term is further modified by Hamlet's stress on "your own discretion." The term is still used, though, to "suit"--to create a hard-to-define correspondence--between language and action. (The Merchant of Venice similarly ties the two words: "O dear discretion, how his words are suited!" [III.v. 65].) Hamlet's own performance as an actor, in the role of Aeneas, is praised by Polonius for its "good accent and good discretion" (II.ii.466-7); this is still the performance of the controlled Prince, "the glass of fashion" (III.i.153) who can "hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature."

As Hamlet's "antic disposition" (I.v.172) reveals, however, he himself does not always abide by his own dramatic precepts. As Robert Weimann has shown, "there is over and beyond this brief performance an extended dimension of antic role-playing which is only partially consonant with the privileged representativity (and neoclassical verisimilitude) of his own mimetic theory."[ 40] Through this transformation, it seems to me, we may discern a rejection of the very possibility of "a perfit discretion." Hamlet's highly subjective internal world cannot begin to be comprehended by the ordered and prescribed social and rhetorical structures of the Danish court. With his change from "perfit" courtier to antic prince comes a new apprehension of the uses of "indiscretion." Hamlet's earlier rejection of "any thing so o'erdone" accords ill with his praise of "rashness" in the final scene of the play (V.ii.6-9), just before his turn to "a divinity that shapes our ends" (V.ii.10). What Hamlet eventually learns is to embrace such things "o'erdone": "let us know," he says to Horatio, "Our indiscretion sometime serves us well" (V.ii.7-8).[ 41]