Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chapman's Justification of the 'Destruction' of Oxford and 'All That He Pris'd'

Re-reading Chapman's Oxford:

George Chapman appears to be another humanist scholar who contributed to the destruction of the fame of the Earl of Oxford; yet compared to Ben Jonson, Chapman's criticism of Oxford  is much more explicit. Chapman's depiction of the Earl of Oxford in his play _The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois_ showcases the Earl's many virtues - but also demonstrates how (in Chapman's opinion) those virtues were marred by Oxford's excessive pride and intemperance, and suggests a potential justification of the defacement of the Earl. Oxford's pride and his contempt for 'common nobles' fashions' are intended to suggest to Oxford's singularity, peremptory humorality and self-love, and link Oxford to Chapman's earlier description of Homer's Achilles and to a moral lesson in civilitas.

The key to a fuller understanding of Clermont's description of Oxford in Chapman's _Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois_ occurs at the beginning of Act III, Scene iv - the same scene in which Chapman brings forth his characterization of the Earl of Oxford:

When Homer made Achilles passionate,
Wrathfull, revengefull, and insatiate15
In his affections, what man will denie
He did compose it all of industrie
To let men see that men of most renowne,
Strong'st, noblest, fairest, if they set not downe
Decrees within them, for disposing these,20
Of judgement, resolution, uprightnesse,
And certaine knowledge of their use and ends,
Mishap and miserie no lesse extends
To their destruction, with all that they pris'd,
Then to the poorest and the most despis'd?25

Most Oxfordians are familiar with Chapman's famous lines in praise of Oxford:

I over-tooke, comming from Italie,
In Germanie a great and famous Earle85
Of England, the most goodly fashion'd man
I ever saw; from head to foote in forme
Rare and most absolute; hee had a face
Like one of the most ancient honour'd Romanes
From whence his noblest familie was deriv'd;90
He was beside of spirit passing great,
Valiant, and learn'd, and liberall as the sunne,
Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
Or of the discipline of publike weales;
And t'was the Earle of Oxford: and being offer'd95

At that time, by Duke Cassimere, the view
Of his right royall armie then in field,
Refus'd it, and no foote was mov'd to stirre
Out of his owne free fore-determin'd course.
I, wondring at it, askt for it his reason,100
It being an offer so much for his honour.
Hee, all acknowledging, said t'was not fit
To take those honours that one cannot quit. (Revenge, III, iv, lines 84-104)

Oxford's Achillean list of virtues (heroic) is, however, is qualified by an Achillean display of pride and intemperance (incivility):

Ren. Twas answer'd like the man you have describ'd.

Clermont. AND YET he cast it onely in the way,105
To stay and serve the world. Nor did it fit
His owne true estimate how much it waigh'd;
FOR HEE DESPIS'D IT, and esteem'd it freer
To keepe his owne way straight, and swore that hee
Had rather make away his whole estate110
In things that crost the vulgar then he would
Be frozen up stiffe (like a Sir John Smith,
His countrey-man) in common Nobles fashions;
Affecting, as't the end of noblesse were,
Those servile observations.

Ren. It was strange. 115

Clermont. O tis a vexing sight to see a man,
OUT OF HIS WAY, to be officious,
Observant, wary, serious, and grave,
Fearefull, and passionate, insulting, raging,120
Labour with iron flailes to thresh downe feathers
Flitting in ayre.
Ren. What one considers this,
Of all that are thus out? or once endevours,
Erring, to enter on mans RIGHT-HAND PATH?
Cler. These are too grave for brave wits; give them toyes;125
Labour bestow'd on these is harsh and thriftlesse. (snip)


Chapman's translation from Virgil - Pythagorean letter

This letter of Pythagoras, that bears
This fork’d distinction, to conceit prefers
The form man’s life bears. Virtue’s hard way takes
Upon the right hand path, which entry makes
(To sensual eyes) with difficult affair;
But when ye once have climb’d the highest stair,
The beauty and the sweetness it contains,
Give rest and comfort, for past all your pains.
The broadway in a BRAVERY paints ye forth,
(In th’entry) softness, and much SHADE of worth);
But when ye reach the top, the taken ones
It HEADLONG HURLS DOWN, torn at sharpest stones.
He then, whom virtues love, shall victor crown
Of hardes fortunes, praise wins and renown;
But he that sloth and fruitless luxury
Pursues, and doth with foolish wariness fly
Opposed pains (that all best acts befall),
Lives POOR AND VILE, and dies despised of all.


When Homer made Achilles passionate,
Wrathfull, revengefull, and insatiate 15
In his affections, what man will denie
He did compose it all of industrie
To let men see that men of most renowne,
Strong'st, noblest, fairest, if they set not downe
Decrees within them, for disposing these,20
Of judgement, resolution, uprightnesse,
And certaine knowledge of their use and ends,
Mishap and miserie no lesse extends
To their destruction, with all that they pris'd,
Then to the poorest and the most despis'd?25 (Chapman, Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois)

Destroy \De*stroy"\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Destroyed; p. pr. &
vb. n. Destroying.] [OE. destroien, destruien, destrien,
OF. destruire, F. d['e]truire, fr. L. destruere, destructum;
de + struere to pile up, build. See Structure.]

1. To unbuild; to pull or tear down; to separate virulently
into its constituent parts; to break up the structure and
organic existence of; to demolish.

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their
images, and cut down their groves. --Ex. xxxiv. 13

2. To ruin; to bring to naught; to put an end to; to

annihilate; to consume.
I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation.

--Jer. xii.17.

3. To put an end to the existence, prosperity, or beauty of; to kill.

If him by force he can destroy, or, worse, By some
false guile pervert. --Milton.

Syn: To demolish; lay waste; consume; raze; dismantle; ruin;
throw down; overthrow; subvert; desolate; devastate;
deface; extirpate; extinguish; kill; slay.
Gabriel Harvey printed his 168-line poem

in which he styled an Apostrophe ad eundem
(Apostrophe to the same man, i.e. De Vere),
printed in Gratulationis Valdinensis Liber Quartus
(The Fourth Book of Walden Rejoicing), London, 1578, in September. (Hannas)

Ward's translation

(The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, London, 1928, pp. 1578):

Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue,
Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in
thy body, within thee burns the fire of Mars. Thine
eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who
would not swear that ACHILLES had come to life again?


Oxford's pride and intemperance are presented as serious faults (Clermont will attend the troop review). According to the 'vera nobilitas' argument- it is Oxford's inability to rule or contain these qualities within just or reasonable bounds that renders his behaviour uncivil or 'beyond the pale'. As in Greville's description of the tennis court quarrel, Oxford is portrayed as 'passion's slave', a man unable to calm the tempestuous motions within himself. 

I suspect Oxford had a strong suspicion of those who claimed to be able to square their passions to the rule of reason. Despite his protestations to the contrary, isn't Hamlet just as much 'passion's slave' as anyone? Are his actions truly dictated by reason, or is he undermined by a mistaken belief that his reason controls his emotions? All cultures respond to Shakespeare's passionate characters - love and passion are recognizable in any cultural garb - but 'Reason'! 'Reason' everywhere looks different, and as in the Shakespeare controversy - is often a source of division.

As described in Castiglione, writing under a pseudonym, or assuming a disguise contributed to the pleasure of the sophisticated Elizabethan court. On the subject of diguise, Castiglione wrote: "It is no novelty for a prince to be a prince" - the pleasure of disguise comes from perceiving the noble mind through the disguise of the player/clown. It also gives the aristocrat a chance to demonstrate that their noble quality is something that shines through any exterior, and that the noble quality exists (the je-ne-sais-quois of aristocratic identity) and is essential to the aristocrat, and that his excellences are intrinsic and are not something that are merely reflected upon him by flatterers and parasites. Oxford/Shakespeare's authorial excellence has stood on its own, and has been accepted worldwide as the acme of human aesthetic endeavor without the benefit of aristocratic connections or mystique. In time, this brief hiatus from worldly fame, and the stellar fortunes of his orphaned book, will make Oxford's fame even greater.

The apprehension of the noble mind concealed behind the guise of the player was at one time a sophisticated, courtly source of pleasure - and yet due to a radical and deliberate decontextualization - for Oxfordians the one-time pleasure has been perverted into a kind of torment.

There, that is why I rarely speak about or for Oxford. I cannot or will not control my own idolatry, which fuels my quixotic (?) research and is often irrational. So if it sometimes appears that I am agreeing with Jonson, Chapman and criticizing the Earl - I am not. But 'Shakespeare' does not need any more praise - and what I hope this blog can provide is a opportunity for Jonson, Chapman, Harvey, Sidney, Greville and others to be heard as they describe their carefully considered objections to the overwhelming cultural phenomenon that was the Earl of Oxford.

It seems to me that Oxford was not one to be awed by 'bookworm' scholars who would tutor him in 'vera nobilitas', those social architects who would dictate the terms by which he could 'earn' the nobility that they insisted had only been bestowed upon him by the accident of fortune. For if nobility was not essential, then what was it? An act that anyone could perform?

'For it is VIRTUE that gives glory; that will endenizen a man everywhere' -- Jonson, _Timber_

And to this Oxford responded with 'I am that I am'. If Oxford was not noble - then the word noble had no meaning. (irrational idolatry alert)

Oxford did, however, pay a heavy price for not playing the game by their rules - he forfeited his immortal fame. It is the revenge of the scholars that Oxford was not immortalized, at least not in the 'right' way. The two left arms of the Droeshout engraving embody for Jonson the 'preposterous' energies of Shakespeare - a wilful poet who would not write the 'right' way. For Shakespeare, and those who applauded him, there is only magisterial scorn and contempt:

As for those that will (by Faults which Charity hath rak'd
up, or common Honesty conceal'd) make themselves a Name with the
Multitude, or (to draw their rude and beastly Claps) care not whose
living Faces they intrench with their Petulant Styles, may they do it
without a Rival, for me: I chuse rather to live GRAV'D in OBSCURITY,
han share with them in so PREPOSTEROUS A FAME. (Jonson, Volpone)

Preposterous/topsy-turvey/inverted world/ arsey-versey/mixing head with men's heels - the lyrical world of comedy and romance. Jonson drew the line between himself (true poet) and the 'preposterous' poets, and cast Oxford out of the light and life of language.

Or rather, blotted him out - with a ridiculous figure and a preposterous poem. Piling on the metaphors and  inky 'stuff' that he would normally have cut from his work (the dreamy 'stuff' that Shakespeare reveled in) he amassed a great heap of airy nothings and ambiguous, fantastic tissues of phrases entirely devoid of clarity (Soul of the Age!, Swan of Avon!),  feeding the empty, insubstantial form of praise to Shakespeare's 'ignorant' and 'undiscerning' admirers.

Like Shakespeare, he feeds/gives the audience the 'stuff' they want, and they gobble it down and foolishly say that it is good. Jonson praises Shakespeare after Shakespeare's own extravagant manner - which for precise Jonson is the wrong way. Jonson's worthless 'praise' of Shakespeare has led to endless amounts of confusion and conflict; and this is exactly what Jonson predicted that the admirable/highly figurative/bombastic/Shakespearean style of writing would lead to and why he opposed himself to it.

note - added May 31 2015

Coronation Ode of Henry VIII – Thomas More 1509

Wherever he goes, the dense crowd in their desire to look upon him leaves hardly a narrow lane for his passage. The houses are filled to overflowing, the rooftops strain to support the weight of spectators. On all sides there arises a shout of new good will. Nor are the people satisfied to see the king just once; they change their vantage points time and time again in the hope that, from one place or another, they may see him again. Three times they delight to see him—and why not? This king, than whom Nature has [shaped] nothing more deserving of love.  Among a thousand noble companions he stands out taller than any. And he has strength worthy of his regal person. His hand, too, is as skilled as his heart is brave, whether there is an issue to be settled by the naked sword, or an eager charge with leveled lances, or an arrow aimed to strike a target. *There is fiery power in his eyes*, [Venus] in his face, and such color in his cheeks as is typical of twin roses. In fact, that face, admirable for its animated strength, could belong to either a young girl or a man. Thus ACHILLES looked when he pretended to be a MAIDEN, thus he looked when he dragged Hector behind his Thessalian steeds. Ah, if only nature would permit that, like his body, the outstanding excellence of his [soul] be visible to the eye. Nay but in fact his virtue does shine forth from his very face; his countenance bears the open message of a good heart, revealing how ripe the wisdom that dwells in his judicious mind, how profound the calm of his untroubled breast, how he bears his lot and manages it whether it be good or bad, how great his care for modest chastity. How serene the clemency that warms his gentle heart, how far removed from arrogance his mind, of these the noble countenance of our prince itself displays the indubitable signs, signs that admit no counterfeit.

60 Nec minus ille manu est agilis, quam pectore fortis,
61 Seu res districto debeat ense geri,
62 Seu quum protentis auide concurritur hastis,
63 Seu petat oppositum missa sagitta locum.
64 Ignea uis oculis, Venus insidet ore, genisque
65 Est color, in geminis qui solet esse rosis.
66 Illa quidem facies alacri ueneranda uigore
67 Esse potest tenerae uirginis, esse uiri.
68 Talis erat, Nympham quum se simulauit Achilles.
69 Talis, ubi Aemonijs Hectora traxit equis.


Every Man Out, Jonson

Act IV. Scene VIII.

G R E X.

Mit. This Macilente, Signior, begins to be more so-
ciable on a sudden, methinks, than he was before: there's
some portent in't, I believe.
Cor. O, he's a Fellow of a strange nature. Now does
he (in this calm of his Humour) Plot, and store up a
World of malicious Thoughts in his Brain, till he is so
full with 'em, that you shall see the very Torrent of his
Envy break forth like a Land-flood: and, against the
course of all their Affections oppose it self so violently,
that you will almost have wonder to think, how 'tis
possible the Current of their Dispositions shall receive so
quick and strong an alteration.

Mit. I marry, Sir, this is that, on which my expecta-
tion has dwelt all this while: for I must tell you, Signior
(though I was loth to interrupt the Scene) yet I made it
a question in mine own private discourse, how he should
properly call it, Every man out of his Humour, when I
saw all his Actors so strongly pursue, and continue their

Cor. Why, therein his Art appears most full of lustre,
and approacheth nearest the Life: *especially, when in
the flame and HEIGHT of their HUMOURS, they are laid
flat*, it fills the Eye better, and with more contentment.
How tedious a sight were it to behold a proud exalted
Tree lopt, and cut down by degrees, when it might be
feld in a Moment? and to set the Ax to it before it came
to that PRIDE and fulness, were, as not to have it grow.

Mit. Well, I shall long till I see this FALL, you talk of.


Chapman and the 'Inverted World'

Author: Homer.

Title: Achilles shield Translated as the other seuen bookes of Homer,
out of his eighteenth booke of Iliades. By George Chapman Gent.

Date: 1598

dedicated to the Earl of Essex

To my admired and soule-loued friend Mayster of all essentiall and


Beware the word 'TRUE'. When used by humanist scholars in various contexts, i.e. TRUE knowledge, TRUE nobility, TRUE understanding, TRUE virtue, TRUE poet - it usually is a marker of a specialized view of a matter that is opposed to the general or common view (otherwise known as 'how the world understands/esteems it'). As a rule of thumb,  it is a steep and thorny path to the TRUTH, usually involving the reading of a monstrous number of classical texts and, surprising, the burning of many candles. IF you have not taken the steep and thorny path to TRUTH and consulted many footnotes and read all of the notes in the margins, then you should suspect your TRUTH to be of the common, vulgar or broad strain. Which is fine in my opinion, since I think TRUTH's sporadic involvement with mankind has made TRUTH itself a bit giddy. But certainly not acceptable for the refined minds of reformers such as Jonson and Chapman.

back to Chapman...
TO you whose depth of soule measures the height,
And all dimensions of all workes of weight,
REASON being ground, structure and ornament,
To all inuentions, graue and permanent,
And your cleare eyes the Spheres where REASON moues;
This Artizan, this God of RATIONALL loues
Blind Homer;
TRUE learning hath a body absolute,
That in apparant sence it selfe can suite,
Not hid in ayrie termes as if it were
Like spirits fantastike that put men in feare,
And are but bugs form'd in their fowle conceites,
Nor made forsale glas'd with sophistique sleights;
But wrought for all times proofe, strong to bide prease,
And shiuer ignorants like Hercules,
On their owne dunghils; but our formall Clearkes
Blowne for profession, spend their soules in sparkes,
Fram'de of dismembred parts that make most show,
And like to broken limmes of knowledge goe.
Crownd with Heauens inward brightnes shewing cleare,
What true man is, and how like gnats appeare.
O fortune-glossed Pompists, and proud Misers,
That are of Arts such impudent despisers;
Then past anticipating doomes and skornes,
Which for selfe grace ech ignorant subornes,
Their glowing and amazed eyes shall see
How short of thy soules strength my weake words be,
And that I do not like our Poets preferre
For profit, praise and keepe a squeaking stirre
With cald on muses to vnchilde their braines
Of winde and vapor: lying still in paynes,
Of worthy issue; but as one profest
In nought but truthes deare loue the soules true rest.
Continue then your sweet iudiciall kindnesse,
To your true friend, that though this lumpe of blindnes,
This skornefull, this despisde, INVERTED WORLD,
Whose head is furie-like with Adders curlde,
And all her bulke a poysoned Porcupine,
Her stings and quilles darting at worthes deuine,
Keepe vnder my estate with all contempt,
And make me liue euen from my selfe exempt,

Of you in whom the worth of all the Graces,
Due to the mindes giftes, might EMBREW the faces
Of such as skorne them, and with tiranous eye
Contemne the sweat of vertuous industrie.
But as ill lines new fild with incke vndryed,
AN EMPTY PEN with their owne OWNE STUFF applied
CAN BLOT THEM OUT: so shall their wealth-burst wombes
Be made with emptie Penne their honours tombes.


In To my Beloved Master William Shakespeare, Jonson's 'empty pen' employs Oxford/Shakespeare's 'owne stuff' - figurative language - to blot out Oxford.
Shakespeare - tomb of Oxford's honour?
Horace, of the Art of Poetrie

transl. Ben Jonson

If to Quintilius, you recited ought:
Hee'd say, Mend this, good friend, and this; "Tis naught.
If you denied, you had no better straine,
And twice, or thrice had 'ssayd it, still in vaine:
Hee'd bid, BLOT ALL: and to the anvile bring
Those ill-torn'd Verses, to new hammering.
Then: If your fault you rather had defend
Then change. No word, or worke, more would he spend
Alone, without a rivall, by his will.

A wise, and honest man will cry out shame
On artlesse Verse; the hard ones he will blame;
Blot out the careless, with his turned pen;
Cut off superfluous ornaments; and when
They're darke, bid cleare this: all that's doubtfull wrote
Reprove; and, what is to be changed, not:
Become an Aristarchus. And, not say,
Why should I grieve my friend, this TRIFLING WAY?
These trifles into serious mischiefs lead
The man once mock'd, and suffered WRONG TO TREAD.



I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to
Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never
BLOTTED out line. My answer hath beene, would he had BLOTTED a
thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told
posterity this, but for their IGNORANCE, who choose that circumstance
to commend their friend by, wherein he most FAULTED...


4: a WRONG ACTION attributable to bad judgment or IGNORANCE or
inattention; "he made a bad mistake"; "she was quick to
point out my errors"; "I could understand his English in
spite of his grammatical faults" [syn: mistake, error]


Chapman -
Of you in whom the worth of all the Graces,
Due to the mindes giftes, might EMBREW the FACES
Of such as skorne them...

Imbrue \Im*brue"\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Imbureed; p. pr. & vb.

n. Imbureing.] [Cf. OF. embruer, also embruver, embreuver,
embrever, to give to drink, soak (see pref. En-, 1, 1st
In-, and Breverage), but also OE. enbrewen, enbrowen, to
STAIN, soil (cf. Brewis).]


Poetaster, To the Reader, Jonson

...But, they that have incens'd me, can in Soul
Acquit me of that guilt. They know, I dare
To spurn, or bafful 'em; or squirt their Eyes
With Ink, or Urine: or I could do worse,
Arm'd with Archilochus fury, write Iambicks,
Should make the desperate lashers hang themselves;
In drumming Tunes. Or, living, I could stamp
Their foreheads with those deep, and PUBLICK BRANDS,
That the whole company of Barber-Surgeons
Should not take off, with all their Art, and Plaisters.
And these my Prints should last, still to be read
In their pale Fronts: when, what they write 'gainst me,
Shall, like a Figure drawn in Water, fleet,
And the poor wretched Papers be imploy'd
To clothe Tabacco, or some cheaper Drug.
This I could do, and make them infamous.
But, to what end? when their own deeds have mark'd 'em
And that I know, within his guilty Breast
Each slanderer bears a Whip, that shall torment him,
Worse, than a million of these temporal Plagues:
Which to pursue, were but a Feminine humour,
And far beneath the Dignity of Man.


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.



Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all the world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue:
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel'd sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred
That all the world besides methinks are dead.


'Learned' poets vs. 'Drammatick' poets:

Chapman, 'Upon Sejanus':

...No by the Shafts of the great Cyrrhan Poet,
That bear all Light, that is, about the World;
I would all dull Poet-haters know it,
They shall be soul bound, and in darkness HURLD,
A Thousand years (as Satan was, their Sire)
Ere any, worthy the Poetick Name,
(Might I, that warm but at the Muses Fire,
Presume to guard it) should let deathless Fame
Light half a Beam of all her hundred Eyes,
At his dim Taper, in their Memories.**


"It is No Novelty for a Prince to be a Prince": An Enantiomorphous Hamlet

Donald K. Hedrick

"Power, as Rovert Elliott has instructed us (note - Robert C. Elliot, _The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art_), is the object to which Elizabethan verse-satire dedicates itself. What this means is that satire seeks power both over the reader and over the objects of rebuke. As the embodiment of such power, the satiric persona is often portrayed as a heroic pugilist, a soldier wielding satiric words as his sword, whip, or dagger. The ideal image of hte satirit is, as Maynard Mack notes, "the Stoic vir bonus, the good plain man." In order to rebuke the vices in others, the conveyer of invective must himself be unspotted...

A common theme among Renaissance satirists is the virtue of magnanimity, a term that should be construed as right power and self-confidence, necessarily conjoined to a restraint of that power. A typical instance of satire's appropriation of magnanimity is illustrated by Jonson's assurance that he could make his readers hang themselves if he chose to. Such a posture with respect to power, one should notice, is fully compatible with aristocratic disdain...


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jonson Thrashed Oxford's Trifles with the Vera Nobilitas Stick

Michael McCanles
Jonsonian Discriminations: The Humanist Poet and the Praise of True Nobility

At the heart of all Ben Jonson's nondramatic poetry, argues Michael McCanles, lies the concept of true nobility. Jonson sought to transform the inherited aristocracy of England into an aristocracy of humanist virtue in which he could claim a place through his achievement of true nobility by the merits of his own intellectual labours. In this survey of all Jonson's non-dramatic poetry, McCanles identifies a range of dialectical and contrastive forms through which this concern was rendered poetically. He analyses the contrastive forms in discussions of Jonson's prosody, his use of homonymy and synonymy, and of metaphor. He coins the term 'contrastivity' to encompass the play of semantic choices directed by Jonson's use of suprasegmentals at the local level of poetic technique, and the reader's process of reading wherein he or she confirms the validity of a poem's statements by recreating the process of selection/rejection that went into its creation. Thematically, McCanles suggests that the vera nobilitas argument is in fact four distinct arguments in various ways mutually contradictory, collectively both supporting and subverting aristocratic and monarchical hierarchies. Thus he finds Jonson constrained to employ this argument in addressing aristocratic friends, patrons, and the monarch himself, with careful diplomacy in order to negate the subversive dimensions of his own advice and praise. Employing the resources generated by the theoretical analysis of contrastivity in the first chapter, McCanles demonstrates the considerable complexity of Jonson's poetry, generally underestimated in current scholarship


Bartholomew Fair, Jonson, From the Induction to the Stage

...If there be ne- ver a Servant-monster i' the Fair, who can help it, he says, nor a Nest of Antiques? He is loth to make Nature afraid in his Plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries, to MIX HIS HEAD with other MENS HEELS; let the concupiscence of Jigs and Dances, reign as strong as it will amongst you: yet if the Puppets will please any body, they shall be entreated to come in.

Earls chastised by Scholars:

Jonsonian Discriminations: The Humanist Poet and the Praise of True Nobility

Jonson and 'Vera Nobilitas'

History and Structure of the 'Vera Nobilitas' Argument 

An early vector of Jonson's literary career appears near the beginning of the first play he was willing to acknowledge by publication, Every Man in His Humour. In its first version, Lorenzo Senior lectures his nephew Stephano on the emptiness of pretence to self-importance based on gentle birth. Stephano is advised: 'Let not your cariage and behaviour taste/Of affectation, lest while you pretend/ To make a blaze of gentrie to the world/A little puffe of scorne extinguish it'. He was told that he should 'Stand not so much on your gentility' but rather 'entertain a perfect real substance.' Stephano of course ignores this advice and mindlessly pursues whoever appears able to teach him the catch-phrases and gestural tics of fashion to fill out the 'substance' of gentility. Stephano's snobbery discloses him aware of lacking. In this earlier version of the play, Stephano's snobbery about his gentle birth is subordinated to his display of general frivolity, making him the perfect target of the little puff of scorn that Lorenzo warns him of.

In the second version, with which Jonson opens the 1616 Folio of his Workes, the earlier Stephano snobbery is filled out, and becomes the mark against which both Jonson's and Edward Knowell's shafts are aimed. This shift in Jonson's design is highlighted by an addition to Edward Knowell Senior's expostulation with Stephen: 'Nor stand so much on your gentility,/ Which is an airy and mere borrowed thing,/ From dead men's dust and bones; and none of yours/ Except you make or hold it'. The senior Knowell dips briefly into a long tradition of statements about the foundations of true gentility, to inform him that gentility cannot be inherited from the dead, but can only be achieved by one's own labours and self-discipline. It is a subject that Jonson was never to cease exploring, and we have here probably its first appearance in his oeuvre.

The tradition old Knowell alludes to extends back to fifth-century Athens, and develops through Pindar and Theognis to Aristotle and Isocrates, through Sallust, Cicero, Horace, Seneca, Pliny the Younger, and Juvenal to Claudian in Latin literature, to be picked up by Boethius and transmitted to Dante, the writers of the Roman del la Rose, Chaucer, and finally to full development and flowering among Italian and English humanists of the Renaissance. Treated in Classical Greek writing under the name areté, in Latin literature as virtus, and by Chaucer called gentillesse, this tradition is summarized in the writings of fifteenth-century Florentine humanists under the phrase vera nobilitas. This phrase names a coherent yet historically shifting and evolving set of arguments that concern the true foundations of aristocratic status, which Renaissance humanism derived mainly from classical sources and reframed to serve its own educational agenda. There is little that Jonson says on the subject that does not betray similar indebtedness, and indeed because he appears to be repeating commonplaces his concern with vera nobilitas has passed with little comment in the literature on Jonson's works. The reasons for this neglect are important for understanding the concept itself, its history, and its surprising endurance through Western writing up to the Renaissance (pages 46, 47)


Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost which is so deemed
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, they 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. 

McCanles, con't.

The vera nobilitas argument lies at or near the centre of most subjects and themes Jonson treats in his nondramatic poetry. He foreshadows this treatment when he dedicates the Epigrammes to an aristocratic patron, William Herbert, earl of Pembroke: 'My Lord. While you cannot change your merit, I dare not change your title: It was you that made it, and not I'. Pembroke's title, in the words of the epigram 'To Sir William Jephson' was 'made' by his merit, 'not entayl'd on title,' because 'Nature no such difference had imprest/ In men, but every bravest was the best:/ That bloud not mindes, but mindes did bloud adorne:/ And to live great, was better, then great borne'. The oppositions and equivalences in this epigram are typical of the vera nobilitas tradition in general. Noble titles derive from merit, not the other way round - or at least that is the way the case should be, which is why Jonson praises Sir William for reversing the usually reversed priority. The distinction between noble 'bloud' and 'minde' makes the latter a synecdoche for intellectual cultivation, and discloses Jonson's humanist bias. Where classical Greek and Roman definitions of vera nobilitas emphasize acts of remarkable statesmanship or valour performed in the public domain, Renaissance humanism bent the classical emphasis toward the attainments of humanist scholarship as the true justification of aristocratic privilege.


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 renewed,
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,
Ev'n that your pity is enough to cure me

Tempestuous Grandlings:

Jonson's Stoic Politics:
Lipsius, the Greeks, and the "Speach According to Horace"

Robert C. Evans

...The concluding portion of the "Speach" attacks the superficial training of various "Lordings" (l. 62) and "Grandlings" (l. 64), who bristle at any attempt to "tutor" them in their responsibilities (l. 66), especially when that attempt is made by "Booke-wormes" (l. 67). Rejecting their traditional military duties, they take pride instead in their birth, breeding, and alliances (l. 66), and Jonson makes them contemptuously ask, "Why are we rich, or great, except to show / All licence in our lives?" (ll. 69-70). The only subjects they profess to care about are sports, whoring, dancing, making money, attending plays, and wearing elaborate costumes. As for their social obligations, Jonson imagines them variously crying, "let Clownes, and Tradesmen breed / Their Sonnes to studie Arts, the Lawes, the Creed" (ll. 73-74), and "Let poore Nobilitie be vertuous" (l. 79), and "Let them care, / That in the Cradle of their Gentrie are; / To serve the State by Councels, and by Armes" (ll. 83-85). The poem's final lines condemn such pseudo-aristocrats as "Carkasses of honour; Taylors blocks, / Cover'd with Tissue, whose prosperitie mocks / The fate of things" (ll. 99-101). They are, in the poem's grim final words, nothing but hollow or "emptie moulds" (l. 102). Their personal irresponsibility, Jonson suggests, is not only individually degenerate but also dangerous to the larger body politic. 

McCanles, con't.

The second distinction in this epigram sets high birth against living greatly. This antithesis has clearer classical antecedents, and declares that each scion of a noble family retains that nobility not by inheriting it but by recreating it anew. Noble birth contributes nothing to true 'greatness', that is, noble status, and is consequently redundant. No one says this in Jonson's time or before. In fact, Jonson as well as other Renaissance humanists make just the opposite point: the desirable norm is an established aristocracy composed of individuals who have in addition achieved vera nobilitas by their own labours.

However, writing during the years following Jonson's death, Blaise Pascal in a brief treatise entitled 'On the Condition of the Great' marked the end of the vera nobilitas argument as it had developed from fifth-century Greece to Jonson's own time. When Pascal says that 'there are in the world two kinds of greatness: for there is greatness of institution, and natural greatness', he is merely repeating the distinction historically fundamental to the vera nobilitas argument. Nevertheless, Pascal breaks decisively with its history when he concludes that these two kinds of greatness have nothing to do with each other. For Pascal aristocratic status depends on an external political structure, and this status may exist independent of the inner virtues that make natural greatness. He acknowledges to his noble addressee that he owes 'the ceremonies that are merited by your quality of duke... But if you were a duke you without being a gentleman, I should still do you justice; for in rendering you the external homage which the order of men has attached to your birth, I should not fail to have for you the internal contempt that would be merited by your baseness of mind'. (p.48)

Baseness of mind - 'Bumpkinification' of the Earl of Oxford as Stratford Will.
Base \Base\ (b[=a]s), a. [OE. bass, F. bas, low, fr. LL. bassus
   thick, fat, short, humble; cf. L. Bassus, a proper name, and
   W. bas shallow. Cf. Bass a part in music.]
   1. Of little, or less than the usual, height; of low growth;
      as, base shrubs. [Archaic] --Shak.

   2. Low in place or position. [Obs.] --Shak.

   3. Of humble birth; or low degree; lowly; mean. [Archaic] ``A
      pleasant and base swain.'' --Bacon.

   4. Illegitimate by birth; bastard. [Archaic]

            Why bastard? wherefore base?          --Shak.

   5. Of little comparative value, as metal inferior to gold and
      silver, the precious metals.

   6. Alloyed with inferior metal; debased; as, base coin; base

   7. Morally low. Hence: Low-minded; unworthy; without dignity
      of sentiment; ignoble; mean; illiberal; menial; as, a base
      fellow; base motives; base occupations. ``A cruel act of a
      base and a cowardish mind.'' --Robynson (More's Utopia).
      ``Base ingratitude.'' --Milton.

   8. Not classical or correct. ``Base Latin.'' --Fuller.

   9. Deep or grave in sound; as, the base tone of a violin. [In
      this sense, commonly written bass.]

   10. (Law) Not held by honorable service; as, a base estate,
       one held by services not honorable; held by villenage.
       Such a tenure is called base, or low, and the tenant, a
       base tenant.
Syn: Dishonorable; worthless; ignoble; low-minded; infamous;
        sordid; degraded.

   Usage: Base, Vile, Mean. These words, as expressing
          moral qualities, are here arranged in the order of
          their strength, the strongest being placed first. Base
          marks a high degree of moral turpitude; vile and mean
          denote, in different degrees, the want of what is
          valuable or worthy of esteem. What is base excites our
          abhorrence; what is vile provokes our disgust or
          indignation; what is mean awakens contempt. Base is
          opposed to high-minded; vile, to noble; mean, to
          liberal or generous. Ingratitude is base; sycophancy
          is vile; undue compliances are mean.

He was told that he should 'Stand not so much on your gentility' but rather 'entertain a perfect real substance.'...''Nor stand so much on your gentility,/ Which is an airy and mere borrowed thing,/ From dead men's dust and bones; and none of yours/ Except you make or hold it' --Jonson/McCanles

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


Compare Pascal to Fulke Greville's depiction of the Oxford/Sidney tennis court quarrel:

Publique Ill Example:  Oxford appears UNNAMED as Sidney's proud and intemperate ADVERSARY in Greville’s _A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney_(originally published as _Life of Sidney_)

...And in this freedome of heart [Sidney] being one day at Tennis, a Peer of this Realm, born great, greater by alliance, and superlative in the Princes favour, abruptly came into the Tennis- Court; and speaking out of these three paramount authorities, he forgot to entreat that, which he could not legally command. When by the encounter of a steady object, finding unrespectiveness in himself (though a great Lord) not respected by this Princely spirit, he grew to expostulate more ROUGHLY. The returns of which stile comming still from an understanding heart, that knew what was due to it self, and what it ought to others, seemed (through the MISTS of my Lords PASSIONS, SWOLN with the WINDE of his FACTION then reigning) to provoke in yeelding. Whereby, the lesse amazement, or confusion of thoughts he stirred up in Sir Philip, the more SHADOWES this great Lords own mind was POSSESSED with: till at last with RAGE (which is ever ILL-DISCIPLINED) he commands them to depart the Court. To this Sir Philip temperately answers; that if his Lordship had been pleased to express desire in milder Characters, perchance he might have led out those, that he should now find would not be driven out with any scourge of FURY. This answer (like a BELLOWS) blowing up the sparks of EXCESS already kindled, made my Lord scornfully call Sir Philip by the name of Puppy. In which progress of HEAT, as the TEMPEST grew more and more vehement within, so did their hearts breath out their perturbations in a more loud and shrill accent. The French Commissioners unfortunately had that day audience, in those private Galleries, whose windows looked into the Tennis-Court. They instantly drew all to this tumult: every sort of quarrels sorting well with their humors, especially this. Which Sir Philip perceiving, and rising with inward strength, by the prospect of a mighty faction against him; asked my Lord, with a loud voice, that which he heard clearly enough before. Who ( LIKE AN ECHO, that still multiplies by REFLEXIONS) repeated this Epithet of Puppy the second time. Sir Philip resolving in one answer to conclude both the attentive hearers, and PASSIONATE ACTOR, gave my Lord a Lie, impossible (as he averred) to be retorted; in respect all the world knows, Puppies are gotten by Dogs, and Children by men. Hereupon those GLORIOUS INEQUALITIES of FORTUNE in his Lordship were put to a kinde of pause, by a PRECIOUS INEQUALITY OF NATURE in this Gentleman. So that they both stood silent a while, like a dumb shew in a tragedy; till Sir Philip sensible of his own wrong, the forrain, and factious spirits that attended; and yet, even in this question between him, and his superior, tender to his Countries honour; with some words of sharp accent, led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court; as if so unexpected an accident were not fit to be decided any farther in that place. Whereof the great Lord making another sense, continues his play, without any advantage of reputation; as by the standard of HUMOURS in those times it was conceived.


O! lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death,--dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing WORTHY prove.
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O! lest your true love may seem false in this
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing WORTH. 


Worth \Worth\, n. [OE. worth, wur[thorn], AS. weor[eth],
   wur[eth]; weor[eth], wur[eth], adj. See Worth, a.]
   1. That quality of a thing which renders it valuable or
      useful; sum of valuable qualities which render anything
      useful and sought; value; hence, often, value as expressed
      in a standard, as money; equivalent in exchange; price.

            What 's worth in anything But so much money as 't
            will bring?                           --Hudibras.

   2. Value in respect of moral or personal qualities;
      excellence; virtue; eminence; desert; merit; usefulness;
      as, a man or magistrate of great worth.

            To be of worth, and worthy estimation. --Shak.

            As none but she, who in that court did dwell, Could
            know such worth, or worth describe so well.

            To think how modest worth neglected lies.

   Syn: Desert; merit; excellence; price; rate.
  Fulke Greville - Hereditary Recorder of Stratford-upon-Avon

Greville, _Dedication_

...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. 


Rewards of Earth

      REWARDS of earth, Nobility and Fame,
      To senses glory and to conscience woe,
      How little be you for so great a name?
      Yet less is he with men what thinks you so.
          For earthly power, that stands by fleshly wit,
          Hath banished that truth which should govern it.

      Nobility, power's golden fetter is,
      Wherewith wise kings subjection do adorn,
      To make man think her heavy yoke a bliss
      Because it makes him more than he was born.
          Yet still a slave, dimm'd by mists of a crown,
          Let he should see what riseth, what pulls down.

      Fame, that is but good words of evil deeds,
      Begotten by the harm we have, or do,
      Greatest far off, least ever where it breeds,
      We both with dangers and disquiet woo;
          And in our flesh, the vanities' false glass,
          *We thus deceiv'd adore these calves of brass*.

          Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke


Upon Ben: Johnson, the most excellent of Comick Poets.

Mirror of Poets! Mirror of our Age!
Which her whole Face beholding on thy stage,
Pleas'd and displeas'd with her owne faults endures,
A remedy, like Those whom Musicke cures,
Thou not alone those various inclinations,
Which Nature gives to Ages, Sexes, Nations,
Hast traced with thy All-resembling Pen,
But all that custome hath impos'd on Men,
Or ill-got Habits, which distort them so,
That scarce the Brother can the Brother know,
Is represented to the wondring Eyes,
Of all that see or read thy Comedies.
Whoever in those Glasses lookes may finde,
The spots return'd, or graces of his minde;
And by the helpe of so divine an Art,
At leisure view, and dresse his nobler part.
*NARCISSUS conzen'd by that flattering Well,
Which nothing could but of his beauty tell,
Had here discovering the deform'd estate
Of his fond minde, preserv'd himselfe with hate
But Vertue too, as well as Vice is clad,
In flesh and blood so well, that Plato had
Beheld what his high Fancie once embrac'd,
Vertue with colour, speech and motion grac'd.
The sundry Postures of Thy copious Muse,
Who would expresse a thousand tongues must use,
Whose Fates no lesse peculiar then thy Art,
For as thou couldst all characters impart,
So none can render thine, who still escapes,
Like Proteus in variety of shapes,
Who was nor this nor that, but all we finde,
And all we can imagine in mankind.
E. Waller


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..

    Upon the Dramatick Poems of Mr. John Fletcher.
...Shakespeare to thee was DULL, whose best jest lyes
I'th Ladies questions, and the Fooles replyes;    [70]
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

From To the Deceased Author of these Poems (William Cartwright)

Jasper Mayne

…And as thy Wit was like a Spring, so all
The soft streams of it we may Chrystall call:
No cloud of Fancie, no mysterious stroke,
No Verse like those which antient Sybils spoke;
No Oracle of Language, to amaze
The Reader with a dark, or Midnight Phrase,
Stands in thy Writings, which are all pure Day,
A cleer, bright Sunchine, and the mist away.
That which Thou wrot’st was sense, and that sense good,
Things not first written, and then understood:
Or if sometimes thy Fancy soar’d so high
As to seem lost to the unlearned Eye,
‘Twas but like generous Falcons, when high flown,
Which mount to make the Quarrey more their own.

For thou to Nature had’st joyn’d Art, and skill.
In Thee Ben Johnson still HELD Shakespeare’s quill:
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)


4. To impose restraint upon; to limit in motion or action; to
      bind legally or morally; to confine; to restrain.
            We can not hold mortality's strong hand. --Shak.

            Death! what do'st? O,hold thy blow.   --Grashaw.

            He hat not sufficient judgment and self-command to
            hold his tongue.                      --Macaulay.

Jonson on Shakespeare
He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free
nature, had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle
expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it
was necessary he should be *stopped*.  "Sufflaminandus erat," as
Augustus said of Haterius.  His wit was in his own power; would the
*rule* of it had been so, too.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shakespeare, Jonson and Humoral Privilege

That the solution to the authorship mystery lies in the rather boring sounding category of the 'history of manners'  I have no doubt. Ben Jonson had equated manners and humours, and in his attempts at social reform he seems to have used the terms interchangeably. For Jonson the history of manners was interwoven with humoral history, and it was in his self-appointed role as censor or corrector of manners/humours that he based his assaults on the fame of the Earl of Oxford.

The following is an extended passage from Gail Kern Paster's book, _Humouring the Body_ that introduces a concept that is (IMO) critical to the authorship question - that of 'humoral privilege'.

What is humoral privilege? Basically, in the context of the authorship problem, it's the Earl of Oxford claims to emotional privilege and individuality - a sort of early modern version of Sinatra's  'I Did it My Way'. It's what Benedick lays claim to in Much Ado when he says:

I'll tell thee what, prince; a college of
wit-crackers cannot flout me out of my humour. Dost
thou think I care for a satire or an epigram? No:
if a man will be beaten with brains, a' shall wear
nothing handsome about him. In brief, since I do
purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any
purpose that the world can say against it; and
therefore never flout at me for what I have said
against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my
Benedick accepts the 'giddiness', changeability and passionate nature of man. It seems that Ben Jonson never did. Jonson's stern view of human nature can be seen in  Augustus Caesar's description of the virtuous man in Poetaster- a moral vision that highlights the necessity for self-rule and self-restraint:
Augustus Caesar.
There is no bounty to be shew'd to such

As have no real goodness: bounty is

A spice of virtue; and what virtuous act

Can take effect on them, that have no power

Of equal habitude to apprehend it,

But live in worship of that idol, vice,

As if there were no virtue, but in shade

Of strong imagination, merely enforced?

This shews their knowledge is mere ignorance,

Their far-fetch'd dignity of soul a fancy,

And all their square pretext of gravity

A mere vain-glory; hence, away with them!

I will prefer for knowledge, none but such

As rule their lives by it, *and can becalm

All sea of Humour with the marble trident

Of their strong spirits*: others fight below

With gnats and shadows; others nothing know.


Gail Kern Paster describes humours as the 'fluids most directly associated with impulsiveness, and thus (are) a key part of the narrative of social reform...':

Would he had blotted a thousand...

Hee was (indeed) honest, and of an open, and free na-ture: had an excellent Phantsie; brave notions, and gentle expressions: wherein hee flow'd with that facility, that sometime it was necessary he should be stop'd: Sufflaminandus erat; as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his owne power; would the rule of it had beene so too. (Timber, Jonson on Shakespeare)


Gail Kern Paster
Humoring the Body

...I want to expand on the problematic relationship between the social and the emotional hierarchies of early modern England, with particular attention to the issue of male humors and passions - and especially the social privileges both requited by and often assumed in the expression of male anger. First, though, it is important to suggest how contemporary rhetoric of the passions and the humors functions in two discourses that work together to express, manage, and adjudicate among claims to emotional privilege. One, the biological discourse we have seen earlier, describes the humors as a psychophysiological determinant of gentlemanliness, in a more or less socially recognized system classification; the other, a discourse of literary satire, describes the humors as an agreed-upon social fiction by which men describe and claim individuality. The first discourse borrows heavily from Galenic theory and carries with it the semantic authority of literal meaning. In the second discourse, the bodily humors are recognized as part of a self-interested claim to emotional privilege and peremptory interiority - a way of demanding the humoral right of way in order to have something of the emotional unconstraint that Guazzo saw as possible only for a man secure in his preeminence among inferiors. In this discourse, the usefulness and meaningfulness of the concept of the humors - hence a traditional way of appraising the behavior of others - is represented as at issue. In the induction to Every Man out of His Humour, the two choric characters Cordatus and Asper lament how the "poor innocent word" humor "I racked and tortured" through misuse when it referes properly to a set of biological givens:

...we thus define it,
To be a Quality of Air, or Water,
And in it self holds these two Properties,
Moisture and Fluxure;
and hence we do conclude,
That whatsoe're hath Fluxure and Humidity,
As wanting power to contain it self,
Is Humour. So in every Humane Body,
The Choler, Melancholy, Phlegm, and Blood,
By reason that they flow continually
In some one Part, and are not continent,
Receive the name of Humours." (induction, 88-91, 95-102)

Here Jonson introduces humor in its largest sense - as the name for the two liquid elements helping to compose all things - and then applies it to the more complex liquids in the human body. He is even willing to acknowledge that the word humor may extend to characterize the "general disposition" of a person "by metaphor" (104,103). A metaphorical transfer of terms is required here in that a disposition is not a liquid itself but is rather the result, Jonson says, of a "peculiar" quality's power to

All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way. (106-8)

But even though disposition may not literally be liquid, Jonson does conceptualize affects, spirits, and powers to flow - sometimes in a single direction, as in the behaviour of one ruled by a single affect, but more often (he implies) in the changeable currents of felling characteristic of most individuals. But Jonson's spokesman Asper is unwilling to extend the proper meanings of humor to include such behavioural signs as transient social affectations of dress and adornment:

But that a rook, in wearing a pied feather,
The cable hatband, or the three-piled ruff,
A yard of shoetie, or the Switzers' knot
On his French garters, would affect a humour! (110-13)

Asper's rapid rhetorical descent from the overarching dignity of the elements to a "yard of shoetie" or "three-piled ruff" suggests Jonson's overall line of attack on contemporary forms of masculine desire. In this contemptuous (and ultimately circular) formulation, the rook borrows from the order of things as if it were available to him as an additional resource in his process of self-adornment, as if the cosmological framework were his for the taking or could be demonstrable in clothes, feathers, and other forms of decoration. Such affectation is not merely narcissism in a socially conspicuous form - indeed narcissism for the sake of conspicuous form - but colossal misrecognition of one's place in the world. For Jonson, there is nothing humanly voluntary, nothing chosen about the cosmological framework or the human frame that reproduces it in little. Presumable that is why he begins by defining humor as a function of the cosmos first and the human body later. Thus Jonson seeks to distinguish between the universal givens and the arbitrary range of human social practice, to place human passions within their proper cosmological framework. The signs of the order of things are not subject to human manipulation or to the vagaries of fasion; they cannot be lodged in ruff, feather, or shoelaces. ...but there is nothing similarly inevitable or cosmically demonstrable, Jonson wants to insist, in one's petty range of choice in what to wear, or eat, or take as medicine, especially when that choice is itself preceded by an exaggerated insistence on its importance as a signifier of one's peremptory humorality. The offense is, among other things, one of proportion and scale. Jonson's sense of the alarming downward mobility or diminution of the term humor is clear in the prologue to The Alchemist when he introduces his topic as "manners, now call'd humours" -- as if the universal were now being subsumed by the particular, interiority by exteriority, the timeless by the ephemeral.

For Jonson, the fashionable discourse of the humors thus arises as an offense to the order of things, as when, in Every Man in his Humour, Cash seeks to inform the water-carrier Cob of what it means to have a humor: "I'll tell thee, Cob; it is a gentleman-like monster, bred in the special gallantry of our time by affectation; and fed by folly" (3.4.18-20). Humorality in this sense is monstrous, as Peter Womack has explained, because it represents "incompleteness and difference" as opposed to the self-sameness of the universal order. Although as a liquid, any humour wants "power to contain itself, "it's status as an "incontinent" part requiring containment is not in itself problematic except when self-containment fails, as it does for humorous gentlemen who, like th eprototypical gull in Dekker's Gull's Hornbook, "desires to pour himself into all fashions" and abandons the quest for identity as self-sameness. Humors can be yoked to accomplishment - as Hal's specification of his own humor early in 1 Henry IV as "unyok'd" implies. So it is lack of containment, lack of manly fixity and yoking to worthy activity, that produces the "gentleman-like monster," that emblem of uncontainment and Bakhtinian grotesqueness. (Kern Paster, 197-200)


The humorous 'gentleman-like monster' appears in Oxford's stead in Harvey's _Speculum Tuscanism_; he appears again in Oxford's form in Chapman's Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois as Oxford peremptorily demands the humoral right of way; he appears as the enraged and out-of-control aristocrat in Greville's account of the tennis court quarrel and in the libellous accounts of Howard and Arundel; and most recently, the gentleman-like monster, 'that emblem of uncontainment and Bakhtinian grotesqueness' appropriates Oxford's fame in Alan H. Nelson's 'Monstrous Adversary'.


O MANNERS! that this AGE should BRING FORTH such creatures! that

Nature should bee at leisure to make 'hem

(Jonson, Every Man In, IV.viii. 146-7)


Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur

"The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived."



or, The Art of Modern Poetry

James Miller can by the single wave of a HARLEQUIN'S WAND, conjure the whole Town every night into your Circle; where like a true Cunning Man, you amuse 'em with a few Puppy's Tricks while you juggle 'em out of their Pelf, and then cry out with a Note of Triumph,

Si Mundus vult Decipi, Decipiatur.

And now, Sir, having given you a full and true account of your self, we come to say something of our selves, with a Word upon our Performance.

As to the following Piece, it is a System of the Laws of Modern Poetry establish'd amongst us by the Authority of the most successful Writers of the present Age, by which it appears that the Rules now follow'd, are in all Respects exactly the Reverse of those which were observ'd by the Authors of Antiquity, and which were set forth of old by Horace in his Epistle de Arte Poetica. In a word, Sir, it is *Horace turn'd Harlequin, with his Head where his Heels should be*; in which Posture we ween not but he will be well receiv'd by your worship, and in Consequence of that, by the whole Town.

--Nec Phoebo gratior ulla est Quam sibi quoe Vari prescripsit pagina Nomen. (To Phoebus is no page more welcome than that which is inscribed on its front with the name of Varus.) Virgil, Eclogue 6.11-12


Bartholomew Fair: Jonson


I N D u C T I O N


S T A G E.

It is further covenanted, concluded and agreed, That how great soever the expectation be, no Person here is to expect more than he knows, or better Ware than a Fair will afford: neither to look back to the Sword and Buckler-age of Smithfield, but content himself with the present. Instead of a little Davy, to take Toll o' the Bawds, the Author doth promise a strutting Horse-courser, with a leer-Drunkard, two or three to attend him, in as good Equipage as you would wish. And then for Kind- heart, the Tooth-drawer, a fine Oily Pig-woman with her Tapster, to bid you welcome, and a Consort of Roarers for Musick. A wise Justice of Peace meditant, instead of a Jugler, with an Ape. A civil Cutpurse searchant. A sweet Singer of new Ballads allurant: and as fresh an Hypocrite, as ever was broach'd, rampant. If there be ne- ver a Servant-monster i' the Fair, who can help it, he says, nor a Nest of Antiques? He is loth to *make Nature afraid* in his Plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries, to MIX HIS HEAD with other MENS HEELS; let the concupiscence of Jigs and Dances, reign as strong as it will amongst you: yet if the Puppets will please any body, they shall be entreated to come in.



Or, the

Art of Modern Poetry

To grand Beginnings full of Pomp and Show,

Big Things profest, and Brags of what you'll do,

Still some gay, glitt'ring, foreign Gewgaws join,

Which, like gilt Points on Peter's Coat, may shine

Descriptions which may make your Readers stare,

And marvel how such pretty Things came There


Suppose you're skill'd in the Parnassian Art,

To purge the Passions, and correct the Heart,

To paint Mankind in ev'ry Light, and Stage,

Their various Humours, Characters, and Age,

To fix each Portion in its proper Place

And give the Whole one Method, Form and Grace;

What's that to us? who pay our Pence to see

The great Productions of Profundity,

Shipwrecks, and Monsters, Conjurers, and Gods,

Where every Part is with the whole at odds.

With Truth and Likelihood we all are griev'd,

And take most Pleasure, when we're most deceiv'd,

Now wrote obscure, and let your Words move slow,

Then with full Light, and rapid Ardor glow;

In one Scene make your Hero cant, and whine,

Then roar out Liberty in every Line;

Vary one Thing a thousand pleasant Ways,

Shew Whales in Woods, and Dragons in the Seas.

To shun a Fault's the ready Way to fall,

Correctness is the greatest Fault of all.

Ruling/Holding/Restraining Shakespeare:

From To the Deceased Author of these Poems (William Cartwright)

by Jasper Mayne

…And as thy Wit was like a Spring, so all

The soft streams of it we may Chrystall call:

No cloud of Fancie, no mysterious stroke,

No Verse like those which antient Sybils spoke;

No Oracle of Language, to amaze

The Reader with a dark, or Midnight Phrase,

Stands in thy Writings, which are all pure Day,

A cleer, bright Sunchine, and the mist away.

That which Thou wrot’st was sense, and that sense good,

Things not first written, and then understood:

Or if sometimes thy Fancy soar’d so high

As to seem lost to the unlearned Eye,

‘Twas but like generous Falcons, when high flown,

Which mount to make the Quarrey more their own.

For thou to Nature had’st joyn’d Art, and skill.

In Thee BEN JOHNSON still HELD Shakespeare’s QUILL:

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)


O manners! that this AGE should BRING FORTH such creatures! that

Nature should bee at leisure to make 'hem

(Jonson, Every Man In, IV.viii. 146-7)

Jonson. Verse Prologue, _Every Man in His Humor _


[The Scene: London]

P R O L O G U E.

THough 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 Comœdy 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.