Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Great Shakespeare Renunciation

The title of this post refers to the psychologist J.C. Flugel's theory of the 'Great Masculine Renunciation'. Brent Shannon, in 'The Cut of his Coat: Men Dress, and Consumer Culture in Britain, 1860-1914' describes the theory as 'a radical shift to sober male attire during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which [Flugel] saw as having arisen from the sociopolitical upheavals of the French Revolution'.

The magnificent figure of the ancien regime aristocrat - decked out in lacy cuffs and collar, powdered wig and rouged face, delicate stockings and slippers - became distasteful to the new male revolutionaries and their democratic ideals (Flugel, 111-12). The revolution's emphasis on the brotherhood of man promoted a uniformity of dress, intended to abolish those distinctions that separated wealthy from poor and to advance a simplification of dress that suggested democratic, plebeian values. As the revolution made labor respectable, work (or business) clothes became the new uniform of the new democratic man (112). (Shannon, The Cut of his Coat, p. 23.)

The Decline of Edward de Vere and the Rise of the Three-Piece-Suit:

Flugel's theory underpinned some quite interesting ideas regarding clothing reform in Britain  in the period between the wars - but it is the use of his theory in the writings of David Kuchta that concern me here. Returning to Shannon:

Kuchta [...] contends that the renunciation had much earlier English roots, originating as a struggle for political superiority between aristocratic and middle-class men who linked both the new image of a more modest and sober masculinity and the repudiation of conspicuous luxury to their political legitimacy beginning in 1688 and continuing into the early nineteenth century. To critics and supporters of the aristocracy alike, the issue of consumption was central to the idea of political legitimacy, and thus the notion of what Kuchta calls 'inconspicuous consumption' became central to the Great Masculine Renunciation, as aristocratic and middle-class men attempted to outdo each other's attempts at displaying frugality, economic virtue, and a 'well-regulated spirit of manliness and humility'. Steele asserts that extravagant and modish male attire in England came to be associated with 'tyranny, political and moral corruption, and a 'degenerate exotic effeminacy' of the aristocracy, while plainer and soberer dress became increasingly associated with bourgeois notions of 'liberty, patriotism, virtue, enterprise, and manliness'. The French Revolution only helped solidify these connotations, and the new sartorial ideals in the form of the plain frock coat - the direct ancestor of the modern man's business suit - quickly proliferated through English, French and American society. Though the ideology of 'modest masculinity' may have first been employed by early-eighteenth-century aristocrats in an effort to justify their claims to speak on behalf on the nation, middle-class reformers had by the early nineteenth century turned this ideology against the elite by appropriating it for themselves and, simply put, by playing the part better (Kuchta, 70-71). Around the turn of the nineteenth century, this 'democratization of clothing' manifested itself through the radical adoption of simpler, darker, more conservative male dress. Davidoff and Hall explain that within a time span of only thirty years, ornamental and effeminate hose, form-fitting breeches, powdered wigs, ruffles, lace, silk and jeweery were replaced by drab colors, stiff collars, and loose-fitting trousers. Gradually, all male adornments and accessories were abandoned, save for the middle-class businessman's ever-present pocket watch. Foster remarks that men's clothing grew 'increasingly standardized' during the nineteenth century, and by midcentury, men of the upper, middle and even urban working classes had all begun to dress in the same uniform: a plain and somber coat and waistcoat, trousers, shirt, underclothes and some kind of hat or cap. (Shannon, The Cut of his Coat)


David Kuchta pushes Flugel's theory back to 1688. I'd like to push it back over a hundred years earlier - to the 1570's when court factions began assigning values to various manifestations of elite male deportment. It seems to me a case can be made that as some Englishman began a subtle shift towards a more restrained and classically republican model of manners/mores as the sign of political virtue, the elegance, beauty and refinement of aristocrats such as Edward de Vere began to be regarded with suspicion - brilliance and sophistication were reinscribed as evidence of pride, self-love and effeminacy. Even 'Shakespeare' could be regarded as the repository of rhetorical excess and literary extravagance (or 'fertility' - see below) - the wild fancies of an unrestrained wit, and a fashionable and seductive threat to the decorous and well-regulated society that reformers envisioned. (This is evident in Jonson's Cynthia's Revels but especially in Comus, the republican Milton's masque that depicts the rejection and downfall of an extravagant Shakespearean-sounding sorcerer by a temperate and 'chaste' young lady).

And, so sepulchred, in such pomp dost lie,
That kings, for such a tomb, would wish to die. (Milton on Shakespeare)

The Great Shakespeare Renunciation

So, in this theory I think I have found a pattern through which  I can hook all the scraps and thrums I have collected over the years. (Themes of deformity, effeminacy, extravagance, degeneracy, corruption, disease, flattery, tyranny, self-love, false nobility, luxury, idleness. 'empty' rhetoric - to name a few.) My Oxfordian take on the 'Great Masculine Renunciation'  suggests that the Shakespeare 'amnesty' and the general renunciation of a courtly Shakespeare/De Vere was a defensive strategy of a court culture that was under siege (political) - but I also embrace the additional meaning that it was a beseiged Edward de Vere himself who renounced his beloved 'Shakespeare' (personal)- rendering his Beautiful Book a noble orphan:

If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,
As subject to Time's love or Time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flow'rs with flowers gathered.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thrallèd discontent,
Whereto th'inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy, that heretic
Which works on leases of short numbered hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with the show'rs.
To this I witness call the fools of Time,
Which die for goodness,who have lived for crime. 



De corruptela morum -- There cannot be one colour of the mind; another of the wit. If the mind be staid, grave, and composed, the wit is so; that vitiated, the other is blown, and deflowered. Do we not see, if the mind languish, the members are dull? Look upon an effeminate person: his very gait confesseth him. If a man be fiery, his motion is so; if angry, 'tis troubled, and violent. So that we may conclude wheresoever manners, and fashions are corrupted, language is. It imitates the public riot. The EXCESS of feasts, and apparel, are the notes of a sick state; and the wantonness of language, of a sick mind.
(Jonson, Discoveries 1171) 

'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 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.


The pre-English civil war manifestations of this cultural debate are at times explicit, but in the case of the Shakespeare authorship criticisms tend to be circumspect or covert. Direct criticism of the Earl of Oxford and his 'crew' at court could entangle critics in the arcane snare of 'Scandalum Magnatum' - justly or unjustly, the wand of The Great Lord Chamberlain's office yet had the power to dissever a man from his living or his life.

He with his bare wand can unthread thy joints, And crumble all thy sinews... - Milton, Comus


Managing Spenser, Managing Shakespeare in Comus

Maurice Hunt


Recently John Guillory and Maggie Kilgour have described Milton's apparent uneasiness in Comus with Shakespeare's presence throughout this masque and his preference for – and possible endorsement of – Spenser in the poem's resolution. Nevertheless, despite efforts to clarify the value and nature of Milton's relation to Shakespeare, Spenser, and their works, the precise meaning of each literary predecessor for Milton in Comus remains to be defined. This essay provides that definition, in the process confirming Guillory's and Kilgour's argument and further refuting Harold Bloom's claim about the relationship of Spenser and Shakespeare to Milton's masque. Among this essay's new readings of elements of Comus are a fresh interpretation of the threat posed by Shakespeare's profuse "fertility" to Milton and his poem as well as a description of the significance of Spenser's art for Milton that involves a thorough decoding of the allegory of the notorious passage concerning the Shepherd Lad (ll. 617–41). This decoding reveals a Miltonic achievement – the poet's managing Spenser to manage Shakespeare – in the process fashioning his own creative space.

from the essay:

No less a literary critic than C.S. Lewis suggests a reason for these and other rewritings of Comus. According to Lewis, Milton's revisions [...] frequently change striking and remarkable diction - often Shakespearean in flavor - to more ordinary expression. His alterations of his own style generally make Comus less dramatic, more Neoclassical, with less of a highly-colored pictorial quality. Milton's revisions exchange "a sweeter for a drier flavour": they are in the "gnomic and ethical direction" Lewis believes that Milton followed these trends in rewriting because, in Comus, he was trying to "subdue" his verse "in order to achieve a poetic chastity." (snip)

(note - I think of these stylistic alterations as 'pruning the POMP' that Milton gnomically asserts Shakespeare to 'lie' in. I'll suggest that both Milton's sonnet to Shakespeare and Jonson's FF encomium ironically 'bury/cover over' Shakespeare with immoderate flattery and rhetorical pomp, imitating/exaggerating? Shakespeare/Oxfords's stylistic vices - and thereby blotting him out.

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid   
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,   
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart   
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,   
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,   
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;
And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie,

That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

Underneath this stream of praise runs a crosscurrent critical of Shakespeare, a phenomenon not uncommon in tributes to literary genius written by ambitious poets partly conscious or unconscious of a massive presence to be accommodated or overcome. And if indeed this master poet - in the poem's language - in "easie numbers flow[ed]" while the tribute-payer labors with "slow-endeavouring art," a mild resentment at times may be felt by the lesser poet working to praise a genius in the very medium (verse) consummately mastered by his subject. By renaming Shakespeare's "honour'd Bones" "hallow'd reliques," the Protestant Milton uses a negatively charged Catholic phrase for a saint's remains, and so implicitly depreciates Shakespeare by converting him in this Reformation context into an object of foolish idolatry. (Hunt, Managing Spenser, Managing Shakespeare in Comus)


Troilus and Cressida - Dryden dedication to the Earl of Sunderland (on hyperbolic praise):

My Lord,

SInce I cannot promise you much of Poetry in my Play, 'tis but reasonable that I shou'd secure you from any part of it in my Dedication. And indeed I cannot better distinguish the exactness of your taste from that of other men, than by the plainness and sincerity of my Address. I must keep my Hyperboles in reserve for men of other understandings: An hungry Appetite after praise: and a strong digestion of it, will bear the grossnesse of that diet: But one of so criticall a judgement as your Lordship, who can set the bounds of just and proper in every subject, would give me small encouragement for so bold an undertaking.


Male deformities’: Narcissus and the Reformation of Courtly Manners in Cynthia’s Revels in Ovid and the Renaissance Body
Mario Digangi


...In this essay I want to pursue such an analysis by focusing on Ben Jonson’s early comedy Cynthia’s Revels (1600), which offers particular insight into the social and political implications of the Narcissus myth for early modern English culture. Originally entered in the Stationer’s Register as NARCISSUS, or the fountain of self-love, this quirky satire of courtly manners represents Jonson’s ‘only extended use of Ovidian material.: Jonson’s uncharacteristic recourse to Ovidian subjects in Cynthia’s Revels suggests his recognition of the Narcissus myth’s theatrical viability as a vehicle for satire. While Narcissus never appears as a character in the play, the Narcissus myth provides Jonson with vivid material for exposing the transgressive bodily practices of unauthorized courtiers, especially through the character of Amorphous (“the deformed”), whose affected manners violate orthodox prescriptions for male aristocratic comportment. The play’s ridicule of courtly affectation thus accords with early modern interpretations of the Narcissus myth that primarily associate self-love not with homoerotic desire but with EFFEMINATE MANNERS: a clear sign of social, economic and political transgression. By contrast, the virtuously ‘masculine’ comportment of the true gentleman, according to a particular strain of early modern political ideology, justifies his status and exercise of power. Exposing illegitimate courtiers as effeminate narcissists, Cynthia’s Revels reveals the importance of an ideology of ‘civilized’ masculinity to early-seventeenth-century constructions of *political legitimacy*.
Cursing the 'Fountain of Self-love' at which Narcissus died, Echo laments that

self-love never yet could look on truth
Bur with bleared beams; sleek flattery and she
Are twin-born sisters, and so mix their eyes
As if you sever one, the other dies.

Echo's anatomy of narcissism, which affiliates self-love with the quintessential courtly vice of FLATTERY, clearly applies to the social and political as well as the epistemological realm...

_Comus_, John Milton

745: COMUS. Why are you vexed, Lady? why do you frown?
746: Here dwell no frowns, nor anger; from these gates
747: Sorrow flies far. See, here be all the pleasures
748: That FANCY can beget on youthful thoughts,
749: When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns
750: Brisk as the April buds in primrose season.
751: And first behold this cordial julep here,
752: That flames and dances in his crystal bounds,
753: With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mixed.


837: LADY. I had not thought to have unlocked my lips
838: In this unhallowed air, but that this juggler
839: Would think to charm my judgment, as mine eyes,
840: Obtruding false rules pranked in reason's garb.
841: I hate when vice can bolt her arguments
842: And virtue has no tongue to check her pride.
843: Impostor! do not charge most innocent Nature,
844: As if she would her children should be riotous
845: With her abundance. She, good cateress,
846: Means her provision only to the good,
847: That live according to her sober laws,
848: And holy dictate of spare Temperance.
849: If every just man that now pines with want
850: Had but a moderate and beseeming share
851: Of that which lewdly-pampered LUXURY
852: Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
853: Nature's full blessings would be well dispensed
854: In unsuperfluous even proportion,
855: And she no whit encumbered with her store;
856: And then the Giver would be better thanked,
857: His praise due paid: for swinish gluttony
858: Ne'er looks to Heaven amidst his GORGEOUS feast,
859: But with besotted base ingratitude
860: Crams, and blasphemes his Feeder. Shall I go on
861: Or have I said enow? To him that dares
862: Arm his profane tongue with contemptuous words
863: Against the sun-clad power of chastity
864: Fain would I something say;--yet to what end?
865: Thou hast nor ear, nor soul, to apprehend
866: The sublime notion and high mystery
867: That must be uttered to unfold the sage
868: And serious doctrine of Virginity;
869: And thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know
870: More happiness than this thy present lot.
871: Enjoy your dear wit, and gay rhetoric,
872: That hath so well been taught her DAZZLING FENCE;
873: Thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced.
874: Yet, should I try, the uncontrolled worth
875: Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits
876: To such a flame of sacred vehemence
877: That dumb things would be moved to sympathise,
878: And the brute Earth would lend her nerves, and SHAKE,
879: Till all thy MAGIC STRUCTURES, reared so high,
880: Were SHATTERED into heaps o'er thy FALSE HEAD.

156. Epode
Ben Jonson (1573–1637)
NOT to know vice at all, and keep true state,
      Is virtue, and not fate:
Next to that virtue is to know vice well,
      And her black spite expel,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,         5
      Or safe, but she’ll procure
Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard
      Of thoughts to watch and ward
At th’eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,
      That no strange or unkind         10
Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,
      Give knowledge instantly
To wakeful reason, our affections’ king:
      Who, in th’ examining,
Will quickly taste the treason, and commit         15
      Close, the close cause of it.
’Tis the securest policy we have,
      To make our sense our slave.
But this true course is not embraced by many:
      By many? scarce by any.         20
For either our affections do rebel,
      Or else the sentinel,
That should ring larum to the heart, doth sleep:
      Or some great thought doth keep
Back the intelligence, and falsely swears         25
      They’re base and idle fears
Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.
      Thus, by these subtle trains,
Do several passions invade the mind,
      And strike our reason blind:         30
Of which usurping rank, some have thought love.
      The first, as prone to move
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
      In our inflamèd breasts:
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,         35
      Which thus we over-blow.
The thing they here call Love is blind Desire,
      Armed with bow, shafts, and fire;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence ’t is born,
      Rough, swelling, like a storm;         40
With whom who sails, rides on the surge of fear,
      And boils as if he were
In a continual tempest. Now, true Love
      No such effects doth prove;
That is an essence far more gentle, fine,         45
      Pure, perfect, nay, divine;
It is a golden chain let down from heaven,
      Whose links are bright and even,
That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines
      The soft and sweetest minds         50
In equal knots: this bears no brands nor darts,
      To murther different hearts,
But in a calm and godlike unity
      Preserves community.
O, who is he that in this peace enjoys         55
      Th’ elixir of all joys?
A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,
      And lasting as her flowers:
Richer than Time, and as Time’s virtue rare:
      Sober, as saddest care;         60
A fixèd thought, an eye untaught to glance:
      Who, blest with such high chance,
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,
      Cast himself from the spire
Of all his happiness? But, soft, I hear         65
      Some vicious fool draw near,
That cries we dream, and swears there’s no such thing
      As this chaste love we sing.
Peace, LUXURY, thou art like one of those
      Who, being at sea, suppose,         70
Because they move, the continent doth so.
      No, Vice, we let thee know,
Though thy wild thoughts with sparrows’ wings do fly,
      Turtles can chastely die.
And yet (in this t’ express ourselves more clear)         75
      We do not number here
Such spirits as are only continent
      Because lust’s means are spent;
Or those who doubt the common mouth of fame,
      And for their place and name         80
Cannot so safely sin. Their chastity
      Is mere necessity.
Nor mean we those whom vows and conscience
      Have filled with abstinence:
Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain         85
      Makes a most blessèd gain;
He that for love of goodness hateth ill
      Is more crown-worthy still
Than he, which for sin’s penalty forbears:
      His heart sins, though he fears.         90
But we propose a person like our Dove,
      Grac’d with a Phœnix’ love;
A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,
      Would make a day of night,
And turn the blackest sorrows to bright joys:         95
      Whose od’rous breath destroys
All taste of bitterness, and makes the air
      As sweet as she is fair.
A body so harmoniously composed,
      As if nature disclosed         100
All her best symmetry in that one feature!
      O, so divine a creature,
Who could be false to? chiefly when he knows
      How only she bestows
The wealthy treasure of her love on him;         105
      Making his fortunes swim
In the full flood of her admired perfection?
      What savage, brute affection
Would not be fearful to offend a dame
      Of this excelling frame?         110
Much more a noble and right generous mind
      To virtuous moods inclined,
That knows the weight of guilt: he will refrain
      From thoughts of such a strain;
And to his sense object this sentence ever,         115
‘Man may securely sin, but safely never.’