Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Metamorphosis of Oxford

England's Narcissus - How the Earl of Oxford was metamorphosed into a literary and monumental flower/figure.

In his 1616 Folio edition of Cynthia's Revels Ben Jonson identified the Italianate gentleman Signior Amorphus as the Earl of Oxford.

The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 23 May 1601, with the title Narcissus the Fountain of Self-Love. It was published in quarto later that year by the bookseller Walter Burre under the title The Fountain of Self-Love, or Cynthia's Revels.

“O for Hermes’ wand
To touch this flower into human shape!  - Keats, Endymion

Alciato's Book of Emblems
Emblem 69
Because your figure pleased you too much, Narcissus, [or - because your beauty (forma) was excessively pleasing to you] it was changed
into a flower, a plant of known senselessness (stupor). Self-love is the
WITHERING (marcor) and destruction of natural power (ingenium) which brings and has
brought ruin to many learned men, who having thrown away the method of
the ancients seek new doctrines and pass on nothing but their own
fantasies (phantasia).


Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount-from Cynthia's Revels
By Ben Jonson

Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears;
Yet slower, yet, O faintly, gentle springs!
List to the heavy part the music bears,
Woe weeps out her division, when she sings.
Droop herbs and flowers;
Fall grief in showers;
Our beauties are not ours.
O, I could still,
Like melting snow upon some craggy hill,
Drop, drop, drop, drop,
Since nature’s pride is now a withered daffodil.


Narcissism and Suicide in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries
Eric Langley

...Revisioned as an advice book, the Metamorphoses becomes part of the speculum text tradition, readable as a sequence of emblems or exemplary mirrors. Geffrey Whitney’s Choice of Emblemes includes verses that, displaying their debt to the translators’ additions, demonstrate how Ovid’s text becomes something akin to a source book for morality figures, a vice figure lexicon: Whitney is quoting Golding when he describes how ‘[t]he riche, the pore, the learned, and the sotte’ all ‘[o]ffende therein: and yet thy see it not’. Again, the latent moral of the Ovidian tale is clarified and systematized for its Renaissance audience, just as the ‘secret sore’ of self-love that ‘lies hidden from our eyes’ within the individual is revealed until ‘plainlie see[n]’ and safelie visible. Finally, by the mid-sixteenth century, Narcissus becomes almost exclusively a cautionary figure, employed as a warning for vain courtiers and those susceptible to flattery, or as chastisement to those unsusceptible to the charms of the courting poet. Narcisssus, accordingly, often appears in briedf verses dedicated ‘To a Lady wearing a Looking-glass at her girdle’ or ‘To his Mistresse…being at her Looking-glasse’. The paradox – and Narcissus is a figure for whom paradox is peculiarly apposite – is complet’ warning the reader against looking in the mirror, these texts demand we read them as mirrors. A mirror condemns a mirror:

I would have them to behold themselves in this glasse’ not doubting, but that as Narcissus, viewing himself in that pure cleare Fountaine, wherein he saw his own most beautifull Image, dyded overcome with…selfe-love’ so these men will either die, or their vices in them, through…hate of themselves.

Narcissus therefore acts as cautionary metonym for the broader speculum tradition as categorized by Herbert Graves, enlisted to make clear otherwise worryingly blurred distinctions between the Socratic mirror of self-knowledge and the vain mirror of self-idolatry. Discussing the Delphic injunction carved into the stone of Apollo’s temple (‘know theyself’), Socrates explains to Alcibiades that it should be understood as ‘see thyself’; ‘the eye [should] be looking at something in which it could see itself’, he continues, suggesting either a mirror or the reflective surface of the beloved’s eye (‘then will an eye see itself if it observes and eye’).

 Ovid - Adstupet

stupeō uī, ēre STIP-, to be struck senseless, be stunned, be benumbed, be aghast, be astounded, be amazed, be stupefied: animus stupet, T.: cum hic semisomnus stuperet: exspectatione, L.: aere, H.: in titulis, H.: in Turno, V.: ad auditas voces, O.: stupet Inter se coiisse viros, V.: Pars stupet donum Minervae, are lost in wonder at, V.

—To be benumbed, be stiffened, be silenced, hesitate, stop: stupuitque Ixionis orbis, O.: stupente ita seditione, L.: stupuerunt verba palato, O.

Borrowed from Latin stupor (“insensibility, numbness, dullness”), from stupeō (“I am stunned, I am numb”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)tewp-. Distantly related (from Proto-Indo-European, via Proto-Germanic) to stint, stub, and steep.

stupor (plural stupors)
  1. A state of reduced consciousness or sensibility.
  2. A state in which one has difficulty in thinking or using one’s senses.
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
   'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
   Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

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

John Beaumont , Jonsonus Virbius

...Twas he that found (plac'd) in the seat of wit,
DULL grinning IGNORANCE, and banish'd it;
He on the prostituted stage appears
To make men hear, not by their eyes, but ears;
Who painted virtues, that each one might know,
And point the man, that did such treasure owe :
So that who could in JONSON'S lines be high
Needed not honours, or a riband buy ;
But VICE he only shewed us in a GLASS,
Which by reflection of those rays that pass,
Retains the figure lively, set before,
And that withdrawn, reflects at us no more;
So, he observ'd the like DECORUM, when
*He whipt the vices, and yet spar'd the men* :
When heretofore, the Vice's only note,
And sign from virtue was his party-coat;
When devils were the last men on the stage,
And pray'd for plenty, and the present age.


Narcissism and Suicide in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries
Eric Langley

Since that first translation of T.H. in 1560, Narcissus’ tale is accompanied by the advice that through its careful consideration we ‘maye be learned how to perceiver/synne to abhore [and ]virtue to use’. T.H. explains, in his ‘Moralization of the Fable’, how ‘I meane to shewe, according to my wytte/That Ovyd by this tale no folllye mente/But soughte to shewe, the doynges far unfytte/Of soundrye folke’ (ll.15-21); his conclusion is simply that Ovid ‘by Narcissus warnith us to be ware/Of the mishap, that PRIDE doth still repare’ (ll. 174-5). Any potentially ambivalent message, any sense that a Narcissus narrative may in fact be charged by an admittedly precarious and ultimately subsumed self-celebratory individualism, is masked by unconditional warnings for the reader ‘who dothe covet him selfe of wiser skole’ and doth [therefore] prove him selfe a fole’ (ll. 572-4). The Narcissus of these texts’ semi-apologetic authorial commentaries is ‘rash and ignorant’, ‘infected with that poison’, ‘transported with self-love’, ‘intoxicated with self admiration’, and,  for Golding, ‘of scornfulnesse and pryde a mirror cleere’.
Concocting a social critique from the episode, Sandys explains how those who ‘sequester themselves from publique converse and civill affaires’ and surround themselves only with those who ‘applaud and admire them, assenting to what they say, like as many Ecchoes’, become ‘depraved, puft up with uncessant flattery’. Here, Sandys is echoing Francis Bacon’s description of Narcissus, almost word for word; both Bacon and Sandy’s even allegorize the moment of metamorphosis, suggesting that the self-admirer contracts ‘a wonderful sloth, as stupefies their sences, and deprives them of all their vigour and alacritie’, until ‘Narcissus is therefore converted to a flower of his name, which signifies stupid’.
‘Neither is it impertinent that this Flower is said to be consecrated to the infernal Deities’, concludes Bacon, adding, in the vein of Shakespeare’s early sonnets; ‘because Men of this disposition become unprofitable to all humane things: For whatsoever produceth no Fruit of it self, but passeth, and vanisheth as if it had never been, (like the way of a Ship in the Sea, ) that the Ancients were wont to dedicate to the Ghosts, and Powers below.’  While these social allegories certainly fit the Ovidian narrative, Bacon and Sandys have converted a tale that in its original form acknowledge the guilty thrill of a proffered individualism to something merely prohibitive; the alluring quality of Ovid’s undisturbed virginal pool and the comforting fiction of potential self-affirmation are absent from Sandy’s commentary as moral arbitrator: ‘which signifies stupid’.

Signifying Stupid:

Gainsborough ‘Damn the original picture [Droeshout Figure]…I think a stupider face I never beheld.’

Jonson, Cynthia's Revels:


Thou art a Bountiful and Brave Spring, and waterest all the Noble Plants of this Island. In thee the whole Kingdom dresseth it self, and is ambitious to use thee as her Glass. *Beware then thou render Men's FIGURES truly*, and teach them no less to hate their Deformities, than to love their Forms: For, to Grace, there should come Reverence; and no Man can call that Lovely, which is not also Venerable.

Himself himself:

Narcissus so himself himself forsook, And died to kiss his shadow in the brook.


In Cynthia's Revels Jonson presented his own art as a virtuous glass of 'correction'  - comparing it to the self-loving, flattering (and therefore deforming) art of Oxford/Shakespeare/Signior Amorphus. Milton's Comus follows up on this theme, but with a stronger religious tone. Comus' delightful but deforming art/cordial shares with Amorphus' 'water' a STUPEndous Circean power to transform men and women into sensual and irrational beasts. Oxford's refusal to reform his art led to the chronic famelessness he experiences to this day.



And what is beauty? a meer Quintessence,
Whose life is not in being , but in seeming:
And therefore is not to all eyes the same
But like a cozening picture which one way
shows like a Crow, another like a Swan.


 Cynthia's Revels, Jonson


 ...For, let your Soul be as-
sur'd of this (in any rank, or profession whatever) the
more general, or major part of Opinion goes with the
[sur]FACE, and (simply) respects nothing else. Therefore,
if that can be made exactly, curiously, exquisitely,
thorowly, it is enough:


Chapman, Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois

They are the breathing sepulchres of noblesse:
No trulier noble men, then lions pictures
Hung up for signs are lions. (2.1. l.154-156)

A man may well
compare them to those foolish great-spleened camels
That, to their high heads, begged of Jove horns higher;
Whose most uncomely and ridiculous pride
When he had satisfied, they could not use,
But where they went upright before, they stooped,
And bore their heads much lower for their horns;
As these high men do, low in all true grace,
Their height being privilege to all things base.
And as the foolish poet that still writ
All his most self-loved verse in paper royal
Or parchment ruled with lead, smoothed with the pumice,
Bound richly up, and strung with crimson strings;
Never so blest as when he writ and read
The ape-loved issue of his brain, and never
But joying in himself, ADMIRING EVER,
Yet in his works behold him, and he showed
Like to a ditcher: so these painted men
All set on outside, look upon within
And not a peasants entrails you shall find
More foul and measled, nor more starved of mind.


“For what else is it to paint than to embrace through art that surface of the pool? - Alberti

Narcissus and the Invention of Personal History
By Kenneth J. Knoespel

Deception At Pool

Although Narcissus appears attracted to the pool because he is tired from hunting, there is a more profound affinity between the person and the place. As he approaches the pool, Ovid tells us, he is drawn to the water and the appearance of the place: ‘faciemque loci fontemque secutus,”. Here the use of FACIES not only denotes appearance but hints at the face he is about to discover. As the water quenches his physical thirst it carries into his body an even more intense desire.

[While he tries to quench his thirst another thirst rises within him, and while he drinks he is overwhelmed by the form he sees. He loves an unsubstantial hope and believes that a body which is only water.]

Narcissus quite literally drinks from the image before him and is poisoned. Hearing his own voice return  from the woods, he is described as someone deceptus imagine vocis. Here, visae conreptus imagine formae, does more than recall and amplify the earlier line. He is no longer simply deceived but seized by a reflection on the water’s surface or a shadow which in Latin is associated with death. Here Ovid probably alluded to the mythological association of the narcissus flower with Persephone. There is no extended comparison, however. Ovid was attracted to  the settings of such Greek stories for their potential in depicting subtle mental changes, not their ritual meaning.

Gradually the evolving narrative intensifies the confusion within Narcissus. Earlier when he was deceived  by the rebounding image of his voice, Ovid described him as astonished, stupet. Now after he is seized by his reflection, Ovid emphasized his astonishment with a word of his own invention, adstupet. The addition of the preposition ad (meaning toward or near to) intensifies the meaning of stupere and indicates even more active involvement. His experience renders him senseless and he appears suspended as it he were a beautiful marble statue. By comparing Narcissus to a statue, Ovid at once remind us of Narcissus’ remarkable beauty and his numbness. The comparison also depicts Narcissus’ growing alienation from himself because as he looks into the water he becomes a spectator viewing his own image as an abstracted form.

Towards a Cultural Politics of Englishness


Jonson, Cynthia's Revels

Amorphus. That's good, but how Pythagorical?
Phi. I, Amorphus. Why Pythagorical Breeches?
Amo. O most kindly of all, 'tis a conceit of that fortune,
I am bold to hug my Brain for.
Pha. How is't, exquisite Amorphus?
Amo. O, I am rapt with it, 'tis so fit, so proper,
so happy. --
Phi. Nay do not rack us thus?
Amo.  I never truly relisht my self before.
Give me your Ears. Breeches Pythagorical, by reason of their trans-
migration into several shapes.
Mor. Most rare, in sweet troth.

Faerie Queene, dedication to Earl of Oxford:

And also for the love which thou dost beare
To th’Heliconian ymps, and they to thee,
They unto thee, and thou to them, most deare.
Deare as thou are unto thy selfe, so love
That loves and honours thee, as doeth behove.


From Photius?
In Thespia in Boeotia (a town near Mount Helicon) there was a boy Narcissus, very beautiful and indifferent to Eros and admirers [erastai]. (snip)
And Narcissus caught sight of himself, the beauty of his form, reflected in the water of a spring and became his own first and only bizarre ERASTES of himself.


Henry Reynolds

Obseruation vpon the Tale of Narcissus

...This Ecco descending vpon a Narcissus, or such a Soule as (impurely and vitiously affected) slights, and stops his eares to the Diuine voice, or shutts his harte from  diuine Inspirations, through his being enamour'd of not himselfe, but his owne shadow meerely, and (buried in the ordures of the Sence) followes corporall shadowes, and flyes the light and purity of Intellectuall Beauty, he becoms thence (being dispoyled, (as the great Iamblicus speakes) of his propper, natiue, and celestiall vertue, and ability,) an earthy, weake, worthlesse thing, and fit sacrifize for only eternall obliuion, and the dij inferi; to whom the Auncients (as is before noted) be|queathed and dedicated this their lazy, stupid, and for-euer-famelesse Narcissus.

Bacon, Wisdom of the Ancients

NARCISSUS, or, Self-Love. – 1680, 1696 translation

THey say, that Narcissus was exceeding fair and beautiful· but wonderful proud and disdainful; wherefore despising all others in respect of himself, he leads a solitary Life in the Woods and Chases, with a few Followers, to whom he alone was all in all; amongst the rest, there follows him the Nymph Eccho. During his Course of Life, it fatally so chanced, that he came to a clear Fountain, upon the Bank whereof he lay down to repose himself in the heat of the Day. And having espied the shadow of his own face in the Water, was so besotted, and ravished with the contemplation and admiration thereof, that he by no means possible could be drawn from beholding his Image in this Glass; insomuch, that by continual gazing thereupon, he Single illegible letterpined away to nothing, and was at last turned into a Flower of his own Name, which appears in the beginning of the Spring, and is sacred to the infernal Powers, Pluto, ProserpinaSingle illegible letter, and the Furies.
This Fable seems to shew the Dispositions, and For|tunes of those, who in respect either of their Beauty, or other Gift wherewith they are adorned, and graced by Nature, without the help of industry, are so far besotted in themselves, as that they prove the cause of their own destruction. For it is the property of Men infected with this Humour, not to come much abroad, or to be conversant in Civil Affairs, specially seeing those that are in publick Place, must of necessity encounter with many Contempts, and Scorns, which may much deject, and trouble their Minds; and therefore they lead for the most part a solitary, private, and obscure Life, attended on with a few Followers, and those, such as will adore, and admire them, like an Eccho flatter them in all their Sayings, and applaud them in all their Words. So that being by this Custom seduced, and puft up, and as it were, STUPIFIED with the admiration of themselves, they are possessed with so strange a Sloth and Idleness, that they grow in a manner benumb'd, and defective of all vigour and alacrity. Elegantly doth this Flower, appearing in the beginning of the Spring, represent the likeness of these Men's Dispositions, who, in their youth do flourish, and wax famous; but being come to ripeness of years, they deceive and frustrate the good hope that is conceived of them. Neither is it impertinent that this Flower is said to be consecrated to the infernal Deities, because Men of this disposition become unprofitable to all humane things: For whatsoever produceth no Fruit of it self, but passeth  and vanisheth as if it had never been, (like the way of a Ship in the Sea,) that the Ancients were wont to dedicate to the Ghosts, and Powers below.


 Cartwright, Son of Ben

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
THY thoughts were their owne Lawrell, and did win
That best applause of being crown'd within..  


O for Hermes' wand
To touch this flower into human shape!

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821 - Keats

a bizarre erastes of himself?


Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall BEAUTY hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a FLOWER?
O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
   O! none, unless this miracle have might,
   That in black ink my love may still shine bright.