Monday, March 26, 2018

Blackface Folly and Blotting Beauty

 William Kempe, Nine Daies Wonder

To the true Ennobled Lady, and his most bountifull Mistris, Mistris Anne Fitton, Mayde of Honour to the most sacred Mayde Royall Queene Elizabeth.
HOnorable Mistris in the waine of my litle wit, I am forst to desire your protection, else euery Ballad-singer will proclaime me bankrupt of honesty. A sort of mad fellows seeing me merrily dispos'd in a Morrice, haue so BEPAINTED ME in print since my gambols began from London to Norwich, that (hauing but an ill face before) I shall appeare to the world without a face, if your fayre hand wipe not away their foule coulors. 


Blackfaced Fools, Black-Headed Birds, Fool Synonyms, and Shakespearean Allusions to Renaissance Blackface Folly

AS I have argued elsewhere,1 a comic tradition of blackface prevalent in the Renaissance, often involving episodes of on-stage blacking, has been ignored. Not only did the fool in the Morris dance appear in blackface,2 but so-called ‘natural’ fools (mentally defective, rationally-impaired fools who are either idiotic, mad, or ignorant),3 such as Ignorance in The Play of Wit and Science (hereafter Wit and Science [c.1534])4 and The Marriage of Wit and Science (c.1569–70)5 or the ill-favored and simultaneously foolish- and diabolical-looking Moros in The Longer Thou Livest, The More Fool Thou Art (c.1560–68),6 are sometimes depicted as inherently black. Even more frequently, as in Wit and Science, The Marriage of Wit and Science, The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom (1579),7 and Three Ladies of London (1584),8 to cite but a few examples, an everyman character—‘Wit’ in the plays that bear his name and ‘Conscience’ in Three Ladies—is seduced by a female Vice—for example ‘Idleness’, ‘Wantonness’, or ‘Lucre’, respectively—into a compromised position, as when Wit sleeps or Conscience slumbers, at which point, the vice-temptress blackens his face in token of his folly and shame. In Three Ladies, Lucre calls for a ‘box of abhomination’ that turns out to be ‘a painted box of ink’, before the stage direction informs us: Here let Lucre open the box, and dip her finger in and spot Conscience face. It is probable that the action here is not merely spotting, as has been assumed, but a metaphoric staining, a symbolic blackening that is meant to be degrading. Certainly, in the latest of the three Wit plays, Francis Merbury's The Marriage Between Wit and Wisdom, there appears the stage business: ‘Here, shall [W]antonis sing … him a sleepe … then let her set a fooles bable on his hed … colling [coaling] his face’. In the song, Wantonnes further announces her intention to
trick this prety doddy
& make him a noddy, …
& now of a schollar
I will make him a colliar …    (lines 431–438)
Just as blacking episodes often occur in vice-temptress scenes, blackface often appears as a device of humiliation, as well as an emblem of foolishly sinful vanity and lust, in farcical plays with a sexual focus, particularly when a foolishly lusty old man is involved. Such a figure is the laughable would-be cuckolder Lorenzo in boy company author George Chapman's May Day (1601; printed 1611). In II.iv, the old man is tricked into assuming the disguise of ‘an old chimney sweeper’ (II.iv.166) to gain access to a lady. Here, the crafty servant Angelo recounts, ‘I haue daubd his face sufficient, but [he] is at his glasse as curiously busied to beautifie his face (for as of Moors so of chimney sweepers, the blackest is most beautifull) as an Lady to paint her lips’ (III.i.11–14). A stage direction further tells us: ‘Enter Lorenzo with his glasse in his hand, and Angelo with a pot of painting’ (ff. III.i.79). Twice, Lorenzo vainly asks for ‘a little more here’ (lines 79, 84), while comparing Angelo to ‘master Painter … Michael Angelo’ (lines 84–5). Angelo in turn, referring to the tradition of the often blackfaced ‘natural’ or ‘born’ fool, jests that Lorenzo now has ‘a perfect naturall face’ (line 86; emphasis added). Of course, the would-be cuckolder has little luck and becomes the butt of much abuse, a sort of black scapegoat; his lust and lack of self-knowledge combine to make him a natural fool.
The frequent association between lustful natural folly and blackness, as well as between episodes of trickery and the blacking of a gulled comic butt, is also to be found in folkloric or proverbial contexts, specifically, prevalent colloquial synonyms for the word ‘fool’ involving black or black-headed birds. The word ‘noddy’, for instance, which we have already seen self-consciously applied in the blackface episodes of the Wit plays, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, meant not only ‘A fool, simpleton, noodle’ (OED 1), but could also refer to ‘A soot-coloured sea-bird’ (OED 2), that is the ‘Black Noddy’.(snip)
Other Shakespearean allusions to the type of the fool in blackface, or to blackness as an emblem of folly, appearing in plays as disparate as The Taming of the Shrew (1593–94), Comedy of Errors (1593), Twelfth Night (1602), and King Lear (1605), go well beyond the bird synonyms we have just seen. So familiar was the tradition of painted blackface that Shakespeare invokes it in Shrew when Kate threatens Hortensio by claiming that, were she to marry him, her ‘care should be / To comb [his] noddle with a three-legged stool, / And paint [his] face and use [him] like a fool’ (I.i.63–5).13 Although the last line here is regularly glossed as suggesting being painted with blood, ‘brought by scratching’,14 in context, it is clear that since she is alluding to the natural fool tradition (i.e. ‘comb’ suggests ‘coxcomb’, just as ‘noddle’ recalls ‘noddy’ or fool), her threat more likely refers to blacking as a mark of idle-mindedness or folly. After all, when Edgar in King Lear (1605) disguises himself as the natural fool Tom o’ Bedlam, he too draws on such an allegorical association when he blackens his face: ‘My face I’ll grime with filth’ (II.iii.9), with ‘grime’ meaning, according to the OED, ‘To cover with grime, to blacken, befoul’.1



The Folly of Racism: Enslaving Blackface and the "Natural" Fool Tradition
Hornback, Robert

 The Play of Wit, the "Marke" of Idleness, and the Imposition of Sameness

The kind of connection between blackface and "natural" folly that I am suggesting was at work in the Devil's irredeemable folly or Moros's incorrigible foolishness appears even more clearly in three Tudor moral interludes, the "Wit" marriage plays. In each of these, a vice lulls the youth or everyman figure Wit to sleep, blackens his face, and leaves him to be discovered a fool, after which Wit is restored to whiteness and set finally on a path to redemption, ascent, and union with either Science or Wisdom. In the first of these plays, John Redford's Play of Wit and Science (ca. 1534), the vice Idleness-appearing associated with blackness as in Wager's later interlude-sings Wyt to sleep, proclaiming, "whyle he sleepeth in Idlenes lappe / idlenes marke on hym shall I clappe."62 After marking Wyt and then dressing him in the "fooles cote" (1. 598) of her attendant, "Ingnorance" [sic], Idlenes observes, "so [he] beguneth to looke lyke a noddye" (1. 587), using one of several synonyms for both a fool and a black bird.63 The Cain-like "marke" of Idleness clapped on Wyt to make him look like a noddy here undoubtedly signifies blackface, since Wyt subsequently so resembles a "naturall foole" (1. 806) that Science cannot recognize him: "Who is this?" (1. 732), she asks. Science then contrasts Wyt's "fayer" (1. 795) portrait to his now "fowle ... and vglye" (1. 796) visage. Significantly for the history of racism, it is Science who shuns a blackened character, just as pseudoscience would be trotted out to condemn blackness in later centuries. Upon examining his reflection in his "glas of reson" (1. 824), Wyt exclaims:
. . . gogs sowle a foole [,] a foole by the mas
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
deckt by gogs bones lyke a very asse
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
& as for this face[, it] is abhorninable
as black as the devyll. . . .
(11. 826, 828, 839-40; emphasis added)
Finally, after examining the audience's reflection in the mirror to test its accuracy ("How loke ther facis heere rownd abouwte?" [1. 833]), he comments on the contrast: "All fayre & cleere they, evry chone; / & I, by the mas, a foole alone" (11. 834-35). Thus, Wyt concludes that he is "a foole alone" because he alone is "black as the devyll."

The damning symbolism of blackfaced folly in Redford's play is all the more unavoidable given its depiction of the "foole" Ingnorance as a mirror image of the folly-fallen Wyt, for, like the reprobate Moros and his double Confusion, Ingnorance is indeed a black fool from the beginning. Such mirroring is clear, after Wyt's face is blackened and Ingnorance and Wyt have exchanged coats, when Ingnorance observes, "He is I now" (1. 599).64 Idlenes then asks, "Is he not a foole as wel as thow?" (1. 601), to which Ingnorance responds, "Yeas" (1. 602). Thereafter, Wyt is taken for "Ingnorance, or his lykenes" (1. 668). That the now-blackfaced Wyt has been transformed into the fool Ingnorance's double is apparent when, upon seeing Wyt so unwittingly disguised, Science mistakes her fiance for the fool, addressing him with "What sayst thow, Ingnorance[?]" (1. 737). Emphatically, then, like Wager's play and the York Pageant, this interlude includes a duo of blackfaced fools.65

Significantly, given that Wit essentially temporarily loses himself (i.e., his "wit" or very identity), after having his face blackened, the play suggests that a black face, that is, blackness alone, has the power to erase individuality, marking characters as identical-here identically ignorant. Such is the very essence of stereotyping in embryo, if not fully born. Similar assumptions appear, ironically, in arguments dismissing either racial import or effect through "popular masking" in blackface. While maintaining that black-masking represented "simple disguise," merely an "impulse to conceal," since "easily available domestic materials like soot, lampblack, or charcoal" were "all matt monotone black which blanks out the features,"66 such arguments fail to pursue the consequences of such thinking. That is, the logic of blackface as "simple disguise" alone refuses to acknowledge the damning assumption that blackness erases individuality, producing a stereotypical sameness, the imposed social invisibility explored in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. After all, the trope that blackness rendered invisibility was actually invited in blackface traditions, whether in minstrel plays in which characters could be described archly with "The rest of the characters are all so dark that they cannot be seen" or in the black-masked Harlequin's ability to "simply point to one of the black patches on his suit and become invisible, a trope that has become central to black literary tradition."67 

In addition, the word "ape" itself had a number of long-standing connotations with "fool," as in OED, 4, "a fool. God's ape: a natural born fool[:] to make any one his ape, to put an ape in his hood, to befool or dupe him. c. 1386 CHAUCER Prol. 706 'He made the . . . peple his Apes . . .' 1611 SHAKS Cymb. 4.2.194 'Jollity for Apes, and greef for Boyes'" and OED, 7, as "adj. Foolish, silly, adv. Foolishly, sillily. 1509 BARCLAY Ship ofFooles (1570) 33 'Some are ape dronke, full of laughter and of toyes.'" According to H. W. Janson in Apes and Ape Lore in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, "The concept of the ape as the image of the fool... gradually replaced that of the 'simian sinner' in the course of the Late Middle Ages," and in England, "ape" first began to be used as an actual term for "fool" in the fourteenth century.132 Moreover, it was partly through manuscript illustrations and subsequent prints (by famous Northern European artists such as Israel van Meckenem and Hans Holbein the Younger) of "the mirror-gazing ape as a symbol of vanitas" that fools were associated with the mirrors that recur frequently in many plays featuring blackface.133 Woodcuts likewise linked captive, chained apes to court fools, since "the ape as domestic pet was the exact counterpart of the fool,"134 at least the natural fool.



English Broadside - "When Charles, hath got the Spanish Gearle"
(Notes. Versions of this detailed poem on politics in the early 1620s
differ considerably in length, and it seems likely that extra verses
were added by different hands in the course of the poem's
circulation. In one source it is dated "March 1621" (Bodleian MS
Eng. Poet. c.50)

Greate Edward his is Nowe in print
& thinks to get the divell and all
The Spanish gould come to our minte
then thats the day shall pay for all


OTHELLO. Not I, I must be found. My parts, my title, and my perfect soul. Shall manifest me rightly.

Moors and Natural Fools:
Moor’s Coat, “Muckender,” and “Moros”
 Hornback, Robert

...Given the wealth of evidence of associations between blackface, natural fools, and Moors, I am suggesting that Burbage in blackface as Othello, especially, as we shall see, in light of Shakespeare’s deployment of other emblems of natural folly, would have been quite as likely to call to mind the now-lost natural fool tradition of comic abuse on the Renaissance stage as the now more familiar association with evil. In addition, other obvious emblems of natural folly, such as the Moor’s standard stage apparel, would have reinforced associations between Othello and the abject, scapegoated natural fool. In “The Device of the Pageant,” for instance, Peele refers simply to a character “apparelled like a Moor, “ suggesting that Moors had a conventional, recognizable stage costume. But how were stage Moors traditionally apparelled? As is so often the case, Shakespeare’s contemporary Phillip Henslowe’s detailed records are an invaluable source for recovering Renaissance theatre practices: Henslowe’s list of properties includes a “Mores cotte,” referring to the flowing, ankle-length aljuba traditionally worn by Moors. (snip) That Othello too would actually have worn a Moor’s coat is underscored, I believe, by the emphasis on his essential strangeness, his exotic otherness and obvious lack of complete assimilation when he is characterized as “pagan”, “ Barbary” (i.e., “Barbarian” ), “rude”, “stranger” associated with exotic  “Egyptian” magic: he is, in short, emphatically an “extravagant and wheeling stranger? Of here and everywhere”. The Moor’s coat would obviously have signalled this sensational, “extravagant” otherness.
What is significant about Othello’s likely appearance in Moor’s coat is that in Henslowe’s records “we find that the fool’s gown, the Moor’s flowing aljuba, and the Levantine and Scythian caftan were all classed as coats.” Thus the English translated and transformed the long ankle-length Moorish gown into both their own idiom and their own more familiar fashion of a long coat or petticoat – a garment traditionally worn in England only by women, small children, and, most importantly, fools.
Then main point I want to add to our understanding of Shakespeare’s long-recognized use of allegory in Othello, therefore, is that in his use of emblems of folly Shakespeare toys with audience expectations by inviting laughter at the outset to make it complicit in Iago’s abuse of Othello. Part of Shakespeare’s rationale in deploying allegorical emblems of natural folly, I argue, then, was apparently to implicate his audience in what Brooke has termed the “horrid laughter” characteristic of Jacobean tragedy – “a nightmare of complicit participation in which even the normally gently will occasionally find themselves, disgustingly involved.” Many commentators have noted that, by provoking and frustrating a desire to prevent the horror of the impending tragedy, the play functions in part as a “theatrical punishment of the observers.” On the Renaissance stage, this was partly the case because Shakespeare was able to draw on allegorical associations with “naturals” to fool his audience, intitially, into approving of and consenting to Iago’s abuse and scapegoating of Othello. Othello’s role as Moorish alien and resemblance to the natural fool invited the audience to join in the abuse, or at least solicited their passive approval.
In Othello’s character Shakespeare thus created a striking palimpsest of stereotypes, of Moor and natural fool, since both Moors and naturals were stereotyped as deviant/different outsiders, and as irrational, lusty, and gullible. Whether we trace such fundamental stereotypes to ethnicity, or, as I have, to the historically parallel tracition of the abject natural fool, it is important to recognize that such stereotyping is part of intolerant “normative” humor, which ridicules and excludes the different and the supposedly deviant Other in order to bolster or define conservative social norms. Othello is constructed as both alien and other – a “Barbary”, “stranger”, an “extravagant and wheeling stranger /Of here and everywhere” – and as socially transgressive in his marriage to the white Desdemona […] In addition, in his role as “blackface clown,” Othello plays the “abject-clown function” not merely of the butt of charivari but, more broadly, the traditional, historical role of the natural fool, who is laughed at and abused because he is constructed as physically or mentally different or deficient as well as socially transgressive. The multi-faceted construction of Othello as the butt of normative comedy “encourage[s] a kind of complicity within the audience” as it “solicits…a participatory endorsement of the action.” Therefore, in Othello Shakespeare explores the “horrid” potential of normative humor by making his audience complicit in ‘the brutal jeering laughter of triumphant sadism enjoying the torture and destruction of a victim.'
It is also remarkable that, far from merely serving as comic relief, a distraction or break from the tragedy for the supposedly insensitive, unrefined “groundlings,” as neoclassical critics and the modern descendants have often overtly or implicitly assumed, the comedy in Othello was originally directly germane to provoking sympathy and awaking a painful self-knowledge in the audience members that they had been fooled into laughing at sadism.


The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are.


Jonson on Shakespeare:

He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometime 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 too…

Edward de Vere:

...Then Daphne’s bays shall that man wear,
That triumphs over me;
For black and tawny will I wear,
Which mourning colours be;
An anchor’s life to lead,
With nails to scratch my grave,
Where earthly worms on me shall feed,
Is all the ioy I crave;
And hide myself from shame,
Since that mine eyes do see,
Ah a lalalantida, my dear dame
Hath thus tormented me.
And all that present be, with doleful tunes help than,
And sing Bis wot worth, on me forsaken man.


 Antony and Cleopatra - Shakespeare

Nay, ’tis most certain, Iras. Saucy LICTORS
Will catch at us like strumpets, and scald rhymers
Ballad us out o’ tune. The quick comedians
Extemporally will stage us, and present
Our Alexandrian revels. Antony
Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’ th’ posture of a whore.


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


Amorphus/Oxford/White Face Clown

Jonson, _Cynthia's Revels_

AMORPHUS. Can you help my COMPLEXION, here?
PER. O yes, sir, I have an excellent mineral FUCUS for the
purpose. The GLOVES are right, sir; you shall bury them in a
MUCK-HILL, a draught, SEVEN years, and take them out and wash them,
they shall still retain their first scent, true Spanish. There's
ambre in the umbre.
MER. Your price, sweet Fig?
PER. Give me what you will, sir; the signior pays me two crowns a
pair; you shall give me your love, sir.
MER. My love! with a pox to you, goodman Sassafras.
PER. I come, sir. There's an excellent diapasm in a chain, too,
if you like it.
AMO. Stay, what are the ingredients to your FUCUS?
PER. Nought but sublimate and crude mercury, sir, well prepared
and dulcified, with the jaw-bones of a sow, burnt, beaten, and
AMO. I approve it. LAY IT ON. 


Painted Faces on the Renaissance Stage
 By Annette Drew-Bear


The Devil is an Ass stress the notion of Vices disguising
themselves as Virtues and use ARTIFICIAL COURTLY MANNERS
and beauty rituals to epitomize moral dissimulation. Both
Asotus and Mistress Fitzdottrel are innocents brought into courtly
circles to be instructed, with the difference that it is the depraved
social-climbing husband who forces his virtuous unwilling wife to
visit "an Academy for women" in the later play. Like Mercury and
Crites in Cynthia's Revels, who disguise themselves as a French
gallant and his interpreter in order to expose the courtiers' wooing
of false values, Wittipol, though for amorous reasons of his own,
disguises himself as a Spanish cosmetic expert in order, in part,
as he tells his friend Manly, "To shew you what they are, you so
pursue." In both plays these disguised agents mock the would-be
courtiers by mimicking or parodying their cosmetic rites.
In The Devil is an Ass the courtly "MANNERS" that Mrs. Fitzdottrel is
sent to learn are epitomized by the pursuit of makeup secrets, which
Lady Tailbush and Lady Etherside, aided by Meercraft, are assembling
in order to realize their "PROJECT, for the fact, and venting of a
new kinde of FUCUS (paint, for Ladies)? To serve the kingdome"

 Another instance where face-paint signals corruption occurs in
Richard III. In his film version of This play, Laurence Olivier's
white-faced Richard carries out the suggestions in the text that
link this consummate villain with the "white devil" -
as in the lines: "And thus I clothe my naked villainy/
With odd old ends stol'n forth of Holy Writ,/
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil." Richard's words
about the executed "traitor" Hastings applay most aptly to "Richard
himself: "So smooth he daub'd his vice with show of virtue" (3.5.29).
The word "daub" had in Old French the meaning of "to whiten over,
whitewash, plaster," and "all the English uses appear to come through
that of 'plaster.'" The passage from Richard III illustrates the
figurative sense, "to cover with a specious exterior; to whitewash,
cloak, gloss" and "to put on a false show; to dissemble so as to give
a favourable impression." The word also means "a patch or smear of
some moist substance, grease, colouring." The medieval and Tudor
convention of expressing moral deformity through physical deformity
is also evident in Richard's "misshapen," "rudely stamped,"
and "deformed" appearance, whether the deformity appears only
in a deformed leg or hunchback or in his face as well. (p.100)

Daubed Over:



From Latin fūcātus, past participle of fucō.
Artificially coloured; falsified, counterfeit.Painted; disguised with paint, or with false show.
Painted; disguised with paint; hence, disguised in any way; dissembling.
In fu*cate, v. t. [L. infucatus painted; pref. in in + fucare to paint, dye. See {Fucate}.] To stain; to paint; to DAUB.


Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton
  • Beauty is the common object of all love, [4542] as jet draws a straw, so doth beauty love: virtue and honesty are great motives, and give as fair a lustre as the rest, especially if they be sincere and right, not FUCATE, but proceeding from true form, and an incorrupt judgment; those two Venus 'twins, Eros and Anteros, are then most firm and fast.

Jonson, Timber

{{Topic 40}} {{Subject: imposture}}
Impostorum fucus.
195 Imposture is a specious thing; yet never worse, then when it faines to
196 be best, and to none discover'd sooner, then the simplest. For Truth and
197 Goodnesse are plaine, and open: but Imposture is ever asham'd of the light.


Beauty's Poisonous Properties. By: Pollard, Tanya, Shakespeare Studies

…As the multiple stagings of this threat suggest, anxieties about the dangers of cosmetics reflect as well on early modern concerns about theatricality. In the light of pervasive and insistent identifications between face-paints and the theater, playwrights who depict cosmetics as fatal poisons can be seen as indicting their own medium, suggesting that fears about the contaminating force of art were not limited to the theater's opponents. Also routinely described as poisonous by its detractors, the theater, like facepaints, is understood as both duplicitous and corrosive, unsettling the relationship between interior and exterior. The link between artistic dissimulation and harmful effects on the body and soul points to magical ideas about the dangerous efficacy of signs. In the case of poison, epistemological havoc--the unreliability of appearances as indicators of reality--can translate directly into bodily vulnerability, and even death. Embodying and fusing together various levels of contamination, anxieties about cosmetics and painted bodies call attention to early modern assumptions about the inseparability of external from internal, of material from immaterial, with implications for the powers and perils of the theater.


Davies, SCOURGE of Folly

Epig. 114

Fucus the FURIOUS POET writes but Plaies;
So, playing, writes: that’s, idly writeth all:

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

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


Cecil Papers 181/99: Oxford to Cecil, [January 1602].

  In the mean season, I now, at the last (for now is the time), crave this brotherly friendship that, as you began it for me with all kindness, so that you will continue in the same affection to end it. And so I will end, these things only desiring you to remember, that you may know I do not forget how honourably you dealt with her Majesty at what time you first moved her, showing how, out of nothing to her (for so in manner it was found), if by mine industry I could OF THIS NOTHING make something, she should yet give a PROP AND STAY to my house. 


Jonson, Discoveries

Censura de poetis. - Nothing in our AGE, I have observed, is more PREPOSTEROUS than the running judgments upon poetry and poets; when we shall hear those things commended and cried up for the best writings which a man would scarce vouchsafe to wrap any wholesome drug in; he would never light his tobacco with them. And those men almost named for MIRACLES, who yet are so VILE that if a man should go about to examine and correct them, he must make all they have done BUT ONE BLOT. Their good is so entangled with their bad as forcibly one must draw on the other’s death with it. A sponge dipped in ink will do all:-

“ - Comitetur Punica librum
Spongia. - ” {44a}

Et paulò post,

“Non possunt . . . multæ . . . lituræ

. . . una litura potest.”

Cestius - Cicero - Heath - Taylor - Spenser. - Yet their vices have not hurt them; nay, a great many they have profited, for they have been loved for nothing else. And this false opinion grows strong against the best men, if once it take root with the IGNORANT. Cestius, in his time, was preferred to Cicero, so far as the ignorant durst.  They learned him without book, and had him often in their mouths; but a man cannot imagine that thing so foolish or rude but will find and enjoy an admirer; at least a reader or spectator.  The puppets are seen now in despite of the players; Heath' s epigrams and the Sculler' s poems have their applause.  There are never wanting that dare prefer the worst preachers, the worst pleaders, the worst poets; not that the better have left to write or speak better, but that they that hear them judge worse; Non illi pejus dicunt, sed hi corruptius judicant.  Nay, if it were put to the question of the water- rhymer' s works, against Spenser' s, *I doubt not but they would find more suffrages; because the most favour common vices, out of a prerogative the VULGAR have to lose their judgments and like that which is naught.*
Poetry, in this latter age, hath proved but a mean mistress to such as have wholly addicted themselves to her, or given their names up to her family.  They who have but saluted her on the by, and now and then tendered their visits, she hath done much for, and advanced in the way of their own professions (both the law and the gospel) beyond all they could have hoped or done for themselves without her favour.  Wherein she doth emulate the judicious but preposterous bounty of the time' s grandees, who accumulate all they can upon the parasite or fresh-man in their friendship; but think an old client or honest servant bound by his place to write and starve.



Why, there’s no remedy. 'Tis the curse of service.

Preferment goes by letter and affection,

And not by old gradation, where each second

Stood heir to th' first. Now sir, be judge yourself,

Whether I in any just term am affined

To love the Moor.


Jonson, Timber


875 I have seene, that Poverty makes men doe unfit things; but honest men should not doe them: they should gaine otherwise. Though a man bee hungry, hee should not play the Parasite. That houre, wherein I would repent me to be honest: there were wayes enow open for me to be rich. But Flattery is a fine Pick-lock of tender eares: especially of those, fortune hath borne high upon their wings, that submit their dignity, and authority to it, by a soothing of themselves. For indeed men could  never be taken, in that abundance, with the Sprindges of others Flattery, if they began not there; if they did but remember, how much more profitable the bitternesse of Truth were, then all the honey distilling from a whorish voice; which is not praise, but poyson. But now it is come to that extreme folly, or rather madnesse with some: that he that  flatters them modestly, or sparingly, is thought to maligne them. If  their friend consent not to their vices, though hee doe not contradict them; hee is neverthelesse an enemy. When they doe all things the worst way, even then they looke for praise. Nay, they will hire fellowes to flatter them with suites, and suppers, and to prostitute their judgements. They have Livery-friends, friends of the dish, and of the Spit, that waite their turnes, as my Lord has his feasts, and guests.


Oxford to Cecil, [May 1601?].
My very good brother, I have received by Henry Lok your most kind message, which I so effectually embrace that, what for the old love I have borne you which, I assure you, was very great; what for the alliance which is between us, which is tied so fast by my children of your own sister; what for mine own disposition to yourself, which hath been rooted by long and many familiarities of a more youthful time, there could have been nothing so dearly welcome unto me. Wherefore not as a stranger, but in the old style, I do assure you that you shall have no faster friend & well-wisher unto you than myself, either in kindness, which I find beyond mine expectation in you, or in kindred, whereby none is nearer allied than myself sith, of your sisters, of my wife only you have received nieces, a sister, I say, not by any venter, but born of the same father and the same mother of yourself. I will say no more, for words in faithful minds are tedious, only this I protest: you shall do me wrong, and yourself greater if, either through fables, which are mischievous, or CONCEIT, which is DANGEROUS, you think otherwise of me than humanity and consanguinity requireth.



(I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin

And let him find it. Trifles light as air

Are to the jealous confirmations strong

As proofs of holy writ. This may do something.

The Moor already changes with my poison.

DANGEROUS CONCEITS are in their natures poisons

Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,

But with a little act upon the blood

Burn like the mines of sulfur.)


A Wonderful Expression of what WE owe to others:

I will say no more, for words in faithful minds are tedious, only this I protest: you shall do me wrong, and yourself greater if, either through fables, which are mischievous, or conceit, which is dangerous, you think otherwise of me than humanity and consanguinity requireth. - Edward de Vere

Richard Brome’s play,

The Antipodes


But you, sir, are incorrigible, and

Take licence to yourself to add unto

Your parts your own free fancy, and sometimes

To alter or diminish what the writer

With care and skill compos’d; and when you are

To speak to your coactors in the scene,

You hold interlocutions with the audients.


That is a way, my lord, has been allow’d

On elder stages to move mirth and laughter.


Yes, in the days of Tarlton and Kemp,

Before the stage was purg’d from barbarism

And brought to the perfection it now shines with.

The fools and jesters spent their wits, because

The poets were wise enough to save their own

For profitabler uses.



Sidney, Defense of Poetry

But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment; and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus hath Amphytrio. But, if we mark them well, we shall find that they never, or very daintily, match hornpipes and funerals. So falleth it out that, having indeed no right comedy in that comical part of our tragedy, we have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any chaste ears, or some extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else; where the whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight, as the tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration.
But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together. Nay, rather in themselves they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety. For delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves, or to the general nature; laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature. Delight hath a joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful tickling...But I have lavished out too many words of this playmatter. I do it, because as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused; which, like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy`s honesty to be called in question.


Shakespeare and his Contemporaries in Performance
edited by Edward J. Esche

…The point is that Tarlton’s Jests contains more savagery than most of its kind. The received image of Tarlton remains less harsh, tending more to Bradbrook than to Buzacott, perhaps because it has been the custom to quote selectively from the Jests, usually according to the benign taste of the quoter. There is even some selectivity in the edition that has been my present source, published in 1866 as part of the series of Old English Jest Books. The editor, W. Carew Hazlitt, has omitted the eighth of the Court Witty Jests because he considers it ‘pointless and too indelicate to print’. The censored anecdote records an occasion at court when Tarlton so offended a lady that she threatened to cuff him. To her consternation, Tarlton agreed, provided only that they reverse the consonants.

Hamlet, the Gravedigger, and Indecorous Decorum

Maurice Hunt

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

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

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


Soul of an Ignorant Age:



IN so thicke, and darke an IGNORANCE, as now almost couers the AGE, I craue leaue to stand neare your Light: and, by that, to be read. Posterity may pay your Benefit the Honour, and Thanks; when it shall know, that you dare, in these JIG-GIVEN times, to countenance a Legitimate Poëme. I must call it so, against all noise of Opinion: from whose crude, and airy Reports, I appeale, to that great and singular Faculty of Iudgment in your Lordship, able to vindicate Truth from Error. It is the first (of this RACE) that euer I dedicated to any Person, and had I not thought it the best, it should haue beene taught a lesse ambition. Now, it approacheth your Censure chearefully, and with the same assurance, that Innocency would appeare before a Magistrate.

Your Lo. most faithfull Honorer. Ben. Ionson.



Jonson, Timber
Decipimur specie. - There is a greater reverence had of things remote or strange to us than of much better if they be nearer and fall under our sense. Men, and almost all sorts of creatures, have their reputation by distance. Rivers, the farther they run, and more from their spring, the broader they are, and greater. And where our original is known, we are less the confident; among strangers we trust fortune. Yet a man may live as renowned at home, in his own country, or a private village, as in the whole world. For it is VIRTUE that gives glory; that will endenizen a man everywhere. It is only that can naturalise him. A NATIVE, if he be vicious, deserves to be a stranger, and cast out of the commonwealth as an ALIEN.


Sidney's enemy Oxford remains nameless in Greville's account of the tennis-court quarrel in his Life of Sidney:

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


Sonnet LXXII - Shakespeare

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.


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

"Who worship Fame, commit Idolatry,
"Make Men their God, Fortune and Time their worth,
"Forme, but reforme not, meer hypocrisie,
"By shadowes, onely shadowes bringing forth,
"Which must, as blossomes, fade ere true fruit springs,
"(Like voice, and eccho) ioyn'd; yet diuers things." (Greville)


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.

Jonson, Discoveries

Censura de poetis. - Nothing in our AGE, I have observed, is more PREPOSTEROUS than the running judgments upon poetry and poets; when we shall hear those things commended and cried up for the best writings which a man would scarce vouchsafe to wrap any wholesome drug in; he would never light his tobacco with them. And those men almost named for MIRACLES, who yet are so VILE that if a man should go about to examine and correct them, he must make all they have done BUT ONE BLOT. Their good is so entangled with their bad as forcibly one must draw on the other’s death with it. A sponge dipped in ink will do all:-

Sonnet XXXVI - Shakespeare

Let me confess that we two must be twain, Although our undivided loves are one: So shall those BLOTS that do with me remain, Without thy help, by me be borne alone. In our two loves there is but one respect, Though in our lives a separable spite, Which though it alter not love's sole effect, Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight. I may not evermore acknowledge thee, Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame, Nor thou with public kindness honour me, Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
   But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
   As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.


Iago's Clyster:
Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process
Ben Saunders

`"I cannot imagine any spectator leaving Othello feeling cleansed."Edward Pechter

An excretory précis of the plot of Othello therefore runs as follows: Iago talks shit, pumping pestilence into Othello's ear, literally filling Othello's head with shit, until he believes that his love object smells like shit, and comes to feel that he has actually been smeared with shit--shit that can be washed away only with Desdemona's blood. Then, upon killing her, Othello discovers that he has not removed the stain but has rather become the very substance that soils: along with everything else he touches, Iago has turned Othello into shit.
To conclude by returning briefly to the "clyster-pipes" that initially inspired my inquiry: these pipes may now look more unpleasant than ever, though in the context of the foregoing arguments, their invocation is perhaps less startling. For the entire text of Othello can be read as in some sense the result of Iago's investment in violent evacuation and purgation. Iago--who restores the "natural" order in terms of normative homo-social and racially pure power relations--might even see his actions as analogous to those of the early modern physician, restoring health to what he would consider a diseased body politic, clogged as it is with unhealthful foreign excrements that have risen from the lower extremities, where they belong, to positions of power and authority: "Work on, / My medicine, work!" he cries, as the fit seizes Othello and drives him to his knees (4.1.44-45). He hatches a plot to expunge Venetian society of everything he associates with lower-body functions: women, people of color, sexual desire. Iago's "monstrous birth" is no baby, then, but rather a tremendous evacuation--the inevitable and horrific consequence of a "diet of revenge." And the complete success of Iago's enema is attested to when this masterful shitmonger has nothing left to say: "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word" (5.2.300-301). The clyster has done its work. Othello, Desdemona, Emilia, and Roderigo lie dead, and Iago is . . . empty. Silent. Purged. But Iago's sadistic drives have already exposed the civilized impulses toward order, control, and cleanliness, impulses that provide one linguistic matrix for modern racism, as rooted in a series of paradoxical disavowals and denials: the obsessive need for order that itself produces chaos; the tremendous appetite to deny appetite; the consuming passion to be free of passion; the excessive desire to eliminate all excess; the overpowering lust to banish lust. Shakespeare has personified the civilizing process in Iago, an anal-retentive proto-racist poet devoted to the terrible logic of the purge.


Jonson - Poetaster

...This 'tis, that strikes me silent, seals my Lips,
And apts me rather to sleep out my time,
Than I would waste it in contemned strifes,
With these VILE IBIDES, these unclean Birds,
That make their Mouths their CLYSTERS, and still purge
From their hot entrails. *But, I leave the MONSTERS
To their own fate*. And, since the Comick Muse
Hath prov'd so ominous to me, I will try
If Tragœdie have a more kind aspect;
Her favours in my next I will pursue,
Where, if I prove the pleasure but of one,
So he judicious be; He shall b' alone
A Theater unto me:


Author: Holland, Abraham, d. 1626.
Title: Naumachia, or Hollands sea-fight Date: 1622

A Caveat to his Muse

You deem it a matter of high worth
To have a fame among 'em: New come forth:
And thinke your chiefe felicity is marr'd
If you be not perch't up in Paules Church-yard
Where men a farre may know you in a trice,
By some new-fangled, brasse-cut Frontispice.
Such book's indeed as now-dayes can passé
Had need to have their FACES made of brasse.(note - see Droeshout engraving)
Is it not then sufficient for you
To stay at home among the residue
Of better sisters: where my dearest Will, (my note - Will Browne?)
And other friends would praise and love thee still:
Him and my other harts-halfes I account
Intire assemblies, and thinke they surmount
A Globe of ADDLE Gallants: I averre
One judging Plato worth a Theater.