Sunday, September 16, 2018

Purging Jonson in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Poetomachia - Jonson's Cynthia's Revels and Shake-speare's Hamlet

Jonson's 'Apologetical Dialogue' - 'Vile Ibides' and Closed Systems of Waste/Filth/Obscenity

Jonson - Poetaster - Apologetical Dialogue

...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 Theatre unto me; Once I’ll say
To strike the ear of time in those fresh strains,
As shall, beside the cunning of their ground,
Give cause to some of wonder, some  despite,

And more despair, to IMITATE their SOUND.


Obscene - Adj.
1590s, "offensive to the senses, or to taste and refinement," from Middle French obscène (16c.), from Latin obscenus "offensive," especially to modesty, originally "boding ill, inauspicious," of unknown origin; perhaps from ob "in front of" (see ob- ) + caenum "filth." Meaning "offensive to modesty or decency" is attested from 1590s.


William Cartwright:

...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 clowne;
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;

Traveller and Scholar - Knowledge of the world obtained through travel and experience/knowledge obtained from books.

 Jonson, Cynthia's Revels - Mocking the Courtiers

Asotus. I do purpose to travel, sir, at spring.
Amorphus. I think I shall affect you, sir. This last speech of yours hath begun to make you dear to me.
Asotus. O lord, sir! I would there were any thing in me, sir, that might appear worthy the least worthiness of your worth, sir. I protest, sir, I should endeavour to shew it, sir, with more than common regard, sir.
Crites. O, here's a rare motley, sir. (Aside.)
Amorphus. Both your desert, and your endeavours are plentiful, suspect them not: but your sweet disposition to travel, I assure you, hath made you another myself in mine eye, and struck me enamour'd on your beauties.
Asotus. I would I were the fairest lady of France for your sake, sir! and yet I would travel too.
Amorphus. O, you should digress from yourself else: for, believe it, your travel is our only thing that rectifies, or, as the Italian says, vi rendi pronto all' attioni, makes you fit for ACTION.

 Purging Jonson's Self-Centred Audition in Hamlet. Jonson attacked Edward de Vere as the foppish and Italianate 'Master of Courtship' in Cynthia's Revels (Signior Amorphus) - mocking his courteous social forms as foolish, superficial and worthless. Edward de Vere 'imitated Jonson's militant Protestant sound' in Hamlet - showing how lethal Horace/Horatio/Jonson's theoretical antique/Roman forms were for the life of a sophisticated court. Shakespeare uses the soliloquy as a way to dramatize the dangerously closed circuit of Protestant 'inwardness' and imagination.


Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England

By Mary Thomas Crane

…[It] was a deeply threatening idea that a particular kind of education (or, indeed, a prose style indicative of that education) could replace birth and wealth as criteria for access to power. It posed the greatest threat, as Lawrence Stone points out, to the aristocrats whom it disenfranchised, and until they were able, in the seventeenth century, to recast educational credentials on the basis of attendance at certain elite (and expensive) schools, they were forced to reassert an alternative training for aristocratic youth. It also threatened the humanists themselves, who saw in their own upward mobility not only potentially dangerous eminence but also a disquieting acquiescence in capitalist and republican tendencies and a palpable threat to the concepts of order and hierarchy that they promulgated. These issues surface (in the 1520s through the 1540s) in the form of preoccupation with “value,” and in discussions of what society ought to value and how “wealth” (both monetary and cultural) should be displayed and shared.
Stone has shown how the “educational revolution” effected by English humanists contributed to the “crisis of the aristocracy” in the seventeenth century. He argues that in the sixteenth century, the new ideal of “gentleman” based on education “increased the opportunities of the gentry to compete for office on more equal terms with the nobility.” There are signs, however, of ARISTOCRATIC RESISTANCE to the humanist model of counsel, and in this resistance lie the seeds of the alternative model of courtly advancement, the ITALIANATE COURTIER. According to this model, “WORTH” is manifested through the conspicuous consumption of “worthless” TRIFLES (clothes, jewelry) and participation in frivolous pastimes (hunting, dicing, dancing, composing love lyrics).




Jonson, Prologue, Cynthia's Revels

Then cast those piercing Rays,
Round as a Crown, instead of honour'd Bays,
About his
Poesie; which (he knows) affords
Words, above action: MATTER, above words.

Jonson identifies Amorphus of Cynthia's Revels as Edward de Vere (or at the very least associates Vere with Amorphus by having Amorphus speak some lines of poetry that had been dedicated to Vere) - and accuses Vere of being made more of curious surFaces than substance.

In the prologue to the Cynthia's Revels Jonson explicitly prioritizes 'matter' above words and action.

Hamlet references matter at least 26 times? (Ferguson. Letters and Spirits. 'Matter, we are told, is spoken 26 times in the play'.)

Hamlet - the search for the 'matter' of Jonsonian virtue - the matter that is supposed to give meaning and 'weight' to words and ultimately the 'ground' for action.


Imitating Jonson's Sound in Hamlet -

Jonson - Poetaster - Apologetical Dialogue

 Where, if I prove the pleasure but of one,
So he judicious be; He shall b' alone
A Theater unto me:

 IMITATING Jonson's SOUND - Shakespeare' response to Jonson's 'Apologetical Dialogue':

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others.

Too many soliloquies for social health - soliloquy as 'self-centred audition.' Hamlet as his own 'judicious' audience of one..

'Venting passionate, potentially wounding words into only his own ears, Hamlet recycles and reabsorbs his own waste' -- Deutermann

"Caviare to the general"?: Taste, Hearing, and Genre in "Hamlet"
Deutermann, Allison K

This thematic difference may account for the best-known formal innovation of Shakespeare's play, its profusion of soliloquies-or, more accurately, its assignment of nearly all its soliloquies to only one character, Hamlet himself.57 In Hamlet, these speeches provide a glimpse inside the solipsistic echo chamber of the tasteful listener, whose ears absorb his own witty speeches more eagerly, and more deeply, than those he selectively samples from others. Rather than understanding Hamlet's soliloquies as thoughts overheard, we might consider them as speeches spoken to an onstage audience of one delighting in his own discourse.58 Such persistently self-centered audition could seem the safest alternative in a revenge tragedy like Hamlet, with its spoken daggers and poisoned ears, but the prince's recycling of sounds carries its own risks. According to early modern anatomists, the auditory canal is a two-way street that allows sounds to enter and, at the same time, enables the "expurgation" of "the superfluities that fall from the heade, by the eare into the mouth, as also to purge and depurate that aire which is implanted in the instrument of hearing."59 Excrement secreted from the brain collects in pools about the ears and must from time to time be expelled; so, too, must the inward air (that which is "implanted in the instrument of hearing") itself. This expurgation occurs through the ears and the mouth, which are connected through a system of canals and other passages. In this way the listener "is purged and receiueth new Ayre for his perpetuall nourishment." 60 Like the Galenic humoral economy whose regulation, as Gail Kern Paster and Michael Schoenfeldt have shown, is instrumental to the formation of early modern subjects, the flow of air into, through, and out of the body must be kept in balance to ensure good health.61 Venting passionate, potentially wounding words into only his own ears, Hamlet recycles and reabsorbs his own waste. On a poetic level, then, the soliloquy enacts the same closed economy glimpsed in Hamlet's musings on mortality: that "A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm" (4.3.26-27). Like the cycles of corporeal decay with which he is preoccupied throughout the play, this verbal system admits of no release, no exit. In the context of the metatheatrical debates discussed above, Hamlet's soliloquies serve two important functions. First, they demonstrate revenge tragedy's suitability to the investigation of a subject increasingly central to early modern comedy, that of the individual's struggle for corporeal self-control and, ultimately, inviolability. Second, they question the wisdom of the ideal these comedies helped to introduce. The only ears in this play that do prove impervious to unwanted sounds are those made fatally "senseless" to them (5.2.353). All other listeners will continue to be charged with the task of filtering and judging stories-separating rumor from matter "truly deliver[ed]"-and of fending off the violent physical and political effects of "warlike noise" (ll. 369, 333). It is only for the dead, for whom the rest is indeed silence, that this process ever becomes complete.
If, then, Hamlet incorporates and responds to attacks lobbed against the revenge tragedy genre by Ben Jonson and other playwrights, it also engages in some genre-based criticism of its own. By suggesting that the struggle for corporeal inviolability that their comedies helped to introduce is in fact futile, Hamlet refocuses attention on the ongoing process through which the self is produced. Sampling and judging sounds is a key part of this process, as the listener is charged with winnowing out potential pollutants without sacrificing the benefits of restorative speech.


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.


Honest Ben/Honest Iago:

Ay, ’twas he that told me on her first.
An honest man he is, and hates the slime
That sticks on filthy deeds.


The Return to Parnassus, Part II
Few of the university men pen plaies well, they smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphoses, and talk too much of Proserpina & Juppiter. Why heres our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down, I and Ben Jonson too. And that Ben Jonson is a PESTILENT fellow, he brought up Horace giving the Poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him beray his credit.

Definition of pestilence
1 : a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating; especially : bubonic plague
2 : something that is destructive or pernicious
  • I'll pour this pestilence into his ear
  • —William Shakespeare 

Iago's Clyster:
Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process
Ben Saunders
In this essay I will elaborate a hermeneutic strategy that builds on the hints provided by Iago's attraction to verbal figures of purgation, evacuation, and oral/anal substitution and displacement, as witnessed in this passage. By attending to the neglected (waste) matter of bodily purgation and regulation in this play, I hope not only to say something about early modern anality but also to broaden our sense of its relation to a historically emergent racist vocabulary. In the process I will expand on the (by-now) commonplace notion that Othello generates a good deal of its aesthetic effect, and emotional affect, through "a black/white opposition" that is "built into the play at every level." Assuming the centrality of a related opposition between civilization and barbarism, which I find reinscribed and deconstructed throughout the text, I will suggest that the process of ideological invention whereby "civilized" man is distinguished from his "barbaric" other emerges in Othello quite literally from the sewer. In this account, Iago represents not only a portrait of the villain as anal-retentive artist but also as the Shakespearean figure who expresses the (disavowed) centrality of lower- body functions to the production of "civilized" Christian masculinity-- and who therefore also best reveals the violent, disciplinary force that is the (again, disavowed) foundation of that "civilizing" process.
(snip)    "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.

Extravagant and exotic Othello's single soliloquy takes place as he absorbs/recycles Jonson/Iago's poison. 

Vile Ibides - Jonson's Sound

 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.
Indeed, the multitude COMMEND writers as they do fencers or wrestlers, who if they come in robustiously and put for it with a deal of violence are received for the braver fellows; when many times their own rudeness is a cause of their disgrace, and a slight touch of their adversary gives all that boisterous force the foil.  But in these things the unskilful are naturally deceived, and judging wholly by the bulk, think rude things greater than polished, and scattered more numerous than composed; nor think this only to be true in the sordid multitude, but the neater sort of our gallants; for all are the multitude, only they differ in clothes, not in judgment or understanding.


Jonson and the Judicious Suppression of Fame – judicious theatre of one/crown’d within

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,
*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..


The COMMENDATION of good things may fall within a many,  their approbation but in a few· for the most COMMEND OUT OF AFFECTION,  selfe tickling, an easinesse, or imitation: but MEN iudge only out of *KNOWLEDGE*. That is the trying faculty. 

Art hath an Enemy called Ignorance - Jonson 

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


Jonson and the Judicious Suppression/Restraint/ of Fame:

From To the Deceased Author of these Poems...William Cartwright
Jasper Mayne

For thou to Nature had'st joyn'd Art, and skill.
A QUILL, RUL'D by sharp Judgement, and such Laws,
As a well studied Mind, and Reason draws.
Thy Lamp was cherish'd with suppolied of Oyle,
Fetch'd from the Romane and the Graecian soyle. (snip)


Jonson, Underwoods

From death and dark oblivion (near the same)
    The mistress of man’s life, grave History,
Raising the world to good and evil fame,
    Doth vindicate it to eternity.
Wise Providence would so : that nor the good
    Might be defrauded, nor the great secured,
But both might know their ways were understood,
    When vice alike in time with virtue dured :
Which makes that, lighted by the beamy hand
Of Truth, that searcheth the most hidden springs,
And guided by Experience, whose straight wand
    Doth mete, whose line doth sound the depth of things ;
She cheerfully supporteth what she rears,
    Assisted by no strengths but are her own,
Some note of which each varied pillar bears,
    By which, as proper titles, she is known
Time's witness, herald of Antiquity,
The light of Truth, and life of Memory.

(Added July 2020)
Elizabethan Humanism
Literature and Learning in the later Sixteenth Century
Mike Pincombe

Sidney's Apology for Poetry is probably the most famous and widely read critical essay of the Elizabethan Age. It was published in 1595, a decade after Sidney's early death in 1586, and about fifteen years after Sidney seems to have completed the manuscript. But its existence became known to the general reading public a few years before it was published, when it was praised by Sir John Harington in his own 'Brief Apology for Poetry' (1591). We may assume that this mention created considerable interest in Sidney's essay, since it was published twice in 1595, by different publishers, and under different titles. William Ponsonby simply called it 'The Defence of Poesie'. By Sir Phillip Sidney, Knight'. Bu t Henry Olney was more generous in his advertisement of the work and its author: 'An Apologie for Poetrie'. Written by the right noble, virtuous, and learned, Sir Phillip Sidney, Knight. Odi profanum vulgus, et arceo.' The Latin motto is a well-known tag ('I scorn and shun the uninitiated crowd') taken from the opening line of the third book of Horace's Carmina (Odes: 23 BC). (p.144).

Odi profanum vulgus et arceo definition is - I hate the common masses and avoid them.


I loathe the unclean and keep my distance.
 Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet.
I pray thee, stay with us. Go not to Wittenberg.