Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Solecism of Shakespeare's Stars

Cynthia's Revels, Jonson

Signior Amorphus:
Forgive it now: it was the solecism of my stars.


English Language Learners Definition of solecism
: a mistake in speech or writing
: an impolite or improper way of behaving

History and Etymology for solecism
Latin soloecismus, from Greek soloikismos, from soloikos speaking incorrectly, literally, inhabitant of Soloi, from Soloi, city in ancient Cilicia where a substandard form of Attic was spoken 

A solecism, which by Sinnius Capito and other lien of his time was called in Latin inparilitas, or “inequality,” the earlier Latin writers termed stribiligo, 1 evidently meaning the improper use of an inverted form of expression, a sort of twist as it were. This kind of fault is thus defined by Sinnius Capito, in a letter which lie wrote to Clodius Tuscus: “A solecism,” he says, 2 “is an irregular and incongruous joining together of the parts of speech.”

-- an irregular and incongruous joining together of the parts -- holding the mirror up to Error

Since “soloecismus” is a Greek word, the question is often asked, whether it was used by the men of [p. 443] Attica who spoke most elegantly. But I have as yet found neither soloecismus nor barbarismus 3 in good Greek writers; for just as they used βάρβαρος, so they used σόλοικος. 4 So too our earlier writers used soloecus regularly, soloecismus never, I think. But if that be so, soloecismus is proper usage neither in Greek nor in Latin.
1 This word, which seems to occur only here and in Arnobius i. 36, apparently means “twisted, awry.”
2 Fr. 2, Huschke.
3 These words were applied to any impropriety in the use of language.
4 Both words have the general meaning of “FOREIGN” ; according to some, σόλοικος was derived from Soloi, a town of Cilicia, whose inhabitants spoke a perverted Attic dialect. This derivation seems to be accepted to-day. Barbarus is regarded as an onomatopoeic word, representing stammering; cf. balbus.

The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius. With An English Translation. John C. Rolfe. Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1927. 


Cynthia's Revels, Jonson

Beware then thou render men's Figures truly --

Look not on his Picture, but his Booke:

Ben Jonson:
Language most shows a man: Speak, that I may see thee. It springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us, and is the image of the parent of it, the mind. No glass renders a man's form or likeness so true as his speech.

Man's speech is just like his life - Seneca

Jonson, Discoveries

In every action it behoves the poet to know which is his utmost bound, how far with fitness, and a necessary proportion, he may produce, and determine it…*For, as a body without proportion cannot be goodly, no more can the action, either the comedy, or tragedy, without his fit bounds*.


Ben Jonson
De Shakspeare NOSTRAT. - Augustus in Hat. - I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, “Would he had blotted a thousand,” which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this but for their IGNORANCE who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most FAULTED;


Boundedness is the condition of all proportion and fitness; nothing can be good without its proper limits. It is a principle that goes beyond poetics, informing for example these comedies' preoccupation with the idea of humor. Asper, the authorial mouthpiece of Every Man Out, defines humor as "whatsoe'er hath flexure and humidity, / As wanting power to contain itself," and explains that the medical humors (choler, melancholy, and so on) are so called "By reason that they flow continually / In some one part, and are not continent" ("Grex," ll. 96-101). The follies we are about to see, then, are types of incontinence, ugly and absurd because of their lack of any limiting principle. A comedy that wandered whimsically from country to country would be complicit with the humors it displayed. Rather, it should emulate the wise men who RULE their lives by KNOWLEDGE, "and can becalm / All sea of humour with the marble trident / Of their strong spirits" (The Poetaster, 4.6.74-76). -- Peter Womack


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


 SORAISMUS and Amorphus

Rage or Influence - Jonson/humours

Influence (see influenza/influential)

The Surprising History of Influence and Its Modern Use
Influence may seem like a ho-hum word, but its history is heavenly.
The word first referred to a celestial fluid that was believed to flow from the stars. As this fluid reached the Earth, it supposedly affected the actions of the planet's inhabitants—especially the human ones. (The word influenza has the same origin: the Medieval Latin word influentia. It was for a time believed that epidemics were caused by unusual conjunctions of the planets.)
In modern use, the noun typically refers to the power to change or affect someone or something—especially the power to cause changes without directly forcing those changes to happen. Influence can also refer to a person or thing that affects someone or something in an important way.
The noun had been in use for more than 200 years before the verb use developed. As a verb, influence typically means "to affect or change someone or something in an indirect but usually important way." Something or someone that influences a person or thing, then, has an influence on that person or thing.

Jonson, To Shakespeare

75But stay, I see thee in the HEMISPHERE
76Advanc'd, and made a CONSTELLATION there!
77Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
78 Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage
79Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd like night,
80And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.

con·stel·la·tion | \ ˌkän(t)-stə-ˈlā-shən \
Definition of constellation
1 : the configuration of stars especially at one's birth
2 : any of 88 arbitrary configurations of stars or an area of the celestial sphere covering one of these configurations the constellation Orion
3 : an assemblage, collection, or group of usually related persons, qualities, or things … a constellation of … relatives, friends, and hangers-on …— Brendan Gill a constellation of symptoms
4 : pattern, arrangement … taking advantage of the shifting constellation of power throughout the known world.


R Goodwin, ‘Vindiciae Jonsoniae’

Even so, these Gallants, when they chance to heare
A new Witt peeping in THEIR HEMISPHERE,
Which they can apprehend, their clouded Braines,
Will Straight admire, and Magnifie his Straines,
Farre above thine;  though all that he hath done,
Is but a Taper, to thy brighter Sun;
Wound them with scorne! Who greives at such Fooles tongues,
Doth not revenge, but gratifie their wrongs.    

e.g. Puntarvolo, Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humour:
"Then you must of necessity know our court-star there, that planet of wit, madona Saviolina."
Jonson - On Lucy Countess of Bedford:
This morning timely wrapt with holy fire,
I thought to form unto my zealous Muse,
What kind of creature I could most desire
To know, serve, and love, as Poets use.
I meant to make her fair, and free, and wise,
Of greatest blood, and yet more good than great;
I meant the day-star should not brighter rise,
Nor lend like influence from his lucent seat;
 Such when I meant to feign, and wished to see,
My Muse bade Bedford write, and that was she!

 Compromise Classicism: Language and Rhythm in Ben Jonson's Poetry
George A.E. Parfitt

Perhaps the first thing one notices on looking closely at the anguage of Jonson's poems is the comparative sparseness of imagery and that many images are submerged: often the nearest we get to an image is the figurative use of a verb, so that King James is said to have "purg'd" his kingdom and the sould of Jonson's daughter is spoken of as "sever'd" from her body. Where 'full-scale' imagery does occur it is frequently simile (which preserves a distinction between referee and referent) and usually brief.

 Soul of the Age - imitating the 'noise of Opinion'.
In Poetaster, Virgil and his privileged homogeneous circle are precisely placed 'above', at the highest level of a Neoplatonic scale of being which underpins the play, Virgil, in particular, being identified at once as an embodiment of 'poor vertue' (v.ii.33), and, more specifically, as a 'rectified spirit' 'refin'd/From all the tartarous moodes of common men' (v.i.100 and 102-3: author's emphasis), refined, that is, from the material, impure - and Tartarean - moods motivating the 'common men' (and all the women) of the play, who are placed at the lowest level of the play's scale of being, the level closest to matter. The place of Virgil and his circle is the same as that occupied, in a well-known passage in Timber, by an elite of 'good men' identified as absolute 'Spectators' over 'the Play of Fortune' 'on the Stage of the world'. Indeed, Virgil is likened to a 'right heavenly body' (v.i.105, just as the good men are described as 'the Stars, the Planets of the Ages wherein they live' - images which underscore not only the absolute, transcendent place of these spectator figures, but their normative and regulatory function, their function, that is, as over-seers.
(Margaret Tudeau-Clayton,  Jonson, Shakespeare and Early Modern Virgil)

In Every Man in his Humour (performed 1598), this hierarchical binary opposition is articulated, even as it is worked for in the place of production, by a quotation from the Sibyl's description in Aeneid 6 of the few permitted to escape from the underworld into the upper air - 'pauci, quos aequus amavit/Juppiter' (lines 129-30, quoted in Every Man In, III,i, 21-2.) In Cynthia's Revels (performed 1600), the quotation recurs, translated, in a context which makes explicit what the spectator/reader of Every Man In must divine, that the description is to be understood in terms of the canonical Neoplatonic mediations of the Virgilian underworld as a description of the few permitted, on account of the 'merit' of their 'true nobility, called virtue', to escape from the Dis or Tartarus of contingent, material existence into an absolute, fixed and transcendent place 'above'. As we shall see, those who understand are granted, by virtue of their understanding, a means of 'grace', a means, that is, to escape from the multiple, particular heterogeneities of every man in his humour, to join the privileged homogeneous circle which the Virgilian voice in Every Man In  both addresses and describes. (Margaret Tudeau-Clayton,  Jonson, Shakespeare and Early Modern Virgil, 116-117.)

 John Weever (?) writing on Jonson the Humorist:

John Weever – The Whipping of the Satyre (1601)

From the prefatory Epistle, To the Vayne-Glorious, the Satyrist, Epigrammatist, and Humorist

Now by your leave, Monsieur Humorist, you that talke of mens humours and dispositions, as though you had bene a Constellation-setter seven yeres in the firmament, or had cast account of every mans nativitie with the stares: but if I were as the Astronomers, I would call you into question for it, seeing you have so abused their art. But, had you bene so meane a Philosopher, as have knowne, that mores sequuntur humores[manners follow humours], you would questionles have made better humours, if it had bene but to better our maners, and not instead of a morall medicine, to have given them a MORTALL POISON: but I consider of you, as of a yonger brother: you wanted this fame multis nimium, and nulli satis [Too much to many…enough to none], coyne (a goodyere of it) and therefore opus and usus [need and want] put you to such a pinch, that you made sale of your Humours to the Theater and there plaid Pee boh with the people in your humour, then out of your humour. I doe not blame you for this: for though you were guilty of many other things, yet I dare say, you were altogether without guilt at that time, not-withstanding I suppose you would have written for love, and not for money: but I see you are one of those that if a man can finde in his purse to give them presently, they can finde in their hearts to love him everlastingly” for now adaies Aes in praesenti perfectum format amorem [Money in the present forms love in the perfect]. But it makes the lesse matter, because I know but few but are corrivals with you in the love of silver: so that if the question were asked, Quis amat pecuniam? [Who Loves Money?] Experience would answere the voice with a double Eccho, Quisquis [Anyone]. And indeed I see no reason, why every true subject should not love the Q.[Queen’s] coyne.

Desdemona - ill-starred/ ill-fated

Brewer's: Ill-starred
Unlucky; fated to be unfortunate. Othello says of Desdemona, “O ill-starred wench!” Of course, the allusion is to the astrological dogma that the stars influence the fortunes of mankind.
“Where'er that ill-starred home may lie.”



Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclos'd, in *cinders* lie. (ashes, dross)

Death is now the Phoenix' nest,
And the Turtle's loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem but cannot be;
Beauty brag but 'tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.



This figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle SHAKSPEARE cut,
Wherein the graver had a strife
With nature, to out-do the life :
O could he but have drawn his wit
As well in BRASS, as he has hit
His face ; the print would then surpass
All that was ever writ in BRASS :
But since he cannot, reader, look
Not on his picture, but his book.


Metaphors of Mind: An Eighteenth-Century Dictionary
By Brad Pasanek


Bronze and brass are two “BASE” ALLOYS put to figurative use in the eighteenth century. Johnson notes that “brass” does not strictly differentiate brass from bronze but is used “in popular language for any kind of metal in which copper has a part” (“BRASS” and “BRONZE”). Brass is a metal of impudence so that “BRAZEN” is defined by Johnson, in this case without comment on the term’s figurative or literal status, as “impudent.” Brass has a bright luster but not the heft of a precious metal: it is SHOW without value, glister without the gold.


John Chamberlain, who himself regularly reported masques and masquing, illustrates how they became news, explaining to Dudley Carleton:

For lacke of better newes here is likewise a ballet or song of Ben lohnsons in the play or shew at the lord marquis at Burley, and repeated again at Windsor.... There were other songs and deuises of BASER ALAY, but because this had the vogue and general applause at court, I was willing to send it.