Saturday, August 22, 2020

Ironic Reading and the Death of Honesty

Dangerous Conceits:

To my mind the horror of Hamlet is that Hamlet's ironic reading habits (learned at Wittenberg) extend to his 'reading' of others - and lead to the death and destruction of his friends, family and the sovereignty of the nation it was his duty to uphold. 


Melville's Fist: The Execution of "Billy Budd"

Barbara Johnson

Studies in Romanticism

Vol. 18, No. 4, The Rhetoric of Romanticism (Winter, 1979), pp. 567-599 (33 pages)

...If Billy Budd is indeed an allegory, it is thus an allegory of the questioning of the traditional conditions of allegorical stability. The fact that Melville's plot requires that the good act out the evil designs of the bad while the bad suffer the unwarranted fate of the good indicates that the real opposition with which Melville is preoccupied here is less the static opposition between evil and good than the dynamic opposition between a man's "nature" and his acts, or, in Tyndall's terms, the relation between human "being" and human "doing."

Curiously enough, it is precisely this question of "being" versus "doing" that is brought up by the only sentence we ever see Claggart directly address to Billy Budd. When Billy accidentally spills his soup across the path of the master-at-arms, Claggart playfully replies, "Handsomely done, my lad! And handsome is as handsome did it, too!" [Johnson's emphasis]. The proverbial expression "handsome is as handsome does," from which this exclamation springs, posits the possibility of a continuous, predictable, transparent relationship between "being" and "doing." It supposes that the inner goodness of Billy Budd is in harmonious accord with his fair appearance, that, as Melville writes of the stereotypical "Handsome Sailor" in the opening pages of the story, "the moral nature" is not "out of keeping with the physical Make" (p.322). But it is precisely this continuity between the physical and the moral, between appearance and action, or between "being" and "doing," that Claggart questions in Billy Budd. He warns Captain Vere not to be taken in by Billy's physical beauty: "You have but noted his fair cheek. A mantrap may be under the ruddy-tipped daisies". Claggart indeed soon finds his suspicions confirmed with a vengeance: when he repeats his accusation in front of Billy, he is struck down dead. It would thus seem that to question the continuity between character and action cannot be done with impunity, that fundamental questions of life and death are always surreptitiously involved.

In an effort to examine what it is that is at stake in Claggart's accusation, it might be helpful to view the opposition between Billy and Claggart as an opposition not between innocence and guilt but between two conceptions of language, or between two types of reading. Billy seemingly represents the perfectly motivated sign: that is, his inner self (the signified) is considered transparently readable from the beauty of his outer self (the signifier). His 'straightforward simplicity" is the very opposite of the "moral obliquities" or "crookedness of heart" that characterizes "citified" or rhetorically sophisticated man. "To deal in double meanings and insinuations of any sort," writes Melville, "was quite foreign to his nature." In accordance with this "nature," Billy reads everything at face value, never questioning the meaning of appearances. He is dumbfounded at the Dansker's suggestion, "incomprehensible to a novice, " that Claggart's very pleasantness can be interpreted as its opposite, as a sign that he is "down on" Bill Budd. To Billy, "the occasional frank air and pleasant word went for what they purported to be, the young sailor never having heard as yet of the "too fair-spoken man." As a reader, then, Billy is symbolically as well as factually illiterate. His literal-mindedness is represented by his illiteracy because, in assuming that language can be taken at face value, he excludes the very functioning of difference that makes the act of reading both indispensable and undecidable.

Claggart, on the other hand, is the very image of difference and duplicity, both in his appearance and in his character. His face is not ugly, but it hints of something defective or abnormal. He has no vices, yet he incarnates evil. He is an intellectual, but uses reason as "an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational." Billy inspires in him both "profound antipathy" and a "soft yearning." In the incompatibility of his attributes, Claggart is thus a personification of ambiguity and ambivalence, of the distance between signifier and signified, of the separation between being and doing: "apprehending the good, but powerless to be it, a nature like Claggart's ,... what recourse is left to it but to recoil upon itself.' As a reader, Claggart has learned to "exercise a distrust keen in proportion to the fairness of the appearance." He is properly an ironic reader, who, assuming the sign to be arbitrary and unmotivated, reverses the value signs of appearances and takes a daisy for a mantrap and an unmotivated accidental spilling of soup for an intentional sly escape of antipathy. Claggart meets his downfall, however, when he attempts to master the arbitrariness of the sign for his own ends, precisely by falsely (that is, arbitrarily) accusing Billy of harboring arbitrariness, of hiding a mutineer beneath the appearance of a baby.

Such a formulation of the Budd/Claggart relationship enables one to take a new look not only at the story itself, but at the criticism as well. For, curiously enough, it is precisely this opposition between the literal reader (Billy) and the ironic reader (Claggart) that is reenacted in the critical readings of Billy Budd in the opposition between the "acceptance" school and the "irony" school.(snip)...But since the acceptance/irony dichotomy is already contained within the story, since it is obviously one of the things the story is about, it is not enough to try to decide which of the readings is correct. What the reader of Billy Budd must do is to analyze what is at stake in the very opposition between literality and irony. This question, crucial for an understanding of Billy Budd not only as a literary but also as a critical phenomenon, will be taken up again in the final pages of the present study but first let us examine further the linguistic implications of the murder itself.


In his perceptive review of MM Mahood's Shakespeare's Wordplay GK Hunter makes the provocative suggestion that there is a book to be written, 'a Romantic and moving tale of love and hate between the Bard and the Word - Shakespeare's verbal vision of evil, when words cease to mean what they say.' Although such a publication is still to emerge, when it does a notable chapter will surely be devoted to Othello, the play which perhaps more than any other 'words' us. In Othello language itself is made a Janus. Words are inverted, perverted, and ultimately even rendered meaningless, and with the corruption of the real worth of language comes that of the honour and honesty in the nature of the men who hear and speak it. (Catherine M. Shaw. 'Dangerous Conceits Are in Their Natures Poisons': The Language of Othello)


Conceit, which is Dangerous -- Edward de Vere, Letters

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.



Othello, Shakespeare


(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.)


Sidney's Superpower - the Humanist Illusion of Penetration (shared by Hamlet):

 Fulke Greville singled out Sir Philip Sidney's fastidiously DISCRIMINATING spirit for special praise: "he PIERCING into men's counsels and ends, not by their words, oathes, or complements, all barren in that AGE, but by FATHOMING their hearts and powers, by their deeds and found no wisedom where he found no courage, nor courage without wisdome, nor either without honesty and truth" The Life, Greville


 Catherine M. Shaw. 'Dangerous Conceits Are in Their Natures Poisons': The Language of Othello)

...Hilda M. Hulme in her study Explorations in Shakespeare's Language repeats a truism which one of her mentors used: 'A word is known by the company it keeps.' In this case honesty is the initial virus and the other words in proximity 'take corruption' from it. In addition, however, words are also known by the human company they keep. In Shakespeare the greatest dissemblers most use the ambiguity of language to deceive and, conversely, those who most insidiously use language to deceive are most morally corrupt. When, however, a mere five hundred lines into the play, Othello utters the words under discussion, he is linguistically chaste (at least consciously so). He does not remain inviolate, but at this point he believes about words a he does about men - that they are what they seem. His theatre audience, on the other hand, has long since lost its purity. The Globe patron was not only born into that Shakespearean world whose bewildering verbal ambiguities we must search to find but was also treated to actors who 'could recognize in his language that fullness of meaning which it was their business to bring out in stage performance.' By the time Othello makes the arrangements for Desdemona's transport to Cyprus, even the modern has been seduced by Iago, as fine a debaucher as ever Shakespeare created, into merely acknowledging the form of words in passing and dwelling on their matter. Words in Iago's company easily become as hypocritical as he is an thus we become verbally voyeuristic, acutely conscious of the ambiguity between linguistic appearance and reality and of the vision of evil released when words cease to mean what they say.


Cecil Papers 251/28: Oxford to Cecil, [July 1600].

Although my bad success in former suits to her Majesty have given me cause to bury my hopes in the deep abyss and bottom of despair, rather than now to attempt, after so many trials made in vain & so many opportunities escaped, the effects of fair words or fruits of golden promises, yet for that I cannot believe but that there hath been always a true correspondency of word and intention in her Majesty, I do conjecture that, with a little help, that which of itself hath brought forth so fair blossoms will also yield fruit.



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.

I have ’t. It is engendered! Hell and night

Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.


Catherine M. Shaw. 'Dangerous Conceits Are in Their Natures Poisons': The Language of Othello)

The words which issue from Othello's mouth with such calm certainty of composure and self-assurance are no sooner exposed to the air than they become infected; their clear form disintegrates and contaminated matter emerges. Technically, however, the form of words is innocent. With the exception of paradigmatic shifts form is unchangeable; it exists to give shape and order to substance. Linguistic matter, on the other hand, is that changeable, chaotic amalgam of ambiguities which during the evolution of the English language into the Renaissance had been jammed into single forms. The matter within complex words need not, of course, be always malevolent but in Shakespearean tragedy it often is. This is particularly true when the matter takes on implications of purulence and when its outward form is related with illusion, with the facade used to cover infected substance. In Othello the contamination of linguistic matter (whether through verbal or human associations, through deliberate perversion, or by senseless mouthings of meaninglessness) ultimately destroys the ordered control of normal behaviour patterns, personal or social.


Oxford to Cecil, 12 June 1603.

My very good Lord, I know that you are so charged with public affairs that you can have little leisure, or none at all, to undertake a private cause, especially concerning another. This therefore which you do for me, I do conceive it in your particular favour, and so I take it, and you shall find me therefor ever thankful. These shall be therefore to desire your Lordship that with my very good Lord and friend my Lord Admiral, that you will procure me a full end of this suit wherein I have spent so long a time, and passed the greatest part of mine age. The cause is right, the king just, and I do not doubt but your Lordships both mine honourable friends, according to your words I shall find you in deeds...

Your Lordship's most assured friend and brother-in-law.

Edward Oxenford



No,  I AM THAT I AM,  and they that level

  At my ABUSES reckon up their own:

  I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel;

  By their RANK THOUGHTS my DEEDS must not be shown;


Iago - I confess it is my nature's plague/To spy into ABUSES.


Jonson on Shakespeare

 He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free

nature, had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle

expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes 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 so, too.



This fellow’s of exceeding honesty

And knows all quantities, with a learnèd spirit,

Of HUMAINE dealings.


 Author: Rich, Barnabe, 1540?-1617. Title: Faultes faults, and nothing else but faultes

Date: 1606

There is nothing more formall in these dayes then Deformitie it selfe. If I should then begin to write, according to the time, I should onely write of new fashions, and of new follies that are now altogether in fashion, whereof there are such a|boundant store, that I thinke they haue got the Philosophers stone to multiplie, there is such a dayly multiplicitie both of follies, and fa|shions.

In diebus illis, Poets and Painters, were priui|ledged to faine whatsoeuer themselues listed: but now, both Poet and Painter, if he be not the Tai|lors Ape, I will not giue him a single halfepenie for his worke: for he that should either write or paint, if it be not fitte in the new fashion, he may go scrape for commendation, nay they will mocke at him, and hisse at his conceit.

Note in marg:  Preuention. But amongst an infinite number of faults, I am not yet resolued with which of them I should beginne, nor what text I might first take in hand, and it may be, some will therfore taxe me to haue but little witte: and no force, let them not spare, I will bee afore-hand with some of them, there is a figure with the Logitians, they call it Prolepsis, or Preuention, and I learned it long agoe, of the Boy that taught his mother to call whoore first. And I will now sitte in iudgement of all those that my memorie can readily produce, and I doubt not, but to bee afore hande with some of them. Note in marg:  Iestmonger. As for the humorous they haue beene alredie brought to the stage, where they haue plaide their partes, Euerie man in his humour.


...The example of the Emperour Sigismund is not to be forgotten, who hearing a shamelesse fel|low to call him God, stroke him on the eare, to whom the Parasite said, Why dost thou strike me, Emperour? To the which he answered, Why dost thou bite me, Flatterer?

Note in marg:  Floures of curtesie. God haue mercie Sigismund for this tricke, and I would all our Parasites of these times might be so recompenced: Note in marg:  Better to hit a Parasite on the eare, than to lend him thine eare for it is better to hit them on the eare, then to lend them an eare; for he that lendeth his eare to a Flatterer, is like a sheepe that lendeth the Woolfe her teate, and doth more of|ten subuert and ouerthrow the wealth of a king|dome, then an open enemie.

But see here a companie now presenting them|selues, that I cannot say are affected, but I thinke are rather infected with too much courtesie; you

shall know them by their salutations. For first with the kisse on the hand, the bodie shall be bowed downe to the ground: then the armes shall bee cast out, like one that were dauncing the old An|tike, not a word but, at your seruice, at your com|maund, at your pleasure: this olde protestation, Yours, in the way of HONESTIE, is little cared for: euerie Gull was woont to haue it at his tongues end, but now it is forgotten. And these Flowres of courtesie, as they are full of affectation, so they are no lesse formall in their speeches, full of fustian phrases, many times deliuering such sentences as doe be|wray and lay open their maisters ignorance: and they are so frequent with the kisse on the hand, that a word shall not passe their mouthes, till they haue clapt their fingers ouer their lippes. But he that is so full of creeping, and crowching, either hee meanes not well, or his wit will not serue him to meane well, for this common affabilitie, dooth lightly bring with it an ill intent, and but accor|ding to the Prouerbe, , Much courtesie, much craft. 


Soul of the Age:

Author: Rich, Barnabe, 1540?-1617.

Title: The honestie of this age· Proouing by good circumstance that the world was neuer honest till now. By Barnabee Rych Gentleman, seruant to the Kings most excellent Maiestie.

Date: 1614

..In former ages, he that was rich in knowledge was called a wise man, but now there is no man wise, but he that hath wit to gather wealth, and it is a hard matter in this Age, for a man to rayse himselfe by honest principles, yet we doe all seeke to climbe, but not by Iacobs Ladder, & we are still de|sirous to mount, but not by the Chariot of Elyas.

Vertue hath but a few that doe fauour her, but they bee fewer by a great many in number that are desirous to fol|low her.

But is not this an honest Age, when ougly vice doth beare the name of seemly vertue, when Drunkennes is called Good fellowship, Murther reputed for Manhoode, Lechery, is called Honest loue, Impudency, Good audacitie, Pride they say is Decen|cy, and wretched Misery, they call Good Husbandry, Hypocri|sie, they call Sinceritie, and Flattery, doth beare the name of Eloquence, Truth, and Veritie, and that which our predeces|sors

would call flat Knauery, passeth now by the name of wit and policy.


We doe not fashion our selues so much by reason, as wee doe by example, for custome and example are arguments good enough to make vs to follow any fashion.

We are become like Labans Sheepe, led by the eye, we con|ceiue but of what we do see: .and the vulgare seeing nothing but apparances, maketh iudgement onely by that which is subiect to the sight

To bee vertuous, why it is a Capitall crime, and there is nothing more dangerous then to be securely innocent.

Our auncients sought for the true effectes of vertue, and we onely but hunt after a vayne popular prayse.

(snip - this side idolatry)

The holy scriptures haue denounced a curse no lesse grie|uous to the Idole-maker, then to the Idole it selfe: now (vnder the correction of Diuinitie) I would but demaund, what are these Puppet-making Taylers, that are euery day inuenting of newe fashions, and what are these, that they doe call At|tyre-makers, the first inuenters of these monstrous Periwygs, and the finders out of many other like immodest Attyres: what are these, and all the rest of these Fashion Mongers, the inuenters of vanities, that are euery day whetting their wits to finde out those Gaudes, that are not onely offensiue vnto God, but many wayes preiudiciall to the whole Common wealth: if you will not acknowledge these to be Idolemakers yet you cannot deny them to be the Deuils enginers, vngodly instruments, to decke and ornifie such men and women, as may well be reputed to be but Idolles, for they haue eyes, but they see not into the wayes of their owne saluation, & they haue eares, but they cannot heare the Iudgements of God, denounced against them for their pride and vanitie.

These Enginers of mischiefe, that like Moles doe lye and wrot in sinne, till they haue cast vppe a mount of hatefull en|ormitie against Heauen, they may well be called, the Souldi|ers of the Deuill, that will fight against the mightie hand of God.


And are not our gentlemen in as dangerous a plight now

(I meane these Apes of Fancy) that doe looke so like Attyre|makers maydes, that for the dainty decking vp of themselues, might sit in any Seamsters shop in all the Exchange. Me thinkes a looking glasse should be a dangerous thing for one of them to view himselfe in, for falling in loue with his owne lookes, as Narcissus did with his owne shadow.


Desert, may now goe to Cart, and he that cannot ruffell it out in silkes, will hardly gette passage in at a great mans gate.

Hee that is thought to bee poore, is neuer thought to bee wise, nor fit to haue the managing of any matter of impor|tance, all is well accepted that is spoken by authoritie, but truth it selfe is not beleeued, if it proceede from the mouth of pouertie.

By this contempt of pouertie, vice hath beene aduanced, and sithens riches haue thus crept into credite, the worlde is rather growne to giue way to the humour of a rich Foole, then to followe the direction of a poore wiseman.

Let vs nowe a little looke into the actions of this age, and speake truly, when was Vertue and Honestie more despised, when was Pride, Ryot, and Excesse, more inordinate, when was adultery, and all other vnchast liuing, either more appa|rant or lesse punished, when were all manner of abhomina|tions more tollerated, when those that should minister cor|rection, will sometimes fauour their owne vices in others,

euery man accounting that to bee most excellent in fashion, that is most taken vppe and en-vred, by those that be most vicious. 


I haue thus farre presumed to thrust my lynes into the wide worlde, to abide the fury of all weathers, if they proue distastfull to some palates, yet I hope there bee other some, that will better relish them, for those that shall thinke them too tart, let them vse them in the stead of Veriuyce [verjuice], for sweete meates are euer best relished with soure sauce.


Jennifer Richards _Rhetoric and Courtliness in Early Modern Literature_

"Sixteenth century humanists inherited an overlapping but distinct Socratic dialogue style which informed that rival genre to the courtesy book, the husbandry manual. The figures of the courtier and the husbandman offer different styles of social and commercial exchange and also different styles of 'honesty' which are not easily translated into a modern political idiom. to understand these traditions we will nee to be more open in our thinking about where we locate 'subversive' or 'conservative' agendas. *The representation of the courtier as dissembling in much modern criticism, for example, indicates the victory of the plain husbandman as a social and cultural authority*. Yet, there are good reasons why such plain-speakers are not to be trusted, not least because there is no way of knowing whether the claim to be telling the truth, or the promise of transparency, however plainly put, is not also a rhetorical ploy which aims to occlude the interests of others. (p.5)


One idea which is examined closely (note-in Guazzo's Civile Conversation) is the virtue of 'honesty', a virtue which serves as a glue to all social relationships. In the course of his conversation with Anniball, William will learn to appreciate the greater honesty of the dissimulative courtier rather than the anti-social simplicity of the 'scholler'. For the scholar only maintains his simple lifestyle by removing himself from the rough and tumble of daily social interaction, whereas the courtier attempts to balance honestly - or decorously - personal aspirations with social duty...I want to explore how the character of Anniball makes William honest and sociable in Civile Conversation, and also how, in the attempt, the concept of 'honesty' is defined in such a way as to make plain the potential of others. I will also explore, however, how seemingly honest conversation can equally disguise the power dynamic of intimate relationships...'Honesty' remains the crucial term here: how we define it will affect profoundly the way in which we imagine people should relate to one another." (p.23)


An Epistle to a Friend, to perswade him to

the Wars.


Ake, Friend, from forth thy Lethargy: the Drum

  Beats brave, and loud in Europe, and bids come

All that dare rowse: or are not loth to quit

Their vitious Ease, and be o'erwhelm'd with it.

It is a call to keep the Spirits alive

That gasp for action, and would yet revive

Man's buried Honour, in his sleepy Life:

Quickning dead Nature, to her noblest strife.

[column break]

All other acts of Worldlings are but toil

In dreams, begun in hope, and end in spoil.

Look on th' ambitious Man, and see him nurse

His unjust hopes, with praises begg'd, or (worse)

Bought Flatteries, the issue of his Purse,

Till he become both their, and his own Curse!

Look on the false, and cunning Man, that loves

No person, nor is lov'd: what ways he proves

To gain upon his belly; and at last

Crush'd in the Snaky Brakes, that he had past!

See the grave, sower, and supercilious Sir,

In outward Face, but inward, light as Fur,

Or Feathers: lay his Fortune out to show,

Till Envy wound, or maim it at a blow!

See him that's call'd, and thought the happiest Man,

Honour'd at once, and envy'd (if it can

Be, HONOUR is so mixt) by such as would

For all their spight, be like him, if they could:

No part or corner Man can look upon,

But there are Objects bid him to be gone

As far as he can fly, or follow Day,

Rather than here so bogg'd in Vices stay,

The whole World here leaven'd with Madness swells?

And being a thing blown out of nought, rebels

Against his Maker; high alone with Weeds,

And impious Rankness of all Sects and Seeds:

Nor to be check'd, or frighted now with Fate,

But more licentious made, and desperate!

Our Delicacies are grown capital,

And even our Sports are Dangers! what we call

Friendship is now mask'd Hatred! Justice fled,

And Shamefac'dness together! All Laws dead

That kept Man living! Pleasures only sought!

HONOUR AND HONESTY, as poor things thought

As they are made! Pride and stiff Clownage mixt

To make up Greatness! and Mans whole good fix'd

In Bravery, or Gluttony, or Coyn,

All which he makes the Servants of the Groin,

Thither it flaws,flows how much did Stallion spend

To have his Court-bred-filly there commend

His Lace and Starch: And fall upon her back

In admiration, stretch'd upon the Rack

Of Lust, to his rich Suit and Title, Lord?

I, that's a Charm and half! She must afford

That all Respect; She must lie down: Nay, more,

'Tis there Civility to be a Whore;

He's one of Blood and Fashion! and with these

The Bravery makes, she can no Honour leese

To do't with Cloth, or Stuffs, Lusts Name might merit

With Velvet, Plush, and Tissues, it is Spirit.

   O, these so ignorant Monsters! light, as proud,

Who can behold their Manners, and not Clowd-

Like upon them lighten? If Nature could

Not make a Verse, Anger or Laughter would,

To see 'em aye discoursing with their Glass,

How they may make some one that day an Ass,

Planting their Purls, and Curls, spread forth like Net,

And every Dressing for a Pitfall set

To catch the Flesh in, and to pound a Prick

Be at their Visits, see 'em squeamish, sick,

Ready to cast at one, whose Band sits ill,

And then leap mad on a neat Pickardill;

As if a Brize were gotten i' their Tail,

And firk, and jerk, and for the Coach-man rail,

And jealous each of other, yet think long

To be abroad, chanting some bawdy Song,

And laugh, and measure Thighs, then squeak, spring, itch,

Do all the Tricks of a sautvariant of 'salt' Lady Bitch;

For t'other Pound of Sweet-meats, he shall feel

That pays, or what he will. The Dame is Steel;

For these with her young Company she'll enter,

Where Pittes, or Wright, or Modet would not venter,

And comes by these Degrees the Stile t' inherit,

Of Woman of Fashion, and a Lady of Spirit:

 Nor is the Title question'd with our proud,

Great, brave, and fashion'd folk, these are allow'd

Adulteries now, are not so hid, or strange,

They're grown Commodity upon Exchange;

He that will follow but another's Wife,

Is lov'd, though he let out his own for life:

The Husband now's call'd churlish, or a poor

Nature, that will not let his Wife be a Whore;

Or use all Arts, or haunt all Companies

That may corrupt her, even in his Eyes.

The Brother trades a Sister; and the Friend

Lives to the Lord, but to the Ladies End.

Less must not be thought on than Mistris: or

If it be thought, kill'd like her Embrions; for

Whom no great Mistris, hath as yet infam'd

A Fellow of course Letchery, is nam'd

The Servant of the Serving-Woman in scorn,

Ne'er came to taste the plenteous Marriage-Horn.

   Thus they do talk. And are these Objects fit

For Man to spend his Money on? his Wit?

His Time? Health? Soul? Will he for these go throw

Those Thousands on his Back, shall after blow

His Body to the Counters, or the Fleet?

Is it for these that fine Man meets the Street

Coach'd, or on Foot-cloth, thrice chang'd every day,

To teach each Suit, he has the ready way

From Hide-Park to the Stage, where at the last

His dear and borrow'd Bravery he must cast?

When not his Combs, his Curling-Irons, his Glass,

Sweet Bags, sweet Powders, nor sweet Words will pass

For less Security? O           'God' censored? (Gifford interpolates 'heavens!' 

but the meter would be wrong) for these

Is it that Man pulls on himself Disease?

Surfeit? and Quarrel? Drinks the tother Health?

Or by Damnation voids it? or by stealth?

What Fury of late is crept into our Feasts?

What Honour given to the Drunkennest Guests?

What Reputation to bear one Glass more?

When oft the Bearer is borne out of Door?

This hath our ill-us'd Freedom, and soft Peace

Brought on us, and will every Hour increase

Our Vices, do not tarry in a place,

But being in Motion still (or rather in Race)

Tilt one upon another, and now bear

This way, now that, as if their number were

More than themselves, or than our Lives could take,

But both fell prest under the load they make.

   I'll bid thee look no more, but flee, flee Friend,

This Præcipice, and Rocks that have no end,

Or side, but threatens Ruin. The whole Day

Is not enough now, but the Nights to play:

And whilst our States, Strength, Body, and Mind we waste;

Go make our selves the Usurers at a cast.

He that no more for Age, Cramps, Palsies, can

Now use the Bones, we see doth hire a Man

To take the Box up for him; and pursues

The Dice with glassen Eyes, to the glad Viewersviews

Of what he throws: Like Letchers grown content

To be beholders, when their Powers are spent.

   Can we not leave this Worm? or will we not?

Is that the truer Excuse? or have we got

In this, and like, an itch of Vanity,

That scratching now's our best Felicity?

Well, let it go. Yet this is better than

To lose the Forms, and Dignities of Men,Man

To flatter my good Lord, and cry his Bowl

Runs sweetly, as it had his Lordship's Soul:

Although, perhaps it has, what's that to me,

That may stand by, and hold my peace? will he

When I am hoarse, with praising his each Cast,

Give me but that again, that I must waste

In Sugar Candid, or in butter'd Beer,

For the recovery of my Voice? No, there

Pardon his Lordship. Flatt'ry's grown so cheap

With him, for he is followed with that heap,

That watch, and catch, at what they may applaud

As a poor single Flatterer, without Bawd

Is nothing, such scarce Meat and Drink he'll give,

But he that's both, and slave to both, shall live,

And be belov'd, while the Whores last. O Times,

Friend fly from hence, and let these kindled Rhimes,

Light thee from Hell on Earth; where Flatterers, Spies,

Informers, Masters both of Arts and Lies;

Lewd Slanderers, soft Whisperers, that let blood

The life, and Fame-Veins (yet not understood

Of the poor Sufferers) where the envious, proud,

Ambitious, factious, superstitious, loud

Boasters, and perjur'd, with the infinite more

Prævaricators swarm: Of which the Store,

(Because th'are every where amongst Mankind

Spread through the World) is easier far to find,

Than once to number, or bring forth to hand,

Though thou wert Muster-Master of the Land.

   Go quit 'em all. And take along with thee,

Thy true Friends Wishes, Colby which shall be,

That thine be just, and HONEST, that thy Deeds

Not wound thy Conscience, when thy Body bleeds;

That thou dost all things more for Truth than Glory,

And never but for doing Wrong be sorry;

That by commanding first thy self, thou mak'st

Thy Person fit for any Charge thou tak'st,

That Fortune never make thee to complain,

But what she gives, thou dar'st give her again:

That whatsoever Face thy Fate puts on,

Thou shrink, or start not; but be always one,

That thou think nothing great, but what is good;

And from that thought strive to be understood.

So, 'live or dead, thou wilt preserve a Fame

Still precious, with the Odour of thy Name.

And last, blaspheme not, we did never hear

Man thought the valianter, 'cause he durst swear;

No more, than we should think a Lord had had

More HONOUR in him, 'cause we'ave known him mad:

These take, and now go seek thy peace in War,

Who falls for love of God, shall rise a Star.


Catherine M. Shaw. 'Dangerous Conceits Are in Their Natures Poisons': The Language of Othello

...The matter within Iago's goading to which Brabantio responds is again the double disgrace of public and private insult, social and sexual affront compounded by the clustering of words which have by association with each other and with Iago ceased to have any innocence of simple clarity and become aspects of Shakespeare's vision of evil. Again, honesty and honour are exposed and found wanting. Brabantio's conception of Desdemona's honesty, so clearly attached to his own self-conceit, crumbles under attack. Her honest testimony, while exonerating Othello from the charge of witchcraft, confirms her dishonesty for Brabantio and , therefore, his dishonour. Positive has become negative.

That Brabantio is verbally seduced into exhibiting a diminished view of what honesty and honour are or should be does not mean, however, that he is not an honourable man. Honour, as Curtis Brown Watson has show, has many facets and, indeed, includes public as well as immortal reputation, nobility of rank as well as of mind, good name as well as good deeds. When the clear and simple fact, 'Desdemona has eloped with Othello,' is replaced by "An old black ram is tupping your white ewe,' that honour gained through nobility of mind and deed and through Branbantio's confidence in Desdemona's honesty, her 'still and quiet' spirit, in both of which he can have justifiable pride, is replace by linguistic opposites *and the violent inversion is more than he can sustain.*


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

Now, brother, I do not by these letters make challenge of your words for, if you list to forget them, my putting in remembrance will be bitter, and to small purpose. Only this now is mine intention, not to tell any new thing, but that which is already known unto you. The matter, after it had received many crosses, many inventions of delay, yet at length hath been heard before all the judges…, but now time and truth have unmasked all difficulties and I do understand the judges are, if they will be indifferent, to make a good report to her Majesty. Yet (I know not by what unfortunate star), there are so many disposed to withstand it as the truth, much oppressed by the friends of the contrary part, is likely, if not wholly to be defaced, yet so extenuated as the virtue thereof will be of little effect.


Now the matter depending in this sort, I find my state weak and destitute of friends for, having only relied always on her Majesty, I have neglected to seek others, and this trust of mine, many things considered, I fear may deceive me. Another confidence I had in yourself, in whom (without offence let me speak it) I am to cast some doubt by reason as, in your last letters I found a wavering style much differing from your former assurances, I fear now to be left in medio rerum omnium certamine et discrimine which, if it so fall out, I shall bear it, by the grace of God, with an equal mind sith time and experience have given me sufficient understanding of worldly frailty. But I hope better (though I cast the worst), howsoever, for finis coronat opus, and then everything will be laid open, every doubt resolved into a plain sense. 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.


I hope her Majesty, after so many gracious words which she gave me at Greenwich upon her departure, exceeding this which I expect, will not now draw in the beams of her princely grace to my discouragement and her own detriment. Neither will I conceive otherwise of your virtue and affection towards me now, at the end, than I apprehended all good hope and kindness from you in the beginning. Thus with a lame hand to write I take my leave, but with a mind well disposed to hope the best of my friends till otherwise I find them, which I fear nothing at all, assuring myself your words and deeds dwell not asunder.


Thus, with a LAME hand to write I take my leave --Oxford


Near Antonyms

high-minded, honest, honorable, noble, principled, redoubtable, reputable, right-minded, scrupulous, upright; ethical, good, moral, right, righteous, virtuous



As a decrepit father takes delight

To see his active child do deeds of youth,

So I, made lame by fortune's dearest spite,

Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.

For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,

Or any of these all, or all, or more,

Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit,

I make my love engrafted to this store:

So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,

Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give

That I in thy abundance am sufficed

And by a part of all thy glory live.

Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee:

This wish I have; then ten times happy me! 


 Catherine M Shaw con't.

It is perhaps fitting that the Moor himself is the last person in the play to use the word honesty and that it is made inseparable from honour. When , after an ineffectual attempt to attack Iago, Othello is disarmed by Montano, the formerly 'noble and valiant general' says:

But why should honour outlive honesty?

Let it go all. (v.ii.243-6)

Jorgensen does not cite this particular passage in his study 'Honesty in Othello,' but I assume he would read the lines as the Moor's weary dismissal of those positive values which were once his. 'Here it is proven that I am not even brave. But why should I who am proven dishonourable concern myself any more with the mere symbol of honour when honesty, the word and its symbol, is dead. Let them both go.' At least in part Willeam Empson's comment complements this view. The taking of Othello's sword, he points out, 'is a mark of disgrace, a symbol of cuckoldry' two possible negations of honour and honesty.' Honour and honesty, however have the same root and are as inseparable in this play as are the sexual and military aspects of the sword imagery. The action of the play has destroyed true honour and true honesty and therefore the words, once quick with meaning, are as impotent as Othello and as dead as Desdemona.


Oxford to Cecil, 12 June 1603.

My very good Lord, I know that you are so charged with public affairs that you can have little leisure, or none at all, to undertake a private cause, especially concerning another. This therefore which you do for me, I do conceive it in your particular favour, and so I take it, and you shall find me therefor ever thankful. These shall be therefore to desire your Lordship that with my very good Lord and friend my Lord Admiral, that you will procure me a full end of this suit wherein I have spent so long a time, and passed the greatest part of mine age. The cause is right, the king just, and I do not doubt but your Lordships both mine honourable friends, according to your words I shall find you in deeds...

Your Lordship's most assured friend and brother-in-law.

Edward Oxenford


Beauty, truth, and rarity,

Grace in all simplicity,

Here enclosed in cinders lie.

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.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Billy Budd as the Best Part of Shakespeare

Jonson, Poetaster

Ovid Jr.

...The suffering plough-share or the flint may wear;
     But heavenly Poesy no death can fear.
     Kings shall give place to it, and kingly shows,
     The banks o'er which gold-bearing Tagus flows.
     Kneel hinds to trash: me let bright Phoebus swell
     With cups full flowing from the Muses' well.
     Frost-fearing myrtle shall impale my head,
     And of sad lovers I be often read.
     Envy the living, not the dead, doth bite!
     For after death all men receive their right.
     Then, when this body falls in funeral fire,
     My name shall live, and MY BEST PART ASPIRE.

Venus and Adonis - Shakespeare:

Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.


"There is another reason that excuseth B [note - Ben Jonson]., which is, that is one be allowed to love the natural issue of his body, why not that of the brain, which is of a spiritual and more noble extraction?" (note- not marked in Melville's copy of Hazlitt)

Captain Edward Fairfax Vere - Master of Man-o-war Bellipotent/Indomitable

Melville's Testament of Acceptance
E. L. Grant Watson

...Here is Melville at his very best, at his deepest, most poetic, and therefore at his most concentrated, most conscious. Every image has its significant implication: the very roll of the heavily-cannoned ship so majestic in moderate weather - the musket in the ship armourer's rack; and Billy's last words are the triumphant seal of his acceptance, and they are more than that, for in this supreme passage [note - God Bless Captain Vere] a communion between PERSONALITY at its purest, most-God-given form, and CHARACTER, hard-hammered from the imperfect material of life on the battleship Indomitable, is here suggested, and one feels that the souls of Captain Vere and Billy are at the moment STRANGELY ONE.

Strong's Concordance

tupos: a figure, model, type
Original Word: τύπος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: tupos
Phonetic Spelling: (too'-pos)
Definition: typically
Usage: (originally: the MARK of a BLOW [note- Billy's fist], then a stamp struck by a die), (a) a figure; a copy, image, (b) a pattern, model, (c) a type, prefiguring something or somebody.


Shakespeare's Man-o-War Body:

From 'The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare. Life. New facts regarding the life.

...But from some cause or other, which it is not our present business to explore, each of these editors, in his turn, has disappointed the just expectations of the public; and, with an inversion of Nature's general rule, the little men have finally prevailed against the great. The blockheads have hooted the wits from the field' and, attaching themselves to the mighty body of Shakspeare, like barnacles to the hull of a proud MAN-O-WAR, they are prepared to plough with him the vast ocean of time; and thus, by the only means in their power to snatch themselves from that oblivion to which Nature had devoted them. It would be unjust, however, to defraud these gentlemen of their proper praise. They have read for men of talents; and, by their gross labor in the mine, they have accumulated materials to be arranged and polished by the hand of the finer artist. - Some apology may be necessary for this short digression from the more immediate subject of my biography. [Dr. Symmons, Intro., p. xxv]

(Italicized words marked with a line in the margin in Melville's copy)



Billy Budd/Beauty - noble foundling

'Yes, Billy Budd was a foundling, a presumable by-blow, and, evidently, no ignoble one. Noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse.' (Melville, _Billy Budd_)

There was “something in the mobile expression and every chance attitude and movement, something suggestive of a mother eminently favoured by Love and the Graces” (235-6)


1850: "Hawthorne and His Mosses" by Herman Melville

"Would that all excellent BOOKS were FOUNDLINGS, without father or
mother, that so it might be we could glorify them, without including
their ostensible authors."

“I know not what would be the right name to put on the title-page
of an excellent book, but this I feel, that the names of all fine
authors are fictitious ones, far more than that of Junius,-- simply
standing, as they do, for the mystical, ever-eluding SPIRIT of all
BEAUTY, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius. Purely imaginative
as this fancy may appear, it nevertheless seems to receive some
warranty from the fact, that on a personal interview no great author
has ever come up to the idea of his reader. But that dust of which our
bodies are composed, how can it fitly express the nobler intelligences
among us?”

Melville - a “virtue went out of” Billy and “sugared” the crew.


Hazlitt - from Melville's Library. Lecture II. On Shakespeare and Jonson 

Extract from Howel's Letters (From a supper with Ben Jonson)
From James Howel, Esq., to Sir Thomas Hawk, Kt.
Westminster, 5th April, 1636
I was invited yesternight to a solemn supper by B.J., where you were deeply remembered; there was good company, excellent cheer, choice wines, jovial welcome: one thing intervened, which almost spoiled the relish of the rest, that B. began to engross all the discourse, to vapour extremely by himself, and, by vilifying others, to magnify his own Muse. T. Ca (Tom Carew) buzzed me in the ear, that though Ben had barrelled up a great deal of knowledge, yet it seems he had not read the ethics, which, among other precepts of morality, forbid self-commendation, declaring it to be an ill-favoured solecism in good manners. It made me think upon the lady (not very young) who, having a good while given her guest neat entertainment, a capon being brought upon the table, instead of a spoon, she took a mouthful of claret, and spouted into the hollow bird: such an accident happened in this entertainment: you know -  propria, laus sordet in ore: be a man's breath ever so sweet, yet it makes one's praise stink, if he makes his own mouth the conduit-pipe of it. But, for may part, I am content to dispense with the Roman infirmity of Ben, now that time hath snowed upon his pericranium. You know Ovid and (your) Horace were subject to this humour, the first bursting out into - 

Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ir nec ignis, etc.

The other into- 

Exegi monumentum aere perennius, etc.

As also Cicero, while he forced himself into this hexameter: O fortunatum natam me consule Romam! There is another reason that excuseth B., which is, that if one be allowed to love the natural issue of his body, why not that of the brain, which is of a spiritual and more noble extraction?" (note- not marked in Melville's copy of Hazlitt)

E. L. Grant Watson
All the grim setting of the world is in the battleship Indomitable; war and threatened mutiny are the conditions of her existence. Injustice and inhumanity are implicit, yet Captain Vere, her commander, is the man who obeys the law and yet understands the truth of the spirit.
In Captain Vere we find a figure which may interestingly be compared to Pontius Pilate. Like Pilate, he condemns the just man to a shameful death, knowing him to be innocent, but, unlike Pilate, he does not wash his hands, but manfully assumes the full responsibility, and in such a way as to take the half, if not more than the half, of the bitterness of the execution upon himself. We are given to suppose that there is an affinity, a spiritual understanding between Captain Vere and Billy Budd, and it is even suggested that in their partial and separate existences they contribute two essential portions of that larger spirit which is man. Such passages as that quoted lie on the surface of this story, but they indicate the depths beneath. There are darker hints: those deep, far-away things in Vere, those occasional flashings-forth of intuition - short, quick probings to the very axis of reality.

(See 'Melville's Billy Budd and the Disguises of Authorship', Stritmatter, Anderson and Stone - shows how Grant Watson took this description of Vere from Melville's description of Shakespeare in 'Hawthorne and his Mosses' - deep faraway things..)

Melville's edition Shakespeare:
'The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare. Life. New facts regarding the life.

So exquisite, indeed, appears to have been his relish of the quiet, which was his portion within the walls of New Place, that it induced a complete oblivion of all that had engaged his attention, and had aggrandized his name, in the preceding scenes of his life. Without any regard to his literary fame, either present or to come, he saw with perfect unconcern some of his immortal works brought, mutilated and deformed, before the world, in surreptitious copies; and others of them, with an equal indifference to their fate, her permitted to remain in their unrevised or interpolated MSS. in the hand of the theatric prompter. There is not, probably, in the whole compass of literary history, such another instance of a proud superiority to what has been called by a rival genius, 

"The last infirmity of noble minds,"

As that which was not exhibited by our illustrious Dramatist and Poet.


Melville (of Vere)  - 'The spirit that spite its philosophic austerity may yet have indulged in the most secret of all passions, ambition, never attained to the fulness of fame.' 

Said of Vere in Billy Budd. Look at Symmons essay that describes Shaksberd's complete disregard for fame of any of the 'offspring of his brain'. Also quotes Milton's Lycidas 'ambition the last infirmity of  noble minds

Captive Good Attending Captain Ill:

Symmons essay in Melville's Shakespeare mention Dr. Johnson's criticism of Sh. Johnson faulting him for 'sacrificing virtue to convenience'. Essays describing Vere's sacrifice of Billy to the rules and  'measured forms' of the warship tend to emphasize how Vere sacrifices truth and 'morality' for the sake of political expediency.

"Billy Budd, Foretopman" and the Dynamics of Canonization
Hershel Parker 

...E.L Grant Watson, a British naturalist and literary man, published in 1930 in the New England Quarterly a reading of Pierre which for decades stood as the most sensitive tribute to that book. He followed it in the same journal with a 1933 article on Billy Budd as "Melville's Testament of Acceptance" - with "testament" carrying the sense of last will but also in the scriptural sense, for he saw the work as Melville's "gospel story." Melville himself, Watson said, in Billy Budd is "no longer a rebel," nor is Billy. Rather, the "supreme quality of acceptance" marks Billy, and Captain Vere as well. Drawing some phraseology from Melville's essay on Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse, Watson stressed the provocative, haunting qualities of the work: "There are darker hints: those deep, far-away things in Vere, those occasional flashings-forth of intuition - short quick probings to the very axis of reality"
By 1940 in his article in the University of Toronto Quarterly on Melville's "metaphysics of evil" R.E. Watters could loftily hold up *the power of love in Billy Budd as a pattern man imprints on the blackness of the cosmos.*
Detailed academic criticism, what we think of as "close reading" of the text, began with great appropriateness, in the quintessentially New Critical journal, The Explicator (December 1943). There T.T. E. observed that in Ch. 6 the narrator speaks admiringly of Vere's disinterested mental processes, but later makes Vere's arguments at the trial hinge on the "practical consequences" if Billy is not hanged at once. T.T.E asked: "Are we to regard this disparity as an oversight or as one of the essential ambiguities in the story? Does it perhaps point the way to regarding the novel as more concerned with social repercussions and less concerned with personal ethics than is customary? In this respect the 'Preface' deserves especial note". Ironically, this first piece of academic criticism demonstrated the problematic nature of the characterization of Vere, evident when anyone pays close attention to the words in any text, not just the Weaver text; (snip)

Prospero, Tempest

...But this rough magic
I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Melville, Billy in the Darbies

...But me they’ll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I’ll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease these darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair.
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.

Milton, Lycidas
 Alas! what boots it with incessant care
To tend the homely, slighted shepherd's trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra's hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. "But not the praise,"
Phoebus replied, and touch'd my trembling ears;
"Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th'world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav'n expect thy meed." 
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat'ry floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high
Through the dear might of him that walk'd the waves;
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more:
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood. 

Billy/Fair youth

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away;
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee;
The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
My spirit is thine, the better part of me;
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered;
The worth of that, is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains

Billy Budd -answer to Shakespeare authorship and solution to Phoenix and Turtle (Beauty and Truth) 

William Shakespeare - offspring of the 'chaste' marriage of the true minds of Phoenix and Turtle. Vere's compliment to the Queen. 

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The (Droeshout) Face as the Figure of Figuration

The face is the "figure for figuration" -- Wendy Beth Hyman

This Figure, that thou here feest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut:
Wherein the Grauer had a strife
with Naure, to out-doo the life:
O, could he but haue dravvne his vvit
As vvell in brasse, as he hath hit
Hisface; the Print vvould then surpasse
All, that vvas euer in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his picture, but his Booke.

Though all her parts be not in th'usuall place
She hath yet an Anagram of a good face.


Wendy Beth Hyman
Impossible Desire and the Limits of Knowledge in Renaissance Poetry --

A Bawd for Figure

The intellectual history that we have been considering here is reflected not only in these heterogeneous source materials, but also in underlying etymologies that presume and enable the interposition of (poetic) figuration and (human) embodiment. That ubiquitous term "figure," variously used to refer to bodies, alphabetic characters, and verse itself, is especially relevant to the complexity involved in theorizing poetic matter, as it contains components of both maker and made, of both materiality and intangible metaphoricity. It suggest that these paradoxical components are always involved in acts of poetic making, and illuminates that inscrutable "thingness" of poetic language: or why one can say "it figures" that human figures compose written figures to form the figurative language of poetry.

At its most basic level, of course, a "figure" is a body, a form, an outline, or a palpable shape. Here, the dense materiality of the term seems moost evident, consistent with linguistic evolution more generally, insofar as physical objects (nouns) are often points of origin which only later become metaphorized, or conscripted for verbal action or adjectival use. Even in this original form, "figure is internally contradictory, for it refers at once to a solid shape or body and yet also to its mere outline. The idea of "figure" as a ghostly trace or photographic negative is, therefore, not far behind. A similar complexity can be seen in the more metaphorical derivations of the word. Many of the earliest meanings apply this concept of bodily shape to seemingly non-bodily forms: alphabetic letters, mathematical signs, symbols for musical notation. The analogy between human body and letterform, or human body and semiotic symbol, is therefore an ancient one, and has several resonances. More purely linguistic valences of "figure" present it as even more immaterial, although all related at least tangentially to shape, structure, or form. A "figure of speech" conveys the sense of common knowledge, shaped or molded into sententiousness. "Figurative" language might be thought of as literal language that has been reshaped for multiple signification, with poetry in particular as "a manner of utterance more eloquent and rhetoricall than ordinarie prose...because it is decked and set out with all maner of fresh colours and figures. (Quote?) In its verb form, likewise, "to figure" is to conceptualize by forming shapes in one's own mind, almost an inverse of the dictum ut pictura poiesis: to think is to "figure," or to draw mental pictures.

Bodily shapes, written characters, metaphorical language, cogitation: these various meanings, related and yet in tension with each other, remind us just hoe fully this word "figure" - like its cousins "shape" and "form" and "body" - signifies both the thing made, and the act of making, both the palpable material and the immaterial idea. One might sense some duplicity in this shape-shifting power of figure. And indeed, much as it is both the shape and the ghostly trace, "figure" is both the real and the fake. In the terms presented by the OED, "figure," on the one hand, is an "embodied (human) form." But it is, on the other, and "imaginary form" or a mere "artificial representation of the human." Again, its inextricable relationship to the body - and , as we will see, *the blazoned face* in particular - is inseparable from its complex semiosis.  Julian Yates, citing anthropologist Michael Taussig's reflections on Levinas, considers the human face as "the figure of appearance, the appearance of appearance, the figure of figuration." This dual nature of the figural is not the product of critical ingenuity, but was surprisingly NATURALIZED WITHIN EARLY MODERN RHETORICAL THEORY. As Blount remarked of metaphor - the most figurative of figures - "A METAPHOR is pleasant because it enriches our knowledge with two things at once, the Truth, and a Similitude." (note - Thomas Blount, The Academy of Eloquence).

If figure could be both "truth" and "similitude," it was because it had a disconcerting power to make, unmake, and recombine form. It built things where none had been before, and its recombinatory power was essentially infinite. Such and understanding of language's elemental power might have been encouraged through the invention of movable metal type, as mentioned previously. But, again, it also had a crucial point of origin in Lucretius' repeated analogy: "as all words share one alphabet, so too/ Many things may be made from the same atoms." And once atomism had, as Michail Vlasopoulos puts it, "reduced everything to an array of indivisible units," then "all forms - from microscopic constituents to larger and more complex structures - became understood as architectures, which is to say actualizations with the same capacity to be combined, shuffled and scattered." Language, in this derivation of materialism, was essentially raw matter waiting for a framing hand - a poet's framing hand.


No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old;
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
   This I do vow and this shall ever be;
   I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.


Jonson, Cynthia's Revels

The Court.
Hou 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 Mens 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. It is not Powd'ring, Perfuming, and every day smelling of the Taylor, that converteth to a Beautiful Object: but a Mind shining through any Sute, which needs no False Light, either of Riches or Honours, to help it. Such shalt thou find some here, even in the Reign of C Y N T H I A, (a C R I T E S and an A R E T E.) Now, under thy P H œ B U S, it will be thy Province to make more: Except thou desirest to have thy Source mix with the Spring of Self-love, and so wilt draw upon thee as welcom a Discovery of thy Days, as was then made of her Nights.
Thy Servant, but not Slave,          


Cynthia's Revels, Jonson

Cupid: What's he [note - Amorphus], Mercury?

Mercury: A notable Smelt. One, that hath newly enter-
tain'd the Begger to follow him, but cannot get him to
wait near enough. 'Tis Asotus, the Heir of Philargyrus;
but first I'll give ye the others Character, which may
make his the clearer. He that is with him is Amorphus
a Traveller, one so made out of the mixture and shreds
of forms, that himself is truly deform'd.


The face is the "figure for figuration" -- Wendy Beth Hyman

BEN. JOHNSON - Cynthia's Revels
Act II.    Scene III.
Amorphus, Asotus, Cos, Prosaites, Cupid. Mercury.
Ome Sir. You are now within regard of the Pre-
 sence, and see, the privacy of this Room, how
sweetly it offers it self to our retir'd intendments. Page,
cast a vigilant, and enquiring Eye about, that we be
not rudely surpriz'd, by the approach of some ruder
   Cos. I warrant you, Sir. I'll tell you when the Wolf
enters, fear nothing.
[column break]
   Mer. O, what a mass of benefit shall we possess, in be-
ing the invisible Spectators of this STRANGE SHOW now to
be acted.
   Amo. Plant your self there, Sir: and observe me. You
shall now, as well be the Ocular, as the Ear-witness,
how clearly I can refel that paradox, or rather pseudodox;
of those, which hold the Face to be the Index of the
mind, which (I assure you) is not so, in any politick
Creature: for instance; I will now give you the parti-
cular, and distinct face of every your most noted species
of Persons, as your Merchant, your Schollar, your
Soldier, your Lawyer, Courtier, &c. and each of these
so truly, as you would swear, but that your Eye shall
see the variation of the Lineament, it were my most
proper and genuine aspect. First, for your Merchant,
or City-face, 'tis thus, a dull, plodding Face, still look-
ing in a direct line, forward: there is no great matter
in this Face. Then have you your Students, or aca-
demique Face, which is here, an honest, simple, and
methodical Face: but somewhat more spred than the
former. The third is your Soldiers Face, a menacing,
and astounding Face, that looks broad, and big: the
grace of this Face consisteth much in a Beard. The anti-
face, to this, is your Lawyers Face, a contracted, sub-
tile, and intricate Face, full of quirks, and turnings,
a labyrinthæan Face, now angularly, now circularly, e-
very way aspected. Next is your statist's Face, a seri-
ous, solemn, and supercilious Face, full of formal, and
square Gravity, the Eye (for the most part) deeply and
artificially shadow'd: there is great judgment required
in the making of this Face. But now, to come to your
Face of Faces, or Courtiers Face, 'tis of three sorts,
according to our subdivision of a Courtier, Elementary,
Practick, and Theorick. Your Courtier Theorick, is
he, that hath arriv'd to his farthest, and doth now
know the Court, rather by speculation, than practice;
and this is his Face: a fastidious and oblick Face, that
looks, as it went with a Vice, and were screw'd thus.
Your Courtier Practick, is he, that is yet in his Path,
his course, his way, and hath not toucht the puntilio,
or point of his hope; his Face is here: a most promi-
sing, open, smooth, and over-flowing Face, that seems
as it would run, and pour it self into you. Somewhat
a northerly Face. Your Courtier Elementary, is one
but newly enter'd, or as it were in the alphabet, or ut-re-
mi-fa-sol-la of Courtship. Note well this Face, for it is
this you must practice.
   Aso. I'll practice 'em all, if you please, Sir.
   Amo. I, hereafter you may: and it will not be alto-
gether an ungrateful study. 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
Face, and (simply) respects nothing else. Therefore,
if that can be made exactly, curiously, exquisitely,
thorowly, it is enough: But (for the present) you shall
only apply your self to this Face of the Elementary
Courtier, a light, revelling, and protesting Face, now
blushing, now smiling, which you may help much with
a wanton wagging of your Head, thus, (a Feather will
teach you) or with kissing your Finger that hath the
Ruby, or playing with some String of your Band, which
is a most quaint kind of melancholy besides: or (if a-
mong Ladies) laughing lowd, and crying up your own
Wit, though perhaps borrow'd, it is not amiss. Where
is your Page? call for your Casting-bottle, and place
your mirrour in your Hat, as I told you: so. Come,
look not pale, observe me, set your face, and enter.
   Mer. O, for some excellent Painter, to have tane the
Copy of all these Faces!

Jonson, on Shakespeare

Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to SHOW
To whom all SCENES of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !


Thus the epigram "On Something, that Walks Somewhere" (Epigrams XI)equates "brave" or ostentatious dress with the activity of "SEEMING" good, substantial and duly paternal -- namely, "a statesman" (1-2).This configuration of effects or signs typifies the presumptive courtier and fashionable man-about-town in such satires as "On the New Motion," "On Don Surly," "To Mime," or supremely "On the Town's Honest Man," one of Jonson's attacks on Inigo Jones, the author of "shows, shows, mighty shows" ("An Expostulation with Inigo Jones" [39]). And because they commit this fraud to acquire illegitimate status and power (an argument usually taken up in the verse epistles like "To a Friend, to Persuade Him to the Wars" [Underwoods XV]), the effeminate invariably break the grand taboo of insurgency against the status quo, in the process becoming prodigious and deformed. Accordingly, to the moral imposture of statesmanship manufactured from clothes, title and grave looks, Jonson's little epigram adds the concomitance of sexual disfigurement and monstrosity, simultaneously neutering and denaturing the courtier with his choice of pronoun and the command to "walk dead still" (8). If one may return again to Epicoene, the synergy of moral imposture and artificial display is the argument made by Clerimont's song ("Still to be neat, still to be dressed"): the presumption that especially where "art's hid causes are not found, / All is not sweet, all is not sound" (4-6). Every vice in Jonson's satires involves a similar practice of deceit, especially of the EYE, and is exposed to the shrewd observer by the sort of excessive display put on by the lady here: "Still to be neat, still to be dressed, / As you were going to a feast; / Still to be powdered, still perfumed" (1-3). The iteration of "still" conveys a further quality of the semblances of vice, which is that they involve an immense activity merely to "appear" like virtue. The vicious are thus singularly mobile in Jonson, an image of their seditious and epidemic pictorial energy. And the shrubs, the courtlings, the Captains Hungry and Surly, the Guts and Groins, my Lords Ignorant, the plagiarists and censors, the spies, the Fine Lady Would-be's, Court Pucell's, all in one way or another follow this same pattern. They each undertake to create an illusion that Jonson detects in the very excess or ostentation, the virulent energy of its display, whether this illusion is created by speech, by dress, by title, by profession, or in the case of Sir Voluptuous Beast, by panoramic sex.

(Added July 11)

To the L A D Y most deserving Her N A M E and B L O O D,

      Mary Lady Wroth. MADAM,

IN the (A)ge of Sacrifices, the Truth of (R)eligion was not in the Greatn(E)ss and Fat of the Offerings, bu(T) in the Devotion and Zeal of th(E) Sacrificers: Else what could a Handful of Gums have done in the sight of a Hecatomb? Or, how might I appear at this Altar, except with those Affections that no less love the Light and Witness, than they have the Conscience of your *VER(tu)E*? If what I offer bear (A)n acceptable Odour, and hold the first St(R)ength, it is your Value of it, which rememb(E)rs where, when, and to whom it was kindled. O(T)herwise, as the Times are, there comes rar(E)ly forth that Thing so full of Authority or Example, but by Assiduity and Custom grows less, and loses. This, yet, safe in your Judgment (which is a SIDNEYS) is forbidden to speak more, lest it talk or look like one of the Ambitious FACES of the Time, who the more they PAINT, are the less themselves.

Your Ladiships *TRUE* Honourer, BEN. JOHNSON.   


to START FORTH, and SEEM. -- Jonson

Jonson, on Shakespeare

Look how the father's FACE
Lives in his issue, even so the race
Of Shakspeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well turned and true filed lines;
In each of which he *SEEMS* to shake a lance,
As brandisht at the *EYES* of IGNORANCE.

Staple of News, Prologue for the Court

The P R O L O G U E for the C O U R T.
Work not smelling of the Lamp, to night,
But fitted for your Majesty's Disport,
And writ to the MERIDIAN of Your Court,
We bring; and hope it may produce Delight:
The rather, being offered as a Rite,
To Scholars, that can judge, and fair report
The Sense they hear, above the VULGAR SORT
Of Nut-crackers, that only come for SIGHT...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Essential Oxford and Elizabeth Incorporated in Shake-speare

I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of any man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expounds this Dream.
In a magnanimous gesture (and a desperate hope to have his estate repaired?) Oxford presented Shake-speare to Queen Elizabeth as the shared posterity of their respective minds - their 'marriage of true minds'.

Phoenix and Turtle -

The bird of loudest lay becomes Shakespeare's poetry, rising from the ashes of the love from which it draws inspiration - Mutual Flame, Wilson Knight

Mutual Flame/ Oxford and Elizabeth/Marriage of True Minds
Shake-speare - Marston's wondrous creature incorporating minds of Oxford and his Queen.


Ascending the elements - earth, water, air, fire, quintessence/Ens/Mind

Phoenix and the Turtle

With what a spirit did the Turtle fly
Into the fire, and cheerfully did die.
He looked more pleasant in his countenance
Within the flame, than when he did advance
His pleasant wings upon the natural ground
True perfect love has so his poor heart bound.

Shake-speare as Marston's 'Creature' in Love's Martyr:

[Marston's] "Perfectioni hymnus": begins:

What should I call this creature
That now is grown unto maturity?

[He] ends with a witty adaptation of a Senecan sententia - "the difference between gods and mortals: in ourselves, mind is the best part indeed; but for the gods, there is mind alone, nothing else: - which Marston gives as
no Suburbs, all is mind
As far from spot as possible defining. (From Love's Martyr, Walter Oakshotte)


Exchanging Visions: Reading A Midsummer Night's Dream
David Marshall

...Hazlitt's and Lambs views about the fitness of A Midsummer Night's Dream for stage representation may or may not be persuasive, but they can teach us that one way to see the play is to recognize in this comic moment a *figure for the possibility of the play's impossibility. This would allow us to realize the senses in which the play is about the problems of representation and figuration: not only whether the play can be staged but also what it means to present a vision or an image to someone else's mind, to ask another person to see with one's eyes, to  become a spectator to someone else's vision. Such questions themselves raise questions about the conditions of theater: the power to enchant and transform vision; the possibility of autonomous minds or imaginations sharing dreams and fantasies; the difference between picturing a text in private reading and attending a public, collective spectacle. A Midsummer Night's Dream asks us to take seriously the dilemma of joining poetry and the stage. In adopting this perspective we will find ourselves considering yet another question: the possibility of what Shakespeare elsewhere called "the marriage of true minds."

Theseus - Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments,/Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth,/Turn melancholy forth to funerals,/The pale companion is not for our pomp'"


Marshall, con't.
This struggle over vision and imagination also characterizes the dispute between Oberon and Titania. Oberon's response to Titania's denial of his question, "Am I not thy lord?" is to seek control over her sight, to steal the impression of her fantasy. His strategy and revenge is to "streak her eyes/And make her full of hateful fantasies". With his magic he dictates how she will look and love, enthralling her eyes to Bottom's deformed shape until the moment he decides to "undo/This hateful imperfection of her eyes" and let her "See as thou wast wont to see". The changeling boy is ostensible the object of contention between Oberon and Titania, an occasion for both jealousy and disobedience. But it also represents and impression of Titania's fantasy that has been stolen from Oberon; when he says, " I'll make her render up her page to me" , we can hear a play on words which resonates in the context of the images and figures we have been juxtaposing. Just a Egeus insists on imprinting his own figures upon Hermia, Oberon wants to be the author of Titania's page. Egeus says that Hermia is to "render", Oberon is determined to make Titania render up the blank page of her imagination, surrender the rival image impressed on her fancy. It is with his power to replace the image of her love with the disfigured head of Bottom, to command her sight and fancy, to "leave the figure, or disfigure it" As a god, by the authority of his magic, Oberon enacts literally what Egeus and Theseus can perform only figuratively (or by coercion) when they tell Hermia to "fit your fancies to your father's will".

A Midsummer Night's Dream

“Injurious Hermia! most ungrateful maid! Have you conspired, have you with the contrived To bait me with this foul derision? Is all the counsel that we two have shared, The sisters' vows, the hours that we have spent, When we have chid the hasty-footed time For parting us,-O, and is all forgot? All school=days' friendship, childhood innocence? We, Hermia, like two artificial gods, Have with our neelds created both one flower, Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, Both warbling of one song, both in one key; As if our hands, our sides, voices, and minds, Had been INCORPORATE. So we grew together, Like to a double cherry, seeming parted, But yet an union in partition; Two lovely berries moulded on one stem; So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart, Two of the first, like coats in heraldry, Due but to one, and crowned with one crest, And will you rent our ancient love asunder, To join with men in scorning your poor friend? It is not friendly, 'tis not maidenly: Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it, Though I alone do feel the injury.”

Marshall, con't.

...We can further measure the seriousness of these images, as well as what they say about the conditions in which we find the play's characters, if we recognize in Helena's portrayal of an 'ancient love" and subsequent state of loss a picture of the emblem and story of love which Plato has Aristophanes present in The Symposium. Aristophanes' myth (which was extensively summarized in Ficino's popular commentary on The Symposium, proposes that we live in a fallen state, each of us a half of an original whole person frim which we have been severed. Love, then, both heterosexual and homosexual, " restores us to our ancient state by attempting to weld two beings into one...this is what everybody wants, and everybody would regard it as the precise expression of this desire...that he should melt into his beloved, and that henceforth they should be one instead of two. (...) Here Christian, classical and mythic imagery seem to come together to figure Helena's perception that what had been joined together in her ancient love has been put asunder.


Wall acts as visual metaphor, a 'translation of a metaphor in its literal sense" (to borrow Schlegel's description of Bottom's transmutation).

The magic of the play is that separate minds appear to be transfigured together; dreams (or what seem like dreams) appear to be shared.(...) The marriage of true minds that is the dream of theater presents the double prospect that it might mar us as it mends us, steal as it restores. What does the theater's figuring or disfigureing add up to ? Can theater's "transfiguring" mediate between or synthesize figuring and disfiguring? What do we exchange for our visions?


Marshall VI -
We have seen that A Midsummer Night's Dream dramatizes an economy of exchange, as if, like the Sonnets, its figures marked various registers with the expenses of loss and possession. The terms and imagery of theft are set down in the first scene, which pictures the "traffic in women" (to use Emma Goldman's phrase) upon which men for so long have founded their societies; and throughout the play, characters are figured as merchandise or stolen goods. (Hermia, Lysander, Helena, Demetrius, Egeus, Oberon, and Titania each "steal" or are stolen from or are stolen in the course of the paly.) The figure for these character-commodities is the child who rival Hermia as the most contested "property" in the play: the changeling boy that Titania is accused of having "stolen".  (According to folk tales, fairies stole lovely children and left deformed "changelings" in exchange; this boy is the changeling the fairies took, not left behind.) When Titania insists to Oberon that "the fairyland buys not the child of me" , she is perpetuating rather than rejecting terms that inscribe people in a system of economic relations. Her monologue pictures the boy as "merchandise" which his mother's womb, like a trader's ship, was "rich with". The changeling comes to represent all of the characters in the play who are traced or fought over as property. It also shows us that the other characters are changelings in the sense that the play's plot revolves around their exchanges: their substitutions and their interchangeability. Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia, and Helena all exchange one another (are exchanged for one another) in almost every possible switch and combination. Bottom, too, is "changed" and "translated". In becoming a disfigured substitute for Titania's changeling boy, he becomes both a changeling for himself (a  monster left in his own place) and a changeling for the changeling (which Titania has been tricked into exchanging). The changeling boy is mysteriously absent in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but in a sense he is everywhere, the play casts its characters as changelings.
We also could say that the play is performed by changelings because that is what actors are. For Shakespeare's spectators, the term "changeling" would have been a synonym for someone Protean who would not stay the same from one moment to the next. This is precisely the "ontological subversiveness" (as Jonas Barish has called it) that actors were condemned for in Elizabethan England. Actors take other's parts and places: they exchange themselves for others, substitute others for themselves. This is further compounded in A Midsummer Night's Dream because characters often seem to be changed into actors: as parts and partners are exchanged and mixed up, individual characters seem reduced to parts or roles. We watch changelings portray changelings.
   In another sense, changelings are everywhere in the play because they fill its pages and dialogue: they are its figures of speech. The figures that Titania employs to tell the changeling's story enact and figure exchange in various senses. Describing herself on the shore with the woman who is pregnant with the boy, she tropes the ships to see their "sails conceive/ And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind:. Then the metaphor doubles or reverses - it is exchanged-  as Titania tropes the woman to see her "rich" with her own human cargo, just as the woman tropes herself to "imitate" the ships and "sail upon the land/ To fetch me trifles, and return again, / As from a voyage, rich with merchandise. The woman and the hsips stand for each other, exchanging properties in a double sense. If we recognize the act of carrying and trading cargo performed by these literal and figurative ships to be transport (as in metapherein) then we see that these double metaphors both dramatize and figure metaphor as they transfer, transfigure, exchange, and carry across. Born of this mirror of metaphors, destined to be switched, substituted, and exchanged, the changeling is also a trope for tropes. It makes sense, then, that in The Arte of English Poesie, published in 1589l, Puttenham invents a rhetorical category called "Figures of Exchange" and names on of thos figures "the Changeling." Puttenham refers to exactly the sort of constructions the mechanicals make - "a play with wordes, using a wrong construction for a right, and an absurd for a sensible, by manner of exchange: - but we can see that in a sens all tropes act and changelings. The changeling figures figures.

Tha Puttenham uses "changeling" to mean something ill-formed which appears in the place of something fair (note Amorphus for Oxford?) reminds us that in A Midsummer Night's Dream the changeling is not the disfigured child. Appropriately, the play ends with a blessing by Oberon, who has authored many of the play's exchanges and deformations in pursuit of his page, to insure for the newly married couples that

the blots of Nature's hand
Shall not in their issue stand.
Never mole, hairlip, nor scar,
Nor mark prodigious, such as are
Despised in nativity,
Shall upon their children be. (V, i, 398-403)

Prefacing Puck's appeal for our blessing and his promise of amends, Oberon's reprise of the figure of the changeling might remind us of the questions facing us at the end of the play. We might wonder again if we who have rendered up the pages of our imaginations in exchange for the play leave the theater free (or freed) from blots or disfigurement. This is what worried us as we let the play imprint its figures on us, risking change and amending. Have we been stolen and left as changelings?

Patrick Cheney, Sublime

Amorphus is a figure of transport, and is composition, made up of ‘forms’ that are ‘deformed’, takes us into what we have previously described as Kantian territory. Amorphus is that sublime figure of form that has none (curiously akin to Marlowe’s Helen of Troy), accommodated to the Jonsonian public sphere...


Patrick Cheney
English Authorship and the Early Modern Sublime

     ...Sources of the sublime identified by Longinus appear in Hotspur’s speeches : ‘great thoughts’; inspired emotion’; heightened figuration; ‘noble diction’; and elevated word-arrangement’ (Longinus, On Sublimity 8.1: 149). Naturally, the actor of Shakespeare’s lines would perform the noble diction and elevated word-arrangement with inspired emotion, taking the character’s – the author’s – own cue: ‘Oh, the blood more stirs.’ Hotspur’s ‘elevated…figures of speech’, too, represent great thoughts, for, in his defence of ‘honor’, he imagines himself TRANSPORTED: his imagination travels across the horizontal coordinates of ‘east unto the west’, ‘north to south’, and up the vertical coordinate of the moon and down to the ocean-bottom – the ocean being, for Longinus, one of the principal images of the sublime. [full fathom five] Such transport is the premier trajectory that the sublime tracks. In his 1589 Art of English Poetry, George Puttenham calls ‘Metaphora’ the ‘figure of transport’, because the word ‘metaphor’ means to carry across, ‘a kind of wresting of a single word from his own right signification, to another not of natural. But yet of some affinity or convenience with it’ (Vickers). Sublime transport is the ultimate figuration, and Hotspur speaks it.
‘Imagination’ is the word Shakespeare uses in line 198, when the father says of the son, ‘Imagination of some great exploit/Drives him beyond the bounds of patience’. Unlike Guiderius in Cymbeline, the idea of a ‘great exploit’ does not lead Hotspur into action but, like Arviragus – yet dangerously – into ‘imagination’, which Northumberland contrasts with the rational principle of ‘patience’. ‘Beyond the bounds’ is as succinct a definition of the sublime as we might wish to find.

Melville’s Sublime uneventfulness. Toward a phenomenology of the Sublime –
Ruud Welten

The sublime is something strange, beyond our imagination, uncanny even. The term is of great importance to Herman Melville. Moby Dick, the whale, is sublime because of its terrifying existence. This chapter investigates the consequences of a phenomenology of the sublime as a prime condition for consciousness itself. Sublimity is not a property of objects, but of subjective experience alone. Philosophic language and poetic language presume that subjectivity is overwhelmed by the experience of the sublime. As one tries to describe, it radically exceeds its parameters. The chapter is an attempt to specify the particular phenomenological characteristics of this transgression. The conclusion of the chapter includes some phenomenological suggestions to understand the sublime as not only an aesthetic category, but as the experience of the unveiling of the meaning of life.


Billy Budd/Beauty - noble foundling/changeling/Love's Martyr

'Yes, Billy Budd was a foundling, a presumable by-blow, and, evidently, no ignoble one. Noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse.' (Melville, _Billy Budd_)

Patrick Cheney

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare helps us see that the ‘poet’ is sublime because he – perhaps pre-eminently he – can solve the Kantian problem, the problem that the Western sublime aesthetic poses: how can the mind confront the formless, the boundless, and the ineffable, and not be defeated? Only the poet can use his ‘imagination’ to ‘body …forth/The form of things unknown’. By taking forms we cannot ‘know’ and ‘giving them shape’, the poet performs a miracle; he crosses the boundary from the divine to the human, and makes the human divine. The image of the poet – the actor on the stage – incarnates the deity, for the simple reason that to pen and stage it, the author has to do more than ‘glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;: he must cross the bourn from which few travellers return, and sing it at her death.

 Tom O'Bedlam

With a host of FURIOUS FANCIES
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghostes and shadowes
I summon'd am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end.
Methinks it is no journey.

Patrick Cheney, Sublime

Amorphus is a figure of transport, and is composition, made up of ‘forms’ that are ‘deformed’, takes us into what we have previously described as Kantian territory. Amorphus is that sublime figure of form that has none (curiously akin to Marlowe’s Helen of Troy), accommodated to the Jonsonian public sphere...


Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels has been discussed as belonging to the group of plays that make up the Poetomachia, or Poets' War, but what has not been noticed (as far as I can tell) is that a line spoken by the Italianated ‘Signior’ Amorphus, the ringleader of the 'vicious' courtiers, not only identifies him with the literary earl Edward de Vere but also serves to contextualize Jonson's criticisms of the 'airy’ (note - elements) and sublime  forms of a  fashionable 'knot of spiders' that inhabit Cynthia's Court.

In the play, Amorphus, described by Jonson as 'the Deformed',  views the passing form of Crites/Criticus, and wonders aloud at Cynthia's apparent preference for the severe Jonson figure:
...And there's her minion, Crites: why his advice more than
Amorphus? Have I not invention afore him? Learning to better

These lines may have been somewhat infamous in contemporary literary circles as they had previously been selected by Puttenham in his Art of English Poesy as an example of the rhetorical vice soraismus, known in English as the mingle-mangle. That this line was spoken by the traveller and 'master of courtship' Ulysses-Politropus-Amorphus as self-description is unsurprising, since Jonson had already characterized Amorphus as the very figure of soraismus:

He that is with him is Amorphus
a Traveller, one so made out of the mixture and shreds
of forms, that himself is truly deform'd. (CR, Act ii, Sc. III)

In the world of the play, Amorphus' inability to perceive the viciousness inherent in his own self-description is a function of his own self-love, which blinds him to the rules of 'virtuous' or worthy composition; virtue in the world of the play being (irritatingly) coextensive with Jonsonian values and neoclassical practice.

The original author, or translator of the line 'And of an ingenious INVENTION, INFANTED WITH PLEASANT TRAVAILE.' was John Southern in his 1584 Pandora; and it was taken from a prefatory poem that had been dedicated to the 'honour' of Edward de Vere.  In 1589 Puttenham had singled out Southern, describing him as a 'minion', selecting this line and others as examples of the 'intollerable' vice of affectation (and plagiarism).

Puttenham, Arte of English Poesy:

...Another of your intollerable vices is that which the Greekes call SORAISMUS, and; we may call the [mingle mangle] as when we make our speach or writinges of sundry languages vsing some Italian word, or French, or Spanish, or Dutch, or Scottish, not for the nonce or for any purpose (which were in part excusable) but ignorantly and affectedly as one that said vsing this French word Roy, to make ryme with another verse, thus.

O mightie Lord or ioue, dame Venus onely ioy,
Whose Princely power exceedes ech other heauenly roy.

The verse is good but the terme peeuishly affected Another of reasonable good facilitie in translation finding certaine of the hymnes of Pyndarus and of Anacreons odes, and other Lirickes among the Greekes very well translated by Rounsard the French Poet, andapplied to the honour of a great Prince in France, comes our minion and translates the same out of French into English, and applieth them to the honour of a GREAT NOBLE MAN in ENGLAND (wherein I commend his reuerent minde and duetie) but doth so impudently robbe the French Poet both of his prayse and also of his French termes, that I cannot so much pitie him as be angry with him for his iniurious dealing (our sayd maker not being ashamed to vse these French wordes freddon, egar, superbous, filanding, celest, calabrois, thebanois and a number of others, for English wordes, which haue no maner of conformitie with our language either by custome or deriuation which may make them tollerable. And in the end (which is worst of all) makes his vaunt that neuer English finger but his hath toucht Pindars string which was neuerthelesse word by word as Rounsard had said before by like braggery. These be his verses.

Whereas the French word is enfante as much to say borne as a child, in another verse he saith.
Southern had employed the line to praise the noble substance and ingenious invention of his patron Edward de Vere, and presumably Amorphus' adoption of the phrase as self-description in the play implies that he is unable to to distinguish true praise from flattery:

From the Ode to Oxford in John Southern’s Pandora, The Music of the Beauty of his Mistress Diana.(1584)

No, no, the high singer is he
Alone that in the end must be
Made proud with a garland like this,
And not every riming novice
That writes with small wit and much pain,
And the (God’s know) idiot in vain,
For it’s not the way to Parnasse,
Nor it will neither come to pass
If it be not in some wise fiction
And of an ingenious INVENTION,
For it alone must win the laurel,
And only the poet well born
Must be he that goes to Parnassus,
And not these companies of asses
That have brought verse almost to scorn.

Curiously, the phrase appears in a recognizable but slightly abbreviated form in the 1601 Quarto (while Oxford was alive) - but does appear in full in the 1616 and 1640 editions of Jonson's 'Works'.
This line not only serves to identify the affected courtier Amorphus (The Deformed) with Edward de Vere (a traveller known for his predilection for foreign styles), but I will suggest that its deployment in Jonson's 'most Ovidian' play echoes Jonson's objections to a monstrous 'Shakespearean' style, linking/exchanging the figures of Amorphus/Vere and William Shakespeare through a rhetorical figure of linguistic extravagance and disorder.


Sonnet CXXIV - Shake-speare

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