Friday, April 10, 2020

Look Who's Deformed Now

Assumed Simplicity and the Critique of Nobility: Or, How Castiglione Read Cicero

Jennifer Richards

…The discussion of the philosophical character of eloquence, for example, is placed in book 3 (Cicero’s Orator), which also deals with ornament and delivery. Meanwhile, the humanitas of Crassus is represented partly by his engaging conversation (sermo), and his desire to please his guests. It is also represented by Antonius’s presumed recantation, when he promises to give his “personal views”.
 Of course, Antonius’s promise to share his “personal views” is no simple volte face. Despite making this promise Antonius continues in book 2 with his original deception. Not only is his initial insistence that he is “not going to speak of an art which [he] never learned, but of [his ] own practice” shown to be misleading (it becomes obvious that he is a careful student), but he continues to downplay the extent of his effort. When he is asked by Catulus whether his knowledge of commonplaces proceeds from “some likeness to that godlike genius,” Aristotle, or from the fact that he has “perused and learned those very maxims,” Antonius temporarily drops his mask. He explains that he understands well that “a speaker would be more pleasing and acceptable to a nation like ours if he were to show, first, as little trace as possible of any artifice, and secondly none whatever of things Greek” (2.152-53). A few lines later Antonius repeats this advice in relation to the study of philosophy: “I do not disapprove of such pursuits, if kept within limits, though I hold that a reputation for such pursuits, or any suggestion of artifice, is likely to prejudice an orator with the judiciary: for it weakens at once the credibility of the orator and the cogency of his oratory” (2.156) Finally, he will be exposed as a dissembler by his antagonist: “I am delighted,” Crassus declares, “to see you at last know as a master of the theory [of rhetoric], finally UNMASKED and STRIPPED  of the VEIL of your pretended ignorance [dissimulatio] (2.350).
Antonius’s promise to share his “personal views” is no straightforward recantation: rather, it is an example of a “jest” included in Julius’s list of witticisms under the name of dissimulatio (pretending not to understand what you understand perfectly). Dissimulatio includes jokes which depend on a cultivated naivete (as “when Pontidius, being asked of his opinion of the man who is taken in adultery, replied: “he is a slowcoach”) and an extended feigned ignorance like that of Socrates (”Socrates far passed all others for accomplished wit in the strain of irony or assumed simplicity {dissimulantia)”) (2.270). This is no ordinary dissembling. Dissimulatio is integral to the exercise of that kink of oratory described as conciliatory and mild (lenis), which seeks to win the goodwill of an audience, but it is also a condition for sociable conversation, as the example of Socrates - the “genial conversationalist” who “in every conversation, pretend[s] to need information and professes admiration for the wisdom of his companion” - proves. Antonius’s refusal to teach is dialectical in a double sense: it helps us to understand something we already know as a matter of commonsense, that the orator  needs to “practise” a skill until it become natural or habitual, but also to understand something that is commonsense, although less obviously so, that “practise” might take the form of leisurely conversation (sermo).
Antonius’s refusal to inform us explicitly about oratory draws our attention to the obvious importance of “practising” skills if they are to become natural. Often, it is when Antonius tries to conceal the source of his eloquence that he is being most helpful, as when he compares his study of Greek history to walking in the sunshine:

It is not because I am on the look-out for aids to oratory, but just for pleasure, that I make a habit, when I have time, of reading the works of these authors and a few more. To what purpose then? Well, I will own to some bnefit: just as, when walking in the sunshine, though perhaps taking the stroll for a different reason, the natural result is that I get sunburnt, even so after perusing those books at Misenum…, I find that under their influence my discourse takes of what I may call a new COMPLEXION…(2.59-60)

His sun simile serves a double function. On the one hand, it draws attention away from the fact that he has “perused” Greek treatises closely. On the other hand, it conveys the extent to which he has practises, and so absorbed, or made natural to him, the precepts and skills he has learned. He discreetly indicates that the source of his excellence is study and the cultivation of facilitas, misleading us only in so far as he tactically omits the distinction between acting naturally and acting habitually.
It is in the example of Antonius, I suggest, that Castiglione imitates in book 1 of Il cortegiano. Dissimulatio occurs on two occasions in theis book; in the nobility debate (65/51) and in the discussion about imitation (75/61). On both occasions Canossa claims to be too inexpert to teach us good practise. In the first instance Canossa’s inexpertise leads him to modify his original claim that the courtier should be nobly born. The second will lead him confusingly to argue that eloquence depends on native talent alone, and then partly accomodates Fregoso’s contrasting claim that it depends entirely on imtiation (89/69). These are symptoms of Castiglione’s imitation of De oratore. To understand their cause, however, I shall need to break the narrative flow of book 1, and jump forward to Canossa’s closing discussion of il questione della lingua which abounds with allusions to De oratore.
The questione della lingua is focused on a particular question: should the courtier imitate the literary greats, borrowing from them words already endowed with authority, or should he follow the promptings of his own talents, and employ the language of his contemporaries? Notably, it covers ground already familiar to us from the earlier discussion of nobility: can courtly gracefulness be learned, or is it a property natural to the nobly born? For this reason, it contributes to our understanding of that relationship between art and nature so central to the nobility debate, and it also further aims to inculcate in us a practice of reading which is itself ennobling.




 Southern, Pandora (1584)

To the right honourable the Earl of Oxenford etc.
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.

Amorphus/altezza d’ingegno

Jonson, _Cynthia's Revels_. 

AMORPHUS. And there's her minion, Crites: why his advice more than
Amorphus? Have I not invention afore him? Learning to better


Sublime Courtship:

 Dedication in Latin to Bartholomew Clerke's Translation of The Courtier(1571/1572). Edward de Vere
[translated by B. M. Ward]

For what more difficult, more noble, or more magnificent task has anyone ever undertaken than our author Castiglione, who has drawn for us the figureand model of a courtier, a work to which nothing can be added, in which there is no redundant word, a portrait which we shall recognize as that of a highest and most perfect type of man. And so, although nature herself has made nothing perfect in every detail, yet the MANNERS of men exceed in dignity that with which nature has endowed them; and he who surpasses others has here surpassed himself and has even OUT-DONE nature [i.e., naturam superauit], which by no one has ever been surpassed. Nay more: however elaborate the ceremonial, whatever the magnificence of the court, the splendor of the courtiers, and the multitude of spectators, he has been able to lay down principles for the guidance of the very Monarch himself.


English Authorship and the Early Modern Sublime – Patrick Cheney

In Cynthia’s Revels, near the beginning of his career (first printed 1600), Jonson uses the word twice, both surrounding the figure of Amorphus, described by Mercury in Act 2, scene 3 as ‘a traveller, one so made out of the mixture and shreds of forms that himself is truly deformed’ (66-7). In other words, Amorphus is a figure of transport, and his 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, where Amorphus’ ‘adaptability and social versatility is a form of shapelessness which links the literal metamorphoses of Echo, Narcissus, and Acteaon, and the cultural ones of Asotus and others’ in the action of the play. (Rassmussen and Steggle).
In using the word ‘sublimated’, Amorphus stands before the Fountain of Self-Love, having just conversed with Narcissus’o ne-time beloved, the beautiful nymph Echo – who has just abandoned Amorphus – when Jonson’s figure of formless form steps forth to take the plunge: ‘Liberal and divine fount, suffer my profane hand to take of they bounties’. Intoxicated by ‘most ambrosiac water’, he broods why the beguiling feminine potency of the well should accept him but Echo turn her heel:

Knowing myself an essence so sublimated and refined by travel, of so studied and well-exercised a gesture, so alone in fashion, able to make the face of any statesman living, and to speak the mere extraction of language…; to conclude, in all so happy as even admiration herself does seem to fasten her kisses upon me; certes I do neither see, nor feel, nor taste, nor savour the least steam or fume of a reason that should invite this foolish fastidious nymph so peevishly to abandon me. (1.3.24-35; emphasis added)

Amorphus speaks the alchemical language of sublimity but adapts it to his personal identity – his ability to transport himself into a heightened state of ‘language’ that attracts the erotic ‘admiration’ of others – in an appropriately comical language of hyperbolic elevation.
Specifically, Amorphus engages in narcissism by vaunting his self-knowledge: ‘travel’ refines and ‘sublimate[s]’ his ‘essence’ into a quintessence of gold, and such sublimity underwrites his social and political theatre, during which he can ‘make the face of any statesman living’,  as Jeremy Face will do to London citizens in the Alchemist. Sublime transport here is not transcendent but political and social, the Protean self enlivened, capable of adapting to exigency, endlessly. Self-consciously, Jonson makes comically sublime theatre out of a comically sublime theatrical character. We might even see here an impressive staging of the kind of comical hyperbole discussed by Longinus in On Sublimity, which is one form that the sublime can take: ‘acts and emotion which approach ecstasy provide a justification for, and an antidote to, any linguistic audacity. This is why comic hyperboles, for all their incredulity, are convincing because we laugh at them so much…Laughter is emotion in amusement’.
Jonson’s linking of sublimity with a character named ‘Amorphus’ merits pause, because this agile figure looks like a photographic negative of Jonson himself. Without question, the author-figure in Cynthia’s Revels is Criticus (called Crites in the Folio edition), ‘the poet-scholar’ of “Judgement’ who ‘represents Jonson’s literary, philosophical, and ethical ideals’ (Bednarz, Shakespeare & The Poets’ War 159-60), and who becomes the play’s arch-enemy to Amorphus and the motley crew of corrupt courtiers, Hedon, Anaides, ad Asotus. According to James Bednarz, Amorphus is a figure who represents ‘Deformity’ and the ‘lack of true conviction’, and who becomes enamoured of a nymph who happens to be named Phantaste or ‘fantasy’ (159-600. In these terms, the project of the play is to ‘replac[e]…the rhetoric of “nature’ and “instinct” staged in Marston’s Jack Drum with the sterner interdictions of “art” and “judgement” in a larger “allegory of self-knowlledge’ (160). According to Bednarz, Marston had rejected Jonson’s rational, judgemental poetics in favour of one based on imaginative instinct, which Jonson then shows to be purged of cultural authority.
Nonetheless, as Rasmussen and Steggle write, Amorphus ‘prefigures Jonson’s later tricksters’ in being ‘at the centre of the play’s action due to his energy and inventiveness, both verbal and physical’. Rasmussen and Steggle go so far as to see Amorphus as akin to Jonson himself: ‘biographically Jonson is more like Amorphus than Criticus’, citing Jonson’s ‘experiences in foreign travel’ and his ‘natural charisma and drive’. Even ‘Amorphus’s weaknesses (lack of money and tendency to exaggerate) are close to those of Jonson;. Wisely, Rasmussen and Steggle caution against ‘claim[ing] that Amorphus “is” Jonson, or even to over-allegorize the tension between Amorphus and his nemesis Criticus’ (eds. 1:435); but they do help us see that the figure of Amorphus qualifies as a *sublime counter-Jonsonian author-figure*. (pp. 220-1)

Jennifer Richards
Assumed Simplicity & the Critique of Nobility 

(Assumed Simplicity translation of Dissimulatio)

 ...Hoby's translation is not intended to confirm the natural status of the old nobility, or to insist on the exclusion of certain kinds of individual, but to make Castiglione's treatise "commune to a greate meany," and, more specifically, to bring about the ennoblement of his "inferiour" countrymen. *

*footnote 48 - A comparison with the preface of Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, to Clerke's Latin translation is useful here. In contrast to Hoby, Oxford carefully reminds us of men excluded from being courtiers on the grounds that they possess some distinguishing flaw or ridiculous character, or rustic and uncivil manners, or deformed appearance" referam, in iis, qui Aulici esse non possunt, quemadmodum aut vitium aliquod insigne, aut ridiculum ingnim, aut mores agrestes & inurbanos, aut speciem deformem, delinearit.

Cynthias Revels, Jonson

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. He walks
most commonly with a Clove or Pick-tooth in his
Mouth, he is the very mint of Complement, all his Be-
haviours are printed, his Face is another Volume of
Essayes; and his Beard an Aristrachus. He speaks all
Cream skim'd (note - lenis?), and more affected than a dozen of wait-
ing Women. He is his own Promoter in every place.
The Wife of the Ordinary gives him his Diet to main-
tain her Table in discourse, which (indeed) is a meer
Tyranny over the other Guests, for he will usurp all
the talk: Ten Constables are not so tedious.