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
SPECIAL FOUNTAIN of MANNERS,
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.
Mer. O, what a mass of benefit shall we possess, in be-
ing the invisible Spectators of this STRANGE SHOW now to
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 !
TOTEM AND TABOO IN THE TRIBE OF BEN: THE DUPLICITY OF GENDER AND JONSON'S SATIRES
BY VICTORIA SILVER
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" ). 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...