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.