Double Falsehood • Tho. Dekker & Tho. Middleton?

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  • April 30 2011: I posted one further and third update: Double Falsehood Revisited. See this for my final thoughts and why I’ve come round to Hammond’s opinion.
Since the previous post, I’ve done some targeted reading, lots of comparisons, and while I still see Middleton in the latter three acts, the evidence argues against a Middleton attribution in the first two acts – and I go where the evidence goes. (Ego be damned.) Where does it lead? At the moment, my  reading argues for Dekker as a more likely candidate/collaborator than Shakespeare. Middleton and Dekker were known to have collaborated and some of their mutually written plays survive. According to Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, their extent collaborations are:
  • News from Gravesend: Sent to Nobody
  • The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary; or, The Walk’s in Paul’s
  • The Whole Royal and Magnificent Entertainment of King James through the City of London
  • The Patient Man and the Honest Whore
  • The Bloody Banquet: A Tragedy (As if we hadn’t already guessed it was a tragedy.)
  • The Roaring Girl; or, Moll Cutpurse
  • The Spanish Gypsy
  • The Honest Whore Part 1

In fact, Middleton and Dekker were more than just professional associates, they were friends and were aligned against Ben Jonson during the Poet’s War. So, on those grounds at least, a collaboration between Middleton and Dekker is hardly news. (By the way, I’m very fond of Dekker.)

Curiously, I seem to be the only one who’s calling this for Middleton?

And it’s especially curious because Jonathan Hope’s own book, The authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays, makes a stronger case for Middleton than for Fletcher(?) Though he never seems to question the Fletcher attribution! Maybe Hope has other reasons but, if so, he never shares them. But rather than simply make the assertion, you can decide for yourself, I present the evidence.

Jonathan Hope’s inadvertent case for Dekker

Early Modern English (read Elizabethan English) was in flux. Not only was usage changing, but they were changing with a white heat. Hope reasoned that (depending on education, age, or region of birth) the careful reader should be able to detect noticeable and, theoretically, predictable differences in the use of the English language (socio-linquistics). He applied his thesis to six Elizabethan Dramatists: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dekker, Fletcher, Middleton, and Massinger and characterized their differences through their use of pronouns like who, that, which, or zero (the absence of a pronoun).  Hope called them Relative Markers For example:

  • The man that I know.
  • The man who I know.
  • The man (0) I know.
  • The man which I know.

In Shakespeare’s day all four could be used regardless of the antecedent (human or inanimate). Hope reasoned that  as the decade progressed, the use of “that” and “which” would change in predictable ways. The use of relative markers didn’t confirm his thesis, but they did and do provide another useful tool for sorting out who wrote what. [The use of the auxiliary do form did, by the way, confirm Hope’s thesis, so all was not lost.) Here is what he discovered in reference to the six dramatists:

With the exclusion of Shakespeare (12 plays), Hopes averages are based on 3 plays for Marlowe, 10 plays for Fletcher, 3 for Marlowe, 4 for Dekker, 5 for Middleton and 5 for Massinger. Each of the bars above represents the average of all the plays. First, notice Fletcher’s almost complete avoidance of the pronoun ‘who’. Hope puts it bluntly: “the most striking feature of Fletcher’s relativisation choices… is his extreme avoidance of ‘who’.” In Fletcher’s contribution to The Woman’s Prize, the percentage appears to be less than 1% and never rises above 3%. Middleton’s percentage ranges from 4 t0 14%. But there’s something interesting about Dekker. Hope puts in this way:

It should be stressed immediately that Dekker seems to be unique in the degree to which his idiolectal usage of relative markers varies: other dramatists may vary in one play in one marker (for example The Comedy of Errors in the early Shakespeare sample), none vary in every play, for virtually every marker. This result does not therefore necessarily undermine the use of relativisation as socio-historical linguistic evidence: rather it stresses that relativisation may be greatly affected by generic or stylistic factors. In Dekker we apparently see a writer who uses relativisation as a stylistic strategy more than other early Modern dramatists, and who is capable of shifting his usage and maintaining that shift over the course of a whole play. [98-99]

Hope also offers collaborative authorship or textual (scribal) interference as possibilities. In either case, it’s safe to say that any average representation of Dekker’s practice is going to be misleading (in comparison to the other dramatists). Without reprinting every graph from Hope’s book, suffice it say: Dekker shows far more variability than any other dramatist. Here are Dekker’s usages on a play by play basis:

Now we get to the fun part. Here is Hope’s graph for Double Falsehood:

Hope points out, rightfully, that by Theobald’s day the usage of who had become much more standardized. When editing Shakespeare, Theobald would replace which with who. Hope gives an example:

Shakespeare (Richard II 5.0.1 62-63)

He shall thinke that thou which knowest the way
To plant unrightfull kings, wilt know againe

Theobald (Richard II, page 57)

And He shall think, that Thou, who knew’st the way
To plant unrightful Kings, wilt know again [p. 94]

So… Hope argues that we should expect to see an increases in who usage if Theobald had edited Fletcher and Shakespeare. In the graph above (and in Fletcher’s case) Theobald has presumably (and primarily) replaced the pronoun that with who. What troubles me is that if Hope is going to treat averages as representative stand-ins for what might have characterized the original Double Falsehood text, the alteration for Shakespeare is several times that of Fletcher. Are we to believe that Theobald edited a Shakespearean original differently than the Fletcharian portion? Remember, according to contemporary accounts, Theobald initially thought the entirety of the play was by Shakespeare. I find it hard to believe that Theobald would subconsciously revise Shakespeare in a completely different manner than Fletcher. In fact, many critics have professed perplexity at evidence which suggests that Theobald left the “Fletcharian” portions relatively unscathed while butchering Shakespeare. But perhaps this perplexity only arises if one clings (my loaded verb of choice) to the belief that Shakespeare authored the first two acts. And there’s another problem with the Shakespeare ascription:

One piece of relativisation evidence which is difficult to fit into an assumed Theobald adaptation of a Shakespeare and Fletcher collaboration is the low rate of ‘that’ relativisation in Double Falsehood: 39 per cent.This is lower than the rates for that in the collaborations, and in Theobald’s The Persian Princess. [p. 98-99]

In order to preserve the supposition that Shakespeare was the initial author, Hope theorizes that another editorial hand (like Davenant or other restoration meddlers) must have picked a fight with Shakespeare (but not Fletcher), thus “pre”-altering the first two acts before Theobald got his chance. Hope admits that this is sheer speculation. Without this hypothetical intermediate step, the evidence just doesn’t make sense. But wait a minute, what about Dekker? Lo and behold, in two of Dekker’s plays, the relativisation rates of that are less than 39% – they are 35% and 33%. Dekker is the only dramatist with rates that low. If you average Dekker’s relativisation rates in the four plays that Hope has tallied, it comes to 43.25%. Shakespeare’s average, among 11 plays, is 50.63%.  So… if Theobald had been editing Dekker, he would have reduced the number of that pronouns by roughly 4+ percent (if one treats Dekker’s averages as representative). When Theobald rewrote Richard II, according to Hope, the difference is more or less the same, 51% in Shakespeare’s original, to about +- 48% (Hope doesn’t give an exact percentage though he offers a graph). Interestingly, and predictably one might assert, the reduction in that relativisation is closer to what we would expect (and could accept) if Theobald had been editing Dekker. And given Dekker’s wide stylistic disparity, the odds of Dekker resulting in Double Falsehood’s relativisation  rates are surely better than Shakespeare.

(This is what I mean when I say that Hope is inadvertently arguing for Dekker rather than Shakespeare.)

And notice the radically increased appearance of the pronoun ‘who’ in Shakespeare’s portion, as compared to “Fletcher’s”. Is there another dramatist who, in any of his plays, comes close to the 30+ % found in Theobald’s Double Falsehood? Yes. Dekker. In his play If This Be Not  a Good Play the relativisation rate for who is 20%, outpacing any of the other dramatists Hope examined. One might argue that it’s unfair to single out Dekker’s individual plays, rather than an average, but remember that Dekker’s usage varies so widely from play to play that averages are misleading (much more so than his rivals). On those grounds, it’s far more likely (according to Hope’s methodology) that the original two acts of Double Falsehood are by Dekker. None of the relativisation rates are beyond the scope of Dekker’s practice, unlike the presumptive Shakespeare; and one doesn’t need to propose an intermediary restoration author.

The Imagery

eyes & their beams

Hope’s methodology contributes to identifying authorship, but can’t be the final word (as he himself would assert). There are other reasons for my thinking that Dekker is behind the first two acts. Consider beams. It was as commonplace during Elizabethan times, that the eyes saw by projecting beams. Poets were quick to make use of this conceit, except for Shakespeare. Only once, in his Sonnet 114, does Shakespeare play on this conceit. There are 25 usages of beams in his plays but not one of them is in the context of the eyes’ beams. The beams are always in reference to the sun, the moon, or candles – always in reference to an object that gives off light. By contrast, consider the following from Double Falsehood (Act I Scene i:

Eyes, that are nothing but continual Births
Of new Desires in Those that view their Beams.
You cannot have a Cause to doubt.

This flies against Shakespeare’s practice. (My theory is that Theobald probably would have kept the imagery of the original author, who I believe to be Dekker, while dolling it up with figurative language.) However, Dekker did make use of this conceit in his imagery (from The Shoemaker’s Holiday):

Why, tell me, Oateley : shines not Lacy’s name
As bright in the world’s eye as the gay beams
Of any citizen ?

The Honest Whore Part I:

If ever, whilst frail blood through my veins run,
On woman’s beams I throw affection,

the image cluster of heat, cold, the eye, frost, burning, kindling, thawing, sun/Hyperion.

Double Falsehood

Jul. I do not see that Fervour in the Maid,
Which Youth and Love should kindle.  She consents,
As ’twere to feed without an Appetite;
Tells me, She is content; and plays the Coy one,
Like Those that subtly make their Words their Ward,
Keeping Address at Distance.  This Affection
Is such a feign’d One, as will break untouch’d;
Dye frosty, e’er it can be thaw’d; while mine,
Like to a Clime beneath Hyperion’s Eye,
Burns with one constant Heat.  I’ll strait go to her;
Pray her to regard my Honour:  but She greets me.–

Now here is Dekker from Shoemaker’s Holiday:

And for she thinks me wanton, she denies
To cheer my cold heart with her sunny eyes.
How prettily she works, oh pretty hand!
Oh happy work! It doth me good to stand
Unseen to see her. Thus I oft have stood
In frosty evenings, a light burning by her,
Enduring biting cold, only to eye her.
One only look hath seem’d as rich to me
As a kings crown; such is loves lunacy.
Muffled He pass along, and by that try
Whether she know me.

of dew & flowers.

Double Falsehood:

O Kiss, sweet as the Odours of the Spring,
But cold as Dews that dwell on Morning Flow’rs!

When Shakespeare associates dew with flowers, it is refreshing and always life affirming. When searching through Fletcher’s plays, I notice that his imagery also revolves around dew’s restorative powers. Not so, Dekker. Dekker’s associations with Dew are cold and frequently associated with death and illness:

a sensible cold dew
Stood on thy cheeks, as if that death had wept
To see such beauty alter. [The Honest Whore Part 1]

women & light

Double Falsehood

Th’Obscureness of her Birth
Cannot eclipse the Lustre of her Eyes,
Which make her all One Light.

The Honest Whore Part 1

Those roses withered, that set out her cheeks:
That pair of stars that gave her body light…

Notice the appearance of eyes in both passages. In fact, the habit of thought is almost identical. In both cases, the eyes/that pair of stars give light/Light to her body.

Furthermore, if I search through a Shakespeare concordance, nowhere does Shakespeare equate a woman’s beauty (or body) with light. In fact, Shakespeare usually associates femininity and lightness with… well… being a light-brained wench. The imagery is much more typical of Dekker.

the opposing wind

Double Falsehood

Oh, the opposing Wind,
Should’ring the Tide, makes here a fearful Billow:
I needs must perish in it.

The Noble Spanish Soldier

What whirlwinds can we raise to blow this storm
Back in their faces who thus shoot at me?

The Honest Whore Part 2

He’s damned that raised this whirlwind, which hath blown
Into her eyes this jealousy :

Note: The use of wind occurs 198 times in Shakespeare. Of all my comparisons, this is the weakest. However, I  find it interesting that Double Falsehood and Dekker’s examples all contain the idea of the wind as being in opposition. The same can’t be said for Shakespeare’s usages, which are far more varied and don’t, at first glance (Harvard concordance), contain a single example of an oppositional wind. Shakespeare’s winds are fickle, rude, unruly, vexing, gamboling, etc… but never, strangely, oppositional.

swiftest wing

Consider this passage from Caroline Spurgeon’s Shakespeare’s Imagery:

We have seen that Dekker, alone of these five other dramatists, shows in his images something of Shakespeare’s sympathy with the poor and oppressed, especially with prisoners. There is one characteristic seen in another group of images altogether -that of birds- which I may just mention, as it emphasizes this point. This is the quite remarkably large number of images he has from ‘wings’: soaring and riding on wings, being transported on the wind’s swift wings, escaping by putting on ‘winged feet’, clapping on swift wings and the like… ¶ Next to those of Shakespeare, Dekker’s images… seem more alive and human, more charged with his personality and direct experience that those of any other of the dramatists here analysed… [p. 40]

Double Falsehood

Jul. Fear not, but I with swiftest Wing of Time
Will labor my Return…

the fox & her den

Spurgeon also points out that Dekker comes nearest to Shakespeare in his imagery of sport and game. Consider the following from Double Falsehood:

Cam. I profess, a Fox might earth in the Hollowness of your
Heart, Neighbour, and there’s an End.

(Notice the anthimeria of earth, probably an addition by Theobald.) None of Shakespeare’s fox imagery seems drawn from actual experience and none refer to the fox’s den or desire to hide. Shakespeare’s references to the fox are more symbolic. Dekker’s fox imagery, on the other hand, seems drawn from real experience:

The Honest Whore Part 1

Faugh, not I, makes your breath stink like the
piss of a fox.

The Honest Whore Part 2

But the old fox is so crafty, we shall hardly hunt
him out of his den.

The Noble Spanish Soldier

Young cub’s flayed, but the she-fox shifting her hole is fled. The
little jackanapes, the boy’s brained.

On the durability of Imagery

I’m going to conjecture that if the original text had been Shakespeare’s or Dekker’s, some of their imagery would have survived. I’ve read and heard repeated assertions by various Shakespeare scholars that the first two acts of Double Falsehood might have been altered, not just be Theobald, but by the likes of Davenant (or any restoration reviser). They offer this possibility (and not without reason) as a rationalization for the wide discrepancies between what they should find, if there were Shakespeare, and what they do find (which is not Shakespeare). But if Hazelton Spencer’s book SHAKESPEARE improved is any guide, then my conjecture is a possibility. Some of Shakespeare’s (or Dekker’s) core imagery ought to have survived. The kinds of alterations Davenant made often retained Shakespeare’s core imagery (just as Theobald’s revisions of Richard II) :

From Richard II:

Shakespeare:

The which no balme can cure but his heart bloud
Which breathde this poyson

Theobald:

The which no Balm can cure, but his Heart’s Blood,
Who breath’d this Poison

From Hamlet:

Davenant:

“Shews sick and pale with Thought.”

Shakespeare:

“Is sicklied ore with the pale cast of thought.”

From Macbeth:

Davenant:

Better be with him
Whom we to gain the Crown, have sent to peace;
Then on the torture of the Mind to lye
In restless Agony. Duncan is dead;
He, after life’s short feavor, now sleeps; Well:
Treason has done it’s worst; nor Steel, nor Poyson,
No Ferreign force, nor yet Domestick Malice
Can touch him further.

Shakespeare:

Better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gayne our peace, have sent to peace,
Then on the torture of the Minde to lye
In restless extasie
Dancane is in his Grave:
After Life’s fitful Fever, he sleepes well,
Treason ha’s done his worst: nor Steele, nor Poyson,
Malice domestique, forraine Levie, nothing,
Can touch him further.

On the other hand, from Measure for Measure,  one finds examples of Davenant’s more destructive editing:

Davenant:

Oh Sister, ’tis to go we know not whither.
We lye in silent darkness, and we rot;
Where long our motion is not stopt, for though
In Graves none walk upright (proudly to face
The Stars) yet there we move again, when our
Courruption makes those worms in whom we crawl.
Perhaps the spirit (which is future life)
Dwells Salamander-like, unharmed in fire:
Or else with wand’ring winds is blown about
The world. But if condemn’d like those
Whome our incertain thought imagines howling;
Than the most loath’d and the most weary life
Which Age, or Ache, want, or imprisonment
Can lay on Nature, is a Paradise
To what we fear in death.

Shakespeare:

I, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot,
This sensible warme motion, to become
A kneaded clod; And the delighted spirit
To bath in fierie floods, or to recide
In thrilling Region of thicke-ribbed Ice,
To be imprison’d in the viewlesse windes
And blowne with restlesse violence round about
The pendant world: or to be worse then worst
Of those, that lawlesse and incertaine thought,
Imagine howling, ’tis too horrible.
The weariest, and most loathed worldly life
That Age, Ache, periury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature, is a Paradise
To what we feare of death

So… while there are exceptions, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if echoes of an original author’s imagery might have survived in Double Falsehood. If  so, then I would argue that the core imagery suggests Dekker rather than Shakespeare. Not only that, but if one grants that  the original was Dekker, then there’s no need to posit a third hand besides Theobald’s. If the original was Dekker, then Dekker’s imagery survives under a layer of psuedo-Shakespearean additions (figurative language mostly characterized by anthimeria – a hallmark of Shakespare’s style and exactly what Theobald would have imitated).

Shakespeare’s imagery (his pattern of associations) aren’t to be found in lines like:  “Teach Sound to languish thro’ the Night’s dull Ear,/Till melancholy start from her lazy Couch,/And Carelessness grow Convert to Attention.” Shakespeare never used the word Laziness and according to OED, they find only three other uses during Shakespeare’s lifetime, one of which by Spenser (who Shakespeare might have read). Shakespeare used the word carelessness only once in all of his known works. Is it possible that Shakespeare used both these words at this particular moment? Yes. Is it likely? I say no, but decide for yourself.

All in all, the first two acts are surprisingly devoid of the imagery Shakespeare favored toward the end of his career. And even if I’m right in suspecting Dekker, Theobald has meddled to such a degree that Dekker’s voice has been completely erased.

If the original was Shakespeare’s, then there’s nothing left of him.

As for Arden, the book will probably sell well and that may be reason enough. I’ll purchase the book, though more to read the reasons for its inclusion in Shakespeare’s canon than to read the play.

The case for Middleton

Thanks to some digital tinkering, I was able to rearrange some of Hope’s graphs. Here are the results:

The graphs compared at right (comparing Middleton to Double Falsehood B – Acts III-V) are my own work. Hope states of the Fletcher/DF-B comparison:

…it will be seen that section B shows a strikingly good fit to the Fletcher comparison sample…

Now look at the comparison between Middleton and DFB. You decide. To me, the Middleton sample is an even better fit. And remember, many scholars have commented that Theobald seems to have left the last three acts relatively unmolested. At minimum, Hope’s own study cannot be used to favor Fletcher over Middleton. Even auxiliary “do” evidence meshes acceptably with a Dekker/Middleton collaboration.

Middleton’s Colloquial Contractions

Using MacDonald Jackson’s own criteria (so far as I know them) the evidence for a Middleton ascription is favored yet again. (Note: I found a copy of Jackson’s Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare for a relatively (rolls eyes) cheap $54. It’s being shipped from Berlin, Germany (of all places) and if there’s anything that adds or detracts from my assertions, I’ll duly note them. (I should be getting the book within the next three months…)

E’en for even. This wouldn’t be typical for Theobald, but would be for Middleton.

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 1
Acts 3-5: 2

Thomas Dekker

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

8

Fletcher (Philaster)

0

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

For’t

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 0
Acts 3-5: 4

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

22

Fletcher (Philaster)

2

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

Is’t

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 1
Acts 3-5: 2

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

35

Fletcher (Philaster)

7

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

give’t

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 0
Acts 3-5: 1

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

3

Fletcher (Philaster)

0

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

h’as/sh’as

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 1
Acts 3-5: 2

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

19

Fletcher (Philaster)

0

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

to’t

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 1
Acts 3-5: 3

Thomas Middleton

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

22

Fletcher (Philaster)

0

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

on’t

Double Falsehood

Acts 1-2: 1
Acts 3-5: 5

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

64 (give or take 2)

Fletcher (Philaster)

1

Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)

0

Anyway

In every case, the use of such colloquial contractions increases in the portion usually ascribed to Fletcher. This makes no sense, but it does if the original author were Middleton. (Admittedly, my sampling is probably too small, but that Middleton favored such contractions in comparison to Fletcher is not in dispute). One has to suffer from willful denial not to see the correspondence. Admittedly, the number of contractions is much lower in Double Falsehood (than in Middleton’s unmolested works) but they are there and tellingly similar to what one finds in Timon of Athens (a collaboration between Shakespeare and Middleton). It’s possible that Theobald edited some of them out – but that’s speculation. On the other hand, I find that far more likely than the supposition that he added them.

There’s the evidence.

You decide.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve made my case. Far from it. But, as a starting point, I don’t think this post is too shabby.

Ultimately, given that Double Falsehood‘s text has been edited and altered by Theobald (if one accepts an actual manuscript behind the play), I can’t see how any individual’s work will settle the matter. One can only offer likelihoods. It is more likely that Dekker wrote the portion ascribed to Shakespeare; and if that’s the case, then it is more likely that his collaborator would have been Middleton. There are no known collaborations between Dekker and Fletcher.

There is one certainty: Whether or not Shakespeare had anything to do with Cardenio, there is no Shakespeare in Double Falsehood.

Iambic Pentameter (Variants & Long Lines – II) or Tho. Middleton, his Variants, Departures & Hexameters

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This is the fourth and final post in a series on scanning Iambic Pentameter – a follow up to my first post on Iambic Pentameter Variants. This post is the deep end. It draws together what has already been discussed, shows how to apply it to some gnarly Iambic Pentameter (as tough as it gets), and adds some final variants, including Long Lines, which haven’t already been discussed. For a look at the other posts, click on the Categories Widget under About: Iambic Pentameter.

[January 11, 2009 – I did a little editing for the sake of clarity and I corrected some typos. If something seems confusing or wrong, let me know.]

This post takes a look at the first 75 lines of a play by Thomas Middleton, a contemporary and co-author of some of Shakespeare’s plays.   Middleton’s Blank Verse seems a good place to start if only because it demonstrates so many variants. I thought that showing how I read the verse (which is just my take on it) might be helpful to others.

complete-thomas-middleton

The material comes from Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. I opened the book at random to a play called Wit at Several Weapons. I had never heard of it (like much of the material in the book). Middleton is a fine dramatist (perhaps the greatest after Shakespeare) and while his gifts don’t compare to the sustained rhetoric and poetry of Shakespeare, Marlowe or even Webster, his poetry can strike like lightning – brief but brilliant.  From his most famous play, A Game at Chess, comes the lovely line: “I’m taken like a blackbird/ In the great snow.”

So far, Wit at Several Weapons is a bawdy, sexual, somewhat sinister play – not the kind of subject matter that lends itself to poetic transcendence. Describing women, Middleton (in the character of the Old Knight), writes: “They must be wooed a hundred several ways,/ Before you obtain the right way in a woman:/ ‘Tis an odd creature, full of creeks and windings,/ The serpent has not more.”

And that’s about as poetic as the play gets – the rest, poetically, is boiler plate at best.

What is more interesting, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, is just how free Middleton is with Iambic Pentameter. He was a Jacobean playwright and he, along with other Jacobean playwrights, took Iambic Pentameter to the breaking point (and beyond) – likewise Webster and Massinger. The rigor of blank verse as much as dissolves with these poets. The verse form wasn’t to see such experimentation again for almost 300 years – the 20th Century.

First, here is the opening of the play, uninterrupted. Or, you can skip this and get on with the analysis.

The First 75 Lines

thomas-middleton1WittyPate

Sir, I’m no boy, I’m deep in one-and-twenty,
The second year’s approaching.

Old Knight

A fine time
If e’er he mean to make account of any.

WittyPate

Wits, sir?

Old Knight

Ay, wits, sir; if it be so strange to thee
I’m sorry I spent that time to get a fool,
I might have employed my pains a great deal better.
Thou know’st all that I have I ha’ got by my wits,
And yet to see how urgent thou art too;
It grieves me thou art so degenerate
To trouble me for means; I never offered it
My parents from a schoolboy; past nineteen once
(See what these times are grown too!), before twenty
I rushed into the world, which is indeed
Much like the art of swimming; he that will attain to’t
Must fall plump, and duck himself at first,
And that will make him hardy and adventurous
And not stand putting in one foot, and shiver,
And then draw t’other after, like a quake-buttock;
Well he may make a paddler i’ the world,
From hand to mouth, but never a brave swimmer,
Borne up by th’ chin, as I bore up myself
With my strong industry that never failed me;
For he that lies borne up with patrimonies
Looks like a long great ass that swims with bladders:
Come but one prick of adverse fortune to him
He sinks, because he never tried to swim,
When wit plays with the billows that choked him.

WittyPate

Why, is it not a fashion for a father, sir,
Out of his yearly thousands to allow
His only son a competent brace of hundreds,
Or such a toy?

the-witch-by-middleton

Yes, if he mean to spoil him
Or mar his wits he may, but never I.
This is my humour, sir, which you’ll find constant;
I love wit so well, because I live by’t,
That I’ll give no man power out of my means to hurt it,
And that’s a kind of gratitude to my raiser,
Which great ones oft forget. I admire much
This age’s dullness. When I scarce writ man,
The first degree that e’er I took  in thriving,
I lay intelligencer close for wenching,
Could give this lord or knight a true certificate
Of all the maidenheads extant; how many lay
‘Mongst chambermaids, how many ‘mongst Exchange wenches
(Though never many there, I must confess,
They have a trick to utter ware so fast);
I knew which lady had a mind to fall,
Which gentlewoman new divorced, which tradesman breaking,
The price of every sinner to a hair
And where to raise each price; which were the termers
That would give velvet petticoats, tissue gowns,
Which pieces, angels, suppers, and half-crowns:
I knew how to match and make my market,
Could give intelligence where the pox lay ledger,
And then to see the lechers shift a point,
‘Twas sport and profit too; how they would shun
Their adored mistress’ chambers, and run fearfully
Like rats from burning houses! So brought I
My clients o’ the game still safe together,
And noble gamesters loved me, and I felt it:
Give me a man that lives by his wits, say I,
And never left a groat, there’s the true gallant.
When I grew somewhat pursy, I grew then
In men’s opinions too, and confidences;
They put things called executorships upon me,
The charge of orphans, little senseless creatures,
Whom in their childhoods I bound forth to feltmakers,
To make ‘em lose and work away their gentry,
Disguise their tender nature with hard custom,
So wrought ‘em out in time: there I risse ungently;
Nor do I fear to discourse this unto thee,
I’m armed at all points against treachery.
I hold my humour firm; if I can see thee thrive by thy wits while I live, I shall have the more courage to trust thee with my lands when I die; if not, the next best wit I can hear of carries ‘em: for since in my time and knowledge so many rich children of the City conclude in beggary, I’d rather make a wise stranger my executor than a foolish son my heir, and to have my lands called after my wit, thou after my name; and that’s my nature.

The First 75 Lines & Patrick Gillespie: His Interjections

Couple things needing to be said: I wasn’t alive 400 years ago. I don’t know how actors actually spoke their lines or how the Dramatists actually conceived of meter. Nobody has to agree with me. This is just how I have learned to read blank verse, both by reading other scholars on the subject and my own efforts to master the form. Also, I don’t want to give the impression that iambic pentameter overrules any other consideration. Not everything should or needs to be fitted to the iambic pattern. It’s art and instinct.   

WittyPate

Sir, I’m no boy, I’m deep in one-and-twenty,
The second year’s approaching.

Old Knight

A fine time

So far, the lines are easily identifiable as Iambic Pentameter. The first line is 11 syllables, ending with a feminine ending (a very common variant), the second is divided at the fourth foot between the two speakers: The second year’s approaching / A fine time. But the next line seems to out & out break with the Iambic Pentameter pattern:

For a youth to live by his wits, then, I should think,

This is a 12 syllable line; but is it hexameter and is it iambic hexameter? Hexameter lines, or long lines, are infrequent but accepted departures from the iambic pentameter pattern in blank verse. They can be found in Shakespeare & become more frequent after him. However, one way to tell if one is dealing with a hexameter line is to count metrical feet. If one simply counts off a foot at every two syllables, then one ends up with this:

for-a-youth-to-live-by-his-wits-trochaic

This would be a Hexameter line, but with too many variant feet to be called Iambic; and would break completely with the Iambic Pentameter pattern of blank verse. The scansion would be very doubtful given the expectations of the time. The division of the feet also works against the phrasing – and this is where scansion is part art and part science. As I mentioned in my previous post, especially as concerns anapests, one sometimes allows the phrasing to define the metrical foot. So, with that in mind, we end up with:

for-a-youth-to-live-by-his-wits-anapestic

This variation is not inconceivable in Jacobean Blank Verse, as far as variants go, but two anapests in a single line is unlikely. One of the advantages to the regularity of Iambic Pentameter, in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, is that it made the script easier for actors to remember. And that was important. They were frequently acting several different plays during a given week. So, while the line above doesn’t bare the mark of Elision or Eclipsis (as it might have just ten years earlier) it’s a safe bet that the line was probably pronounced as though the anapests were elided.

for-a-youth-to-live-by-his-wits-iambic

In this case, the line is felt, rhythmically, like Iambic Pentameter. The phrase For a is spoken quickly, the a almost disappearing. In the third foot, by his, becomes  by’s wits. The whole line, in this wise, has the effect of being spoken quickly or trippingly, as Shakespeare might have said. That said, the line will still have an anapestic ring to it. Poets from this period were content to introduce anapests that could be elided. The effect is a kind of grey area. They were paying lip service to the iambic pattern without being slavish. In the hands of the Jacobean poets, though, such grey areas were frequently overplayed, as in the line above.


If e’er he mean to make account of any.

Notice that ever is elided to read e’er through syncope (the removal of a letter or syllable from the middle of a word) [Sister Miriam Joseph: Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language p. 52]. In this case, either the copyist or Middleton chose to deliberately spell out the elision and, by extension,  his concern that the Iambic rhythm be maintained.  (And this is the curious feature of this and the play in general. There’s a kind of schizophrenic  attentiveness to the meter. On the one hand, as with the line before this one, Middleton or the copyist doesn’t seem concerned with the meter or with indicating where the actors should elide words. Should we care about the meter? Then, with the very next line, Middleton or the copyist elides ever. Does he or doesn’t he care? Here’s my theory:

The iambic meter mattered.

However, Middleton and his contemporaries were frequently writing with great haste and they weren’t thinking of their works as poems to be read by the public. 1.) These plays were to be performed by actors drenched in the practice of performing blank verse – some having performed for and with Shakespeare and Marlowe. Middleton probably didn’t find it necessary to spell out every instance of elision, knowing the actors would “normalize” the lines. 2.) He may have simply overlooked such indications in the haste of writing. 3.) Few plays from this period survive in the author’s original hand. Texts were frequently altered by copyists if only because they couldn’t read the Dramatist’s hand writing.

All these may sound like rationalizations, but the play to remember is Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. This play electrified the public and other Dramatists not just for its subject matter – the drama – but for the genius of its blank verse. The verse form was part and parcel of the drama and dramatists were, in part, appraised by their use of it. These were heady times for the English language.

WittyPate

Wits, sir?

Old Knight

Ay, wits, sir; if it be so strange to thee
I’m sorry I spent that time to get a fool,

The phrase sorry I spent can be elided so that the y and I combine if spoken quickly, somewhat maintaining the Iambic beat.

I might have employed my pains a great deal better.

This line can be elided to read something like: I might ha’employed my pains… (You might think this is a stretch, but Middleton employs this very elision in the next line.)

Thou know’st all that I have I ha’ got by my wits,

This is a deceptively difficult line to scan because of our modern habits of speech. In this case, the subject matter of the Old Knight’s speech gives us a clue. Namely, he’s talking about himself. So, the line could be scanned as follows:

all-that-i-have

George Wright calls this a heavy feminine ending (the final extra syllable in the fifth foot being an intermediate or strong stress). I would be more apt to call it a double closing, (which would then relate it to the double onset – which is what Wright calls an anapestic first foot or anacrusis). But calling the fifth foot in the line above a heavy feminine ending makes sense too (and in the end, it just doesn’t matter). Middleton and other Jacobean poets were  increasingly fond of the heavy feminine ending while Shakespeare used it with considerable restraint. The ending allows for greater flexibility but also threatens the rhythm of blank verse. It’s one of the reasons the verse of the Jacobean theater sounds more diffuse, less disciplined and memorable than the earlier verse – (though perhaps only in my opinion).


And yet to see how urgent thou art too;
It grieves me thou art so degenerate

These two lines firmly reestablish the Iambic Pentameter pattern by precluding the need for elipsis. So far, it has been possible to read most of the lines within an iambic and pentameter pattern . But now comes the next line.


To trouble me for means; I never offered it

This is the first line which seems to defy elision. Using syncope, one might be able to elide never to ne’er, but that creates an anapest.

to-trouble-anapestic

This is an acceptable variant and an acceptable scansion, but I’m more inclined to think that we have our first hexameter line.

to-trouble-hexameter

In this case, knowing to what degree anapests were avoided, it makes more sense to me that Middleton would opt to preserve the iambic rhythm – though it makes the line Iambic Hexameter rather than Iambic Pentameter.

My parents from a schoolboy; past nineteen once

I read the line above is an eleven syllable line with a heavy feminine ending.

(See what these times are grown too!), before twenty
I rushed into the world, which is indeed
Much like the art of swimming; he that will attain to’t

And this line beginning Much like is an archly variant line. When I first read it I was completely baffled. I think, though, that it is still an acceptable variant within the larger Iambic Pentameter passage – if only by the slimmest of margins and only on a – once every hundred lines – basis. But that’s just my aesthetic opinion. The verdict? I think it’s a hexameter line with a heavy feminine ending. Middleton can get away with it, perhaps, because the hexameter line is an accepted variant (to judge by the writing of contemporaneous playwrights) and because the heavy feminine ending was, by that time, accepted. Here is how I scan it.

hexameter reading of attain to't

Notice the elision of to it to to’t, as if Middleton knew he was getting away with something. Now this is stretching the limits – expecting an ostensibly 14 syllable line to be an acceptable deviation from a 10 syllable iambic pentameter pattern! Yet, there you have it. The great master himself, William Shakespeare, sometimes peppered his blank verse with hexameter lines. Here is the precedent (taken from Shakespeare’s Metrical Art, Page 147).

How dares thy harsh rude tongue sound this unpleasing news? (Richard II, 3.4.74)

Fleeter than arrows, bullets, wind, thought, swifter things (Love’s Labor’s Lost 5.2.261)

It’s worth stressing that not all metrists accept Hexameter lines as an allowable variant. Some metrists try to regularize all lines so that they fit the iambic pentameter grid. But I don’t see how it can be done in all cases and I tend not to be dogmatic but pragmatic. I can’t see how any metrist could possibly regularize Middleton’s line. I find it easier to believe, given the practice of their day, that hexameters were understood as a “legal” variant.

Must fall plump, and duck himself at first,

The line above is missing an unstressed syllable in the first foot – commonly called a headless line.

headless-line

And that will make him hardy and adventurous
And not stand putting in one foot, and shiver,

The two lines above both end with feminine endings.


And then draw t’other after, like a quake-buttock;

This is another odd line. The iambic pentameter of the blank verse is at the breaking point. I read the line as having a heavy feminine ending – buttock was probably pronounced like butt’ck, syncope reducing a two syllable word to, essentially, one.


Well he may make a paddler i’ the world,
From hand to mouth, but never a brave swimmer,

The line above works as long as one doesn’t put too much stress on brave. The fourth foot would be phyrric and the last foot another feminine ending. Thus:

never-a-brave-swimmer

The two lines, more firmly iambic pentameter, help re-establish the, up to now, heavily varying meter.


Borne up by th’ chin, as I bore up myself

The line above is firmly iambic with the elision of by th’chin to b’th’chin. If you think this is extreme, compare it to Shakespeare: I had rather be set quick i’th’earth. Such elision was normal practice at the time and reflects a syllabic ambiguity which poets of the day seemed to take for granted. Many hypermetrical syllables can be elided in this fashion and apparently were.

With my strong industry that never failed me;
For he that lies borne up with patrimonies
Looks like a long great ass that swims with bladders:
Come but one prick of adverse fortune to him

All the lines above are firmly iambic with feminine endings.

He sinks, because he never tried to swim,
When wit plays with the billows that choked him.

I read the last line as having a phyrric in the fourth foot and a spondaic in the fifth. All in all, these last six lines have re-established the iambic pentameter pattern.

WittyPate

Why, is it not a fashion for a father, sir,

I read this line as having what is called a triple ending – when two unstressesed syllables follow the final stressed syllable of the fifth foot: essentially a feminine ending with an extra unstressed syllable. Thus:

triple-ending

There are also examples of triple endings in Shakespeare.

Out of his yearly thousands to allow
His only son a competent brace of hundreds,

In the line above, syncope reduces competent to comp’tent, mainting a strong iambic rhythm.

Or such a toy?

Old Knight

Yes, if he mean to spoil him
Or mar his wits he may, but never I.
This is my humour, sir, which you’ll find constant;
I love wit so well, because I live by’t,

I read the line above as being headless with a strong feminine ending. An acceptable variant after four strongly iambic pentameter lines.


That I’ll give no man power out of my means to hurt it,

The line above reads like a 14 syllable line by modern standards! However, according to the practice of the day, power can be read (as now) as having one syllable, while out of my could be elided to something like out’o’my means. This would make the line standard iambic pentameter with a feminine ending. It might scan as follows:

out-of-my-means-iambic-reading

Another possibility would be to give power two syllables, making the line hexameter with a feminine ending. I personally find this latter reading more believable:

out-of-my-means-hexameter-reading

This elides of my to o’my – such that the preposition of almost disappears. This is more easily within the practicable elision of the day.

And that’s a kind of gratitude to my raiser,

Gratitude was probably pronounced grat’tude, maintaing the iambic meter with a feminine ending.


Which great ones oft forget. I admire much
This age’s dullness. When I scarce writ man,
The first degree that e’er I took  in thriving,
I lay intelligencer close for wenching,
Could give this lord or knight a true certificate

Certificate can be read as certif’cate, making the ending feminine, or the line can be treated as having a triple ending. So far, though, another long stretch of Iambic Pentameter.

Of all the maidenheads extant; how many lay

To me, the line above is most easily read as a Hexameter line.

Mongst chambermaids, how many ‘mongst Exchange wenches

I read the line above as another line with a triple ending. Thus:

exchange-wenches-triple-ending

(Though never many there, I must confess,
They have a trick to utter ware so fast);
I knew which lady had a mind to fall,

The three lines above, perfectly iambic, reestablish the meter.


Which gentlewoman new divorced, which tradesman breaking,

This is an interesting line. It’s probably easiest read as another Hexameter (with a feminine ending). If one is determined to regularize the line, one might use sycnope to quickly slur the last three syllables of gentlewomen (such that, in effect, the word is reduced to two syllables).

The price of every sinner to a hair
And where to raise each price; which were the termers
That would give velvet petticoats, tissue gowns,

Petticoats was probably pronounced Pett’coats, maintaining the Iambic rhythm.

Which pieces, angels, suppers, and half-crowns:
I knew how to match and make my market,

The line above is headless, the stress on I. (Remember, the Old Knight is bragging about himself.) Thus:

i-knew-how-headless-reading

Understanding the rules and standards of the day, the reading above is far more likely than an anapestic reading:

i-knew-how-anapestic-reading

Such a reading as above would be to bring a 21rst Century sensibility to a 17th Century aesthetic.

Could give intelligence where the pox lay ledger,

Intelligence was most likely pronounced intell’gence, again maintaining the iambic line.

And then to see the lechers shift a point,
‘Twas sport and profit too; how they would shun
Their adored mistress’ chambers, and run fearfully

Fearfully could be read as fearf’lly, a feminine ending, or as a triple ending. Either would be acceptable. Frequent triple  endings were certainly more frequent among Jacobean playwrights.

Like rats from burning houses! So brought I
My clients o’ the game still safe together,
And noble gamesters loved me, and I felt it:
Give me a man that lives by his wits, say I,

By his wits was probably elided to read by’s wits – maintaining the iambic pattern.

And never left a groat, there’s the true gallant.
When I grew somewhat pursy, I grew then
In men’s opinions too, and confidences;
They put things called executorships upon me,

Executorships was probably pronounced exec’torships, making the line iambic pentameter with a feminine ending.

The charge of orphans, little senseless creatures,
Whom in their childhoods I bound forth to feltmakers,

Reading the line above as an Iambic Pentameter line with a triple ending.

To make ‘em lose and work away their gentry,
Disguise their tender nature with hard custom,
So wrought ‘em out in time: there I risse ungently;

Risse means rose. The line is hard to read. Most likely, there I can be elided:

there-i-risse-elision

Another possibility is to treat the colon as a midline break (which is what it is in either case) and the phrase there I risse as being a kind of double onset for the next phrase (there I being two unstressed syllables before risse). Remember, a double onset is when an iambic pentameter line begins with an extra unstressed syllable: Not a word, a word, we stand upon our manners (Wright P. 170). This would be, in effect, a reverse of the Epic Caesuras, a very common feature in Shakespeare’s works. For example:

seven-ages-epic-caesuras

This is from As You Like It 2.7.43. Notice the extra unstressed syllable at the midline break.

Nor do I fear to discourse this unto thee,
I’m armed at all points against treachery.

It’s hard to regularize these last two lines. Even in Jacobean England, I doubt that they would have acted the lines as follows:

final-couplet

I’ll be blunt. They’re clumsy. They’re bad lines. The second line could be read as having two anapests – at all points | against treach |. But this isn’t any less clumsy by the standards of blank verse.  The lines were ultimately written for the rhyme of thee and treachery. It was traditional, sometimes, to signal the end of a soliloquy or extended speech with a rhyming couplet, but the rhyme, in this case, is poorly executed and not a true rhyme. This may not be a sign of Middleton’s incompetence. It may simply be haste. (Dramatists in these days weren’t writing for posterity but for money – and new plays were needed fast, fast, fast!)

middleton-textual-companionThe clumsy meter and rhyme could also reflect on the character of the Knight (although I always doubt these sorts of readings; but it’s possible). After all, the Old Knight is a blow hard and just as he speaks these last two lines he collapses into prose – a curious effect and not often seen mid-speech in the theater of the day. It were as if the old blowhard simply gave up on the pretense of blank verse, exhausted by it, falling into the matter-of-fact discourse of prose – (similar to the rapid fire list of side-effects at the end of a drug commercial).

All in all, I would have to say that Middleton’s blank verse, at least in this opening act,  is only just passable. The frequent variants and long lines weaken the overall pattern, sapping it of its vigor and rigorousness.  The enjambment and end-stopping is varied, more so than with many of our modern “formalist” poets, but the effect is diluted by the frequent feminine and triple endings. It’s not good blank verse but it’s blank verse as the Jacobeans practiced it.

The passage demonstrates the wild side of Jacobean Blank Verse.

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