What’s with Shakespeare’s ‘Poet’ in Julius Caesar?


Because I was having trouble focusing on my own poetry, I flipped open my complete Norton Shakespeare, to a page at random, and started reading. I had stumbled into Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 2 — the argument between Brutus and Cassius — one of my favorite dramatic scenes. The swift give and take between the two characters is beautifully imagined (naturally enough, this is Shakespeare). At the very end of their argument, do you remember this part?

Cassius Hath Cassius lived
To be but mirth and laughter  to his Brutus
When grief and blood ill-tempered vexeth him?
Brutus: When you spoke that, I was ill-tempered too.
Cassius: Do you confess so much? Give me your hand.
Brutus: And my heart too.
[They embrace]
Cassius: O Brutus!
Brutus: What’s the matter?
Cassius: Have you not love enough to bear with me
When that rash humour which my mother gave me
Makes me forgetful?
Brutus: Yes, Cassius, and from henceforth,
When you are over earnest with your Brutus,
He’ll think your mother chides, and leave you so.
[Enter Lucillius]
Lucillius and Titinius, bid the commanders
Prepare to lodge their companies tonight.  etc.

Some readers might have a vague memory of this. Others, much more familiar with the play, may notice something or someone missing — the Poet. The Poet is a character who only appears once in the entire play, without any warning, without any preamble, and only between the lines shakespeareabove (which I removed).

Now, if you’re anything like me, the first thought that occurs to you is: Huh? Where did this utterly superfluous and arbitrary character come from? And why? What purpose does he serve? And where did he go? The scene works just fine without him. So I got to thinking about it and came up with an almost completely baseless theory proceeding from the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. But hear me out. The first thing to notice is that I could excise the passage without messing up the lines (meter). This may be complete coincidence, but it may also hint that the passage is an interpolation added later.

However, knowing that Shakespeare based Julius Ceasar on Plutarch,  I first wanted to see if “the Poet ” is in Plutarch. In fact, he is… sort of.  Here’s the relevant passage from here:

Brutus now summoned Cassius to Sardis, and as he drew near, went to meet him with his friends; and the whole army, in full array, saluted them both as Imperators. 2 But, as is wont to be the case in great undertakings where there are many friends and commanders, mutual charges and accusations had passed between them, and therefore, immediately after their march and before they did anything else, they met in a room by themselves. The doors were locked, and, with no one by, they indulged in fault-finding first, then in rebukes and denunciations. 3 After this, they were swept along into passionate speeches and tears, and their friends, amazed at the harshness and intensity of their anger, feared so untoward a result; they were, however, forbidden to approach. 4 But Marcus Favonius, who had become a devotee of Cato, and was more impetuous and frenzied than reasonable in his pursuit of philosophy, tried to go in to them, and was prevented by their servants. 5 It was no easy matter, however, to stop Favonius when he sprang to do anything, for he was always vehement and rash. The fact that he was a Roman senator was of no importance in his eyes, and by the “cynical” boldness of his speech he often took away its offensiveness, and therefore men put up with his impertinence as a joke. 6 And so at this time he forced his way through the bystanders and entered the room, reciting in an affected voice the verses wherein Homer represents Nestor as saying:—

“But do ye harken to me, for ye both are younger than I am,”

and so forth. 7 At this Cassius burst out laughing; but Brutus drove Favonius out of the room, calling him a mere dog, and a counterfeit Cynic. However, at the time, this incident put an end to their quarrel, and they separated at once. 8 Furthermore, Cassius gave a supper, to which Brutus invited his friends. And as the guests were already taking their places at the feast, Favonius came, fresh from his bath. Brutus protested that he had come without an invitation, and ordered the servants to conduct him to the uppermost couch; but Favonius forced his way past them and reclined upon the central one.b And over the wine mirth and jest abounded, seasoned with wit and philosophy.

So, a mystery is afoot. If Shakespeare was solely being faithful to Plutarch, why introduce Favonius as a “Poet”? And if faithfulness was at issue, why exclude Favonius from Brutus and Cassius’ drinking bout? And if faithfulness was not at issue, why introduce Favonius at all? How does he advance the play? In Plutarch’s original, it was Favonius’ interruption (and Brutus and Cassius’ mutual contempt for him) that united them and ended their quarrel. In Shakespeare’s version of events, Brutus and Cassius had already embraced prior to the “Poet’s” appearance, so there’s no reason for Favonius, or the Poet, to enter the scene (let alone the play). None.

So, what’s going on? Well. I have a theory.

My theory, which I’ve already alluded to, is that the Poet’s appearance wasn’t in the original play, but was an interpolation added by Shakespeare (most likely) at some point after the play was originally written. Why? I think the clue is that Favonius was changed to a poet. ben-jonsonRight about this time, the famous (or infamous) “Poet’s War” was getting started (Ben Jonson being in the middle of it). I think the “Poet” was Shakespeare’s jab at Jonson. There’s reason to think that Shakespeare made other jabs at Jonson, and Jonson appears to have lampooned Shakespeare in his plays (setting aside his satirical characterizations of Webster and Dekker). The Poet’s War was no secret and the Elizabethan audience was in on it. They were well aware of who was being satirized and lampooned — and they loved it.

But, you may object, the character of Favonius was never referred to as “a poet”. How would the audience have been in on the joke? My answer? Probably because he was dressed like a poet, or dramatist, and possibly was even made to look like Ben Jonson. And furthermore, going completely out on a limb, my bet is that Shakespeare (to really capitalize on the joke) played the part of the Poet. But before we go any further, let’s take a step back. Would Shakespeare really “mar” one of his masterpieces for the sake of a joke?

We know that Shakespeare was involved in the poet’s war because of a reference to Shakespeare and Jonson made by an anonymous author at St. John’s College in 1601-2, in his A Return from Parnassus. My source for this (and all that follows) is Shakespeare & The Poet’s War by James P. Bednarz. Bednarz writes:

 …the anonymous author has the students impersonating Richard Burbage and William Kemp not only reveal that Shakespeare participated in the struggle but also affirm that by the strength of his wit he managed to overcome all other combatants in the process. “Kemp” especially exults in Shakespeare’s victory over Jonson:

Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down, ay and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow. He brought up Horace giving the Poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him beray his credit. [p. 21]

The rest of Berdnarz’s book is dedicated to teasing out exactly what this “purge” might have been. All critics agree on the “pill” — Jonson’s denunciation of Marston and Dekker in Act 5, Scene 3 of Poetaster, but there’s no real agreement on the “purge”. First to the pill. Jonson was in a snit. Marston had gotten things going by, among other things, stating that Jonson was little more than a translator who stole the works of others. Jonson’s riposte was to satirize Marston’s turgid style and mannered vocabulary in the character of Crispinus. The specific passage is about half way down, but I’ve copied this much because it begins with the “pill”. As Bednarz points out, “Crisponus disgorges fourteen words and phrases that can still be located in Marston’s prior work: ‘barmy froth,’ ‘chilblained,’ ‘clumsy,’ ‘clutched,’ [etc…]” p. 215]

Hor. Please it, great Caesar, I have pills about me,
Mixt with the whitest kind of hellebore,
Would give him a light vomit, that should purge
His brain and stomach of those tumorous heats:
Might I have leave to minister unto him.
O, be his AEsculapius, gentle Horace!
You shall have leave, and he shall be your patient. Virgil,
Use your authority, command him forth.
Caesar is careful of your health, Crispinus;
And hath himself chose a physician
To minister unto you: take his pills.
They are somewhat bitter, sir, but very wholesome.
Take yet another; so: stand by, they’ll work anon.
Tib. Romans, return to your several seats: lictors, bring forward
the urn; and set the accused to the bar.
Tuc. Quickly, you whoreson egregious varlets; come forward. What!
shall we sit all day upon you? You make no more haste now, than a
beggar upon pattens; or a physician to a patient that has no money,
you pilchers.
Tib. Rufus Laberius Crispinus, and Demetrius Fannius, hold up your
hands. You have, according to the Roman custom, put yourselves upon
trial to the urn, for divers and sundry calumnies, whereof you
have, before this time, been indicted, and are now presently
arraigned: prepare yourselves to hearken to the verdict of your
tryers. Caius Cilnius Mecaenas pronounceth you, by this
hand-writing, guilty. Cornelius Gallus, guilty. Pantilius Tucca–
Tuc. Parcel-guilty, I.
He means himself; for it was he indeed
Suborn’d us to the calumny.
Tuc. I, you whoreson cantharides! was it I?
Dem. I appeal to your conscience, captain.
Tib. Then you confess it now?
Dem. I do, and crave the mercy of the court.
Tib. What saith Crispinus?
Cris. O, the captain, the captain—
Bor. My physic begins to work with my patient, I see.
Virg. Captain, stand forth and answer.
Tuc. Hold thy peace, poet praetor: I appeal from thee to Caesar, I.
Do me right, royal Caesar.
Marry, and I will, sir.—Lictors, gag him; do.
And put a case of vizards o’er his head,
That he may look bifronted, as he speaks.
Tuc. Gods and fiends! Caesar! thou wilt not, Caesar, wilt thou?
Away, you whoreson vultures; away. You think I am a dead corps now,
because Caesar is disposed to jest with a man of mark, or so. Hold
your hook’d talons out of my flesh, you inhuman harpies. Go to,
do’t. What! will the royal Augustus cast away a gentleman of
worship, a captain and a commander, for a couple of condemn’d
caitiff calumnious cargos?
Caes. Dispatch, lictors.
Tuc. Caesar!                   [The vizards are put upon him.
Caes. Forward, Tibullus.
Virg. Demand what cause they had to malign Horace.
Dem. In troth, no great cause, not I, I must confess; but that he
kept better company, for the most part, than I; and that better men
loved him than loved me; and that his writings thrived better than
mine, and were better liked and graced: nothing else.
Thus envious souls repine at others’ good.
If this be all, faith, I forgive thee freely.
Envy me still, so long as Virgil loves me,
Gallus, Tibullus, and the best-best Caesar,
My dear Mecaenas; while these, with many more,
Whose names I wisely slip, shall think me worthy
Their honour’d and adored society,
And read and love, prove and applaud my poems;
I would not wish but such as you should spite them.
Cris. O–!
Tib. How now, Crispinus?
Cris. O, I am sick–!
Hor. A bason, a bason, quickly; our physic works. Faint not, man.
Cris. O——retrograde——reciprocal——incubus.
Caes. What’s that, Horace?
Hor. Retrograde, reciprocal, and incubus, are come up.
Gal. Thanks be to Jupiter!
Cris. O——glibbery——lubrical——defunct——O——!
Hor. Well said; here’s some store.
Virg. What are they?
Hor. Glibbery, lubrical, and defunct.
Gal. O, they came up easy.
Cris. O——O——!
Tib. What’s that?
Hor. Nothing yet.
Cris. Magnificate——
Mec. Magnificate!  That came up somewhat hard.
Hor. Ay. What cheer, Crispinus?
Cris. O! I shall cast up my——spurious——snotteries——
Hor. Good. Again.
Oris. Chilblain’d——O——O——clumsie——
Hor. That clumsie stuck terribly.
Mec. What’s all that, Horace?
Hor. Spurious, snotteries, chilblain’d, clumsie.
Tib. O Jupiter!
Gal. Who would have thought there should have been such a deal of
filth in a poet?
Cris. O——balmy froth——
Caes. What’s that?
Hor. Balmy, froth, puffie, inflate, turgidous, and ventosity are
come up.
Tib. O terrible windy words.
Gal. A sign of a windy brain.
Cris. O——oblatrant——furibund——fatuate——strenuous—
Hor. Here’s a deal; oblatrant, furibund, fatuate, strenuous.
Caes. Now all’s come up, I trow. What a tumult he had in his belly?
Hor. No, there’s the often conscious damp behind still.
Cris. O——conscious——damp.
Hor. It is come up, thanks to Apollo and AEsculapius: another; you
were best take a pill more.
Cris. O, no; O——O——O——O——O!
Hor. Force yourself then a little with your finger.
Cris. O——O——prorumped.
Tib. Prorumped I What a noise it made! as if his spirit would have
prorumpt with it.
Cris. O——O——O!
Virg. Help him, it sticks strangely, whatever it is.
Cris. O——clutcht
Hor. Now it is come; clutcht.
Caes. Clutcht!  it is well that’s come up; it had but a narrow
Cris. O——!
Virg. Again! hold him, hold his head there.
Cris. Snarling gusts——quaking custard.
Hor. How now, Crispinus?
Cris. O——obstupefact.
Tib. Nay, that are all we, I assure you.
Hor. How do you feel yourself?
Cris. Pretty and well, I thank you.
These pills can but restore him for a time,
Not cure him quite of such a malady,
Caught by so many surfeits, which have fill’d
His blood and brain thus full of crudities:
‘Tis necessary therefore he observe
A strict and wholesome diet. Look you take
Each morning of old Cato’s principles
A good draught next your heart; that walk upon,
Till it be well digested: then come home,
And taste a piece of Terence, suck his phrase
Instead of liquorice; and, at any hand,
Shun Plautus and old Ennius: they are meats
Too harsh for a weak stomach.
Use to read (But not without a tutor) the best Greeks,
As Orpheus, Musaeus, Pindarus,
Hesiod, Callimachus, and Theocrite,
High Homer; but beware of Lycophron,
He is too dark and dangerous a dish.
You must not hunt for wild outlandish terms,
To stuff out a peculiar dialect;
But let your matter run before your words.
And if at any time you chance to meet
Some Gallo-Belgic phrase; you shall not straight.
Rack your poor verse to give it entertainment,
But let it pass; and do not think yourself
Much damnified, if you do leave it out,
When nor your understanding, nor the sense
Could well receive it. This fair abstinence,
In time, will render you more sound and clear:
And this have I prescribed to you, in place
Of a strict sentence; which till he perform,
Attire him in that robe. And henceforth learn
To bear yourself more humbly; not to swell,
Or breathe your insolent and idle spite
On him whose laughter can your worst affright.
Tib. Take him away.

Note the monologue at the end, where Ben Jonson, in the guise of Virgil, gets to pompously lecture Marston and Dekker. My point in copying it here is, first, because it’s actually hilarious if you can imagine it onstage and, two, to show how Jonson, Dekker, Marston, and eventually Poets' WarShakespeare, after his own fashion, were playing out their argument before all of London. Not only were they making their case before the Elizabethan public, but it’s also liekly that their on-stage dispute was raking in the money; and they weren’t fools (Marston, Dekker, and Jonson would all happily work together again.) It’s not unreasonable to suspect that they kissed and made up well before they ended the feud. But getting back to Shakespeare, what was his fashion? Berdnarz argues that Shakespeare satirized Jonson in the character of Ajax from his play Troilus and Cressida:.

“As Elton observes, the language of A Return from Parnassus is more prcise in its connotations than readers had heretofore recognized. Kemp’s line, “our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him beray his credit,” uses the word “beray” as a synonym in Elizabethan parlance for “befoul” or “beshit.” Elron concludes that Shakespeare ‘purged’ Jonson by satirizing him as a witless braggart soldier compounded of humours, and berayed his credit — befouled his reputation — by naming him Ajax, signifying a privy’ Shakespeare needed Ajaz for the depiction of Trojan history, but he built into the role a reference to Jonson in order to expose him by proxy to his own comic plotting. Ever since John Harington in The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) encouraged his readers to pronounce the hero’s name with a stress on the second syllable (“a jakes”), it had had a latent comic association. Harington incited a reply from an anonymous rival who took him to task in Ulysses Upon Ajax, or in other words, “Ulyssess on the privy.” [p. 32-33]

Shakespeare’s satire of Jonson is gist for the entire book, but this at least gives an introduction. What did Jonson say that irked Shakespeare? As it turns out, one of Jonson’s surviving criticisms of Shakespeare pertains to his play Julius Caesar:

“Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter: as when he said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him, “Caesar, thou dost me wrong,” he replied “Caesar did never wrong, but with just cause,” and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.”

Now, strangely enough, this line can’t be found in the play as it as come down to us. Instead, we find the following:

“Know Caesar doth no wrong, nor without cause
Will he be satisfied.”

Somebody changed the line. Not only that, when but when they changed it they left a half-line, as if, in Berdnarz’s words, they indicated a revision. What this tells us is that the play was altered subsequent to Jonson’s barb; and this is important because it adds just a little plausibility to my own contention that the “Poet” was also, possibly, a subsequent revision. In other words, Shakespeare may have corrected the much maligned line, but also added a little barb in the guise of the “poet”.

But before I copy out the lines with Shakespeare’s “Poet” included, a couple more observations. There was another criticism that Jonson made of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy, and that was lambasting Shakespeare for ignoring the classical unities. Jonson especially singled out the Shakespeare’s Henry V, contemptuous of the play’s personified “Prologue” who wafted the audience hither and anon in complete disregard of the “classical unities“. In the 1616 Folio Edition of Jonson’s plays, the following prologue appeared in Every Man In His Humour.


Though need make many poets, and some such
As art and nature have not better’d much;
Yet ours for want hath not so loved the stage,
As he dare serve the ill customs of the age,
Or purchase your delight at such a rate,
As, for it, he himself must justly hate:
To make a child now swaddled, to proceed
Man, and then shoot up, in one beard and weed,
Past threescore years; or, with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot and half-foot words,
Fight over York and Lancaster’s king jars,
And in the tyring-house bring wounds to scars.
He rather prays you will be pleas’d to see
One such to-day, as other plays should be;
Where neither chorus wafts you o’er the seas,
Nor creaking throne comes down the boys to please;
Nor nimble squib is seen to make afeard
The gentlewomen; nor roll’d bullet heard
To say, it thunders; nor tempestuous drum
Rumbles, to tell you when the storm doth come;
But deeds, and language, such as men do use,
And persons, such as comedy would choose,
When she would shew an image of the times,
And sport with human follies, not with crimes.
Except we make them such, by loving still
Our popular errors, when we know they’re ill.
I mean such errors as you’ll all confess,
By laughing at them, they deserve no less:
Which when you heartily do, there’s hope left then,
You, that have so grac’d monsters, may like men.

The whole of it is a scathing criticism from beginning to end. From what I can gather, the assumption seems to be that because the prologue first appeared in print in the 1616 Folio Edition, it must have been written then. I don’t see a compelling reason to make that assumption. Why would Jonson write such a scathing prologue almost 20 years after Henry V’s first appearance (1599)? My own supposition, and based on Shakespeare’s “Poet”, is that it appeared much earlier, and was probably appended to the play during the Poetomachia. Every Man In His Humour was first staged in 1598, before Henry V, but continued to be staged, and probably contemporaneously with Henry V. In fact, Jonson’s play was entered into the Register of the Stationers’ Company on 4 August 1600, along with Shakespeare’s  As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry V. It’s much more likely, in my opinion, that the prologue, or an early form of it, appeared shortly after Henry V as the Poetomachia heated up. If I’m right, then Jonson only formally added it to the play, for the sake of the folio, in 1616.

And one last bit of information before we read the passage with the poet. Here’s a brief explanation of Jonson’s Humours from here:

As Jonson has been much misrepresented in this matter, let us quote his
own words as to “humour.” A humour, according to Jonson, was a bias of
disposition, a warp, so to speak, in character by which

“Some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way.”

But continuing, Jonson is careful to add:

“But that a rook by wearing a pied feather,
The cable hat-band, or the three-piled ruff,
A yard of shoe-tie, or the Switzers knot
On his French garters, should affect a humour!
O, it is more than most ridiculous.”

Jonson’s comedy of humours, in a word, conceived of stage personages
on the basis of a ruling trait or passion (a notable simplification
of actual life be it observed in passing); and, placing these typified
traits in juxtaposition in their conflict and contrast, struck the
spark of comedy.

Now, what would you do if you were Shakespeare? Not only does Jonson lay into your play Julius Caesar, shooting off his mouth about a phrase that he finds utterly nonsensical,

“I remember, the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. . .” ~ Ben Jonson

But he’s he added a rhyming Prologue to his play Every Man in his Humour, accusing you of provincial incompetence, of ignoring the classical unities (messing with the normal progress of time and place), and does it all while lording his own classical education over you. Why, if you were Shakespeare, you might go back and insert a few lines, changing Plutarch’s Favonius into a character who looked and acted suspiciously like Ben Jonson, and probably much to the uproarious delight of the playgoers.

Cassius: Hath Cassius lived
To be but mirth and laughter  to his Brutus
When grief and blood ill-tempered vexeth him?
Brutus: When you spoke that, I was ill-tempered too.
Cassius: Do you confess so much? Give me your hand.
Brutus: And my heart too.
[They embrace]
Cassius: O Brutus!
What’s the matter?

Cassius: Have you not love enough to bear with me
When that rash humour which my mother gave me
Makes me forgetful?
Brutus: Yes, Cassius, and from henceforth,
When you are over earnest with your Brutus,
He’ll think your mother chides, and leave you so.
Enter [Lucillius and] a POET
POET: Let me go in to see the generals.
There is some grudge between ’em; ’tis not meet
They be alone.
Lucillius: You shall not come to them.
POET: Nothing but death shall stay me.
Cassius: How now! What’s the matter?
POET: For shame, you generals, what do you mean?
Love and be friends, as two such men should be.
For I have seen more years, I’m sure, than ye.
Cassius: Ha, ha! How vilely doth this cynic rhyme!
Brutus [to the Poet] Get you hence, sirrah, saucy fellow, hence!
Cassius: Bear with him, Brutus, ’tis his fashion.
Brutus: I’ll know his humour when he knows his time.
What should the wars do with these jigging fools?
[To the Poet] Companion, hence!
Cassius: Away, away, be gone!
Brutus: Lucillius and Titinius, bid the commanders
Prepare to lodge their companies tonight. etc.

That Poet, I propose, is Ben Jonson. He can’t keep from barging in and giving his pompous, bloated opinion in the midst of the play. I suspect the audience immediately recognized him. In he goes! Nothing but death shall stay him! (And that might be a barbed reference to Jonson’s boasting that he had taken Marston’s pistol from him. ) What does Jonson do? He claims legitimacy “for I have seen more years” in a way that echoes his claim to a superior knowledge of classical literature — (400px-Lucius_Junius_Brutus_MAN_Napoli_Inv6178the classical unities & dramaturgy). “How vilely doth this cynic rhyme!” cries Brutus. Favonius was a cynic, a “member of a philosophical school that refused to respect differences in social class.” [The Norton Shakespeare p. 1575] Jonson, among other jests, ceaselessly made fun of Shakespeare’s desire to be a gentleman and obtain a coat of arms. Consider this from Wikipedia:

Every Man Out of His Humour includes several references to Shakespeare and his contemporaneous works: a mention of Justice Silence from Henry IV, Part 2—”this is a kinsman to Justice Silence” (V,ii) and two allusions to Julius Casear, which help to date that play to 1599. “Et tu, Brute” occurs in V,iv of Every Man Out; in III,i appears “reason long since is fled to animals,” a paraphrase of Shakespeare’s line “O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts” in Julius Caesar, III,ii,104. Some critics have seen a dig at Shakespeare in the coat of arms that Jonson gives his character Sogliardo in III,1, whose crest features a ” boar without a head, rampant – A boar without a head, that’s very rare!” and the motto “Not without mustard.” The motto of Shakespeare’s family coat of arms granted three years earlier was Non Sans Droit, “not without right.”

Shakespeare’s humorous jab is both true to Plutarch (Favonius was a cynic) and also true of Jonson (who disrespects Shakespeare’s social climbing). The “rhyme”, in my opinion, refers to the rhyming of the prologue to Every Man In His Humour. Shakespeare, in the character of Brutus, then brusquely dismisses Jonson:  “Get you hence, sirrah, saucy fellow, hence!”

Cassius, perhaps representing the common opinion on Jonson, says: “Bear with him, Brutus, ’tis his fashion.”

This is the praise that damns. Jonson’s posturing is merely fashion, rather than anything principled. And then Brutus executes the coup de grâce:

I’ll know his humour when he knows his time.
What should the wars do with these jigging fools?

In my view, Shakespeare all but spells it out. “I’ll know his humour” — a sly reference to Jonson’s plays Every Man In and Every Man Out of His Humour, if not his philosophical dramaturgy in generalwhen he knows his time.” I suspect time is a coy jab at Jonson’s harping on the classical unities. In other words, Shakespeare will give a damn what Jonson thinks when Jonson knows his time — that he’s a playwright in Elizabethan England and not ancient Rome. Basta. And then he adds (with possibly a reference to Henry V) — “What should the wars (Henry V) do with these jigging (rhyming) fools (Ben Jonson).”

“Away, away, be gone!” says Cassius, as though speaking the general censure.

All the while, Brutus and Cassius are laughing; and this too is true to Plutarch, who wrote that Favonius’s foolery disarmed both Brutus’s and Cassius’s anger. Shakespeare substitutes the so-called “Poet”, Ben Jonson, for the fool, Favonius; and probably to the delight of the Elizabethan audience, who laughed along with Brutus and Cassius.

A stroke of genius, if you ask me (and if I’m right). Let me know what you think.

mountainish inhumanity

More - Autograph & Print (Actual MS) ThumbnailI continue to be deeply offended by the ignorance and stupidity on display by a certain class of Americans. I can’t keep my mouth shut. More than 57,000 children have come to our borders, for whatever reason (some horrific), dodging violence, abduction, rape, torture, extortion, only to be frightened out of their wits by a rabid mob clothed in the ruff of their opinions — politicians among them. I’d call them hyenas but hyenas possess compassion and overall intelligence.

Along with many other Americans, I can say that they don’t represent what’s good, generous or compassionate in this or any country.

But as anyone in every country knows, there’s no state that doesn’t suffer its own fools. On a scrap of paper long thought to contain the only remaining trace of Shakespeare’s hand, Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Sir Thomas More a scathing rebuke of such lynch mobs. The very thing — an anti-immigration crowd hell-bent on ridding their country of the wretched stranger. Here’s how the Oxford Shakespeare sums up the passage (Shakespeare’s contribution to Sir Thomas More):

“Sir Thomas More is based on Holinshed’s Chronicles and Nicholas Harpsfield’s biography of More. Sheriff More peacefully quells the riots of Londoners against resident foreigners  on the ‘Ill May Day* of 1517, and is appointed Lord Chancellor as a reward. In the Shakespearean Sc. 6, More persuades the rebels to surrender to the King, arguing for obedience to authority and challenging the rebels to consider their own plight if, like the strangers, they were to live in exile.” [Underlining is my own.]

* “…a fortnight before the riot an inflammatory xenophobic speech was made on Easter Tuesday by a Dr. Bell at St. Paul’s Cross at the instigation of John Lincoln, a broker. Bell called on all ‘Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal’. Over the following two weeks there were sporadic attacks on foreigners and rumours abounded that “on May Day next the city would rebel and slay all aliens”. ~ Wikipedia as of July 28th 2014

As concerns the mob mentality untroubled by selfishness or  cruelty, Shakespeare’s More has little patience:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to th’ ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

And more to the point, says More:

You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line,
To slip him like a hound. Say now the king
(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)
Should so much come to short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
shakespeareNay, any where that not adheres to England,–
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.

And what will happen if  these people, these Americans and their children, who call themselves Christian, someday and suddenly find themselves the foreigner or the immigrant?  Who won’t, by their example, spurn them like dogs? Why shouldn’t they suffer the same barbarous temper and hideous violence? — The same refusal of a safe and generous abode on earth? Why should any American, outside the mote of their entitlement, expect to be treated better than dirt?

Shakespeare’s More still asks the same questions and I wonder if another 400 years will pass before history stops repeating itself.

The play, Sir Thomas More, a collaboration between Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood, and William Shakespeare (and possibly others) was censored by the Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney, and never produced. Apparently, Tilney wanted substantial changes made to the play’s insurrection scenes. The ruling class then was just as timid as the ruling class today.


SCENE IV. St. Martin’s Gate.

[Enter Lincoln, Doll, Clown, George Betts, Williamson, others;
and a Sergeant at Arms.]

Peace, hear me: he that will not see a red herring at a Harry groat,
butter at elevenpence a pound, meal at nine shillings a bushel, and
beef at four nobles a stone, list to me.

It will come to that pass, if strangers be suffered. Mark him.

Our country is a great eating country; ergo, they eat more in our
country than they do in their own.

By a halfpenny loaf, a day, troy weight.

They bring in strange roots, which is merely to the undoing of poor
prentices; for what’s a sorry parsnip to a good heart?

Trash, trash; they breed sore eyes, and tis enough to infect the city
with the palsey.

Nay, it has infected it with the palsey; for these bastards of dung,
as you know they grow in dung, have infected us, and it is our
infection will make the city shake, which partly comes through the
eating of parsnips.

True; and pumpkins together.

What say ye to the mercy of the king?
Do ye refuse it?

You would have us upon this, would you? no, marry, do we not;
we accept of the king’s mercy, but we will show no mercy upon the

You are the simplest things that ever stood
In such a question.

How say ye now, prentices? prentices simple! down with him!

Prentices simple! prentices simple!

[Enter the Lord Mayor, Surrey, Shrewsbury, More.]

Hold! in the king’s name, hold!

Friends, masters, countrymen–

Peace, how, peace! I charge you, keep the peace!

My masters, countrymen–

The noble earl of Shrewsbury, let’s hear him.

We’ll hear the earl of Surrey.

The earl of Shrewsbury.

We’ll hear both.

Both, both, both, both!

Peace, I say, peace! are you men of wisdom, or what are you?

What you will have them; but not men of wisdom.

We’ll not hear my lord of Surrey; no, no, no, no, no! Shrewsbury,

Whiles they are o’er the bank of their obedience,
Thus will they bear down all things.

Sheriff More speaks; shall we hear Sheriff More speak?

Let’s hear him: a keeps a plentyful shrievaltry, and a made my
brother Arthur Watchins Seriant Safes yeoman: let’s hear Shrieve

Shrieve More, More, More, Shrieve More!

Even by the rule you have among yourselves,
Command still audience.

Surrey, Surrey! More, More!

Peace, peace, silence, peace.

Peace, peace, silence, peace.

You that have voice and credit with the number
Command them to a stillness.

A plague on them, they will not hold their peace; the dual cannot
rule them.

Then what a rough and riotous charge have you,
To lead those that the dual cannot rule?–
Good masters, hear me speak.

Aye, by th’ mass, will we, More: th’ art a good housekeeper, and I
thank thy good worship for my brother Arthur Watchins.

Peace, peace.

Look, what you do offend you cry upon,
That is, the peace: not one of you here present,
Had there such fellows lived when you were babes,
That could have topped the peace, as now you would,
The peace wherein you have till now grown up
Had been ta’en from you, and the bloody times
Could not have brought you to the state of men.
Alas, poor things, what is it you have got,
Although we grant you get the thing you seek?

Marry, the removing of the strangers, which cannot choose but
much advantage the poor handicrafts of the city.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to th’ ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

Before God, that’s as true as the Gospel.

Nay, this is a sound fellow, I tell you: let’s mark him.

Let me set up before your thoughts, good friends,
On supposition; which if you will mark,
You shall perceive how horrible a shape
Your innovation bears: first, tis a sin
Which oft the apostle did forewarn us of,
Urging obedience to authority;
And twere no error, if I told you all,
You were in arms against your God himself.

Marry, God forbid that!

Nay, certainly you are;
For to the king God hath his office lent
Of dread, of justice, power and command,
Hath bid him rule, and willed you to obey;
And, to add ampler majesty to this,
He hath not only lent the king his figure,
His throne and sword, but given him his own name,
Calls him a god on earth. What do you, then,
Rising gainst him that God himself installs,
But rise against God? what do you to your souls
In doing this? O, desperate as you are,
Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,
That you like rebels lift against the peace,
Lift up for peace, and your unreverent knees,
Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven!
Tell me but this: what rebel captain,
As mutinies are incident, by his name
Can still the rout? who will obey a traitor?
Or how can well that proclamation sound,
When there is no addition but a rebel
To qualify a rebel? You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line,
To slip him like a hound. Say now the king
(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)
Should so much come to short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,–
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.

Faith, a says true: let’s do as we may be done to.

We’ll be ruled by you, Master More, if you’ll stand our friend to
procure our pardon.

Submit you to these noble gentlemen,
Entreat their mediation to the king,
Give up yourself to form, obey the magistrate,
And there’s no doubt but mercy may be found,
If you so seek.
To persist in it is present death: but, if you
Yield yourselves, no doubt what punishment
You in simplicity have incurred, his highness
In mercy will most graciously pardon.

The Writing and Art of Iambic Pentameter – II

  • If you’re coming to this post after having gotten a notification — what a mess. WordPress initially insisted on dating it to 2012. Don’t know why. I copied the contents of the original into this new one, but parts of the post were missing (I soon discovered). I think it’s all in one piece now. If something looks like it’s missing, let me know. May 7 2013

In my last post on this subject, I wrote that at some point I would get around to poetizing the rest of North’s passage. This pot has been simmering on the back burner for over a year. I don’t know if my effort is helpful to others, but I enjoy the process. This post isn’t quite so detailed or methodical as the other, since there’s no point in altogether repeating what was said before. Nevertheless, I’ve followed much the same process. Here again, are the two relevant paragraphs from North’s Plutarch:

antony-and-cleopatra-1-largeTherefore when she was sent unto by diverse letters, both Antonius himself and also from his friends, she made light of it and mocked Antonius so much that she disdained to set forward otherwise but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, howboys, citherns, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of herself: she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, appareled and attired like the goddess Venus commonly drawn in picture; and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretty fair boys appareled as painters do set forth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with which they fanned wind upon her.

Her ladies and gentlewomen also, the fairest of them were apparelled like the nymphs Nereides (which are the mermaids of the waters) and like the Graces, some steering the helm, others tending the tackle and ropes of the barge, out of the which there came a wonderful passing sweet savor of perfumes, that perfumed the wharf’s side, pestered with innumerable multitudes of people. Some of them followed the barge all alongst the river’s side; others also ran out of the city to see her coming in; so that in the end there ran such multitudes of people one after another to see her that Antonius was left post-alone in the market-place in his imperial seat to give audience.


As I wrote before, this choice piece of purple prose was written by Thomas North – a translation of a French work by Jacques Amyot which was itself a translation from Plutarch – a Greek historian who wrote while Nero was emperor of Rome. Plutarch was describing Cleopatra’s shrewd and calculating courtship of Antony. So, as before, I took the paragraph and lineated it. Voila! We now have free verse. See? The easiest verse form in the history of literature.

Her ladies and gentlewomen also,
the fairest of them were apparelled like
the nymphs Nereides (which are the mermaids
of the waters) and like the Graces, some
steering the helm, others tending the tackle
and ropes of the barge, out of the which there came
a wonderful passing sweet savor of
perfumes, that perfumed the wharf’s side, pestered
with innumerable multitudes of people.
Some of them followed the barge all alongst
the river’s side; others also ran out
of the city to see her coming in;
so that in the end there ran such multitudes
of people one after another to see
her that Antonius was left post-alone
in the market-place in his imperial seat
to give audience.

I essentially limited each line to between 9 and 11 syllables. For some who are learning to write Iambic Pentameter, this can help make the transition manageable. Write out your poem as a paragraph, then break down the paragraph into lines having 9 to eleven syllables each. Don’t Cleopatra and Antony -Colored Pencil, Copyrightedworry about meter. (Interestingly, a strong Iambic rhythm was more typical of prose writers during the Elizabethan period. Some passages can be broken down into blank verse with very few changes.) Once this is done, you can think about each line rather than the paragraph as a whole. If you’re trying to write a sonnet, then something like this is more difficult. Not only do you have to think about rearranging the letters metrically, but you also have to rhyme without being obvious. Easier, if you’re first learning, to limit yourself to blank verse (unrhymed Iambic Pentameter).

For the next step, I rearranged the words in the lines so that they would fall into an Iambic pattern. Unlike last time, I didn’t try to write as strict an Iambic Pentameter line. For the most part, the trick is in weeding out the anapests. Anapests are a permitted and common variant foot in blank verse, but too many spoil the broth. I also wanted to limit them so that a reader can see how I re-arranged phrases to avoid them. I forcefully broke down the feet as though I were trying to read the lines as Iambic Pentameter (Tetrameter in some cases) — a little arbitrary. That shows me not only anapests but many trochaic feet. I ‘m going to have iron that all out.

Her lad|ies and gent|lewom|en also,
the fair|est of them|were appar|elled like
the nymphs |Nerei|des (which are| the mermaids
of the wat|ers) and like|the Grac|es, some
[5]steering |the helm, |others |tending |the tackle
and ropes |of the barge|, out of| the which| there came
a wond|erful |passing |sweet sa|vor of
perfumes, |that per|fumed the| wharf’s side, |pestered
with innum|erable mul|titudes| of people.
[10]Some of |them fol|lowed the barge| all alongst
the riv|er’s side; |others| also| ran out
of the cit|y to see |her com|ing in;
so that |in the end |there ran |such mul|titudes
of peop|le one af|ter ano|ther to see
[15]her that |Anton|ius |was left |post-alone
in the mark|et-place |in his |imper|ial seat
to give aud|ience.:


So it’s a mess. This is the way I see it after I’ve lineated it. Obviously, I’ve got my work cut out for me. So did Shakespeare. He saw the same prose that you do and went through a similar process. There’s going to be cutting, moving around, and rephrasing. Here’s how Shakespeare did it (though probably without having to think too much about it):

Enobarbus: Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,
So many mermaids, tended her i’ the eyes,
And made their bends adornings: at the helm
A seeming mermaid steers: the silken tackle
Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands,
That yarely frame the office. From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast
Her people out upon her; and Antony,
Enthroned i’ the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air; which, but for vacancy,
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,
And made a gap in nature.

And here’s my first go. I made some interpretative changes for the fun of it but also left some of the lines relatively intact. I’ve also used a number of feminine endings (lines that end in an extra weak/unstressed syllable). So, I’ve given myself a little more freedom than last time.

Her ladies and her gentlewomen also,
The fairest were appareled like the nymphs —
The Nereides (which sailors call the mermaids) —
While others, like the Graces, steered the helm
Or moved like apparitions tending tackle
And rope. Out of the barge there came a savor
Of perfume, scenting the wharf, its byways pestered
With multitudes of people. Some of them
Followed the barge along the river’s side
While every street and alley multiplied
Their number such that in the end there ran
So great a crowd some claimed the dam was broken
And all the city’s tributaries emptied
To never be put back. Antonius
Was left to keep the marketplace alone
His vain imperial seat of no more use
Than were a galley in a sun-burnt desert
The tide that brought it there a whistling dust
And nothing more.

Her lad|ies and| her gent|lewom|en also,
The fair|est were |appar|elled like| the nymphs —
The Ner|eides |(which sail|ors call |the mermaids) —
cleopatraposter_thumbWhile o|thers, like| the Grac|es, steered |the helm
Or moved |like ap|pari|tions tend|ing tackle
And rope. |Out of| the barge| there came| a savor
Of per|fume, scen|ting the wharf, |its by|ways pestered
With mul|titudes |of peo|ple. Some| of them
Followed |the barge| along |the ri|ver’s side
While e|very street |and al|ley mul|tiplied
Their num|ber such |that in| the end| there ran
So great |a crowd |some claimed| a dam |was broken
And all | the ci|ty’s tri|butar|ies emp|tied
To ne|ver be| put back. |Anton|ius
Was left |to keep| the mar|ketplace| alone
His vain |imper|ial seat| of no| more use
Than were |a gal|ley in |a sun-|burnt desert,
The tide |that brought| it there| a whist|ling dust
And no|thing more.

That’s okay, but I think I can do better. I’m going to change, re-arrange and add to what I’ve already written. This time, I deliberately avoided looking at Shakespeare’s version (though it’s hard not to remember and I have given him a nod or two). Also, I’ve touched up the previous passage just a little. Modern purists might be outraged by the touch of elision in the final line. Call it my sense of humor. It makes (and made) blank verse so much easier to write. If you’re writing modern blank verse, don’t do it. You need an advanced poetic license for this kind of devilry.

Enobarbus: Anotonius, together with his friends,
Sent for her.
Agrippa: How did she answer?
Enobarbus: ····················She mocked them.
Agrippa: Mocked them?
Enobarbus: ············Made light of them. Disdained them.
Agrippa: ········································································How?
Enobarbus: She answered under purple sails – her barge
Put on the river. Flute, viol and cithern
Played, and the oars struck water to their rhythm.
The poop was gold; gold glittered in its wake
As though the sun strew petals after her.
As for the Queen herself, she lay bedecked
Like Aphrodite under cloth of gold
Of tissue; poor in clothing, profligate
Without, her artifice surfeiting most
Where she most starved. On either side stood boys,
Like love-struck Cupidons, fanning her
With multi-colored wings — or so it seemed
To the gathered at the water’s edge — their eager
And unschooled apprehension peopling the thin air
With giddy excess.
Agrippa: ··············Wonderful!
Enobarbus: ····························She mocked him.
Agrippa:·How so? She praised him.
·····································No, Agrippa. Mocked him—
As if a dish were set before the King
And to a man all cried: Long live the cook!
Agrippa: Poor Antony.
Enobarbus: But Cleopatra! Girls —
She chose the loveliest girls who by
Their jade and turquoise anklets, and the seashells
art.overview.437.jpgThat cupped their dainty breasts, were like the Nereidies —
Or mermaids. I, myself, could almost swear
A school of mermaids piloted the helm,
Who by the flourish of their supple fingers
Bewitched the Nile. Out of the barge there came
A savor — perfume — scenting all who crowded
The wharfs and harborage. The city spilled
Its multitudes. As many as there were
Still more came bursting from the streets and byways
Until the city’s tributaries emptied;
And there, there in the marketplace, there where
A city’s ticklish populace had thronged
There — ci-devant — sat Antony. His high
Imperial seat had shoaled her water —
A galleon in a sun-burnt desert, call her;
The tide that brought her there a whistling dust —
He baked i’th’ sun.


The Senses & the Art of Imagery

What is Imagery?

I’ve been editing a textbook for an educator who includes a section on the five senses and imagery, and this got me thinking. I questioned whether some of the examples were really evocative of the five senses and questioned whether some of the examples were even imagery (if they weren’t pictorial or visual). In the course of writing this post, I’ve hung myself out to dry. I’ve changed how I think about imagery and if my definition doesn’t suit you, feel free to ignore it.

If you go to the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, the entry under image begins like this:

“Image” and “imagery” are among the most widely used and poorly understood terms in poetic theory, occurring in so many different contexts that it may well be impossible to provide any rational, systematic account of their usage. A poetic image is, variously, a metaphor, simile, or figure of speech; a concrete verbal reference; a recurrent motif, a psychological event in the reader’s mind; the vehicle or second term of a metaphor; a symbol or symbolic pattern; or the global impression of a poem as a unified structure.

And this is why Encyclopedia’s aren’t always the best place to go for definitions: they have to represent all the various constituencies. Along the way we get a gem like the following: “The concept of “poetic imagery” is thus a kind of oxymoron, installing an alien medium (painting, sculpture, visual art) at the heart of verbal expression”. Any newcomer to poetry, having read Princeton’s overview, will probably depart in greater confusion than they arrived. Next in line is the word Imagery. Princeton discusses Imagery for 7 single-spaced, double columned pages. Fascinating stuff, but not very concise. The third section of the article is called “Recent Developments” and begins like this:

More recently the literary study of imagery has become at once more advanced and more problematic. There are a plethora of studies in speculative and experimental psychology, involving phenomenology, epistemology, and cognitive psychology, looking very closely at the question of what exactly mental imagery is.

Whenever the epistemologists show up, if there isn’t a corpse already, there will be. Ultimately though, imagery is like pornography, everyone knows it when they see it. The morally righteous have no trouble identifying erotica (which doesn’t have a shred of actual pornography) as, well, pornography. They know that erotica, like the best poetry, is rich with imagery; and that the thought of what goes on in a reader’s imagination is immeasurably worse than anything on the page.

My two favorite (and most practical) definitions of imagery are from the The Longman Dictionary of Poetic Terms and The Poetry Dictionary. They are elegantly simple.

Image, Imagery A mental picture, a concrete representation of something; a likeness the senses can perceive. (…) Many images, such as a “bracelet in a wheel barrow,” appeal primarily to the sense of sight. But an image can invoke the other senses too, as in a “sniff of perfume,” a “jangling of banjoes,” a “scratchy blanket,” or a “tart cherry.” [from the The Poetry Dictionary]

Now isn’t that a breath of fresh air? And from the Longman Dictionary:

image a pictorial likeness, literal or figurative, that illustrates an idea, object, or action by appeal to the senses. (…) Generally, images are of two types: fixed image, in which the picture conveys a concrete and specific meaning throughout its various levels of interpretation, and free image, in which the image creates a general meaning to be subjectively interpreted in various ways by readers.

imagery the use of pictures, figures of speech, or description to evoke action, ideas, objects, or characters. The term ranges in meaning from the use of a single IMAGE or detail to the accumulative effect of a poem’s figurative devices that imply THEMATIC STRUCTURE.

Both entries define imagery as, in part, a “mental picture” or “pictorial likeness”. On the other hand, they also each state that an image is something that “the senses can perceive” or something that “appeals to the senses”. (Interestingly, all the examples given by The Poetry Dictionary are pictorial or visual “images” that evoke one of the senses.)  But if we limit imagery to the pictorial, what do we make of the following:

And like a rose in vermeil tint and shape,
In fragrance soft, and coolness to the eye…

(John Keats: Hyperion, I, 209-10)

The phrase, “fragrance soft” isn’t pictorial. It describes  the rose’s fragrance through the  tactile soft. Does this mean it’s not an image? We can’t picture a fragrance, but if it’s not an image, then what do we call it? My own habit is to apply Occam’s Razor to all things literary: keep it simple. The simplest thing is to recognize that Imagery is used figuratively when applied to poetry. We could  divide Imagery into Imagery/Visual, and Sense Imagery/Non-Visual, but this seems needless. I think it’s best to interpret Imagery, when applied to poetry, as any passage that evokes any of our senses: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, organic, or kinesthetic.

Why was my first instinct to insist on imagery as strictly pictorial? It allowed me to talk about some beautiful and very rare imagery that poets are all too unaware of:  what I would have called an  “olfactory image“,  “auditory image“, “tactile image” or “gustatory image“.  I’m not referring to the “image” that only evokes the sense of touch (for example), but images that are pictorial/visual evocations of touch. Since I’m not going to divide imagery into imagery and sense imagery, it’s probably easiest to refer to this imagery as Synaesthetic Imagery.

What is and isn’t…

Interestingly, many poets who think they’re invoking one of the seven senses, actually aren’t. I remember reviewing Calendar by Annie Finch. She was genuinely surprised when I called nearly all of her imagery visual. But she’s not alone. The majority of poets, including me (though I try to be aware of it) hew almost exclusively to the sense of sight. Here’s what I mean. Take the example given by The Poetic Dictionary, “sniff of perfume”.

If the poet writes, “the dog sniffed behind her ear”, then the reader sees a visual image but the sense of smell is not invoked. This is strictly a visual image.

However, if the poet writes, “the dog found a sniff of perfume behind her ear”, then that is a visual image the also invokes our sense of smell. Why? Because a sniff of perfume describes what the dog is smelling (or found), whereas the first example does not describe the smell. Make sense? In order to invoke a sensation, you need to describe the sensation. It’s not enough to simply refer to someone smelling, touching, tasting or hearing. The imagery that invokes a sensation tells us something about the sensation.

  • As an interesting aside: The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics posits seven senses:

Psychologists have identified seven kinds of mental images: visual (sight, then brightness, clarity, color, and motion), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) tactile (touch, then temperature, texture), organic (awareness of heartbeat, pulse, breathing, digestion), and kinesthetic (awareness of muscle tension and movement).

Is there such a thing as a visual or pictorial auditory, olfactory or tactile image? Yes. And this imagery is some of the loveliest (and perhaps rarest) in all poetry. The only book, to my knowledge, that discusses this kind of imagery was one published in 1949 by Richard Harter Fogle called The Imagery of Keats and Shelley. If gaining real insight into the nature of imagery interests you, then this book is indispensable. It’s from Fogle’s book that I take the term: Synaesthetic Imagery. The first chapter, wherein he defines imagery somewhat differently than I do, is interesting (to me) but some will find it academic and abstruse. If you skip it, the rest of the book won’t suffer.  Interestingly, he too rejects the notion of the image as solely pictorial. At the outset, he writes:

Another source of possible misconception is the common identification of imagery with pictorial representation, which has misled many who have accepted the sensory view of imagery into overemphasizing the element and excluding other sensory factors. ¶ While giving due heed to those objections to the word, I nevertheless employ it here in default of a better. In this study “imagery” will be used broadly to signify the principle of “figurativeness”.

The Visual Auditory Image | Sound

So, how does one write a visual auditory image? Like this:

Thy visible music-blasts make deaf the sky,
They cymbals clang to fire the Occident,
Thou dost thy dying so triumphally:
I see the crimson blaring of they shawms!

(The Imagery of Keats and Shelley, p. 103)

The extract is from Ode to the Setting Sun by Francis Thompson. And did you catch it? — the “crimson blaring”? This isn’t exactly what Fogle calls synaesthetic imagery, but it’s a nice term and I’m going to use it. The poet has used the sense of sight to describe a sound. This kind of thing is exceedingly rare and beautiful. The reason Fogle chose Keats and Shelley is that Shelley, to a certain degree, acts as a contrast and foil to Keats’ imagery. Shelley’s imagery is generally more abstract and “intellectual” whereas Keats’ imagery is more concrete and sensual. Naturally enough, some of the most beautiful Synaesthetic Imagery or Sense Imagery, is by Keats — well-known for the sensuality of his poetry.

Hyperion, leaving twilight in the rear,
Came slope upon the threshold of the west;
Then, as was wont, his palace-door flew ope
In smoothest silence, save what solemn tubes,
Blown by the serious Zephyrs, gave of sweet
And wandering sounds, slow-breathed melodies;
And like a rose in vermeil tint and shape,
In fragrance soft, and coolness to the eye,
That inlet to severe magnificence
Stood full blown, for the God to enter in.

(Ibid., p. 113: Hyperion, I, 209-10)

Here again, Keats blends sensations in the most beautiful way. When he describes how Hyperion’s palace doors open, a visual image, he creates a synaesthetic image of their sound — smoothest silence — a tactile description of an auditory “silence”. When the Zephyrs blow Keats first describes their noise as “wandering sounds” — a visual and arguably kinesthetic image — and then as slow-breathed melodies (an organic and visual description of the auditory “melody”).  Keats describes the palace door with the imagery of a vermeil rose “in fragrance soft, and coolness to the eye”.  Notice how fragrance is described synaesthetically by the tactile soft and how the vermiel color is described as having coolness to the eye. While these last examples aren’t really visual, I couldn’t resist pointing them out. They are equally rare and beautiful synaesthetic images.

You heard — the song the moth sings, the babble
Of falling snowflakes (in a language
No school has taught you), the scream
Of the reddening bud of the oak tree

As the bud bursts into the world’s brightness. (The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, p. 565)

In  Muted Music, Robert Penn Warren uses the synaesthetic image of reddenning oak buds screaming into the world’s brightness to powerfully close the poem. The synaesthesia creates a kind of crescendo only emphasized by the word scream.

Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself
And falls on th’other.

Perhaps the most famous and powerful moment of synaesthetic imagery occurs in this passage from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Pity is compared to a wind which shall blow “the horrid deed” in everyone’s eye. It’s when Shakespeare combines this image with the visual imagery of the new-born babe striding the “trumpet-tongued” blast (both kinesthetic and auditory), that the imagery becomes brilliantly synaesthetic. The sound of the wind becomes the brilliant visual image of the new-born babe “horsed/Upon the sightless couriers of the air”. Herein lies the power of Shakespeare’s poetry – his sheer and unrivaled imagistic genius. To say that he was a Michelangelo of imagery might be apt.

The Visual Kinesthetic Image | Motion

At this, through all his bulk an agony
Crept gradual, from the feet unto the crown,
Like a lithe serpent vast and muscular
Making slow way, with head and neck convulsed
From over-strained might

(The Imagery of Keats and Shelley, p. 97: Hyperion, I, 259-63)

Remember that Princeton defines the kinesthetic sense as awareness of muscle tension and movement. Notice how beautifully Keats describes the kinesthetic feeling of exhaustion and muscular agony like a “lithe serpent… with head and neck convulsed from over-strained might”.  Clear cut examples from other poets are hard to find, but here’s a famous passage from Shakespeare that, while the imagery may not be strictly synaesthetic, deserves mentioning.

Aye, but to die, and go we know not where
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world…

(William Shakespeare: Measure for Measure, III, i. Claudio)

Shakespeare combines the tactile cold with the kinesthetic obstruction. Because Elizabethan English was constructed nominally rather than verbally, the reader or listener isn’t sure which is modifying which. Is it the obstruction that is cold, or the cold that is obstructing? Shakespeare, who always liked to think in opposites, proceeds to sensible warm motion“. The image combines the tactile warm with the kinesthetic motion. So far, we don’t really have anything visual, but Shakespeare goes one “opposite” further (as if such a thing were possible) and combines life and death in kneaded clod.  Kneaded is both tactile and kinesthetic. It implies the ability to feel and awareness. Clod is lifeless, immobile and visual. At last, we are given a pictorial image of the lifeless clod combined with the paradoxically tactile and kinesthetic kneaded. Shakespeare’s imagistic genius pictures death as both a lifeless inability to escape and as a paradoxical awareness of that lifeless inability to escape. While these opposites may not necessarily be synaesethetic in a Keatsian sense, I think they’re worth including.

The Visual Olfactory Image | Smell

How does one make scent visual? Here are two examples by Shelley once again drawn from Fogle:

And suddenly my brain became as sand
“Where the first wave had more than half erased
The track of deer on desert Labrador,
Whilst the fierce wolf from which they fled amazed
“Leaves his stamp visibly upon the shore
Until the second bursts –so on my sight
Burst a new Vision never seen before. —
“And the fair shape waned in the coming light
As veil by veil the silent splendour drops
From Lucifer, amid the chrysolite
“Of sunrise ere it strike the mountain tops —
And as the presence of that fairest planet
Although unseen is felt by one who hopes
“That his day’s path may end as he began it
In that star’s smile, whose light is like the scent
Of a jonquil when evening breezes fan it,
“Or the soft note in which his dear lament
The Brescian shepherd breathes, or the caress
That turned his weary slumber to content. —

(Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Trumph of Life, II. 405-423)

Where else have you heard light described as the scent of an evening jonquil? If you ever wonder how to characterize a scent, don’t let your imagination be limited by what you smell. Think of smell by what you see, or taste, or touch. At least twice in all his poetry, Keats is reminded of touch, of softness, when he thinks of fragrances.

And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense

(Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Sensitive Plant,I, 25-28)

I included this latter quote because, although it’s not a visual olfactory image, it nevertheless evokes an equally synaesthetic experience of smell — the flower’s odor as a sound, a sweet peal of music. The example that Fogle finds most compelling, however, comes, once again, from Keats’s Hyperion. He writes:

Taste-images occur with relative infrequency in Keats’s synaesthetic imagery, but such as appear are powerful and vivid. On one occasion he combines taste with smell to produce one of the strongest of all his sensory images:

Also, when he would taste the spicy wreaths
Of incense, breath’d aloft from sacred hills,
Instead of sweets, his ample palate took
Savour of poisonous brass and metal sick

(Hyperion, I, 186-89)

(The Imagery of Keats and Shelley, p. 117)

We not only taste the poisonous brass but we see it too, evoking warfare and bloodshed. We visually see the odor.

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

In T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, the tactile imagery of the sandy earth is transformed into a salt savor. This isn’t as strictly synaesthetic as Shelley’s imagery, but more like Keats’. Eliot was a keen reader of Shakespeare and Keats. It may be no coincidence that he used the same word, savour, as Keats. Eliot might well have been directly inspired by the passage for Keats’ Hyperion. Remember, it was T.S. Eliot who said that “good poets borrow, great poets steal”. If you’re looking for inspiration, don’t hesitate  to steal.

In your light, the head is speaking, It reads the book.
It becomes the scholar again, seeking celestial

Picking thin music on the rustiest string,
Squeezing the reddest fragrance from the stump
Of summer.

(Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry & Prose, Good is Good. It is a Beautiful Night, p. 255)

Stevens always like to stretch imagery creatively and powerfully. After he wrote “rustiest string”, the color of the rust must have led him to the next synaesthetic image: the reddest fragrance. Like Robert Penn Warren, Stevens saves the powerful synaesthetic image for the penultimate lines of the poem. It’s hard not to think that both poets were proud of these images and wanted them to crown the closing lines of their poems.

The Visual Tactile Image | Touch

This is much more difficult to example. The tactile and the visual generally go hand in hand — if anything, it’s the difference between writing she moved her fingers over the rough of his palms or her fingers tripped over his gravelled palms. Sometimes the tactile can be applied in the most unexpected ways. In Endymion, Keats writes:

Where had he been, from whose warm head out-flew
That sweetest of all songs, that ever new,
That aye refreshing, pure deliciousness,
Coming ever to bless
The wanderer by moonlight? to him bringing
Shapes from the invisible world, unearthly singing
From out the middle air, from flowery nests,
And from the pillowy silkiness that rests
Full in the speculation of the stars.

(John Keats, I stood tip-toe upon a little hill, 181-189)

Perhaps Keats was remembering nights with a silk pillow under his head as he gazed up at the stars. Whatever inspired him, the imagery creates a visual and tactile experience of viewing the stars.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening…

(T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

T.S. Eliot’s famous opening to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock beautifully combines the tactile and visual when describing the motion of the fog. Some readers may argue that this is kinesthetic, but I’ve always associate rubbing with the tactile.

Returning to Fogle, he picks out another image from Keats and takes particular relish in it beauty. He writes:

Of a like complexity is this startling synaesthetic image from Endymion:

….lost in pleasure at her feet he sinks,
Touching with dazzled lips her starlight hand. (Endymion, IV, 418-19)

The interplay of sight and touch is very swift. There is a trade of “wit,” of conscious ingenuity, which lends to the image a certain flavour of modernity. The lips of Endymion are “dazzled,” of course, because the hand which they touch is “starlight.” But there is more to the image than its sensory content. Endymion is dazzled because he is dreaming that he is among the Gods on Olympus, kneeling before Hebe: a situation in which some bedazzlement seems excusable. (The Imagery of Keats and Shelley, p. 112)

The Visual Gustatory Image | Taste

Perhaps the beset known passage typifying the synaesthetic fusion of taste and visual imagery comes, again, from Keats. Rather than steal Fogle’s thunder, we’ll let him introduce it:

The synaesthetic imagery of Keats reaches its highest level, however, in the complex fusion of sense, emotion, and concept in the second stanza of the Nightingale:

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth…

Keats has attained to the utmost degree of synthesizing compression in this passage, packing into a few lines what prose could not have expressed in many times the number of words he has emplyed. (Ibid., p. 120-121)

Only the very best wine-tasting critics could dream of aspiring to this kind synesthesia. For Keats, the taste of the vintage draught doesn’t evoke memories of other tastes, but of a whole world of sensation: the visual Flora and country green, the kinesthetic dance, the aural Provencal song, and the organic and tactile sunburnt mirth. Top that. Right? But Keats isn’t content to stop there, the beaker is full of the warm south. Woe to the recovering alcoholic who reads this poem. I”ve never had a vintage draught and I could take or leave most wines, but this makes my mouth water.

Other examples are hard to find, I’ve looked (though not exhaustively) through Eliot, Marriane Moore, Frost, Pen Warren, Mary Oliver, Stevens. Strongly imagistic poets like E.E. Cummings, Amy Clampitt and a sensualist like Pablo Neruda might be good places to look, but I only have so many hours in a day. I did find this from Galway Kinnell, perhaps the most organically aware poet (in the sense of bodily awareness) that I know of. In the  following passage, Galway turns the taste of blackberries into a melange of sounds, word-sounds, color — black — and the tactile cold. The italics are Kinnell’s.

…as  I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched or broughamed,
many-lettered, one syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry eating in late September.

(Blackberry Eating, from Three Books: Body Rags; Mortal Acts, Mortal Words; The Past p. 96)

The Visual Organic Image | Heart, Breath and Pulse

These images are more than exceedingly rare, Fogle offers the following from Endymion:

And down some swart abysm he had gone,
Had not a heavenly guide benignant led
To where thick myrtle branches, ’gainst his head
Brushing, awakened: then the sounds again
Went noiseless as a passing noontide rain
Over a bower, where little space he stood;
For as the sunset peeps into a wood
So saw he panting light…

(Endymion, II. 376-383)

In the poem There Are Things I Tell to No One, Galway Kinnell describes God’s “music of grace” as “notes”:

It speaks in notes struck
or caressed or blown or plucked
off our own bodies…

The image skirts the line. I’m not sure its really synaesthetic since Galway is comparing the body to a blown or plucked stringed instrument. He’s not really ascribing these qualities to the notes, per se; he’s telling where they come from. In the poem Voyages, Amy Clampitt creates a synaesthetic, visual image of breath:

Beside the Neva, Osip Mandelstam wrote of the cold,
the December fog-blurs of Leningrad. O to throw

open (he wrote) a window on the Adriatic! — a window
for the deprived of audience,  for the unfree
to breathe, to breathe even the bad air of Moscow.
Yet on the freezing pane of perpetuity,

that coruscating cold-frame fernery of breath,
harsh flowerbed of the unheated rooms of childhood,
even from the obscurity that sealed it off, his breath,
his warmth, he dared declare, had already setttled.

(The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt. p. 160)

This isn’t as immediately synaesthetic as “panting light”, but Clampitt describes theOrganic sensation of Mandelstam’s breath visually, coldly and chillingly.

If you can find other examples, feel free to add them.

All in all, the thing to remember is that this kind of synaesthetic imagery is the province of poetry. No other art form, be it music, painting, dance or any other similar art, can so unite the multifaceted synaesthetic experience of the world. If you’re going to write poetry, don’t let this kind of beautiful imagery slip through your fingers. If you’re only writing about what you see, omitting what you hear, smell, touch and taste, then you’re crippling yourself and poetry. If you’re not thinking about imagery, about the senses and communicating your experience of life and the world, then you aren’t writing poetry.

Double Falsehood Revisited

Mea Culpa

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

Ideally, I try not to be hide bound about the rightness of my opinion, preferring to find out whose opinion is right. Whenever I make a mistake, better to correct it or have it corrected (whether I like it or not). If evidence conflicts with my beliefs, then beliefs must change. So, in the spirit of keeping this blog honest, I’m revisiting my last two posts on Double Falsehood: Double Falsehood • It’s not Shakespeare and the second Double Falsehood • Tho. Dekker & Tho. Middleton?. My efforts in both these posts were rewarding (in terms of what I learned by writing them) but I made some mistakes and new information (to me) deserves to be aired.

Tho. Middleton or John Fletcher?

I thought I made a good argument for Middleton, as far as it went. I still do. Some evidence does indeed suggest Middleton, but the stronger evidence suggests Fletcher. Keeping Middleton in the running might be reasonable at the outset (when considering possible authors) but the probable author is Fletcher. The evidence supporting Fletcher comes from an article by Stephan Kukowski entitled The Hand of John Fletcher in Double Falsehood.

Among the reasons for crediting Fletcher, the most compelling is a habit of Fletcher’s composition called elocutionary afterthought. At gutenburg.org, you can find an E-Book of Charles Mills’ publication, Francis Beaumont: Dramatist. Beaumont and Fletcher were the Simon and Garfunkel of the Elizabethan era. Once they met and began to collaborate, they changed the history of British theater. So much so that during the decades immediately following their deaths, their plays were considered superior to Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s. Naturally, a book on Beaumont is going to say something about Fletcher—first and foremost, how does one differentiate their collaboration? What parts of a play are Fletcher’s, what parts Beaumont?

Interestingly, Mills offers us the following passage. I include most of it because that seems simplest. I’ve bolded the passages which most plainly parallel passages in DF.

Here we have blank verse, distinctively Fletcherian with its feminine endings and its end-stopped lines. But, widely as this differs from the earlier rhythm of The Faithfull Shepheardesse and its more lyric precipitancy, the qualities of tone and diction are in the later play as in the earlier. The alliterations may not be so numerous, and are in general more cunningly concealed and interwoven, as in lines 2 to 4; but the cruder kind still appears as a mannerism, the “fire and fierceness,” “hopes,” “hang,” and “head.” The iterations of word, phrase, and rhetorical question, and of the resonant “all,” the redundant nouns in apposition, the tautological enumeration of categories, proclaim the unaltered Fletcher. The adjectives are in this spot pruned, but they are luxuriant elsewhere in the play. The triplets,–“this man, my son, this nature,”–“admit,” “admit,” “admit,” find compeers on nearly every page:

Shew where to lead, to lodge, to charge with safetie,–[163]

Here’s a strange fellow now, and a brave fellow,
If we may say so of a pocky fellow.–[164]

And now, ‘t is ev’n too true, I feel a pricking,
A pricking, a strange pricking.–[165]

With such a sadness on his face, as sorrow,
Sorrow herself, but poorly imitates.
Sorrow of sorrows on that heart that caus’d it![166]

In the passages cited above there happen to be, also, a few examples of the elocutionary afterthought:

You come with thunders in your mouth _and earthquakes_,–

As arrows from a Tartar’s bow, _and speeding_.–

To this device, and to the intensive use of the pronominal “one” Fletcher is as closely wedded as to the repetition of “all,”–

They have a hand upon us,
A heavy and a hard one.[167]

To wear this jewel near thee; he is a tried one
And one that … will yet stand by thee.[168]

Other plays conceded by the critics to Fletcher alone, and written in his distinctive blank verse, display the same characteristics of style: _The Chances_ of about 1615, _The Loyall Subject_ of 1618 (like _The Humorous Lieutenant_ of the middle period), and _Rule a Wife and Have a Wife_ of the last period, 1624. I quote at random for him who would apply the tests,–first from _The Chances_,[169] the following of the repeating revolver style:

Art thou not an Ass?
And modest as her blushes! what a blockhead
Would e’re have popt out such a dry Apologie
For this dear friend? and to a Gentlewoman,
A woman of her youth and delicacy?
They are arguments to draw them to abhor us.
An honest moral man? ‘t is for a Constable:
A handsome man, a wholesome man, a tough man,
A liberal man, a likely man, a man
Made up by Hercules, unslaked with service:
The same to night, to morrow night, the next night,
And so to perpetuity of pleasures.


Finally, from _Rule a Wife_, a few instances of the iterations, three-fold or multiple, and redundant expositions. In the first scene[171] Juan describes Leon:

Ask him a question,
He blushes like a Girl, and answers little,
To the point less; he wears a Sword, a good one,
And good cloaths too; he is whole-skin’d, has no hurt yet,
Good promising hopes;

and Perez describes the rest of the regiment,

That swear as valiantly as heart can wish,
Their mouths charg’d with six oaths at once, and whole ones,
That make the drunken Dutch creep into Mole-hills; …

and he proceeds to Donna Margarita:

She is fair, and young, and wealthy,
Infinite wealthy, _etc._

Now compare these example to the two found in the Fletcherian portions of DF:

……………….This is a fine Hand,
A delicate fine Hnd, – Never change Colour;
You understand me, – and a Woman’s Hand (DF 4.I.168-70)

And dare you lose these to becomer Advocate
For such a Brother, such a sinful Brother,
Such an unfaithful, treacherous, brutal Brother? (DF 5.I.16-18)

To my knowledge (and reading), there are no comparable examples in Middleton. Of all the reasons for believing that Theobald might have had a manuscript (of some kind), this is, for me, the most compelling. This mannerism is obviously typical of Fletcher. Given that Theobald initially tried to pass off DF as entirely Shakespeare’s (and if he fabricated the entirety of the play) why on earth would he so cleverly and cunningly imitate Fletcher? It makes no sense. I find it easier to believe that Theobald did, indeed, have a manuscript on which he based DF.

But why is Fletcher’s probable hand so evident and Shakespeare’s so lacking?

Why Fletcher Survived

Kukowski, the writer of The Hand of John Fletcher in Double Falsehood, is sympathetic with the possibility that Theobald might have had a manuscript, but speculates that it was already a later revision of an Elizabethan original. Kukowski writes (in reference to a Davanant revision of the Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration, The Two Noble Kinsmen):

It is interesting that Davenant’s revision of this play left not a line of  the passages most confidently ascribed to Shakespeare intact, although several of Fletcher’s passages survive with only minor alteration. Thus, even if Theobald is being scrupulously honest, he may well have had his possession no more than an already much adulterated version of Cardenio.

This, in  a nutshell, encapsulates the reasoning of those Shakespearean scholars willing to concede that Double Falsehood might have been a revised Cardenio. An unidentified author, like the Restoration dramatist Davenant, might have already “improved” the Shakespearean portions. Why would Restoration revisionists single out Shakespeare rather than Fletcher? Shakespeare’s style was considered too turgid for the stage – too figurative and opaque. In a book called Shakespeare Improved , by Hazelton Spencer, Spencer sums up Davenant’s editorial intervention this way:

…by far the largest number of D’Avenent’s explicable alterations are due, apparently, to his zeal in elucidation . Shakespeare’s text seemed full of obscurities in language and thought, and for the sake of making it transparent to the audience at Lincoln’s Inn Fields the Laureate was willing to sacrifice metre, imagination, or anything else. [p. 169]

And in an earlier passage Hazelton writes:

The Restoration adapter was not trying to restore his text, the professed aim of the long line of later tamperers, but to improve it. From changing a phrase  in order to make its meaning clearer, to changing it because one things of a better phrase, is an easy step/ D’Avenent took it with complete aplomb.

He regarded Shakespeare, I imagine, almost with affection; but he was the victim of his age. The cocksureness of the Restoration intelligentsia is almost incredible. The England of Elizabeth seemed barbarous to the England of Charles II, though less than sixty years had elapsed between the great queen’s death and the accession of that graceless king. In the presence of the masterpieces of old drama, the Restoration critics (all but Rymer) experienced a certain awe; they recognized vaguely a grandeur that was not characteristic of their own art. Dryden wrote:

Out age was cultivated thus at length,
But what we gain’d in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius curst;
The second temple was not like the first.

The Restoration temples were constructed, supposedly, according to the French rules for classical architecture; squared by these, the Elizabethan monuments were seen to be abounding in errors. Thus the critic and adapter of Shakespeare in the later seventeenth century, though he might sincerely enough protest his admiration for the whole, found, when he actually came to consider details, so many faults crying for correction, that while he eulogized in general he had little but condemnation in particular. He was to concede greatness of soul to Shakespeare, but neither a civilized taste nor a competent craftsmanship.

That this D’Avenent’s view is shown by the character of his alterations. [pp. 145-146]

Fletcher’s verse, being much easier, more mellifluous, less figurative and rhetorical than Shakespeare’s, was far more likely to survive, in part and in whole, the restoration scalpel. For this reason, and due to prior example, it makes sense that Double Falsehood could have been a restoration revision of  Cardenio; and that Shakespeare’s poetry would have been heavily edited while Fletcher’s verse remained relatively intact.  Most interestingly, Theobald claimed that Davenant’s prompter, John Downes, was likely to have transcribed Double Falsehood. This doesn’t mean Davenant ever saw the play, but as with so much else surrounding DF, the information gives ground for speculation. [Double Falsehood, p. 85]

Anyway, that’s the theory.

It gives little reason to include Double Falsehood (DF) in Shakespeare’s canon (any more than any other Restoration revision Shakespeare). The passages, if they ever were Shakespeare’s, are no longer.

Why, then, do scholars care?

For the same reason that a few fossil fragments pique the curiosity of paleontologists. If DF is indeed the lost Cardenio, then at least we know what Cardenio might have been like. If the Fletcherian parts can be shown to be, in all likelihood, by Fletcher, than that circumstantially (if only slightly) strengthens the case for Shakespeare (who was known to have collaborated with Shakespeare around this time). If the remaining text were by Middleton (as I suggested) then the case for Shakespeare is mildly weakened.

  • Shakespeare collaborated with Middleton in the writing of Timon of Athens. In the now (what I consider) unlikely event that Middleton were shown to be the author of DF, Acts III-V, Shakespeare still wouldn’t be out of the question. A Fletcher ascription, however, does make Dekker (more on that next) less likely.

Fletcher Matters

Since the non-Fletcherian parts of DF are so hopelessly mangled, the best evidence for Shakespeare is to identify DF as Cardenio by, in part, showing that Acts III-V are by Fletcher. And that is exactly what Brean Hammond, in his introduction to Double Falsehood, emphasizes. Hammond writes:

With Theobald’s own further alterations engrafted upon DF, what we now have is a palimpsest or pentimento — at all events, nothing that is straightforwardly Shakespeare-Fletcher. Nonetheless, sophisticated recent analysis of authorship based on linquistic and stylistic analysis lends support to the view that Shakespeare’s hand, and even more plainly Fletcher’s, can be detected in the eighteenth-century redaction. [p. 6]

Hammond doesn’t tell us what sophisticated recent analysis he is referring to. Fletcher? Yes. Shakespeare? I remain very skeptical and I think Brean overstates the case for Shakespeare when he compares the stylometric

Elizabethan Dramatist John Fletcher

evidence to that supporting Fletcher. To my knowledge, none of the Shakespearean scholars (with an established reputation in stylometrics) have demonstrated reasons for favoring Shakespeare. Brian Vickers, author of ‘Counterfeiting’ Shakespeare, writes:

“There is the doubtful tradition that Lewis Theobald acquired the manuscript, adapting it for his own Double Falsehood (1727), but the arguments claiming that Theobald’s text preserves something of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s original seem to me unconvincing.”

Ward Elliot and Robert Vaenza peg Double Falsehood with 11 Discrete Rejections. This puts DF far outside the realm of Shakespearean authorship (on another planet they would say). (To be fair, it appears that they didn’t examine the “Shakespearean” portion separately.)

Only MacDonald Jackson believes that ‘the case for supposing The Double Falsehood to preserve something of the Shakespeare-Fletcher Cardenio is quite strong’. Whether Jackson is basing this statement on stylometrics or Hammond’s claims is unknown. That said, Jackson’s endorsement is qualified. On the last page of the introduction to the Arden edition of Double Falsehood, Brean adds the following:

Yet the concentration of diverse Shakespearean characteristics in, for example, 1.3.53-6 brings Jackson out on the side of [Shakespeare’s] presence in the play. Jackson reserves the right, however, to test a hypothesis that what Theobald owned was a collaboration between Beaumont and Fletcher  rather than Shakespeare and Fletcher. [DF, p. 160]

By the close of the introduction, Hammond himself seems to qualify his earlier confidence. He writes:

“The evidence for Shakespeare’s hand is, as we know, much scantier — in truth very scanty.”

The best evidence for Shakespeare appears to be Fletcher.

William Shakespeare or Tho. Dekker?

One of the theories I advanced in my previous posts was that the playwright Thomas Dekker was as good a candidate for the “Shakespearean” parts of DF (if not better) than Shakespeare. After writing the posts, I received the following correspondence from Matthew Partridge, one who was involved in a production of Double Falsehood. He wrote:

I have recently been involved in a production of “Double Falsehood”, which has got me interested in the whole debate around Shakespeare’s authorship of the play. I was intrigued by the two posts on Double Falsehood in your blog Poem Shape. While I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, since it is possible to find examples of Shakespearean imagery that corresponds with each of your categories, and examples where he clumsily repeated a word in a speech, they were still thought provoking.

I asked him for examples and he provided them. So, let’s go over them. (This probably won’t interest most of my readers unless, like me, you peculiarly enjoy forensic poetry.) I present Mr. Partridge’s responses, not to argue with them, but so that a reader can more easily weigh the validity of my previous posts.

eyes & their beams

Here’s what I wrote:

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…

Partridge was able find one other example of the use of “beams” in Shakespeare’s plays. I too, however, found another example of beams in Dekker’s play Old Furtunatus (see below). More importantly, he found further examples wherein Shakespeare played on the conceit. Here are his examples (all comments are his):

Love’s Labour’s Lost has a direct reference to “eye-beams”.

So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not / To those fresh morning drops upon the rose / As thy eye-beams, when their fresh rays have smote / The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows:” (LLL.4.3)

Additionally, a lot of the imagery involving women and light centres around the brightness/lustre of their eyes.

Her eyes, like marigolds, had sheathed their light (Rape of Lucere)

For she hath blessed and attractive eyes. / How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears (MND.2.2)

‘if you can bring Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye (WT.3.2)

How and which way I may bestow myself / To be regarded in her sun-bright eye. (TGV.3.1)

The ape is dead, and I must conjure him / I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes (RJ.2.1)

Although it involves a slightly different context, the following extract from Henry V also refers to eyes, lustre and breeding in a way that closely parallels Double Falsehood.

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not / For there is none of you so mean and base / That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.(H5.3.1)

So, I was flatly wrong in my assertion that Shakespeare never played on this conceit. I was right, however, to the extent that Shakespeare’s use of the word beams in reference to eyes is exceedingly rare: once in his sonnets and once in the entirety of his plays. Does any of this diminish my argument for Dekker? No, but it ups the chances for some small vestige of Shakespeare. On the other hand, the reference to beams could just have easily been an interpolation by a Restoration poet or Theobald’s own meddling. We’ll never know until Cardenio is found.

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.

In response to these parallels, Partridge offered his own. He wrote:

There are plenty of extended Shakespearean image clusters related to heat, cold, burning etc. Three examples are:

To flaming youth let virtue be as wax, / And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame / When the compulsive ardour gives the charge / Since frost itself as actively doth burn (Hamlet.3.4)

His falchion on a flint he softly smiteth, / That from the cold stone sparks of fire do fly; / Whereat a waxen torch forthwith he lighteth, / Which must be lode-star to his lustful eye; / And to the flame thus speaks advisedly, / ‘As from this cold flint I enforced this fire, / So Lucrece must I force to my desire. (Rape of Lucere)

‘Such devils steal effects from lightless hell; / For Sinon in his fire doth quake with cold, / And in that cold hot-burning fire doth dwell; / These contraries such unity do hold, / Only to flatter fools and make them bold: / So Priam’s trust false Sinon’s tears doth flatter, / That he finds means to burn his Troy with water.’ (Rape of Lucere)

Some shorter instances:

Thou wouldst as soon go kindle fire with snow / As seek to quench the fire of love with words. (Verona.2.7)

Gods, gods! ’tis strange that from their cold’st neglect / My love should kindle to inflamed respect.(Lear.1.1)

A largess universal like the sun / His liberal eye doth give to every one, / Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all, (H5.4.Pro)

Against love’s fire fear’s frost hath dissolution. / The eye of heaven is out (Rape of Lucere)

The following extract from Henry V is also notable since it (1) involves an image cluster of heat, sun & frost (2) is an instance of Shakespeare using the word “frosty” (3) is an example of Shakespeare clumsily repeating a word – (in this case “frosty”).

Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull, / On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale, / Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water, / A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley-broth, / Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat? / And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, Seem frosty? / O, for honour of our land, Let us not hang like roping icicles / Upon our houses’ thatch, whiles a more frosty people / Sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields! (H5.3.5)

Similarly, as well as involving heat, burning, sun and eye, the lines below also associate dew with coldness.

From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels: / Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye, / The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry (RJ.2.3)

My illustration of the image cluster wasn’t so much meant to exclude Shakespeare, but to demonstrate that this sort of image cluster was also typical of Dekker. (I have a soft-spot for Dekker – the most poetic dramatist after Shakespeare.) Whereas some patterns of thought can be atypical, I meant to show that the imagery of DF could also be found in Dekker’s work. So, while the imagery doesn’t exclude Shakespeare, it also doesn’t exclude Dekker. To balance the many examples from Shakespeare, here are some more by Dekker (notice the combination of eyes, burning, and night):

Come therefore, good father, let’s go faster, lest we come too late: for see, the tapers of the night are already lighted, and stand brightly burning in their starry candle-sticks: see how gloriously the moon shines upon us.

[Both kneel.]

1st O. Man.
Peace, fool: tremble, and kneel: the moon say’st thou?
Our eyes are dazzled by Eliza’s beams,
See (if at least thou dare see) where she sits:
This is the great Pantheon of our goddess,
And all those faces which thine eyes thought stars,
Are nymphs attending on her deity.

Here’s another example from Dekker:

The same sun calls you up in the morning, and the same man in the moon lights you to bed at night; our fields are as green as theirs in summer, and their frosts will nip us more in winter: our birds sing as sweetly and our women are as fair…

Dekker’s extent plays are far fewer than Shakespeare’s, and so finding a commensurate number of examples from Dekker isn’t possible.

of dew & flowers

Here’s what I wrote:

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…

Partridge countered with the following examples:

There are a few Shakespearean juxtapositions of dew, plants and coldness/sadness/death.

And that same dew, which sometime on the buds /Was wont to swell like round and orient pearls / Stood now within the pretty flowerets‘ eyes / Like tears that did their own disgrace bewail.

The herbs that have on them cold dew o’ the night / Are strewings fitt’st for graves. Upon their faces. (Cym.4.2)

Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew / O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones / Which with sweet water nightly I will dew / Or, wanting that, with tears distill’d by moans / The obsequies that I for thee will keep / Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep. (RJ.5.3)

Compare these examples with DF:

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

And Dekker:

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

The frosty hand of age now nips your blood,
And strews her snowy flowers upon your head,
And gives you warning that within few years,
Death needs must marry you… [Old Fortunatus]

I was wrong to write that Shakespeare’s associations with dew and flowers are always life affirming. I might more accurately have written that the preponderance of these associations are life affirming.

women & light

Here’s what I wrote:

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.

Mr. Partridge countered with the following examples:

Associations of female beauty with light are relatively common in Shakespeare.

‘Tis but her picture I have yet beheld / And that hath dazzled my reason’s light / But when I look on her perfections, (TGV.4.2)

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (R&J.2.2)

For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light. (R&J.5.3)

Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light. /O, if in black my lady’s brows be deck’d, (LLL.4.3)

‘Fair torch, burn out thy light, and lend it not / To darken her whose light excelleth thine: (Rape of Lucrece)

My statement that “nowhere does Shakespeare equate a woman’s beauty (or body) with light” is wrong. In fact, I just rechecked my concordance and can’t fathom what I was thinking. I apparently wasn’t? I’d like to blame it on something. What remains though, is the strong parallel between the habit of thought in DF and Dekker’s passage. The parallel by no means diminishes Shakespeare as a possible source, but it also stands in agreement with Dekker.

the fox & her den

Here’s what I wrote:

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.

Partridge responded with the following examples:

There are 37 references to foxes in Shakespeare’s works. Most of them either relate to (1) a predator (2) someone untrustworthy (3) a bad smell. Given the context it seems that Camillo is clearly comparing Don Bernard’s (un)trustworthiness to that of a fox.

There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune; nor no more truth in thee than in a drawn fox (H4-1.3.3)

Suspicion all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes; For treason is but trusted like the fox, (H4-1.5.2)

O’ the t’other side, the policy of those crafty swearing rascals, that stale old mouse-eaten dry cheese, Nestor, and that same dog-fox, Ulysses, is not proved worthy a blackberry: they set me up (Cressida.5.4)

false of heart, light of ear / bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth (Lear.3.4)

Or at the fox which lives by subtlety (Venus)

In this case, I think my observations hold up. Shakespeare’s references to fox strike me as largely symbolic while Dekker’s seem more drawn from experience. Also, Shakespeare more readily associates the “den” with lions. I couldn’t find an example of Shakespeare meantiong the fox with his “den”. In DF, the den is implied in the phrase “Hallowness of your heart”.

swiftest wing

Here’s what I wrote:

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…

Mr. Partridge offered a number of examples from Shakespare:

The three word phrase “swiftest wing of” appears in Macbeth

thou art so far before / That swiftest wing of recompense is slow / To overtake thee.

Shakespeare also associated “wing” with swiftness/time in Henry V

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies / In motion of no less celerity / Than that of thought.(H5.3.Pro)

He also associated love with wing in Hamlet

I would fain prove so. But what might you think, / When I had seen this hot love on the wing—(Ham.2.2)

Shakespeare also associates “swift” with time

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets, And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time, (Son.19)

Experience is by industry achieved / And perfected by the swift course of time.(TGV.1.3)

And why not the swift foot of Time? had not that / been as proper? (ASYL.3.2)

Let him have time to mark how slow time goes / In time of sorrow, and how swift and short / His time of folly and his time of sport; (Rape of Lucrece)

‘Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night / Swift subtle post, carrier of grisly care, (Rape of Lucrece)

As in previous examples (those which have held up), I wasn’t so much claiming that this imagery didn’t appear in Shakespeare, but that another Shakespeare critic, Caroline Spurgeon, had especially noted and appreciated its presence in Dekker.

oaths & exclamations

I picked up a copy of MacDonald P. Jackson’s Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare. It was from his work that I concluded that some of the language in the latter three acts of DF were more typical of Middleton than Fletcher. That evidence remains unchanged despite the stronger evidence, in isolated cases, for Fletcher. (The appearance of Middletonian contractions, such as on’t, to’t or h’as/sh’as are not typical of Fletcher. However, their appearance may be due to revision by a Restoration author or may simply be a statistical anomaly. It may also, just to add to the speculation, be because Middleton touched up the original Cardenio? — certainly within the realm of the possible.) Lastly, Dekker, like Shakespeare,  shows a preference for hath and doth. We find the language in the first two acts of DF.

Jackson devotes a chapter to differentiating between Middleton and Dekker. One of the ways he does so is by Dekker’s favored use of oaths and exclamations. For example: in God’s name, alack, sblood, O God, God so, God’s my life, sheart, Godamercy, zounds, by God, God’s my pittikins, tush, snails, marry gup, plague found you, God bless him.

None of these oaths and exclamations appear in the first two acts or anywhere else in the play. That argues against Dekker (or they could have been removed by revision). Is there anything else? Jackson writes:

Dekker does not use by this light, berlady, or with a vengeance in the six plays of his undoubted sole authorship, but I notice that both by this light occur in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, a play which has been attributed to Dekker on a fair accumulation of internal evidence.

In DF, by our light appears in the second act:

D. Bern. Mad; Mad. Stark mad, by this Light.

Is this evidence for Dekker? Maybe. It could also be evidence for Shakespeare, since Shakespeare also preferred this oath. Interestingly, The Merry Devil of Edmonton was thought, by some, to be by Shakespeare and has long been included in Shakespeare “apocrypha”. Dekker’s poetic imagination is similar, in some ways, to Shakespeare’s.

the verdict

The argument for Dekker is diminished once Fletcher is assigned the latter three acts of DF. There are, to my knowledge, no other collaborations between Fletcher and Dekker. While there may be hints of Dekker in the first two acts, those same hints could also be construed as evidence for Shakespeare. If the choice were between Dekker and Shakespeare, and if one accepts Fletcher’s presence in the last three acts, then the evidence more strongly suggests Shakespeare than Dekker. I go where the evidence goes (if reluctantly). So, hat’s off to Mr. Hammond. As he himself states, any attempt to identify the progenitors of Double Falsehood must end with caution.

My thanks to the blog Shaksyear, his post Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Baked Beans, Spam, Egg, Sausage, and Double Falsehood: Hasn’t Got Much Shakespeare in It (Part 1 of 3), for prompting me to finally write my own re-visitation.

Also, I am especially grateful to Matthew Partridge for his corrections and response.

Let’s all hope Cardenio shows up.

We Think in Metaphors

People often assume that metaphors are merely optional figures of speech whose purpose is to enliven expression and make it more poetic and appealing. The common assumption is that we could speak literally, but its more colloquial and comfortable to use imagery–unless we’re trying to be precise, in which case metaphors muddy up the idea being expressed. But according to research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and linguistics, metaphors are not just words or images that help describe a concept that already exists in the mind. Instead, metaphorical connection is the way the human brain understands anything abstract. The deepest metaphors are not optional or decorative: they’re a kind of sense, like seeing or hearing, and much of what we consider to be reality can be perceived and experienced only through them. We understand almost everything that is not concrete (even “concrete” is a metaphor) in terms of something else. In short, the expansiveness of our metaphors determines the expansiveness of our reality.

Joel R. Primack & Nancy Ellen Abrams
The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos p. 243

Something which all great poetry has in common, the poetry favored and enjoyed by readers over thousands of years, is metaphor. Shakespeare was the great master. His genius burst with with one metaphor after, each idea arising out with an almost fractal stream of associations.

His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear’d arm
Crested the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping: his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
The element they lived in: in his livery
Walk’d crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropp’d from his pocket. [Antony & Cleopatra Act V Sc. ii]

Shakespeare is thinking big, so when Cleopatra is describing Antony, he has her say that his legs “bestrid [straddled] the ocean“. Once the word ocean has entered his mind, he imagines the waves. That leads to his next image and metaphor: his rear’d arm Crested the world. The word crest can be used to describe the crest of a wave. If you read Shakespeare carefully, you can actually see him thinking as he wrote. He was said to have been a very quick writer and exceedingly nimble in thought and jest. His writing displays that nimbleness of thought.

Now, with the crest of a wave in mind, Shakespeare was probably reminded of storms at sea. From the previous metpahor, a new one bursts forth. He writes:

As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder.

The opposite of a storm would be the tunèd sphere. The earth’s orb was as much earth as water, and so Shakespeare, having been reminded of a storm at sea by the crest of a wave, finishes with rattling thunder.  The sound of thunder is preceded by the oppositional idea of tunèd or musical spheres. Shakespeare’s imagination, by this point, is deeply immersed in the metaphor of sea and ocean. From the peacefulness of the tunèd spheres (and by association a calm ocean) he makes the imaginative leap to the metaphor of Antony’s delights being dolphin-like.

But Shakespeare’s imagination isn’t entirely swept into the ocean’s currents. Antony’s richness of character is like a bounty. There’s no metaphorical winter in Antony’s bounty and that leads Shakespeare to compare his bounty to an Autumn that grows the more by reaping.

Once this association and metaphor has been lodged in Shakespeare’s mind, the poetic thought process reappears in the final lines. Not only that, but Shakespeare was a master of wordplay. When Shakespeare uses the word crest in the earlier portion of the speech, crest can also refer to the emblems used to decorate a helmet or armor. This double meaning stays with Shakespeare so that, a few lines later, he writes that crowns and crownets walk’d in his livery. Livery can refer to a uniform, a sign or a mark related to a crest. This metaphor combines with the idea of a bounty, and a bounty, naturally enough, reminds Shakespeare of food and feasting. On what do we eat but plates. Once that image is lodged in Shakespeare;s imagination, another metaphor springs to mind, he writes:

…realms and islands were
As plates dropp’d from his pocket.

The comparison of realms and islands to plates combines with the imagery of livery and leads to pockets, probably because Shakespeare has imagined the pockets sown into the livery of servants.

Shakespeare’s use of metaphor allows to see how the great poet thought, how his mind moved from one metaphor and image to another. Clusters of images appear like bubbles, each bursting from the previous image. It’s a manner of thought that characterizes all of Shakespeare’s poetry and is the property that makes his poetry great; and is the reason his associative genius places him heads and shoulders above his peers. Compare Shakespeare’s poetry to his sometimes collaborator, John Fletcher, and Fletcher’s poetry proceeds line by line, linearly rather than organically. Fletcher’s metaphors are built brick by brick or appear in isolation.

Night do not steal away: I woo thee yet
To hold a hard hand o’re the rusty bit
That guides the lazy Team: go back again,
Bootes, thou that driv’st thy frozen Wain
Round as a Ring, and bring a second Night
To hide my sorrows from the coming light;
Let not the eyes of men stare on my face,
And read my falling, give me some black place
Where never Sun-beam shot his wholesome light,
That I may sit and pour out my sad spright
Like running water, never to be known
After the forced fall and sound is gone. [John Fletcher: The Faithful Shepherdess]

Fletcher’s pathos inhabits a different imaginative world than Shakespeare’s. Fletcher’s passage is largely immersed in a single metaphor. Night is personified as Boötes, the constellation known as the herdsman. Boötes, or Night, is envisioned as having his hand on the reins of the Lazy Team. By Lazy Team (lazy referring to the slow movement of the stars) Fletcher may be referring to the constellations Equuleus, the little horse, and Pegasus.

The Wain, (known as the Big Dipper in North America) was, in some parts of Britain, commonly known as Charles’ Wain (a wain being a wagon). The wagon rides round the North Star in a “ring”.   Knowing all this, Fletcher’s imagery begins to come together, but it altogether lacks the associative brilliance of Shakespeare. He slowly builds his metaphor line by line. Shakespeare barely lets one metaphor sink in before he hatches the next. (Interestingly, Mozart’s musical facility flowed with equal freedom and he was criticized for it by fellow composer Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. Dittersdorf said that Mozart’s melodic ideas moved too quickly. There was no time to savor a melody before Mozart’s pen eagerly inked the next.)

One final metaphor springs from Fletcher’s quill when he writes that his character will pour out his sad spright “like running water”. The metaphor is disconnected and feels almost

Elizabethan Dramatist John Fletcher

arbitrary. Fletcher had to work at poetry, being more of a natural born dramatist. Nowadays, when we read or perform Fletcher, it’s less for his poetry than for his drama.

The dramatist Phillip Massinger represents the tail end of the Elizabethan generation. He’s among the last  and also demonstrates the least poetry. His  imagery is stock. His use of metaphor rarely rises above the commonplace. Though he wrote blank verse, like Shakespeare and Fletcher, his language has the feel of elegantly and beautifully versified prose. Few modern scholars would consider him a poet.

The point of all this is that when we appraise the work of dramatists 400 years ago, it’s not enough that they wrote verse. The dramatists who were also poets were the ones who still transport us with their figurative use of language. Metaphor is the life-blood of poetry. Metaphor is what makes the sum exceed the parts. As Primack and Abrams wrote, “the expansiveness of our metaphors determines the expansiveness of our reality.” The expansiveness of our metaphors also determine the expansiveness of our poems. Modern poets who have abjured the use of metaphor for one reason or another seem to think they will be appraised differently by the generations following. They tell themselves that they live in a different era. But what we value in poetry hasn’t changed in the thousands of years since poems were first written.

Fall in love with metaphor.

Imbue your language with metaphor and your poetry will be inestimably larger than the page it’s written on.

The Poet’s Almanac ❧ Poetry’s Lumber Yard

The Poet’s Almanac: 365 Days of Poetry

Week Two
Artful Language

Whenever a builder wants to build a house, the first thing he or she does is to visit the lumber yard. This is where we buy the raw goods to build with: the 2×4’s and 2×6’s, sheet rock, joint compound, electrical and plumbing supplies. During

Aristotle's Art of Rhetoric

the medieval  and Renaissance period, the field of rhetoric was the lumber yard of the practicing poet, pamphleteer, writer and orator. Before they put pen to paper, they drew on their education in rhetoric to organize their thoughts.

These days, only devoted scholars and academics study rhetoric.

The result is that modern poets never truly understand or appreciate how great poets did what they did. They blindly use rhetorical figures without the faintest knowledge they are doing so. They argue that they use rhetoric every day, why should they study it? But they use language the way an unexperienced fisherman casts a line. The beginner will go to the pond, brook or lake without thought to where the fish might be. The adept fisherman will consider the time of day, the season, the depth of the water, the temperature, whether it rains or shines. The adept fisherman will consider bait and lure. The adept fisherman will catch the fish he’s fishing for.

The study of rhetoric, up until the 19th century, was part and parcel of a child’s and young adult’s education. The intent was to treat children how to present and develop their thoughts persuasively and clearly. The study of rhetoric, after all, sprang from Greek oratory and debate. This was rhetoric’s purview, not philosophy’s. The closest modern school children come to rhetoric is the five paragraph essay, and even that has fallen by the wayside.

But if you truly want to understand what makes the poetry of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and even Robert Frost and other modernist poets, great, then understanding rhetoric will go some way toward teaching you. If you want to absorb their art into your own poetry, then consider a passable familiarity with rhetoric a flashlight in a dark room.

As far as English poetry and rhetoric are concerned, the sixteenth century represents the flowering of both. The favored classical rhetorician was  Cicero. Other rhetoricians included Quintilian, Trapezuntius, Erasmus, Melancthon, and Diomedes. The effort of 16th Century rhetoricians wasn’t so much reinventing the wheel, but organizing, categorizing and expanding on the work already done. The most influential of  these was George Puttenham, who wrote The Arte of English Poesie. Most importantly, Puttenham’s book is a defense of the English language (the vernacular) and of poetry written in the English language (as opposed to Latin or French). He writes:

And if the art of Poesy be but skill appertaining to utterance why may not the same be with us as well as with them [classical poets], our language being no less copious pithy and significative than theirs, our conceits the same, and our wits no less apt to devise and imitate than theirs were? If again Art be but a certain order of rules prescribed by reason and gathered by experience, why should Poesy be a vulgar Art with us as well as with the Greeks and Latins, our language admitting no fewer rules and nice diversities than theirs?

This was the spirit in which Shakespeare came of age – when a poem was an act of linguistic patriotism. Inventiveness and wit in language were  valued not just in respect to the speaker or poet, but the language itself. When the Elizabethans established Iambic Pentameter as the meter of the English Language, they did so with a sense of pride. When Elizabethan poets sported their knowledge of rhetoric in poetry and drama, they were simultaneously asserting their pride in their nation. Of all our great poets, no reader can truly understand or appreciate Shakespeare’s art without appreciating his knowledge of rhetoric. The ease with which Shakespeare drew on this knowledge and displayed it in his poetry and drama is fully comparable to Johann Sebastian Bach’s profound knowledge and ease with the “rhetoric” of counterpoint. Just as counterpoint was considered the non plus ultra of baroque musical knowledge, a 16th century poet’s use of rhetoric was considered the highest statement of his art.

How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
· If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
· The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 38

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 38 is a playful and artful display of Ironia (the Greek term) or Illusio (the Latin term). In the sixteenth century Irony was more strictly defined as saying one thing while meaning another. While proclaiming the poverty of his sonnet’s rhetorical inventiveness he simultaneously promises that his efforts will “outlive long date” – that is, contrary to his assertions, his verse is in fact very clever and rhetorically inventive!

Shakespeare complains that his Muse wants subject to “invent“. Cicero’s most famous discourse on Rhetoric was called De Inventione. Invention, as Cicero defined it, was ‘the discovery of valid or seemingly valid arguments to render one’s case plausible’. From invention (the assertion of an idea) follows the argument (it’s working out). The phrase ‘eternal numbers’ is figurative (rhetorical) language for verse and meter (numbers eventually came to refer to meter). Shakespeare returns to this theme in Sonnet 76, when he writes:

Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do  I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed[?]

Invention, once again, refers to the rhetorical creativity of his ideas. The phrase noted weed refers the manner (in this case the sonnet) in which he clothes his ideas. (Weeds, in Elizabethan times, was another word for clothes.)

Elizabethan Dramatists and Poets assumed their audiences were equally familiar with rhetoric, all educated Elizabethans having been trained in the same grammar schools. Here’s Ben Jonson in the The Alchemist:

O, this’s no true Grammar,
And as ill Logick! You must render causes, child,
Your first, and second Intentions, know your canons,
And your divisions, moodes, degrees, and differences,
Your praedicaments, substance, and accident,
Series externe, and interne, with their causes
Efficient, materiall, formall, finall,
And ha’ your elements perfect. (4.2.21)

Each one of the italicized words refers to a figure of rhetoric which most educated Elizabethans would have recognized. It’s all but opaque to modern poets, let alone audiences.

Fortunately, if you’re curious and want to learn more, you don’t have to read Puttenham or Cicero, below are several of the best books on Rhetoric from the most general to the more detailed:

A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms

  • An alphabetical list of rhetorical figures with modern definitions.

A Handbook of Sixteenth Century Rhetoric

  • The above can be a hard to find book. It offers an alphabetical list of rhetorical figures but with examples and definitions from 16th Century rhetoricians.

Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language

  • A thorough book by Sister Miriam-Joseph. She gives examples of nearly every rhetorical figure as exploited by Shakespeare.

The Classical Rhetoric of English Poetry

  • This book isn’t a catalog of figures like the others. Vickers discusses the importance of classical rhetoric to English Poetry.

Renaissance Figures of Speech

  • A recent publication (2008). A thorough and categorical overview and discussion of rhetoric then and its abiding influence now.

Shakespeare’s Wordcraft

  • This last book may be, in some ways, the most easily enjoyed. The author, Scott Kaiser deliberately eschews the Latin and Greek terms historically used to classify figures of rhetoric. This is both good and bad. It’s good if you just want an  overview of rhetorical techniques (with examples from Shakespeare) and don’t need to know the names. It’s bad if you need to know the names. Maybe you want to look them up to find out how other poets used the same techniques? Kaiser’s book is useless in this regard.

Language, Poets & the treachery of Women

my summer-vacation reading…

I’m making some time to catch up on reading and writing. Two passages from two very different books struck me. Thought I would share them. The first is from Russ McDonald’s Shakespeare’s Late Style. (I’ll write my next post about the other.) For fanciers of language, poetics and Shakespeare, this is a fascinating book. I’m having to read it twice.  Most readers would probably consider the book dry as chalk dust (McDonald isn’t exactly an engaging writer). Me? My second reading involves heavy underlining. MacDonald’s text is thick with information and ideas.

His book is primarily concerned with the “problem” of Shakespeare’s late style. Personally, I’ve never understood why Shakespeare’s late style is referred to as the problem. Shakespeare’s style changed with age. Why is that a problem? Interestingly, Shakespeare’s stylistic progression is no different, in my view, than the progression of all the great artist’s with whom I’m familiar. Consider Bach, Da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Frost, even Keats, and the great pianist Glenn Gould (compare his first performance of the Goldberg variations to his final performance). Or what about the Beatles? Their youthful works (such as Bach’s toccatas or the Beatles first albums) are marked by youthful enthusiasm, passionate flourishes (often in excess), and unrestrained (undisciplined) enthusiasm bordering, in some cases, on mawkishness. McDonald quotes the great Shakespearean critic A.C. Bradley:

After Hamlet the style, in the more emotional passages, is heigthened. It becomes grander, sometimes wilder, sometimes more swelling, even tumid. It is also more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical. It is, therefore, not easy and lucid and in the more ordinary dialogue is sometimes involved and obscure, and from these and other causes deficient in charm. (p. 30 Shakespeare’s Late Style)

What I find so fascinating is that this criticism is almost, word for word, the same as the criticism leveled at Beethoven’s late music (as well as Bach and even Mozart). That Bradley would consider the maturation of Shakespeare’s style “deficient”, reveals the deficiencies in his own critical acumen – though his comments are typical of his age.

As all these artists aged, they seemed to prune the excess, searching for, discovering and refining the essence of their genius, voice and style, seeking compression and concentration. Compare Bach’s very early keyboard Toccatas to his late works: the Musical Offering or The Art of the Fugue. Compare Beethoven’s lavish early Piano Sonatas to his last (or his late quartets). The album Let It Be was, in large part, the outcome of John Lennon’s desire to get back to the fundamentals of his rock and roll – a pruning of excess (the Naked version supposedly being closer to Lennon’s intent).

Anyway (and to me) Shakespeare’s late style isn’t problematic. It represents the natural progression of a maturing artist – no more problematic than Bach’s Art of the Fugue or Beethoven’s late quartets.

the corrupting influence of women…

The one passage that I found particularly fascinating had little to do with Shakespeare’s late style. Rather, it was McDonald’s observation concerning women, rhetoric and medieval thought. I wanted to excerpt the passage as gist for thought. McDonald is examining Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus. I’m cherry picking passages for the sake of brevity, but hopefully the following will give you some idea of the whole. McDonald begins the sub-chapter with the heading, MEN AND WOMAN AND STYLE. He writes:

Shakespeare’s self-consciousness about the perils and opportunities of language coincides with the contemporary debate over the available forms of prose style and the philosophical implications of those positions. A brief review of the controversy reminds us that the old fashioned Ciceronian model, with its elaborate syntactical constructions symmetrical patterns of words and clauses, and devotion to ornament, came into conflict with the self-consciously modern approach, modeled on Seneca, with its obviously broken periods and asymmetrical grouping of words, a severity of of vocabulary and sound, and a Spartan disdain for decoration. (p. 61)

Interestingly, the tug of war  between aesthetic “excess” or exuberance and aesthetic “restraint” is ongoing. Consider Islam’s historical aversion to representative art – and the religion’s hyper-masculine aversion to the feminine (it’s concealment of women’s facial features and form). Representative art was surely (and remains) tied to the idea of the feminine – to ornament, excess, distraction, treachery and error. Islam is hardly alone. The same strain is to be found in other religions, including Christianity (especially Catholicism), Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. The aesthetic divide seems to be a human preoccupation that expresses itself in all matters pertaining to self-expression. Bach was ceaselessly upbraided by his ecclesiastical employers for the distracting “excesses”  of his music. His employers felt that his music should focus the churchgoers’ mind on (G)od, not music. Bach, to put it mildly, disagreed. In all cases, the root of the aesthetic difference seems to boil down to a difference in a culture’s conception of the feminine. That is what I find so interesting. (Art, much removed from the idealized conception of the war-like male, was considered a feminine pursuit throughout the history of western culture.)  McDonald continues:

This debate is self-evidently grounded in conceptions of sexual difference and related to the figuration of language as feminine and action as masculine in medieval and early modern language theory. This misogynistic tradition propagates the identification of language and women as treacherous and unreliable, subject to extravagance, malleability, and error. It originates in the classical period and receives virulent expression in the writings of some of the Church Fathers, particularly Tertullian, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine. As Howard Block has demonstrated in some detail, this gendered conception is responsible for the series of identifications, still with us, of the masculine with the primary, with essence, with form, with unity; and of the feminine with the secondary, the accidental, the material, the duplicitous or ambiguous. In the most notorious anti-feminine passages in medieval literature, a familiar and loudly asserted complaint against women is their proclivity for loud complaint. Garrulousness, nagging, shrewishness, bickering, demanding — the most common laments from the molestiae nuptiarum or the tradition of anti-marriage literature, have to do with the verbal miseries inevitably attendant upon the taking of a wife. In other words, the attack on women is often a simultaneous attack on language. (p. 62)

A straight line can be drawn from this tradition to the Pope’s modern day demand for celibacy (an institution still steeped in the medieval dye). The unspoken (or spoken) assumption is that the feminine will have a corrupting and treacherous effect on the priesthood. For an institution that identifies the “word” of God as the fundamental truth, that relies on language to communicate is doctrines, and which conceives this truth as, ultimately, a masculine expression, the feminine influence (read speech) can only be understood as diluting and corrupting. McDonald continues:

Commentators reach as far back as Eden to connect the female with the decorative, the artificial, the inessential: in the Genesis account, Eve’s verbal seduction of Adam into eating the fruit of the Forbidden Tree led to the need for covering, and from that time forward there existed a contest between the natural body and the dressings invented for it. As Tertullian put it, “with the word the garment entered.” In a related treatment of the topic, St. Augustine distinguishes between numerical signs as masculine and verbal signs as feminine: “From that time forth she [Reason] found it hard to believe that the splendor and purity [of numbers] was sullied by the corporeal matter of words. And just as what the spirit sees is always present and is held to be immortal and numbers appear such, while sound, being a sensible thing, is lost into the past.” Numerals are identified with the virtues of constancy, order, and clarity, in short, with the spirit. Words connote corruption and impermanence and are linked with the body, specifically with the female body and its traditional ornaments – clothing, makeup, hairstyle, jewelry.

We might now return to Bacon’s attack on Ciceronian style as “that delicate and polished kind of learning” that “allured” the boys from Cambrdige: “delicate and polished” is a gendered phrase, pejorative adjectives denoting a sissified style. Patricia Parker summarizes this debate with a major instance from the early Tudor period:

Erasmus in his Ciceronianus (1528) speaks of seeking in vain in Ciceronian eloquence for something “masculine” and of his own desire for a “more masculine” style. Ciceronian copia in these discussions is both effeminate and the style of a more prodigal youth, to be outgrown once one had become a man: “I used to imitate Cicero.” writes Lipsius; “but I have become a man, and my tastes have changed. Asiatic feasts have ceased to please me; I prefer the Attic.”

And this bias appears also in the Renaissance view of the femininity of verse and the Puritan attack on the effeminacy of the stage, we remember Sidney’s Defense, written as a rejoinder to the attack on theatrical poetry as immoral, frivolous, and unmanly. The sentence cited at the beginning of this chapter, Thomas Howell’s “Women are wordes, Men deedes,” should remind us of Hotspur, that quintessential man of action, who proclaims his contempt for “mincing poetry” and who on the battlefield is infuriated when the King’s effeminate ambassador addresses him in “man holiday and lady terms.” This still-prevalent view that poetry or dramatics is for girls, while science and mathematics – real learning – is best left to boys, descends from this ancient derisory association of women and words. (pp. 64-65)

McDonald’s last observation, that poetry is still considered an effeminate occupation, is one that I would have made myself. Robert Frost, in his own day and referring to his beginnings, stated that one might as well wear a millstone round one’s neck as declare oneself a poet. His grandfather, who effectively bankrolled the first half of Frost’s literary career, expected more “manly” pursuits from his grandson.

  • Image above & right. Bathsheba by Jan Matsys. Image above & left. Bathsheba by Jean Leon Gerome. Do these images of feminine nudity offend you? The biblical story of Bathsheba and the story of Susannah (like the paintings), nicely captures the west’s conflicted attitude toward feminine beauty and seductiveness.  The temptations of Bathsheba’s beauty proves to be a destructive one when David sends Bathsheba’s husband to die in battle. God punishes both lovers with the death of their child. Interestingly, the paintings warn us against the seductiveness of feminine beauty while also lulling us with the same, inviting us to be just as seduced by it. The same attraction to, and distrust of, language characterizes Shakespeare’s great plays and medieval attitudes toward language in general.

Interesting too, is the strong link between religious fundamentalism, authoritarianism, intolerance and hyper-masculinity. The puritans, who detested the poetry of Elizabethan England and reviled the dramatic stage (and successfully closed it down for a period of time), were religious fundamentalists who would have found common cause with the hyper-masculine religiosity of present day (fundamentalist) Islamists (such as the Taliban). Their cultural triumph was brief, however. The puritans quickly found themselves on the receiving end of intolerance. What did they do? They fled to Plymouth Rock— not a very pleasant group of people. They are presently celebrated every Thanksgiving as benign settlers seeking freedom from intolerance.  Hardly. As the joke has it: They fled intolerance to more freely express their own intolerance. Londoners were all too glad to be rid of them.

What’s so fascinating is that these biases continue today and are as firmly rooted as they ever were. One is tempted to think there is something in human nature that would recreate this division between the masculine (positive) and feminine (negative), even if the history of such biases were erased. Consider the passage at left, the introductory words to an essay by James H. McGoldrick, published in the The English Journal, Vol. 43, No. 5 (May, 1954), pp. 257-259 .

Notice that it’s not enough to say that poetry is effeminate. Associated with the idea of femininity is the sentimental and that which wastes ones time. The implication is that the feminine, and the pursuit of anything construed as feminine, is unworthy of effort.

Is it really human nature, or is it cultural? Consider the following from The Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature Vol. 2:

Nirala, in that very introduction to Parimal maintains elsewhere: ‘just as metres, being self-forgetful in a state of joy bound within the ambit of rule, dance beautifully and lull the listeners into an ecstacy along with the auditory melody, similarly free verse affords us eternal asethetics of simlutaneity in its extraordinary flow as if it were the little and large waves of the infinite ocean, rising and falling with one single unified motion. Free verse is the verse that remains free even though growing on the ground of metre; the flow of free verse itself sustains and supports it; it establishes its metres and expresses the magesty of its freedom and literature of its law’. Nirala finds the beauty of ‘unequal similarity’ in free verse. He accepts the ‘flow’ of poetry as its great quality. In his famous article ‘Pant aur Pallava’ (1927-28) he writes, ‘In free verse one cannot get the art of music, there is the art of reading; it is not concerned with vowel but with consonant; it is not the feminine tenderness of poetry but the masculine courage or poetry. It’s beauty is not in music, but in conversation.”

Free verse becomes an effort to reclaim poetry’s masculinity. Fascinating, again, are the parallels to the rhetoric of western medieval bias. Remember that the writings of St. Augustine, among others, associated the masculine with the essence – the primary. In Nirala’s rhetoric, free verse is understood as the “infinite ocean” (which is nothing if not primary) whereas meter is understood as the more obviously feminine  – a seductive dance that lulls the listener with its ephemeral beauty. (We are reminded of Bathsheba, Susannah or Salome.) In the latter description, Nirala could as easily be describing the lulling effect of pornography. And there’s no mistake in the choice of  lull, which as part of its definition includes the meaning: to give or lead to feel a false sense of safety; cause to be less alert, aware, or watchful (Dictionary.com). Such a vision of the feminine is thoroughly in keeping with the west’s prejudices.

  • Susanna and the Old Men by Guercino. The old man, having stumbled across Susanna as she bathes, threaten to blackmail her (accuse her of an illicit affair) if she doesn’t have sex with them. She doesn’t. The elder men accuse her of fornication. Although Susanna is exonerated in the end, one is tempted to read the story not as the exoneration of an innocent woman but as a warning against the temptations of feminine seductiveness (and youthful excess). Susanna’s beguiling beauty can only end in destruction (the old men are sentenced to death once their lies are found out). Once again, Guercino invites the viewer to enjoy the beauty of the naked woman even as the narrative warns us against the lurid temptation. Message: Feminine beauty is a youthful folly and should be left to the youthful.

Ezra Pound, heralding the dawn of free verse in his manifesto “A Retrospect“, uses vocabulary no less loaded. He writes:

As to Twentieth century poetry, and the poetry which I expect to see written during the next decade or so, it will, I think, move against poppy-cock, it will be harder and saner, it will be what Mr Hewlett calls ‘nearer the bone’. It will be as much like granite as it can be, its force will lie in its truth, its interpretative power (of course, poetic force does always rest there); I mean it will not try to seem forcible by rhetorical din, and luxurious riot. We will have fewer painted adjectives impeding the shock and stroke of it. At least for myself, I want it so, austere, direct, free from emotional slither.

“Harder and saner” he writes. The implication is that the poetry of the Victorians, drenched in meter and rhyme, was softer (more feminine) and less sane (less rational and too emotional – read womanly). The poetry of free verse will be like “granite” – an inescapably masculine adjective. Pound goes on to describe the poetry of the previous decades as “rhetorical din, and luxurious riot”. There is little that separates such description from the “misogynistic tradition [that] propagates the identification of language and women as treacherous and unreliable, subject to extravagance, malleability, and error…” Pound’s “rhetorical din” is eerily similar to those “notorious anti-feminine passages in medieval literature” that associate the feminine with a “proclivity for loud complaint. Garrulousness, nagging, shrewishness, bickering, demanding…” As if to remove any doubt, Pound uses the adjective painted when describing the Victorians’ over reliance on adjectives. Painted recalls St. Augustine’s association of words with with the “corruption and impermanence” of “the body, specifically with the female body and its traditional ornaments – clothing, makeup, hairstyle, jewelry.” Painted, historically, has the meaning “covered with makeup, esp. to excess.” Pound’s use of the word is meant to imply that the aesthetics of the previous generation (read meter and rhyme) were effeminate, painted, and garish. The blogger Mike Chaser neatly sums up Pound’s manifesto in his post “Chick Lit?“:

In “A Retrospect” from 1918, Ezra Pound states his desire to produce a new, masculine poetry that is “harder and saner,” “nearer the bone,” and “free from [the] emotional slither” that, in his estimation, characterized the effeminate verse of the genteel nineteenth century.

Just as poetry itself is associated with the feminine, even in Shakespeare’s time, the insulting approbation, effeminate, was used by other modernist poets (including W.C. Williams) to differentiate (or elevate) their own efforts as more masculine (and therefore more respectable). The Ciceronian and Senecan divide was (and is) as alive as ever.

  • With that in mind, it’s breathtakingly ironic when self-professed feminists like Adrienne Rich proclaim their feminism by writing free verse – asserting that form in poetry (meter and rhyme) are oppressive patriarchal contrivances. Such immature and self-serving pronouncements merely reinforce the gendered biases which they are supposedly rejecting. It had been better and more honest if Rich had simply admitted that she lacked the talent to be a “good formalist”, rather than hide behind a rationalization.

McDonald closes his discussion of the feminine and masculine in language with a passage from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus:

.     .    .   I prithee now, my son,
Go to them, with this bonnet in they hand,
And thus far having stretch’d it (here be with them),
Thy knee bussing the stones (for in such business
Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ignorant
More learned than the ears), waving thy head,
Which often thus correcting thy stout heart,
Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling: or say to them,
Thou art their soldier, and, being bred in broils,
Hast not the soft way which, thou dost confess,
Were fit for thee to use as they to claim,
In asking their good loves, but thou wilt frame
Thyself, forsooth, hereafter theirs, so far
As thou hast power and person.

The immediate relevance of this passage is found in its grammatical structure, particularly the contrast with Coriolanus’s masculine style.

Even if the passage is punctuated so as to divide into two sentences, there is no break in thought. The length and the syntactical involutions suggest the association of women and copia: the paratactic, additive form of the plea, supported and extended as it is by the participles, connotes the endlessness of female speech, the ungoverned tongue familiar from the misogynist tradition; at the same time, the hypotactic intrusions and parenthesis attest to the indirections and potential waywardness of women and their words. Metrically, the expectations of regularity established by the pentameter are frustrated by the liberty and variety of the phrasing: the semantic demands and wayward rhythmic drive introduce disruptions that poke holes in the order of the line and threaten a kind of aural chaos. (…)

Coriolanus, then, presents a contest of styles, with each side sexually marked. The Baconian, phallic position informs the laconic speech of Coriolanus, who flees from words. Volumnia, on the other hand, embodies Ciceronian loquacity and indirection. (pp. 64-65)

Compare Volumnia’s statement that Coriolanus “hast not the soft way” with Ezra Pound’s emphatic demand for a poetry and language that is harder and “and that will be as much like granite as it can be”. In case the implication isn’t obvious, Pound, like Shakespeare, drives it home. The “force” of a more masculine language will “lie in its truth”. The inescapable corollary is the that feminine language is the language of deception. (It amazes me how little the terms of the debate have changed over 400 years.) To what degree the generations of free verse poets (who followed Pound) internalized Pound’s language is open to debate. But the tendency, as with Adrienne Rich, to rationalize ones aesthetics (ones likes and dislikes) in gender specific terms has never gone away. For Adrienne Rich, form, rhyme and meter are too patriarchal (read masculine).  Pound, on the other hand, considers the same tradition too effeminate. Go figure.

  • Image above right: Venturia at the feet of Coriolanus. Notice how the artist portrays the women. They kneel subserviently and obsequiously.  Coriolanus may be trying to lift the woman or push her away. His gesture is ambiguous. He is portrayed as a man of action (reinforced by the seemingly indifferent soldier who accompanies him and seems impatient to move on). The women are creatures of language – they resort to complaint and pleading.

Shakespeare’s maturity

According to McDonald, Shakespeare eventually rejects the notion of poetry as effeminate and unworthy. While Shakespeare uses Coriolanus to more or less dramatize the debate which was swirling around him,  Antony & Cleopatra, according to McDonald, represents a dramatic resolution. He writes:

The final movement, from Antony’s suicide to Caesar’s eulogy, may be considered a bridge between the tragedies and the romances because it attests to Shakespeare’s developing attitude toward fictional [feminine] language. Cleopatra seems to have occupied Shakespeare’s imagination, making a great gap in Plutarch’s tale by inserting herself into, and thereby transforming what might have been simply a tragedy of Antony. She not only memorializes Antony in a virtuosic act of poetic [feminine] construction  but also stages her own spectacular end by a creative manipulation of costume, setting, and words [the emphasis is my own].  The represented death of the historical female is for Shakespeare the birth of the fictional Cleopatra…

McDonald goes on to quote from Suffocating Mothers, p. 177

By locating Antony’s heroic manhood within Cleopatra’s vision of him, Shakespeare attempts in effect to imagine his way beyond this impasse [the impasse between masculine and feminine language].

This imaginative union of the masculine and the feminine helps to account for Shakespeare’s re-conceived attitude towards words, dramatic mode, and the theatrical enterprise itself.

Translation: The feminine fiction of Cleopatra’s poetic vision immortalizes the masculine facts of Antony’s deeds.

and the immaturity of the other 2,ooo years…

Shakespeare’s artistic equilibrium made no lasting impression on the generations that followed. Consider the following contemporary article (2007) by Douglas Wilson, entitled “The Loss of Poetry“. It begins:

The causes are not easy to identify, but poetry has fallen on hard times.
Poetry today huddles in its prescribed little ghettoes – the sentimentalism of greeting cards and cupboard poetry, the small clutch of arcane poetry journals with a circulation of thirteen, self-absorbed adolescents scribbling pages of navel-gazing free verse, nationally-ignored poet laureates, and that about covers the world of poetry.

What is the alternative to sentimentalism, self-absorption and navel-gazing? Wilson tells us:

…if we are Christians, we need to learn… [that] our understanding of revelation will continue to be truncated… until we give ourselves to the recovery of poetry.
[A] great problem has been the gradual feminization of poetry. This is not mentioned as a criticism of women with a poetic gift. Rather, rightly understood, poetry is a human phenomenon and should reflect that broad reality. An essential part of this is making a place for masculine poetry, and the fact that masculine poetry seems oxymoronic to us now illustrates the problem nicely.
The upshot is that men no longer lead through poetry; they merely put up with the various forms of poetry that may briefly touch their lives. When we think of poetry we think of cowslips and dewdrops, and various forms of moon Juning. We no longer think of Beowulf among “ancient kings and the glory they cut for themselves, swinging mighty swords!” We no longer think of David, a warrior king, singing psalms of piercing strength and loveliness. We think rather of a Romantic poet, wandering lonely as a cloud.

Through his definition of masculine poetry (or language), we can tease out his definition of feminine poetry and language (which is necessarily defined as the opposite); and his definition is almost identical to the attitudes of the medieval Christian writers. Wilson (like Tertullian, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine) defines masculine poetry as a human phenomena, a  poetry concerned  “with the primary, with essence, with form, with unity”. And like the early Christian theologians, he defines “the feminine with the secondary, the accidental, the material”. Feminine poetry doesn’t reflect “broad reality“.

Masculine poetry leads. Feminine poetry “puts up with the various forms of poetry that may briefly touch their lives”. Feminine poetry lulls and beguiles with images of the material and ephemeral “cowslips and dewdrops”, while masculine poetry contends with (what Wilson considers) the universal and lasting – ancient kings (status), glory (reputation), mighty swords (conquest), and the psalms of piercing strength (Wilson was surely  aware of the sexual suggestiveness in his choice of words – the insinuation of masculine sexual conquest).

Wilson’s exhortation could have been written 2,000 years ago or it could have been written during Shakespeare’s day. In either case, it would have been warmly received.

And it’s not that the division of masculine and feminine isn’t a useful division or that these terms don’t represent real and natural differences between the two halves of the human population, but that the feminine is so often construed as the negative (or the lesser of the two). But the masculine voice is just as replete with negatives (if that’s the focus) — empty bombast, vanity, boorishness, pretentiousness, and all the attendant preoccupations with station, rank and reputation. Propagandist poetry could be considered masculine poetry – the poetry of nationalism, colonialism, and chauvinism.

My own observation is so obvious as to be trite: The greatest poets, whether male or female, seem to synthesize what is best in both the masculine and feminine tradition. It’s a wonder that it bears repeating.

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:


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


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

From Hamlet:


“Shews sick and pale with Thought.”


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

From Macbeth:


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.


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:


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.


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)


Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



Double Falsehood

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

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)


Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



Double Falsehood

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

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)


Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



Double Falsehood

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

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)


Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



Double Falsehood

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

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)


Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



Double Falsehood

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

Thomas Middleton

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)


Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



Double Falsehood

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

Middleton’s (Chaste Maid in Cheapside)

64 (give or take 2)

Fletcher (Philaster)


Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess)



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.

Double Falsehood • It’s not Shakespeare

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“Double Falsehood”, said to be the remnants of a long lost collaboration between Fletcher & Shakespeare, is in the news again.

Arden's New Edition

The different write-ups, including by the New York Times, give the impression that this is a recent discovery, but it’s not. Double Falsehood has been considered and reconsidered again, again and again. The latest academic to throw his eggs into the Double Falsehood basket is Brean Hammond of Nottingham University. None of the articles go into any detail and many of them quote the same statement from Hammond:

In a statement, Mr. Hammond said “the early consensus” on “Double Falsehood” was “that Theobald had either forged it or passed it off as written by Shakespeare,” but more recently “a gradual trickle of belief” has “developed into an irresistible flood.”

It’s probably a flood of evidence eerily similar to another flood of circumstantial evidence that surrounded The Funeral Elegy. Donald Foster was the academic who claimed The Funeral Elegy as Shakespeare’s. Just like Arden, the publishers of the Norton Shakespeare decided to include the Funeral Elegy in their complete edition (fully annotated). Since then, Foster has slunk off to ignominy while his various fair-weather friends have been sadly afflicted with amnesia. Norton has quietly removed the Funeral Elegy. Expect the Arden editors to do the same with Double Falsehood.

By the way, way back when the Funeral Elegy was first claimed for Shakespeare, I might have been the very first to identify John Ford as the writer. Yes. Me. Somewhere, buried in Shaksper (I think), is proof. But that’s been a along time ago and my ambition has never been to be a Shakespeare scholar. I was kicked off Shaksper. Why? Because of my sense of humor. I enjoy the granular linguistic and stylistic analyses that prove and disprove authorship and that makes me a good counterfeiter. Back when I was still an upstanding member of Shaksper, I typed in a play called Dr. Dodypoll. No one had a copy of it (and it’s hard to find) but I found it at an obscure Boston library. There was much speculation that Shakespeare had had a hand in writing it (discovering new works of Shakespeare is a past-time for many in the field).

While typing it in, I guessed that the real author was likely Robert Greene (who famously insulted Shakespeare as a plagiarist) or George Peele (I can’t remember now). I remember that the image clusters, if nothing else, were a dead giveaway. But I thought I’d have some fun, so I forged some Shakespeare. Can you find it? Here it is, for the first time in 15 or 20 years:

Leander. My Lord, he fears that you will be angry with him.
Alphonso. You play the villain: wherefore should he fear?
I only proved her virtues for his sake,
And now you talk of anger. Aye me wretch,
That ever I should live to be thus shamed!

Alberdure. Madame, I swear the Lady is my love;
Therefore your highness cannot charge my father
With any wrong to your high worth of her.
Constantine. Sister, you see we utterly mistake
The kind and princely dealing of the Duke:
Therefore without more ceremonious doubts
Lets reconfirm the contract and his love.

Katherine. I warrant you my Lord – the Duke – dissembles.
It is not love doth speak, for such strong terms
Hath ever love. Dear Sister, do but note
The fruit tree giveth not that is not pruned
For nature teacheth us th’extravagance
Of outward show doth sap the inward stock
In substance and of worth. It is love
That like the gentle drop of rain speaks not
Its name unto the earth yet calls from forth
The ground the weary seed. (Nor yet the voice
Of angels can amaze the knotted bud
As doth a single drop of rain from heaven.)
And so true love should do, for that speaks not
That does in deeds what words may never do.

Alphonso. Here on my knees, at the alter of those feet,
I offer up in pure and sacred breath
The true speech of my heart and heart itself.
Require no more if thou be princely born.
And not of rocks or ruthless tigers bred.

Katherine. My Lord, I kindly cry you mercy now,
Ashamed that you should injure your estate
To kneel to me; and vow before these Lords
To make you all amends you can desire.

Flores. Madame, in admiration of your grace
And princely wisdom, and to gratify
The long wished joy done to my Lord the Duke,
I here present your highness with this cup,
Wrought admirably by th’art of spirits,
Of substance fair, more rich than earthly gems,
Whose value no man’s judgment can esteem.

Alphonso. Flores, I’ll interrupt the Duchess thanks
And for the present thou hast given to her
To strengthen her consent to my desires,
I recompense thee with a free release
Of all offenses twixt thyself and me.

Flores. I humbly thank your excellence.
Katherine. But where is now unkind Earl Lassinbergh,
That injures his fair love and makes her wear
This worthless garland? Come, Sir, make amends,
Or we will here award you worthy penance.

Lassinbergh. Madame, since her departure I have done
More hearty penance than heart could wish,
And vow hereafter to live ever hers.

Katherine. Then let us cast aside these forlorn wreaths,
And with our better fortunes change our habits.

Sure enough, there were other academics on the mailing list who spotted the passage right away – only they thought it was by Shakespeare. The excitement was palpable. Because I wasn’t trying to embarrass anyone (I was just having fun) I told everyone about my forgery within the day – unprompted. They were not amused and I was blackballed. End of story.

The point is not that they were dupes (they had no reason to suspect a practical joke and I didn’t give them much time to consider) but that  Shakespeare can be faked and that we’re all guilty of seeing what we want to see. The right Shakespearean scholar would have quickly recognized my little passage as a forgery – if only because the grammar is anachronistic. And who are the right Shakespearean scholars? First and foremost is Brian Vickers, author of ‘Counterfeiting’ Shakespeare. He was among the first scholars who persuasively identified John Ford as the author of the Funeral Elegy. If Brian Vickers comes out in favor of Double Falsehood, then that is the time to sit up and take notice. However, I expect that Vickers is sharpening his pencil to a scalpel’s edge (as I write). Expect blood. Other scholars to look for: MM Mahood, author of Shakespeare’s Wordplay, Edward A. Armstrong, author of Shakespeare’s Imagination, and Marina Tarlinskaja, author of Shakespeare’s Verse: Iambic Pentameter and the Poet’s Idiosyncrasies, Ward Elliot (a Professor of Government) and Robert Valenza (a mathematician and statistician), along with MacDonald Jackson and David Lake. These latter scholars were part of the Shakespeare Authorship Clinic who studied the Funeral Elegy and were detailed in Vickers’ aforementioned book.

When any of these scholars come out in favor, then we’ll have something. As it is, the game is only just afoot.

  • One  thing to know: With the exception of the scholars I’ve provided above, Shakespeare Scholars aren’t necessarily good at recognizing Shakespeare! It takes a certain kind of talent and knowledge to recognize Shakespeare – some of it having nothing to do with a degree in literature. It’s 9 parts science and 1 part intuition. Here’s a beautiful example – Oxford by the Numbers (which includes a rejection of Double Falsehood). That’s why you will find a mathematician and statistician among the scholars who can sort out genuine Shakespeare from the Fletchers or the Theobalds.

Just last night, I found an online copy of Double Falsehood and reread it. I’ll format it and reprint it here for those who are curious (within the week). And having read it, I see lots of imitation, but no Shakespeare.  I may go into more detail with another post (because I really, really enjoy this kind of murder mystery) but for now, I’ll be brief. First, just because a play had Shakespeare’s name attached to it  (as with Cardenio – from which Double Falsehood is supposedly drawn) doesn’t mean Shakespeare actually had anything to do with it (let alone Fletcher). For example:

  • The First Part of Sir John Oldcastle, 1600, appeared in two editions bearing the words ‘Written by William Shakespeare.’
  • The Troublesome Reign of King John. The title-page of the edition of 1611 says: “Written by W. Sh.”
  • The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of Yorke. These plays were reprinted in 1619. The title page claimed they were “written by William Shakespeare, Gent.”
  • The Merry Devil of Edmonton Printed as being by Shakespeare in 1653
  • The History of Cardenio ‘A Play by Mr. Fletcher and Shakespeare;’ entered Sept. 9. 1653. It has been suggested that this play is identical with Double Falsehood.
  • The Second Maiden’s Tragedy was attributed to Shakespeare by Warburton in the 19th Century (I think). Interestingly, The Second Maiden’s Tragedy was recently argued, by Charles Hamilton, to be the actual lost Cardenio. Hamilton’s assertion that the play was a collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher has been discounted, but the play may well have been the lost Cardenio  and is now generally thought to be a collaboration between Thomas Middleton and John Fletcher (or Middleton’s in its entirety).

This list, by the way, (which is only partial) along with some of the description, comes from The Shakespeare Apocrypha (lest I be accused of plagiarism!). The commentary on The Second Maiden’s Tragedy, properly called The Lady’s Tragedy, is my own. And notice that Cardenio (three manuscripts of which were reputedly in Theobald’s possession) wasn’t identified as Shakespeare’s until almost 4 decades after his death. Given the sheer number of plays whose authors were inadvertently (and deliberately) misidentified during these decades, there’s no reason to believe Cardenio was an exception. (And it wouldn’t be the first time Middleton’s verse was identified as Shakespeare’s or Fletcher’s.)

Shakespeare's Imagination by Edward A. Armstrong

Though Lewis Theobald claimed to have based Double Falsehood on manuscripts, within a week of having produced Double Falsehood, his play was called a hoax and poets like Pope challenged him to produce the manuscripts. Theobald never did. The obvious inference is that Theobald, who was known to have imitated Shakespeare, either never had the manuscripts or knew that the manuscripts would undercut his claim. What man would let his career go down in flames, would let his reputation be destroyed, if all he had to do was produce manuscripts reputedly in his possession? That hasn’t stopped scholars from rationalizing his behavior.

If Theobald did have manuscripts, but didn’t produce them, then it’s probably because he recognized that Fletcher’s collaborator (if we accept that the original was a collaboration and that Fletcher had a hand in the play) was not Shakespeare. Was it better to conceal the manuscripts (thus giving him plausible deniability – no proof of anything) or to reveal that he had forged Shakespeare? He probably decided the former was the lesser of two evils. It’s obvious to anyone that Theobald meddled with the text (imitating Shakespeare), and claiming that he did so to suit contemporary tastes is the charitable interpretation. It’s more likely, given his behavior, that the original manuscripts weren’t Shakespearean enough, that Theobald knew it, and altered the texts accordingly.

Who was the other collaborator  (or author of the entire play) if not Shakespeare? Assuming the manuscripts were real, I put my money on Middleton (Thomas Dekker, see my latest post). There are mannerisms in Double Falshood that could be construed as Fletcher’s (Acts III-V), mannerisms that Theobald probably wouldn’t have recognized (but they’re also similar to Middleton’s); and those mannerisms, interestingly, remain (an argument that Theobald really did have manuscripts). For instance, both Middleton and Fletcher used feminine endings (and heavy feminine endings) to a degree that Shakespeare did not. A small example comes from the start of Act III, Scene i.

Jul. Poor Leonora!  Treacherous, damn’d |Henriquez!
She bids me fill my Memory with her Danger;
I do, my Leonora; yes, I fill
The Region of my Thought with nothing else;
Lower, she tells me here, that this Affair
Shall yield a Testimony of her Love:
And prays, her Letter may come safe and sudden.
This Pray’r the Heav’ns have heard, and I beseech ’em,
To hear all Pray’rs she makes.

The formulation ’em for them (and as a feminine ending) is one that you will frequently find in Fletcher’s verse (and Middleton’s, though less so). Curiously, the passages which one might ascribe to Fletcher (if the play was a collaboration and if one grants that Theobald was working from manuscripts) remain relatively unmolested by Theobald. Either that or Theobald was better at forging Fletcher (or Middleton) than Shakespeare (though it’s unlikely that he would have been capable of such fine grained forgery). Also, the congenial metrical flow more nearly matches a Fletcher or Middleton than anything Shakespeare would have written so late in his career (the period when he was collaborating with Fletcher).

The part of the play, however, that is thought to be originally by Shakespeare, strikes me as having Middleton’s genetics with a heavy dose of pseudo-Shakespearean meddling (in Italics) by Theobald – from Act I Scene ii:

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.–

Enter Leonora, and Maid.

See, how her Beauty doth inrich the Place!
O, add the Musick of thy charming Tongue,
Sweet as the Lark that wakens up the Morn
And make me think it Paradise indeed.
I was about to seek thee, Leonora,
And chide thy Coldness, Love.

First of all, notice the repetition of Coy one and feigned One as if the poet were short of imaginative faculties (hung up on one aspect of Shakespeare’s style). In fact, similar “Shakespearean” formulations will show up again and again [Act 1 Scene iii]:

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

The phrase Charming Tongue is not one that Shakespeare would have used so late in his career. This formulation only appears once in his entire output (in Titus Andronicus), “charming eyes”, and might well have been Robert Greene’s George Peele’s rather than Shakespeare’s.  However, the

Shakespeare's Verse by Marlina Tarlinskaja

phrase is all too typical of the kind of fluff that was being produced by poets in Theobald’s day. The phrase “wakens up the Morn” gives away Theobald’s hand. Why? The phrase never appears in Shakespeare because the formulation wake up is anachronistic. In short, the reputedly Shakespearean passages smack of 18th Century revisionism – what an 18th century poetaster would have thought that Shakespeare sounded like. The claim that some words are unique to Shakespeare is bogus. After all, what else(!) would one expect form an 18th century forger trying to imitate Shakespeare?

The real test is in the meter. That’s something Theobald did not have the wit to imitate. Granted, if Theobald was working from manuscripts, he’s altered the meter, but even so, it smacks of Middleton. Shakespeare’s late metrical and syntactic style is very different from Theobald’s passages (I’ll save that comparison for a later post). Bare in mind, too, that Middleton was himself a natural forger of Shakespeare! Middleton, when he made the effort, could write top-notch poetry in the Shakespearean vein. Middleton, who worked and collaborated with Shakespeare, was heavily influenced by and admired the elder poet – another reason for Shakespearean echoes. [Note: March 25, 2010: While my opinions concerning Middleton remain unchanged, I find that the evidence argues for his authorship of Acts III-V, and Thomas Dekker’s authorship of Acts I & 2]

Here is a passage of Middleton (The Widdow: Act 3 Scene 2):


I ha’ got myself unbound yet. Merciless villains!
I never felt such hardness since life dwelt in me.
‘Tis for my sins. That light in yonder window —
That was my only comfort in the woods,
Which oft the trembling of a leaf would lose me–
Has brought me thus far; yet I cannot hope
For succour in this plight: the world’s so pitiless,
And everyone will fear or doubt me now.
To knock will be too bold; I’ll to the gate
And listen if I can hear any stirring.

Enter Francisco [aloof]

Was ever man so crossed? — No, ’tis but sweat, sure,
Or the dew dropping from the leaves above me;
I thought ‘t’ad bled again. These wenching businesses
Are strange unlucky things and fatal fooleries;
No mar’l so many gallants die ere thirty.
‘Tis able to vex out a man’s heart in five year,
The crosses that belong to’t: first, arrested –
That set me back two mangy hours at least;
Yet that’s a thing my heat could have forgiv’n,
Because arresting, in what kind soever,
Is a most gentleman-like affliction.
But here, within a mile o’th’town, forsooth,
And two mile off this place, where a man’s oath
Might ha’ been taken for his own security,
And his thoughts brisk and set upon the business,
To light upon a roguy flight of thieves —
Pox on ’em! Here’s the length of one of their whittles.
But one of my dear rascals I pursued so
The jail has him, and he shall bring out’s fellows.
Had ever young man’s love such crooked fortune?

Did you notice Middleton’s echo of Romeo and Juliet – “That light in yonder window“? Compare “Dye frosty“, in Double Falsehood, with Middleton’s “roguy flight”. The trick of coining adjectives (and adverbs) by attaching the -y ending wasn’t a neologistic device that Shakespeare favored. That device grew in favor shortly after his death (adopted by the likes of Middleton). It later ruined scads and scads of 18th century poems and finally died a climactic and ugly death during the start of the 19th century. One should fully expect to see such language if Theobald were to revise Middleton (or Fletcher).

Here’s another interesting comparison (both passages that close scenes) [Double Falsehood: Act 1 Scene ii]:

What must I do? — But That’s not worth my Thought:
I will commend to Hazard all the Time
That I shall spend hereafter:  Farewel, my Father,
Whom I’ll no more offend:  and Men, adieu,
Whom I’ll no more believe:  and Maids, adieu,
Whom I’ll no longer shame.  The Way I go,
As yet I know not. —  Sorrow be my Guide.

Now compare this habit of thought to the following [The Life of Tymon of Athens: Scene 2]:

We make ourselves fools to disport ourselves,
Upon whose age we void it up again
With poisonous spite and envy.
Who lives that’s not depraved or depraves?
Who dies that bears not one spurn to their graves
Of their friend’s gift?
I should fear those that dance before me now
Would one day stamp upon me. ‘T’as been done.
Men shut their doors against a setting sun.

Timon is by Shakespeare, says you? No, it was a collaboration between Middleton and Shakespeare. The passage above is generally agreed to be by Middleton and can be found in Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works.

But, it’s just one comparison and if the case is going to be made for Middleton, it has to be one among many.

Anyway, these few examples don’t add up to an argument, but they give you an idea of the way Double Falsehood might be examined. If, in the long run, the conjecture is that the play was written by Fletcher and Middleton (a first for these two playwrights who were not known to have collaborated), you heard it here first (by gad). That said, it’s also possible that the entirety of the play was written by Fletcher alone, by Middleton alone [Edit: or, as the evidence now suggests, by Dekker and Middleton]. Other plays identified as being by Beaumont & Fletcher, for example, have since been attributed to Middleton. Along with Shakespeare, Fletcher might have had nothing to do with the play. [Edit: Also interesting to note, Dekker’s work has been misidentified as Shakespeare’s in other plays.]

In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from Brian Vickers.

Addendum: After posting this, I googled Dr. Dodypoll. Only to discover that my poetry was published eight years ago! (I wrote a note to the webmaster. I hope he keeps my forgery with an updated explanation, but if not, below is how it appeared – and may still.)

And to think, all this time I’ve been telling people that I’ve never been published. Turns out… I was published in 1600!