Shakespeare and Language

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Shakespeare and Language

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Shakespeare and language is an area of study that here includes style, speech, sound and sex. As the foremost Shakespeare publication, Shakespeare Survey has been well placed to reflect trends and developments in academic approaches to Shakespeare and to language and this collection of essays considers the characteristics, excitement and unique qualities of Shakespeare’s language, the relationship between language and event, and the social, theatrical and literary function of language. A new introduction, by Jonathan Hope, explicates the differences between Shakespeare’s language and our own, provides a theoretical and contextual framework for the pieces that follow, and makes transparent an aspect of Shakespeare’s craft (and the critical response to it) that has frequently been opaque. c at h e r i n e m . s . a l ex a n d er is Lecturer at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. She is editor of The Cambridge Shakespeare Library and co-editor of Shakespeare and Race (2000) and Shakespeare and Sexuality (2001).


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List of contributors Editor’s note

page vii viii

1 Shakespeare and language: an introduction Jonathan Hope


2 Shakespeare’s language and the language of Shakespeare’s time Stephen Booth


3 The foundations of Elizabethan language Muriel St Clare Byrne


4 Shakespeare’s talking animals Terence Hawkes


5 Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation Vivian Salmon


6 Shakespeare and the tune of the time Bridget Cusack


7 Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: the places of invention Jill L. Levenson


8 Shakespeare’s thematic modes of speech: Richard II to Henry V Robert Hapgood 9 Hamlet and the power of words Inga-Stina Ewbank

139 151

10 The art of the comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare Robert Wilcher v




11 Hamlet’s ear Philippa Berry


12 ‘Voice potential’: language and symbolic capital in Othello Lynne Magnusson


13 The aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus Albert H. Tricomi


14 ‘Time for such a word’: verbal echoing in Macbeth George Walton Williams


15 Household words: Macbeth and the failure of spectacle Lisa Hopkins


16 Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes Russ McDonald





philippa berry King’s College, Cambridge s t ephen booth University of California, Berkeley muriel st cl are byrne ∗ bridg et cusack University of Edinburgh i ng a-stin a ewbank University of Leeds robert hapgood University of New Hampshire terence hawkes University College, Cardiff jonathan hope University of Strathclyde l i sa hopk ins Sheffield Hallam University j i ll l. levenson University of Toronto ly n ne m ag nusson University of Waterloo, Ontario russ m c don ald University of North Carolina vi v ian salm on Bedford College, University of London a lbert h. tricomi State University of New York robert wilch er University of Birmingham georg e walton williams Duke University


Editor’s note

The titles of these sixteen essays alone indicate the size and range of an area of study that elides ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Language’, a subject that here includes style, speech, sound and sex. As the foremost Shakespeare publication, produced annually since 1948, Shakespeare Survey has been well placed to reflect trends and developments in academic approaches to Shakespeare and to language and this collection of essays, covering the period 1964 to 1997, considers the characteristics, excitement and unique qualities of Shakespeare’s language, the relationship between language and event, and the social, theatrical and literary function of language. The new introduction, by Jonathan Hope, explicates the differences between Shakespeare’s language and our own, provides a theoretical and contextual framework for the pieces that follow, and makes transparent an aspect of Shakespeare’s craft (and the critical response to it) that has frequently been opaque.


chap t e r 1

Shakespeare and language: an introduction Jonathan Hope

i tongue In ‘Shakespeare’s talking animals’, Terence Hawkes makes a fundamental claim about language and Shakespeare’s work. The plays, he says, contain ‘ideas about language’ which we neglect ‘because we are anaethetized to them by our own literacy’ (Hawkes: p. 69, this volume). Nothing could be more important in seeking to understand Early Modern ideas about language and use of language than becoming aware of our own narcotic unawareness of them. We are used to historicizing Shakespeare in every respect except his language, and, as Hawkes implies, our ignorance is matched only by our ignorance of our ignorance. But I would go further than Hawkes: as I will try to show in this introduction, there are not only ideas about language we miss; there are usages of language we misinterpret because we mistake the nature of language in the Early Modern period. From the point of view of linguistics, and taken as a product of human cognition, language can be assumed to be the same thing in all cultures, and at all times in attested human history. However, taken as a cultural entity, within literary or cultural criticism, language changes radically between the Early Modern period and our own – as radically as other cultural entities such as government, religion, and duty change. In the first part of this introduction, I will try to make language strange, to give an idea of its different cultural status in the Early Modern period; in the second, I will examine the curious reality our culture has bestowed on ‘wordes’, and what this does to our readings of Shakespeare. I’d like to begin in an alehouse. Probably in London, probably some time in the late 1590s. Across from us, a man is sitting alone, writing. From where we are, I can’t see what he’s writing, but thanks to the various technologies associated with the written word – writing itself, pen-making, ink-making, paper-making, printing, book-making, libraries, book preservation – I will be able to eavesdrop on his thoughts one day four hundred years later, in 1


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August 2003, in the Humanities 1 Reading Room of the British Library. Now, thanks to an additional set of technologies including computers and word processing packages, you can eavesdrop too: I write this in an Alehouse, into which I am driuen by night, which would not giue me leaue to finde out an honester harbour. I am without any c˜opany but Inke & Paper, & them I vse in stead of talking to my selfe . . . The first note here is to see how honestly euery place speakes, & how ill euery man liues. Not a Poste nor painted cloth in the house but cryes out, ‘Feare God,’ and yet the Parson of the Town scarce keeps this Instruction. It is a straunge thing how men bely them selues; euery one speaks well & meanes naughtily (Allen 1946: 43)

The man is Sir William Cornwallis, and the words come from his Essayes, first published in two parts in 1600 and 1601. These particular words come from Essay 22, ‘Of Alehouses’, though, as often, this essay wanders from the topic suggested by its title, in this case to meditate on the mismatch between language and observed reality. I’ll return later to Sir William’s observations on language and the world (and especially his noisy posts and cloths), but let’s consider the man for a moment. As an English essayist, Cornwallis stands in the shadow of Francis Bacon. Cornwallis is less original, not as good a writer; but he is also more modest, less sententious, an early cultural critic with refreshingly catholic interests: There is not that thing vppon the Earth, that well examined, yeelds not something worthie of knowledge (Allen 1946: 43)

And unlike George Orwell, who wrote a rather sour essay on pubs, Cornwallis comes across as someone it would be fun to sit and drink with. Now though, Cornwallis is on his own, able to avoid the embarrassment of talking to himself thanks to his possession of ‘Inke & Paper’. It is worth reminding ourselves that to write away from the study in Cornwallis’ time meant carrying equipment: a sealed bottle of ink, a pen, a knife, and paper – no biros or spiral notebooks here. In some respects, Sir William is like a modern-day laptop user: in order to write, he needs to lug around a chunk of technology. If his ink leaks, or his battery fails, we’ll lose the essay. In other respects, however, Sir William is not at all like a laptop user. In 2004, laptops are all around us: the few people not paddling touch-sensitive mousepads are keying mobile phones – especially in pubs. Not only has the technology associated with traditional methods of writing become invisible to us, but the much newer technology of computers and mobile phones is so pervasive that even our irritations with it have become conventionalized. In 1600, however, only a tiny percentage of the population had access to the technology of writing, and to see someone sitting on his own in an



alehouse writing must have been a wonder. Perhaps we should imagine Sir William’s equivalent in a 1960s pub off Carnaby Street, punching holes in pieces of cardboard while a mainframe hums on the back of a lorry parked outside. In 1600, when Cornwallis wrote instead of ‘talking to my selfe’, writing was a specialized skill akin to that of an electrician or plasterer today. People employed someone else if they needed something written; writing was manual labour, and nobles thought it no shame to have a poor hand, if any. This unfamiliar status of writing is important, since it is indicative of a radical difference between 1600 and our own time. Our culture is characterized by literacy: reading and writing are skills we take for granted, and those who lack them are rare, stigmatized, and virtually excluded. Things were different in Shakespeare’s London, where the highest estimates put adult male literacy at 50 per cent. Add females, and include the whole country rather than just the richest city, and the proportion of even minimally literate people must fall considerably. One consequence of the pervasiveness of literacy in our culture is that for many people, language is writing. Speech is often implicitly or explicitly not quite the real thing: a lazy, sloppy version of ‘proper’ language. This is a cultural conception rather than a scientific reality: modern linguists maintain the primacy of speech and the secondary nature of writing; but culturally, writing is predominant. There was no such cultural conception in Shakespeare’s day. Muriel Bradbrook claims that English at the time was ‘a tongue rather than a written language’ (Bradbrook 1964: 129–41) and there is overwhelming evidence to support this. In the period 1500–1700, the word ‘tongue’ appears around 600 times in the titles of books, while ‘language’ features less than 200 times. Although ‘language’ gains ground after 1700, it is still possible in 1711 to find titles like The Child’s guide to the English tongue: or, a New Spelling Book, where ‘tongue’ is used despite the book’s overt concern with written language. By default, writing on language in the period assumes that ‘language’ is sound: even the written signs in Cornwallis’ alehouse ‘cry out’. This speech-based conception is partly due, no doubt, to the strength of the rhetorical tradition, predicated on spoken performance even if often applied to writing, but it is also a consequence of the generally dominant status of speech in the period. To claim that writing was language then would have been to make a metaphorical leap akin to asserting that someone’s portrait was them. Early Modern England was a culture in transit between orality and literacy – no longer a fully oral society in Walter Ong’s terms, but still far removed from our own highly literate state. The finest linguistic work in


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the period was done on the sounds of the language: orthoepists such as Robert Robinson (who gives an Early Modern pronunciation of ‘Shakespeare’) observed and recorded the phonetic reality of English at a time when grammarians robotically tried to force English syntactic structures into a Latin template.1 Away from the specialized world of descriptive linguistics, we find evidence for a pervasive oral orientation to language even in the printing house: Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1683–4) records how compositors worked orally in transferring from copy to print (Davis and Carter 1958: 204) and Philip Gaskell finds similarly oral practices in proof-reading (Gaskell 1972: 112). Finally, it is worth remembering that, in addition to oral practices characterizing the means of production of printed texts, oral distribution was arguably far more important than print for certain texts we encounter now only in printed form. As Gary Taylor notes, ‘the largest print run for a book allowed by law was less than the number of spectators that could be accommodated for a single performance at the Globe’ (Taylor 2004: 29). ii diuersitie of sound s; conformit ie in l anguage Our literacy anaesthetizes us to the fundamentally oral nature of language, and the strangeness of writing; two aspects of language plain to Early Modern culture. At the same time, however, our literacy sensitizes us to something so pervasive in the Early Modern period that it seems virtually invisible to Early Modern speakers: linguistic variation. For most modern readers, their first encounter with an unedited or facsimile Early Modern text is an encounter with variation run mad. The modern textual critic W. Speed Hill writes of editing a text whose printed original showed variation between three different forms of the letter ‘c’. Speed Hill modernized (that is, standardized) the variation, claiming that there was no gain in preserving it and a palpable gain in suppressing it: that is, the reduction of extraneous information (nonsignificant data, static) in the resulting text (Speed Hill 1993: 27)

Most of us will probably sympathize with Speed Hill’s use of the term ‘static’ here. When we try to ‘read’ an Early Modern text, often all we can see are the apparently random shifts in ‘s’ forms, and highly variable spelling (the word ‘she’ is spelled four different ways within four lines on one page of John Florio’s Florio His First Fruits (1578)). However, these data are only ‘static’ for us because we have been sensitized to variation by our



cultural conception of language as a standardized, written thing which is characterized by its very lack of variation. It is important at this point to stress the scientific inaccuracy of our cultural conception of language. Language in its natural state is not stable, and it is not self-evident that stability would be a good thing. Variation is not bad, and it does not inevitably make communication less precise or more difficult. Languages vary in terms of sound, vocabulary, and grammar. Any individual language will vary from place to place, over time, between classes and genders, from person to person, within the production of the same person between different contexts, and even in the same context. The ‘same’ English sound, in the same word, spoken by the same person, can have numerous different realizations even when the repetitions of the word are close together in time. Listen to the realizations of the /t/ in ‘pretty’ in the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ for an example of this: they range from the conventionally expected [t], to a voiced dental flap closer to [d], to a glottal stop, to outright deletion. Unless we are trained to hear them by a phonetics or socio-linguistics course, we are unlikely to be conscious of these different realizations of sounds. They do not affect our understanding of the word, though they may give us social or geographical information about the speaker. Just as the original readers of Speed Hill’s text were unfazed by the variation in letter forms, we can cope with a high level of variation in the spoken language without noticing it. However, our sensitivity to variation changes radically when we are faced with written language: otherwise rational people (myself included) are exercised by variation in the use of apostrophes to mark plurals and possession; teachers spend time correcting, and schoolchildren spend time learning, entirely arbitrary conventions for spelling certain words; word processing packages dutifully put wavy green lines under all usages of ‘which’; battles are fought over ‘different to’ and ‘different than’. Why have we become so sensitive to variation in the written language? The answer lies in the development of standard written English, a process which can be traced over the period 1300–1800 (Wright 2000). Languages standardize when they are written down and when the resultant texts are regularly circulated between dialect areas. When societies first become literate, scribes naturally follow their own pronunciation in spelling and their own dialect in choosing grammatical forms. With time, however, a drift towards identifying and using certain common forms occurs. Eventually, this drift produces a standard written language as the choices made by scribes coalesce (I use the term ‘drift’ deliberately here, since standardization is something that can happen without conscious intent on the part of those


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writing documents). Standardization is thus the reduction of variation in a language, and it is an uncommon, and unnatural event. Uncommon and unnatural because it cannot take place until a language has been written down, and most languages in the world today, and an even greater majority of languages in history, have no written form. The process of standardization was in its final stages in English by 1600. After that date, the amount of variation in English printed texts is low, and rapidly declines further. Then something strange happens. As the amount of variation in texts declines to negligible, the later seventeenth century sees a rise in the amount of complaint about variation in texts. Suddenly, writers on language are acutely aware of variation, and merciless in their condemnation of it – alternate spellings and grammatical forms, words seen as ‘vulgar’ – all are denounced and proscribed out of the written language. Dictionaries and grammars are published, regional accents are dismissed as ‘uneducated’: the whole apparatus of eighteenth and nineteenth-century prescriptivism is put in place, along with its central ideology: there is only one correct way of doing anything in language – everything else is wrong. However we may disassociate ourselves from crude prescriptivism now (and not all do – see Sturrock 2003), we are its intellectual heirs, and our cultural assumptions about language derive from its demonstrably false account of language. The success of prescriptivism as an ideology can be traced throughout our response to written variation. We are conditioned to associate minute variations in spelling and orthography with absolute shifts in meaning: its/it’s; affect/effect; program/programme; god/God; be/bee; catholic/Catholic. We describe the products of these orthographic conventions as ‘different words’, forgetting that they are orthographic representations of identical groups of phonemes. We have reified ‘words’ and ‘meaning’ and we associate meanings with particular spellings, and therefore the written language, in a way conceptually impossible in the Early Modern period. I will return in the next section to the question of what a ‘word’ is, and how meanings can be associated with it, but now having characterized our own response to variation on the page, I want to consider the Early Modern response to variation in sound. It seems to me that one of the most striking things about Shakespeare’s treatment of language is the lack of comment on, or representation of, dialect. Mention Henry V and Merry Wives, and an exchange in King Lear and we have listed almost all of the available data. Elsewhere, there is no sustained examination of dialect. Why should this be? It cannot be



because people did not have regional dialects in the Early Modern period. Rather I think it is the opposite: everyone had one, so why comment on it? If everyone has a dialect, then variation is the element speakers swim in, not commented upon because there is no non-dialectal position from which to find dialectal variation strange. Only in our own age, thanks to prescriptivism, do we have such impossible concepts as ‘accentless English’. Shakespeare’s relative lack of overt comment on dialect is not because he is unaware of difference; it is because he, like most of his culture, is unaware of homogeneity.2 Of course, there are scenes in Shakespeare where accent and dialect are apparently objectified, identified as different. Perhaps significantly, most of the varieties identified in this way are national rather than regional (for example, in Henry V and Merry Wives), but Hal’s baiting of the drawers in 2 Henry IV does seem to rest on the assumption of a standard dialect from which the drawers deviate because of low social class. Even here though, we should be wary of transposing our post-prescriptivism attitudes. The drawer scene is notoriously puzzling and inconclusive, and it is at least possible that what is being glanced at is not the strangeness of the drawers’ language, but the perversity of Hal’s alienation from it. Note too, that Hal’s satire is not directed against phonetic variation (though no doubt the drawers can be given egregious stage cockney accents if a director wishes), but against lexical and phrasal differences. Here I think we see one aspect of the Early Modern reading of variation which escapes us. They were not overly sensitive to geographical variation, but they were highly sensitive to social variation which, at a time when there is no non-regional upper class accent, is marked mainly by lexical variation, and the use of different modes of discourse. When Ben Jonson declared ‘Language most shewes a man; speake that I may see thee’ (Timber), he did not mean that accent would allow him to place someone geographically and socially as today, but that use of words and decorum of construction would reveal the speaker’s level of education and place in the Early Modern social hierarchy. Shakespeare’s characters rarely comment on accent in our sense of regional accent, but they frequently comment on discourse as revealing a person’s origins and status. The two chapters in this collection which consider most directly the social nature of language use are those by Robert Wilcher and Lynne Magnusson. Wilcher’s paper is deceptively low-key, identifying three types of comic double-act in a semi-structuralist approach: one involving two lower-class characters; one involving two upper-class characters; one with mixed-class participants. Although Wilcher focuses on the way these dualogues feed


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into character and illuminate social relationship in the plays, he also very clearly shows that the different types of dualogue use words in contrasting ways. Two lower-class characters will quibble or ‘mistake’ the word, usually with one character wittily feeding off a stooge, and moving from static meaning to static meaning. Two upper-class characters will play more fluidly with meaning, riffing off each other or ‘keeping the ball of wit in the air’. In mixed class dualogue, most often found when a licensed fool jests with a master or mistress, the quibbling has a more serious purpose, and the mistakings unfold some essential element of the situation, rather than simply illustrating the nimbleness of the fool. Wilcher identifies early examples of the fluid, playful type of dualogue between Proteus and Valentine (Two Gentlemen of Verona) and Katherine and Rosaline (Love’s Labour’s Lost), and his analysis matches a shift Jill Levenson identifies in the discourse types employed by Romeo and Mercutio as Mercutio welcomes Romeo back into what he views as ‘the most accomplished kind of social discourse’ (see p. 131): now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo: now art thou what thou art, by Art as well as by Nature (2.3.82–3)

If there are discourse types which signal social status more readily than accent for Early Modern speakers, what of the social statuses which preexist? Mercutio welcomes Romeo back into the realm of polite discourse because he knows Romeo belongs there – a lower-class character who attempts to play with meanings without the licence of the fool is likely to be dismissed as a saucy knave. Lynne Magnusson’s paper is an attempt to chart the way social status licences speaking of a certain kind, and to trace the uncertainties of negotiating status and speech. Refreshingly drawing on Bourdieu rather than the more familiar Bakhtin, Magnusson makes the important point that language generally symbolizes or marks social role, rather than being constitutive of it, and that the degree of attention paid to speech depends on the ‘symbolic capital’ of the speaker, assigned in a complex, ever-shifting market place where ‘linguistic ingenuity’ is simply one factor (p. 214). Magnusson’s approach seems to me to be particularly rewarding in the complex reading it allows of Othello’s language, which is, as Magnusson says, characterized by ‘some degree of tension’ due to his ambivalent social position (p. 219). To move back to socio-linguistics from Bourdieu’s sociology of speech, this is Othello as hypercorrector.3 Wilcher and Magnusson are both looking at the social implications of different discourse types, moving away from traditional literaryphilological concerns with individual words or linguistic items to attempt



the characterization of larger stretches of text, and their work can be linked to two developing areas, historical pragmatics (see Jucker 1995 and the Journal of Historical Pragmatics) and historical socio-linguistics (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003). Muriel St Claire Byrne’s paper represents a very early example of historical socio-linguistics, taking the Lisle letters as a corpus of written language held to be speech-like in some respect. Byrne’s approach is likely to strike most present-day linguists as overly impressionistic and subjective, but her method is fundamentally the same as that of the Helsinki corpus teams, who have sought to approach Early Modern spoken forms via contrasting text-types (Rissanen et al. 1993) and non-literary letters (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 1996). Scholars such as Laura Wright have sought grammatical forms characteristic of speech in depositions (Wright 1995), and her work can usefully be added to accounts of the Senecan and Ciceronian models for prose (as given here by McDonald p. 273) to broaden our sense of the models available for prose writing in the period. iii wordes Writing in his alehouse, Cornwallis noted the potentially duplicitous nature of language: ‘It is a straunge thing how men bely them selues; euery one speakes well & meanes naughtily.’ He returns to this suspicion in a later essay, ‘Of Wordes’: I like no Relation so well as what mine eye telleth me; for there is in speech, as in sumptuous building, many entries, landing places, and Lucomes commended more for formalities sake then for conueniency; so ‘ands’ and ‘ifs’ and many sounding wordes stuffe vp empty periods with winde (Allen 1946: 219)

(A ‘lucome’ is a skylight.) Lying behind this is a philosophy which considers human language to be an inevitably imperfect and misleading representation of reality. The eye is taken to be a more direct route to the true nature of things than the ear: Naturally we carry matter better then wordes, in which nature telles vs she vseth words but for an interpretour because our ignorance vnderstandes not her Language, which puts vs to a great deale of paine and makes vs go a great way about in our inquisition of knowledge (Allen 1946: 219)

The idea that there is a natural language which gives access to the truth about the physical world is based on biblical accounts of Adam naming the animals, ‘each after his own kind’, with the sense that Adam’s names


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somehow tapped into and expressed the essential reality of the things he named: that his chosen names were somehow non-arbitrary. The Tower of Babel myth explains how human languages subsequently became separated from this original language and lost their ability to give access to unmediated truth: in effect, how languages became arbitrary sounds. Such ideas resurfaced most influentially in the later seventeenth century when language philosophers such as John Wilkins attempted to reconstruct a ‘universal language’ which would allow natural philosophers to manipulate ideas about the world as effectively as mathematics allowed the manipulation of numerical concepts. Early Modern texts are full of disquisitions on the duplicitous tendencies of man’s fallen language, and these chime with our own literary culture’s sophisticated theoretical engagement with meaning. However, while the Babel myth acknowledges the fallen nature of human language, the Adamic myth asserts the possibility of conveying meaning reliably, and offers a much more optimistic view of language – a view that we are perhaps inoculated against by modern theory. Cornwallis provides an example of the Early Modern distrust of language, substituting a basic non-linguistic empiricism for its Babelonian cacophony, but religious and moral writers on language could interestingly complicate this rejection of language in favour of the world. The Government of the Tongue (second impression 1674) illustrates an alternative take on language, focusing on Adam and Eve as the first users of language: tho there was this sympathy in their sublimer part which disposed them to the most intimate union; yet there was a cloud of flesh in the way which intercepted their mutual view, nay permitted no intelligence between them, other then by the mediation of some organ equally commensurate to soul and body. And to this purpose the infinite wisdom of God ordained Speech; which as it is a sound resulting from the modulation of the Air, has most affinity to the spirit, but as it is uttered by the Tongue, has immediate cognation with the body, and so is the fittest instrument to manage a commerce between the rational yet invisible powers of human souls clothed in flesh (a2r)

This elegant dissolution of the world/language dualism can be linked to the protestant emphasis on the word, but it also reveals a wider Early Modern optimism about the genuine power of language to convey real meanings and establish communicative links between people – something which Inga-Stina Ewbank emphasizes in her approach to Hamlet in this volume. As Ewbank shows, twentieth-century readings have been too quick to find disillusion with words and the possibility of meaning in the play, and it may be that the Early Modern view of language is more ambiguously rich and nuanced than our own, perhaps overly cynical one (pp. 151, 162–4).



As Philippa Berry (pp. 209–11) and Terence Hawkes (pp. 75–7) discuss, language was associated in the Early Modern period with the figure of Mercury/Hermes: a fittingly transitional and ambiguous figure. Berry (p. 209) quotes Richard Linche, writing in 1599 in The Fountaine of Ancient Fiction: Mercurie was often taken for that light of knowledge, & spirit of understanding, which guides men to the true conceavement of darke and enigmaticall sentences

There is an optimism here that even ‘darke and enigmaticall’ sentences have a true meaning that can be arrived at. We are some way from Cornwallis’ ‘empty periods’ stuffed up with ‘winde’. As the multiple, sometimes contradictory, associations of Mercury-Hermes show, Early Modern thought was at ease with ambiguity and fluidity, even contradiction, in a way that our own, for all its notions of post-modernity and free play, is not. Ours is a culture of the dictionary – but as Phil Benson points out, dictionaries are built on two false assumptions about language: first that languages ‘are composed of uniquely identifiable words’; second ‘that each word in the language has a uniquely identifiable sense’ (2001: 43–4). What, exactly, is ‘a word’? This is a question linguists have found embarrassingly difficult to answer. Certainly, in an everyday, common-sense sense, we all ‘know’ what a word is: this page is full of them, and they can be identified by the white spaces on either side. But these ‘words’ are orthographic conventions, representations rather than the things themselves – and even the white spaces are late developments in the history of writing. Many early manuscripts show the use of scriptio continuo, that is, a continuous stream of letters: ‘words’ are not marked off orthographically in this form of writing any more than they are marked off phonetically in speech with silences. It is much easier to formulate a linguistic definition of ‘morpheme’ (the smallest unit which carries meaning) than ‘word’, but many morphemes are not what we would want to call words: ‘un-’, ‘-ed’, ‘-s’, ‘-ly’, ‘-ing’. It is not ridiculous to argue that ‘words’ are to a large extent the product of writing: certainly our consciousness of them is highly orthographic. Many ‘words’ only exist as distinct things in their written form: to/too/two; air/heir; Barbar/ barber – and here once again we come up against a fundamental conceptual difference between our view and the Early Modern view of language. To our literate consciousness, to/too/two are three different words which just happen to sound the same – but the difference we perceive as absolute is largely a product of orthographical convention – and writing is representation, not essence. Go back to a time before our current orthographic conventions are in place, and it becomes much less obvious that these


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are ‘different’ words. Paradoxically, these words only become definitively different with the development of a standardized spelling system and the production of the dictionaries which claim merely to represent or describe difference. As Phil Benson further points out, dictionaries create the distinctions they seek to record (2001: 44). It is not the case that our literate consciousness of what words might be was absent in the Early Modern period – but we should note that those who have it are satirized by Shakespeare: c u r at A most singuler and choyce Epithat, Draw-out his Table-booke. pe da He draweth out the thred of his verbositie, finer then the staple of his argument. I abhorre such phanatticall phantasims, such insociable and poynt deuise companions, such rackers of ortagriphie, as to speake dout fine, when he should say doubt; det, when he shold pronounce debt; d e b ’t, not det: he clepeth a Calfe, Caufe: halfe, haufe: neighbour vocatur nebour; neigh abreuiated ne: this is abhominable, which he would call abbominable, it insinuareth me of in-famie: ne inteligis domine, to make frantique lunatique? (Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.1.15–25)

There are certainly also characters who ‘mistake’ the word, as Wilcher (pp. 180–1) notes, treating words as static units of uniquely identifiable meaning, and almost all of the essays in this volume touch on such punning, or play, to some degree. Puns have a bad name in Shakespeare criticism, and there is anxiety evident in these essays in Stephen Booth’s reassurances to the reader that the formal, ‘phonic’ features he identifies are non-signifying (Booth p. 23). This sense of strangeness recurs in Tricomi’s confrontation with the literal metaphors of Titus, and more generally in treatments of homophones and phonetic variation (Williams pp. 243–4, McDonald pp. 272–3, Berry pp. 201–2). As with attitudes to the nature of language, it may be that Early Modern attitudes to word play and meaning are rather more subtle and complex than our own. Our highly literate sense of what language is, is based on a category error: we take the representation (writing) for the thing itself (speech), and thus take as essential, features which are accidental fabricants of writing (for example, orthographic spaces which allow us to see ‘words’ on the page, standardized spellings which distinguish phonetically identical words). Our notions of ‘words’ and our expectation that they have stable, defined meanings, are anachronistic to the Early Modern period, which was a developing rather than an established literate culture. This is a crucial difference, but one which is very hard for us to conceptualize. When we perceive Shakespeare, or one of his characters, ‘punning’ on sole/soul, we



see a process which makes a link between two different words on the basis that they happen to sound alike. But our fundamental understanding is that there are two different ‘words’, ‘sole’ and ‘soul’, and that they can be linked by accidental and non-signifying resemblances in sound. The apparently arbitrary nature of the link (its purely ‘phonic’ nature as Stephen Booth has it) makes us hostile to, or unmoved by Shakespeare’s ‘puns’ (Levenson quotes Mahood and Evans judging them ‘heavy-witted’ and ‘trite’ 51). However, it is only possible for us to conceive of ‘soul’ and ‘sole’ as two different words because spelling standardization and dictionaries have reified the distinction – from an Early Modern perspective, there is just as much reason to assume that this is one word which can be used to refer to two different things. It is this uncertainty and play in the relationship between words and their referents which Wilcher and Levenson find Shakespeare’s more sophisticated characters exploiting: Romeo and Mercutio, Hamlet do not engage in the heavy-handed ‘mistaking the word’ which isolates individual meanings in static positions: instead they invest language with fluidity. As Pat Parker as been arguing for some time now, Early Modern speakers and writers were alive to an endless progression of meaning, using language as a route into a flux of representations, not as a set of containers in which to bottle up meanings. Again, our writing-based, standardized conception of language leaves us puzzled when faced with what appear to be a succession of stuttering puns – we need to think of meaning as a body of liquid through which we swim, rather than a set of points about which we hop. The fluidity of language in the Early Modern period can be traced even in the apparently arid field of derivational morphology. In this volume, Vivian Salmon notes Shakespeare’s preference for deriving words using the morphemes ‘dis-‘ and ‘un-’ (p. 95). Shakespeare’s preference for these is surely because, even though they are negative morphemes, they introduce connotations of activity, agency, and process, as her examples show: ‘disbench’ – drive from a bench; ‘unshout’ – withdraw your shouts. Agency and process are the properties Shakespeare most characteristically bestows on the things he writes about – note the following lines: Thinke when we talke of Horses, that you see them Printing their prowd Hoofes i’th’ receiuing Earth (Henry V 0.0.25–6)

Here, a series of grammatical and semantic devices combine to give agency to, and personify, non-human entities. When ‘Horses’ are mentioned in line 25, they are the grammatical object, first of ‘talke’, and then of ‘see’, but


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they are also the active, if implicit, agent of ‘Printing’ in the subordinate clause. Similarly, the inanimate ‘Hoofes’ are the object of ‘Printing’, but they are personified and animated by ‘prowd’. ‘Earth’, likewise inanimate, is likewise animated and personified by its adjective: ‘receiuing’ ascribes volition, and, in its derivation from a present participle, action. This type of animation is so common in Shakespeare that it is surprising, as Williams notes (p. 248, n. 15), to find him working in the opposite direction, turning a human into an inanimate object in Macbeth: The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step, On which I must fall downe, or else o’re-leape (Macbeth 1.4.48–9)

The fluid, rather than static, nature of Shakespeare’s use of language is also shown by Salmon’s observation that Shakespeare derives words rather than borrowing them (p. 80). Recombination of existing elements to create a new word invokes a linguistic process, and involves the reader, where borrowing relies on the reader recognising the source of the borrowed word, and is likely to provoke at best passive admiration for the learning of the user (‘Acommodated, it comes of Accommodo: very good, a good Phrase.’ 2 Henry IV 3.2.66), and more usually in Shakespeare, derision (‘They haue beene at a great feast of Languages, and stolne the scraps’ Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.1.35). Involvement of the reader/hearer in the linguistic process is also achieved through the use of situational irony, as Williams notes, in the way the audience ‘hears’ echoes of words unpronounced on stage (p. 248, note 21), and, as Lisa Hopkins observes, in the way only the audience can perceive metatheatrical metaphors (pp. 253–4). And metaphor too is usually employed by Shakespeare to produce animacy and process, making Tricomi’s identification of static, almost literal metaphors in Titus particularly interesting. I found this paper highly provocative in its attempt to explain the strange quality of language in Titus, though perhaps the dichotomy between metaphor and literal language it offers is too glib, and could be revised in the light of work in linguistics on the cognitive effects of metaphor. Shen and Cohen, for example, have claimed a modality of mapping in metaphor and synaesthetic effect where ‘high’ senses are mapped onto ‘low’ (sight onto taste, for example) but not the other way round; and this might be extended to the operation of Shakespearian metaphor, where abstracts are regularly mapped onto the concrete (Shen and Cohen 1998, and see also Cameron 1998).



Throughout these essays, there is a tension between literary and linguistic approaches to texts, which could crudely be represented as one between not counting and counting. Linguists see language as an object of study, a thing in itself, while literary scholars are more likely to treat language as a gateway to some other object of study (Pat Parker notes the tendency for literary criticism to treat language as transparent – Parker 1996: 13). Even when linguists and literary scholars both fix on language as an object of study, they are likely to read it differently: linguists for features which can be shown to be characteristic by way of their relative frequency in contrast to relatively infrequent items; literary scholars for relatively infrequent items which can be argued to be salient in some way (this distinction is explored in Hope and Witmore forthcoming). Examples of this can be seen in this volume in the different approaches to vocabulary study of Salmon (a linguist) and Hapgood and McDonald, where Hapgood and McDonald both have a tendency to make claims which linguists expect to see backed up with figures. As a linguist myself (albeit one with a literary training), I read these essays with great profit, but my most frequent marginal comment was probably ‘Figures?’ or ‘Prove it!’ We are rapidly approaching the time when all scholars of Early Modern literature will have access to electronic texts and search tools which will make the provision of figures to back up arguments a relatively trivial task. Linguists can show literary scholars what to do with the figures, but far more important is the formulation of interesting arguments and questions to seek to answer – and that is the task of the literary scholar, as evidenced by this set of highly suggestive essays. I will end, therefore, with my own question. I have tried to make a case briefly in this final section for Early Modern English generally, and Shakespeare in particular, as characterized by linguistic features which foreground process and animacy. If this is true, it might well show through in Shakespeare’s use of ‘-ing’ forms – especially in his use of them as adjectives as opposed to his use of ‘-ed’ past participle forms in the same role. This is because an ‘-ing’ form used as an adjective normally has an active paraphrase, while an ‘-ed’ past participle form typically has a passive paraphrase, so: the killing joke = the joke kills the killed joke = the joke has been killed If my characterization of Shakespeare is correct, he should use ‘-ing’ forms as adjectives more frequently than ‘-ed’ forms. I wish you joy of the counting.


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1 Robinson’s work is edited in Dobson 1957. The work of the orthoepists is magisterially chronicled and interpreted in Dobson 1968, and this work in turn can best be approached via Barber 1997: 103–41. Vorlat 1975 and Salmon 1979 give general accounts of linguistic study in the period. 2 True, there are isolated calls for a standardized dialect at the time – Puttenham commends the language of the area about sixty miles round London (Defense of Poesie, ‘Of Ornament’, book 3, chapter 4), Gill claims ‘one universal speech amongst the gentry’ in 1619 (Danielsson and Gabrielson eds., 1972: 104) – but these are the isolated roots of later prescriptivism. Sustained claims for ‘conformitie’ in language are confined to political curiosities such as the rash of unionist pamphlets which greeted James VI’s accession to the English throne, many alleging, unconvincingly, that English English and Scottish English were hardly different at all. For example, A Treatise of Union of the two Realmes of England and Scotland, by I. H. (1604, London), chapter 10 ‘Of conformitie in language’ (pages 30–2); The Ioiefull and Blessed Reuniting the two mighty and famous kingdomes England & Scotland into their ancient name of great Britaine, by John Thornborough (1604, London), which speaks of ‘two kingdoms . . . not much differing in Lawes, nor dissonant in language’ (page 2); A Sermon of the Union of Great Britaine in antiquitie of language, name, religion, and Kingdome, by John Gordon (London, 1604), which again uses the phrase ‘conformitie in language’ (page 31). 3 In socio-linguistics, a hypercorrector is an individual who aims at reproducing a certain feature of language associated with another group, but who fails to reproduce it exactly – typically overproducing the feature, or using it in inappropriate contexts. ref eren c es Allen, Don Cameron, ed., 1946, Essayes by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press). Barber, Charles 1997, Early Modern English (2nd edn) (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press). Benson, Philip 2001, Ethnocentrism and the English Dictionary (London: Routledge). Bradbrook, Muriel 1964, ‘St George for Spelling Reform!’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 15, 129–41. Cameron, Lynne J. 1998, ‘Review of Andrew Goatly, The Language of Metaphor’, English Language and Linguistics, 2: 1, 162–5. Danielson, Bror and Arvid Gabrielson, eds., 1972, Alexander Gill’s Logonomia Anglica (1619), (two vols.) (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell). Davis, Herbert and Harry Carter, eds., 1958, Joseph Moxon 1683–4 Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Dobson, E. J., ed., 1957, The Phonetic Writings of Robert Robinson (London: English Early Text Society 238).



1968, English Pronunciation 1500–1700 (two vols., second edn) (Oxford: Clarendon Press). Gaskell, Philip 1972, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Hope, Jonathan and Michael Witmore, forthcoming, ‘The Very Large Textual Object: a Prosthetic Reading of Shakespeare’, Early Modern Literary Studies Jucker, Andreas, ed., 1995, Historical Pragmatics: Pragmatic Developments in the History of English (Amsterdam: John Benjamins). Nevalainen, Terttu and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg, eds., 1996, Sociolinguistics and Language History: Studies Based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (Amsterdam: Rodopi). 2003, Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Longman). Ong, Walter 1965, ‘Oral Residue in Tudor Prose Style’, PMLA 80, 144–55. 1967, The Presence of the Word (New Haven: Yale University Press). 1982, Orality and Literacy: The Technologising of the Word (London: Routledge). Parker, Pat 1996, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Rissanen, Matti Merja Kyt¨o and Minna Palander, eds., 1993, Early English in the Computer Age: Explorations through the Helsinki Corpus (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter). Salmon, Vivian 1979, The Study of Language in Seventeenth Century England (Amsterdam: John Benjamins). Sex Pistols, 1977, ‘Pretty Vacant’ (Virgin Records Ltd: vs184). Shen, Yeshayahu and Michal Cohen, 1998, ‘How come Silence is Sweet but Sweetness is not Silent: A Cognitive Account of Directionality in Poetic Synaesthesia’, Language and Literature, 7: 2, 123–40. Speed Hill, W., ed., 1993, New Ways of Looking at Old Texts (New York: Renaissance English Text Society). Sturrock, John 2003, ‘Call Her Daisy-Ray’, London Review of Books, 25: 17, 11.9.2003. Taylor, Gary 2004, Buying Whiteness: Race, Skin, Slavery from the European Renaissance to African American Literature (Palgrave, 2004), chapter 6. Vorlat, Emma 1975, The Development of English Grammatical Theory 1586–1737 (Leuven: Leuven University Press). Wright, Laura 1995, ‘Syntactic structure of witnesses’ narratives from the Sixteenth Century Court Minute Books of the Royal Hospitals of Bridewell and Bedlam’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 96: 1, 93–105. ed., 2000, The Development of Standard English 1300–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

chap t e r 2

Shakespeare’s language and the language of Shakespeare’s time Stephen Booth

Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe. Then I think the commonest minds must be rather useful. Middlemarch, Book i, chapter 5

Shakespeare is our most underrated poet. It should not be necessary to say that, but it is. We generally acknowledge Shakespeare’s poetic superiority to other candidates for greatest poet in English, but doing that is comparable to saying that King Kong is bigger than other monkeys. The difference between Shakespeare’s abilities with language and those even of Milton, Chaucer, or Ben Jonson is immense. The densities of his harmonies – phonic and ideational both – are beyond comfortable calculation, are so great that the act of analysing them is self-defeating, uncovers nests of coherence that make the physics of analysed lines less rather than more comprehensible. The reason it is necessary to point out Shakespeare’s poetic superiority to competing poets is, I think, that we have so long, so industriously ignored the qualities in literature that drew us to it in the first place. As a result, we – or, at any rate, the scholarly books and essays we write and read – and our students treat a Shakespeare play or Paradise Lost or Huckleberry Finn or even ‘Kubla Khan’ as if we valued it for its paraphrasable content or as a source of information about the time and society that spawned it or about its author. When I talk about what ‘we’ do, I speak not just of the ‘us’ of the last several years of sociology, sentimental anthropology, and crusading sanctimony in literary criticism but of the cultural residue of a trend that goes back in Western culture at least to Horace and Philip Sidney and their intellectually casual conclusion that value in literature resides in its supposed, rarely witnessed capacity as an agent of moral improvement. In 1990 I published an essay in Shakespeare Quarterly called ‘The Function of Criticism at the Present Time and All Others’ (Shakespeare Quarterly, 41 (1990), 262–8). At its core were (1) the idea that what the kind of literary 18

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criticism we call ‘academic’ does for us is offer plausible, but so far always insufficient excuses for the improbably high value society places on literature and (2) an appeal to the academic community (a), to admit that we have no good reason – that is that we have no philosophically dignified reason – for valuing the ultimately frivolous commodity that literature is when weighed against the things human beings value only slightly more – things like food, shelter, children, parents, gods, honour, and such; and (b), to admit also that we can and will and should cheerfully go on valuing art as we always have whether we have dignified excuse for it or not. This paper continues in the vein of the essay. And my first ambition for it is that it remind you that there is good reason why the word ‘poetry’ has for so long seemed to be a simple synonym for the word ‘verse’ and that it remind you too just what the qualities are that differentiate verse from prose. When we recognize something as verse, we recognize it as being organized in at least one non-substantive system, one system – traditionally a phonic one – other than the one composed of syntactic and semantic signals. Often a piece of verse will present several substantively extraneous phonic organizations, for instance, systematic rhythmic patterning, a rhyme scheme, and alliterative patterning or pattern in assonance or pattern in consonance or pattern in all three. The key fact about verse is the irrelevance of its defining, non-substantive organizations to the matter of the sentences and paragraphs in which the extra organizations sport themselves. The qualities of verse that define it are ones that – if anything is frivolous – are frivolous. As I have implied, we are beings uncomfortable with ourselves as creatures who care about what does not matter. We want to believe that what is immaterial to what is being said doesn’t matter. Witness the pathetic tradition by which apologists for poetry still sometimes attempt to comfort themselves and us with pious assertions that s sounds make us hear snakes and that rhythms imitate the substance conveyed by rhythmic lines (several generations of American high school students were regularly submitted to John Masefield’s rhythmically purposeful ‘Sea Fever’, a poem called forward by English teachers under stress and a poem that thus caused several generations of Americans to grow up thinking that the purpose of rhythm in verse is to simulate seasickness in stay-at-homes). Concentration on intellectually dignified, philosophically defensible elements in literature has left us so comfortably and so thoroughly self-deluded that we hear – and accept the underlying assumptions of – the phrase ‘redeeming social value’ without blushing – or even giggling. Moreover,


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concern with what sentences, speeches, poems, plays, and writers say (or can be said to say or once to have said) encourages attention to the kind of coherence that derives from logical relationships among elements and inattention to orderly relationships based in common factors comparable to colours and shapes, relationships that can matter to us though they convey none. By way of exemplification, I want now to talk about the editorial glosses that we are used to seeing as adjuncts to Shakespeare texts. They are a product of the assumption that only signification signifies – that only the paraphrasable matter of a sentence or paragraph or speech matters in our experience of a work. They are also prime culprits in that assumption’s preservation and perseverance. Glosses in footnotes give students the impression that Shakespeare’s language and the language of Shakespeare’s time are the same thing. And they encourage the widespread student belief that their purpose in reading a Shakespeare play is to show a teacher that they can find in it the slim little narrative it was before 400 years got in the way. Such notes also encourage the belief that a Shakespeare play is an obstacle course, encourage the assumption that the clarified, modernized versions of the plays that footnotes embody are the real thing and that simple substitution for Shakespeare’s words (and some pruning of action and assertion that make the plot hard to figure or hard to take) is desirable. The notion that Shakespeare’s language is merely a screen to penetrate on the way to something simple is a close relative of the kind of commentary that recommends Shakespeare plays to students as essentially comparable in value to modern fictions that treat of similar situations – the kind of commentary that attempts to engender enthusiasm for the great literature of the past by insisting on the likenesses between – for example – Romeo and Juliet, on the one hand, and, on the other, the comic-book teenagers Archie and Veronica. I once heard a surprisingly reputable Shakespeare scholar tell a graduate seminar that the greatness of Shakespeare was evident from the fact that, four centuries after Romeo and Juliet was first performed, newly pubescent boys and girls still like to fondle one another. No wonder students think the value of Shakespeare is as an obstacle course and a source of stuff to test them on. Anyway, Shakespeare’s language and the language of Shakespeare’s time were not the same – any more than the music of Beethoven is the same as the music of Beethoven’s time or Vermeer’s paintings are typical of the work of his contemporaries or the simple prose of Abraham Lincoln is typical of the simple prose of Lincoln’s time.

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Shakespeare’s language really is as special as people say it is. It is special in two ways. (1) Shakespeare’s sentences don’t always make sense. (2) Shakespeare’s language is exciting to the minds that hear it – exciting to minds because what is being said in a Shakespearian sentence often comes to us in a soup of possibilities, possibilities engendered by substantively negligible, substantively irrelevant relationships among elements in a syntax to which those relationships do not pertain and by which those relationships are filtered from consciousness. Number 1 is hard to take. Nonetheless, it is true that, when one hears a Shakespearian sentence or speech and understands what it is saying, one is often led to understanding by situation and by connotations of the words used – not by the demonstrable content signalled by syntax and the probabilities of the diction. That is, one is hearing sense in nonsense. And, when we do that, we do what we want to do: understand what we do not understand, what we still don’t understand. The best example I know of both kinds of specialness is the following passage from Othello; Desdemona, momentarily alone on stage, soliloquizes on Othello’s abusive behaviour towards her: ’Tis meet I should be used so, very meet. How have I been behaved, that he might stick The small’st opinion on my least misuse? (4.2.110–12)

In the third of those three lines, editors who gloss ‘opinion’ ordinarily gloss it as ‘censure’ (or ‘suspicion’ or something similar and similarly improbable in a context other than this one). The Riverside Shakespeare says simply: ‘opinion: censure’; so does David Bevington’s 1992 complete works; the revised Pelican of 1964 glosses ‘small’st opinion’ as ‘least suspicion’. What such glosses report is true, but the manner of the report distorts the truth. Such glosses casually, benevolently give readers the impression that ‘opinion’ once meant ‘ill opinion’. M. R. Ridley’s 1958 Arden edition of Othello is unusual in noting the anomaly by which context thrusts a sense upon the word ‘opinion’ that that word is not known ever to have had elsewhere; Ridley says ‘opinion must here, unusually, mean unfavourable opinion’. Ridley’s use of ‘must here . . . mean’ points in passing to a truth about the lines that is vital to an understanding, not of the lines, but of the way they work. ‘Must mean’ acknowledges the fact that a scholarly gloss on


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‘opinion’ in Othello 4.2.112 is as unnecessary as it is unavailable: context tells one – tells anyone capable of getting the general drift of the scene – that ‘opinion must here, unusually, mean unfavourable opinion’. The New Folger editors, Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, did not gloss – evidently saw no need to gloss – ‘opinion’ at all. The same was apparently true for Kenneth Muir; he too sensibly leaves Desdemona’s use of ‘opinion’ unglossed in his New Penguin edition. Although I have not attempted a full survey, I expect that those three editors have had a lot of company in their omission. That is because editorial glosses on words that act as ‘opinion’ does in Othello 4.2.112 mean to say only ‘You, reader, are right: context does indeed demand that this word be understood as if it were “– –”.’ The same is true of all editorial glosses that begin ‘i.e.’; glosses headed by ‘i.e.’ acknowledge that the sense both editor and readers take from some unlikely linguistic unit is determined by context not the syntactic and semantic signals that ordinarily govern and direct understanding. What I care about in Othello 4.2.110–12 is what it is about these particular lines that makes the anomalous use of ‘opinion’ seem so commonplace, so usual, so right that one can read across the lines without pause and hear them in the theatre without even so much as a flicker of puzzlement. When I say that the use of ‘opinion’ sounds right, the rightness I refer to is of the sort one feels in music where, at least in my purely amateur experience, one’s mind regularly hears a given note or chord in a piece of unfamiliar music as if one had predicted it ahead of time. One possible source of the rightness of ‘opinion’ in Desdemona’s soliloquy – one possible sustainer of the word ‘opinion’ as a synonym for ‘blame’ – is a bit of unstated trick logic – a logic probably generated in Shakespeare’s unconscious and, I assume, ordinarily available only to the unconsciousnesses of listeners and readers. In the case of ‘opinion’ in the present passage, the logic would run this way: since ‘censure’ is a synonym for ‘opinion’ (as it is when Leontes says ‘How blest am I / In my just censure, in my true opinion!’ (The Winter’s Tale 2.1.38–9)), and since ‘censure’ and ‘blame’ are synonyms (as in ‘the fault / Would not scape censure’ (King Lear 1.4.203–4)), ‘opinion’ and ‘blame’ must be synonyms too.1 Most of the other sources of overpowering rightness in the ‘opinion’ passage in Othello are much more ordinary in literary constructs than the subterranean chop logic by which ‘opinion’ is confusable with ‘blame’, but they are presumably just as distant – just as inevitably, just as eternally, distant – from the consciousnesses of audiences and readers. For one thing, a dusting of m sounds lies over the whole three-line passage. Only slightly more complex in its assurances of quasi-organic rightness is the recurrence

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of the third and fifth syllables of line 110 – ‘I’ and ‘be’ – as the third and fifth syllables of line 111 – where, though nearly identical with the corresponding pair of sounds in the previous line, the syllables figure in a syntax entirely foreign to the one they echo (‘I should be used’ / ‘I been behaved’). Moreover, in each of those two lines the sixth syllable concludes in a d sound; and ‘-haved’, the sixth syllable of line 111, repeats the v of ‘have’ but in combination with what in any dialect at any time must have been a different kind of a sound. In the line that actually harbours the nonce synonym for ‘blame’, ‘opinion’ is not only supported on either side by the simultaneously paired and contrasted ‘small’st’ and ‘least’, but – by virtue of its second syllable, ‘-pin’, the fourth of the line – rhymes with ‘been’ the fourth syllable of the line it follows. The last word of the soliloquy also vouches mutely for the integrity of the whole: ‘misuse’ – there referring to impropriety committed by Desdemona, not against her – is also, is entirely incidentally, an echo of ‘used’ in ‘’Tis meet I should be used so’ in the first line of the speech where ‘used’ said what ‘misused’ might have. The phenomenon that led me to lead with Desdemona’s ‘opinion’ speech here is of a kind to which I will devote the bulk of my paper: ‘stick the small’st opinion on’ enfolds within it the stuff of the familiar, here irrelevant, idea of sticking a pin (in fact sticking the ‘small’st’ pin: pins were already proverbial for both literal and metaphorical smallness – as in ‘not worth a pin’). I contend that substantively incidental irrelevant relationships like ‘stick the small’st . . . pin . . . on’ in Desdemona’s speech are worth attention. They are the sort of typically Shakespearian phenomena that prompted me to say that Shakespeare’s language is exciting to listening minds – that is, minds that listen casually the way we all do, not minds poised to pounce on the sorts of non-signifying organizations I pounce on here. Things like the locally irrelevant ‘stick’ / ‘pin’ relationship in Desdemona’s soliloquy are the spiciest ingredients of the soup of possibilities in which the paraphrasable substance, the matter, of Shakespeare’s sentences floats. Such relationships are ordinarily and properly as completely overlooked by readers and listeners as the unostentatious extra organizations inherent in blank verse or in gentle consonance and assonance among syllables that perform their overt tasks without any substantive enhancement from the extra patterning. I suggest that, where they occur, substantively insignificant semantic relationships like ‘stick’ / ‘pin’ in Othello 4.2.111–12 are like alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhythm and rhyme in being persuasive contributors to our sense of the organism-like coherence of Shakespearian sentences, paragraphs, and speeches.


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The submerged ‘stick’ / ‘pin’ pair in Desdemona’s soliloquy would do what it does even if it were the only such pair in the canon, but, as champion of the aesthetic value and efficacy of this pair and of shadow locutions similarly submerged but unrelated to sticks or pins, I am encouraged to note other places in the plays where Shakespeare’s mind appears to toy casually with one or another of the particulars of Desdemona’s stick and pin speech. For instance, Measure for Measure 1.3.23–7: lines that play casually, gracefully, and without any demand for audience applause or acknowledgement on the verb ‘to stick’, meaning ‘to affix’ and the noun ‘stick’ meaning something akin to ‘twig’ and to ‘rod’: Now, as fond fathers, Having bound up the threat’ning twigs of birch Only to stick it in their children’s sight For terror, not to use, in time the rod More mocked becomes than feared . . .

For a final kind of casual ‘stick’ relationship, consider the incidental ‘drumsticks’ in All’s Well That Ends Well 3.6.45–6: ‘This drum sticks sorely in your disposition.’ Now I want to look at a succession of Shakespearian passages similarly enhanced by substantively extra patterning. Attention to that patterning should seem less frivolous, more reasonable than it otherwise might if you remember that I am not for a minute suggesting that there is any meaning to be squeezed out of these patterns and into the passages in which they lurk. You will be less uncomfortable than you might otherwise be, if you remember too that I do not mean for a second to imply that conscious perception of such patterning ought properly be part of your conscious experiences of Shakespeare plays. All I do suggest is that such patterns contribute largely to the eventfulness of the passages. Indeed, my principal purpose in this paper is to argue that Shakespeare’s language is more eventful than anybody else’s appears to be, that Shakespeare’s language all but bursts with activity generated by incidental relationships among its elements. The following sentence is Macbeth 1.4.33–5. Duncan, overwhelmed with gratitude to his victorious generals, comments on his response: My plenteous joys, Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves In drops of sorrow.

The sentence is overtly witty, hinged on the familiar irony in which tears, signs of grief, register joy; Miranda remarks on the same stock paradox

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


in The Tempest : ‘I am a fool / To weep at what I am glad of ’ (3.1.73–4). But Duncan’s sentence is also full to overflowing with relationships that could have been exploited, could have been pointed up and pointed out, but are not. A Biondello or a Grumio could have leapt upon the contextually irrelevant – and therefore contextually hidden – opposition of the paired words ‘seek’ and ‘hide’ and/or upon the irony by which the embarrassed joys attempt to hide in tears: agents of display. A pun-hungry Shakespearian clown might also be imagined to pick up on the contrasting pair that ‘fullness’ makes with ‘want’, the first syllable of ‘wanton’. On the other hand, no responsible comic character would try to make something of the two uses of ‘in’ in the sentence. The ‘in’ of ‘wanton in’ says ‘with respect to’; the ‘in’ of ‘in drops of sorrow’ is literal: it indicates location. The pair of non-identical twins that the two ins present is of a sort so common in everyday speech that not even the most desperate of Shakespeare’s clowns would be likely to pick up on it, but – commonplace or not – the two ins in Duncan’s sentence give it one more charge of incidental energy. An effect need not be unusual to be. I just used the word ‘energy’ as a critical term, and I will use it several times more in the next few pages. Before going on to other Shakespearian passages, I should acknowledge some uneasiness about my terminology. I worry that I will seem to be generating a jargon, a special, especially imprecise language that behaves as if compensating for its vagueness were the responsibility of consumers. I worry in particular about my use of the word ‘energy’. I would use a more precise word if I could find it. What I wish ‘energy’ better labelled is the product of a substantively incidental organization that coexists with the syntactic organization of a sentence or paragraph or speech. I call that product energy because it resembles the heat generated by the interaction of two bodies that rub or jar against one another. I want now to look at As You Like It 4.1.191–4, a speech occasioned by a display of traditional, knee-jerk antifeminism by Rosalind in her role as Ganymede, boy physician to the lovesick. Orlando takes his leave, and Celia accuses Rosalind: You have simply misused our sex in your love-prate. We must have your doublet and hose plucked over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest.

The passage is prose, but it has extra energy comparable to the energy that derives from phonic patterning in verse. It gets that energy first – and most obviously, given the specialized context of this paper – from the ordinarily non-obvious conjunction of ‘bird’ with the word ‘plucked’ – a word that has a specialized sense in context of birds


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and feathers but is here used – used in a context still ten syllables short of concern for birds – to mean simply ‘pulled’. Secondly and just as unostentatiously, the speech gets energy from the multiple physics it conflates and makes easy for us. For one thing, the passage lets us believe ourselves able to imagine a doublet and hose as capable of being lifted over the wearer’s head like a skirt; what is described is presumably not what a listener imagines: the action the words describe would at best result in pain to the wearer and destruction of the garment. One’s mind has to behave – and easily does behave – as if it had imagined a doublet and hose as a skirt. Interestingly then, what the passage invites one to imagine includes an incidental assertion of the femininity the speaker wants to expose. The passage rests heavily and obviously on the idea that ‘it is a foul bird that defiles its own nest’ (a time-honoured proverb to which, by the way, two details give just the sort of incidental energy that concerns me here: (1) the unexploited pun on ‘foul’ meaning ‘evil’ and ‘fowl’, a synonym for ‘bird’ and (2) the presence of ‘defiles’ doing a job that ‘fouls’ might have done: it is a foul fowl that fouls its own nest). The proverb feels straightforwardly pertinent to Celia’s speech – feels so and therefore is so, even though, if one gives the speech the sort of thought it does not invite, one would be hard put to explain its application. Two mutually exclusive thought patterns meet when Celia introduces the proverb. The two might be expected to collide, but they do not; instead they do something vaguely comparable to blending together and passing through one another. Each of the two thought processes relates to the same general private area of Rosalind’s anatomy. Given the dramatized situation in which Celia speaks, the proverb refers to Rosalind’s hidden identity as a female, but in the terms of the proverb itself what is hidden by clothes and discernible in demesnes adjacent to her telltale genitalia would be that Rosalind has fouled herself. Let me insist once again that my point about Celia’s speech is a variation on the points I have made about the passages I talked about earlier: Celia’s speech makes its listeners effortlessly capable of an experience so complicated as to seem impossible to a mechanism as limited as the human mind. The several intertwined intricacies I have laboured to describe in Celia’s speech come into our minds as smoothly as butter. They are ideational counterparts of the phonic complexities we handle with equal ease when we hear verse or rhythmically elegant prose. The next thing I want to talk about is Antonio’s big speech from the courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice. I want to spend more time on

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


that passage than any other – not because it is richer than the others or even because it is longer, but because it is at once so showy about its rhetorical flourishing and alive with unobtrusive patterning that makes no call at all for our attention. The speech, I contend, is thus like the other pieces that concern me here in letting us feel more capable mentally than human beings can be or can imagine being – lets us feel an orderliness beyond our capacities to comprehend and lets us feel capable of doing what in fact we never do – cannot do: cope with unmediated experience. These lines are openly, insistently artificial – brittle and brittly witty in the ‘hard’ (difficult)/‘hard’ (rock-like) play in 77–9: ‘You may as well do any thing most hard / As seek to soften that – than which what’s harder? – / His Jewish heart’: I pray you think you question with the Jew. 69 You may as well go stand upon the beach 70 And bid the main flood bate his usual height; 71 You may as well use question with the wolf 72 Why he hath made the ewe bleak for the lamb; 73 You may as well forbid the mountain pines 74 To wag their high tops and to make no noise 75 When they are fretten with the gusts of heaven, 76 You may as well do any thing most hard 77 As seek to soften that – than which what’s harder? – 78 His Jewish heart. Therefore, I do beseech you, 79 Make no more offers, use no further means, 80 But with all brief and plain conveniency 81 Let me have judgement and the Jew his will. 82 (The Merchant of Venice 4.1.69–82)2

The open play on kinds of hardness has lots of equally showy company here. Whatever else it may be, the parallelism of ‘question with the Jew’ in line 69 and ‘question with the wolf’ in line 72 is also brazen in its artifice. The speech is also openly artful in its organization. The standard anaphora by which one repeated phrase, ‘You may as well’, begins lines 70, 72, 74 and 77 is similarly palpable and similarly gross as an effect. At the same time, however, the speech is full of unobserved echoes and repetitions and substantively irrelevant articulations. For a simple first example, note that the play on kinds of hardness is at once enriched and rendered less openly artful by the unassertive phonic echo that ‘heart’ in line 80 is of ‘hard’ and ‘harder’ in lines 78 and 79. Similarly simple are the pattern in prominent b sounds in lines 70–4 (in ‘beach’, ‘bid’, ‘bate’, ‘bleak’, and ‘forbid’) and the accidental-sounding echoes of ‘may’ from the


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‘you may as well’ formula audible in ‘main’ (71), ‘made’ (73), and ‘make’ (75). And, at the end of the speech, the ‘Make no’ construction in ‘Make no more offers’ in line 80 is at once urgently like and urgently unlike the ‘Make no’ construction in ‘Make no noise’ back in line 75. I suggest that each of those unobtrusive patterns gives extra, non-purposeful (and thus less artificial-seeming) unity to the lines over which they spread. Consider too the casually complex, deeply uninteresting patterning that results when the fifth syllable of line 76, the en sound in ‘fretten’, is casually echoed by the fifth syllable of line 78, the en sound in ‘soften’. A similarly quiet harmony occurs earlier, within line 76 itself, when the last word of the line, ‘heaven’, echoes ‘fretten’ from its middle. The harmonies in which ‘fretten’, ‘heaven’, and ‘soften’ participate are only specialized variations on more pervasive, even less obtrusive patterning in final n sounds in the speech. All three words chime almost as precisely with ‘mountain’ in line 74 as with one another. And better than one in ten of the speech’s 143 syllables ends in an n sound (four of them in line 81 in ‘plain conveniency’ alone). Listen too to the final harmonious note the last word of the passage strikes when ‘will’ casually, quietly echoes ‘well’ from the repeated formula ‘You may as well’ (the echo would presumably have been even more audible in Shakespeare’s time than in ours because vowels like the one in ‘well’ were apparently pronounced West Texas style: ‘You may as will’). The speech, a very forest of quiet, substantively insignificant relational harmonies, is unusual not only in the density of its patterning but in the complexity of some of the patterns. However, such accounts of patterns in minutiae as I give here are hard to read about. I fear that my accounts will already have become a mere drone. Moreover, I have a strong impression that – hurrying toward a critic’s conclusion and the chance to judge that conclusion as convenient or inconvenient to their own thinking – readers of literary criticism regularly skip across the details on which the critic’s conclusion depends – even details inherently much more interesting than the muted patterns I present here. So, lest my accounts of the further harmonies nested within Antonio’s ‘question with the Jew’ speech get overlooked, I want to mark some of the patterns out with arbitrary uses of italics and small capitals. For instance, quoted below are the first lines of the speech in a typography designed to call attention to what is perhaps the most delicate, least effect-like effect in the whole passage. That effect occurs when the fourth line – ‘You may as well use question with the wolf’ – echoes first the first four words of the speech’s second line (‘You may as well go stand upon the beach’) and then the last five words of the first (‘I pray you think you question with the Jew’):

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


I pray you think YOU Q U E S T I O N W I T H T H E J E W You may as well go stand upon the beach And bid the main flood bate his usual height; You may as well USE Q U E S T I O N W I T H T H E W O L F Why he hath made the ewe bleak for the lamb . . .

In addition to its bold italics and small capitals, the foregoing copy of The Merchant of Venice 4.1.69–73 uses large, bold capitals to take special notice of ‘you’ in the first line and ‘use’ in the fourth. It thereby accentuates (and thus makes cruder than it is as heard or read) the most elegant of the relationships within the complex of asymmetrical pairs that compose lines 69–72. ‘Use’ – the sixth syllable of line 72 (‘You may as well use question with the wolf’) – is the non-identical phonic twin of ‘you’ – the sixth syllable of line 69 (‘I pray you think you question with the Jew’). Similarly delicate and similarly elegant is the interaction of the word ‘question’ in line 72 with the word it so ostentatiously repeats from line 69. The rhetorically crude equation of ‘wolf’ and ‘Jew’ that the variation in line 72 of the ‘question with’ construction induces is made less crude by the semantic non-identity of the grammatical functions of the two otherwise identical uses of the word ‘question’, a verb in line 69 and a noun in line 72. This next typographically distressed copy of the speech notices unactivated potential in the speech for general play on the pronoun ‘you’, the verb ‘use’, the idea of what is usual, and female sheep – all of which occur in context of the topic of usury, and each of which echoes and is echoed in the vowel sound of the word ‘Jew’.3 I pray Y O U think Y O U question with the Jew. Y O U may as well go stand upon the beach And bid the main flood bate his U S UA L height; Y O U may as well U S E question with the wolf Why he hath made the E W E bleak for the lamb; Y O U may as well forbid the mountain pines To wag their high tops and to make no noise When they are fretten with the gusts of heaven, Y O U may as well do any thing most hard As seek to soften that – than which what’s harder?– His Jewish heart. Therefore, I do beseech Y O U , Make no more offers, U S E no further means, But with all brief and plain conveniency Let me have judgement and the Jew his will.

And here are lines 72–6 of the ‘You may as well’ speech, the lines that immediately precede the flat-footed but complexly contorted wit of the ‘hard/difficult’ – ‘hard/rock-like’ pair. A lot happens in lines 72–6:


stephen booth You may as well use question with the wolf Why he hath made the ewe B L E A K F O R the lamb; You may as well forbid the mountain P I N E S To wag their high tops and to make no noise When they are fretten with the gusts of heaven . . .

The mountain pines that wag their high tops in lines 74–5 arrive in context of the line about the ewe bleaking for her lost lamb – arrive in context of the idea of pining for the lost lamb. Note also (1) that for reasons obvious to anyone who has seen the rear end of a lamb, the verb ‘to wag’ and the noun ‘lamb’ have a traditional association in the language at large – even though they are disassociated in the syntax in which we hear them in lines 73 and 75 – and (2) that the syllable ‘bleak’ (here possibly a dialect synonym for the verb ‘to bleat’ or – as the Folio printers apparently guessed – a mistranscription of ‘bleat’ itself ), pertains – as the contextually impertinent adjective meaning ‘cold and barren’ – to windswept mountains like the ones where these pines grow. That brings me at last to the proposition to which this long analysis has built: I submit that the swirl of substantively irrelevant coherences overrides our ability to see that ‘forbid the mountain pines . . . To make no noise’ in lines 75 and 76 is absolute nonsense: You may as well F O R B I D T H E M O U N TA I N P I N E S To wag their high tops and TO M A K E N O N O I S E . . .

I want now to talk about a number of similarly eventful Shakespearian passages. It matters that there be many. I want to give you reason to believe me when I say that passages pulsating with substantively irrelevant energy are very common in Shakespeare, reason to believe me when I suggest that a look at virtually any page in Shakespeare will yield several phenomena like the ones incidental to the passages I bring up here. Now that I have shown you the kinds of extra organization that concern me and why I bother with them, I should be able to move quickly from one passage to the next. At the first appearance in Cymbeline of the king’s lost sons Guiderius and Arviragus, their foster father regales them with some stoic posturing: A goodly day not to keep house with such Whose roof’s as low as ours. Stoop, boys, this gate Instructs you how t’adore the heavens, and bows you To a morning’s holy office. (Cymbeline 3.3.1–4)

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


In the words ‘this gate / Instructs you how t’adore’, the sound of the word ‘adore’ casually echoes the sense of the word ‘gate’. This is Cleopatra pretending to rant in the third scene of Antony and Cleopatra: O, never was there queen So mightily betrayed! Yet at the first I saw the treasons planted. (1.3.24–6)

The phrase ‘treasons planted’ embodies an entirely irrelevant arboreal reminiscence that presumably goes unobserved – or is at best dismissed from a listener’s consciousness In an unrelated speech, much later in the play, Cleopatra lists the indignities that await her and her women if they are taken captive to Rome: Saucy lictors Will catch at us like strumpets, and scald rhymers Ballad’s out a’ tune. (5.2.210–12)

Although ‘tune’ is a workable synonym for a sense of ‘catch’, a sense of which the verb in the preceding line is entirely innocent, the major incidental mental event of this passage is generated by ‘saucy lictors’. ‘Saucy’: ‘ill-mannered’, ‘presumptuous’. Sure. But why lictors? As one may or may not remember from Latin class, lictors were minor Roman functionaries who carried the fasces before a magistrate. Why lictors? My guess is that Shakespeare was drawn to the word by its first syllable, ‘lick’, a word intimately related with ‘saucy’ in its literal sense. (Note, by the way, that Shakespeare took up the topic of finger licking in the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet 4.2 and that in Twelfth Night 3.4.141–3 he revivifies the long dead literal sense of ‘saucy’.)4 For a final instance of eventful language in Antony and Cleopatra, consider this exchange from act 3; Octavius and his sister are discussing her wayward husband, Antony: cae sar . . . Where is he now? octav i a My lord, in Athens. ca e sar No, my most wrong`ed sister. Cleopatra hath nodded him to her. (3.6.64–6)

Antony is not in Athens. Octavia is wrong. The first syllable of ‘wrong`ed’ says so. The word then goes on to say quite another thing – another thing that is also true.


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These next four brief passages are from Julius Caesar. In the scene where the conspirators meet at Brutus’s house and debate their coming action, Brutus rejects the suggestion that Antony be killed as well as Caesar: Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, To cut the head off and then hack the limbs . . . (2.1.162–3)

As Brutus uses the word, ‘course’ means ‘proceeding’, ‘course of action’ and nothing else, but ‘course’ is homonym to the word we now spell and pronounce ‘corpse’, and corpses are urgent to the topic under discussion. Later in the same scene, Portia kneels to Brutus: b ru t u s Kneel not, gentle Portia. p ort i a I should not need if you were gentle Brutus. (2.1.277–8)

One’s experience of that altogether straightforward, seemingly prosaic exchange is one where the verb ‘to need’ occurs in context of ‘kneel’ and thus of knees.5 In the next scene, where Caesar notes that ‘Antony that revels long a-nights/Is notwithstanding up’ (2.2.116–17), the words that say that Antony is no longer lying in bed contain the sounds of the phrase ‘standing up’. And in 5.1.110–11 the words Brutus uses to say that he will not allow himself to be taken in bondage to Rome include the phrase ‘bound to Rome’: ‘No, Cassius, no. Think not, thou noble Roman, / That ever Brutus will go bound to Rome . . .’ (compare ‘bound to Persia’ – The Comedy of Errors 4.1.3–4–and ‘bound to Tripolis’ – The Merchant of Venice 1.3.18). I am again worried that you will fear that, in presenting such demonstrations of ideational static as I have just pointed out and in presenting them as elements that matter in our experience of the speeches that harbour them, you will carelessly assume that I present them as elements that once were or should henceforth be active elements in one’s conscious experience of the passages in which they innocently lurk, that I present them as truths that should henceforth be part of the paraphrasable substance of those passages. Let me say in one more way why I think ideational static, irrelevant to analysis of a passage’s substantive content, is worth taking analytic account of in considering the value of a passage. Let me again give reasons why Shakespeare’s language is admirable for more than its sense and sounds.

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


What things like, for another example, the sound of ‘piled high’ in Biron’s pious rejection of ‘three-piled hyperboles’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.2.407) do for audiences presumably and properly inattentive to them is just sit there in the air, sit there as available material for puns the scripts never make. Biron’s ‘piled high’ occurs in a context that restricts the syllable ‘piled’ from any signification but the one that derives from its ancestor, one of the several Latin words for ‘hair’. ‘Three-piled’ has nothing at all to do with heaps or heaping, but the static-like shadow presence of the idea of piling high can create an exciting situation for the minds that read Love’s Labour’s Lost or hear Biron’s line spoken. Actual puns, however, have nothing like that sort of effect upon their hearers. Consider, for example, the overt pun on two senses of ‘boot’ with which Hotspur goads Glendower in 1 Henry IV. Glendower boasts that King Henry has ‘three times . . . made head’ against him and that he, Glendower, has thrice sent the King ‘bootless home, and weather-beaten book’. Hotspur’s response is ‘Home without boots, and in foul weather too! / How scapes he agues, in the devil’s name?’ (3.1.61–6). Contrast that with this exchange from the first scene of Richard II: king r i c h ard Norfolk, throw down! We bid; there is no boot. mowb r ay Myself I throw, dread sovereign, at thy foot . . . (1.1.164–5)

‘Boot’ in King Richard’s command and ‘foot’ in Mowbray’s answer relate to one another via a sense that ‘boot’ (‘advantage’, ‘profit’) does not carry in this context. That connection is based in exactly the accident of the English language from which Hotspur harvests his pun. Where, for us as audience, hearing Hotspur make his pun is merely to be a bystander, to be in the company of ‘foot’ and ‘boot’ in the Richard/Mowbray exchange is to be in a place made rich – made rich by the mere availability of a pun. The difference between hearing an actual pun and being on ground where there is one to be made is very like the difference between being the maker of a pun and being its groaning audience. Why do people on whom puns are inflicted groan at them? Because the culture has taught them that groaning is expected? I think not. There is great joy to be had from puns, but all of it ordinarily belongs to the person who senses opportunity in a linguistic situation. The joy, I suggest, is in sensing the availability of a simultaneously likely and unlikely connection, an unexpected opportunity for articulating two contexts that are and remain essentially unconnected. When the pun maker snatches at the hidden thread by which the two contexts can be


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joined, brings the connection to consciousness, and triumphantly blurts it out, he or she reveals the insubstantiality, the triviality of a relation that, until realized, might have turned out to have been profound and profoundly illuminating. What the pun’s audience hears is a mere gimcrack, a toy, something entirely irrelevant to the natures of the things so suddenly linked. What the punster feels in the air before he/she brings it forth and exposes it for the mouse a pun inevitably turns out to be is thrilling, is a sense of a previously unsuspected new order to things. A comparable feel of limitless mental possibility, I suggest, derives to us from the presence of substantively irrelevant organizations in the literary constructs we value best and longest. The passages I trot out here are in no particular order. That is because I see no reasonable basis for one. I would like to organize them by kind, and I toyed briefly with doing so, but, like most categorization projects, the attempt to organize quickly became an end rather than a means and thus proved a diversion and a waste of time. Left with no reasonable criterion for dealing with any one passage in the company of any particular other one, I will settle for an illusion of rational order and talk now about a group of passages relatable as frivolously and casually as the components of the shadow phrases I have been pointing out. I will talk about three passages that relate to one another only as they relate to the sound ‘rain’. In the third of the following lines ‘bridal’ means ‘wedding’, and ‘arraigning’ two lines later means ‘accusing’. But, since reins are a part of every bridle, the sound of ‘bridal’ and the sound of the second and third syllables of ‘arraigning’ have an extra, substantively irrelevant affinity as terms in horsemanship: Nay, we must think men are not gods, Nor of them look for such observancy As fits the bridal. Beshrew me much, Emilia, I was – unhandsome warrior as I am – Arraigning his unkindness with my soul . . . (Othello 3.4.146–50)

This next is a sentence from The Winter’s Tale: ‘Now he thanks the old shepherd, which stands by like a weather-bitten conduit of many kings’ reigns’ (5.2.54–6). ‘Conduit’ comes very close there to triggering an overt play on ‘reigns’ meaning ‘terms in office’ and the same sound as it refers to meteorological precipitation, but – if the silence of most editors is the guide I take it to be – the pun never quite emerges. The same appears to be true of essentially the same potential pun in the song Autolycus sings earlier as he makes his first entrance into the play:

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


When daffodils begin to peer, With heigh, the doxy over the dale! Why then comes in the sweet o’ the year, For the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale. (The Winter’s Tale 4.3.1–4)

Context says that ‘pale’ in the last of those four lines means only ‘enclosure’, ‘preserve’. The sound of ‘pale’, however, is a sound capable elsewhere of labelling a receptacle for liquids. As a result, ‘pale’ there yearns after ‘reigns’, a sound elsewhere capable of labelling liquid that, like ‘blood’, is capable of containment in pails. Moreover, because of its conjunction with ‘red’, the word ‘pale’ figures in a shadowy conflation of the idea of paleness with the idea of enclosure. (Compare the activity of the word ‘pale’ in the following speech from King John. Austria swears that he will not go home until all the lands in dispute acknowledge Prince Arthur as their king: . . . to my home I will no more return Till Angers, and the right thou hast in France, Together with that pale, that white-faced shore, Whose foot spurns back the ocean’s roaring tides And coops from other lands her islanders, Even till that England, hedged in with the main, That water-walled bulwark . . . Salute thee for her king . . . (King John 2.1.21–7, 30)

If in the third of these lines the phrase ‘that white-faced shore’ did not intervene to gloss ‘pale’ and insist that it be understood as an adjective akin in its sense to ‘white’, ‘pale’ would remain a noun meaning ‘fence’: ‘that pale whose foot spurns back the ocean’s roaring tides and coops from other lands her islanders’.) Consciously or unconsciously, Shakespeare appears to have heard and responded to the sound ‘pence’ and its potential as the plural for the word ‘penny’. The word ‘recompense’ (in which ‘-pense’ derives from Latin pensare, ‘to weigh’, and has no etymological kinship with ‘penny’ at all) recommends itself semantically to contexts of payment and debt, but Shakespeare’s uses of the word sometimes seem to me right on the edge of overt play on ‘pence’. For example, consider the suggestions of coins evoked by ‘purse’ when Viola rejects a proffered tip from Olivia: ‘I am no fee’d post, lady. Keep your purse. / My master, not myself, lacks recompense’ (Twelfth Night 1.5.274–5). ‘Pence’ – pennies, money that could be ‘paid down’ – is and isn’t part of the experience of lines 3 and 4 of this next speech, lines


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casually complicated by ideational fluidity well before there is any whisper of coins. The speech is the first of 5.1 of The Winter’s Tale, the scene in which Leontes’ courtiers urge him to remarry: Sir, you have done enough, and have performed A saint-like sorrow. No fault could you make Which you have not redeemed, indeed paid down More penitence than done trespass. (5.1.1–4)

At the point in the third of those lines where we hear ‘redeemed’ (literally ‘bought back’), context limits its meaning to the common metaphoric one: ‘atoned for’. At the end of the line, however, ‘paid down’ takes the line into the ideational area to which the literal sense of ‘to redeem’ belongs. ‘Penitence’, the word that removes the assertion from the newly invaded realm of finance – the word that makes ‘paid down’ a metaphor – also contains the sound of ‘pence’. The first syllable of ‘penitence’, being the first of the metaphor-invited word ‘pennies’, confirms the context of finance. The next syllable undoes that confirmation. And the final sibilant of the third completes the (now alien) word ‘pence’ that, given the context established by ‘paid down’, the first syllable promised. For a simpler, but distantly similar, exercise in syllabic shuffling, consider this sentence of Cleopatra’s: ‘Think on me, / That am with Phoebus’ amorous pinches black, / And wrinkled deep in time’ (Antony and Cleopatra 1.5.27–9). The sentence approaches – but never quite reaches – play on ‘blackamoor’ in ‘amorous pinches black’. Some of Shakespeare’s limpest wit is made less so by inherent potential that lies unharnessed beside it. For instance, the following passage from The Comedy of Errors sweats to delight its audiences with sudden, minimally provoked reference to a baroque legal fiction called ‘fine and recovery’. Challenged to do so, Dromio of Syracuse provides the rule by which he rejects the proverbial truth that ‘there’s a time for all things’: drom i o Marry, sir, by a rule as plain as the plain bald pate of Father Time himself. an t i ph olu s Let’s hear it. drom i o There’s no time for a man to recover his hair that grows bald by nature. an t i ph olu s May he not do it by fine and recovery? drom i o Yes, to pay a fine for a periwig, and recover the lost hair of another man. (The Comedy of Errors 2.2.69–77)

The passage was presumably stillborn and has stayed that way – even after suffering scholarly cpr from Helge K¨okeritz, who declared play in the

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


passage between ‘fine’ and the word ‘foin’: ‘fur used as trim on garments’ (Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven, CT, 1953), 107). I doubt that even an Inns of Court audience could have mustered more than a smirk of recognition for the ‘fine and recovery’ joke. My reason for bothering with it here is to say that – however dead the overt joking – the passage is livelier than it would otherwise be for the presence of available, entirely unexploited play on the relevant sense of ‘recover’ by which it means ‘cover again’ (a wig recovers a bald scalp), and by the equally inviting, equally dormant potential inherent in the conjunction of ‘to pay’ and ‘periwig’ (OED’s first citation for the English word ‘toupee’ is from 1731, but the French word toupet, ‘a tuft of hair’, goes way back). In this next passage poor spurned Helena concludes the first scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by resolving to tell Demetrius about Lysander’s and Hermia’s intention to run away. If I have thanks, it is a dear expense. But herein mean I to enrich my pain, To have his sight thither and back again. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.249–51)

The last syllable’s pronunciation, distorted for rhyme (other Shakespearian rhymes suggest that the more usual pronunciation was already ‘agen’), occurs in context of what the speaker will gain. This is Macbeth 1.2.59–62: ‘Sweno, the Norways’ king, craves composition; / Nor would we deign him burial of his men / Till . . .’ ‘Deign’ is and – Sixteenth – and seventeenth-century spellings and rhymes suggest – was akin to ‘Norways’ king’ in the preceding line: its sound is the sound that labels a native of another area of Scandinavia: Denmark.6 Just before the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry prays: O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts. Possess them not with fear. Take from them now The sense of reck’ning, ere th’oppos`ed numbers Pluck their hearts from them. Not today, O Lord, O not today, think not upon the fault My father made in compassing the crown. I Richard’s body have interr`ed new, And on it have bestowed more contrite tears, Than from it issued forc`ed drops of blood. Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay Who twice a day their withered hands hold up Toward heaven to pardon blood . . . (4.1.286–97)


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Context makes it impossible for audiences to hear reference to theft in the sound of ‘steal’ in ‘steel my soldiers’ hearts’. In asking God to ‘take from’ his soldiers, however, the next line asks him to do something ideationally akin to stealing. And, two lines further on, a non-imperative, non-parallel construction presents a precise echo of the contextually impossible sense that ‘steel my soldiers’ hearts’ does not convey at the beginning of the speech: ‘Pluck their hearts from them.’ Note, moreover, that that unspectacular verbal event occurs in company with even less spectacular give and take between the negated ‘give’ of ‘Possess them not’ and the effectively positive ‘take’ of ‘Take from them now / The sense of reck’ning’. When the prayer continues, its topic shifts and also does not: ‘Not today, O Lord, / O not today, think not upon the fault / My father made in compassing the crown’ (289–91). The new topic, Lancastrian guilt, maintains and makes overt the shadow topic of the first lines, theft: Henry Bolingbroke’s fault was stealing the crown. The larcenous strain in the speech runs out at that point, but careless, submerged play on giving and taking continues momentarily in ‘bestowed more contrite tears, / Than from it’ (293–4). But the potential ‘give and take’ construction that begins in ‘bestowed’ and continues in ‘from’ turns out otherwise. Instead of referring to the expense of tears exacted upon Shakespeare’s luxuriously lachrymose Richard II by Bolingbroke’s rebellion, the lines turn to his murder and his bleeding corpse: ‘more contrite tears, / Than from it issued forc`ed drops of blood’ (293–4). Consider ‘than from it issued for-’: ‘issued for-’ – which is momentarily on its way to the probable idiom ‘issued forth’ – arrives instead at another, equally appropriate locution: ‘issued forc`ed drops of blood’. The next line begins ‘Five hundred poor’; its first syllable, ‘five’, presents the ear with a sound casually akin to the sound of the number ‘four’ in the sound of ‘for’, the sound that yearned for completion as ‘forth’ but that in fact came to ideational rest in ‘forc`ed’. This next passage is also from Henry V. In a speech generally infused with variations on the idea of fathers and the idea of offspring, the French king warns his nobles against overconfidence and recalls reasons to fear the English: Witness our too-much-memorable shame When Cr´ecy battle fatally was struck, And all our princes captived by the hand Of that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales; Whiles that his mountant sire, on mountain standing,

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


Up in the air, crowned with the golden sun, Saw his heroical seed and smiled to see him, Mangle the work of nature, and deface The patterns that by God and by French fathers Had twenty years been made. (2.4.53–62)

The words ‘air’ and ‘sun’ in ‘Up in the air, crowned with the golden sun’ (line 58) present a pair of sounds – ‘son’ and ‘heir’ – that relate to one another in syntaxes entirely foreign to the one in which they occur here but that relate to the substantive context, one in which Edward III watches the exploits of his son and heir. The next line – the line that reports that Edward III ‘saw his heroical seed, and smiled to see him’ – substitutes for the relevant sound in the preceding line, uses ‘his . . . seed’ to say ‘his son’. The word ‘seed’ is itself in a shadowy extra relationship with two forms of the verb ‘to see’: ‘see’ in ‘smiled to see him’ is in obvious phonic relationship to ‘seed’, and, if the verb ‘to see’ were a so-called weak verb rather than a strong one, its past tense would presumably be what it is in some vulgar dialects, not ‘saw’ but ‘seed’. This is the rhetorical flourish with which Othello concludes protestation that he will do his duty to Venice, even if his wife goes with him to the wars: Let housewives make a skillet of my helm, And all indign and base adversities Make head against my estimation. (Othello 1.3.272–4)

The two ‘make’ constructions in the passage are superficially alike and emphasized as such by the recurrence of ‘my’ in the second clause. The ‘make’ constructions are just as obviously different. In the first, ‘make’ says ‘fashion’, ‘manufacture’. The second ‘make’ means ‘gather’ and functions in the idiom ‘make head’, meaning ‘gather an army’. The word ‘head’ in ‘make head’ is an ideational echo of ‘helm’ in the first of the three lines – and – because its metaphoric root in the body part housed in a helmet was already long atrophied when Shakespeare’s first audiences heard it – is not. On the other hand, since helmets and armies are so closely related conceptually, ‘make head’ does indeed efficiently relate to ‘helm’ – albeit in a dimension distant from the one in which ‘head’ is an anatomical label. In the next passage Polixenes and the Old Shepherd are watching ‘a dance of Shepherds and Shepherdesses’.


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p oli xe ne s Pray, good shepherd, what fair swain is this Which dances with your daughter? sh e ph e rd They call him Doricles, and boasts himself To have a worthy feeding; but I have it Upon his own report, and I believe it. He looks like sooth. He says he loves my daughter. I think so, too; for never gazed the moon Upon the water as he’ll stand and read, As ’twere, my daughter’s eyes; and to be plain, I think there is not half a kiss to choose Who loves another best. p oli xe n e s She dances featly. sh e ph e rd So she does anything, though I report it That should be silent. If young Doricles Do light upon her, she shall bring him that Which he not dreams of. (4.4.167–81)

Because the moon is a light – and only because the moon is a light – ‘light upon’ in line 180 (where ‘light upon her’ means ‘get her for wife’) does and does not echo ‘moon upon’ in 173–4. ‘Light upon’ also relates to ‘featly’ in ‘She dances featly’. ‘Feet’ are at play in that assertion anyway (because dancing is done with feet; for the actual pun, see The Tempest 1.2.381, ‘Foot it featly here and there’). And, in context of a discussion of dancing, there is pressure upon ‘light upon her’ from a sense ‘light upon’ could have in a sentence about weight, a sentence that said Perdita was ‘light of foot’, ‘light on her feet’. Note, moreover, that, since he is dancing, Florizel might well light upon Perdita’s foot. Finally, three sentences from Romeo and Juliet : If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentler sin is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. (1.5.92–5)

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? (2.1.44)

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? (2.1.75)

The first of the three sentences is here because of the incidental pertinence of ‘red’, the first syllable of ‘ready’, to blushing lips: ‘My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand’. The next two are from what traditionally has been

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


called the balcony scene and are among the most famous lines in English. I strongly suspect that the ideational companionship of glass windows and breakage is one of the sources of the popularity of ‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?’ The quiet crash between ‘soft’ and ‘breaks’ may contribute something too. As for ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ – many twentieth-century English speakers who in other contexts have no trouble recognizing ‘wherefore’ as a synonym for ‘why’, take it to mean ‘where’ in Juliet’s line – take ‘wherefore art thou Romeo?’ to be an inquiry as to Romeo’s whereabouts – and in so mistaking bring joy to English teachers who get to correct their obvious error. Not only do we all know what ‘wherefore’ means, but Juliet’s next lines make it evident that her concern is with Romeo’s name and not his location. What follows the ‘where’ of ‘wherefore’ does indeed define the function of the word. But what the word ‘wherefore’ itself follows are forty-two lines occasioned by Mercutio’s and Benvolio’s efforts to find Romeo, to find out where Romeo is. ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo’, I suggest, is an instance of just the sort of submerged, demonstrably irrelevant, dismissable content in Shakespearian locutions that I am concerned with here; it is anomalous only in having risen to the surface of popular imagination. First published in Shakespeare Survey 50 (1997) n otes 1 Compare the subscription of the Maria–Olivia letter in Twelfth Night: ‘She that would alter services with thee’ (2.5.153). The otherwise unheard-of use there of ‘alter’ to mean ‘exchange’ is made meaningful by accidents of its location. It is informed by a context relevant to ‘an altar’ – an altar in a church, sustained by the relevance of both the liturgical and sexual senses of ‘service’, and smoothed over by an implied logic that says that – since ‘to exchange’ and ‘to change’ are synonyms, and since ‘to alter’ and ‘to change’ are synonyms – ‘to exchange’ and ‘to alter’ must also be synonyms. For similarly casual nonce logic in the same play, consider Feste’s use of the word ‘welkin’ – ‘sky’ – to mean ‘proper sphere of action’: ‘Who you are and what you would are out of my welkin – I might say “element”, but the word is over-worn’ (3.1.56–8); ‘element’ can mean ‘air’ and can therefore replace ‘welkin’, but that does not make ‘welkin’ a universally available substitute for all senses of ‘element’. The phenomenon occurs earlier when Toby commends Feste’s singing voice by calling it ‘a contagious breath’ (2.3.53). ‘Contagious’, which is not known elsewhere as a synonym for ‘attractive’, is a synonym for ‘catching’, and ‘catching’ was presumably already capable of saying ‘attractive’ (OED’s first example of the adjective in that sense is from 1654, but ‘to catch’ meaning ‘to charm’, ‘to attract’, ‘to captivate’ goes back at least to


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Chaucer). In a typically Shakespearian skitter, Toby proceeds in his next speech to propose that he and his companions sing a catch. 2 In following the quarto and giving ‘bleak for the lamb’ in line 73, I deviate from the Oxford text, which follows the Folio and gives ‘bleat’. 3 A variant configuration takes shape early in the play at the first interview between Antonio and Shylock (1.3). There, however, the topic of usury, the topic of what is customary (usual), and the various words that sound like the pronoun ‘you’ are joined by the idea of sexual ‘use’: a n to n i o Shylock, albeit I neither lend nor borrow By taking nor by giving of excess, Yet to supply the ripe wants of my friend I’ll break a custom . . . (59–62) sh ylo c k Well then, your bond; and let me see – but hear you. Methoughts you said you neither lend nor borrow upon advantage. a n to n io I do never use it. sh ylo c k When Jacob . . . (67–70) a n to n i o And what of him? did he take interest? sh ylo c k No, not take interest, not as you would say, Directly int’rest. Mark what Jacob did . . . (74–7) s h ylo c k . . . the ewes, being rank, In end of autumn turn`ed to the rams . . . (79–80) a n to n io . . . Was this inserted to make interest good, Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams? s h ylo c k I cannot tell. I make it breed as fast. (93–5)

(Note, by the way, the metallurgic potential the conjunction ‘or’ gets in line 94 from the company of ‘gold and silver’.) 4 The ‘saucy lictors’ sentence is additionally crowded with energy because of allbut-inconsequential potential demonstrated in the Folio’s ‘Ballads vs out a Tune’ by the emended version I quote here: ‘Ballad’s out a’ tune’. The emendation is G. B. Evans’s and appears in his Riverside Shakespeare (Boston, 1974). ‘Ballad’s out a’ tune’ approximates, I think, what would have been heard from the stage. Riverside’s ‘Ballad’s’ (‘ballad us’) repairs both syntax and metre. And ‘a” acknowledges the conflation of senses the spoken sound makes and thus lets the phrase say both ‘sing a tune’ (sing what the rhymers will ballad out for them) and ‘sing out “uh” tune’ (‘sing about us out of tune’: ‘slander us in song’ and/or ‘sing out of tune – that is sing unskilfully, unmusically – about us’). 5 Spoken in the theatre and thus relatively free of punctuational persuaders, the ‘kneel’/‘need’ exchange gets further density of texture from the simultaneous parallelism and non-parallelism of ‘gentle Portia’ (indicating the person addressed), and ‘gentle Brutus’ (that is, ‘your ordinarily gentle self’) – or, alternatively, what

Shakespeare’s language and the language of his time


punctuation would limit as ‘gentle, Brutus’ (where ‘gentle’ is again a predicate adjective, and ‘Brutus’ indicates the person addressed; ‘Brutus’ is thus parallel with ‘gentle Portia’ and, because its attendant ‘gentle’ is doing other work, is not). Moreover, there is, of course, fleeting but inevitable oxymoronic energy in the mere conjunction of the word ‘gentle’ and the first syllable of ‘Brutus’. 6 Note, for what it’s worth, that Shakespeare’s ear may have been tempted towards the verb ‘to deign’ by his source: Holinshed repeatedly refers to the army led by ‘Sueno king of Norway’ as ‘the Danes’; in the time of Hector Boece (Holinshed’s source for the history behind Macbeth), of Holinshed himself, and of Shakespeare, Norway was little more than a province of Denmark.

chap t e r 3

The foundations of Elizabethan language Muriel St Clare Byrne

This goodly speech

i ‘We speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake’ is a figure of speech rather than a statement of fact, and it has an ironic flavour in these days of the retranslation of the Authorized Version. It can imply that kinship which Shakespeare’s Queen phrased memorably, in the common idiom of her day, when she declared herself to be ‘mere English’; but no one is likely to be ‘so bold or daring hardy’ as to claim parity of esteem for the impoverished and diminishing vocabulary of our familiar speech, if they agree with H. C. Wyld that ‘“the tongue that Shakespeare spake” was the tongue which he wrote’.1 We know what it sounded like on the stage of the Globe, and that in spite of differences in pronunciation Shakespeare’s English, unlike Chaucer’s, is ‘modern’. Nevertheless, its vocabulary and rhythms apparently seemed remote enough to that sensitive artist, the late Rose Macaulay, to make her say she could never write a novel set in a period earlier than the seventeenth century, ‘because the language they talked was just too different from ours to make easy dialogue which wouldn’t sound affected’. She was discussing More’s Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation and, passing over Elizabeth’s reign and omitting Shakespeare from her argument, referred specifically to the early 1500s when she said, ‘there is much less available of colloquial talk and one doesn’t quite hear them talking’: By the seventeenth century this isn’t so. And there is such a mass of letters, diaries, memoirs, plays, essays, of this period that one can soak oneself in the language and easily reproduce it.2

Curious as it may seem, it is this omission from the argument of the richest linguistic artist of all sixteenth-century writers which arouses our instinctive protest and helps to make us aware of a residuum of simple truth in that 44

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now almost banal poetic tag. We know that Shakespeare was an extender of the power and range of our language; a creator, a coiner, a borrower, a critic of words and of men’s treatment of them; an inventor of harmonies, a connoisseur of sound and sense in words, an artist who could stretch their capacities to unimagined limits, combine five of them to sparkle like a jewel ‘on the stretch’d forefinger of time’ for ever, or take a very jelly-fish of a word and set it to shine star-like in the heavens. And yet, lord of language as he is, we regard his words as familiar and ‘household’ words, and this not because we quote him, consciously and unconsciously, in ordinary talk, more freely than any other writer, nor yet because our drafts upon the common fund of English gnomic wisdom are paid in his coin more often than we know – how many people who affirm that ‘one touch of nature makes the whole world kin’ or that ‘the end crowns all’ realize they are quoting Troilus and Cressida? – but because we sense an affinity, if doubtful how to express it. We recognize rhythms and phrasing which are still natural to our ordinary speech. Scholarship warns us not to assume, when the first recorded use of such a phrase as ‘what the dickens’ is found in Shakespeare, that it is therefore his invention. All dramatists are pickers-up of unconsidered fresh and lively trifles from the racy talk of the man-in-the-street. Ear and instinct tell us that ‘I know a trick worth two of that’, ‘a poor, lone woman’, ‘I’ll be hanged’, ‘I have not slept one wink’ are even more likely to be borrowings from the common stock; and we are equally convinced that in countless original lines which characterize an individual in perhaps ten words, we ‘hear’ the everyday speech of his time, as in the First Citizen’s rebuke to Coriolanus – ‘the price of the consulship is to ask it kindly’. The scholars are with us. Like Wyld, J. W. H. Atkins, discussing English as a literary medium, affirms that in the Elizabethan period ‘men wrote very much as they spoke; the literary language has probably never stood nearer to the colloquial’.3 F. P. Wilson attributes to Shakespeare ‘an instinct for what was permanent in the colloquial language of his day, stronger than that of any contemporary dramatist’, and believes that the conditions of the art of drama did not permit him to stray far from popular idiom, but even if they had his mind was of a cast that would still have found the material upon which it worked mainly in the diction of common life.4

Helge K¨okeritz points out, when discussing his pronunciation, that his radical reduction of unstressed syllables and his ‘nonchalant treatment of consonants’ makes his verse, as spoken, ‘more colloquial’ than we might think proper today.5 And both G. D. Willcock and Madeleine Doran6


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insist that his use of rhetorical art in the language of the plays is of a kind common to all who reached an average educational level. As the former says, ‘the “alms-basket of words” was freely scattered among the humble’. These are merely a token indication of the clouds of witness that have gathered over the subject during the first half of this century. The whole weight of competent opinion comes down in Falstaffian bulk on the side of instinct. Why, then, should Rose Macaulay have left him out of her reckoning and have felt that ‘one doesn’t quite hear them talking’ until the seventeenth century? I do not know why she omitted Shakespeare, but I can guess why she could not quite hear the sixteenth century talking. Instinct makes us all think we know when we are listening in Shakespeare to the talk of ordinary men; but I never feel confident that in contemporary Elizabethan nondramatic prose I am hearing the natural accents of colloquial speech so that I can ‘soak’ in it. The rhythms are wrong. Naturally there are exceptions: no one could miss the ring of truth in Deloney’s conversational and gossipy passages, for example.7 But the mass of prose writing is either too formal, over-elaborate and self-consciously ‘literary’, or else too forced in its verbal liveliness to be credible as speech, though enjoyable for its ingenuity and exuberance, like W. S. Gilbert’s patter songs. The explanatory simplicity of much narrative writing has that tone of patient nursery heartiness still sometimes employed in speaking to and writing for children, and the good, direct narrative writing which offsets extravagances and lumbering, heavyfooted rhythms still does not equate with talk. ‘Drab and transitional prose’ is C. S. Lewis’s apt title for his chapter on the early work, ‘adorned’ and ‘plain’; and as he so rightly insists, with reference to the flatter utilitarian style, ‘not all plain prose is good’. The effect of a ‘plain Drab’ specimen is ‘as of a man speaking with his mouth full of gravel’, referring, for comparison, the written to the spoken language – the known to the unknown; and of Edward Hall, the historian, he says, ‘Hall is deliberately trying to write better than he talked.’8 By implication Lewis has, like Rose Macaulay, an idea of the spoken language of the time; but no one has yet assembled any real body of evidence to enable us to proceed from this negative inference that speech is not like the written ‘literary’ language to a positive concept of natural writing by which to check our instinctive belief that in Shakespeare we really do hear the sixteenth century ‘talking’. That we can, as Dr Johnson suggests, take ‘the diction of common life’ from Shakespeare is a proposition which needs to be proved, instead of being treated as a basic assumption, and I think Rose Macaulay felt that the documents in the case were missing. She had not found in

Foundations of Elizabethan language


the sixteenth century the kind of material that had enabled her to get on terms of intimacy with the seventeenth – the written material that lies outside the domain of ‘literature’, such as the ‘letters, diaries, memoirs’ she mentions. ii My own obstinate questioning of Elizabethan prose found no answer; but going back to the first half of the century I realized that not the least of its attractions was that it yielded more and better information than the later years, to help towards the establishment of a general idea of Tudor speech. For the foundations of the current spoken language of the century we must catch the vernacular before it becomes critically and aesthetically self-conscious, when, on the evidence of those who loved it, from Wilson and Elyot to Ascham and Mulcaster, it was, as Florio says, ‘so written as it is spoken and such upon the paper as it is in the mouth’. Most people write colloquially and with no thought of effect, so runs their general conclusion; but it is a fine language and full of possibilities, so men must cultivate greater elegance and eloquence and acquire a greatly expanded vocabulary or more ‘copie’. If, therefore, we go back to those early decades which are almost barren of literary achievement, back to the pre-Prayer Book period, when writing is primarily a functional activity, an extension and recording of speech instead of an endeavour of art, we can see what kinds of prose rhythms and what range of vocabulary and mastery of composition, sentence structure and the devices of style characterized the writing of ordinary people of all classes before professional writers began to write better than they talked. We shall catch the vernacular before it was taken up, patronized, enthused over, criticized, lectured on and cultivated for its own good – before scholarship and national feeling combined to encourage its development and make it truly conscious of its responsibility and high destiny as a proper medium for literature. The material is available, and in more than sufficient bulk. What is needed is that most personal form of expression, the letter – especially the familiar letter – as written by ordinary men and women, of all ages, in the two generations immediately preceding Shakespeare’s. Here, and in such special documents as signed depositions containing reported speech, we shall find the manuscript material that the Oxford Dictionary and literary studies in general have perforce left practically unexplored. If we tried, theoretically, to pinpoint the most propitious moment for studying the language in this pre-literary, pre-1549-Prayer Book period we should


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inevitably choose the 1530s, historically the reign’s most significant decade. It is, therefore, a crowning piece of good fortune that the finest collection of personal letters in the whole Tudor century happens to belong to this central decade. This collection, known as the Lisle Letters, provides some 3000 items, covers the years 1533–40 and represents the major portion of the personal and official correspondence which accumulated in the household of Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, the illegitimate son of King Edward IV, during his term of office as Lord Deputy of Calais.9 It includes some 500 letters all written by one man, John Husee, gentleman, of London, Lisle’s confidential man of business. Holograph and dictated letters are nicely balanced: there are rough drafts, with copies, showing spoken first thoughts adjusted to a final, more judiciously phrased written style: there are hastily scribbled notes, carefully calculated compositions, official as well as personal letters written by the same individuals, and letters to and from Lisle’s second wife, born Honor Grenville, their family, members of their household and all their friends, acquaintances and dependants. Practically everyone of importance in society and representatives of all classes are included. But primarily this is the right material for an investigation of ‘this goodly speech’ because, in the mass, these are the normal letters in which men and women pursue the businesses and pleasures, and face the troubles, the problems, the disasters, the frustrations and hopes deferred of everyday life, celebrate their small personal triumphs, record their fears, beg for help, advise, rebuke, persuade, and even occasionally speak the language of intimacy and affection. They handle the stuff from which dramatic art is made, and it is this that gives them the advantage, as an index to speech habits, over the great Elizabethan collections of letters, which are mainly concerned with politics, diplomatic negotiations and the business of governing the kingdom – subject-matter which does not lend itself in the same way to the rhythms and vocabulary of common speech. These later collections do not include such a wide variety of correspondents of all classes and occupations: too often the writers are infected by the general desire to write more stylishly and fashionably than they speak; and, in learning ‘to write’, forget or reject the simpler, tunable, speakable rhythms of the earlier generation. In the Lisle Letters the self-conscious stylists are few, the ‘naturals’ many. The former are impressive, the latter more relevant in this particular context, partly for their evidence of ease and fluency, but above all because such a high proportion yield passage after passage as eminently speakable as any dramatic dialogue written seventy to a hundred years later. This is only what we should expect, in the given circumstances. Though dramatic

Foundations of Elizabethan language


dialogue in prose was nonexistent until Gascoigne’s Supposes (1566), what his grounding in rhetoric taught the schoolboy was to express himself in speech. Expression was speech. Instruction in rhetoric meant the teaching of style for oratory, ‘well-saying’. As Hardin Craig says, ‘the faculty of speech was dignified in Renaissance thinking as the chief accomplishment which God had chosen to bestow upon man, to distinguish him from the brute beast’.10 The writing of themes in English was no part of the educational method which reared these letter-writers, who cover an age-span of eighty to eighteen, from the middle of the fifteenth century to the grandfathers and fathers of Shakespeare’s generation; but they had learned to love and enjoy words and they applied their education in rhetoric and Latin to the practical purpose of expressing themselves effectively in the vernacular, so that to write a letter, having mastered the protocol of address and subscription, was simply to write down what one wanted to say. In the majority of cases, mercifully for us, they might never have heard of the ars dictaminis. They look in their hearts, listen with their ears, and write. Whether we call it the art or the business of letter-writing, it seems to come easily enough to the average correspondent in this collection. To some it was obviously a pleasure and opportunity to ‘open’ their minds freely to their betters and say their say. As John Hutton, quoted below, remarks, ‘He that talketh alone may say what he will’. A few are hampered by lack of skill and their own bad handwriting, like James Hawkesworth, who excuses himself because ‘I am so ill a writer causes me oft times that [I] do not write.’ But he is the exception, who may be found in any class – the tongue-tied writer of every century for whom Sir Henry Sidney ‘speaks’ when he asks Queen Elizabeth’s pardon for so seldom reporting on Irish affairs, ‘so bad a delivery of my mind I have by pen, and so illegible it is when I do it myself’. And even here, surely, in each case, is the manner of the man’s speech. Except when they compose official letters, stuffed with official jargon and bowings and scrapings of compliment, they write vigorously and simply. Some achieve genuine distinction. Only very rarely is one conscious of the striving to write better than they speak, and some of them make the connection between speech and writing explicit. John Hutton, Governor of the Merchant Adventurers at Antwerp, has ‘none other matter unto your ladyship but to devise what I may write to cause your ladyship to be merry’, so takes up his pen ‘thinking myself that I should be present with you talking’ (2 March 1537). It is in this same spirit that, nearly a hundred years later, Lady Katharine Paston concludes a letter to her son William at Cambridge: ‘I am so straited of time as I cannot tarry longer to talk with


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thee now.’11 The tradition of the familiar letter was and is the tradition of familiar talk. The editing of the Lisle Letters over a period of many years has naturally involved much wider exploration of manuscript material, and examples quoted are not all taken from them. But I believe that within the compass of this collection we can study every degree of sophistication – and the lack of it – belonging to this talking-writing – from Hutton, the conscious conversationalist who writes pleasantly about nothing at all, to the real gossips on paper, not confined to any one social class, who flow on, with no attempt at order or composition, writing as they think and speak, without premeditation, with much repetition, many digressions and abrupt transitions, a great deal of vehemence, a complete lack of punctuation and a speed and urgency betokening strong feeling. They look forward, by way of Launce and Lancelot Gobbo, to such agreeable rattles as Miss Bates and Flora Finching, and link up over the centuries with our own spontaneous talkers who lack formal educational advantages and inhibitions and pour out their hearts and grievances on paper as they do in conversation, invoking us by name in every other sentence. To quote them briefly is to ruin their effects, but they offer good evidence, such as we still meet at first hand, of the direct connection in the unsophisticated, un-literary mind between speech and letter-writing. The temptation, of course, as with Shakespeare, is to put in one’s thumb and pull out a plum and say, Look how colloquial this is! Instinct again tells us we hear the very accent of speech when Husee writes, ‘The King enquired how the man was slain, and I answered that one of them, or both, was drunk’, or when Lisle dictates, ‘Now, good Master Page, stick to me in this matter’ – ‘stick to’, in this sense, being common in the 1530s and still one of our colloquialisms, but not Shakespeare’s. We shake hands across four centuries with Sir Brian Tuke when he describes his daughters’ governess as a ‘treasure’,12 or with John Husee when he refers to the grocer who refuses any more credit as ‘a limb of the devil’. We have lost Husee’s favourite ‘off or on’ for ‘one way or the other’, but ‘too good to be true’ and ‘now or never’ are still current, and we still say ‘wouldn’t hurt’ or the variant ‘would do no harm’, like Husee urging his master that ‘a gentle letter would not hurt’. Not one of these phrases occurs in the plays. iii But the haphazard sampling of colloquialisms does not ‘prove’ that this is speech ‘so written as it is spoken’, and a more methodical approach ‘would

Foundations of Elizabethan language


not hurt’. The touchstone for speech is speakability. Does the ear say Yes as we read? Do we – would Rose Macaulay – ‘hear them talking’? And can we establish a fundamental relationship between these familiar letters and Shakespeare’s dramatic writing, verse and prose? We can certainly establish the necessary links of vocabulary and phrasing, but we also discover a lavish use of synonyms, amplification by similitudes and proverbs, and other characteristics which we tend to regard as symptoms of the self-conscious ‘literary’ style of elaborate Elizabethan writing. The real case should rest primarily, I believe, upon the evidence supplied by rhythm and by direct speech and oratio obliqua. The ordinary reader, if he ‘soaks’ himself in these letters, will be struck by the familiarity and the speakable quality of their prose rhythms. The natural ‘tunes’ or phrase-lengths of our speech, which by their recurrence give balance as well as variety and make patterns of sound within the complex sentence, are the usual five-, four- and three-beat units or timeperiods which we recognize in characteristic combinations in Shakespeare’s prose passages or in Sir Thomas Browne’s writing, to take two extremes. The predominance of the five-beat phrase, or the blank verse line, in its infinite variety of syllabic cadence, reflects a natural tendency in our speech. It is such a normal speech- and breath-length that we have to take thought to avoid it, as all writers and speakers know, even in conversational and colloquial remarks. We shall find this unit of five time-periods used in these letters with any number of syllables from nine to fifteen, as freely as in blank verse. The following examples were not chosen, but are simply odd phrases that happen to remain in memory. Shakespearian examples of syllabic equivalence are given for rhythmic comparison only. Mistress Anne is sworn the Queen’s woman (Stay! The King hath thrown his warder down) I live by hope and comfortable words (Observe degree, priority and place) Th´ere to ab´ıde the com´ıng of your l´ordship (A´ngels and m´ınisters of gr´ace def´end us) Money was never so scant since this King reigned (Injurious time, now with a robber’s haste) Divers religious men are in the Tower (Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye) Here is nothing but everyone for himself (The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre)

(9) (10) (11) 4-beat (11) 5-beat (10/11)



muriel st cl are byrne Se´eing I have beg´un I would f´ain make an e´nd (The e´nterprise is s´ick. H´ow could comm´unities) Be content, Husee: thou shalt speedily be rid (As you have ever been my father’s honour’d friend) They that promised me horses to ride deceived me Privy dissimuled friends and familiar enemies (Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain) Before I hear of it again I cannot be merry The augment´ation and am´endment of my p´oor l´ıving (What h´oney is exp´ected? Degr´ee being v´ızarded)


 (12) 5-beat

(13)  5-beat (14) 4-beat

Fifteen and sixteen are the longest syllabic runs: ‘But y´et I ass´ure you I would be gl´ad to d´o him ple´asure’; ‘Your l´adyship may be gl´ad that e´ver ye b´are Mr B´asset’. I cannot recall Shakespeare parallels, nor yet an eight-syllable run from the Letters for John of Gaunt’s ‘Th´ınk n´ot the K´ıng did b´anish th´ee’. (To say that this ‘is a foot short’ may be metrical rule-of-thumb but is speech nonsense. The five stresses, with strong pauses, are clearly indicated by the first half of the next line, ‘But th´ou the K´ıng’.) There is, however, a sevensyllable line, ‘H´ere c´ometh my L´ord L´ısle’s m´an’; unless, as is sometimes said, we ought to pronounce the name as Lisley or Lesley, in which case we have our eight-syllable equivalent. ‘His Grace spake few words that day / to those that came’ is another seven-syllable example, with a concluding two-stress phrase to balance the Shakespearian parallel completely. There is no monotonous sequence of this five-beat phrasing: four- and three-beat units are equally characteristic: ‘The saying is, the abbeys shall down’; ‘Now is the time to speak or never’; ‘When we are gone, all is gone’; ‘I spake with his Grace an hour together’; ‘It is a solemn gentleman!’ (‘It is an ancient mariner’); ‘Grant me a lodging at Umberleigh’; ‘My lord, the debt is great’; ‘many and importunate suitors’; ‘sore diseased with the cough’; ‘He shall have my heart while I live’. All are eminently speakable: they have pace, and come ‘trippingly off the tongue’. Their simplicity refers this kind of basic phrase-rhythm to speech, just as surely as elaborate structure and the skilful handling of long periodic sentences, in the King’s diplomatic correspondence, place certain letters in the class of written compositions.13 Analysing continuous passages that at once strike the ear as good, we find that the pleasant, speakable rhythm of the whole derives from varying combinations of these simple units which wing and mark sense with sound, and by their recurrence balance thought against thought, phrase against phrase. These three-four-five patterns frequently have a central supporting core, existing solidly as a single thought-and-speech unit, or a prose stabilizer,

Foundations of Elizabethan language


which has no regular recognizable pattern or tune as a whole and cannot be profitably analysed in terms of sound, balance, accent, recurrence, etc. In longer passages there is sometimes more than one of these larger sense-units and they occur similarly in Shakespearian prose. The following extract, from one of Husee’s letters, though providing no exact parallel in thought or expression, has never been known to fail to draw from hearers surprise at its likeness to Mrs Quickly’s account of Falstaff’s death. Christopher Vyllers is departed . . . I spake with Crowder, his man, who shewed me that your lordship is not overseer, but he bequeathed your lordship v marks in money, and a salt of five marks. And he sayeth that iij hours ere he died he commoned nothing but of your lordship, and after he had made his executors he could never abide the sight of them. If your lordship had been here he thinketh verily that you should have had a great part of his substance, for he had more mind of your lordship than of all the world at the hour of his death. (21 August 1537)

There is one verbal link: ‘abide’ reminds us that ‘a’ could never abide carnation: ’twas a colour he never liked’; but a certain tonal and rhythmic similarity probably has more to do with the recognition that they are of the same quality, and the ‘patterns’ of both, as the reader can hear for himself, are the result of the three-four-five-beat combinations of sound units with one ‘sense-unit’ in each. Both have the absolute ring of truth to common speech. A shared idiom of valediction is established. They authenticate each other. These three-four-five tunes compose the most usual recurrence patterns, sometimes almost as obviously as in verse, at other times muted, less noticeable, but to be found when looked-for within the pleasantly harmonious general impression. In their modest way these people know how to write. Already the unit – whether sentence or paragraph – that is determined by sense, the statement made as straightforwardly and clearly as possible, which yet runs smoothly to its individual music, is just as much in evidence as these native recurrent rhythms. Take for example the following announcement of the death of one of her stepdaughters, sent to Lady Lisle in 1536 by her ‘old servant’ John Davy, in which a simple Devon gentleman illustrates the rhythmic ease and simplicity of the ordinary letter. It may please your good ladyship to perceive that Mistress Thomasine Basset is deceased, whose soul I pray Jesu take to mercy; and she deceased the Friday before Palm Sunday, full well and virtuously, with all the sacraments of the Church. She died at Bery’s house, and lieth at Dowland. She was sick at Marrais and desired to go to Bery’s, and this was about the Purification of our Lady that she came there. (11 April 1536)


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One is not really conscious of any formal stress-pattern till the three-beat phrase at the end of his first sentence. Then we get two sentences with three five-beat units in a sequence, ending with a ‘dying fall’ reminiscent of ‘to weep there’. His postscript begins with five and two: ‘I do int´end to s´ee Mistress Th´omasine’s m´onth’s m´ınd / h´onestly to be k´ept.’ ‘M´adam ye kn´ow very w´ell sh´e is your fr´ıend [or, ‘she is yo´ur fri´end’] and n´o f´ool’, is another good example of this same characteristic movement. On the other hand, Dan Nicholas Clement, a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury, will combine the melodic and the intellectual so that no accustomed pattern asserts itself. The music is his own: I am very sorry at heart that I have no good thing able to present unto you at this time; but nevertheless I have sent unto you by this child a beast, the creature of God, sometime wild, but now tame, to comfort your heart at such time as you be weary of praying. (30 April 1536)

Lisle’s own writing illustrates both tendencies. He has three styles – the familiar, the business and the high official. In the last everything is laid on thick – long involved sentences, inkhorns, nouns, verbs and adjectives in triplicate, and every possible form of amplification. One hopes and believes it had no resemblance whatever to speech. In ordinary business letters he is fluent and direct and the phrasing runs easily, as when he describes a ‘wanted’ person as ‘a man of honest conversation and of few words, being of a good age and a draper of wool, dwelling in Mechlin’, with the smooth five-five-two rhythm. In the personal letter he is brisk, spontaneous and more colloquial, with a rather impetuously run-on, simple-continuous movement; but in all three styles we find the same admixture of the free and the predictable balancing rhythms. There seems little, if any, difference between the dictated letters and those he writes himself. Making up a quarrel with his old friend, Sir William Kingston, he speaks his thoughts to a secretary: Right worshipful, In my most hearty wise I recommend me unto you, and am right sorry that any inconvenience should cause writing to be spared of so long time between us that have been of so long familiar acquaintance; ensuring you no cause on my behalf, whatsoever have been informed you: for if it had, I should neither have eaten nor yet slept quietly until I had written unto you. Nevertheless, it is forgotten on my behalf, praying you it may so be on yours: And that we may hear the one from the other after our old accustomed wont. And ye shall have me after the old fashion. (August 1534)

He ‘speaks’ in his own hand in a note to his cousin, Antony Wayte, in a similar conversational manner:

Foundations of Elizabethan language


Cousin Wayte, I commend me unto you, and have received the letter you sent to my wife,14 and well perceive the contents of everything therein, thanking you of your news concerning priests, which I would a’ been gladder of xxti year gone, that I might a’made one priest cuckold. (23 November 1535)

In the first he seems to be using an entirely ‘free’ continuous prose rhythm: in the second he falls into the accustomed four-five pattern, with a concluding nine-syllable five-beat phrase. ´ What´ever the number of s´yllables ´ıt cont´ains, | the ins´ıstence of the phr´ase that c´arries f´ıve str´esses | – as th´ese d´o when sp´oken – | rem´ains the d´ominant rh´ythmic impr´ession, | with the fo´ur-str´ess cla´use, j´ust us´ed, | as the n´ext most n´oticeable u´ nit, | and thr´ee or tw´o, for a c´oda, | e´qually c´ommon. They were and are natural to the language, and just as it is impossible to miss these same combinations in the sense structure of blank verse paragraphing, so, in a passage like the following, one can hear how easily this five-stress base lent itself to fluent ‘prose’ runs: ‘My Lord Privy Seal called me to him on Thursday | and said that it was time for your lordship now to wax grave | and not to give credit to every light flying tale.’ There is, literally, no end to the examples of this five-stress bias throughout the Letters, and it dominates their commonplaces even as it does ours. ‘Concerning news, here be none worth the writing’; (Remember me to Janet if you’re writing.) It is the way we speak, the way we have always spoken. Recognizing, then, in early sixteenth-century writing the dominance of this normal English speech-and-breath length of five time-periods, with four or five stresses, and finding in it also the same customary syllabic extensions and variations that give such infinite flexibility to our dramatic blank verse line, it seems reasonable to believe that they both reflect the speech habits of the century, and it is hard to see how the English drama could possibly have avoided blank verse as its natural medium. When the enduring rhythmic bias of our speech asserts itself thus vigorously in the familiar writing of the thirties we cannot choose but accept the contemporary verdict that it was indeed ‘such upon the paper as it is in the mouth’. More than half a century lies between the Elizabethan dramatists and these writers, and naturally, among thousands, we find many clumsy, confused, repetitive letters, much awkward syntax and occasional illiteracy. But the ready speaker, with a natural ear for native rhythms, expresses himself in sufficient numbers, without clumsiness and without reliance upon ornament or formal tricks, to show that already, before the ‘Drab Age’ of printed prose, Englishmen could write in the vernacular


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with ease and clarity, often with an individual voice and a touch of distinction, and a mastery of structure and sense-rhythm which controls and varies the basic under-hum without losing it and creates sustained complex sentence and paragraphing effects comparable to those found in dramatic writing. iv Rhythm is, of course, only one aspect of speech, but it is the most fundamental when trying to discover how men talked in past ages. Vocabulary and phrasing are a study in themselves, fascinating and important, and vital to anyone who wants to soak in the language of the period, but even less susceptible than rhythm to brief handling. One can only sample, more or less at random, to register changes or persistence of idiom. Reverberations of turns of phrase met in the Letters still echo in Shakespearian lines: ‘If they come not now it shall come with the next’ (If it be not to come, it will be now); ‘Yet did I repent me after I had delivered them’ (Yet did I repent me of my fury); ‘surest and secretst means’ (secretst man of blood); ‘I shall tomorrow in hand . . .’ (I will tomorrow – And betimes I will –); ‘Unto his speech can I not come’ (Out of this wood do not desire to go). The omission of a verb of motion, very usual in the Letters – ‘they will to Boulogne’, they ‘will over’ (to Calais, understood) – is paralleled in the plays: ‘I’ll to England. To Ireland, I’; ‘I’ll not to Rome’, etc. Among common phrases which we have lost but which continually recur in the Letters and are used by Shakespeare we may note ‘to be bold upon’ or ‘make bold with’, to ‘well perceive by’, to ‘cull (out)’, to ‘open’ a matter or one’s mind to someone, to have ‘much (little, what) ado’, ‘bolt (out)’, i.e. to sift, ‘there is no remedy’ or simply ‘no remedy’. There are also interesting changes in word usage, of which ‘occupy’ is an outstanding example, upon which Shakespeare himself comments (2 Henry IV 2.4.161). It is used throughout the Letters with the meaning of to be busy or occupied in, to work, to do business, to use something, but has dropped out of polite conversation – and the plays – by the end of the century, and has given occasion for a useful note in the Oxford English Dictionary mentioning that it occurs only twice in Shakespeare, equivocally, and means ‘to deal or have to do with sexually’ – hence his comment that ‘the word occupy, which was an excellent good word before it was ill-sorted’, is now ‘odious’. The losses – or are they Shakespeare’s rejections of colloquialisms and words and phrases which occur throughout the letters? – are equally

Foundations of Elizabethan language


interesting. ‘God pardon his soul’ or ‘whose soul God pardon’, which always qualifies the names of the dead, has disappeared – a striking if accountable loss. The only parallels are the Nurse’s ‘God rest all Christian souls!’ and ‘God be with his soul!’ No one describes herself as ‘your bedewoman’, though there are some references to ‘beads’ and Valentine swears he will be Proteus’ ‘bedesman’ and the unhappy Richard II’s ‘very bedesmen learn to bend their bows’ against his state. Shakespeare’s characters neither write nor receive ‘gentle’ or ‘thankful’ letters, nor yet ‘sharp ones’: they do not ‘conceive any displeasure’ with their friends or servants, though they agree in ‘taking’ it (Tempest, As You Like It, Pericles), in ‘finding’ it (Lear) and in ‘running into’ it (All’s Well ); they do not ‘apply’ their learning, their books, their devotions or their business; they are never ‘at the finding’ of their employers; they do not get ‘in a fume’ or make others ‘participant’ or ‘part-taker’, in their news or their good fortune, though they ‘partake’ and are ‘partakers’. They do not ‘remove’, though Birnam Wood does, like Henry VIII in these letters and Queen Elizabeth in the letters of John Chamberlain15 (though Ralph Winwood insists on saying ‘the Queen goes back again to Richmond on Monday’).16 They do not ‘set store by’ things or people, or ‘shew’ their mind, though they ‘open’ it. They do not say ‘I ensure you’ for ‘I assure’ or ‘I promise you’; and there are only two instances of that favourite early Tudor word ‘incontinent’ to signify haste and immediate action. ‘Clean cast away’ (i.e. utterly undone), which appears in every kind of begging letter, has vanished from the language of supplication and despair in Shakespeare. But he uses ‘clean’ in ten instances as an intensive, as we do in such phrases as clean forgotten, and as the letters do in ‘clean contrary to the Act’, etc. He is fastidious in his use of colloquialisms when a word has both a serious and a slangy meaning, but like the letter-writers he accepts both senses of ‘abide’ and relishes the popular one. Master Ford ‘cannot abide the old woman’, Mistress Quickly ‘cannot abide swaggerers’ and Jane Nightwork ‘could not abide Master Shallow’, like Christopher Vyllers who could never abide the sight of his executors after he had made his will. Nothing short of systematic investigation would enable one to say with any certainty how far their Latinisms and foreign borrowings reflect current spoken usage. But if anyone imagines these are characteristic of late Elizabethan writing only, these Letters will quickly undeceive him. From any random selection an impressive list can be compiled, and it seems unlikely, therefore, that such words were not freely used in speech in an age when the schoolboy talked Latin and some of Lisle’s bailiffs still kept the manorial accounts in it. They occur even in letters obviously composed,


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if not written, by women ‘uneducated’ in the formal sense. If Maria can speak of ‘the new map with the augmentation of the Indies’, I see no reason to doubt that when in 1535 Jane Basset wrote to her stepmother for help ‘towards the augmentation and amendment of my poor living’ her writer put down the words she actually said. Inkhorn or bookish and learned terms are another matter. They may have attained some currency in speech for a time, but their use in these letters is of interest to the historian of language mainly because they are not, in this decade, the calculated extravagance of literary experiment but part of the already copious vocabulary used by ordinary writers, who were neither avowed scholars nor pedants but had an adventurous taste in words and a real love for them. Thomas Broke, of the Calais retinue, defending himself to Cromwell against a charge of sedition, produces two fine specimens: I had rather that Almighty God should by his hasty messangier Death send for me, rather than by like messangier this realm should be orbated or denudated of one so prudent and sage a counsellor as your good lordship, by your very proper deeds and industries, have from time to time approved yourself to have been. (4 August 1539)

‘Orbated’ and ‘denudated’, otherwise practically unknown to lexicography, might well be inkhorns of the nineties, of the kind Shakespeare parodies. How much of this bookish borrowing was used in ordinary preElizabethan writing could only be estimated from a general check of manuscript sources; and the process of adoption, trial and rejection tempts us to ask – does their non-appearance in the plays warrant the belief that, although the words occur in letters and literature, they had never taken root in current speech? What is it that condemns all the following, with ‘orbated’ and ‘denudated’, after a brief trial? Their appearance in the Letters argues currency at some time for ‘aggradation’, ‘charitative’, ‘obtemper’, ‘suppeditation’, ‘vilipende’, ‘inspeculation’, ‘scrupulosity’, ‘propice’, ‘occurrents’, ‘reconciliate’, ‘pre-mentioned’, ‘dilations’, but the only one of that odd dozen that Shakespeare took up was ‘occurrents’, for use, once, in Hamlet (5.2.68), though it was common enough in the seventeenth as well as the sixteenth century. ‘Aggradation’ – a word favoured by Lisle and Husee for the subscription of a letter – can hardly have been peculiar to them, though I do not recollect any other specimens. Its only recorded use is in the form ‘agrade’, employed by Florio in 1611 to translate ‘gradire’, to be pleased with (cf. Ital. aggradare). For ‘inspeculation’, which Husee attributes to Honor

Foundations of Elizabethan language


Lisle in 1537 – ‘Your ladyship saith I have good inspeculation’ – only a solitary mid-seventeenth example has been noted. ‘Propice’ and ‘obtemper’ are medieval: all of them have interesting histories; but only ‘vilipende’ survived to the last century. All we can say is that learned borrowings were never merely a literary affectation of Elizabethan style but are a noticeable feature in ordinary letter-writing fifty years earlier. Speech, directly quoted or recapitulated, is an important source of evidence for the spoken language. In certain cases it provides interesting clues to the rhythms and mannerisms of individuals, such as Henry VIII’s use of ‘Well,’ at the beginning of a sentence. Tricks of speech were repeated literally, especially the King’s or Cromwell’s, to both of whom, apparently, we must credit that habit of repetition for emphasis that we notice in Hamlet. In the following we hear Cromwell, as reported by Thomas Broke, winding his way into a pleading before the King’s Council with an adroit bit of softening-up: . . . he said himself ‘thus, Perchance, my lords, you do think that I speak thus for affection that I bear my Lord Lisle, by reason of some great rewards or gifts. But I assure you, on my faith, it is not so; nor I never received of his lordship anything, unless it were a piece or ij of wine, or a dish of fish or wild fowl. But yet I assure you I would be glad to do him pleasure; and moreover I do know so perfectly well this matter, that I must needs speak in it.’

Opposing counsel asked to have the case referred to the trial of the Common Law: With that answered Mr Secretary in this manner, ‘The King’s Grace being his good lord, say you? Yes, marry, I warrant you! He is and will be his good lord. His good lord, quod a! Marry, ye may be sure he is and will be his good lord. Doubt ye not of that.’ And thus he repeated it, iij or iiij times, that the King’s Highness was and would be good lord unto your lordship. (17 October 1534)

In the next two we listen to Henry VIII dealing first with a complaint, then with a request: (a) His Grace said a’was sure, once, twice or thrice, it was not so. I shewed his Grace it was of truth. His Grace asked me, ‘Who?’ I shewed his Grace one Leonard Snowden, your servant. Then his Grace answered incontinent, ‘What? So soon? So soon? Well,’ said his Grace, ‘resort unto us again’. (9 June 1536) (b) His Grace answered me by these words . . . ‘Well’, said his Grace, ‘think you that it is meet that I shall put both the baillyship and the searchership in one man’s hands? No, nor I will not!’ (8 January 1535)


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In the following we hear three brief specimens from Husee’s remarkable anthology of the sayings of Thomas Cromwell, though alas without any of his detailed descriptions of their interviews: He made me answer by these words, ‘If I should not remember my gentle Lord Lisle I would I were buried! Be content, Husee, thou shalt speedily be rid.’

There are innumerable examples of indirect reporting such as ‘My Lord Privy Seal shewed me this day that he remembereth your lordship oftener than he hath fingers or toes’; or, ‘And touching the Friar, Mr Secretary said he would they were all at the devil!’ A pleasant example of self-reporting, direct and indirect, is the Vicar of Bishop’s Waltham’s rebuke to an obstreperous curate: ‘Sir Thomas, this at night, and ye be not well-advised!’ and thereupon willed him to go to bed and speak with me again the next morning. (26 January 1534)

The clear way in which most of these writers can pass without confusion from direct speech to oratio obliqua gives us confidence in the accuracy of both, and the following extracts from a very long letter show how Thomas Wriothesley, a vigorous and fluent writer, so soon to become a Secretary of State, passes to and fro with ease between dialogue and narrative when sending Cromwell an account of his interview with a suspected traitor. He dramatizes the scene vividly, but the particular interest of his account lies in the illustration it gives of the practical use of their rhetorical training made by men in the affairs of public life. His method with the traitor is that of the oration in little – to win his end by eloquence, reasoning, persuasion and every kind of personal appeal. ‘I have used him very gently,’ he begins: I caused him to be brought up to my chamber and had there one or two with me in honest sort to wait upon me. When he came within the door, sitting in my chair, made towards me as though he would have taken me by the hand. ‘No Sir’, quoth I, ‘I shake no hands with such fellows as you be till I hear further’. . .

He then outlines his opening attack, while the man kneels before him, and concludes, ‘therefore I shake no hands with you till I hear of your own mouth how you be disposed and whether you do submit yourself to the King’s Majesty or no’. Phillips having duly ‘submitted’ himself, Wriothesley then continues: ‘Arise,’ quoth I, ‘and hear me Phillips. Forasmuch as I see thee, as far as I can judge, repentant, I shall say unto thee that whatsoever any knaves abroad report, thou shall, I hope, assuredly find the King’s Highness a most merciful Prince. . . But

Foundations of Elizabethan language


one thing I shall say unto thee: beware how thou goest about to colour, cloak or excuse thyself. His Majesty is wise and of great experience. He hath been a King these thirty years and was a man before he was crowned. I tell thee plainly, he hath eyes and ears in the bottom of their bellies and in the very lining of their hearts that be of that sort that thou has been.’

Finally, professing himself satisfied that Phillips is now truly repentant, he brings the scene to a triumphant climax. ‘Well,’ quoth I, ‘now that I see that thou wilt rather abide whatsoever may come than to continue an unkind person to thy Prince and Country, I shall not stick to give thee that hand that within little more than these xxiiij hours would either have taken thee or have thrust my dagger in thee, wheresoever I should have met thee.’ And so to comfort him I was content to take him by the hand. . . . He said after to others that my hand, with my words, pulled a thousand pound weight out of his heart. (7 February 1539)

Unfortunately, Phillips escaped overnight, and the changed style in which Wriothesley then expresses his chagrin is most revealing by contrast. Instead of the sustained, hortatory eloquence, he reports the facts in crisp, short, sharp sentences, building up to his climax: Phillips came as I writ in th’other letters. I used him as I writ. I talked again with him after supper in such wise (the same having supped at mine own table) that I am sure I put him in manner out of all fear . . . I put my trust in them to keep him in their chamber. Leighton promised that he should lie with himself. Joye should lie by, in another bed in the same chamber. Leighton’s man should watch without the door, and I had two others of my men that watched beneath for all the night and morning till they were up. And yet, as soon as my watchers were gone to bed, which was between vj and vij of the clock in the morning, they being all then up, they suffered him to depart. (9 February 1539)

Except for a few phrases, the natural, terse vigorous writing speaks his exasperation as we might speak it today. It has a drive that reminds one not a little of Prince Hal’s exposure of the Gadshill episode, beginning, ‘We two saw you four set on four’, and of Falstaff’s earlier speech describing it – good, sinewy prose, bristling with dramatic attack. The significant point driven home by Wriothesley’s account of his interview is that to his generation rhetoric was part of one’s mental equipment for the practical business of life that men took for granted. It is easy to find examples of rhetorical address in the grand manner in Henry VIII’s letters – some of them drafted by Wriothesley – to be read and heeded by their recipients. It is much rarer to find a personal report, made by a speaker, of what he actually said when suddenly called upon to put eloquentia to the


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test in a situation – when what he wants to do is to appeal to the emotions and to move a man of whom he says, ‘The fellow hath a great wit. He is excellent in language’. To us his metaphors seem striking: to men who cared for ‘well-saying’ such phrasing came naturally. v The use of imagery, proverbs, ‘sayings’, word-play, puns and every kind of figurative language is generally first encountered by Elizabethan students in its most exaggerated form, as in Euphues. To meet these elements of popular speech, therefore, in their natural surroundings, before they are developed as formal literary ornament, is to realize how freely and effectively ordinary folk, including men of affairs like Wriothesley or Husee, used proverbial phrasing and lively imagery in normal expression. The way Shakespeare’s use of proverbs links his writing with the diction of common life has become a study in itself; and though the imagery in these letters may be simple we see clearly how he could rely on its common appeal when men used it so instinctively in their own speech and writing. As in Shakespeare, some of this figurative phrasing is drawn from the common stock, some of it may have been invented by the writers; but all these instances from the Letters are either the earliest known or the earliest post-medieval examples. Lady Whethill’s ‘There is an old saying, Threatened men live long’ and Thomas Warley’s ‘But it is an old saying, Well is spent the penny that getteth the pound’ vouch for their own proverbial status; and Husee’s ‘It hath been an old proverb that there is no worse pestilence than a familiar enemy’ is the only example on record. How close Lisle’s ‘You and I cannot live with fair words’ comes to an original form we cannot tell, as its next appearance is in Euphues as ‘Fair words fill not the belly’ (1580). I can find no exact parallel for Husee’s ‘Time and the good hour must be tarried for’, which takes on a more individual flavour as ‘I can do no more but tarry his time and gawpe for a good hour’. (When the delays are obviously past human help he adds, ‘I trust the Holy Ghost will now work in my Lord Privy Seal to discharge me of your lordship’s long suit.’) When he quotes the old proverb, ‘a shrewd cow hath found short horns’, he adds, ‘yea, the very stumps!’ (cf. Much Ado 2.1.25 ‘God sends a curst cow short horns’: Chaucer and Heywood call the cow ‘shrewd’). Accused of ‘flitting’ from Calais, he refutes the report ‘that I should leave the key under the door and come no more there’, adding indignantly, ‘I would not gladly give the candlesticks I left there for the rent I owe him’. This, and his expression, ‘to stop two gaps

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with one bush’ are found later, so were probably already proverbial, but his description of Lisle’s useful friend, Sir Francis Bryan, who, ‘if he set in his foot with a good mind . . . hath no fellow now in the Privy Chamber’, may be original. Husee’s letters are also full of lively little phrases such as ‘This will breed a scab’, ‘It is hard trusting this wily world’. Whether they would qualify for the proverbial category if found in print I do not know. Perhaps catchphrases is the proper term, as it seems to be for the description Honor Lisle’s niece, Elizabeth Staynings, gives of her distressing plight when keeping her husband company in the debtors’ prison and expecting another child: ‘I am in the taking that I was in the last year; and if it had pleased God he might a’ sent it your ladyship, the which would a’ been more gladder than I am’ (cf. Mrs Ford in the buckbasket scene, ‘What a taking was he in when your husband asked what was in the basket’). Sir John Bonde, a Devon vicar, swears ‘I will get my fingers unto the elbow’ before he will hand over the keys of the manor house to her ladyship’s stepdaughter without orders. Lisle is ‘ready to make answer and amends to my shirt’ (1536) – perhaps an early form of ‘putting one’s shirt on’ a horse or a hunch. Wriothesley, finding that his prisoner has escaped, writes to Cromwell, ‘the loss of all I have in this world had been but a trifle to this breakfast!’ (cf. Henry VIII 3.2.202, ‘and then to breakfast with what appetite you have’). ‘Whereat the Frenchmen hangeth the lip’ is Husee’s colloquialism for looking vexed or put out (cf. Troilus 3.1.152, ‘he hangs the lip at something’). The favourite expression for imparting a confidence is ‘he told me in mine ear’, which Shakespeare uses in this way seven times. To be ‘God’s prisoner’ is a common image for sickness, and Lisle’s Hampshire cousin, Antony Wayte, uses the pleasant Old English phrase ‘the fall of the leaf’ for autumn. The instinctive liking found in this colloquial letter-writing for the homely vigour and the picturesque – or grotesque – visual quality of proverbial phrasing suggests that the genuine, popular, proverb-making mentality was as characteristic of the early as of the late decades. If medieval sources do not yield early forms of the expressions used by Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, the chances are that a considerable proportion will be found in the manuscript collections of the years between the two literatures, medieval and modern, which may ultimately prove to have been one of the most fruitful proverb-eras of this prolific century. Puns are by nature a delight of speech, but some mild punning appears now and again in these Letters. ‘Can sick men play so nicely with their


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names?’ asks Richard II when John of Gaunt puns on his own name for ten lines. The interruption is at once dramatic and critical – ten lines ‘o’er steps the modesty of nature’. Just how nicely they could and did play with words in this manner can be seen from the fun they have with one of Lisle’s gentlemen who belonged to the Devonshire family of Speccot, which naturally invited the pun of ‘spigot’. John Kite, bishop of Carlisle, in his seventies and a sick man, plays the game delicately, simply changing the spelling when he sends Lisle a tun of March beer by ‘my friend Spygott’. So light is the touch that one might perhaps query his intention; but there is no mistaking the cruder relish Mr Speccot’s fellows took in this joke when Husee sends commendations from one of them to Lisle and her Ladyship, and to Jack his brother and to all other, saving Mr Spygott, whom in nowise he will not have named. He saith the sounding of that name maketh him more than half drunk. (12 June 1537)

A delight in double, triple and even quadruple assemblages of nouns, verbs and adjectives was not a late characteristic of Tudor writing, resulting from the scholars’ admonitions to seek more ‘copie’. It was native to the language and contributed to its rhythmic effects and was encouraged by the normal education in rhetoric. The popular use of synonyms, coupled words and balanced phrases is so prevalent in the Lisle Letters as to leave no doubt that, far from being a trick of style derived from the 1549 Prayer Book, it was an established feature of the writing of educated men in the 1530s; and comparison with late medieval correspondence shows that there was no similar richness in the average letter of the preceding period. It may have been encouraged at the time by Lord Berners’ preface to his Froissart (1523–5), in which he apologizes for not having turned his original into the ‘fresh, ornate, polished English’ which he illustrates by furnishing most words with one to three synonyms and nouns with as many adjectives. One guesses that it was more a trick of writing and was used with moderation in speech, as indeed, on the whole, it is in the familiar letter, but men were accustomed to this particular form of amplification from their schooldays, and the pairs and phrases chimed naturally with the simple three-four-five speech rhythms. ‘Loss and hindrance’, ‘bawdy and unthrifty rule’, ‘proud, presumptuous and opprobrious words’, ‘the augmentation and amendment of my poor living’ slide from the tongue with an easy music and also say more, give greater expressiveness in their contexts. The third example conveys a more vivid impression of the character

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and behaviour of the rascally curate (cf. p. 60 above); ‘grunted and grudged at’, applied to an unwanted guest, says more than either verb alone. ‘High and importunate suit’ is as expressive as it is rhythmically pleasing in the context of competition at Court to obtain the conveyance of the King’s New Year’s gift to Lisle, who had the reputation for tipping liberally, ‘high’ referring to the influential suit made and ‘importunate’ to the vigour with which the requests were urged. This form of ‘copie’ may not as yet do much to enrich ordinary writing with shades of meaning and the subtle distinctions we shall enjoy when we come to Sir Thomas Browne; but its free indulgence in ordinary writing in the thirties illustrates the native and natural tendency in our speech which eventually produces such ‘household’ words as ‘the expectancy and rose of the fair state’ or ‘to grunt and sweat under a weary life’, with which the poet will enrich and raise to its highest power this ordinary and old-established habit of the diction of common life. There is, finally, one more personal argument which, for me, reinforces an inner certainty rather than the reasoned belief I have been outlining, that it is in these early manuscript sources instead of contemporary printed ones that we must soak ourselves in order to hear the sixteenth century talking. Out of a common stock of words, phrases and normal modes and devices of expression these people fashion for themselves individual, recognizable styles. And this is equally true of dozens of others encountered among these State Papers of Henry VIII who have no connection with this particular correspondence, who may write only a single letter and of whom we may ‘know’ literally nothing from any other source. There is a transparency in this writing: simple as it generally is, the style is the man, or the woman. Just as the dramatist gives us the characters of his personages by the manner of their speech and what they say about each other and the business in hand, so these personages who play their parts in the Lisle story characterize themselves for us as vividly as if they were created by an artist, and, like characters on the stage, speak in the first person directly to us of their fellows and their concerns. When Husee writes, ‘As for Warley, I assure your ladyship there is no such malice in him as you do think, for it was only his lack of wit, that which he did’ (15 September 1538), we learn something of the characters of all three, of their relationships to each other and of the situation and may find ourselves recalling such things as Costard’s excuse for Nathaniel – ‘a marvellous good neighbour, faith, and a very good bowler; but for Alisander – alas, you see how it is – a little o’er-parted’.


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Shakespeare the dramatist bypasses the formal elaboration, the cultivated boisterousness, the journalistic extravagance, the exaggeration and the fashionable affectations of contemporary style, unless he needs any of them for his dramatic purposes. With Husee or Lisle he will use the learned word when he feels like it; but Husee will ‘gawpe’ for his good hour, and Sicinius will declare ‘This is clean kam’. We know, ‘by instinct’, that in Shakespeare we are listening to the real language of men, as well as ascending the brightest heaven of invention with his muse of fire. When, therefore, we are continually reminded of Shakespearian phrasing and rhythm as we read these early letters, it is reasonable to infer that the link, the common factor, is Tudor speech as it was spoken throughout the century, except in so far as new colloquialisms, turns of phrase and fresh words replace what had become old-fashioned. The letters obviously cannot give the whole background of Shakespearian speech, but I believe they can and do provide us more effectively than any other source material with a genuine view of the foundations of the goodly current speech which was the language of that amazing century. First published in Shakespeare Survey 17 (1964) n otes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

H. C. Wyld, History of Modern Colloquial English (1920) (latest edn 1953). Rose Macaulay, Letters to a Friend (1950). Cambridge History of English Literature, iii, ch. 22 (1909). F. P. Wilson, Shakespeare and the Diction of Common Life, British Academy Annual Shakespeare Lecture (1941). Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven, 1953). Shakespeare as Critic of Language (Shakespeare Assoc., 1934); Shakespeare and Rhetoric (English Assoc., Essays and Studies, 29, 1943). And Endeavors of Art (University of Wisconsin Press, 1954). E.g. the women talking about Old Cole’s murder, and Mistress Winchcomb the second discussing with her gossip household catering problems and her new finery of French hood and silken gown. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, Bk ii, iii, 277, Oxford History of English Literature (1954). In the PRO, in Lisle Papers, 18 vols. (SP 3) and State Papers, Henry viii (SP 1): calendared in Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner. The Enchanted Glass (New York, 1936). The Correspondence of Lady Katharine Paston, 1603–27, ed. R. Hughey (Norfolk Record Soc. vol. 14, 1941).

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12 Cf. Lady Granville (1810): ‘My month nurse, a treasure, and the most respectable of dames’ (OED). 13 For easily accessible specimens see the present writer’s Letters of King Henry VIII (1936), especially pt iii, chs. i, ii. 14 On 12 November 1535, in which he says, ‘We have no news but that it is preached here [i.e. London] that priests must have wives’. 15 Letters of John Chamberlain (Camden Soc., 1861). 16 Ralph Winwood, Memorials of State (1725).

chap t e r 4

Shakespeare’s talking animals Terence Hawkes

There is a tense moment at the end of certain modern dramatic productions (it is a feature which has recently shown itself at Stratford) when the actors suddenly turn on the audience and, in the name of communication, begin menacingly to advance on them with ferocious and implacable bonhomie. But let me put you out of fear. As this conference draws to an end, it is not my intention to come smilingly amongst you in any physical sense. I know my place. Nor does the title of my paper make mocking reference to any here present in their professional capacities. Dog does not eat dog. But my subject does involve our communication with each other in a different, more general, but no less ‘contemporary’ way. For when Ben Jonson nominated language as ‘the only benefit man hath to expresse his excellencie of mind above other creatures’ (Timber, or Discoveries), he was articulating an idea that has had modernity thrust upon it. In fact the concept of man as the Talking Animal, with language his distinctive feature, marking him off from the other animals, is one of those currently fashionable notions redeemed, we might now profitably allow, by its antiquity. For the classification of man as zoon logon echon (a living creature possessing speech) enjoyed currency before Aristotle, and Cicero offers a formula no less positive than Ben Jonson’s when he claims that ‘it is in this alone, or in this especially, that we are superior to the animals; that we can converse amongst ourselves, and express our thoughts in speech’ (De Oratore 1.8.32). Such ideas obviously have particular force and relevance in societies where the act of talking, face to face, constitutes the fundamental mode of life and where speech seems not only to embody humanity, but to bring into being and reinforce all the communal social structures of ‘civilization’. In such societies, speech and man, language and culture, talking and ‘way of life’ must be very closely connected. Elizabethan society was certainly not wholly oral in character. But equally certainly it was not wholly literate in any sense that would be meaningful to us. English then, as M. C. Bradbrook puts it, was still ‘a tongue rather 68

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than a written language’1 and the most recent estimates suggest that only between thirty per cent and fifty per cent of males in Shakespeare’s London were minimally literate (this using the dubious standard of their ability to write their own names).2 In any case, as W. J. Ong argues, oral habits and traditions still played dominant roles in spheres that were only potentially those of writing, and the writing of the period exhibits a formidable and formative ‘oral residue’ that he characterises as ‘heavy in the extreme’.3 So it is not surprising to find the notion of speech as man’s distinctive and ‘civilising’ characteristic common amongst those who wrote of language at the time. ‘It is’, Ben Jonson continues, ‘the Instrument of Society. Therefore Mercury, who is the President of Language is called Deorum hominumque interpres’ (Timber). And the characteristically oral sense of identity between culture and language, man and speech, lies behind the commonplace notion that he expounds so memorably; ‘Language most shewes a man; speake that I may see thee’ (ibid.). It is difficult for us, who habitually read and write, to share Jonson’s sense of speech’s revealing inward qualities. And it is no less difficult for us fully to accept the implications of the fact that Shakespeare’s plays were written for an audience most of whom would have shared it. I am not concerned with the plays’ own use of language in this context, and the characteristically oral qualities of their style: the rhapsodic, formulaic, incremental and serial structures that occasionally baffled the highly literate Dr Johnson. But I am interested in the ideas about language and its social role which they must in consequence implicitly manifest, and which constitute a neglected part of their world view, perhaps because we are anaesthetised to them by our own literacy. And these involve, primarily, a deep and almost certainly defensive commitment to language in its oral dimension: to the ideal as well as the idea of man as the animal that talks. The history plays for example seem to embody and reinforce a fundamentally oral outlook, which of course differs markedly from our own. Frances Yates has recently brilliantly reminded us that the faculty of memory plays a crucial role in an oral setting, acting as the repository of the cultural tradition, and proving highly developed in response to that important function.4 But memory’s opposite, forgetting, is also important in the same process. Memory, it could be argued, acts as a selective filter, storing experience of continuing relevance to the society. Non-relevant experience is then systematically forgotten, in what has been termed a process of structural amnesia. As a result, the present permanently imposes its own shape on the past, so that in an oral society the world seems always to have been as it is now. Its ‘past’ looks exactly like its ‘present’. Myth takes the place of


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‘history’, and the overwhelming bias towards consistency between past and present makes such societies normally deeply conservative. Such changes as occur tend to be redressive and reconciling, reinforcing rather than innovatory, and at their most extreme take the form of rebellion rather than revolution.5 A context such as this seems to have generated the history plays’ view of the world. In them, myth and ‘history’ merge, and the shape of the present determines that of the past. The upheavals chronicled have a redressive, reconciling, re-inforcing mode, and take the form of rebellion rather than revolution. The king is rejected, but not kingship. In fact, the essence of what has been misleadingly termed the Tudor ‘revolution’ had been the establishment of the king as the vital and unifying communicative link between man and deity and man and man. Through him, men could symbolically ‘speak’ to one another, to God, and in English. And just as the Christian God is always characterised as a communicator, one who talks directly and personally to man,6 so as God’s vicegerent, the Christian king ought ideally to manifest the same ‘civilising’ quality. Richard II, of course, notably does not, and his shortcomings in this connection seem to supply Shakespeare in the second tetralogy with a crucial purchase on the past. Under Richard’s rule, civilised talking between people deteriorates beyond repair, bringing about its opposite, civil war.7 Nor does his successor fare any better in this respect. It is Bolingbroke’s son Hal who, as Prince and ‘the mirror of all Christian Kings’, demonstrates a saving capacity for simple straightforward unifying oral communication with all speakers of the language from high to low, be they knave or knight, English, Welsh, Irish or Scot. His breezy inabilities outside his native tongue (exhibited in the courting of the French princess) serve to emphasise his capabilities within it. In the course of their exhaustive probing after the nature of human reality, Shakespeare’s tragic plays seem to take as their starting point the notion that man is fundamentally a communicator; that talking (and listening) make man human. In them, the tragedy seems to involve a denial, by villainy or circumstance, of man’s communicative functions; a prohibition of the essential ‘talking and listening’ aspects of his nature. Only when these are restored is society able to function again in harmony with, and as a collective expression of, that nature. To take the single example of Hamlet, it’s clear that the attitudes towards language of the ‘mighty opposites’, Hamlet on the one hand and Claudius on the other, constitute a major dimension of the conflict that sparks the play. Under Claudius, talking at Elsinore deteriorates progressively,

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bringing with it a breakdown in exactly those personal relationships which underpin human society. From the early blandishments of Claudius, their polish concealing the truth of murder, usurpation and incest, through the ‘indirections’ of Polonius, Ophelia’s ravings, the obstructive technicalities of the Gravediggers, and the gibberings of Osric, the process is an accelerating one of descent to a level of uncommunicative brutishness, where spying replaces talking and listening, and men become hunting and hunted animals. As Laertes discovers on his return to Elsinore, linguistic chaos is come again. It is as if the world were now but to begin, Antiquity forgot, custom not known, The ratifiers and props of every word . . . (4.5.103–5)

The way of life Hamlet opposes to Elsinore is one in which talking and listening, voice and ear, hold their rightful cherished place as civilising instruments. There, the Prince finds solace in Horatio as e’en as just a man As e’er my conversation coped withal. (3.2.55–6)

There, Claudius’s poisoning of the King’s ear is seen, in symbolic proportion, to violate ‘the whole ear of Denmark’ (1.5.36). There, too, the play’s great metaphor of the theatre lays a good deal of emphasis on the oral faculties; on the notion that a professional actor’s speech makes serious demands on his audience’s ears. Hamlet’s rueful acknowledgement of the Player’s ability to communicate immediately and powerfully by means of his art, to ‘cleave the general ear with horrid speech’ (2.2.573), to ‘speak out’, to amaze indeed The very faculties of eyes and ears (3.2.575–6)

is as striking as the claims made for the play’s own capabilities in forcing oral communication on the guilty, making them ‘proclaim’ their malefactions so that ‘murder, though it have no tongue, will speak / With most miraculous organ’ (2.2.605–6). Not surprisingly, the sum of Hamlet’s advice to the Players is that they speak distinctly, paying due respect to man’s talking– listening nature, so that they do not ‘split the ears of the groundlings’ (3.2.10).


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For Hamlet, the essence of genuine humanity ultimately lies in the basic ‘playing’ situation itself, in the ‘talking–listening’ interaction of actors and audience across a stage: a process that, to an oral community, might not inappropriately seem the ultimate symbolic representation of itself. In the theatre, as outside it, people talk, others listen, as evidence of their humanity, and the player’s oral art does indeed show ‘the very age and body of the time his form and pressure’. Moreover, in a society whose investment in memory must, as has been said, be very great, the theatre will have the added function almost of a ‘memorybank’; a place where memory literally resides, is stored, and in performance is brilliantly displayed by the actors. Hamlet’s promise to the Ghost to remember thee! Aye, thou poor Ghost, whiles memory holds a seat In this distracted Globe (1.5.95–7)

has, not merely by means of the oral device of the pun, this enlarging aspect. And it hints at such a theatre’s immense but informal educative function in an oral culture as an institution serving to remind its members of accepted common values, and to confront them with a dramatic affirmation and confirmation of these, almost as a unifying and preservative act of anamnesis, of ‘bringing to mind’.8 Given this, it is an odd delusion of the literate that the non-literate are dispossessed. The reverse might even be the case. William the Conqueror was illiterate. Moreover, it takes a considerable effort of detachment for us to realise that the prospect of literacy can appear somewhat alarming to an oral culture. On the positive side, it offers the possibility of a new and effective medium of communication which, by providing a visible and lasting counterpart of speech, enables it, apparently, to transcend ephemerality and to conquer space and time. Writing seems to make speech permanent and portable. But a basically non-literate community might well take a more negative view, seeing in writing a potential subversion of its way of life. Far from reproducing speech, writing could be said to ‘reduce’ it. The full resonance of oral utterance, imbued with the personality, gestures, tone of voice and physical presence of its speaker, from whom it is never separated, vanishes in the abstracted impersonality and sheer silence of marks on paper. The solvent of written ‘clarity’ disperses the richness of oral ‘ambiguity’. When we turn to Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, exactly these tensions confront us, and Love’s Labour’s Lost in particular seems largely to re-state a much older case in this connection.

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In the Phaedrus, Plato presents a famous argument against writing. Retelling the myth of its invention, he recounts the words of the Egyptian King to Theuth, who has invented letters: If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples but only its semblance; for by telling them of many things without teaching them, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing; and as men filled, not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.9

In essence, that seems to be a reasonable account of what happens in Love’s Labour’s Lost, for in this ‘the most linguistically oriented of all Shakespeare’s plays’10 the oral world of speech is comically opposed to the silent world of books. At its simplest, the action concerns a group of men who opt out of active oral society in pursuit of immortality, and in the name of what turns out to be the ‘conceit of wisdom’. It tells the story of their realisation that true wisdom, true ‘civilisation’, true immortality, reside precisely in the oral community and its social and sexual processes which they have rejected. As ‘bookmen’ (as the play calls them) the members of Navarre’s ‘silent court’ realise they have betrayed their true nature of ‘talking animals’. It is a commonplace that the main comic characters parody Navarre’s courtiers in their various attitudes to language. The characteristically oral sense that speech is the man prevails. Armado and Holofernes have ‘been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps’, and if to speak is to be human, Armado hardly achieves that status. He does not speak, so much as utter writing, expending most of his interest literally on the ‘external marks’ of letters. His response to the inward animal disturbances of love is appropriately reductive: I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise wit; write pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio. (1.2.173 ff.)

For Holofernes, as for Nathaniel, it is writing not speech which distinguishes man from the animals, and both concur in dismissing the wretched Dull as one unredeemed by literacy’s Eucharist: he hath never fed of the dainties that are bred in a book. He hath not eat paper, as it were; he hath not drunk ink. His intellect is not replenished, he is only an animal. (4.2.23–5)


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Holofernes’s contribution to the debate about orthography consists, predictably, of the assertion that the rules of writing ought to dominate speech. He ‘abhors’, he tells us, such rackers of orthography, as to speak dout, fine, when he should say doubt; det, when he should pronounce debt, d,e,b,t, not d,e,t (5.1.18 ff.)

Berowne’s rejection of ‘speeches penned’, the ‘taffeta phrases, silken terms precise’ of ‘orthography’, and his resolve to embrace their oral opposite, ‘russet yeas and honest kersey noes’, constitutes an important statement of the play’s main theme. Access to reality, he discovers, lies not in books, but in involvement with other people: not in the domain of the eye, reading and writing, but in that of the voice and the ear, talking and listening. His sonnet to Rosaline is thus a reprise of his earlier ‘reasons against reading’: If knowledge be the mark, to know thee shall suffice; Well learned is that tongue that well can thee commend . . . (4.2.109–10)

Women, in short, are the curriculum of life’s academy. In Berowne’s metaphor, They are the ground, the books, the academes, From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire. (4.3.299–300)

Knowledge, this seems to say, lies in life itself, in our interaction with others in the community, that talking–listening involvement which, the play makes clear, precedes and prefigures its necessary sexual counterpart. And like love, knowledge is no abstract entity that books can ‘contain’, or reading give access to. In Berowne’s words Learning is but an adjunct to ourself And where we are our learning likewise is. (4.3.310–11)

Our way of life, that is to say, constitutes our knowledge. And in an oral society, as way of life and language are intimately related, so the language embodies, and indeed is knowledge for the community. There is no other source. Berowne’s punishment confirms this, for the burden placed on him is emphatically a linguistic one. His early love, on his own admission ‘Formed by the eye, and therefore like the eye’ (5.2.752), has proved shallow and vain.

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Now he must engage with the speech community, not deny it; recognise its ‘theatrical’ dimension, become a ‘player’ or an ‘entertainer’. He must this twelve month term from day to day Visit the speechless sick, and still converse With groaning wretches . . . (5.2.840–2)

The former ‘. . . merry madcap lord / Not a word with him but a jest’ (2.1. 216–17) must become aware of the reciprocal ‘dramatic’ nature of speech. He must learn, as Rosaline rebukes him, that an audience’s listening necessarily complements the actor’s oral art, that A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear Of him that hears it, never in the tongue Of him that makes it . . . (5.2.851–3)

In the Phaedrus, Plato also makes Socrates say ‘anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise anyone who takes it over from him, on the supposition that such writing will provide something reliable and permanent, must be exceedingly simple-minded . . .’11 At the end of the 1598 Quarto, the earliest surviving ‘written manual’ of Love’s Labour’s Lost, this phrase occurs: ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.’ It is attributed to no particular character, and is set in a type larger than that used for the printing of the main body of the play. In the Folio text the line remains, but is assigned to the ‘Braggart’ (i.e. Armado) who adds ‘You that way: we this way’ as an exit line for the characters assembled on the stage. The various editors of Love’s Labour’s Lost have responded in different ways to this choice of endings. Dover Wilson and Quiller-Couch in the New Cambridge edition, and Richard David in the New Arden edition are the exception amongst recent editors in preferring that of the First Quarto. Most others tend to assign the line to Armado, thus reducing its prominence, and the peculiar quality given it by the larger type. Possibly they share with E. K. Chambers the feeling that ‘Mercury has nothing to do with what precedes’.12 Yet Mercury, it will be remembered, was associated by Ben Jonson with language, being styled its president. In his role as messenger of the Gods, Mercury (or Hermes) was also firmly associated with writing, often as its inventor, a connection he shared with his Egyptian and Scandinavian counterparts. As the various avatars of Mercury merge into a single figure in the Renaissance, this association becomes more and more established


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so that, for example, Nashe’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1592–3), in the process of a satirical account of the history of writing, can tell how Hermes/Mercury Weary with graving in blind characters, And figures of familiar beasts and plants, Invented letters to write lies withall . . . (1262 ff.)

Apollo, of course, symbolised no less a number of disparate ideas during the same period, but in respect of the contrast with Mercury here postulated will obviously be primarily connected with language in its oral form and its tonal aspects; a relationship appropriate to his role as god of music and harmony. Robert Stephanus’s Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (1573) assigns to Apollo the specific role, amongst others, of protector of the vocal chords. In short, both Mercury and Apollo could be said to have a good deal to do with ‘what precedes’. The line ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo’ perhaps constitutes not so much a comment on the subject of Love’s Labour’s Lost, in which Mercury as Mercade the messenger brings his harsh words into the Apollonian atmosphere of the play, as a comment on the form of this play, on the nature of drama which it embodies and, hopefully, on the subject of the present paper. The ‘words of Mercury’ are surely Love’s Labour’s Lost seen in written form; in its printed Quarto version. It is itself part of the world of books which the play has urged us to reject. The ‘songs of Apollo’ are those oral words heard in the actual performance of the play, of which the book is a ‘harsh’ shadow. The book cannot ‘contain’ the play, as Dover Wilson discovered for himself when he was ‘converted’ by Tyrone Guthrie’s production in 1936,13 and the words are printed in a larger type, separate from the words of the play, for this reason. They constitute a comment on the book the reader of Love’s Labour’s Lost holds in his hand. Momentarily he is like the ‘bookmen’ of the play, engrossed in a ‘reduced’ world of writing, not in the ‘real’ world of oral interchange, of which the play in performance is a compelling version. The play’s epigraph, which these words are, is perhaps intended to jolt him out of that state; to force him to raise his eyes from the ‘speeches penned’ and to encounter the world with voice and ear, in the oral spirit intended by Berowne. The words thus use the functions of Mercury to achieve the purpose of Apollo, uniting these opposites in characteristically Shakespearian fashion. It is perhaps this aspect of his work that Ben Jonson celebrates in the lines he wrote for the great ‘book of the plays’ the First Folio, which refer explicitly to ‘What He Hath Left Us’;

Shakespeare’s talking animals


He was not of an age, but for all time! And all the muses still were in their prime, When like Apollo he came forth to warm Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm!

Nor is Love’s Labour’s Lost the only item of evidence he hath left us: there are the plays at large, the condition in which they have come down to us, and the point of view this condition perhaps embodies. G. E. Bentley has pointed out in some detail that Shakespeare manifests very little interest in his plays as works to be themselves read.14 We may, as T. J. B. Spencer puts it, ‘consider it incredible that he should not have expected his plays to be read as well as performed’.15 I agree that it is incredible. Yet the very degree of our incredulity testifies perhaps to the effectiveness of the anaesthetic of literacy that has us ‘bookmen’ in its grip. For to suggest an opposite view is to do nothing more startling than affirm the theme of this Conference, and to characterise Shakespeare as an artist supremely committed to the oral art of drama. ‘He was naturally learned’, Dryden said of him in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1668), ‘he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature’. He is the Theatre Poet, that is to say, not the Book Poet, and the sense of that distinction and its related commitment in these plays is perhaps one of their most underestimated ingredients. Because to be a Theatre Poet is, after all, and despite Anne Barton’s eloquent and persuasive arguments to the contrary, to manifest a personal faith in language’s oral dimension. It is to believe, perhaps, that true immortality ultimately resides more in the apparent ephemerality of speech, less in the apparent permanence of writing. As Heywood, Shakespeare’s contemporary, put it in his Apology for Actors (1612), the drama’s vested interest in speech as its raw material actually expands and improves the language: Our English tongue, which hath been the most harsh and broken language in the world . . . is now, by this secondary means of playing, continually refined . . . so that in process from the most rude and unpolisht tongue it has grown to a most perfect and composed language.

In a sense, it is that truth which we manifest at this moment: you by your tolerant listening presence, I by my intolerable talking one. What links us with Shakespeare is exactly this reciprocal process, the oral process of the language that, 400 years since he used it, is still second – even first – nature to most of us. I conclude with what must appear blatant special pleading, for my vowels have by now betrayed me. I was born and grew up in Shakespeare’s county,


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just twenty-one miles from where we now find ourselves. Although this makes me what the New Cambridge editors call a mere ‘pavement critic’ it also makes it appropriate that it is I who voice a redressive doubt, however small, concerning the advice given in the First Folio to ‘the Great Variety of Readers’. In the matter of Shakespeare’s aptest memorial we risk an overemphasis on the need to ‘reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe’. On the contrary, I propose, as one Talking Animal to others: si monumentum requiris, audi. First published in Shakespeare Survey 24 (1971) n otes 1 M. C. Bradbrook, ‘St. George for Spelling Reform!’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 15 (1964), 129–41. 2 See Lawrence Stone, ‘The Educational Revolution in England 1560–1640’, Past and Present, 28 ( July 1964), 41–80; and ‘Literacy and Education in England 1640– 1900’, Past and Present, 42 (February 1969), 69–139. Also, Carlo M. Cipolla, Literacy and Development in the West (Harmondsworth, 1969), pp. 38–61. 3 W. J. Ong, ‘Oral Residue in Tudor Prose Style’, PMLA, 80 (1965), 144–55. 4 Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (London, 1966). 5 I am here drawing heavily on the essay by Jack Goody and Ian Watt, ‘The Consequences of Literacy’, in Literacy in Traditional Societies, ed. Jack Goody (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 27–68. 6 See W. J. Ong, The Presence of the Word (New Haven and London, 1967), pp. 12 ff. and 73. 7 See my article ‘The Word Against the Word: the Role of Language in Richard II ’, Language and Style, 2 (1969), 296–322. 8 For an account of a similar process in respect of poetry and drama in Hellenic culture, see E. A. Havelock, Preface to Plato (Oxford, 1963), pp. 41–3 and 48. 9 Plato, Phaedrus, 275 a 2–b 2, trans. R. Hackforth (Cambridge, 1952), p. 157. 10 Bradbrook, ‘St George for Spelling Reform!’ 11 Phaedrus, 275 c 5–d 2, p. 158. 12 E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, a Study of Facts and Problems (Oxford, 1930), 1, 338. I am greatly indebted in connection with the point that follows to the hitherto unpublished work of my research student, Malcolm Evans. 13 J. Dover Wilson, Shakespeare’s Happy Comedies (London, 1962), pp. 64 ff. 14 G. E. Bentley, Shakespeare and his Theatre (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1964), pp. 1–26. 15 T. J. B. Spencer, ‘The Elizabethan Theatre-Poet’, in The Elizabethan Theatre, ed. David Galloway (Toronto and London, 1969), p. 6.

chap t e r 5

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation Vivian Salmon

Many critics of Shakespeare’s style have commented on his lexical innovations, but only too often exemplification has consisted of random listing where neologisms such as bare-faced, countless, distrustful, dog-weary, ensconce, fancy-free, ill-got, lack-lustre and crop-ear have been quoted without any analysis of the patterns on which they were formed, the underlying grammatical relationships in the compounds or the purposes for which they were coined.1 Some scholars have discussed the characteristics of Shakespeare’s diction in general, without distinguishing his neologisms;2 others have concerned themselves with individual methods of word-formation, such as functional conversion,3 or have investigated the effect of particular neologisms to the neglect of general linguistic considerations.4 At the other extreme, Franz’s grammar lists all the types of word-formation exemplified in Shakespeare’s usage, but without providing any guidance, except casually, on the extent of their originality or their purpose,5 while in another comprehensive work, Jespersen’s grammar of post-medieval English, Shakespearian examples are quoted only as incidental items in a general survey.6 The lack of any reasoned account of the principles directing Shakespeare’s lexical creativity has led to the kind of vague, subjective assessment of its nature and purpose which characterizes certain neologisms in Troilus and Cressida, including conflux, protractive, persistive, appertainments, soilure and embrasures, as ‘strange and shapeless, fashioned for argument rather than delight . . . They seem endowed with a deliberate harshness to which the frequent ending of -ive, as in persistive and -ure as in soilure give emphasis’.7 Judgements of this nature, with which the linguist cannot concur, suggest that there is room for a study which will investigate the reasons for Shakespeare’s neologisms and the types of word-formation which proved most rewarding; but the immensity of the topic precludes anything but a brief survey with the minimum of exemplification. However meagre the results, it is hoped that they will illustrate one aspect of Shakespeare’s craftsmanship as a poet and dramatist – however trivial it may appear by 79


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comparison with his achievement as a whole – and assist in a more precise characterization of his style. Two initial difficulties confront students of Elizabethan word-formation. One, which has been discussed by W. S. Mackie, among others, is the extent to which one can rely on the NED’s attribution of neologisms to Shakespeare.8 His originality cannot be demonstrated with absolute certainty, but the fact that so many of these formations are nonce-words suggests that they were created for some particular linguistic context, which often reveals itself on inspection. They are at least easier to handle than loan-words, which are excluded from discussion here, partly for reasons of space, and partly because the linguistic acumen required to introduce a borrowed word into English is of a different – and perhaps inferior – order from that which is involved in creating one anew, even if from existing elements. The second difficulty lies in the choice of linguistic method; if this were a study of Elizabethan word-formation as exemplified in Shakespearian drama, it would be undertaken with all the rigour and precision of current linguistic techniques. Since the aim of the investigation is to discover the function of Shakespearian neologisms, as a contribution to the study of his style, and to present the results to readers who are critics rather than linguists, technicalities have been eschewed as far as possible. A few linguistic terms cannot be avoided, the most important of them being ‘surface structure’ and ‘deep structure’.9 The external form of a compound or derived word, for example, N + adj., is its surface structure; the underlying sentence which clarifies the grammatical relationships between the elements of the compound is the deep structure, identical surface structures often concealing dissimilar deep structures, e.g. heart-sick, ice-cold: he is sick at heart, it is as cold as ice. More familiar terms are those which refer to the three most productive methods of word-formation in Elizabethan English: compounding (the juxtaposition, usually under one strong stress, of two or occasionally more normally independent words or ‘free morphemes’);10 derivation (the formation of a new word from the juxtaposition of one or more free morphemes and one or more affixes – ‘bound morphemes’) and functional conversion (derivation by zero-morpheme) in which a word is used in an abnormal grammatical category without change of form. Many other methods of word-formation were available to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, such as ‘back-formation’ (e.g. to weather-fend, formed from weather-fended ‘protected from the weather’), rhyme (e.g. pell-mell, kicky-wicky) and ablaut (skimble-skamble) but there are too few neologisms based on such patterns in Shakespearian drama to allow useful discussion, and only the major types and their functions will be described here.11

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


Before examining Shakespeare’s practice in detail, it might be valuable to distinguish the overall results of word-creation. One result is purely grammatical, when the addition of an affix does not affect the referential meaning of a word, but only its grammatical function. Thus in affixing -ment to the existing verb define Shakespeare nominalizes a concept which previously was solely verbal. This kind of formation, akin to affixation for case and tense in its demands on originality, is equally characteristic of non-poetic language. A second result of word-formation is semantically and grammatically null; where a grammatical affix is added to an existing word of the same category (e.g. an adjective-forming affix to an existing adjective) the only obvious result is in the phonetic structure of the word. This kind of formation is restricted almost entirely to poetic language, where such formations may be metrically convenient (e.g. plump, plumpy). The association of such words with metrical form may of course bestow on them the connotation of ‘poetic’, and they may eventually become an element in traditional poetic diction. Thirdly, some formations may result in the concise expression of lengthier deep structures as a result of syntactic processes present in the language as a whole (not merely in that of the poet); useful as it may be to describe these processes for a general account of the language, all that is of interest in analyzing a poet’s practice is the discovery of his reasons for selecting a compound or derived word in preference to the explicit expression of its deep structure. Shakespeare creates words, then, because they are useful to him grammatically, phonetically or syntactically; the exemplification which follows begins with a brief note on some grammatical formations. They are not specific to poetic language, but since a few of this type are sometimes quoted as instances of Shakespeare’s lexical creativity they cannot be ignored. An Elizabethan who wished to nominalize a concept hitherto expressed only as a verb could choose between suffixes of English or Romance origin; most common among the latter were -ment, -ure and -ance (-ence), while the native suffix was -ing. Shakespeare appears to have been the first to use several in -ment, which, introduced in medieval loan-words from French and Latin, had been regularly affixed to English stems since about 1300. It has always been more productive than -ure, which is first recorded as a suffix with an English base in 1545, and of which Shakespeare made some original use. (No doubt he should be credited with some formations in -ance, but few of these have been noted.) The existence of a choice of verbal-noun suffixes meant the possibility of distinguishing between their grammatical functions; although -ing, -ment and -ure could all denote concrete objects as well as abstract actions (e.g. building, reinforcements, jointure), derivations


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in -ment and -ure tended to denote ‘particular instance of an action’ rather than duration of an action. Thus an aspectival distinction evolved between the native suffix, denoting in most cases continuous and incomplete action, and the foreign suffix denoting completed action, or actions regarded as a whole. Among the formations in -ment which the NED attributes to Shakespeare are three with native bases, bodement, fleshment, bewitchment as well as allayment, amazement, cloyment, condolement, appertainment, distilment, encompassment, excitement, impartment, insultment, prevailment, recountment, reinforcement, and subduement. The usefulness of such formations becomes obvious if one tries replacing them with verbal nouns in -ing in examples such as the following: Alas! their love may be call’d appetite . . . That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt (Twelfth Night 984, 986)

The like allayment could I give my grief (Troilus 2396)

In the fleshment of this dread exploit (Lear 1199)

Sweet bodements! good!


(Macbeth 1640)

That the use of forms in -ment is not merely a metrical convenience is obvious from the fact that, in this respect, the -ing forms would have been equally acceptable, as is also the case with the following instances in -ure: Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood (Measure 1192)

That suffer in exposure (Macbeth 896)

But, with an angry wafture of your hand (Caesar 887)

Other formations in -ure attributed to Shakespeare include enacture, impressure, and insisture. He also experimented with another version of exposure, in More than a wild exposture to each chance (Coriolanus 2475)

by analogy with posture, but exposure, by analogy with closure, no doubt owes its survival to its closer association with the verb base. Shakespeare also tried

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


annexment instead of the existing annexion, but both were superseded by annexation (from 1611). Once these patterns for the formation of verbal nouns were available in English, any native speaker could – and many others beside poets did – create verbal nouns at will. The actual choice of suffix depended on aspectival and no doubt phonetic considerations, although what the latter were has not yet been explained. In the same way, there was a choice in forming verbal adjectives between native -ing and Romance -ive (persisting, persistive) which may have been dependent on aspect. In creating verbal nouns and adjectives Shakespeare therefore displayed no more originality than his contemporaries; unlike his more imaginative poetic compounds, they would have been created by someone else at some time, if not by him. When Shakespeare’s lexical creativity was directed towards genuinely poetic or dramatic ends, they were outside the requirements of normal Elizabethan speech. At the simplest level, his neologisms are invented for metrical reasons, and there are three major functions of word-formation in relation to metrical stress: 1. To avoid the juxtaposition of two heavy stresses. Shakespeare provides intermediate unstressed syllables by creating nouns and adjectives with unstressed suffixes and verbs with unstressed prefixes. The affixes in question are those which normally have only grammatical function but in this case co-occur with bases whose function they cannot affect but whose phonetic form they can change for metrical reasons. Among such neologisms are: blastments (substituted for blasts) Contagious blastments are most imminent (Hamlet 505) climatures (for climates) Unto our climatures and countrymen (Hamlet 1.1.125) vasty (for vast) I can call spirits from the vasty deep (1 Henry IV 1578) brisky (for brisk) Most brisky juvenal, and eke most lovely Jew (Dream 908) plumpy (for plump) Come, thou monarch of the vine, Plumpy Bacchus, with pink eyne! (Antony 1466–7) steepy (for steep) Bowing his head against the steepy mount (Timon 95)

The contexts in which brisky and plumpy occur – one a parody of oldfashioned poetry and the other a rhymed song including an obvious


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archaism – suggest that both adjectives have taken on the connotation of ‘poetic’. With verbs, the appropriate stress-pattern was achieved by the use of the prefixes be and en; added to nouns, they did have a grammatical function, and added to certain types of verb they had a semantic one, i.e. they brought about a change of meaning, but more concisely than by the verbalization of a deep structure. En + rank n. provides enrank v., whereas en + twist v. reduces ‘twist around’ to entwist v. In some instances, however, en and be appear to have no function except a metrical one: bemeet (=meet) Our very loving sister, well be-met (Lear 2865) enguard (=guard ) He may enguard his dotage with their powers (Lear 847) endart (=dart) But no more deep will I endart mine eye (Romeo 444)

Once again, such formations have acquired a ‘poetic’ flavour, because of their association with metre. 2. To eliminate superfluous unstressed syllables. For this purpose Shakespeare adopts two expedients: functional conversion and the compounding of adj. + adj. with no medial conjunction. Strangely enough, conversion of verbs to nouns has little genuinely poetic effect, whereas that of nouns to verbs adds dramatic energy to Shakespeare’s style. Among examples of the former type of conversion (the other will be discussed later) are: dispose (Shakespeare’s alternative His goods confiscate to the duke’s dispose being disposure) (Errors 24) avouch (alternative avouchment) The sensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes (Hamlet 72–3) attest (alternative attestation) That doth invert the attest of eyes and ears (Troilus 3116) accuse (alternative accusation) By false accuse doth level at my life (2 Henry VI 1460)

Shakespeare is also credited with the first nominal use of numerous forms which are both nominal and verbal, e.g. repair, burst, bump, dawn, howl, jaunt, reprieve; but unlike the examples just quoted, they were not in competition with polysyllabic forms which would have motivated their creation

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


for metrical reasons. Adjectival compounds of adj. + adj. may be presumed to have metrical function when the two elements are semantically compatible, since their close juxtaposition produces no dramatic effect through the tension of contrast. Compounds of the following type have little merit: Had bak’d thy blood, and made it heavy-thick (King John 1342)

Be secret-false: what need she be acquainted? (Errors 801)

Nor heady-rash, provok’d with raging ire (Errors 1693)

As ever I have found thee honest-true (Merchant 1772)

an enterprise / Of honourable-dangerous consequence (Ceasar 565–6)

If ever I were wilful-negligent (Winter’s Tale 346)

That fools should be so deep-contemplative (As You Like It 1004)

To the Elizabethans these formations may hardly have seemed compounds at all. When adjectives are modified by adverbs (e.g. deeply contemplative) the structure is a normal syntactic group and not a compound. The distinction is clear in contemporary English since most adjectives and their related adverbs differ in form (except e.g. hard, as in He works hard and This is hard work). In Elizabethan English the two forms often coincided for historical reasons, the adverb (e.g. new) being derived from the O.E. adjective with adverbial suffix -e (neowe). When unstressed final vowels disappeared, the adjective and the adverb shared the same form, and often, as with newly, the adverbial function was made explicit in the sixteenth century by the addition of a further suffix, -ly. Apparently the Folio compositors were uncertain of the status of these compounds; sometimes they linked the two elements with a hyphen, e.g. headie-rash, sometimes they separated them with a comma, e.g. heauy, thicke, and sometimes they printed them entirely separately, e.g. secret false. These variations suggest that the combination of adj. + adj. was felt in some way to be non-syntactic, and its very frequent occurrence in poetry implies that it was deliberately exploited for metrical purposes, whether the omitted syllable was the adverb suffix -ly or the conjunction and.


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3. To ensure coincidence of metrical and lexical stress. Many compounds result from Shakespeare’s rearrangement of the normal order of clause elements for metrical reasons. Reversal of subject and object, for example, is common in traditional poetic style; compounding occurs when a noun (usually subject or object) is placed after a prepositional or participial phrase which it normally precedes. The Folio compositors sometimes acknowledge these phrases as compound epithets by hyphenation, but by no means invariably: modern editors usually do, e.g.: Before the always-wind-obeying deep (Errors 66)

The to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain (Lear 3.1.11)

A jewel in a ten-times-barr’d-up chest (Richard II 188)

Nor no without-book prologue, faintly spoke (Romeo 1.4.7)

Another common rearrangement which results in a compound verb is that of verb and adverb/preposition. In O.E. verbs were commonly compounded with prefixed adverb/preposition (locative particles such as over, under, out, up), but these prefixes were normally separable, as in modern German. By 1500 locative particles normally followed the verb, except for out, under and over. Out remained highly productive as the first element of a compound verb, but with the meaning ‘outdo, surpass’ (as in out-Herods Herod); in the literal sense new formations were created as late as the sixteenth century, though Marchand questions whether they were in any but literary use.13 Over is also most productive in the sense ‘surpass’; in a literal sense neologisms are now restricted to literary or poetic language and, to judge from the examples quoted by Marchand, have been since the sixteenth century.14 The normal sense of under in compound verbs is ‘below a fixed norm’; with a locative meaning its derivative yield has been extremely slight. Thus wherever adverb/prepositions, including out, under and over, occur as first elements – in a locative sense – in verbs attributed to Shakespeare, it seems likely that he is contravening the rules of word-formation for some poetic purpose, and with compounds such as underpeep, over-veil, after-eye, uphoard in the following examples he is clearly concerned to equate lexical and metrical stress (out does not occur with a literal sense in any Shakespeare finite-verb neologisms):

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


the flame of the taper Bows toward her, and would under-peep her lids (Cymbeline 926–7)

Thou shouldst have made him As little as a crow, or less, ere left To after-eye him (Cymbeline 281–3)

night is fled Whose pitchy mantle over-veil’d the earth (1 Henry VI 772–3)

Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life Extorted treasure (Hamlet 133–4)

Finally, compound nouns with the required stress pattern are created by the rearrangement of adverbs normally following the noun: Which often, since my here-remain in England (Macbeth 1980)

My people did expect my hence-departure (Winter’s Tale 567)

Till Harry’s back-return again to France (Henry V 2891)

Before thy here-approach (Macbeth 1961)

Neologisms created for metrical reasons are on the whole, though not exclusively, characteristic of Shakespeare’s earlier work; in his mature style he was less concerned to avoid metrical irregularity by such obvious means. Also associated with his early style is rhetorical neologism, for antithesis and pun. Antithesis may be achieved in various ways; new compounds may be created by the juxtaposition of two elements of which one is in semantic opposition to another in an existing compound: Once to behold with your sun-beamed eyes . . . You were best call it ‘daughter-beamed eyes’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost 2065, 2068)

or compounds may be formed of two contrasted elements: This senior-junior, giant-dwarf, Dan Cupid (Love’s Labour’s Lost 946)


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Antithetical derivatives may be formed by contrasted affixes, especially un/zero: Pay her the debt you owe her, and unpay the villany you have done her (2 Henry IV 717–18)

A happy gentleman . . . By you unhappied (Richard II 1321–2)

falstaf f What a plague mean ye to colt me thus? p r i n c e Thou liest: thou art not colted; thou art uncolted (1 Henry IV 771–3)

where there is also a pun on colt ‘cheat’ and colt ‘provide with a horse’. The suffixes -less and -ed ‘possessing’ are contrasted in: Father’d he is, and yet he’s fatherless (Macbeth 1741–2)

while antithesis may also be realized by contrasted bases with like affixes: When that which makes me bend makes the king bow; He childed as I father’d (Lear 3.6.118–19)

A more complex antithesis occurs in: Speaking in deeds and deedless in his tongue (Troilus 2660)

in which ‘words’ are opposed to ‘deeds’ while ‘positive’ (speaking) is opposed to ‘negative’ (deedless). Neologism for rhetorical purposes may result in apparent trivialities, but there is always some element of conciseness in these formations which is dramatically effective. Father’d and fatherless are the surface structures of: he has a father; he has no father, two statements which gain emotional impact by their conciseness. In puns, a single formation has two deep structures: uncolted is the surface structure of he has no colt, he is not colted. Much more effective, however, was another rhetorical device – enallage, i.e. functional conversion, when it resulted in the production of new verbs. Some examples will be discussed below. Shakespeare’s lexical inventiveness was perhaps more generally employed in the delineation of character and setting, though the relationship between character and language is too large a topic to discuss here in any detail. He himself draws attention to the ‘golden words’ of Osric, who is satirized for his affectation, but his vocabulary tends to be unusual

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


or old-fashioned rather than original. The ‘fire-new words’ of another affected courtier, Armado, are mainly loan-words or compounds like blackoppressing, curious-knotted, drawn from the ‘mint of phrases in his brain’, and at the other end of the social scale are the malformations of the uneducated, like Dogberry’s dissembly and Mrs Quickly’s continuantly. There are also the accidental neologisms of ‘foreigners’ who, like Parson Evans, ‘make fritters of English’. Similarly, the relationship between language and setting can only be touched on here. Critics have discerned a high proportion of neologisms and words of Latin origin in Troilus and Cressida, among the former being the formations protractive, persistive and immures ‘walls’ (by functional conversion) and the loan-words conflux, tortive, unplausive, abruption and deceptious. But a close analysis would be necessary to prove that the proportion of words of Latin origin, and of new formations from Latin elements, is higher here than in the non-classical tragedies such as Hamlet and King Lear. It is likely that formal speeches in any of the tragedies will be characterized by a highly Latinate vocabulary. The relationship between characterization, setting and neologism needs fuller investigation, but there is one strictly limited aspect of characterization in which Shakespeare undoubtedly exercises his lexical creativity – comic and abusive nomenclature, for which he uses imperative-clause or adj. + noun patterns as personal nouns, by functional conversion. These patterns provide names which characterize their owners by reference to a typical action or attribute, of a nature eliciting contempt or derision. As Marchand notes: ‘Personal substantives have at all times had a pejorative tinge . . . A very few combinations only are neutral terms designating the holder of an office, but even then the occupation is always an inferior one’.15 Among Shakespearian inventions of the imperative-clause type are Starvelackey, Pickbone, Patchbreech, Tearsheet, Martext and Keepdown and one particularly contemptuous nickname bestowed on Claudio when Benedick challenges him to a duel – ‘my lord Lackbeard’. The emotional impact is all the greater since the term of abuse is combined with the honorific ‘lord’. Nominal phrases (adj. + noun) occur less commonly as personal names, and although they characterize with reference to an attribute, it is not necessarily pejorative. Shakespearian inventions include Deepvow and Copperspur, the deep structure being x has y (‘he has a copper spur’) as compared with the deep structure of the imperative type, x does y (‘he starves lackeys’). Some of the functions of word-formation already described are exemplified comparatively rarely; by contrast, compounding and derivation for the purpose of economy of expression characterize all periods and types of


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Shakespearian drama. While conciseness is a desirable feature of ordinary language, it is an essential one of dramatic style; in normal speech, there is usually a choice between a simple surface structure and the verbalization of a lengthier deep structure, although of course many compounds have become regularly established (e.g. able-bodied seaman, long-playing record, to select examples of a pattern of compound epithet frequently occurring in traditional poetic diction). But English poetry has generally shown a preference for compounds, not only because of their conciseness but also because their presence has come to be a hallmark of poetic language (however artificial). Consequently, it has become a convention to accept without question in poetry many compounds which would be impossible in prose. Shakespeare’s night-shriek, for example, is formed on a pattern (noun + noun) used for sub-classification of concepts, e.g. soupdinner-, breakfast-, tea-plate, and if occurring in normal language, would imply the existence of other sub-classifications, e.g. evening-shriek, afternoon-shriek, morning-shriek. Accustomed as we are to the frequency of compounds in poetry, we accept night-shriek as it stands. But the poet is more often concerned with adjectival compounds, since it is not incumbent on him to find new names for new objects (the major function of neologism in ordinary language) but rather to find new ways of regarding existing objects and concepts, their actions and attributes. In describing the appearance of living creatures, the poet’s range is limited by the number of their physical and mental characteristics; in describing the natural world, his imagination is unrestricted and, not surprisingly, it is in this area that the most genuinely poetic compounds are to be found. In creating such epithets, Shakespeare was imitating a style of diction most notably exploited by Spenser, but derived eventually from the practice of earlier English poets, the precepts of the Pl´eiade, and the Hellenistic influences on sixteenth-century English culture; from Homer English poets learned such compound epithets as ‘rosy-fingered’ dawn.16 The patterns on which they modelled their own lexical creations were those of normal speech, and often the results were not distinguishable from it; it was not the pattern, but its semantic realization, that could produce true poetry. Even for Shakespeare, much of the virtue of the compound epithet lay in its conciseness or its metrical value; the occurrence of the ‘simultaneity of apprehension’ for which the juxtaposition of two elements in a compound has been praised, is comparatively rare.17 The patterns on which Shakespeare modelled his compound epithets, for conciseness of expression and for conformity with the current ‘norm’ for poetic language, include the following:

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


(1) Epithets based on activity. Noun + pres. part. + noun = object + verb + subject heaven-kissing hill (deep structure ‘the hill kisses heaven’) temple-haunting martlet earth-treading stars oak-cleaving thunder-bolts Noun/adj. + pres. part. + noun = complement + verb + subject summer-seeming lust (deep structure ‘lust befits summer’) little-seeming substance (Prep.) + noun + pres. part. + noun = prep. phrase + verb + subject beauty-waning widow (deep structure ‘the widow wanes in beauty’) sky-aspiring thoughts (deep structure ‘thoughts aspire to the sky’) summer-swelling flower (deep structure ‘the flower swells in summer’) night-tripping fairy (deep structure ‘the fairy trips by night’) Adv./adj. + pres. part. + noun = adv. + verb + subject lazy-pacing clouds (deep structure ‘the clouds pace lazily’) highest-peering hill fearful-hanging rock (By) + noun + past part. + noun = agent + verb + subject star-crossed lovers (deep structure ‘the lovers are crossed by stars’) cloud-capped towers tempest-tossed body Adv./adj. + past part. + noun = complement + verb + subject high-grown field (deep structure ‘the field grows high’) big-swoln face down-fallen birthdom (Prep.) + noun + past part. + noun = prep. phrase + verb + subject fen-sucked fogs (deep structure ‘the fogs are sucked from the fens’) belly-pinched wolf (deep structure ‘the wolf is pinched in the belly’)


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child-changed father (deep structure ‘the father is changed into a child’) Adv./adj. + past part. + noun = adv. + verb + subject rash-embraced despair (deep structure ‘despair is embraced rashly’) still-vexed Bermoothes The compounds of greatest complexity are those in which the first element represents a prepositional phrase in the deep structure, since the precise relationship between the two elements – and consequently the choice of preposition – is sometimes obscure. It is not immediately obvious, for example, that air-drawn has the deep structure ‘it is drawn in the air’, interpreted by Schmidt as ‘visionary’, and the deep structure of thought-executing almost defies verbalization (Schmidt interprets ‘doing execution in the same moment as it is thought of’). Among many other such compounds are death-practised duke (Schmidt, ‘threatened with death by stratagems’), water-flowing tears (Schmidt, ‘tears flowing like water’), water-standing eye (Schmidt, ‘eye perpetually filled with water’).18 (2) Epithets based on physical or mental attributes. The surface structure of these compounds is adj. + noun + -ed, where -ed is not the past participle suffix but means ‘possessing’. The second element is usually literal in sense, denoting a part of the body; Shakespearian compounds refer to nearly all external features, and one or two internal organs in a metaphorical sense e.g. fat-kidneyed. The second element may also denote the mind e.g. brain, wit, spirit. Epithets based on this pattern have become a commonplace in poetic diction, e.g. grey-eyed morn, sour-eyed disdain, lean-looked hunger (deep structure ‘hunger possesses lean looks’); Shakespeare uses many of the traditional ones, but exploits the pattern extremely effectively for original descriptions of nature e.g. russet-pated choughs, tawny-finned fishes, nimble-pinioned doves and for witty characterizations of human beings e.g. beef-witted, waspish-headed. The second element is occasionally metaphorical, as in wide-skirted meads, but metaphor in the first element is more common e.g. dog-hearted (‘possessing a nature as cruel as that of a dog’). The opportunities for conciseness of expression afforded by such compounds may be illustrated by a comparison of the deep structures of three with identical surface structures: honey-mouthed (not actually Shakespeare’s coinage), flap-mouthed (applied to a dog) and trumpet-tongued. Schmidt glosses flap-mouthed as ‘having broad hanging lips’, so that the deep structure would contain several elements, ‘the dog has a mouth: the mouth has lips: the lips are like flaps’. Honey-mouthed, ‘sweet and smooth in speech’, is more complex, since mouthed ‘he possesses

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


a mouth’ is a metonymic usage for ‘speech’; hence the underlying elements of the compound are ‘he utters speech: the speech resembles honey: honey is sweet: honey is smooth’. While flap-mouthed depends on a literal visual image, honey-mouthed depends on metonymy and synaesthetic imagery. In trumpet-tongued, glossed as ‘proclaiming loudly as with the voice of a trumpet’ there is another metonymic use of tongue for ‘speech’, but the characteristics which suggest the resemblance between tongue and trumpet (‘he possesses a tongue like a trumpet’) are neither visual nor dependent on any inherent material quality but refer to the effects produced by the use of both. Several different statements therefore underlie this compound, which on the surface is as simple as flap-mouthed. Such epithets have a double function. Not only are they a means of concise, and therefore dramatic, expression – and as such, at their most complex, characteristic of Shakespeare’s mature style – but they also mark his language as ‘poetic’ in the tradition of which Spenser is usually regarded as the founder. Another type of compound adjective shares these functions; this has the structure adj. + adj. where the elements are in semantic contrast. Compounds with two semantically compatible elements (x and y) are created for metrical reasons; where the deep structure is x and yet y the tension between the meanings of x and y creates a powerful dramatic effect, destroying the ‘simultaneity of apprehension’ possibly suggested by compounding: There lurks a still and dumb-discoursive devil (Troilus 2481)

When truth kills truth, O devilish-holy fray (Dream 1154)

At this odd-even and dull-watch o’ the night (Othello 136)

Noun compounds are less characteristic of traditional poetic style, though Shakespeare creates many individual examples of striking effect e.g. snow-broth as a description of the blood which runs in the veins of the inhuman Angelo. One pattern, however, recurs as a means of achieving economy of expression; it contains the agent noun in -er, on the use of which there were fewer grammatical restrictions in 1600 than at the present day. British English (though not apparently American) no longer tolerates new formations which are ‘minimally nominal’ which ‘because they are minimal are dispensable, that is, they could always be replaced by One who, Those who, structures . . . Their power to attract attention is proportionate to their dispensability’.19 Shakespearian examples include:


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Be these sad signs confirmers of thy words (King John 945)

Hence shall we see If power change purpose, what our seemers be (Measure 345–6)

The rabble . . . The ratifiers and props of every word (Hamlet 2845)

Such formations were obviously valuable for conciseness, but what we cannot know is whether for the Elizabethans, as for us, they were marks of ‘poetic style’; since Shakespeare also uses them in prose, they were probably not: ‘The oath of a lover is no stronger than the word of a tapster; they are both the confirmer of false reckonings’ (As You Like It 1738–40). For conciseness of expression, they were even more valuable in compounds with the surface structure [ prep.] + noun + verb + er, e.g. shoulder-clapper ‘one who claps shoulders’, night-brawler ‘one who brawls at night’ and many others (e.g. bed-presser, purpose-changer, bed-swerver, horse-back-breaker). Another type of noun-compound which results in conciseness of expression is also emotionally effective, for dramatic rather than poetic purposes. This is the type already described as productive of personal names (Starvelackey . . .) but used, not for characterization of individuals, but for the purposes of abuse. These structures, originating as colloquialisms, seem always to have retained a colloquial connotation, and they are all the more effective when inserted into formal or lyrical contexts. Among Shakespeare’s original terms are Puck’s description of Lysander as a lack-love and a kill-courtesy, Berowne’s attack on the person who has betrayed his love for Rosaline as ‘some mumble-news’, and Hotspur’s reference to an unreliable friend as a lack-brain. Nouns formed on this pattern may also function attributively: Brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade [prostitution] (Troilus 3587)

Looking on it with lack-lustre eye (As You Like It 994)

You poor, base, rascally, cheating, lack-linen mate! (2 Henry IV 1151–2)

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


The underlying structure is ‘he lacks love’, ‘he kills courtesey’ etc. Another pejorative noun-compound type, of colloquial origin, has the surface structure adj./noun + noun, and the deep structure x has y. Shakespearian neologisms include a contemptuous reference to Othello as a thick-lips, Ford’s address to the wife whom he suspects of deceitfulness as brazen-face, Falstaff’s castigation of those who wear ‘high shoes’ as whoreson smooth-pates and Capulet’s abuse of Juliet as tallow-face. Falstaff himself is called a fatguts and barebone. Such compounds may also function attributively, as in I am thy king, and thou a false-heart traitor (2 Henry VI 3140)

Make curl’d-pate ruffians bald (Timon 1776)

The dramatic energy and economy of expression which characterize Shakespeare’s mature style are mostly indebted to neologisms of a third grammatical category – verbs, whether resulting from derivation, compounding or functional conversion. All affixes, except those used for purely grammatical or metrical purposes, represent some degree of conciseness of expression, but there are two which, as verbal prefixes, Shakespeare exploits with special success – dis- and un-. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, dis-, first introduced as an element in Romance loan-words, was becoming attached without restriction to English bases, though perhaps still with some effect of novelty. It could be prefixed to verbs and, with greater complexity in the deep structure, to verbs derived from nouns by functional conversion: you have fed upon my signories, Dispark’d my parks (Richard II 1334–5)

Since the meaning of dis- is reversative here, the deep structure is ‘You have changed a park. The park is a common’, where park n. functions as park v. ‘to make into a park’. This is one of the fairly rare instances from earlier plays; others from later plays include disbench ‘drive from a bench’, disedge ‘take the edge off one’s appetite’, discandy ‘cease to exist in solid form’, disquantity ‘diminish in numbers’ and disorb ‘move from its sphere’. Un- also has a reversative function when the base to which it is prefixed is originally verbal i.e. not the result of functional conversion: uncharge ‘not to charge, acquit of blame’, unshout ‘not to shout, to withdraw one’s shouts’, unbuild ‘pull down’, unspeak ‘not to speak, withdraw what one has said’. The effectiveness of these derivatives often depends on the semantic


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incompatibility of the prefix and base; it is possible to deny one’s words, but not to ‘unspeak’ them, to keep silence, but not to ‘unshout’ what has been shouted, or to ‘unbuild’ what has been built. When prefixed to a verb derived from a noun by functional conversion, un- means ‘remove (an attribute etc.)’; unhair ‘remove the hair’, unsex ‘remove one’s sexuality (i.e. femininity and its associated tenderness)’, unsphere ‘remove from their spheres’, unchild ‘remove one’s children’, unwit ‘remove one’s intelligence’; the effect here depends partly on our knowledge that, although the structure seems to argue for the existence of the verbs hair, sex, sphere, child, wit they do not in fact occur in the sense which we are led to expect. Compound verbs have already been described as arising from the rearrangement of normal order for metrical reasons; a few with a locative first element seem to have been created simply because they imparted a ‘poetic’ tone to the language (rearrangement makes no stress difference) e.g. I must up-fill this osier cage of ours (Romeo 1012)

Thou art up-rous’d by some distemperature (Romeo 1047)

With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls (Romeo 863–4)

but there is one group, with out as the first element, which Shakespeare creates for the complexity of the deep structure and its consequent dramatic force. Out is used in the sense of ‘exceed, surpass’, and the verb to which it is prefixed is the product of functional conversion from a noun. Out-Herod has become almost a paradigm of this type; it demonstrates perhaps more clearly than any other instance how difficult it is to verbalize the second element. Herod v. presumably implies ‘to act as Herod’ just as villain implies ‘to act villainously.’ Outparamour, in Wine loved I deeply . . . and in women out-paramoured the Turk (Lear 1870–2)

seems to depend on a different deep structure. Paramour v. must signify ‘to have a lover’, and outparamour ‘to exceed in having lovers’. The deep structures of outvenom and outtongue are reasonably transparent, but in I would out-night you did no body come (Merchant 2433)

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


night v., from night n. is to be interpreted from the context as ‘to refer to nights’. The third type of verbal neologism, arising from functional conversion alone, is another factor in the dramatic energy of Shakespeare’s mature style. Relatively simple is the conversion of an adjective to a verb (exemplified even in the early style) where the compound avoids the overt expression of the factitive verb make: safe ‘make safe’ I tell you true: best you saf’d the bringer Out of the host (Antony 2607–8)

dumb ‘make dumb’ What I would have spoke Was beastly dumb’d by him (Antony 579–80)

There is greater variety in the functioning of nouns as verbs. Sometimes they have no referential meaning, but simply the connotation of anger or impatience, in instances such as the following: Master Fer! I’ll fer him! (Henry V 2410)

Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle (Richard II 1198)

More commonly, a concrete noun may function in the place of an abstract verb, particularly in respect of bodily activities which, as a result, are presented to us more vividly: To lip a wanton in a secure couch, And to suppose her chaste (Othello 2452–3)

The physical immediacy of lip for kiss increases the effect of horror at the deception of genuine passion by a (supposedly) unworthy object; greater complexity of meaning arises from the metaphorical use of concrete nouns for abstract verbs, as in Still virginalling Upon his palm! (Winter’s Tale 200–1)


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where virginal signifies ‘touch the palm of the hand with the fingers as though playing upon the virginals’. Other well-known examples include pageant ‘imitate as though acting in a play’, mountebank ‘treat with deceitfulness’, furnace ‘exhale (sighs) as though from a furnace’. Another group of nouns functioning as verbs has the deep structure to turn x into y, usually with only partly figurative sense, as in stranger ‘turn into a stranger’, god ‘turn into a god’, coward ‘turn into a coward’ – what read you there That hath so cowarded and chas’d your blood (Henry V 702–3)

while other nouns function as verbs with the deep structure ‘to act as (noun)’: Lord Angelo dukes it well (Measure 1583)

my true lip Hath virgin’d it e’er since (Coriolanus 3396–7)

Apart from these obvious groupings, there are numerous instances where nouns function as verbs in highly individual ways, which often defy the ingenuity of editors to explicate, as in elf ‘tie in the manner of elves’ Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots (Lear 1261)

flap-dragon ‘engulf like a morsel floating in liquid’ to see how the sea flap-dragoned it (Winter’s Tale 1539–40)

Shakespeare’s text being finite in extent, it is inevitable that many of the examples quoted will already have been the subject of comment – and more perceptive and detailed comment than is possible here. Nevertheless, it is hoped that a survey of this kind may help to explain Shakespeare’s usage in the large number of instances which it has been impossible to quote, but which sometimes cause difficulty in interpretation, and will also add something to our knowledge of Shakespeare’s craftsmanship in using the syntactic processes of Elizabethan English to create the words he required for the various purposes of his dramatic art. First published in Shakespeare Survey 23 (1970)

Some functions of Shakespearian word-formation


n otes 1 Cf. G. Gordon, ‘Shakespeare’s English’, in Shakespearian Comedy (Oxford, reprint 1945), p. 142. 2 E.g. B. Groom, The Diction of Poetry from Spenser to Bridges (Toronto, 1955). Cf. also his ‘Formation and use of compound epithets in English poetry from 1579’, SPE Tract 49 (Oxford, 1937), 300–4. 3 B. von Lindheim, ‘Syntaktische Funktionsverschiebung als Mittel des Barocken Stils bei Shakespeare’, Shakespeare-Jahrbuch, 90 (1954), 229–51; also Y. M. Biese, ‘Origin and development of conversions in English’, Annales Academiæ, Scientiarum Fennicæ, Ser. b, 142 (Helsinki, 1941). 4 E.g. H. Stahl, ‘Sch¨opferische Wortbildung bei Shakespeare?’ ShakespeareJahrbuch, 90 (1954), 252–78. This study makes valuable comments on individual formations e.g. foxship, boggler. 5 W. Franz, Die Sprache Shakespeares in Vers und Prosa (Halle/Saale, 1939). (On word-formation, cf. pp. 100–53.) 6 O. Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on historical principles, Part 6 (with P. Christophersen, N. Haislund and K. Schibsbye) (London, 1946). Cf. especially Chapters 6 and 7. 7 B. Ifor Evans, The Language of Shakespeare’s Plays (London, 3rd edn 1964), p. 143. 8 ‘Shakespeare’s English: and how far it can be investigated with the help of the “New English Dictionary”’, Modern Language Review, 31 (1936), 1–10. 9 Even these terms are used rather less precisely than would be appropriate in a rigorous linguistic analysis. 10 For a definition of ‘compound’ cf. H. Marchand, The Categories and Types of Present-Day English Word-Formation (Munich, 2nd edn, 1969), esp. pp. 20–4. For further discussion, cf. R. B. Lees, The Grammar of English Nominalizations (The Hague, 1963), Preface. 11 For fuller details of the types productive in Elizabethan English cf. Marchand, Categories and Types, where the earlier history of twentieth-century types is discussed. 12 The quotations are from W. J. Craig’s edition (London, reprint 1955), but the through line-numbering of the Norton/Hinman Folio Facsimile has been adopted. For quotations not in the Folio references are to Craig’s edition. 13 Categories and Types, p. 109. 14 Ibid., p. 98. 15 Ibid., p. 380. Marchand classifies these types as pseudo-compounds. 16 On sixteenth-century poetic Diction, cf. V. L. Rubel, Poetic Diction in the English Renaissance from Skelton through Spenser (New York, 1941). Chapter 13 is devoted to Spenser. Cf. also F. M. Padelford and W. C. Maxwell, ‘The compound words in Spenser’s poetry’, JEGP, 25 (1926), 498–516. 17 Cf. Groom, ‘Formation and use of compound epithets’ (SPE Tract), 296. 18 References to ‘Schmidt’ are to the Shakespeare-Lexicon, rev. G. Sarrazin (2 vols., Berlin, 5th edn 1962).


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19 B. M. H. Strang, ‘Swift’s Agent-Noun Formations in -er’, in Wortbildung, Syntax und Morphologie (Marchand Festschrift), ed. H. E. Brekle and L. Lipka (The Hague, 1968), p. 222. Professor Strang adds (p. 223) ‘it seems reasonable to consider that the generation of minimal -er forms was so syntactic a process that it hardly felt like word-formation at all’.

chap t e r 6

Shakespeare and the tune of the time Bridget Cusack

Linguistic changes do not occur overnight. At any point along the development of English, old and new usages coexist, sometimes as sheer alternatives, sometimes with overtones on the one side or on the other of obsolescence, up-to-dateness, formality or colloquialism fitting them to one register or variety of English rather than to another. Exploitation of the possibilities created by this situation in its late sixteenth and early seventeenth century form is an essential part of Shakespeare’s dramatic and poetic technique, and to recognize that in a particular scene, speech or line, or in one character, he is making use of the shifting linguistic conditions of his time is to see more of his skill as a manipulator of language, as well as to understand better the particular incident involved. In Romeo and Juliet for example, just before the Balcony scene, Mercutio has a longish speech in which he mocks Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline by calling after him: Romeo, Humours, Madman, Passion, Louer, Appeare thou in the likenesse of a sigh, Speake but one rime, and I am satisfied: Cry me but ay me, Pro[nounce] but Loue and d[oue], Speake to my goship Venus one faire word, One Nickname for her purblind Sonne and her, Young Abraham Cupid he that shot so true, When King Cophetua lou’d the begger Maid, He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moueth not, The Ape is dead, I must coniure him, I coniure thee by Rosalines bright eyes, By her High forehead, and her Scarlet lip, By her Fine foote, Straight leg, and Quiuering thigh, And the Demeanes, that there Adiacent lie, That in thy likenesse thou appeare to vs. (657a, 1–15; 2.1.7–21)1



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It is evident that there are two parts to this pseudo-conjuration, the first extending as far as ‘the begger Maid’, and the second beginning at ‘I coniure thee’, and in presentation the actor would no doubt assume a special delivery to suit the nature of the burlesque in each part. The problem is, however, the two intervening lines: He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moueth not, The Ape is dead, I must coniure him.

Are these also part of the mock-ritual summons? Or are they spoken by Mercutio as an interjected comment in his own normal voice and tone? Are both lines even alike in this? There is a possible clue for the second line in the use of ‘Ape’. As a kind of affectionate-abuse term it is properly suited to Mercutio’s normal style. Comparison with other Shakespearian instances confirms that it has no special ranting status. Lady Hotspur, for instance, uses it to her husband: Out you mad-headed Ape, (357b, 2; 1 Henry IV 2.3.80)

and Doll Tearsheet addresses Falstaff by it: Ah, you sweet little Rogue, you: alas, poore Ape, how thou sweat’st? (385b, 64–5; 2 Henry IV 2.4.233–4)

But the evidence on this line can only be rated as non-commital, although it seems likely that it is introductory comment to the section in high-style, rather than part of it. In the line that precedes it, on the other hand, the grammar is the key; that is, that all three verbs are given an -eth inflexion, and that the three negatives follow the pattern verb+not. Both syntax and morphology here are according to perfectly acceptable Elizabethan usage, but in each case Shakespeare is employing one of two alternative modes of expression. The -eth inflection for 3rd singular present indicative exists in Shakespeare’s time alongside the -s inflection we now use. Historically, it is the obsolescent form, the ending prevalent in earlier Southern English, but being replaced by the originally Northern -s. That this takeover is only partially complete is indicated by the two verbs do and haue retaining doth and hath almost exclusively; the use of the form has, in fact, is one of the comic characteristics of the Welshman, Fluellen, in Henry V.

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


In other verbs the old and new inflexions appear together in parallel constructions, and even in the same line, where the alternatives can be of use for purposes of metre, emphasis or mere variety, as in: With her, that hateth thee and hates vs all, (465b, 52; 2 Henry VI 2.4.52)

and: He rowseth vp himselfe, and makes a pause. (1594 edn e2r , 2; Lucrece 541)

And yet this apparent interchangeability in usage is confined to verse, and not carried through into Shakespeare’s prose, where -s is almost invariably used. So that the two inflexions are not equal options, but there is a quality of ordinariness and colloquialism in -s which -eth does not share, and, conversely, to use -eth, as Mercutio does here, is to select the form marked for formality. The evidence is even clearer in the syntactic characteristics of Mercutio’s line, for in writing He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moueth not,

Shakespeare is using one of two possible negative constructions, the alternative being the do+not+verb constructions we use today, and which Shakespeare has in lines such as: To her, that is not heere, nor doth not heare. (205a, 41; As You Like It 5.2.117)

The verb+not method is the older way of expressing negation; the construction with do is the newcomer in the process of ousting its predecessor. The stage which this had reached at this period is apparent from a comparison of various Shakespearian instances of the two structures. There are complexities of motivation: selection of verb, for example, can influence the choice of construction, for certain verbs, such as care, doubt and fear appear in the negative without do far more often than with it. The selection of accompanying grammatical features can also determine this one, as when know used intransitively gives I know not, but, with an object: I doe not know the French for fer, and ferret, and firke. (423b, 52–3; Henry V 4.4.32–3)


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However, where co-textual considerations such as these do not apply, the relationship between the two negative constructions seems to be the one which subsequent development confirms – that the use of do characterizes colloquialism and informality, whereas verb+not is a feature of more conservative and formal English. The same can be seen in regard to negative commands, and questions both negative and positive. At the same time, the converse applies to non-negative statements, for there the use of do marks formality, except in certain circumstances, such as the very few instances where it is the emphatic do of present-day English: It is no matter, if I do halt, I haue the warres for my colour, and my Pension shall seeme the more reasonable (380a, 15–16; 2 Henry IV, 1.2.274–6)

or where it is associated, perhaps for emphasis, with verbs such as confess, think or believe: I doe beleeue the swearer. (45b, 16; Merry Wives 2.2.40)

Moreover, there is a close enough association of formality and verse, for verse, if we examine pieces of Shakespearian prose and verse of equal length, almost always to yield higher proportions of those structures which in prose are associated only with special non-colloquial speeches. Thus a very few lines of verse, taken, admittedly, from a royal speech, can provide four examples of the verb+not negative, to a single do not structure: I doubt not that, since we are well perswaded We carry not a heart with vs from hence, That growes not in a faire consent with ours: Nor leaue not one behinde, that doth not wish Successe and Conquest to attend on vs. (410a, 39–43; Henry V 2.2.20–4)

Nevertheless, the difference between the constructions, like the morphological alternatives -eth and -s, is so poised that neither structure is out of place in verse of any type. Thus the lines above include the one doth not wish, and in Romeo and Juliet Juliet can within a few lines say both: O sweare not by the Moone, (658a, 19; Romeo 2.2.109)

and: Do not sweare at all. (658a, 23; Romeo 2.2.112)

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


But again the situation in Shakespearian prose reveals the difference in usage, for outside verse, negatives and questions without do are very rare, and non-emphatic statements with do are virtually absent. The way in which this operates can be seen most strikingly where the formal syntactic options rare in prose are used at those points where the situation demands a deliberately assumed mock-heroic style. Thus in 1 Henry IV the normal question form in prose is exemplified by: Doest thou heare me, Hal? (359a, 59; 2.4.233)

But in Falstaff and Hal’s play-acting rehearsal of the royal interview, where the medium is still prose, this gives place to the type: Swearest thou, vngracious Boy? (361a, 33; 2.4.490)

Similarly, colloquial negative imperatives in the same play are of the form: Doe not thou when thou art a King, hang a Theefe. (351b, 20–1; 2.2.69–70)

But in Falstaff’s burlesque ‘King Cambysses’ vaine’: Weepe not, sweet Queene, for trickling teares are vaine. (360b, 44–5; 2.4.431)

Returning to Mercutio’s line, we thus have two definite clues, even disregarding the rhetorical triple repetition of pattern, and both morphology and syntax stamp He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moueth not

as part of Mercutio’s mock-formal, mock-conjuration style. Shakespearian examples of these same features exploited to similar ends are numerous. There are characters whose speech constantly operates in direct contrast to surrounding colloquialism, particularly Pistol, introduced in Henry V by the entrance line: Base Tyke, cal’st thou mee Hoste? (409a, 55; 2.1.31)

and assigned this kind of distinctive language throughout, as in: the Duke of Exeter doth loue thee well (416b, 15–16; 3.6.23)


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and: Trayl’st thou the puissant Pyke? (419b, 48; 4.1.40)

Several of the linguistic features characterizing Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost are of similar kind. Shakespeare also uses the non-colloquial flavour of certain structures in writing plays-within-plays such as Pyramus and Thisbe and The Murder of Gonzago, where he achieves much of his effect by putting increased emphasis on those features in the language associated with verse, creating a sort of hyperpoetry as a result: This man, with Lanthorne, dog, and bush of thorne, Presenteth moone-shine. For if you will know, By moone-shine did these Louers thinke no scorne To meet at Ninus toombe, there, there to wooe: This grizy beast (which Lyon hight by name) The trusty Thisby, comming first by night, Did scarre away, or rather did affright: And as she fled, her mantle she did fall; Which Lyon vile with bloody mouth did staine. (160a, 61-b, 5; Dream 5.1.136–44)

The resources of Early Modern English grammar are not the only linguistic opportunity exploited here. Just as Shakespeare was able to catch English morphology and syntax as they changed, so too the changing vocabulary of English at this period provided him with equally fruitful material. Vocabulary alters in various ways: words drop out of use, new words are introduced, certain terms become fashionable ‘in’ words, and shifts of meaning take place. As with grammatical changes, old and new possibilities often exist side by side, but are rarely completely interchangeable. Where a word goes out of use, for instance, it does so by a process of gradual withdrawal from up-to-date usage, from colloquial varieties, and from spoken English. It goes through the stages of old-fashioned – archaic – understood but not used – obsolete – incomprehensible. Similarly a new word will at first be used in certain registers only, such as up-to-date slang or some technical variety of English, before it is completely assimilated. Thus very many words as part of their total ‘meaning’ will have a particular status, which will type the user. Often there will be a number of different ways of saying the same thing, all with different overtones of this sort.

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


Thus, when a Shakespearian character needs to say (be) ‘called’, this can be expressed in terms we still use: Know sir, that I am cal’d Hortensio, (222b, 19; Shrew 4.2.21)

a daughter, cal’d Katerina, (215a, 26–7; Shrew 2.1.42–3)

my name is Broome. (46a, 62; Merry Wives 2.2.167)

And there is also the expression, less current nowadays: a Seruant nam’d Lucilius. (677a, 47; Timon 1.1.III)

These formulae are apparently interchangeable in Early Modern English. In addition a more complex form was available: My name is call’d Vincentio, (226a, 51; Shrew 4.5.55)

Is not your name sir call’d Antipholus? (99a, 6; Errors 5.1.286)

Although at first sight this seems a further mere alternative, its occurrence is comparatively rare, and the characters who use it are usually old men: the two instances quoted above are spoken by Lucentio’s father in The Taming of the Shrew, who is a man old, wrinckled, faded, withered, (226a, 39; 4.5.43)

and whose venerability is his essential characteristic when at Petruchio’s instigation Katherine greets him as a ‘faire louely Maide’, and by the old father of the two Antipholus twins in The Comedy of Errors. So when in Henry V Pistol announces himself by saying My name is Pistol call’d (420a, 5; 4.1.62)

he is using the phraseology of a generation back, and his linguistic alienation from other characters is brought about by the selection of the vocabulary as well as the inversion in the syntax. A different sort of lexical point arises with further possibilities for ‘(be) called’, in that Shakespeare can in addition employ two terms with a yet


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more extreme departure from the norm. First, there is the word hight. It became outmoded in the standard language in the late medieval period, but was still sufficiently understood, as part of people’s passive vocabulary, for Shakespeare to use it. But where he does, it is specifically because it is archaic. Thus in Pericles the medieval poet, Gower, is given a pseudo ‘olde’ English in his capacity as Chorus, saying this Maid Hight Philoten. (1609 edn, f1v , 13–14; 4, Prol. 17–18)

The Mechanicals’ play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, in the lines already quoted above, marked by the same item as linguistically outmoded and rustic: This grizy beast (which Lyon hight by name).

The second archaic term which the Early Modern English linguistic situation provided Shakespeare with is the verb clepe. That this was not so very old-fashioned is apparent from its straightforward use by both Hamlet and Macbeth, but other instances in the plays show that it did carry overtones of a quaint out-of-dateness. In Love’s Labour’s Lost it is put into the mouth of Holofernes, the schoolmaster, as he inveighs against modern advanced pronunciation: he clepeth a Calf, Caufe: halfe, haufe (136a, 8–9; 5.1.24–5)

And in past-participle form, prefixed by an archaic y- prefix, it serves a double purpose in The Pageant of the Nine Worthies in Love’s Labour’s Lost: it not only types the language, but also acts as starting point for a series of puns from the more sophisticated spectators: pe dan t Iudas I am, ycliped Machabeus. dum ai n e Iudas Machabeus clipt, is plaine Iudas. b e row ne A kissing traitor. (142a, 22–4; 5.2.602–4)

Moreover, just as some words can be said to have as part of their meaning the fact that they have the implication [+archaic], others are of note because they are marked as [+new]. Sir Nathaniel, the word-hunting curate in Love’s Labour’s Lost, is not content with called, but extends it: I did conuerse this quondam day with a companion of the Kings, who is intituled, nominated, or called, Don Adriano de Armatho. (135b, 52–4; 5.1.6–9)

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


His additional synonyms are recorded in other mid- and late-sixteenthcentury works, but they are still new enough and polysyllabic enough to stand out as neologisms. Further frequent similar instances of Shakespeare using [+archaic] or [+new] words in his plays can often fail to strike us now. Words distinctly novel then may now be commonplace, and terms already obsolescent in Early Modern English are all too easily classed with words which are obsolete now, but perfectly normal then. Items obsolescent in Shakespeare’s time include eke ‘also’, targe, gore, dole ‘sorrow’, perdy and wight, whose occurrence chiefly in plays-within-plays and in the speech of characters such as Pistol is noteworthy. New vocabulary is also associated most closely with particular characters, such as Armado, A man of fire, new words, fashions owne Knight (123b, 24; Love’s Labour’s Lost 1.1.179)

and the various characters who in attempting scholarship achieve only malapropism. Certain other items of Early Modern English vocabulary may be described as [+fashionable]; humour is one such, used by Nym in practically every speech he utters in Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and making Page comment: The humour of it (quoth’a?) heere’s a fellow frights English out of his wits . . . I neuer heard such a drawling-affecting rogue. (44b, 9–12; Merry Wives 2.1.142–6)

It is the overworking of the term which arouses adverse comment, and this applies even more to fashionable adjectives, where items freely used elsewhere are ridiculed when employed indiscriminately and too often. Overworked sweet is of this type, mocked by other characters when used by the romantic lover or the courtier, especially where associated with an inanimate noun, or in reference to a person, but without the underlying close relationship which normal speakers use it to indicate: be row ne White handed Mistris, one sweet word with thee. pri n c e ss Hony, and Milke, and Suger: there is three. (138b, 57–8; Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.2.230–1) arm ado Annointed, I implore so much expence of thy royall sweet breath, as will vtter a brace of words. pri n c e ss Doth this man serue God? be row ne Why aske you? pri n c e ss He speak’s not like a man of God’s making. (141a, 62-b4; Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.2.523–9)


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h e c tor Goodnight sweet Lord Menelaus. t h e r si t e s Sweet draught: sweet quoth-a? sweet sinke, sweet sure. (592b, 9–11; Troilus 5.1.82–4)

Fair has a similar status and reception. Pandarus (who also shows an addiction to sweet) adopts it as greeting to Helen and Paris, as part of a planned ‘complementall assault’: pandarus Faire be to you my Lord, and to all this faire company: faire desires in all faire measure fairely guide them, especially to you faire Queene, faire thoughts be your faire pillow. h e le n Deere L[ord] you are full of faire words. (581b, 17–21; Troilus 3.1.46–50)

And presumably a similar standing underlies the vocabulary Mercutio finds fault with Tybalt for using as an all-purpose modifier: The Pox of such antique lisping affecting phantacies, these new tuners of accent: Iesu a very good blade, a very tall man, a very good whore. (659b, 50–2; Romeo 2.4.29–32)

As well as coming in and out of use and of fashion, words are constantly changing in another way as they shift their meaning. Again, the alteration involves a period when both old and new senses are in circulation, and so material is provided for a special type of word-play in Shakespeare’s plays. Most puns depend on the similarity in sound of two distinct words, but there are others which are based on two meanings of the same item, as in Peto’s pun on an angry Falstaff: he frets like a gum’d Veluet. (356a, 4; 1 Henry IV 2.2.2)

Here the sense ‘is worn away’ is the older meaning, and ‘is angry’ is the newer figurative sense, which since Shakespeare’s time has replaced the other. That both were available in Early Modern English produces the joke. It is, moreover, not infrequent to have word-play where one speaker uses a term in one sense, and is taken up by a second who deliberately switches to another meaning for the same word. Of this type is an exchange in Two Gentlemen of Verona using the double ‘argument’ and ‘condition’ senses of circumstance: p rot e us So, by your circumstance, you call me foole. vale n t i ne So, by your circumstance, I feare you’ll proue. (20a, 39–40; 1.1.36–7)

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


The most striking instance, however, is in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, in love with Rosaline, is trying to stand out against Benvolio’s probing to discover who the lady is. Benvolio attempts a ‘now let’s be serious about this’ approach: Tell me in sadnesse, who is that you loue? (652b, 45; 1.1.205)

which Romeo parries by switching to the other, newer, sense of sad: What shall I grone and tell thee? (652b, 46; 1.1.206)

When Benvolio refuses to be fobbed off by a quibble, Romeo is driven to a different linguistic prevarication: In sadnesse Cozin, I do loue a woman. (652b, 50; 1.1.210)

Syntactic ambiguity of surface structure is similarly exploited elsewhere, even leading to explicit comment after an exchange in Twelfth Night: viol a Saue thee Friend and thy Musick: dost thou liue by thy Tabor? clow n No sir, I liue by the Church. vio l a Art thou a Churchman? clown No such matter sir, I do liue by the Church: For, I do liue at my house, and my house dooth stand by the Church. vio l a So thou maist say the Kings lyes by a begger, if a begger dwell neer him: or the Church stands by thy Tabor, if thy Tabor stand by the Church. clow n You haue said sir: To see this age: A sentence is but a cheu’rill gloue to a good witte, how quickely the wrong side may be turn’d outward. (264b, 40–52; 3.1.1–15)

Often, too, the ambiguities involved are not available today, such as that dependent on the ethic dative pronoun in Petruchio’s knocke me heere soundly (212b, 22; Shrew 1.2.8)

which Grumio deliberately misinterprets as direct object, and the ambiguous interrogative pronoun in lo ng av i lle . . . what is she in the white? boye t A woman somtimes, if you saw her in the light. (127b, 19–20; Love’s Labour’s Lost 2.1.197–8)


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The present-day form, Who is she?, in which the question would have to be framed, would give no chance for the punning reply and evasion. Yet further features of English in the Early Modern period gave scope to a writer who was aware of what was written and spoken around him. In regard to morphology, Shakespeare’s use of the -eth/-s alternative inflections in the verb has already been discussed above. There were also other instances of two forms being available for the same grammatical item. There was, for example, a choice of plural inflections in a few words which at an earlier stage had had weak forms, but were now taken into the majority strong class in normal use. Thus the plural of eye was eyes, but where Shakespeare wanted to mark old-fashionedness he could bring in the almost obsolete weak plural form eyne. With this status it appears in Pyramus and Thisbe (160b, 42; Dream 5.1.178), and, in combination with specially selected vocabulary, in the drinking song in Antony and Cleopatra: Plumpie Bacchus, with pinke eyne. (841b, 7; 2.7.121)

Very much more frequently, however, where alternatives in form are available, Shakespeare, as poet rather than as dramatist, appears to select one instead of the other not in order to mark some special kind of English, but simply to achieve the metre or rhyme needed. This applies also to options of syntax and vocabulary, but in these two, as has been discussed, much more than verse technique is involved. In other linguistic matters, however, versification provides almost the sole motivation for choice; yet in this, too, Shakespeare is using the fact that he happened to live when he did. In morphology this most frequently involves the use of alternative forms of past tenses and past participles. For example, in certain verbs the poet can employ as past participles not only forms like spoken, forgotten, chosen, arisen, fallen, mistaken, but also forms made by analogy with the past tense, that is spoke, forgot, chose, arose, fell, mistook. As all these are shorter by a syllable than the forms to which they are options, they suit certain lines of verse better than the more usual participles, as in: And thereupon these errors are arose. (99b, 55; Errors 2.1.388)

In other verbs, under the influence of borrowings from Latin past participles in -ate, a stem ending in a dental consonant can stand as past participle without the -ed it usually has, again providing an alternative shorter by one syllable. Thus alongside:

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


I was contracted to them both, all three Now marry in an instant, (798b, 21–2; Lear 5.3.228–9)

we have: For first he was contract to Lady Lucie. (528b, 1; Richard III 3.7.179)

Arising from the coexistence of old and new as alternatives at this particular point of time are the double pronunciations available for many words, in regard to stress, number of syllables, and even sound-quality. The stress-pattern in many English words has altered since Shakespeare’s time. Today extreme is stressed on the second syllable whether it is adjective or noun, but in Early Modern English it had this pattern only when a noun, and carried stress on the first syllable when an adjective. Shakespeare thus assigned to it whichever stress-pattern its grammatical function demanded: Temp’ring extremities with extreame sweete. (656b, 56; Romeo 2, Prol. 14)

Twixt my extreames and me, this bloody knife Shall play the vmpeere. (669a, 33–4; Romeo 4.1.62–3)

Alteration in stress, however, is not confined to the period between Shakespeare and ourselves, and in many cases stress was already shifting in Early Modern English. When this is happening in his own time Shakespeare can therefore employ whichever pattern he wants. Thus there occur in Richard II both: The Reuennew whereof shall furnish vs, (332a, 15; 1.4.46)

and: My Manors, Rents, Reuenues, I forgoe; (344a, 12; 4.1.212)

and in Romeo and Juliet: For exile hath more terror in his looke, (665a, 12; 3.3.13)

alongside: And turn’d it to exile, there art thou happy. (666a, 21; 3.3.140)


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Our present-day stressing is there, but so also is the pattern that preceded it. Exploited as often, but less relevant to the present study in that the same opportunities are in existence today to a large extent, are the possibilities of omitting weakly stressed syllables in certain words, so as to reduce the overall number of syllables. This is a feature of normal spoken English, especially where colloquial varieties are concerned, but in verse there is the option between a full and a reduced form. Of this type is (vn)naturall, appearing in the space of one play both with value given to the optional syllable: And euery thing that seemes vnnaturall, (428b, 51; Henry V 5.2.62)

and with reduction: How shall we then behold their naturall teares? (422a, 18; Henry V 4.2.13)

Sometimes such a choice has a basis in linguistic change of the Early Modern period, and the prime instance of this is where an earlier disyllabic ending was altering in Shakespeare’s time to a monosyllabic one. Affected by this development were endings such as -ial and -ion, which changed at this period from a pronunciation [iəl] and [iən] to [jəl] and [jən]. Shakespeare’s versification normally gives words containing these elements a pattern that demands monosyllabic pronunciation: To our Pauillion shal I leade you first, (575b, 53; Troilus 1.3.305)

And of it left his Sonne Imperiall Lord, (431b, 21; Henry V 5. Epil. 8)

Most holie and Religious feare it is. (759b, 46; Hamlet 3.3.8)

But although he is employing here what was the current form in his day, he can also use the earlier pronunciation which made two syllables of the ending: Desire them all to my Pauillion, (419b, 32; Henry V 4.1.27)

The Sword, the Mase, the Crowne Imperiall, (421b, 12; Henry V 4.1.278)

Yet for I know thou art Religious. (646a, 55; Titus 5.1.74)

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


It is noticeable that this is particularly associated with line-endings, as is the use of non-reduced forms of words such as (vn)naturall quoted above. Into this category fall also the very many words ending in sequences such as -cious, -sion and -tion, where as well as the reduction of the ending to a monosyllable, palatalization of the preceding consonant was taking place, with  to [ə] to give our present-day  the [jə] subsequently reduced further [vi əs] vicious, [viən] vision, and [kwest ən] question. The endings of this group too have the possibility of disyllabic pronunciation in Shakespeare’s verse, though the degree of palatalization in the consonant is debateable. So there are contrasts such as: For now sits Expectation in the Ayre, (408b, 56; Henry V 2. Prol. 8)

As were a Warre in expectation, (412a, 34; Henry V 2.4.20)

and: For hee is gracious, if hee be obseru’d, (359a, 22; 2 Henry IV 4.4.30)

And neuer shall it more be gracious. (114b, 56; Much Ado 4.1.109)

Development in pronunciation and development in morphology are linked in a further instance of this use of an older pronunciation. The -ed in the past forms of weak verbs was, by the Early Modern period, given no vowel except, as nowadays, after the dental stops [t] and [d]. Shakespeare therefore writes lines like: the Duke Hath banisht moodie discontented fury. (442b, 31–2; 1 Henry VI 3.1.122–3)

But when he wishes he can revert to the older pronunciation which gave the ending a weakly stressed vowel, and where the verb has a disyllabic stem with stress on the first syllable this can be used to give a pattern suited to the required metre: That banished, that one word banished. (664b, 28; Romeo 3.2.113)

In many instances both alternatives are used within a single line: Hence banished, is banisht from the world. (665a, 18; Romeo 3.3.19)


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It has been suggested2 that the reason that the two forms are juxtaposed in lines such as this is more complex than simply the achievement of metrical regularity, and that what is involved is some kind of differentiated emphasis. Certainly, the recurrence of this same feature many times might suggest some sort of underlying motivation for the pattern, but the examples do not appear to share any common factor other than their surface pattern. What is of interest, though, is that in this matter Shakespeare utilizes almost every kind of linguistic alternative where choice lies between options that differ in length by a syllable. Thus it is a choice between monosyllabic and disyllabic pronunciation that produces: Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write, (1609 ed. f2v , 28; Sonnet 86)

and the omission or retention of the vowel in an ending which allows: To this vnlook’d for vnprepared pompe, (312a, 8; King John 2.1.560)

and: Which art my neer’st and dearest Enemie. (365b, 11; 1 Henry IV 3.2.123)

And the existence of -eth and -s is used in: Panting he lies, and breatheth in her face. (1593 ed. b2r , 20; Venus 62)

Not only metre, but rhyme too shows exploitation of the existence of alternative pronunciations. For where value was given to a normally omitted syllable, a scheme of stress+weak stress+stress was substituted for the scheme stress+(nothing)+weak stress; and in this case the final syllable on which increased stress was laid reverted to the vowel it had before reduction to [ə] or [i]. Thus already in Early Modern English the stress pattern and the vowel of the final syllable in adjectives such as temperate was different from those in verbs and nouns such as celebrate and potentate. Temperate consisted of only two syllables, the second being weakly stressed: Shee is not hot, but temperate as the morne. (217a, 35; Shrew 2.1.296)

There was also, however, an older pronunciation which Shakespeare could use, giving the adjective the stress pattern of celebrate in three syllables, and making a rhyme with words having stressed -ate :

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


Shall I compare thee to a Summers day? Thou art more louely and more temperate: Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie, And Sommers lease hath all too short a date. (1609 ed. b4v , 13–16; Sonnet 18)

Variation in the number of syllables brought about by omitting or pronouncing the vowel in the -ed verb ending has been discussed above. This also provided material for rhymes. For although most Shakespearian rhymes employ past tenses and past participles in their normal reduced form, giving rhymes such as prest (pressed): rest (150b, 52–3; Dream 2.2.64–5), inclind: finde: mind (1594 ed. l4v , 2–5; Lucrece, 1654–7), Crown’d: round (841b, 9– 10; Antony 2.7.123–4), and beguil’d: childe (147a, 34–5; Dream 1.1.238–9), yet there are also rhymes based on a fuller pronunciation of -ed, such as murthered: dead (349b, 34–5; Richard II 5.6.39–40) and widowed: bed (664b, 49–50; Romeo 3.2.134–5). In other cases degree of stress and sound-quality are not both involved in the option, but a choice of sound only. Of this type is the -y ending; words with this as their final syllable, such as misery can be used at the end of a scene to provide a rhyming couplet not only of the variety: Doe not draw backe, for we will mourne with thee: Oh could our mourning ease thy misery, (638a, 14–15; Titus 2.4.56–7)

but also: But Kings and mightiest Potentates must die, For that’s the end of humane miserie. (444b, 24–5; 1 Henry VI 3.2.136–7)

Even more notable as a pronunciation-alternative peculiar to the Early Modern period is the varying quality of vowel in words showing two developments from Middle English ¸e¯, such as sea. Shakespeare normally rhymes such words with each other (Seas: ease, (1609 ed. c1v , 17–18; Pericles 2 Prol. 27–8)), but very occasionally etymology is set aside, and then he rhymes not only with Early Modern English [ii] (M.E. .e¯), but with [ee] (M.E. ai) as well, writing both: Man more diuine, the Master of all these, Lord of the wide world, and wilde watry seas, (87b, 6–7; Errors 2.1.20–1)


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and: Euery thing that heard him play, Euen the Billowes of the Sea. (554a, 13–14; Henry VIII 3.1.9–10)

The nature of this option involves difficulties of interpretation and explanation as to why the two pronunciations existed, and why one eventually became accepted, but the existence of the alternative in this word at least is evident. It seems not unlikely, too, that the play: Sea rhyme carried associations of old-fashionedness about it, for the couplet is from a song written into a play, and this is a kind of writing where archaism is frequently used, and, furthermore, this particular song is also given slight archaism in the past tense sprung, and in the monosyllabic pattern placed on Euen in the second line quoted above. In every aspect of the language, then, over which Shakespeare had control (that is, in everything but orthographical and typographical matters), he manipulated Early Modern English3 to suit his own dramatic and poetic ends by exploiting fully the opportunities of selection, both free and loaded, which were open to him because of the time when he lived. Much work has already been done (particularly by Gladys Willcock), moreover, to show that there was in this period a large-scale concern with linguistic issues, and that Shakespeare himself and the society in which he worked (and which he reflected in his plays) were interested in and eager to talk about their language. The whole basis of Love’s Labour’s Lost, and of parts of other plays, such as Henry V, lies in this. What is abundantly evident from the plays is that his audience was expected to – and presumably, therefore, did – hear and respond to linguistic signals which need pointing out today, especially where we tend to class together as interchangeable alternatives items which have since fallen out of use, and which, while they share a common general sense or function, are in fact distinguished in their own period. When Shakespearian characters meet each other, for instance, they employ a number of different greetings-formulae. Linguistically exotic characters may use ar m ado Men of peace well incountred. pe dant Most millitarie sir salutation, (136a, 21–2; Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.1.37–8)

but even ‘normal’ speakers can choose between expressions such as Good morrow, (God) saue you and How now? An Elizabethan audience would

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


have been familiar from their own experience with the niceties of which greeting it was appropriate to use to which person, and would be quick to catch points at which the expected linguistic behaviour was departed from. In the two parts of Henry IV, particularly, this is crucial, for the knifeedge relationships between Hal and the various members of the Boar’s Head Tavern crowd are constantly being stressed and explored, even in the shortest speech. So Poins and the Prince exchange a formal greeting softened by the use of familiar names: pri n c e Good morrow Ned. po i n s Good morrow sweet Hal. (351b, 66–352a, 1; 1 Henry IV 1.2.123–4)

and their parting in the same scene is even more formal: pri n c e Farewell. poi n s Farewell, my Lord. (352b, 10–11; 1 Henry IV 1.2.216–17)

Peto and Hal are yet more conscious of their social positions: pri n c e . . . and so good morrow Peto. peto Good morrow, good my Lord. (362a, 19–21; 1 Henry IV 2.4.600–2)

But set against this background is the very different relationship, and therefore very different language, between Falstaff and Hal. At one point this is thrown into even greater emphasis by juxtaposition to an infinitely more formal greeting from Falstaff to the nobleman with the Prince: pri n c e How now blowne Iack? how how Quilt? falstaf f What Hal? How now mad Wag, what a Deuill dost thou in Warwickshire? My good Lord of Westmerland, I cry you mercy, I thought your Honour had already beene at Shrewsbury. (369a, 51–5; 1 Henry IV 4.2.53–9)

It is this kind of speech, characteristically, which Falstaff retains while he struggles to maintain the old footing with Hal after the Prince becomes King: ’Saue thee my sweet Boy. (401b, 49; 2 Henry IV 5.5.47)

To the audience for which Shakespeare was writing, the very pronouns (‘I speake to thee, my heart’, 401 b, 54; 2 Henry IV 5.5.50) stress Falstaff’s demand to have things kept as they have been. The King replies, framing his


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negative in the non-colloquial mode, returning Falstaff’s thou pronoun, but as appropriate now from a King to his subject rather than as the pronoun of familiar friendship and equality: I know thee not, old man: Fall to thy Prayers: How ill white haires become a Foole, and Iester? (401b, 55–6; 2 Henry IV 5.5.51–2)

And we know that the old Falstaff–Hal relationship has been shattered. Perhaps only the genius of a great dramatist could achieve this in so few words; certainly at no other period could it be done with such simplicity and such devasting finality.  C

Bridg et Cusack 1970 First published in Shakespeare Survey 23 (1970) n otes

1 In the line-references (except for the poems and Pericles) the first entry in each case gives the 1623 Folio reference, with page-numbering as in the 1955 Yale/Oxford and the 1864 Lionel Booth facsimiles, followed by the column and line-number, and the second entry is by act, scene, and line as in the Globe edition of Shakespeare’s Works. 2 By Abbott, §474 (see note 3). 3 For discussion of the linguistic alternatives and opportunities in Early Modern English and especially their use by Shakespeare see the following works: Covering several aspects of the language E. A. Abbott, A Shakespearean Grammar (London, 1869; reprinted 1966) (still useful for examples, though less so in classification and interpretation.). W. Franz, Die Sprache Shakespeares in Vers und Prosa (Halle, 1939). Principally on grammar Alvar Ellegard, The Auxiliary Do, Gothenburg Studies in English, 2 (Stockholm, 1953). Angus McIntosh, ‘As You Like It: A Grammatical Clue to Character’, Review of English Literature, 4 (1963), 68–81. Vivian Salmon, ‘Sentence Structures in Colloquial Shakespearian English’, Transactions of the Philological Society (London, 1965), pp. 105–40, and ‘Elizabethan Colloquial English in the Falstaff Plays’, Leeds Studies in English, n.s. 1 (1967), 37–70. Principally on vocabulary George Gordon, Shakespeare’s English, Society for Pure English, Tract 29 (Oxford, 1928).

Shakespeare and the tune of the time


Principally on pronunciation N. Chomsky and M. Halle, The Sound Pattern of English (New York, 1968). B. Danielsson, Studies in the Accentuation of Polysyllabic Latin, Greek, and Romance Loan- Words in English (Stockholm, 1948). E. J. Dobson, English Pronunciation 1500–1700 (Oxford, 1953). Helge K¨okeritz, Shakespear’s pronunciation (New Haven, 1953); and ‘Elizabethan Prosody and Historical Phonology’, Annales Academiae Regiae Scien˚ tiarum Upsaliensis (Kungl. Vetenskapssamh¨allets I Uppsala Arsbok, Upsala, 1961). The language and its social background Hilda M. Hulme, ‘The Spoken Language and the Dramatic Text: Some Notes on the Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Language’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 9 (1958), 379–86. Arthur H. King, The Language of Satirized Characters in Poetaster, Lund Studies in English, 10 (Lund, 1941). W. Labov, ‘The Reflection of Social Processes in Linguistic Structures’, Readings in the Sociology of Language, ed. J. A. Fishman (The Hague/Paris, 1968), pp. 240–51. Gladys D. Willcock, ‘Shakespeare and Elizabethan English’, A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Granville-Barker and Harrison (Cambridge, 1934), pp. 117–36, and Shakespeare as Critic of Language, Shakespeare Association Papers, 18 (London, 1934).

chap t e r 7

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: the places of invention Jill L. Levenson

[R]hetoric is like the air which . . . exceeds and penetrates . . . and transforms itself into all things created here. Joan de Guzman, Primera Parte de la Rhetorica (1589)1

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet not only dramatizes a fiction but also transforms its rhetoric. In the process it reopens a book which writers of the previous generation had apparently closed. By the 1560s, when Brooke and Painter translated Boaistuau, the Romeo and Juliet narrative had become fixed in more than one way. Luigi da Porto’s Historia novellamente ritrovata diduenobiliamanti, . . . (c.1530)setitsformat:adozeneventsandasmanycharacters organized in a tragic action. Matteo Bandello’s version in his Novelle (1554) established its style, which invited the audience to judge the story as if they were participating in a rhetorical occasion.2 Typical of the period, this fiction depends on the forms of oration and dispute. Figures of repetition ornament the narrative while securing each event firmly in place. Although numerous studies have traced Shakespeare’s changes to the narrative’s plot and characters, they have not examined his alterations of style. Yet analysis of the play’s rhetoric in relation to that of the established fiction reveals an unexplored dimension of the later work; it brings the tragedy into focus like a print from a negative. In particular it shows how Romeo and Juliet deliberately complicates rhetoric by neutralizing argument and combining figures of ambiguity with other schemes. As a result it clarifies a dramatic text which calls attention to its own display of rhetoric, questioning oratorical strategies and objectives, engaging critically with the art of persuasion and inquiry.3 i The Romeo and Juliet narrative assumed its most popular non-dramatic form in the middle decades of the sixteenth century; Bandello’s novella 122

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was translated into French and English between 1559 and 1567. As rhetoric flourished, ‘polymorphous and ubiquitous’,4 the novellas took shape as rhetorical compositions based on the story as da Porto had arranged it. They used each of the dozen plot elements as a res or subject-matter, amplifying episodes through the larger processes of rhetoric and, more specifically, through a limited number of figures. Uniform in tone, they advance through the narrative–speech–narrative–speech pattern which Richard A. Lanham defines as a staple of Western literary expression: narrators argue their interpretations of events; ‘lovers orate spontaneously’, engaging in debate with themselves and others; and rhetorical figures ornament each fiction from beginning to end.5 In Arthur Brooke’s Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, generally accepted as Shakespeare’s immediate source, the narrator occasionally evaluates the suasion in rhetorical terms: Oh how we can perswade, our self to what we like, And how we can diswade our mynd, if ought our mynd mislyke. Weake arguments are stronge, our fansies streyght to frame To pleasing things, and eke to shonne, if we mislike the same.6

Of course these novellas, like other Renaissance literature, adapted rhetorical discourse for use in their fictions. Among other borrowings, for example, they incorporated features from the three kinds of orations: demonstrative or epideictic, when the narrator praises Verona or attributes of the characters, or when the characters praise or dispraise one another or their circumstances; judicial or forensic, when Friar Laurence defends himself in open assembly before a judge; and, most frequently, deliberative, ‘wherby we do perswade, or disswade, entreate, or rebuke, exhorte, or dehorte, commende, or c˜oforte any man’.7 When Juliet discovers who Romeo is, she sounds like this in Bandello: Now let us assume that he really loves me, as I am ready to believe he does, and that he wants me as his legitimate wife: should I not be reasonable and consider the fact that my father will never agree to it? And yet, is it just possible that this union could bring the two families together again in peace and harmony? I have heard it said many times that such marriages have brought about peace not only between private citizens and gentlemen, but that often times true peace and amity ensued between the greatest princes and kings engaged in the cruelest wars. Perhaps I shall be the one to bring peace to these two households by such means.8

Boaistuau and Painter shorten this argument; Brooke lengthens it, particularly with allusions to ‘sage writers’ (line 409), and condemns it outright (lines 429–32, quoted above). Yet the discussion remains essentially logical in each version, a deliberation which finally calms Juliet and supplies her


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with an objective. It is typical of these fictions where everyone deliberates, resolves, and argues, from Juliet herself to Juliet’s nurse. If the novellas seem copious, oratory supplies the abundance: the details which crowd the narrative constitute evidence for the many arguments. If the novellas generated emotion for their original audiences, rhetorical figures of pathos must have heightened the story’s mythological and romantic elements. These figures are especially prominent in the complaints which punctuate the sequence, in the lovers’ exchanges, and in the narrators’ appeals for empathy: [Juliet] in so wondrous wise began her sorowes to renewe That sure no hart so hard, (but it of flint had byn,) But would have rued the pitious plaint that she did languishe in. (lines 1092–4)9

But figures of pathos make up only about ten per cent of the two hundred or so devices catalogued by Sister Miriam Joseph; and those cited in her larger grammatical category, the orthographic/syntactical schemes, play a modest role in Bandello, Boaistuau, and Painter.10 Yet the figures of grammar also provide a source of emotional power in rhetorical speech. According to Brian Vickers, who identifies these figures and three kinds of word-play (figures of logos) as the most important group, they serve as ‘representations of human emotional and psychological states’, or ‘little reservoirs of energy’.11 Bandello and his translators, depending on the simplest devices of repetition, often produce stylistic languor. The English translations frequently expand the French novella with rhetorical figures; they rarely enhance it. After the death of Thibault, for instance, Boaistuau’s Juliette apostrophizes the window through which Romeo entered her chamber in a moment of prosopopoeia anticipating Chekhov: ‘O malheureuse fenestre, par laquelle furent ourdies les ameres trames de mes premiers malheurs! si par ton moyen j’ay receu autresfois quelque leger plaisir ou contentement transitoire, tu m’en fais maintenant payer un si rigoureux tribut que mon tendre corps . . . ne le [peut] plus supporter . . .’12

Painter’s Julietta makes the same speech with more repetition: ‘Oh vnhappy Windowe, oh entry most vnlucky, wherein were wouen the bitter toyle of my former mishaps, if by thy meanes I have receyued at other tymes some

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light pleasure or transitory contentation, thou now makest me pay a tribute so rigorous and paynefull, as my tender body [is] not able any longer to support the same . . .’13

As this brief passage illustrates, Painter favours a device which hovers at the edge of tautology and has no other name in Joseph’s exhaustive study: he links synonymous terms which neither build to a climax nor otherwise add force to the passage. No other device occurs as consistently, or relentlessly, in his text; others appear sprinkled on the prose, here and there, like seasoning. Painter reiterates words and units of syntax, balances phrases and contrasts ideas, plays on terms from the same root and introduces hyperbole, but these diffuse figures produce no sustained effect. Finally it is the pairs of synonyms which make a lasting impression of narrative proof against surprises. Brooke’s version, the play’s direct source, makes the same impression more emphatically. Reinforced by poulter’s measure, its elaborate repetitions predetermine the narrative. The effect can be heard early in the poem, as the narrator appeals for inspiration through anaphora: Helpe learned Pallas, helpe, ye muses with your arte, Helpe all ye damned feendes to tell, of Joyes retournd to smart, Helpe eke ye sisters three, my skillesse penne t’indyte For you it causd which I (alas) unable am to wryte. (lines 21–4)

Immediately Brooke stresses the cause of rancour between the families by using the word envy three times in three lines, once as a verb and twice as a noun (lines 32–4). These verses set the tone for Brooke’s Historye, a conscientious reflection of his rhetorical training: anaphora and polyptoton will recur frequently until the end of the narrative, when they play a significant part in Friar Laurence’s self-defence (lines 2837–970). In addition, Brooke combines devices in a straightforward way. Lines arranged by anaphora usually include another device or two; often they contain antithesis (as in line 22, quoted above), a figure of logos on which the poem relies. Other verses mix antimetabole with diacope, or antimetabole with diacope and polyptoton, or asyndeton with synonymia. Despite Brooke’s efforts, the resulting compounds are simple: But she espyd straight waye . . . chaunging of his hewe From pale to red, from red to pale, and so from pale anewe . . . (lines 271–2)


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The world is always full of chaunces and of chaunge, Wherfore the chaunge of chaunce must not seeme to a wise man straunge. For tickel Fortune doth, in chaunging but her kind, But all her chaunges cannot chaunge a steady constant minde. (lines 1403–6)

My Juliet, my love, my onely hope and care . . . (line 1543)

Sometimes the figures seem pointless, a habit which the writer cannot break (e.g., lines 1729–30). Like the other Romeo and Juliet narratives, this poem lacks word-play: a few puns (e.g., line 1169) almost disappear among more than three thousand lines. Yet Brooke’s rhetoric acquires a degree of complexity from Petrarchan conventions: his awareness of the Italian sonnet is declared not only by ‘The Argument’, which takes that form, but also through recurrent antitheses (sweet/sour, freedom/bondage, life/death) and tropes (beleaguered ships, returning Phoebus, fire). Of the fictions, his poem also has the most elaborate prefatory material to link romance with teaching literature: ‘Hereunto if you applye it [i.e., this precedent], ye shall deliver my dooing from offence, and profit your selves’ (p. 285). The young poet tries to present the love-story as a controversial issue, matching his rhetorical devices to the task at hand. In the end his project lacks conviction, tragedy sinks controversia, and his rhetoric gives the romantic narrative a sense of closure. ii Some time in the 1590s the young dramatist chose the young poet as his model: Shakespeare takes details from Brooke and at points quotes his very words. Obviously the playwright broke with tradition in his rendering of the narrative with comic infusions and sonneteering.14 The comedy threatens to upset the sequence but never does; the Petrarchism, a nuance in Brooke, gives the legend contemporary relevance.15 Perhaps less obviously, Shakespeare broke with tradition in his treatment of the rhetoric inevitably attached to this narrative. Brooke’s exaggerated use of figures may have invited him to revise the typical presentation; and the tragic story offered an appropriate means to investigate the weaknesses or potential failure of an art which had infiltrated so many areas of sixteenth-century life. Whatever the cause, this version reinvents the medium through which the story had been transmitted.

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In the first place, Romeo and Juliet cuts and reallocates deliberative argument, assigning most of what remains to characters other than the protagonists: Friar Laurence and Benvolio do most of the lecturing; the Capulets, the Nurse, and Prince Escalus also advise and exhort. Their counsel, which frequently halts rash action, more often accelerates disaster and gives rise to irony. At the centre of the play Friar Laurence has the most extensive speech of disputation. This passage of fifty-one lines, 3.3.107–57, illustrates one of Shakespeare’s straightforward techniques for calling rhetoric into question: setting an accomplished performance into a context which reduces its effect.16 Robert O. Evans, who analyses a number of rhetorical passages in the text, thoroughly explicates Friar Laurence’s speech as a premier specimen of rhetoric, ‘a brilliant example both of argumentation and of the use of figures’.17 From the opening of this argument to the close, he identifies various figures organized to enhance the reasoning: enthymeme, the device which ‘combines antithesis with inference and works out two opposing arguments in a small space’; anamnesis, a recital of past happenings, usually woes or injuries; philophronesis, a form of mitigation. Friar Laurence focuses on the idea of self-defence: Tybalt would have killed you; you killed Tybalt.18 Certainly this long speech displays a panoply of figures, especially figures of repetition: it repeats words to link the end of one clause to the beginning of the next (anadiplosis) and to link clauses by concluding them with the same term or phrase (epistrophe); it incorporates polyptoton, diacope, and epizeuxis. It may also employ two figures of word-play: antanaclasis, where a word shifts from one meaning to another when repeated (shape, lines 121– 9); and syllepsis, when a single word has more than one meaning (wax, line 125).19 Moreover, the speech carefully refines and consolidates an argument in Brooke, more than twice as long (lines 1353–480), which starts to ramble after beginning with the same enthymeme. Brooke’s version of this passage draws attention not only to Shakespeare’s skill but also to his ambivalence: it leaves no doubt that the Friar’s rhetoric has the desired effect on Romeus. Even before the argument begins, the narrator states: ‘So wisely did the fryre unto his tale replye, / That he straight cared for his life, that erst had care to dye’ (lines 1351–2). When it ends he devotes sixteen lines to a description of the lover’s response, an appreciation of the Friar’s reasoning and persuasiveness (lines 1481–96). Significantly changed, the context of the dramatic passage suggests that suasion has no such effect. Romeo has already damned philosophy (lines 57–60), and he provokes the speech with a desperate question (itself rhetorical):


jill l. levenson O, tell me, friar, tell me, In what vile part of this anatomy Doth my name lodge? Tell me, that I may sack The hateful mansion. (lines 104–7)

After Friar Laurence concludes we hear not Romeo but the Nurse, who exclaims ‘O, what learning is!’, and perhaps counteracts the audience’s perception of tediousness by (unintentionally) expressing it: ‘O Lord, I could have stayed here all the night / To hear good counsel!’ (lines 158–60). Romeo acts in response not to the argument but to the promise of seeing Juliet. Friar Laurence’s rhetoric seems even more questionable in 4.4; and the figures of pathos which become so prominent during this scene have led critics to suspect the dramatist of either bad taste or travesty. In the source the Friar plays no part in this episode; Lady Capulet alone grieves in a lament; sorrow makes Capulet and the Nurse speechless; and rhetorical figures occur only in narration and one complaint (lines 2421–72). Shakespeare seems deliberately to have realized the awkwardness latent in this incident, which arises from a false premise and therefore centres on what Thomas Moisan calls a ‘non-event’.20 In a theatrical setting the audience remains keenly aware of Juliet’s actual condition: the actor lies on a bed somewhere on the stage, a physical reminder that this rhetoric has no point. At the same time the idea of death, a continuous presence which materializes in 3.1, evokes a style so exaggerated that it seems to avoid the issue: ‘the “instruments of ornament” become instruments for denying and evading the experience of death that they are so ostensibly employed to acknowledge and confront’21 As a result of this style and a stage direction in Quarto I, Charles B. Lower has argued that Shakespeare intended the lamentation as ‘purposeful comedy’.22 Jowett, acting on this interpretation, has ‘all at once wring their hands and cry out together’ in his edition (–2). Clearly this passage skirts the edge of decorum at every turn. Apostrophe sets the key of lamentation, and exergasia amplifies the theme. Rephrasing the same idea, distancing it, figures of repetition and prosopopoeia insistently personify both death and time. Although asyndeton gives the lists of adjectives a pronounced sense of rhythm, synonyms accumulate in no particular order: ‘Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day!’ (line 74). When Capulet and Paris catalogue indignities, modifiers lack a clearly defined object; they shift between the speaker and Juliet: ‘Beguiled, divorc`ed, wrong`ed, spited, slain!’ (line 70; cf. line 86). Lady

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Capulet use antimetabole with a twist that diminishes Juliet (line 77); Paris reaches for synoeciosis, or oxymoron, and misses (line 73); and the recurring epizeuxis – ‘cruel, cruel’, ‘woeful, woeful, woeful’, ‘ever, ever’, ‘murder, murder’ – suggests characters at a loss for words. Delivering one of the four complaints, the Nurse introduces pleonasmus, empty repetition and a vice of language which accentuates stylistic idiosyncrasies in the other speeches. As he tries to bring order to this chaos, Friar Laurence gives another well-disposed speech which echoes the prosopopoeia of the laments: ‘Confusion’s cure lives not / In these confusions’; ‘Yet nature’s tears are reason’s merriment’ (lines 92–3, 110). This time he begins with epanalepsis, repetition at the end of a clause of the word with which it began; and he concludes with onedismus, upbraiding those addressed for ingratitude and impiety. In the middle he depends on antanaclasis, a somewhat ponderous repetition of heaven five times in nine lines. Sententiae, a character note since his soliloquy in 2.2, again represent experience in binary terms. Along with the other devices they prove effective in this uneasy context: Capulet, chastened and reorganized, applies the Friar’s advice with synecdoche and balanced antitheses adapted from Brooke’s narrator (lines 2507–14).23 Finally one rhetoric contains the other; dissimulation limits excess. Ambivalence, which accompanies disputation and some of the pathos in Romeo and Juliet, assumes most importance in the figures of ambiguity which complicate the narrative. As M. M. Mahood has shown in her seminal book, word-play begins with the Prologue and never disappears from the text.24 Like other rhetorical devices, it interacts with different kinds of figures. Friar Laurence’s staid arguments, cited above, include word-play. Often it destabilizes equilibrium, disrupts order, or baffles predictability. It opens a familiar story to new interpretations while making the familiar devices seem inadequate, in themselves, to the demands of narration. It raises many and various questions about rhetoric through techniques that range from blatant to subtle. The first notable instance of this dynamic occurs in the fourth line of the opening sonnet, ‘Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’. Here the Prologue introduces a rhetorical feature which Harry Levin has identified as a component of the play’s symmetry: a form of diacope or ploce which stresses a word by repeating it within a line; a device which will balance more than one hundred verses of the text.25 In this case the repeated term helps to define contradictions in Verona; it produces an antithesis of concepts, a kind of synoeciosis or oxymoron. The word civil applies first to citizens living together in a community (OED a.i quotes this line as its first illustration


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of the current usage); it refers as well to sharing the advantages of that social condition; and it may also mean ‘non-military’. Of course the rest of the line subverts these definitions, the literal and figurative senses of the words denoting violence, disorder, absence of civility. It makes civil a more complex word, a type of antanaclasis or syllepsis with more than one meaning. With the next line ambiguity begins to take the form of identifiable puns: strong alliteration draws attention to fatal, which means both ‘fateful’ and ‘deadly’. This key word introduces the idea of destiny, linking it simultaneously with the lovers’ experience and the disastrous anger of their fathers. Then the star-crossed pair ‘take their life’ from fatality, deriving or destroying it in a skewed antithesis, fusing the opening of their love-story with its conclusion. In the ninth line, which joins quatrains through figures of repetition, Mahood locates six puns which ‘pose the play’s fundamental question at the outset: is its ending frustration or fulfilment? Does Death choose the lovers or do they elect to die?’ Fearful can mean ‘frightened’, applying to the lovers’ helpless responses, or ‘fearsome’, indicating the spectators’ awed reactions. Passage denotes both ‘course of events’ and ‘voyage’, its second definition anticipating traffic in line 12 and the Petrarchan motif of sea-journey which runs through Romeo’s speeches. In addition passage means ‘death’ and enhances the word-play in death-marked, which signifies not only ‘marked out for (or by) death’, ‘foredoomed’, but ‘having death as their objective’.26 With the entrance of Samson and Gregory, parts of the Chorus’s narrative materialize on stage in a comic mode. The serving-men caricature not only the content of the Prologue but also its rhetoric. Evans finds ‘rhetorical display’ in their opening ten lines, devices of logos pushed to the extremities of logical reasoning.27 Figures of repetition drive the exchange, making each point equally emphatic. Even more striking, the puns which constitute the dialogue reintroduce motifs of anger and violence in another key. Mahood’s assessment of them as ‘heavy-witted’ is, perhaps, misleading.28 However indelicate, the quibbles derive from a significant word in the Prologue. They translate rage to choler, multiplying definitions of the latter term which give it concreteness: ‘I mean’, Samson explains, ‘an we be in choler, we’ll draw’ (line 3). When Gregory says, ‘Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar’, his obvious pun on ‘hangman’s noose’ alludes to the ultimate punishment for indulgence of choler. Using a proverbial expression29 and blunt paradox, he advises Samson to avoid such a death as long as he lives. At the same time his gallows-joke introduces the legal and retributive components of the plot. When Samson answers, ‘I strike quickly, being

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moved’, he links choler with bawdy, warfare with sex, in banter which will continue to burlesque Petrarchan conceits. At the start of the action, anger and violence occupy more than thirty lines of word-play, as if Shakespeare had combed the places of invention to amplify his subject with humour. He organizes the word-play as a contest which postpones the love-story. In this instance the contest takes place between two men of low order. This format, word-play as contest, recurs frequently and involves the protagonists. It captures in rhetorical figures a competitive element in the social exchange of Verona. It interferes with the progress of the sequence, delaying the action as it enlarges upon one of its themes or motifs. Often it correlates with invention of another kind: new characters, episodes, or speeches. On their way to the Capulet party at the start of 1.4, Romeo and Mercutio share a series of puns which Evans calls ‘a hot, fast match of wits’.30 An addition to the narrative, this dialogue is less a hot, fast match than an uneven contest: Mercutio repeatedly deflates Romeo’s clich´es, amplifying love as Samson and Gregory elaborated anger. Again the puns sound obvious and ribald. At times they echo the earlier quibbles on the mechanics of sex: ro m e o You have dancing shoes With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead So stakes me to the ground I cannot move. me rc u t i o You are a lover; borrow Cupid’s wings, And soar with them above a common bound. (lines 14–18)

When the young men meet the next day in 2.3, they begin an exchange which both recognize as a match. Mercutio appeals to Benvolio as his second in a duel: ‘Come between us, good Benvolio. My wits faints’ (line 63). Romeo encourages Mercutio to keep up the contest as if he were racing a horse: ‘Switch and spurs, switch and spurs, or I’ll cry a match’ (lines 64–5). With these breaks the dialogue continues for almost fifty lines, often cut in performance, interrupted by the entrance of the Nurse. It returns to words and devices which appeared before in a Petrarchan context: a quibble on sole, the antithesis bitter/sweet, the personifying of infatuation. Ultimately it returns to the subject of love, becoming more and more obscene until it stops. Mercutio views this exchange, a concentrated display of rhetorical figures, as the most accomplished kind of social discourse: ‘Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo, now art thou what thou art by art as well as by nature’ (lines 82–3). In his terms the art which complements nature in Romeo may be understood not only as skill but also as rhetoric (OED


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sb. 2a, 3a). Yet this conversation spins words so fast and automatically that it threatens to empty them of meaning: m e rc ut i o Sure wit, follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing, solely singular. rome o O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness! (lines 58–62)

In this episode word-play and other figures, agents of sociability, flirt with nonsense. They also create an interlude in the sequence of the love-story. As a medium of social exchange in Romeo and Juliet, this combination of figures resembles other kinds of play: it has a precarious edge where a speaker may lose control of the game; it licenses players to court disaster or mask deception. During a new episode in 3.1 Mercutio challenges Tybalt in rhetorical terms: ‘Will you pluck your sword out of his pilcher by the ears? Make haste, lest mine be about your ears ere it be out’ (lines 79– 80). Tybalt, who never responds to Mercutio’s verbal sparring, takes this dare literally. Mercutio dies in character, famously, with a series of puns and other figures. No longer part of a competition, the devices now convey disbelief and outrage. In the aftermath of this scene word-play will fuse with various schemes to negotiate risky situations through subterfuge. Juliet in particular depends on equivocation to communicate with her family and with Paris. When Lady Capulet condemns ‘that same villain Romeo’ in 3.5, Juliet both agrees and disagrees with her. Brooke has Juliet confuse her mother with a single enigma (lines 1802–8); Shakespeare creates a new version of this exchange through the figure asteismus: ‘the answerer catches a certain word and throws it back to the first speaker with an unexpected twist, an unlooked for meaning. It usually has a mocking or scoffing character . . .’31 In the drama Juliet plays a one-sided game which continues until her mother, oblivious, changes the topic. Romeo will receive ‘an unaccustomed dram’, promises Lady Capulet, ‘And then I hope thou wilt be satisfied’ (lines 90–2). Juliet answers: Indeed, I never shall be satisfied With Romeo till I behold him, dead, Is my poor heart so for a kinsman vexed. (lines 93–5)

Mahood points out a triple ambiguity in these lines, ‘with one meaning for Juliet, another for her mother and a third for us, the audience: Juliet will

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never in fact see Romeo again until she wakes and finds him dead beside her’.32 For us dead connects with both him and heart, word-play that most editors since Pope heighten by setting it off with dashes (Quarto 2 has a period after him). In addition, as Brian Gibbons demonstrates, Juliet’s quibbles on satisfied and kinsman permit these lines five different readings.33 A short time later, in an encounter invented for the next scene, Juliet engages Paris in almost twenty lines of stichomythia which keep him at a distance until he prepares to leave Friar Laurence’s cell. Again she relies on asteismus, combining it with devices such as sententia, antithesis, and paradox: ju li e t That is no slander, sir, which is a truth, And what I spake, I spake it to my face. par i s Thy face is mine, and thou hast slandered it. ju li e t It may be so, for it is not mine own. – (lines 33–6)

In this passage, as in 3.5, the context turns this form of word-play into other figures: noema, an obscure or subtle speech; and schematismus, circuitous speech.34 For a while Juliet manages to hold events in check, moment by moment and tenuously, by rhetorical means. Clearly rhetorical figures in Romeo and Juliet not only amplify the narrative but also call attention to the processes of amplification. Like the playwright’s exploration of the sonnet, this focus on his medium seems deliberate, self-conscious. Several well-known passages labour devices as if they were inviting a critical assessment of both the schemes and their effects. What strikes modern sensibility as sheer flamboyance is probably a figure stretched beyond its usual range, performing a more complex function. At 3.2.45–50, Juliet’s frenzied series of puns on aye/i/I/eye produces three effects: the sound of high-pitched keening; the sustaining of eye imagery from the prothalamium just delivered; and the manifestation of profound psychological disturbance.35 In this scene, lines 73– 85, and 1.1.173–8, extended passages of synoeciosis, condensed paradox or oxymoron, project confused emotions and points of view: Romeo’s about Rosaline; Juliet’s about Romeo, who has just killed Tybalt. The formal, imprecise figures express what the speakers feel but fit their subjects awkwardly. Perhaps Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech at 1.4.56–96 offers the most elaborate array of rhetorical devices in a passage invented for the text. It stands far enough apart from the sequence that E. Pearlman considers it an interpolation: ‘Mercutio’s excursus is not articulated with the remainder of Romeo


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and Juliet in terms of plot, content, language, or intellection. There is no overlap between the realist, materialist Mercutio and the Mercutio who celebrates Queen Mab in elaborate, imaginative, and romantic terms’.36 His conclusions about Mercutio notwithstanding, Pearlman raises an important issue by emphasizing the singularity of the speech: Mercutio takes up the subject of dreams, introduced by Romeo but absent from the other narratives at this point, and amplifies it for forty lines. Evans calls Mercutio’s performance ‘a demonstration of rhetorical fireworks’, and he claims that no Elizabethan writer would employ so many figures without intending to make the passage conspicuous.37 From the start Shakespeare extends the use of anaphora and zeugma (one verb serving more than one clause), outdoing the illustrations in contemporary textbooks. These grammatical devices frame other kinds of schemes from apostrophe to figures of ambiguity and ominatio, or prognostication of evil. At the end Romeo’s interruption results in an ellipsis which may be more abrupt than a modern audience realizes. Mab was known for bringing young women dreams of their future husbands or lovers; Mercutio never reaches this climactic stage in his portrayal of her. Scattered through the text, a number of passages seem to reflect explicitly on the play’s use of rhetoric. The first and most obvious follows Romeo’s apostrophe to love in a burst of contradictions. ‘Dost thou not laugh?’, he asks Benvolio. The answer, ‘No, coz, I rather weep’, compounds the deflation even as it directs the exchange towards more derivative paradoxes (1.1.180). In the wedding scene Juliet makes a comment about decorum which applies not only to Romeo’s language but also to the play’s: Conceit, more rich in matter than in words, Brags of his substance, not of ornament. (2.5.30–1)

However the audience interprets conceit – as idea, understanding, imagination, or device – Juliet rejects Romeo’s invitation to verbalize their experience in formal terms. Of course she does so rhetorically, in a speech which elaborates its subject through word-play, polyptoton, and an epigram. At the end of 4.4. Peter and the musicians provide a more extensive commentary. As Moisan explains this episode, these characters subject the operations of rhetoric to common sense, take amplification literally, and deconstruct a phrase from Richard Edwardes’s Paradyse of Daynty Devises (1576), ‘a compendium of the lachrymose rhetoric we have heard fortissime throughout the mourners’ speeches’.38 Juliet’s famous (and vexed) question in 2.1 may also refer to the medium she speaks:

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet. (lines 85–6)

In Shakespeare and the Rhetoricians, Marion Trousdale makes a distinction which states what these lines imply: Shape is something absolute and suggests parts whose functions, once determined, are irrevocably fixed. A rose in that sense is a rose. But one cannot say the same thing about its name, which, like language itself, is artificial. A name can, at will, both define and embellish, and, unlike the rose, it can divide ‘one thing entire to many objects’ (Richard II 2.2.17).39 [Romeo and Juliet allows its audience to measure the advantages of such embellishment against its limitations.]

That kind of engagement animates other literary works of the late sixteenth century, as critics like Altman, Kinney, and Rebhorn have demonstrated.40 It informs Shakespeare’s Sonnets and narrative verse as well as his early plays: Lanham shows how it affects Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and the Sonnets; Trousdale analyses Love’s Labour’s Lost.41 In most of these texts rhetoric, vigorous and accomplished, comes up against barriers of its own making, rigidities inherent in language. Its processes expose the sources of intractableness: the inability of words, even large numbers of words, to express for their speakers the real conditions of their lives; the potential for amplification to grow out of control.42 According to Altman, Renaissance tragedy takes a particularly dim view of rhetoric: ‘ . . . invention fails, as in comedy, because it cannot transcend man’s epistemological condition and attain to truth – and it fails because it deals with a world in which will, not reason, determines human actions’.43 All of these texts exploit and doubt rhetoric at the same time, raising questions not only about the art itself but also about rhetoricians and the culture that fosters them.44 In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare worked at rhetoric; there is evidence of revision in extravagant passages like Juliet’s extended synoeciosis in 3.2.45 Schemes appear everywhere until the end: they are heard in the speeches of the Chief Watchman (5.3.178–9), the prelude to Friar Laurence’s selfdefence (5.3.222–34), and Prince Escalus’s closing words. Just as the play tests the flexibility and compass of sonnet conventions, it explores the capacity of rhetoric to rationalize human conduct in moving terms. It pursues this investigation with the ambivalence that Kenneth Muir has recognized in Shakespeare’s early works.46 Argument inevitably leads to error, accident, and death, as it did in the Romeo and Juliet fictions. Rhetorical schemes may interrupt the sequence but they fail to change it in any substantive way.


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While figures amplify events, da Porto’s plot and characters move inexorably towards their tragic conclusion. Rhetoric cannot overcome necessity or describe it with precision. Yet it can present the full range of ambiguities that surround every human act. Despite its limitations, rhetorical virtuosity in Romeo and Juliet allows more than one interpretation of both events and the verbal medium through which they travel. It releases the old narrative to tell a new story. First published in Shakespeare Survey 49 (1996)

n otes 1 Translated and quoted by Wayne A. Rebhorn, The Emperor of Men’s Minds: Literature and the Renaissance Discourse of Rhetoric (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995), p. 5. 2 Arthur F. Kinney gives this description for the writing of Renaissance fiction generally in ‘Rhetoric and Fiction in Elizabethan England’, in Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1983), p. 388. For a study of the lineage and style of the Romeo and Juliet narrative, see my ‘Romeo and Juliet before Shakespeare’, Studies in Philology, 81 (1984), 325–47. 3 Rebhorn argues that all Renaissance literature, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries and throughout Western Europe, has ‘an active and critical relationship’ with rhetoric, pp. 18–19 and passim. 4 Rebhorn, The Emperor of Men’s Minds, p. 6. 5 Lanham defines the pattern and describes the lovers in The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance (New Haven and London, 1976), p. 9. 6 The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet written first in Italian by Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br., in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 1 (London and New York, 1957), lines 429–32. Further references to Brooke’s poem will appear parenthetically in my text. 7 Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique (1553), Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Amsterdam and New York, 1969), d4. Kinney quotes this passage in his Humanist Poetics: Thought, Rhetoric, and Fiction in Sixteenth-Century England (Amherst, Mass., 1986), p. 10. 8 Novelle, ed. Giuseppe Guido Ferrero, Classici Italiani (Turin, 1974), p. 447. I am grateful to Professor Anne Paolucci for this translation from the Italian. 9 For the corresponding passage in Painter’s version see William Painter, ‘The goodly Hystory of the true, and constant Loue between Rhomeo and Ivlietta, . . .’ in Joseph Jacobs, ed., The Palace of Pleasure, vol. 3 (London, 1890), p. 97. 10 Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language (New York, 1947). For this paper I have adopted Sister Miriam Joseph’s organization of the figures into four groups

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


12 13 14


16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31


(grammar, logos, pathos, ethos) and the names which she has assigned to the schemes. Classical Rhetoric in English Poetry (London, 1970), chapters 3 and 4 (quotations from pp. 121, 122). See also Vickers’s essay on ‘Shakespeare’s Use of Rhetoric’ in A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Kenneth Muir and S. Schoenbaum (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 83–98. Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires tragiques, ed. Richard A. Carr, Soci´et´e des textes franc¸ais modernes (Paris, 1977), p. 85. Painter, ‘The goodly Hystory’, p. 97. The most thorough treatment of the comedy is the second chapter of Susan Snyder’s The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare’s Tragedies: ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, and ‘King Lear’ (Princeton, N.J., 1979); the first influential comments on the sonneteering appear in the fourth section of Nicholas Brooke’s Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (London, 1968). For the connection between writing sonnets and seeking patronage in Queen Elizabeth’s court, see my essay ‘Romeo and Juliet : Tragical-Comical-Lyrical History’, in Proceedings of the PMR [Patristic, Mediaeval, and Renaissance] Conference, vol. 12/13 (Villanova, Pa., 1990 for 1987/8), pp. 31–46. References to the play come from John Jowett’s edition in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (Oxford, 1986). The Osier Cage: Rhetorical Devices in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Lexington, Ky., 1966), p. 55. For Evans’s analysis, see pp. 54–60. On p. 55 he quotes the definition of enthymeme from Joseph, p. 179. Evans, The Osier Cage, p. 57. ‘Rhetoric and the Rehearsal of Death: The “Lamentations” Scene in Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 34 (1983), 391. Moisan, ‘Rhetoric and the Rehearsal of Death’, pp. 389–90. ‘Romeo and Juliet, iv.v.: A Stage Direction and Purposeful Comedy’, Shakespeare Studies, 8 (1975), 177–94. This speech is discussed in some detail by both Evans, The Osier Cage, pp. 162–4, and Moisan, ‘Rhetoric and the Rehearsal of Death’, pp. 399–401. Shakespeare’s Wordplay (London, 1968), chapter 2. ‘Form and Formality in Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 2 (1960), rpt. Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times (New York, 1976), pp. 112–13. Mahood, Shakespeare’s Wordplay, pp. 56–7. Evans, The Osier Cage, pp. 19–21. Mahood, Shakespeare’s Wordplay, p. 60. Evans thinks the pun on collar ‘trite’ but points out that Shakespeare uses it again in 1 Henry IV 2.5.327–8 (p. 19; line numbers from Jowett’s Oxford edition). R. W. Dent, Shakespeare’s Proverbial Language: An Index (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1981), compares ‘After a collar comes a halter’ (c513) and ‘To slip (one’s neck out of ) the collar’ (n69). Evans, The Osier Cage, p. 71 Joseph, Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language, p. 167.


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32 Mahood, Shakespeare’s Wordplay, p. 71. 33 Brian Gibbons, ed., Romeo and Juliet, The Arden Shakespeare (London and New York, 1980), 3.5.94n. 34 Jane Freeman, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, showed me how the figures work in 4.1. 35 Mahood, Shakespeare’s Wordplay, p. 70. 36 E. Pearlman, ‘Shakespeare at Work: Romeo and Juliet’, English Literary Renaissance, 24 (1994), 332. See note 20 on 332–3 for a summary of criticism which argues that the speech is relevant. 37 Evans, The Osier Cage, pp. 81, 86. My paragraph on Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech condenses Evans’s detailed analysis, pp. 73–86. 38 Moisan, ‘Rhetoric and the Rehearsal of Death’, p. 402. 39 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982), p. 157. 40 See Joel B. Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind: Rhetorical Inquiry and the Development of Elizabethan Drama (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1978), and the books by Kinney and Rebhorn. 41 Lanham, The Motives of Eloquence, chapters 4 and 5; Trousdale, Shakespeare and the Rhetoricians, pp. 95–113. 42 Rebhorn, The Emperor of Men’s Minds, makes these points on p. 235. 43 Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind, p. 230. 44 See Rebhorn, The Emperor of Men’s Minds, especially chapter 2. 45 See Pearlman’s article, ‘Shakespeare at Work’, pp. 317–21, for the connection between rhetoric and revision in Quarto 2. 46 ‘Shakespeare and Rhetoric’, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, 90 (1954), 46–68.

chap t e r 8

Shakespeare’s thematic modes of speech: Richard II to Henry V Robert Hapgood

Just as Shakespeare’s characters in a given play tend to use the same words and images, they also tend to use the same ‘modes’ of speech. For instance, Hamlet, one of the few plays in which this characteristic has been noted,1 is full of questions. Not all of its speeches take the form of questions, of course, or even most of them; nor is questioning the play’s only recurring mode of speech, may of the characters being equally inclined toward lengthy admonition. Yet the ‘interrogative mood’ the questions create does make a contribution of thematic importance to the tone and meaning of the play. The same can be said, I believe, of comparable modes of speech in many – perhaps all – of Shakespeare’s plays. As a start toward testing this belief, I should like to look at Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. i The central mode of speech in Richard II is that of denunciation. Of the four plays, this is the only one which draws its modes to a large extent from its sources. For the most part, Shakespeare intensifies the denunciations he finds in Hall and Holinshed. Where, for instance, in Holinshed York simply ‘delivered the indenture’ to the king which exposed his son’s plot, in the play he inveighs repeatedly against the ‘villain’ and ‘traitor’ (5.2. and iii).2 Only the formal accusations and grievous crimes that Northumberland tries to make Richard read at his deposition (4.1.223–7) receive less emphasis in the play than in the Chronicles. Shakespeare has also added a large number of denunciations, chiefly by Richard. An inspired name-caller, Richard variously denounces Gaunt (‘lunatic, lean-witted fool’), Bolingbroke (‘this thief . . . who all this while hath revell’d in the night’), Northumberland (‘thou haught insulting man’), his followers (‘snakes in my heart-blood warm’d, that sting my heart’), parliament (‘conveyers are you all’), and himself (‘I find myself a traitor with the rest’). So strong is the prevailing mode that speeches which begin as 139


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something else tend to become denunciatory. Gaunt intends to give sage dying counsel to his king; yet before he is through he is accusing Richard of deposing himself (2.1.93–115). The Duchess of Gloucester’s exhortation to Gaunt (1.2.9–36) leads her finally to call his ‘patience’, ‘pale cold cowardice’. An analogous, though calculated, progression comes at the end of 2.1 where Bolingbroke’s supporters after at first sounding one another out make increasingly vituperative attacks on the king. It is not surprising that a play about civil war should be filled with vehement denunciation. What is surprising is that the two main antagonists never denounce one another face-to-face.3 The nearest they come to doing so is when Bolingbroke like Mowbray refuses the king’s suit to ‘throw up his gage’ (1.1). Why isn’t there an all-out confrontation? It is easy to see why Bolingbroke wants to avoid one since by a show of verbal ‘fair duty’ to Richard he hopes to convert deposition to ‘resignation’. The mystery is Richard’s acquiescence, the play’s chief ‘anti-mode’ of speech.4 Like York when he capitulates to Bolingbroke (2.3), Richard often begins with a strong denunciation only then to weaken and give in altogether. That is the pattern of the scenes at Barkloughly (3.2), Flint (3.3), and parliament (4.1). Doubtless these acquiescences result in part from Richard’s love of the ‘sweet way to despair’; in part, perhaps, from a prescient bowing to the inevitable. But they also reveal specifically verbal weaknesses, not often noted in the poet-king. As extraordinary as Richard’s verbal powers are, they are ironically not those required by his situation. When strong words are called for, he starts brilliantly but lacks the nerve and will to sustain them effectively. On the other hand, when strategic retreat is called for, he is unable to ‘fight with gentle words’, as Aumerle counsels, ‘Till time lend friends and friends their helpful swords’ (3.3.131–2). A further irony is that the very proclivity for acquiescence that contributes to Richard’s defeat does much in the deposition episode to keep Bolingbroke’s victory from being complete. For Richard’s self-protracted humiliation converts what Bolingbroke meant to be a scene of ‘resignation’ by ‘tired majesty’ into a ‘woeful pageant’. Acquiescence is not by any means forgiveness. Richard does not achieve anything like that until shortly before his death. He at first ‘rails’ against roan Barbary as of old: ‘That jade hath eat bread from my royal hand.’ But he ends – in the new vein begun in his soliloquy just before – by crying ‘Forgiveness, horse!’ and turning his condemnation upon himself. Ironically, it is only then that Richard finds the valour to sustain his denunciations and carry them into action, resisting his murderers. When Exton finally strikes him down, Richard dies on a note of malediction and self-assertion:

Richard II to Henry V


That hand shall burn in never-quenching fire That staggers thus my person. Exton, thy fierce hand Hath with the King’s blood stain’d the King’s own land. Mount, mount, my soul! thy seat is up on high; Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die. (5.5.109–13)

ii The central mode of speech in 1 Henry IV is retrospection, chiefly concerning the deposition and death of Richard. The play opens with the king recalling the recent ‘civil butchery’, as do Worcester and Northumberland a scene later. Such speeches might be regarded as no more than necessary dramatic exposition if they did not continue throughout. Thus for his son’s benefit the king reviews Richard’s mistakes (3.2); Hotspur, in a long inopportune speech (4.3.52–105), recalls how My father and my uncle and myself Did give him [the king] that same royalty he wears;

in his parley with the king, Worcester makes an extensive survey of their past relationship (5.1.30–71). This preoccupation with the past extends to other events as well, every man being his own historian and constructing the past – whether he realizes it or not – to his own way of thinking. The king in 1.3, for example, sees Hotspur’s denial of the prisoners as a piece of defiance; Hotspur represents it as merely a warrior’s impatience with a popinjay messenger. They then go on to offer contradictory versions of Mortimer’s capture. Hotspur similarly puts his own humorous interpretation on Glendower’s account of his birth (3.1). No one, however, rewrites history more drastically than Falstaff. His tall tales about the Gadshill robbery, the pocket-picking, and the death of Hotspur put a characteristic twist on the general impulse to recall and interpret the past. For his distortions are deliberate, exaggerated, and meant to be shown up as false – all to regale the prince. Amid the constant remembrance of things past, the speeches which look ahead stand out as the play’s chief anti-mode. 1 Henry IV has no prophets, like Carlisle and Richard in Richard II; its characters regard the future pragmatically, for the sake of controlling it. Hotspur often talks about the future, but he never looks beyond an immediate goal; to him, even ‘Doomsday is near’. It is Worcester who does the long-range planning for the rebels. The king and Falstaff are very much alike in their views of the


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future, the difference of course being that the king fears and tries to avoid the extension of Hal’s ‘degenerate’ tavern-past (3.2) that Falstaff hopes for and tries to promote (1.2). The Prince himself sees further ahead than anyone else in the play, and his is the dominant voice of the future. All of his most important speeches are cast in the future tense, particularly his soliloquy (1.2.218–40) and his assurances to his father (3.2.129–59). Even his eulogies over Hotspur and Falstaff (5.4.87–110) move from the past-tense through the present to the future. In a world largely given to looking backward, the young prince’s confident and discerning talk of the future does much to assure us that he is after all ‘the hope and expectation of his time’. For where everyone else sees the future as an extension of the past, only he sees its opportunities for radical change. iii The central mode of speech in 2 Henry IV is that of true and – almost as frequently – false report. Of course, Shakespeare’s plays often include messages and messengers, as they often include liars. Yet in 2 Henry IV indirect and/or corrupt speech is much more than usually emphasized. ‘What news?’ is a constant question; numerous messengers bring word from battle areas; emissaries and letters ply among the main characters; ‘I hear’ and ‘they say’ are frequent comments. Comic vices of speech are exploited – Pistol’s swaggering, Mrs Quickly’s malapropism, Shallow’s repetitiousness. Everyone is acutely aware that report and fact may not correspond. It is not for nothing that Rumour, ‘painted full of tongues’, is prologue to this play, nor that in its first scene two accurate reports are required in order to correct a single false one. False report is part of the general corruption of communication that marks 2 Henry IV, 5 an aspect, in turn, of the play’s general concern with physical and moral decay. At times, communication breaks down altogether. That is one of the causes of the rebellion. The Archbishop complains of the king that we ‘might by no suit gain our audience’ (4.1.76); yet when in the same scene the rebels are offered such an audience, the Archbishop can accept it only over the protests of Mowbray. Even when communication is held, it is likely to be misleading. These people are quite prepared to break their words, Northumberland being of course a prime offender. The rebels are alert to this hazard with him (1.3.17–30), but they are taken in by Prince John’s equivocation about their grievances (4.2), the success of which turns significantly on the refusal of his men to accept a second-hand order.

Richard II to Henry V


Since language and fact are so far apart, mere reputation is an obsessive concern. Mrs. Quickly is intent on remaining ‘in good name and fame with the very best’; Poins avows that he is ‘well spoke on’; Justice Shallow fears backbiting. His elaborate lies glorifying the wildness of his youth are a sophistication of this same concern. Nor is it absent from the nobility. The Archbishop is careful to ‘publish the occasion of our arms’, and his leadership is welcomed because the bishop, Turns insurrection to religion. (1.1.200–1)

The king assures Hal that the crown will descend to him with ‘Better opinion, better confirmation’. The decay of language extends to unexpected places. In what other play would a newly bereaved father play on his dead son’s name (‘Hotspur Coldspur?’); a widow recall with pride how the valiant turned ‘their own perfection to abuse’ in order to ‘speak thick’ like her husband; a king attempt to make his own death in Jerusalem Chamber fulfil the prophecy that he ‘should not die but in Jerusalem’; an Epilogue apologize for his poor speech? Even silence in this play is corrupt, being the product of dread (1.1.95–6), mercenary obsequiousness (2.2.179), or sheer vacuity (it is right that the few words Silence says should be inconsequential). Most alarming of all, Shakespeare himself seems in his nameplay to be caught up into this same mode. Not only do we see characters with names like Fang, Snare, Shallow, Feeble, Bullcalf: but we hear about Master Smooth the silk-man, Jane Nightwork, Master Dumbe, William Visor, and others – all denizens of a world where a person’s name is likely to be a true or false report of his character. Falstaff is of course the chief master of false report and general abuser of language. Hardly a character escapes his incidental slander or abuse. He has a taste for hearsay and indirect communication, especially about awkward matters. He is preoccupied with names, especially his own (2.2.143–5). As the scenes with Coleville (4.3) and Shallow demonstrate, he exploits brilliantly the whole school of tongues in his belly. He twists words every which way, not mistakenly like the Hostess and Pistol but knowingly; indeed, he parodies Pistol’s helplessly stagey bombast to his face: ‘O base Assyrian knight, what is thy news?’ (5.3.105). Having broken his word to Mrs Quickly, he pacifies her with new ‘smooth comforts false’ (2.1). Falstaff ’s verbal vices momentarily infect even the Lord Chief Justice. At the end of their first exchange (1.2), the Justice for the first time uses an


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expression which Falstaff has used repeatedly: ‘I hear you are going with the Lord John of Lancaster.’ (This is third-hand information, in fact, reported as hearsay by his servant at the beginning of this scene.) For the first time, he uses repetition for emphasis, Falstaff ’s ‘gravy, gravy, gravy’ being echoed in the Justice’s ‘fie, fie, fie’ and ‘be honest, be honest’. Still worse, his last speech includes not only another repetition but a Falstaffian pun! To Falstaff ’s impudent request for a thousand pound, he replies: ‘not a penny, not a penny: you are too impatient to bear crosses’. Prince Hal knows the mode of indirect and corrupt speech that prevails in his world and how to operate within it. He understands that if he grieved openly about his father’s illness, every man would, like Poins, think him a most princely hypocrite (2.2.51–65); he plans as king to raze out Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down After my seeming. (5.2.127–9)

Yet he ultimately transcends this mode, I believe, and succeeds in speaking truly and directly, the play’s chief anti-mode. Even in Part One, Hal could talk straight, except where Falstaff was concerned. Even his exposures of Falstaff’s prevarications were playful and indulgent; and on Falstaff ’s behalf he himself lied to the Sheriff (‘The man, I do assure you, is not here’) and promised to back up Falstaff’s fiction about killing Hotspur. Only when he spoke in his father’s voice in the tavern-playlet could the prince warn Falstaff of his eventual banishment: ‘I do, I will.’ Part Two shows Hal in the process of acquiring the kingly manner of speech in which he finally does make a direct rejection of Falstaff. His lessons in straight-talk come not only from another long interview with his father (4.5) but also from an important exchange with the Lord Chief Justice, in which the new king first anticipates a time when he shall live to echo his dead father’s words to the Justice (5.2.107) and then adopts the Justice as a new father: You shall be as a father to my youth: My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear. (5.2.119–20)

Regarded unsympathetically, as the cold-blooded and long-premeditated dismissal of a tool who has outlived his usefulness, the young king’s speech of rejection (5.5.51–77) might seem a supreme denial of true communication,

Richard II to Henry V


as he silences Falstaff (‘I know thee not old man . . . Reply not to me with a fool-born jest’) and speaks with the self-righteousness and end-stopped formality of someone twice his years. But if – as I believe – Hal genuinely had a taste for small beer and truly is here renouncing his old self as well as his old companions, then the weaknesses of his speech can be seen as the poignant ones of a beginner. If he sounds too much like the Lord Chief Justice that is because he has so recently vowed that his voice shall sound as the Justice prompts his ear. Predictably, not only Falstaff – once the first shock is over – but also Prince John misconstrues the king’s words, each interpreting them in his own sick idiom. Falstaff assures Shallow: ‘this that you heard was but a colour . . . I shall be sent for soon at night’. Prince John is nearer the truth but still immersed in verbal appearances: He hath intent his wonted followers Shall all be very well provided for; But all are banish’d till their conversations Appear more wise and modest to the world. (5.5.104–7)

iv The central mode of speech in Henry V is that of dispute. Unlike the other three Lancastrian plays, each of which announces its central mode at the outset, Henry V begins with its main anti-mode, concert and agreement: the Prologue invokes a Muse of fire, appeals to English national feeling, and apologetically seeks the cooperation of spectator with performer; and the first scenes show the church and the crown working out the terms of their mutual assistance. Not until the end of the second scene, when the Ambassadors of France arrive with their tennis balls, is the dominant mode sounded. Disputes between the two enemies were of course to be expected in this play, and we are not disappointed; shamelessly weighted to favour the English, they continue until the agreements of the finale. What might not have been expected is the extent to which the two sides quarrel among themselves. Such disputes are even more frequent than those between the two sides. The French mode of dispute is that of mocking insult. This is emphatically the manner of the Dauphin’s gift of tennis-balls and of the Constable’s advice that the English repent before they die (4.3.83–7). Among themselves, it marks the Constable’s barbed raillery with the Dauphin and


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Orleans (3.7) and seems even to be the mode of French women; the Dauphin protests: Our madams mock at us, and plainly say Our mettle is bred out and they will give Their bodies to the lust of English youth . . . (3.5.28–30)

The French are much given, also, to bragging, both to the English and among themselves. As King Henry jokes to Montjoy: forgive me, God, That I do brag thus! This your air of France Hath blown that vice in me; I must repent. (3.6.159–61)

Yet they are quickly reduced to unconditional surrender, most subjectly in Monsieur le Fer’s cries: ‘O, je vous supplie, pour l’amour de Dieu, me pardonner!’ (4.4.42). Like the top levels of the French court, the lower orders of the English army are constantly in dispute; yet unlike the French, whose disagreements are often left hanging in the air, theirs are always resolved, as in the quarrel (2.1) between Nym and Pistol over Nell Quickly. Captain Fluellen, the very embodiment of disputatiousness, is at the centre of these disputes. His ‘prawls, and prabbles, and quarrels, and dissensions’ are what he lives for, and he is too prone to equate love of dispute with valour in battle. He grossly underestimates Captain Macmorris, who is all fight and no talk; while he at first grossly overestimates Pistol, who – as the Boy puts it – ‘hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword’. Fluellen is so disputatious that he can even provoke a slight tiff with the otherwise ever-agreeable Gower (4.1.76), but his main disputes are of course with Pistol. Their contention echoes the international dispute, as the braggart’s mocking insults give way to easy and total submission: ‘Must I bite?’ King Henry’s magnanimity to a conquered foe is reflected in the groat Fluellen gives Pistol to ‘heal your pate’. Apart from his international exchanges, King Henry’s chief disputes come when he is in disguise – first, as Harry le Roi, with Pistol (4.1.35– 63); then, later in the scene, with Williams. The latter is easily the most searching of the play’s disputes, the disguised king and his men debating the highest issues of duty and rule before descending to embroilments about the king’s ‘foolish saying’ and Williams’s ‘something too round’ reproof.

Richard II to Henry V


The king’s most characteristic mode of speech, however, is the play’s chief anti-mode: concert and agreement. Among the English nobility, especially in contrast to the French, there is notable amity among themselves and loyalty to the king. If the three traitors pervert this solidarity in their false expressions of fidelity (2.2.18–51), the king is not deceived; and their exception is more than counter-balanced by Exeter’s account of the deaths of Suffolk and York (4.6.7–32), which is the most extreme expression of amity in the play, perhaps in Shakespeare. Henry knows how to knit his band of brothers. Of course there are those who do not respond to his appeals. Among the stragglers, Bardolph can only parody the king’s battle-cry: ‘On, on, on, on, on! to the breach, to the breach!’ (3.2). The king is prepared to sacrifice their friendship. In their place, he welcomes Fluellen, who does respond to his cry and echoes it, if very much in his own idiom: ‘Up to the breach, you dogs! avaunt, you cullions!’ With France, Henry’s is again the voice of unity: not as a mediator – he is not a Bardolph or a Bates or, at the international level, a Burgundy – but as a magnanimous conqueror. Typically, his victory with Kate is on his own terms – she goes much further than he in an attempt to ‘talk the same language’ – yet he has the magnanimity to attempt a little French. v There are many more modal resemblances among these four plays than I have brought out in the preceding sections. For instance, the last scenes of 1 Henry IV (5.1.126 to the end) anticipate Part Two’s indirect and corrupt speech, while Part Two has a heavily retrospective portion (3.1.56 through 4.1.139) which is very much like Part One. As I have defined them, moreover, the ‘modes’ often overlap; for they are obviously not part of a system of exclusive categories. Thus, many of the denunciations in Richard II are retrospective; many of the retrospections in 1 Henry IV are in the form of reports; many of the reports in 2 Henry IV are disputed; many of the disputes in Henry V are denunciatory. Yet the plays do differ in their treatment of these various modes of speech; and furthermore these differences fit together into a coherent sequence when seen as part of the whole use of speech in the four plays. The dialogue of these successive plays – like their politics – moves from initial disorder through virtual chaos to a final restoration of order. The first verbal disorder is the gap between word and deed which Richard II creates by his exaggerated notion of the power of words. By trying to substitute words for deeds, however, he only separates the two, a gap which


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Bolingbroke of course exploits. In 1 Henry IV the general validity of speech continues to diminish, reaching an extreme in the utter nominalism of Falstaff’s catechism on honour (5.1.126–44). His talk throughout registers the first boom of possibilities in an inflated verbal economy where speech is scarcely hampered by fact. In 2 Henry IV the debasement of speech has become still further widespread. The dying king now seems ironically remote from a world which his own verbal techniques have helped to create. He must rely on intermediaries, especially his son John, who understands fully the way the Archbishop seeks to turn ‘the word to the sword’ and in the grievance-trick (4.2) beats him at his own word-game. Prince Hal has already begun to break out of this descending verbal spiral. As Henry V, he is much concerned with true speech, cautioning the churchmen to be sure that what you speak is in your conscience wash’d As pure as sin with baptism. (1.2.31–2)

Since he knows their stake in endorsing his claims to France, this ‘conjuration’ might seem hypocritical. To my ear, however, it seems an eleventhhour bid for candour, all politics aside. For the king makes the same kind of request of the French ambassadors: with frank and with uncurbed plainness Tell us the Dauphin’s mind, (1.2.244–5)

and himself practises such speech with Montjoy: to say the sooth, Though ’tis no wisdom to confess so much Unto an enemy of craft and vantage My people are with sickness much enfeebled, My numbers lessen’d . . . (3.6.151–5)

It is upon such speech that Henry V seeks to found a new order. He ends the play by telling Kate and the others: Prepare we for our marriage: on which day, My Lord of Burgundy, we’ll take your oath, And all the peers’, for surety of our leagues, Then shall I swear to Kate, and you to me; And may our oaths well kept and prosperous be!

Richard II to Henry V


Sketchy as it is, this outline may serve to suggest a rationale for the successive thematic modes.6 The denunciations of Richard II are obviously manifestations of an exaggerated sense of word-power: in this world of discourse, to denounce a traitor is tantamount to a curse! As the gap between word and deed widens in 1 Henry IV, it is natural that many of the characters should look back – in sorrow as well as anger – to a time when unkept promises were first made and when in other ways their words and lives began to lose their meaning; hence the obsessive retrospection. When this loss of meaning continues, it is not surprising to hear the characters in 2 Henry IV trying to find it not only in the past but in current opinion – what other people are saying. Henry V then redeems this corrupt speech by restoring its bond with action. One might wish for a less truculent mode of settling differences than its constant disputes, but at least a genuine dialogue takes place in which speech is truly meant and leads directly to action. Certain of the individual modes, when followed through the four plays, also reflect this overall progression. The grandiose denunciations of Richard II, for example, give way to the tavern jocularities of Hal and Falstaff (who make a sport of base comparisons) and then to the gutter invective of Doll Tearsheet. Henry V, in contrast, is notably unwilling to call names (he orders that none of the French should be ‘upbraided or abused in disdainful language’), although he can call treachery by its right name when necessary (2.2). What stands out most of all is the sequence of anti-modes which Shakespeare gives Harry Monmouth: in a world of retrospection, his is the voice of the future; in a world of false report, his speech is direct and true; in a world of dispute, his call is to concord. Whatever the prevailing mode, and however advanced the general decay of language, Shakespeare always lets us hear in his voice its heroic opposite. First published in Shakespeare Survey 20 (1967) n otes 1 Maynard Mack, ‘The World of Hamlet’, YR, 41 (1952), 502–23 and Harry Levin, The Question of Hamlet (New York, 1959). Other related studies include: Maynard Mack, ‘The Jacobean Shakespeare’, in Jacobean Theatre: Stratford-upon-Avon Studies 1, ed. J. R. Brown and B. Harris (1960), particularly pp. 13–24; Francis Berry, Poets Grammar (1958), particularly ch. 3: ‘Pronoun and Verb in Shakespeare’; Winifred M. T. Nowottny, ‘Lear’s Questions’, Shakespeare Survey 10 (1957), 90–7; Judith M. Karr, ‘The Pleas in Tit.’, SQ, 14 (1963), 278–9. In ‘The


2 3




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Life of Shame: Parolles and All’s W.’, EIC, 15 (1965), 269–78, I discuss the thematic interplay of lying and ‘telling true’; in The Explicator, 24 (1966), item 60, I analyse As You Like It’s shift in modes from sympathy and encouragement to mockery and flytings. The prehistory of these modes is to be found in the set-speech, studied by Wolfgang Clemen in English Tragedy Before Shakespeare, trans. T. S. Dorsch (New York, 1961). The modes relax the strict forms of the set-speech, immensely widen its range of types, and extend its functions. References are to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ed. H. Craig (Chicago, 1951). This is the more surprising in view of the frequency of comparable confrontation scenes in Shakespeare’s predecessors and in his own Henry VI plays. See Robert Y. Turner, ‘Shakespeare and the Public Confrontation Scene’, MP, 42 (1964), 1–12. There are other contrasting modes. The denunciations often occasion or are accompanied by speeches of passionate self-assertion or self-defence, the most extreme of these being King Richard’s rhapsodies of self-glorification. The few expressions of genuine sympathy also stand out, especially York’s account of Richard’s humiliation in London (5.2.6–40). So, too, does flattery. Ironically, although we hear a good deal about Richard’s flatterers, the most obvious flattery is directed, unsuccessfully, to Bolingbroke; Northumberland lays it on with a trowel: ‘your fair discourse hath been as sugar . . .’ (2.3.2–18). Particularly in the Quarto text. For a discussion of the profanity, ‘colloquialisms, vulgarisms, and other improprieties of expression which give the q text some of its racy flavour’, see the New Variorum 2 H. V, ed. M. A. Shaaber (Philadelphia, 1940), p. 503. For a fuller survey along these lines (published after my article had gone to press), cf. Eric La Guardia, ‘Ceremony and History: The Problem of Symbol from R. II to H. V ’, in Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare, ed. W. F. McNeir and T. N. Greenfield (Eugene, Oregon, 1966), pp. 68–88.

chap t e r 9

Hamlet and the power of words Inga-Stina Ewbank

If the first law of literary and dramatic criticism is that the approach to a work should be determined by the nature of that work, then I take courage from the fact that Hamlet is a play in which, in scene after scene, fools tend to rush in where angels fear to tread. That such fools also tend to come to a bad end – to be stabbed behind the arras or summarily executed in England, ‘not shriving-time allowed’ – I prefer at this point not to consider. The area into which I propose to rush is the language of Hamlet. The method of entry is eclectic. If there is any timeliness about the rush it is that – just as ten years or so ago King Lear was Our Contemporary – Hamlet is now coming to the fore as one of the inhabitants of No Man’s Land. A recent book on Shakespeare’s Tragic Alphabet speaks of the play being about ‘a world where words and gestures have become largely meaningless’, and even as long as twenty-five years ago an article on ‘The Word in Hamlet’ began by drawing attention to ‘the intensely critical, almost disillusionist, attitude of the play towards language itself’.1 Against these, I must confess a firm (and perhaps old-fashioned) belief that Hamlet, the play, belongs not so much in No Man’s as in Everyman’s Land: that it is a vision of the human condition realized in the whole visual and verbal language of the theatre with such intensity and gusto that from any point of view it becomes meaningless to call that language meaningless; and that in the play as a whole speech is something far more complex, with powers for good and ill, than the ‘words, words, words’ of Hamlet’s disillusionment. My aim is to explore the part which speech plays in the life of this play and the function of speech as part of Shakespeare’s vision in the play. I must start with an example. At the opening of Act 4 – or, as some would prefer to describe it, at the close of the closet scene – Claudius pleads with Gertrude, whom he has found in considerable distress: 151


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There’s matter in these sighs, these profound heaves, You must translate; ’tis fit we understand them.

Of course he thinks he knows what the ‘matter’ is, for he also immediately adds ‘Where is your son?’ Gertrude has just been through the most harrowing2 experience: Hamlet’s words to her have ‘like daggers’ entered into her ‘ears’ and turned her ‘eyes into [her] very soul’ where she has gained such unspeakable knowledge of her ‘black and grained spots’ as might well have made her feel unable to comply with Claudius’s request for a ‘translation’. Indeed, in a modern play, where husbands and wives tend to find that on the whole they don’t speak the same language, the shock of insight might well have led her to make some statement of non-communication – some version of the reply by Ibsen’s Nora (that early non-communicating wife) to her husband’s wish to ‘understand’ her reactions: You don’t understand me. Nor have I ever understood you.3

In fact, of course, Gertrude does the opposite. She provides a translation of the preceding scene which manages to avoid saying anything about herself but to describe Hamlet’s madness, his killing of Polonius, and his treatment of the body. As so often in this play,4 we have a retelling of an episode which we have already witnessed. And so we can see at once that Gertrude’s translation is a mixture of three kinds of components: first, of what really happened and was said (including a direct quotation of Hamlet’s cry ‘a rat’, though she doubles it and changes it from a question to an exclamation);5 secondly, of what she thinks, or would like to think, happened and was said. She is prepared to read into Hamlet’s behaviour such motivations, and to add such details, as she would have liked to find – as Polonius suspected when he appointed himself ‘some more audience than a mother, / Since nature makes them partial’ (3.3.31–2), though even he could not have foreseen that her partiality would come to extend to a fictitious description of Hamlet mourning over his corpse.6 Thirdly, but most importantly, as it most controls both what she says and how she says it, her translation consists of what she wants the king to think did happen: that the scene demonstrated what Hamlet in a doubly ironic figure of speech had told her not to say, i.e. that he is ‘essentially’ mad and not ‘mad in craft’. Her emotion is released, and her verbal energy spends itself, not on the part of the recent experience which concerns herself most radically, but on convincing her husband that her son is Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend Which is the mightier.

Hamlet and the power of words


Claudius may end the scene ‘full of discord and dismay’, but – and this seems usually to be the most Gertrude can hope for – things are not as bad as they might have been. She has in a manner protected her son by sticking to her assurance to him that if words be made of breath And breath of life, I have no life to breathe What thou hast said to me;

she has at least not added to Claudius’s suspicions of Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’; and she has paid some tribute to the victim of the game between the two, the murderer and the revenger: ‘the unseen good old man’. I do not think that Gertrude’s design is as conscious as this analysis may have suggested, but her translation has worked. In so far as anything in this play, so full of surprises at every corner, is typical of the whole, the scene seems to me a model for how language functions within much of the play: communicating by adapting words to thought and feeling, in a process which involves strong awareness in the speaker of who is being spoken to. Of course there has not been much truth spoken and on that score, no doubt, the scene is a thematic illustration of that dreaded pair of abstracts, Appearance and Reality; and the author’s attitude is ‘disillusionist’ enough. And of course the scene in one sense speaks of non-communication between husband and wife. Gertrude has drawn apart, with her unspeakable knowledge and suspicion, much as Macbeth has when he bids his wife ‘Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck’ (Macbeth 3.2.45). But, in its dramatic context, the language does a great deal more than that. There is, as Polonius has said, ‘some more audience’ in the theatre, and to them – to us – the language speaks eloquently of the strange complexities of human life, of motives and responses and the re-alignment of relationships under stress. It speaks of Gertrude’s desperate attempt to remain loyal to her son but also (however misguidedly) to her husband and to his chief councillor. Ultimately the power of the words is Shakespeare’s, not Gertrude’s, and it operates even through the total muteness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who, like parcels, are, most Stoppard-like, sent out and in and out again in the course of the scene. Claudius’s verb for what he asks Gertrude to do is apter than he knew himself: ‘You must translate’. Presumably (and editors do not seem to feel that annotation is needed) he simply wants her to interpret her signs of emotion in words, to change a visual language into a verbal. But, as anyone knows who has attempted translation in its now most commonly accepted sense, the processes involved in finding equivalents in one language for


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the signs of another are far from simple. There is a troublesome tension – indeed often an insoluble contradiction – between the demands of ‘interpretation’ and those of ‘change’, between original meaning and meaningfulness in another language. That Shakespeare was aware of this – although, unlike many of his fellow poets and dramatists, he was apparently not an inter-lingual translator – is suggested, in the first place, by the various ways in which he uses the word ‘translate’ in his plays. Alexander Schmidt’s Shakespeare-Lexicon separates three clearly defined meanings: (1) to transform or to change, as Bottom is ‘translated’, or as beauty is not translated into honesty in the nunnery scene; (2) ‘to render into another language (or rather to change by rendering into another language)’, as Falstaff translates Mistress Ford’s inclinations ‘out of honesty into English’, or as the Archbishop of York translates his whole being ‘Out of the speech of peace . . . Into the harsh and boist’rous tongue of war’ (both these examples being rather demanding in the way of dictionaries); and (3) to interpret or explain, as in the Claudius line I have been discussing, or as Aeneas has translated Troilus to Ulysses.7 Not only do Schmidt and the OED disagree over these definitions,8 but, as the examples I have given indicate, meanings seem to overlap within Shakespeare’s uses of the word – so that all three hover around the following lines from Sonnet 96: So are those errors that in thee are seen To truths translated and for true things deem’d.

That sonnet is in a sense about the problem of finding a language for the ‘grace and faults’ of the beloved – a problem which haunts many of the Sonnets and can be solved, the poems show, only by fusing change and interpretation into a single poetic act. In much the same way, Hamlet is dominated by the hero’s search for a way to translate (though Shakespeare does not use the word here) the contradictory demands of the Ghost: If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not; .... But, howsomever thou pursuest this act, Taint not thy mind . . . (1.5.81, 84–5)

Claudius, we are going to see, finds that his position translates best into oxymorons; and Troilus feels the need to be bilingual – ‘this is, and is not, Cressid’ – or simply silent: ‘Hector is dead; there is no more to say’. If, then, to translate means both to interpret and to change, it also usually means being particularly conscious of the words used in the process. All of

Hamlet and the power of words


us, surely, are prepared to claim with Coleridge that we have ‘a smack of Hamlet’ in us; but those of us who have approached the English language from the outside may perhaps claim a special kind of smack. For lack of sophistication we may share that alertness to a rich, hybrid language, to latent metaphors and multiple meanings waiting to be activated, which Hamlet has by an excess of sophistication. With still fresh memories of looking up a word in the English dictionary and finding a bewildering row of possible meanings, or an equally bewildering row of words for a supposedly given meaning, we are also peculiarly prepared to give more than local significance to Claudius’s line: ‘You must translate; ’tis fit we understand’. I would not indulge in these speculations if I did not believe that they applied directly to Hamlet. George Steiner, in After Babel, maintains that ‘inside or between languages, human communication equals translation’.9 Hamlet, I think, bears out the truth of this. Hamlet himself is throughout the play trying to find a language to express himself through, as well as languages to speak to others in; and round him – against him and for him – the members of the court of Elsinore are engaging in acts of translation. The first meeting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in 2.2, would be a specific example of this general statement. Hamlet’s speech on how he has of late lost all his mirth – mounting to the much-quoted ‘What a piece of work is man! . . . / And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’ – is only partly, if at all, a spontaneous overflow of his mythical sorrows (let alone of Shakespeare’s). Partly, even mainly, it is his translation, in such terms of fin-de-si`ecle disillusionment as clever young men will appreciate, of just as much of his frame of mind as he wants Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to understand. And the verbal hide-and-seek of the whole episode turns what might have been a simple spy/counterspy scene into a complex study of people trying to control each other by words. Here, and elsewhere in the play, the mystery of human intercourse is enacted and the power of words demonstrated: what we say, and by saying do, to each other, creating and destroying as we go along. No one in the play seems to regret that it is words they ‘gotta use’ when they speak to each other. Hamlet, unlike Coriolanus, never holds his mother ‘by the hand, silent’; and his only major speechless moment is that which Ophelia describes to Polonius, when with a look so piteous in purport As if he had been loosed out of hell To speak of horrors – he comes before me. (2.1.81–4)


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The Ghost does indeed hint at unspeakable horrors – ‘I could a tale unfold’ – but he is very explicit about the effects its ‘lightest word’ would have, and the only reason he does not speak those words is a purgatorial prohibition on telling ‘the secrets of my prison-house’ to ‘ears of flesh and blood’ (1.5.13 ff.). Words govern the action of the play, from the ironical watchword – ‘Long live the King!’ – which allays Francisco’s fears at the opening, to Hamlet’s ‘dying voice’ which gives the throne of Denmark to Fortinbras at the end; and, beyond, to the speech which will be given by Horatio when it is all over, explaining ‘to th’yet unknowing world / How these things came about’. Words control the fates and the development of the characters, and not only when they are spoken by the Ghost to Hamlet and turned by him into a principle of action (‘Now to my word’: 1.5.110). Words can open Gertrude’s eyes, help to drive Ophelia mad, unpack Hamlet’s heart (however much he regrets it); and if Claudius finds that ‘words without thoughts never to heaven go’ (3.3.98), this merely validates those words which have thoughts. Sometimes the words deceive, sometimes they say what is felt and meant, sometimes they are inadequate – but the inadequacy reflects on the speaker rather than the language. In the study, where the play so readily presents itself spatially and thematically, it may be easy to speak of it as demonstrating the inadequacy of words. In the theatre, the words have to get us through the four-and-a-half hours’ traffic of the stage, and (when they have not been cut or played about with) they give us a play of relationships, of ‘comutual’ (as the Player King would call them) interactions and dialogues – a world where it is natural to ask not only ‘What’s Hecuba to him?’ but also ‘or he to Hecuba?’ Hamlet, for all its soliloquies, may well be the Shakespeare play which most confirms Ben Jonson’s statement, in Discoveries, that language ‘is the instrument of society’; and in exploring the function of speech in the play we may do well to listen to Henry James’s words to the graduating class at Bryn Mawr College in June 1905: All life therefore comes back to the question of our speech, the medium through which we communicate with each other; for all life comes back to the question of our relations with each other . . . . . . the way we say a thing, or fail to say it, fail to learn to say it, has an importance in life that is impossible to overstate – a far-reaching importance, as the very hinge of the relation of man to man.10

Looking at the world of ‘relations’ in Hamlet from the outside, we can have no doubt that its hinges are well oiled, by the sheer size of its vocabulary. Long ago now, the patient industry of Alfred Hart demonstrated that

Hamlet and the power of words


Hamlet has ‘the largest and most expressive vocabulary’ of all Shakespeare’s plays, and that it abounds in new words – new to Shakespeare and also, in many cases, apparently new to English literature – a considerable number of which do not recur in any later Shakespeare plays.11 And a new language for new and unique experiences is suggested not only by the single words but by the new structures, images and figures into which they are combined – as indeed by the new uses of old syntactical patterns and rhetorical figures. (It is worth remembering that, seen through the eyes of T. W. Baldwin and Sister Miriam Joseph, Hamlet’s forerunners are Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel.)12 Language is being stretched and re-shaped to show the form and pressure of the Hamlet world. The extraordinary variety of language modes is important, too: we move, between scenes or within a scene or even within a speech, from moments of high elaboration and formality to moments of what Yeats would have called ‘walking naked’,13 where speech is what the Sonnets call ‘true and plain’ and we call ‘naturalistic’. If we view the world of Hamlet from the inside, we find that what the still small voices in the play have in common with the loud and eloquent ones is a general belief in the importance of speaking. The play begins with three men repeatedly imploring a ghost to speak and ends with Hamlet’s concern for what Horatio is going to ‘speak to th’yet unknowing world’, and in between characters are always urging each other to speak. It is as natural for Laertes to part from Ophelia with a ‘let me hear from you’ (1.3.4) as it is for Polonius to react to Ophelia’s ‘affrighted’ description of Hamlet’s appearance with ‘What said he?’ (2.1.86). In this particular instance there is no speech to report, but the keynote of most of the character confrontations in the play could, again, have been taken from the Discoveries: ‘Language most shews a man: Speak, that I may see thee.’14 In Hamlet, unlike King Lear, seeing is rarely enough. Ophelia’s lament at the end of the nunnery scene – O, woe is me T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see! –

follows upon an unusually (for her) eloquent analysis of both what she has seen and what she is seeing (‘O, what a noble mind is here o’er-thrown!’); and Gertrude, we know, soon finds words to translate into words her exclamation, ‘Ah, mine own lord, what have I seen tonight!’ Often seeing has to be achieved through hearing. ‘You go not till I set you up a glass’, Hamlet tells his mother, but that ‘glass’ is not so much ‘the counterfeit presentment of two brothers’ as Hamlet’s speech on Gertrude’s lack of ‘eyes’. Unlike Edgar, Horatio is left with the exact and exacting task of speaking not


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what he feels, but what he ought to say. One begins to feel that the ear is the main sense organ in Hamlet, and concordances confirm that the word ‘ear’ occurs in this play more times than in any other of Shakespeare’s.15 Through the ear – ‘attent’, or ‘knowing’ – comes the understanding which Claudius asks Gertrude for in 4.1; but through the ‘too credent’ or ‘foolish’ ear come deception and corruption. Claudius seems obsessed with a sense of Laertes’s ear being infected ‘with pestilent speeches’ while he himself is being arraigned ‘in ear and ear’ (4.5.87–91). Well he might be, for in the Ghost’s speech all of Denmark had, as in a Bosch vision, been contracted into a single ear: so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abus’d; (1.5.36–8)

and the ironic source and sounding-board of all these images is of course the literal poisoning by ear on which the plot of the play rests. So the characters not only speak, they listen. Not only do we, the audience, marvel at the variety of idioms heard, from Gravedigger to Player King, from Osric, who has ‘only got the tune of the time and the outward habit of encounter’ (5.2.185), to Ophelia whose real fluency comes only in madness. But the characters themselves take a conscious and delighted interest in the idiosyncracies of individual and national idioms, in how people speak, as Polonius says, ‘according to the phrase and the addition / Of man and country’ (2.1.47–8). Hamlet’s parodies of spoken and written styles are outstanding, but Polonius – in instructing Reynaldo – is just as good at imitating potential conversations. Seen from our point of view or the characters’, the play is alive with interest in how people react to each other and to each other’s language. Like Claudius, in the scene from which I began, the characters, when they urge each other to speak, expect to understand the ‘matter’, or meaning, of what is said. Hence they are particularly disturbed by the apparent meaninglessness of ‘antic’ speech – ‘I have nothing with this answer, Hamlet; these words are not mine’, is Claudius’s sharpest and most direct rebuke to his nephew/son (3.2.93–4) – and by the dim apprehension, again expressed by Claudius, after overhearing the nunnery scene, that the lack of ‘form’ in such speech may conceal ‘something’ (3.1.162 ff.) Laertes does recognize that mad speech may reach beyond rational discourse – ‘This nothing’s more than matter’ – and be more effectively moving (4.5.171 and 165–6). But the first we hear of Ophelia’s madness is Gertrude’s abrupt opening

Hamlet and the power of words


line in 4.5: ‘I will not speak with her’, followed by the Gentleman’s long account of her language: Her speech is nothing, Yet the unshaped use of it doth move The hearers to collection; they yawn at it, And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts. (lines 7–10)

Yielding to Horatio’s cautiously applied pressure – ‘’Twere good she were spoken with’ – Gertrude can attempt a dialogue only through the usual request for meaning: ‘Alas, sweet lady, what imports this song?’; and even Ophelia knows through her madness the kind of question that will be asked about her: ‘when they ask you what it means, say you this: . . .’ We have returned to the idea of translation, for in their intercourse the characters seem unusually aware of their interlocutors’ tendency to ‘botch the words up fit to their own thoughts’. One main aspect of this is the belief, demonstrated throughout the play, in the importance of finding the right language for the right person. The opening scene is a model of this. Horatio had been brought in as a translator (‘Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio’)16 but, though the Ghost’s first appearance turns him from scepticism to ‘fear and wonder’, he is unsure of his language. His vocabulary is wrong: ‘What art thou that usurp’st [a particularly unfortunate verb in the circumstances] this time of night . . . ?’ and so is his tone: ‘By heaven I charge thee, speak!’ On the Ghost’s second appearance, Horatio’s litany of appeals – ‘If . . . Speak to me’ – more nearly approaches the ceremony which befits a king. The second ‘If’, with its sense of ‘comutual’ purpose, gets very warm – If there be any good thing to be done, That may to thee do ease and grace to me –

but Horatio then loses himself in the motivations of generalized ghost lore; and, in any case, Time in the form of a cock’s crow interrupts any possible interchange. A ‘show of violence’ signals the hopeless defeat of verbal communication. Horatio now knows that none but Hamlet can find the language needed, and so the scene ends with the decision to ‘impart what we have seen tonight / Unto young Hamlet’, for: This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.

But the gap between speakers which – they are aware – must be bridged by translation is not always as wide as the grave. The king appeals to


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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as being on the same side of the generation gap as Hamlet – being of so young days brought up with him, And sith so neighboured to his youth and haviour – (2.2.11–12)

which should give them a language ‘to gather, / So much as from occasion you may glean’; and Hamlet conjures them to tell the truth ‘by the consonancy of our youth’ (2.2.283). When the opening of the closet scene has demonstrated that Gertrude’s language and her son’s are in diametrical opposition – Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended. Mother, you have my father much offended. –

and that he will not adopt the language of a son to a mother (‘Have you forgot me?’) but insists on a vocabulary and syntax which ram home the confusion in the state of Denmark – No, by the rood, not so: You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife. And – would it were not so! – you are my mother –

then Gertrude can see no other way out of the deadlock but to call for translators: Nay then, I’ll set those to you that can speak.

Hamlet’s refusal to be thus translated is what leads to Polonius’s death. Polonius spends much energy, in his last few days of life, on finding a language for a madman, trying – as in 2.2 – at the same time to humour and to analyse Hamlet. But Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are perhaps even more supremely aware of the necessity of different languages for different persons. They take their colour, their style, tone and imagery, from their interlocutors, whether it is a question of speaking the snappy, quibbling dialogue of clever young students with Hamlet on first meeting him, or enlarging before Claudius on the idea of ‘the cease of majesty’ so that it becomes an extended image of ‘a massy wheel, / Fixed on the summit of the highest mount’ (3.3.10 ff.). They are in the end chameleons rather than caterpillars, and it is naturally to them that Hamlet speaks the words in which the play’s interest in suiting language to persons is taken to the extreme of parody:

Hamlet and the power of words


Besides, to be demanded of a sponge – what replication should be made by the son of a king? (4.2.12)

It is natural, too, that when the programming has gone wrong in their language laboratory they are helpless and can say nothing but What should we say, my lord? (2.2.275)

The characters of the play, then, are on the whole very self-conscious speakers, in a way which involves consciousness of others: they believe in the word and its powers, but they are also aware of the necessity so to translate intentions and experiences into words as to make them meaningful to the interlocutor. And not only vaguely meaningful: they know the effect they want to produce and take careful steps to achieve it. Perhaps the Reynaldo scene is the best model of this. Polonius, in a dialogue of superb naturalism, with its stops and starts, doublings back and forgettings what he was about to say, gives Reynaldo a lesson in translation which is much closer to the heart of the play than any mere plot function might suggest. Anyone who thinks Polonius just a fool ought to look again at the almost Jamesian subtlety with which Reynaldo is instructed to control the tone of his indirect enquiries into Laertes’s Parisian life, to breathe his faults so quaintly That they may seem the taints of liberty, (2.1.31–2)

and, in case he has not got the point, to lay ‘these slight sullies on my son, / As ’twere a thing a little soil’d wi’th’ working’ (lines 39–40). This is a situation less Machiavellian than the Revenge genre might seem to demand, and more like the instruction of Strether where, as here, facts tend to refract into opaque impressions rather than moral certainties. Perhaps I am now being seduced by the power of words – and Polonius’s of all people. Not that Shakespeare allows this to happen for very long: the moment that Reynaldo exits, Ophelia bursts in, and the contrast is blatant between the urbanity of the preceding scene and the raw experience of her account – acted out as much as spoken – of Hamlet’s speechless visit to her. Clearly, when the characters in Hamlet use their language, or languages, for purposes of persuasion and diplomacy, they are generally engaging in duplicity and deception. In the end, the evil underneath is (as James also knew) made more, not less, pernicious by the bland surface of the dialogue. An outstanding example of this is the ‘witchcraft of his wits’ (as


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the Ghost is to describe the usurper’s ‘power/So to seduce’) practised by Claudius in the second scene of the play. His opening speech establishes him as a very clever chairman of the board. First he gets the minutes of past proceedings accepted without query, by a carefully arranged structure of oxymorons:17 Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen, Th’imperial jointress to this warlike state, Have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy, With an auspicious and a dropping eye, With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage, In equal scale weighing delight and dole, Taken to wife. (1.2.8–14)

The oxymorons, in a relentless series of pairings, operate to cancel each other out, smoothing over the embarrassment (or worse) involved in ‘our sometime sister, now our queen’, stilling criticism and enforcing acceptance of the apparent logic of the argument, so that by the time we finally get to the verb (‘Taken to wife’) the ‘Therefore’ seems legitimate. Then he justifies chairman’s action by suggesting that there have been consultations all along, spiking the guns of any potential rebel by thanking him in advance for his agreement: nor have we herein barr’d Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone With this affair along. For all, our thanks. (lines 14–16)

Having dealt with the minutes, he then proceeds to the agenda and polishes off, in turn, the foreign policy problems with Norway, the home and domestic issue of Laertes, and finally the awkward business with Hamlet which – who knows – might be both personal and national, psychological and political. He intends to deal with Hamlet, too, through the technique of dissolving contradictions – But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son– (line 64)

but his briskness here comes to grief, as Hamlet becomes the first to raise a voice, albeit in an aside, which punctures such use of language: A little more than kin, and less than kind. (line 65)

Hamlet and the power of words


Intrepidly, Claudius continues in an image suggesting the tone of decorous grief which ought to be adopted – ‘How is it that the clouds still hang on you?’ – but this again founders on Hamlet’s pun on sun/son. The pun, according to Sigurd Burckhardt in Shakespearean Meanings, ‘gives the lie direct to the social convention which is language . . . It denies the meaningfulness of words.’18 But in their dramatic context here, Hamlet’s puns do no such thing: they deny the logic and sincerity and meaningfulness of Claudius’s words but suggest that there is a language elsewhere. The rest of the scene, until it closes on Hamlet’s decision to ‘hold my tongue’, is a series of contrasts and clashes between different languages. Hamlet’s ‘common’ is not the queen’s and implies a far-reaching criticism of hers. Gertrude’s reply suggests that she is not aware of the difference, Claudius’s that he is trying to pretend that he is not, as he follows Hamlet’s terrible outburst against seeming with an, in its way, equally terrible refusal to acknowledge any jar: ’Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To give these mourning duties to your father. (lines 87–8).

Hamlet has no reply to Claudius’s appeal to the ‘common theme’ of death of fathers, nor to the request that he give up Wittenberg for ‘the cheer and comfort of our eye’; his reply, promising to ‘obey’, is made to his mother. But it is Claudius who comments on it as ‘loving’ and ‘fair’, and it is he who sums up the conversation, translating the tense scene just past into an image of domestic and national harmony – This gentle and unfore’d account of Hamlet Sits smiling to my heart – (lines 123–4)

and an excuse for a ‘wassail’. The incongruity is as if a satire and a masque by Jonson were being simultaneously performed on the same stage. The ultimate clash comes as, immediately upon Claudius’s summing-up, Hamlet breaks into his first soliloquy, giving his version of himself and of ‘all the uses of this world’, particularly those involving his mother and uncle. The different languages spoken in a scene like this clearly add up to a kind of moral map. That is, the adding up is clear, the map itself not necessarily so. It is not just a matter of Hamlet’s words being sincere and Claudius’s not. In the dialogue Hamlet is striving for effect in his way just as much as Claudius in his. And Claudius is soon going to be sincere enough, when we learn from his own mouth, in an image that could well have been


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used by Hamlet, that he is aware of the ugliness of his deed as against his ‘most painted word’ (3.1.50–4) and that his words are unable to rise in prayer (3.3.36 ff.). Morality and sensitivity to language are peculiarly tied up with each other in this play; and in trying to think how they are related I, at least, am driven back to James and ‘The Question of Our Speech’: to the importance of ‘the way we say a thing, or fail to say it, fail to learn to say it’.19 In a play peopled by translators, it is in the end the range of languages available to each character – those they ‘fail to learn’ as well as those they speak – which measures their moral stature. Both Claudius and Gertrude at various times have their consciences stung, but neither seems able to find a language for his or her own inner self. Even Polonius is able to learn and, up to a point, articulate what he has learnt. ‘I am sorry’, he says about having misunderstood the nature of Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, ‘that with better heed and judgment / I had not quoted him’ (2.1.111–12). Hamlet himself never has such a moment of recognition in regard to Ophelia. But typically Polonious at once takes the edge off any personal pain of remorse by translating it into a sententious generalization: It is as proper to our age To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions As it is common for the younger sort To lack discretion. (2.1.114–17)

Claudius similarly lacks a really private language. Even when he is alone and trying to pray, his speech retains the basic characteristics of his public ‘translations’. Images which in content might seem to anticipate Macbeth’s20 are turned out in carefully balanced phrases – ‘heart, with strings of steel’ against ‘sinews of the new-born babe’; his similes have the considered effect of earlier tragic verse: And, like a man to double business bound, I stand in pause where I shall first begin, And both neglect; (3.3.41–3)

and the most trenchant self-analysis is as cleverly antithetical as anything he has to say before the assembled court in 1.2: ‘My stronger guilt defends my strong intent’. Unlike Macbeth, Claudius seems to be talking about himself, not from inside himself, and his own evil seems to contain no mystery to him, nothing unspeakable. Gertrude has known less evil, and her moral imagination has an even narrower range. Even after the closet scene, her appearances suggest that, like Claudius and unlike Lady Macbeth, she is

Hamlet and the power of words


able to cancel and pass on. The woman who describes Ophelia’s death, and strews flowers on her grave, is harrowed within her limits but not marked and changed by her experience, in language and being. The fact that Hamlet and Ophelia are thus changed (however variously) sets them apart. Each of them receives shocks and undergoes sufferings which are taken into their language; and at the extremest point each speaks – whether in madness or not – a language foreign to the other characters.21 And yet Hamlet’s own language is in many ways that of Elsinore. As others, notably R. A. Foakes, have pointed out, his speech modes and habits are largely those of the court: wordiness, formality, sententiousness, fondness of puns and other forms of word-play, etc.22 He too uses language in all the ways practised by Claudius and his entourage: for persuasion, diplomacy, deception, and so on. His sheer range, which is as large almost as that of the play itself, has made it difficult for critics to define his own linguistic and stylistic attributes. As Professor Foakes succinctly puts it, ‘Hamlet seems master of all styles, but has no distinctive utterance of his own.’ Up to a point we can explain this, as Professor Foakes does, by seeing Hamlet as ‘the supreme actor who never reveals himself’.23 But beyond that point we still need a way of talking about Hamlet’s language which includes his uncontrolled and (surely) revealing moments, such as the nunnery scene or the leaping into Ophelia’s grave, as well as his moments of deliberately antic disposition; and the simple statements in the dialogues with Horatio as well as the tortuous questioning in the monologues. It might be helpful, then, to think of Hamlet as the most sensitive translator in the play: as the one who has the keenest sense both of the expressive and the persuasive powers of words, and also and more radically the keenest sense both of the limitations and the possibilities of words. No one could be more disillusioned with ‘words, words, words’. Even before he appears on stage, his mother’s rush ‘to incestuous sheets’ has had an impact which he later describes as having (in contemporary parlance) deprived language of its very credibility: O, such a deed As . . . sweet religion makes A rhapsody of words; (3.4.45–8)

and, though a Wittenberg scholar could hardly have lived unaware of the general maxim that ‘one may smile, and smile, and be a villain’, the encounter with the Ghost proves it on his own pulses and leaves him permanently aware that language may be a cloak or masque. Yet no one


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could use his disillusionment more subtly or positively to fit his words to the action, the interlocutor and his own mood – so far indeed that the disillusionment is swallowed up in excitement at the power of words. No other Shakespearian hero, tragic or comic, has to face so many situations in which different speakers have different palpable designs on him, and where he so has to get hold of the verbal initiative. No other hero, not even Falstaff or Benedick, is so good at grasping the initiative, leading his interlocutor by the nose while – as with Polonius and Osric – playing with the very shape and temperature of reality. Many of the play’s comic effects stem from this activity, and the strange tonal mixture of the graveyard scene has much to do with Hamlet, for once, almost playing the stooge to the indomitable wit of the First Gravedigger. No other Shakespearian hero is so good at running his antagonists right down to their basic premises and striking them dumb, as with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the recorder scene. He won’t be played upon, and so he listens in order, with lightning speed, to pick up a keyword and turn it into a pun or some other device for playing upon others. But, unlike many other Shakespearian tragic heroes, Hamlet also listens in a more reflective way – listens and evaluates, as Othello does not (but Hamlet surely would have done) with Iago. In some situations we begin to feel that his linguistic flexibility is founded on a sympathetic imagination. In him, alone in the play, the ability to speak different languages to different people seems to stem from an awareness that, in George Eliot’s words, another being may have ‘an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference’.24 Other characters meet to plot or to remonstrate, or they step aside for an odd twitch of conscience. To Hamlet, conversations may become extensions of moral sympathy. Even under the immediate impact of encountering the Ghost he can stop to realize and regret that he has offended Horatio with the ‘wild and whirling words’ which came out of a hysterical absorption in his own experience (1.5.133 ff.). In retrospect the scene at Ophelia’s grave is illuminated by the same sympathy: I am very sorry, good Horatio, That to Laertes I forgot myself; For by the image of my cause I see The portraiture of his; (5.2.75–8)

and the courtly apology to Laertes (5.2.218 ff.), which some critics have taken to be mere falsehood,25 is surely a genuine attempt at translating

Hamlet and the power of words


his own ‘cause’ into the language of Laertes. In a case like this, his verbal virtuosity seems to aim at an interchange, a two-way traffic of language between selves. It is worth noting that Hamlet’s most explicit tribute to Horatio is to call him ‘e’en as just a man / As e’er my conversation cop’d withal’ (3.2.52–3). Two senses of ‘conversation’ merge in that phrase – ‘the action of consorting or having dealings with others; . . . society; intimacy’ (OED 2) and ‘interchange of thoughts and words’ (OED 7) – and, one feels, in Hamlet’s consciousness. There is a kinship here between Hamlet and Cleopatra, another character who in her language combines intense self-preoccupation with strong awareness of others. In North’s Plutarch Shakespeare would have found an emphasis on her verbal powers, even at the expense of her physical beauty which, as it is reported, was not so passing as unmatchable of other women, nor yet such as upon present view did enamour men with her; but so sweet was her company and conversation that a man could not possibly but be taken.

Not the least part of the power of Cleopatra’s ‘conversation’ was her ability to speak different languages: her tongue was an instrument of music to divers sports and pastimes, the which she easily turned to any language that pleased her. She spake unto few barbarous people by interpreter, but made them answer herself.26

It may not be wholly fanciful to imagine that North’s comments on Cleopatra’s inter-lingual dexterity have in Shakespeare been translated into an intralingual flexibility. Cleopatra is able to speak different languages to Emperor and to Clown as well as to forge her own variety of idioms according to situation and mood – and finally to create, through language, her own reality and Antony’s (‘Me-thinks I hear/Antony call . . . Husband I come’). In her case, as in Hamlet’s, the vitality which comes from superb handling of language affects us both aesthetically and morally. To measure it we need only turn to Octavia who is ‘of a holy, cold and still conversation’. Yet by the same measurement there is only a hair’s breadth between moral sympathy and callousness, and Hamlet shows this too. Hamlet’s awareness of others as autonomous beings with ‘causes’, and accordingly with languages, of their own also helps to explain why he despises Rosencrantz and Guildenstern so, and can so unflinchingly let them ‘go to’t’, recounting his dealings with them as ‘not near my conscience’ only a few lines before he speaks to Horatio of his regret for what he did and said to Laertes. To him they lack any ‘centre of self’; they are instruments used to turn others into


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‘unworthy’ things (3.3.353); they are sponges whose only function is to be ‘at each ear a hearer’ (3.2.377). Hamlet’s sympathetic imagination falls far short of Stoppard’s, and of Christian charity. The killing of Polonius, whom he sees only as an over-hearer and a mouthpiece, affects him no more than a putting-down in verbal repartee: Take thy fortune; Thou find’st that to be busy is some danger. (3.4.32–3)

At this point, his whole sense of ‘conversation’ – of dealings with others – is narrowed onto speaking ‘daggers’ to Gertrude: Leave wringing of your hands. Peace; sit you down, And let me wring your heart. (3.4.34–5)

Everyone knows that Hamlet speaks rather than acts, and therefore delays; but it is worth pointing out that his peculiar involvement with words can be at the expense of humanity as well as of deeds. It is worth remembering, when we speak of Hamlet as an actor (who can ‘act’ but not act), that what he remembers from plays are great speeches; and that his own acting – as against his advice to the actors and his full admiration of their art – is almost entirely a matter of handling language: of the ability to control other people’s reaction to his words. His self-reproach after the Hecuba speech is not that he can do nothing but that I . . . unpregnant of my cause . . . can say nothing. (2.2.562–3)

Yet, less than twenty lines later he is reproaching himself for saying too much, That I, the son of a dear father murder’d, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words. (2.2.579–81)

There is no contradiction here for, while the words with which he unpacks his heart are merely therapeutic, even an anodyne, directed at no object and no audience, the ‘saying’ which he admires in the First Player is the absorption of the self in a purposeful act of communication, ‘his whole function suiting / With forms to his conceit’. The language needed for his own ‘conceit’ is non-verbal, the act of revenge to which he is ‘prompted’.

Hamlet and the power of words


Yet in the logic of this soliloquy, transferring his own ‘motive’ and ‘cue for passion’ to the Player and imagining the result, the act is translated into a theatrical declamation: He would drown the stage with tears, And cleave the general ear with horrid speech; Make mad the guilty, and appal the free, Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed The very faculties of eyes and ears. (2.2.555–9)

It is natural for him to translate intention into language – into verbal rather than physical violence – hence the apparent relief as he finds gruesome reasons not to murder the praying Claudius, or as the ‘bitter business’ of the ‘witching time’ can, for the moment, be allowed to be resolved into a matter of words: I will speak daggers to her, but use none.

Hence, too, the play to be put on excites him beyond its detective purpose. It is going to speak for him, or he through it – and at least at the outset of 2.2 his hopes of the effect of the play seem to hinge on the speech ‘of some dozen or sixteen lines’ which he has composed himself – to Claudius, to form a translation fully and terribly meaningful only to Claudius. If, besides, it means different things to the rest of the court,27 all the better a translation. Murder speaks metaphorically in much Elizabethan-Jacobean tragedy, but rarely is the speaking so completely heard by the imagination as in Hamlet’s plan for the effect of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’: For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. (2.2.589–90)

Hamlet’s excitement with speech as translation of deeds would help to explain, too, why in the graveyard scene it is Laertes’s rhetoric which becomes the centre of Hamlet’s grievance and object of his aggression. The leaping into the grave is a kind of act fitted to the word, a rhetorical flourish: Dost come here to whine? To outface me with leaping in her grave? . . . Nay, an thou’lt mouth, I’ll rant as well as thou. (5.1.271–2, 277–8)


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We return here to the notion of human sympathy, as well as positive action, being absorbed and lost in speech. For it is in his dealings with Ophelia – which is as much as to say his language to Ophelia – that Hamlet most shows the destructive powers of speech. His vision of the world as ‘an unweeded garden’ ultimately drives Ophelia to her death, wearing the ‘coronet weeds’ of her madness. I do not wish to turn the play into a Hamlet and Ophelia: the love story is played down in the structure as a whole, its pre-play course known only by the odd flashback and inference, and it disappears altogether after the graveyard scene. All the responsibility that Laertes can remember to remove from Hamlet with his dying breath is ‘mine and my father’s death’. But I still believe that the Hamlet–Ophelia relationship reveals something essential to Hamlet’s and his creator’s vision of the power of words; and also that it illuminates the way in which Hamlet contracts what Kenneth Muir has called ‘the occupational disease of avengers’28 –how he is tainted by the world in which he is trying to take revenge. The poisoning of that relationship within the play is full of searing ironies. Hamlet never says ‘I love you’ except in the past tense and to unsay it at once. By the time he tells the world ‘I loved Ophelia’, she is dead. The first time he refers to her it is antically, as the daughter of Polonius, the fishmonger. From Hamlet’s love-letter – which we are surely meant to take more seriously than Polonius does – we learn that in his wooing he was both as exalted and as tongue-tied as any lover who hesitates to sully the uniqueness of his love by common speech. When he tries to write a love sonnet, the attempt to look in his heart and write turns into a touching version of the conventional idea that the beloved is inexpressible: O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have not art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, O most best, believe it. (2.2.119–21)

When, his world shattered, he came to her in the scene she recounts to Polonius, he was speechless and, though he frightened her, he also, as her mode of telling shows, drew out all her sympathy. But when he actually confronts her on stage, he has translated her into a whore, like Gertrude, and he is only too articulate, in a language which is meaningless and yet desperately hurtful to her – one to which she might well have responded in Desdemona’s words: I understand a fury in your words, But not the words.29 (Othello 4.2.32–3)

Hamlet and the power of words


Hamlet’s vision of Ophelia has changed with his vision of the world. The language to be spoken to her is that current in a world where frailty is the name of woman, love equals appetite, vows are ‘as false as dicers’ oaths’ (3.4.45), and nothing is constant. It is a terrible coincidence, and a masterly dramatic stroke, that before Hamlet and Ophelia meet within this vision, Laertes and Polonius have been speaking the same language to her, articulating out of their worldly wisdom much the same view of their love as the one Hamlet has arrived at through his shock of revulsion from the world. In 1.3, while Hamlet offstage goes to meet the Ghost, Ophelia meets with equally shattering (to her world) commands from her father, attacking her past, present and future relations with Hamlet. Laertes is made to open the attack, all the more insidiously since it is by way of well-meaning brotherly advice, and since it is phrased in the idiom of the courtly ‘songs’ to which he is reducing Hamlet’s love: For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour, Hold it a fashion and a toy in the blood, A violet in the youth of primy nature, Forward not permanent, sweet not lasting, The perfume and suppliance of a minute. (1.3.5–9)

On highly reasonable social grounds he argues that Hamlet’s language must be translated: Then if he says he loves you, It fits your wisdom so far to believe it As he in his particular act and place May give his saying deed. (lines 24–7)

I need not point out how deeply rooted this is in the language assumptions of the play as a whole. Laertes’s tone is not unkind in its knowingness; his final thrust has some of the ineluctable sadness of the Sonnets when contemplating examples of the precariousness of youth and beauty – Virtue itself scapes not calumnious strokes; The canker galls the infants of the spring Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d; And in the morn and liquid dew of youth Contagious blastments are most imminent – (lines 38–42)


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and Ophelia, as her spirited reply suggests, is on the whole able to cope with both the matter and the manner of his preaching. But when Polonius picks up the attack, it is different. His technique is far more devastating: an interrogation where each answer is rapidly demolished. Ophelia does not have the speech-habits of most of the other characters; she is brief, simple and direct – and therefore particularly vulnerable. In a play where rhetorical units of measurement may be ‘forty thousand brothers’, there is a moving literalness about her statement that Hamlet has ‘given countenance to his speech . . . / With almost all the holy vows of heaven’. She does not have the worldly wisdom to produce translations which protect her feelings and hide her thoughts. So to Polonius’s opening question – ‘What is’t, Ophelia, he hath said to you?’ – she simply, and vainly, tries to be nonspecific: So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet. (line 89)

Some fifteen lines later her confidence is already undermined: I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

Polonius’s method is particularly undermining in that he lets Ophelia provide the keywords which he then picks up and translates by devaluing them – painfully literally so when Ophelia’s ‘many tenders/Of his affection’ provokes: . . . think yourself a baby That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay Which are not sterling. (lines 105–7)

His translation is partly a matter of devaluation by direct sneer (‘think’ and ‘fashion’ are thus dealt with), partly a matter of using the ambiguities of the English language to shift the meanings of words (thus ‘tender’ is translated into the language of finance and ‘entreatment’ into that of diplomacy); and partly a dizzifying matter of making one meaning slide into another by a pun. In this last way Hamlet’s vows are translated, first into finance, then into religion – Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers, Not of that dye which their investments show, But mere implorators of unholy suits, Breathing like sanctified and pious bonds – (lines 127–30)

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but always in proof of their falsehood: ‘The better to beguile’. What supplies the power of Polonius’s words is also a logic which, like Iago’s, strikes at the root of the victim’s hold on reality: You do not understand yourself so clearly As it behoves my daughter and your honour; (lines 96–7)

and which has a kind of general empirical truth – such as in the comedies might have been spoken by a sensible and normative heroine: I do know, When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul Lends the tongue vows. (lines 115–17)

By the end of the scene, Polonius’s words have left Ophelia with no hold on her love and with nothing to say but ‘I shall obey, my lord’.30 When there is no one left even to obey, she will go to pieces. But before then she has to be pushed to the limit by Hamlet’s verbal brutality which doubly frightens and hurts her because it seems to prove both that Hamlet is mad and that Polonius was right. A first and last intimation of the intimacy and tenderness which might once have prevailed in their dialogues rings out of her greeting to Hamlet in the nunnery scene – Good my lord, How does your honour for this many a day? –

but by the end of that scene there is not even a dialogue. The two of them are speaking about each other, Hamlet’s stream-of-consciousness circling around nuns and painted harlots and Ophelia appealing, twice, to an invisible and silent audience: ‘O, help him, you sweet heavens!’ and ‘O heavenly powers, restore him!’ She is left to speak her only soliloquy over the ruins of what used to be her reality, and to lament the most terrible translation of all: ‘the honey of his music vows’ is now ‘like sweet bells jangled, out of time and harsh’. Hamlet and Ophelia no longer speak the same language. I dwelt at some length on the Polonius–Ophelia scene because it brings out, ironically and indirectly, an important aspect of the ‘tainting’ of Hamlet. Though he does not know it, and would hate to be told so, his language has moved away from Ophelia’s and towards Polonius’s. It is a language based on the general idea of ‘woman’ rather than a specific awareness of Ophelia (to whom he now listens only to score verbal points off her, usually bawdy ones, too). Even


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his technique is like Polonius’s as he picks up words only to demolish them, and her. Thus, in perhaps the cruellest stretch of dialogue in the whole play, Ophelia is allowed, briefly, to think that she knows what Hamlet means, only to have this understanding taken from her: h amle t . . . I did love you once. oph e li a Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so. h am le t You should not have believ’d me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not. oph e li a I was the more deceived. (3.1.115–20)

Polonius turned her into an object, an instrument, by ‘loosing’ her to Hamlet in the nunnery scene; Hamlet turns her into a thing – as ‘unworthy a thing’ as he ever may accuse Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of attempting to make out of him – in the play scene where, in public and listening to a play which from her point of view must seem to be mainly about women’s inconstancy and sexual promiscuity, she is all but sexually assaulted by Hamlet’s language.31 We have no evidence that Hamlet ever thinks of her again before he discovers that the grave he has watched being dug is that of ‘the fair Ophelia’, and no redeeming recognition that the power of his own words has helped to drive her into that grave. In their story speech functions, in the end, as part of a vision of man’s proneness to kill the thing he loves. So we seem in the end to be left with a long row of contradictions: Hamlet’s use of language is sensitive and brutal; he listens and he does not listen; his speech is built on sympathy and on total disregard of other selves; his relationship with words is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. Only a Claudius could pretend that these are not contradictions and only he could translate them into a simple unity. Hamlet’s soliloquies are not much help to this end. Even they speak different languages and add up, if anything, to a representation of a man searching for a language for the experiences which are forcing themselves upon him, finding it now in the free flow of I-centred exclamations of ‘O, that this too too solid flesh would melt’, now in the formally structured and altogether generalized questions and statements of ‘To be, or not to be’. It is tempting to hear in Hamlet’s self-analytical speeches a progression towards clarity, reaching its goal in the fusion of the individual and the general, of simple form and complex thought, in the speech about defying augury – If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all –

Hamlet and the power of words


and coming to rest on ‘Let be’. It is tempting because many Jacobean tragic heroes and heroines were to go through such a progression, through tortured and verbally elaborate attempts at definition of their vision of life to simple statements of – as in Herbert’s poem ‘Prayer’ – ‘something understood’. But to me this seems too smooth a curve, too cathartic a movement, more indicative of critics’ need to experience the peace which Hamlet himself happily appears to gain at the end than of the true impact of the language of the play as a whole. That impact is surely much closer to the sense that for a complex personality in an impossible situation – and in ‘situation’ I include a number of difficult human relationships – there is no single language. This does not mean that the play ultimately sees speech as meaningless, or that Shakespeare (or even Hamlet) is finally trapped in a disillusionist attitude to language. It means that we are given a very wide demonstration of the power of words to express and communicate – it is, after all, words which tell Horatio and us even that ‘the rest is silence’ – but also, and at the same time, an intimation that there is something inexpressible and incommunicable at the heart of the play. Shakespeare – whatever the true facts of the Ur-Hamlet – must have seen himself as producing a new ‘translation’ of what the title page of the second Quarto describes as ‘The Tragicall History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’. Like Gertrude’s translation, in 4.1 it meant both changing and interpreting his raw material. Like Gertrude, he concentrated on the speech and deeds of the prince, and their ramifications, merging any personal pressure of experience in a concern for communicating with an audience. The analogy ends here, for Gertrude was, even like Hamlet himself, only part of his translation – a translation which T. S. Eliot criticized for trying to ‘express the inexpressibly horrible’.32 To me the final greatness of the play lies just there: in its power to express so much and yet also to call a halt on the edge of the inexpressible where, to misquote Claudius, we must learn to say ‘’Tis fit we do not understand’. This, I think, is the hallmark of Shakespeare as a translator, into tragedy, of the human condition.  C

Inga-Stina Ewbank 1977 First published in Shakespeare Survey 30 (1977) n otes

1 Lawrence Danson, Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare’s Drama of Language (New Haven and London, 1974), p. 48; John Paterson, ‘The Word in Hamlet’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 2 (1951), 47.


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2 Though Gertrude herself does not use the verb ‘harrow’, I use it advisedly, as it seems to be a Hamlet word. It occurs once in Coriolanus, in its literal sense, but Shakespeare’s only two metaphorical uses of it are in Hamlet : by the Ghost (1.5.16) and by Horatio describing the impact of the Ghost (1.1.44). 3 A Doll’s House, Act 3 (Et dukkehjem, in Henrik Ibsens Samlede Verker, Oslo, 1960, ii, 474). 4 Some other examples of ‘translated’ versions of an episode we have already seen are: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s slanted report, in 3.1. 4 ff., of their meeting with Hamlet in 2.2; Polonius’s to Claudius and Gertrude, in 2.2.130 ff., of how he admonished Ophelia in 1.3 and Polonius’s attempt to bolster up Claudius, in 3.3.30 ff., by attributing to him his own plan hatched at 3.1.184–5. Significantly, at the end of the nunnery scene Polonius and Claudius specifically do not want a report from Ophelia: ‘We heard it all’ (3.1.180). 5 That is, in the punctuation of modern editors (e.g. Alexander and Dover Wilson). In q2 Hamlet says ‘a Rat,’ and Gertrude ‘a Rat, a Rat’; in f1 the readings are, respectively, ‘a Rat?’ and ‘a Rat, a Rat’. 6 As Dover Wilson points out in his note on ‘a weeps for what is done’, ‘the falsehood testifies to her fidelity’ (New Cambridge Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1934, p. 218). 7 See A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3.1.109; Hamlet 3.1.113; The Merry Wives 1.3.47; 2 Henry IV 4.1.46–8; Troilus and Cressida 4.5.112. 8 The OED, for example, uses both Claudius’s line and the one from The Merry Wives to illustrate the meaning ‘to interpret, explain’ (‘Translate’ 2.3. fig.) 9 After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (1975), p. 47 (Dr Steiner’s italics). 10 See Discoveries 128 and Henry James, The Question of Our Speech (Boston and New York, 1905), p. 10 and p. 21. 11 Alfred Hart, ‘Vocabularies of Shakespeare’s Plays’, Review of English Studies, 19 (1943), 128–40, and ‘The Growth of Shakespeare’s Vocabulary’, 242–3. The subject was freshly illuminated in the paper on ‘New Words between Henry IV and Hamlet’ given by Professor Marvin Spevack at the Seventeenth International Shakespeare Conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, August 1976, and by the booklet of word lists which he distributed in connection with his paper. 12 T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana, Ill., 1944), passim; and Sister Miriam Joseph, Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language (New York, 1947), esp. p. 12. 13 W. B. Yeats, ‘A Coat’ (Collected Poems, 1933, p. 142). 14 Discoveries 132 (Oratio imago animi). 15 ‘Ear’ and ‘ears’ occur, together, 24 (16 + 8) times. The second largest figure is for Coriolanus: 17 (3 + 14) times. The different lengths, in lines, make comparisons somewhat unreliable; though Coriolanus is less than 500 lines shorter than Hamlet, and King Lear, with 3,205 lines as against Hamlet’s 3,762, has only 5 (4 + 1) occurrences of ‘ear’ and ‘ears’. (I take my figures for lengths in lines from Hart, ‘Vocabularies of Shakespeare’s Plays’, and for word frequencies from Marvin Spevack’s Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare, Cambridge, Mass., 1973.)

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16 As Professor A. C. Sprague has pointed out to me, G. L. Kittredge exploded the idea (still adhered to by Dover Wilson; see his note on 1.1.42) that this line refers to the fact that exorcisms of spirits were usually performed in Latin. ‘Horatio, as a scholar, knows how to address the apparition in the right way, so as neither to offend it nor to subject himself to any evil influence’ (G. L. Kittredge, ed., Sixteen Plays of Shakespeare (Boston, 1939), p. 1021). 17 Danson, Tragic Alphabet, p. 26, has some excellent comments on Claudius’s use of the oxymoron. 18 Sigurd Burckhardt, Shakespearean Meanings (Princeton, N.J., 1968), pp. 24–5, quoted also by Danson, p. 27, n. 2. 19 See note 10, above. 20 Claudius wonders whether there is not ‘rain enough in the sweet heavens’ to wash his ‘cursed hand . . . white as snow’, and he associates innocence with a ‘new-born babe’. 21 Marvin Spevack has a very interesting discussion of how Hamlet’s imagery shows him transforming all he sees, and how he is thus isolated by speaking, as it were, a foreign language; see ‘Hamlet and Imagery: The Mind’s Eye’, Die Neueren Sprachen, n.s. 5 (1966), 203–12. 22 R. A. Foakes, ‘Hamlet and the Court of Elsinore’, Shakespeare Survey 9 (Cambridge, 1956), pp. 35–43. 23 R. A. Foakes, ‘Character and Speech in Hamlet ’, in Hamlet : Stratford-upon-Avon Studies 5 (1963), p. 161. 24 Middlemarch, end of chap. 21 (Penguin edn, p. 243). 25 For a conspectus of these, see Dover Wilson’s note on 5.2.230, and the Furness Variorum edition of Hamlet 1.440. Dr Johnson wished that Hamlet ‘had made some other defence; it is unsuitable to the character of a brave or good man to shelter himself in falsehood’; and Seymour believed that the passage was an interpolation: ‘The falsehood contained in it is too ignoble.’ 26 Shakespeare’s Plutarch, ed. T. J. B. Spencer in the Penguin Shakespeare Library (Harmondsworth, 1964), p. 203. Cleopatra, it is pointed out, differs from ‘divers of her progenitors, the Kings of Egypt’, who ‘could scarce learn the Egyptian tongue only’. 27 A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (paperback edn, 1955, p. 109, note), finds it strange that while everyone at court ‘sees in the play-scene a gross and menacing insult to the King’, no one ‘shows any sign in perceiving in it also an accusation of murder’. Dover Wilson, in his note on 3.2.243, points out that ‘Hamlet arranges two meanings to the Play, one for the King (and Horatio), the other for the rest of the spectators, who see a king being murdered by his nephew’. 28 Kenneth Muir, Shakespeare’s Tragic Sequence (1972), p. 57. 29 I have discussed some aspects of Ophelia’s and Desdemona’s language, especially the way in which the hero and the heroine in these tragedies become unable to speak the same language, in a short paper to the Second International Shakespeare Congress, held in Washington, DC, in April 1976.


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30 To ‘obey’ (which is of course also what Hamlet promises his mother in 1.2.120) is a troublesome matter in Shakespearean tragedy. Cf. Othello 1.3.180 and King Lear 1.1.97. 31 I have found Nigel Alexander’s study of Hamlet, Poison, Play and Duel (1971), esp. chap. 5, ‘The Power of Beauty’, the most illuminating analysis of Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia. 32 ‘Hamlet and his Problems’, in Selected Essays (New York, 1932), p. 126.

chap t e r 10

The art of the comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare Robert Wilcher

i Since Francis Douce’s pioneering study of the ‘clowns and fools’ of the Elizabethan stage, a good deal of scholarly scrutiny and critical interpretation has been directed towards Shakespeare’s use of his inheritance from popular drama in general and from traditions of fooling in particular.1 But compared with the detailed studies that have been devoted to the serious dramatic functions that Shakespeare developed for the solo-turn exemplified by Launce’s monologues in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the porter scene in Macbeth,2 that other familiar routine of popular comedy – the double-act – has been somewhat neglected. William Willeford traces the origins of the ‘knockabout fool pair’ to the interplay between the Devil and the Vice in the Tudor moralities;3 and Austin Gray identifies the comic personalities of the actors Will Kemp and Dick Cowley behind the long line of Shakespearian double-acts, from Launce and Speed to the grave-diggers in Hamlet, offering this account of the relationship between the stooge and the lead comedian: This old fellow is a mere shadow to his wiser gossip. It is his business to ask simpleminded questions or to listen in simple-minded wonder to the dogmatic wisdom of his friend. In short, his main duty is to be the cause that wit and comicality express themselves through the mouth of his friend.4

The fullest account of the nature and function of the double-act is by J. A. B. Somerset who, in the course of tracing the history and significance of the comic turn in Renaissance English drama, spends some time on ‘the “vaudeville” interchange in which the master acts the role of straight-man to the fooling of his servant or jester, while realizing that he is doing so’.5 It is the purpose of the present paper to examine the use of comic duologues in As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet, in order to indicate the variety of Shakespeare’s artistic response to Dogberry’s observation that ‘an two 179


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men ride of a horse, one must ride behind’ (Much Ado About Nothing, 3.5.35–6).6 Some preliminary attention must be given, however, to the early comedies, because they establish in simple form the materials which Shakespeare was to manipulate later in more complex ways and also offer glimpses of those insights into human behaviour which he perceived in the very nature of the double-act. Three variations can be distinguished, involving both the status of the participants and the kind of humorous exchange that takes place between them. First there is the Kemp–Cowley type of setpiece described by Gray, in which the lead clown and the stooge share the same low social class. The comedy resides in the ability of the dominant partner to outwit his slower companion, either by confusing him or by trapping him into an absurd situation by verbal trickery. A crude example occurs in The Taming of the Shrew, in the scene where Grumio thwarts his fellow-servant’s eager desire for news of their master’s marriage for some thirty lines and then clinches his comic superiority in a more material way: g rum i o First know my horse is tired; my master and mistress fall’n out. c u rt i s How? g rum i o Out of their saddles into the dirt; and thereby hangs a tale. c u rt i s Let’s ha’t, good Grumio. g rum i o Lend thine ear. c u rt i s Here. g rum i o There. [Striking him. c urt i s This ’tis to feel a tale, not to hear a tale. g ru mi o And therefore ’tis called a sensible tale; and this cuff was but to knock at your ear and beseech list’ning. (4.1.46–58)

Launcelot Gobbo’s determination to ‘try confusions’ with his sand-blind father in The Merchant of Venice (2.2.28 ff.) is in a similar vein. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the servants Launce and Speed are more equally matched intellectually, but in each of their encounters Launce is given the upper hand in the verbal sparring and Speed is relegated to the stooge’s role: spe e d How now, Signior Launce! What news with your mastership? l au nc e With my master’s ship? Why, it is at sea. spe e d Well, your old vice still: mistake the word. What news, then, in your paper? l au nc e The black’st news that ever thou heard’st. spe e d Why, man? how black? l au nc e Why, as black as ink. (3.1.276–83)

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


This exchange opens into the long sequence in which Speed ‘feeds’ Launce by reading items from a paper detailing the qualities of Launce’s mistress, thus allowing the lead clown all the witty punch-lines. In each of these cases, the double-act interrupts the progress of the plot and is clearly designed to display the talents of the company’s clowns in an interlude of low comedy. At the other end of the social scale are the duologues between characters from the main plot. The Two Gentlemen of Verona opens with a witty scene of parting between Valentine and Proteus, which will serve to exhibit the distinctive features of this second kind of exchange: prot e u s Upon some book of love I’ll pray for thee. vale nt i ne That’s on some shallow story of deep love: How young Leander cross’d the Hellespont. prot e u s That’s a deep story of a deeper love; For he was more than over shoes in love. vale nt i ne ’Tis true; for you are over boots in love, And yet you never swum the Hellespont. prot e us Over the boots! Nay, give me not the boots. vale nt i ne No, I will not, for it boots thee not. (1.1.20–8)

Here, in contrast to the previous examples, there is no dominant partner. Each holds his own in a mutual display of verbal cleverness. The puns proliferate in the game of keeping the ball of wit in the air. It is more common for this kind of game to be played while other characters are present, and then it takes on the air of a contest, with the spectators frequently commenting on the expertise of the players. Love’s Labour’s Lost furnishes an example: kat h ar i ne She might ’a been a grandam ere she died. And so may you; for a light heart lives long. rosali n e What’s your dark meaning, mouse, of this light word? kat h ar i ne A light condition in a beauty dark. rosali n e We need more light to find your meaning out. kat h ar i n e You’ll mar the light by taking it in snuff; Therefore I’ll darkly end the argument. ro sali n e Look what you do, you do it still i’ th’ dark. kat h ar i ne So do not you; for you are a light wench. ro sali n e Indeed, I weigh not you; and therefore light. kat h ar i ne You weigh me not? O, that’s you care not for me. ro sali ne Great reason; for ‘past cure is still past care’. pri nc e ss Well bandied both; a set of wit well play’d. (5.2.17–29)


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The Princess’s image indicates the holiday nature of this kind of repartee, having no other purpose than to exercise the participants and entertain their companions. In a scene from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, however, the sport is given an edge of seriousness when Valentine is challenged by Thurio, his rival for the hand of Silvia: si lv i a Servant, you are sad. vale n t i ne Indeed, madam, I seem so. t h u r i o Seem you that you are not?

A needling interchange ensues, until Valentine catches Thurio on the raw by proving him a fool: si lv i a What, angry, Sir Thurio! Do you change colour? vale n t i ne Give him leave, madam; he is a kind of chameleon. t h ur i o That hath more mind to feed on your blood than live in your air. vale n t i ne You have said, sir. t h ur i o Ay, sir, and done too, for this time. vale n t i ne I know it well, sir; you always end ere you begin. si lv i a A fine volley of words, gentlemen, and quickly shot off. (2.4.8–31)

Silvia’s two interventions suggest that Thurio, by taking up Valentine’s initial ‘I seem so’ in a malicious sense and then becoming heated as the exchange develops to his disadvantage, is breaking the rules of this kind of social badinage. When personalities and the rivalries of real life become engaged in the verbal contest, the delicate mechanisms of social decorum are endangered. Silvia’s concluding attempt to bring the uncomfortable situation back within the bounds of the courtly game is appropriately expressed in an image of warfare rather than sport. Already, thus early in his career, Shakespeare demonstrates how the witty duologue may be exploited dramatically to expose psychological and social tensions among characters. The third type of comic duologue is that discussed by Somerset, in which a character of high status consents to play straight-man to a socially inferior comedian. In the early comedies, the comic actor had been accommodated in the fictional world of the play as a servant. This figure, as Robert Weimann has demonstrated in his analysis of Launce’s contribution to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, moves between the real-life situation of a clown confronting a theatre audience and the dramatic situation of a character relating to other characters: The real performance of the actor and the imaginative role of the servant interact, and they achieve a new and very subtle kind of unity. Within this unity, the character’s relations to the playworld begin to dominate, but the comic ease and

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


flexibility of these relations are still enriched by some traditional connexion between the clowning actor and the laughing spectator.7

It is in monologues and asides, and with his dull companion in the lowcomedy double-act, that the clown asserts his function as entertainer of the audience and maintains his semi-independence of the play world. When he becomes involved in the third kind of duologue, he withdraws into the fiction and exerts his wit to entertain not us, directly, but his employer. The difference between the master–servant conversation and the low-comedy turn is indicated by Antipholus of Syracuse’s description of his relationship with Dromio in The Comedy of Errors: A trusty villain, sir, that very oft, When I am dull with care and melancholy, Lightens my humour with his merry jests. (1.2.19–21)

Launcelot and Grumio play at fooling their social equals and intellectual inferiors; Old Gobbo and Curtis, for the delight of the audience; Dromio and his successors Touchstone and Feste are allowed to amuse their social superiors within the world of the drama. On two occasions in The Comedy of Errors, Antipholus agrees to indulge Dromio, feeding him in act 2, scene 2 with such lines as ‘Your reason?’, ‘Let’s hear it’, ‘For what reason?’, ‘Name them’; and in act 3, scene 2 playing up to his conceit of the amorous kitchen-wench as ‘a globe’ by asking him to locate different countries on her anatomy. These two extended duologues are as much formal double-acts interrupting the plot as the Grumio–Curtis sequence, but the style of comedy is quite different, as we enjoy the inventiveness of Dromio’s replies rather than the lower humour of one fool outwitting another. When Launcelot engages his superiors in witty conversation, another feature of this mode of comedy comes to light. He harps upon Jessica’s Jewishness and her conversion to Christianity, asserting that she will be damned for her father’s sins and complaining that ‘this making of Christians will raise the price of hogs’ (The Merchant of Venice 3.5.20). These jokes are typical of the later professional fools’ habit of telling home-truths and handling taboo subjects. Jessica is in no way offended or disconcerted, and seems to enjoy the chance to treat these disturbing personal matters in a mood of playfulness. As Olivia says, when Feste makes light of her brother’s death: ‘There is no slander in an allow’d fool’ (Twelfth Night 1.5.88).


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All three types of comic duologue occur in As You Like It. This play, indeed, more than any other of the mature plays,8 is built upon conversations between two characters, as the courtiers and the inhabitants of Arden light upon each other in the forest in a ballet of ever-changing partners. It is Touchstone, however, who will provide the main focus for a discussion of the use of the double-act routine in As You Like It, and we must begin by examining the immediate context that Shakespeare creates for him. The second scene of the play opens with Celia and Rosalind discussing the situation caused by the Duke’s banishment and their determination to ‘be merry’ and ‘devise sports’. They begin to amuse themselves with banter about ‘falling in love’ and mocking ‘the good house-wife Fortune from her wheel’, and at that point reinforcements arrive in the person of the professional merry-maker. This is the cue for a mock-serious debate about the function of the fool, designed to draw Touchstone into their sport: c e li a Though Nature hath given us wit to flout at Fortune, hath not Fortune sent in this fool to cut off the argument? rosali n d Indeed, there is Fortune too hard for Nature, when Fortune makes Nature’s natural the cutter-off of Nature’s wit. c e li a Peradventure this is not Fortune’s work neither, but Nature’s, who perceiveth our natural wits too dull to reason of such goddesses, and hath sent this natural for our whetstone; for always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits. How now, wit! Whither wander you? (1.2.42–51)

Shakespeare is here ringing the changes on a highly charged and ambiguous group of words, which the very person of ‘the fool’ throws into relief: Nature, Fortune, wit, and folly. ‘Nature’s natural’ is a half-wit, a Poor Tom (which Touchstone manifestly is not); but as well as natural folly, there is also something that can be called ‘natural wit’, which makes it possible for Celia and Rosalind to ‘flout at Fortune’. The culmination of Shakespeare’s probing of the mysteries that surround the concept of folly will come in Lear’s profound and agonized recognition: ‘I am even the natural fool of Fortune’. For the moment, he is content to tease at these shifting meanings in a comic vein, as Celia teases Touchstone by dubbing him a ‘natural’ fool and assuming an intellectually superior stance in relation to him. The fool’s natural dullness, she declares, is the mere whetstone on which the wits of the naturally witty can be sharpened. This is not, in fact, how Celia and Rosalind do treat Touchstone. Knowing that he is an artificial fool, rather

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


than a natural one, they quickly drop into their socially determined role as ‘feeds’, happy to allow his wit dominance in the dialogue that ensues: ro sali n d Where learned you that oath, fool? touc h stone Of a certain knight that swore by his honour they were good pancakes, and swore by his honour the mustard was naught. Now I’ll stand to it, the pancakes were naught and the mustard was good, and yet was not the knight forsworn. ce li a How prove you that, in the great heap of your knowledge? ro sali n d Ay, marry, now unmuzzle your wisdom. (1.2.56–63)

The proper behaviour in the face of social or intellectual inferiors is not to use them as butts for the display of one’s own superior wit, and this the aristocratic girls know perfectly well. Right and wrong attitudes are demonstrated in the final scene of Love’s Labour’s Lost. It is acceptable, both morally and socially, for the ladies of France to mock the lords’ masque of Russians, in a mood of holiday fun among equals; but when the lords mock the sincere but ludicrous efforts of the rustics’ masque of the Nine Worthies, their behaviour is reprehensible and their cleverness sounds hollow and arrogant. The three types of comic duologue identified earlier embody the range of approved witty relationships. In the low-comedy turn it is acceptable for the lead clown to sharpen his wits on the whetstone of his duller companion, because the audience recognizes the double-act as an extradramatic entertainment, performed for its benefit by two actors who are functioning as theatrical clowns rather than ‘real’ characters towards whom human sympathy should be extended. The bout of courtly repartee is selfentertainment among members of the same class, and mockery is in order if one participant descends into folly by ignoring the code that governs the game – as Thurio does by allowing personal animosity to intrude. The duologue between master and allowed fool requires the socially superior partner to take the comically inferior role as straight-man in the interests of lightening humour with ‘merry jests’. From As You Like It onwards, Shakespeare becomes increasingly preoccupied with the consequences for the individual and for the human community at large when these conventional relationships within the duologue are disrupted. The breaking of the formal rules that govern the double-act is felt to be symptomatic of deeper disturbances. Touchstone is a case in point. Alexander Leggatt is right in saying that ‘Touchstone enjoys as much licence as he wants in Arden’; but it is also true,


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as D. J. Palmer notes, that ‘Touchstone is out of his element in Arden’.9 He is essentially a court fool, and we see him still performing his accustomed function of being, in Rosalind’s words, ‘a comfort to our travel’, as he and the two runaway girls approach the skirts of the forest: rosali n d O Jupiter, how weary are my spirits! tou c h ston e I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not weary. . . . c e li a I pray you, bear with me; I cannot go no further. touc h stone For my part, I had rather bear with you than bear you; yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you; for I think you have no money in your purse. (2.4.1–11)

He is taking the initiative here, in trying to lighten their humour, in contrast with the earlier scene in which they prompted his witticisms. Another fool who follows his master into the wilderness will be seen, transposed into a tragic key, similarly labouring ‘to out-jest / His heart-struck injuries’. Once Touchstone has entered the forest, however, and been cut adrift from the social context that enables him to sustain his defining role as jester to the nobility, his behaviour becomes questionable. Shakespeare involves him in two set-piece duologues, which reveal that the ‘all-licens’d fool’ of the court cannot cope with the total licence of the pastoral world. In his encounters with two versions of the countryman – Corin, the realistic shepherd, and William, the conventional stage-yokel – Touchstone is in danger of forfeiting our sympathy because he fails to adopt the proper stance. The nature of his failure is indicated in the first words he flings at Corin in act 2, scene 4: ‘Holla, you clown!’ His assumption of superiority over the mere country ‘clown’ is immediately slapped down by Rosalind, who reminds him that he, too, is a clown, and therefore in no position to act the courtier: ‘Peace, fool; he’s not thy kinsman.’ That Touchstone does not learn this lesson in behaviour is obvious when he enters later in conversation with Corin. Throughout their duologue, he is trying to score points off the old man. His patronizing question is an attempt to get Corin to make a fool of himself by exposing his intellectual limitations: ‘Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?’ Corin’s dignified reply puts Touchstone down, and he can only retort lamely with a quibble: ‘Such a one is a natural philosopher.’ The intended scorn of this cuts back at Touchstone, since Corin’s philosophy contains the common wisdom of one close to Nature, which is far from ‘natural’ in the derogatory sense of the word. The fool’s next ploy is to mock the shepherd’s lack of social sophistication:

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


tou c h ston e Wast ever in court, shepherd? cor i n No, truly. to uc h stone Then thou art damn’d. co r i n Nay, I hope. to uc h stone Truly, thou art damn’d, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side. cor i n For not being at court? Your reason. tou c h ston e Why, if thou never wast at court thou never saw’st good manners; if thou never saw’st good manners, then they manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd. (3.2.30–40)

Having trapped Corin into feeding him with a familiar prompt-line – ‘Your reason’ – Touchstone launches into the triumphant sequence of chop-logic which will prove the old man’s damnation. But Corin is no Jessica, who was content to play along with Launcelot’s similar line of jesting. He once more makes Touchstone look foolish with his earthy wisdom: Not a whit, Touchstone. Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court. You told me you salute not at the court, but you kiss your hands; that courtesy would be uncleanly if courtiers were shepherds. (lines 41–5)

Touchstone has completely misjudged the situation. Corin is neither a dim-witted stooge, like Old Gobbo or Curtis, nor a sophisticated courtier prepared to indulge the jester’s verbal fantasies. Unable to find any way of communicating with him outside the modes of his fool’s repertoire. Touchstone continues to press him for ‘instances’ on which he can build further witticisms, only to be met with the apposite and deflating verdict: ‘You have too courtly a wit for me.’ He has more success in a formal sense in his encounter with William, who naturally falls into the role of the bewildered butt of the jester’s condescending mockery: tou c h ston e Good ev’n, gentle friend. Cover thy head, cover thy head; nay, prithee be cover’d. How old are you, friend? willi am Five and twenty, sir. to u c h ston e A ripe age. Is thy name William? wi lli am William, sir. tou c h ston e A fair name. Wast born i’ th’ forest here? willi am Ay, sir, I thank God. to uc h stone ‘Thank God.’ A good answer. Art rich? willi am Faith, sir, so so.


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touc h stone ‘So so’ is good, very good, very excellent good; and yet it is not; it is but so so. Art thou wise? wi lli am Ay, sir, I have a pretty wit. touc h stone Why, thou say’st well. I do now remember a saying: ‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’. (5.1.16–30)

This follows the traditional method of the low-comedy turn, and is amusing for the audience. But there is a complicating factor, which is not present when Launcelot tips us the wink that he is about to ‘try confusions’ with his father. The scene is not set up in such a way that we retain that halfawareness of the clowns as comic entertainers putting on a show for us. Audrey is present throughout, and the duologue ends with Touchstone crowing over his ousted rival for her affections: touc h stone Now, you are not ipse, for I am he. wi lli am Which he, sir? touc h stone He, sir, that must marry this woman. Therefore, you clown, abandon – which is in the vulgar leave – the society – which in the boorish is company – of this female – which in the common is woman – which together is: abandon the society of this female; or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or, to wit, I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage. (5.1.41–50)

Touchstone is here breaking the decorum of the Kemp–Cowley type of double-act as flagrantly as Thurio does in the social game of repartee by allowing his concerns as a dramatic character to spill over into the comic sport. His easy triumph over the poor yokel is open to moral judgement, in a way that Launcelot’s treatment of his father is not, because the fictional situation has weakened the ‘traditional connexion between the clowning actor and the laughing spectator’. He is exulting in his superior wit for his own and Audrey’s benefit, not for ours, and this gives an unpleasant edge to the whole sequence. At the end of the play, the uncomfortable problem of Touchstone’s mismanagement of his role as jester in the forest is resolved along with the other restorations of order. This resolution is marked by his final doubleact before an appreciative on-stage audience, with Jaques as straight-man prompting him to his comic tour de force of the seven ‘degrees of the lie’. The sense of relief, as we see the jester once more operating skilfully within his familiar context, contributes to the general feeling that things are returning to their proper places.

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


iii In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses the technique of the double-act to conduct his most penetrating psychological study of the domestic fool. The character and personal predicament of the early comic servants had never been the focus of dramatic attention. Launce’s parting from his family and affection for his dog, and Launcelot’s hard life in Shylock’s household, had been used simply as the basis for comic turns. Touchstone’s behaviour in the Forest of Arden had provided insights into social manners, but had not involved us in the clown’s predicament as a unique individual. He was introduced, we remember, with a philosophical discussion about wit and folly, and it was his functioning as a jester not his character as a man that Shakespeare was interested in. The duologue routine which brings Feste before us for the first time immediately establishes the difference of approach in Twelfth Night : mar i a Nay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse; my lady will hang thee for thy absence. clown Let her hang me. He that is well hang’d in this world needs to fear no colours. mar i a Make that good. clown He shall see none to fear. mar i a A good lenten answer. I can tell thee where that saying was born, of ‘I fear no colours’. clown Where, good Mistress Mary? ma r i a In the wars; and that may you be bold to say in your foolery. clown Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents. ma r i a Yet you will be hang’d for being so long absent; or to be turn’d away – is not that as good as a hanging to you? clown Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and for turning away, let summer bear it out. ma r i a You are resolute, then? clown Not so, neither; but I am resolv’d on two points. mar i a That if one break, the other will hold; or if both break, your gaskins fall. clown Apt, in good faith, very apt! (1.5.1–24)

Feste is a hired man, dependent on his fooling for his living. Whatever licence he may have to speak, he is not free to be absent without his employer’s permission, and the threat of being ‘turn’d away’ hangs over his position in the social microcosm of Olivia’s household. The progress of the


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duologue illustrates just how precarious that position is. He begins with a rather feeble pun on ‘colours’ and ‘collars’, and when Maria ‘feeds’ him with the line, ‘Make that good’, he collapses into the even feebler conclusion: ‘He shall see none to fear.’ Maria registers the poorness of this ‘lenten answer’, and then takes over as dominant partner in the comic routine, with Feste dropping into the role of straight-man: ‘Where, good Mistress Mary?’ His reply, with its comment ‘those that are fools, let them use their talents’, is a resigned admission that his ‘talents’ in the field of fooling are small. A few lines later, after offering a threadbare proverb in response to Maria’s repeated warning about hanging, he launches into another joke with an intended pun on ‘points’. But Maria is too quick for him, and instead of playing straight-man steals his punch-line. ‘Apt’, says Feste, crestfallen, ‘in good faith, very apt!’: the kind of remark that one expects to hear from the impressed audience of the clown, not from the clown himself. Feste’s aside, as Olivia and Malvolio approach, is different in kind from the asides of clowns like Speed or Thersites, which register a critical attitude towards the antics of the other characters. It is more of an overheard thought (a silent prayer for help) than a wink at the audience, and it reveals Feste’s critical awareness of his own shortcomings rather than the folly of others: Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits that think they have thee do very oft prove fools; and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man. (1.5.29–32)

His uneasiness is quite justified, since Olivia is evidently displeased with him and tired of his predictable brand of humour: oli v i a Take the fool away. c lown Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady. oli v i a Go to, y’are a dry fool. I’ll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest. (lines 35–8)

He desperately produces a lengthy syllogistic proof that Olivia is a fool, to be met not with applause, but with a blocking speech: ‘Sir, I bade them take away you.’ The mock dignity of his assertion that ‘I wear not motley in my brain’ only half conceals his resentment at the role in which he has been cast by Fortune rather than by Nature, and he appeals for one more chance to demonstrate that he can perform adequately: ‘Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.’10 Olivia relents, and agrees to play her part in the comic duologue with her dubious ‘Can you do it?’ and the feed line: ‘Make your proof.’ This opens the way for a comic catechism, which wins Olivia

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


over: ‘What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth he not mend?’ The ensuing dialogue, in which Malvolio castigates ‘these set kind of fools’ and gets uncomfortably near the truth about Feste’s limitations – ‘unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagg’d’ – adds further detail to Shakespeare’s study of this particular clown’s predicament. He is caught up in the below-stairs rivalries of a great household, and it is easy to understand why he tries to avoid anything that would aggravate Olivia’s displeasure – keeping in the background when Sir Toby and Maria hatch the plot against Malvolio, and only allowing himself to be drawn in somewhat diffidently at a late stage in the proceedings, when Sir Toby is looking for a way to be ‘well rid of this knavery’. He seems to be more valued by Orsino for his ability to sing than for his skill in fooling, and it is noticeable that he plays second fiddle to Sir Toby in the great merry-making scene, and that praise for his wit comes from the foolish Sir Andrew, who enjoys such jokes as ‘I did impeticos thy gratillity’ and ‘I shall never begin if I hold my peace.’ In the Sir Topas episode, Feste exhibits a skill in mimicry, not in verbal brilliance. His wit is at its most inventive when he is begging money from Orsino and Viola. Warde characterizes Feste’s performances as a jester accurately as lacking in both the ‘spontaneous humor’ and the ‘sententious wisdom’ we expect from a fool. His wit, he continues, ‘is at times labored, frequently forced, and seldom free from obvious effort. It is professional foolery, rather than intuitive fun.’11 And Bradley gets closer to the heart of his mystery in recognizing that the lot of such a man, who is ‘more than Shakespeare’s other fools, superior in mind to his superiors in rank’, must be ‘more or less hard, if not of necessity degrading’.12 Apart from his opening exchanges with Maria and Olivia and the Sir Topas episode, Feste’s lengthiest involvement in duologue is with Viola. In substance, this scene is as much a comic interlude as the letter-reading turn between Speed and Launce: it contributes nothing to the plot. It does, however, substantiate Warde’s and Bradley’s insights into Feste’s character and raise issues that are of thematic importance in the play: viol a Save thee, friend, and thy music! Dost thou live by thy tabor? clow n No, sir, I live by the church. viol a Art thou a churchman? clow n No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church. vio l a So thou mayst say the king lies by a beggar, if a beggar dwell near him; or the church stands by thy tabor, if thy tabor stand by the church.


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c lown You have said, sir. To see this age! A sentence is but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turn’d outward! v i ol a Nay, that’s certain; they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton. (3.1.1–14)

Formally, this is a duologue that belongs to the Launce–Speed type, since both participants are supposedly of the servant class. Viola makes a goodnatured approach, calling him ‘friend’, but Feste, with a mixture of resentment and insolence, underlines his own inferior position in the servant hierarchy by addressing the up-and-coming favourite, ‘Cesario’, in all but one of his thirteen replies with the mock-subservient ‘sir’. In these opening moments of the encounter, the familiar double-act relationships fail to be established. Viola does not take up either of the conventional roles: that of stooge or that of straight-man. She attempts to engage the clown in a conversation between social and intellectual equals. C. L. Barber has pointed out that Feste’s exasperation at the abuse of language in the interests of wit comes unexpectedly from the fool’s mouth–in The Merchant of Venice, ‘it was the gentlefolk who commented “How every fool can play upon the word!”’13 Two further points need to be made: firstly, Feste is not, as far as he knows, addressing more than a fellow-employee of the gentlefolk, for although ‘Cesario’s’ parentage is ‘above my fortunes’ (1.5.262), ‘he’ is a dependant in Orsino’s household; and secondly, it is in line with what we have seen of Feste’s character that he should be contemptuous of the very art on which he must rely for his living. After all, it was he, not ‘Cesario’, who began the riddling conversation by turning the phrase ‘live by’ inside out. One might dig deeper, and suggest that his dallying with Viola’s words is triggered by his bitterness at being forced by necessity to ‘live by’ his profession as jester-minstrel. As the duologue continues, subtle adjustments are made in the relationship between the two participants: c lown I would, therefore, my sister had had no name, sir. v i ol a Why, man? c low n Why, sir, her name’s a word; and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton. But indeed words are very rascals since bonds disgrac’d them. v i ol a Thy reason, man? c lown Troth, sir, I can yield you none without words, and words are grown so false I am loath to prove reason with them. (3.1.15–23)

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


Viola’s control of both the sexual and the social aspects of her disguise as a male servant wavers in the face of Feste’s refusal to respond straightforwardly to her greeting. This is delicately registered in the shift from ‘friend’ to the would-be hearty ‘man’ in her mode of address to the clown and in her assumption of the socially superior role as ‘feed’ – more appropriate to her real status – with the questions ‘Why, man?’ and ‘Thy reason, man?’ The crisis of the scene occurs in the next few speeches, as Viola unwittingly nettles Feste and brings his submerged hostility into the open: viol a I warrant thou art a merry fellow and car’st for nothing. clown Not so, sir; I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you. If that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible. vio l a Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool? clown No indeed, sir; the Lady Olivia has no folly; she will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and fools are as like husbands as pilchers are to herrings – the husband’s the bigger. I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words. (lines 24–34)

Viola compounds the error of her patronizing tone in ‘I warrant thou art a merry fellow’ by using the title which Feste resents because of its implications. We remember that he even bridled when Olivia hinted that his jester’s garb extended from his office to his nature: ‘I wear not motley in my brain.’ Viola tries to change this prickly subject, but Feste will not be placated and she breaks off the conversation in a way that places her firmly above him in the social hierarchy: viol a I saw thee late at the Count Orsino’s. clown Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun – it shines everywhere. I would be sorry, sir, but the fool should be as oft with your master as with my mistress: I think I saw your wisdom there. viol a Nay, an thou pass upon me, I’ll no more with thee. Hold, there’s expenses for thee. [giving a coin. (lines 35–41)

Having refused Viola’s initial overtures of friendly equality, and resented her assumption of superiority, Feste now tries to turn her into his butt by calling her Orsino’s fool. Viola’s tip leads him into his routine of begging, but does not stem his insolence. In the very act of wheedling more money out of his antagonist, he is artfully implying that though ‘Cesario’ may not be a fool, he is nonetheless a hired man, and what is more, a pander:


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c lown I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus. v i ol a I understand you, sir; ’tis well begg’d. [giving another coin. c lown The matter, I hope, is not great, sir, begging but a beggar: Cressida was a beggar. My lady is within, sir. I will conster to them whence you come. (lines 49–54)

When he is gone, Viola gives her famous assessment of Feste and his art: This fellow is wise enough to play the fool; And to do that well craves a kind of wit. He must observe their mood on whom he jests, The quality of persons, and the time; And, like the haggard, check at every feather That comes before his eye. This is a practice As full of labour as a wise man’s art. (lines 57–63)

As Joseph H. Summers points out, most of the characters in the play are wearing masks, and ‘Feste is the one professional among a crowd of amateurs.’14 Unlike everyone else but Viola, however, Feste knows he is wearing a mask – that of fool – and must ‘labour’ to maintain it. This is why it is difficult to accept Roger Ellis’s view that Feste ‘covers his tracks so completely that we never see what he stands for, but only the folly and affectation which he ridicules in all around him’, and that we never do find out what he does wear in his brain.15 Feste may be ‘wise enough to play the fool’ – with an effort – but he resents the fact that Fortune has made it necessary for him to practise an art which he knows is not natural to him; and in the scenes with Maria and Olivia in Act 1 and with Viola in Act 3, the routines of the comic duologue are deliberately manipulated by Shakespeare to uncover his tracks, rather than to cover them. Touchstone was unconsciously trapped in his role; Feste is trapped in his, but with a full and painful awareness. It is typical of him that on the rare occasion when his wit rather than his singing is praised by Orsino – ‘Why, this is excellent’ – Feste replies ruefully, ‘By my troth, sir, no; though it please you to be one of my friends’, and proceeds to beg for money. iv Although there have been passing references to features of the Prince of Denmark’s clowning relationship with others – such as Harry Levin’s that the ‘Prince plays straight man’ to the grave-digger and Francis Fergusson’s

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


that ‘sometimes he spars with his interlocutors like the gag-man in a minstrel show’16 – the subtlety with which Shakespeare uses the familiar modes of the double-act in Hamlet has not been fully appreciated. With Polonius, he uses the fool’s trick of deliberately mistaking the word: po lon i u s What do you read, my lord? ham le t Words, words, words. po lon i u s What is the matter, my lord? ham le t Between who? po lon i u s I mean, the matter that you read, my lord. (2.2.190–4)

With Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he begins by swapping obscene witticisms about ‘the secret parts of Fortune’ in the manner of courtly repartee (2.2.221–35); but once he is convinced of their collusion with Claudius, he shifts into the wild and often insulting inconsequence of the natural fool whose ‘wit’s diseas’d’, thereby making fools of them. With Ophelia, he takes advantage of the fool’s privilege to make unseemly and cruel jests: ham le t Lady, shall I lie in your lap? [Lying down at Ophelia’s feet. oph e li a No, my lord. hamle t I mean, my head upon your lap? oph e li a Ay, my lord. h am le t Do you think I meant country matters? oph e li a I think nothing, my lord. h am le t That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs. oph e li a What is, my lord? h am le t Nothing. oph e li a You are merry, my lord. (3.2.108–17)

Only in the early piece of dialogue with his former school-friends is the proper order maintained in the comic exchanges. Hamlet’s assumption of the antic disposition with the whole gallery of interlocutors, from Polonius and Ophelia to Claudius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, disrupts the duologue conventions and produces a most disturbing brand of comedy. No one knows quite how to adjust his behaviour to cope with a prince who insists on taking a fool’s part, and the repeated ‘my lord’ echoes like a discord through conversations which Hamlet turns into perverted comic interludes. Jesting about serious matters, like betraying a father and a religion or mourning a dead brother, is accommodated within an accepted social framework in The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night ; but when Hamlet jests about the situation at the Danish court, he is handling taboo material without the insulation provided by the security of custom. A prince


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who, in Coleridge’s words, indulges in ‘the free utterance of all the thoughts that had passed through his mind’17 – telling the ‘home-truths’ that only fools are licensed to tell – is distressing, mad, and dangerous. The longest comic interlude, which incorporates the only completely ‘normal’ double-acts in the play, is the churchyard scene at the beginning of act 5. The opening duologue between the grave-diggers, which Gray calls ‘the quintessence of the Kemp–Cowley fooling’,18 signals a reassuring return to health and natural fitness, in much the same way that Touchstone’s final performance with Jaques marks a restoration of everyday proprieties after the holiday misrule of Arden. As Joan Rees puts it, placing the episode in the thematic context of the play: when the grave-diggers sing at their work and accept so imperturbably the grim facts of human mortality, the personal anguish of the Hamlet situations recedes for a moment as they are seen to be no more than episodes in an endlessly repeated process of life and death. The clown’s eye view eliminates metaphysics.19

This feeling, based on the content of the grave-diggers’ speeches, is communicated equally strongly by the very mode of their interaction, as the First Clown lectures his slow-witted companion on ‘crowner’s quest law’ and goads him into answering his riddle. In the next phase of the scene, Hamlet takes over the role of lead comedian, weaving his punning reveries and macabre jokes around the fool’s bauble provided by the skulls thrown up by the grave-digger. He persistently prompts Horatio into the role of straight-man, by couching his patter largely in the form of questions and concluding with a demand for response that cannot be avoided: ‘might it not?’ But Horatio refuses to be drawn into the act. His discomfort and reserve are felt in his minimal replies, none of which invites further witty expatiation on the themes of mortality and the futility of human pretensions: ‘It might, my lord’; ‘Ay, my lord’; ‘Not a jot more, my lord’. The effect is that of a soliloquy struggling to break out of the circle of subjectivity into the communion of duologue, but Horatio is no more able to meet the Prince’s need here in an exchange or encouragement of wit than he was able to respond to the display of passionate affection earlier: Dost thou hear? Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice And could of men distinguish her election, Sh’ hath seal’d thee for herself. (3.2.60–3)

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


Then, sensing Horatio’s embarrassment, he had broken off, saying, ‘Something too much of this’, and turning from personal to practical matters: ‘There is a play to-night before the King.’ Now, he turns from the unresponsive Horatio to the garrulous rustic and engages for the first time in the play in a double-act routine in which he can take the role proper to his rank: ham le t Whose grave’s this, sirrah? 1 st c low n Mine, sir . . . hamle t I think it be thine indeed, for thou liest in’t. 1 st c low n You lie out on’t, sir, and therefore ’tis not yours. For my part, I do not lie in’t, yet it is mine. h amle t Thou dost lie in’t, to be in’t and say it is thine; ’tis for the dead, not for the quick; therefore thou liest. 1st c lown ’Tis a quick lie, sir; ’twill away again from me to you. h amle t What man dost thou dig it for? 1st c lown For no man, sir. h am le t What woman, then? 1st c low n For none neither. h amle t Who is to be buried in’t? 1st c lown One that was a woman, sir; but, rest her soul, she’s dead. (5.1.114–31)

Just as there was a significant return to normality when Touchstone abandoned his attempt to play the courtier and became jester to Jaques’s straightman, so here the very mode of the duologue reinforces the growing sense of restored order and sanity in the world of Hamlet as the Prince drops his aberrant role as jester and assumes his proper comic and social relationship as straight-man to the familiar rustic clown. After a comment to Horatio on the nature of the clown’s witty equivocations – again, the prerogative of his class20 – Hamlet resumes his part in the comic interlude, until the skull of Yorick is identified by the grave-digger. The shock of meeting the personal face of death, which provokes warm memories rather than flights of fantasy, leads him to abandon both the grave-digger and the courtier as interlocutors and to commune directly with the skull. All his previous comments on the skull had been in the third person: ‘Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?’ Now, he moves from the objective mode of ‘I knew him, Horatio: . . . he hath borne me on his back a thousand times’, to direct address: ‘Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning – quite chap-fall’n?’ Jolted back into his fool’s


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role, he thus addresses the fool’s mirror-image in complete detachment from the surrounding reality, and then turns to engage Horatio once more in riddling duologue about ‘the noble dust of Alexander’. Horatio for the first time makes a positive attempt to stem the flow of fantasy: ‘’Twere to consider too curiously to consider so.’ But Hamlet is not to be diverted, and ends the interlude with his most jester-like speech: a mock-syllogism in prose, reminiscent of Touchstone’s proof of Corin’s damnation, followed by a piece of doggerel. Like so many fool’s turns, his patter is ended by the resumption of the plot with the arrival of Ophelia’s funeral procession. The significance of this long comic break has been interpreted in many ways, but almost always (unless it has been explained away as a late interpolation),21 the focus has been on the content of the scene, which symbolizes Hamlet’s coming to terms, as Maynard Mack puts it, with ‘the condition of being man’ and with the mysteries of life, evil, and reality itself.22 A close study of the variations that Shakespeare is playing on the familiar modes of the double-act, however, suggests that the very nature of the shifting relationships between the participants in the series of duologues carries almost as much of the dramatic significance as the conceptual content of the speeches. The order and normality of both the playworld and Hamlet himself hang in the balance. The duologues between the gravediggers and between Hamlet and the First Clown indicate that the nightmare of a world ‘out of joint’ is coming to an end, symbolized by the smooth functioning of the rituals of the comic double-act. Hamlet’s lapses into the fool role, thwarted by Horatio’s refusal to participate in the aberrant duologues, reveal that Hamlet has not yet found the complete stability that will only come when he moves from the fool’s helpless detachment to the action of the ‘sweet prince’ and ‘soldier’, which will prove his own royalty and manhood and purge the state in the ultimate rituals of revenge and death. v Julian Markels has written of Shakespeare’s exploitation, for comic and tragic purposes, of ‘the familiar social philosophy of degree and custom that is implied by the institution of the domestic fool’.23 This essay has attempted to give some idea of the rich dramatic resources that Shakespeare found not only in the figure of the domestic fool himself, but also in the very mechanics of the varieties of cross-talk act which were part of the clown’s repertoire. The line of development from Launce and Speed, Antipholus and Dromio to Feste and Viola, Hamlet and the grave-digger, is a long one, but much of the impact of crucial scenes in these later plays depends upon

Comic duologue in three plays by Shakespeare


our awareness of the unbroken continuity of that development and of the expectations that may be aroused when two characters take time off from the plot to engage in a comic duologue. First published in Shakespeare Survey 35 (1982) n otes 1 See, for example, Francis Douce, ‘A Dissertation on the Clowns and Fools of Shakespeare’, in Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners (1807), vol. 2, pp. 299–332; Olive Mary Busby, Studies in the Development of the Fool in the Elizabethan Drama (1923); Enid Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (1935); Leslie Hotson, Shakespeare’s Motley (1952); Robert Hillis Goldsmith, Wise Fools in Shakespeare (Liverpool, 1958); William Willeford, The Fool and his Sceptre: A Study in Clowns and Jesters and their Audience (1969); Victor Bourgy, Le Bouffon sur la sc`ene anglaise au 16e si`ecle (c. 1495–1594) (Paris, 1969); Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theatre, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore and London, 1978). 2 See Harold F. Brooks, ‘Two Clowns in a Comedy (to say nothing of the Dog): Speed, Launce (and Crab) in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”’, Essays and Studies, 16 (1963), 91–100; John B. Harcourt, ‘“I Pray You, Remember the Porter”’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 22 (1961), 393–402. 3 Willeford, The Fool and his Sceptre, p. 123. 4 Austin K. Gray, ‘Robert Armine, The Foole’, PMLA, 42 (1927), 673–85, p. 673. See Busby (pp. 70–1) and Ludwig Borinski (‘Shakespeare’s Comic Prose’, Shakespeare Survey 8 (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 57–68, p. 63) for brief accounts of some of the clown’s duologue techniques. 5 J. A. B. Somerset, ‘The Comic Turn in English Drama, 1470–1616’ (unpublished PhD thesis, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, 1966), pp. 619–26. 6 All quotations from Shakespeare’s plays are taken from Peter Alexander’s text of the Complete Works (1951). 7 Robert Weimann, ‘Laughing with the Audience: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and the Popular Tradition of Comedy’, Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969), pp. 35–42; p. 40. 8 The duologue technique in As You Like It is part of a deliberate artistic design and is quite different from that in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which Stanley Wells has criticized as the result of Shakespeare’s inexperience at handling ‘more than a few characters at once’ (‘The Failure of The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, Shakespeare-Jahrbuch (East), 99 (1963), 165). 9 Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love (1974, repr. 1978), p. 193; D. J. Palmer, ‘“As You Like It” and the Idea of Play’, Critical Quarterly, 13 (1971), 234–45, p. 244. Both of these critics offer a view of Touchstone similar to the one presented in this paper, but without examining the way Shakespeare exploits the mechanisms of the comic duologue to achieve his effects.


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10 Feste wants to prove his own skill at fooling by inventing ingenious proof that his mistress is a fool – one of the traditional ploys of the jester. 11 Frederick Warde, The Fools of Shakespeare (1915), p. 78. 12 A. C. Bradley, ‘Feste the Jester’, in A Miscellany (1929), p. 213. 13 C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy (Princeton, 1959), p. 253. 14 Joseph H. Summers, ‘The Masks of Twelfth Night,’ University of Kansas City Review, 22 (1955), reprinted in the Casebook on Twelfth Night, ed. D. J. Palmer (1972), p. 92. 15 Roger Ellis, ‘The Fool in Shakespeare: A Study in Alienation’, Critical Quarterly, 10 (1968), 245–68, p. 260. 16 Harry Levin, The Question of Hamlet (1959), p. 122; Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theatre (Princeton, 1949), p. 113. See also David Pirie, ‘Hamlet without the Prince’, Critical Quarterly, 14 (1972), 293–314. 17 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Essays and Lectures on Shakespeare (1907), p. 153. 18 Gray, ‘Robert Armine, the Foole’, p. 675. 19 Joan Rees, Shakespeare and the Story: Aspects of Creation (1978), pp. 193–4. 20 See, for example, Lorenzo’s comment on Launcelot’s habit of ‘quarrelling with occasion’ in The Merchant of Venice (3.5.56–60). 21 See Levin L. Sch¨ucking, ‘The Churchyard-scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 5.1: An Afterthought?’, Review of English Studies, 11 (1935), 129–38. 22 Maynard Mack, ‘The World of Hamlet’, The Yale Review, 41 (1952), 502–23. 23 Julian Markels, ‘Shakespeare’s Confluence of Tragedy and Comedy: Twelfth Night and King Lear’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 15 (1964), 75–88, p. 83.

chap t e r 11

Hamlet’s ear Philippa Berry

An alienation from the hypocrisy of a courtly style or decorum in language afflicts Hamlet from his first appearance in the play. The courtly airs or ‘songs’, the ‘words of so sweet breath’, the ‘music vows’, with which he wooed Ophelia are no longer part of his idiom, although he will briefly redeploy them to disguise his true state of mind. In Act i scene 2, we meet a Hamlet whose abrupt retreat from social intercourse is not only signalled by his mourning dress, but is also articulated through an intensely satiric relationship to language. This scathing view of the world is articulated in all of Hamlet’s language, in his soliloquies and monologues as well as in his dialogues with others; it finds its most effective form of expression, however, in his use of word-play. Indeed, before the final tragic catastrophe Hamlet’s role as malcontent and revenger succeeds not so much by action as by his disordering, through punning, of social constructions of identity. The centrality of the pun to the view of earthly mutability and death which Hamlet gradually elaborates in the course of the play is aptly illustrated by the fact that he puns not only on his own death (‘The rest is silence’), but also as he finally accomplishes his task of revenge and kills Claudius, asking ‘Is thy union here?’ as he forces him to drink the wine that Claudius has poisoned with a pearl or ‘union’. Yet the chief interest of Hamlet’s quibbling lies not in his semantic puns, which play upon words with two or more meanings, like ‘rest’ or ‘union’, but in his richly suggestive use of homophonic resemblances between words, in order to expand their significance. Through these linguistic acts of expansion, Hamlet comments upon particular elements of the tragic narrative, augmenting their apparent meaning by interweaving ostensibly disparate themes and motifs into a complex unity. In contrast to the use of word-play as the supreme instance of a dialogic courtly wit which celebrates the shared values of an aristocratic group, it is through an ironic use of iteration, and of the pun in particular, that Hamlet’s echoic or quibbling discourse is able to enunciate, albeit obliquely, 201


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those hidden meanings which are concealed within the polite language of the Danish court. Hamlet condemns and rejects that courtly playing upon him as a phallic pipe or recorder of which he accuses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. ’Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me. (3.2.352–60)

In contrast to this courtly attempt to play upon or ‘sound’ him, Hamlet’s resonant unsettling of courtly language follows a different tune. For his quibbles remind us constantly of Hamlet’s familial displacement, as a son and heir whose place in a masculine genealogy of kings is no longer certain. In these puns, as well as in the tropes which are applied to him by others, we find a curious refiguring of Denmark’s ‘heir’ – a word which, significantly, is only evoked through homophony in this play – in relationship to ‘th’incorporal air’ (3.4.109). In his magisterial study of Shakespeare’s Pronunciation, where he aimed to recover many Elizabethan homonyms which are no longer pronounced alike, Helg¨e K¨okeritz concluded that hair-heir-here-hear were four words often pronounced similarly in early modern English; in particular, he noted the likely pun on air-heir in Hamlet, together with related puns on hairheir and heir-here from other Shakespearian plays.1 Through a common interlingual pun, whereby mollis aer (Lat.: soft air) was equated with mulier, the Latin for woman, the attributes of air were frequently associated with the female sex in the English Renaissance. But although Shakespeare could apply this pun quite conventionally, to female dramatic protagonists such as Imogen and Cleopatra, he also used it to trope the beloved youth of the Sonnets; while Imogen is compared to ‘tender air’ (5.5.234, 5.6.447–53) and Cleopatra, in her dying, is ‘as soft as air’ (5.2.306), the beautiful youth who is initially exhorted by the poet to ‘bear’ his father’s memory through procreation is also a ‘tender heir’ (Sonnets, 1, 4). Similarly, Hamlet’s airy and echoic utterances emphasize his failure to conform to traditional forms of masculine identity and sexuality; in particular, he rejects the implicit association which runs through the play, between kingship and ‘earing’ as copulation. Yet the association of his ‘air’ imagery with a nexus of images related to hearing as well as to fertility serves to remind us that a significantly different use of the ear is central to Hamlet’s punning activity, which

Hamlet’s ear


often appears to imply vocal play on ‘ear’ as well as ‘air’ in relation to an unspoken ‘heir’. Although K¨okeritz did not mention ‘ear’ in his hair-heirhere-hear combination, elsewhere he noted homonymic play on ear-here, while he also observed that John Lyly puns on ear-hair in Midas (4.1.174f.).2 Hamlet’s quibbling language substitutes an echoic or airy form of auditory attention for sexual or procreative modes of (h)earing. The motions of air as wind were often associated by the ancients with a ghostly and uncannily repetitive auditor, the nymph Echo; Abraham Fraunce declared that Echo ‘is nothing els, but the reverberation and reduplication of the ayre. Eccho noteth bragging and vaunting, which being contemned and despised, turneth to a bare voyce, a winde, a blast, a thing of nothing’,3 while in Ben Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels, first performed in 1600, the same year as Hamlet, Mercury asks Echo to: Salute me with thy repercussive voice, That I may know what caverne of the earth Contains thy airy spirit, how or where I may direct my speech, that thou mayst hear.4

There are certainly puns in Hamlet’s soliloquies, yet punning requires a social context in order to be fully effective; it is therefore an apt instrument of the satirist. It is also one of the ways in which a rhetorical emphasis upon the singular fate of the tragic protagonist, as articulated through soliloquy or monologue, can be juxtaposed with a dialogic form of self-undoing, in a comic discourse which is less focussed on the subjective ‘I’, and more on the exposure of an illusory social mask. At the same time, as Gregory Ulmer has observed, the pun can often function as a ‘puncept’, in its formation of new concepts which may hint at another order of knowledge.5 Through multiple entendre, unobserved or hidden relationships can be demonstrated, as various homophones reverberate echoically throughout a text. It is above all through his relentless quibbling that Hamlet meditates upon the sexuality of – and within – families. Yet the oblique meanings of his word-play also extend beyond this immediate sphere of familiarity. For Hamlet reintroduces nature, the body and death into the sphere of courtly discourse, reimaging courtly society in terms of an ‘over-growth’ within nature, and thereby reassimilating culture into nature. Thus, in a trope used several times in the play, ‘rank’ as the foul smell and abundant growth of weeds is substituted for social rank: ‘things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely’ (1.2.136–7). Similarly, Claudius’ kingship is troped as a sexual excess which is also a ‘moor’ or wilderness, as well as a disturbing racial difference (3.4.66). And in spite of his several misogynistic diatribes, which


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attribute this degenerative trend in nature to the female body and female sexuality in particular, through his quibbling language Hamlet also tropes himself as having an obscure figurative association with these processes of decay. In his encounter with his father’s ghost, Hamlet is informed of Claudius’ twofold poisoning of the ear of Denmark. Claudius has killed Old Hamlet with ‘juice of curs`ed hebenon’, poured ‘in the porches of mine ears’ (1.5.62– 3); furthermore, he has deceived the court as to the nature of the king’s death: ‘the whole ear of Denmark / Is by a forg`ed process of my death / Rankly abused’ (1.5.36–8). But Hamlet, the other ear – and other heir – of Denmark, has already begun to hear Claudius’ courtly discourse otherwise – or satirically. He is now fully undeceived by his exchange with the airy spirit. In the ghost’s imagery of ears there is an implicit quibble upon ‘earing’ as copulation, since it is through his incestuous marriage, as well as his murderous attack on the royal ear, that Claudius has interrupted the patrilineal transmission of royal power. The usurper’s assumed sexual appetite parallels what Hamlet sees as the disorderly disseminating power of nature – with the result that, in Hamlet’s eyes, the state of Denmark ‘grows to seed’, while Claudius is a ‘mildewed ear’ of corn (3.4.63). It seems, therefore, that the usurper is a chief tare or weed (in Latin, this could sometimes be aera as well as the more common lolium) in what Hamlet now defines as the ‘unweeded garden’ of the world; and of course, like Lucianus in The Murder of Gonzago, Claudius has literally used ‘midnight weeds’ to poison or ‘blast’ (like a strong wind blighting a crop) both Old Hamlet’s life and Young Hamlet’s inheritance. But while his uncle, as a ‘mildewed ear’, is associated by Hamlet with the paradox of a degenerative fertility within nature, Hamlet’s own wit performs a more oblique and airy form of generation as well as (h)earing. This is inspired not so much by a commitment to the monarchy as the political (h)earing of the state as by a more feminine and aesthetically responsive form of hearing: one which is appropriate to the narration or the performance of tragedy, and which also interprets human suffering as inextricably interwoven with a tragedy within nature. In Greek tragedy, the role of listener was an important function of the chorus, as the primary auditors and spectators of the tragic events. It is this echoic and choric mode of hearing which is implicitly required by the ghost of Old Hamlet when he describes his murder to his son; like the mythological figure of Echo, Young Hamlet is left to repeat the ghost’s final words: ‘Now to my word: / It is “Adieu, adieu, remember me”’ (1.5.111–12). But this acutely responsive and implicitly feminine mode of hearing is also

Hamlet’s ear


comparable to that enacted by Dido when she asks Aeneas to tell her of the fall of Troy, for it is Dido’s place which Hamlet effectively occupies when in Act 2 he asks the player to give an impromptu performance of Aeneas’ tale. And the more feminine faculty of hearing which motivates Hamlet’s interest in the drama also appears to involve responsiveness to the mysterious resonance of nature within language; in the last act, he will trope the more discerning members of society as ‘the most fanned and winnowed opinions’ (5.2.153): in a figure that is probably derived from the winnowing of the soul by wind in the Aeneid (6.740), they are like ears of corn which have been separated out from the chaff by the activity of the wind. Similarly, through his ironic quibbling, Hamlet uses his different style of hearing to effect an airy and echoic reordering of the world around him, in a discursive equivalent to winnowing whose spiritual implications are apparent from the traditional affinity of air and wind with spirit as well as breath (from the Latin spiritus). A chief result of this reclassification through punning is a reinterpretation of those distorted relations between kin which are integral to the tragedy. The theme of a kinship which is both rather less than affectionate and also excessive or incestuous is wittily introduced by Hamlet’s first paronomasic play on ‘kin’ and ‘kind’. Adnominatio or paronomasia (or ‘prosonomasia’, as it was sometimes called in the Renaissance) depends on a slight change, lengthening or transposition of the letters in a word; Henry Peacham defines the trope as ‘a certayne declyninge into a contrarye, by a lykelyhoode of letters, eyther added, chaunged, or taken awaye’, while George Puttenham describes it as ‘a figure by which ye play with a couple of words or names much resembling, and because the one seemes to answere th’other by manner of illusion, and doth, as it were, nick him, I call him the Nicknamer chaunged, or taken awaye’.6 In response to Claudius’ greeting, ‘But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son –’, Hamlet murmurs his aside: ‘A little more than kin, and less than kind’ (1.2.64–5). The quibble aptly suggests the difficulty of finding suitable words to represent Claudius’ outrageous transgression of the conventional boundaries of kinship, which is also, Hamlet implies, a subversion of courtly conventions of gentilit´e or kindness. However, Hamlet’s subsequent homophonic quibble on ‘son’, is made to his uncle’s face, inspired by Claudius’ own indirect pun on son-sun in his query about Hamlet’s mourning garb. To Claudius’ question: ‘How is it that the clouds still hang on you?’, Hamlet replies ‘Not so, my lord, I am too much i’th’ sun’ (1.2.66–7). This ironically suggests that whereas another homophone of kin and kind – king – does describe Claudius’ situation, through the traditional association


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of king with sun it is also related to Hamlet’s own position, as a son (and heir). The pun spells out more clearly the still unspoken pun on kin and king, allying an excess of kinship (since Hamlet is not Claudius’ son, and Claudius has married his brother’s wife) with an image of kingship (the sun) that is itself excessive, apparently because its brightness is incompatible with those conventions of mourning dress which (in contrast to Hamlet) the Danish court has signally failed to observe. But beneath its apparent compliment to the king as sun, the quibble also alludes to a potentially unhealthy surplus of sons or heirs; we are reminded that in spite of his mourning attire, as a king’s son, Hamlet too has a homophonic affinity with the sun, and that, like Claudius, he too may have an unexpected generative potential. The peculiar difference of Hamlet’s disseminating activity is made clear in his retorts to Gertrude. Her description of dying as ‘common’ is allied by Hamlet’s ironic iteration with the ‘common’ or vulgar usage of ‘to die’, evoking thereby the commonness of another, sexual, dying; similarly, her question, ‘Why seems it so particular with thee?’ (1.2.75) is converted by Hamlet into a barbed criticism of the King and Queen’s courtly semblance of mourning: ‘Seems, madam? Nay, it is, I know not “seems”’ (1.2.76). This ironic differing of ‘seems’, which additionally hints at the links between courtly seeming and the spilling of generative seed (from the Latin: semen), also anticipates the ‘enseam`ed bed’ that Hamlet will later accuse the Queen of copulating in with Claudius. The rejection by Hamlet of sexual activity is also implied in his subsequent reference to a near-synonym for ‘seems’, when he tells Gertrude that ‘I have that within which passeth show’ (1.2.85); later, in his quibbling exchange with Ophelia during the play scene, the sexual meaning of ‘show’ will be stressed. None the less, it is Hamlet’s mocking echoes of courtly language which turn the meaning of ‘common’ or ordinary words back towards the body and sexuality. He will warn Polonius, in a remark which appears to imply his own erotic intentions towards Ophelia: ‘Let her not walk i’th’ sun. Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to’t’ (2.2.186–7). Here the use of a semantic pun, or antanaclasis, in which the same word (conception) has two different meanings, clarifies the difference of Hamlet’s fertilizing powers from those of his uncle; the nephew’s sun-like powers seed a legacy or inheritance which operates above all at the level of signs (from the Greek, semeion), in the realm of words and ideas. And while he assists conception, as understanding, in women in particular – for the ‘conceits’ which are attributed to both Gertrude and Ophelia (3.4.104, 4.5.44) are directly or indirectly inspired

Hamlet’s ear


by Hamlet – this son also ‘conceives’ much himself. For him, morbid meditations, or ‘conceits’ concerning natural and human corruption, are themselves part of a (re)generative process. But if, through his quibble on ‘conception’, the gendered identity of the heir is effectively called into question, what kind of heir is he? As The Murder of Gonzago is about to be performed, Claudius greets Hamlet with ‘How fares our cousin Hamlet?’ (3.2.89). Hamlet replies with a triple quibble. Redefining ‘fares’ in terms of sustenance, he simultaneously converts ‘fare’ to ‘air’ by paronomasia, and he also quibbles thereby on he unspoken ‘heir’: ‘Excellent, i’faith, of the chameleon’s dish. I eat the air, promise-crammed. You cannot feed capons so’ (3.2.90–1). Although the word ‘heir’ is only evoked through homophony in the play, this quibble makes explicit the obscure but important connection which runs through the play, between the dispossessed ‘heir’ of Denmark and ‘air’; at the same time, it presents us with the trope of the displaced heir as a ‘chameleon’ or shape-shifter who is not, he warns Claudius, as stupid as a castrated cock or ‘capon’: a bird which allows itself to be overfed for the table. Instead, it seems, Hamlet is mysteriously feeding on himself (as heir/air), in a way which is not only consistent with the mutable identity of the chameleon (a creature which was nourished by air), but which also hints at his affinity with the mysterious singularity of the double-gendered phoenix. And the substance which Hamlet figuratively feeds on is paradoxically full as well as empty, although as ‘promise-crammed’, its fecundity is associated only with words. Thus while the empty flattery of Claudius to his ‘son’ is ironically dismissed by Hamlet, his quibble suggests none the less that the airy substance of speech does afford him a curious kind of nourishment, where none might be expected. This metamorphosis of the heir of Denmark through and in relation to air begins, of course, on the battlements of Elsinore, where, as Hamlet and his companions wait for the ghost to appear, he declares: ‘The air bites shrewdly, it is very cold’. To this Horatio replies: ‘It is a nipping and an eager air’ (1.4.1–2). His words aptly convey the change that has already begun to affect Hamlet, in his assumption of a satiric demeanour, expressed through a mordant or biting wit which is ‘eager’, or sour. In its later echo by the ghost’s reference to the curdling of his blood by Claudius’ poison, ‘like eager droppings into milk’ (1.5.69), this reference to the eager air, ear or heir attributes to Hamlet a property of bitterness which parallels the corrupting effects of Claudius’ fratricide. But these images in Act i also give a new, auto-erotic dimension to Hamlet’s satiric temper. For as


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he develops a new, biting relationship to the air, as well as to the courtly language (or promises) which fill it, he is also consuming his identity as heir. In feeding upon himself (as well as others) through his mordant quibbling, Hamlet plays the part of Narcissus as well as Echo. Like the addressee of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, he can be accused of self-love, or of ‘having traffic with thyself alone’ (Sonnets, 4.9). But in also assuming the implicitly feminine role of the ‘tender heir’ (as mollis aer or mulier who will bear the father’s memory (Sonnets, 1.4)), Hamlet is able to redefine both his father’s and his own inheritance verbally or vocally, through his airy conceits. In this respect, his own legacy or inheritance will be twofold: while his ‘story’ is bequeathed directly to Horatio, who by telling it will preserve his name, it is Fortinbras who will be the ultimate recipient both of that story and of Hamlet’s ‘dying voice’ – which chooses him, perforce, as the future king of Denmark. Significantly, neither man is even a member of Hamlet’s kingroup, much less his child. Hamlet thereby refigures inheritance in terms of a phoenix-like succession to other men (and most importantly, to two rather than to one), as a succession which circumvents the generative obligations of patriliny. And this formation of a different bonding ‘between men’ – a bonding across rather than within families – is effected by the historical reverberations of Hamlet’s echoing voice. When Polonius refers to Hamlet’s replies as ‘pregnant’, he attributes a feminine or fecund character to his quibbling; similarly, the tropes and puns used by Claudius of Hamlet’s melancholy or madness figure it as concealing an airy fecundity which is apparently feminine. The prince is twice imaged as a female bird on her nest in late spring or early summer: ‘There’s something in his soul / O’er which his melancholy sits on brood’ (3.1.167–8); This is mere madness, And thus a while the fit will work on him. Anon, as patient as the female dove When that her golden couplets are disclosed, His silence will sit drooping. (5.1.281–5)

But a more grotesque, and implicitly masculine, version of this differing of gendered models of generation is later proposed by Hamlet himself when, in his remark to Polonius about the dangers of Ophelia walking ‘i’ the sun’, he defines the sun as a breeder of worms or maggots which eat the flesh,

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and so accelerate the decay of dead matter: ‘For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion –’ (2.2.182–3). Yet in the myth of the phoenix as reported by Pliny (an account which was often cited in the Renaissance), a worm or maggot plays a central part in the bird’s solitary work of regeneration through self-consumption: Pliny tells us that ‘from its bones and marrow is born first a sort of maggot, and this grows into a chicken’.7 In his reflexive relationship to air, therefore, Hamlet has a superficial resemblance to Narcissus as well as Echo. However, several of the images I have mentioned were connected in Renaissance iconography with Hermes or Mercury, a classical deity whose identity was especially marked by paradox and doubleness. This god, whose emblematic creature was a cock, herald of the dawn, and who was frequently depicted with a pipe as well as his more familiar caduceus, combined his role as a divine messenger and god of eloquence with attributes of trickery, secrecy and concealment; according to Richard Linche in The Fountaine of Ancient Fiction: ‘Mercurie was often taken for that light of knowledge, & spirit of understanding, which guides men to the true conceavement of darke and enigmaticall sentences’.8 And Mercury’s identification by Macrobius with ‘that power [of the sun] from which comes speech’ hints at another, solar, aspect of his classical identity, whereby he was associated with the return of fertility to the earth in springtime.9 The affinity between Mercury and obscure yet meaningful utterances makes it hardly surprising that in Cynthia’s Revels it is Mercury who temporarily restores the speech of Echo, inviting her to ‘strike music from the spheres, / And with thy golden raptures swell our ears’ (1.2.63–4). It was this play, in fact, which was the first production of the ‘little eyases’, or young hawks, whose ‘eyrie’ was the Blackfriars playhouse: the Children of the Chapel. Yet Charles Dempsey has recently pointed out, in his reinterpretation of Botticelli’s Primavera, that it was Mercury as a wind-god (for example, in the Aeneid, 4, 223ff.), able to calm harsh winds and storms, and to disperse clouds, who was most explicitly regarded as a god of spring, or Mercurius Ver. Botticelli shows Mercury dispersing and softening clouds with his upraised caduceus in the Primavera, a representation of him that unequivocally identifies him as acting in his archaic persona as a springtime wind god. By this action he ends the season that began with the warming west blowing its regenerative breath over the bare earth, shown as Zephyr and Chloris, and that reaches its fullness in April, the month presided over by Venus.10


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In the Primavera, clusters of seeds swirl about the god’s winged sandals, but no act of copulation is associated with this generative process. Instead, Mercury’s fertilizing role is implied to supplement rather than complement that of Venus as a goddess of nature. Indeed, although the mythographers are understandably silent on the subject, their curious debates about whether or not Mercury has a beard, together with the emphasis on his youthfulness (in other words, his difference from adult masculinity), created a distinct aura of ambiguity around his sexual identity, as Joseph A. Porter has shown.11 The Primavera suggests that Mercury enjoys a different and more harmonious relationship with the feminine generative principle within nature from that attributed to figures of masculine generation. In alchemical texts, Mercury likewise emblematized the mysterious changes wrought within nature or matter by a principle of ambiguous gender, sometimes called Mercurius duplex ; in this literature, ‘our Mercury’ was analogous to the spiritus which was the secret transforming substance within matter, and was variously described as ‘divine rain’, ‘May dew’, ‘dew of heaven’, ‘our honey’. Such was its ambivalent character, however, that alchemical Mercury was also identified with that part of matter which, phoenix-like, fed upon itself in order to produce transmutation.12 Similarly, Hamlet’s puns may indeed articulate a covert but coherent level of meaning, in a Renaissance alchemization of language. While his mercurial messages function to disrupt the fixity of social identities – along with the embassies or utterances of aberrant father figures – they hint too at the existence of a different order, hidden within the visible one. Douglas Brooks-Davies has pointed out that the imagery of Mercury was often appropriated by royalist panegyrics during the Renaissance;13 yet in Mercury’s oblique association with Hamlet, what appears to be figured is the enigmatic difference of a son and heir who is identified with ‘th’incorporal air’ and its movements, and hence with a grotesque form of verbal as well as vernal regeneration – through worms or maggots. In French, worms are vers; this not only links spring – le ver – with the worm, but could also suggest an additional pun in Hamlet’s discourse of worms: on the putrefying activity of vers as verse. This serves to remind us that in spite of a nominal affinity, Hamlet never occupies the solid place of the earthly father, instead he is distinguished by a mutability of identity which implicates him in the more sexually ambiguous spheres of nature and spirit, and identifies him especially with the mobility of air or wind. It is noteworthy in this connection that it is the mercurial bird, the cock (whose castrated equivalent – the capon – Hamlet mentions in his ironic

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remark to Claudius about eating the air), which by its crowing dispels the apparition of the paternal ghost in the first scene of the play, thereby eliciting allusions to the cock’s connection with that other son/sun figure, Christ, with whom the Mercurius of the alchemists was indeed often equated (1.1.119–46). Hamlet’s satirical rejection of the generative activity – or ‘earing’ – which would make a son a father has often been dismissed as misogyny; by this move, however, he confirms his separation from that genealogy of fathers upon which a hereditary (in contrast to an elective) model of kingship depends. And curiously, this is a dislocation which Claudius’ assumption of the throne has already initiated. Yet through his mercurial and quibbling language ‘of darke and enigmaticall sentences’ Hamlet accords the final inheritance of all costly or aristocratic breeding to nature, and ‘my lady Worm’: ‘Here’s fine revolution, an we had the trick to see’t’ (5.1.88–9). First published in Shakespeare Survey 50 (1997) n otes 1 Helg¨e K¨okeritz, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven, 1953), pp. 90–1, iii. K¨okeritz observes that air-heir are punned on by Lyly in Mother Bombie, 2.2.24– 6 and 5.3.13, and are given as homonyms in Charles Butler, English Grammar (1634) and R. Hodges, A Special Help to Orthographie (1643). He emphasizes that ‘no homonymic pun has been admitted here which has not stood the combined test of phonology and context’ (pp. 64–5). See also Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, ‘The materiality of the Shakespearian text’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 44 (Fall 1993), 3, pp. 255–83, where the wordplay in Macbeth on air-hair-heir is discussed. 2 K¨okeritz, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation, p. 111. See also Stephen Booth’s comment on ‘hearsay’ in Sonnet 21, line 13, in his edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (New Haven, 1978). 3 Abraham Fraunce, The Third Part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch: entituled, ‘Amintas Dale’ (London, 1592), p. 15r . 4 Ben Jonson, ‘Cynthia’s Revels’, in The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson, ed. G. A. Wilkes, vol. ii (Oxford, 1981), 1.1.104–7. 5 Gregory Ulmer, ‘The Puncept in Grammatology’, in On Puns: The Foundation of Letters, ed. Jonathan Culler (Oxford, 1988), pp. 164–90. 6 Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence (London, 1577), sig. kiir ; George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, eds. G. D. Wilcox and Alice Walker (Cambridge, 1936), pp. 168–9. 7 Pliny, Natural History, trans. H. Rackham (London, 1938), vol. 3, x, ii, p. 294. 8 Richard Linche, The Fountaine of Ancient Fiction (London, 1599), rir –riv .


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9 Macrobius, The Saturnalia, trans. Percival Vaughan Davies (New York, 1969), pp. 114–15. 10 Charles Dempsey, The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ and Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Princeton, 1992), p. 40. 11 See Joseph A. Porter, Shakespeare’s Mercutio: his History and Drama (Chapel Hill, 1988), pp. 32–53. 12 Charles Nicholl, The Chemical Theatre (London, 1980), p. 46. 13 Douglas Brooks-Davies, The Mercurian Monarch: Magical Politics from Spenser to Pope (Manchester, 1983), passim.

chap t e r 12

‘Voice potential’: language and symbolic capital in Othello Lynne Magnusson

Before Brabanzio complains to the Venetian senators of Othello’s marriage, Iago warns Othello that ‘the magnifico is much beloved, / And hath in his effect a voice potential / As double as the Duke’s’. Brabanzio’s words will exert power – the power to ‘divorce you, / Or put upon you . . . restraint or grievance’ (1.2.12–15). Their power, however, will depend not upon Brabanzio’s rhetorical skill but instead upon his social position – that is, both on his aristocratic status (‘magnifico’) and on the accumulated credit he has with his auditors (‘much beloved’). How his speech is received will depend less on what he says than on the social site from which it is uttered. Othello rebuts Iago’s position, but he does not dispute Iago’s presupposition that linguistic competence counts for less than rank or otherwise attributed status in this matter of ‘voice potential’: ‘My services which I have done the signory’, he responds, ‘Shall out-tongue his complaints’ (1.2.18–19). In the event, Othello’s voice does outweigh Brabanzio’s, with an unanticipated element affecting the reception of their discourse and the outcome of the scene: that is, the exigency of the military threat to Cyprus. In ‘The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges’, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu develops a market analogy to explain how utterances receive their values in particular contexts and how, in turn, the conditions of reception affect discourse production. Giving discourse pragmatics a sociological turn, he asks questions critical to the Senate scene and to other situations in Othello: whose speech is it that gets recognized? whose speech is listened to and obeyed? who remains silent? and whose speech fails to gain attention or credit? In Bourdieu’s account, language in any situation will be worth what those who speak it are deemed to be worth: its price will depend on the symbolic power relation between the speakers, on their respective levels of ‘symbolic capital’.1 The price a speaker receives for his or her discourse will not, however, be an invariable function of class position or relative status, even in a rigidly hierarchical society. Instead, as Othello’s positive 213


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reception in the context of the Turkish threat suggests, the price will vary with varying market conditions. Focusing on a reading of the Senate scene (1.3) and other public situations, in this paper I will sketch out the complex and variable linguistic market that shapes and refigures ‘voice potential’ in Othello. Gender, class, race, necessity, linguistic ingenuity and a number of other competing measures enter into the moment-by-moment relations of symbolic power that affect discourse value – that affect, for example, how Brabanzio’s charges against Othello or Desdemona’s request to accompany Othello to Cyprus are heard. This paper will explore not only discourse reception in Othello, but also the force within Shakespeare’s play of Bourdieu’s hypothesis that a person’s discourse production is conditioned by anticipatory adjustments to discourse reception. Finally, I will focus on Iago as a rhetorician and argue for a new perspective on Iago’s rhetorical performance in terms of his efforts to manipulate the linguistic market in Othello. In enunciating a sociology of speech in opposition to formal linguistics, Bourdieu argues that ‘Language is not only an instrument of communication or even of knowledge, but also an instrument of power. A person speaks not only to be understood but also to be believed, obeyed, respected, distinguished.’2 One main event in Act i of Othello is the contest of voices between Brabanzio and Othello. What is at issue between them is whose voice will be given credit, whose voice will have power to shape the ensuing course of events. This criterion for evaluating a particular discourse is foregrounded even before Brabanzio and Othello enter the Senate chamber, as the Senators endeavour to digest the news of the Turkish fleets: the Duke observes that ‘There is no composition in these news / That gives them credit’ (1.3.1–2; emphasis added). As the discursive contest between Brabanzio and Othello proceeds, the verbal performance of each speaker receives a summary evaluation from the Duke. Whereas Brabanzio’s accusation draws the caution that ‘To vouch this is no proof’(106), the Duke responds with approval to Othello’s colourful account of wooing Desdemona: ‘I think this tale would win my daughter, too’ (170). Although the Duke apparently evaluates intrinsic features of the linguistic performance of each speaker, it is situational context, as I have already suggested, more than verbal competence that accounts for Othello’s profit and Brabanzio’s loss. The carefully staged entrance of senator and general provides a vivid theatrical emblem for the dynamic variation in relative power. First, the significance of the entrance is prepared by the Duke’s order to write ‘postpost-haste’ (46) to Marcus Luccicos, a character not otherwise identified

Language and symbolic capital in Othello


except by his unavailability at this time of crisis. The verification of his absence heightens the importance of ‘the man’, in Brabanzio’s words, ‘this Moor, whom now’ the Duke’s ‘special mandate for the state affairs / Hath hither brought’ (71–3). A stage direction signals the arrival of a large group of characters, including ‘Brabanzio, Othello, Roderigo, Iago, Cassio, and officers’. The First Senator announces the arrival selectively, singling out ‘Brabanzio and the valiant Moor’ (47) and relegating to lesser importance those left unnamed. The structure of the Duke’s greeting encapsulates the power dynamic of the situation, articulating the priorities of the moment: Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you Against the general enemy Ottoman. (To Brabanzio) I did not see you. Welcome, gentle signor. We lacked your counsel and your help tonight. (48–51)

Othello is greeted first; the need for his military skills accounts for his precedence. Brabanzio is greeted in second place, with the conversational repair work nonetheless signalling a recognition of his claim, based on rank, to first place. This account of how Othello’s voice gains ascendancy within the immediate situation in no way exhausts the complexity of the linguistic market depicted in the Senate scene. Another principal speaker whose voice power is at issue in the scene is Desdemona. Answering the Duke’s summons, she speaks first to confirm Othello’s account of their courtship and later to make a request of her own, to accompany Othello to the war zone. In both cases her speech wins credit, in the first instance solidifying the Duke’s acceptance of the marriage and silencing Brabanzio’s complaint and in the second instance gaining her permission to go with Othello. In making the request to accompany Othello, Desdemona does show her devotion to Othello, but she also asserts her separate and independent voice, her own claim to have her wish heard even after he has already publicly requested accommodation for her in Venice. Desdemona shows herself by Renaissance standards a bold and self-confident speaker in a setting whose formality and importance would silence most speakers, especially – one might expect – a woman. Her verbal behaviour in the scene and in the play as a whole is not consistent with any simple stereotype of feminine speech, especially not with the Renaissance commonplace concerning silence as woman’s eloquence. In her initial appearances in the play, Desdemona is an assured and self-confident speaker. That is not to say that stereotyped


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gender roles do not come into play here. Consider, for example, Othello’s embedded narrative of the courtship as ‘mutual’ recognition: ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them’ (166–7). What could better exemplify the standard clich´es about male and female roles in cross-sex conversation prevalent even today than Othello’s account of how he talked and she responded?3 When Othello told over ‘the story of my life’ (128), Desdemona ‘gave me for my pains a world of sighs’4 and ‘swore in faith’, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange, / ’Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful’ (158–60). And yet, whatever we are to make of the accuracy of Othello’s report, such self-effacing speech behaviour is not Desdemona’s predominant manner in the play. Traditional readings of Othello have often focused, as I am doing now, on the complex speech patterns of the characters. In such readings, the raison d’ˆetre for an utterance is the speaker’s character, or essential nature. Dramatic language is said to construct character: whereas in life language expresses character, in his plays Shakespeare shapes language to make it seem that language expresses pre-existing character.5 In this view, the divergence from received stereotypes of female speech evident in Desdemona’s self-assured and eloquent public speaking is to be explained as a particularizing and richly complicating mark of her essential character. But in a play so insistently dialogic as Othello – a play so intently focused on how one character’s conversational contributions shape and direct the words, thoughts, and actions of another – it seems particularly pertinent to argue a different case, to take up Bourdieu’s thesis that ‘[t]he raison d’ˆetre of a discourse . . . is to be found in the socially defined site from which it is uttered’.6 Bourdieu’s account of the social production of discourse emphasizes anticipatory adjustment, and offers a fruitful way to account for the speech patterns of Desdemona and other characters in Othello. ‘[O]ne of the most important factors bearing on linguistic production’, Bourdieu argues, is ‘the anticipation of profit which is durably inscribed in the language habitus, in the form of an anticipatory adjustment (without conscious anticipation) to the objective value of one’s discourse.’7 What one says, how one says it, and whether one speaks at all in any given situation is strongly influenced, in this view, by the ‘practical expectation . . . of receiving a high or low price for one’s discourse’.8 An utterance, then, inscribes an expectation of profit, an estimate of the likelihood that the speaker will be believed, recognized, obeyed. This expectation will not, in most instances, derive solely or even in the main part from an assessment of the immediate social situation; it cannot be entirely accounted for by the immediate relation of speaker to listener. The context of reception which

Language and symbolic capital in Othello


shapes a speaker’s linguistic production has a history, and it is that history Bourdieu tries to account for by positing the ‘language habitus’ of the speaker. That language habitus is a practical memory, built up through the accumulated history of speech contexts in which a speaker has functioned and received recognition or censure. The language habitus is shaped by the history of a person’s most sustained social connections, by a person’s cumulative dialogue with others. But let us begin with Desdemona and class. Desdemona does not enter the play as the stereotypical silent and modest woman, but rather as an aristocratic speaker whose discourse is full of the assurance and self-confidence of her class habitus. This can be seen not only in the remarkable ease with which she speaks before the Duke and Senators, but also in the basic facts that she speaks at all and that she initiates speech topics. If we consider how it could be that speech patterns inscribe a speaker’s expectation of profit, we need to look not only at the internal constitution of the speeches but also at turn-taking and access to the floor. ‘[T]he linguist’, Bourdieu remarks, ‘regards the conditions for the establishment of communication as already secured, whereas, in real situations, that is the essential question.’9 To read the power relations of the scene one needs to observe the access to speech in this formal Senate setting of those who speak. Furthermore, one needs to consider what shapes the silence or non-participation of Roderigo, Cassio, the soldiers – and, most important for the developing action, the silence of Iago. Of course, in a play, considerations apart from those of real life will affect the access of speakers to the floor. The distinction, for example, between major and minor characters within any plot structure will help account for who speaks at length and whose speech is sparing. Nonetheless, one can still reasonably argue that the configuration of speakers Shakespeare represents in the Senate scene primarily reflects the power dynamics of the urgent situation as played out in a formal setting of the kind that regulates speaker access to a very high degree. Desdemona’s confidence in her access to the floor, borne out by the Duke’s solicitous question – ‘What would you, Desdemona?’ (247) – suggests a history of access, the history of her class habitus. This discourse history is also emphatically suggested by Desdemona’s conversation with Cassio in 3.3 regarding her commitment to mediate on his behalf with Othello. ‘Be thou assured’ is the opening phrase and repeated motif of her talk: Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do All my abilities in thy behalf. (1–2)


lynne magnusson . . . Do not doubt, Cassio, But I will have my lord and you again As friendly as you were. (5–7)

. . . and be you well assured He shall in strangeness stand no farther off Than in a politic distance. (11–13)

Do not doubt that. Before Emilia here I give thee warrant of thy place. Assure thee . . . (19–20; emphasis added)

When she moves Cassio’s suit to Othello, her whole manner bespeaks this assurance of a ready acquiescence to her request – her repeated insistence that he set a time to see Cassio, her understated persuasion tactics, her assumption that she has a role to play in Othello’s public affairs, her low assessment of the speech act risk involved in making the request, and finally her minimizing of her suit: Why, this is not a boon. ’Tis as I should entreat you wear your gloves, Or feed on nourishing dishes, or keep you warm . . . . . . Nay, when I have a suit Wherein I mean to touch your love indeed, It shall be full of poise and difficult weight, And fearful to be granted. (77–83)

This assurance is not simply the na¨ıvety of a new wife about her power to sway a husband she scarcely knows. Desdemona’s assurance inscribes the history of her prior speech reception, the ease that marks the dominant classes and exempts them from speech tension, linguistic insecurity, and self censoring. The crisis for Desdemona in this play comes as a surprising alteration in how her speech is received, specifically by Othello. The change in speech reception, it is possible to argue, also makes for a change in Desdemona. If Desdemona’s ‘voice potential’ in the Senate scene and later bespeaks her class habitus, to what extent can be read a history of voice inscribed in Othello’s speech? Othello’s long speeches in Act i can be distinguished partly by their amplitude, by a high degree of elaboration and embellishment. Characteristic are the nominal and adjectival doublets, in some instances marked by syntactic strangenesses bearing some relation to hendiadys:10

Language and symbolic capital in Othello


Othello speaks of ‘circumscription and confine’ (1.2.27), ‘the flinty and steel couch of war’ (1.3.229), ‘A natural and prompt alacrity’ (231), ‘such accommodation and besort’ (237), being ‘free and bounteous to her mind’ (265), ‘serious and great business’ (267), ‘speculative and officed instruments’ (270), ‘all indign and base adversities’ (273). In what George Wilson Knight called the ‘Othello music’, there is, E. A. J. Honigmann has suggested, a complicating note of bombast.11 It is an eloquence that displays its eloquent performance, not – like Desdemona’s – an eloquence that bespeaks its adequacy. Apparently at odds with this high performance speech is Othello’s familiar disclaimer: Rude am I in my speech, And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace, ... And little of this great world can I speak More than pertains to feats of broils and battle. And therefore little shall I grace my cause In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience, I will a round unvarnished tale deliver Of my whole course of love . . . (1.3.81–2; 86–91)

While I argued earlier that it is not primarily the distinction of Othello’s verbal performance that accounts for his voice power in the scene, it is nonetheless untrue that he delivers ‘a round’, or plain, ‘unvarnished tale’ (90). Verbal virtuosity, and not plainness, marks his tale. Othello’s discourse style, then, blends linguistic insecurity and linguistic effort. Not, as with Desdemona, ease and assurance, but instead some degree of tension characterizes Othello’s discourse production. And, by the logic of Bourdieu’s hypothesis that discourse production is shaped by anticipated discourse reception, it is not the aristocratic insider who will feel a performance compulsion, an impulse to linguistic overreaching, in the accustomed formality of the senate chamber. Hence we can see how Othello’s distinctive speech patterns may have a social motive: a man of great talent without so consistent and homogeneous a history of speech-making and speech reception as the dominant speakers among the Venetians may well overreach in his speech, and a highly formalized, institutionalized setting will increase the likelihood of speech tension.12 As Bourdieu argues in his efforts to characterize the speech of aspiring groups, ‘the greater the gap between recognition and mastery, the more imperative the need for the self-corrections aimed at ensuring the revaluing of the linguistic product by a particularly intensive


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mobilization of the linguistic resources, and the greater the tension and containment that they demand’.13 This helps to explain why Othello, as a person of colour and an exotic outsider, might – even without making conscious adjustments – tend to mobilize his verbal resources more fully than Venetian speakers of the dominant group. In language terms, what he does is to try harder. As we have seen, trying harder to produce well-crafted discourse may not always pay off, since a discourse’s value depends on the power relations obtaining in a particular market. Not all the characters in the play respond in the same way to a felt gap between the recognition they commonly receive and their verbal mastery. Consider Iago, who early on in the play registers his perception of a gap between recognition and mastery in the assertion: ‘I know my price, I am worth no worse a place’ (1.1.11). Iago is keenly aware of a gap between his own considerable skills – including his verbal skills – and the limited advantages that readily come his way through their deployment. This shows in the extreme contempt he expresses for the linguistic accents of other characters – a contempt bound up in his recognition that the limited verbal repertoires of some others nonetheless garner them easy profits that his own greater rhetorical expertise cannot attain. At the start of the play, Iago derides the ‘bombast circumstance’ (1.1.13) of Othello’s talk, but the intensity of his resentment against the speech of others is most strongly illustrated in his reaction to Cassio’s conversation with Desdemona upon their arrival in Cyprus. Shakespeare takes great care to draw his audience’s attention to the courtier-like politeness of Cassio’s speech here and elsewhere. When Iago derogates Cassio’s style, delivering sarcastic asides about his gestural and verbal courtesies, he is not, I think, voicing resentment that his lower-class position excludes him from the verbal finesse of a gentlemanly discourse. Iago is a verbal chameleon; he knows how to speak like Cassio. What Iago resents is how easily Cassio’s speech gains credit with his auditors, a credit Iago could not earn by employing the same speech patterns. Iago devalues the products of civil conversation not because he cannot replicate them but because he is not socially positioned to receive advantage from them. Cassio, Iago remarks to Roderigo, has ‘an eye can stamp and counterfeit advantages’ (2.1.243–4). What Iago expresses is a keen awareness that different people can draw different profits from the same discourse – that Cassio’s gentlemanly status and good looks make even the very motion of his eyes able to garner an advantage his own finest verbal performance could not attain in situations like the conversation with the aristocratic Desdemona. In Othello, Iago is – as many scholars have previously noted – a consummate rhetorician. But he is a rhetorician keenly

Language and symbolic capital in Othello


aware that the prize for best speaker cannot be won with polished verbal skills. The significant fact about Iago’s discourse in the senate scene is that he does not speak. His silence signals his slight chance of profit in that formal public setting. Whether with full consciousness or not, Iago as rhetorician assesses the conditions of the linguistic market in which he operates and chooses tools and timing that will work to gain him profit. Adapting Bourdieu’s suggestions, we can generalize that rhetorical mastery consists not merely in the capacity for discourse production but also in ‘the capacity for appropriation and appreciation; it depends, in other words, on the capacity . . . to impose the criteria of appreciation most favourable to [one’s] own products’.14 This helps to explain Iago’s preference for private conversational settings, for in the less restricted discourse conditions of talk between friends he can more readily capture the floor and win an appreciation for his speech products. In the concluding movement of this paper, however, I will concentrate on Iago’s rhetorical expertise as exercised within the constraints of public occasions, where he exhibits rhetorical strategies substantially different than in conversation. One of his key strategies for public situations is voice mediation. Where his own voice has little chance of success, Iago appropriates other voices to his use. The play opens with Iago commenting on how he (like a typical Elizabethan suitor) negotiated through mediators for the place, lost to Cassio, as Othello’s lieutenant: ‘Three great ones of the city, / In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, / Off-capped to him; . . . / But he . . . / Nonsuits my mediators’ (1.1.8–15). But Iago by no means restricts his tactics of voice mediation to this institutionalized form. Act i, scene i also provides, in the role Iago constructs for Roderigo, a characteristic example of how Iago appropriates the credit of an intermediate voice. In the effort to fire Brabanzio up against Othello, Iago uses his own voice in chorus with Roderigo’s. To arouse Brabanzio’s emotions, Iago – keeping his personal identity obscure – takes on the voice of a ‘ruffian[ ]’ (1.1.112), a voice from the gutter, whose lewd conceits prompt Brabanzio to ask, ‘What profane wretch art thou?’ (116). A ruffian’s voice has power in public to stir up trouble, but little chance within the verbal economy of the polite Venetian society to elicit belief. Iago therefore deploys the different accent of Roderigo’s voice to the end of shaping Brabanzio’s belief. Roderigo speaks as a gentleman, and calls upon Brabanzio to ‘recognize’ his voice (‘Most reverend signor, do you know my voice?’ [93]). He calls upon Brabanzio not merely to recognize that it is Roderigo who speaks but also to recognize that the speaker’s social status guarantees his credit: ‘Do


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not believe / That, from the sense of all civility, / I thus would play and trifle with your reverence’ (132–4). Shrewdly calculating his slight chances of gaining such credit through his own voice in making this public disturbance, Iago appropriates to his own purposes the Cassio-like politeness and the matching status of Roderigo’s voice. Iago tells the audience of how he makes ‘my fool my purse’ (1.3.375), but we never actually see Iago spending Roderigo’s money. What we see instead is how he deploys the symbolic capital of Roderigo’s voice. Fundamental, then, to Iago’s rhetorical mastery is his manipulation of what Bourdieu claims linguists long ignored: social context, understood here as the conditions for speech profit. While many public occasions tend to restrict his own access to speech and his opportunities for speech profit, Iago is what he ironically calls Cassio – ‘a finder of occasion’ (2.1.242–3). The riotous street scene is his public occasion of choice, the scene in which he most profitably draws speech credit away from others and toward himself. As I have suggested, Bourdieu distinguishes sharply between the communication conditions obtaining in situations of high formality and in situations of lesser formality. In situations of high formality the reproductive role of politeness is most pronounced, scripting in the language of the participants a mutual recognition and acknowledgement of their relative social stations: ‘Politeness’, as Bourdieu explains it, ‘contains a politics, a practical, immediate recognition of social classifications and of hierarchies, between the sexes, the generations, the classes, etc.’15 In our analysis of the Senate scene, we have seen how the combination of formal scene and disruptive urgency made for a kind of re-ranking: the urgency of the moment meant that forms of symbolic capital apart from static social rank could more readily take on importance. But the adjustment in power relations was still strictly contained by the formal setting, keeping lesser ranking characters like Iago in their silent – and inferior – places. Lessen the formality and intensify the disruptive urgency of a scene, and Iago can make occasions in which even his speech can prevail over those of higher rank. Provide an outdoor setting, street fighting, darkness – as Iago does both when Cassio is discredited (2.3) and when Roderigo is murdered and Cassio badly hurt (5.1) – and restrictions on speech roles are relaxed or overturned.16 As the murder scene in 5.1 draws towards its conclusion, Iago himself articulates this principle which has released his speech, at least for a short space of time, from the perpetual obligation to ‘recognize’ his subordinate relation to others: ‘Signor Graziano’, he exclaims, pretending only then to make out who his interlocutor is and adjust his language to their prescribed relation: ‘I cry your gentle pardon. / These bloody accidents must excuse my manners /

Language and symbolic capital in Othello


That so neglected you’ (5.1.95–7). Hence we see that Iago’s instruction to Roderigo – ‘do you find some occasion to anger Cassio’ (2.1.266–7) – is as supreme a rhetorical act as any virtuoso speech of persuasion he makes in the play. It is through this construction of a favourable context that Iago can set up a contest of voices in which he is able to secure the floor (‘Honest Iago, that looks dead with grieving, / Speak’ (2.3.170–1)) and to disable the voices of his superiors Cassio and Montano (‘I pray you pardon me. I cannot speak’ (182); ‘Your officer Iago can inform you, / While I spare speech – which something now offends me’ (191–2)). Iago has full scope to elaborate his version of reality at extended length before important people. What he seeks and what he gains is not the hearers’ simple belief in the facts as he represents them. What he is after is an enhancement of his ‘voice potential’, or – in Bourdieu’s terms – an accumulation of his symbolic capital, which is registered in the personal approbation of Othello’s response: ‘I know, Iago, / Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, / Making it light to Cassio’ (2.3.239–41). Furthermore, Iago has engineered the loss of Cassio’s lieutenancy with – perhaps more important – the loss of his annoying expectation that he can easily profit from the ‘show of courtesy’ (2.1.102) characteristic of his discourse: ‘I will ask him for my place again. He shall tell me I am a drunkard. Had I as many mouths as Hydra, such an answer would stop them all’ (2.3.296–8). A rhetorician able to understand the mechanisms by which the polite Venetian social order, instantiated in its typical speech situations, stops talented voices and gives credit to the incompetent, Iago manages, if only for a short time,17 his own correction of the gap between linguistic capital and credit. In this paper, I have used Bourdieu’s economic model for linguistic exchange as a heuristic to explore speech reception and speech production in some public scenes of Othello. This enabled, first, an examination of how variable power relations affect discourse reception in a particular setting and, second, an account of how the history of a person’s speech reception functions together with immediate context to shape speech production. This reading has allowed me to offer a different perspective on the interrelation Shakespeare represents between character and language than is usual in Othello criticism – a perspective that links linguistic performance not to essential character but instead to character as the locus of social and power relation. Bourdieu’s economic model for linguistic exchange also provided the foundation for assessing Iago’s rhetorical artistry, an artistry founded on manipulating speech context, or the conditions for ‘voice potential’. First published in Shakespeare Survey 50 (1997)


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1 ‘The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges’, Social Science Information, 16 (1977), 645–68; p. 648. Much of the material in this essay is recirculated as ‘Price Formation and the Anticipation of Profit’ in Language and Symbolic Power, ed. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), pp. 66–89. 2 Bourdieu, ‘Economics’, p. 648. 3 For overviews of research on cross-sex conversations, see Deborah James and Sandra Clarke, ‘Women, Men, and Interruptions: A Critical Review’ and Deborah James and Janice Drakich, ‘Understanding Gender Differences in Amount of Talk: A Critical Review of Research’, in Gender and Conversational Interaction, ed. Deborah Tannen (New York and Oxford, 1993), pp. 231–80 and 281–312. 4 Here I quote q1’s ‘world of sighs’ instead of f’s ‘world of kisses’. While still a non-verbal response, the Folio’s version gives a significantly different turn to Desdemona’s portrayal here. If Desdemona is so forward here with her kisses, it is hard to reconcile with Othello’s remark later in the speech that he spoke of his love upon a ‘hint’ (1.3.165) from her. I am grateful to Paul Werstine for drawing my attention to this variant. 5 Virginia Mason Vaughan notes critics’ fascination with language in Othello and the general tendency to relate language patterns to essential character in the Introduction to ‘Othello’: New Perspectives (London and Toronto, 1991), pp. 14–15. 6 Bourdieu, ‘Economics’, p. 657. 7 Bourdieu, p. 653. 8 Bourdieu, p. 655. 9 Bourdieu, p. 648. 10 On hendiadys in Shakespeare, see George T. Wright, ‘Hendiadys and Hamlet’, PMLA, 96 (1981), 168–93. 11 G. Wilson Knight, ‘The Othello Music’, in The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy (Oxford, 1930), pp. 97–119; E. A. J. Honigmann, ‘Shakespeare’s “Bombast”’, in Shakespeare’s Styles: Essays in Honour of Kenneth Muir, ed. Philip Edwards, Inga-Stina Ewbank, and G. K. Hunter (Cambridge, 1980), 151–62; pp. 158–9. 12 Clearly, with Othello, this linguistic overreaching, with its exotic touches, has become a habit that has itself received a positive reception in various settings (e.g., in Brabanzio’s household), thus adding a motive beyond linguistic insecurity for Othello to reproduce the style. Hence, this encoded discourse history may even be consistent with a proud and apparently self-assured delivery in 1.3, but it nonetheless anticipates Othello’s susceptibility to Iago’s persuasions. 13 Bourdieu, ‘Economics’, p. 658. 14 Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, p. 67. 15 Bourdieu, ‘Economics’, p. 662. 16 Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson, Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 95–6 and p. 282, make the point that in situations of urgency and desperation, when maximum

Language and symbolic capital in Othello


efficiency of communication is required, the faceredress work of politeness is unnecessary. 17 The rough and improvisatory nature of Iago’s rhetoric of situation makes his a particularly high risk performance. In the end he loses control of the play’s speech outcomes when he fails to anticipate that circumstances very much like those that gained him speech access and credit – a public disturbance coming as the aftermath of street violence – could contribute to Emilia’s speaking out against him and being heard.

chap t e r 13

The aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus Albert H. Tricomi

When T. S. Eliot so flamboyantly denounced Titus Andronicus as ‘one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written’, he naturally invited rebuttal.1 But while an apology for Titus can certainly be erected, the fact is that the imputed stupidities of the tragedy attract far more interest than any of its mediocre achievements. Indeed, if we would only persist in the study of those very ‘stupidities’ that many critics would rather forget, we would discover that the ways in which the figurative language imitates the literal events of plot makes The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus a significant dramatic experiment. In the play’s spectacularly self-conscious images that keep pointing at the inventive horrors in the plotting, in its wittily obsessive allusions to dismembered hands and heads, and in the prophetic literalness of its metaphors, Titus reveals its peculiar literary importance. The peculiar language of Titus Andronicus is particularly apparent in the literalness of its central metaphors. In a play preeminently concerned with the mutilation of the human body, Titus makes nearly sixty references, figurative as well as literal, to the word ‘hands’ and eighteen more to the word ‘head’, or to one of its derivative forms.2 Far from being divorced from the action as many critics claim,3 the figurative language points continually toward the lurid events that govern the tragedy. The figurative language, in fact, imitates the gruesome circumstances of the plot, thus revealing that Shakespeare subordinates everything in Titus, including metaphor, to that single task of conveying forcefully the Senecan and Ovidian horrors that he has committed himself to portraying. Such a relationship between language and event is really quite strange. Ordinarily metaphor is endowed with the capacity of extending almost infinitely the imaginative compass of a play. Through its embedded metaphors especially, a play usually translates its immediate events in images that reach far beyond the poor limitations of the stage. In Titus Andronicus, however, metaphor, for the most part, draws its images directly from the narrower events of plot. It becomes literalized. This is a very daring and 226

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


even dangerous enterprise to undertake. Deliberately relinquishing its natural prerogatives, metaphor strives instead to unite language and action in an endeavour to render the events of the tragedy more real and painful. When Marcus offers Titus the throne, for example, he employs a peculiar metaphor, saying, ‘And help to set a head on headless Rome’ (1.1.186). Since Titus is being offered the throne of Imperial Rome, Marcus’s statement seems to be a happy one. As such, the metaphor appears to be just that, an embellished phrase, a polished, if affected, mode of speech. But, as it happens, this mere metaphor, with all its ominous overtones, is later raised to factual reality when Saturninus, ironically made that ‘head’ of Rome through Titus’s support, beheads two of Titus’s sons. In a more specific sense as well, the figures employed direct our perceptions toward isolated parts of the human body. When in the first act Lavinia asks her father to bless her, she uses the rather precise phrase, ‘with thy victorious hand’ (1.1.163), and Bassianus does likewise when he explains how Titus, ‘With his own hand’ slew his youngest son (1.1.418). In both instances the figurative phrasing points ahead to the mutilations of future events, to the shearing off of Lavinia’s hands, and then to Titus’s willing sacrifice of his own hand when bargaining for the lives of two of his sons. But while the keen critic may discover a rather brutal principle of retribution in Titus’s loss of a hand for having killed – with his own hand – one of his sons, I am more concerned here with the oddly alluring relationship between language and event. Constantly pointing toward and underlining the events that we witness upon the stage, metaphor in this tragedy strains to keep the excruciating images of mutilation ever before our imaginations even when the visual spectacle is no longer before us. The words ‘hand’ and ‘head’ appear copiously as figures of speech whose effect is to saturate every aspect of the play with remembered or foreshadowed horror. Following the scene of Lavinia’s mutilation, Marcus presents his niece to Titus whose first words to her, Speak, Lavinia, what accursed hand Hath made thee handless in thy father’s sight? (3.1.66–7)

recreates the horrible event in the imagination. Of course, the literate response is so artificial as to invite derision, and, no doubt, the whole idea of asking the dumb to speak is a questionable way of inviting pathos. But the pun on hands, which is equally self-conscious and full of artifice, is not without its redeeming features. Titus’s paronomasia rests on two notably dissimilar kinds of usage. When he refers to ‘the accursed hand’,


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he employs a simple form of synecdoche, but when he speaks of Lavinia’s handlessness, he alludes to nothing but the visual reality before him. Furthermore, the paronomasia draws our attention to the image of the rapist using his hand in the act of shearing off Lavinia’s own, effectively underlining, Hamlet-like, the ‘unkindness’ and unnaturalness of the act. So while we may argue that Titus’s self-conscious word-play largely replaces genuine personal response, we must acknowledge that the bitter contrast between the mere metaphor and the experienced reality of Lavinia’s handlessness is powerfully conceived. This remark of Titus’s illustrates one of the play’s basic concerns – exploring the gulf between metaphoric descriptions of events and the irrefutable realities they purport to communicate. Shakespeare’s interest in these matters, so abstract in its way, appears grounded, however, in the dramatist’s involvement in the relative merits of words as contrasted with dramatic events. So concerned is the play with the deceptive powers of poetic description that it offers several instructive lessons contrasting the vacuous rhetoric of rape and the palpable reality of Lavinia’s ravishment, hands lopped off, mouth bleeding. As the play opens, Saturninus, who has just announced his betrothal to Lavinia, finds that Bassianus has already married her and berates him in an exaggerated rhetorical outburst, saying, ‘Thou and thy faction shall regret this rape’ (1.1.404). Bassianus, sensitive to the proper signification of words, rejoins hotly, Rape call you it, my lord, to seize my own, My true-betrothed love . . . ? (1.1.405–6)

In this way the play continually investigates the chasm between the spoken word and the actual fact, an investigation, incidentally, whose meaning is fully experienced only when Lavinia appears before us raped and bleeding in fact. Similarly, this ironic denigration of metaphor occurs again when Lucius, hearing the villainous Aaron explain how, They cut thy sister’s tongue and ravish’d her, And cut her hands and trimm’d her as thou sawest. (5.1.93)

seizes on the disgustingly prettified figure and retorts, ‘O detestable villain! call’st thou that trimming?’ (5.1.93). Far from being used inadvertently then, the language self-consciously focuses upon itself so as to demonstrate the manner in which figurative speech can diminish and even transform the actual horror of events. But since the purpose of the tragedy is not

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


to dilute but to highlight the nightmare that befalls the Andronici, the play deliberately ‘exposes’ the euphemisms of metaphor by measuring their falseness against the irrefutable realities of dramatized events. On these occasions, the play turns its back on metaphor, rejecting it as a device that tends to dissipate the unremitting terrors of the tragedy. Only in the literalization of its metaphors, it appears, does the tragedy seem to be at ease with itself. Such a self-consciously didactic use of metaphor is really quite distinctive in Elizabethan drama, to say nothing of Elizabethan tragedy, but far more strange is the deliberate constriction of the figurative language as it binds itself to the gory plot. So firmly does the figurative language yoke itself to the action of Titus that mere rhetorical flourishes tend, prophetically, to realize themselves in actual events. In the scene where Titus first bears witness to his daughter’s mutilation, for example, he expresses his grief, not unexpectedly, in hyperbolic outburst, My grief was at the height before thou cam’st, ... Give me a sword, I’ll chop off my hands too, For they have fought for Rome, and all in vain (3.1.70–3)

To be sure, the unusual nature of the event goes far to justify the strained pitch of the rhetoric, but the speech fully realizes its tragic possibilities only in subsequent events. For while Titus begins by speaking an exaggerated language of sorrow, Shakespeare forces his hero to live up to the terrible potential of his hyperbolic outburst. Shylock-like, the dramatist takes Titus’s speech out of the realm of mere rant and exacts of him the pound of flesh he promises. That is to say, the exaggeration of Titus’s rhetorical figure is, through an act of the dramatist’s imagination, realized in terms of a hyperbole of plot, which acts as if it were a figure of speech brought to monstrous birth. Thus, in a vain effort to save his two imprisoned sons, Titus renders up his hand to the ravenous Emperor of Rome. The words he speaks at the time explain precisely the bizarre relationship between language and events that typifies the method of the play. ‘Come hither, Aaron . . .’ he says, ‘Lend me thy hand, and I will give thee mine’ (3.1.186–7). Since The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus is predicated on the notion that the most excruciating horrors pertain to the experienced reality of events, the metaphoric impact of the tragedy can only be realized by forcing the metaphors to take on dramatic life. Accordingly, hands become powerful dramatic symbols, not simply because they are mentioned sixty times in the


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text, but because they become images in action whose significance we experience visually and not merely verbally, in abstraction. Stated metaphorically, the most profound impulse in Titus is to make the word become flesh. That the literary symbolism of hands indeed becomes flesh is obvious, not only in Titus’s hand-lopping scene, but also in the scene in which Titus’s son Quintus offers to assist his brother Martius after the latter has fallen into a pit that the cunning Aaron has prepared. Trapped inside, Martius implores Quintus’s aid, crying, ‘O brother, help me with thy fainting hand’ (2.3.233), and Quintus in turn replies, ‘Reach me thy hand, that I may help thee out’ (2.3.237). After his first effort fails, Quintus again underscores the dramatic significance of hands, saying, Thy hand once more; I will not loose again, Till thou art here aloft, or I below. Thou canst not come to me – I come to thee. [Falls in.] (2.3.243–5)

Here the hands of Titus’s kin, vainly stretched to help one another, epitomize a central tragic movement in the play. Symbols of Rome’s defense, civic pride, and filial love, the hands of the Andronici are, in the aftermath of the Gothic war, rendered useless, not metaphorically, but literally. Moreover, even while Quintus’s allusion to hands attunes us to future events, his specific remark about ‘loos[ing]’ hands becomes, by virtue of the hand mutilations that are to follow, a visual, theatrical device for dramatizing the helplessness of the Andronici. Like Titus’s witticism on Aaron’s lending him a hand and like his imaginative question to Lavinia, ‘What hand hath made thee hand-less . . . ,’ Quintus’s remark reveals again Shakespeare’s unstinting exploration of the gap between a metaphoric use of language and a referential use of language anchored in the afflictions of actual events. Indeed, considering the contrast that exists between Quintus’s fear of ‘losing’ his brother’s outstretched hand and the actual lopping off of Lavinia’s hands, which immediately follows this first event, we must admit that Shakespeare confers upon the ghoulish notion of losing hands, not one, but several literal meanings! This unrelieved and, in truth, witty exploration of the relationship between language and event marks a notably disinterested, even detached, involvement in the values of language with respect to dramatic events. This cool distance between the playwright and his materials helps to explain one of the distinguishing features of Titus Andronicus – the odd way that this tragedy leaps with an inextinguishable wittiness toward the multiple

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


perceptions that ordinarily belong to the world of intellectual comedy. From incidents like the one in which Titus asks his mute daughter to speak or like the one in which he wonders whether the Andronici should bite our tongues, and in dumb shows Pass the remainder of our hateful days (3.1.131–2)

it becomes obvious that these gruesomely ironic perceptions are rooted in an irrepressible wittiness. This witty impulse expresses itself further in a hideously satanic atmosphere that permeates the unbelievable events of the tragedy, and the personification of this atmosphere is Aaron, whose satanic drollery is not unworthy of his spiritual brother, Richard Crookback. When the fiendish blackamoor instructs Tamora’s oafish sons to ravish Lavinia in the woods, he employs an evocatively poetic language that lasciviously focuses upon the image of physical violation: The woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull. There speak, and strike, brave boys, and take your turns; There serve your lust, shadowed from heaven’s eye, And revel in Lavinia’s treasury. (2.1.128–31)

The source of Aaron’s wittiness, we find, emerges from the deliberate exposure of the literal meanings that underlie our figurative use of language. The poetic decorum of the clause, ‘And revel in Lavinia’s treasury’ is savage in that it simultaneously creates, in prurient delight, a literally imagined picture of Lavinia’s ravished chastity at the moment of violation. Enveloped as it is in a dark language of hushed expectancy, the picture creates an ugly beauty. Like Iago and Richard III, Aaron relishes poetic language because he can force it to serve the baser appetites, which is to say that Aaron appropriates the beauties of language for foul purposes, rapes it as it were, so that it may serve the literalness of his own coarse imaginings. This deliberate transformation of the beauties of lyical poetry into a house of horrible imaginings is, however, not just Aaron’s, but Shakespeare’s, for in Titus Andronicus brutality, which is always conceived with the utmost literalness of imagination, continually parades in the parodic disguise of metaphoric loveliness. In the scene where Titus rouses the court and bids them to join him in the sport of hunting a proud panther, Demetrius declines the invitation, saying to his brother, Chiron, we hunt not, we, with horse nor hound, But hope to pluck a dainty doe to ground (2.2.25–6)


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Expecting to use his time to rape Lavinia in the forest, Demetrius riddles shallowly on the instrument with which he and his brother will ‘hunt’ Lavinia. But the couplet is more than indecent; it is brutal and obscene. The venereal suggestiveness of the hunt itself, combined with the image of the ‘pluck[ed]’ doe being brought to the ground, focuses with salacious relish on the anticipated act of violation. Here again, the poetry, which seems at first to offer only a metaphoric suggestion of Lavinia’s rape, is in reality shackled – through the salacious wit – to the literal ugliness of the rape itself. Whatever we may think about the success of this use of figurative language, there is no escaping the fact that Titus Andronicus is, in the broadest sense of the term, a very witty play. It is, in fact, as witty in the circumstances of its plotting as it is in its exploitation of metaphor and in its evocation of atmosphere. The two outstanding cases in point occur in the hand-lopping scene in the third act and in the special technique Lavinia uses to reveal her assailants in Act 4. The former instance comes about when Aaron convinces Titus to cut off his right hand as ransom for his two sons imprisoned by the Emperor. Throughout the scene Aaron displays an odd kind of detached artistry, a lunatic humor. After Aaron chops off Titus’s hand, he commends the old warrior, saying, for thy hand Look by and by to have thy sons with thee [Aside.] Their heads, I mean. (2.1.201–3)

A crude joke indeed. In a play filled with the devices of metonymy and synecdoche, especially on the subject of the human body, Aaron employs the same device with respect to the action. Metaphorically speaking, Aaron does engineer the return of Titus’s sons in that he returns the part for the whole. Like a literary artist Aaron has created an act of synecdoche. For the two sons he has returned a metaphor! This irrepressible wit of plotting is, however, only partly explicable as an expression of Aaron’s personality, which in some important measure derives from the ingenious vice figures of the medieval moralities. The wit of plot is, finally, much larger than Aaron’s; it is Shakespeare’s, and it is worth noting that the scene most universally scored for its ludicrous flight of lyric poetry, the one in 2.4, where Marcus first spies the ravished Lavinia wandering in the woods, keeps pointing to its own achievements in rendering Ovid’s pathetic tale of Tereus’s rape of Philomel even more pathetic:

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


marc us Fair Philomel, why, she but lost her tongue, And in a tedious sampler sew’d her mind; But, lovely niece, that mean is cut from thee. A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met, And he hath cut those pretty fingers off That could have better sew’d than Philomel. (2.4.38–43)

The explicit allusions to Ovid’s tale invite comparison. That ‘craftier Tereus’ Marcus speaks of is really Will Shakespeare laying claim to having outwitted the Roman poet in the telling of a tale. In Titus the young playwright even invites the audience to ponder how Lavinia, his heroine, unable to ‘sew her mind’ as Ovid’s Philomel did, will be able to reveal her ravisher’s identity. Lavinia’s rapists, unschooled as they are, make quite a bit of the problem they have raised: ch i ron [to Lavinia] Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so, And if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe. dem e t r i u s See how with signs and tokens she can scrowl. (2.4.3–5)

But if the shearing off of Lavinia’s hands raises a kind of suspense because we are uncertain how she will be able to expose her assailants, the solution to this puzzle is that much more unexpected and original than Ovid’s. In having Lavinia scrawl out the names of her ravishers by holding a pole between her stumps and grasping the pole’s end inside her mouth, Shakespeare effects a most witty poetic justice. Lavinia’s lips do speak; her handless hands, indeed, do write!4 In this witty competition with Ovid and Seneca, Shakespeare is just what Greene said he was, ‘an upstart Crow’ striving to overreach his masters in their own vein.5 In Titus the especial competition with Ovid fully insinuates itself into Shakespeare’s poetic statement and is one of the basic reasons why the tragedy sometimes runs aground on the shoals of Ovidian lyricism. As Eugene Waith points out, the play apparently fails to transpose a narrative tale of horror into a convincing dramatic story.6 The characters, he observes, respond to events with poetic declamations that lack psychological appropriateness or verisimilitude. Yet, the problem is not one of dramatic ineptitude, pure and simple. The scenes derived from Ovid’s story are confidently aware of their transposed existence in the added dimension of drama.7 When Titus first beholds his ravished daughter, he laments,


albert h. tricomi Had I but seen thy picture in this plight It would have madded me; what shall I do Now I behold thy lively body so? (3.1.103–5)

So too, when Marcus first spies the mutilated Lavinia wandering in the woods, his monologue effectively underlines the dramatic mode of Shakespeare’s story: m arc u s Cousin, a word; . . . .... Speak, gentle niece . . . . . . Why dost not speak to me? ... Shall I speak for thee? Shall I say ’tis so? (2.4.12–33)

That the anticipated dialogue is denied Marcus only emphasizes how effectively Shakespeare has exploited the visual resources of drama. Moreover, inasmuch as dialogue is necessarily impossible in this episode, Shakespeare casts the greater focus upon the visual spectacle of the mutilated Lavinia. Through Marcus who acts as commentator on the event, Shakespeare forces us to see, detail by descriptive detail, the spectacle that we are already beholding: Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands Hath lopp’d and hew’d and made thy body bare Of her two branches . . . ? ... Alas, a crimson river of warm blood, Like to a bubbling fountain stirr’d with wind, Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips, Coming and going with thy honey breath. But, sure, some Tereus hath deflow’red thee, And, lest thou should’st detect him, cut thy tongue. Ah, now thou turn’st away thy face for shame! And, notwithstanding all this loss of blood . . . (2.4.16–29)

Clearly enough, the visual image is intended to be so powerfully immediate that the characters themselves believe the image of Lavinia must be imaginary. Among Marcus’s first words in the above speech are, ‘If I do dream, would all my wealth would wake me’ (2.4.13). Later, Titus complains, ‘When will this fearful slumber have an end?’ (3.1.252). The fact

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


that the characters often react to the play’s events as if they had been transported into another realm altogether demonstrates Shakespeare’s endeavor to reach the utmost verge of realizable horror. By utilizing Ovid’s already affecting narrative in a theatrical context that exploits Lavinia’s presence upon the stage, Shakespeare reaches to outdo the Roman poet for pathos, and Seneca as well for horror. But despite the resourcefulness of this theatre of horrors, there are unavoidable limits in Titus Andronicus to dramatic spectacle. For all the severed heads, for all the poignance of Lavinia’s mutilated beauty, the one horror the dramatist could not depict upon the stage was the fact of Lavinia’s violated chastity, which loss was to Titus the worst violation of all, that more dear Than hands or tongue, her spotless chastity (5.2.176–7)

In overcoming this necessary limitation, however, Shakespeare chooses to identify Lavinia’s violation with the violation of Rome and of all civilized value. It is upon this enlarged conception of violation – Lavinia’s and Rome’s – that Shakespeare does confer visual life by introducing the enduring and theatrical symbol of the middle acts, the pit. As Tamora’s premonitory speech indicates – And when they show’d me this abhorred pit, They told me, here, at dead time of the night, A thousand fiends, a thousand hissing snakes, Ten thousand swelling toads, as many urchins, Would make such fearful and confused cries, As any mortal body hearing it Should straight fall mad, or else die suddenly (2.3.98–104)

– the pit symbolizes an inferno of evil and is directly associated, as Professor Hamilton has shown, with the classical underworld.8 The demonic portentousness of the pit is further highlighted by Lavinia’s own ironic protestations, made before her captors. Fearing rape, she begs of Tamora, one thing more That womanhood denies my tongue to tell: O, keep me from their worse than killing lust, And tumble me into some loathsome pit. (2.3.173–6)


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Speaking a language of chaste circumlocution, Lavinia asks to die rather than to be sexually defiled, but her inadvertent pun upon the word ‘tumble’, meaning, as Eric Partridge records, ‘To copulate with (girl or woman), to cause to fall backward ’,9 ironically prophesies the circumstances of her later violation. Just ten lines later Lavinia is dragged off the stage to her rape, and the pit, just alluded to, becomes the central image upon the stage. In the passage immediately following, Bassianus’s bloody corpse is heaved into the pit and Lavinia’s brothers, Martius and Quintus, deceived by the cunning Aaron, become entrapped within it. Already depicted vividly by Tamora as an abyss in which a world of evil spawns, the pit is now described as a womb, malignant and devouring.10 Pictured by Quintus and Martius as ‘this unhallow’d and blood-stained hole’ (2.3.210), then as a fell, devouring receptacle, As hateful as Cocytus’ misty mouth (2.3.235–6)

and, finally, as the swallowing womb Of this deep pit (2.3.239–40)

the pit reveals the dark recesses of evil and also carries at least a suggestive reminder of the rape of Lavinia that is simultaneously transpiring offstage. Moreover, with Bassianus’s blood upon it, his body within, and the two entrapped Andronici accused of his murder trapped inside, the pit – that is, the trap door at the front of the Elizabethan stage – becomes not only a symbol of the demonic power, but a theatrical embodiment of it. Grotesque then as the image appears, the pit creates, by virtue of its visibility and concreteness as a device of theatre, a powerful and synthesizing poetic image of the horrible fecundity of evil. This e´clat in exploiting the resources of the stage is just what we should expect from a wit-enchanted and ambitious poet who has lately discovered the wider world of theatre. Just as the young Shakespeare endeavors to outplot Plautus in The Comedy of Errors by doubling the number of identical twins, and just as he tries to out-marvel Marlowe by creating in Richard III a villain more joyous in the performance of evil than Barabas, so in Titus Andronicus Shakespeare seeks to outdo both Seneca and Ovid by utilizing his living stage in the telling of a tale more horrifying and pathetic than that of either of his models.11 Small wonder that the characters in this earliest

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


of Shakespeare’s tragedies appear to participate actively in the dramatist’s own ambitious search for ever more fabulous events: titus shall we cut away our hands like thine? Or shall we bite our tongues, and in dumb shows Pass the remainder of our hateful days? What shall we do? let us that have our tongues Plot some device of further misery, To make us wonder’d at in time to come. (3.1.130–5)

Whatever our final aesthetic judgment concerning the merits of Titus Andronicus, we must understand that we are dealing, not with a paucity of imagination, but with an excess of dramatic witness, with a talent untamed. However flawed the tragedy may be in other respects, we must grant that the playwright has exploited the language of the stage with inventive brilliance and has taxed the resources of drama in making death and mutilation vivid to us. If we wish, we can, of course, treat this tragedy with orthodox sobriety in order to demonstrate its thematic integrity, but the real vitality and interest of Titus Andronicus lies, it seems to me, in just those parts that are in some ways speculative, or even impossible dramatically. By shackling the metaphoric imagination to the literal reality of the play’s events, the tragedy strives for an unrelieved concentration of horrific effect. Through its prophetic allusions to physical dismemberment, its incurably literalized figures of speech, and its ambitious use of the stage as a dramatic metaphor, Titus Andronicus strives to exhaust the language as well as the events of tragedy. We do not all have to like the tragedy, but we ought to recognize that Titus is a uniquely important experiment in drama, for in it Shakespeare is exploring the resources inherent in a referential use of metaphor and is trying to integrate the power of the poetic language with the immeasurable potential of dramatic action itself. First published in Shakespeare Survey 27 (1974) n otes 1 Selected Essays: 1917–1932 (London, 1932), p. 82. Effective rebuttal has occurred with relative infrequency. See Hereward T. Price, ‘The Authorship of Titus Andronicus’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 42 (1943), 55–81; E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s History Plays (New York, 1962), pp. 158–65;


2 3



6 7 8 9 10

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Alan Sommers, ‘“Wilderness of Tigers”: Structure and Symbolism in Titus Andronicus’, Essays in Criticism, x (1960), 275–89; and A. C. Hamilton, The Early Shakespeare (San Marino, 1967), pp. 63–89. For a superb theory concerning the language of Titus Andronicus, see Eugene Waith, ‘The Metamorphosis of Violence in Titus Andronicus’, Shakespeare Survey 10 (Cambridge, 1957), pp. 39– 49. Laura Jepsen, ‘A Footnote on “Hands” in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus’, Florida State Univ. Studies, 19 (1955), 7–10; Oxford Shakespeare Concordance: Titus Andronicus (Oxford, 1972), pp. 95–6, 99. The works of Muriel Bradbrook, Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge, 1935), pp. 98–9, and Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry (New York, 1952), pp. 104–10; J. Dover Wilson (ed.), Titus Andronicus (Cambridge, 1948), pp. ix–xii; and Wolfgang Clemen, The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery (New York, 1951), pp. 22–7, have provided deservedly influential insights into the discontinuity between image and occasion in Titus Andronicus, but the sense in which the figurative language embodies the events in Titus has never been analysed. An explanation of the decorous tone of the poetry in Titus can, however, be found in Waith’s essay, ‘Metamorphosis of Violence’. Although Shakespeare courts comparison with Ovid, he makes no effort to disclose his own native sources. The story of Lavinia’s scribbling the names of her assailants by the use of her two stumps occurs in a prose narrative, which in all probability Shakespeare knew. The convincing evidence is set forth by Ralph M. Sargent, ‘The Source of Titus Andronicus’, Studies in Philology, 66 (1949), 167–84. The prose narrative itself is reprinted by Sylvan Barnet (ed.), The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus (New York, 1963), pp. 135–48. See also, Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (New York, 1966), vi, 7–13. The witty justice that emerges from Lavinia’s using her stumps and her mouth to reveal her rapists is, however, Shakespeare’s own invention. G. B. Harrison (ed.), Robert Greene, M.A.: Groats-Worth of Witte (1592; New York, 1966), p. 45. Although the context in which the phrase appears shows that Greene was thinking of Shakespeare as actor as well as playwright, the colourful phrase aptly captures the ambitiousness that is evident in the writing of Titus Andronicus. ‘Metamorphosis of Violence’, pp. 47–8. Hamilton, The Early Shakespeare, pp. 68–9. Hamilton, The Early Shakespeare pp. 69–72. Shakespeare’s Bawdy (1947; rpt, London, 1961), p. 210. This association is characteristically Shakespearian. Most strikingly, it appears again in King Lear (Kenneth Muir (ed.), London, 1959), where Lear imagines the female sexual organs as the pit of hell: Down from the waist they are Centaurs, Though women all above: But to the girdle do the Gods inherit,

Aesthetics of mutilation in Titus Andronicus


Beneath is all the fiend’s: there’s hell, there’s darkness, There is the sulphurous pit – burning, scalding, Stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah, pah! (4.6.123–8)

11 For a close analysis of the influence of these models, see Bullough (ed.), Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 6, 23–33.

chap t e r 14

‘Time for such a word’: verbal echoing in Macbeth George Walton Williams

It is a critical commonplace that Macbeth’s opening line – ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ (1.3.36), whatever its particular referents may be1 – ‘is singularly important to Macbeth’s character, echoing as it does the enigmatic and ominous chant of the Witches as they conclude their first appearance: ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ (1.1.10). That the play begins with the witches strikingly adumbrates their immanent presence throughout the play; that they are the first to mention the name of the hero confirms their importance. The play and the character both will live under the shadow and the menace of these opening lines – the shortest first scene in the canon. The scene includes this gnomic utterance that destroys ‘the distinction [between] . . . foul and fair ’; with it the Witches verbalize their position, standing for ‘those who have said “Evil, be thou my good.”’2 Their contrasting adjectives occur often in proverbial contexts in English, but the paradox here suggested is unusual, though not unique, in the tradition.3 ‘Fair without but foul within’, says the proverb; the Witches say that fairness and foulness are the same, a point that Shakespeare had expressed with extraordinary foreshadowing in Love’s Labour’s Lost : ‘“Fair” in “all hail” is foul, as I conceive’ (5.2.340).4 By repeating the adjectives and reversing their sequence in the second half of the Witches’ line, Shakespeare calls particular attention to these words, invests them with mystery, and fixes them in our minds so that when Macbeth speaks them just over one hundred lines later, his echo of the Witches’ diction comes in with an eerie, secondary force (independently of the speaker’s presumed intention). Macbeth intends, presumably, little more than a reference to a mixed sort of day – the uncertain tide of the battle, the dubious nature of the weather – but his use of the Witches’ terms, linking the Witches and the speaker in vocabulary, intimates that there is a bond between them and him,5 more significant than mere repetition of diction. He is ready to receive them when they come to him. Macbeth did not hear the Witches, but he knows how they 240

Verbal echoing in Macbeth


speak and so knows how they think; speaking their words, he speaks their thoughts.6 A comparable echoing of a word not heard occurs in Scene 5 of the first Act, as Lady Macbeth reads and reacts to her husband’s letter.7 That letter brings her the sense and the spirit of the encounter with the Witches and gives Lady Macbeth some seven words of their vocabulary, five that she repeats, commenting to herself – ‘Cawdor’, ‘shalt be’, ‘promised’, ‘great[ness]’, ‘mortal’8 – and two others that she addresses to Macbeth – ‘all-hail’, ‘ignorant’ (1.5.14–56). Three of these words appear together at the end of Macbeth’s letter: ‘that thou . . . [mightst not be] ignorant of what greatness is promised thee’ (11–13; emphasis mine).9 The three words spring from love; Macbeth uses them to her, ‘[his] dearest partner of greatness’, as a demonstration of his affection for her. Lady Macbeth, reconceiving them, turns two of them back on him, thinking how ‘great’ he is and what has been ‘promised’ (17, 15, 21) to him. He wanted her to be not ‘ignorant’ of the future; she turns that third word also, using it with supreme contempt to describe the moment as ‘This ignorant present’ (line 56) – ‘The language forces the two to converge.’10 Powerful as these terms may be in their dialogue, one word she uses was, significantly, not in the letter: ‘hereafter’; she greets Macbeth: ‘Greater than both by the all hail hereafter!’ (54). The Third Witch had said: ‘All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!’ (1.3.48); but the letter had said: they ‘all-hailed me Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘Hail, King that shalt be!’11 (1.5.6–9). Lady Macbeth’s phrase is a fusion of these messages, using the ‘all hail’ that describes the present thaneship to confirm the ‘hereafter’ that describes the future kingship. Forcing the instant to control the future. It is her way. Lady Macbeth’s phrase, ‘all-hail hereafter’, adopting the ‘time word’ that will ‘ring powerfully later’,12 is a brief abstract of the Witch’s salutation, a collapsing or foreshortening of time, ‘a shorthand reprise of the Sisters’ greeting’.13 W. A. Wright observed that ‘Lady Macbeth speaks as if she had heard the words as spoken by the witch’; and John Upton, the noted textual scholar of the eighteenth century, finding the presence of the word in Lady Macbeth’s speech so jarring with its absence in Macbeth’s letter, supposed that the text of the letter was defective, should have had ‘hereafter’ in it, ‘for this word she uses emphatically when she greets Macbeth . . . being the [word] of the Witch’.14 It is the word of the Witch, first used in the play by the Third Witch (1.3.48), that tantalizes Macbeth with the hope that will lead to his destruction. It appears again, properly used, we may say, by the rightful monarch to suggest his rightful control of the future: ‘Malcolm, whom we name


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hereafter / The Prince of Cumberland’ (1.4.38–9). Having heard the word from the Witch in Scene 3, interpreting it as a temptation, Macbeth hears it again (140 lines later) from his King in Scene 4 in a context to which he says he will give his full allegiance (1.4.22–7) – but which he immediately rejects (48–53): ‘The Prince of Cumberland – that is a step / On which I must fall down or else o’erleap’ (48–9).15 The vacillation in Macbeth’s response to the word is terminated by Lady Macbeth’s use of it in Scene 5, a scant 73 lines further on (1.5.54). This trio of uses – three times in three consecutive scenes within 217 lines – offers a set of references to the future that will have impressed Macbeth’s mind in three different ways, the last way, Lady Macbeth’s way, being the final and dominant one. To ensure the ‘promised’ hereafter, Lady Macbeth will ‘feel now / The future in the instant’ (1.5.56–7). The relationship that the two Macbeths have to time, one uncertain and one assertive, is perfectly and concisely represented in the collocation between them just after Duncan’s murder: m ac b e t h When? l ady m ac b e th Now. (2.2.16)

In order to remove the question and to make the future in the instant, now, Lady Macbeth proposes to ‘beguile the time’ (1.5.62); Macbeth accepts that way of life, echoing her idea (though not her term) in his ‘mock the time’ (1.7.81). This echo speaks the crucial change in Macbeth’s attitude to time; he has forgotten his normative attitude towards the movement of time with which he properly concluded his response to the Witches’ prophecies: ‘Come what come may, / Time and the hour runs through the roughest day’ (1.3.145–6).16 Thanks to the encouragement and threats of his wife, however, he now is ‘settled, and bend[s] up / Each corporal agent to this terrible feat’ (1.7.79–80).17 No longer will he allow that ‘chance may crown me / Without my stir’ (1.3.142–3). He begins to stir. The word of the Witch resonates powerfully in these three early scenes of the play. Its presence in Lady Macbeth’s speech18 invites the question: how came she by that word? Since no editor has seen fit to accept Upton’s textual explanation by adding the ‘omitted’ word to Macbeth’s letter, we may seek an explanation within the existing text. We may argue that just as Macbeth has adopted the phrase of the Witch that he never heard, so Lady Macbeth here adopts the word of the Witch that she never read. ‘Come, you spirits’, she says (1.5.39). Can there be any doubt but that they will come? What spirit could resist so charming an invitation to such

Verbal echoing in Macbeth


an interesting programme of activity and entertainment? The play is a play of hospitality perverted, its great central scene (3.4) the banquet in which Macbeth particularly wishes to establish order (line 1) and to promote health (line 38) (in both which efforts he fails, being no true King – lines 109, 118, 119). To this banquet he specifically invites Banquo (3.1.15, 29). Can there be any doubt but that he will accept? As Banquo, coming from his realm of the supernatural, accepts Macbeth’s invitation, so, we may argue, the Witches, coming from theirs, accept Lady Macbeth’s. One of the proofs of their presence is the fact that Lady Macbeth in both action and word seems to have become unsexed, seems to have become mannish. Confirmation of their presence in her body is the presence of their word ‘hereafter’ in her vocabulary. The word of the Witch becomes Lady Macbeth’s word; its fourth and final use in the play is spoken by Macbeth at her death: ‘She should have died hereafter’ (5.5.16). It is Macbeth’s epitaph for his wife; it is all that he has to give her. In the hereafter that they thought they would have, there would have been time for a longer epitaph than this, but ‘now’ there is no time. Those who mocked the time have no time. They sought the future in the instant; they secured it. As might, therefore, have been expected, when the normal calendrical future comes, there is nothing there. ‘Naught’s had, all’s spent’ (3.2.6), says she; and he discovers that their life has been one ‘Signifying nothing’ (5.5.27). Lady Macbeth’s use of the word ‘hereafter’ deranged the regular sequence of time; his use restores it. But it is too late. Discovering the futility of the theory of time that he has espoused, Macbeth returns, after the brief epitaph for his wife, to thoughts of himself and to his original understanding of the sequence of time – ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day’ (5.5.18–19) – though it is an understanding tempered now with sad experience that proved the Witches right, that what seemed fair was foul and that what offered ‘fairest show’ has proven to be most foul. That lesson, we may say, Banquo understands from the beginning, having heard his partner link fairness and foulness in his opening speech. At the salutations of the Witches, Macbeth, as Banquo tells us, ‘start[s] and seem[s] to fear / Things that do sound so fair’ (1.3.49–50).19 Banquo is the first to use the word fear in the play, introducing here a series of more instances of this word than are to be found in any other of Shakespeare’s plays: Macbeth is the most fear-filled play of the canon. Macbeth’s response, then, is correct: in this play things that sound fair are to be feared, and perhaps Banquo’s cautious self apprehends the fact that things that sound fair are


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to be feared because they are, in the proof, foul. ‘The fear–fair sound-pun mirrors fair–foul; something dark shadows this golden promise.’20 Banquo links the two near homonyms fair and fear in consecutive lines and repeats one of them eight lines later (line 58).21 Though the two words may not sound with a phonic identity to some natural ears, they resound with a suggestive echo in the ear of memory, even as the mind disambiguates their significations. It is no doubt too much to claim that Banquo, echoing one of the two key words of the Witches, has shown a susceptibility to the Witches of a lesser degree but not of a different kind from that of Macbeth; but it is certainly true that, immediately after he has used one of ‘their’ words, ‘fair’/‘fear’, the Witches speak to him as they spoke to Macbeth after Macbeth had used their vocabulary. The dauntless temper of Banquo’s mind, however, protects him. When the Witches vanish mysteriously, he associates them with the basest element, their natural element, the earth; he is disposed to think ill of them. Macbeth, on the other hand, disposed to think well of them, supposes they have returned upward to their natural element, the air (1.3.79–80), a pleasing hope that he repeats in the letter to his wife. Banquo is rightly seen in this first encounter as setting the standard of integrity and probity from which Macbeth is later to fall off, but it should be noted in Macbeth’s defence that his final response to the blandishments of the Witches is, like Banquo’s, that he shall not be tempted. We learn later that Macbeth and his Lady have previously (several times?) considered taking action to secure the crown for Macbeth (1.7.47–52); each time the idea has arisen, however, Macbeth has rejected it. The latest and last rejection is before us: ‘We will proceed no further in this business’ (1.7.31). His record is beyond reproach – indeed his integrity, we may say, is stronger than Banquo’s: it has been tested and found firm. Banquo’s probity has not before now been tested. Such testing is soon to come. Banquo is suddenly made aware of his unique and privileged position. Before the meeting of the thanes held after the death of Duncan, Banquo speaks his mind: let us meet And question this most bloody piece of work, To know it further. Fears and scruples shake us. In the great hand of God I stand, and thence Against the undivulged pretence I fight Of treasonous malice. (2.3.126–31)22

Verbal echoing in Macbeth


Banquo’s shift from the plural that includes all the thanes to the singular – himself only – marks his recognition that he is a privileged witness: he has information that no one else has about the death of Duncan. Here he vows before God to fight against the treason and malice so far undivulged. He makes this statement suspecting, we must suppose, that the pretence is on the part of his friend: he must suspect Macbeth. We know that Banquo has dreams of the Witches: ‘I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters’ (2.1.19), and that in his nightmares or his sleepless state he has ‘curs`ed thoughts’ (2.1.8). What those may have been he does not say, but they were so seriously threatening as to drive Banquo to pray to the ‘Merciful powers’ that those thoughts be restrained natural though they were – or that he be restrained in thinking them (2.1.7–8). What then, in this condition, is he to make of Macbeth’s proposal to ‘cleave to [his] consent, when ’tis’ (2.1.24)?23 ‘When ’tis’ occurred a few hours later, at the meeting of the thanes in the hall after the death of Duncan. At that moment, standing in the hand of God, Banquo had his test. He failed. He said nothing. He had vowed that he would fight against pretence and malice; instead, when his test came, he held his peace and, in so doing, clove to Macbeth’s consent. He said nothing; it is not unreasonable to suppose that had he disclosed the knowledge he had in his privileged position, the election would not have fallen on Macbeth (2.4.29–32). He might have kept silent from timidity, or from an unwillingness to speculate, or from a reluctance to stand in the way of his good friend’s advancement; he might have kept silent because he was greedy for the ‘honour’ – the greatness promised to him by Macbeth (2.1.25). It is more likely, however, that he kept silent because he realized that until Macbeth was king and the Witches’ royal prophecy had been fulfilled, his own children would be unlikely to reign in their turn (3.1.5–10). He wishes the prophecies to be ‘truth’ (line 6), though he knows that ‘The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us with honest trifles to betray’s / In deepest consequence’ (1.3.122–4). As Macbeth needed the ‘truth’ of the advancement to Cawdor to make him especially vulnerable to the gaining of the kingship, so Banquo needed the ‘truth’ of Macbeth’s advancement to the kingship to make him especially vulnerable to the temptation of the advancement of his children.24 Macbeth’s third ‘truth’ was the happy prologue to set up Banquo’s swelling ‘hope’ of the imperial theme for his children (1.3.126–8; 3.1.10). Banquo knows in his heart that Macbeth has done the thing which he ought not to have done; he is not fully aware that at the meeting of the thanes he himself has left undone the thing he ought


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to have done. There is no health in either of them. Banquo’s silence is the tie that knits him indissolubly to Macbeth (3.1.16–18); his ‘advice’, as Macbeth terms it, has been ‘both grave and prosperous’ (3.1.21–2). Prosperous for Macbeth, grave for Banquo. The deterioration in Banquo’s character is represented by the deterioration in Banquo’s diction. It has been intimated that he has used – three times, in fact – one of the words of the Witch or its homonym: he now uses the other; and he uses the two words in conjunction, just as Macbeth had done before: Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all As the weird women promised;25 and I fear Thou played’st most foully for’t.26 (3.1.1–3)

The fair promise was to be feared because it was foul.27 Banquo, like Macbeth, has echoed the crucial words of the Witches. Shakespeare sharpens the significance of this passage by one of the instances of ironic juxtaposition for which this compact play is famous.28 At the end of the preceding scene, the Old Man, the embodiment of wisdom, addressing himself first to Ross, prays in the concluding couplet: God’s benison go with you, and with those That would make good of bad, and friends of foes. (2.4.41–2)

‘Enter Banquo’ – the only character who had indeed the knowledge that might have made good of bad and friends of foes.29 He chose not to use it; he remained silent. The first words he speaks after that failure to speak are the words of the Witches. Banquo speaks these words to characterize Macbeth and Macbeth’s guilt, not himself and his own. That is not surprising: we need no bubbles come from the earth to tell us that humans in their frailty see in others those sins which they are unable to see in themselves. Long ago Bradley recognized the deterioration of Banquo’s character;30 Granville-Barker, Richard J. Jaarsma, and Marvin Rosenberg have argued in support of Bradley’s view, still not generally accepted. Banquo’s language suggests that Bradley was right. Like Macbeth, like Lady Macbeth, Banquo has chosen to speak the language of the Witches. Lady Macbeth deliberately and with manly resolve placed herself under the control of the Witches; Macbeth rejected that control firmly (1.7.31) as he unmanly and weakly

Verbal echoing in Macbeth


submitted to the control of his wife; Banquo negligently allowed himself to be seduced by them. These three central characters, in ways peculiar to their personalities and defining of those personalities, labour to work out their own damnations. First published in Shakespeare Survey 47 (1994) n otes 1 See Marvin Rosenberg, The Masks of Macbeth (Berkeley, 1978), pp. 35–6, for some of the suggestiveness. 2 Bernard Groom, ed. Macbeth (New Clarendon edn, 1939), p. 117. 3 Nicholas Brooke, ed. Macbeth (Oxford edn, 1990). See Tilley, Dictionary, f29 (and Dent f29); the pair occurs in The Faerie Queen 4.8.32, and in Much Ado 4.1.101. 4 Rosenberg, Masks, p. 114. In addition to the uses of these two adjectives, cited here in conjunction, each occurs twice in the play used singly. Fair occurs in the King’s description of Lady Macbeth as ‘Fair and noble hostess’ (1.6.24) and in the Messenger’s description of Lady Macduff as ‘Fair dame’ (4.2.66). We might argue that only one of these ladies is truly fair. The King’s observation is inadequate; he himself acknowledges that he cannot find the mind’s construction in the face. (The King’s sons, however, have the ability that their father lacked: Malcolm’s extended testing of Macduff (4.3.1–126) demonstrates his corrective to his father’s inadequacy, and even Donalbain recognizes that a smile may conceal a dagger (2.3.139).) Foul occurs in what might almost be a gloss on these two disparate references to fair : ‘Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, / Yet grace must still look so’ (4.3.24–5, Malcolm’s perceptive observation). And the Scots Doctor observes that ‘Foul whisp’rings are abroad. Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles’ (5.1.68–9), the only issue of the Macbeths’ generating. 5 Cp. Roy Walker, The Time is Free (London, 1949), p. 11. 6 Cp. G. K. Hunter, ed. Macbeth (New Penguin edn, 1967), p. 37. 7 For interesting observations of another kind on Lady Macbeth’s reception of the letter see Mark Taylor, ‘Letters and Readers in Macbeth, King Lear, and Twelfth Night’, Philological Quarterly, 69 (1990), 31–53. The letter functions in the play ‘chiefly as a way of revealing something about the motives and proclivities of the [person who reads it]’ (p. 31). ‘What Macbeth puts into his letter is not, for the most part, what Lady Macbeth reads out of it’ (p. 35). 8 Macbeth’s phrase in the letter, ‘more . . . than mortal knowledge’ – he seems to have investigated their credentials – becomes Lady Macbeth’s ‘mortal thoughts’. And the spirits – the ‘weird sisters’ – ‘tend on’ those thoughts of mortality. Her destructive ‘tend on’ of line 40 mocks her considerate ‘Give him tending’ in line 36.


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9 These written words of Macbeth’s constitute the only reference in the play to Lady Macbeth’s becoming a queen; the Lady herself never mentions any desire on her own part for queenship. The absence of any such expression is the more remarkable since in Holinshed she is ‘verie ambitious’ in her personal lust for a crown (Chronicles of Scotland, p. 171). 10 Rosenberg, Masks, p. 115. These two instances of the word ‘ignorant’, both spoken by Lady Macbeth, are the only two in the play. 11 As customarily in Shakespeare, the quoting of an earlier speech is inexact, but the intent is sufficiently clear to Lady Macbeth. 12 Rosenberg, Masks, p. 234. 13 Rosenberg, Masks, p. 234. 14 Wright, ed. Macbeth (Clarendon edn, 1869), p. 94; Upton, Critical Observations on Shakespeare (1748), p. 204. 15 Macbeth echoes himself in the use of the word ‘o’erleap’ in his later soliloquy (1.7.27), in both instances perverting a normal process of ascent – climbing a set of stairs, mounting a horse – by an action inappropriate or inept that causes him to ‘fall’ (1.4.51; 7.28). I owe to a former student the insight that Macbeth here, depersonalizing, transmutes a human into a thing. 16 And, we may be confident, the roughest night – 2.3.60. 17 As ‘bend up’ signifies Macbeth’s commitment in the first part of the play, leading on to the crisis of 3.4, so ‘I am bent to know’ (3.4.133) signifies his commitment in the second part of the play, leading on to the catastrophe of 5.10. 18 The Variorum edition (p. 60) quotes Mrs Jameson’s excited response to hearing this word on the stage (vol. 11. p. 324): ‘those who have heard Mrs Siddons pronounce the word hereafter, cannot forget the look, the tone, which seemed to give her auditors a glimpse of that awful future, which she, in her prophetic fury, beholds upon the instant’. Another powerful lady, Mrs Dorothy Dunnett, has used the word to conjure up a grandly imaginative account of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in King Hereafter (1982). 19 Richard J. Jaarsma, in ‘The Tragedy of Banquo’, Literature and Psychology, 17 (1967), 87–94, suggests that Banquo at 2.1.6–9 ‘for the first time . . . recognizes, as Macbeth did not, the Witches’ evil intent’ (p. 91); the recognition may have come sooner. 20 Rosenberg, Masks, p. 116. 21 Helge K¨okeritz, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven, 1953), identified these two words as homonyms – they ‘were often pronounced alike’ (p. 106); but Fausto Cercignano, Shakespeare’s Works and Elizabethan Pronunciation (Oxford, 1981) finds that in this passage ‘word-play is based on antithesis not identity’ (p. 235). Nevertheless, he gives examples of passages in which fair and fear, though never rhyming to one another, rhyme to the same words: fair: air: ear: appear: there: bear: fear (pp. 80, 167, 238). Though the two words are, and could be sounded as, phonologically distinct, it is clear that they were not always sounded so. Various speakers used variant soundings in varying contexts. Professor Ronald Butters, to whom I am obliged in this matter, notes

Verbal echoing in Macbeth


23 24 25





that ‘there has been much interaction/interchange between the -ear and -air vowels in the history of English, and [the distinction] was very much in flux in Shakespeare’s day’ (Correspondence, 31 March 1993). The trio of homonymic words in this passage (1.3.49–58) is exactly balanced in Venus and Adonis, 1083–6. In both works, Shakespeare is playing with the echo; if the words are inexact homonyms to the ear, their sounds are sufficiently close to provide an echo to the mind. Though Banquo begins this speech with the straightforward statement that the thanes should dress in proper and decent attire before they reassemble (line 125), when Macbeth echoes the metaphor in line 132, the same image suggests a covering over of hypocrisy and deceit (Jaarsma, p. 92). Walker notices that Macbeth’s insinuating ‘cleave’ echoes Banquo’s harmless use in 1.3.144. Noted also by Jaarsma (p. 93). ‘Promised’ is itself a word interesting in its associations. It is used four times in the play, thrice by the Macbeths and here finally by Banquo. Macbeth uses it first to describe the predictions of the Witches (1.3.118) because he wishes to persuade himself that the fore-tellings pertaining to himself are in fact binding commitments promised. In his letter, as we have seen, he transfers the word (1.5.12) to his wife, who uses it with a positiveness and a determination keener than those of her husband: ‘and [thou] shalt be / What thou art promised’ (1.5.14–15). When Banquo uses the word here in its final appearance, he does so with the same assurance that marked the Macbeths’ uses; though he speaks of the predictions as ‘hope’ (1.3.54; 3.1.10), here his ‘promised’ that defines Macbeth’s future suggests that he regards his children’s future as promised also. He has appropriated the word of the Macbeths and their attitude to it. Too late, however, Macbeth discovers that though the Witches ‘keep the word of promise to our ear / [They] break it to our hope’ (5.10.21–2). Fear–foully will surely recall the pun that Banquo made when he first used fear and fair in 1.3.49–50, as they recall also Macbeth’s fair and foul. Furthermore, Banquo’s supposition that Macbeth ‘[played] most foully’ echoes Lady Macbeth’s assumption that he ‘[would] not play false’ (1.5.20). But, at her urging, Macbeth does play false, assuming a ‘false face’ to hide ‘what the false heart doth know’ (1.7.82) (that false face does not deceive Malcolm (2.3.135–6); see also note 4 above). Later, Macbeth falsely ‘[plays] the humble host’ (3.4.4), though a murderer. Though, as has been noted, fair and foul are often linked in the proverbial and literary traditions, fear and foul are not; but fair, fear, and foul are linked in a work that Shakespeare knew intimately, Tamberlaine: ‘Ah fair Zenocrate, divine Zenocrate, / Fair is too foul an epithet for thee, / That in thy passion for thy country’s love, / And fear to see thy kingly father’s harm . . .’ etc. (Part 1, 5.1.135–8). Each of the three major characters has an entrance that ironically comments on the line of the preceding speaker: Macbeth’s occurs at 1.4.14, after Duncan’s


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lines 13–14; Lady Macbeth’s is at 1.7.28, after Macbeth’s line 25; Banquo’s is here. 29 Walker proposes that ‘the first phrase is for Ross and the rest spoken after the retreating . . . Macduff’ (p. 82), and Rosenberg concurs. I would suggest that Macduff ‘retreats’ after his last line (39), marking his solo exit from the stage with a rhymed couplet. Ross then addresses the Old Man, whose reply, also a rhymed couplet, includes a blessing specifically on Ross, who leaves now (41) (not in company with Macduff who earlier headed off to Fife), and another on ‘those’ unspecified persons who would make good of bad. The first such person, ironically, is Banquo, who arrives now. Prior critics have been misled by the traditional ‘act break’ – in reality no more than a scene break, as we now know. 30 A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (London, 1904), pp. 384–5.

chap t e r 15

Household words: Macbeth and the failure of spectacle Lisa Hopkins

In her epic novel on the life of Macbeth, King Hereafter, Dorothy Dunnett suggests that one of the primary reasons for the eventual failure of her hero’s kingship is his inability to be perceived as sufficiently charismatic: ‘a diverse people in time of hardship need a priest-king. The English know that. Edward is anointed with holy oil: he has the power of healing, they say.’1 Although Dunnett’s Macbeth-figure – an Orkney jarl also known as Thorfinn – is very differently conceived from Shakespeare’s, each shares an unfortunate tendency towards the mundane. Most particularly, Shakespeare’s hero and his wife both, at certain crucial moments of their lives, strongly favour a low-key, occasionally almost bathetic vocabulary.2 This aspect of their characterization has been much mocked in the English comic and popular tradition: Bertie Wooster is continually amused by the concept of the cat i’ th’ adage, and Edmund Crispin’s irascible literary detective Gervase Fen, Oxford professor, gives the play very short shrift: ‘Do!’ exclaimed Fen. ‘If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.’ ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ ‘It isn’t supposed to mean anything. It’s a quotation from our great English dramatist, Shakespeare. I sometimes wonder if Hemings and Condell went off the rails a bit there. It’s a vile absurd jingle.’3

The point was, perhaps, made most strongly, and most elegantly, by Dr Johnson, fulminating on the ‘lowness’ of the diction in the ‘Come, thick night . . .’ speech (though he mistakenly attributes this to Macbeth). He castigates the use of ‘an epithet now seldom heard but in the stable . . . dun night may come or go without any other notice than contempt’;4 he rhetorically enquires, ‘who, without some relaxation of his gravity, can hear of the avengers of guilt peeping through a blanket?’; and he asserts: 251


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sentiment is weakened by the name of an instrument used by butchers and cooks in the meanest employments; we do not immediately conceive that any crime of importance is to be committed with a knife; or who does not, at least, from the long habit of connecting a knife with sordid offices, feel aversion rather than terror?

Coleridge concurred so strongly with Johnson’s strictures on the inappropriateness of ‘blanket’ that he suggested that the reading should actually have been ‘blank height’ –5 though the quality of his engagement with the play’s language in general is perhaps indicated by his remark that, ‘[e]xcepting the disgusting passage of the Porter, which I dare pledge myself to demonstrate an interpolation of the actors, I do not remember in Macbeth a single pun or play on words’ (pp. 69–70). Other responses have been less damning and more interested in teasing out the implications of the imagery. Bradley, characteristically, saw it as evidence of characterization, and (correctly attributing the speeches) believed mundanity of diction to be differentially, and deliberately, employed in the play: he suggested that Lady Macbeth ‘uses familiar and prosaic illustrations’ as an indication of ‘[t]he literalism of her mind’.6 More recently, Paul Jorgensen has observed that the use of the banal is not in fact confined to Lady Macbeth, but is still disposed to regard patterns of speech as symptomatic and revelatory of states of mind, commenting of the ‘If it were done . . .’ speech that Macbeth ‘is still, as in his talk with Lady Macbeth, relying upon shrinking words like it (four uses) and do (three uses)’;7 and Copp´elia Kahn performs a similar manoeuvre when she offers a sustained and ingenious reading of Macbeth’s apparently simple use of the word ‘cow’.8 Even Coleridge was prepared to concede that some at least of the play’s language might be suggestively, rather than disturbingly, ‘low’, commenting on ‘the appropriateness of the simile “as breath” in a cold climate’,9 and speculating that ‘enkindle you unto the crown’ might still further underline the play’s concern with childlessness by encoding the suggestions not only of ‘kind’ and ‘kin’ but of the ‘kindling’, or engendering, of rabbits (p. 61). Perhaps most interesting of all, however, are the observations of Walter Whiter on the supposedly prosaic character of the imagery. Responding silently but unmistakably to Johnson, Whiter observes: The word ‘knife’ (says Mr Malone) has been objected to, as being connected with the most sordid offices; and therefore unsuitable to the great occasion on which it is employed. But, however mean it may sound to our ears, it was formerly a word of sufficient dignity, and is constantly used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries as synonimous [sic] to dagger . . . Blanket (Mr Malone observes) was certainly the

Macbeth and the failure of spectacle


Poet’s word, and ‘perhaps was suggested to him by the coarse woollen curtain of his own Theatre, through which probably, while the house was yet but half lighted, he had himself often peep’d.’10

The idea that Shakespeare could have ‘peep’d’ through a curtain at a halflighted Globe which he would have called a house clearly owes a very great deal more to eighteenth-century awareness of its own theatrical practices than to any historical awareness of what Elizabethan ones had been; but nevertheless I think Whiter, and Malone before him, have grasped something really central to the play here. Whiter goes on to develop his insights further, declaring that ‘Nothing is more certain, than that all the images in this celebrated passage are borrowed from the Stage’ (pp. 63–4) and commenting that ‘[t]he peculiar and appropriate dress of tragedy personified is a pall with a knif e’ (p. 64). In Whiter’s reading, the ostensible ‘lowness’ of the diction is, with breathtaking ingenuity, completely recuperated in a register which allows the passage to be perceived as a sustained piece of metatheatricality. Other critics have not been slow to see similar links, ranging from Bradley’s remark that Macbeth ‘is generally said to be a very bad actor’11 to Malcolm Evans’ comment that ‘numerous theatrical references emerge on the “bloody stage” (2.4.930) of Scotland in the course of the play, culminating in Macbeth’s speech on “signifying nothing”’.12 And Christopher Pye combines elements of both these lines of critical approach, that focusing on the mundanity of the play and that focusing on its theatricality, in virtually the same breath: citing ‘a foolish thought to say a sorry sight’, he comments on ‘the spectacular banality of Macbeth’s response’,13 but he also calls the play ‘the most spectacular of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Like Lady Macbeth and like the inquisitive king [James I] who watches her, Macbeth is notable for the disquieting visibility of its mysteries’ (p. 145). What I want to argue, however, is that the two elements are, precisely, forced apart by the play’s structure so that what we see in Macbeth is not in fact, in Pye’s suggestive phrasing, ‘spectacular banality’, but a banality which achieves spectacularity only in metaspectacular terms – a concept which I am, I hope, going to be able to clarify. Dr Johnson’s objection to terms like ‘knife’ and ‘blanket’ was, in effect, that they were household words, representing a ‘low’ diction associated with ‘sordid offices’. Walter Whiter counters that all these banal-seeming terms have in fact another meaning in another register, in which they are associated not with the home but with the theatre, and that they are thus actually instances of elevated – and technical – terminology by their association with


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the classical concept of tragedy; the value-system which Whiter is implicitly working with here is clearly signalled by the typography, which italicizes Stage and uses upper case for traged y, pall, and knife . However, these theatrical meanings are accessible only on the metatheatrical or extradiegetic level: they are there to be perceived by the audience of the play, but not by its characters. We may conceive of the characters in Macbeth primarily as actors on a stage, but they, with the notable exception of Macbeth himself towards the end of his career, are presented as representations blind to their own status as representations. When Lady Macbeth speaks of knives and blankets, she, at least, can have no access to any ulterior meaning which casts them as the accoutrements of tragedy: to her, as to Dr Johnson, they are only knives and blankets, though to us, as to Walter Whiter, they may be the appropriate props of the role she plays. Moreover, Lady Macbeth is alone: if she herself does not register the metaphorical force of her words, there is no one else present to do so. This is, in fact, a consistent and striking feature of Macbeth as a whole. It may well be, as Christopher Pye terms it, ‘the most spectacular of Shakespeare’s tragedies’, but the elements which are most obviously ‘spectacular’, the episodes centring on the outlandish appearance and supernatural doings of the Weird Sisters, are (even when they are of undoubtedly Shakespearian origin) consistently staged very much for the benefit of the audience alone, and are never perceived by the majority of the characters. After their initial appearance to Macbeth and Banquo jointly, the Weird Sisters are seen only by Macbeth, and so too is the ghost of Banquo, and Lady Macbeth, for all her apostrophizings and invocations of the supernatural, never has any personal contact with it. Most other characters are even less aware than she of the presence of the diabolical and the paranormal in the play: when Malcolm gives the order for the cutting of the branches, he is adhering to a military requirement for camouflage rather than consciously fulfilling a prophecy, and it is doubtful that Macbeth’s halfhints about his ‘charmed-life’ can convey to Macduff any sense of the extent and nature of his dealings with the Weird Sisters (indeed Macduff can refer to them, collectively, merely as an ‘angel’ [5.7.44]). In short, Macbeth’s subjects are consistently denied any sight of the spectacles of horror that have made the play so theatrically celebrated. This discrepancy between the experiences of Macbeth’s on-stage subjects and his off-stage audience serves to reveal the ways in which Shakespeare’s Macbeth shares with Dorothy Dunnett’s a vulnerability to the accusation that his kingship is insufficiently charismatic and theatrical. In fact, he and Lady Macbeth are, for all their egregious brutality, in some sense the most domestic of couples, making literal and consistent use of household

Macbeth and the failure of spectacle


words. In the theatre, it may be customary to present their relationship as an explosively erotic one,14 but Nicholas Brooke well observes that ‘no play of Shakespeare’s makes so little allusion to sex’.15 The element of familiarity and domesticity is strongly highlighted from the very outset of the play. The Weird Sisters may have beards, live on a heath and vanish into thin air, but their conversation is notably marked by features serving to associate it with the normal concerns of women in the home:16 they use popular terminology like ‘hurly-burly’,17 and they discuss household animals like Greymalkin and Paddock which are, literally, familiar(s). They even talk about the weather. As with their later parodic rituals of food preparation, the alienness of the Weird Sisters is closely inscribed here within degrees of difference and inversion of the normal. The motif of food preparation, in however distorted a form, is first signalled in the speech of the sergeant who describes the battle, when he relates how Macbeth, fighting Macdonald, ‘unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops’ (1.2.22). This is the first hint of the Macbeth whom Malcolm will eventually label ‘this dead butcher’ (5.7.99), and the epithet of butcher is applicable to him both metaphorically and literally, though the elaborate imagery and rhetorical patterning of the sergeant may tend to submerge, for the moment at least, the possibility of a literal reading. His set-piece speech, which deliberately delays the knowledge of success until he has carefully cultivated fears of uncertainty, sits well in Duncan’s camp, for Duncan, as we soon learn, is marked precisely by those shows and ceremonies of kingship which will be so notably absent from the court of Macbeth. In marked contrast to the unheralded, unglossed entrance of the Weird Sisters, the sergeant is formally presented to Duncan by Malcolm, who performs a similar function when he announces the arrival of Ross to his father (1.2.45) – surely a ceremonial rather than a factual communication, unless hyper-naturalism desired a short-sighted Duncan here. Duncan, moreover, ends the scene by conferring an honour: Macbeth is to become Thane of Cawdor. The bestowal of favours and titles is a marked feature of Duncan’s kingly style, and something which, we see in the closing speech, his son will also practise (could there be here an unusually favourable imaging of James I’s notorious open-handedness with knighthoods and other titles?); Shakespeare had already shown in Richard III how crucial a tool this could be in retaining support. Macbeth, notably, never does this. There are no nobles of his creation, no henchmen (with the arguable exception of the Murderers) dependent entirely on his continued favour; from the time of the disrupted banquet, he converses only with those conspicuously beneath him, like the doctor, the ‘loon’, and Young


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Seyward. Here, as in other areas, there are no outward manifestations of his kingship. Macbeth can, however, think in terms of the spectacular and the ceremonial. We see this in his first soliloquy: (aside) Two truths are told As happy prologues to the swelling act Of the imperial theme – I thank you gentlemen – This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill, cannot be good. (1.3.128–32)

The most marked feature of his language here, however, is the dramatic register shift between his public and private discourses in the early part of the play, before horrid banquetings force disastrously together the arenas of the public and the domestic. To himself, this early Macbeth speaks stirringly, with elaborate metaphors of theatre and performance; but for public consumption, he confines himself to the plain ‘I thank you gentlemen’, and later apologizes, ‘Give me your favour: my dull brain was wrought / With things forgotten’ (1.3.150–1). A similar dualism of approach characterizes Lady Macbeth. Alone, she talks of symbolically hoarse ravens; to her servants, she speaks, like a good housewife, of preparation for the king’s visit. But perhaps the most marked contrast of this type comes in Macbeth’s next soliloquy: Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed. Exit Servant. Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? (2.1.32–5)

The movement from bedtime drinks to imaginary (or supernatural) daggers within the space of two lines tellingly encapsulates the contrast between Macbeth’s public and private faces. In public, he is the model of bourgeois marital comfort; but in private, he – and the audience – see strange things. At the same time, though, even Macbeth’s inner life displays clear elements of continuity with his outer one, for the dagger of the mind does not only represent the antithesis of the comfort and normality offered by the drink; it also comes from the same world of household objects and food, as is suggested by the lack of any noticeable register shift in the diction, with ‘drink’ and ‘bell’ giving place almost seamlessly to ‘dagger’ and ‘hand’. The connection becomes strikingly apparent when Lady Macbeth prefigures

Macbeth and the failure of spectacle


the Weird Sisters’ parodies of cooking in her preparations for the murder: she makes drinks not only for her husband but for the guards, but she has ‘drugged their possets’ (2.2.6); and she has ‘laid their daggers ready’ (2.2.12) not for a meal, but for murder. Her housewifery continues as she soothes her husband’s night fears, bids him wear his nightgown (2.2.69), and, above all, adjures him to wash his hands (2.2.45–6) – the domestic ritual that will still be with her in her madness. Her infamous cry of ‘What, in our house?’ (2.3.89) does not simply strike the bathetic note of her husband’s ‘’Twas a rough night’ (2.3.62); it sits perfectly with her public image as ‘most kind hostess’ (2.1.16). We never see Lady Macbeth out of her own house, and her mental collapse narrows even further the world we perceive her to inhabit, as we are shown her bedchamber. Bradley’s comment that ‘[s]trange and almost ludicrous as the statement may sound, she is, up to her light, a perfect wife’18 could well have been extended to the argument that she is also, up to her light, a perfect housewife. The Macbeths are, after all, so apparently innocuous that those about them are notably slow to realize the full horror of their behaviour. Perhaps the most striking example of this emphasis on the discrepancy between the public and private lives of Macbeth, and the simultaneous, paradoxical, imbrication of both in the domestic, comes at the opening of 1.7. The scene is prefaced by an unusually detailed stage direction: Hautboys. Torches. Enter a sewer and divers servants with dishes and service crossing over the stage. Then enter Macbeth (1.7.s.d.)

This is so elaborate that Brooke elevates it to the status of formal ‘dumbshow’ (see note), a phenomenon without precedent in Shakespearian tragedy except in the deliberately archaic play-within-the-play in Hamlet, and although Brooke points out that the episode ‘stresses the evening-time and the obligations of lavish hospitality’ it does nothing to advance the narrative. What it does do, however, is make for a particularly startling contrast. Shakespeare brings on stage the whole panoply of the elaborately regulated ritual of the courtly serving of food; he then follows this with the very sequence of repetitive monosyllables which aroused the scorn of Gervase Fen, and with which Nicholas Brooke concurs in terming ‘notably plain vocabulary’.19 Superficially, this inverts the contrast between private eloquence and public reticence which characterized Macbeth’s earlier soliloquy; but in fact he goes on to launch himself upon one of the most


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sustained and dense speeches in the play, in the course of which he figures the possibility of murder, and its potential consequences, precisely in terms of food: This even-handed justice Commends th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice To our own lips. (1.7.10–12)

When Lady Macbeth enters, demanding ‘He has almost supped: why have you left the chamber?’ (1.7.29) we realize that Macbeth has, indeed, been once again neglecting his public image, causing a feast to be disrupted by his failure to attend to it fully, just as he will on the occasion of the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. His wife indeed characterizes his dereliction in terms of improper banqueting when she uses the language of drunkenness and surfeit to describe it: Was the hope drunk Wherein you dressed yourself ? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now to look so green and pale At what it did so freely? (1.7.35–8)

Typically, the one attempt at public show that the Macbeths do make revolves round cooking: they hold a ceremonial feast. Just as the murder of Duncan violated codes of hospitality, though, so too do their dinner invitations, since they demand compulsory attendance, a fact twice underlined – ‘Fail not our feast’ says Macbeth to Banquo (3.1.27), and Lennox lists a precisely similar crime as one of the reasons for Macduff ’s downfall: But peace – for from broad words, and ’cause he failed His presence at the tyrant’s feast, I hear Macduff lives in disgrace. (3.6.21–3)

Nicholas Brooke points out that in Holinshed, ‘the quarrel with Macduff involves a complicated story about the building of Forres castle which Shakespeare reduced to refusal of an invitation (command) to dinner’;20 the modification may well have been made not only in the interests of dramatic economy but because of its thematic congruence. The clear suggestion that the Macbeths are a couple at whose dinners attendance must be enforced is a powerful and compact device. It neatly measures the length of the journey they have travelled since, in the first act, Duncan deliberately solicited them as host and ‘most kind hostess’. Equally, it reinforces the images both of

Macbeth and the failure of spectacle


their customary domesticity and of its rapid disintegration, making theirs a nightmare which, even at its most outlandish, retains that most distinctive quality of what Freudian theory on the uncanny has termed the unheimlich by relying for its full horror on the distortion of the traditional comforts of home. It is little wonder that the Lord who converses with Lennox should figure the rule of Macbeth precisely in terms of the subversion of the domestic: with Him above To ratify the work – we may again Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives. (4.1.32–6)

Macbeth has not only murdered sleep, he has also perverted the proper consumption of food. As well as Macduff’s decision to boycott it (which in itself ironically recalls Macbeth’s earlier failure to attend his own feast, for suggestively similar political reasons), the grand banquet is also devastatingly upstaged by its near-homonym Banquo, the name that we might always have guessed would lurk within the word in this instance, who is, suggestively, imaged by Macbeth almost in terms of a distasteful food item: ‘Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold’ (3.4.95). The disastrous feast is a common enough feature of Renaissance drama, but it is particularly appropriate in the Macbeths’ case, especially since the next time we see Macbeth it is at an eerily similar occasion, the brewing of the Weird Sisters’ hell stew, with its foul concoction of ingredients, for ‘a devil’s-banqueting’.21 As with so much in the play, however, the cause of the occasion’s failure is never apparent to the onlookers. Macbeth’s language, especially in the early part of the scene, is infuriatingly riddled with deictic phrases intelligible only to the off-stage audience, not to the on-stage one: Which of you have done this? (3.4.49)

Thou canst not say I did it – never shake Thy gory locks at me. (3.4.50–1)

Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that Which might appal the Devil. (3.4.58–9)

Prithee, see there – behold, look, lo (3.4.69)


lisa hopkins Thou hast no speculation in those eyes (3.4.96)

Take any shape but that (3.4.103)

‘This’, ‘it’, ‘that’, ‘behold’, ‘look’, ‘lo’, ‘those eyes’, and ‘any shape but that’ can all make sense only in the presence of the referent, but that referent is literally invisible to all others on stage (and it is of course also open to the director similarly to tantalize and titillate the off-stage audience by staging the scene without an actual ghost). Moreover, ‘behold’, ‘look’ and ‘lo’, which Macbeth piles one on top of the other like a demented thesaurus, undo themselves even as they are spoken by their status as near-variants of one another. Their iteration serves only to underline the inadequacy of each on its own: as speech continually glosses itself, with a lack of difference that powerfully reinforces diff´erance, we are offered a radical awareness of the slippage between signifier and signified which, even as the deictic is spoken, undermines its ability to show. (Here again, as with the banqueting, we are afforded an ironic prolepsis of the ‘show’ shortly to be offered by the Weird Sisters.) The whole scene is typical of the experience of Macbeth’s subjects: under his rule, they get no visual value for their money. Macbeth himself is a conspicuous example of his regime’s radical failure to validate itself through the performance of spectacles of power: even when he becomes aware of his own role-playing, he denigrates acting, characteristically, with his image of the ‘poor player’ (5.5.24), and when we hear that his title is ill-fitting ‘like a giant’s robe / Upon a dwarfish thief’ (5.2.21–2) the image may well suggest a simple failure to achieve proper costuming for his part. While the spectacle of Banquo’s ghost may be one of horror, it is, surely, more frustrating to be so comprehensively denied not only the experience of seeing it, but of hearing any coherent description of it. Certainly the public, performative nature of state punishment at the time would indicate that such sights would be enjoyed, and it is a pleasure that is definitively envisaged as part of Malcolm’s regime: Then yield thee, coward, And live to be the show and gaze o’th’ time. We’ll have thee, as our rarer monsters are, Painted upon a pole, and underwrit ‘Here may you see the tyrant’. (5.7.53–7)

Macbeth and the failure of spectacle


Just as Duncan had made a public show of the execution of Cawdor, with the full Foucauldian apparatus of proper acknowledgement of guilt by the criminal, so the reign of his son will be inaugurated with spectacle: Macbeth’s head is publicly produced (5.7.84–5), and the play’s last line is an invitation ‘to see us crowned at Scone’ (5.7.105). The latter actions of Macbeth’s own reign have been in marked contrast to this. As he is seen talking not to his generals or lords, but only to his doctor and his armourer, the paradoxical homeliness of the ‘butcher’ in him becomes ever more apparent. Dismissing the English as ‘epicures’ (5.3.8), he notably identifies himself with simpler produce. He rails at the servant ‘The Devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon: / Where got’st thou that goose-look?’ (5.3.11–12). ‘Cream-faced’ functions in obvious opposition to ‘black’, but a simple ‘white’ would have done so even more strongly; indeed in this sense ‘cream’, by failing to act as a clear contrast, undoes itself as constituent part of a trope and stakes a claim for a more literal meaning. Particularly in conjunction with ‘goose’, ‘cream’ must surely suggest, however momentarily, the simple farm-food from which Macbeth’s own actions have so radically alienated him. The images are appropriate, for he is thinking of his ‘land’ here (5.3.50), and he again sites it in terms of an economy of ingestion when he asks the Doctor ‘What rhubarb, senna, or what purgative drug / Would scour these English hence?’ (5.3.54–5). It is such images of evacuation and failure to nourish which lead directly to his peculiarly apposite threat to the messenger who informs him that Birnam wood is moving: If thou speak’st false, Upon the next tree shall thou hang alive Till famine cling thee; if thy speech be sooth, I care not if thou dost for me as much. (5.5.38–41)

Macbeth counters his enemies’ moving wood, with its obvious connotations of renewed fertility and Maying rites, with branches of his own, twice figured as bearing parodic fruit – first the messenger and then himself – which denies life and nourishment rather than celebrating it. Macbeth’s images of a cream-faced, goose-like messenger who hangs like fruit provides the climax to a strain of cannibalistic suggestion throughout the play. Triply interpellating the messenger as foodstuff, he also recapitulates in ‘cream’ a recurrent play on figures centring on milk and cows. The first example of this comes in Lady Macbeth’s invocation, ‘Come to my woman’s breasts / And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers’


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(1.5.46–7). This clearly follows from the request to ‘unsex me here’ (1.5.40), but it may do rather more than simply develop the earlier idea: Janet Adelman suggests that ‘perhaps Lady Macbeth is asking the spirits to take her milk as gall, to nurse from her breasts and find in her milk their sustaining poison’.22 If so, she specifically identifies herself as a food-source, a thing to be eaten. This is soon followed by the most striking and most notorious instance of the image, in Lady Macbeth’s infamous lines: I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me; I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn As you have done to this. (1.7.54–9)

Clearly this picture of monstrous motherhood encodes a terrifying ferocity, accentuated by the rapidity of the change from the emotional range of ‘tender’ to that of ‘dashed’. Equally, though, the aggression it registers is directed not only against the putative ‘babe’, but also, masochistically, against Lady Macbeth herself. The action of plucking the nipple from the gum would be (as anyone who has breastfed knows) deeply unpleasant; it is more usual to insert one’s little finger to prise the infant’s gums apart so that the nipple can be released gently and (relatively) painlessly. Perhaps more suggestive, though, is the tacit auto-interpellation of Lady Macbeth here as a thing milked – in essence, a cow. This not only returns to the earlier motif ; it is also closely echoed, as Copp´elia Kahn has shown, by Macbeth’s lament that ‘it hath cowed my better part of man’ (5.7.48).23 In his final dehumanization, Macbeth is unmanned, feminized, and radically identified with his wife, all in one fell swoop; moreover, all this is achieved, neatly, in another of his monosyllabic, literally household words. This ‘cowing’ of both Macbeths works in conjunction with other images of cannibalism in the text. Duncan’s horses eat each other (2.4.18); prey and predator change places when a falcon is devoured by a ‘mousing owl’ (2.4.12–13). Like the Weird Sisters’ hideous banquet in which parts of babies are eaten, like Macbeth figuring the messenger and his enemies as creamfaced and goose-like, all of these invert conventional categories of eater and eaten, deconstructing boundaries as crucial to civilization as L´evi-Strauss’s raw and cooked. In many of them, the thrust, whether covert or overt, is towards imaging humans themselves as, or in terms of, food, as it is also with the ‘chops’ of Macdonald and with Banquo’s ‘marrowless’ bones;24

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such an undercurrent may even be discernible in Malcolm’s assertion that in comparison with himself, the state will esteem Macbeth as a ‘lamb’ (4.3.54), and it certainly inheres in Macduff’s figuring of Macbeth as a ‘hell-kite’ (4.3.218) and his wife and children as ‘chickens and their dam’ (4.3.219). All of these offer powerful images of a humanity diminished to either prey or predator, and all of them, again, do so in terms of household words. There is the lamb which could, in other circumstances, be redolent of the pastoral, the chickens which might, but do not, evoke the farmyard, the mousing owl, the geese and the cream which might also belong there,25 and the chops and bones which could suggest the kitchen. This is, indeed, a plain diction, but its very plainness is what enables it to strike so directly to the deepest fears, and to allow Macbeth to root horror in the heart and in the home. What all these instances of plainness do, however, is work to remove the play from the arena of state affairs and situate the concerns of its main characters, at least, insistently within the realm of the domestic. As such, they doubly indicate the reasons for Macbeth’s ultimate failure. The expedience of the use of ceremony in the creation of the royal image, and the seriousness of Macbeth’s failure to do so, can perhaps best be appreciated by reinserting the play into the circumstances of its production. Jonathan Goldberg suggests that ‘the text of Macbeth that we have derives from a court performance’.26 He also argues that the dramaturgy of the play is profoundly affected by the traditions of court theatre: ‘we can come closer to the source of Macbeth if we look at the Jonsonian masque that stands somewhere behind the masquelike movement that the play ultimately takes’ (p. 254). He suggests, as others have done, that the obvious comparator is Jonson’s The Masque of Queens, termed by its author ‘a spectacle of strangeness’,27 which features an antimasque of twelve witches who boast that they have ‘Kill’d an infant, to have his fat’ (p. 78). Goldberg terms Jonson’s play a ‘spectacle of state’;28 Pye uses the same phrase when he argues that ‘Macbeth’s “rapture” aligns the play with spectacles of state.’29 But within Macbeth, it is not only that the Weird Sisters perform a purely private cabaret; there are no spectacles of state at all. Though the play itself may function as one for its off-stage audience, the experience of the court to which the play is represented will be radically different from the experience of the court which is represented within it. Goldberg suggests of James and Macbeth that ‘one king slides into the other’ (p. 251), but however true this may be of the rulers, the very act of staging the play performatively undoes any likeness between the self-presentational strategies of the two regimes.


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There may indeed, though, be one pertinent point of similarity between the inhabitants of the stage-play world and those of the court which views it. Though we are carefully reminded that James is descended from Macbeth’s enemy, Banquo, and has no blood-link with his tyrannical predecessor, the play may perhaps be seen as encoding subtle comment on James’s own attitude towards the use of spectacle. Alan Sinfield notes the particular relevance of touching for the King’s Evil to the world of the play: ‘James himself knew that this was a superstitious practice, and he refused to undertake it until his advisers persuaded him that it would strengthen his claim to the throne in the public eye.’30 It might also be worth noting that the title of Jonson’s Masque of Queens overtly declares its affiliation with Queen Anne of Denmark – well known for her passion for the theatre – rather than with the King himself.31 Were James a sufficiently attentive viewer, he might perhaps draw conclusions from Macbeth about the proper use of theatrical display which might lead him to find his own behaviour wanting – except that to do so would probably demand from him a cognitive shift as radical as that which might enable the characters in the play to become aware of their own imbrication in theatricality. If the play can indeed be read as offering such a commentary on the appropriate use of the spectacular, it would then be harking back directly to the didacticism of the morality play, a genre with which the porter scene has already connected it; and in addition to this artistic self-reflexivity, it would also be remarking on the domestic politics of the royal household itself, and pointing up the extent to which, though the language of the home may be plain in diction, it may be complex indeed in terms of resonance and register. First published in Shakespeare Survey 50 (1997) n otes 1 Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter [1982] (London, 1992), p. 672. 2 On the relationship between the two characters’ diction, see William Shakespeare, Macbeth, edited by Nicholas Brooke (Oxford, 1990), introduction, pp. 14– 19. 3 Edmund Crispin, Holy Disorders [1946] (Harmondsworth, 1958), p. 136. 4 From The Rambler, no. 168, 26 October 1751. 5 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shakespearean Criticism, edited by Thomas Middleton Raysor, 2 vols. (London, 1960), vol. 1, p. 65. 6 A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy [1904], (London, 1974), pp. 312 and 311. 7 Paul Jorgensen, ‘Macbeth’s Soliloquy’, from Our Naked Frailties: Sensational Art and Meaning in ‘Macbeth’ [Berkeley, 1971], reprinted in Roy Battenhouse, ed., Shakespeare’s Christian Dimension (Bloomington, 1994), pp. 481–5; p. 483.

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8 Copp´elia Kahn, Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley, 1981), p. 191. 9 Coleridge, Shakespearean Criticism, p. 61. 10 Walter Whiter, ‘Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare’ [1974], reprinted in John Wain, ed., Macbeth: A Casebook, pp. 63–76; p. 63. 11 Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 298. 12 Malcolm Evans, Signifying Nothing, second edn (London, 1989), p. 133. 13 Christopher Pye, The Regal Phantasm: Shakespeare and the Politics of Spectacle (London, 1990), p. 150. 14 This could, I think, be illustrated from many productions, but a recent and striking example was Philip Franks’ November 1994 production at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Lady Macbeth’s backless purple dress was so eye-catching that the actress was featured wearing it, in character, in the Sheffield Star’s ‘wardrobe’ section (usually including only real people), sharing her ‘seduction tips’. 15 Macbeth, ed. Brooke, introduction, p. 19. 16 On the element of domesticity in the representation of the Weird Sisters, see also Naomi Conn Liebler, Shakespeare’s Festive Tragedy (London, 1995), p. 224. 17 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. Brooke, i.1.3. All further quotations will be taken from this edition and reference will be given in the text. 18 Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 316. 19 Macbeth, ed. Brooke, introduction, p. 7. 20 Macbeth, p. 7. 21 G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme (Oxford, 1931), p. 138. 22 Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers (London, 1992), p. 135. 23 Kahn, Man’s Estate, p. 191. 24 OED cites the first use of ‘chop’ as a cut of meat as occurring in 1461, in the Paston Letters. 25 This element would have been even more pronounced when the Cat appeared in the Middleton-authored revisions, which Brooke prints. 26 Jonathan Goldberg, ‘Speculations: Macbeth and Source’, in Shakespeare Reproduced, edited by Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O’Connor (London, 1987), 242–64; p. 251. 27 Ben Jonson, The Masque of Queens, in Jacobean and Caroline Masques, Vol. 1, edited by Richard Dutton (Nottingham, 1981), p. 71. 28 Goldberg, ‘Speculation’, p. 260. 29 Pye, The Regal Phantasm, p. 156. 30 Alan Sinfield, ‘Macbeth: History, Ideology and Intellectuals’, in Critical Quarterly, 28 1:2 (Spring, Summer, 1986), 63–77, reprinted in New Historicism and Renaissance Drama, edited by Richard Wilson and Richard Dutton (Harlow, 1992), 167–80; p. 172. 31 Suggestively, Sophonisba, another play with which Macbeth is occasionally compared, also focuses on a queen. (Kenneth Muir comments on the comparison in his introduction to the Arden edition (London, 1951), introduction, p. xxii.)

chap t e r 16

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes Russ McDonald

Shakespeare’s turn from tragedy to romance coincides with a similarly radical change in the style of his verse. This complicated and self-conscious poetry has attracted a wide variety of labels, from Baroque to incompetent to post modern, but it has not been carefully described nor have its implications been adequately assessed. These metamorphoses of dramatic mode and verse style are partly attributable to Shakespeare’s evolving and contradictory opinions about language itself, and the late tragedies, especially Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, are a good place to start in studying these changes because together they constitute a kind of hinge or pivot on which Shakespeare turns from one kind of drama to another. For my purposes, their particular utility derives from their dependence upon similar conflicts of gender that not only help to forecast Shakespeare’s narrative and thematic interests but also influence the kind of poetry he will devise for the final phase of his career.1 Recent criticism has begun to establish that, historically speaking, certain expressive styles could be sexually coded, and I shall draw upon some of that work to assert that what we witness in the final phase of his career is the feminization of Shakespeare’s dramatic and poetic style.2 The argument that follows, simply stated, is that the complex verse patterns of the late plays are intimately related to Shakespeare’s imaginative recovery of the feminine, that the origins of these thematic and stylistic conflicts emerge clearly in the last classical tragedies, and that the romances constitute a conditional resolution of these concerns. My method will be to notice certain poetic and rhetorical properties in a pair of crucial texts and to abstract from those notes some conclusions about the direction and significance of Shakespeare’s subsequent work. This method assumes artistic agency, an author in whose dramatic productions we may observe both a distinctive style and distinct mutations within that style. In this respect it resists the claims of much recent discursive criticism, which behaves as if a play were author of itself and knew no other kin. The currently low repute 266

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of formalist criticism notwithstanding, I am persuaded by Patricia Parker’s contention that ‘to pay attention to the structural force of rhetorical figures’ or characteristics of artistic technique is to ‘suggest that the impasse of a now apparently outworn formalism and a new competing emphasis on politics and history might be breached by questions which fall in between and hence remain unasked by both’.3 The application of rhetorical patterns to larger structures has contributed to significant advances in the narratological study of prose fiction, notably in the work of Peter Brooks and Tzvetan Todorov, but surprisingly little of such work has been attempted in the study of drama.4 This essay represents an effort in that direction. Everyone perceives the striking change in verse style at this period – The Winter’s Tale is much harder to read or to hear than Macbeth, for example – and it is possible, of course, to identify certain stylistic predilections with the mode of tragedy and others with that of romance or tragicomedy, although relatively little specific work has been done in this line. But we may go further than this. As feminist and psychological critics explore the conflicts of gender and sexuality that animate Shakespeare’s narratives, particularly those in the Jacobean phase of his career, it becomes increasingly clear that the passage from tragedy to romance is achieved partly by means of Shakespeare’s reconception of the feminine. The major tragedies, particularly Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, depend to a large extent upon Shakespeare’s portrayal of female sexuality as degenerate, predatory, or even demonic. In the romances such malign forces, while not imaginatively banished, are accompanied and finally overwhelmed by the power of the creative and nurturant female.5 To read the transition that occurred between 1606 and 1609 in this way is not necessarily to reinscribe upon Shakespeare’s mind and art a Dowdenesque ascent from conflict to harmony; the sexual and political vicissitudes represented in the final plays strike me as too pervasive and intense to support such a reading. But it seems indisputable that the formal changes originate in the same process through which Shakespeare readjusts the dramatic balance between Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff, for example, or between viragos and virgins. I believe that Shakespeare’s recovery of the feminine can be shown to manifest itself stylistically, even syntactically and metrically, as he exchanges what has been called the end-stopped form of tragedy for the more open form of romance.6 He moves away from more regular and controlled forms of blank verse into a poetic style that is elliptical, syntactically involuted, and flagrantly extrametrical. The complex poetic rhythms of the late work provide an aural equivalent of re-imagined relations between men and women


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that, while not without conflict and pain, are grounded in mutual exchange and productive difference. i Coriolanus stages, in the clash between the hero and his mother, a contest between some of the opposing views of language and compositional style that the playwright inherited from his predecessors and shared with his contemporaries. Caius Martius’ passionate solipsism and hubris express themselves in his contempt for flattery, his discomfort with spoken praise, and his unwillingness to state his desire for the consulship, each of these refusals being an expression of what might be called linguistic absolutism.7 We recognize his kinship with Cordelia, that other purist, when he objects to the public account of his military victory as ‘acclamations hyperbolical’ and ‘praises sauced with lies’. Love of fighting is accompanied by fear of language: ‘yet oft / When blows have made me stay I fled from words’ (2.2.71–2). This view of language derives from the discursive constraints of the hero’s occupation, the military privileging of action over words, a reluctance to reveal too much, a belief in the self-evident rightness of a cause; and in announcing his suspicion of the word, Martius echoes Plutarch’s frequent emphasis on the reticence or plain speech of the Spartan soldiers, a bias known alternatively as Lacadaemonian or Laconian or Laconick.8 The protagonist’s drive for stylistic purity makes itself felt on his first entrance: his opening sentence is ‘Thanks’. The laconic style is to a large extent a function of syntactic reticence. There are no superfluous words, few smooth transitions, little decoration. Grammatically, we can be even more specific than that: there are almost no conjunctions, Martius’ speeches lack connectives, both within and between sentences, and such withholding creates a disjunctivity that sets every utterance apart from every other.9 The pertinent rhetorical figure here is asyndeton, the omission of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. Puttenham describes asyndeton as ‘loose language’, judging it ‘defective because it wants good band or coupling’; it violates the rhetorician’s sense of communicative decorum in that it is discontinuous, neither smooth nor effectively integrated into a natural-sounding whole. Puttenham identifies the military pertinence of such verbal patterns when he illustrates the figure with the famous Caesarean triplet ‘I came, I saw, I overcame’, in which the conqueror, ‘shewing the celeritie of his conquest, wrate home to the Senate in this tenour of speach no lesse swift and speedy then his victorie’.10 Although asyndeton

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


normally describes the relation of clauses within sentences, Shakespeare has effectively magnified the grammatical figure by suppressing couplings between sentences so as to create a severely limited economy of verbal means. Coriolanus contains numerous illustrations of this technique, notably the hero’s fierce attack on the multitude in the opening scene, but a brief passage that captures Martius’ grammatically sundered style is his request for merciful treatment of the Coriolan citizen who had befriended him: ‘I sometime lay here in Corioles, / And at a poor man’s house. He us’d me kindly. / He cried to me; I saw him prisoner’ (1.10.81–3). The spare and ungenerous syntactic patterns – in an expression of generosity – attest to the protagonist’s impatience with the niceties of rhetorical progression. Rarely is the movement from one sentence to the next made explicit, with the transition usually achieved by force. (It should be noted that ‘And at’ in line 82 is an emendation adopted from Hanmer; the Folio prints ‘Corioles / At a poor man’s house’.) The hero’s language is not only grammatically asyndetic: in vocabulary and tone it also gives the impression of stinginess. His normal syntax is rather strictly paratactic and simplified, and he is especially given to ‘enumeratory patterns’, a form of expression implying simplicity, order, and lack of argumentative subtlety.11 It is not difficult to see how Shakespeare’s most habitually isolated hero should speak a language in which the interdependence of sentences is suppressed, in which clauses do not touch, in which the prevalent tone is firm and unyielding. His speech constitutes the grammatical equivalent of his famous desire for freedom from familial or other kinds of relation, his desire to ‘stand / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin’ (5.3.35–7). Such values and patterns are appropriate to tragedy, in which the movement is toward separation and extinction, which is usually given over to a solitary hero, and in which that hero is usually male.12 The laconic, separated speech of Coriolanus is not only a military style; what is even more pertinent is that it is a historically masculine style. Coriolanus’ stylistic independence helps to extend grammatically and prosodically the critique of masculine self-sufficiency that Shakespeare inherited from his sources and developed with some care. ‘Manliness’ is a principal topic in Plutarch’s introductory sketch of Martius’ character, and Shakespeare depicts an early version of the masculine mode of behaviour in Volumnia’s approving words about her grandson: ‘He had rather see the swords and hear a drum than look upon his schoolmaster’ (1.3.57–8). The separation of ‘words’ from ‘swords’ (in which it is contained) plays on a relation familiar to London audiences at least as early as Tamburlaine, and


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here the quibble helps to clarify what it means to say that boys will be boys: the child, attracted by the eloquence of military action, shuns the schoolmaster who teaches him language arts. The son exhibits ‘a confirm’d countenance’; the father attacks the patriciate for being soft on the populace. Plutarch reports that Martius ‘dyd so exercise his bodie to hardnes’ that he always won at wrestling or games of strength, and those who lost to him ‘would say when they were overcome: that all was by reason of his naturall strength, and hardnes of warde, that never yelded to any payne or toyle he tooke apon him’.13 This emphasis on physical ‘hardnes’ manifests itself repeatedly, perhaps most notably when Aufidius speaks of Coriolanus’ ‘body whereagainst / My grained ash an hundred times hath broke, / And scarr’d the moon with splinters’ (4.5.108–10). His body, in other words, is as hard as his head, and the ideal of manly self-sufficiency and impenetrability is repeatedly thematized. Coriolanus fulminates that the competing claims of plebeians and patricians will allow ‘confusion’ to ‘enter ’twixt the gap of both’ (3.1.113–14), fearing that to yield to popular demands sets a precedent ‘which will in time / Break ope the locks o’th’ senate’ (3.1.140–1). He asks leave to depart during Cominius’ praise of him because he cannot stand to hear his ‘nothings monstered’, thus drawing upon the sexual implications of ‘monster’, in the sense of hermaphrodite. What is aurally striking is that Shakespeare has found a stylistic equivalent for integrity and manly impenetrability. Wilson Knight’s discussion of the metallic quality of much of the play’s imagery – fins of lead, lead roofs, iron walls, metal gates, stone barriers – suggests a harsh visual background that is sustained by what we might call the prosodic angularity of the work.14 Shakespeare’s stark arrangement of the hero’s syntactic and grammatical forms creates an aural impression consistent with what has been identified as his ‘phallic aggressive pose’.15 The habit of discursive withholding, of limitation and parsimony, makes Coriolanus particularly uncomfortable in the marketplace, where his most formidable challenges occur and where the discourse of commerce clashes with his reticence and ideal of self-sufficiency. In other words, the military hero can’t make it in the business world. The marketplace depends upon the language of exchange, a flexible discursive economy in which the rhetorically rigid soldier cannot participate. He ‘pays himself with being proud’ (1.1.31–2), as one of the citizens puts it, and the narrative context of dearth, beggary, and unfair distribution supplies added point to the discursive emphasis on Coriolanus’ ‘sufficiency’ and refusal to negotiate, his unwillingness to show his wounds in public. The commercial dimension of

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


this desire for independence is captured paronomastically in his attack on tradition as ‘custom’ in the rhymed soliloquy in Act 2: he will not become the people’s customer. Ceremony, ritual, politics, all forms of exchange (except the speechless one of physical combat) are repellent to him. Volumnia seeks to overcome her son’s class- and gender-based fear of the marketplace, and she comes close, in Act 3, Scene 2, to teaching him the art of ‘policy’ or negotiation. Her urging of compromise and diplomacy is another way of asking her son to lower his moral price, but his absolutism forbids haggling. Although he makes an effort to get with the patrician programme, resolving to go ‘to the market-place’, ‘mountebank their loves, / Cog their hearts from them, and come home beloved / Of all the trades in Rome’ (3.2.132–4), when he gets there his intolerable consciousness of being bought appears in his sardonic promise to respond as calmly ‘as an hostler that for th’ poorest piece / Will bear the knave by th’ volume’ (3.3.33–4). The climax of this central public episode, the banishment, occurs after he is taunted with the word ‘traitor’, in which we may also hear the mercantile sense of ‘trader’.16 Coriolanus can accept neither denotation and so calls off the deal: ‘I would not buy / Their mercy at the price of one fair word’ (3.3.94–5). In dramatizing such conflicts Shakespeare exploits the connotative interchangeability of economics and sexuality. Coriolanus’ contemptuous wish to be possessed by ‘Some harlot’s spirit’ in order to get through the performance in the marketplace partakes of both discourses, since ‘harlot’ comes from the Old French word for vagabond, and his inability to ‘discharge’ the part contains an economic metaphor embedded in his refusal to act. This mixture of the verbal, the economic, and the sexual is extended in the connection between discourse and discharge apparent in Volumnia’s loquacity, her endless need to relieve herself verbally. We hear it also in the first scene in the marketplace: ‘or if he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them’ (2.3.5–7). One need not be very adept at psychological criticism to feel the effect of this cluster of images: the political ‘custom’ of showing wounds and asking approval is an act of commercial exchange, the buying of the consulship, and this becomes a complicated verbal and sexual transaction, the taking of the tongue/phallus into the wound/hole which then becomes a mouth.17 To Coriolanus, real men do not play the receiver in the sexual act, nor do they sully themselves in business. All intercourse – political, commercial, sexual, theatrical, or verbal – is debased, a form of prostitution. It becomes increasingly clear that Coriolanus’ distrust of language is a fear of dependency, of vulnerability, and of the feminine.


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Coriolanus’ laconic style is a sceptical response to the instabilities of all language, and it is fair, if ironic, to say that Shakespeare poured a good deal of himself into the creation of his uncommunicative hero. This play restages the Shakespearian concern, familiar from the earlier tragedies, with the infidelity of verbal signs and the limits of representation. Here the emphasis falls on the faulty verbal foundations of politics. Much of the play’s political vocabulary derives etymologically from words having to do with speech, and their reiteration helps to establish the inevitability, in the political realm, of dialectic, uncertainty, and multivocality.18 The most striking critique of the verbal foundations of political process appears in the elaboration of the words ‘voice’ and ‘voices’ in the central movement of the play. Shakespeare took the noun from North, who took it from ‘voix’ in Amyot’s translation of Plutarch. As D. J. Gordon pointed out, its appearance owes something not only to the classical source but also to contemporary Jacobean political procedures, specifically the elections for parliament.19 In the tribunes’ declaration that ‘the people / Must have their voices’ (2.2.139–40), the word is a synonym for ‘vote’, and this declaration begins to suggest other possible senses – ‘opinion’, ‘will’ (as in ‘the voice of God’), ‘desire’, and ‘choice’. But neither Plutarchan source nor narrative demand can account for Shakespeare’s worrying of the word, culminating in the protagonist’s bitter reiterations: Here come moe Voyces. Your Voyces? for your Voyces I have fought, Watcht for your Voyces: for your Voyces, beare Of Wounds, two dozen odde: Battailes thrice six I have seene, and heard of: for your Voyces, Have done many things, some lesse, some more: Your Voyces! Indeed I would be consul. (tl 1517–23)

I have departed here from the modern text to cite the Folio, where the insistent capitalization of ‘Voyces’ in this passage signals its importance.20 The noun ‘voices’ is used fifty-four times in the Shakespeare canon, twothirds of them (36) in this play, and twenty-seven times in this scene alone.21 Its prominence has to do with its synecdochic function: it stands for the instability and contingency that Coriolanus deplores in human interaction, of which politics is the epitome and language the flawed medium. It is one of the great ironies of Coriolanus that the hero’s credo, his intolerance of ambiguity, should be expressed in a pun, the paronomastic

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


toying with ‘vice’ and ‘voice’. K¨okeritz demonstrates the frequent levelling of the diphthong 01 and the long 1, and he offers a particularly relevant example from Act 2 of Cymbeline when he shows that the Folio spelling of voyce for vice in Cloten’s discussion of music is not a misprint but rather a pun.22 Coriolanus may be thought of as a study of the vice of voice, or the political complexities deriving from the weaknesses of the word. Several heads, many voices, ‘The multitudinous tongue’ – these are the conditions of politics that Coriolanus wishes to control or escape because they are incompatible with his need for unity and independence. Shared responsibility in political affairs, expressed in Coriolanus’ fears about what happens ‘when two authorities are up’, corresponds to shared meaning of words: the protagonist’s horror of polysemy is another form of his contempt for political representation. His idealism gives him the illusion of freedom, from the constraints of language or of any other such limits, and that illusion is the source of his destruction. iii Shakespeare’s self-consciousness about the perils and the possibilities of language coincides with the contemporary debate over the proper forms of prose style and the philosophical implications of those positions. A brief review of the dispute reminds us that the old-fashioned Ciceronian model, with its elaborate syntactical constructions, symmetrical patterns of words and clauses, and devotion to ornament, was in conflict with the self-consciously modern approach, modelled on Seneca, with its obviously broken periods and asymmetrical grouping of words, a severity of vocabulary and sound, and a Spartan disdain for decoration.23 In the late Roman world, Ciceronian eloquence was thought of as Asiatic or exotic, Senecan directness as Attic or classical. The foundations of these two opposed attitudes are quickly discernible: the Ciceronians valued language for its own sake and considered stylistic extravagance a proper development of its value and possibility; their opponents, devoted as they were to clarity of expression and a more functional view of the word, considered such extravagance dangerous in that it increased one’s vulnerability to the potential treachery of language. Roger Ascham defended his taste for Cicero and the elaborate style by accusing his detractors as follows: ‘Ye know not, what hurt ye do to learning, that care not for wordes, but for matter, and so make a deuorse betwixt the tong and the hart.’24 To concentrate entirely on meaning, thus overlooking the means by which that meaning is achieved, is to neglect such important factors as persuasion and instruction. At the other pole stood


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the formidable Francis Bacon, who considered the imitation of Cicero, ‘the first distemper of learning, when men study words and not matter’. ‘Then did Car of Cambridge and Ascham with their lectures and writings almost deify Cicero and Demosthenes, and allure all young men that were studious unto that delicate and polished kind of learning.’25 Different values are at issue here: the elaborate versus the clear, the delicate versus the rough, the roundabout versus the pointed. Obviously the Tudor–Stuart debate over kinds of writing involved a good deal more than syntactical preferences. Is language a medium and nothing else? Or since language is necessary as an expressive tool, ought we to develop and relish its manifold properties? Words: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. It will have become clear by now that this debate is grounded in conceptions of sexual difference and is related to the figuration of language as feminine and action as masculine in early-modern language theory.26 The misogynist tradition inherited from the middle ages propagated the notion that language resembles women in being treacherous and unreliable, subject to extravagance, malleability, and error. It originated in the classical period and received virulent expression in the writings of the Church Fathers, particularly Tertullian, St John Chrysostom, and St Augustine. As Howard Bloch has demonstrated in some detail, this gendered conception is responsible for the series of identifications, which manifest themselves repeatedly in the humanist rhetoric of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, 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.27 In the most notorious anti-feminine passages in medieval literature, a familiar and loudly asserted complaint against women is the proclivity for loud complaint. Garrulousness, nagging, shrewishness, bickering, demanding – the most familiar 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 was often a simultaneous attack on language. Commentators reached 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 distinguished between numerical signs as masculine and verbal signs as feminine.28 Numbers were identified with the virtues of constancy, order, and clarity, in short, with the spirit. Words connoted corruption and impermanence and were

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linked with the body, specifically with the female body and its traditional adornments – 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 Cambridge: delicate and polished are gendered adjectives, pejorative terms for a sissified style. Patricia Parker summarizes this debate by offering 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.”’29 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 Defence, written as a rejoinder to the attack on poetry as immoral, frivolous, and unmanly. Thomas Howell’s Devises, published in 1581, contains a six-line poem entitled ‘Women are wordes, Men are deedes’,30 and we should think of Hotspur, that quintessential man of action, who proclaims his contempt for ‘mincing poetry’ and who is infuriated when the King’s effeminate ambassador addresses him on the battlefield in ‘many holiday and lady terms’. The still-prevalent view that poetry or dramatics is for girls, while science or mathematics, real learning, is for boys descends from this derisory association of women and words. iv It is an easy leap from this historical identification of the ungoverned female tongue with speech in general to Shakespeare’s depiction of the loquacious Volumnia as foil to her laconic son. She employs her limitless verbal energies to try to modify his absolutism, urging flexibility, compromise, and interpretation. Another way of putting it is to say that she attempts to open his closed text, to puncture his wall of impenetrability, to seduce him into performing a fiction of humility. After asserting the value of ‘gentle words’ in taking in an enemy city and commending the need to ‘dissemble’ in the proper cause, Volumnia shifts her emphasis to the practical, telling him that if he cannot speak the proper words as he asks the citizens for the consulship, then at least he can appear to be accommodating. She sets forth in one extraordinary sentence the way he ought to look and the way he ought to sound:


russ m c d onald I prithee now, my son, [She takes his bonnet] Go to them with this bonnet in thy 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, With 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. (3.2.72–86)

The immediate relevance of this passage is found in its grammatical structure, particularly the contrast with Coriolanus’ masculine style. Even if we punctuate the passage so that it divides 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 lingual quality inherent in the misogynist tradition; at the same time, the hypotactic intrusions and parentheses attest to the indirections and potential waywardness of women and their words. Rhythmically, the expectations established by the pentameter are at odds with the liberty and variety of the phrasing: the semantic and rhythmic drive introduces disruptions that poke holes in the order of the line and threaten a kind of aural chaos.31 There are other kinds of gaps as well – the elision of words; the breaking in of parenthetical phrases; logical fissures, as words and ideas tumble out pell-mell. In this plea for duplicity we hear the complicated verbal patterns that Shakespeare will develop in the romances soon to come. 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, represents Ciceronian loquacity and indirection. The ‘tradition of the copia of discourse’ described by Patricia Parker seems particularly relevant to this conflict between mother and son, feminine and masculine: as she puts it, ‘Augustine in the Confessions has a whole chapter devoted to “increase and

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multiply” (xiii.xxiv) in the sense of the interpreter’s opening and fruitful extension of a closed or hermetic scriptural text, what the rhetorical tradition would call “dilating or enlarging of the matter by interpretation”. But this “matter” and its enlarging also easily joined with “mater”.32 The matter on which this mater enlarges in the great oration in 5.3 is a feminine plea for language as a sign of connection, and her speech begins with an effort to tempt her son away from his linguistic chastity. She has become, like the plebeians in the first scene, a beggar from whom Coriolanus deliberately withholds his ‘good word’: ‘Speak to me, son’; ‘Why dost not speak?’; ‘Yet give us our dispatch.’ Begging for mercy, suing for the word of reconciliation instead of the deed of destruction, playing the go-between from which the word interpreter etymologically derives, she unfolds the multiple senses of the texts of ‘loyalty’ or ‘honour’ or ‘nobility’ and thus saves the city by an act of interpretation. She is supported by two women and a child, and she presses a ‘suit’ or ‘petition’ that asks, significantly, that Coriolanus ‘reconcile’ the two sides, that he ‘Rather . . . show a noble grace to both parts / Than seek the end of one’ (5.3.122–3). It is a demand for recognition of duality by her monomaniacal son, and her eloquent and extravagant defence of the city constitutes an appeal, if an unconscious one, for the values of exchange, community, communication, and multivocality. Coriolanus at first refuses to ‘capitulate again with Rome’s mechanics’, and the word ‘capitulate’, deriving from the process of organizing an oration under headings, is characteristic of his obstinacy because it is a verbal metaphor: he will not come to terms. When he does give in, he surrenders not only to the claims of the female, but also to the inescapability and conditionality of language. Volumnia’s victory is limited, however. Although she seems to persuade him of the need for human connection, his deed is accomplished ironically without language, as the famous stage direction indicates: ‘He holds her by the hand, silent’. I want to urge that we read this surrender of son to mother as an allegory of Shakespeare’s professional uncertainties around 1607. v But allegories, as Mrs Malaprop knew, are found on the banks of the Nile, and the relevance of Antony and Cleopatra to this discussion of language and gender will be immediately clear. The contest between the masculine and feminine or the Senecan and Ciceronian is encoded in the several poetic and rhetorical patterns that the sophisticated but fundamentally binary structure of the play serves to promote. Some of these contrasts, most


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of them familiar, include the imagistic tension between a masculine Rome and a feminine Egypt; the contest between the hyperbolic and deflationary and the tendency of the former to tip over into the latter but to recuperate itself nevertheless; the identification of Cleopatra with abundance, of Caesar with scarcity, and Antony’s unstable relation to both; the opposition between the Attic and Asiatic discourses.33 What is worth articulating here is, first, the way that Shakespeare appeals to the misogynist-linguistic tradition in his creation of the Egyptian queen, both invoking and rejecting the censure implicit in it, and second, the way that the characters produce and are produced by the stylistic effects of the play. As Rosalie Colie puts it in her brilliant analysis, ‘ “Style” is – especially in the Attic–Asiatic polarity – a moral indicator, but here displayed as deeply thrust into the psychological and cultural roots of those ways of life. In this play, a given style is never merely an alternative way of expressing something: rather, styles arise from cultural sources beyond a character’s choice or control.’34 The infinitely various Cleopatra is the embodiment of those values for which Volumnia so eloquently and lengthily pleads – multiplicity, equivocation, and even, in the sexual sense, compromise. Enshrined on the barge through the medium of Enobarbus’ encomium, she is the ultimate floating signifier, the play’s main figure (like her ancestor Falstaff ) of verbal prowess and ambiguity, the focus for its concern with the transgression of limits, whether of nations or genders. The repeated attention to her clothing, most notably her appearing ‘in the habiliments of the goddess Isis’, associates her with the moon-deity, a figure of pagan mystery and mutability.35 Moreover, that get-up locates her in the region of theatre and language, of coverings and tissues and mysterious femininity, and such associations give greater point to her unmanning Antony by dressing him in her tires and mantles. Her changeability makes her poetic voice especially difficult to classify, as she mimics Roman seriousness, plays with words for the material pleasure they offer (‘music – music, moody food / Of us that trade in love’), and assumes the language of tragic heroine at the end of the play. One of her familiar verbal tics is her penchant for ecphonesis, and in prominent places: t h i di as He knows that you embraced not Antony As you did love, but as you feared him. c le opat r a O. (3.13.55–7)

The ‘infinitely meaningful phoneme’36 creates the sense of flexibility and openness that is coded as female and represents speech – the word – at its most fundamental. The frequency of ‘O’ is matched by a host of pleonasms,

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


as in the repetitions of ‘Come’ (and ‘welcome’) during the monument scene (4.16) and succeeding episodes: ‘Where art thou, death? / Come hither, come. Come, come, and take a queen / Worth many babes and beggars’ (5.2.45–7). As this excerpt indicates, Cleopatra’s language at the last becomes not only more elevated but more ‘poetically’ marked, with a noticeable increase in alliteration, internal rhyme, and other echoing effects. The final speeches also exhibit a remarkable range of syntactical structures. The reverie addressed to her maids immediately after Antony’s death (‘No more but e’en a woman’) is full of exclamations, questions, sentences of varying length, and stops and starts, not to mention the prominent images and their poetic presentation (‘Our lamp is spent, it’s out’). It is unnecessary to elaborate on such poetic properties: what is important is that they support the association of Cleopatra with language and its creative powers. This female realm of language is disturbing to Caesar as inimical to Roman values. His view of amorous passion is figured in terms that carry a discursive charge, that are explicitly associated with the Asiatic style: slack, effeminate, inflated, voluptuous.37 Sharing Coriolanus’s viewpoint, he distrusts words as uncertain, dislikes conversation, associates language with liquor and other threats to manhood and duty. As he puts it in leaving Pompey’s galley after the bacchanal, Strong Enobarb Is weaker than the wine, and mine own tongue Splits what it speaks. The wild disguise hath almost Anticked us all. What needs more words? Good night. (2.7.119–22)

Earlier Caesar has lamented Antony’s degeneration into ‘an ebb’d man’, and the diction of this passage brings together the causes of such a deformation: the splitting tongue, ‘disguise’ as a term for revelry, unruly behaviour, unnecessary words. Antony’s conciliatory promise to Octavia before the wedding, ‘Read not my blemishes in the world’s report. / I have not kept my square, but that to come / Shall all be done by th’ rule’ (2.3.6–7), is offered, like the marriage itself, mainly for Caesar’s benefit and expresses succinctly the fundamental Octavian values. ‘Report’ is fallible and untrustworthy, for words are roundabout and irregular. Or, to quote Caesar himself in the negotiations with Pompey, ‘There’s the point’ (2.6.31). Caesar’s masculine commitment to the point, the purpose, the job to be done, matches Coriolanus’ impatience with circumlocution and inefficiency; it stands in contrast to Antony’s dallying with Cleopatra, a digression which not only effeminizes but makes him the subject of talk.


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If we are to read Shakespeare’s professional development allegorically, as I have proposed, then Antony becomes the central figure for the dramatist poised stylistically between the masculine and the feminine, the Attic and the Asiatic. The hero’s dissolute behaviour is censured by Octavius in language of dissolution (‘the ebb’d man’), and Antony himself adopts such terms in the celebrated passage from the suicide scene (4.15.1–14) that begins with the image of the shifting cloud, continues with the liquid metaphor of lost difference (‘as indistinct / As water is in water’), and ends with ‘Here I am Antony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape’. Stylistically, the distinction between masculine and feminine loses its outline in the union of Antony and Cleopatra, and thus its subtleties make the play even more clearly indicative than Coriolanus of the work to come. Our familiarity with the visual, imagistic stress on permeability, dissolution, and the loss of recognizable shape needs to be supplemented with an awareness of the aural equivalent. As the rhythms and syntax of Antony and Cleopatra indicate, the contours of Shakespeare’s verse tend to melt in the heat of the Egyptian sun. Metrically the play is uncommonly subtle, even for Shakespeare, even for this phase: it is marked by the increasing frequency of the short sentence, the brief outburst that acts to challenge the sovereignty of the pentameter line. Very frequently, as George T. Wright points out about the late style in general, ‘The sense runs over . . . into the next line, a tendency facilitated by Shakespeare’s radically increased usage of weak and light line-endings’, or what used to be called feminine endings.38 If Coriolanus exhibits its hero’s dedication to a disconnected, masculine style, much of Antony and Cleopatra displays the complementary form, a style that is irregular, digressive, and, according to the conceptions of the period, feminine. Rhythmically, the sense o’erflows the measure of the line. In its syntax, Antony and Cleopatra depends heavily on the figure known as hyperbaton, or, as Puttenham Englishes it, ‘the trespasser’. Its description is found in Book iii of the Arte, ‘Of Ornament’, the section prefaced by his elaborate comparison of writing with the sartorial splendour of ‘Madames of Honour’. The most notable of these figures ‘of tollerable disorder’ is the parenthesis, or, in its English equivalent, ‘the inserter’. After providing a particularly extended example, Puttenham comments that ‘This insertion is very long and utterly impertinent to the principall matter, and makes a great gappe in the tale’, and he cautions that ‘you must not use such insertions often nor too thick, nor those that bee very long as this of ours, for it will breed great confusion to have the tale so much interrupted’.39 Such an account of discontinuity pertains to both the grammatical and the scenic syntax of Antony and

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Cleopatra: not only is the incidence of inverted word orders and disrupted sentences uncommonly high, but the inserted episodes, digressive scenes, and disordered geography make for a notoriously choppy theatrical narrative, a feature that contributed to the neo-classical discomfort with the play. These characteristics, increasing metrical irregularity and syntactic disorder, combine with other grammatical and rhetorical propensities, such as frequent ellipsis and a reliance on verbless constructions, to create a versestyle that is closer to prose than in almost any of the earlier works. Formally speaking, it is copious, unruly, and demanding. The final movement, from Antony’s suicide to the end of the play, constitutes the bridge between the tragedies and the romances because it attests to Shakespeare’s developing attitude toward fictional language. Cleopatra inserts herself into what might have been simply the tragedy of Antony, making a great gap in Plutarch’s tale. She not only memorializes Antony in a virtuosic act of poetic construction but also stages her own spectacular denouement by the creative manipulation of clothing and jewelry and words. In the represented death of the historical female is the birth of the fictional Cleopatra, the exchange of mimesis for poesis. But this final episode depends upon an imaginative scrambling of gender, a recombination of the masculine and feminine. Cleopatra, a boy actor neither man nor woman, talks her way into the male role of tragic hero, using women’s weapons and speaking much of the time about a man. Janet Adelman has argued that ‘In the tragedies that follow from Hamlet, heroic masculinity has been constructed defensively, by a rigid separation from the dangerous female within and without’, and that ‘by locating Antony’s heroic manhood within Cleopatra’s vision of him, Shakespeare attempts in effect to imagine his way beyond this impasse’.40 This imaginative union of the masculine and the feminine helps to account for Shakespeare’s reconceived attitude towards words, verse style, dramatic mode, and the theatrical enterprise itself. vi The critical disagreement over the final effect of Antony and Cleopatra is itself testimony to the playwright’s ambiguous attitude towards ambiguity at this crucial moment in his career. If there is something of the sceptical Coriolanus and the dubious Caesar in Shakespeare, there is something of the extravagant Volumnia and Cleopatra as well. On the one hand, all the plays of this phase exhibit a suspicion of language and its inadequacies; on the other, they also display an attraction to its material pleasures,


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creative ambiguity, and conciliatory power. The victories of Volumnia and Cleopatra, although predicated on defeat, clearly represent a triumph of the values of theatre and of voice, with all its vices. Accommodating his Baconian suspicions of language and its representational capacities, Shakespeare embraces the possibilities of ambiguity rather than seeking to control them. He commits himself to the vice of voice, accepting and making use of what has been called, in another context, ‘the gift of gap’.41 In other words, the space between the signifier and the signified, the territory that frightens both Coriolanus and the Renaissance Senecans, may indeed be treacherous. Gaps in tales may, in Puttenham’s terms, ‘breed great confusion’. But as his verb suggests, such a space is also generative, full of fanciful opportunity, and Shakespeare determines to exploit rather than suppress these possibilities. The romances give us a reconstituted conception of the theatre, an admission that while words may not adequately represent reality, they can provide an alternative version of it. There is continuing suspicion of the word in these dramas,42 but such distrust is accompanied by a resignation to or acceptance of its limitations and a renewed pleasure in the possibilities of fictional language. The end of the tragic sequence implies, in the rejection of Coriolanus’ view, the triumph of a ‘feminine’ style. In other words, Shakespeare commits himself to poetry marked by his culture as female, returning to Ciceronian principles of ornament and verbal pleasure. The masculine, separated, univocal speech of Coriolanus gives way to a verse characterized by poetic extravagance and multiplicity. The late tragedies are exceptional in that properties of language coded as masculine and feminine may be conveniently assigned to individual speakers of the appropriate gender, but even here, with these relatively schematic divisions, we must be wary of crude distinctions that the subtlety of these late texts forbids. The ‘femininity’ of Volumnia and Cleopatra is complicated by the masculine associations with which Shakespeare has tinged them (for example, Sicinius’ contemptuous question to Volumnia after the banishment, ‘Are you mankind?’, and Cleopatra’s remembrance of the ‘sword Phillipan’). By asserting Shakespeare’s devotion to a feminine style late in his career, I do not mean to suggest anything so blunt as that all the major dramatic voices, from Pericles’ to Prospero’s, be considered ‘female’. What I do suggest is that the famous difficulties of the late verse are best understood in light of the historical affiliations of style and gender, and that what we hear connotes the discursive subtlety and complexity coded by Shakespeare’s culture as feminine. The exploitation of the mid-line caesura, the juxtaposition of short and long sentences, the piling of clause upon clause, the frequency of ellipsis, the

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


inversion of subject, verb, and object, the extremes of hyperbatonic syntax, the high incidence (almost one in three) of extrametrical lines and light endings – all these features constitute a reconfiguration of Shakespeare’s poetic style that incorporates grammatically and metrically the conflicts of sexual difference explored in the dramatic narratives.43 Aurally demanding and self-consciously artificial, the romantic style involves a contest between sense and form, between the semantic energies of the sentence and the restrictions of the iambic pentameter. These stylistic tensions and resolutions grow directly from the sexual conflicts that Shakespeare examines in the late tragedies and develops, with new resolutions, in the romances. If there is a single property of the late style that distinguishes it from the earlier verse, it is the unusual freedom with which its various components, from clauses to words to lines, are joined together in an uneasy but finally successful equipoise. We might say the same for the various forms of sexual relations, healthy and unhealthy, in the romances. It is a short step from copula to copulation. It is worth re-examining Lytton Strachey’s pejorative suggestion that Shakespeare in his late years was bored and careless.44 The late style does suggest carelessness, but it is what we should think of as a kind of insouciance, a playfulness consistent with the magical stories he chooses to tell and the hypertheatrical way in which he stages them. The difficulties of the late style amount to a form of play, a sporting with poetic effects that is a function of Shakespeare’s newly developed recreative view of language and that suits the thematic emphasis on re-creation permeating the late work. His reconsideration of the feminine has ramifications that go beyond language to the kind of stories such language embodies. The discursive extravagance associated with Volumnia and Cleopatra is helpful in thinking about this formal shift, since the word ‘extravagant’ derives from the Latin for straying or errancy, and one of the principal characteristics of romance is its dependence upon wandering, doubling, and excess.45 For the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, romance was already a notoriously feminine form: as John Lyly declared, romance ‘had rather be shut up in a lady’s casket than open in a scholar’s study’.46 And tragedy, with its historical authority, was evidently masculine. This prejudice survives in the familiar privileging of tragedy over comedy: love stories are merely pleasurable tales, useless fictions for and about women; real men read tragedies. After the Roman spareness of Coriolanus and the Caesarean scenes of Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare offers his audience – with a vengeance – the staples of romantic fiction: stolen infants, wicked stepmothers, wronged wives, Italian villains, shipwrecks, tearful reunions, oracles, witches, magic potions, airy spirits,


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and, everybody’s favourite, a voracious bear. And the style is romantic as well. In Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest, limitation is replaced with amplification, simplicity with extravagance, mimesis with poesis. The assertion that these stylistic and formal revisions are implicated in a recovery of the feminine is given greater point when we remember that the theatrical platform from which this new verse was spoken was a target of attack as unmanly and threatening to sexual boundaries. One brief passage from William Prynne’s Histriomastix will make the point, the famous serial rant against ‘effeminate mixt Dancing, Dicing, Stage-playes, lascivious Pictures, wanton Fashions, Face-painting, Health-drinking, Long haire, Love-lockes, Periwigs, womens curling, pouldring and cutting of their haire, Bone-fires, New-yeares-gifts, Maygames, amorous Pastoralls, lascivious effeminate Musicke, excessive laughter, luxurious disorderly Christmaskeeping, Mummeries . . .’47 Implicit in this list of crimes is a censure of fiction-making, a prejudice Prynne shares with the Church Fathers already cited. To indulge in story-telling is to show dissatisfaction with the divinely created world by attempting to remake it. Every play, of course, from the Agamemnon to Angels in America, represents a reordering of the material world, and Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra, although based on North’s adaption of Amyot’s translation of Plutarch’s arrangement of earlier reports of historical event, are no less acts of imagination than A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nevertheless, we recognize in Shakespeare’s move from tragedy to romance a new devotion to the principles of fabulation that make the theatre vulnerable to the attacks of its enemies because they make it what it is. It is tantalizing to recall that the theatres were shut for most of 1607, presumably giving a dislocated Shakespeare more time than usual to read and write;48 Beaumont and Fletcher were making themselves known at about this time and altering audiences’ tastes; Queen Anne’s promotion of the masque was changing the shape of theatre at court; the King’s Men were about to expand in new directions, performing for different audiences at Blackfriars. Surely all these conditions had an effect on Shakespeare’s alteration of his professional course. It may be relevant, moreover, that Shakespeare’s mother died in 1608. I am reluctant to read Mary Shakespeare as Volumnia, but I have no hesitation in seeing the playwright as Antony caught stylistically between Rome and Alexandria and giving up the serious work of history and tragedy for the fatal Cleopatra of imagination and romance. For a time, at least: the alternative titles of Henry VIII / All is True attest to uncertainties of mode that reflect conflicts of gender. Even now we may need to be reminded that The Tempest is not the end of the

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story and that Shakespeare never entirely resolved these questions of stylistic difference. First published in Shakespeare Survey 46 (1994)

n otes 1 Timon of Athens is profitably considered in these terms and should probably be grouped with Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra, but problems of date and restrictions of space lead me to exclude it from this chapter. 2 See, for example, Patricia Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, 1987), esp. pp. 8–35, and Howard R. Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 1–63, and Joel Fineman, Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 125–9. 3 Literary Fat Ladies, p. 96. 4 Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), and Tzvetan Todorov, The Poetics of Prose, tr. Richard Howard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), esp. pp. 143–77. 5 A survey of Shakespeare’s depiction of female sexuality in this late phase is found in Cyrus Hoy, ‘Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare’s Romances’, Shakespeare’s Romances Reconsidered, ed. Carol McGinnis Kay and Henry E. Jacobs (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), pp. 77–90. Illuminating work in this line has been done by C. L. Barber and Richard P. Wheeler, The Whole Journey: Shakespeare’s Power of Development (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), and Copp´elia Kahn, Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). The most recent and detailed treatment of gender at this point in Shakespeare’s career is that of Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, ‘Hamlet’ to ‘The Tempest’ (London: Methuen, 1991). 6 See Adelman, Suffocating Mothers, pp. 73–4, 190. 7 Since language itself is so important an issue in Coriolanus, it is treated in some detail in general studies, especially those by G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931); Derek Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare, 2nd edn (New York: Doubleday, 1966); Maurice Charney, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961); Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York: The Free Press, 1966); Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983); and Adelman, Suffocating Mothers, pp. 146–64. More specific studies of the problem of language include Lawrence Danson, Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare’s Drama of Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp. 142–62; James Calderwood, ‘Coriolanus: Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words’, SEL, 6 (1966), 185–202; Carol M. Sicherman, ‘Coriolanus: The Failure of Words’, ELH, 39


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13 14 15

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(1972), 189–207; Page du Bois, ‘A Disturbance of Syntax at the Gates of Rome’, Stanford Literature Review, 2 (1985), 185–208; Leonard Tennenhouse, ‘Coriolanus: History and the Crisis of the Semantic Order’, Drama in the Renaissance: Comparative and Critical Essays, ed. Clifford Davidson, C. J. Gianakaris, and John H. Stroupe (New York: AMS Press, 1986), pp. 217–35; and Lisa Lowe, ‘“Say I Play the Man I Am”: Gender and Politics in Coriolanus’, Kenyon Review, 8 (1986), 86–95. Indispensable are Kenneth Burke, ‘Coriolanus and the Delights of Faction’, Hudson Review, 19 (1966), 211–24, and Stanley Cavell, ‘Coriolanus and the Interpretation of Politics (“Who does the wolf love?”)’, rpt in Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 143–77. See Philip Brockbank’s Introduction to his Arden edition (London: Methuen, 1976), esp. pp. 68–71. Throughout this chapter I depend heavily upon the excellent analysis found in John Porter Houston, Shakespearean Sentences: A Study in Style and Syntax (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), especially chapter 7, ‘Syndeton and Asyndeton in Coriolanus’, pp. 159–78. The Arte of English Poesie, a facsimile reproduction with an Introduction by Baxter Hathaway (Kent State University Press, 1970), pp. 185–6. Shakespearean Sentences, pp. 160, 161–2. This spare grammatical base line causes eccentricity or deviation to stand out. G. Wilson Knight picks out a surprisingly large number of bizarre words, many of them polysyllables, that obtrude from a plainer style of diction, words such as ‘conspectuities’, ‘empiricutic’, ‘directitude’, ‘factionary’. ‘Many of these cause blank amazement among the rabble, or Volscian menials: and are thus related to the main idea of the aristocrat contrasted with commoners. So, in our line units, there is, as it were, an aristocrat among a crowd of plebeian words, and often that protagonist word falls with a hammer-blow that again reminds us of metal’ (The Imperial Theme, p. 160). See Page du Bois’ comments on the separating effect of the play’s rhetoric: ‘Anacolouthon is the appropriate rhetorical figure for this tragedy, which is about breaks in lines – not just breaks in lines of speech or thought, but breaks in descent, in lineage, breaks in city walls, breaks in bodies, wounds, breaks in the continuity of surface. Coriolanus is about the failure to follow . . .’, ‘A Disturbance of Syntax’, p. 187. ‘The Life of Coriolanus’, in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 5 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), pp. 506–7. The Imperial Theme, pp. 155–7. Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers, p. 151. The section on Coriolanus originally appeared as ‘“Anger’s My Meat”: Feeding, Dependency, and Aggression in Coriolanus’, in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Copp´elia Kahn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980). See also Robert J. Stoller, ‘Shakespearean Tragedy: Coriolanus’, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 35 (1966), 263–74.

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


16 I owe this observation to my former student Catherine Loomis of the University of Rochester. 17 Adelman is especially illuminating on this passage, since the oral imagery is an essential element in the dependency theme: see Suffocating Mothers, pp. 153–5. 18 On the uses and abuses of etymology in literary studies, see Derek Attridge’s fascinating essay, ‘Language as History / History as Language: Saussure and the Romance of Etymology’, in Poststructuralism and the Question of History, ed. Attridge, Geoff Bennington, and Robert Young (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 183–211. 19 ‘Name and Fame: Shakespeare’s Coriolanus’, in The Renaissance Imagination, ed. Stephen Orgel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 203–19. 20 The Norton Facsimile of The First Folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Charlton Hinman (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968). Elsewhere in the play, ‘voice’ and ‘voices’ are sometimes capitalized, sometimes not. For this detail, I am grateful to Richard Proudfoot. 21 My source for the statistics of usage is Marvin Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare (Hildesheim: Olms, 1968), vol. 3, The Tragedies. 22 Helge K¨okeritz, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), pp. 151–2. 23 The historical background is found in Morris W. Croll, Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm, ed. J. Max Patrick, Robert O. Evans, et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), and George Williamson, The Senecan Amble (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951). Jonas A. Barish’s Ben Jonson and the Language of Prose Comedy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960) offers a useful development and application of these principles. 24 The Scholemaster, ed. Edward Arber (Birmingham, 1870), p. 118. 25 The Advancement of Learning, ed. Arthur Johnston (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 26. 26 The most thorough discussion of this tradition is found in Bloch, Medieval Misogyny, pp. 13–35. For background on some of the patristic writers, particularly the Platonic roots of their gynophobic thinking, see also Jonas A. Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), chapters 1 and 2. 27 Medieval Misogyny, pp. 18–30. 28 Tertullian’s ‘cum voce vestis intravit’ is from De Pallio. Augustine’s remarks are found in De Ordine: ‘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.’ Both are quoted in Bloch, Medieval Misogyny, pp. 46, 220. 29 Literary Fat Ladies, p. 14. 30 Howell’s Devises 1581, With an Introduction by Walter Raleigh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), p. 31.


russ m c d onald

31 See the excellent discussion in George T. Wright, Shakespeare’s Metrical Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 207–48. 32 Literary Fat Ladies, p. 15. 33 Antony and Cleopatra has generated a large number of stylistic studies, of which David Bevington’s Introduction to the New Cambridge Edition (1990) provides a useful survey. For my purposes, the most helpful studies include those of G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme, pp. 199–262; Rosalie Colie, Shakespeare’s Living Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 168–207; Janet Adelman, The Common Liar: An Essay on ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973); Madeleine Doran, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Language (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976); G. R. Hibbard, ‘Feliciter audax: Antony and Cleopatra, I’, 1–24, in Shakespeare’s Styles: Essays in Honour of Kenneth Muir, ed. Philip Edwards, G. K. Hunter, and IngaStina Ewbank (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 95–109; and Charney, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays. Also useful, although less specifically concerned with style, is Robert Ornstein’s ‘The Ethic of the Imagination: Love and Art in Antony and Cleopatra’, in Later Shakespeare, ed. John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris (London: Edward Arnold, 1966), pp. 31–46. 34 Shakespeare’s Living Art, p. 179. 35 See Adelman, Suffocating Mothers, pp. 183–4, and Colie, Shakespeare’s Living Art, p. 195. 36 The phrase is David Willbern’s, from his suggestive essay ‘Shakespeare’s Nothing’, in Schwartz and Kahn, Representing Shakespeare, pp. 244–63; the quotation appears on p. 249. On this point I have also profited from an unpublished paper by Edward Snow, ‘Cleopatra’s O’, delivered in the plenary session at the 1989 meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America. 37 See Colie, pp. 199–200. 38 Wright, Shakespeare’s Metrical Art, p. 222. 39 The Arte of English Poesie, pp. 180–1. 40 Suffocating Mothers, p. 177. 41 See R. A. Shoaf, ‘The Play of Puns in Late Middle English Poetry: Concerning Juxtology’, in On Puns: The Foundation of Letters, ed. Jonathan Culler (London: Blackwell, 1988), p. 53. 42 Anne Barton, ‘Shakespeare and the Limits of Language’, Shakespeare Survey 24 (1971), pp. 19–30. 43 All these features have been given some attention by the few commentators who have written extensively on the later style. See especially J. M. Nosworthy’s Introduction to the Arden edition of Cymbeline (London: Methuen, 1955); F. E. Halliday, The Poetry of Shakespeare’s Plays (London: Gerald Duckworth and Co., 1954), esp. pp. 28–33, 49–52, 167–87; James Sutherland, ‘The Language of the Last Plays’, in More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John Garrett (London: Longmans, 1959), pp. 144–8; N. F. Blake, Shakespeare’s Language: An Introduction (London: Methuen, 1983); and Wright’s Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. 44 ‘Shakespeare’s Final Period’, Books and Characters: French and English (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), pp. 51–69.

Late Shakespeare: style and the sexes


45 See Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford, 1971), p. 103, as well as Patricia Parker, Inescapable Romance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979). 46 See Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 42. 47 Quoted in Barish, The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice, p. 85. 48 See J. Leeds Barroll, Politics, Plague, and Shakespeare’s Theater: The Stuart Years (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991). A cautionary rejoinder to some of Barroll’s conclusions is found in E. A. J. Honigmann, ‘Plague on the Globe?’, New York Review of Books, 19 November 1992, pp. 40–2.


Abbott, E. A. 120n Adelman, Janet 262, 281, 285n, 286n, 287n, 288n Alexander, Nigel 176n, 178n Altman, Joel B. 135 Amyot, Jacques 272, 284 Anne, Queen 284 Anne, Queen of Denmark 264 Aristotle 68 Asham, Roger 273, 274 Atkins, J. W. H. 45 Attridge, Derek 287n Augustine, Saint 274, 276 Austen, Jane Emma 50 Bacon, Sir Francis 2, 274, 275 Bakhtin, Mikhail 8 Baldwin, T. W. 157 Bandello, Matteo 122, 123, 124 Barber, C. L. 192, 285n Barber, Charles 16n Barish, Jonas A. 287n Barnet, Sylvan 238n Barroll, J. Leeds 289n Barton, Anne 77, 288n Basset, Jane 58 Beaumont, Francis 284 Benson, Phil 11, 12 Bentley, G. E. 77 Berners, John Bourchier, second baron 64 Berry, Francis 149n Berry, Philippa 11, 12 Bevington, David 21, 288n Biese, Y. M. 99n Blackfriars 284 Blake, N. F. 288n Bloch, Howard 274, 285n, 287n Bloom, Harold 289n Boaistuau, Pierre 122, 123, 124 Bonde, Sir John 63 Booth, Stephen 12, 13, 211n

Bordieu, Pierre 8, 213–14, 216–17, 219–20, 221, 222, 223 Borinski, Ludwig 199n Botticelli, Sandro 209–10 Bourgy, Victor 199n Bradbrook, Muriel 2–3, 68, 78n, 238n Bradley, A. C. 177n, 191, 246, 252, 253, 257 Brockbank, Philip 286n Broke, Thomas 58, 59 Brooke, Arthur 122, 123, 125–6, 127, 129, 132 Brooke, Nicholas 137n, 247n, 255, 257, 258, 264n, 265n Brooks, Harold F. 199n Brooks, Peter 267 Brooks-Davies, Douglas 210 Brown, Penelope 224n Browne, Sir Thomas 51, 65 Bryan, Sir Francis 63 Bullough, Geoffrey 238n, 239n Burckhardt, Sigurd 163 Burke, Kenneth 286n Busby, Olive Mary 199n Butler, Charles 211n Butters, Ronald 248n Byrne, Muriel St Claire 9 Calderwood, James 285n Cameron, Lynne J. 14 Cavell, Stanley 286n Cercignano, Fausto 248n Chamberlain, John 57 Chambers, Sir E. K. 75 Charney, Maurice 285n, 288n Chaucer, Geoffrey 18, 41n, 44, 62 Chomsky, N. 121n Cicero 273–4, 275 De Oratore 68 Cipolla, Carlo M. 78n Clarke, Sandra 224n Clemen, Wolfgang 150n, 238n Clement, Dan Nicholas 54


Index Cohen, Michal 14 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 155, 196, 252 Colie, Rosalie 278, 288n Cornwallis, Sir William 2–3, 9–10, 11 Essayes 2–3 Cowley, Dick 179, 180, 188, 196 Craig, Hardin 49 Craig, W. J. 99n Crispin, Edmund 251, 257 Cromwell, Thomas 58, 59, 60, 63 Croll, Morris W. 287n Danielsson, B. 121n Danson, Lawrence 175n, 285n Da Porto, Luigi 122, 123, 136 David, Richard 75 Davy, John 53 De Grazia, Margreta 211n Deloney, Thomas 46 Demosthenes 274 Dempsey, Charles 209 Dent, R. W. 137n, 247n Dickens, Charles Little Dorrit 50 Dobson, E. J. 16n, 121n Doran, Madelaine 45–6, 288n Douce, Francis 179 Drakich, Janice 224n Dryden, John Essay of Dramatick Poesie 77 Du Bois, Page 286n Dunnett, Dorothy 248n, 251, 254 Edwardes, Richard Paradyse of Daynty Devises 134 Eliot, George 166 Eliot, T. S. 175, 226 Elizabeth I, Queen 44, 49, 57 Ellegard, Alvar 120n Ellis, Roger 194 Erasmus 275 Evans, B. Ifor 99n Evans, G. B. 42n Evans, Malcolm 253 Evans, Robert O. 13, 127, 130, 131, 134, 137n, 154 Ewbank, Inga-Stina 10 Fergusson, Francis 194 Fineman, Joel 285n Fletcher, John 284 Florio, John 47, 58 Florio his First Fruits 4 Foakes, R. A. 165 Franks, Philip 265n Franz, W. 79, 120n

Fraunce, Abraham 203 Froissart, Jean 64 Furness, Horace Howard 177n Gascoigne, George Supposes 49 Gaskell, Philip 4 Gibbons, Brian 133 Gill, Alexander 16n Globe Theatre 4, 44, 253 Goldberg, Jonathan 263, 285n Goldsmith, Robert Hillis 199n Goody, Jack 78n Gordon, D. J. 272 Gordon, G. 99n, 120n Government of the Tongue, The 10 Granville, Lady 67n Granville-Barker, Harley 246 Gray, Austin 179, 180, 196 Greene, Robert 233 Grenville, Honor see Lisle, Lady Groom, Bernard 99n, 247n Guthrie, Tyrone 76 Hall, Edward 46, 139 Halle, M. 121n Halliday, F. E. 288n Hamilton, A. C. 235, 238n Hanmer, Sir Thomas 269 Hapgood, Robert 15 Harcourt, John B. 199n Hart, Alfred 156, 176n Havelock, E. A. 78n Hawkes, Terence 1, 11 Hawkesworth, James 49 Helgerson, Richard 289n Henry VIII, King 52, 57, 59, 61, 65 Herbert, George 175 Heywood, Thomas 62 Apology for Actors 77 Hibbard, G. R. 288n Hill, W. Speed 4, 5 Hodges, R. 211n Holinshed, Raphael 43n, 139, 248n, 258 Homer 90 Honigmann, E. A. J. 219, 289n Hope, Jonathan 15 Hopkins, Lisa 14 Horace 18 Hotson, Leslie 199n Houston, John Porter 286n Howell, Thomas 275 Hoy, Cyrus 285n Hulme, Hilda M. 121n Hunter, G. K. 247n




Husee, John 48, 50, 53, 58, 60, 62–3, 64, 65, 66 Hutton, John 49, 50 Ibsen, Henrik A Doll’s House 152 Jaarsma, Richard J. 246, 248n, 249n James I and VI, King 16n, 255, 263–4 James, Deborah 224n James, Henry 156, 161, 164 Jameson, Anna 248n Jepsen, Laura 238n Jespersen, O. 79 John Chrysostom, Saint 274 Johnson, Samuel 46, 69, 177n, 251–2, 253, 254 Jonson, Ben 18, 68, 75, 76–7, 163 Cynthia’s Revels 203, 209 Discoveries 156, 157 The Masque of Queens 263, 264 Timber 7, 68, 69 Jorgensen, Paul 252 Joseph, Sister Miriam 124, 125, 137n, 157 Jowett, John 128, 137n Jucker, Andreas 9 Kahn, Copp´elia 252, 262, 285n Karr, Judith M. 149n Kemp, Will 179, 180, 188, 196 King, Arthur H. 121n King’s Men, The 284 Kingston, Sir William 54 Kinney, Arthur F. 135, 136n Kite, John 64 Kittredge, G. L. 177n Knight, George Wilson 219, 265n, 270, 285n, 286n, 288n K¨okeritz, Helge 36–7, 45, 121n, 202, 203, 248n, 273 Labov, W. 121n La Guardia, Eric 150n Lanham, Richard A. 123, 135 Lees, R. B. 99n Leggatt, Alexander 185 Levenson, Jill 8, 13 Levin, Harry 129, 149n, 194 Levinson, Stephen C. 224n L´evi-Strauss, Claude 262 Lewis, C. S. 46 Liebler, Naomi Conn 265n Linche, Richard 11, 209 Lindheim B. von 99n Lisle, Lady (Honor Grenville) 48, 53, 58–9 Lisle, Viscount (Arthur Plantagenet) 48, 50, 54–5, 58, 62, 63, 65, 66

Lisle letters, The 9, 48–67 London 3 Lowe, Lisa 286n Lower, Charles B. 128 Lyly, John 283 Euphues 62 Midas 203 Mother Bombie 211n Macaulay, Rose 44, 46–7, 51 Mack, Maynard 149n, 198 Mackie, W. S. 80 Macrobius 209 Magnusson, Lynne 7, 8–9 Mahood, M. M. 13, 129, 130, 132, 137n Malone, Edmond 253 Marchand, H. 86, 89, 99n Markels, Julian 198 Marlowe, Christopher 236 Tamburlaine 249n, 269 Marston, John Sophonisba 265n Masefield, John 19 Maxwell, W. C. 99n McDonald, Russ 9, 11, 12, 15 McIntosh, Angus 120n Middleton, Thomas 265n Milton, John 18 Moisan, Thomas 128, 134, 137n More, Sir Thomas 44 Mowatt, Barbara 22 Moxon, Joseph 4 Muir, Kenneth 22, 135, 170, 265n Nashe, Thomas Summer’s Last Will and Testament 76 Nevailainen, Terttu 9 New English Dictionary 80, 82 Nicholl, Charles 212n North, Sir Thomas 167, 272, 284 Nosworthy, J. M. 288n Nowottny, Winifred M. T. 149n Ong, Walter 3, 69, 78n Ornstein, Robert 288n Orwell, George 2 Ovid 235, 236 Oxford English Dictionary 47, 56, 129, 154, 167, 265n Padelford, F. M. 99n Painter, William 122, 123, 124–5 Palmer, D. J. 186 Parker, Patricia 13, 15, 267, 275, 276, 285n, 289n Partridge, Eric 236

Index Paston, Lady Katharine 49 Paterson, John 175n Peacham, Henry 205 Pearlman, E. 133–4, 138n Pirie, David 200n Plantagenet, Arthur see Lisle, Viscount Plato Phaedrus 73, 75 Plautus, Titus Maccius 236 Pliny 209 Plutarch 167, 269–70, 272, 281, 284 Porter, Joseph A. 210 Price, Hereward T. 237n Proudfoot, Richard 287n Prynne, William Histriomastix 284 Puttenham, George 16n, 205, 268, 280, 282 Pye, Christopher 253, 254, 263 Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur 75 Rabkin, Norman 285n Raumolin-Brunberg, Helena 9 Rebhorn, Wayne A. 135, 136n, 138n Rees, Joan 196 Ridley, M. R. 21 Rissanen, Matti Merja Kyt¨o 9 Robinson, Robert 4 Rosenberg, Marvin 246, 247n, 248n, 250n Rubel, V. L. 99n Salmon, Vivian 13, 14, 15, 16n, 120n Sargent, Ralph M. 238n Schmidt, Alexander 92, 154 Sch¨ucking, Levin L. 200n Seneca, Lucius Annaeus 233, 235, 236, 273 Sex pistols, The 5 Seymour, E. H. 177n Shaaber, M. A. 150n Shakespeare, Mary 284 Shakespeare, William All’s Well that Ends Well 24, 57 Antony and Cleopatra 31, 36, 83, 97, 112, 117, 167, 202, 266, 277–89 As You Like It 25–6, 57, 85, 94, 103, 179, 183, 184–8, 189, 196, 197, 198 Comedy of Errors, The 32, 36–7, 84, 85, 86, 107, 112, 117, 183, 198, 236 Coriolanus 45, 82, 98, 155, 176n, 266, 268–73, 275–7, 278, 279, 280, 281–9 Cymbeline 30–1, 87, 202, 273, 284 Hamlet 10, 13, 58, 59, 70–2, 83, 84, 87, 88–9, 94, 106, 108, 114, 139, 151–78, 179, 194–8, 201–12, 257, 267

293 Henry IV, part 1 33, 61, 83, 88, 94, 102, 105, 110, 116, 119–20, 139, 141, 144, 147–9, 275 Henry IV, part 2 7, 14, 56, 57, 88, 89, 94, 95, 102, 104, 115, 119–20, 139, 142–5, 147–9, 154 Henry V 6, 7, 13–14, 37–9, 53, 87, 97, 98, 102, 103, 104, 105–6, 107, 109, 114, 115, 118, 139, 145–9 Henry VI, part 1 87, 115, 117 Henry VI, part 2 84, 95, 103 Henry VIII 63, 118, 284 Julius Caesar 32, 82, 85 King John 35, 85, 94, 116 King Lear 6, 22, 57, 82, 84, 86, 88, 89, 96, 98, 113, 151, 157, 176n, 178n, 184, 238n, 267, 268 Love’s Labour’s Lost 8, 12, 14, 33, 65, 72, 73–7, 87, 89, 94, 106, 108–9, 111, 118, 135, 157, 181–2, 185, 240 Macbeth 14, 24–5, 37, 82, 87, 88, 108, 153, 164–5, 179, 211n, 240–50, 251–65, 267 Measure for Measure 24, 82, 93, 94, 98 Merchant of Venice, The 26–7, 32, 50, 85, 96, 180, 183, 187, 188, 189, 192, 195, 200n Merry Wives of Windsor, The 6, 7, 57, 63, 89, 95, 104, 107, 109, 154 Midsummer Night’s Dream, A 37, 83, 93, 94, 106, 108, 112, 117, 154, 284 Much Ado about Nothing 62, 89, 115, 179, 247n Othello 8, 21–4, 34, 39, 93, 95, 97, 166, 170, 178n, 213–25, 231 Pericles 57, 108, 117, 284 Rape of Lucrece, The 103, 117, 135 Richard II 33, 38, 52, 57, 63–4, 86, 88, 95, 97, 113, 117, 139–42, 147–9 Richard III 113, 231, 236, 255 Romeo and Juliet 8, 13, 20, 31, 40, 57, 84, 86, 95, 96, 101–3, 104, 105, 110, 111, 113, 115, 117, 122–38 Sonnets 131, 135, 154, 157, 171, 202, 208 Sonnet 18 117 Sonnet 86 116 Sonnet 96 154 Taming of the Shrew, The 25, 107, 111, 116, 180, 183, 187 Tempest, The 24–5, 40, 57, 284 Timon of Athens 83, 95, 107 Titus Andronicus 12, 14, 114, 117, 226–39 Troilus and Cressida 45, 63, 79, 82, 84, 88, 89, 93, 94, 110, 114, 154, 190 Twelfth Night 31, 35, 41, 58, 82, 111, 179, 183, 189–94, 195, 198 Two Gentlemen of Verona, The 8, 50, 57, 110, 179, 180, 189, 190, 191, 192, 198, 199n



Shakespeare, William (cont.) Venus and Adonis 116, 135, 249n Winter’s Tale, The 22, 34–5, 36, 39–40, 85, 87, 97, 98, 267, 284 Shen, Yeshayahu 14 Shoaf, R. A. 288n Sicherman, Carol M. 285n Siddons, Sarah 248n Sidney, Sir Henry 49 Sidney, Sir Philip 18, 275 Sinfield, Alan 264 Snow, Edward 288n Snyder, Susan 137n Somerset, J. A. B. 179, 182 Sommers, Alan 238n Spencer, T. J. B. 77 Spenser, Edmund 90 The Faerie Queene 247n Spevack, Marvin 176n, 177n, 287n Sprague, A. C. 177n Stahl, H. 99n Stallybrass, Peter 211n Staynings, Elizabeth 63 Steiner, George 155 Stephanus, Robert Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 76 Stoller, Robert J. 286n Stone, Laurence 78n Strachey, Lytton 283 Strang, B. M. H. 99n Sturrock, John 6 Summers, Joseph H. 194 Sutherland, James 288n Taylor, Gary 4 Taylor, Mark 247n Tennenhouse, Leonard 286n Tertullian 274 Tilley, Morris Palmer 247n Tillyard, E. M. W. 237n Todorov, Tzvetan 267 Traversi, Derek 285n Tricomi, Albert H. 12, 14 Trousdale, Marion 135 Tuke, Sir Brian 50 Turner, Robert Y. 150n

Ulmer, Gregory 203 Upton, John 241, 242 Vaughan, Virginia Mason 224n Vickers, Brian 124 Virgil The Aeneid 205 Vorlat, Emma 16n Vyllers, Christopher 57 Waith, Eugene 233, 238n Walker, Roy 247n, 249n, 250n Warde, Frederick 191 Warley, Thomas 62, 65 Watt, Ian 78n Wayte, Antony 54, 63 Weimann, Robert 182, 199n Wells, Stanley 199n Welsford, Enid 199n Werstine, Paul 22 Wheeler, Richard P. 285n Whethill, Lady 62 Whiter, Walter 252–4 Wilcher, Robert 7–9, 12, 13 Wilkins, John 10 Willbern, David 288n Willcock, Gladys D. 45–6, 118, 121n Willeford, William 179, 199n William the Conqueror 72 Williams, George Walton 12, 14 Williamson, George 287n Wilson, F. P. 45 Wilson, John Dover 75, 76, 176n, 177n, 238n Wilson, Thomas 136n Winwood, Ralph 57 Witmore, Michael 15 Wodehouse, P. G. 251 Wright, George T. 224n, 280, 288n Wright, Laura 5, 9 Wright, W. A. 241 Wriothesley, Thomas 60–2, 63 Wyld, H. C. 44 Yates, Frances 69 Yeats, W. B. 157