The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

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The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity Series editors: Mary Thomas Crane, Department of English, Boston

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The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity Series editors: Mary Thomas Crane, Department of English, Boston College, USA Henry Turner, Department of English, Rutgers University, USA For a decade now, Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity has provided a forum for groundbreaking work on the relations between literary and scientific discourses in Europe, during a period when both fields were in a crucial moment of historical formation. We welcome proposals that address the many overlaps between modes of imaginative writing typical of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—poetics, rhetoric, prose narrative, dramatic production, utopia—and the vocabularies, conceptual models, and intellectual methods of newly emergent ‘scientific’ fields such as medicine, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, psychology, mapping, mathematics, or natural history. In order to reflect the nature of intellectual inquiry during the period, the series is interdisciplinary in orientation and publishes monographs, edited collections, and selected critical editions of primary texts relevant to an understanding of the mutual implication of literary and scientific epistemologies.

The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

Wendy Beth Hyman Oberlin College, USA

© Wendy Beth Hyman 2011 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Wendy Beth Hyman has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the editor of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company Wey Court East Suite 420 Union Road 101 Cherry Street Farnham Burlington Surrey, GU9 7PT VT 05401-4405 England USA British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data The automaton in English Renaissance literature. - (Literary and scientific cultures of early modernity) 1. Robots in literature. 2. English literature--Early modern, 1500-1700--History and criticism. I. Series II. Hyman, Wendy Beth. 820.3'09356-dc22 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hyman, Wendy Beth. The automaton in English Renaissance literature / Wendy Beth Hyman. p. cm. -- (Literary and scientific cultures of early modernity) Includes index. ISBN 978-0-7546-6865-7 (hardback) -- ISBN 978-0-7546-9519-6 (ebook) 1. English literature--Early modern, 1500-1700--History and criticism. 2. Literature and technology--England--History--16th century. 3. Literature and technology--England--History--17th century. 4. Motion in literature. 5. Machinery in literature. 6. Supernatural in literature. 7. Magic in literature. 8. Motion--Philosophy. I. Title. PR428.T43H95 2011 820.9'356--dc22  ISBN 9780754668657 (hbk) ISBN 9780754695196 (ebk)



Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall.

Contents List of Figures    Notes on Contributors    Acknowledgements    1

Introduction   Wendy Beth Hyman

vii ix xi 1

PART 1: Creations, Creatures, and Origins 2

Descartes avec Milton: The Automata in the Garden   Scott Maisano


“To me comes a creature”: Recognition, Agency, and the Properties of Character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale   Justin Kolb


Antique Myth, Early Modern Mechanism: The Secret History of Spenser’s Iron Man   Lynsey McCulloch




Part 2: Motion 5

Orpheus and the Poetic Animation of the Natural World   Leah Knight


The Mechanical Saint: Early Modern Devotion and the Language of Automation   Brooke Conti


Arrow, Acrobat and Phoenix: On Sense and Motion in English Civic Pageantry   Michael Witmore





The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

PART 3: Performance and Deception 8

“More than Art”: Clockwork Automata, the Extemporizing Actor, and the Brazen Head in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay    Todd Andrew Borlik


“Mathematical experiments of long silver pipes”: The Early Modern Figure of the Mechanical Bird   Wendy Beth Hyman



Desire, Nature, and Automata in the Bower of Bliss   Nick Davis


Bibliography    Index   


181 205

List of Figures 2.1 2.2

7.1 7.2


Florentius Schuyl, Renatus Des Cartes de homine (Leyden: Ex. off. Hackiana, 1664), p. 58. By courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Rare Books. Florentius Schuyl, Renatus Des Cartes de homine (Leyden: Ex off. Hackiana, 1664), p. 153. By courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Rare Books.

35 41

“Legi” from George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes (London: A. M., 1635). By courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 121 “Fortuna” from George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes (London: A. M., 1635). By courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 121 Title page woodcut, Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay. The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay (London: Elizabeth Allde, 1630). By courtesy of The Huntington Library. 137 

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Notes on Contributors Todd Andrew Borlik is an Assistant Professor of English at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Shakespeare Bulletin, The Shakespeare Newsletter, Borrowers and Lenders, Literature/Film Quarterly, and Early Theatre. He is also the author of Ecocriticism and Early Modern English Literature (Routledge, 2010). Brooke Conti is an Assistant Professor of English at the State University of New York at Brockport. She has published on Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Milton’s autobiographical prose, and Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the intersection of autobiography and religious anxiety in early modern England, as well as coediting, with Reid Barbour, a new edition of Religio Medici for Oxford University Press. Nick Davis is a lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool. His publications include Stories of Chaos: Reason and its Displacement in Early Modern English Narrative (Ashgate, 1999), the “Inheritance: c.500 to c.1300” section in The Medieval European Stage, Ed. William Tydeman (Cambridge UP, 2001), and essays on Medieval, Renaissance and modern writing and narrative theory. He is currently preparing a book, Models of Causation in English Renaissance Drama, which examines relations between scientific paradigms of thought and the shaping of dramatic action. Wendy Beth Hyman (editor) is an Assistant Professor of English at Oberlin College. She has published on Thomas Nashe’s Unfortunate Traveller (SEL) and The Faerie Queene (ELR), and has articles under way on Sir Thomas Browne’s use of metaphor, and on the afterlife of Ovid’s incestuous tale of Cinyras and Myrrha. She is completing a book manuscript entitled “Skeptical Seductions: Carpe Diem Poetry and the Eroticism of Doubt.” Leah Knight is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Non-Dramatic Literature in the Department of English at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Her monograph, Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England: Sixteenth-Century Plants and Print Culture (Ashgate, 2009), was awarded the annual book prize of the British Society for Literature and Science.


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Justin Kolb is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Oberlin College. His manuscript in progress, “Spongy Natures: Ben Jonson in the City of Things,” examines the emergence of Jonson’s city comedy characters from the urban material environment of early modern London. His work on Islamic characters and themes in the work of Edmund Spenser and Christopher Marlowe has appeared in Early Theatre. Scott Maisano is Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, where he teaches courses on Shakespeare, the English Renaissance, and The Theater of Artificial Life. His publications include essays in Extrapolations: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy; Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology; The Shakespeare Yearbook; and Genesis Redux: Essays on the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life, Ed. Jessica Riskin (Chicago University Press, 2007). Professor Maisano is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Shakespeare’s Revolution: New Science, Late Romances, and the Future. Lynsey McCulloch is a doctoral student in English Literature at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge (UK), where she also teaches courses in Renaissance Literature. She is completing a thesis, “Animated Statuary in Early Modern Drama,” which examines the popular theatrical device of the vivified statue. She is currently editing a collection of essays on the creative reception of Renaissance playtexts. Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, is author of Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledges in Early Modern England (cowinner of Perkins Prize for Narrative, 2003), Pretty Creatures: Children and the Agency of Fiction in the English Renaissance (Cornell University Press, 2007), and Shakespearean Metaphysics (Continuum, 2008). He is currently at work on an intellectual and visual history of poise in the Renaissance, one that charts its relationship to ideas of “readiness,” improvisation and dynamic accommodation during the period.

Acknowledgements I am pleased to acknowledge the assistance of the many people who helped bring this collection to light, most especially Erika Gaffney, Henry Turner, Mary Crane, Whitney Feininger, and the two anonymous readers who offered their generous and helpful feedback. I also want to thank several colleagues who supported this project by reading its introduction, pointing me to primary sources, offering both encouragement and constructive criticism, and suggesting possible contributors: Laura Baudot, Gina Bloom, Lara Bovilsky, Adam Cohen, Fran Dolan, Heather Dubrow, Miriam Jacobson, Nicholas Jones, William Kennedy, Alexander Marr, Carla Mazzio, Pat Parker, Tanya Pollard, Timothy Reiss, Jessica Riskin, Arielle Saiber, Jonathan Sawday, Elizabeth Spiller, Sarah Wall-Randell, and Jessica Wolfe. My colleagues at Oberlin College, and before then at Ithaca College, provided material and intellectual support. Research assistance was provided most ably by Andrew Lambert and Lili Pariser. Matt Laferty and my family deserve the most personal thanks.

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Chapter 1

Introduction Wendy Beth Hyman A creative writer must study carefully the works of his rivals, including the Almighty. He must possess the inborn capacity not only of recombining but of re-creating the given world.1

Myth of Origins One of the most well-known and best-loved stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the myth of Pygmalion, in which a renowned artist becomes hopelessly enamored of the incredibly lifelike statue he has been sculpting from clay. Disappointed by the flesh-and-blood women of his village, Pygmalion instead invests the statue with all of his fantasies and devotion. He brings it small shells, earrings, and gifts, dresses it in gauzy cloth, and, in the privacy of his studio, takes it to bed and embraces it like a living girl. In some of Ovid’s most curious and intimate passages, Pygmalion hallucinates—if it is a hallucination—that his creation is quickening beneath his touch, and that his fingertips leave an imprint on the polished clay. Longingly, he prays to Venus that he might find a woman “like my ivory girl” (similis mea eburnae 2), but Venus perceives and grants what he is really wishing for: actuality, not semblance. The next time Pygmalion embraces his masterpiece, the hard limbs soften and color touches the now-living face of the statue, whom others have named Galatea. She even bears him a female child, Paphos. It is an astonishing, charged, and yet utterly recognizable narrative: a story of the exhilarating limitlessness of human creative power, and of the deeply erotic and even transcendent possibilities of art. It is a myth about fertility, and, in a sense, is itself generative, having spawned countless other stories in which the artist takes on the creative power normally ascribed to the divine.3 With love,   Alvin Toffler. “Playboy Interview: Vladimir Nabokov.” Playboy 11.1 (Jan. 1964): 35–46, 45. 2   Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Rolfe Humphries (Indiana: Bloomington UP, 1955) X.277. Latin quotes are taken from Ovid, Metamorphoses Books VI–X, ed. and trans. William S. Anderson (Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1972). 3   The pre-Ovidian history of the Pygmalion myth is most recently and quite engagingly told in George L. Hersey’s Falling in Love with Statues: Artificial Humans from Pygmalion to the Present (Chicago: U Chicago P, 2009); for the afterlife of the Pygmalion myth, see especially Ken Gross, The Dream of the Moving Statue (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992) and, more loosely, J. Hillis Miller’s Versions of Pygmalion (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990). I 1


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technical skill, supernatural power, or simple sleight-of-hand, he (and very rarely she) brings the inanimate to “life.” For an artist, it is the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy, the logical outcome of the author function itself. But as Pygmalion’s creation simultaneously suggests, there is an underside to such fantasies of untrammeled artistic power—something dangerous, uncanny, perhaps even demonic about the desire itself. What hubris is it that inspires competition with the divine? Do our creative fantasies represent a Thanatopic drive, in that we willfully breed our own replacements? Or is the impulse the product of misdirected Eros, as the transgressive (necrophiliac? incestuous? fetishistic?) eroticism of the Pygmalion story suggests? Such anxieties are not new. As Frank Bidart’s poem “Desire” reminds us, one of the most overlooked aspects of the story of Pygmalion is its adjacency to the stunning, deeply disturbing myth— one of the most carefully wrought in all of the Metamorphoses—of Myrrha’s incestuous affair with her father Cinyras.4 The story is simple and troubling: by a cruel trick of the gods, the adolescent Myrrha has fallen hopelessly and desperately in love with her father. After much grief and an attempted suicide, but still unable to shake her ardent passion, Myrrha at last reveals her confidence to her nurse. The nurse, seeing Myrrha’s shame and despair, is ultimately persuaded to procure her charge’s wish, and Pandarus-like sneaks the disguised girl into her father’s bedroom. For several nights Myrrha sleeps with her unknowing father. Although technically innocent, Cinyras is subtly implicated in the crime by a clustering of similitudes ripe with dramatic irony: his previous attempts to find a husband for Myrrha left her pleading for a man “just like you” (“similem tibi,” X.364; note the echo of “similis mea” of Pygmalion); he is persuaded to the affair by hearing that his secret admirer is a girl “just Myrrha’s age”;5 and the nurse presents her with the words “take her … she is your own, Cinyras” (X.441–43).6 Nonetheless, confronted directly with the reality of his crime—when, on the seventh night, Cinyras removes the blindfold he had worn during their prior encounters—the father shrinks in horror and attempts to slay his daughter. The girl, who turns out to be already pregnant with his child, escapes. We hear no more of Cinyras, but Myrrha’s grief transforms her into the regret that I did not have an opportunity to take account of Barbara Johnson’s Persons and Things (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2008), which promises to make an extensive theoretical contribution to conversations about the ontological issues considered here. 4   Frank Bidart, “The Second Hour of the Night,” Desire (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999) 27–59. 5   “quaesitis virginia annis / ‘Par’ ait ‘est Myrrhae.’ Quam postquam adducere iussa est / Utque domum rediit, ‘gaude, mea.’” 6   “Accipe … ista tuas est, Cinyra.” The text coyly implicates him even further during the narrator’s rendition of their lovemaking, in which he hypothesizes that they might well have called each other “father” and “daughter”: “Accipit obsceno genitor sua viscera lecto / Virgineosque metus levat hortaturque timentem. / Forsitan aetatis quoque nomine ‘filia’ dixit: / Dixit et illa ‘pater,’ sceleri ne nomina desint” (X.465–68).



myrrh tree, which weeps in perpetuity. The mortal born of this terrible union is not monstrous or misshapen as one might expect, however. Myrrha gives birth to a boy so irresistible that the goddess of Love herself ultimately falls in love with him. That boy is Adonis. Ovid’s myth of father-daughter incest is clearly fascinating on many counts, not least being its deep intertextual relationship to the tale that precedes it. For while the first story, Pygmalion, depicts a man who falls in love with his creation, the second myth instead imagines a creation that falls in love with her creator. As mirrors of each other, both tales demonstrate the simultaneously erotic, anxious, and reflexive dynamic between the maker and the made. Both enact fantasies of erotic consummation that transgress established boundaries, by means of Venus’ magic or—what is not so different, after all—the panderer’s trick. Both are myths of origin (Where did the myrrh tree come from? Where did the world’s most beautiful man come from?) as well as of perversion. Indeed, the “Pygmalion” and “Cinyras and Myrrha” myths are comprised of nearly identical materials, enacted, we might say, first in a comedic and then in a tragic mode. One tale spawns the other, and in a literal sense as well: since the incestuous Cinyras is the child of Paphos, he is in fact the lineal grandson of Pygmalion and his animated statue. He is the product, and also the producer, of incestuous union. The “Cinyras and Myrrha” story thereby completes a peculiar genealogy, since it was Venus, after all, who had granted Pygmalion’s initial wish to animate the statue Galatea. By proxy and over several generations, albeit with time rather than ivory as her medium, Venus thereby ultimately “creates” in Adonis her own impossible beloved. In more ways than one, then, Cinyras’ tale is the dark shadow, the doppelganger, the “evil twin” of the famed sculptor’s. The second myth is mapped onto the template of the first, but with a harrowing reprise: be very careful what you wish for—you might get it. Animating Matter Literary fantasies of animation, poetic representations of inanimate objects coming to “life,” are inevitably marked by this kind of duality: exhilaration and terror, love and betrayal, ambition and frustration, magic and matter, lust and loss. And no wonder. For in many ways, the animation of material is the ur-narrative of the western imagination, a literalization of the metaphoric desire to create “living” art. It is fraught with both the glories and aspirations of this essential desire. Mimesis, after all, has been the ultimate goal of aesthetic representation since Aristotle. The Poetics suggests that, “imitation is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world.”7 To mime or imitate: this is what distinguishes us from other species, what makes us human. But how then do artists and writers deal with the threat of 7   Aristotle, “The Poetics,” The Basic Works of Aristotle (1941), ed. Richard Peter McKeon (New York: Modern Library, 2001) 1457.


The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

art that is too real? Are creators always in competition with God, and if so, are their creative acts always blasphemous? What metaphysical postulates are implied when matter is vitalized? While these questions have plagued (and enchanted) artists since time immemorial, they have a particular tang when the “creation” is a humanoid figure that moves or breathes or seems to live—or a figure of any shape, seemingly possessed of consciousness. How can we be sure that our creations will not exceed our intentions for them, monstrously exerting their own will (luckily for Pygmalion, Galatea does no such thing; but Frankenstein’s monster, “Hal” the computer, and the Golem all certainly do)?8 Why is it that these stories, for all their artistic optimism, so often brush up against the dangerous extremes of human behavior: cruelty, narcissism, incest, demonic possession? Are we collapsing the distinction not only between man and machine, but man and God? Why do we simultaneously long for and dread the “living” work of art? And why do these animated beings show up so often in literature, if so infrequently in life? These are a few of the many questions that The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature hopes to consider. Taking as its subject the proliferation of animated things in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poems, plays, and prose fiction, this collection of original essays addresses itself to a heterogeneous array of vivified literary objects, all of which may be loosely identified as automata: moving statues, talking brass heads, speaking trees, destructive iron androids, mechanical birds, the engineered wonders of the court masque, clockwork jacks, praying machines, music boxes, animated garden grottos, even hydraulic buckskin boots. Throughout, the essays in this volume hope to address some of the philosophical issues raised by the specter of the poet as, to use George Puttenham’s phrase, a “creating God”—and of inert matter, transfigured into self-moving creature.9 Constructed, animated beings appear in the works of no lesser figures than Spenser, Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton, Ralegh, Donne, Lodge, Greene, Jonson, Middleton, Nashe, Marlowe, and many more. Until now, however, no extended study has attempted to circumscribe the history and significance of the living object in early modern literature. The present collection helps fill this gap by offering new essays that place early modern literary automata within their larger aesthetic, historical, philosophical, and scientific contexts. Some of these essays reveal stories of enchantment, wonder, and, in thinly veiled allegory, the poetic triumph over the limits of material, the bringing of art to life. But others reveal something quite divergent: the devolution and disassembly of personhood, suggesting an identity comprised of

8   Jean-Claude Beaune, in “The Classical Age of Automata: An Impressionistic Survey from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century,” Fragments for a History of the Human Body 1 (1989): 430–80, refers to this possibility as “the paradoxical logic of the technological object which plays endlessly at not being itself in order to assert more effectively its own identity” (437). 9   George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie; A Critical Edition.1589, ed. Frank Whigham and Wayne Rebhorn (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007).



wheels and gears, an assemblage of “shreds and stuffe.”10 Indeed, while fantasies of authorial and artistic omnipotence are legion, in the early modern period a surprising number of them are fraught with morbidity and anxiety, suggesting the religious, philosophical, and creative ambivalences of the automaton. The only consistency appears to be ontological inconsistency.11 One can begin to approach some of the complexity of this topic by considering the word “automaton” itself, whose definitions are strangely involuted, indeed almost self-contradictory. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an automaton is: 1) Something which has the power of spontaneous motion or self-movement; 2) A human being viewed materially; 3) A piece of mechanism having its motive power so concealed that it appears to move spontaneously; “a machine that has within itself the power of motion under conditions fixed for it, but not by it” (W. B. Carpenter). In 17-18th c. applied to clocks, watches, etc., and transf. to the Universe and World; now usually to figures which simulate the action of living beings, as clock-work mice, images which strike the hours on a clock, etc.; 4) A living being whose actions are purely involuntary or mechanical; 5) A human being acting mechanically or without active intelligence in a monotonous routine; 6) Comb. and attrib., as in automaton figure, lips, etc.; automaton-like a. and adv. resembling or like an automaton.12

Interesting juxtapositions are revealed by the OED’s grappling with the concept. Its first definition, “something which has the power of spontaneous motion or 10   Robert Herrick, “Upon Some Women,” Poems of Robert Herrick, Ed. L. C. Martin (New York: Oxford UP, 1965) 76–77. 11   Relevant here is Linda M. Strauss’ observation about the typical location for automata: “The sites in which automata have historically been located—tombs, temples, theaters, magician’s stages, fairs, gardens, laboratories, and labyrinths— are all liminal not simply because they exist at the margins of everyday existence, but also because they exist at the boundaries between two or more worlds or states of being. Tombs and labyrinths, for instance, occupy the boundary between life and death, and along with temples and theaters, mark the place where the divine and the secular meet. Gardens and laboratories lie at the boundary between the natural and the artificial, or between what is wild and free and what is controlled. Theaters, magicians’ stages, and fairs also exist at the junctions of order and disorder, as well as on the line between illusion and reality.” See “Reflections in a Mechanical Mirror: Automata as Doubles and as Tools,” Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present 10 (1996): 179–207, 194. See also E. R. Truitt, “‘Trei poëte, sages dotors, qui mout sorent di nigromance’: Knowledge and Automata in Twelfth-Century French Literature,” Configurations 12.2 (Spring 2004): 167–93, 172. Her manuscript in progress, Magical Mechanisms: Automata in the Medieval West, promises to help fill in our knowledge of the medieval automaton. 12   The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP.


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self-movement,” is strictly denotative. Referring as it does to the animation of inert things, this is the guiding definition for this collection of essays: poetic representations of non-living objects that—whether propelled by pneumatics, hydraulics, clockworks, pinwheels, pulleys, or magic—move without human intervention. In Renaissance literature, readers encounter a wide array of these objects, as suggested above. Most were the product of a sophisticated construction, with carefully articulated movements, and a self-motion made uncanny by its appearance of consciousness or willful volition. But as the second OED definition suggests, an object might also be considered an automaton if it only appears to move spontaneously. Such ruses as the famous The Turk, the eighteenth-century chess playing “machine” that actually concealed a human chess master beneath its purely decorative (albeit elaborate) cogs and gears, would thereby in fact qualify as an “automaton,” as, in another sense, would the statue (or “statue,” depending on your reading) of Hermione. What is striking about this is that the distinguishing condition of the automaton—its characteristic of being self-generating—need only be apparent rather than actual. Some automata, of course, were “genuine” artifacts, if the concept of authenticity can apply to a seemingly living spontaneously moving inanimate object. But other automata add another mirror to the mise en abîme, only seeming to be those same simulacra. The complexity only increases in considering the remaining definitions, all of which are closely related. We are accustomed now to using the term “automaton” metaphorically, as presented by definitions four through six. Someone excessively mechanical in his or her motions might well be thought of as an automaton, whether that person is a Terminator or a Stepford wife. Still, it is one thing to say that someone’s actions appear mechanical. It is another thing to say that they are, as definition number two, “a human being viewed materially,” provocatively suggests. The crux of the matter is this: to take the inanimate and infuse it with motion and apparent life—this is obviously what we think of as an automaton. But to take a human being and see it reductively as inanimate: this too is an automaton. The definitions therefore cluster around a peculiarly nebulous midpoint on the ontological continuum: between the living and the dead, between spirit and matter, between a thing capable of agency or will and a thing whose “existence” is merely automatic. As these definitions suggest, then, the difference between human and automaton might be more a matter of degree than kind, maybe even just a question of perspective. Moreover, as the limit factors that we once cherished as solely ours—movement, speech, creativity, reason—are made manifest in our mechanical brethren, the definition of “human” begins to look uncannily like the diminishing residuum, or the photographic negative, of that occupied by selfpropelled machines. In the essays that follow, the automaton is never merely a literary trope, but always a figure for that shifting ontological terrain occupied by the “human,” oscillating between matter and spirit.



Man-Machine However trans-historical the issues raised by literary automata might seem to be, what has been little understood is how and why such objects take on particular poignancy during the early modern period. The essays that follow collectively suggest a reason: the early modern era’s epistemological complexity—about which more to follow—finds curious expression in literary fantasies of animation. Poets may be always and forever animating the inanimate. But in early modern Europe, it seems that these categories themselves were contested and in flux, resulting in automata that alternately promise the idealization of the human, or threaten complete disruption of the natural order altogether. To understand the particular appeal of the automaton to the Renaissance literary imagination, and to uncover what pieces have been, heretofore, left out of this story, some sense of larger context is crucial. The most salient fact here is that the study of animated things has been, to date, very largely object-driven, and our understanding has therefore been historically circumscribed; in comparison to the relative paucity of scholarly treatments of fictive automata, historians have long explored the Enlightenment fascination with actual performing objects and elaborate clockworks. This has been aided by the wonderful fact that so many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century automata, clockworks, and music boxes have survived and are therefore available to study. The proliferation makes sense: these centuries’ developments in science and engineering helped meet (and cultivate) the great demand among wealthy aristocrats for automata to enliven their Kunstkammern and garden grottos. At the same time, the emergence of Cartesianism produced an apparently compatible philosophical theory, a paradigm to make sense of, and domesticate, the uncanny self-animated object (in Descartes’ view, humans’ possession of a soul distinguished them—but not as radically as is often assumed—from their more automatically-driven animal counterparts; it was La Mettrie who took the argument to its next logical step, proffering in L’homme Machine an apposition between mechanism and mammal).13 And while by no means have most antique automata survived, they are not entirely a rarity: from the penny arcade-style gizmos at places like Detroit’s “Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum” or the “Musée Mécanique” in San Francisco, to the irreplaceable antique clockworks, limonaire, and elegant automata in the Guinness Collection of the Morris Museum—just to name some of several notable collections in the United States—these objects have remained in the public eye for 13   In fact, it has been suggested that it was Descartes’ encounter with actual automata during his years in Saint-Germain-en-Laye that inspired his infamous speculation: “Descartes’ mechanistic theories may similarly have been conditioned by his memories of the intricate automata in the royal gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and Boyles’ famous metaphor of the clockwork universe envisions humanity as, so to speak, the ‘jacks’ on the famous Strasbourg clock” (Scott Cutler Shershow, Puppets and “Popular” Culture [Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995] 115). See also Scott Maisano’s chapter in this collection.

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centuries.14 Some are magnificent, and some just magnificently chintzy, but for over two centuries now, automata have rarely appeared as anything but soulless, albeit ingenious, machines. But this is hardly the only role they play in preEnlightenment literature. For as Ovid’s Pygmalion illuminates, schemes to animate inert matter and self-moving machines long predate both the philosophies and technologies of the scientific revolution. Indeed, Ovid is a latecomer. Through hydraulics and pneumatics, ancient engineers such as Daedalus, Archytas, Ctesibius, and Hero of Alexandria created quite sophisticated versions of the self-propelled object; and Homer conceptualized ambulatory tripods for his Vulcan. Without these objects to examine, however, theorizing their significance is tricky, and understanding repeatedly remands to the accessible Enlightenment paradigm. (There are exceptions to this, such as the important new collection of essays edited by Jessica Riskin, which traces the connections between automata and emergent theories of artificial intelligence and artificial life, or Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, which looked at the semiotic and scientific construction of gendered bodies).15 One goal of the essays that follow is therefore to correct an assumption that frequently emerges from an anachronistic perspective of automata: that these animated beings are by definition exemplars of the new science, or that they point necessarily to man’s triumphant relationship to technology.16 On the contrary, automata in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seem only partly and sporadically to function as embodiments of an emerging mechanistic or materialist worldview. Renaissance automata were just as likely not to confirm for viewers a hypothesis about the man-machine. Instead, our research suggests that automata were often a source of wonder, suggestive of magic, proof of the uncannily animating effect of poetry—indeed, just as likely 14

  Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum ( and the Musée Mécanique ( are home to many “coin-op oddities,” from magic lanterns to automated fortune-tellers to hand-cranked music boxes. The Guinness Collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century automata and music boxes acquired by the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey is a world-class collection of antique automata and music boxes. Having opened in just 2007, the collection promises to be a boon to further study of automata from this period. 15   Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life. Ed. Jessica Riskin (Chicago: U Chicago P, 2007); Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991). 16   Even more distorted is the tendency to read all automata through the philosophical models of the Enlightenment. For example, in an essay entitled “Automata and the Origins of Mechanism and Mechanistic Philosophy,” Technology and Culture 5 (1964): 9–23, D. J. De Solla Price goes so far as to assert that, “some strong innate urge toward mechanistic explanation led to the making of automata” (9–10), as if automata hadn’t preceded mechanical philosophy by thousands of years. This kind of proleptic history can be very tempting, but there is no reason to assume that the past was on some teleological march towards today.



to unsettle the divide between man and divinity as that between man and matter. This complexity cannot emerge from a mere study of objects. Because however much technological marvels did to excite the popular imagination, literary automata—which is to say, representations of representations of animate beings— highlight far more clearly the vexed philosophical, theological, and ontological issues that come into play when objects become subjects in the early modern era. Technological wizardry alone cannot compass the urgent import of the “living” machine: the hubristic desire for omnipotence, the meaning of agency or will, the hypothetical dispensability of the soul, and the perennial question of what it means for a thing to be alive. To trace a full history of animated objects and their contexts in the west would be an impossible task. However, a brief intellectual history of the automaton can provide a larger framework for a theoretical and historical understanding of animated objects as more than just mechanical models of Enlightenment philosophy. For in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, neither empiricism nor induction had yet won their respective epistemological battles. Instead, the period witnessed the vertiginous coexistence of mysticism and proto-mechanism as interpretive models for natural phenomena. At the same time, philosophical, scientific, and religious writers weighed in on the complex relationship between matter and volition and spirit during this time. The indeterminacy was both of vehicle and tenor, both of epistemology and ontology. The early modern automaton, marked by indeterminacy at every level, thereby becomes a figure for a perplexing array of theological, philosophical, and aesthetic correlatives. This Is My Body A little-recognized but crucial context for understanding the early modern interest in automata was the controversial Renaissance revival and development of ancient theories of matter: the rediscovery, that is, of atomism and philosophical materialism as first promulgated by Epicurus and Democritus, and later popularized by Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. Both a philosophical orientation and a kind of theoretical physics, ancient and early modern materialism propounds the remanding to physical explanations every aspect of being. All life, these philosophers suggest, is a movement of atoms within a physical—and metaphysical—void. The philosophy thereby offers a powerful epistemological challenge to Christian dualism (according to the atomist, “death is nothing to us, it matters not one jot, since the nature of the mind is understood to be mortal”17) as well as to metaphysical understanding of human animation or life. 17   Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, trans. W. H. D. Rouse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953) 226. “Nil igitur mors est ad nos neque pertinet hilum, / Quandoquidem natura animi mortalis habetur” (Book III, X.830–831).

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The theories of materialist philosophers were readily available and widely read in early modern England through works such as Laurentius Valla’s 1431 De Voluptate, John Florio’s 1603 translation of Montaigne, Gassendi’s 1649 Animadversiones, and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, which issued from Continental presses, at any rate, almost three dozen times between the years of 1473 and 1650.18 The rediscovery and translation of materialist texts clearly inflected the conversation about the relationship between body and soul, or matter and spirit, during the period. Specifically, an authentic intellectual encounter with materialism—taking seriously the materiality of the “soul”—puts pressure on conventional models for understanding the nature of animate life itself, and to what, exactly, it could be ascribed. At the same time, of course, the complex discourses of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation had a very serious and competing influence on these issues. Atomistic theory was a rarified philosophy compared to the more mainstream, but extremely contentious, discourses over such matters as transubstantiation and incarnation. Did the Eucharistic wine and bread, as the first Council of Trent averred, become the literal Body and Blood of Christ? And if so, then what are the vast implications for both matter and perception (since the transubstantiation itself was held to be imperceptible to fallen human senses) of such a process? Or was transubstantiation, as reformist churches believed, more a metaphor than a reality: bread and wine “become” other matter, but only for ceremonial purpose, only representationally speaking? The questions emerged, initially, over the possibility of either a literal or figurative reading of Christ’s pronouncement at the Last Supper that “this [bread] is my body,” making corporeality and its metamorphic capacities a central crux of Christian theology. Of course, this issue was also at the heart of other mysteries of the church, not least Incarnation itself: the materialization of the immaterial, the arrival of divinity into corporeality. This was a question of faith, but also of physics, and it impacted all levels of early modern religious turmoil. It is not difficult to see in automata a living experiment in analogy, a hypostatic union in wood or brass. In recent years, drama historians have noted that what was suppressed in Reformation churches reappeared on stage: from the mock puppet show of Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair to the moving statue scene of The Winter’s Tale, from the fantastical engineering of the Jacobean and Caroline court masque to   Thomas Franklin Mayo, Epicurus in England 1650–1725 (Dallas: The Southwest Press, 1934) xxv. Mayo lists a number of sources in addition to these. See also F. A. Lange, The History of Materialism, 4th ed., trans. E. C. Thomas (London: Kegan Paul, 1892) and Charles Trawick Harrison, “The Ancient Atomists and the English Literature of the Seventeenth Century,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 45 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934): 1–79. More recently, see Jonathan Goldberg’s The Seeds of Things: Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations (New York: Fordham UP, 2009) for an important treatment of the place of atomistic theory in early modern literature and art. 18



even the boys’ theaters, automata gave audiences the chance to witness, if only in the theater, what their parents had once witnessed in church. And although stage magic was never more than a semi-legitimate art form, its puppet theaters, painted statues, and even child actors all crossed the nature/art divide in sometimes religiously charged ways: displacing interiority with iconicity, investing matter with transcendent qualities. Theatrical entertainment was therefore not far from theological and philosophical speculation, with even acting itself taking on some elements of automatic self-motion, something that both displaced and mystified the human. The discourses were rarely far removed, as Brooke Conti traces in her chapter on practices of early modern prayer, at once the most seemingly authentic, and yet hypothetically most “automatic” of activities. Pregnant with all Possibilities These theological, scientific, and aesthetic contexts by no means exhaust the range of associations that an early modern audience might have brought to, or thought through, automata. Perhaps the most crucial philosophical context was Renaissance Neoplatonism, which emerged as humanists studied and translated the works of Plato, Plotinus, and others. Through these writers, they encountered the heterodox concept of idealist monism, the “one first matter all” that Milton’s Raphael explicates to the first couple. Homologous in origin, all living beings differ, Neoplatonists argue, because they contain varying proportions of that same essential essence; those proportions alone determine one’s place along a universal ontological continuum, from most embodied to most transcendent. What this philosophical system proposes, therefore, is that matter and spirit differ not in type but in degree, existing as an explicit hierarchy along which human beings occupy a somewhat nebulous and changeable midpoint. As Pico della Mirandola put it, Upon man, at the moment of his creation, God bestowed seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of every form of life. Whichever of these a man shall cultivate, the same will mature and bear fruit in him. If vegetative, he will become a plant; if sensual, he will become brutish; if rational, he will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God.19

Like its predecessor alchemy, then, whose hopeful practitioner might incite an ontological ascent in a would-be-precious metal or other substance, the Neoplatonist proclaimed the mutability of matter as a means to ascend the ladder himself. Such aspirations were easily incorporated into an idealist Christianity: the adherent simply undertook a “cultivation” of his soul that might bring him 19   Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, trans. A. Robert Caponigri (Washington, D.C.: Gateway, 1956) 8–9.


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closer to heaven. But Neoplatonist philosophy had less comfortable implications too, by unsettling—as atomic theory likewise did—the dualistic divide between inanimate matter and living soul. Taken to its extreme, very little could be counted on to remain at a fixed ontological location, and any object might, potentially, be brought to self-motion and life. As the early modern period came to a close, an emergent science of Newtonian physics and Hobbesian political theory ultimately abrogated to itself authority in this conversation about matter: by the eighteenth century, consensus emerged around various mechanistic and even deterministic theories of natural phenomena which put the body, simply, back in its inanimate place. That era was no less interested in automata, to be sure, than Shakespeare’s age had been. Yet for the Enlightenment philosophe, the clockwork figurine or wooden simulacrum of a defecating duck emblematized and reaffirmed mechanistic theories of matter; eighteenth-century automata might inspire wonder, but such a wonder that underscored rather than challenged the man-machine analogy. While no brief summary of contexts could do justice to some century and a half of natural or speculative philosophy, theology, or aesthetics, what can be established without doubt is the prolixity of theories about the relationship among matter, spirit, and motion. What this cacophony of ideas meant for literary representations of automata was both exciting and confusing: as the essays to follow show, early modern automata are represented as moving by magic and clockworks, by possession and pneumatics, by trickery and Orphic inspiration. Likewise, the significatory uses to which automata could be put were almost as various as their ostensible ratio vivendi: they were tricks of the stage, doppelgangers of the poet, proofs on incipient animism, harbingers of sorcery, agents of political ambitions, object lessons for creative artists, guardians of shrines and grottos, amusements of the garden and cabinet, playthings to amuse a child king. The early modern reader or theatergoer (or garden visitor, or royal progress watcher) had to draw their own conclusions about what they were seeing and what it meant, and what they saw and thought it meant was changing rapidly. To take just one example, the literary phenomenon of the talking brass head was a feature of medieval romance as well as of early modern drama. But a deep epistemological fracture can be seen in Greene’s play featuring just such an object, which seems to different characters to represent a force of wonderment and sorcery, an elaborate clockwork, and an empty parlor trick. In an infamous stage direction, a hyperbolically aggressive deus ex machina—specifically, a divine hand wielding a hammer—smashes the perplexing head. The violence done to the representation only underscores the extent to which the early modern automaton could not be put in its place by any one philosophical approach. The essays in this volume consequently reflect this contradictory range of associations, from the idyllic (poetry as an eloquent “animator” of mere rocks and trees) to the apocalyptic (for Milton in Paradise Lost, Scott Maisano argues, the human is always already an artificial copy or simulacrum, manufactured in the image of its maker, and brought to life in a way that is distinct from all other



animals). And, most often, the living machine occupies neither of these extremes solely, but becomes, as Lynsey McCulloch puts it in her chapter on Spenser’s Talus, a placeholder for “ontological mobility,” and all the vertiginous physics, ethics, and theology that such mobility implies. *** Part 1 of this book, “Creations, Creatures, and Origins,” considers the literary automaton from its point of origination, as a thing born, invented, or made. Scott Maisano’s “Descartes Avec Milton: The Automata in the Garden” (Chapter 2) opens the conversation by addressing the infamous philosopher of automata, Descartes. As Maisano points out, it is customary to see Descartes as the originator of dualistic thinking of all kinds. But a careful analysis of Paradise Lost shows that Milton, decades after Descartes, imagined his first man as a creature divorced from the rest of the animal kingdom, possessed of a mind unmoved by the experiences of its body. Milton’s Adam is anything but “one” with nature. Rather, he observes the garden from a position of singularity and loneliness. In requesting a mate, Adam therefore passes the world’s first Turing Test: he has proved to God that he, Adam, is not a computer. On the other hand, there is something strange about Adam’s “springing” to life fully formed, something more mechanistic than agential. Eve’s creation, even more so, points to something quite peculiar about our first parents’ origin: neither was ever a child. Moreover, prelapsarian Adam and Eve—like the automata in Renaissance mechanical gardens—never change or age. How does this complicate the conventional notion of the human as an imago Dei, an image of God? Where does it leave free will? Maisano offers a radical thesis: whereas Descartes seems to imagine that some automata could pass as humans, Milton goes a step further in Paradise Lost. He parades his automata “naked” before our very eyes, and insists that they were the first humans. Justin Kolb’s essay, Chapter 3, offers a fresh reading of Shakespeare’s late romance The Winter’s Tale, which is never far from any discussion of moving statues in the early modern period. However, rather than see the statue scene as a magical revelation, “‘To me comes a creature’: Recognition, Agency, and the Properties of Character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale” suggests that the early modern dramatic self is revealed to be an assembled, contingent thing, a subject built out of objects. Starting with Hermione’s disassembly under Leontes’ interrogation, Kolb argues that unified subjects are broken up into their constituent material and social components through violence and interrogation, with Latour informing his understanding of the quasi-object. The ambiguous concept of “creature,” invoked by Antigonus on the Bohemian shore, allows Kolb to point to some of the ontological incoherence of the various presences on the Renaissance stage, from prop to dream vision to moving statue to person. In this reading, Hermione is not so much resurrected as she is rebuilt, the product of stage music, costume, pedestal, and the invocation of the craftsmanship of Julio Romano. The animation of material tokens applies as much to bundles of rags (the prop playing


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the part of the infant “Perdita”) as to fully realized speaking actors. The dramatic author, in the final analysis, is not an inspired poet crafting words out of thin air, but an engineer combining given instruments into ingenious new devices. Chapter 4, Lynsey McCulloch’s “Antique Myth, Early Modern Mechanism: The Secret History of Spenser’s Iron Man,” posits an alternative to several conventional interpretations of The Faerie Queene’s Talus—that he represents the failure of military Neostoicism, the advance of western industrial development, or the judicial fantasy of Ireland’s beleaguered English colonists. Tracing Talus’ noble literary heritage in Hesiod, Apollodorus, and Apollonius of Rhodes, McCulloch points to overlooked aspects of his character: his physical grace, his ability to mediate among opposed forces, his capacity for unveiling hidden knowledge, his role as a storyteller, and his close connections with ancient myths and fables. These associations have been obscured behind the image of Talus as lumbering metallic giant. In fact, “his speed and lightness of touch are emphasized as often as his strength and brute force.” Likewise, his relationship to Astraea in the poem suggests his partly divine origin, one that hints at a “magical or deified aspect” of the character so often thought of as a brutish tool. This reexamination shows how Talus, while clearly an early modern cyborg, is superhuman as well as a subhuman: a figure of wonder and warfare, of magic and technology, both god and golem. Moreover, in his ontological ambiguity, Talus is one among an extensive network of other manufactured figures in Book V, including armored knights, bionic women, holographic images, and living statuary. His role as, and relationship to, these other quasi-automata productively challenges dualistic taxonomies (e.g. matter/spirit; male/female; organic/machine) in Spenser’s poem, and even suggests a kind of ideal melding of these dichotomies. “Motion,” the theme for the essays in Part 2, addresses itself to that primary criterion of life itself: the ability to move. Like the first section of the volume, these essays are also concerned with questions of ontology and ethics, albeit from a somewhat different angle, namely: what do agency, will, and emotion mean in reference to the automaton? These chapters take up issues of authenticity and expression, and in relation not just to the automaton, but to the audience which tries to make sense of what ambiguous animation might mean. This section of the book is opened by Leah Knight’s “Orpheus and the Poetic Animation of the Natural World” (Chapter 5). This chapter traces a recurrent early modern fantasy: the Orphic ability to infuse animation in an otherwise immobile and unresponsive landscape. Writers as diverse as Thomas Lodge, Francis Bacon, George Puttenham, and Edmund Spenser visualize trees, rocks, and the landscape itself moving in response to poetry’s eloquence. On the one hand, as Knight observes, this simply represents poetry’s conventional desire to “move” its auditors, and is therefore a literalization of the rhetorical device of prosopopoeia, speaking as or through another person or object. But this personification of trees is not merely tropic. The Orphic animation of the landscape is imbricated in complex ways with the more widespread fascination with automata evidenced elsewhere in the period. Knight suggests, for example, that it was the very “intermediate



quality about the mobility of vegetation that made it a particularly attractive locus for fantasies of automated movement, given that all automata occupy a similarly middling ground between agency and objecthood.” The poetic animation of matter was therefore both a meditation on the nature of poetry as a genuine agent in the world, and also of the landscape and its latent potential for emotion and action. Indeed, Knight points out, the animated Orphic landscape showed vegetation’s ability to be moved by words but also, in turn, to function as initiators of communication, both in the eyes of poets and later of the botanists who tried to reveal their efficacious “virtues,” those actions the plants themselves could induce. Early modern religious prose occasionally uses the language of automation positively, to describe such things as God’s creation, Christ’s sacrifice, or the nature of the soul. But when early modern religious writers call upon this vocabulary to describe prayer or faith, the resulting images are nearly always negative. This negativity occurs regardless of the religion of the writer; as Brook Conti’s “The Mechanical Saint: Early Modern Devotion and the Language of Automation” (Chapter 6) observes, the only constant in these references appears to be that they are deployed against the writer’s antagonists, by way of characterizing their religiosity as false. More curious than the fact of their appearance across the doctrinal and denominational spectrum, however, is the cognitive dissonance the automaton figure seems to cause for the writer. Starting with a careful reading of Lancelot Andrewes’ Whitsunday sermon, Conti considers the curious slippage in that author’s accusations against nonconformists: at one point, he calls them automata whose histrionic emotions are produced only by “some spring within” rather than by divine guidance. But within moments Andrewes reverses his critique, calling these same individuals pneumatica who have “no inward power.” Is it self-directedness or other-directedness that reveals something inauthentic or robotic about the worshiper? And how can the observer discern true devotion when prayer is, to quote Conti, “as mysterious as the wheels and springs that set an automaton in motion”? This chapter goes on to a fuller examination of the language of automation in Milton’s Areopagitica and in several religious prose works of the period, observing its curiously destabilizing effect on the conceptualization of free will, original sin, and private religious experience. The issue of motion and agency is likewise taken up by Michael Witmore in Chapter 7, “Arrow, Acrobat, and Phoenix: On Sense and Motion in English Civic Pageantry.” Alone among the essays in this collection, Witmore’s focus is not written literature but public spectacle, the fiction-making of the state apparatus itself. His subject is the animated street shows that greeted monarchs entering the city, specifically those observed by the ten-year-old Edward VI during his 1547 coronation ceremony. Pageants, regularly populated by automata and a wide variety of animated street tableaux, were designed to dazzle spectators. Witmore explores how the automata in civic pageantry were in turn imitated by human beings, who thereby participated in a kind of inhuman motion. Examining the feats of jugglers, acrobats, puppeteers, and child rhetoricians, Witmore argues that the arts of “lively motion” practiced in such spectacles were ultimately a


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celebration of the interchangeability of the living and the inanimate (and noticing the dependency of lifelike animation on such seemingly minor artifacts of material culture as soap). He turns to modern dance theory for a terminology, using the concept of “metakinesis” to theorize the legibility—indeed the semiotics—of movement in such public rituals. The particular thing performed in the “grammar” of bodily motion witnessed by the king was didactic. It did not just reify, as the court masque, but rather taught. What it taught was that the young king ought to model himself, simply put, after the automata in the display. Part 3 of this volume “Performance and Deception,” looks at automata as marvelous fictions, as works of art, and as objects of deliberate deception. Todd Borlik’s “‘More than Art’: Clockwork Automata, the Extemporizing Actor, and the Brazen Head in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay” (Chapter 8) attends to the talking brass head in Greene’s popular Elizabethan comedy. Borlik’s essay tackles several aspects of this most peculiar animated object. As with the Orphicallyinspired landscape, the animated brass head is linked to oracular utterance, not to mention “magical,” specifically Neoplatonic and Hermetic, forces. The product of seven years’ labor, the head only comes to “life” long enough to utter the cryptic phrase, “Time is. Time Was. Time is Past.” before being spectacularly destroyed via supernatural intervention; eventually, the play’s previously hubristic Friar Bacon renounces his occult studies. Such a narrative involved a curious rewriting of history on Greene’s part, for while Greene portrays the magus’ power as supernatural in origin, the real Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1294) advocated scientific research grounded in proto-empiricism, and explicitly sought to distance his inquiries from magic. In Greene’s telling, Bacon’s brazen head functions as a kind of clockwork automaton (indeed as a talking memento mori) that might well have provided an alternative to a necromantic interpretation of the animated head. But just as he substitutes a magic glass for Bacon’s telescope, Greene obscures both his own and Bacon’s knowledge of mechanized devices to further implicate him as a kind of black magician. Magic makes for a gripping spectacle on stage, but Greene’s avoidance of more mechanistic explanations actually mystifies technological processes. As Borlik goes on to show, Greene’s anxiety was not unrelated to his resentment over extemporaneous acting styles, and specifically those players whose comic agency subverted their assigned role as “puppits that speake from our mouths.” Agency, for Greene, was deeply vexed when those things that should be things are instead animated by their own or some outside force. In the ninth chapter of the volume, “‘Mathematical experiments of long silver pipes’: The Early Modern Figure of the Mechanical Bird,” Wendy Beth Hyman examines the frequent appearance of mechanical birds in early modern literature. As uncanny doubles for poets themselves, such metallic warblers reveal a curious combination of anxiety about, and enchantment with, the notion of engineered song. It rarely appears that the early modern poet feels dispossessed by the achievements of mechanical birds, or even makes the case for the superiority of organic song. Rather, poets see themselves as fellow



technicians, accomplishing through rhetorical dexterity what mechanical birds do with their “silver” throats or tongues. Here as elsewhere, the mechanical and magical, or the mathematical and oracular, are mutually constitutive. The ubiquitous trope returns us to Sidney’s figuration of the poet as a “maker” as well as a seer, and of techne as a means to inspiration rather than as an impediment to it. Its most far-reaching claim is that the Muses themselves might well be thought of as the original automaton-makers, breathing through the inspired poet much as pneumatic pipes quicken mechanical birds. Chapter 10, “Desire, Nature, and Automata in the Bower of Bliss,” focuses on the transgressive nature of being in Spenser’s Bower of Bliss, that inimitable crux at the end of The Faerie Queene’s second book. Here, Nick Davis takes particular account of the perennially overlooked automata in Acrasia’s notorious den. Davis argues that “magical” machines in the Bower, a pseudo-Eden (or Hesdin), are destructive of ethics because, in the language of the period’s most influential account of mechanica, namely Aristotle’s, they produce things “contrary to Nature” by means of Art. Natural processes and human behavior subordinated to this mechanical techne becomes automated, and therefore alien. As in Brooke Conti’s account of religious prose, “the debauchée is offered as a figure of the moral automaton,” making Spenser’s goal the reorganization of man’s relationship to the natural along more organic terms. However, the poet’s own goal to “fashion,” to mold or create, puts him in an ironic position. He may critique the deceptive simulacra of the artificial garden, and yet as a fashioner of noble gentlemen—not to mention of so many ingenious Snowy Florimels and hydraulic monsters—the poet aligns himself with none other than the “Daedalan artificer” of old. Along with the other essays in this volume, Davis’ helps us understand a little more about that place where early modern technology and poetic artifice combine to create magic.

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PART 1 Creations, Creatures, and Origins

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Chapter 2

Descartes avec Milton: The Automata in the Garden Scott Maisano The Sixt, and of Creation last [day] arose With Evening Harps and Mattin, when God said, Let th’Earth bring forth Soul living in her kinde, Cattel and Creeping things, and Beast of the Earth, Each in their kinde. The Earth obey’d, and strait Op’ning her fertile Woomb teem’d at a Birth Innumerous living Creatures, perfet formes, Limb’d and full grown … The grassie Clods now Calv’d, now half appeer’d The Tawnie Lion, pawing to get free His hinder parts, then springs as broke from Bonds, And Rampant shakes his Brinded main; the Ounce, The Libbard, and the Tyger, as the Moale Rising, the crumbl’d Earth above them threw In Hillocks; the swift Stag from under ground Bore up his branching head: scarse from his mould Behemoth biggest born of Earth upheav’d His vastness: Fleec’t the Flocks and bleating rose, As Plants.1

Among early modern fantasies of vivification—scenes of mere matter being stirred, sculpted, or spoken to and then suddenly springing to life—John Milton’s retelling of Genesis 1:24–5 in Book VII of Paradise Lost soars above all others in terms of the sheer multiplicity, not to mention biodiversity, of its newly sentient   John Milton, Paradise Lost (VII.449–56, 463–73); hereafter PL. Citations are from Milton’s Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Macmillan, 1957). I would like to thank Lara Dodds, Laurie Shannon, and Henry Turner, my interlocutors on the “We Have Never Been Human” panel at the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies in 2007; Joseph Campana for inviting me to present this work at the Rice University Humanities Research Center in 2009; and Wendy Hyman for all her keen editorial and conceptual recommendations. I would also like to acknowledge the invaluable input of the undergraduate honors students in my 2008 interdisciplinary colloquium on “The Theater of Artificial Life” at UMass Boston. 1


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creatures. Embellishing and elaborating on the relatively nondescript “cattle,” “living creature,” and “creeping thing” recounted in the King James Bible, Milton provides detailed close-ups of lions, lynxes, leopards, tigers, deer, elephants, and sheep all spontaneously emerging into existence, “Limb’d and full-grown,” at God’s command. The copious specificity in these passages does more than fulfill, or even surpass, the aesthetic conventions of epic poetry. Lines such as “Let th’ Earth bring forth Soul living in her kinde” begin to develop a theological doctrine, the concept of the imago Dei (the belief, rooted in Genesis 1:25–6, that humans are the only earthly creatures made in the image and likeness of God), even as they raise a philosophical question: what justifies God, who elsewhere in Milton’s theodicy extols the virtues of reason and free will, making nonhuman animals that lack these uniquely human endowments? The complex moral status of animals vis-à-vis humans in Paradise Lost and Milton’s delicate reauthorization of the scriptural warrant for what historian Kenneth Gouwens calls “human exceptionalism”—that is, “what made humans distinct from and superior to other earthly creatures”—become most pronounced and provocative when viewed in light of the controversial, if nearly identical, project of René Descartes (1596–1650).2 Studies of the cosmology and metaphysics underpinning Paradise Lost frequently allude to Galileo (1564–1642), as does the poem itself on several occasions, but the vast majority of Milton scholars (perhaps following Milton’s lead) never even mention Descartes, despite the French philosopher’s obvious impact on contemporary English intellectual culture. Although automata in literature of the English Renaissance are usually figures associated with wonder, marvel, and enchantment, Descartes has been viewed as a disenchanted reductionist for positing that living, breathing, suffering animals— including dogs, cats, magpies, and monkeys—are themselves automata, or material machines motivated only by physical stimuli and sensations, without the addition of immaterial minds or souls. When Descartes has merited some attention from Miltonists and scholars of seventeenth-century English literature more generally, he has almost always been demonized as a subtle purveyor of the new science. This chapter, by contrast, argues that Milton’s Paradise Lost reveals two of the most troubling features of Descartes’ philosophy—first, the psycho-physical dualism that makes a clear distinction between mind and body in human beings and, second, the comparison of living animals to mechanical automata—to be neither entirely new nor especially disenchanting but, instead, part and parcel of a prehistoric wisdom. This chapter shows that Milton’s prelapsarian Adam and Eve are characterized by a psycho-physical dualism that sets them apart from the brute beasts, and, just as importantly, that Descartes imagined his own philosophical project as the restoration of an Edenic (and hence Adamic) “first philosophy.” My title takes its inspiration from Jacques Lacan’s iconoclastic essay “Kant avec Sade.” In his text, Lacan observes that “[Sade’s] Philosophy in the Bedroom 2   Kenneth Gouwens, “Human Exceptionalism,” The Renaissance World, ed. John Jeffries Martin (New York: Routledge, 2007) 415–34, 416.

Descartes avec Milton


comes eight years after [Kant’s] Critique of Practical Reason” and, more to the point, Sade’s pornographic dialogue unexpectedly “completes” and “gives the truth” of Kant’s ethical and moral philosophy.3 Likewise, I hope to show that Milton did not regard Descartes as the first person to argue that human beings existed apart from—rather than as part of or in fellowship with—the other animals in the garden. Nor did Milton regard Descartes as the first person to suggest that the human psyche, or rational soul, should ideally remain unmoved by anything (including bodily sensations and environmental stimuli) outside its own conscious thought. The first person to espouse these ideals, according to both Milton’s epic and Descartes’ philosophy, was the first person: Adam. By revealing the strikingly similar views of Descartes and Milton’s Adam on issues of animal automaticity and human sovereignty, this chapter calls into question the problematic periodization of the English Renaissance, or early modern period, which has continued to include Milton, whose Paradise Lost (1666) was published after the Restoration, even as it has increasingly identified Descartes as marking the end of a certain Renaissance cosmology or early modern episteme. Against this longstanding anomaly of intellectual history, I argue that Descartes perceived his own project not as a harbinger of Enlightenment thinking but as a harkening back to—in short, a Renaissance of—Edenic knowledge. No Longer Demonizing Descartes but, Instead, Giving the Devil his Due I recognize that if a foot or arm or any other part of the body is cut off, nothing has thereby been taken away from the mind. (Descartes, Sixth Meditation4)

Was René Descartes the devil? Scholars of English Renaissance literature, especially Miltonists, often describe Descartes as a deluded narcissist with pretensions to being self-begotten (“I think, therefore I am”) and a habit of boasting, à la Milton’s Satan, that, “the mind is its own place.”5 Descartes has taken the blame for the fact that our Renaissance predecessors had the privilege to experience such Galenic phenomena as “hot bloodedness” and “cold feet” as lived, medical realities—at once physiological and psychological—but, for us, these phenomena are simply dead metaphors, innocuous figures of speech. According to this version of intellectual history, we unwittingly exchanged a monistic and holistic ecology— wherein the mind was continuous with the body and the body itself was continuous with the natural environment—for a dualistic and mechanistic epistemology, in 3   Jacques Lacan, “Kant with Sade,” trans. James B. Swenson, Jr. October 51 (1989): 55–75, 55. 4   René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 59. 5   Descartes, Philosophical I:195; Milton, PL I.254.


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which mind, body, and world are discrete entities that might occasionally interact, but are best understood in isolation from each other. Bruce Smith explains how this transformation took place and identifies who is to blame: “Descartes convinced most European intellectuals (and their successors down to our own day) that they could think without their bodies.”6 Whereas Smith casts Descartes as the “fall guy” for modernity, a Mephistophelean figure who single-handedly seduces generation after generation of Faustian intellectuals, Gail Kern Paster is more circumspect and careful in assigning such blame: In the animated early modern cosmology … the human body, though set apart by the existence of a rational soul, is nevertheless joined indissolubly to the rest of ensouled nature on the universal continuum and shares all of its passions with the animals stationed just below them. Descartes succeeds in disturbing this continuum and beginning its slow demise … he begins the gradual epistemic process toward abstraction that overtakes early modern discourses of body and mind.7

In this increasingly familiar narrative, Cartesianism becomes a retelling of paradise lost: before Descartes, humanity was one with nature, had the capacity to hear green, and shared all its passions with the rest of the animal kingdom. After Descartes, we tragically discover—but only after we have partaken of the fruits of this knowledge—how the cogito divorces the mind from the body and, worse still, divorces humankind from the rest of creation.8 Ironically, many of the very same scholars who fault the Cartesian cogito for its ignorance or avoidance of socio-economic, political, and historical contexts would ask us to believe that Descartes himself, through the sheer force of his ideas, determined the material and mental realities of millions of people for centuries to come. This demonic view of Descartes rests largely, I maintain, on a muddled sense of both psycho-physical dualism, and of what the philosopher means by “automata” or “self movers.”9 6   Bruce Smith, “Hearing Green,” Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion, eds. Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary FloydWilson (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2004) 147–9. 7   Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004) 246. 8   For another version of the same narrative, see Jacques Derrida’s lectures The Animal That Therefore I Am (New York: Fordham UP, 2008), where the back cover refers to “the distinction—dating from Descartes—between man as a thinking animal and every other living species.” Such a distinction, traceable to the earliest lines of Hebrew scripture, obviously predates Descartes. 9   For a clearer sense of what Descartes meant by “automata,” see Alvin Snider, “Cartesian Bodies,” Modern Philology 98.2 (2000): 299–319; Peter Harrison, “Descartes on Animals,” Philosophical Quarterly 42.167 (1992): 219–227; and John Cottingham, “A Brute to the Brutes?: Descartes’ Treatment of Animals,” Philosophy 53.206 (1978): 551–

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Literary scholars’ identification of Descartes with Satan is most explicit in recent readings of Milton’s epic. Ken Hiltner, in Milton and Ecology, explains how Descartes is “splendidly portrayed in Paradise Lost through Satan’s boast that ‘mind is its own place’” before proclaiming Milton’s devilish impersonation of Descartes to be a “scorching indictment” of Descartes’ dualism. For Hiltner, the ecological significance of Milton’s supposed condemnation of Descartes is clear: What Descartes brought about was a radical consolidation of the being of the Individual into just mind—separate and apart from not only body, but from all else, including the surrounding place. Clearly, the view of traditional peoples who considered the Self as part of the place … was under assault from Descartes—and from Milton’s Satan.10

But Hiltner never cites a single work, or word, from Descartes as evidence of the French philosopher’s “assault” on “the view of traditional peoples.” Instead, an endnote informs readers that “Stephen M. Fallon has persuasively argued” that Milton’s epic can be read as an “affront” to Descartes’ dualism and that Hiltner’s characterization of Descartes “is in many respects built upon Fallon’s general arguments.” But how persuasive are Fallon’s arguments, with regard to Descartes, really? In Milton Among the Philosophers, Fallon claims that Satan’s shape-shifting into various nonhuman animals “has a distinctly Cartesian flavor. By choosing to ‘imbrute’ himself in a cormorant, tiger, frog, and snake, he enacts a parody of Cartesian dualism.”11 If Milton had intended Satan’s theriomorphic disguises as a parody of Cartesian dualism, it would have been quite a misguided indictment for the simple reason that psycho-physical dualism—the distinction between mind and body—is a uniquely human phenomenon that has no pertinence to nonhuman animals in Descartes’ philosophy. According to Descartes, animals lack minds (immaterial things aware of, and reflecting on, the physiological phenomena—for example, perceiving, imagining, and dreaming—occurring in material brains) and thus have no cogito, or sense of self, that could be separable from their bodies. The serpent, of course, was not Milton’s invention, but predicating the Fall on Eve’s miscalculation that a nonhuman animal could reflect on, reason about, and speak of its experience was Milton’s original, “post-Cartesian” contribution to the Genesis tale. If anything, the object lesson of this cautionary tale would seem to favor Descartes. Fallon, however, insists that Satan’s posing as a serpent exposes Descartes’ own original sin: “in Cartesian terms, Satan admits alteration in his res extensa, but denies it in his res cogitans. Such distinctions make sense in a 559. Harrison’s assessment of the situation almost two decades ago, unfortunately, still holds true: “There is currently a lot of nonsense spoken about Descartes, particularly on the question of animal consciousness” (227). 10   Ken Hiltner, Milton and Ecology (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003) 22. 11   Stephen Fallon, Milton Among the Philosophers: Poetry and Materialism in Seventeenth-Century England (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 205.


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Cartesian universe but not in a … Miltonically monist one” (203). According to Fallon, only Descartes (or Satan) could claim to be the same person—possessed of the same mind—in the wake of an alteration to his physical being. And yet, as we will see in the next section of this chapter, Milton’s Adam goes out of his way to reassure Eve that her mind remains unchanged and unaffected despite the bodily changes she undergoes on the night Satan infiltrates her dreams. Adam also explains to Raphael how his own mind is unmoved by any sensory stimuli in Paradise: only conversations with Eve, it turns out, can bring about a transformation in his thinking. Its shortcomings notwithstanding, Fallon’s identification of Satan with Descartes has proven influential. John Rogers enlists Milton’s epic as part of a larger seventeenth-century philosophical undertaking “to heal the wound of dualism inflicted by Descartes.”12 And, most recently, Diane McColley argues that “Milton’s God cast doubt on Descartes’ two proofs for an absolute difference between men and animals, that they lack language and reason.”13 Milton’s God, according to McColley, does more than fend off the rebellion of Satan and his minions. He is also busy refuting, in advance, the false doctrines of Descartes. Or not. It is time, I think, to give the devil—Descartes—his due. I agree with Fallon, Rogers, Hiltner, and McColley that our appreciation and understanding of Milton’s epic can be enhanced through a familiarity with the writings of Descartes, and especially with his thinking on what distinguishes humanity from the “bête machine” or “animal automaton.” But a closer reading of Descartes reveals Adam and Eve and the brute unreasoning beasts of Eden, not Satan, to be Milton’s premier instances of Cartesian embodiment. Milton’s human couple exemplifies, in their prelapsarian state, a sort of “perfectly natural” psycho-physical dualism. And his prelapsarian animals—Adam and Eve’s “unequals” (Paradise Lost VIII.383)— nicely illustrate Descartes’ argument that (1) self-motion is evidence of vitality but (2) neither self-motion nor vitality, by themselves, is evidence of a faculty for reasoning or making judgments. Milton, I argue, agrees with Descartes: animals do have thoughts, but they lack the capacity, exclusive to human beings, to reflect on—and thereby to assess, judge, or approve of—the thoughts they have had or are having. By this definition nonhuman animals are unconscious automata; and yet, for both Descartes and Milton, it is humanity that exists as an artificial animal, conspicuously at odds with the natural world around it.

12   John Rogers, The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996) 106. 13   Diane Kelsey McColley, Poetry and Ecology in the Age of Milton and Marvell (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) 221.

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Automatic Animals and Immoveable Humans: Milton’s Cartesian Eden From the beginning, Milton’s Adam senses his difference from the other animals. Adam explains to Eve their need, as humans, to get a good night’s sleep: Man hath his daily work of body or mind Appointed, which declares his dignity, And the regard of Heav’n on all his ways; While other animals unactive range, And of their doings God takes no account. (IV.618–22)

In light of Stephen Fallon’s claim that Descartes’ distinction between res extensa and res cogitans would not “make sense” in a Miltonically monist universe, it is worth noting how Adam distinguishes here between his “body” and his “mind.” Even more noteworthy, however, is Adam’s assurance that the nonhuman animals in Eden are, to put it bluntly, mindless. What else could it mean for these animals to roam “unactive” through the garden? They are in motion, yes, and they are “self-movers” or “automata”—there are no external strings or giant fans pulling or blowing them about—but their self-movement as such still does not constitute “action.” This is because seventeenth-century activity, as distinct from passivity, required volition—an exercise of free will—and not just psychological and physiological goings-on. Thus, Adam uses the curious-sounding word, “unactive,” to describe the animals in Paradise: these creatures undeniably experience breathing, walking, singing and snoring, but they do not, as far as Adam can tell, choose to do any of these things. And choice, for Milton, makes all the difference. Absent of volition, these animals are free, in a manner of speaking, to do as they please: God “takes no account” of their doings. At the same time, though, these animals are also bound to behave on the basis of their bodily sensations and appetites: they have no real choice in the matter. Even the poet’s exhortation of marital bliss—“Hail wedded love, mysterious law, true source / Of human offspring”—derives its strength from an excursus on the topic of animal automaticity: “by [marriage] adulterous lust was driv’n from men / Among the bestial herds to range” (IV.750–755). Milton’s nonhuman animals are, at one and the same time, both free and condemned to fornicate. With no capacity to sin, the animals have no need to obey. But then why does Milton’s God feel it necessary to create nonhuman animals at all? In Eden, the animals apparently serve no useful purpose: they are not needed for transportation or clothing or food. Nor, surprisingly, do these animals’ lives appear to be intrinsically valuable. In Book IX, when Eve suggests to Adam that the two of them would be more efficient, less likely to be distracted by smiles and small talk, if they divided their labors and worked separately, Adam responds by describing “this sweet intercourse / Of looks and smiles” as “Food of the mind” (IX.238–39). Adam then explains how “smiles from reason flow, / To brute denied” (IX.239–40). The implications are clear: nonhuman animals, the brutes,


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experience neither delight nor love, nor will they ever even smile, because all of these things depend on “reason” and “the mind,” which God did not impart to them. So, if Milton’s God insists that Adam and Eve must exercise their reason and free will for their obedience to mean anything, why does he create countless other mindless living things? These animals, according to Milton’s God, are part of an experiment, a game, designed specifically to verify humanity’s intelligence and obedience. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, we might call this experiment God’s own Turing Test or “Imitation Game.” Alan Turing began his 1950 essay, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” with the simple but provocative question: “Can Machines Think?” The problem of defining what qualifies as thinking prompted Turing to devise a game, the “Imitation Game,” wherein a computer attempts to dupe its human interlocutor, with whom it exchanges typed messages, into believing that the computer is, in fact, human. If the computer is successful, then, setting aside the question of what thinking itself may be, the computer has demonstrated that it does something “like” thinking. For a machine created by humans to become like humans, to the degree it can imitate their thinking, has been the primary criterion for assessing “artificial intelligence” since Turing devised his test.14 Similarly, Milton’s God, in conversation with Adam, attempts to see whether his own creation can think like its Creator. Thus, while Diane McColley is technically correct when she asserts that Milton’s God casts doubt on Descartes’ distinction between humans and animals (by implying that nonhuman creatures also possess reason and language), she fails to mention that God, when he does so, is testing Adam’s intelligence: What call’st thou solitude? is not the Earth With various living creatures, and the Air Replenisht, and all these at thy command To come and play before thee: know’st thou not Thir language and thir ways? They also know And reason not contemptibly. (Paradise Lost VIII.369–74)

Adam, singularly unimpressed with God’s reasoning here, continues to press his complaint: Among unequals what society Can sort, what harmony or true delight? … … Of fellowship I speak Such as I seek, fit to participate All rational delight, wherein the brute Cannot be human consort. (VIII.383–4, 389–93) 14   Noreen Herzfeld, In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) 45.

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For Adam, the companionship of “unequals” is not sufficient to stave off his loneliness: while he appreciates the presence of his companion species in Eden, the internal rhyming of “speak” and “seek” in this passage suggests that what Adam craves above all is “rational delight,” intelligent conversation, or what he later calls “Food of the mind.” It is at this point in Milton’s retelling of the Genesis story that God reveals to Adam the nature of the game he has been playing: Thus far to try thee, Adam, I was pleas’d And find thee knowing not of Beasts alone, Which thou hast rightly nam’d, but of thyself, Expressing well the spirit within thee free, My image, not imparted to the Brute, Whose fellowship therefore unmeet for thee Good reason was thou freely shouldst dislike, And be so minded still; I, ere thou spak’st, Knew it not good for man to be alone, And no such company as then thou saw’st Intended thee, for trial only brought, To see how thou could’st judge of fit and meet. (VIII.437–48)

This passage supplies Milton’s unambiguous answer to an important theological question: why did God create nonhuman animals? “To try thee,” God says to Adam, adding: “for trial only brought / To see how thou could’st judge.” The animals have been a test for Adam; they exist solely so Adam can learn from them what he is not: namely, a creature or soul born of this world. God wants to watch Adam’s mind—his faculty for judging—at work, to see how Adam is able to come to the realization that his fellow creatures, for all “thir language and thir ways,” do not possess the same kind of “spirit within,” or capacity for self-reflection, as his own. This uniquely human mind is the only thing that God can mean by “My image, not imparted to the Brute.” The doctrine of the imago Dei, or “the image of God,” complicates the issue of Milton’s monism. Raphael explains to Adam that everything in existence— including Raphael and Adam themselves—was once “one first matter all” (V.472). The fact that everything comes from one thing, a singular substance, helps explain why even seemingly ethereal creatures, such as the angels, not only experience pain and pleasure but also have earthy appetites for food and sex. As Fallon expounds, juxtaposing Milton’s monism with Descartes’ dualism, “[instead] of being trapped in an ontologically alien body, the soul is one with the body. Spirit and matter become for Milton two modes of the same substance: spirit is rarefied matter; and matter is dense spirit. All things, from insensate objects through souls, are manifestations of this one substance” (Fallon 80). Milton’s monism is not just materialist; it is also vitalist. In other words, Milton does not view the body as merely a machine, passive and inert, but instead he insists that all matter—bodies,


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blood, and the dust from which they are derived—is always already charged with the dynamic potentiality inherent in the primal stuff of Chaos. But the “image of God” is not uniformly present throughout this one substance. In Raphael’s words: … he formed thee, Adam, thee O man

Dust of the ground, and in thy nostrils breathed The breath of life; in his own image he Created thee, in the image of God Express, and thou becam’st a living soul. (VII.524–528)

Unlike every other animal in Eden, Adam has been hand-crafted, or “formed,” in the likeness of a preexisting model. Indeed, when Satan first espies the human couple in Eden he, too, refers to their “Divine resemblance, and such grace / The hand that formd them on thir shape hath pourd” (IV.364–65). In Milton’s Eden the human being is a simulacrum that has been manufactured so as to resemble exactly (“Express”) the image of his Creator. Whereas God had “Let th’ Earth bring forth Soul living in her kinde”—and, likewise, “let the Waters generate / Reptil with Spawn abundant, living Soule”—He did not take such a hands-off approach when it came to the creation of his “Master work,” humanity (IV.387–88, 505). Humans are the one artificial animal, the Creator’s image and likeness upon earth. What makes us humans unique, prior to the Fall, is that we are not unique. Our essential and defining characteristic—the sine qua non of our existence— is the fact that we are living images, flesh-and-blood imitations. One could easily get the impression, from Fallon’s assertion that “[all] that exists, from angels to earth, is composed of one living substance,” that the poet put forward a theory of evolution, wherein the most complex forms of life—human beings and vertebrate animals—emerge from the potentiality of “one first matter” (1). That, however, does not happen in Paradise Lost any more than it happens in, say, the Bible. Milton’s God does not simply command the dust of the ground to “generate” or “bring forth” humanity and then wait for the vital, self-active matter to do its best. To the contrary, Milton’s God personally “formed” Adam; and Adam only “becam’st a living soul,” in Raphael’s words, at the moment God infused “the breath of life”—and, with it, “the image of God”—into this erstwhile humanoid’s inanimate nostrils.15 The problem for those asserting Milton’s monism is that “from angels to earth” does not encompass “all that exists” in Milton’s cosmology, only all that has been created. The Creator also exists, prior to and independent of His creation. In this scene of God inspiring 15   For recent work on the “image of God” or imago Dei, the concept which appears in Genesis 1:26–28, 5:3, and 9:6, as it relates to recent attempts to create artificial life, see Noreen Herzfeld, In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002); as it relates to nonhuman animals, see Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans and Other Animals, eds. Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough (London: SCM Press, 2009).

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Adam with the imago Dei, there remains a sort of dualism in Milton’s monistic account of Eden. Spirit is injected, or infused, into matter; the rational soul is brought in, or added, to a corporeal host. 16 According to Milton’s God, Adam and Eve are not fully human “till by degrees of merit raised / They open to themselves at length the way / Up hither” (VII.157– 9). The nonhuman animals, on the other hand, are animals forever. Like the marriage bower, to which Adam and Eve retire each evening, the “image of God” in man is not open to the brute animals: “other creature here / Beast, bird, insect, or worm durst enter none” (IV.703–4). But Satan, in the guise of a toad, does trespass on the sanctity of the exclusively human marriage bower. And, whilst there, Satan tests this uniquely human faculty—the mind or rational soul—and, with it, the psycho-physical dualism that Adam and Eve alone are privileged to enjoy in the Garden of Eden. Satan succeeds in stirring up Eve’s body, her blood and “animal spirits.” His whispering at her ear even has an effect on Eve’s inmost mental recesses, her dreams and imaginations. But, for all the bodily disturbance and mental disruption he creates, Satan nonetheless fails in this first attempt to seduce or corrupt Eve. Upon waking, Eve tells Adam about her nocturnal visions and expresses concern that her mind might have been momentarily altered. Adam admits that Eve’s physical body, from her toes to her blood and all the way up to her brain, had been perturbed during the course of the evening; but he denies that her mind has been at all touched: Evil into the mind of God or man May come and go, so unapprov’d, and leave No spot or blame behind: Which gives me hope That what in sleep thou didst abhor to dream, Waking thou wilt never consent to do. (V.117–21)

Satan’s stratagem succeeds only to the degree that Eve, while asleep, is unconscious and thus totally at the mercy of her external environment and internal animal spirits. Eve’s material imagination, her subconscious fancy, has been aroused; but her rational soul, her conscious self, has yet to “approve” these mental imaginings. Adam’s explanation of cognition, whereby the body’s physical senses transmit messages to a centralized internal monitor, the rational mind—which sees the messages and then freely decides how to respond to these incoming reports— is a perfect illustration of what Daniel Dennett calls “Cartesian materialism.” 16   In Christian Doctrine Milton states that the human soul is produced materially, adding: “I do not see why anyone should make the human soul into an anomaly. For, as I have shown above, God breathed the breath of life into other living things besides man.” Like the doctrinal matter of invoking the Holy Spirit, the theology of Christian Doctrine and the narrative of PL appear to be irreconcilably at odds on this point. See The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, eds. William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon (New York: The Modern Library, 2007) 1205–1209.

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As Dennett explains, “Descartes was a mechanist par excellence when it came to every other phenomenon in nature, but when it came to the human mind, he flinched. In addition to the mechanical interpretation, he claimed, the brain also provides material to a central arena … where, in human beings, the souls can be a Witness and arrive at its own judgments.”17 Paraphrasing Dennett, we might say that, in Paradise Lost, Milton is a materialist par excellence except he also flinches when it comes to the “image of God” in man. In Paradise Lost, our general sire and general mother—the prototypes of humanity—remain unaffected by both their external environment and their internal animal spirits, even while they acknowledge the push and pull of these physical, material phenomena. What Michael Schoenfeldt mockingly describes as “the nonstick coating given to the interior walls of prelapsarian moral consciousness” is more accurately described as psycho-physical dualism.18 Adam’s explicit assertion that “the mind” is a property of “God or man” makes clear that the other animals in the garden, while they certainly have brains, do not possess minds of this sort. Nor is the aftermath to Eve’s dream the only occasion where Adam speaks of the human intellect as something impervious to the rest of the Edenic environment. Adam confides to Raphael that “these delicacies / I mean of taste, sight, smell, herbs, fruit, and flow’rs, / Walks, and the melody of birds” are all very pleasant (VIII.526–8). But, even so, the world as such “works in the mind no change” (VIII.525, emphasis mine). No earthly phenomena, no sensory experience, can make the tiniest dent in the prelapsarian rational soul. Only in his conversations with Eve—in rational, intelligent discourse—does Adam feel himself “transported.” Recounting his talks with Eve, Adam confesses to Raphael “here passion first I felt, / Commotion strange, in all enjoyments else / Superior and unmoved” (VIII.530–532). Although Milton’s Adam and Eve exist within what Gail Paster calls “the animated early modern cosmology,” they clearly do not share all their passions with the animals stationed below him. These other animals could never be moved, nor have their passions stirred, by intelligent conversation. And yet one animal, the serpent in his dialogue with Eve, lays claim to precisely this capacity. It is no accident that Satan’s tempting of Eve, in Book IX, essentially repeats the question, from Book VIII, at stake in God’s “trial” for Adam: can nonhuman animals think? Adam recognizes the limits of his likeness to God and reasons rightly (or, at least, God does not correct him) on the matter of the other animals when he says: “I by conversing cannot these erect / From prone” (VIII.432–33). Adam knows that nothing he can do or say—indeed nothing in the created world— could ever uplift a brute beast into that “far nobler shape erect and tall / Godlike erect” that belongs only to humans, the Creator’s own replicas. Eve, however,   Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1991) 322.   Michael Schoenfeldt, “Commotion Strange: Passion in Paradise Lost,” Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion, eds. Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-Wilson (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2004) 59. 17 18

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fails Satan’s “Imitation Game” because she believes the “Serpent wise,” who approaches her “erect / Amidst his circling spires,” as he tells her about how an apple opened the portals to consciousness (IX.867, IX.501–02). Eve, upon hearing the serpent self-reflect, wonders aloud: What may this mean? Language of man pronounced By tongue of brute, and human sense expressed? The first at least of these I thought denied To beasts, whom God on their creation-day Created mute to all articulate sound; The latter I demur, for in their looks Much reason, and in their actions oft appears. (IX.553–9)

From Descartes’ perspective, Eve makes a mistake common to children. In a letter to the English philosopher, Henry More, in 1649, Descartes confided “there is no preconceived opinion to which we are all more accustomed from our earliest years than the belief that dumb animals think” (Descartes, Philosophical III.365). Milton’s serpent, whose ostensible reason has been “inspir’d / With act intelligential” by Satan, appears to underscore the need, as expressed by Descartes, to challenge and doubt our earliest impressions concerning animal intelligence (Paradise Lost IX.189–90). Indeed, Milton probably intends for his readers to recollect, as they discover Satan’s nocturnal possession of the serpent “Disturb’d not” the creature’s “sleep,” how Eve was able to reflect on—and ultimately to reject—the dream Satan had occasioned in her when she awoke the next morning. But Eve’s attribution of a mind or rational soul—the imago Dei—to the nonhuman animal costs the Edenic couple dearly. From this point forward, Adam and Eve become more like animals, more like automatic machines: their ability to reason is increasingly overrun by bodily passions and appetites; they operate on impulse instead of intellect. And, paradoxically, in the final few books of the epic, they come to seem more “human,” more like us, Milton’s postlapsarian readers. Before Good and Evil: Descartes’ Miltonic Philosophy In his posthumously published lectures, The Animal That Therefore I Am, Jacques Derrida, who deconstructed so many binaries (speech/writing, center/margin, presence/absence) in his lifetime, constructs one of his own: philosophy/poetry. Derrida declares that “thinking concerning the animal, if there is such a thing, derives from poetry … It is the difference between philosophical knowledge and poetic thinking” (Derrida 7). As evidence for this thesis, Derrida contrasts Descartes’ writings on the animal with Paul Valery’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century poem “Silhouette of a Serpent,” which, Derrida says, “interests [him] because the serpent from Genesis is speaking, and it says ‘I’” (Derrida 65). Derrida, obviously, is partial to French poets. But certainly Paradise Lost offers a more famous instance


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of the serpent from Genesis speaking autobiographically; and Milton’s epic is not only contemporary with Descartes’ philosophy but, as we have already seen, is frequently invoked as its poetic antithesis. Milton’s speaking serpent, however, does not bear out Derrida’s claim about the rift between philosophical knowing and poetical thinking. In Paradise Lost, as in the writings of Descartes, nonhuman animals are denied a rational soul. This does not mean that Milton, like Descartes, is a disenchanted modern philosopher rather than a visionary Renaissance poet. It means that Derrida’s binary will not hold in the case of these two seventeenthcentury thinkers who each sought to imitate—even to recreate—the innocent, uncorrupted, and encyclopedic work of Adam. The image below comes from a 1664 edition of Descartes’ L’Homme or Treatise of Man, where it illustrates why motion or animation in human beings need not depend on the presence of a soul or anima. Instead, as Descartes would write again and again, walking, eating, breathing, sensations of pleasure and pain, and even mental phenomena such as common sense, memory, and dreams “can be imagined to proceed from matter and to depend solely on the disposition of our organs” (Descartes, Philosophical I.99). He provided a bodily explanation for life itself: a plant grew as the result of its internal heat, not its “nutritive soul”; an animal sensed by virtue of its nervous system, not its “sensitive soul.” For Aristotle, living things had differed from the non-living because organic nature possessed an internal capacity for change, growth, and reproduction—and, in the case of animals, for sensation, locomotion, and perception—that inorganic artifacts lacked. These seemingly special properties of living things led Aristotle to ascribe “nutritive souls” to plants and “sensitive souls” (as well as “nutritive souls”) to nonhuman animals. The uniquely human capacities for reasoning, language, and self-consciousness, Aristotle relegated to the “rational soul,” which humans possessed in addition to their nutritive and sensitive souls. In every instance, Aristotle held that the soul (or anima) was the cause of life and motion (or animation). But not everything that moved was alive or in possession of a soul. Fires, for example, started out small, grew larger, reproduced themselves, and ultimately died out, just like plants; but Aristotle did not wish to concede that fires were “alive” or possessed a “soul.”19 The other elements—earth, water, and air— could not be said to possess a soul either; for, if they did, then all matter would be in some sense “alive” and the aforementioned distinction between animate and inanimate, natural and artificial, living and non-living would be erased.

19   Furthermore, in his Treatise on the Soul (De Anima), Aristotle expressly denies that fire, or heat, could be the principle cause of animation in living things. Aristotle, “De Anima,” trans. J. A. Smith, The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: The Modern Library, 2001) 538. See also Sylvia Berryman, “The Imitation of Life in Ancient Greek Philosophy,” Genesis Redux: Essays on the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life, ed. Jessica Riskin (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007) 37.

Descartes avec Milton

Figure 2.1  Florentius Schuyl, Renatus Des Cartes de homine (Leyden: Ex. off. Hackiana, 1664), p. 58


Note: This posthumous edition of Descartes’work illustrates how passions and sensations result from a sort of biological rope and pulley system common to all animals, including humans. Only the rational soul, implanted by God in the human brain, can modulate these automatic feelings.


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Such an erasure is precisely what Descartes’ controversial natural philosophy accomplished. Descartes wrote L’Homme during the years 1629–1633 but, upon learning of Galileo’s condemnation by the Catholic Church, decided not to publish the work or its companion piece, L’Monde or Treatise of the World. Instead, Descartes redacted parts of the two treatises and included them in subsequent publications such as the Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy. Neither L’Homme nor L’Monde would be published in its entirety, however, until after Descartes’ death, because Descartes realized that these two early works were more radical, revolutionary, and dangerous than anything he would come to publish in his lifetime. The preface to an English translation of the Treatise of Man explains that Descartes had developed in these companion books “a system of cosmology founded on a physics so universal that it could apply to animal functions and to man himself, as well as to inanimate objects—to the world as a whole and all it contains.”20 Animals, humans, and inanimate objects are all made of the same physical stuff; and all operate according to the same physical laws. If that were true, then everything in the world—earth, air, fire, and water—had at least the potentiality for life within it. If any passage from Descartes’ oeuvre has become as famous, or as infamous, as his deductive dictum “cogito ergo sum,” it is the Fifth Part of his Discourse on the Method (1637), where he makes reference to a hypothetical mechanical monkey: I explained all these matters in sufficient detail in the treatise I previously intended to publish … I made special efforts to show that if any such machines had the organs and outward shape of a monkey or some other animal that lacks reason, we should have no means of knowing that they did not possess 20   René Descartes, Treatise of Man, trans. Thomas Steele Hall (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003) xv–xvi. Descartes’ intimate familiarity with animal anatomies has been obscured by the centuries-long separation of “science” from “philosophy” that partitioned his oeuvre into discrete disciplines and resulted in his Treatise on Man being translated into English not by a philosopher per se but by a zoologist, Thomas Steele Hall, whose previous book had been A Sourcebook on Animal Biology. As a result of this bifurcation, Erica Fudge is able to claim that Descartes “had assumed a similarity of oyster to monkey and dog to sponge,” adding that “the metaphysics of Descartes could not conquer empirical observation,” as if Descartes’ own extensive empirical observations played no part in his “metaphysical” rejection of the sensitive or animal soul. See Erica Fudge, Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality, and Humanity in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2006). For a sense of Descartes’ empirical observations and his awareness of comparative anatomy, see his letter to Mersenne in June 1637, where he writes: “the diagram of the brain in the Optics was faithfully drawn after the model of a sheep’s brain, the ventricles and internal parts of which are, I know, much larger in relation to the brain as a whole than they are in the human brain. But for this reason I thought the sheep’s brain more suitable for making clear what I had to say, which applies both to animals and to human beings” (Philosophical Writings III.59).

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entirely the same nature as these animals; whereas if any such machines bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as closely as possible for all practical purposes, we should still have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not real men. (I.139–40)

The unpublished treatise to which Descartes alludes is the Treatise on Man. But Descartes’ critics find in this conveniently abridged version of the larger work what appears to be incontrovertible evidence that Descartes regarded animals as insensate machines. The passage, however, makes no such claim. Instead of arguing that real live animals are akin to inorganic automata, Descartes argues only that it is possible to design inorganic automata capable of simulating even the most complex behavior—circulation, respiration, digestion, locomotion, and perception—of real-live animals, including human beings. As proof for this argument, Descartes needed look no further than his own experiences with automated statuary in the royal gardens and grottoes at Saint-Germainen-Laye.21 Seventeenth-century automata had taught Descartes that lifelike phenomena could be imitated by soulless, inorganic machines. Automated statuary in the royal gardens not only moved but also moved in response to environmental cues, such as the actions taken and positions assumed by human visitors to the gardens. Gradually, Descartes became convinced that all physical bodies—human and animal, organic and inorganic alike—changed, grew, moved, and perceived through the strictly material interplay of heat and corpuscular mechanics. There was no longer a categorical difference of kind between living and dead things, or natural and artificial things, only a difference in the degree of heat and in the complexity of corpuscular configuration that, together, accounted for the relative presence or absence of bodily animation. Descartes, overturning Aristotle, asserted that the cause of motion, the principle of life, in any animal is simply “the heat of the fire burning continuously in its heart—a fire which has the same nature as all the fires that occur in inanimate bodies” (Philosophical I.108). But there was one thing, according to Descartes, that could not “be derived in any way from the potentiality of matter” (Philosophical I.141). That was the exclusively human—immortal and intangible—“rational soul.” Descartes’ psycho-physical dualism applies only to human beings, the sole exception to his otherwise monistic and holistic cosmology. Ingeniously contrived automata could do just about anything that human beings, or any other animal, could do. But two distinctly human qualities would never be replicated by any machine because, in fact, there was no physical explanation for these phenomena. First, only a human being could effectively carry on a conversation with another human being. Machines and animals might be made to talk—or produce word-like sounds—and to listen—to respond to word-like sounds from others—but neither has the ability 21   See Descartes, Treatise of Man, 4 n. 7. See also Scott Maisano, “Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare,” Genesis Redux 63–84.


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to engage in the kind of meaningful, reciprocal, verbal intercourse that humans experience on a daily basis. Humanity’s unique versatility is the second quality that Descartes claims no machine or nonhuman animal can imitate. While a machine or an animal might perform one or two tasks as well as, or even better than, any human being, neither an animal nor a machine will ever be able to perform as many different things as even the stupidest of humans. Because it would require an infinite number of structures and parts in order to do all the countless things that humans can do—or to feel the countless ways that humans can feel—according to Descartes it remains inconceivable that matter alone, or a dizzyingly complex configuration of internal organs, can be the cause of such versatility. Descartes located the rational soul outside the body not because he had something against the body per se, but because he could not find any corresponding piece of human anatomy to account for these two uniquely human capacities. Still, Descartes is the first to admit that the vast majority of human life does not require the presence of a rational soul. In a late work, The Passions of the Soul, he writes: every movement we make without any contribution from our will—as often happens when we breathe, walk, eat, and, indeed, when we perform any action which is common to us and the beasts—depends solely on the arrangement of our limbs and on the route which the spirits, produced by the heat of the heart, follow naturally in the brain, nerves, and muscles. This occurs in the same way as the movement of a watch is produced merely by the strength of its spring and the configuration of its wheels. (Philosophical I.335)

Unless we are carrying on a conversation, or consciously, creatively thinking— something Descartes distinguishes from “common sense,” memory, and dreams, which are all unconscious forms of thought—humans remain indistinguishable from clockwork automata that can be fashioned in our image. Thus, Descartes finds himself wondering: “if I look out the window and see men crossing the square … I normally say that I see the men themselves … Yet do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal automatons?” (Philosophical II.21). Interestingly, Milton’s Adam does a great many things without reason or consciousness. Jonathan Sawday points out that Adam, in his first moments, “does not understand or know why or even how he moves. Instead, like a machine, he moves passively, driven by some motive force whose origin is uncertain.”22 Indeed, Adam curiously commingles the active and passive voice when he recounts this moment to Raphael: “By quick instinctive motion up I sprung.”23 This springing 22   Jonathan Sawday, Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (London: Routledge, 2007) 285. 23   PL VIII.259. Sawday suggests the phrase “might have been culled from the writings of Descartes or Boyle rather than the text of Genesis” (285).

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motion sounds like an experience Adam had rather than a choice he made: it signals Adam’s aliveness but nothing, as yet, indicates his self-control. Adam’s first moments on earth, minus the retroactively autobiographical account, are hardly any different from the first moments of any other animal or spring-driven automaton. In Milton’s epic, then, the very first humans are proto-Cartesians. Is not Milton, who parades his animated automata naked before our very eyes, as culpable as Descartes, who at least had the decency to conceal them in cloaks and hats? But, some might object, Milton has created fictional prelapsarian characters; Descartes does not have that excuse. That is what I used to think, too, until I puzzled over two passages in the Meditations. Descartes’ careful attention to matters of mood, voice, and structure in the Meditations requires a closer reading than most literary critics have given the text. Too often an idea plucked from the First or Second Meditation (or, as we have already seen, the Fifth part of the Discourse on the Method) has been presented as the culmination or distillation of Descartes’ thinking. But both the Discourse and the Meditations consist of exactly six parts.24 In the Meditations, it is literally six days. Descartes, like Milton after him, was impersonating Adam and attempting to rewrite Genesis. This becomes clear when we heed the final words of Descartes’ hexaemeron, his six-day Meditations on First Philosophy: “But since the pressure of things to be done does not always allow us to stop and make such a meticulous check, it must be admitted that in this human life we are often liable to make mistakes about particular things, and we must acknowledge the weakness of our nature” (Philosophical II:62). Where is the Satanic brio and bravado of the philosopher who, we have been told, was hell-bent on convincing “European intellectuals (and their successors down to our own day)” that they could think without their bodies? Or who “assaults,” like Milton’s Satan, the simple faith and convictions of “traditional peoples”? The philosopher of the Meditations is far from a devilish seducer. Like the Biblical Adam, he is an all-too-human being, who sometimes allows his will to exceed his comprehension and who admits, at the end of the sixth day, that he is prone to serious error. The two passages in the Meditations that seem to help explain what Descartes was doing in this work underscore his understanding of the human potential to make mistakes. The first passage is simply a sentence that Descartes added belatedly to the preface of the Meditations. It is occasioned by one of the six sets of objections which Descartes himself solicits and publishes (along with his replies to these objections) in the earliest editions. In the fourth set of objections, Antoine Arnauld, a French theologian, advises Descartes to be explicit about the   Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy (1644) consists of only four parts but, as the “Translator’s Preface” to the work in the Cottingham, Stoothoff, and Murdoch edition tells us, a “further two parts were originally planned, to deal with plants and animals, and man, but these were never completed” (177). In other words, plants and animals were to have been addressed in the fifth part and humanity in the sixth. 24


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fact that his text was dealing solely with scientific and intellectual matters and not with matters of faith. More specifically, Arnauld recommends that Descartes do some line-editing: “Where we find the clause ‘since I did not know the author of my being,’ I would suggest a substitution of the clause ‘since I was pretending that I did not know the author of my being’” (II:151). In response to this objection, Descartes does not remove the line in question—indeed, “I did not know the author of my being” remains on display in the Sixth Meditation—but he does insert the following parenthetical sentence into his Preface: “I do not deal at all with sin, i.e. the error which is committed in pursuing good and evil, but only with the error that occurs in distinguishing truth from falsehood” (II:11). With this prefatory disclaimer, Descartes positions himself not “beyond good and evil” but before good and evil. He does not deal “at all” with sin. And he continues to stand by his assertion that “I did not know the author of my being,” just as Milton’s Adam, upon awakening in Eden, was at a loss to say “Who I was, or where, or from what cause” (Paradise Lost VIII.270). The second passage concerned with the human capacity for error asks how a perfect God could create a less-than-perfect creature. Descartes observes: When I concentrate on the nature of God, it seems impossible that he should have placed in me a faculty which is not perfect of its kind, or which lacks some perfection which it ought to have. The more skilled the craftsman the more perfect the work produced by him; if this is so, how can anything produced by the supreme creator of all things not be complete and perfect in all respects? (Philosophical II:38)

What is odd about Descartes’ question is that there was a longstanding and readymade explanation for human fallibility in the story of the original sin and the fall from Eden. Descartes does not mention it. Did Descartes not know the interpretive literature surrounding Genesis? Or had he somehow forgotten that the imago Dei is damaged—and, according to some, ruined beyond repair—as a consequence of the Fall? He had not forgotten. Descartes knew the story of Genesis by heart, and he, like Milton after him, was attempting to recreate it, to demonstrate that perfect knowledge is still possible.25 Descartes, too, had written a modern theodicy, an explanation for error in Eden, an account of how mistakes could be made even by the supremely reasonable creations of an all-perfect God. It is no accident that The Meditations on First 25   While this might seem a new-fangled way to read Descartes, it is precisely how Nicholas Malebranche read the Treatise on Man, when it first appeared in 1664. Malebranche, according to Peter Harrison, believed that “the Cartesian method offered a means of overcoming the limitations of the fallen intellectual faculties of Adam’s seventeenth-century descendants, and thus of restoring the fabled encyclopedic knowledge of the first man.” See Peter Harrison, “Original Sin and the Problem of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe,” Journal of the History of Ideas 63.2 (2002): 239.

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Philosophy takes place over exactly six days: Descartes attempted, twenty-five years before Milton, the very thing that Milton—in his opening invocation to Paradise Lost—claims had never been attempted in either prose or rhyme.

Figure 2.2  Florentius Schuyl, Renatus Des Cartes de homine (Leyden: Ex off. Hackiana, 1664), p. 153

Note: This image was used to illustrate Descartes’ explanation of how the eye adjusts automatically as a distant object draws nearer. Schuyl’s choice of an apple as the “provoking object” reflects the contemporary Malebranchian reading of Descartes as a new Adam.

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Coda: Eve’s Prostheses and Descartes’ Dog There is something distinctly “unnatural” about the Judeo–Christian account of the first human being. Indeed, by Aristotelian standards, the Adam and Eve of Genesis seem more like works of art rather than things of nature. Notice this first human couple’s lack of incubation, gestation, maturation, reproduction, and even language acquisition. Adam and Eve come into the world as full-grown adults with fully developed vocabularies and a pre-programmed propensity for self-reflection. It is no wonder, then, that “Adam” and “Eve” were the names chosen for a couple of robots endowed with artificial intelligence that recently made headlines—when Adam became “the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators”—at Aberystwyth University in Wales.26 Indeed, from the earliest days of roboticists and ALife researchers, the Garden of Eden has proved a prime source of inspiration and appellation.27 But Milton’s Adam and Eve are even more “unnatural” than their Biblical counterparts. Perhaps the most surprising lines in Paradise Lost occur during the poet’s brief description of Eve taking her leave of Adam, prior to her encounter with the serpent: Soft she withdrew, and like a wood-nymph light, Oread, or Dryad, or of Delia’s train, Betook her to the groves; but Delia’s self In gait surpassed and goddess-like deport, Though not as she with bow and quiver armed, But with such gardening tools as art yet rude, Guiltless of fire had formed, or angels brought. (IX.389–92)

Milton’s Adam and Eve possess tools—technology—in the Garden of Eden. As Jonathan Sawday explains, most Renaissance writers viewed the origins of technology as inseparable from “original sin” itself (Sawday 3–30). Prior to the   Clive Cookson, “Robot Achieves Scientific First,” Financial Times []. 2 Apr. 2009. 27   See Stephan Helmreich, Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (Berkeley: U of California P, 2000), especially pages 83–88, 92–96, and 129–130. See also Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., the play in which the word “robot” (which means “serf” in Czech) was coined, where, as two robots make their way from the island laboratory where they were created and into the world beyond, a human clerk admonishes them: “Go Adam—Go Eve … Oh Blessed day. O festival of the sixth day! … And God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female created He them. And God blessed them and said: Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and hold sway over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and over all living creatures which move upon the earth.” Karel and Joseph Čapek, R.U.R. and The Insect Play, trans. Paul Selver (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1961) 104. 26

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Fall, it was generally believed, Adam and Eve had no need for tools or technology because their dominion over the natural world and all living creatures was part of their very being, their birthright. After the Fall, tools and technology became necessary for a diminished humanity to approximate, though they would never fully recover, that lost sense of control. Thus, according to Sawday, the English Renaissance was full of both technological optimists, who viewed improvements in machinery as progress toward a “paradise regained,” and technological pessimists, among whom Sawday includes Milton, who regarded all machines as reminders of humanity’s “shame” and its long history of intellectual overreaching. Unlike Sawday, I do not interpret the swords at the conclusion of Paradise Lost as a sign that the natural world has been “overrun by a terrible new force,” an alien machinery, nor do I consider the poem an example of “technophobia” (Sawday 292, 283–84.) Early modern technological optimists and pessimists, according to Sawday, agreed on just one thing: tools, like clothes, had been entirely unnecessary in the Garden of Eden. Here, Milton is in disagreement. The provenance of Eve’s “gardening tools” in Paradise Lost remains something of a mystery. Did Adam and Eve fashion the tools themselves, without the use of fire, or were the tools simply laid out somewhere in the newly created world by angels who wanted to lend humanity a helping hand?  The poem refuses to say. What it does tell us, though, is that Eve was “armed” with these “gardening tools,” as if the technology had naturally presented itself as a kind of armor, a metallic overlay or second skin, for her biological body. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “armed” as “furnished with arms or armor; fully equipped for war.”28 If, as Sawday suggests, machines in the early modern period were looked upon, like clothing, as “prosthetic additions to the human form,” then Milton’s prelapsarian Eve, while naked, is nonetheless “armed” with such prostheses in the form of her pruner, shears, trowel, and tub (Sawday 4). Indeed, Milton’s choice of the verb “armed” makes Eve into a kind of prelapsarian cyborg: a “human-technology symbiont,” to borrow Andy Clark’s definition of the term, whose distinctively human “mind” is not confined to the brain but spread across the entire body as well as its non-biological extensions.29 According to Clark, what humans do more often and more successfully than any other species is to incorporate non-biological components into their “selves.” But Clark’s definition of the person as composed of both organic and mechanical parts—a definition that helps to explain Eve’s “guiltless” incorporation of the Edenic gardening tools— would have been impossible, as we have seen, without Descartes’ radical (and monistic) rejection of the Aristotelian distinction between “natural” and “artificial,” animate and inanimate, organism and machine. Whatever the provenance of Eve’s

  “armed, ppl. a.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.   See Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003). 28



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prostheses, one thing is clear: Milton regarded technology as a perfectly natural part of being created in the image of God—not the devil’s doing. Speaking of the devil, it is perhaps best to conclude with Descartes. The philosopher has recently come under fire from animal rights groups who claim his seventeenth-century account of animals as “automata” paved the way for factory farming and other modern atrocities. But Descartes, like Adam, was a vegetarian. Moreover, Descartes was reportedly quite fond of, and affectionate toward, his dog, Monsieur Grat (or Mister Scratch). Nor should we presume that Descartes underestimated the marvels of a merely physical brain of the sort belonging to nonhuman animals. In The Passions of the Soul, Descartes describes the kind of obedience training that some dogs undergo: when a dog sees a partridge, it is naturally disposed to run towards it; and when it hears a gun fired, the noise naturally impels it to run away. Nevertheless, setters are commonly trained so that the sight of a partridge makes them stop, and the noise they hear afterwards, when someone fires at the bird, makes them run towards it. These things are worth noting in order to encourage each of us to make a point of controlling our passions. For since we are able, with a little effort, to change the movements of the brain in animals devoid of reason, it is evident that we can do so still more effectively in the case of men. (Philosophical I.348)

Humans, Descartes hoped, might learn a lesson from dogs. Like dogs, we ought to be capable of changing our minds. To date, our insistence that Milton’s monism is diametrically opposed to Descartes’ dualism has led us to overlook the fact that both Descartes and Milton’s Adam subscribed to cosmologies in which absolutely every physical and mental phenomenon—save for the imago Dei—emerged from the increasingly complex configurations of a singular, self-moving and therefore automatic substance.

Chapter 3

“To me comes a creature”: Recognition, Agency, and the Properties of Character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale Justin Kolb

In the middle of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1611), the doomed courtier Antigonus stands on the seacoast of Bohemia under grim skies. He tells the exiled infant in his hands about his dream, in which the Sicilian queen Hermione, thought dead, appeared to him. He opens his description with the words, “To me comes a creature” (III.iii.19),1 naming the apparition with a word that has special resonance in this play, so concerned with artistic illusion and the interplay of art and nature. In the early seventeenth century, creature carried a much broader meaning than the animalistic connotations that cluster around it today. Derived from creatura, the future-active participle of the Latin verb creare, “to create,” creature denoted anything intentionally made; “a created being, animate or inanimate; a product of creative action” (OED, “creature, n.”).2 Creature straddled the line between the creations of God and man, foregrounding the centrality of poesis and design to early modern ideas of nature and artifice. Standing on the Blackfriars stage holding the doll representing the infant Perdita, a letter, and cask of jewels, recalling a ghost who may have been a figment of his guilty imagination, and about to be reduced to a few scraps of physical evidence himself, Antigonus recounts his dream at an important crux in The Winter’s Tale’s exploration of the vitality and creative power of the made things onstage. The “creatures” in this single scene range from actor and doll and fateful “character[s]” (III.iii.47) on a scroll to evoked spirit and pursuing bear to Antigonus’ letters and shoulder bone. The seacoast of Bohemia is a place where   All Shakespeare citations are taken from The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997). 2   Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (New York: Oxford UP, 1980), find the first uses of creatura in patristic writings, suggesting that it was a Christian bridge between the related future-active terms figura and natura. Digging deeper into the etymology of creature, Julia Lupton, in “Creature Caliban,” Shakespeare Quarterly 51.1 (Spring 2000): 1–23, notes that, “The creatura is a thing always in the process of undergoing creation; the creature is actively passive or, better, passionate, perpetually becoming created, subject to transformation at the behest of the arbitrary commands of an Other” (1). 1

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objects have powerful agency. In a play built around the breaking apart and eventual reassembly of Hermione’s character, and the parallel assembly of Perdita from a heterogeneous set of components, this is a scene in which the queen has been reduced to mysterious memory and the princess is merely a few objects on the strand. Using this beach as an embarkation point, one can analyze The Winter’s Tale as a play which dramatizes the centrality of stage properties and other artifacts to early modern dramatic practice and foregrounds the ontological instability of the dramatic character, an instability it shares with the automaton and the other artificial persons who populated the early modern imagination. For most of the play, Hermione and Perdita in particular exist in ontologically unsettled forms. To borrow a term from sociologist of science Bruno Latour, they function as “quasi-objects,” more specifically as quasi-humans, who mediate between poles of human and nonhuman, nature’s creature and man’s, life and death, autonomous mediator and passive intermediary for an external authority.3 Only at the end of the play, through a communal, theatrical, act of recognition, do the two women attain a stable ontological status. This essay argues that an analysis of the agency of inhuman actors in The Winter’s Tale, particularly the inhuman forms taken by the play’s transformed women, suggests a new understanding of the hybrid nature of dramatic character on the early modern stage. Instead of Hamlet alone on stage constructing subjectivity through soliloquy, or Caliban living a naked life under the reign of tyrannical authority, a better model of dramatic character might be found on the Bohemian beach in The Winter’s Tale: two women played by prop and dream, and an actor entangled in a crowded network of potent inhuman actors, one cog in a great dramatic device.4 The figure of the automaton is useful here, less as a robotic artificial human being and more for the way in which it highlights the agency, the “self-moving” qualities, of objects and other nonhuman actors. It is this aspect of the automaton, the complex, inhuman artifact whose parts combine to give it its own agency, which motivates this essay. The Winter’s Tale tropes the technical and quasi-scientific process of character creation in the period’s drama, as text,   Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993) 51–5. 4   Dymphna Callaghan offers an appreciation of this social, functional aspect of dramatic characters in “Do Characters Have Souls?” Shakespeare Studies 34 (2006): 41– 46. She argues that the “flat” and sometimes indistinguishable nature of the characters in The Comedy of Errors “surely speak to a notion of identity in which we come to know our fully individuated souls only through our relationships with one another” (45). Elizabeth Fowler, in Literary Character: The Human Figure in Early English Writing (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003), works out a similarly functional definition of literary character, defining it as “a model of a person that has grown out of a social practice—a practice that has its own institutions, behaviors, artifacts, motives, social effects, audiences, and intellectual issues” (28). Literature is thus akin to other verbal arts like law, philosophy, and theology, creating human models for use in particular social transactions. 3

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properties, and actors were combined in theatrical space to create an automaton, a complex, quasi-human artifact that performs humanity. The result is a play that highlights the hybrid nature of dramatic characters and offers a complex, collaborative model of authorship and dramatic production. The Winter’s Tale has long been read as part of Shakespeare’s post-1607 turn to the improbable stories and meditations on dramatic art and illusion which distinguish the works variously called romances, tragicomedies, or simply late plays.5 Recent scholarship has paid closer attention to The Winter’s Tale’s structural homology between parenting, artistic creation, and technical craft, bridging the gap between analyses of the roles of childhood and artistic practice in the play. Michael Witmore elegantly links these lines of inquiry by noting that “late medieval and early modern discussions of children’s diminished powers of discretion, their subjection to animal passions, and incomplete development of their faculties of conscience suggested that children were the human paradigm for automatic action.”6 Categorized by early modern English culture as non-deliberating beings, lacking in reason and moved automatically by animal spirits and mimicry, children like Mamillius and the infant Perdita exist on an ontological level with such nondeliberating agents as animals and automata. The tragicomic objects of concern, childhood, and artifice are thus connected by a larger examination of how agency is distributed among the networks of associated deliberating and non-deliberating objects which compose a play. These actors, human and nonhuman, conscious and automatic, are what Bruno Latour describes as mediators, actors which are “associated in such a way that they make others do things.” They do this not by acting as passive conduits, “but by generating transformations manifested in the many unexpected events triggered in the other mediators that follow them along the line.”7 Various creatures are linked by elaborate chains of cause and effect, transmitting and transforming myriad forces which are changed by the network they compose. The scene on the Bohemian beach, which transforms Leontes’ will through means irrational (the dream) and inadvertent (the storm, the bear) is perhaps the most obvious example of such mediators at work in the play, but far from the only one. The Winter’s Tale is a play about the creatures of the stage—the human and nonhuman objects and representations essential to constructing dramatic experience—and the potent vitality and agency of these creatures in theatrical performance. Through the 5   For a survey of the various explanations given for this turn, and the problems of categorizing these late plays, see Barbara Mowat, “‘What’s in a Name?’ Tragicomedy, Romance, or Late Comedy,” A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, vol. 4: The Poems, Problem Plays, Late Plays, ed. R. Dutton and Jean Howard (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2003) 129–49. 6   Michael Witmore, Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007) 72. 7   Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005) 107.

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transformations of Hermione and Perdita in particular, the play tropes the power of inhuman “creatures” onstage, and presents a gracious counter-discourse to the model of possessive authorship, personified by King Leontes.8 Surrounded by many other actors who complicate his desire to be the sole parent to his children, Leontes first violently breaks down and marginalizes these other potential authors, destroying his family in the process. The model of possessive authorship Shakespeare portrays in Leontes is not bound up with the idea of the printed book (cf. the model Joseph Loewenstein derives from Ben Jonson’s publishing career), but his desire to be the sole agent responsible for his children and to destroy or marginalize other potential parents and influences dramatizes similar problems of authorship arising from theatrical production. Leontes plays the role of the playwright, director, impresario, or some other author who seeks priority over the assembly of actors that combine to make a play. His household is only restored—and partially and belatedly at that—when he renounces this drive for power and accepts a model of authorship that makes room for Paulina’s stagecraft, the prophecy of the Delphic oracle, the unreasoning motions of storms and bears, the preserved letters and tokens, and assorted accidents and coincidences. The Winter’s Tale builds this model of authorship by foregrounding the role of stage properties in the creation of dramatic illusion and characters. When she is named, Perdita is played not by an actor, but by a collection of stage properties left on the seacoast of Bohemia. Her mother Hermione, who “dies” only to reappear as a dreamt-of ghost in Act III, makes a miraculous return in Act V by becoming a stage property, the Julio Romano statue with which she becomes consubstantial. The play is, to paraphrase Aphorism iv of Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, a tale of bringing natural bodies together and putting them asunder (65), as Hermione and Perdita are broken down into parts, proceed through a series of ontological states, and are reunited and reassembled in the play’s final scene.


  My concept of possessive authorship is a somewhat looser version of the definition that emerges from Joseph Loewenstein’s studies of the “quasi-proprietary claims […] asserted by the possessors of manuscript copies, by printers, by publishers, and by authors” and how “the cumulative effect of such experiences […] transform[ed] authorship into a form of public agency increasingly distinguished by possessiveness,” Ben Jonson and Possessive Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002) 2. This essay is more interested in the desire and attempts of a single author to claim sole responsibility for a creature than in how this desire plays out in specific contexts, like the practice of early modern publishing. Loewenstein’s model of possessive authorship builds on the concept of “possessive individualism” that C. B. Macpherson identified as a unifying assumption of English political thought in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. See C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1964).

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“Inanimate and trivial objects”: Criticism and the Life of Early Modern Stage Properties [Discovery] may in a sense occur in relation to inanimate and trivial objects, or one may discover whether one has done something or not. (Aristotle, Poetics xi.6)9

Shakespeare’s stage was a space swarming with performing objects, and human actors composed only a minority of them. Shakespeare’s Speaking Properties, Frances Teague’s catalog of the hand props used in Shakespeare’s plays, estimates that the average Shakespeare play used 34 significant properties, and, depending on doubling and the occasional cutting of minor roles, maybe a dozen actors.10 Teague counts twenty-seven properties in The Winter’s Tale, or one per 125 lines (197). In his Diary, theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe places more value on the sumptuous costumes he acquired as a pawnbroker than the scripts he commissioned or the actors he employed.11 This ranking of properties is consistent with a broader European cultural context in which playmaking was considered more technology than art, a practical enterprise more akin to carpentry than rhetoric. William Bavande’s 1559 English translation of Johannes Ferrarius’ De Republica Bene Instituenda (1556), a defense of the social necessity of artisans and mechanical arts, listed “stage-playing” among the seven mechanical sciences, after husbandry, wool-working, carpentry, navigation, hunting, and surgery.12 The Elizabethan and Jacobean theater was as concerned with the effective combination and display of costumes and other stage properties—Yorick’s skull from Hamlet and Desdemona’s handkerchief from Othello are two of the most famous examples—as it was with poetic language. The English commercial stage was “a theater of easily held things,” and was recognized as such from its beginning.13 In his 1582 pamphlet Playes Confuted in Five Actions, the antitheatrical critic Stephen Gosson complained that:

  Aristotle, “The Poetics,” The Basic Works of Aristotle (1941), ed. Richard Peter McKeon (New York: Modern Library, 2001). 10   Frances N. Teague, Shakespeare’s Speaking Properties (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 1991) 197. 11   Philip Henslowe, Henslowe’s Diary, ed. W. W. Greg (London: A. H. Bullen, 1908). See Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) 175–206, on the commercial theater as “a new and spectacular development of the clothing trade” (176). 12   Henry Turner, The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics, and the Practical, Spatial Arts 1580–1630 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006) 25. 13   Douglas Bruster, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005) 95. 9


The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature Sometime you shall see nothing but the aduentures of an amorous knight, passing from countrie to countrie for the loue of his lady, encountring many a terible monster made of broune paper, & at his retorne, is so wonderfully changed, that he can not be knowne but by some posie in his tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkircher, or a piece of a cockle shell, what learne you by that?14

Gosson’s objections, and the life of stage properties and character in performance, were bound up with the Aristotelian definition of anagnorisis, discovery or recognition, defined in The Poetics as a transition from ignorance to knowledge that resulted in either friendship or enmity (41). For Aristotle and his interpreters, recognition that arrives through a reversal of fortune, as in Oedipus, is the highest form of anagnorisis, while recognition through material signs and coincidence is the lowest form. Characterization through inanimate objects was one of the most significant breaks the early modern English theater made with Aristotelian conventions, with costumes and hand-held properties playing an integral role in both characterization and plot. Shakespeare’s late tragicomedies are especially guilty of this transgression, with agency freely distributed among such inanimate things as Imogen’s ring in Cymbeline, the suit of armor in Pericles and Prospero’s staff and books in The Tempest. Gosson’s account of the importance of outward trappings is further borne out by the inventories of theatrical property in Henslowe’s Diary. Costumes and hand props both become the properties of the characters they construct and exist on a level plane with the other material components of the play: Item, j crosers stafe; Kentes woden legge. Item, Ierosses head, & raynebowe; j littel alter. Item, viij viserides; Tamberlyne brydell; j wooden matook. Item, Cupedes bowe & quiver; the clothe of the Sone and Mone […] Item, Mercures wings; Tasso picter; j helmet with a dragon; j shelde, with iij lyonesl j eleme bowle. Item, j chayne of dragons; j gylte speare. Item, ij coffenes; j bulles head; and j vylter. Item, iij tymbrells, j dragon in fostes. (Henslowe 320)

In a single list of the Lord Admiral’s Men’s properties from March 1598, the dragon which frightens Faustus, Cupid’s bow and arrow, and the bridle Tamburlaine forces into the mouth of a captive king sit alongside generic arms, armor, hand props, and housewares. Such properties were essential to both the recognition of characters on stage and to the larger project of creating dramatic illusion. Contemporary playgoers’ accounts testify to the attention spectators paid to stage properties; playgoer Simon Forman took note of the bracelet and chest 14   “Playes confuted in fiue actions prouing that they are not to be suffred in a Christian common weale …” (London: Printed for Thomas Gosson, 1582) 27.

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in Cymbeline and Autolycus’ peddler’s pack in The Winter’s Tale.15 Thanks to the high value placed on these tokens, and their centrality to the definition of character and plot, these stage properties become powerfully vital. The boundary between living and non-living, animate and inert things drawn by both moderns and Aristotle—who described material tokens as apsychos, “lifeless”— becomes indistinct on the early modern stage. Costume, prop, text, and more quotidian necessities like bolts of cloth and half-penny nails all sit together, waiting to be combined into a play. This flat ontological plain, shared by hand props, furniture, play-books, and costumes, is the basis for this chapter’s working definition of stage property: a stage property is any material object which is used in the course of a play production. Henslowe and his contemporaries understood that timber and nails were no less important than swords and gowns and playbooks to putting on a production. By taking the playing company inventories as a perch, one can observe the technical, practical aspects of early modern dramatic praxis and watch as ideas of plot, character, authorship, and agency arise from the practical and technological modes of thought. One can also begin to describe the changeable ontological status of things on stage, the means by which playwrights like Shakespeare assembled these creatures into characters, and the transformations of the properties of the stage into dramatic illusion, the metamorphosis that turns a statue into Hermione. This highly complex and contingent network of human and nonhuman actors on stage has proved challenging for both early modern and contemporary critics to negotiate. Like Gosson before him, Thomas Rymer reacted against the indecorum and irrationality of defining human relationships through trifles, famously dismissing Othello for “So much ado, so much stress, so much passion and repetition about an Handkerchief!” (160). Many modern critics have followed Aristotle, Gosson, and Rymer in recoiling from the indecorous power of objects. The result has been several modes of criticism which recast stage properties in semiotic, rather than material terms. One approach focuses on what Alan Downer in 1949 called “the language of props” and reads handheld objects as “the realization of the verbal image in dramatic terms” (28).16 Downer’s analysis dovetailed with various semiotic and structuralist analyses of the theater, particularly the influential work of the Prague School.17 The objects of these analyses are “the semantic processes which objects from the historical world undergo when they are placed within a fictive-aesthetic framework and then again returned to the historical contexts” (Rokem 277), which assumes a dialectic   Natasha Korda, Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2002) 10. 16   Alan Seymour Downer, The Life of Our Design: The Function of Imagery in Our Poetic Drama (New York: Hudson, 1949). 17   Keir Elam’s The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2002) is perhaps the most important contemporary representative of this semiotic approach. 15

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between the historical existence of objects and the ahistorical fictive realm where they function as signs.18 The agency which can be imbedded in object as object— whether in creating the material conditions of play, or performing within the fictive frame—tends to be elided. Another critical genre, arising from Marxist and New Historicist analyses, has used props as touchstones to describe the social relations in the dramatic world of the play that illustrate or resonate with aspects of the play’s cultural moment and larger discourses of power, class, gender, sexuality, race, etc. These approaches tend to make use of the essentially semiotic “thick description” method that the New Historicism borrowed from anthropologist Clifford Geertz. This approach saw “man as an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun” and argued that the work of the social scientist was essentially interpretive.19 Critics working in this mode would connect a particular object, textual or otherwise, to a dense impasto of discourses and power structures, paying special attention to repression, disruption, paradox, and variety in the text. Thick description can connect stage objects to broader discourses and phenomena, but it can also make it difficult for a critic to closely analyze the relationships of stage properties to each other as objects, or make broader claims about their function within the enterprise of dramatic illusion. Nevertheless, recent scholarship has been distinguished by critical attempts to analyze stage properties in their immediate context. Setting his essay apart from a myriad of other analyses of Othello’s handkerchief, Paul Yachnin promises to “focus on the handkerchief as a prop first, and only then … consider how it speaks about something beyond itself, and at that, not as a symbol, but rather as an object involved in a complex series of exchanges” (316). This mission statement, found in the 2002 collection Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, is a nice précis for the quite recent turn the study of early modern stage practice has taken. Turning away from semiotic or epistemological readings of stage things, critics are increasingly looking at the ontology of stage objects, examining just what sort of things they are and how they combine and interact and participate in dramatic performance. For example, Alan Sofer’s The Stage Life of Props examines the use of common hand props across a variety of plays, tracking the evolving use of handkerchiefs in The Spanish Tragedy and Othello, and skulls in Hamlet and other Jacobean plays.20 This newer mode finds the context for stage properties not in external hegemonic or repressed discourses, or even purely in the text of the play, but rather in the complex economic and technical transactions of early modern dramatic praxis. 18

  Freddie Rokem, “A chair is a Chair is a CHAIR: The Object as Sign in Theatrical Performance,” The Prague School and its Legacy in Linguistics, Literature, Semiotics, Folklore, and the Arts, ed. Yishai Tobin (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1988) 275–288. 19   Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science, eds. Michael Martin and Lee C. McIntyre (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994) 213–231, 214. 20   Andrew Sofer, The Stage Life of Props (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2003).

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The implication of stage materials in these transactions is part of the larger early modern intellectual homology that made dramatic poesis “essentially compatible with ethical, poetic, and technical modes of reasoning.”21 Dramatic terms like plot (or plat) could simultaneously mean the ground-plan of a house, the lay of the land on a battlefield, a surveyor’s measurements, any sort of plan or diagram, a sketch of a literary work, a design or device, an intrigue or scheme (OED, “plot, n.”).22 The theater occupied a social matrix alongside practical and quasi-scientific forms of techne, ranging from soldiery to surveying to construction. The new critical emphasis on the technical and material agents of cultural life—“inhumanism” (203), to use Jessica Wolfe’s term—allows us to see the drama of the period as a sort of elaborate self-moving machine in which a variety of causes combine and are transformed. Dramatic characters are an important set of sub-automata within this larger device, as the theater combines its components to create artificial human beings and sets them to run within the play.23 In this context, dramatic characters are automata, self-moving assemblies of various components who perform life. If life is likened to the crafting of an artifact, death in The Winter’s Tale and elsewhere becomes consubstantial with the breaking apart of the artifact, as once unified quasi-humans are reduced to their constituent components, and also with proliferation, as the pieces are scattered and recombined into new things. (Re)birth is figured as (re)assembly, the combination of elements to create an entity endowed with a narrative of personhood, an automatic subject-machine. The human-made webs that compose society are still present, but they may be less semiotic webs of significance than they are networks of material circulation and transformation. The result is a social topography which is both populous—crowded with a variety of deliberating and nondeliberating actors in complex combinations—and flat, with all creatures great and small sitting on the same ontological plane (Latour, Reassembling 165–172). It is a landscape which looks very much like the seacoast of Bohemia.

  Henry Turner, “Plotting Early Modernity.” The Culture of Capital: Property, Cities, and Knowledge in Early Modern England, ed. Henry Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002) 85–127, 105. 22   See Martin Bruckner and Kristen Poole, “The Plot Thickens: Surveying Manuals, Drama and the Materiality of Narrative Form in Early Modern England,” English Literary History 69.3 (Fall 2002): 617–48. 23   Some of the most interesting examples of this approach can be found in the work of Julian Yates, particularly Error, Misuse, Failure: Object Lessons from the English Renaissance (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003) and “Accidental Shakespeare,” Shakespeare Studies 34 (2006): 90–122. 21

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“There lie, and there thy character. There these”: The Properties of Character in The Winter’s Tale The plot of The Winter’s Tale moves forward in fits and starts, a series of dispersals and gatherings as the assemblies that compose the characters are broken up, and then, tentatively, reconvened through the actions—both deliberate and accidental—of various agents within the text. This complex agency runs counter to the ideal of possessive authorship espoused by Leontes, who demands full authority over his children and fears the presence of other authors and parents in their development. In the Jacobean era, authors were those agents that “originate or give existence to anything … the inventors, instructors or founders … of things material … who authorize or instigate … who beget, or father” (OED, “author, n.”). These definitions are contemporaneous with The Winter’s Tale and linked by their definition of the author as a point of origin or impetus, the agent who begins the process of creation, but does not necessarily control it once it starts. They highlight the fact that this was, as Jeffrey Masten observes, “an era in English culture, extending well into the seventeenth century, when author carried with it several strands of meaning only beginning to separate—or rather, only beginning to form as strands.”24 In his suspicions of his wife, Leontes succeeds in being the author—that is, the instigator—of the play’s action, but his creative power is continually redirected by multiplying mediators, the creatures of various kinds who transform his impetus into something new. These transformations are primarily performed upon Hermione and Perdita, whose shifting ontological status highlights the networks of objects and representations which allow them life and agency. Their experience illustrates Latour’s “Modern Settlement,” a powerful but paradoxical state of affairs that consists of a world that is, partly, structured around ontologically distinct and pure dichotomies of human/nonhuman, living/nonliving, nature/culture, mind/ body, art/technology. On the other hand, the space between these dichotomies is swarming with “quasi-objects,” defined as “hybrids of nature and culture” which mediate the division between dichotomies and allow technological and epistemological mastery of the world (Latour, Modern 51–55). Hermione and Perdita are such hybrids, quasi-humans whose transformations perform the uneasy ontological states of both women in renaissance cosmology, considered only marginally human or rational and passively subject to men, their internal passions, and irrational natural forces25—and also dramatic character, an artificial creature forever in the process of emerging from its many components. The women in the   Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, Authorship, and Sexualities in English Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997) 66. 25   The Galenic commonplace was that women’s humors were colder and more spongy than those of men, making woman less rational and less capable of individual action or expression. Women were seen as both more prone to passion and less capable of harnessing those passions into a consistent and distinct self-presentation, a character. See Gail Kern 24

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play become examples of “how objects construct the subject” (Latour, Modern 82) as assemblages of objects, both conscientious and contingent, metamorphose into queen and princess. In the process, the play creates a homology between the conception and rearing of children, the creation of dramatic characters, and the practice of diverse forms of art and technology. All of these processes are linked by barely differentiated forms of making, and their products are defined as various artifacts and assemblies. The newborn and unnamed Perdita is described in these terms at her first appearance, when Paulina shows her to Leontes in a desperate attempt to steer his deranged affections: … Behold my lords, Although the print be little, the whole matter And copy of the father—eye, nose, lip, The trick of ’s frown, his forehead, nay, the valley, The pretty dimples of his chin and cheek, his smiles, The very mould and frame of hand, nail, finger. (II.iii.98–103)

The “good goddess Nature” (II.iii.104), whom Paulina credits with shaping the baby into a picture of her father, works like a craftswoman here, putting the child together like a printed page or house frame. This new life is a new artifact, a new construction, shaped by the various forces under nature’s sway. Because it runs so counter to his tyrannical desire for sole authorship, this heterogeneous origin prompts Leontes to banish his new daughter.26 The homology between paternity and authorship was the location where many of the anxieties about the limits of authority and the accidental, automatic Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004) 77–80. 26   As a performing object, the doll-Perdita of these early scenes has a family resemblance to puppets. Examining puppets in the modernist theater, W. B. Worthen’s “Of Actors and Automata: Hieroglyphics of Modernism,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 9.1 (1994): 3–19, argues that, “puppets are also understood instrumentally as well as mimetically, for their rhetorical rather than representational work” (4). The quasiobjects that perform the roles of the lost women in The Winter’s Tale perform this work, serving less as representations of the women than as tokens that preserve their connection to Sicilia, laying the groundwork for their return and the poetic substitution that will restore Hermione. In Puppets and “Popular” Culture (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995), Scott Cutler Shershow argues that the puppets in plays like Bartholomew Faire emerge from “a habit of thought that links the puppet, the woman, the servant, and the effeminate social climber within a master system of representation and being which also privileges the author over the actor, and the masculine, mastering ‘spirit’ over the supposedly passive, feminized flesh” (90). The Winter’s Tale rearranges these links, connecting women and objects, but investing performing objects with an agency that undoes, rather than privileges, masculine authorship. The actors are constantly slipping out of the author’s control in this play, and it is the collaborative artistry of Paulina, which adjusts to contingency, that ultimately prevails.


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aspects of poesis played out. John Florio’s 1603 translation of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais addresses these tensions in “Of the Affection of Fathers to their Children” (II.8): I believe, that in that, which Herodotus reporteth of a certaine province of Libia, there often followeth much error and mistaking. He saith, that men doe indifferently use, and as it were in common frequent women; And that the child as soone as he is able to goe, comming to any solemne meetings and great assemblies, led by a natural instinct, findeth out his owne father: where being turned loose in the middest of the multitude, looke what man the childe doth first address his steps unto, and then goe to him, the same is ever afterward reputed to be his right father.27

Here is male anxiety about cuckoldry and bastardry, but also anxiety about the larger problem of distributing authority and responsibility over creatures, be they children or artifacts. A man can sire a child, can begin his existence, but the child, being an irrational creature led by “natural instinct,” may wander to another father, and be recognized as that man’s child by the crowd. Fatherhood becomes a product of chance and automatic action—which works especially directly on the porous natures of women and children. Paternity is decided not by a possessive father, but by the movements of a wandering creature in a crowd. Leontes’ suspicion of his wife arises from this anxiety. The Old English word for Florio’s “solemne meetings and great assemblies” is “thing” (OED, “Thing, n2.”), which makes paranoid Leontes’ exclamation of “O thou thing!” (II.i.82) a particularly evocative epithet for Hermione. The word thing was a term in transition in Shakespeare’s time. Shades of its old Anglo-Saxon meaning, “a public assembly, meeting, parliament, council … a deliberative or judicial meeting, a court,” persisted. In the Jacobean period “thing” hovered between being “That with which one is concerned (in action, speech, or thought),” an object of concern or inquiry, and the contemporary sense of “That which exists individually … a being, an entity,” a settled fact (OED, “thing, n1”). The thing was becoming the object being judged, not the assembly doing the judging, but its status as a matter of fact or concern remained unsettled. Leontes’ suspicion forces Hermione from one sense of “thing” to another, taking the fact of Hermione and turning her into the question of Hermione. In this, Shakespeare reverses the etymological development of “thing,” taking it back toward its original sense of collective deliberation, as the solemn assembly no longer recognizes Hermione as herself. Hermione’s trial enacts the process described by Michel Serres in his accounts of early modern scientific demonstrations, serving as a “tribunal [that] stages the very identity of cause and thing, of word and object, or the passage of one to the other by substitution … A 27   Michel de Montaigne, The Essayes of Montaigne, trans. John Florio (New York: The Modern Library, 1933) 353.

“To me comes a creature”


thing emerges there.”28 Leontes, acting as author and king, identifies Hermione with his accusations of infidelity. He takes her apart, reducing her to a pile of observations and inferences:29 Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career Of laughter with a sigh (a note infallible Of breaking honesty)? horsing foot on foot? Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift? Hours minutes? noon midnight? And all eyes Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only, That would unseen be wicked? Is this nothing? Why then the world and all that’s in’t is nothing, The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing, My wife is nothing, nor nothing have these nothings, If this be nothing. (I.ii.283–96)

In the king’s dreams, Hermione has become an object of concern, the undefined nexus of the connections and influences that intrude upon his desire for absolute authority.30 Her nurturing bond with Mamillius, her courtly friendship with Polixenes, her separate realm among Paulina and her attendant women, all of these mediators need to be reigned in to impose a unitary authority over the Sicilian court. Ultimately, Leontes succeeds in being the author of his own tragedy. The “mere conceit and fear / Of the Queen’s speed” (III.ii.144–45) is sufficient to slay his son offstage; minus his mother, Mamillius cannot function as an extension   Michel Serres, Statues: le Second Livre des Fondations (Paris: F. Bourin, 1987) 111.   This disassembly recalls the dismembering effect of the Petrarchan blaison, described by Nancy J. Vickers in “Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme,” Critical Inquiry 8.2, Writing and Sexual Difference (Winter 1981): 265–279. In this case, Hermione is broken down into a series of behaviors and intentions rather than physical traits, but the dissection before a male gaze is similar. 30   The disintegration through interrogation parallels the theatrical mechanism Joseph Roach’s The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993) identified in eighteenth-century acting. In an era when mechanical psychophysiological models predominated, “the human body [could] be viewed as a machine, and its external emotional expressions analyzed as the mechanical effects of internal physical causes” (60). Leontes attempts something like this, but his inferences are wrong, the products of passion rather than observation. It takes years of chastening and Paulina’s guidance for Leontes to become sufficiently humble and receptive to correctly read the woman before him. The Winter’s Tale is of its pre-Cartesian time in that it uses mechanical and quasi-scientific modes of thought not to reproduce nature, but to move characters and audience to a virtuous disposition toward the inherent contingency and mutability of the world. 28



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of his father’s will.31 Hermione collapses in front of her husband, and Paulina immediately declares that, “This news is mortal to the Queen. Look down / And see what death is doing” (III.ii.148–49). Leontes has broken the plot, scattering its pieces and characters far and wide, and setting in motion their reassembly in new forms at the hands of more authors and parents than in even his most paranoid imaginings. One reassembly begins in Sicilia, the moment Hermione swoons and Paulina pronounces her dead. Another takes place on the seacoast of Bohemia, where Antigonus stands with the infant. By this point, Leontes’ exclusive authority is thoroughly shattered and disseminated, as it is now his courtier who authors the future by identifying Hermione with his dreams. He tells the child (or, physically, the doll or bundle of rags in his arms on stage) that “thy mother / Appear’d to me last night; for ne’er was dream so like a waking” (III.ii.18–19). The apparition, clad in white “Like very sanctity” (III.iii.23), bows, gasps, weeps, and finally orders Antigonus to name the child Perdita, warning him that he will never see his wife again before she vanishes, shrieking, into the air. It remains unclear exactly what this “creature” (III.iii.19) is.32 Hermione’s eventual resurrection has traditionally led critics, assuming a more stable ontological status for Shakespearean characters than the play warrants, to conclude that she is alive all along and to categorize her appearance here as simply a dream, an emanation of Antigonus’ guilty conscience. I tend to agree with Stephen Greenblatt that, “though the audience is amply warned not to credit the ghost of Hermione, it is at the same time strongly induced to do so.”33 The vividness of the ghost’s apparition and its orders’ consequences for the rest of the play make it as real and consequential an agent as any other in the play. Antigonus did indeed dream Hermione back into being, but this dream existence is what she has been reduced to. Detached from the network in which she acted, Hermione can, for now, be only memory and dream, a shade “gasping to begin some speech” (III. iii.25) and enter the world again. Antigonus, consorting with this furious muse, engages in an act of authorship more productive than Leontes’ abortive attempt. He becomes Perdita’s second father, giving her a name and, more importantly, placing 31   See Chapter 4 of Michael Witmore’s Pretty Creatures for an examination of Mamillius’ role and the identification of children with fiction. 32   Focusing on the line “her eyes / Became two spouts” (III.iii.25–26) and the ghost’s mechanical bowing, Scott Maisano draws an analogy between Perdita’s not-quite-human state, her function as a reminder of guilt, and early modern automata, particularly the hydraulic figures in Stuart and Bohemian gardens. For Maisano, the automatic aspects of Hermione’s ghost, and other action in the play, serve as a form of inhumanly perfect repetitive action against which the human can be defined. Scott Maisano, “Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare,” Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life, ed. Jessica Riskin (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007) 63–84. 33   Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001) 202.

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on the strand the material artifacts, the “immutable mobiles”34 that will preserve her connection to Sicilia and allow her eventual return. Saying, “Blossom, speed thee well!” (III.iii.46), he plants the real seeds of her eventual flourishing. He sets the infant down alongside a letter and a casket of jewels, saying, “There lie, and there thy character; there these, / Which may breed thee, pretty, / And still rest thine” (III.iii.47–49). Alongside the baby he sets the objects which encode her identity and will preserve her to be recognized as the Princess of Sicilia sixteen years later. Criticism has tended to only note these items in passing, if at all. Frances Teague’s otherwise exhaustive inventory of onstage properties here counts one document, “Perdita’s character,” and one token of identity, “Perdita’s tokens” (193), but misses one crucial property: Perdita herself. The doll or swaddled bundle is playing the part, and the scene does not function without it. Doll, scroll, and chest of jewels lay arranged on the beach, and the prop-infant, earlier described as a printed text, is homologous to the artifacts on either side of it. The items Antigonus leaves are the initial and material components of “what to her adheres” (IV.i.28) in the Shepherd’s household, of the assembly that will come into being as Perdita. The courtier’s deposits open a path for numerous other parents to contribute to Perdita’s invention. Realizing that his role is played and he is “gone forever,” the Sicilian “Exit[s] pursued by a bear” (III.iii.58). Perdita begins existence as a scanty array of artifacts, and Antigonus ends in the same fashion, the bear disassembling him into bones and “letters … which they know to be his character” (V.ii.34–35), just enough to confirm his fate in Sicilia sixteen years later. At this point, the “things dying” and “things new-born” (III.iii.114) on the beach have the same status. Each is merely a collection of pieces, waiting to be discovered. The pieces of Perdita begin to reassemble at the sheep-sheering festival, where Polixenes’ suspicions prompt her flight to Sicilia with her lover, Polixenes’ son Florizel. When Leontes asks the fugitive Florizel where his wife is from, the prince offers a riddling evasion, telling him “she came from Libya” (V.i.157) and is the child of “him whose daughter / His tears proclaimed his” (V.i.159–60). This line foreshadows the approaching denouement and highlights the centrality of anagnorisis through exterior signs and chance. This sort of recognition is not the discovery of a hidden truth, but the recognition of a creature as fitting into a given network. Perdita, the product of at least three fathers (four, if one counts “warlike Smalus” (V.i.157) of Libya, whom Leontes recognizes in Florizel’s words) and two manifestations of her mother, as well as various accidents and unthinking things, is a Libyan in Montaigne’s sense as well as Florizel’s, a child wandering among an assembly of possible parents, drawn by circumstance toward the mother and father whom events will conspire to recognize as hers. She is identified through a quasi-scientific “unity in the proofs” (V.ii.32), the scroll and 34   Bruno Latour, “Drawing Things Together,” Representation in Scientific Practice, eds. Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar (Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1990) 126.


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jewels Antigonus left and the Shepherd kept, but she is no more Leontes’ daughter than she is Antigonus’ or the Shepherd’s. The immutable mobiles of the scroll and jewelry, the prophecy of Apollo, and her physical resemblance to Hermione combine for her to be recognized as Leontes’ daughter, but he cannot claim sole authorship of her. Fortunately for all involved, the chastened king has accepted a more distributed model of authority, ceding to Paulina the task of memorializing his departed wife. This new embrace of collaboration, and the partial renewal it brings, comes to fruition in the discovery space of Paulina’s temple, where the fantastic statue of Hermione is unveiled. As with the ghost, the ontological status of the statue is ambiguous. While a modern, unitary idea of the human pushes one toward seeing Hermione as simply in hiding all this time, the spectator is nevertheless strongly urged to see Hermione’s return as a miraculous metamorphosis. She is now a thing animated by the recognition of the audience and made to “pertain to life” (V.iii.113). She is an assembly of Julio Romano’s statue, the carefully constructed alcove, music, stagecraft, the king’s humbling, the gathered witnesses, and the fulfilled prophecy of the watching gods. Regardless of where Hermione has been, the play insists that she become the statue, and that her resurrection be the product of a harmonious unity of all the properties of the stage. Through his recognition of her skill and the wondrous verisimilitude of the statue, the king concedes authority to Paulina and the never-present Romano. He believes “The fixture of her eye has motion in’t, / As we are mock’d with art” (V.iii.67–68). When the statue comes to life, even this sense of imitation is displaced, as Hermione becomes consubstantial with the artifact that portrayed her. This scene has been read as Shakespeare’s defense of the unitary dramatic author’s art, a magic “Lawful as eating” (V.iii.111), but the very complexity of Paulina’s tableau and the various human and artificial instruments it requires, undercuts any reading which credits only the author’s imagination. Paulina the dramatist creates nothing new (even the statue is actually Hermione herself) but rather manages and assembles various objects—her audience positioned as carefully as her props— into an assembly that will animate the statue. Inside a carefully crafted dramatic machine, Hermione is not resurrected so much as she is rebuilt, and the dramatic author is less a poet with creations springing whole from his forehead than a cunning technician who combines her given materials into ingenious new devices. In an earlier critical age, Northrop Frye wrote that “something gets born at the end of comedy, and the watcher of birth is a member of a busy society.”35 Present for a rebirth, the Sicilian watchers are members of an especially busy society, an association of performing objects, of stage creatures, within which Hermione can live again.

35   Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 170.

Chapter 4

Antique Myth, Early Modern Mechanism: The Secret History of Spenser’s Iron Man Lynsey McCulloch Immouable, resistlesse, without end. (Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, V.i.12)1

Talus (or Talos), Artegall’s “yron groome” (V.iv.3) in Book V of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and the brazen automaton of Greek myth, appears in both the classical and Renaissance periods as a striking composite of man and machine, humanoid in appearance but also the product of technē and emergent metallurgic and mechanistic industries. In modern parlance, Talus is a cybernetic organism or cyborg. Acting as page to Sir Artegall, Spenser’s Knight of Justice, the early modern iron man administers the law, his hardened frame a tireless tool of the state, his threshing flail the robotic arm of Spenser’s iron and stone-age body politics. Scholarly appraisals of Spenser’s Talus have focused variously on the socio-political and colonial implications of this automated servant. Does he represent the failure of military Neostoicism, the advance of Western industrial development, or the judicial fantasy of Ireland’s beleaguered English colonists? This chapter posits an alternative reading, one that looks to uncover the sensitive side of this much-maligned figure and to situate him—not only within that familiar nexus of retributive justice, military arms and mechanical industry— but also within a context of ancient fable and mythic wonder, tracing his literary journey from the classical accounts of Hesiod, Apollodorus, and Apollonius of Rhodes, in which he communes with the talismanic automata so prevalent in that period, to the Renaissance appropriation of Spenser. This approach will account for the aspects of Talus’ personality so often overlooked by critics focused on the iron man as a “terrible creature”2 or “figure of horror,”3 namely his physical 1   Edmund Spenser, The Fairie Queene, ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. (London: Penguin, 1978). All further references to the text are to this edition. 2   Jane Aptekar, Icons of Justice: Iconography & Thematic Imagery in Book V of The Fairie Queene (New York: Columbia UP, 1969) 41. 3   Jonathan Sawday, “‘Forms Such as Never Were in Nature’: The Renaissance Cyborg,” At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period, ed. Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert and Susan Wiseman (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999) 190. Sawday usefully acknowledges in this essay the strained position of the automaton between the worlds of magic and mechanics, but sets Talus squarely within


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grace, mediatory role, capacity for unveiling hidden knowledge, and storytelling function. With a particular focus on Talus’ interaction with the analogously manufactured figures of Book V—including the armored knights, bionic women, holographic images, and living statuary of Spenser’s imagination—this chapter will consider Talus’ ontological perversity, his position as both subhuman and superhuman, war-machine and wondrous spectacle. How far can we synthesize these converse categories within the body of a single man/machine and what might such a synthesis portend? In acknowledging Talus’ status, not simply as killing machine but also as animated statue, and fully considering his relations with a variety of automata represented in antique and early modern texts, this chapter looks to reinscribe the Spenserian rationale behind this most curious of creations. This chapter will also examine Spenser’s own identification with the automaton, both as colonist in the contested territory of Ireland and as poet, assessing the extent to which Talus functions as a representation of political instrumentality but also, given his narrative role, as a sign of authorial identity and ambiguity. Mechanism Given Spenser’s allegorical mode, it is no surprise that scholars have long identified Book V of The Fairie Queene as a coded representation of the poet’s Irish experiences. Spenser served as secretary to the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Arthur Grey, from 1580 until his employer’s ignominious recall to London in 1584 by Elizabeth I, amid rumors of cruelty and bloody excess against the rebels and the indigenous population. If accepted as the companion piece to Spenser’s contemporaneous account of Irish politics, his View of the Present State of Ireland, Book V reads both as a reflection on the singularity of a military engagement in Ireland, one that requires a strong arm and an understanding of guerrilla warfare, and also a troubled apologia for Lord Grey. In this context, Artegall functions as a clear representation of Grey, and Talus inevitably becomes the military arm of the English incursion or, to quote Jonathan Sawday, “the Law as Spenser imagined it should be exercised by the Elizabethan imperium at the expense of Ireland” (Sawday 190). Several of Book V’s major malefactors are imaged by Spenser as Irish, the monstrous Grantorto amongst them. Grantorto is dispatched by Artegall but Talus is also regularly called upon to pursue and punish the “Irish” rebels within the text. Spenser’s retributive fantasy would no doubt have found a strong supporter in Lord Grey de Wilton, but Elizabeth I, in her dealings with Ireland, was wary of appearing the tyrant even by proxy. John Milton, bemoaning another English monarch’s reluctance to crush the Irish, certainly envisages Talus as a

the context of the latter. For a further discussion of Renaissance technology, and Talus’ place within it, see also Sawday’s Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (London: Routledge, 2007).

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necessary brute, citing his independence from the strictures of rule and law as his most valuable quality: If there were a man of iron, such as Talus, by our Poet Spencer, is fain’d to be the page of Justice, who with his iron flaile could doe all this, and expeditiously, without those deceitfull formes and circumstances of Law, worse then ceremonies in Religion; I say God send it don, whether by one Talus, or by a thousand.4

Milton’s position may now be politically untenable, but the burgeoning archipelagic scholarship of recent years—while rightfully acknowledging the suffering of a subject state like Ireland—has nevertheless compounded earlier critical treatments of Spenser’s “transparent allegory”5 of colonialism, and once more consigned Talus to the role of guilty imperial pleasure. Richard McCabe is not alone in discerning a deep-felt anxiety in The Fairie Queene with the iron man as the poem’s dark center: “Spenser’s poetics interrogate his politics so profoundly as to discover the heart of darkness at the centre of the colonial enterprise.”6 Scholars have also been alert to Talus’ place in the history of Western industrial development, and specifically the application of technology to a military and judicial context. Alastair Fowler has described how “Talus’ inhuman, robotic aspects seem to reflect the increasingly technological character of law enforcement and war in the modern state.”7 More recently, Jessica Wolfe has examined the political instrumentalism of the Renaissance period and the misguided courtly emulation, by the Earl of Essex and others, of a Stoical apatheia. Holding Talus up as the “perverse, inhuman mascot of Elizabethan military humanism and its devastating array of newfangled machines and strategies,”8 Wolfe foregrounds Talus’ function as a warning against the dehumanizing effects of Stoicism, the concomitant rages that result from such an emotional repression, and the dangers of fashioning human beings as tools.

  John Milton, Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Don M. Wolfe et al., 8 vols. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1953–1982) 3:390. 5   M. M. Gray, “The Influence of Spenser’s Irish Experiences on The Fairie Queene,” The Review of English Studies 6.24 (1930): 413–428, 417. 6   Richard A. McCabe, Spenser’s Monstrous Regiment: Elizabethan Ireland and the Poetics of Difference (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002) 4. For further evaluations of Spenser’s colonial conscience, see Willy Maley, Salvaging Spenser: Colonialism, Culture and Identity (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997) and Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser’s Irish Experience: Wilde Fruit and Salvage Soyl (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997). 7   Alastair Fowler, “Spenser and War,” War, Literature and the Arts in Sixteenth-Century Europe, ed. J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989) 160. 8   Jessica, Wolfe, Humanism, Machinery, and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004) 207. 4

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Myth The instrumentality of Spenser’s Talus has, in fact, classically sanctioned legitimacy. Several ancient Greek sources suggest that the brazen man known as Talos or Talon was built in bronze by Hephaestus, the smith-god, and gifted to King Minos of Crete. Others advance a rather different provenance. Talos’ origins are certainly confused, not least in Spenser’s own mythos, and Hesiod’s Work and Days proffers another possible derivation: And Zeus the father made a race of bronze, Sprung from the ash tree, worse than the silver race, But strange and full of power. And they loved The Groans and violence of war; they ate No bread; their hearts were flinty-hard; they were Terrible men; their strength was great, their arms And shoulders and their limbs invincible.9

Spenser too, in elegiac mode, tenders a chronology in which Talus may be inserted: “For from the golden age, that first was named, / It’s now at earst become a stonie one” (V.Proem.2). But while Hesiod emphasizes the invulnerability of his brazen figures—brazen in this instance by virtue of their accoutrements rather than their bodies—he also credits the siring of this warlike race to Zeus. It is this divine inception that complicates our perception of Talos and his ilk. The brazen man of Hesiod’s Work and Days betrays superhuman origins and yet lives a life of stultifying regularity and subhuman mechanization; he patrols Crete on behalf of King Minos, circumnavigating the island thrice daily and attacking with stones any who attempt to alight on shore. Plato’s Minos and Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica offer similar pictures of a legal and juridical instrument. In Plato’s rationalized version of the tale, a non-brazen Talos traverses Crete displaying the island’s laws engraved in brass. The Argonautica, unlike Minos and Hesiod’s Work and Days, offers an actual man of brass, the Talos who attacks Jason and the Argonauts and is ultimately destroyed by Medea. Spenser’s Talus, like his classical ancestors, is deftly situated between a sub- and superhuman status. Despite his apparently prosaic employment by the Knight of Justice, this iron man retains a noble history. Astraea, the classical personification of justice, leaving the earth for the last time, bequeaths her groom, Talus, to Artegall. Talus’ servility is not in question. But his background as Astraea’s personal aid, and possible genesis as one of a divinely produced race, hint at a magical or deified aspect to his character, one that crucially adapts his nominal status as a mechanical tool. Indeed, The Fairie Queene is full of instances in which technology and the supernatural cooperate. Arthur’s enchanted shield, 9   Hesiod, Theogony, Work and Days, trans. Dorothea Wender (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973) 63.

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invested with magical powers by Merlin, was also manufactured in a more conventional fashion: “It framed was, one massie entire mould, / Hewen out of Adamant rocke with engines keene” (I.vii.33). Book V in particular examines the relationship between sub- and superhuman behaviors. Hercules, who “monstrous tyrants with his club subdewed” (V.i.2), is referenced more than once and the legitimation of his violent tendencies—“with kingly powre endewed” (V.i.2)— raises some interesting questions. Historically, this laboring demi-god, fathered by Zeus and demonstrating superhuman strength, becomes, at moments of dramatic reversal, a labored subhuman, a muscle-bound fetcher and carrier. 10 More-thanhuman and less-than-human hereby coexist. This radical confluence is perceptible too in the work of Spenser’s contemporaries and the early modern period’s wider concern with the vexed interface of art and nature, mechanics and magic. The iron man has a supporting and prosthetic responsibility: “powre is the right hand of Iustice truely hight” (V.iv.1). But although Talus serves Artegall in this respect, the Knight of Justice is also implicated in the elision of sub- and superhuman; as Astraea’s deputy on earth, Artegall is an “instrument” (V.Proem.11) himself. Several accounts of the knight in action stress the mechanical nature of his martial force. In his confrontation with the Amazon Radigund, Spenser imagines him as a blacksmith, striking his foe with mundane regularity, and the description of his tool inevitably recalls Talus’ own weapon, the iron flail: Like as a Smith that to his cunning feat The stubborne mettall seeketh to subdew, Soone as he feeles it mollifide with heat, With his great yron fledge doth strongly on it beat. (V.v.7)

The iron flail, Talus’ signature weapon, consisting of a wooden staff at the end of which a shorter pole or club swings freely, was an instrument for threshing corn by hand and, as Spenser notes, a “strange weapon, never wont in warre” (V.iv.44). 10   William Shakespeare, in his Roman plays, examines labor politics, instrumentality, and the world of the rude mechanical, his definition of “mechanical” crucially extended to include the rulers and senators as well as the plebeian populace. Shakespeare’s own “Herculean Roman” (Antony and Cleopatra, I.iii.84), the soldier and triumvir Antony, encapsulates the elision of such binary opposites. In Julius Caesar, despite his military prowess and political importance, Antony acts primarily as Caesar’s surrogate, fulfilling his physical obligations: “Antony is but a limb of Caesar” (II.i.165). In Antony and Cleopatra, he becomes once again the right hand of a Caesar, Octavius Caesar. While Cleopatra derides the Roman mechanicals with their “greasy aprons, rules, and hammers” (V.ii.206), her partner, with heavy irony, appropriates the workaday language of the plebeian carpenter or stonemason: “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” (II.iii.5–7). Antony functions as a military instrument or bionic appendage operated by others, not unlike Spenser’s Talus. See William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

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There is no question that Talus betrays the taint of the laboring classes; he is as much agricultural worker as military mechanism and his tool suggests as much. But strengthened with iron in this case, Talus’ attribute becomes a rather more threatening prospect. Jane Aptekar, tracing Spenser’s iconography, notes that the iron man shares his attribute with the classical god of war, Mars.11 Once again, Talus’ ontological status becomes problematic: is he a god or a golem? Master and Servant Many of the scholarly arguments representing Talus as a monstrous figure, one extemporizing man’s uneasy association with the machine, are predicated on his differentiation from Artegall as the Knight and true champion of Justice, and the increasingly fractious relationship that is thought to develop between master and man in the light of Talus’ increasing aggression. Kenneth Gross, considering again the Irish analogy, suggests that, “Spenser may choose to hold apart the image of effective violence against rebellion in the person of Talus from the idealistic justification of violence personified by Arthegall.”12 Artegall’s own instrumentality confuses the issue and Spenser takes pains to elide the two figures, not, I think, in order to interrogate the mechanistic threat to Artegall’s own humanity,13 but rather to foreground the pair’s cooperative effort and ultimate commonality. Early descriptions in Book V of the “awfull sight” of Artegall’s “wreakfull hand” (V.i.8) undermine any suggestion that the Knight of Justice keeps his hands clean while displacing guilt onto his iron page. It is true that Artegall entrusts Talus with tasks he is not prepared to undertake himself, but several of his delegations credit Talus with more quality than most critics are prepared to do. James Nohrnberg, in his 1976 work The Analogy of The Fairie Queene, acknowledges Talus’ communion with classical and medieval automata, including his direct literary predecessor, Talos, the apprenticed nephew of Daedalus.14 This version of the myth, in which Talos as inventor produces a saw copied in iron from the backbone of a fish (a fitting mixture of artificial and organic elements), appears in Apollodorus’ Library. Nohrnberg is alert to the gift for invention shared by   Jane Aptekar, Icons of Justice: Iconography and Thematic Imagery in Book V of The Fairie Queene (New York: Columbia UP, 1969) 45. 12   Kenneth Gross, Spenserian Poetics: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and Magic (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985) 89. 13   Germane here is Jessica Wolfe’s characterization of Artegall and Talus according to the medieval philosophy of the king’s two bodies, with Artegall as the organic body natural and Talus as the insensate body politic, and her argument that the pair periodically swap roles to indicate the “antithetical qualities demanded by the militaristic ethos of late Elizabethan culture.” See Wolfe 203–235. 14   James Nohrnberg, The Analogy of The Fairie Queene (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1976) 409–425. 11

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Spenser’s Talus and his ancient Greek counterpart; unable to enter Pollente’s castle in canto ii, Artegall calls on Talus to devise a method of entry; he “bad his seruant Talus to inuent / Which way he enter might, without endangerment” (V.ii.20). However, Nohrnberg argues that both stories set the dangerous autonomy of the servant against the fitting authority and oppression of the master. In Apollodorus, Daedalus rewards his nephew’s precocity by throwing him off a cliff.15 In The Fairie Queene, Artegall on three occasions halts Talus’ assaults on his enemies, citing clemency but also expediency and politic reserve as his reasons. In all three cases, and in a similar scenario with Britomart, Talus immediately complies. The iron man is under instruction from Astraea to obey Artegall’s commands and does so, but his particular skill set dictates that, in certain situations—and not merely military ones—Talus takes the lead: “Ne wight but onely Talus with him went, / The true guide of his way and vertuous gouernment” (V.viii.3). Talus not only protects Artegall’s safety; he also preserves his virtue. In canto iv of Book V, Spenser again extols “that great yron groome, his [Artegall’s] gard and gouernment” (V.iv.3). In governing Artegall, Talus becomes responsible for his moral conduct. He is more here than guide or guardian and, by representing Artegall’s conscience, Talus once again assumes a role discrepant with his reputation as a strong arm. Spenserian Ontologies Talus’ physicality poses another conundrum for scholars keen to establish his form and function. Nohrnberg, speaking albeit figuratively, portrays the Spenserian Talus as “the helpful giant who aids the hero on his quest,”16 and it is this sense of the character’s gigantism, whether real or metaphorical, that can all too easily mislead. Spenser’s epic poem is full of giants, but Talus is not one of them, despite the early modern commonplace that men of the golden, silver, and bronze ages were larger in stature than their descendants. In fact, references to Talus’ role as groom or page suggest a youthful attendant rather than any early modern realization of the monstrous-heroic. His speed and lightness of touch are emphasized as often as his strength: His yron page, who him pursew’d so light, As that it seem’d aboue the ground he went: For he was swift as swallow in her flight, And strong as Lyon in his Lordly might. (V.i.20)

Admittedly, Spenser may not have visualized Talus in any specific detail; the iron man’s shape-shifting abilities suggest as much. Missing also from the text 15   Apollodorus, The Library, trans. J. G. Frazer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995) 1: III.xv.8. 16   Nohrnberg 417.


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is any helpful description of his apparently iron frame. But these uncertainties warn against the reading of a singular Talus, one inevitably cast in cruelty and indomitability. To be sure, Talus’ iron casing protects him from physical assault. It also inures him from attempted enchantment. In canto ii, Pollente’s daughter Munera tries to prevent Talus from discovering her “wicked threasury” (V.ii.9) with spells, but no “powr of charms, which she against him wrought, / Might otherwise preuaile, or make him cease for ought” (V.ii.22). Talus appears invulnerable to love or seduction. This does not mean, however, that Talus is insusceptible to emotion. Spenser, in fact, hints at a chink in his armor. Reporting the news of Artegall’s capture and captivity at the hands of the Amazon Radigund to his master’s betrothed, Britomart, Talus betrays some feeling, indeed some fear: The yron man, albe he wanted sence, And sorrowes feeling, yet with conscience Of his ill newes, did inly chill and quake, And stood still mute, as one in great suspence, As if by his silence he would make Her rather reade his meaning, then him selfe it spake. (

Talus’ lack of “sence,” namely the capacity for feeling, appears damning. “Conscience” too may well here denote consciousness rather than any innate moral compass, but Talus is undeniably anxious and significantly aware of the pain he will cause. Signs such as these of life and sensation in the iron man, partial though they may be, align him closely with the automata and motive statuary that pepper classical, medieval and Renaissance texts. Levels of animation vary but, for the most part, mechanical movement and even magically engendered vitality do not equal life in all its complexity. Such figures have a limited functionality, and Talus seems to be no exception. But his incomplete animation and relative lack of emotion need not suggest a cold brutality. In a poem peopled by elfin knights, giants, dwarfs, monsters and a fairy queen, humanity is actually in short supply. Of course, like other created beings, automata can pose a serious threat to human existence, as well as interrogating, via their imitation of life and the hybridization of art and nature they presuppose, the stability of human identity. Posthumanist scholars have lately drawn attention to the cyborg’s “destabilization of the ‘ontological hygiene’ by which cultures have distinguished nature from artifice, human from non-human and normal from pathological.”17 Donna Haraway’s seminal text “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” famously celebrates the cyborg as a border or boundary figure, one able, through its hybrid status, to challenge taxonomy and break down the binary distinctions that incapacitate male, female, animal and machine 17   Elaine Graham, “Cyborgs or Goddesses? Becoming Divine in a Cyberfeminist Age,” Virtual Gender: Technology, Consumption and Identity, ed. Eileen Green and Alison Adam (London: Routledge, 2001) 305.

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relations.18 Such a release from conventional dualisms would not, however, be universally welcome. Talus’ reputation as a retributive and rebellious automaton19 and The Fairie Queene’s treatment of analogously manufactured creatures might suggest that Spenser took a dim view of artificial life and the ontological mobility of such border figures. The Amazons—interestingly hailed by Haraway as marginal, monstrous and thereby cybernetic—are severely chastised by Spenser in Book V after Artegall’s capture and subsequent effeminization by their queen.20 Stripping imprisoned knights of their armor and dressing them in women’s weeds, the Amazons’ disregard for the traditional polarity of the sexes results in harsh punishment and the restoration by Britomart of the women to “mens subjection” ( As a demonstration of Spenser’s attitude towards hybridization and rule breaking, not to mention women, this may be instructive; his discomfort with the performance of gender, and the artificiality it infers, suggests that Spenser was concerned by the indeterminacy of mixed identities. The complexity of Talus’ ontological status, however, suggests that Spenser was conscious of his own partiality and keen to interrogate it. Animated Statuary Spenser’s representation of Talus’ closer relations, the artificial and manufactured figures of The Faerie Queene, offers a useful insight into the poet’s ethical position on the automaton. In the Bower of Bliss episode in Book II, Spenser reconstructs the world of sixteenth-century courtly artifice and automata, and seems to do so with serious reservations. Apparently a natural paradise, it soon becomes clear that the Bower’s beauty is built on an artistic sleight of hand. This affectation of nature by art, with its “wanton toyes” (II.xii.60), seduces but also deceives and is destroyed by Sir Guyon in a fit of iconoclastic rage. As the Bower’s centerpiece, the enchantress Acrasia with her “alabaster skin” (II.xii.77) and “snowy brest” (II.xii.78) is also its icon. Acrasia is one of many animated statues in The Fairie Queene.21 In canto iii of Book V, the false Florimell peddled by Braggadochio, a “glorious picture” (V.iii.25) according to the narrator, recalls the pictorial and   Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Socialist Review 15.2 (1985): 149–81.   Michael West, complicating Nohrnberg’s view that Talus “takes direction rather than giv[es] it” (Nohrnberg 409), emphasizes the iron man’s “military ruthlessness” and “operational autonomy,” a common reading based on Talus’ unilateral decision-making and apparently uncontrolled violence in the field. See Michael West, “Spenser’s Art of War: Chivalric Allegory, Military Technology, and the Elizabethan Mock-Heroic Sensibility,” Renaissance Quarterly 41.4 (Winter 1988): 654–704, 667. 20   See Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991). 21   See Chapter 10 of this volume for Nick Davis’ fuller discussion of the automata in Spenser’s Bower, among whom he does not, as I do, count Acrasia. 18 19

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sculptural seductions of Acrasia and stands in for the true Florimell at her wedding until exposed by Artegall. The Knight of Justice sets the authentic female, Marinell’s true love, beside Braggadochio’s living doll: Like the true saint beside the image set, Of both their beauties to make paragone, And triall, whether should the honor get. Streightaway so soone as both together met, Th’enchaunted Damzell vanisht into nought. (V.iii.24)

The false Florimell encapsulates several of the classically negative connotations of animated statuary. The level of verisimilitude, usually the hallmark of the great artist, is here a notable hazard, the work of a magician rather than grand master. The underlying insubstantiality or hollowness poses another threat. But the false Florimell is first and foremost a false icon, and the staunchly Protestant Spenser bridles at the image of such a painted, and Catholic, saint. Her movement provokes even greater anxiety. Following the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, rumors persisted, and were cemented by propagandists, of fraudulent sculptural mechanisms discovered in Catholic churches and abbeys. The apparent discovery of several automata in the Cistercian monastery at Boxley in Kent, including a cruciform Christ figure able to move its limbs and even alter its facial expression, perpetuated popular iconomachy and fueled iconoclastic action.22 Attempts by both faiths to claim these types of statue and explain their movement indicates the ideological significance of such objects. In Book V of Spenser’s poem, the triple-bodied idol of the giant Geryon, allegorically representing Philip of Spain’s jurisdiction over Spain, Portugal, and the Low Countries, is found to harbor, beneath its golden façade, a monstrous sphinx. The sphinx, sending forth speeches and her signature riddles, animates the statue above, a debased copy of the ancient Greek oracle. This image of outer beauty and inner monster, a metaphor for the seductive quality but blasphemous reality of the Roman faith, is exacerbated by the spectacle of the sphinx herself: “For of a mayd she had the outward face, / To hide the horrour, which did lurke behinde” (V.xi.23). The seductive qualities of these animated statues relate not only to the proselytizing efforts of the Catholic Church but to the inherent sexuality of the sculpted or automated figure. In Book V, Munera, a figure who, with her golden hands and silver feet, is very close to Talus physiologically, mounts an unsuccessful seduction of the iron page. Sexualized artifice is here proscribed, and Talus’ apparent asexuality contrasts with the hypersexuality of other, specifically female, automata. These 22

  See Chapter 6 of this volume for Brooke Conti’s discussion of the Rood of Boxley. For sixteenth-century iconomachy and its influence on literature, see also Marion O’Connor, “‘Imagine Me, Gentle Spectators’: Iconomachy and The Winter’s Tale.” A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Volume IV: The Poems, Problem Comedies, Late Plays, ed. Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003) 365–388.

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figures each have specific functions to fulfill but it would be wrong to suggest that male and female automata are produced simply for military and sexual purposes respectively. Spenser may question the moral efficacy of several of these hybrid figures but he acknowledges their varied applicability and, in many cases, their genuine value. What Munera and Talus have in common, besides their cybernetic frames, is their responsibility as guardian statues. The Talos of Apollodorus, Hesiod and Apollonius of Rhodes becomes the guardian of territory, the protector of the island of Crete. If manufactured by Hephaestus, he joins the smith-god’s entourage of guardian statuary and metallic automata, including a bronze lion and the gold and silver dogs of Alcinous. Hephaestus typically offered these talismanic statues to rulers or gods for the purposes of protection. Their function was primarily to guard property and such figures had, of course, both real-life and static counterparts. Boundaries, entryways, and thresholds are vulnerable to various kinds of attack and incursion, and apotropaic statuary placed at doors or gates was thought to guard against potential intruders or disease. In The Fairie Queene, Munera serves a similar function and guards her father’s castle and his wealth. Talus, in the end, breaches the castle wall and is throughout Book V strongly associated with the breaking of thresholds, but he also acts as guardian statue himself, securing not territory in this incarnation but personnel; he is Artegall’s bodyguard. This does mean, however, that he spends much of his time as night watchman, guarding the rooms and pavilions housing his master and his associates. On one occasion, Talus and Britomart spend the night in the home of a knight they meet on the road. Talus guards the entrance to Britomart’s chamber and Spenser is keen to stress the iron man’s dutiful efforts rather than any automated or programmed behavior. Talus has as restless a night as his anxious mistress: Ne lesse did Talus suffer sleepe to seaze His eye-lids sad, but watcht continually, Lying without her dore in great disease; Like to a Spaniell wayting carefully Least any should betray his Lady treacherously. (

His care is rewarded when Britomart is attacked and he reacts at once to protect her. In many ways, Talus is the perfect servant. Christopher Faraone, discussing guardian statuary in the classical period and the brazen man of Greek myth, sets Talos apart from other examples of the type on account of his ambulatory guardage of Crete. Other guardian statues animate in various ways, by moving limbs or speaking, but they cannot replicate the mobility of Talos. The fear that statues might free themselves from their bases and achieve independence is reflected in several classical texts; Faraone proposes that such a “scenario might help explain


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why Talos … is so readily portrayed in an awful, nearly diabolical manner.”23 The same concern over Talus’ independence, as a ghost in the machine, is perceptible in Spenserian criticism but not necessarily supported by the text itself. All Talus’ actions are in the service of Artegall or Britomart. Spenser’s portrayal of animated idols and sexualized female automata is also counterbalanced in canto vii of Book V by Britomart’s experiences in the Temple of Isis. With Talus barred from entering, Britomart enters the temple to pay tribute to Isis, the epitome of equity, and does so by praying to the Egyptian goddess’ “idol” (V.vii.6). Daringly for a Protestant poet who has already indicted the worship of false idols and the animation thereof, Spenser brings the statue of Isis to life. This, however, is not fraud but a genuine miracle. Spenser here rehabilitates the animated statue and suggests that such appearances are not inherently deceptive: To which the Idoll as it were inclining, Her wand did moue with amiable looke, By outward shew her inward sence desining, Who well perceiuing, how her wand she shooke, It as a token of good fortune tooke. (V.vii.8)

Not only that, but Britomart, imitating the incubatory habits of the ancients, spends the night in the temple and sleeps at the statue’s base. The prophetic dream she has as a result, an allegorical vision outlining the importance of equity and clemency in tempering justice and confirming her future with Artegall, also contains an image of the dreamer herself as the statue of Isis. Artegall and Britomart are clearly the earthly manifestations of Osiris, god of justice, and Isis, but Spenser in this canto extols the animated statue on several levels. It can, in theory, serve as a conduit for divine communication. It can thereby serve a reliable oracular function, guiding worshippers and predicting the future. Britomart’s obvious enjoyment of the image of herself as a statue compensates also for Spenser’s prior distaste for the sculptural and sexualized female body. Her transfiguration encourages a healthy narcissism: That euen she her selfe much wondered At such a change, and ioyed to behold Her selfe, adorn’d with gems and iewels manifold. (V.vii.13)

Talus’ exclusion from this sacred episode should not impede his own rehabilitation as an automaton or moving statue. The animation of the statue of Isis, a cultfigure after all, represents one kind of vivification process. The iron man signifies another, no less significant.

23   Christopher Faraone, Talismans and Trojan Horses: Guardian Statues in Ancient Greek Myth and Ritual (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992) 28.

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Narrative Function One of Talus’ particular skills is the acquisition of hidden knowledge or underlying truth. This has, first of all, a practical application. In his altercation with Munera, Talus not only penetrates the castle walls but sniffs out the hidden treasury and its female guardian: But Talus, that could like a limehound winde her, And all things secrete wisely could bewray, At length found out, whereas she hidden lay Vnder an heape of gold. (V.ii.25)

Talus’ vision, too, is keen. When Britomart is attacked in the middle of the night in the home of Sir Dolon, the iron man pursues her assailants: “Where euer in the darke he could them spie” ( But Talus’ abilities go further than an extraordinary sense of smell, or a piercing night vision. At the start of Book V, Spenser describes how his iron flail “thresht out falsehood, and did truth vnfould” (V.i.12). Distinguishing truth from falsehood is one of the primary functions of the justice system and Talus undoubtedly assists his master in this respect. At the end of Book V, Artegall sends Talus after the defeated Grantorto’s supporters: And that same yron man which could reueale All hidden crimes, through all that realme he sent, To search out those, that vsd to rob and steale, Or did rebel gainst lawfull gouernment; On whom he did inflict most grieuous punishment. (V.xii.26)

Talus’ retributive function in passages such as these can easily take on an inquisitional flavor. C. S. Lewis was unequivocal on the implications of Talus’ special talents: And when we reflect on the judicial methods of the time, the statement that his iron page Talus “could reveale all hidden crimes” becomes abominable, for it means that Talus is the rack as well as the axe.24

Adding torture to Talus’ list of malefactions, Lewis simply toes the critical line. But the facility for unveiling hidden truths might suggest, not the work of the torturer, but that of the writer, specifically the composer of allegories. Spenser’s description of allegory as “fayned colours shading a true case” (V.vii.2) not only concedes the benefits—not to mention literary necessity—of counterfeiting, but reminds us that establishing truth is a specialist business.

24   C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1936) 348.


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Talus’ narrative function has been long overlooked by scholars. As early as Book V’s first canto, Talus demonstrates his verbal skills by persuading the murderous Sir Sanglier to return to the scene of his crime and accept his punishment. It is in canto vi, however, that Talus turns true storyteller. With Artegall in thrall to the Amazon Radigund, Talus has few options. He cannot rescue his master because Artegall, abiding pedantically to chivalric law, has voluntarily surrendered to the Amazon queen. Talus, always respectful of Artegall’s wishes, instead enlists Britomart’s assistance, firstly narrating to her the circumstances that led up to Artegall’s capture: “What time sad tydings of his balefull smart / In womans bondage, Talus to her brought” ( Britomart grants the iron man an audience and Spenser explicitly likens Talus’ spoken version with his own poetic treatment of recent events: With that he gan at large to her dilate The whole discourse of his captiuance sad, In sort as ye haue heard the same of late. (

Talus is no mute killing-machine but uses his story-telling faculties to protect Artegall’s fate, and ultimately his reputation, as the Knight of Justice. Talus memorializes both himself and his master and, by doing so, assumes another of the animated statue’s major roles, that of living monument. He becomes a living monument to justice, a cast iron statue with flail as sculptural attribute, but he also plays the monument-builder, a role allied to his narrative function. Book V is full of monuments, mostly negative exemplars, and they are often erected by Talus.25 These too are testaments to justice and stark warnings to passers-by; Munera’s golden hands and silver feet are “Chopt off, and nayld on high, that all might them behold” (V.ii.26). At the end of the Book V, Talus once again 25   Philip Schwyzer explores Spenser’s setting of monumental imagery against figures of dissolution and obliteration in his Archaeologies of English Renaissance Literature (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007). Certainly, a significant tension exists between the desire to wipe out the memory of an event and the need to consecrate it for future generations. One of Talos’ mythical features, vulnerability at his ankle, remains unused by Spenser. In several versions of the fable, Talos is finally destroyed when a nail or stopper in his heel is removed and his lifeblood, or ichor, spills out. Ben Jonson, in his 1611 Roman tragedy Catiline, likens his doomed rebel to the brazen man and contrasts Catiline’s forced monumentalization at the hands of Rome—“So Catiline, at the sight of Rome in vs, / Became his tombe” (V.678– 685)—with the soldier’s own hope of an apocalyptic dissolution:

That I could reach the axel, where the pinnes are, Which bolt this frame; that I might pull ’hem out, And pluck all into chaos, with my selfe. (III.175–177) See Ben Jonson, “Catiline,” in Works, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson, vol. 5 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937).

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looks to protect his master’s reputation. Like his real-life counterpart Lord Grey, Artegall is ignominiously recalled to court following the emancipation of Irena. On his journey back, he meets two hags on the road, Envy and Detraction. Grey himself was subject to slanderous attack on his return to London and, although Artegall, Grey’s analogue, remains stoic, Talus reacts wrathfully to Envy and Detraction’s tirade: But Talus hearing her so lewdly raile, And speake so ill of him, that well deserued, Would her haue chastiz’d with his yron flaile, If her Sir Artegall had not preserued, And him forbidden, who his heast obserued. So much the more at him still did she scold, And stones did cast, yet he for nought would swerve From his right course, but still the way did hold To Faery Court, where what him fell shall else be told. (V.xii.42–3)

Critics keen to characterize Talus as the rogue instrument of Spenser’s judicial system offer this incident as another example of the iron man’s dangerous autonomy. Artegall is forced to restrain him from assaulting the defamatory pair. But Talus’ intentions are admirable and the prevention of this honorific if violent action, coming as it does conclusively at the end of Book V, signals not the shutting-down of a recalcitrant mechanism but rather the opportunity for Spenser to appropriate Talus’ role himself. With Artegall representing Spenser’s berated employer, is it not possible that Spenser allegorized himself into the poem as Justice’s right hand, the iron man? Spenser’s text, and Book V in particular, looks to salvage Grey’s reputation, leaving to posterity a living monument to the much-maligned deputy. The author was keenly aware of the power of text as monument, a popular Renaissance literary trope. Maintaining that poetry would outlive any artistic memorials, the sentiment was ubiquitous in the period. Spenser was also deeply conscious of the ability of texts to celebrate both authors and dedicatees. The frontispiece of his 1586 The Shepheardes Calender displayed not Spenser’s name, but that of his patron, Sir Philip Sidney. The Fairie Queene remains a defense of Lord Grey de Wilton but also a memorial to Spenser’s own immeasurable talent. Talus’ attempts to protect with arms his master’s reputation mirror Spenser’s own efforts to eulogize Grey. While this reading would seem to strengthen claims for Book V as primarily a survey of Spenser’s Irish experiences,26 it also does something else. According to extant sources, the Talos of Greek myth vacillates between the roles of inventor and invented. Is he the nephew of Hephaestus and the producer of cunning contrivances, or Hephaestus’ creation and the brazen instrument of war? 26   Indeed, if we were to accept the characterization of Talus as a holy terror, this would consolidate speculation over Spenser’s guilty conscience as Grey’s right-hand man.


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Spenser’s Talus encapsulates the same dynamic. He is both maker and made, and this positions him delicately between nature and art, between subhuman and superhuman status, and between the worlds of antique myth and early modern mechanism. Horst Bredekamp, discussing Goethe’s visit to a collection of classical statuary in Mannheim and their magical animation via lights and rotation, reflects on the appeal of the ancient automaton: “Instead of creating the aura of future beings that owed their creation to man, the impression they gave of life resembled more a lofty, past form that relegated modern man to a lower order of being.”27 Such a function is suggested by Spenser’s Talus, and this vacillation between autonomy and dependency points not only to the secret history of the iron man but to the secret history of Spenser himself. As a poet in a period of literary patronage, Spenser’s authorial independence was partial but his literary identity never in doubt. The automaton in English Renaissance literature inevitably mirrors its maker. For Spenser, Talus offered a timely intervention, a working through of professional and poetic insecurities. For us, he remains a measure of the variety and complexity of artificial life.

27   Horst Bredekamp, The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine: The Kunstkammer and the Evolution of Nature, Art and Technology, trans. Allison Brown (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1993/1995) 6.

Part 2 Motion

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Chapter 5

Orpheus and the Poetic Animation of the Natural World Leah Knight

Introduction: Moving Sense in Senseless Things In Francis Beaumont’s Masque of the Inner Temple and Grayes Inne, the goddess Iris celebrates Vulcan’s automata: “See how they moue, drawne by this heauenly ioy, / Like the wilde trees, which follow’d Orpheus Harpe.”1 The simile in Iris’ praise reminds us what current scholars have often overlooked: the ingenious Vulcan may have been a model for Renaissance engineers in much the same way as Orpheus was a model for the period’s poets. Iris’s admiration makes clear that both figures—Vulcan and Orpheus, engineer and poet—were imagined in the period as like-minded makers of automata.2 Both assembled immobile elements of the world to imbue them with a kind of movement imagined to amount to “an Artificiall life” (Beaumont C2r). Heather Dubrow characterizes “the striking popularity” of the Orpheus motif as both a “repository and source of conceptions of lyric—and of so much else—in early modern England.”3 Contrary to popular belief, however, the aspect of the multifaceted Orpheus myth that rose to dominance in the Renaissance was not his attempted salvation of Eurydice, nor his thrashing by the Thracian women, but his transformation of the inanimate landscape into a sensible and mobile part of the   Francis Beaumont, The masque of the Inner Temple and Grayes Inne (London, 1613) C2v. 2   On the ways in which “the language of machines and Renaissance poetic theory seem to slide seamlessly into one another” (174) and “the ambitions of Renaissance fine engineers seemed … to mesh with a shifting view of the role of poetry or fiction more generally” (198), see Jonathan Sawday’s Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (London: Routledge, 2007), especially Chapter 5, “‘Nature wrought’: Artifice, Illusion, and Magical Mechanics” (166–206). On engineers and automata, see Julian Jaynes, “The Problem of Animate Motion in the Seventeenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas 31.2 (1970): 219–234; on Orpheus and poets, see A. Leigh DeNeef, “The Poetics of Orpheus: The Text and a Study of ‘Orpheus His Journey to Hell (1595),’” Studies in Philology 89.1 (1992): 20–70. 3   Heather Dubrow, The Challenges of Orpheus: Lyric Poetry and Early Modern England (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2008) 19. 1

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world through the power of his music and poetry—the two often being conflated, as the etymology of “lyric” implies.4 His precedent in thus controlling the natural world was invoked in poems, plays, literary histories, masques, and progresses.5 That Orpheus was a kind of culture hero for early modern English poets may be seen in any number of references to his accomplishments in this arena. In the answering woods and ringing echoes of Spenser’s Epithalamion, the poet’s own echo is both his debt to Orpheus and its repayment through the tribute of citation.6 Less familiarly, John Dickenson’s Arisbas fervently wished that he “might equall Orpheus in arte,” since “the powerfull vertue of his heauenly tunes, amased furious beastes, stayed fluent streames, raysed stones, [and] assembled trees, mouing sense in senselesse things;”7 a decade later, John Hind echoed Dickenson’s desire to a word.8 Similarly, John Fletcher described the entire natural world as an ideal audience of the Orphic music that: … gave a soule To aged mountains, and made rugged beasts Lay by their rages; and tall trees that knew No sound but tempests, to bow downe their branches And heare, and wonder …9

In such poetic portraits of the effects of Orphic poetry, personification is no mere rhetorical device. Instead, the personification of the natural world imagines poetry itself as a propulsive force with material efficacy in the world. While mechanical automata were recognizable owing to their life-like physical movement, the Orphic automata-maker went a step beyond in further enlivening the already living but relatively inert natural world with both unexpected physical 4

  For instance, Alexander Ross asserts “the resemblance and equall power of eloquence and musick; eloquence being a speaking harmony, and musick a speechlesse eloquence, the one by words, the other by sounds working on the affections” (Mystagogus Poeticus [London, 1647] 19). Likewise, Thomas Powell notes that “there is no Harmony that is so delightfull and pleasing to man as vocal, or the musick of man’s voice” (Humane Industry [London, 1661] 103). On the emergent emphasis in the Renaissance on Orpheus as enchanter of nature, see Patricia Vicari, “Orpheus Among the Christians,” Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982) 63–83. 5   Most of these genres are cited throughout. See also Queen Elizabeth’s progress of 1577, in which a statue of Orpheus placed between a garden and wilderness was accompanied by verses praising his “heav’nly art” (John Nichols, The Progresses, Pageants, and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I, vol. 2 [London, 1823] 59). 6   Edmund Spenser, Epithalamion (London, 1595). 7   John Dickenson, Arisbas, Euphues amidst his slumbers (London, 1594) B2v. 8   John Hind, The most excellent historie of Lysimachus and Varrona (London, 1604) F3r. 9   John Fletcher, “The captaine,” Comedies and tragedies written by Francis Beaumont and Iohn Fletcher (London, 1647) 47–72, 56.

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movement and, more significantly, an often-corresponding emotional movement. Above, Fletcher notes that “wonder” moves the trees, while “joy” lures them in Beaumont’s masque. While conventional automata were powered by wind and water, the unique postulated motive for botanical motion is emotion. This essay explores early modern ideas about the automation of a static natural world through the power of well-chosen words, and not just those in verse. The recurrent fantasy of the poet’s ability to infuse sympathetic animation in the land predominated not only in the poetical but the botanical imagination of the period, owing to the shared perception in these fields of the power of language to automate the sympathies of nature. Preliminary Evidence: Motion and Emotion While the lively responses of animals and rocks were also present in the classical sources of the Orpheus story, trees are often singled out by early modern English writers for their special sensitivity to poetry and their remarkable consequent mobility. The wonder of a moving tree is, of course, considerably more notable than that of any footed or finned thing; at the same time, a moving tree is less implausible than a moving rock. Branches naturally bend in the wind, petals open and close, and leaves unfurl, flutter, and fall. It is precisely this intermediate quality about the mobility of vegetation that may have made it a particularly attractive locus for fantasies of automated movement, given that all automata occupy a similarly middling ground between agency and objecthood. Trees in particular do often seem just this side of lifting up their roots and stalking off, like one of Tolkien’s strangely plausible Ents; and similarly mobile and empathetic arboreal characters were imagined at the time.10 Thomas Blague rehearsed, in his 1569 compendium of fables, the tale of a tree called Abrotanum: on a tyme came a Hare halting to him, for a thorne which stuck in his foote, and sayde: O Phisitian both of body and soule, take pitie on me and helpe me, and forthwith shewed his right foote. This tree being moued with compassion, put him selfe vpon the wounde, brought oute the thorne and healed it.11

What motivates the fictional tree to spring to action as a healer is its susceptibility to being “moued with compassion”—precisely the motive anticipated by the many early modern poets who expected trees to empathize with, if not cure, their laments. The Aristotelian faculty psychology that prevailed at the time endowed plants with souls, but ones that lacked the faculties of sensation, mobility, and 10   J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of the Rings (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1981, rpt. 1987) 77–109. 11   Thomas Blague, A schole of wise conceytes (London, 1569) 25.

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understanding possessed by higher creatures; so much was standard sixteenthcentury university fare.12 But the European botanical renaissance that began in the sixteenth century, bolstered by expanded travel and trade abroad, troubled this traditional understanding. Although Renaissance herbalists apparently did not detect on their field expeditions such mobile and apparently crafty plants as the Venus flytrap and other carnivorous species (Ogilvie 266), the surprising mobility of certain plants (beyond their ordinary growth) became common knowledge. One seventeenth-century natural history describes an exotic tree “whose leaves, fallen down upon the earth, do move and creep … They have on both sides like two little feet … If you touch them, they flye from you. One of them kept 8, dayes in a dish lived, and moved so oft as one touched it.”13 Another self-propelling plant “contracts it self, if any one puts his hand to it; and if you pull back your hand, it recovers it self again” (164). Here was vegetation apparently possessed of sensation and mobility, if not understanding. Such plants certainly exist; what distinguishes these descriptions as early modern rather than modern is the highly personal nature of the human–plant interaction, with one body touching and reacting to another, as opposed to some more neutral experimental undertaking. The nature of the interaction and the rhetoric of the description (“they flye from you”) suggest a presumed personification in the natural historian’s understanding of the plant’s behavior.14 As these examples show, it was well within the bounds of the early modern imagination to include reports of self-propelling plants not only in fabulous works but also in historical accounts. Such open-mindedness toward the remarkable abilities of plants was well-suited to an age experiencing a renaissance in botanical studies, particularly from the perspective of medicinal herbalism. At the time, the majority of pharmaceutical ingredients were botanical materials gathered by a wide range of actors, including a growing cadre of academically trained physicians newly willing to dig in the dirt. The latter in particular can be seen as a generation of latter-day acolytes of Orpheus, deprived of his charms and thus laboriously roaming field and forest to gather plants not with poems but with bare hands, and mechanically wrangling the collected specimens into newly built botanical gardens and herbaria. But medicinal herbalists were also oddly like contemporary Orphic poets, since they too honed their verbal powers in order to animate the   Brian Ogilvie, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006) 223, 323. 13   Joannes Jonstonus, An history of the wonderful things of nature (London, 1657) 164. 14   See Jean Feerick’s “Botanical Shakespeares: The Racial Logic of Plant Life in Titus Andronicus,” South Central Review 26.1 (2009): 82–102, which elaborates upon various anthropocentric analogies—“understanding botanical parts as versions of human anatomy”—routinely made in natural history as one aspect of a “different sense of nature” alive in the period; this was a humoral correspondence-based nature “which figures as eminently permeable the boundary separating the social and political behaviors that inform the human world from botanical life” (84–5). 12

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vegetable world by naming it rightly. Anne Ferry, in detailing the remarkable prevalence of lists of names in sixteenth-century verse, finds their significance in the fact that the “divinely sanctioned use of language in conferring names … was an archetypal image of verbal power over nature”; she shows that the poet’s central act of making metaphors was, concomitantly, “defined as the bestowing of a new name.”15 Similarly, what most preoccupied the humanists in the field of medicinal herbalism was establishing a meaningful pairing of res and verba in the form of a plant’s name.16 There was, after all, no standard nomenclature, and existing names were rarely clear. As the editor of one herbal wrote: nothing more troubles such as newly enter into this study, than the diuersitie of names, which sometimes for the same plant are different in each Author; some of them not knowing that the plant they mention was formerly written of, name it as a new thing; others knowing it writ of, yet not approuing of the name.17

Add to this a proliferation of plants imported from abroad, arriving either anonymously or named in a Babel of tongues poorly understood by their collectors, and we see that medicinal herbalists had to master a complex and ever larger botanical vocabulary in the correct ordering and assembly of ingredients. The skilled use of such names in herbalism could reanimate a dying patient, much as their skilled use in poetry was seen, under the aegis of Orpheus, to have unexpected animating power, infusing new forms of life in old life forms. In the concluding section of this essay I shall return to the significance of an Orphic and botanical poetics of healing. If plants were thought to heal eloquent hares and humans, it was hardly a stretch to hear them whispering on windy days. James Howell, in the facetious prefatory matter to his Dodona’s Grove, or the Vocall Forrest, unfolds just such a theory: “It fortun’d not long since, that Trees did speake … Their ayrie whistlings, and soft hollowe whispers became Articulate sounds, mutually intelligible.”18 Howell even goes so far as to suggest that pre-linguistic human sounds were first shaped in imitation of the sounds emitted by trees: in the nonage of the world, mens voyces were indistinct and confus’d; And sojourning chiefly in Woods, by a kind of assimilation and frequent impressions in the eare, they resembled those soft susurrations of the Trees wherewith they conversd … (2)

  Anne Ferry, The Art of Naming (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988) 145.   See, passim, Anna Pavord, The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants (London: Bloomsbury, 2005). 17   Thomas Johnson, “To the Reader,” John Gerard, The herbal or Generall historie of plantes, ed. Thomas Johnson (London, 1633). 18   James Howell, Dendrologia. Dodona’s Grove, or the Vocall Forest (London, 1640) 1. 15 16

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In his interpretation of classical mythology, Alexander Ross provides a similar explanation for the genesis of language as an imitation of natural sounds.19 Theories like these of a common linguistic root may have helped early modern writers imagine plants as peculiarly sensitive to human plaints, whether of physical or emotional illness. Assertions of the linguistic ability and emotional sensibility of plants are often immediately connected with fantasies of botanical mobility.20 Howell’s sentence from the passage above ends thus: “Trees did speake, and locally move, and meet one another.” The paratactic phrasing suggests that botanical communication simply, automatically, and ideally yielded botanical community (in contrast, perhaps, with the human varieties of each). For instance, at the sound of “the moouings of … song” in the anonymous Nero, we hear that: The gentle Popler, tooke the Oake along, And call’d the Pyne downe from his Mountaine seate; The Virgine Bay, although the Arts she hates O th’Delphick God, was with his voice ore come[.]21

In this instance, we are given to understand that the linguistic ability, emotional sensibility, and corporeal mobility of the trees interlock. Indeed, heartfelt eloquence is seen to trump apparently inarticulate emotion when the baleful bay is overcome by the poetic call of the poplar. The relation can be summed up thus: when trees are moved by words, they are transported. The very verbs attest to the intertwining of ideas about emotional response to powerful language and consequent physical motion. In his account of Orpheus in The petie schole (1587), Francis Clement pairs verbs that emphasize the physical efficacy of his eloquence with ones that emphasize its emotional efficacy: “Orpheus his tongue surmounted all other … : it delited, and allured: it moued, and rauished: it pearsed, and pleased … .”22 Such linguistic intertwining suggests the doubly astonishing quality of the Orphic motif of automated flora: the marvel of trees in their visible march is still exceeded by its unseen motive, which is that they are internally moved by the musical eloquence of Orpheus. Their external animation is the token, guarantor, and consequence of that invisible but more remarkable internal animation; the conversion of the trees into   Alexander Ross, Mel heliconium, or, Poeticall honey gathered out of the weeds of Parnassus (London, 1642) 21–2. 20   See Gail Kern Paster, Humoring The Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004) 31–4, for discussion of early modern theories about pneumatic spirits in all sorts of bodies generating “motions” (both movements and emotions). In such accounts, “the self traversed by desire finds its own contradictory longings mimicked everywhere by the sympathies and antipathies that organize and move a desiring universe filled with the strivings of appetite in all things animal, vegetable, or mineral” (33). 21   Anon. The tragedy of Nero, newly written (London, 1624) D4r. 22   Francis Clement, The petie schole (London, 1587) 45. 19

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automata is therefore a signal event in both the literary history and the natural history offered by this aspect of the Orpheus myth. Automatic Audiences The poet’s desire to control others, to move them through their emotions, is repeatedly literalized in early modern poetry in the figure of moving trees. Even when Orpheus is not explicitly invoked, many writers appeal to a kind of commonplace linking moving words and mobile trees. In just one of many typical passages, “Flaminea breathed out this Madrigale with such mournful melodie, that the very dead blockes and sencelesse trees could not chuse but be moued with ruthe … .”23 The phrasing here is revealing: the trees, though human-like in their emotional response, are not equally endowed with human-like volition. Instead, they “could not chuse” the nature of their response, but were instead compelled to pity by the power of her song. The response of the trees, in other words, is less a matter of self-movement, of active will and agency, than of remote control by someone who wields magical words, be it Orpheus or Flaminea. Yet the trees so transformed resemble traditional self-moving automata in their exhibition of qualities we might think distinctive only of human life forms: specifically, the faculty to be moved by language. The automation of the trees is therefore a kind of literalization, or actualization, of the rhetorical device of prosopopoeia— the efficacy of which is embodied in the ravished responsiveness of the trees, a simultaneously captive and liberated audience.24 Paradoxically, the trees are simultaneously rendered subjects through and subject to the person-making power of language. Their problematic status seems to warn, appropriately enough in a romance, of the dangers of language and emotion as movers of thought and action. Many other references to moving trees evince a similar concern about the effect of artful words on the agency of their audience, a category of being that hovers between object and subject much as the automaton.25   Robert Parry, Moderatvs (London, 1595) A3v.   For more on the trope of prosopopoeia as it applies to early modern automata, see Wendy Hyman’s chapter on the mechanical bird in this volume. 25   Todd Andrew Borlik, in “Mute Timber? Fiscal Forestry and Environmental Stichomythia” (Early Modern Ecostudies: From the Florentine Codex to Shakespeare, ed. Thomas Hallock, Ivo Kamps and Karen L. Raber [Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008] 31–54), makes a related but very different argument that early modern scenes cast with speaking trees show the erasure of “the distinction between sentient human subject and callous natural object” (43); while I agree, I would argue for a different dynamic in scenes not of speaking but of listening (or buttonholed) and inscribed trees (see next section). In the case of trees carved with words, I see an inversion of Borlik’s distinction, in which the callous human subject wounds the sentient, even sappy, natural object. Likewise, while Borlik points to ways in which images of speaking trees “graft the arboreal and the human 23



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Early modern poets did not hesitate to appropriate from Orpheus the idea of a ready-made wooden audience in the forests surrounding their often-rustic protagonists. For instance, John Reynolds has his lovesick hero in The Flovver of Fidelitie “direct his course to the Fields, where most sorrowfully he would to the sencelesse Trees decypher forth the manner of his Mistresses cruelty.”26 The stock description of the trees as “sencelesse”—a reference to the faculty psychology that did not extend a sensible soul to vegetation—does not seem to bode well for the reception of his deciphering. Yet trees are often figured as a far better audience than any human alternative, in particular the frequently insensitive beloved: as Drayton’s Phoebe complains to hers, “My sighs moue trees, rocks melting with my tears, / But thou art blind; and cruell stop’st thine eares.”27 Phoebe’s phrasing suggests the advantage to be found in the passivity of the natural world in comparison with the human who actively deafens himself. In a twist of the motif that emphasizes the ironic contrast between human and arboreal sensitivities, the opening scene of a 1647 pastoral play finds a shepherd who, on hearing his beloved sing, finds himself stock-still while the trees respond with more appropriate animation: Amazed I a fixed tree did prove, But wonder blasted trees did dance, and move, Each bends his palsie tops to worship her, And turne obsequious Idolater[.]28

In such cases, the natural world is portrayed as apparently enjoying greater sensitivity to emotive experience and gestural expression than a merely human audience: here, the speaker is deprived of his ordinary mobility by the force of his feelings, while the trees are endowed with newfound motion that, in its elaborate artfulness, exceeds the typical courtship performance of even a normally mobile shepherd. Yet the automated nature of their response is also subject to the outdone speaker’s critique, who diagnoses their movements as mere “palsie,” an affliction paradoxically encompassing both tremors and overarching paralysis. In his jealous eyes, the trees occupy ambiguous terrain between self-willed animation and automation: they are blasted not by wind (like most trees, and many mechanical automata) but by wonder, a human response that here acts on them, perhaps rendering their motion, like that of many wonder-struck people, mere reflex after all. Colin Clout in The Shepheardes Calender possesses deeper faith in the sensibility of the natural world around him: he believes that if only his poetic skill were greater, he soon “would learn these woods to wayle my woe, / And teach together to suggest they share a common nature” (43), I would suggest that voiceless, carved trees emphasize not the grafting of such bodies, but the distance between them—if not arm’s length, then at least that of a penknife’s blade. 26   John Reynolds, The Flovver of Fidelitie (London, 1650) 60. 27   Michael Drayton, Endimion and Phoebe (London, 1595) C3. 28   Robert Baron, Erotopaignion, or, The Cyprian academy (London, 1647) 36.

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the trees their trickling tears to shedde.”29 Colin desperately desires the pathetic fallacy to come true; in his experience, humans are so hard of heart, or hearing, that his only hope is to create a new and better audience by compelling inhuman nature to empathize with, and indeed to echo, human nature. In doing so, Colin would transform nature into art, by making it an imitation of the human world; yet he would also transform nature into a better version of that human world, not unlike the golden one Sidney alludes to in The defence of Poesie.30 The deeper desire expressed by Colin’s plaints is, I would argue, to gain control of the natural world—a world already artfully controlled in the calendrical structure imposed upon the poem in which Colin unwittingly appears.31 That structure itself is a form of art that, like the clockwork that fascinated automata-makers of the period, both reflects and controls nature, thus accomplishing precisely what Colin would like to do as a poet. The calendar form can act as a textual version of a perpetual motion machine, that theoretical ideal of the automaton. That Spenser had such an analogy in mind when subsuming his poem under the metaphor of the calendar may be inferred from the envoy: Loe I haue made a Calender for euery yeare, That steele in strength, and time in durance shall outweare: And if I marked well the starres reuolution, It shall continewe till the worlds dissolution. (52)

Spenser’s reference to “steele” asserts the similarity (but superiority) of his textual automaton to the more mechanical kind described by the likes of Thomas Powell in his account of contemporary automata, including the “rare Instrument of perpetual motion” presented by Cornelius van Drebble to King James and “made in the form of a Globe, in the hollow whereof were Wheels of Brass moving about, with two pointers on each side thereof, to proportion and shew forth the times of dayes, moneths, and years, like a perpetual Almanack” (19). The almanac or calendar that expressed an eternal dominance of artfulness over the natural mutability of time was thus both a prominent type of automaton and a literary genre, both machine and text, again unexpectedly joining the realms of engineering and lyric poetry. The nested structure of the Calender—its songs embedded within conversations that are in turn clamped between woodcuts and emblems, arguments and endnotes, like cogs and wheels tightly fitted into a clock’s case—suggests another reason for Colin’s fierce desire to enact the pathetic fallacy: its force would cancel the   Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender (London, 1579) 24.   Philip Sidney, The defence of Poesie (London, 1595) Cv. 31   For a very different reading of the period’s approach to what was not, after all, called a fallacy until the late nineteenth century, see Borlik, who argues that, to Philip Sidney in particular, such personification was “no fallacy at all but a vital means of endowing nature with dignity and honorary subjectivity that helps to justify its preservation” (44). 29 30

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boundaries between a person’s interior and all that is exterior.32 Without such boundaries, all poetry would, presumably, automatically find its audience—a recurring concern in the Calender, as in so much pastoral, in which complaints may be uttered only to an inconsequential audience of livestock and a few fellow herders. If, instead, he had Orphic powers to “teache the trees,” Colin thinks, Then should my plaints, causd of discurtesee, As messengers of all my painful plight, Flye to my loue, where euer that she bee, And pierce her heart with poynt of worthy wight[.] (24)

Colin imagines the Book of Nature as a kind of instant messaging system, a medium far more efficient even than the printing press, and certainly more so than mere pastoral song. The fantasy of instant communication over distances—a fantasy first dramatically, then routinely, realized half a millennium later—is a key ingredient of the Orphic strain in early modern poetry. The Orphic poet dreams of communication that can generate a utopian community by healing the wound of distance, physical or emotional, between speaker and audience. The Vocal Forest As Colin’s example suggests, pastoral poets imagined trees not only as an ideally responsive audience but as themselves communicative beings, whether agents or machines, remarkable for their distribution networks and durability. Representations of writing on trees therefore bear closely on the Orphic idea of wielding poetic power over nature.33 James Howell portrays the practice as peculiarly British in the preface “To the knowing READER” of his Dodona’s Grove, or the Vocall Forest; after tracing the rise of science in India, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and northward, he notes that: In Albions woollie Isle, she welcom found, Which for her Bards and Druyds grew Renound So calld, because they commonly did use On God and Natures works mongst Trees to Muse, And fix their Speculations; for in rind Of Trees was Learning swaddled first, I find. (29)

32   For references to the theoretical permeability of such boundaries in the period, see citations of Feerick, Paster, and Borlik (above). 33   For more on the subject of inscribed trees, see Leah Knight, “Writing on Early Modern Trees,” English Literary Renaissance (forthcoming).

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Here, writing on trees is associated less with recreational or plaintive poetry than it is with words of considerably greater power: the runes of bards and druids who, like Orpheus, were imagined to wield language that had magical, mechanical efficacy. Richard Brathwaite traces tree-writing to a much more modest pastoral source in his own history: “Those poore Arcadian Shepheards, when they had no other meanes to continue the memory of their actions, or perpetuate their Loves, or recommend to posterity their Rurall Rapsodies, used to indorse their passionate Expressions in Rindes of Trees.”34 Most inscriptions on trees do appear in pastoral, perhaps most famously in As You Like It and its main source, Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde; in both, writing on trees critically advances the plots and plights of melancholic lovers. Less familiar examples featuring similarly overwrought lovers abound: the love-sick hero of The Flovver of Fidelitie “betook himself to the fields … to make the flowry Meadowes acquainted with his amorous fancies”; under a shady tree, he sets to writing lyrics, including one to the tree itself: Thou Cypres tree, If once thou see My faire Athelia passe this way, Tell her I came To Print her name[.] (Reynolds 62–3)

As with Orpheus, verse is here the agent of automation, imagined to possess the power to lend limited agency to the newly-enabled automaton: the engraved tree can observe the passing beloved and is exhorted to tell her of the poem’s authorship. But in this case, the laconic style of the lyric suggests that what will move the tree to cooperate with humankind is not poetic charm but corporeal harm: Thalmo carves these words into the tree’s bark, so that it is wounded— as he is—by Athelia. The tree’s outcry may seem an echo of his own, but is in fact stimulated by more personal pain: this is the pathetic fallacy simultaneously verified (the tree is pained) and falsified (it is pained, but not by the poet’s pain). Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia is more explicit about her aim in extorting such fellow feeling, by whatever means, from the tree she carves: “I will make others in part taste my paine,” she says—“then taking a knife, shee finished a Sonnet … in the barke of one of those fayre and straight Ashes, causing that sapp to accompany her teares.”35 Here, the elision of the cause of the flowing sap (verse or violence?) allows doubt about the poet’s persuasive power. In both cases, the injured trees are imagined to be rendered empathetic to human pain through sheer physical force, should the verse itself prove less than Orphic.   Richard Brathwaite, A suruey of history (London, 1638) 34.   Mary Wroth, The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (London, 1621) 65–6.

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Such engraved trees are, however, not only each poem’s immediate audience, but also each poem’s subsequent messenger, automatically repeating the words of the poet–lovers who carved them. Moreover, here and in other instances where trees are specifically subjugated to the poet’s desires when the beloved is not available, they also stand in for, or even as, the absent beloved. The hero of one tale in William Painter’s Palace of pleasure, for instance, only turns to carving verse “vpon the barke of a goodly & lofty Béeche trée” when “feeling in himself an vnaccustomed lustinesse.”36 Likewise, immediately before carving the poem quoted above, Thalmo is in a state of considerable arousal; he at last “resolv[ed] to sleep” but: was no sooner down, but (Love being impatient of delays) he rose again instantly, determining to depart; yet desirous to write some Ditty … he busily in his pocket search’t for his Pen and Paper; but not finding it, he immediately drew out his Poinard, and there on the Bark of the aforesaid Cypres tree (with as much skil as his trembling hand could afford),

he begins carving (Reynolds 62). If his pocket rummaging, mislaid pen, and trembling hand on poignard were not sufficiently explicit, upon finishing his poem “he very often kist it, as if there remained some figured resemblance of his Mistresses perfection” (63). When poets carve trees, we may often perceive a variation on the Pygmalion theme, with the automaton valued as placeholder for the proper love object, as in “The Garden” when Marvell’s speaker goes so far as to carve trees not with the name of his mistress but with those of the trees themselves, whose “Beauties Hers exceed.”37 The collapsing of artist, audience, and beloved into the figure of the tree signals the solipsism of the fantasy of the automaton, belying the initially utopian appearance of Orpheus and his followers as disinterested pied pipers to the natural world. A similarly problematic Orphic purpose is at work in Colin Clouts come home againe, in which the eponymous speaker enlists trees in his bid to eternize his beloved: … when as death these vitall bands shall breake, Her name recorded I will leaue for euer. Her name in euery tree I will endosse, That as the trees do grow, her name may grow[.]38

Colin notes the advantage of this mode of publication: the name of his beloved will not merely survive but flourish after his death, and even her own. The hero in the Painter story, above, shows a similar, if more self-interested, interest in   William Painter, The second tome of the Palace of pleasure (London, 1567) 333v.   Andrew Marvell, Miscellaneous poems (London, 1681) 49. 38   Edmund Spenser, Colin Clouts come home againe (London, 1595) D1v. 36 37

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the tree’s slow but steady movement via growth when he carves the following in a tree: “Th’increasing beautie of thy shape, extending far thy name, / By like increase I hope to see, so stretched forth my fame” (333v). In both cases, trees are pressed into service as perhaps the slowest-moving robots ever invented, as their ordinary sluggish vegetable animation is infused with human powers of expression and memory, and even perhaps with the tendency to exaggerate in hindsight. Colin goes further when he imagines not just trees but soil and rocks as possessing similar powers, and for good measure plans to duplicate his inscription of her name “in the ground each where [that is, everywhere] will it engrosse, / And fill with stones, that all men may it know” (D1v). Colin’s mineral inscription could presumably only “fill with stones” as time passed if he imagines stones as growing things. Indeed, the verb “engross” implies the enlargement of the inscription on the land, perhaps even to the point where it could be legible from afar, like the White Horse of Uffington or other figures carved into hillsides. Of course, Colin’s plan to assemble and animate the stones as a kind of permanent billboard for his beloved has a political purpose: the name he will write on the land is that of his monarch. He thus dreams of inscribing Ireland, the “Home” to which he returns, with an ever-larger signature of Elizabeth. If we consider another meaning of “engross” (OED, sense I.1), then Colin may also deliberately select lettering that characterizes his inscription as a legal one. The monopolization or engrossment (OED, sense 1) of Ireland is thus portrayed as a simple legal transaction in which the land takes on the identity of its ruler in a kind of marriage that, appropriately enough, compels the land to take up the mortal poet’s loving celebration of her. As in other instances of the trope of automated nature, the personification and animation of the land is immediately bound up with its subjugation to the will, in this case, not only of the poet but of the political power he serves. Significantly, the poet portrays this subjugation as a process of education: The speaking woods and murmuring waters fall, Her name Ile teach in knowen termes to frame: And eke my lambs when for their dams they call, Ile teach to call for Cynthia by name. (D1v)

The intelligent land, the “speaking woods” and waterfalls that already “murmur” (if not to curse), will be taught by Colin precisely what to say: this early modern Henry Higgins will have his Elizas disavow “their dams” and call another their mother. As often in fantasies of automation, natural parental relations—including those with the mother tongue—are artfully disrupted.

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Botanical Healers Such artful disruption is imagined as the natural provenance not only of the early modern poet but also of the early modern herbalist, each in his way taking up the ancient task of Adam in Eden. When the creator of the animals lets Adam name them, it is as if to let him adopt them as his own, for stewardship or dominion (Genesis 2:19 and 1:26). Anne Ferry has argued that a line of descent may be traced from Adam to any poet naming the natural world, and that the device in which such a descent is most often and clearly acknowledged is the catalogue—archetypally, catalogues of trees, those microcosmic herbals in lyric form. She notes that each new poetic catalogue, through the rhetorical force of allusion, implicitly assembles those of earlier poets who used words to assemble such gatherings of trees; and the first such poet was, allegedly, Orpheus, with whom Ovid associates his own catalogue of trees in Book X of his Metamorphoses.39 Ferry thus locates a surprisingly central place for the arboreal catalogue in literary history: “As Orpheus is a traditional figure of the poet, the catalogue of trees is the prototype of all catalogues, and of poetry itself, which is the art of naming” (151–3). Yet, as we have seen, early modern botany was also an art of naming; the basic nomenclatural record of the verse catalogue of trees corresponds with the pre-eminent task of early modern botany. And while poetic catalogues recapitulated the Orphic reordering of the natural world, herbals likewise aimed to marshall in words a newly effective order of nature, one both healed and healing, not unlike what Philip Sidney, in his Defence of Poesie, called the golden world of poets. In this light, the Orphic automation of nature reveals yet another ligature, since severed, between early modern art and science.40 It is worth remembering at this point that Orpheus (like Ovid’s Apollo) was admired not just as a poet, but also as a healer—specifically, as the first known author in the field of herbalism.41 The power that the herbalists wished to gain over plants by naming them rightly was, of course, merely an intermediate one; its end was to gain power over a very different life form, the diseased human body. In this way the herbalists also resembled the early modern poets who purported to be able to move trees—   Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998) 85–107.   For a recent summary of the interrelations of art and science in the period, see Carla Mazzio’s “Shakespeare and Science, c. 1600,” South Central Review 26.1–2 (2009): 1–23, esp. 1–5. 41   Pliny the Elder, one of the primary classical authorities on botanical matters, wrote that, “the first man knowne by all records to haue written any thing exactly and curiously of simples, was Orpheus.” See The historie of the vvorld: commonly called, The naturall historie, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1634), 210. Orpheus is cited in the prefatory material of at least one early modern English herbal as among “[t]he first that we can learn of among the Greekes that haue diligently written of herbes.” See George Baker in John Gerard, The herbal or Generall historie of plantes, ed. Thomas Johnson (London, 1633) n.pag. 39


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emotionally, if not physically—and thus to use plants as media in communicating with human audiences. While plants were enjoined by lovesick poets to relay their messages to the hearts and minds of the beloved, the healing powers of medicinal plants could be targeted to almost any part of the anatomy. And just as medicinal herbalism was preoccupied with the power of words, early modern poetry was often characterized as a kind of herbal physic in possession of the same powers as the apothecary’s less rhetorical flowers.42 A plant’s healing power was described as its “virtue,” a word that personifies the objects endowed with it, both in its etymology (L. vir, man) and in its interpretation of their active power (senses 9b, 10a, and 11a in the OED). Such agency, whether real or imagined, could be called the defining characteristic of automata. Many early modern and subsequent interpretations of Orpheus liken his automation of the stones and trees allegorically to the gathering up of bluntheaded and -hearted humans into more acceptable sociopolitical configurations. As George Puttenham puts it: Orpheus assembled the wilde beasts to come in heards to harken to his musicke, and by that meanes made them tame, implying thereby, how by his discreete and wholsome lessons vttered in harmonie and with melodious instruments, he brought the rude and sauage people to a more ciuill and orderly life[.]43

Puttenham’s political interpretation is common,44 and sometimes taken by critics as the only one available; but the Orpheus myth may also be understood in light of the early modern fascination with the human desire and ability to animate and command the sympathies of an otherwise apparently insensible, static, or unresponsive natural world. So read, the Orpheus myth also illuminates the work of natural historians who, like poets, turned to the ordering of language to transport and assemble the world’s flora and fauna into a civilized and legible array. Words fraught with the power to automate 42   Under the patronage of Orpheus, “lyric is established as a pharmakon” that may “physic illness, thereby testifying that it is not a trivial toy but a potent weapon with significant material effects” (Dubrow 21). Isabella Whitney, for instance, very typically characterizes the verses in her Sweet Nosgay as a prescription against plague in these instructions to her reader: “when you come into a pestilent air that might infect your sound mind: yet savor to these SLIPS in which I trust you shall find safety.” “Epistle Dedicatory,” A sweet nosgay, or pleasant posye contayning a hundred and ten phylosophicall flowers (London, 1573) A5r. 43   George Puttenham, The arte of English poesie (London, 1589) 4. 44   For similar examples, see Kirsty Cochrane, “Orpheus Applied: Some Instances of his Importance in the Humanist View of Language,” Review of English Studies 19 (1968): 1–13, and Kenneth R. R. Gros. Louis, “The Triumph and Death of Orpheus in the English Renaissance,” Studies in English Literature 9.1 (1969): 63–80.


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nature were thus not limited to moving lyric lamentation in the early modern imagination, but included even the unadorned names of the world’s creatures. Their true names were thought to have been assigned by Adam in the first human creative and poetic act, an act that, as Ferry writes, “sanctioned belief in the power of words over nature. By extension it could then be used to make Adam’s right naming available as an analogy for the poet’s divine force of language” (133). Someone who should, perhaps, be named in the same breath as the poet is the humanist natural historian, whose words have proved, for better and worse, in subsequent centuries, to possess the Orphic poet’s desired and declared power to reshape and automate the world.

Chapter 6

The Mechanical Saint: Early Modern Devotion and the Language of Automation Brooke Conti

Humanoid automata are an occasional but persistent presence in early modern religious prose. Just as in B-movies of the twentieth century, however, the arrival of such figures on the scene is almost never a good sign. Like the aliens, zombies, and robots of the American multiplex, the life-like but non-sentient machines of Protestant sermons and polemics inspire mistrust and sometimes revulsion, while at the same time offering a window into contemporary anxieties about authenticity and human agency. From Lancelot Andrewes and John Donne to Thomas Edwards and John Milton, Protestant writers from across the doctrinal spectrum use the language or imagery of mechanical automation to characterize hypocrites, heretics, and others they consider beyond the religious pale. In Andrewes’ contemptuous words, such people are no more than “the automata, the spectra, the puppets of Religion.”1 Some of the antagonism expressed for these metaphorical automata reflects attitudes toward actual mechanical figures. As Alexander Marr has noted, responses to automata among early modern Englishmen and -women were ambivalent, with some writers celebrating the ingeniousness of such devices and the ennobling sense of wonder they provoke, and others condemning their makers for impiously counterfeiting the workings of the natural world and the creative powers that belong to God alone.2 But while religious prose manifests plenty of suspicion about automata, the positive potential that Marr identifies is hard to come by. To some extent it is not surprising that metaphorical automata should provoke more nervousness than real ones. While actual clockwork figures—however ingenious— are unlikely to be mistaken for living creatures, their fictitious counterparts of the printed page can be figured as entirely indistinguishable from human beings. 1   Lancelot Andrewes, XCVI Sermons by the Right Honorable and Reverend Father in God, Lancelot Andrewes (London, 1629) 694. The date of the sermon is May 19, 1616. All subsequent quotations from Andrewes refer to the same sermon and edition, which will be cited by page number. 2   Alexander Marr, “Gentille Curiosité: Wonder-Working and the Culture of Automata in the Late Renaissance,” Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, ed. Alexander Marr (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2006) 149–70, and “Understanding Automata in the Late Renaissance,” Journal de la Renaissance 2 (2004): 205–22.


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Such machines might therefore be expected to be the occasion for more serious questions about the relationship between appearance and reality. Still, as many of the chapters in this essay collection testify, in works where religion is not the focus, fictional automata frequently can be objects of delight and wonder; even those that are clearly deceptive, such as Spenser’s False Florimell (see Book III of The Faerie Queene), are often described in ways that invite a certain amount of admiration—for their ingenuity, if nothing else. In other places, such as scientific and medical works, human beings can be described as automata in terms that are still more celebratory. For those engaged in religious controversy, however, automata are rarely admirable. The few times that metaphors of mechanization and of clockwork processes are used positively occur when doing so emphasizes the awe-inspiring power and mercy of God. In John Owen’s Doctrine of the Saints Perseverance (1654), for example, Christ’s sacrifice is described as the “one originall spring or wheel” in an automaton “that giveth motion to sundry lesser and subordinate movers” (in this case, individual salvation and the perseverance of the true church); other writers assert that proof of God’s glory can be found in the world’s seemingly clockwork-like functioning and even in the marvel of the human body.3 However, while it seems acceptable to describe human beings as, in the words of one writer, “Noble Automat[a]” when doing so is in the service of celebrating “the Glory of the Creatour” who fashioned them, in no other circumstances does the comparison between humans and automata have a positive valence in religious prose.4 The first and perhaps most obvious reason for the negative depiction of automata in Protestant polemic is the association of such devices with Catholicism. Although a belief in both the irreverence of religious images and their potential to deceive the senses did not originate with the Reformation— such distrust can be found in the Hebrew Bible, among the early church fathers, and even in the works of Catholics still loyal to Rome—both literal and

3   The fuller quotation reads as follows: “As in your Automata, there is one originall spring or wheele, that giveeth motion to sundry lesser and subordinate movers, that are carried on with great variety, sometimes with a seeming contrariety one to another, but all regularly answering, and being subservient to the impression of the first mover. The first great Promise of Christ, and all good things in him, is that which Spirits and principles all other Promises whatsoever; and howsoever they may seem to move upon conditionall termes, yet they are all to be resolved into that absolute, and free Originall Spring. Hence that great Grant of Gospell Mercy, is called the Gift by him.” John Owen, Doctrine of the Saints Perseverance (London, 1654) 113. 4   Nathaniel Ingelo, Bentivolio and Urania (1660) 97. The closest thing to an exception to this statement, noted by Michael Schoenfeldt, may be George Herbert’s suggestion at the end of “The Church-Porch” that one should “wind up” one’s soul along with one’s watch at the end of the day—the implication of which seems to be that one’s soul should be a well-cared-for machine (XI.451–55). See Michael Shoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999) 109.

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rhetorical iconoclasm were central features of early Protestantism.5 Scornful descriptions of religious statues as “puppets” date back at least to Calvin, and the mass is often referred to as a “puppet play” in sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury English Protestant polemic.6 This language may reflect simple iconophobia, or it may be a response to the fact that the pre-Reformation church did employ puppets, marionettes, and automata in religious drama and some nativity scenes, devotional practices that continued in many Catholic countries after the Reformation.7 In addition to these arguably more innocuous uses of mechanical devices, however, many Protestants were also convinced that the Catholic Church employed automata in the service of bogus miracles. The most famous such device was the Rood of Boxely, the crucifix in the Cistercian abbey at Boxley in Kent, which was discovered to have wires within it by which the head of Christ could be made to move and his eyes “goggle.”8 The rood was exposed in a 1538 sermon by John Hilsey, bishop of Rochester, but it became famous when an account of its exposure was included in the 1583 edition of Foxe’s Acts and Monuments.9 Although more recent historians have doubted whether the rood was actually used to deceive worshippers—and hard 5   A good discussion of the relationship between Judeo-Christian iconophobia and puppetry can be found in the first chapter of Scott Cutler Shershow’s Puppets and “Popular” Culture (Ithaca: Cornell UP) 1995. 6   See, for example, Jean Calvin, The Sermons of M. Iohn Caluin Vpon the Fifth Booke of Moses Called Deuteronomie, trans. Arthur Golding (London, 1583) 251, 267, 271, 344, 387, 392, 419; Thomas Adams, “The Bad Leaven” published with The happines of the church (London, 1619) 371; Richard Montagu, A Gagg for the New Gospell? (London, 1624) A1v; and Humphrey Powell, The wyll of the Devyll with his ten detestable commaundementes (London, 1580) Bii 2r. 7   Shershow 40. Shershow notes, intriguingly, that the most common early modern term for a puppet, “mammet,” and the term “marionette,” both have religious origins: the former is a corruption of the name Mahomet (understood as the false deity of Muslims, or by extension, any false god), while the latter, meaning “little Mary,” seems to have originated as a term for small animated figures of the Virgin (26–27, 40–41). See also Elizabeth King’s “Perpetual Devotion: A Sixteenth-Century Machine that Prays” in Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life, ed. Jessica Riskin (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007) 263–92. King’s essay examines a remarkable automaton in the form of a Franciscan monk, probably manufactured in Spain around 1560. 8   See Peter Marshall, “Forgery and Miracles in the Reign of Henry VIII,” Past and Present 178 (February 2003): 39–73, and “The Rood of Boxley, the Blood of Hailes and the Defence of the Henrician Church,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46.4 (October 1995): 689–96; also Alexandra Walsham, “Miracles and the Counter-Reformation Mission to England,” Historical Journal 46.4 (2003): 779–815. See too Lynsey McCulloch’s discussion of these automata in connection with the False Florimell in Chapter 4 of this volume. My thanks to Erin Kelly for drawing my attention to the Rood of Boxley and similar devices. 9   Foxe, John. Acts and Monuments (1583 edition), [online]. (hriOnline, Sheffield).

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evidence for the existence of other similar devices is lacking—belief in both these automata and their cynical employment was widespread.10 “Are not yet men living,” demands a 1623 catalogue of pious frauds, that can remember the knaverie of Priests to make the Roodes and Images of the Churches in England in the dayes of Queene Mary, to goggle with their eyes, and shake their hands: yea, with Wiers to bend the whole body, and many times to speake as they doe in Puppet playes, and all to get money, and deceive the ignorant people?11

Like the Rood of Boxley, the mechanical statues described in this passage do more than inspire a spurious sense of wonder; rather, the automata of the Old Religion are understood by Protestant writers as deliberate frauds, created and animated to keep the laity in line and also line a few clerical pockets. Given this understanding of the role of automata in religious worship in the not-so-distant past, when a writer describes his sectarian opponents as automata, he is not simply calling their behavior misguided or mechanistic; instead, he is implying that their actions are deliberately deceptive, and have the potential to pervert the beliefs of others. The automaton’s associations with Catholicism and with a much longer tradition of iconophobia are not the only reasons for its negative valence in Protestant polemic. Animated objects, by their very nature, raise questions about agency and motivation, and the metaphor of the automaton is frequently found in discussions of predestination or free will.12 The author of The Doctrine of Original Sin (1658), for example, insists that human sin is an action unlike that of an automaton, precisely because sin is willed; a later seventeenth-century tract describes the doctrine of predestination as “plac[ing] Man in the same rank with Automata … Clocks and Watches”; while in Areopagitica Milton explains that “when God gave [Adam] reason, he gave him freedom to choose,” for without that freedom “he had bin … a meer artificiall Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions.”13 In Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, John Donne toys with 10

  See Marshall, “Rood of Boxley,” 690–692.   T. G., The Friers Chronicle: or, The True Legend of Priests and Monkes Liues (London 1623) B3 1v. For references to other such automata, see John Collop, Charity commended, or, A catholick Christian soberly instructed (London, 1667) 15–16. See too the statement in the 1539 “Declaration of the Faith” that, in addition to the Rood of Boxley, other crucifixes at “sundry other places” were also “by engines, vises, and crafty conveyances” made to “torn[ ] their eeies, mov[e] their lippes and stir[ ] them selfes when certain keys and strings … were bent or pulled,” quoted in Marshall, “Rood of Boxley” 693. 12   See also Shershow, esp. 24, 74–76. 13   Anthony Burgess, The Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1658): “If a man move a Bowl, and make it runne, it’s not natural motion, because the principle is from without, and it’s by accident; yea those automata, those artificial instruments, which some have made, that move themselves, yet that is not a natural motion, because the principle is not in them 11

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the idea that human beings might be analogous to clockwork figures with God’s grace as their spring, but he ultimately rejects that metaphor for precisely the same reason as the other writers I have quoted: [W]ill God pretend to make a Watch, and leave out the spring? To make so many various wheels in the faculties of the Soule, and in the organs of the body, and leave out Grace, that should move them? Or wil God make a springe, and not wind it up? Infuse his first grace, & not second it with more … ? But alas, that is not our case; we are all prodigall sonnes, and not disinherited; wee have received our portion, and misspent it, not bin denied it.14

Like Milton, Donne seems to believe that the metaphor of the automaton, if it applied to human beings, would let them off the hook for their own sinful actions and call God’s justice into question. And so he abruptly switches to a more congenial (but startlingly unrelated) metaphor: human beings are not watches, but prodigal sons. These many negative theological and devotional associations help to explain why the figure of the automaton was such a popular polemical weapon for Protestant writers to wield against their sectarian opponents.15 But at the same time, the fact that the metaphor can be used by such confessionally diverse writers—with Puritans using it to criticize members of the Church of England and members of the Church of England using it to criticize Puritans—indicates its descriptive limitations. While most writers call upon the metaphor as a way of helping their readers distinguish between authentic and inauthentic forms of devotion, even those who commit the most time and text to the task usually fail. Identifying true godliness by external signs is, after all, no easy matter, and the figure of the automaton tends to underscore rather than resolve that difficulty. The metaphor’s utility, as well as its limitations, are apparent as early as 1616. In a Whitsunday sermon of that year, Lancelot Andrewes attempts to differentiate between the workings of the Holy Ghost and what he regards as the prideful and self-willed actions of Puritan nonconformists. Taking as his text John 20:22, when the risen Christ “breathed on [the apostles] and said unto them: Receive the Holy Ghost,” Andrewes reads this passage as an endorsement of the institution perse, but by accident. Now this property is very applicable to man; for when he sinneth, it’s not by accident, or from unexpected occasion, but of himself, and from himself.” Peter Sterry, A Discourse of the Freedom of the Will (London, 1675); Complete Prose Works of John Milton, eds. Don M. Wolfe et al., 8 vols. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1953–82) 2:527. Subsequent citations from Milton refer to this edition and will be labeled YP. 14   John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, ed. Anthony Raspa (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1975) 9. 15   Interestingly, Catholics themselves—despite the supposedly rote nature of their devotion and occasional references to the Pope as a puppet-master—are never described as automata in any of the sources I have found.


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of ordination. True ministers of the Gospel, he says, are filled with God’s spirit, which, like Christ’s breath, “comes from without … Receive it we do; Conceive it we doe not” (693). By contrast, the nonconformist “Voluntaries of our Age, with their taken-on Callings … set out of themselves … [and] make themselves what they are” (693). Although there is something a bit peculiar about Andrewes’ describing those he considers hypocrites as “voluntaries”—since it would seem to imply that the truly faithful operate under a form of compulsion—his initial distinction between true and false religiosity nevertheless seems clear enough: the godly man is inspired from without, by the Holy Ghost, while the religious hypocrite is animated from within, by an illegitimate spirit of his own conceiving. However, as Andrewes expands upon the ungodliness of nonconformist devotional practices, he turns to a mechanical metaphor, and as he does so, his original distinction between external inspiration (good) and internal (bad) starts to break down. The Holy Ghost, Andrewes says, is: Christ’s Spirit, not Hero’s Pneumatica; not with some spring or devise, though within yet from without; artificiall, not naturall: but the verie principium motus to be within. Of our selves, to move: not wrought to it, by any gin or vice or skrew made by art: Els, we shall move but while we are wound up, for a certaine time till the plummets be at the ground, and then our motion will cease streight. (694)

Although Andrewes is still describing the working of the Holy Ghost as natural, rather than artificial or man-made (in the way of the supposed vocations of hypocrites), the contrast he now makes between true and false believers suggests that it is the godly who move “of our selves.” In the earlier passage, this was the language he reserved for hypocrites—who, with their “taken-on callings,” move of their own accord, rather than God’s. Andrewes struggles to resolve this contradiction as he pursues his metaphor of mechanical automation. The ungodly, he says, are the automata, the spectra, the puppets of Religion, Hypocrites. With some spring within, their eyes are made to rowle, and their lippes to wagg, and their brest to give a sobb: all is but Hero’s Pneumatica, a vizor not a very face; an outward shew of godlinesse, but no inward power of it at all. (694)

Here Andrewes returns to describing hypocrites as animated by something within—that spring—but nevertheless insists that they lack what he calls “inward power.” In describing religious hypocrites as automata, Andrewes is, at least superficially, turning up the heat under his rhetoric: what, after all, could be a surer sign of falsity than to reveal a human as a machine? The metaphor, however, suggests a fundamental problem with Andrewes’ understanding of spiritual authenticity: it

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must come from somewhere, and reveal itself through certain external signs, but where? And how can one know it when one sees it? Andrewes’ difficulty in pinpointing exactly what impels religious hypocrites is highlighted by his describing them as both automata and pneumatica. In doing so, Andrewes is conflating two types of animated machines that actually operate on almost opposed principles: pneumatica, which tend to be larger devices often located in gardens, are powered by something external to them (usually water), while automata are very small figures, originally part of elaborate clocks, which are powered by internal gears and springs.16 As Marr has noted, it was common in the early modern period to discuss the two types of machinery in the same breath, but if Andrewes’ conflation in the passage above is not unusual, it nevertheless indicates some uncertainty about the precise actions and operations—and for that matter, location—of the Holy Ghost, despite his sermon’s lengthy and detailed attempts to explicate that very point. It is clear that Andrewes believes that the hypocritical nonconformists he describes do not actually feel the emotions they manifest in their worship—or that, if they do feel them, those emotions are not prompted by an authentically godly experience. Instead, their weeping and sighing are produced by “some spring within.” However, with Andrewes’ shift from describing these individuals as automata to describing them as pneumatica, comes a shift in the way he identifies the efficient cause of these hypocrites’ actions. Andrewes himself recognizes this problem, explaining that although the “spring or device” that animates a pneumaticon might be located within, it is “from without, artificial, not naturall” (694). This hedging seems in part a recognition—however subconscious—that the animating principle behind true devotion is ultimately as mysterious as the wheels and springs that set an automaton in motion. This is not a problem that the rest of Andrewes’ sermon resolves. After abandoning the metaphor of the automaton/pneumaticon, Andrewes continues to criticize nonconformists for, on the one hand, following “the idol of their owne conceipt, the vision of their owne heads, the motions of their own spirits”—and on the other, for being motivated by (presumably external) “worldly reasons and respects” (694). In the sermon’s last three paragraphs, in fact, Andrewes abruptly changes the subject from receiving the Holy Ghost to receiving the Eucharist. One reason for this shift is that Andrewes has, at least in part, been talking about the receipt of the Holy Ghost in the context of the institution of ordination, and, unlike ordination, the Lord’s Supper is open to all members of his audience. However, I would suggest that there is another reason: although the workings of the Eucharist on a person’s inner self may be as invisible and subject to misinterpretation as the workings of the Holy Ghost, in the case of the former, at least its receipt into the body can be verified.

16   Marr, “Understanding Automata,” 209, 215–16. See also Roy C. Strong, The Renaissance Garden in England (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979) 75–78.

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Both Andrewes’ characterization of the falsely religious as automata and the problems raised by that metaphor were to prove enduring. During the Interregnum the passage from Andrewes’ 1616 sermon describing hypocrites as “the automata, the spectra, the puppets of Religion” was quoted approvingly in a tract criticizing Richard Baxter and other latter-day opponents of episcopacy, but language strikingly similar to Andrewes’ was also used during the same period by the Fifth Monarchist John Rogers to describe the difference between a “true Saint” (by which Rogers means a radical nonconformist like himself) and a hypocrite.17 Rogers draws this distinction: A true Saint is made willing and spontaneous by a principle within; but a Hypocrite, or any other man, is moved as the Automata are moved, or things of artificial motion. … It is some weight without that poyseth them, and puts them upon motion; so something or other that is without, swayeth, and worketh, and weigheth upon the hearts of Hypocrites, to make them willing … and not an inward principle.”18

Although in this work the godly believer is a nonconformist—exactly the kind of person Andrewes describes as a hypocrite—the similarities between the two writers are otherwise striking. Rogers does a better job than Andrewes of extending the metaphor in such a way that the efficient cause of hypocrites’ actions is clarified: it is “some weight without” (perhaps, one might speculate, some worldly ambition) rather than an “inward principle” that spurs them to motion. Nevertheless, some of the same problems remain: what, after all, is this “inward principle”? And can it be identified by an outside observer? Even Protestant writers who do not use the precise vocabulary of machinery, automation, or puppetry often describe false religiosity in terms that conjure up visions of animate but insentient bodies. In a passage in a 1626 sermon, John Donne describes both extemporaneous prayer and rote prayer (which is to say, the practices of both nonconformists and Roman Catholics) as involving outward motions from which the heart and mind remain disengaged. While extemporaneous prayer leaves one open to distractions—“talk[ing] on, in the … posture of praying; Eyes lifted up; knees bowed downe; as though I prayed to God”—the abuse of set prayer among Roman Catholics is even worse. “They … antidate and postdate their prayers; Say to morrows prayers to day, and to dayes prayers to morrow,” until the actual speaker of the prayer becomes irrelevant: “My man shall fast for me,

  The quotation from Andrewes appears in Thomas Pierce, The New Discoverer Discover’d (London, 1659) 106, a reply to Richard Baxter’s The Grotian Religion Discovered (London, 1658). 18   John Rogers, Ohel or Beth-shemesh. A tabernacle for the sun (London, 1653) 268–69. 17

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and I will pray for my man; or my Atturney, and Proxy shall pray for us both.”19 Although Donne suggests that the actions of these misbelievers are thoughtless and mechanistic, he does not quite compare them to automata—perhaps because Donne seems more sympathetic to the perpetrators of these misguided practices than some of the other writers we have examined. In the opening pages of Gangraena, on the other hand, Thomas Edwards depicts heresies as independent corporal entities: “old Heresies that are buried,” he writes, “are not to be digged up that they may be refuted; but seeing these [contemporary errors] walk up and down in City and Country, I … give warning of them.”20 Edwards’ work has a more polemical purpose than Donne’s—he is speaking of what he considers heresies, not mere devotional failures or excesses—which may explain why he calls upon this more ominous, automaton-like image. John Milton goes further than Donne or Edwards, or indeed any writer apart from Andrewes, in his use of the image of the automaton, but in the course of his early prose works he also transforms the image into a much more serious critique of contemporary religious practices. In his anti-prelatical tracts, Milton frequently describes false devotion in terms of the rote and mechanistic, and he especially relishes depicting his opponents in corporal terms whose grotesqueness emphasizes the unsoundness of their beliefs. As Milton repeatedly makes clear, one of his objections to the Church of England is the way its ministers embody things that ought to be only spiritual. The church, he argues in Of Reformation, inappropriately “dr[e]w downe all the Divine intercourse, betwixt God, and the Soule, yea, the very shape of God himselfe, into an exterior, and bodily forme” and created a set liturgy and a series of mindless ritual gestures: “till the Soule by this meanes … overbod[ied] her selfe” (YP 1:520–22). In Reason of Church-Government he makes a similar argument, but this time in terms that seem almost to evoke one of Spenser’s automata, the False Florimell. The prelates, Milton says, took the “undeflour’d and unblemishable simplicity of the Gospell, nor she her selfe … but a false-whited, a lawnie resemblance of her, like that aire-born Helena in the fables” and sent this false gospel, tricked out in rituals and costly linens, “to a mercenary whordome under those fornicated arches which she cals Gods house” (YP 1:849).21 For both Milton and Spenser the mechanistic is allied to falsehood and sexual looseness, but Milton’s suspicions seem to extend further: to corporeal embodiment of all kinds.   John Donne, “The Funeral Sermon for Sir William Cockayne, Knight,” Sermons of John Donne, eds. George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, 10 vols. (Berkeley: U of California P, 1953–62) 7:264. 20   Thomas Edwards, Gangraena (London, 1646) 2. 21   In Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Milton again uses similar imagery, first in describing the prohibition on divorce as a seemingly menacing, but ultimately “scarecrow sin,” and then in characterizing an unsuitable wife as having a body that, although not physically impenetrable, is yet “unlivel[y]” and “to all … due conversation inaccessible, and to all the more estimable and superior purposes of matrimony uselesse” (YP 2:249, 250). 19


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Although Milton uses language that comes close to evoking an automaton in several of his early prose works, it is not until Areopagitica that he realizes it fully, in the zombie-like image of the tradesman’s religion that walks abroad without him by day and comes back home when the day is done. This figure appears shortly after Milton’s famous assertion that “A man may be a heretick in the truth, if he beleeve things only because his Pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines,” initially by way of illustrating Milton’s claim that “There is not any burden that som would gladlier post off to another, then the charge and care of their Religion” (YP 2:543). As Milton writes, A wealthy man addicted to his pleasure and to his profits, finds Religion to be a traffick so entangl’d, and of so many piddling accounts, that of all mysteries he cannot skill to keep a stock going upon that trade. What should he doe? fain he would have the name to be religious, fain he would bear up with his neighbours in that. What does he therefore, but resolvs to give over toyling, and to find himself out som factor, to whose care and credit he may commit the whole managing of his religious affairs; som Divine of note and estimation that must be. To him he adheres, resigns the whole ware-house of his religion, with all the locks and keyes into his custody; and indeed makes the very person of that man his religion; esteems his associating with him a sufficient evidence and commendatory of his own piety. (YP 2:543–44)

At first Milton uses the language of commerce to describe the reasons and the ways a man of business might neglect his religion and gladly give over its management to an outside agent, but as the passage continues, the worldly man’s religion seems itself to become an independent corporal entity: [A] man may say his religion is now no more within himself, but is become a dividuall movable, and goes and comes neer him, according as that good man frequents the house. He entertains him, gives him gifts, feasts him, lodges him; his religion comes home at night, praies, is liberally supt, and sumptuously laid to sleep, rises, is saluted, and after the malmsey, or some well spic’t bruage … his Religion walks abroad at eight, and leavs his kind entertainer in the shop trading all day without his religion. (YP 2:544–45)

The transformation that the wealthy man’s religion undergoes in this passage is remarkable: initially it is described as a commodity that the tradesman finds unprofitable and time-consuming to deal with (but too socially advantageous to strike from his inventory entirely), so he hands it off to some hired “factor.” Although Milton first figures this factor as a “Divine of note and estimation,” he soon becomes—that is, he comes to embody—the tradesman’s religion. While the metaphor of trade is dropped rather abruptly, this initial shift is not particularly surprising or unexpected. At the beginning of the segment quoted above, however, the outside agent has metamorphosed from a specific person into a “dividuall

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moveable,” or piece of furniture or property. Moreover, this particular moveable appears to move under its own power, coming and going, eating and sleeping, just as if it were a human being—but without the knowledge of its master or patron. Although the mechanized or automatic aspects of religion are the subject of scorn elsewhere in Areopagitica—a short while later, Milton will describe the negative effects that licensing will have on not just the laity, but also the clergy, whom he regrets are already too willing to piece together their sermons out of spare parts22—his depiction of the worldly man’s religion as something animate but empty is more than just another example of Milton’s distaste for the rote and unthinking; it is also a more complicated image than the automata that we have seen in other works of religious prose. The gradual metamorphosis that the tradesman’s religion progresses through, and the fact that it only winds up as an automaton at the end, suggests that this represents the final and most objectionable way of separating oneself from the religion that ought to be a fundamental and integral part of oneself. When it is still an object, something must be done with it; when it is associated with the body of some “Divine of note,” that divine must still be feasted and honored and tended to; but when it is an anonymous, animated, but insentient body, it can go about its business entirely on its own. Unlike other writers who use this trope, Milton does not fixate on the efficient cause of his automaton’s motion or attempt to distinguish between it and whatever inspires truly godly behavior. What seems to interest Milton most is the religionautomaton’s independence from its human master. A comparison between this body, which represents a false religiosity, and Areopagitica’s more famous corporal entity, that of Truth (which is to say religious truth), suggests that what Milton finds ominous about automata is less their indistinguishability from the truly human than their self-sufficiency. Truth, he explains, came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then strait arose a wicked race of deceivers, who … took the virgin Truth, hewd her lovely form into a thousand peeces, and scatter’d them to the four winds. (YP 2:549)

22   “It is no new thing never heard of before for a parochiall Minister, who has his reward, and is … in a warm benefice … to finish his circuit in an English concordance and a topic folio … treading the constant round of certain common doctrinall heads … [and] by forming and transforming, joyning and dis-joyning variously a little book-craft, and two hours meditation might furnish him unspeakably to the performance of more then a weekly charge of sermoning. … But as for the multitude of Sermons ready printed and pil’d up, on every text that is not too difficult, our London trading St. Thomas in his vestry, and adde to boot St. Martin, and St. Hugh, have not within their hallow’d limits more vendible ware of all sorts ready made: so that penury he need never fear of Pulpit provision, having where so plenteously to refresh his magazin” (YP 2:546–47).


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When Christ was on earth, so was Truth, but after the first age of the church her brief bodily integrity was violated. Today Truth is unrecognizable as herself— and anything or anyone that claims to be or to have her should be regarded with suspicion. As Milton continues: From [the time of her dismemberment until now], the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangl’d body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not found them all … nor ever shall doe, till her Masters second comming; he shall bring together every joynt and member, and shall mould them into an immortall feature of loveliness and perfection. (YP 2:549)

For Milton, religious truth in the postlapsarian and pre-eschatological world is characterized precisely by its fragmentation and imperfection. Unlike religious error, which appears functional and whole while being divorced from any authentic source of motion or meaning, Truth’s brokenness is a sign of her legitimacy. In Areopagitica Milton manages to side-step one of the problems that metaphorical automata cause other writers of religious prose, which is that of rendering the nature and source of true religiosity even more obscure while purporting to reveal it. All the works I have examined use automata to illustrate their author’s belief that true religious devotion comes from within and must be an integral part of an individual. However, by making false religiosity itself the automaton rather than describing hypocritical believers in those terms, Milton critiques the very idea—which the other writers seem to take for granted—that there is a single kind of religiosity and a single acceptable set of religious practices. When taken in conjunction with his discussion of Truth, Milton’s description of the tradesman’s religion suggests that true religion may not appear coherent from the outside. Indeed, given Milton’s insistence throughout his early prose works on the Church of England’s inappropriate corporealization of religious experience, perhaps his depiction of the tradesman’s religion indicates that what Milton really longs for is a religiosity that is entirely unembodied. While all the authors whose works I have discussed seem worried about the potential of external forms and motions to take on a lifeless life of their own, most limit their concern to those behaviors that they themselves consider false or inappropriate; Milton’s use of the metaphor of the automaton, on the other hand, suggests that for him any religion that is capable of being identified by a set of external practices—whether those be associated with the ritualistic or the enthusiastic—is no religion at all. Although Milton uses the metaphor of the automaton somewhat differently than other religious writers, it remains a negative figure for him as well. Logically speaking, there is no reason why religious prose could not use the figure of the automaton positively, as some of the other works examined in this collection do; one can certainly imagine a writer who depicts, say, the regenerate soul as the spring within the godly believer (or God’s grace as the weight without) that

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acts to produce sincere devotion. However, as we have seen, this virtually never happens.23 Instead, writers across the Protestant spectrum deploy the metaphor against their sectarian opponents by way of characterizing their religiosity as false. Even for Milton, the image of the automaton raises more problems than it solves, not so much serving to discriminate between true and false religiosity as showing how impossible it is to tell the difference. One might conclude, therefore, that authorial anxiety is the real animating principle of the metaphorical automata of religious prose.

23   As I noted above, Donne toys with such a metaphor in the Devotions, but ultimately rejects it.

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Chapter 7

Arrow, Acrobat and Phoenix: On Sense and Motion in English Civic Pageantry Michael Witmore In the organic world we see that grace has greater power and brilliance in proportion as the reasoning powers are dimmer and less active. But as one line, when it crosses another, suddenly appears on the other side of the intersecting point, after its passage through infinity; or as the image in a concave mirror, after retreating into infinity, suddenly reappears close before our eyes, so, too, when knowledge has likewise passed through infinity, grace will appear. So that we shall find it at its purest in a body which is entirely devoid of consciousness or which possesses it in an infinite degree; that is, in the marionette or the god. —Heinrich von Kleist, “The Puppet Theater” Every being that makes natural gestures is a center of vital force, and its expressive movements are seen by others as signals of its will … The primary illusion of dance is a virtual realm of Power—not actual, physically exerted power, but appearances of influence and agency created by virtual gesture. —Suzanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form

English civic pageantry offered a variety of pleasures to nobles and city-dwellers during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, from the so called “quaint harmony” of child singers who performed in its pageants to the splendid, animated architecture that sprang up around important civic landmarks in cities such as London, York and Edinburgh.1 These remarkable events greeted royal visitors and civic dignitaries as they progressed through the city and its landmarks, often taking the form of an allegorical tableaux vivant or “living emblem.” Ideas about 1   On civic pageantry in England and Britain, see Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); David M. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558–1642 (London: Edward Arnold, 1971) and “Actors in English Civic Pageants,” Renaissance Papers 1972 (1973): 17–28, 24–26; Anne Lancashire, London Civic Theatre: City Drama and Pageantry from Roman Times to 1558 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002); John Nichols, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, reprint, 1977 ed., 3 vols., vol. 1 (London: John Nichols and Son, 1823); J. B. Nichols, ed., London Pageants: Accounts of Fifty-Five Royal Processions and Entertainments in the City of London (London: J. B. Nichols, 1831); and R. Withington, English Pageantry: an Historical Outline (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1918).

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dynastic power, governing ideals, or the genealogical history of a newly crowned ruler could be played out in allegorical scenes in which child orators collaborated with automata or “devices” that brought to life various abstractions like justice, temperance, or celestial harmony. Accounts of civic pageants in Britain dating back to the fourteenth century describe scenes in which animated giants turn to welcome kings, “cunningly wrought” clouds descend from the heavens in order to unburden their sacred contents, and mechanical flowers turn to face a dignitary when he or she arrives on a verdant scene. The overall effects of such animated spectacles have been variously interpreted as a communal theater for the expression of royal charisma, a site where civic and royal power are negotiated, or an occasion for propagandizing, usually in the name of the touring guest. Relatively less has been said, however, about the importance of civic pageantry as a spectacle of motion, with particular regard to the ways in which actions or gestures performed by automata and children contributed to the overall power and cultural significance of such displays. Ben Jonson once described these affairs as carrying with them a power to amaze, particularly for those who could not read their allegorical or emblematic content, and critics have become increasingly sensitive to the extra- or non-allegorical significance that these celebrations may have had for a non-courtly audience. That such significance and power stemmed from the interaction of humans with machines—in particular their joint capacity to produce a particular kind of charmed movement—has escaped the notice of most critics, no doubt because it is difficult to describe the spectacle of coordinated sound and motion that was the real substance of civic pageantry.2 Looking to Kleist’s remarks made two centuries after English civic pageantry had reached its peak in the mid-seventeenth century, we find a valuable term—what he calls, provocatively, grace—for thinking about the kinesthetic ideal to which these mixed human-machine pageants may have aspired. Grace, in what I will be describing below, is a quality of movements that appears to have been removed from the realm of deliberate human manipulation, passed through that inhuman quality of what Kleist calls “infinity.” Grace is what physical movement acquires when it becomes an event rather than a personal action. In this essay I am going to examine a particularly interesting example of the pageant’s staging of grace—the one on offer during the coronation entry and pageantry of Edward VI when he arrived in London in 1547—in order to think more expansively about the “total event” of the civic pageant, an event whose most profound effects were secured through comparisons of various types of human and machine movement.3 Edward’s entrance to London—which involved 2

  I have written about the role played in these spectacles by children (who in the Renaissance were often thought of as little more than imitating animals) in Chapter 2 of Pretty Creatures: Children and the Agency of Fiction in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007). 3   The phrase “total event” belongs to Bergeron (English Civic 13), who likewise describes English civic pageantry as an “animated emblem” (62).

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encounters with giants, automata in the form of a phoenix and two lions, and a ropewalking acrobat—was designed to appeal to a ten-year-old king who clearly did not have the attention span for the demanding allegories that his predecessors were often asked to read. Edward, in fact, was bored by some of the more classicizing pageants in the program, preferring instead the lively actions of several animated tableaux and the feats of an Arragonese acrobat that greeted him on his path from London Bridge through St. Paul’s and, eventually, through Westminster where he would be crowned.4 While this particular series of pageants has been dismissed by historians as the nadir of the genre because it thriftily recycled motifs from previous royal entrances, the occasion is significant for my purposes because it so clearly juxtaposes various types of motion—that of machines with persons, and of children with adults—in order to bring considerations of grace, infinity, and desire into the ambit of Renaissance court and city politics.5 It is this comparative spectacle of movement I would like to explore in the pages that follow: movement that becomes significant to the degree that it exceeds the allegorical cast of mind we associate with these events, pushing meaning and spectacle to the point where sensation and kinesthetic sympathy become their own kind of “thought.” The Touch of the Crown, the Movement of the Machine Renaissance ideas about the nature and meaning of movement developed in the medium of dance, an art form and cultural activity that was prized in the Tudor and Stuart courts and which would reach its height in the spectacle of the masque.6 While there are few documentary records of particular steps, historians have shown 4

  Edward did not wait for certain orations and pageants to conclude before moving on along the progress route. See J. G. Nichols, Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth (London: J. B. Nichols, 1858) CCLXXX–CCLXXIX, and Anglo, 283–94. Lancashire identifies the MS behind Nichols’ transcript as the superior account of the pageant (193). Other sources, however, include John Leland, Antiquarii De Rebvs Britannicis Collectanea, 6 vols. (London: Benj. White, 1774) 4:310–22; Charles Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors from 1485 to 1559, ed. W. D. Hamilton (London: Camden Society, 1875–7) I.182; Robert Fabyan, The Chronicle of Fabyan, Nowe Newely Printed and in Many Places Corrected (London: John Reynes, 1542) 709; Raphael Holinshed, Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, ed. H. Ellis (London: J. Johnson, 1807–8) III.866; and Withington I.185–87. 5   In the words of Sidney Anglo, the pageant series for Edward was “the most tawdry on record” (294). 6   On Renaissance dance, see Charles R. Baskerville, The Elizabethan Jig (New York: Dover, 1929); Alan Brissenden, Shakespeare and the Dance (London: Macmillan, 1981); Judy Smith, “The Art of Good Dancing—Noble Birth and Skilled Nonchalance: England 1580–1630,” Historical Dance 2.5 (1986–7): 30–32; Skiles Howard, “Rival Discourses of Dancing in Early Modern England,” Studies in English Literature 36.1 (1996): 331–56; Jennifer Nevile, The Eloquent Body: Dance and Humanist Culture in Fifteenth-Century


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that dance, and the Renaissance culture of dancing, allowed a variety of ideas about the nature of poise, courtly virtue, and individual virtuosity to be displayed and refined in highly public ways. Dance theory of the last century, moreover, has provided us with more ways of thinking about the meaning of bodily motion, a meaning that in the Renaissance would have been generated through the protocols of the highly rhetorical and gesture-oriented culture of the court. It would also have expressed communally supported perceptions about the nature of motion, instrumentality and agency—perceptions that literally cemented together various actions and motions into larger, meaningful gestures and events.7 These organizing perceptions—of action and reaction, agent and patient, poise and movement—would have equipped the audiences of civic pageantry with a historically variable version of what Kant reserved for his categories of the intellect: schemas of perception that could make any particular experience of pageant “action” intelligible, but which (unlike Kant’s categories) could be reformulated each time movement was made to signify on the public stage.8 Without such schemas of movement, pageant action would have dissolved into a series of inarticulate gestures, like incongruous frames from a poorly edited film. Something phoenix-like moves downward; a lion appears; another, smaller, lion appears; a nodding of animal heads occurs; a crown descends; the larger lion leaves; another lion remains. None of these telegraphic descriptions of events is as remotely descriptive as the one provided by a contemporary witness of the occasion, who notes that midway through Edward’s coronation progress he sees a “cunning” tableau of automata which tells the story of a lion king who is crowned after a staged conjunction of his phoenix mother and approving, leonine father. The description is not simply a narrative, but a stringing together of the events into something like a series of actions, apparently causally connected sequences of change and movement that imply sensitivity, premeditation and some kind of willful desire in an “agent” (the heavens who want to crown a new lion-king) to bring about a new state of affairs. Italy (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana UP, 2004); and Barbara Ravelhofer, The Early Stuart Masque: Dance, Costume, and Music (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006). 7   See, for example, Susan Leigh Foster, “An Introduction to Moving Bodies: Choreographing History,” in Choreographing History, ed. S. L. Foster (Bloomfield: U of Indiana P, 1995) 3–21; Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright, eds., Moving History/Dancing Cultures (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 2001); and the excellent selection of texts in Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen, eds., What Is Dance? (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983). 8   Foucault famously appropriates the Kantian language of “historical a prioris” in his description of the archaeological method, making the historical a priori a condition of positivity of statements. See Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. S. Smith (New York: Routledge, 2002) 143–45. I am pushing this formulation into phenomenological territory, treating these conditions as the grounding principles of felt connection among motions: they allow events to be apprehended as actions, and agents to be understood as possessing sense and desire.

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It is to this network of intellectual connective tissue, then, that we must turn as we situate the allusions in this particular Renaissance entertainment to the actions and reactions that constitute its flesh and bones. In order to trace that network, I will be adapting the critical vocabulary of contemporary dance theory, which provides an entrée into thinking about the social meaning of poise, balance, and lively motion in the period. The first such terminological borrowing is of the term “metakinesis,” a term proposed in the 1920s by John Martin, who revived it from the ancient Greek in order to refer to the body’s ability to generate motions that carry with them a distinct series of “overtones” or meanings.9 The second involves the distinction, made later in the century by the choreographer Erick Hawkins, between “position” and “transition,” with the former referring to the idealized poses of ballet, and the latter to the more fluid poetics of change that we associate with modern dance.10 While these ideas must be adapted from the post-Renaissance forms they describe to fit an earlier context of performance and interpretation, the term metakinesis and the distinction between position and transition are nevertheless useful given the paucity of critical terms available to work with. Martin’s version of metakinesis implies an almost semantic layer of meaning, perhaps a grammar, which attaches to bodily motion. Some of that meaning derives from the presumption that humans move deliberately, such that every movement carries with it —at least potentially—some type of intention that we would associate with an agent pursuing a cognitive goal. Martin writes: it is inconceivable that any bodily movement should be made without intention, even if that intention is nothing more than to make a movement without intention. Similarly, it is inconceivable that any bodily movement can be entirely abstract and non-representational. This thought-conveying quality of movement, especially of movement that is, roughly speaking, non-representational, was called by the Greeks “metakinesis,” or the overtones of movement, so to speak. (85)

The notion of an abstract but nevertheless intentionally meaningful motion is significant not simply because it expands the range of movements that might be classified as “performed,” but because it puts a certain cognitive pressure on the originator of those movements, whether that originator is the dancer proper or some sort of choreographing agency that coaches these motions. I would argue that Martin’s definition could be expanded to include the motions of machines, which are often startling or wondrous precisely because they trouble the anthropomorphic or cognitivist understanding of action as originating only in rational premeditation—an understanding that actually underlies the distinction between representational and non-representational action that Martin finds so striking. If metakinesis brings us to 9   John Martin, The Modern Dance (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1936) 13, 15, 85. 10   Erick Hawkins, “Pure Poetry,” in The Modern Dance: Seven Statements of Belief, ed. S. J. Cohen (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1973) 41.


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the point where we can begin thinking about the meaning of non-representational actions, it will be useful for thinking about civic pageantry because it allows us to consider the power of “inhuman” actions as well. What is useful about metakinesis as a critical term, then, is its qualitative range and focus: it encompasses potentially all of the spatial transactions that we classify under the name of events, gestures, states, or actions, but urges us—more specifically—to identify the qualities which attach to those transactions, be they automatic, reactive, deliberate, decisive, mechanical, or spontaneous.11 The point in using metakinesis as a term of art is not to plunge into debates about who and what can deliberately act in the world—questions that always have historical answers— but to focus attention on the fact that all theatricalized or performed action is on some level abstract in the way Martin reserves for metakineses.12 That is, motion presumed to be part of a performance—whether it is undertaken by a human, animal, or contraption—acquires precisely the meaningful but non-semantic overtones that Martin associates with the powerful aesthetic effects of dance. Mechanical action in civic pageantry only enhances the overtone series of a movement that might otherwise follow from human action. When Edward arrives at the Great Conduit in Cheap, one of the landmarks that marks his progress toward St. Paul’s and then the western part of the City, he is described as having encountered a: doble scafolde one above the other, which was hanged with cloth of golde and silke, besydes rich arras. There was also devised under the upper scafolde an element or heaven, with the sunn, starrs, and clowdes very naturally. From this clowde there spred abroad another lesser clowde of white sarsenet, frenged with sylke, powdered with sterres and bemes of golde, out of the which there descended a Phenyx downe to the nether scafolde, where as setting herselfe upon a mount there spread forth roses white and red, gelo-flowers, and hethorne bowes. After that the said Phenyx was there a lytell, there approached a Lyon of gold crowned, makeing semblance of amyty unto the bird, moveing his head sundry tymes, between the which familiarity as it seemed there came forth a young Lyon that had a crowne imperiall brought from heaven above, as by 11   Sorting out these transactions is part of the process whereby we understand the threshold of where a body begins and ends. See Rosalyn Diprose, citing Merleau-Ponty to the effect that: “the emergence of a body we can call our own … occurs through the organization of the body in reciprocal relation to others” (291) in Rosalyn Diprose and Robyn Ferrell, eds., Cartographies: Poststructuralism and the Mapping of Bodies and Spaces (North Sydney, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1991). 12   I have tried to show how discussions of accidental events and the actions of children worked to identify the kinds of actors and situations that were thought to carry deliberate intention in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Pretty Creatures, Ch. 1, and Michael Witmore, Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledges in Early Modern England (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001).

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ii angelles, wich they sett upon his head. Then the old Lyon and the Phenix vanished away, leaving the young Lyon being crowned, alone.13

The young lion is, of course, Edward himself. However new he would have been to the power he had just acquired, the symbolism that was used to represent that power was quite old, having been employed in previous coronation pageants that used mechanical clouds and angels to depict the monarch receiving his or her charge to rule from heaven. A phoenix descends and waits on a flower-decked scaffold that has been erected in the middle of the street; after a brief display (such as that of a courtier entering a dancing space), a lion arrives and, through ingenious mechanical means, shows “amyty” to its new partner, with the lion “moveing his head sundry tymes.” They are so familiar that another lion comes forth and is then crowned from the heavens. Movements are turned into gestures, creaking gears transformed into instruments of something like the distributed will of the heavens to bring about a continuation of Henry’s protestant reign. The known fact that machines are performing the actions here obscures the physical and metaphysical sources of motion in this scene, suggesting that it is really heaven itself—the diffused forces of providence and nature—that are bringing about Edward’s coronation. This was an ideological overtone of the series, available to literate and non-literate spectators alike. Apparently, large amounts of soap were required for the creation of pageants, since the gears that kept them going could be quite noisy, not to mention sticky.14 Soap in the axles of various moving parts assured that the actions of automata looked smooth in addition to being performed with the minimum of creaking, suggesting that the appearance of what Kleist calls “grace” was at least part of the desired effect in these animated events. The motions, that is, possessed a certain ideal quality that was recognizable to both the pageant makers and audiences. Was there a communal or cultural meaning that could be attached to this quality? To answer this question, we must recognize that such a meaning must have derived, in part, from the recognizable displacement of human actions, such as friendly greeting, onto a series of actors who were manifestly incapable of originating such “motions” on their own.15 In addition to this transposition, however, which was really a playful mixing of human and inhuman kinds in   Nichols, Literary Remains, Cclxxxvi. Future references to the pageants will be to this source. 14   On the importance of soap, see J. S. Brewer, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII (London: Longman & Co, 1862–1932) 2: 1490–1517. 15   This kind of displacement is, in fact, the hallmark of a network of technologies according to the sociology of Bruno Latour, which emphasized the various potential of animate and inanimate objects to become actors or actants in different circumstances. See Bruno Latour, Aramis, or the Love of Technology, trans. C. Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993) and its brilliant translation into early modern terms in Julian Yates, “Accidental Shakespeare,” Shakespeare Studies 34 (2006): 90–122. 13


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a realm that was indifferent to such ontological confusion, the pageant also confused the distinction between an individual action and the total event that is composed of such actions. We cannot say exactly how the movements described above were brought about, but to the extent that mechanical actors themselves were not the originators of those actions (phoenix, lion, and lion king), it seems likely that spectators would not have “broken them down” into wholes in quite the same way they would have if the allegorical figures were living adults. The presumption of premeditation on the part of the actor has the effect of parcelizing motion, making it the punctual effect of an individual actor’s intention to act. This is how spectators might have interpreted a nod of approval from the boy king: as an effect of the performance, and a cause for rejoicing. But where precisely does one locate the intention to act of a machine, or an ensemble of machines?16 Given the way in which the motion was staged, “action” in the lion king pageant was something shared, diffused serially through the “limbs” of actors and so passed along from one to the next, like the push that transmits itself through the various parts of a machine. Agency, if it exists at all in such an ensemble, is evenly distributed across the full compass of the mechanism or mechanisms: the total spectacle is accomplished for its own sake by the apparatus itself, as a whole. There is an emotional, metakinetic counterpart for this type of motion—the motion of the machine passing its power forward from one part to the next—one that inheres in the apparent continuity of motions that are unfolding in mechanical sequence. To grasp this aspect of the movement, we might consider the movement of the hands on a clock, which make their slow surge forward without having to “think” their way around the dial. If such movements are happening continuously, what is the difference between a minute’s movement and the course of a clock hand over an entire day? The action of this series unfolds continuously, like a sweep or circular orbit; even if it culminates in the final crowning moment, that gesture is itself always developing out prior movements from which it is “born” in mechanical form. The automatic or self-precipitating quality of this final gesture is thus the corollary—in metakinetic form—of the ideology of providentially sanctioned succession: it adds emotional force to the event by distributing it over the entire 16   On this question, see Horst Bredekamp, The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine: The Kunstkammer and the Evolution of Nature, Art and Technology, trans. A. Brown (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1995); and Jonathan Sawday, Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (New York: Routledge, 2007). On stage automata see Witmore, Pretty Creatures Ch. 2; Scott Lightsey, Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2007); and Lily Bess Campbell, Scenes and Machines on the English Stage during the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1923). See also the recent work linking the culture of humanism to concerns with machines and mechanics, to be found in Jessica Wolfe, Humanism, Machinery, and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004); and Henry S. Turner, The English Renaissance Stage (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006).

Arrow, Acrobat and Phoenix


sequence of actions, like a mood of sacred inevitability to be experienced rather than an episode of “triumph” to be isolated and analyzed into its component parts. Indeed, there is something about the way in which machines compose their actions which revises the normative ratios of intelligence to action that were used to assign agency in the Renaissance. In a society that prized the reasoning powers of adult males above all others, the actions of women, children, madman, drunkards, and animals all served as derivative cases of the ideal in which a considered act of the will initiated and ultimately justified conscientious action.17 Yet in a mechanical pageant, the very “emptiness” of the actions and gestures performed by machines is assumed to carry its own political and aesthetic force, much as Kliest’s marionettes are understood to acquire special aesthetic powers precisely because they lack intentions of their own. Consider now the official “audience” of this scene—a ten-year-old boy— and the pageant becomes even more metakinetically significant, since according to the canons of age and influence of the period, children are little more than appetitive animals, incapable of originating their own actions. It does not particularly matter, for our purposes, that the parallel emptiness (in deliberative terms) of spectator and actor is a coincidence of pageant tradition and history: pageant makers were clearly more interested in celebrating Edward’s lineal descent from Henry and Katherine Howard than in probing the degree to which the king too was a kind of living automaton (as all early modern children were). Metakinetically, however, the spectacle acquires a secondary meaning outside of its allegorical thrust. Empty actors here may have had that quality of grace that comes from lacking a certain overriding deliberating power, and it is just that benighted sense of innocence and simplicity that Edward’s backers are emphasizing when they send him out to win the hearts of citizens throughout the city. What the machine is to motion, childhood is to human being: both child and automaton, in the early modern period, lack a deliberating soul that can be understood to motivate their actions. A cognitive deficit in the agent thus becomes a theatrical asset. Perhaps the child, the machine, has less soul. But it also has more life. From Moving Objects to Flying People Again, we cannot be certain how these mechanisms worked, whether their motions were smooth or jerky, integrated into the workings of a single device or coordinated in a more dispersed way through the actions of independently manipulated props. That is, we do not know whether this scene was more like the mechanical tableaux vivants associated with monumental clocks, or whether it was instead a kind of puppet theater with individually controlled mechanical actors. We should not let this uncertainty blind us to the contrasting types of motions presented here and the ideological or aesthetic uses to which such contrasts might be put. Clearly there was an unfolding sequence of push and pull, action and reaction in the pageant I have just described, a sequence that may have been meant to symbolize what Sir Thomas   See Pretty Creatures, Ch. 1.



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Smith would later describe, in his Discourse of the Commonweal (1581), as a clocklike synchronization of the body politic itself. Anticipating by over a half century Hobbes’ mechanical meditations on the artifact that is the ideal Commonwealth, Smith describes the commonwealth as a machine whose motions are serially (and unbreakably) determined by interlocking causes, “as in a clock there may be many wheels, yet the first wheel being stirred it drives the next, and that the third, and so forth until the last, that moves the instrument that strikes the clock.”18 In the lion king pageant, the clock could not have struck too soon, since apparently Edward sped through most of the remaining allegorical displays—walking several feet ahead of his canopy (carried by six courtiers) so that the crowds could better see him—until he arrived at St. Paul’s, where a different kind of spectacle awaited.19 One of the remarkable aspects of mechanical pageantry in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance is its emphasis on gesture, particularly those of contact. I have already mentioned the placing of a crown on a mechanical lion’s head, a motif that repeats what is by this time a formalized coronation motif. When gestures like these are made by humans—for example, when a child angel emerges from a mechanical cloud in order to crown a mechanical animal—the result is a displaced version of the sensation we know as touch, a sensation that the critic Daniel Heller-Roazen has placed at the center of an alternative philosophical tradition in the West that opposes the Platonic and Cartesian emphasis on mind.20 The bodily significance of touch and sensation—which, according to Heller-Roazen, provided antiquity, the Islamic and European Middle Ages and the Renaissance with a viable alternative to cognition as a “clearing house” for intelligible experience—becomes an issue for performance precisely when it is unclear exactly who or what is feeling the action. Does the little lion feel the crown resting on its head? Does the boy feel the breeze as he walks out ahead of his royal canopy? One thinks here of Condillac’s famous statue that begins to acquire a soul the instant it starts feeling things in the world, so quick does the power of sensation supposedly transform perceptive pressure into life.21 Such a contagious feeling for life—a quickness or quickening that could pass from machines to their human spectators—might be understood as a form “induced kinesthesia,” a phrase which describes how audiences at a dance performance experience a sympathetic feeling for the movements of the performer.22 Kinesthetic sympathy is only enhanced by the absence of a fully deliberating “doer” on the royal 18   Thomas Smith, A Discourse of the commonweal of this realm of England (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1969) 96. 19   On Edward’s desire to be seen (which suggests that he himself was a pageant figure), see Nichols CCLXXX. 20   Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Inner Touch: The Archaeology of a Sensation (New York: Zone Books, 2007). 21   See Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Traite des sensations (London: 1754). 22   On the power of dance to induce kinesthetic feeling, see Deborah Jowitt, “Beyond Description: Writing Beneath the Surface,” Moving History/Dancing Cultures, ed. A. Dils and A. C. Albright (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 2001) 8.

Arrow, Acrobat and Phoenix


stage, an absence that makes the spectator feel more because the actor feels or knows less—indeed, in the case of the automaton, perhaps nothing at all. In the pageants of 1547, touch takes many forms; it appears that the designers of Edward’s coronation pageant want the boy king literally to feel the pressure of the actors as they move through space, transforming kinesthetic sympathy into something more immediately real. When he arrives at St. Gregory’s to the north of St. Paul’s, Edward is described as having seen: a rope as great as a cable of a ship, streched in lengthe from the batlementes of Powles steple, and with a great anker at one end fastened a little before master deane of Powles house gate. And when his Majestie approached neere the same, there came a man, a stranger [being a native of Arragon] lying on the same rope, his head forward, casting his armes and his legges abrode, running on his brest on the said rope from the said battlementes to the grownd, as it had been an arrowe out of a bowe, and stayed on the grownd. Then he came to the Kinges ma_tie and kyst his foot, and so after certaine words to his highnes, departed from him again, and went upwards upon the said rope till he was come over the midst of the said churchyard, where he, having a rope about him, played certaine maystreys on the said rope, as tumbling and casting hymself from one legg to another. Then tooke the said rope and tyed it to the cabell, and tyed himselfe by the right legg a little beneath the wryst of the fote, and hong by the one legg a certayne space, and after recovered himself up again with the said rope, and unknyt the knott and came downe again, which staid the kynges ma_tie with all the trayne a good space of time. (Nichols, Ccxc)

A man flies arrow-like from the battlements of Paul’s, holding his arms out wide, balancing on his chest as he hurtles down toward the anchor footing where the king stands. Instead of a phoenix descending from the heavens, the mechanical actor here is a living human being, his flight tripped by the trigger-like presence of the king. It requires little stretch of the historical imagination to see the Arragonese acrobat, who apparently was the most successful pageanteur of the day, acting as the equivalent of the celestial phoenix descending from the heavens, with Edward occupying the position of the animal hailed or touched into life by the celestial visitor. Even on the basis of this rather simple description, we can appreciate the great feat of balance required of the acrobat as he skims along the cable “casting his armes and his legges abrode.” Here the vocabulary of “position” and “transition” help thicken our phenomenology of this absent performance, since the acrobat’s motion in this scene—he is slowly “falling” down an inclined plane like one of the balls that Galileo will roll decades later—is deliberately contrasted with the stillness of his outstretched limbs. Spectators must sense a difference in kind between this floating, downward motion (culminating in a kiss of the king’s foot) and the series of dynamic “maystreys” that he will “play” on the cable several minutes later, “casting hymself from one legg to another.”

The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature


Position and transition are two ends of a continuum of motion that makes balance—defined acrobatically as the ability to maintain a pose or “position” by constantly transitioning to new states of falling motion—possible. When the acrobat shoots out of the battlements, he is an emissary of the pageant’s kinesthetic powers of sympathy and touch, a cog in the wheel that finally clops the bell when the king’s foot has been kissed. Once the acrobat has shimmied up the cable however, his performance consists in the deliberate disturbance of the steady state of gravity, what the philosopher Paul Valéry will later describe as the dancer’s ability to “squander … instability.”23 Here too, the realm of allegory that Edward’s councilors and city planners are keen to showcase might be of secondary importance to the pleasures of movement and, perhaps also, to the sensation of movement that the spectacle itself enacts and transmits. The acrobat ties himself by the “wryst of the fote” and hangs by his leg for a time, recovering himself long enough to return to the ground. Each of these movements, the flight, the clamber up the cable, the high stakes dance, the dangling by the leg, exercises a specific Renaissance vocabulary of motion and the various schemes by which movements can be connected.24 Whereas the crowning of the lion king may have been solemn and timeless (the mechanism never feels time passing, only the maker), one gets the sense here that the actions of the acrobat are heated, alive with the sensation. The center of deliberation and control—“I must stay alive”—is always there in the body that wobbles on the line. When it leans to kiss the foot of the king, the rope dancer’s gesture of thanks mimics the continuous feeling of mechanical action, its sequential interconnectedness, and caps it with a deliberate flourish. It should be emphasized that the acrobat is alive whereas previous “actors” were machines. This difference in the nature of the performer calls attention to the contrasts between his human feats of balance and the grace of the actions performed by automata in previous scenes. For when the acrobat hops from leg to leg on the taut anchor cable, he is staking his physical well-being on the power of sensation to feel imbalances in the position of his body and thus to correct the position of his limbs. While the effect must have been entertaining, particularly for the child at the base of the cable, the acrobat’s movements repeat one of the great visual allegories of the sixteenth century: the emblematic image of Fortune or the Wise Man balancing dynamically on a constantly shifting object like a ball or a wave.

  Paul Valéry, “The Philosophy of Dance,” in What is Dance? 59–60.   At least one of these motions, the climb up the rope, is simulated later by the court magician John Dee, in a production which involved a mechanical scarab climbing up a rope. A contemporary report describes the motion of the “Scarabaeus, his flying up to Jupiter’s palace, with a man and his basket of victuals on her back: whereat was great wondering, and many vain reports spread abroad of the means how it was effected” (quoted in Campbell, 87). 23 24

Figure 7.1  “Legi” from George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes (London: A. M., 1635)

Figure 7.2  “Fortuna” from George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes (London: A. M., 1635)

Note: Images from George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (London, 1635), the first of wisdom, the second of fortune. Although from the early seventeenth century, the visual equation of balance on a ball with dynamic mastery of constantly shifting circumstances is a longstanding one.

The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature


The phoenix descending from the heavens may have possessed a certain grace, which is to say, a kind of motive autonomy that is indifferent to the reactions of onlookers. Such autonomy can look strangely like self-possession in automata, which may have been part of their appeal. But the acrobat hopping on the cable, or the Goddess Fortuna balancing on her constantly shifting ball, must be master or mistress of accommodation.25 The aim here is not to transmit movement by occult means, once famously put into practice by the first Renaissance automaton maker Bienvenuto Cellini, who placed his statues on balls and then rolled them out silently into a courtyard by candlelight.26 Rather, the poise of the acrobat is metakinetically meaningful because it evidences an engaged sensory responsiveness to the world. The arabesque swirls of his moving arms chart not simply a change in a body’s location, but a changing change—a response to a center of movement that is itself always moving.27 Poise is measured liveliness, evidence that a thing feels and so can accommodate itself to its world. Grace, on the other hand, suggests a certain ordained indifference of the agent with respect to its environment: graceful action is self-unfolding, whereas poise is the accomplished stillness of a thing subject to outside motion. Pushing our critical terms one step further, we might say that poise here—as opposed to mechanical grace—is the vanishing point of art into life. The utmost mastery of mechanics is the ability to stand still. Metakinesis, position, and physical accommodation are not the final terms in this analysis. They can really only point us to contrasting forms of motion within the pageant program, motions which—like dance steps—became significant for an audience with its own ideas about agency, sensation, and the way in which a mere sequence of events becomes a continuous action. Clearly the leaps of the acrobat, for example, would have been admired in the context of “dancing high,” a term that refers to the Renaissance fascination with leaps and jumps in court displays.28 And clearly, too, there was a Renaissance vocabulary in which certain canonical virtues like beauty and force could be explored, as in this description of the movement of youths by the Italian writer Leon Battista Alberti:


  On accommodation and discretion as arts of prudent governance, deriving from rhetoric and conversation, see Jennifer Richards, Rhetoric and Courtliness in Early Modern Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003); and Lorna Hutson, “Civility and Virility in Ben Jonson,” Representations 78 (2002): 1–27. On Fortuna and poise, see Michael Witmore, “We Have Never Not Been Human,” Postmedieval 1 (2010): 208–14. 26   See Bredekamp, 2. 27   The changing change is, of course, one of the quantities captured by the calculus of infinitesimals, itself one of the great artifacts of the seventeenth century counterfactual imagination. 28   See Barbara Ravelhofer, The Early Stuart Masque: Dance, Costume, and Music (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006) 31.

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The movements of youths are light, gay, with a certain demonstration of great soul and good force. In men, the movements are more adorned with firmness, with beautiful and artful poses. In the old the movements and poses are fatigued; the feet no longer support the body, and they even cling with their hands. Thus each one with dignity has his own movements to express whatever movements of the soul he wishes.29

Alberti supplies the theory of expression which links these various characters of motion to inner states of the soul, a link that would have cast the gestures of automata in an odd light, since they did not have souls to express. Nevertheless, such characters are clearly of concern to both makers and interpreters of Renaissance visual art, and we can say with confidence that both the kinds of movements on display and their metakinetic overtones were central to the message of civic pageantry. Far from dampening the force of those meanings, the presence of machines may have actually multiplied them, since the machines’ status as non-deliberating actors allowed them—like the children they performed with—to “dance” around the visual logic of purposive action and, in so doing, to reformulate the terms in which the new monarch’s power and prerogative was being verbally presented. The monarch was this virtuoso, the final source of movement whose career could only be approximated by the spectacle. This is not the same thing as arguing that there was a “direct” allegorical relationship between the apparent grace of machines or the poise of the acrobat and Edward’s political skills, skills that would be praised in the pageant itself when the boy king was likened to a “young Solomon.” Balance as a quality of judgment remained instead a kinesthetic overtone of the series of movements on offer that day, a series that signified through contrasts and oppositions between the still and the moving, the sensitive and the inert, the mechanically mobile versus the dynamically poised. Yet beyond such available political allegories, which may have developed spontaneously alongside the motifs of pageant action, the distinctions implied in pageant motions had other, more diffuse, meanings—meanings that sat alongside those generated by dynastic or City politics. We can use contemporary sources to reconstruct the allegorical “soul” of civic pageantry (the goal of critics such as Anglo), and histories of the arts to parse out the conventions associated with those various media—costume, song, oratory, dance, prop, architecture—that constituted its “body.”30 But the allegory of motion would have been more universal because it was so much more immediate; in addition to exemplifying various modes of action, reaction, poise, and grace, it served as a type of communal summary or metaphysics of the types   Leon Battista Alberti, Della Pittura, trans. John Spencer (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956) 80. 30   The soul–body distinction is made by Ben Jonson, and is adopted by numerous critics, most importantly David Bergeron. See also Ravelhofer, Ch. 1, who argues that the body of the masque must now be reclaimed, which is clearly true of the pageant as well. 29


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of relationships that exist in the world and the kinds of the elements (living, inert, spontaneous, contrived) that might enter into such relationships. Motion is the verb that links the “propositions” in such a performed treatise on the nature of things, and the contrast between types of motion are the basic unit of meaning. What I am advocating here as a way of reading these performances—difficult as that task of reading has become in the absence of exhaustive descriptions—is a strategy taken by contemporary critics of dance who emphasize the importance of approaching movement itself as a type of meaning, one whose message is not really graspable as semantic or allegorical content. This is not to say that such meaning is transcendental or numinous, but rather that it is immanent in a series of orienting contrasts or gestures. As Joan Acocella writes, “The truths of dance are not on the other side,” and in certain historically distant cases, this one-sidedness of movement may be a critical boon because even a summary description of the actions taken in a given performance may be enough to show how the motion really worked.31 In arguing that civic pageantry uses its great array of actors and movements to say something profound about the mechanics of the world, I may appear to be deepening the image of Renaissance culture as one grand Neoplatonic dance that harmonized the various epicycles of nature and culture throughout the cosmos. Certainly this was part of what Tillyard imagined when he likened court activity around Elizabeth to a “cosmic dance reproduced in the body politic, thus completing the series of dances in macrocosm body politic and microcosm.”32 Yet Tillyard was right to emphasize the metaphysical overtones of Elizabethan culture and the interest in a kind of transcendent political/cosmic order it implied. The difficulty with Tillyard’s vision, and with much of the intellectual history of the period produced in the mid-twentieth century, is that it does not recognize the degree to which the Tudor philosophical imagination reserved a place for the body, affection, and sensation in the evocation of recognizably metaphysical feeling for the world. King Edward is perhaps not so much a deviant spectator of civic pageantry because of his minority, but an exemplary participant in its physical, kinesthetic spectacle. In adducing terms from contemporary dance theory in order to read that spectacle, we are able to take hold of a stratum of significance that attached specifically to intuitions about the nature of sensation, movement, and responsiveness, intuitions that were connected to more systematic accounts of the nature of the soul and the will.33 The great taxonomy of beings was, arguably, 31   Joan Acocella, “Imagining Dance,” in Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright, eds., Moving History/Dancing Cultures (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 2001) 16. 32   E. M. W. Tillyard, from The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Vintage Books, 1959) Ch. 8. See too his remarks on page 8 about Elizabeth as primum mobile, “the master sphere of the universe, and every activity within the realm [as] varied motions of other spheres governed to the last fraction by the influence of their container.” 33   The continuing appeal of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Physics, and De anima in the early modern period attest to the lively institutional life of this intellectual tradition. See

Arrow, Acrobat and Phoenix


organized during the period on the basis of an entity’s capacity to sense, move, desire, and judge—all historically specific aspects of a thing’s being that helped place it in the great diversity of what was then called “the created world.” If Edward felt something when he watched the pageant enactment of his own crowning by mechanical creatures, that feeling would have been grounded in a broader set of intuitions—performed ideas about the universal or local capacity of various entities for sensation, perception and action—that it is now the job of a historically minded phenomenology to reconstruct. We are free to call these performed ideas “elements” of an ideology, a generically institutionalized set of expectations, a metaphysical strain in the culture, or a “historical a priori” that made certain sorts of movements possible during the period, but we will ultimately be describing the same thing: a stitched pattern of connection that spreads across the underside of a world that is waiting to be drawn together, its every event a threshold separating one action from another. This stitchery or connective tissue is not just a pattern of ideas, but a motive language of touch and sensation, one that I have suggested was the virtual substance connecting the pageant’s moving parts in a meaningful way. We can look at this mangle of practices—bodily, allegorical, musical, political—and see in the ensemble a certain overriding idea, but it would be an oversimplification to call the “animated emblem” of civic pageantry a displaced mode of Renaissance thought. With its congregations of apparently senseless bodies, and its appeal to equally “illiterate” or reactive audiences, the movements in Edward’s coronation pageant made sensation itself something to be gauged and inferred from pageant action. Thus, the friendly caress of two automata might, if performed correctly, enact a surrogate form of life whose distinct interest lay in what Suzanne Langer once called the “appearance of agency.” Agency itself would have become something to think about through motion in these spectacles, and as such was being advanced as a topos within England’s vernacular intellectual culture. Such a culture was built out of performances like the ones I have been describing here: it existed alongside the culture of learned inquiry (which produced theology, natural philosophy, politics, law). But whereas the learned intellectual culture explored ideas in the formalized context of dialectical analysis, vernacular intellectual culture did so through communally recognized gestures, performances, adducing maxims or proverbs to prompt interpretation and understanding. The distance between Neoplatonic allegory and intuitive interpretation of the spectacle as such was thus not as great as we might expect. There were meanings in the motions, a set of ideas that took shape in and through movements of various sources. The paradox is that, because these ideas were so basic and therefore comprehensively available to spectators—they constituted a vernacular sense of what it meant to be a sensing, acting thing in the world—they become available to us only with the aid of abstractions. The more immediate a sensation or quality Charles B. Schmitt, John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1983) 8.


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in a specific historical context, the more intellectual work we must do to describe it. We are given a head start on this process when machines take center stage, as they do in civic pageantry. Machines call attention to the underlying metaphysical distinctions and communal intuitions that help people make sense of motion, sensation, and agency; they require spectators to think about, because they must use and adjust, distinctions between events, actions, and reactions built into the flow of their lived experience. The ten-year-old Edward may not have been a philosopher when he went out to view the pageant works that had been prepared for him on that day in 1547. But he, like the rest of the onlookers who saw the performances that day, would have thought with and through the motions he witnessed—a thinking that was both communal and abstract, immediate to sense, but distinct from the allegorical messages he was too impatient to hear.

PART 3 Performance and Deception

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Chapter 8

“More than Art”: Clockwork Automata, the Extemporizing Actor,and the Brazen Head in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay Todd Andrew Borlik

In his chronicle of superstitions and “vulgar errors,” Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Sir Thomas Browne claimed, “Every ear is filled with the story of Frier [sic] Bacon that made a brazen head to speak.”1 One of the culprits responsible for cramming the public’s ears with such—in Browne’s opinion—ostensible drivel was the notorious libertine and purveyor of pulp romance Robert Greene. Sometime around 1590, Greene adapted an anonymous sixteenth-century prose text, The Famous Historie of Fryer Bacon, into one of the most commercially successful and oft-anthologized of the pre-Shakespearean comedies. Today the reputation of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay rests on its innovative use of a double-plot (instead of a comic sub-plot). The first story-line involves a love triangle between King Edward, Lacy the Earl of Lincoln, and Margaret “The Fair Maid of Fressingfield,” while the second hinges on Roger Bacon’s attempt to forge a brazen head that will spout “strange and uncouth aphorisms” (iii.168) and enable him to ring Britain with a wall of brass.2 The play’s Bacon spends seven years perfecting his invention; but overcome with fatigue, he falls asleep at the decisive moment when it awakes and utters three short, cryptic phrases: “Time is,” “Time was,” “Time is Past” (xi.53, 63, 73). As his feckless assistant stands by cracking jokes, the head is destroyed in one of the more spectacular stage directions in Elizabethan drama: “a lightning flasheth forth, and a hand appears that breaketh down the Head with a hammer” (xi.72). While editors have speculated at length about the staging of this scene, critical studies of Friar Bacon have not sufficiently addressed how Greene exploits the enormous head as a visual symbol for the intellectual and technological aspirations of the early modern era.3 Through the destruction of the   Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, ed. Robin Robbins (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981) 598. 2   All citations from the play are taken from Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, ed. J. A. Lavin (London: Ernest Benn, 1969). 3   One notable exception is Kevin LaGrandeur’s recent article, “The Talking Brass Head as a Symbol of Dangerous Knowledge in Friar Bacon and in Alphonsus King of Aragon,” English Studies 80.5 (October 1999): 408–22. Jonathan Sawday glances briefly 1


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automaton, the play delivers a stern judgment not only on contemporary fantasies of technological dominion, but also on drama itself as an aesthetically and morally dubious form of animation. Although the brazen head partly serves, as I shall argue, as a metonymy for the hubris of Renaissance intellectuals and artists, it is most emphatically not a Renaissance invention. Odd as it may seem to modern readers, an enormous brass head with the ability to speak is a fairly common motif in medieval romance. This bizarre object first appears in the Chronicles of William of Malmesbury (c.1125), who reports that the tenth-century theologian-cum-natural philosopher Gerbert of Aurillac had created a giant head that, like a glorified Magic 8-Ball, could answer any yes-or-no question about the future. Another oracular head delivers an ambiguous prophecy to its maker, this time the poet-sorcerer Virgil, in Images du Monde (c.1245). In 1319, this tale was recycled in the Renart Contrefait with the additional detail, destined to become a staple of the legend, that the head was forged of brass. Brazen heads also appear in Book IV of Gower’s Confessio Amantis and the French Romance Valentin et Orson (translated into English around 1510 and believed to be the source for a lost Elizabethan play). By the early seventeenth century, the talking brass head had become such a romance cliché that it even earned a cameo in Cervantes’ classic send-up of the genre, Don Quixote, where it is exposed as a rather lame parlor-trick.4 If Cervantes’ satire and Browne’s catalogue of “vulgar errors” can be seen as indicative of a widening rift between popular superstition and the scientific knowledge of the elite, Greene’s play is a product of an era in which the magical arts still enjoyed a measure of intellectual respectability. Specifically, by glamorizing the study of ancient, esoteric knowledge, humanist scholars inspired a vogue for Egyptian Hermeticism that gripped Cambridge in the 1580s when Greene and his fellow “University Wit” Christopher Marlowe were students there. Once believed to date from the time of Moses, the nineteen Greek and Latin treatises attributed to Hermes Trismegistus originated around 300 C.E. in Ancient Egypt, which, not coincidentally, is a place rich with legends about moving statuary. In the interval between their translation by Ficino in 1463 and the more accurate dating by Isaac Casaubon in 1613, the Corpus Hermeticum provided a decisive stimulus to the Renaissance fascination with automata. During the famous conjuring duel in Greene’s play, Bacon’s colleague, Friar Bungay, explicitly invokes “Hermes” (ix.50) as an authority on terrestrial spirits; meanwhile, his opponent, the German Vandermast, twice cites “Hermes” (ix.29) to argue that the element of fire “giveth shapes to spirits” (ix.38). Although Bacon does not mention Hermes by name, the occult doctrines associated with the ancient Egyptian sage inform his efforts to animate the brazen head. Perhaps the most famous Hermetic treatise, the Asclepius, refers to ancient theurgic rituals involving the worship of “statues at Greene’s play in Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (New York: Routledge, 2007) 194–5. 4   The above account is indebted to Arthur Dickson, Valentine and Orson: A Study in Late Medieval Romance (New York: Columbia UP, 1929) 200–215.

“More than Art”


ensouled and conscious … that foreknow the future.”5 The author cites the practice of worshipping anthropomorphic statues as evidence of the divine quality of human beings, proof of their exalted status as the proper lords of the universe: “He cultivates the earth; he swiftly mixes into the elements; he plumbs the depths of the sea in the keenness of his mind. Everything is permitted him.”6 Such passages helped enshrine the view of man “as a great miracle” trumpeted by Renaissance humanists, and the excerpt cited above appears almost verbatim in Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, the classic manifesto of the movement. Primed by these allusions to Hermes, some members of Greene’s audience may have viewed the brazen head as a kind of humanist idol. Complementing the greater awareness of the ways in which occult theories spurred technological innovation, scholars such as Cesare Vasoli, Pamela Long, Anne Blair, and Anthony Grafton have begun to unravel how humanism, once considered irrelevant or inimical to scientific advance, actually abetted its development.7 Greene’s conjuring play suggests that the truth resides somewhere in the crossfire between these two opposing views. If the humanist vision of a universe malleable to the mage’s will—evident in Bacon’s bombastic monologues—bespeaks the emergence of a techno-scientific mentality in the early modern era, many humanist scholars nonetheless remained suspicious of the ethical and epistemological propriety of the mechanical arts. In scene ii, the Friar affirms the ambivalent reputation of technological research when he boasts: I have contrived and framed a head of brass (I made Belcephon hammer out the stuff), And that by art shall read philosophy. (ii.56–8)

Here Bacon appears to claim credit for the head’s design, but delegates the task of forging it to a diabolical agent, Belcephon. Although the verbs “contrive” and “frame” are ambiguous and can imply either mental or physical exertion, “hammer” unequivocally evokes manual labor. Thus, the speech literally demonizes technological experimentation, resisting contemporary attempts to efface the stigma attached to the mechanical arts. While historians of science generally associate this program with Francis Bacon,8 efforts to infuse the   Hermetica, ed. Brian Cophenhaver (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) 81.   Copenhaver 70 7   On the need for a more sophisticated, revisionist account of the relationship between these “two cultures,” see C. Vasoli, “The Contribution of Humanism to the Birth of Modern Science,” Renaissance and Reformation 3 (1979): 1–15; Pamela O. Long, “Humanism and Science,” Renaissance Humanism, 3 vols. Ed. Albert Rabil, Jr. (Philadelphia: U Penn P, 1988) 3:505, and Anne Blair and Anthony Grafton, “Reassessing Humanism and Science,” Journal of the History of Ideas 53.4 (1992): 535–40. 8   See Paolo Rossi, Philosophy, Technology, and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (New York: Harper and Row, 1970). 5 6


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quadrivium with a more experimental bent were already underway when Greene attended college. In 1583 Giordano Bruno visited Oxford and complained that the University’s current emphasis on mastering Ciceronian eloquence distracted from its previous achievements in the applied sciences spearheaded by scholars who were “friars by profession.”9 In medieval Oxford the scholar-friar most identified with accomplishments in this field was none other than the hero of Greene’s comedy, Roger Bacon. Bruno, as I shall unfold below, was not alone in his admiration for Bacon’s work. At a time when natural philosophers were trying to rehabilitate the Friar as a scientific visionary, Greene’s decision to portray him as an arrogant necromancer appears a conscious bid to tarnish his reputation. A comparison between his speeches in the play and the actual writings of the historical Bacon reveals a striking distortion: while Greene depicts the Friar’s power as supernatural in origin—“more than art” (ix.147)—the real Bacon advocates scientific research grounded in empiricism and the technological “Art [of] using Nature for an instrument.”10 “Nigromantic Charms”: Demonizing Roger Bacon Since he wrote exclusively in Latin, Roger Bacon’s contribution to the history of science has been overshadowed in recent years by his seventeenth-century counterpart with whom he shared a surname: Sir Francis. However, Roger Bacon’s works contain one of the first important formulations of the scientific method on record. Part Six of his Opus Majus, entitled Scientia Experimentalis, asserts that theories supplied by reason should be verified by sensory data, aided by instruments, and corroborated by trustworthy witnesses.11 Although, like many of the best minds of his age, Bacon took astrology and alchemy seriously, he also wrote a lengthy epistle De nullitate magiae in which he dismisses many seemingly magical phenomena as purely natural occurrences. Portions of the letter bear an odd resemblance to some of Greene’s Elizabethan cony-catching pamphlets; what uneducated onlookers believe to be supernatural marvels are, according to Bacon, actually achieved through “mechanical devices” or mere legerdemain: For jugglers deceive many by quickness of hand, and ventriloquists, by a variety of sounds in the belly and throat, and by mouth, produce human voices, at a distance or nearby as they wish, as if a spirit were talking in the manner of a human being … . When inanimate things are moved rapidly in the shadow of dusk or of night, it is not truth but fraud and deceit. (Nullity 15–16) 9   Extracts of Bruno’s speech are reprinted in Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: U Chicago P, 1964) 210. 10   Roger Bacon, On the Nullity of Magic (New York: AMS, 1923) 15. 11   Roger Bacon, Opus Majus, trans. Robert Belle Burke, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: U Penn P, 1928) 2:583–634.

“More than Art”


The vehemence of Bacon’s attack on ventriloquists is curious in light of the sixteenthcentury legend that the Friar attempted the somewhat similar feat of making a brazen head speak. If there is any truth to the story, Bacon’s interest in pneumatics and what we would today call the phenomenology of speech may be the kernel of fact from which the fable sprouted. At one point in the De nullitate magiae, Bacon speculates that words arise from “an efflux of such spirits, heat, vapors, virtue, and ideas as are produced by the soul and heart” (Nullity 24). Essentially, words are a reflex, part intellectual, part physiological, and Bacon emphasizes that latter notion when he likens speech to an effusion of vapors released in a yawn. Thus instead of practicing necromancy or the theurgy espoused in the Hermetic texts, Bacon actually opposes many of the occult theories represented in Greene’s play. Philosophers, he avers, need have no truck with demons since “art” can create wonders through natural means, a contention Bacon supports with a litany of futuristic machines worthy of Da Vinci: motorized ships, automobiles, airplanes, submarines, and mechanical wenches. Rather than a necromancer, Bacon would be more accurately remembered as an early prophet of applied technology. During Greene’s lifetime, Bacon’s apologia for experimental science found new champions in Leonard Digges, Thomas Harriot, and John Dee. In 1579, Leonard’s son Thomas completed and published his father’s work on military engineering, Stratioticos, which he claimed had been inspired by “an old written book” filled with “Bakons Experiments.” Harriot knew Bacon’s Opus Majus and Opus minus, revered his work on mathematics and optics, and saw the Friar as a forerunner of his theories of atomism.12 Dee was also a devout admirer and his celebrated library contained more of Bacon’s manuscripts than any other author. In his preface to Euclid, Dee cites Bacon’s scientia experimentalis as the chief precedent for his concept of “archemastrie,” a method for utilizing speculative knowledge drawn from all disciplines to conduct experiments with practical applications. Dee even wrote a treatise on optics (now lost) inspired by Bacon that exonerated the Friar from charges of consorting with demons.13 The Protestant polemicist John Bale offered a similar vindication in 1559, hailing Bacon as a gifted mathematician, “devoid of necromancy, although many have slandered him with it.”14 It is unlikely that the Oxbridge-educated Greene was completely ignorant of Bacon’s scientific writings   Leonard Digges, An Arithmeticall Militare Treatised named Stratioticos (London, 1579) 190. Hillary Gatti, “The Natural Philosophy of Thomas Harriot,” Thomas Harriot: An Elizabethan Man of Science, ed. Robert Fox (Burlington: Ashgate, 2000) 75–7. 13   Assessments of Bacon’s influence on Dee can be found in Peter French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge, 1972) 26–27; and Deborah Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999) 74. Nicholas H. Clulee acknowledges Dee’s debt to Bacon but offers several useful caveats about how their methodologies diverge in John Dee’s Natural Philosophy: Between Science and Religion (London: Routledge, 1988) 170–174. 14   John Bale, Scriptorum illustrium Maioris Brytannie catalogus (Basle: 1557, 1559) quoted in A. G. Molland, “Roger Bacon as Magician,” Traditio 30 (1974): 445–60, 448. 12


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or of these attempts by Bruno, Dee, and others, to salvage the Friar’s reputation. Yet he models his portrait of the Friar on lurid campus legends and medieval romance, catering to the masses rather than the Elizabethan intelligentsia. Even his handling of his source, the anonymous Famous Historie of Frier Bacon, perpetuates the view of Bacon as a conjuror. Roughly 700 of the play’s 2,102 lines follow the chapbook, leading critics like McNeir to conclude that the playwright “appropriated Bacon the necromancer largely as he found him.”15 In fact, Greene makes several telling departures from the prose romance. Whereas the real Bacon speaks of constructing a primitive telescope, Greene suppresses any mention of his knowledge of the science of optics, insinuating that the prospective glass operates strictly by magic. The original source even portrays the quest to create an automaton as more of a rational enterprise. Although he does consult a demon, Bacon attempts to animate the head by infusing it “with the continuall fume of the six hottest Simples.”16 Greene’s play, however, makes no mention of any kind of distillation; nor do the stage directions call for any technical implements to carry out such a procedure. In this regard the Famous Historie comes much closer to suggesting that the brazen head is an elaborate chemistry experiment, effectively testing Bacon’s hypothesis that speech is the by-product of an effusion of vapors. Instead Greene depicts it as a thoroughly diabolical operation. Rather than allude to mechanistic theories outlined in Hero of Alexandria’s Pneumatica (accessible in a Latin translation in 1575), Bacon invokes “nigromantic charms” and “the enchanting forces of the devil” (xi.15, 18) to awaken the idol.17 From such passages, audience members acquainted with the terminology would most likely infer that Bacon plans to make the head speak by encasing a dead spirit inside it, the method employed by the Egyptian priests in the Asclepius (90). Bacon’s servant Miles also nudges us in this direction by murmuring “here’s some of your master’s hobgoblins abroad” (xi.52) just before the idol utters its first words. These departures from the chapbook suggest two possibilities: 1) since the earliest surviving edition of Greene’s prose “source” dates from 1627, it could have been revised to refashion the Friar as a pioneer in technological experimentation (a subject of mounting curiosity at the time), or 2) Greene is, intentionally or unintentionally, occluding Bacon’s proto-scientific outlook. Of course, science fiction writers are not obliged to depict their often arcane and forbidding subject matter with absolute technical accuracy. In retrospect, Friar Bacon may appear to mystify innovations in early modern automata. But in an era when science and magic were not disentangled, Greene could justifiably conflate mechanistic philosophy with necromancy. 15   Waldo McNeir, “Traditional Elements in the Character of Greene’s Friar Bacon,” Studies in Philology 45.2 (April 1948): 173. On Greene’s debt to the prose romance, see Kerstin Assarsson-Rizzi, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay: A Structural and Thematic Analysis of Robert Greene’s Play (Lund: Gleerup, 1972) 25–7; John Henry Jones, The English Faust Book (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 55–62. 16   The Famous Historie of Frier Bacon (London, 1627) C1r. 17   Marie Boas Hall, “Hero’s Pneumatica: A Study of Its Transmission and Influence,” Isis 40.1 (1949): 38–48.

“More than Art”


“Time is, Time was, Time is past”: The Brazen Head as Clockwork Automaton Shortly after Bacon’s entrance in Greene’s play, he is accosted by two Oxford dons, Master Mason and Master Burden, who acknowledge the power of “mathematic rules … to work / wonders that pass the common sense of men” (ii.72, 74–5), but remain incredulous about his current research: Yet to think That heads of brass can utter any voice, Or more, to tell of deep philosophy – This is a fable that Aesop had forgot. (ii.80–83)

Master Burden’s skepticism about the Brazen Head would be repeated a few decades later by the eccentric Italian thinker Tomasso Campanella (1568–1639). In Magia e Grazia, Campanella avouches that weights, pulleys, and pneumatics can create mechanical doves and moving statues, but insists that stories of “the head which speaks with a human voice” are pure fiction since these “forces and materials can never be such as to capture a human soul.”18 After vetting this passage, Frances Yates concludes that “a preoccupation with miraculous statues had its scientific side,” but does not pursue her insight any further. As if anticipating Yates’ thesis, Sir Thomas Browne ventured a similar opinion three centuries earlier. After complaining that the legends about Friar Bacon have been “received too literally,” Browne speculates the real function of the head was to serve as a large cauldron for an alchemical experiment to forge an indestructible metal for use in fortifications: hence the rumor about Bacon’s scheme to ring Britain with a wall of brass.19 Here Browne performs precisely the kind of reading Francis Bacon had called for in The Advancement of Learning (1605), scraping away the fantastical elements encrusted on such narratives over the centuries to reveal the scientific (or in this case pseudo-scientific) activities that may have lain underneath them. More recently, Lynn White has proposed the brazen head was a prototype of a medieval “steam bellows.”20 While Roger Bacon was interested in pneumatics, there is another aspect of early science embedded in the legend that has gone unnoticed. Namely, that the talking head—which utters only “Time is, Time was, Time is past”—essentially functions like a giant clock. A brief survey of the history of early modern horology will clarify the connection between the brazen head and clockwork, and help elucidate the head’s role as a symbol of scientific advance and the emergent Puritan work ethic.

  Yates, Giordano Bruno 147–8. No English translation of Campanella’s text exists.   Browne, Pseudodoxia 598. 20   Francis Bacon, The Works of Francis Bacon, 14 vols. Eds. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath (London: Longman and Co., 1857) 3:331. Lynn White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962) 90–2. 18 19

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The most advanced clocks in medieval Europe belonged to the Church. The reasons for this are obvious: not only were the abbeys centers of learning, but the monks’ daily routine also required them to assemble punctually at specific times to perform their devotions. Each monastery (particularly in countries where cloudy weather limited the utility of sundials) needed to have some kind of clock and a small coterie of brothers with the expertise to maintain it. Before 1280, most clocks were powered by flowing water. However, in the closing decades of the thirteenth century (a period that coincides with Roger Bacon’s career), a flurry of documents—from Dunstable Priory (1283), Exeter Cathedral (1284), Old St. Paul’s (1286), and Merton College Oxford (1288?)—indicates that some type of mechanized time-keeping device had arrived on the scene. But the first definite records of the construction and installation of a mechanical clock in England are found in the Sacrist’s Rolls of Norwich Cathedral. They record payments to a man by the name of Roger Stoke— along with several anonymous carpenters, masons, and plasterers—for work on a clock from 1321 to 1325. The Norwich clock featured fifty-nine sculpted images, including several automata and a procession of mechanical monks.21 Norwich just happens to be Robert Greene’s hometown. According to his autobiographical writings, he passed his childhood there, and probably attended the town’s Free Grammar School directly across the street from the Cathedral.22 Since Stoke’s mechanical marvel reportedly survived until the seventeenth century, Greene must have seen it. The sight may well have sparked a fascination with automata at an early age.23 During his continental travels in the 1580s Greene could have encountered other mechanical devices similar to those described by his friend Thomas Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveller (and as considered by Wendy Hyman’s essay in the current volume). If he passed through Strasbourg he certainly would have visited the Cathedral to see the famous clock built there in 1574. A monumental feat of Renaissance engineering, it boasted automata in the shape of Christ, Death, and a rooster that crowed each day at noon.24 Whether or not Greene consciously thought of Bacon’s brazen head 21

  C. F. C. Beeson was the first to trace the advent of the mechanical clock in England to the late thirteenth century; for a summary of Beeson’s findings and a history of the Norwich timepiece, see J. D. North, “Monasticism and the First Mechanical Clocks,” The Study of Time II, eds. J. T. Fraser and N. Lawrence (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1975) 384–86. 22   Robert Greene, The Repentance of Robert Greene (London, 1592) C1v. 23   Jane Geddes, “The Medieval Decorative Ironwork,” Norwich Cathedral: Church, City, Diocese 1066–1996, ed. Ian Atherton et al. (London: Hambledon, 1996) 442. Scott Maisano has made a similar speculation that Descartes’ familiarity with waterwork automata in Saint-Germain-en-Lay was the impetus behind his notorious thoughtexperiment which imagines other people as machines. See “Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare,” Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life, ed. Jessica Riskin (Chicago: U Chicago P, 2007) 63–84. 24   A detailed description of the Strasbourg clock, along with several illustrations, can be found in F. C. Haber, “The Cathedral Clock and the Cosmological Clock Metaphor,” The Study of Time II, eds. J. T. Fraser and Nathaniel Morris Lawrence (New York: SpringerVerlag, 1975) 401–07.

“More than Art”


as a kind of clockwork automaton, this technology would have provided him with a contemporary counterpart to the necromantic animation he depicts in the play.

Figure 8.1  Title page woodcut, Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay. The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay (London: Elizabeth Allde, 1630)

The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature


The historical Roger Bacon, too, had a keen interest in horology. In De nullitate magiae he refers to a “Self-Activated Working Model of the Heavens” as “the greatest of all things which have been devised” (Nullity, 29). Part clock, part automated armillary sphere, these prodigious gadgets took years to assemble and were generally made from brass. Given these parallels, the legend of Bacon’s talking head offers an apt analogue to the historical Bacon’s efforts to construct a brazen astronomical clock that would communicate arcane knowledge about the cosmos. The woodcut appended to the 1630 Quarto of Greene’s comedy attests to the whiff of the occult that clung to such devices; in the upper right hand corner of Bacon’s study an armillary sphere dangles beside the brazen head [see Figure 8.1]. The leading experimental scientists of Elizabethan England, Dee and Harriot, were of course familiar with clockwork technology. In The Mathematical Praeface, Dee hails the advances that have been made in the art of “horometrie,” from designs powered by water, then weights, and finally springs. Dee himself owned a clock with a third hand—unheard of in the sixteenth-century—which visibly measured time in seconds; it was smashed when a mob ransacked his home.25 Harriot, meanwhile, in his Briefe and True Report (1588) mentions awing the Algonquin with “spring clocks that seeme to goe of themselues [that ] … so far exceeded their capacities to comprehend the reason and meanes how they should be made and done, that they though they were rather the works of gods then of men.”26 The Virginians’ reaction to the clock is a perfect example of the power Dee, in the penultimate section of the Praeface, assigns to a “mathematical art” he calls “Thaumaturgike”—the ability “to make straunge workes … greatly to be wondred at” (Dee, Praeface A1v). After removing the occult stigma attached to engineering marvels, Dee believed the sight of these devices would enkindle admiration and, consequently, public support of technological research. Recognizing that theatrical spectacle could serve as propaganda for his scientific agenda, Dee was likely the first person to introduce an actual automaton to the English stage; in his Compendious Rehearsall Dee claimed to have constructed a flying mechanical scarab for a performance of Aristophanes’ Pax at Trinity College, Cambridge “whereat was great wondering and many vain reports spread abroad of the means how it was effected” (Dee, Rehearsall 5–6). One year before this performance Dee graduated from St. John’s, the same college from which Greene received his B.A. in 1580. Curiously, among the very first contraptions Dee names in the Praeface is the brazen head. Regardless of whether Greene heard about the mage’s flying scarab or read his preface to Euclid, Friar Bacon arguably represents the most stunning display of thaumaturgy in Elizabethan drama. Crucially, however, the brazen head elicits a very different reaction from the kind Dee envisions. Whereas   John Dee, The Mathematicall Praeface to the Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara (London, 1570) D2v. John Dee, The Compendious Rehearsall, rptd. in Autobiographical Tracts of Dr. John Dee (Manchester, 1851) 29. 26   Thomas Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (London, 1590) 27. 25

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the experience of “wonder” instills a sense of the astonishingly god-like nature of human beings in Harriot’s Algonquin, the character of Miles in Greene’s play responds to the head’s speech with derision and sarcasm: Well, Friar Bacon you spent your seven years’ study well, that can make your head speak but two words at once. “Time was.” Yea, marry, time was when my master was a wise man but that was before he began to make the brazen head. You shall lie, while your arse ache and your head speak no better. (xi.66–8)

Through the clown’s characteristic emphasis on the corporeal over the intellectual, the “arse” over the head, this scene stages a thaumaturgical failure. Miles’ jeers, however, reverberate with irony as the head does in effect “read a lecture in philosophy” (ii.26), albeit one that imparts a very different moral from what he or Bacon had expected. Rather than evoke awe at human ingenuity, the talking brazen head, like the pantomime of automated figures on the clocks at Norwich and Strasbourg, foregrounds human mortality and our limited capacity for self-direction. Friar Bacon appropriates this spectacle so that the brazen head acts, like the skull-shaped watches owned by Elizabeth, as a kind of talking memento mori, insisting that all human achievements are ultimately circumscribed by time.27 Greene drives this point home when Miles taunts it: “I thought, Goodman Head, I would call you out of your memento” (xi.48).28 Even in its stillness, or perhaps especially in its stillness, the temporarily animated automaton is an unsettling reminder of mortality. Recognizing an affinity between the brazen head and clockwork automata clarifies the head’s otherwise cryptic phrases: “Time is, Time was, Time is past.” Occurring at the climax of Greene’s comedy, the lines underscore the tremendous thematic significance of time in the play. Virtually every major character in Friar Bacon has to learn a lesson about the power of time to defer or curtail their desires. In the opening scene Edward advises Lacy “spare no time” (i.154) in courting Margaret. The strategy, however, apparently backfires as Margaret wards off her impatient suitor by remarking (with a deliberately archaic image): “Love ought to creep as doth the dial’s shade / For timely ripe is rotten too too soon” (vi.85–6). After winning Lacy, Margaret gushes that her love is not subject to “the uncertain balance of proud time” (viii.94). But she soon proves mistaken when the Earl decides to teach her about the brevity of human affections by hurling her own phrase back at her: “too timely loves have ever the shortest length” (x.126). Friar Bacon, meanwhile, in his first extended speech, praises his colleagues for   The clock performs an identical function in the final scene of Doctor Faustus. For a survey of Shakespeare’s use of horological metaphors to express constricted agency, see Adam M. Cohen, Shakespeare and Technology: Dramatizing Early Modern Technological Revolutions (New York: Palgrave, 2006) 127–149. 28   Barbara Traister makes a similar insight in Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama (Columbia: U Missouri P, 1984) 80. 27


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“spending your time in depth of learned skill” (ii.9). In terms of plot, this line is purely gratuitous; its significance rests in the way it foregrounds time as a concept that the play interrogates. Later when Bacon abjures his own occult studies, the first thing he regrets is the wasted “hours” (xiii.87). Perhaps the strongest testimony of the importance Greene assigns to time is that in the source the Friar devotes three weeks to the experiment, whereas the play protracts it to seven years. It is also worth noting that time, or rather the desire to overcome it, provides Bacon with his motivation for building the brazen head in the first place. Beyond defending his homeland with the wall of brass, he knows that if he succeeds in making his creation speak, Oxford shall in characters of brass And statues such as were built up in Rome Eternize Friar Bacon for his art. (ii.41–3)

Time in Greene possesses something like the conceptual charge of Fate in Greek Tragedy, a feature that Shakespeare must have realized when he brings it on stage as choric figure in his adaptation of Greene’s Pandosto, a work appropriately sub-titled The Triumph of Time. The prevalence of this theme in Greene’s writing has recently been construed by Robert Maslen as a response to the emergent Puritan work ethic, and its insistence that everyone is accountable for how they spend their time.29 Maslen’s theory gains plausibility in light of Greene’s upbringing in Norwich, “a hub of Puritan activity” in the Elizabethan era and, like the Protestant strongholds of Germany and Switzerland, a center of clock-manufacturing.30 But whereas Maslen sees Greene as rebuffing Puritan polemicists who denounced theatre as a frivolous pastime, I believe he aims to disarm them by appropriating their message. In two of Greene’s other dramatic works, A Looking Glass for London and England and Alphonsus of Aragon (in which another oracular brazen head chides the Turks for procrastinating), each reminder of time’s finitude entails an onus to spend it wisely and purposefully. The words uttered by Bacon’s head also articulate a Protestant conception of time’s preciousness, similar to the captions that flanked the clock in the south transept of Norwich cathedral. The first read: Nil boni hodie? [No good done today?] The second replied: Ah! Diem perdidi [Alas! The day is lost]. According to an account written in 1785, the words were inscribed in painted scrolls on 29   Robert W. Maslen, “Robert Greene and the Uses of Time,” Writing Robert Greene: Essays on England’s First Notorious Professional Writer, eds. Kirk Melnikoff and Edward Gieskes (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008) 157–188. 30   On the Puritan presence in Norwich, see Muriel McClendon, The Quiet Reformation: Magistrates and the Emergence of Protestantism in Tudor Norwich (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999). On the city’s importance as a center of clock-making in England, see Clifford Bird and Yvonne Bird, Norfolk and Norwich Clocks and Clockmakers (Chichester: Phillimore, 1996).

“More than Art”


either side of the clock, recalling the scrolls that radiate from mouth of the brazen head in the 1630 woodcut [see Figure 8.1].31 Greene and his contemporaries would have found a biblical precedent for the Protestant veneration of time in Ecclesiastes. A famed passage from the third chapter portrays human existence as beset by contingency, ceaselessly fluctuating between periods of success and hardship: “To every thing there is a season and a time … a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” (King James version). The speaker, supposedly King Solomon, declares there is “nothing new under the sun” and denies the concept of historical change in a phrase that recalls the brazen head’s pronouncements: “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” With its recurring mantra that the search for wisdom is merely “vanity and vexation of spirit,” Ecclesiastes would have held a special appeal for disaffected intellectuals like Greene and the other University Wits. This same scriptural text literally haunts his repentance tract Greene’s Vision, in which the author receives a deathbed visit from the spirit of Solomon himself who commands the debauched intellectual “to leaue the … aphorismes of philosophie,” precisely what the Friar hoped the brazen head would reveal, “and applye thy wits onely to diuinitie.”32 Although no critic has to my knowledge remarked on the fact, this same book of scripture also appears in Greene’s source: taking a cue from the head’s cryptic pronouncement, “Time is,” the clown Miles responds with a song that is an obvious burlesque of Chapter III of Ecclesiastes: Time is for some to plante, Time is for some to sowe, Time is for some to graft, The horne, as some doe know.33

Whatever prompted Greene to omit this song (if he did in fact omit it),34 Ecclesiastes’ vision of the contingency of earthly existence recognizes the need to

  Philip Browne, An Account of the Cathedral Church of Norwich (Norwich: Chase and Company, 1785) 12. This clock is believed to be Jacobean in origin, and may be been installed to replace the one designed by Stoke. 32   Robert Greene, Greene’s Vision (London, 1592) H4v. 33   Famous Historie C2v. 34   Did Greene, in one of his righteous fits, cut it because it verges on blasphemy? This section of the prose romance, specifying that the lyrics should be sung “to the tune of ‘Daintie come thou to me’” and featuring the stock cuckold joke, has a distinctly theatrical quality about it. Given that no edition of the Famous Historie exists prior to 1627, and is known to contain material unavailable until 1598, future editors of Greene’s comedy may want to consider the possibility that the prose romance preserves an alternative version of 31


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react to shifting circumstances. In other words, it acknowledges the necessity of responding in a way that automata cannot: by improvising. “Puppits that speak from our mouths”: Players as Automata It has been speculated that the popular comedian Dick Tarlton, who was renowned for his ability to improvise, played the part of Miles.35 Whether or not this is the case, the clown’s freedom to speak “extempore” (literally “of the time”) is, I believe, a vital concern of this scene in Greene’s play. In a study of improvisation on the Elizabethan stage David Mann notes: “often clowns played against their material, deliberately making it silly and, in occupying the space in front of the fiction, made fun of it.”36 Mann’s comment is a perfect description of Miles’ behavior as he scoffs at Bacon’s invention. By juxtaposing the automaton’s laconic utterances with Miles’ prolix soliloquies, the play implies that this verbal fluency, this ability to improvise, is what distinguishes humans from machines. Animate yet unable to reply to Miles’ taunts, the brazen head inverts Henri Bergson’s definition of comedy: instead of “the mechanical encrusted on the living” we see, thanks to Miles, the humor of the living encrusted on the mechanical.37 Consequently, the scene sabotages Dee’s program to utilize drama to showcase the marvels of mechanistic science. Despite the recurring homilies on time in Greene’s work, his self-excoriating penance tracts suggest he was constitutionally incapable of abiding by the values he endorsed in his fiction. The penance tracts may be no more than eleventh-hour attempts by Greene or his literary executors to salvage his reputation as a serious, moral writer. Nonetheless, they reveal a rebellious side to his character, one that would have resented the clock as an artificial imposition on the flux of experience. The eerie authority this inanimate object wields over animate human subjects may have led him to perceive the mechanical clock as exuding an occult aura reminiscent of Bacon’s brazen head. The clash between Greene’s Puritan obsession with the clock as a “memento” and his libertine tendencies helps account for why he was drawn to this narrative in which a clock-like automaton moralizes on the time, and is promptly destroyed. The endearing quality of Miles’ seemingly unscripted buffoonery—so that, as Empson noted, “we feel that Miles was right … in letting the head spoil”—may also reflect the fact that Greene himself was apparently a gifted

the play-script, or improvisations from an actual performance not recorded in the 1594 Quarto. 35   Richard Levin, “Tarlton in the Famous History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 12 (1999): 84–98. 36   David Mann, The Elizabethan Player: Contemporary Stage Representation (London: Routledge, 1991) 57. 37   Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans. Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell (New York: Macmillan, 1911) 37.

“More than Art”


improviser.38 In a letter written shortly after his death, his nemesis, Gabriel Harvey, wags a finger at his “piperly Extemporizing and Tarletonizing” among his tavern companions.39 As a playwright, however, Greene would likely have shared Hamlet’s irritation with clowns (III.ii.41) who speak “more than is set down for them.”40 In the penance tracts Greene disparages the players, and regrets the time he wasted prostituting his literary talents to the commercial stage. In The Groats-Worth of Wit, he entreats his fellow scholars-turned-playwrights that “your rare wits to be imployed in more profitable courses.”41 Just before his famous jab at the “upstart crow,” Greene insults the players by dubbing them “puppits that speake from our mouths.” Since the word puppet can refer to mechanical figurines like jack-o-the-clocks, the phrase insinuates that the player is a kind of automaton, artificially animated by the playwright’s text.42 If this suspicion is correct, it implies a strange analogy: the Admiral’s Men are to Greene as the brazen head is to Friar Bacon. Unlike Shakespeare writing Prospero’s valediction to his art in The Tempest, Greene was not reflecting back on a successful career in the theater when he penned Bacon’s farewell to magic. After Alphonsus flopped, he placed the blame not on his derivative blank verse, but on the players. The collapse of Bacon’s scheme due to the failure of his incompetent, buffoonish servant Miles to carry out his task reflects Greene’s own grievances as a playwright about his lack of artistic control over the productions. Read as a meta-theatrical commentary, Friar Bacon redeploys the difference between human and automaton, between the speculative philosopher and menial artisan—glimpsed earlier in the distinction between the Friar who “contrives” and the demon who   William Empson, Some Versions of the Pastoral (New York: New Directions, 1974) 34. 39   Gabriel Harvey, Foure Letters and Certaine Sonnets (London, 1592) 9. 40   Shakespeare, William, “Hamlet” The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008). 41   Robert Greene, Groats-Worth of Witte, bought with a million of repentance; The Repentance of Robert Greene, ed. G. B. Harrison (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1966) 46. 42   This precise analogy appears in John Donne’s Satire 2—see The Satires, Epigrams, and Verse Letters, ed. W. Milgate (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967) 7—wherein the poet uses automata as a conceit to lampoon a hack-playwright who: 38

gives ideot actors meanes (Starving himself) to live by his labor’d sceanes: As in some organ puppits dance above And bellows pant below which them do move. The butt of Donne’s jest has never been identified, but given Greene’s notorious poverty, his open resentment of the players, and the spectacular automaton in his most famous play, the passage seems a fitting commentary on his inglorious career. Joseph Roach examines the use of toy-automata as a metaphor for theatrical illusion in the eighteenth century in The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 1993) 58–92.


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“hammers out the stuff”—to analogize the relationship between playwright and actor. Through scripting Miles’ slapstick and rambling monologues, Greene is seeking to harness and contain the improvisatory powers of the clown. In this self-reflexive and somewhat ambivalent gesture, Greene’s play bears an uncanny resemblance to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Artist of the Beautiful,” in which an apprentice watchmaker embarks on an ambitious quest to “spiritualize machinery,” seeking inspiration in medieval legends such as “the Man of Brass, constructed by Albertus Magnus, and the Brazen Head of Friar Bacon.”43 After years of painstaking toil, he forges a mechanical butterfly so exquisite that it seems to surpass the creations of nature. But his life’s work, after only a few delicate flutters, is crushed by a child into a thousand glittering shards. The tale has been read as a cri de coeur venting Hawthorne’s frustrations with the short story form. Similarly, Friar Bacon gives voice to Greene’s frustrations with the theater. For like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Nathaniel West touching up scripts for Hollywood studios, Greene has genuine grievances with the medium in which he works. This is not to say that Friar Bacon belongs alongside the anti-theatrical polemics of Stubbs and Gosson. Ultimately, Greene’s comedy cannot be reduced to the dour, shopworn adage, Tempus Fugit, which he later preaches in the penance tracts. If the play mocks Miles for his impulsive clowning, it also hails spontaneity, the power to reconsider our decisions, and a capacity for redemptive change (in contrast to the Calvinist despair that overwhelms Faustus) as particularly human characteristics. As in the seemingly unscripted monologues of Summer’s Last Will and Testament by Greene’s friend Thomas Nashe, the clowning scenes in Friar Bacon aim for a kind of comedic sprezzatura—theater that conceals its crafted, rehearsed quality. The standard image of Greene as a hack churning out potboilers to keep pickled herring and Rhenish wine on his table has obscured his ambition to be taken seriously as a literary dramatist. Such an ambition, however, may account for Greene’s mixed feelings towards improvising clowns. From the playwright’s point of view, the problem with improvisation is that it renders drama into something ephemeral. By writing out these comic cadenzas Greene seeks to preserve the explosive vitality of improvisation in print. Thus the main function the Brazen Head serves may be to make the scripted buffoonery feel extempore, and, therefore, more keenly human.

43   Nathaniel Hawthorne, Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Doubleday, 1959) 421–437, 431.

Chapter 9

“Mathematical experiments of long silver pipes”: The Early Modern Figure of the Mechanical Bird Wendy Beth Hyman Could I th’harmonious sorrowes parallel Of the incested mournfull Philomel: Or could I imitate that fatall note, Which is effused from the silver throte Of that faire Bird …1

Faced with the unutterable, the melancholic poet records a dislike of having sung. How, George Wither’s speaker asks, can he “elect a style” that is—to voice Milton’s similar concern—“answerable”? The question is prompted by a ubiquitous refrain of lyric: if only. Of course, longing for greater eloquence is hardly unique to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poetry. We nonetheless misread these lines if we assume, as is all too easy within a post-Romantic paradigm, that the longing to “imitate that fatall note” necessarily expresses a desire to sing as naturally as the bird. I want to suggest that this reading is based on two anachronistic assumptions: first, that the early modern poet aspires to authentic self-expression; and second, that the bird the poet would imitate is an organic one. Instead, it is more often the case that when an early modern poet longs to sing eloquently, what he longs for is not nature, but artifice: in this case, a very specific kind of artifice. For implicit in Wither’s longing for a “silver throat” may be the desire to be—quite literally, I will argue—an engineered or metallic being.2 1   Special thanks go to Liza Blake for pointing me to the Agostino Ramelli image cited in this chapter, and to Adam Max Cohen for seeing that it was a chapter. I am also grateful to audiences at the Colloquium on Early Literature and Culture in English at NYU, the Renaissance Society of America, and the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, at which I presented portions of my research on mechanical birds. Thanks too go to the staff of the Cornell University Kroch Rare Book Room, and of the Folger Shakespeare Library, for their great generosity. George Wither, “Proem,” The Great Assises Holden in Parnassus by Apollo and His Assessovrs (1645). 2   Not only mechanical birds, but a variety of automata have long been associated with precious metals through their frequent role of defending places such as the fabled “great cities beneath the earth in which were magnificent palaces filled with gold and precious


The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

Startling as such an assertion seems, it is familiar at least to readers of Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium,” in which the poet vows that, “Once out of nature I shall never take / My bodily form from any natural thing / But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enameling.”3 This yearning is not the product solely of an old man’s malaise or a modernist’s ennui, however; instead, Renaissance poets likewise draw upon the figure of the mechanical bird to represent the complex ambiguities of poetic creation and even of subjectivity. From the obviously metallic to the only implicitly inorganic (no living birds could sing the four-part harmonies of Marlovian “madrigals”; the “Robin Redbreast” of Herrick’s imagination possesses skills beyond that of any living bird),4 avian automata are no rarity—and they wing their way into Renaissance plays and poems with important work to do. What is that work? As evidenced throughout this volume, the figure of the literary automaton, birdlike or otherwise, is rarely a mere trope. Instead, as the oscillating dictionary definitions of “automaton” suggest (see the Introduction), the ontologically confusing animated object invites philosophical speculation about the nature of being and about the nature of making. This is surely as true for actual automata—those mechanisms produced by Hero of Alexandria and the MIT laboratories alike—as it is for merely fictional automata, poetic representations of those same paradoxical beings. And yet, poems attract automata like magnets metal filings, raising still other questions: for here we have representations of representations, mimeses of mimeses of life. The goal of this chapter is to plumb a little deeper into this relationship between lyrical expression and animated objects, beginning with this essential contention: that in the early modern imagination, poetry occupies some of the same vexed ontological and epistemological territory as the automaton does. For poems, like the mechanical creatures they sometimes feature, hover strangely in medias.5 Are they things? Or do they, in some way, live? On the one hand, a vast tradition identifies poetic art with a form of techne, the making and shaping of inert objects.6 In this stones, and guarded by daemons … or … automata.” M. B. Ogle, “The Perilous Bridge and Human Automata,” Modern Language Notes 35.3 (March 1920): 129–36, 130. Greek stories featuring Vulcan also associate metallurgy with animation from the earliest date (cf. the animated tripods with wheels of gold in Book XVIII of the Iliad). 3   William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium,” The Poems, ed. and intro. Daniel Albright (London: Everyman, 1990). 4   My thanks to Sarah Wall-Randell for making this excellent observation about fourpart harmony vis. Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” and to Nick Jones for our further conversations on madrigals. Heather Dubrow recalled to me, also in personal conversation, Herrick’s fascinating “Robin Redbreast” poem. 5   See Daniel Tiffany’s ambitious and deeply suggestive study: Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric (Berkeley: U of California P, 2000). 6   For a thorough discussion and treatment of sources, see Rayna Kalas, Frame, Glass, Verse: The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007).

“Mathematical experiments of long silver pipes”


line of thinking, imagination is (quoting Shakespeare’s Richard II), “hammered” out; eloquence, according to John Bodenham’s Politeuphuia, “made by ayre; beaten and framed with articulate and distinct sound.”7 But for all the muscularity of descriptions like these, poetry has since Plato contrarily and often simultaneously been associated with the vatic, the oracular, and the inspired. “The lunatic, the lover and the poet,” according to Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Duke Theseus, “Are of imagination all compact” (V.i.7–8). The suspicion was conventional, as a centurieslong association between melancholy or madness and poetry attests. On the one hand, then, poetry was all about the shaping of inert matter; the work of poiétés. But on the other, to continue with Sidney’s distinction, poetry was the living child of inspired vision, produced by the seer or vates. With these generative tensions in mind, specifically literary automata raise several questions: to what extent are these creatures metapoetic—self-conscious emblems, that is, for the ontologically inscrutable poet or poem? When, on the other hand, do they emblematize a critique of the wrong kind of making? How is speculation on the nature of being, so inspired by the automaton, involved with the nature of storytelling, of poetic representation itself? And what kind of a thing, what kind of maker or singer, does the poet wish himself to be? If one singular figure provides answers to these questions, it is the one that is as self-conscious a choice for a poet as any: the bobbing, chirping, and heretofore-unobserved mechanical bird. This essay will trace her to her hiding places, looking first at the history of mechanical birds as such, and then considering where and how images of such mechanisms appear in early modern literature. Mathematical Magic As a literal object, the animated bird had appeared in the west as early as the wooden Dove of Archytas (428–327BC), and it became well-known through Hero of Alexandria’s engineering treatise, Pneumatica, written in the first century A.D. In the Pneumatica, illustrated descriptions demonstrated how one could mechanize both voice and movement through the forced release of steam, via a series of delicate pipes, cantilevers, and pulleys. The objects actually made from Hero’s diagrams thereby became “the earliest machines to reproduce the sounds of living things.”8 During the early modern period these illustrations were readily   William Shakespeare, Richard II (V.v.5); all quotes from Shakespeare plays are taken from The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd edition (W. W. Norton, 2008). Politeuphuia: Wits common-wealth (London, 1598) sig. H2 v, quoted in Sean Keilan, Vulgar Eloquence: On the Renaissance Invention of English Literature (New Haven: Yale UP, 2006) 27. See also Keilan’s (27) discussion of William Webbe’s A Discourse of Englishe Poesie (London 1586), where Webbe defines “poetry,” via the Greek poiein and the Latin facere, as “the arte of making” (sig. Bii r). 8   Silvio A. Bedini, “The Role of Automata in the History of Technology,” Technology and Culture 5.1 (Winter 1964): 24–42, 35. 7


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available, as Hero’s texts and those of his imitators appeared in several vernacular languages.9 Avian automata were consequently a regular feature of the medieval and Renaissance garden. For example, the renowned park at Hesdin in Artois, France (which flourished from the end of the thirteenth century through the middle of the sixteenth) employed several automata, including caged mechanical birds that hissed and spit at passerby. Montaigne’s 1581 Journal de Voyage includes the report of a visit to the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, where he observed several mechanical birds and owls (not to mention moving statues and other automata).10 And although even the most rudimentary of automata produced wonder and delight, in the Renaissance a mechanical development produced increasingly lifelike song: namely, the use of miniature flutes variously called “wind organs” or “bird organs.”11 At the same time as the mechanical voice was perfected, the rudimentary cords and levels that had been used to physically animate these figures in the Middle Ages were replaced by sophisticated clockworks (Bedini 29), so that both song and movement appeared increasingly lifelike to observers. As is so often the case, innovative technology improved the simulation of organic function. Clearly, flying and/or singing birds were a specialized, and popular, form of early modern automaton. Wilkins devotes an entire section of his book on Mathematical Magic to the “Volant, or flying Automata.” These, he reports, are: Such Mechanical Contrivances as have a self-motion, whereby they are carried aloft in the open Air like the flight of Birds. Such was that Wooden Dove made by Archytas, a Citizen of Tarentum, and one Plato’s Acquaintances. And that wooden Eagle framed by Regiomontus at Noremburg, which by way of triumph, did fly out to meet Charles the Fifth. The latter Author is also reported to have

9   For example, plates VI and VII of Isaac de Caus’ New and rare Inventions of WaterWorks, trans. John Leak (London: Joseph Moxon, 1659) [Wing C1527] are dedicated to revealing how “To counterfeit the Voice of small Birds by means of Water and Air” and how “To add a Swan or other figure to the singing of the Birds spoken of before, which shall Drink or sip up as much water as you shall Present to her Beack.” 10   Michel de Montaigne, Travel Journal, trans. Donald M. Frame (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983): “In another place you hear the song of birds, which are little bronze flutes that you see at regals; they give a sound like those little earthenware pots full of water that little children blow into by the spout, this by an artifice like that of the organ; and then by other springs they set in motion an owl, which, appearing at the top of the rock, makes this harmony cease instantly, for the birds are frightened by his presence; and then he leaves the place to them again. This goes on alternately as long as you want” (99). 11   The revolving pinned cylinder, such as we find in music boxes today, was a somewhat later development. See Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata: A Historical and Technological Study, trans. Alec Reid (New York: Central Book Company, 1958). Chapuis and Droz’s fifth chapter is devoted to “Singing Birds,” but the focus of its attention is eighteenth- and nineteenth-century objects.

“Mathematical experiments of long silver pipes”


made an Iron Fly, which, when he invited any of his friends, would fly to teach of them round the Table, and at length (as being weary) returned unto its Master.12

As one might well expect, avian automata frequently made their way from gardens and curiosity cabinets into works of representational literature—romance and lyric in particular, but by no means exclusively.13 Indeed, whatever the genre (lyric, epic, romance, drama), when little automated birds appear, they do so with this curiously combined sense of something that straddles technology and divinity, mathematics and magic, categories that “continued to be blurred throughout the Early Modern period.”14 One perhaps trivial example of blurring can be found in a short poem called “Magicke” in Robert Allot’s England’s Parnassus, which mentions several automata in its threefold description: Three kindes [of magic] there are for natures skill: The first they naturall do name, In which by hearbes and stones they will Worke wondrous things, and worthy fame. The next is mathematicall, Where Magicke workes by nature so, That brazen heads make speake it shall, Of woods, birds, bodies, flie and go, The third Veneficall, by right Is named, for by it they make The shape of bodies chang’d in flight And their formes on them to take.15

As the author of this poem (one “M. of M.”) explains, there are three kinds of magic: the natural, mathematical, and veneficial (black magic or sorcery). Each   John Wilkins, Mathematical Magic, Or, the Wonders that May Be Performed by Mechanical Geometry (Kessinger, 2003). 13   These birds had found their way into literary romance since the middle ages, as Mary Flowers Braswell notes. “The Magic of Machinery: A Context for Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale,” Mosaic: A Journal for the Comparative Study of Literature 18.2 (1985): 101–110. See also Merriam Sherwood, “Magic and Mechanics in Medieval Fiction,” Studies in Philology 44 (1947): 567–92. 14   Alexander Marr, “Understanding Automata in the Late Renaissance,” Journal de La Renaissance 2 (2004): 205–222, 206. See also William Eamon, “Technology as Magic in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance,” Janus 70 (1983): 171–212, who argues that the technologies of automata tended to be viewed as the product of “magic” even when their mechanisms were fully understood. This is certainly borne out by the literature considered in the present chapter. 15   M. of M., “Magicke,” England’s Parnassus, ed. Allot, Robert (London, 1600) 178. [STC 378, N8 v]. 12


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has its own domain, although the mathematical “works by nature” rather than—as with veneficial magic—against it. Its particular utility is clear: making brazen heads speak, and animating forests, mechanical birds, and other inanimate “bodies.” As is so often apparent in the period, mathematics and magic become curiously combined, even equated. In particular, automata such as the “brazen heads” read to early moderns as both wonder-inducing and mathematics-derived: the product at once of technology and spirit. The Jacobean tragedy The Bloody Brother, for example, catalogues mechanical birds among similar mathematical marvels: What doe we read there, of Hiarbaes banquet The great Gymnosophist that had his Butlers And Carvers of pure gold wait at the table: The images of Mercury, too, that spoke, The wooden Dove that flew, a Snake of Brasse That hist: and Birds of silver that did sing. All these were done Sir by the Mathematiques: Without which there’s no science, nor no truth. (IV.i.218–225)16

The list was conventional. John Dee, in his “Mathematicall Praeface” to The Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara, waxes enthusiastic about: that Art Mathematicall, which giveth certaine order to make straunge workes, of the sense to be perceived, and of men greatly to be wondred at. By sundry means, this wonderworke is wrought. Some, by Pneumatithmie. As the workes of Ctesibius and Hero. Some by waight, whereof Timaus speaketh. Some, by Stringes strayned, or Springs, therwith Imitating lively Motions. Some, by other meanes, as the Images of Mercurie: and the brazen hed, made by Albertus Magnus, which dyd seme to speake.17

What Dee found worthy “greatly to be wondred at” inspired his own experiments with automata as well; in making a flying mechanical scarab for a performance of Aristophanes’ Pax, he became the first person to introduce an automaton to the English stage (see Todd Borlik’s essay in this collection for more on this performance), an event which elicited a combination of wonder and suspicion in spectators. Indeed, as a result of this event Dee was branded as a conjurer and black magician, charges he never overcame despite the fact that his “magic” derived from Vitruvian mechanics and Euclidian geometry. Although he showed drawings of this same beetle to an appreciative audience in Paris three years later, it is not anachronistic that the British audience saw witchcraft—and perhaps popery—in 16   Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Bloody Brother or, Rollo. A Tragedy (London: J. T., 1718) 51–2. 17   John Dee, “The Mathematicall Praeface,” The Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara 1570 (New York: Science History Publications, 1975).

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the spectacle.18 For the mechanical bird appears regularly in literary sites of figural deception as “living” examples of manipulation and transgression. Those sites, in which a bird is overheard singing, are almost always marked by a kind of cognitive collapse between mathematics and magic. Meta-literary attention to the techne of language is not unfamiliar to scholars of Renaissance poetry. But the trope takes on more poignant meaning when poetic inspiration—from the Latin inspirare, “to breathe”—is mediated not through a muse, but through a soldered brass pipe. Early modern engravings and drawings corroborate that when little automated birds appear, they tend to do so in locations of liminality, bewitchment, implicit trickery, and ontological confusion. Perhaps the most fascinating examples of this can be found in Agostino Ramelli’s Le Diverse et Artificiose Machine (1588), a rangy engineering treatise that includes several plates devoted to artificial birds, and technical descriptions for the reader who would like to contrive similar objects.19 Focused primarily on engineering techniques, at moments the sober epistemology of soldering wires gives way to strange effusions over mechanical birds in scenes of subterfuge and deceptive artifice. Plate 187 in the original text (see the front cover of this volume of essays), presents a mechanical bird fountain in a scene of phenomenal deception. A fountain sits on a massive carved table in an opulent room with several figures: a woman with her back to the viewer, a male courtier, and a young page. A framed portrait of a nobleman peers out over the scene. Behind the wall is a hidden figure that animates the baroque bird fountain. What is so notable about this engraving is this emphasis on the deception implicit in the animation of the machine, underscored by the engraver’s decision to present both the fountain and its animator via cross-section, as if the engraving has performed an anatomy on an automaton. At the same time, although Ramelli tells us that either man or bellows can perform the necessary pneumatic function, the image shows the job being performed by man—who, insofar as his sole purpose is breathing into the machine, thereby becomes something of an automaton himself. Likewise, the painting of Neptune is a subtle visual pun for the omnipresence of hydraulic power. A last visual pun occurs in the play between the metallic birds, the table legs carved in the shape of animals’ feet, and the apparently organic (but somewhat impossibly hybridized—is that supposed to be a dog?) animal in the foreground. Even in the absence of mechanistic philosophy or the theory of a “clockwork universe,” engineered insides, not least those operated by denaturalized persons, served as a powerful and unsettling visual metaphor. 18   Kara Reilly, “Between Iconoclasm and Humanism: Moving Statues in Ben Jonson’s Sejanus, His Fall” (unpublished essay). I am grateful to Professor Reilly for sharing her work in progress with me. 19   Le Diverse et Artificiose Machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli (Parigi, 1588), in Italian and French. English translations come from The Various and Ingenious Machines of Agostino Ramelli, trans. Martha Teach Gnudi, with technical annotations and a pictorial glossary by Eugene S. Ferguson (Johns Hopkins UP, Scolar Press, 1976).


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It is no wonder, then, that avian automata are not infrequent denizens of Renaissance poetry, which likewise flutters between ontological and epistemological extremes, or at least between poiétés and vates. Mechanical birds become literalized emblems of this nexus between that form of expression at once the most authentic and personal (given the common association between lyric and authentic, first-person utterance) and at the same time the most carefully crafted and ingeniously artificed; the most magical, and yet the most engineered. Overcome of Thing One important example of the mechanical bird appears in the sole lyrical interlude of Thomas Nashe’s Unfortunate Traveller. Here, the book’s peripatetic narrator and professional con man, Jack Wilton, finds himself visiting an exotic Italian estate. The showpiece of this estate is its elaborately constructed garden, in which everything—from the “beautifullest flowers that ever man’s eye admired” to the “clear overhanging vault of crystal”—is a mechanical simulacrum.20 Yet far from critique the artifice, Wilton renders his description in the superlative mode, with metaphorical tenors chosen from the paradisiacal and divine realms. He observes that the banqueting house was “the marvel of the world,” and “could not be matched except God should make another paradise.” Describing the “clear overhanging vault of crystal” that simulated the sky, he observes not only a replicated cosmos (“wherein the sun and moon and each visible star had his true similitude, shine, situation, and motion”) but also hears, “by what enwrapped art I cannot conceive,” the music of the spheres (206–7). The banqueting house, it seems, is nothing short of “another heaven,” or, at least, “such a golden age, such a good age” as had not been seen since the fall (285). But the narrator does not allow the reader to linger long in abstract, mystical reveries. For when his description of the Italian banqueting house turns from its mechanical cosmography to its chirping filigreed denizens, the description takes a curious turn. Presenting us of hundreds of tiny singing automata, Nashe treats us to an extensive rendition of the birds’ pneumatic construction: On the well-clothed boughs of this conspiracy of pine trees, against the resembled sunbeams, were perched as many sort of shrill-breasted birds as summer hath allowed for singing men in her silvan chapels. Who though [they] were bodies without souls, and sweet resembled substances without sense, yet by mathematical experiments of long silver pipes secretly enrinded in the entrails of the boughs whereon they sat, and undiscernible conveyed under their bellies into their small throats sloping, they whistled and freely carolled their natural field note. Neither went those silver pipes straight, but by many-edged

20   All references to The Unfortunate Traveller are from The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958) 2:201–328, 282–3.

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unsundered writhings, and crankled wanderings aside strayed from bough to bough into a hundred throats. (283)

Soon, bizarrely, Nashe’s evocation of this Italian “paradise” begins to read, even more, like a technical manual: But into this silver pipe so writhed and wandering aside, if any demand how the wind was breathed, forsoth, the tail of the silver pipe stretched itself into the mouth of a great pair of bellows where it was close soldered and baled about with iron: it could not stir or have any vent betwixt. Those bellows, with the rising and falling of leaden plummets wound up on a wheel, did beat up and down uncessantly, and so gathered in wind, serving with one blast all the snarled pipes to and fro of one tree at once. But so closely were all those organizing implements obscured in the corpulent trunks of the trees, that every man there present renounced conjectures of art, and said it was done by enchantment. (284)

Amazingly, this peroration does not end the technical description, the rest of which we can, for the purposes of the current discussion, pass over. It is already clear that what has occurred for the narrator is a kind of enchantment not by spirit, but by techne. The vision of hundreds of automata, chirping in unison, is a rhetorical showpiece that demands attention to its literary pyrotechnics; that exists, apparently, merely to render the technical description itself. Nashe is enchanted not by magical music, that is, but by engineering. The “obscured organizing implements” of the ornithological menagerie thereby become a map for language’s gorgeously deceptive potentialities; the intricacy of engineering a figure for the author’s own prowess. But unlike the “conspiracy of pine trees” on which birds perch, there is a narratological compulsion to turn the garment inside out, to show us its solderings and seams. This enchantment via techne is in no way unique to Nashe, however much he might have special interest in its implications for narrative itself. Throughout the early modern period, men “renounced conjectures of art, and said it was done by enchantment.” Cassiodorus set a precedent when he rhapsodized about “the glorious art of engineering” and its “altering the course of nature in a wonderful way [such that it] takes away belief in the facts, despite displaying images to the eyes.” Precise knowledge of the mechanics of construction may do more to particularize than denature the enchantment.21 To modern readers, staring at intricately interwoven pipes produces anything but a sense of wonder or a belief in magic. Technical prowess might, we grant, turn 21   Cassiodorus, Variae, trans. S. J. B. Banish (Liverpool, 1992) 20–23. Quoted in Minsoo Kang, “Wonders of Mathematical Magic: Lists of Automata in the Transition from Magic to Science, 1533–1662,” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 33 (2002): 113–39, 123; Eamon (176) also notes several examples in which “even though the mechanisms are mentioned and sometimes illustrated, the automata are nevertheless treated as magical devices.”

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mediocre verse into competent poetry—but it is hardly the same thing as poetry itself. Nashe’s description of the beautiful music produced by the “unsundered writhings, and crankled wanderings” of those silver pipes suggests that engineered artifice is lyric. By culling from the vocabulary of the Song of Solomon (not to mention the Ovidian Golden Age, the ethereal music of the spheres, and the prelapsarian garden), Nashe’s “Italian banqueting house” towers over the middle of the text as a kind of overwhelming question. What is the greater perversion: the human contrivance of paradise, or the surrounding world of plague and bloodshed which Jack enters the minute he leaves the banqueting house? What is Nashe pointing to when both, in effect, are creations of his pen? Why would an author whose style depends so much on a polyglot, poly-generic dissonance write an encomium for a pre-Babel age?22 Is the poet the mechanical bird, or is he the triumphant engineer? Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, an erotic mock mini-epic likely written in the late 1580s or early 1590s, features a singular mechanical bird rather than a dense forest of simulacra, but this one peculiar automaton carries many times its weight in the poem. Worn on a pair of impossibly-constructed hydraulic boots, by an impossibly artificial Petrarchan construct of a girl, the bird becomes a figure for enchanting deception in poetry and in passion. The poem tells the classical story, adopted from both Musaeus and Ovid’s Heroides, of the doomed lovers.23 The two are initially presented in a pair of competing blasons. The discrepancy in these descriptions—Hero’s, which emphasizes her elaborate garments and her rather ambiguous relationship to Venus and Cupid; and Leander’s, which emphasizes his naked beauty—has been observed by any number of critics. Leander, we learn, has an earthy, animal appeal, one eliciting sensory descriptions involving touch and taste as well as sight: Even as delicious meat is to the tast, So was his necke in touching, and surpast The white of Pelops shoulder, I could tell ye, How smooth his brest was, & how white his bellie, And whose immortall fingars did imprint, That heavenly path, with many a curious dint, That runs along his backe … 24 22

  For further treatment of Nashe as an anarchic experimenter with early modern prose, whose dissonant style stages a claim for himself as a new kind of author, see Wendy Hyman, “The Unfortunate Traveller and Authorial Self-Consciousness,” Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 45.1 (Winter 2005): 23–41. 23   The most thorough comparison of Marlowe’s epyllion to his source material can be found in Gordon Braden, The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry: Three Case Studies (New Haven: Yale UP, 1978). 24   Hero and Leander, ed. Roma Gill, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) 63–9. All quotes correspond to this edition except where otherwise noted. Gill’s edition has the virtue of being based on STC #17413, which, printed in 1598, is the first known edition (although

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Compared to Leander’s warm presence (our ribald narrator directs the gaze surely downward, from neck and shoulder to breast, belly, and “dinted” back), Hero seems frigid, almost disembodied. We have come to expect the generic blaison of the remote Petrarchan lady; Marlowe torques those expectations to particularly emphasize her deceptive surface and apparent lack of interiority.25 Comparatively speaking, Musaeus’ and Ovid’s heroines were both living girls, but Marlowe’s Hero is so remote she hardly exists at all: rather, she is portrayed as a cacophony of baroque ornaments, gestures, and elaborate garments: Her vaile was artificiall flowers and leaves, Whose workmanship both man and beast deceives … .................................... Buskins of shels all silvered, used she, And brancht with blushing corall to the knee; Where sparrowes pearcht, of hollow pearle and gold, Such as the world would woonder to behold; Those with sweet water oft her handmaid fils, Which as shee went would cherupe through the bils. (19–20; 31–36)

Beyond presenting a ludicrous image—the world would indeed wonder to behold this sight—the narrator suggests that Hero is a composite of at least two types of intentionally deceptive technologies. The flowers are “artificial,” the workmanship “deceives,” and what of those boots? Hero’s hydraulic, chirping footwear include automata surprisingly reminiscent of those the mechanical birds inside The Unfortunate Traveller’s Italian banqueting house.26 Moreover, her veil of flowers and leaves is a trompe l’oeil, that painterly technique whereby cunning representations appear indistinguishable from the real (Marlowe would have Hero and Leander was first entered in the Stationer’s Register five years earlier, in 1593). The sole copy is in the Folger Shakespeare Library, and appears as a poem of 818 lines, that is: without erroneous sestiads. 25   Georgia E. Brown, “Breaking the Canon: Marlowe’s Challenge to the Literary Status Quo in Hero and Leander,” Marlowe, History, and Sexuality, ed. Paul Whitfield White (New York: AMS, 1988), argues that Marlowe’s choice of the erotic epyllion itself signaled his self-identification as a member of the literary avant-garde contra the mainstream verse culture, which was still imbued with Petrarchism (61, passim). Heather Dubrow’s Echoes of Desire: English Petrarchism and its Counterdiscourses (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995) much expands upon the idea that “in the 1590’s … the decision to write an epyllion is in important ways a decision not to write a Petrarchan love poem” (7). 26   An extensive treatment of the trompe l’oiel and automaton imagery of Marlowe’s phenomenal poem can be found in a recent article by Bruce Boehrer and Trish Thomas Henley, “Automated Marlowe: Hero and Leander 31–36,” Exemplaria 20.1 (2008): 98– 119, as well as my own dissertation’s chapter on this poem (Wendy Hyman, “Skeptical Seductions: Carpe Diem, Materialism, and Doubt in English Renaissance Literature,” Diss. Harvard U., 2005).

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almost certainly known the ancient story of Zeuxis’ astonishingly lifelike painted grapes, which were reputed to have been picked at by actual birds).27 The draped pearls and jewels she wears associate her with both Pygmalion’s Galatea or, for a Protestant audience, decked idols: “But far above the loveliest, Hero shin’d / And stole away th’inchaunted gazers mind” (103–4). There is even a suggestive homonym contained in her role as nun—which is to say “none”—of Venus. And certainly not least of these associations is Hero’s name itself, which recalls that great pneumatic engineer of old, Hero of Alexandria. The result of all these associations is that Hero seems to be a marvel of engineering, not of human presence, with a deeper suggestion that she herself is some kind of automaton or living doll, void of interiority—“nothing.”28 It is Leander, conversely, who really lives, and who alone can therefore die at the end of Marlowe’s poem. These associations would not have been lost on Renaissance readers, at least not on Ben Jonson, whose appreciation for the mechanical simulacrum in Marlowe’s epyllion had him use Hero and Leander’s story for the absurd “puppet show” of Bartholmew Fayre. Marlowe’s descriptive hydrotechnics are not clearly indulged in for their own sake, but to reinforce one of the narrative’s larger themes: that Hero does not have a subjectivity or a virginity worth defending. “Will in us is overruled by fate,” Marlowe’s narrator intones. The word “will” barely applies to a thing so bric-a-brac as Hero, but overruled she most certainly is. Later in the poem, Leander’s seduction of Hero develops the idea of the empty construct, painting her cherished virginity as just one more tissue of deception, one more “artificiall vaile.”29 Indeed, with no indication of Hero’s interiority made at any point in the poem, the automaton that perches on Hero’s boot—like the trompe l’oeil that covers her face—becomes a visual emblem of her triviality, her hollowness, even her “nothingness.” Leander’s conquest of Hero is thereby both a triumph over and an erotic embrace of the deceptive simulacrum, the gorgeously artificial thing— which is at once both Hero and poetic language itself.30   A second trompe l’oeil, later in the poem, presents Hero as if she were part of a painted tableau in the Temple of Venus (143–158). 28   She is, in this and other senses, also associated with those automatic characteristics of childhood documented so well by Michael Witmore’s Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP 2007). A tertiary connection to singing birds is also suggested during Witmore’s discussion of Elizabeth’s Coronation Pageant: “The children who began singing as soon as the monarch approached may have evoked memories of some of the more ingenious creations in the Heronic tradition—for example, the steam-powered birds that ‘spontaneously’ emitted a whistle or call” (72–3). 29   “This idoll which you terme Virginitie, / Is neither essence subject to the eie, / No, nor to any one exterior sence, / Nor hath it any place of residence, / Nor is’t of earth or mold celestiall, / Or capable of any forme at all. / Of that which hath no being, doe not boast, / Things that are not at all, are never lost” (XI.269–76). 30   To push the argument even further, one might argue that simile itself is a kind of deceptive simulacrum—and Hero is nothing if not a walking “figure.” I am grateful to Heather Dubrow for her insight here. 27

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Spenser’s Faerie Queene, as Nick Davis and Lynsey McCulloch argue elsewhere in this volume, is a text replete with several different kinds of selfmoving figures (see Davis’ fn. 22 for a summary of scholars who have noted the mechanical contrivances of the Bower in particular). To my reading, the deceptive machines are ubiquitous, from the hydraulically bobbing maidens in the fountain to the uncanny Acrasia herself. But I want to focus in particular on Spenser’s avian automata, which proliferate throughout Book II of the epic. In this book, the questing Knight of Temperance, Guyon, is en route to the notorious Bower of Bliss, where he is determined to conquer the enchantress Acrasia. Before he gets there, he has several challenges to overcome, including “tempering” his response to a number of deceptively seductive songs: e.g. the “false melodies” of the mermaids, luring him towards “a perlous passage” (II.xii.17); the “wonted melody” of the Sirens, “devised t’allure weake traveillers, whom gotton they did kill” (II.xii.31); and the carpe diem lyric overheard in the Bower itself (II.xii.70–1).31 But for the most part, these are no ordinary songs that Guyon must resist. Rather, they are the engineered tunes of apparently engineered beings—of which Guyon encounters several during his journey. Halfway through Book II, for example, Guyon passes through the odd biosphere of Phaedria. Among its notable features is its uncanny, eternal, apparently orchestrated spring.32 Spenser is careful to articulate that this is an artificial rather than a natural environment, one with an impossible degree of uniformity and eerie perfection: No tree, whose braunches did not bravely spring; No braunch, whereon a fine bird did not sit: No bird, but did her shrill notes sweetly sing; No song but did containe a lovely dit: Trees, braunches, birds, and songs were framed fit For to allure fraile mind to carelesse ease. Carelesse the man soon woxe, and his weake witt Was overcome of thing, that did him please; So pleased, did his wrathfull purpose faire appease. (

As I have written elsewhere, several elements suggest that what we are witnessing here is not a natural paradise, but instead a constructed mechanical display.33 It is a place that is “framed fit” to enchant the observer; in particular, since there are no trees without branches, no branches without birds, no birds without songs, and   Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, 2nd ed., Ed. A. C. Hamilton et al. (Harlow, Eng.: Longman, 2001) 714. All quotes from The Faerie Queene are from this edition. 32   In my discussion of garden automata, I am deeply indebted to Michael Leslie’s seminal article on artifice in Renaissance gardens: “Spenser, Sidney, and the Renaissance Garden,” English Literary Renaissance 22 (1992): 3–36. 33   Wendy Hyman, “Seizing Flowers in Spenser’s Garden and Bower,” ELR 37.2 (May 2007): 193–214. 31

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no songs that are not lovely, something more than nature seems to be conducting. Anaphora (“no trees … no braunches … no birds … no songs”) suggests, with verbal irony, the extent of the simulacrum. With so many contrived objects, the paradises of Book II are certainly places where man might be “overcome of thing.” Phaedria’s carefully constructed environment, like Nashe’s mechanical-yetmagical “Italian banketting house,” is nothing but an assemblage of orchestrated effects, of which alluring song is the explicit—and sole—product. An almost identical effect is produced in the Bower of Bliss itself, where one hears “ioyous birdes” singing with their “silver sounding instruments.” Spenser’s narrator observes that “Right hard it was, for wight, which did it heare / To read what manner musicke that mote be” (II.xii.70). To return to the implied question: What kind of music might it be? As I have written elsewhere, Guyon overhears in the Bower the world’s most incongruous carpe diem poem, one that warns of death and decay from the midst of what is essentially an engineered tableau. The incongruity of the song is underscored by its eerie congruence with the similarly artificial landscape in which it is heard: for here, “birdes, voices, instruments, windes, waters, all agree.” Again, this perfect unison and “silver” sound indicates that artifice, not nature, is playing its hand: the singing creatures are just so many metallic warblers in an engineered garden. And Spenser’s Guyon, consequently, finds himself as enchanted by techne as Thomas Nashe and Christopher Marlowe. As [if] it Were a Wind-Organ It is not surprising that if one is looking to find birds—mechanical or otherwise— one will find them in lyric poetry, thanks to the long and rich history of the story of Philomela. As Ovid tells it, Philomela, ravished and mutilated by her brotherin-law Tereus, recourses first to weaving to tell her story; fleeing Tereus after her bloody revenge, she is later metamorphosed into the nightingale, whose hauntingly beautiful song still shows traces of her traumatic past.34 Imogen in Cymbeline suggests this myth in her combined abjection and beautiful singing, to say nothing of the wounded but expressive Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. Crashaw has bird and poet compete in “Music’s Duel,” leaving his human lute-player with little to prefer his tune but dolefulness. Keats and Yeats and Auden and dozens more continue the myth. If we want to return to the nightingale as the anti-automaton, however, we run immediately into trouble. For it turns out that as early as Pliny, the nightingale was associated not just with the mournful, but the mechanistic. In his History of the World, Pliny establishes what soon becomes the canonical view of the 34

  For recent critical discussions on the nightingale in classical and English literature, see especially Heather Dubrow, The Challenges of Orpheus (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008); Sean Keilen, Vulgar Eloquence: On the Renaissance Invention of English Literature (New Haven: Yale UP, 2006); and Wendy Pfeffer, The Change of Philomel: The Nightingale in Medieval Literature (New York: Peter Lang, 1985).

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nightingale as the most melodious, the most beautiful, and the most inventive of singers. Yet at several points in his description, Pliny seems to have nowhere to reach for his metaphorical vehicles except the mechanical world, comparing the living bird to an intricate machine. “Now and then she seemeth to record to her self; and then shee breaketh out to sing voluntarie” he writes, suggesting that she alternates between something like automatic and self-directed speech. Likewise, describing the variety that is a hallmark of the nightingale, he remarks that she: varieth and altereth her voice to all keyes, for at one time you shall heare her voice full and lowd, another time as low; and anon shrill and on high: thicke and short when she list; drawne out at leisure again when she is disposed: and then (if shee be so pleased) she riseth & mounteth up aloft, as it were with a wind-organ.35

The naturalist observes this ability of the living bird to mimic a wind-organ—the same form of instrumentation used to produce the sounds found in avian automata. But two sentences later, as if Pliny has recognized his inconsistency, he writes that “there is not a pipe or instrument again in the world (devised with all the Art and cunning of man so exquisitely as possibly might be) that can affourd more musicke than this pretie bird doth out of that little throat of hers.” The bird, that is, can emulate the machine—but not the machine the bird. This might be a plausible enough distinction, except that a few paragraphs later, Pliny changes his mind once again, recording that “there have been found men, who by a devise of a reed or can had out of the water, put crosse overthwart their mouth, and by putting their tonge into an hole made of purpose in it, and blowing withal, could counterfeit the Nightingale so perfectly, that one might not discern and distinguish the one from the other.” If the natural/artificial boundary is confusion for Pliny, it is downright confounding for poets. After all, if the nightingale can emulate the wind organ, then why can’t the poet? If the poet can emulate Philomela, then why not her cantilevered cousin? With these examples in mind, we can perhaps consider de San Pedro’s desire for a “silver throat” as no anomaly. George Wither, in the lyrical opening to his The Great Assises, echoes the sentiment: Oh that my Tongue were now with Silver tip’t, Since to yee Ladies I must sing with it: Nay, I could wish the concave of my throate Were sin’d with Brasse, since that I the note   Pliny, The History of the World. Commonly called, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus, Translated into English by Philemon Holland (London, 1601) Vol 1, 10th booke, Chap. XXIX: “What birds they be, which will not abide some places: also which be they that change colour and voice: and then of the Nightingale.” All subsequent Pliny quotes from this edition and chapter. 35

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Of the sad Knight must sound unto your eares, And with my Verse expresse his mourning teares. Oh! could I gaine but little Philomel, Phoebus sweet Bird, within my breast to dwell, That she might teach me how to warble forth A mourning Ditty, for I now am loath To venture on this following worke: for why, I am unskill’d, nor e’re could versifie.36

What exactly is de San Pedro’s speaker wishing for—modesty topos aside— except to be turned, quite literally, into a bird who has a tongue made of silver, and a throat of brass? As startling as the imagery is, in a sense little could be more conventional to a Renaissance poet than a desire for a displacement of the self via technical mastery. We need only think of Astrophil crying to Stella, “I am not I, pity the tale of me.” The lyricist in both cases seeks nothing except consummate artifice: the perfect story or representation, not the thing itself. The mechanical bird is an even more specialized case, presenting a prosopopoeia (Puttenham’s “Counterfeit Impersonator”) wherein the poet is outfaced by a less human and yet more perfect singer. In the instance recorded here, ontological ambiguity is revealed by syntactical instability. Specifically, is longing to “gaine but little Philomel” presented as an alternative to—or an amplificatio of—the desire that “my Tongue were now with Silver tip’t”? Again, it is a trope we have heard so often that we have, I think, stopped listening to its most frank level of meaning: the literal one. I do not mean to suggest that every silver throat or tongue or voice in Renaissance literature is made of actual metal. But in several instances, lyrical birds are also mechanical birds, as the examples from Nashe and Spenser and Marlowe and Wither and more suggest. That there are more mechanical birds in early modern literature than is usually observed requires that we ask serious questions about their presence. For all of these episodes reveal that questions of ontology (the nature of being, of spirit and matter) are deeply imbricated with the nature of storytelling and poetic representation itself. But questions remain. If Philomela as a figure evokes the triumph of organic eloquence over suffering, and mechanical birds the epitome of artifice or techne, then are these self-deconstructing figures or enchanting silenoi?37 Mechanical birds do, certainly in Spenser at least and possibly in Nashe, warn of the deceptions inherent in intricate surfaces and elegant artifice. But for the poet to be a “creating God,” in Puttenham’s phrase, also proposes something hopeful, a triumphant and life-giving overcoming of material limitations. Either   Diego de San Pedro (c. 1500), A Small Treatise betwixt Arnalte and Lucenda, trans. Leonard Lawrence (1639). 37   I refer specifically to Alcibiades’ evocation of Socrates as a Marsyas-like flautist in The Symposium, a silenus whose outward figure does not fully reveal the divinity within. See The Symposium, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford World, 2009). 36

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way, rather than see the avian automaton as a competitor, early modern poets often present it as a metonymy of their own poetic making. And it makes sense: gorgeous, engineered, lyrical, and deceptive, mechanical birds represent the perfect fusion of the technological and the oracular: of vates and poiêtês. The artistic act of shaping and animating material is somehow both the godly invention and the empty shell game, with the poet as pneumatic engineer of old, animating his poems with figures of engineered warblers. These poets may have immortal longings, but they have metallic ones, too. I want to end by underscoring that they may even sometimes wish to be as well as to play the pipe. Indeed, I think we may be obliged to expand our understanding of what it means when a Renaissance poet summons the muse, calls on Polyhymnia or Euterpe. For in the request for poetic “inspiration,” the poet longs to be breathed into (inspirare) in much the same way as the mechanical birds of his poem. The poet thereby makes himself ontologically equivalent not just with the divine artificer, but with the pneumatic automaton— letting himself be the silver-sounding instrument for a yet more divine voice.

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Chapter 10

Desire, Nature, and Automata in the Bower of Bliss Nick Davis

This chapter will argue that working automata and the idea of the automaton are central to the Bower of Bliss episode in The Faerie Queene (Book II, canto xii).1 Modern readers have generally failed to spot the garden’s machines, but this failure is readily explicable, given that the poem’s account of the Bower, like the represented Bower itself, is constructed in such a way as to block processes of recognition. These come fully into play only at the episode’s dénouement, which, if correctly assessed, precipitates a rethinking of what has gone before: this is a garden profuse in mechanical deceptions, devices placed there to sustain an illusion. Before identifying them individually, I’ll consider the broadest aspect of their modus operandi. A piece of illusionistic design that has been popular in Europe since the classical period is the advancing-receding cube. The motif multiplied sometimes enframes the central figurative scene on Roman mosaic floors, like that found in the House of the Griffins on the Palatine.2 Here, lozenge shapes in three colors are tessellated in such a way as to suggest three-dimensional form: a patently flat floor is also, in stereoscopic illusion, an arrangement of adjoining cubes whose corners advance towards the observer. The illusion, once noticed, also contains an instability: the advancing corners of the virtual cubes can alternatively be seen as receding, in a three-dimensional version of the “duck-rabbit” effect. A frame of this kind probably points to the availability of different ways of seeing the figurative design which it encloses; generically, as pattern on flat flooring, as a two-dimensional representation of solid form, or as the representation of a carpet which carries this same image. The architect’s shape-shifting cubes offer a way of describing manipulations of perception in the Bower of Bliss. Developing on a key insight of Paul J. Alpers, Catherine Belsey has indentified the importance of trompe l’oeil effects in the poem’s establishment of the Bower

1   All references to The Faerie Queene are from Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (London: Longman, 2001). 2   See Miriam Milman, Trompe L’Oeil: Painted Architecture (Geneva: Skirá, 1986) 12.


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as a scene of desire.3 Taking the argument further, I shall propose that the relation that the mechanical devices of the Bower form with the spectatorparticipant resembles that formed by trompe l’oeil artifice: indeed, one of the delusive experiences which the Bower offers is that of encountering a delightful natural scene. The contrivances of art would not ordinarily form an integral part of a scene of nature; their presence is a necessity, however, because they sustain the illusion that this is a supremely natural scene. Book II’s manner of representing the Bower possesses some of the characteristics of trompe l’oeil art in that it offers its reader the experience of entering a stereoscopically produced—and in that sense illusory—space: the relatively contracted landscape of the Bower as first encountered in canto v, where it consists merely of an arbor, a stream and a grove (see stanzas 29–31), opens up to become canto xii’s “most daintie Paradise on ground” (58), wonderfully various and stretching as far as the eye can see. Artifice here yields a remarkably widened and deepened experience of “nature,” where a good deal of what is experienced is imaginary projection: the intercalation of the artificial and the natural has a clear agenda. Nature and “nature” The composition of Acrasia’s garden as a dual product of nature and artifice is designed to confuse the observer, and continues to trouble the episode’s commentators. One might, for example, set Stephen Greenblatt’s account of an insidiously complete “concealment of art” against Christine Coch’s conclusion that, although the art of the garden conceals itself, this tricks no one.4 Nevertheless, it is possible to describe what disorients observation in the Bower with some precision, as involving a particular form of perceptual slippage. One has to assume as intellectual background to the episode a broadly Aristotelian organization of thought,5 such that the products of nature and art, physis and techne, are expected to be plainly distinguishable under most circumstances. From the standpoint of 3   Paul Alpers, The Poetry of The Faerie Queene (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967) 45; Catherine Belsey, Love Stories in Western Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994) 151–8. 4   Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980) 189; Christine Coch, “The Trials of Art: Testing Temperance in the Bower of Bliss and Diana’s Grove at Nonesuch,” Spenser Studies 20 (2005): 49–76, 61. 5   For the pervasive influence of Aristotle on the natural philosophy of the period, see especially Peter Dear, Discipline and Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995). Charles B. Schmitt, John Case and Renaissance Aristotelianism in England (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1983), examines the career of an English academic philosopher contemporary with Spenser who dedicated much of his career to the interpretation of Aristotle. Like other followers of Aristotle, Case devotes considerable attention to the relationship between nature and artifice.

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one who has mastered its illusions, artifice in the garden has achieved a controlling dominance over nature.6 In the stanza where Guyon and the Palmer first encounter the garden, we are told that natural process in this enclosed space has been entirely directed to serving the ends of pleasure and “dayntest fantasye,” and that the garden’s site has been “pickt out by choice of best alyue, / That nature’s worke by art can imitate”—it has been adorned, or selected, by the best of living technicians, skilled in nature’s imitation (I.xii.42). Later, Art is unusually made the mother of Flora, the flower goddess, as the garden manifests her presence, and is said to have decked her out over-lavishly “as half in scorne /Of niggard Nature,” so that she resembles a “pompous bride” (stanza 50); restyled through cultivation, flowers here exist to attract the human eye. The displays of the garden even simulate that weakness or deficiency which, according to Aristotle (Physics 2.199a.15ff; Politics 7.1337a.2), makes nature amenable to techne’s intervention.7 These stagings of pliant weakness are disarmingly seductive: the simulated ivy trails its flowers in the waters of the fountain, where they seem “for wantonness to weep” (stanza 61); a living vine is weighed down by additional grapes made of gold, with the effect that, appearing “ouerburdened” by its own “rich load,” it delivers its bunches into the hands of any guest (stanza 55). In the Bower, techne has taken control of natural process and modified or re-created natural form in such a way as to proffer a certain representation of nature: nature is that which unfailingly answers to the requirements of fantasy and pleasure. Sometimes the technical intervention is fully concealed from sight, as in the case of the ivy made out of gold which has been allowed to oxidize in order to simulate the plant’s “natiue hew” (stanza 61). Sometimes, as with the grapes of burnished gold which “lurk” among the real ones, it is visible to those who look for it. Nevertheless, this is an alluring representation of the natural. It attracts perception precisely in the way that a visual illusion does; awareness that the “cubes” are the surface of a floor, or that “nature” here is partly a construction of techne, lends the perceived illusion its distinctive force. Discussing the Bower, Belsey helpfully compares the fascination of visual illusion, open to being recognized as such, with the experience of desire as Lacan describes it; in one of his characteristic formulations, desire is caught on rails “eternally extending towards the desire for something else.”8 In the psychological working of trompe   In Torquato Tasso’s La Gerusalemme Liberata, Armida’s garden—the closest literary model for the Bower—similarly instances the prevalence of art over nature: “E quel che’l bello e’l caro accresce a l’opre, / l’arte che tutto fa, nulla si scopre” (XVI.xix), cited in Poesie, ed. Francesco Flora (Milan and Maples: Riccardo Ricciardini, 1952) 386. Notably, both gardens differ from the one that surrounds Book IV’s Temple of Venus; here the role of artifice is to play “second natures part,” adding more delights of the same kind to those which nature itself has provided (x.21). 7   Aristotle, The Complete Works, ed. Jonathan Barnes. 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984) 1:340; 2:2121. 8   Jacques Lacan, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 2006) 431. 6


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l’oeil art, at the moment when the illusion is disturbed, when another organization of perception becomes available, the first “seeing” in its strange linkage to the second can be taken to have something in it which is more than itself; what is “seen” takes on the logically unspecifiable allure of the thing which incites desire, objet a. Lacan asks of this kind of experience: [w]hen is it that it captures our attention and delights us? At the moment when, by a mere shift of our gaze, we are able to realise that the representation does not move with our gaze, and is merely a trompe l’oeil. For it appears at that moment as something other than it seemed, or rather it now seems to be that something else.9

Desirous experience as the Bower sequence evokes it, in the episode of the maidens (stanzas 63–9) and in the vision of Acrasia, is primarily an interchange of suggestion between what can be imagined as being seen (climactically Acrasia’s alabaster skin, the perfectly alluring object; stanza 77), and what, by somewhat obstructing the actual seeing, enhances the imagination of it (this skin’s diaphanous veiling). At the same time the lightly frictional contact of veil and skin, considered against a background of grapes that press themselves into the hand, evokes the tactile pleasures of encountering flesh. When the Bower is first introduced into the poem, the heightening of desire by partial visual obstruction is described from the outside: the dissolute warrior Cymochles, feigning sleep and also deluding himself, toys with the idea that he is not watching the competitively stripping damsels. The interposition of this piece of deceit evidently intensifies the experience of pleasure: in acceding to it Cymochles steeps his “wandring thought” still further in “deep desire” (II.v.34). Visually incited experience of desire is the Bower’s key exemplar, and incentive, for a general libidinization of illusion. Dealings with trompe l’oeil art in general already produce a release of pleasure. Let us imagine coming across an instance of such art, Van der Vaardt’s display of painterly skill (now exhibited at Chatsworth House),10 a violin executed on a door with suitable shadowing in such a way as to suggest that it is hanging from the door’s peg. Looking at it, I am certainly not tricked in the sense that I know better than to reach out for the violin. Nevertheless, in experiencing the attraction of the artifice I to some extent trick myself: it is intriguing to toy for a moment with the idea that this is a violin, 9   Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth/Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977) 112. 10   A tradition of garden automata has, it may be noted, been maintained at Chatsworth House from the later seventeenth century to present times. De Vaardt’s painting of the violin, generically of a kind with the automata as playfully misleading and nature-counterfeiting, was located at Old Devonshire House in London before being moved to Chatsworth in the 1730s.

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redolent of art’s real powers. In the Bower, episodic full-scale mobilization of sexual desire much increases the investment in fantasy: how very attractive it is, say, to entertain the thought of Acrasia’s skin—partly withheld from sight, holding endless promise of bliss—and of the Bower’s whole terrain of sensualsexual delight for which it is a figure. All trompe l’oeil art seduces, but here eros lends its overwhelming force to the seduction. “Nature” as staged in the Bower by consummately technical means differs from nature as ordinarily encountered or envisaged and takes on, like Acrasia’s veil-enhanced skin, the allure of desire’s ultimate cause, something that one could never straightforwardly or unobstructedly “see.” In so doing it captivates the mind, an experience which envelops the encounter with it. Stanza 52 performs the captivation as intellectual defeat: this place offers something better than the hill where Orpheus sang, or the beautiful vale of Tempe, Or Ida, where the Gods lou’d to repayre, When euer they their heauenly bowres forlore; Or sweet Parnasse, the haunt of muses fayre; Or Eden selfe, if ought with Eden might compare.11

Stanza 58 voices admiration for an ostensibly natural landscape in which “all pleasures plenteously abound,” but also praises the self-concealing art “which all that wrought.” From a standpoint of captivation the garden’s staging of “nature” can be imagined as overcoming the traditional contrariety of physis and techne, nature with its indwelling generativity and human know-how as directed to achieving chosen ends. The following stanzas refigure their relationship as one between differing but similar powers, competitive and mutually imitative, which have now come to collaborate with the single purpose of producing delight: So striving each th’other to undermine, Each did the others worke more beautify; So diff’ring both in willes, agreed in fine: So all agreed through sweete diuersity, This Gardin to adorne with all variety. (stanza 59)

From the perceptually managed standpoint of delight what one sees may be conceptualized indifferently as “nature” or “artifice,” duck or rabbit, since either perception potentially reverses with its opposite. The Bower’s most-realized   As Hamilton notes, five out of the six natural loci amoeni mentioned in the stanza suggest possibilities of disaster; Orpheus, for example, was eventually torn to pieces on his favored hill. These negative connotations are entirely pertinent in the stanza’s larger context. Nevertheless the weighting of its language, especially in the concluding lines, is towards celebration of ease and beauty. 11

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instance of such a perceptually bivalent object is the ivory frieze, showing scenes from the story of Jason and Medea, which frames its gate. The frieze is, of course, a piece of artwork, but one designed to set perceptions of nature and art in shifting play, and at the same time to produce an effect of animation in a static object. Absorption in the frieze’s representation of the Argo at sea yields the following experience: Ye might haue seene the frothy billowes fry Vnder the ship, as thorough them she went, That seemd the waues were into iuory, Or yuory into the waues were sent. (stanza 45)

Whether we first see the “frothy billowes” as things composed of ivory, or first see the waves as things represented, we witness a reciprocal sliding of crafted into natural and of natural into crafted; categorical perception itself becomes a thing that flows. This prepares us for the rest of the stanza, where the innocent looking “snowy substance” of the ivory converts, when sprinkled with vermilion, with the represented blood of the murdered brother, and when picked out in gold with the flame by means of which Medea incinerates Creusa, Jason’s intended bride. Machines in Gardens The Bower considered in its success as trompe l’oeil evokes a culturally familiar and prestigious form of garden design.12 In the classical and Arabic-Islamic traditions which inform the thought and practice of Spenser’s era, dialogue and interchange between perceptions of nature and of artificial contrivance are among the principal delights of the mind which gardens have to offer; they suggest an achievement of creative balance between the two.13 Alberti’s De Re Aedificatoria draws approving attention to artistry of this kind found in surviving classical gardens, such as “green ochre used to imitate the bearded moss of a grotto.”14 Ibn Zamrak’s verses about the gardens of the Alhambra, written in   Michael Leslie, “Spenser, Sidney, and the Renaissance Garden,” English Literary Renaissance 22 (1992): 3–36, broke new ground by examining awareness of Italian garden design as registered in later sixteenth-century England and in the Bower sequence. 13   See Claudia Lazzaro-Bruno, “The Villa Lante at Bagnaia: An Allegory of Art and Nature,” The Art Bulletin 59 (1977): 553–60; Claudia Lazzaro, The Italian Renaissance Garden (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990) 47; and Luke Morgan, Nature as Model: Salomon de Caus and Early Seventeenth-Century Landscape Design (Philadelphia: U of Penn P, 2007) 122–3. 14   Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Rykwert (Cambridge: MIT P, 1988) 299. 12

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the fourteenth century, describe intriguing conversions between perceptions of solidity and of liquid flow: You see silver melting which flows between pearls, one Like the other in beauty, white in purity. A running stream evokes the illusion of a solid substance For the eyes, so that we wonder which one is fluid.15

The description of the Bower establishes from the outset a similar appearance of complementarity and balance between perception of what has been “made” (set in place, fabricated), and of what has been “poured” (released to take its natural course) (stanza 42). At the same time, however, the garden in its genuine profile as technical feat evokes the differently centered convention of the plaisance, the pleasure-ground where delight has been made to abound by all available means. Here the function of human planning and contrivance is to give natural pleasures their maximal intensity. The most elaborate of European plaisances was maintained between the thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries at Hesdin, castle seat of the Dukes of Valois, then Burgundy.16 A gallery in the castle and an extensive park contained, alongside other sources of delight that included hunting grounds, fish ponds, aviaries, and an exotic menagerie, an array of mechanical devices. Some of these directed water in technically proficient and diverting ways: the gallery housed (according to an account of 1432) a pump-fed fountain “in which the water will flow at will and always return whence it will,” as well as concealed jets at floor level which could be turned on unexpectedly “to wet the ladies from below.”17 Conspicuous among the pleasure-ground’s playful “deceptions (abuz)” were life-simulating automata, including “a wooden hermit that speaks,” tall figures which struck guests with rods and were dressed like “sots” and “sottes,” “an owl which makes various faces in looking at people and gives an answer to everything that one wishes to ask it,” and, attached to an outdoor pavilion which housed its own water devices, a group of rope-operated monkeys which capered 15   Friedrich P. Bargebuhr, The Alhambra: a Cycle of Studies (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1968) 251. 16   See Merriam Sherwood, “Magic and Mechanics in Medieval Fiction,” Studies in Philology 44 (1947): 567–92, 587–91; Anne Hagopian Van Buren, “Reality and Romance in the Park of Hesdin,” Medieval Gardens, ed. Elisabeth Blair Macdougall (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1986) 115–34; and Birgit Franke, “Gesellschaftsspiele mit Automaten— ‘Merveilles’ in Hesdin,” Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 24 (1997): 135–58. 17   Michel de Montaigne, Travel Journal, trans. Donald M. Frame (San Francisco: North Point P, 1983) 37, describing the Fugger family’s pleasure-ground at Augsburg, notes the sexual resonance of such devices: “While the ladies are busy watching the fish play, you have only to release some spring: immediately, all these jets spurt out thin, hard streams of water to the height of a man’s head, and fill the petticoats of the ladies with this coolness.”

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to greet guests. The devices were collectively known as “engines d’esbattement” (Sherwood 587–89); Old French “esbat” covers both “amusement” and “blow.” A number of the physical experiences that they supplied, such as that of being pelted alternately with flour, soot, and water, may sound uncomfortable, but evidently formed part of a regime of pleasure. Perhaps these were incitements to the removal of clothing. The dukes’ pleasure-ground was associated with sexual love and, partly for that reason, selected as the setting for Guillaume de Machaut’s Remede de Fortune (written c.1340). Here the lovelorn poet makes his way into a walled park, to find his spirits suddenly lifted by “the marvels, the delights, the artifices, the automata, the watercourses, the entertainments, the wondrous things that were enclosed within (les merveilles, les deduis, / Les ars, les engins, les conduis, / Les esbas, les estranges choses / Qui estoient dedens encloses),” too prolific to describe.18 In sixteenth-century French the pronunciation of “Hesdin” is indistinguishable from that of “Eden,” and the dukes’ marvellous pleasure-ground was praised as a re-creation of the Earthly Paradise;19 and at times as something still more authentic, since robust local tradition had it that Hesdin was Eden’s actual site. This last idea was still circulating at the end of the seventeenth century. The partly mechanized pleasures of Hesdin, exceptional in their scale and ambition, achieved some international fame. The emblematic figure chosen— apparently in the early fifteenth century—to preside over them was the sorceress Medea, linked to Hesdin by Duke Philip III’s foundation of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Medea is likely to have been portrayed here in positive terms, as a supremely skilled technician and manipulator of powers in nature. She had been celebrated on these grounds by Christine de Pisan near the start of the century: Medea, whom many historical works mention, was no less familiar with science and art than Manto [daughter of Teiresias]. She was the daughter of Aetes, king of Colchis, and of Persa, and was very beautiful, with a noble and upright heart and a pleasant face. In learning, however, she surpassed and exceeded all women; she knew the powers of every herb and all the potions which could be concocted, and she was ignorant of no art that can be known. With her spells she knew how to make the air become cloudy or dark, how to move winds from the grottoes and caverns of the earth, and how to provoke other storms in the air, as well as how to stop the flow of rivers, confect

  Guillaume de Machaut, Remede de Fortune, Le Jugement du roy de Behaigne and Remede de Fortune, eds. James I. Wimsatt and William W. Kibler (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 1988) 212–3. 19   For conceptions of the Earthly Paradise and their relation to garden design, see John Prest, The Garden of Eden: The Botanic Garden and the Re-Creation of Paradise (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1981). 18

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poisons, create fire to burn up effortlessly whatever object she chose, and all such similar arts.20

A fair number of these Medean proficiencies have been transferred to The Faerie Queene’s Acrasia, who is of course perceived as beneficent by her followers. At Hesdin, as Caxton records in an account accessible to Spenser, Jason’s quest of the Golden Fleece was represented in a cycle of paintings while, in an adjoining room, Medea’s ability to counterfeit natural forces was restaged by means recalling her own: [I]n remembraunce of Medea and of her connyng & science he [Duke Philip] had do make in the sayde chamber by subtil engyn that when he wolde it shuld seme that it lightend & then thondre / snowed & rayne. All within the sade chamber as ofte tymes & when it shuld please him. Which was al made for his singular pleasir.21

Acrasia can also simulate powerful natural phenomena, judging from what Guyon experiences in the approaches to the Bower; and in the ivory work which frames the Bower’s gate, representation of “the famous history / Of Iason and Medea” (stanza 44) replaces those of Hercules and Iole and of Anthony and Cleopatra in the sequence from Tasso on which the passage is modelled. Cultural memory of Hesdin may well have motivated the substitution. Acrasia’s garden seems to be a technically elaborate plaisance,22 generically similar to the complex at Hesdin or, in hyperbolic literary conception, the simulated Eden which the narrator hero of Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller visits when in Rome, and which is discussed by Wendy Hyman elsewhere in this   Christine de Pisan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York: Persea Books, 1982) 69. 21   William Caxton, The Prologues and Epilogues, ed. W. J. B. Crotch (London: Early English Book Society, 1928) (EETS o.s. 176) 33. The account entry of 1432 confirms the existence of this apparatus. Money was laid out for the restoration of “the room before the hermit, which makes it rain everywhere like the water which falls from the sky, and also thunder and snow and lighten too, as if one were looking at the sky” (Sherwood 588). 22   Leslie, “Renaissance Garden,” notes the presence of automata in the Italian Renaissance gardens to which the Bower is generically related. Jonathan Sawday, Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (London: Routledge, 2007) 200–1, suggests that the Bower’s bathing damsels are automata. In the present volume Lynsey McCulloch classifies Acrasia herself as a moving statue. Kenneth Knoespel, “Gazing on Technology: Theatrum Mechanicorum and the Assimilation of Renaissance Machinery,” Literature and Technology, eds. Mark L. Greenberg and Lance Schachterle (Bethlehem: Lehigh UP, 1992) 99–124, characterizes the Bower episode as challenging readers “to recognise technological as well as poetic artifice” (117). Knoespel draws particular attention to the hydraulic engineering that, inferably, delivers a number of the pleasurable experiences which the Bower has to offer (112–17). 20


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volume. This summer banqueting house contains, alongside a moving replica of the heavens and hedges of olive and palm which can be made to dispense myrrh and frankincense, a population of automated birds, [w]ho though [they] were bodies without soules, and sweete resembled substances without sense, yet by the mathematical experimentes of long siluer pipes secretlye inrinded in the intrailes of the boughs whereon they sate, and vndiscerneablie conuaid vnder their bellies into their small throats sloaping, they whistled and freely carold their naturall field note.

The engineering which produces this effect of natural song must be observable because it is described by the narrator in some detail, and with evident fascination; nevertheless, according to him, the effect which its functioning produced was that everyone who witnessed it “renounst coniectures of art, and sayd it was done by enchantment.”23 The Unfortunate Traveller’s mechanized Eden resembles the Bower, then, in that the very proficiency of the engineering establishes a set of mind which disavows knowledge of its presence. At a climactic moment in the Bower episode, however, Guyon’s physical assault on Acrasia’s garden brings its constructions and constructedness abruptly into view: But all those pleasaunt bowres and Pallace braue, Guyon broke downe, with rigour pitilesse; Ne ought their goodly workmanship might saue Them from the tempest of his wrathfulnesse, But their blisse, he turn’d to balefulnesse: Their groues he feld, their gardins did deface, Their arbers spoyle, their Cabinets suppresse, Their banket houses burne, their buildings race, And of the fairest late, now made the fowlest place (stanza 83).

In stanza 58 the description notes only flowers, trees, vales, hills and running water; but now, what Guyon destroys includes such obvious constructions as buildings, a palace, banqueting houses, even “cabinets” which might have held such “curiosities” as automata; as well as bowers, groves, gardens, and arbours. The contrast between the two passages enforces a categorical separation of physis and techne, which the artifice of the Bower has conflated, and suggests that the possibility of separation has been there throughout. Up to this point the description of the Bower has colluded with the mentality of its denizens and Acrasia’s own purposes as skilful artificer in disavowing the presence and operation of the techne which helps to sustain its delights; manifestations of 23   Thomas Nashe, The Works, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, 5 vols. (London, 1958) 2: 283–4.

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techne have been perceived, that is to say, in the delusive form of a perfected physis. But at the episode’s turning point in stanza 58, the fabricated components of the Bower become visible alongside and in generic distinction from the natural ones: a collapsing of the Edenic illusion. The Bower and Pseudo-Physis In considering the force of this recognition it is helpful to recall that, for the broadly Aristotelian thinking which subtends much of the period’s theorization of techne in its relation to physis, mechanical devices produce effects which lie outside the domain of nature altogether: the incorporation of mechanism into a revised, decidedly non-Aristotelian physics did not occur for educated Europeans until the mid-to-later seventeenth century. Sixteenth-century Europe’s most influential analysis of machines’ operation, the Mechanical Problems, is the work of a follower of Aristotle, probably written in the century following his death. Printed in the Aldine corpus Aristotelicum of 1494–8, this relatively short text, translated into Latin in 1525, was sometimes attributed to Aristotle, and in any case treated as authoritative, gaining the attention of an extensive readership.24 It begins by placing mechanical devices in the category of things that excite wonder (thauma), but by means different from nature’s own wonders: Remarkable things occur in accordance with nature, the cause of which is unknown, and others occur contrary to/alongside nature (para physin), which are produced by artifice (techne) for the benefit of mankind. For in many cases nature produces effects against our advantage; for nature always acts consistently and simply, but our advantage changes in many ways. When, then, we have to produce an effect contrary to nature, we are at a loss, because of the difficulty, and require techne. Therefore we call that part of techne which assists such difficulties [the contriving of] a device (mechane). For as the poet Antiphon wrote, “We by techne gain mastery over things in which we are conquered by nature.” Of this kind are those in which the less master the greater, and things possessing little weight move heavy weights, and all similar devices which we term mechanical problems.25

One notices that the term “mechane” in this passage does not squarely refer to the completed mechanism, but rather to the exercise of ingenuity which is needed to overcome nature’s constitutional resistance to an artificial manner of proceeding, one which is not self-consistent, or simple (haplos). Greek “mechane,” formed 24   See Paul Lawrence Rose and Stillman Drake, “The Pseudo-Aristotelian Questions of Mechanics in Renaissance Culture,” Studies in the Renaissance 18 (1971): 65–104. 25   Aristotle, Minor Works, trans. W. S. Hett (London, 1955) 331.

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from “mechos” (a means, an expedient, a contrivance), yields Latin “machina,” but refers generally to feats of cleverness and ingenuity. Mechane as attested by mechanisms allows human beings to achieve things that are para-natural, operating against and overcoming natural process; how bizarre and startling it is, for example, that through the operation of leverage a small weight can be made to lift a larger one. The Mechanical Problems goes on to specify the form of this deviation by conceptualizing all mechanically produced motions as forms of circular motion—instanced for example by the operation of a lever—and then by attempting to explain what is paradoxical about circular motion as such. In Aristotelian cosmology the ethereal matter of the heavens is inherently disposed to move in circles, whereas the disposition of natural, sublunary bodies is to move upwards or downwards along straight paths; this helps to account for the characterization of circular motion in a sublunary context as para-natural. The Mechanical Problems hails mechanically produced circular motion as a remarkable phenomenon which combines the apparently irreconcilable; specifically, the moving and the stationary (i.e. moving circumference and stationary centre), the concave and the convex (an observed segment of the moving circumference will alternate between these two perceived configurations), and movement in contrary directions (opposed parts of the circumference advance and recede).26 Repetitive or repeatable circular motion is in this argument machines’ characteristic wonder, a defining mark of their para-naturalness.27 The water that gushes from the Bower’s central fountain offers a concealed instance of circular motion. As the observer first registers it the water produces perceived movement in putti sculpted at its base: the translucent channels through which it runs are picked out with “curious ymageree” and … shapes of naked boyes, Of which some seemd with liuely iollitee, To fly about, playing their wanton toyes, Whylest others did them selues embay in liquid ioyes (stanza 60).

A continuous flow of water is necessary to the effect. We are told in the next stanza that “[i]nfinit streames continually did well / Out of this fountain, sweet and faire to see,” and that the streams are received by “an ample laver.” The fountain stages its own triumph over time: the pleasures offered by its streaming water, by the apparently moving sculpture, and then by the damsels’ sexuallyaware play, contain a promise of endless prolongation. But a mechanical pump,   Aristotle, Minor Works 333.   William Eamon, “Technology as Magic in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance,” Janus 70 (1983): 171–212, examines a range of cultural contexts in which expertly applied techne was treated as magical. 26


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continuously returning water from the catchment basin to the jet of the fountain, would be this captivating scene’s likely technical support.28 In the Garden of Adonis, conversely, an envisioning of authentic natural process, nature displays the power to generate an “[i]nfinite” variety of living “formes” (, but the life and activity of these creatures is emphatically finite, visibly subjected to Time’s domination. The birds which unerringly accompany human singing in the Bower (see especially stanza 71) are also behaving para-naturally, and can be readily imagined as water-driven automata.29 Montaigne offers a description of simulated birds in the D’Este garden at Tivoli (99).30 Here their singing was repeatedly interrupted by the appearance of an owl, a bio-mechanical sequence taken directly from Hero of Alexandria (Pneumatica I.16; I.91–8) which attests the continuing vitality of the Heronian tradition. The alarming natural phenomena encountered in the sea-approaches to the Bower may also be understood as having their potential mechanical supports. We know of a medieval creation of storms in water by artificial means;31 the engineers at Hesdin simulated nature’s activities in order to produce awe as well as delight. The birds which repeatedly cuff Guyon and his crew with their wings (stanza 35) recall some of the Burgundian engines d’esbattement. Arguing along these lines it may be possible to resolve one of the sequence’s logical puzzles, to which I have drawn attention elsewhere.32 Between stanzas 21 and 25 Guyon is threatened by a horrible multiplicity of sea monsters which hurl themselves towards his boat in an advancing wave. The Palmer, however, pronouncing that, “these same Monsters are not these in deed,” strikes the sea with his staff, on which it is calmed, and the “dreadfull Armie” recedes underwater (stanza 26). What exactly does the Palmer know, and mean? His statement construed in its obvious sense is puzzling: “These real monsters are not in fact real monsters.” It is, however, quite possible for the monsters to be both real (physically there, approaching the boat) and on reflection not real (physically there but not genuinely monsters) if they are understood to be a mechanically operated display. Acrasia’s techne seems in this case to have conjured up a particularly 28

  For mechanical garden fountains of the period see Naomi Miller, “Paradise Regained: Medieval Garden Fountains,” Medieval Gardens, ed. Elisabeth Blair MacDougall (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1986) 135–54. 29   Leslie 17–18. 30   Montaigne 99. 31   In the late twelfth century Conrad of Querfort, Bishop of Hildesheim, described the storm phenomena which were reliably produced before visitors by manipulation of the supposed bones of Vergil, kept beside the sea in Sicily (Virgil had gained the reputation of being a magician): “If they are freshly exposed to the air, the whole atmosphere becomes darkened, the sea rises tumultuous from its depth, violent winds rage and suddenly the roar of tempest breaks forth. This we saw and experienced” (Sherwood 573). 32   Stories of Chaos: Reason and its Displacement in Early Modern English Narrative (Aldershot, 1999) 1–3.

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frightening special effect, tricking the observer and preparing the way for the more subtle disorientations of the garden. The most thought-provoking of the sequence’s possible automata is, however, positioned at the threshold of the garden itself. We are told at some length that the figure who greets all guests with a large bowl of wine, performing the office of “Pleasures porter,” is known in the garden as “Genius” but that this a false appelation. The genuine Genius, characterized across a whole stanza, is a kind of inner awareness which oversees the life of the individual, an agency which we may call “our Selfe.” The present impostor-Genius, on the other hand, is a “foe of life” that “secretly doth us procure to fall, / Through guilefull semblants, which he makes vs see.” This figure, whose staff conjures up “semblants sly,” has been given the garden’s “gouernall,” from Latin “gubernaculum”: he governs or manages the garden, and might also be seen as directing what happens in it as a rudder directs a ship. Those in the vicinity of the garden see, sitting in its porch and apparently beckoning to them, a “comely personage of stature tall.” This figure is decked with flowers and clad loosely, in a style unsuited to “speedy pace” or “manly exercise” (stanzas 46– 9). “Genius” does nothing at all when Guyon overturns his bowl and breaks his staff; his sole capacity seems to be for limited and repeated motion. While the gesture of beckoning is probably a fixed posture, the great bowl seems to be held out towards every guest that arrives, not a difficult feat of mechanized animation.33 The text subtly supports the view that this ersatz Genius who makes human beings see “guilefull semblants” is a creation of techne. So viewed, he becomes a prosopopoeia for the techne which deludes visitors to the garden through its attractively hedonistic re-creation of natural process. The pseudo-animate figure, mindlessly repeating what ought to be deliberate action,34 at the same time represents what visitors to the garden become in succumbing to the hedonism. What feels like a happy ethical condition, a eudaimonia, is in fact the surrender of agency and choice to a compulsion to repeat, made under the tutelage of an impostor daimon (Latin genius) which is not “our Selfe” at all, and which indeed possesses no selfhood. Might the other seemingly animate human figures which Guyon encounters in the garden be automata?35 On the evidence of the descriptive language 33

  The force that produces the figure’s motion could plausibly be relayed from the opening of the gate; cf. Hero of Alexandria, Pneumatica I.17, in Opera quae supersunt omnia, eds. Wilhelm Schmidt et al., 5 vols. (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1899–1914) 1: 98–100; here the opening of a door produces the sounding of a trumpet. 34   It may also be noted that in offering a bowl of wine to every guest the figure functions as a perfectly officious servant, one of the traditional roles of automata; cf. the self-moving cauldrons which Hephaestus manufactures to serve the gods at their assemblies in Iliad XVIII.434–41. 35   See Sawday and McCulloch as referenced above, n. 21. Unlike McCulloch, I take Acrasia’s “alabaster skin” (II.xii.77) and “snowy brest” (II.xii.78) to be metaphoric

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this interpretation seems unlikely. It would also, I am suggesting, weaken the episode’s design. While “Genius” is tellingly lacking in reactions, Excesse registers anger when Guyon throws down her proffered cup, and the bathing damsels, noticing that his “wandring eyes” (stanza 69) have fallen on them, display flesh that blushes. If the scene of the Bower presents a mingling of pseudo-animate and animate figures, this carries a clear implication: its human denizens—clients and sex workers, beginning with the damsels who strip for Cymochles—have themselves become automated by its highly managed routine of pleasures. The human body directed exclusively to the maintenance of sexual arousal can be seen in this context as functioning much like a machine. The repetitive functioning of machines does, however, present another face in some of the ethical reflection of the period. As Jessica Wolfe points out, for contemporaries of Spenser a machine’s reliability in this respect can model certain features of the achieved ethical life, since it reconciles motion and constancy, and also suggests that stable and continuous exercise of reason by which the wise man maintains control of the passions.36 For Stoic traditions of thought the observed regularity of the universe itself sets a precedent for both: Cicero argues that the study of natural philosophy “bestows a power of self-control that arises from the perception of the consummate restraint and order [of the cosmos]” (De Finibus IV.5; 313); Vitruvius derives the very intelligence which produces machines from observation of the celestial motions (X.i.4; II.277; this wittily echoes Plato’s Timaeus 47a–c, transposing philosophy into engineering.) For many medieval-Renaissance interpreters of classical ethics, determinate practices of calculation, such as those that can be made with a measuring instrument, identify a form for unerring practices of reasoning in the making of significant choices.37 When temporarily parted from the Palmer and about to encounter Mammon, Guyon is described, for example, as plotting his ethical course like a navigator who makes use of map and compass (II.vii.1). The possibility of automating the moral life is, for the Spenser of The Faerie Queene, a matter of troubled interest and concern. The idea’s attractiveness is encoded in one of the better-known formulations from the Letter to Raleigh according to which the poem’s broadest purpose is “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” “Fashion” here, qua “mould” or “create,” carries a broad range of suggestion: the poem’s aim is to mould a virtuous reader through the moulding of heroic figures who mould virtues or are moulded by them (cf. Hamilton 714.7n). As the surrounding passage explains, expressions, as distinct from evidence that she is a statue. They are among the episode’s characteristic slidings between perceptions of artifice-as-nature, and of nature as possessing the perfection of artifice. 36   Humanism, Machinery and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004) 83, 27. 37   See Davis, Stories 48, 83–5.

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the author of the poem has created, in image, exemplary moving figures whose function is to set human beings in the same optimal forms of motion (714–6). What is being claimed recalls ancient stories of the Daedalan artificer who sculpts creatures capable of moving as if alive.38 The Talus of the Argonautica is in some accounts Daedalus’ creation. Artegall’s robotic squire Talus seems designed as a means of reflection, partly adverse or pessimistic, on the mechanization of just action and law’s enforcement.39 Meanwhile, the clear argument of the Bower sequence is that ethical choice is wise action, not reproducible schema. Here Spenser cleaves firmly, and perhaps defensively, to the Aristotelian distinction between techne, the realization of a chosen end by skilful means, and praxis, the taking of chosen and purposive action in the world. Technical skills can, reasons Aristotle, be directed to many ends, good or bad, but action governed by political and moral wisdom (phronesis) is already the achievement of a good end, doing well (eupraxia); it would be odd to describe someone as being good at being wise, as if wisdom were itself a skill. Phronesis maintains a working intuition of the good, irreducible to formula or fixed prescription, which is in charge of its responses to the unpredictable demands of ethical and political life (Nicomachean Ethics 1140b). The Bower’s mechanization of human life, on the other hand, subverts phronesis by providing a deceptive simulation of it: the wisdom of its resident “Genius” is subordination to a sterile regime of pleasure. Acrasia’s technically-accomplished recreation of nature directs techne to a bad end; and at the same time undermines ethical practice in a Stoic understanding by removing accurate perception of what nature is, so preventing wise adaptation of the self to its own qualities and to its conditions of life.40 In Guyon’s destructive revelation of the illusion-producing devices   See Sarah P. Morris, Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992) 215–37. 39   Davis, Stories 93–103, and Wolfe 203–35. But for a very different, predominantly technophile, assessment of Talus see Lynsey McCulloch’s chapter in this volume. 40   Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum was for Spenser and his contemporaries the best known exposition of what it is to live in accordance with nature, qua chief good, in Stoic philosophy. Issuing out of a rejection of Epicureanism, the arguments of its third book stand as an important intertext for Book II of The Faerie Queene. Cicero explains that the first “appropriate act” (officium) of the self is to seek not pleasure but the preservation of itself in its own natural constitution, to which it is spontaneously attracted; and that “the next is to retain those things which are in accordance with nature (secundum naturam) and to repel those that are the contrary; then when this principle of choice and also of rejection has been discovered, there follows next in order choice governed by [rational consideration of what counts as] appropriate action; then, such choice becomes a fixed habit; and finally choice fully rationalized and in harmony with nature” (De Finibus, ed. and trans. H. Rackham (London, 1914) 3.5, 3.6: 233, 239). In the Bower episode Acrasia’s followers, submitting to the attraction of technically induced pleasures, are not showing that care for the self which is the beginning of Stoic wisdom; 38

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the episode’s defining vision of the Bower comes into view: it is a louche aristocratic pleasure zone, a kind of high-tech brothel. Here the voluptuary is offered as a representation of the automaton, acting repetitively and under compulsion alongside the real machines. Guyon’s violent intervention can be seen as being dictated by the need to recover conditions for the exercise of phronesis, under circumstances where techne has removed them by exalting the aims of self-fulfilment through a technically enabled hedonism. The broader aim of the poem, meanwhile, as the Bower episode also implies, is to set the arts of civilization in a creative, mutually shaping, relationship with natural process; the duck and the rabbit have only temporarily parted company.

their care is for a prosthetic self, the creation of “semblants sly,” and is thus a kind of recklessness.

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accommodation, physical 122 Acrasia 17, 69, 157, 164, 166, 167, 171, 172, 175–76, 178 acrobat, Arroganese 111, 119, 120, 122 actors, nonhuman 46–47, 49–53 Adam 92, 94 Paradise Lost 13, 22, 23, 26, 27–29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 38–39, 40, 42 advanced-receding cube 163 agency 16, 46, 47, 54, 85, 93, 116–17, 125 Alberti, Leon Battista 122–23, 168 Allot, Robert 149–50 Andrewes, Lancelot (sermon May 19, 1616) 15, 95, 99–102 animals, nonhuman 21–22, 25, 26, 27–28, 29, 32, 34, 37–38, 44 animated architecture 109–10 animation 3–4, 5–6, 7–9, 14–15 Antigonus 13, 45, 58–59 Areopagitica (Milton) 15, 98, 104, 105–6 Aristotle 17, 34, 51, 124n33, 164, 165, 178 ‘The Poetics’ 3, 50 Arnauld, Antoine 39–40 Artegall, Sir 61, 62, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 74, 75 Artist of the Beautiful, The (Hawthorne) 144 astronomical clock 138 atomism 9, 10 automata 4–6, 7–9, 10–11, 12–13, 37, 46, 70–71, 80–81, 95, 101, 146 automaton 5–6, 146 avian automata 16–17, 145–46, 147–49, 150, 151, 152–53, 158, 160–61, 172, 175 Bacon, Francis 14, 48, 135 Bacon, Roger 16, 129, 132–33, 134, 135, 138 balance 119, 120

Bartholomew Fair (Jonson) 10, 55, 156 Belsey, Catherine 163–64, 165 birds, mechanical 16–17, 145–46, 147–49, 150, 151, 152–53, 158, 160–61, 172, 175 Borlik, Todd Andrew 16, 85n25, 87n31 Bower of Bliss (Spenser) 17, 69, 157–58, 163–65, 166, 167–68, 169, 171, 172–73, 174–79 brazen head 12, 16, 129–31, 134, 135, 136–39, 140–41, 142, 144, 150 Britomart 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 73, 74 Browne, Thomas, Sir 129, 130, 135 Bruno, Giordano 132 butterfly, mechanical 144 Campanella, Tomasso 135 Cartesian materialism 31–32 Cartesianism 7, 24, 25–26 Catholic Church 70, 96–97, 98, 99n15, 102–3 children 47, 109–10, 117 Church of England 99, 103, 106 Cicero, Marcus Tullius 177, 178n40 Cinyras and Myrrha 2–3 circular motion 116, 174 civic pageantry 15–16, 110–11, 112, 114–16, 117–18, 119–20, 123, 124, 125, 126 Clark, Andy 43 clocks 101, 116, 117, 136, 138, 139 clockwork automaton 7–8, 12, 16, 95, 96, 98–99, 135, 136–39, 148–49 Clout, Colin 86–88, 90, 91 Colin Clouts come home againe (Spenser) 90, 91 Condillac, Etienne Bonnot de 118 Conti, Brooke 11, 15, 17 costumes 49–50, 51 creature 13, 45


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cyborgs 8, 43, 68–69. see also Munera; Talus dance theory 16, 112, 113, 124 Davis, Nick 17, 157 deception 16, 17, 96, 97–98, 151, 154, 155–56, 161 Dee, John 133, 138, 142, 150 mechanical scarab 120, 138, 150–51 Dennett, Daniel C. 31–32 Derrida, Jacques 24n8, 33–34 Descartes, René 7, 13, 22, 23–26, 33, 34, 36–38, 44, 136n23 L’Homme (Treatise of Man) 34, 35, 36 The Meditations on First Philosophy 39–41 Diary (Henslowe) 49, 50 Digges, Thomas 133 Donne, John 4, 95, 98–99, 102–3, 143n42 Downer, Alan Seymour 51 dramatic characters 47, 53, 55 dramatic illusion 47, 48, 50–51, 52 Ecclesiastes (Ch. III) 141–42 Edward VI 15, 110–11, 112, 114–15, 117, 118, 119, 123, 124, 125, 126 Edwards, Thomas 95, 103 emotion 67, 81, 84, 85 England’s Parnassus (Allot) 149–50 Eve 13, 22, 26, 27, 31, 32–33, 42, 42–44 Faerie Queene, The (Spenser) 14, 61–62, 63, 64–66, 67–68, 69–72, 73–76 Bower of Bliss 17, 69, 157–58, 163–65, 166, 167–68, 169, 171, 172–73, 174–79 Fallon, Stephen M. 25–26, 27, 29, 30 false Florimell 69–70, 96 false religiosity 100, 102–3, 104–5, 106 Faraone, Christopher A. 71–72 female automata 1, 3, 4, 46–47, 70–71, 72, 156 Ferry, Anne 83, 92, 94 Fletcher, John 80, 81 Florio, John 10, 56 Flovver of Fidelitie, The (Reynolds) 86, 89, 90 flowers, animated 110, 152, 155

fountains 151, 174–75 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (Greene) 16, 129–30, 131, 132, 133–34, 135, 137, 138–40, 141, 142, 143–44 garden automata 7, 37, 148–49, 152–54, 157–58, 163, 164–65, 168–69, 169–71, 175 ‘Genius’ 176, 177, 178 gestures 110, 112, 115, 116–17, 118 giants, animated 14, 16, 70 Gosson, Stephen 49–50, 51 grace 110, 115, 117, 122 Greene, Robert 12, 129, 136–37 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay 16, 129–30, 131, 132, 133–34, 135, 137, 138–40, 141, 142, 143–44 Grey de Wilton, Arthur, Lord 62, 75 guardian statues. see Munera; Talus Guyon, Sir 69, 157, 158, 165, 171, 172–73, 175, 176–77, 178–79 hand props 49, 50, 51, 52 handkerchief (Othello) 49, 51, 52 Haraway, Donna J. 8, 68–69 Harriot, Thomas 133, 138 Hawthorne, Nathaniel 144 Heller-Roazen, Daniel 118 Henslowe, Philip 49, 50, 51 Hephaestus 64, 71, 75, 176n34. see also Vulcan herbalism 82–83, 92–94 Hermes 130–31 Hermione 6, 13–14, 45, 46, 48, 54–55, 56–57, 58, 60 Hero 154–55, 156 Hero and Leander (Marlowe) 154–56 Hero of Alexandria 8, 134, 146, 147–48, 156, 175, 176n33 Hesdin, France 148, 169–71, 175 Hiltner, Ken 25 History of the World, The (Pliny) 92n41, 158–59 Homer 8 Howell, James 83, 84, 88–89 humanism 131 Hyman, Wendy Beth 16–17 hypocrites, religious 95, 99–102

Index Ibn Zamrak 168–69 imago Dei 13, 22, 29, 31, 33, 40, 44 improvisation 142, 144 Ireland 14, 62–63, 91 Iris 79 iron man. see Talus Isis 72 Jonson, Ben 4, 74n25, 110, 123n30 Bartholomew Fair 10, 55, 156 Kant, Emmanuel 22–23, 112 kinesthetic sympathy 110, 111, 118–19, 120, 123, 124–25 Kleist, Heinrich von 110, 115, 117 Knight, Leah 14–15 Kolb, Justin 13 Lacan, Jacques 22–23, 165, 166 Latour, Bruno 13, 46, 47, 54, 115n15 Leander 154–55, 156 Leontes, King 13, 47–48, 54, 55, 56, 57–58, 59, 60 Lewis, C. S. 73 L’Homme (Treatise of Man) (Descartes) 34, 35, 36 lions, mechanical 112, 115, 116, 118 Magia e Grazia (Campanella) 135 Maisano, Scott 12, 13, 58n32, 136n23 Manifesto for Cyborgs, A 8, 68–69 Marlowe, Christopher 4, 130, 158, 160 Hero and Leander 154–56 Marr, Alexander 95, 101 Martin, John 113, 114 Maslen, Robert W. 140 materialism 9–10 McColley, Diane Kelsey 26, 28 McCulloch, Lynsey 13, 14, 157 mechane 173–74 mechanical motion 6, 114, 115–16, 117, 125 Mechanical Problems 173–74 Medea 64, 168, 170–71 medicinal herbalists 82–83, 92–94 Meditations on First Philosophy, The (Descartes) 39–41 metakinesis 16, 113–14, 116, 117, 122


Metamorphoses (Ovid) 92 Myrrha and Cinyras 2–3 Pygmalion 1–2, 3, 4, 8, 156 Miles 134, 139, 141, 142–43, 144 Milton, John 11, 23, 62–63, 95, 103–6, 107 Areopagitica 15, 98, 104, 105–6 Paradise Lost 12, 13, 21–22, 23, 25– 26, 27–33, 34, 38–39, 40, 42–44 miracles, bogus 97–98 monism 11, 29, 30–31, 44 Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de 56, 148, 169n17, 175 motion 5–6, 14, 15–16, 34, 37, 113–14, 120, 123–24, 125, 174 Munera 68, 70, 71, 73, 74 Myrrha and Cinyras 2–3 Nashe, Thomas 4 The Unfortunate Traveller 136, 152– 53, 154, 155, 158, 160, 171–72 natural automata 14–15, 81–84, 85–86, 88–91, 92–94, 167–68 neoplatonism 11–12, 11–12, 124, 125 New Historicism 52 nightingale 158–59 Nohrnberg, James 66–67 Norwich Cathedral, clock 136, 139, 140–41 occult theories 130, 131, 133, 138 Orpheus 14–15, 79–80, 81, 82, 83, 84–85, 92, 93, 167n11 Othello (Shakespeare) 49, 51, 52 Ovid Metamorphoses 1–3, 4, 8, 92, 156 Philomela 158 Owen, John 96 pageants 15–16, 110–11, 112, 114–16, 117–18, 119–20, 123, 124, 125, 126 Painter, William 90–91 para-natural 174, 175 Paradise Lost (Milton, 1666) 12, 13, 21–22, 23, 25–26, 27–33, 34, 38–39, 40, 42–44 Paulina 48, 55, 57, 58, 60 Perdita 14, 45, 46, 47, 48, 54, 55, 58–60


The Automaton in English Renaissance Literature

Philomela 158, 159, 160 phoenix, mechanical 112, 115, 116, 122 phronesis 178, 179 physis 164–65, 167, 172, 173, 178 plants 15, 81–85, 92–94 Pliny the Elder 92n41, 158–59 pneumatica 101 Pneumatica (Hero of Alexandria) 134, 147–48, 176n33 poetry 8, 12, 14–17, 75, 80, 85–88, 89–91, 145–47 possessive authorship 48, 51 postion 113, 119, 120, 122 prosopopoeia 14, 85, 160, 176 Protestantism 95, 96–97, 98, 99, 102–3, 106, 107 psycho-physical dualism 22, 23–24, 25, 26, 32, 37 puppets 55n26, 97, 100, 102, 143 Puttenham, George 4, 14, 93, 160 Pygmalion 1–2, 3, 4, 8, 156 quasi-objects 13, 46–47, 53, 54–55 Ramelli, Agostino 151 Raphael 11, 26, 29, 30, 32, 38 rational souls 23, 24, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38 religious automata 96–98 religious prose 15, 17, 95–96, 105, 106–7 Reynolds, John 86, 89, 90 robots 42 Rogers, John 26, 102 Rood of Boxley 70, 97–98 Rymer, Thomas 51 Satan 25, 26, 30, 31, 32–33 Sawday, Jonathan 38, 42–43, 61n3, 171n22 scarab, mechanical 120, 138, 150–51 Shakespeare 4, 49, 65n10, 140, 143 Othello 49, 51, 52 stage properties 49, 50, 51 The Winter’s Tale 10, 13–14, 45–48, 49, 51, 53, 54–60 Shepheardes Calender, The (Spenser) 86–88 Sidney, Philip 17, 87, 92, 147 Smith, Bruce 24 Smith, Thomas, Sir 117–18

soap 16, 115 Sofer, Andrew 52 song, mechanical 16–17, 16–17, 87–88, 145, 148, 157–58, 172 souls 7, 10, 11–12, 34, 36n20, 81–82, 117, 123 rational 23, 24, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38 spectacle 15–16, 110–11, 116, 117, 124, 125–26 Spenser, Edmund 62 Bower of Bliss 17, 69, 157–58, 163–65, 166, 167–68, 169, 171, 172–73, 174–79 The Faerie Queene 14, 61–62, 63, 64–66, 67–68, 69–72, 73–76 The Shepheardes Calender 86–88 stage properties 13–14, 46, 48, 49–53, 59 tableaux vivant 15–16, 111, 117 Talos (Talon) 64, 66–67, 71, 74n25, 75 Talus (Talos) 13, 14, 61–63, 64, 65, 66–69, 70, 71–72, 73–75, 76, 178 Teague, Frances N. 49, 59 techne 17, 53, 61, 151, 153, 164–65, 167, 172–73, 176, 178 ‘The Poetics’ (Aristotle) 3, 50 theatre 10–11, 12, 49–53, 57n30, 110, 114, 138 thick description 52 ‘thing’ 56–57 Tillyard, E. M. W. 124 time 139–41 transition 113, 119, 120 transubstantiation 10 tree-writing 88–91 trees 14, 81, 83–84, 85–86, 88–91, 92, 92–93 trompe l’oeil art 163–64, 165–67, 168 truth, religious 105–6 Turing, Alan 28 Turing Test 13, 28 Turk, The 6 Unfortunate Traveller, The (Nashe) 136, 152–53, 154, 155, 158, 160, 171–72 van der Vaardt violin 166–67

Index visual illusion 163–64, 165–67 voices, mechanical 147–48, 160 Vulcan 8, 79, 145n2. see also Hephaestus water-driven automata 81, 101, 136, 169, 175 Whitsunday sermon (Andrewes, May 19, 1616) 15, 95, 99–102 Wilkins, John 148–49


Winter’s Tale, The (Shakespeare, 1611) 10, 13–14, 45–48, 49, 51, 53, 54–60 Wither, George 145, 159–60 Witmore, Michael 15–16, 47, 156n28 Wolfe, Jessica 53, 63, 66n13, 177 women, quasi-objects 54–55 Yachnin, Paul 52

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