Archive

Archive for the ‘The Tempest’ Category

Did Ben Jonson write The Tempest’s masque?

February 2nd, 2014 No comments

In his essay “Another Jonson Critic” (The Ben Jonson Journal 18.1, 2011) Andrew Gurr observes: “Shakespeare never wrote any masques for the Court. So why did he create part of one for The Tempest?” His question serves as launchpad for a searching review of the many similarities and echoes that scholars have long noted between Ben Jonson’s pre-1610 masques and the one we find in The Tempest. Aided by speculations as to the “consistently lively and intimate relationship” between these two famous rivals, Gurr concludes that Shakespeare’s apparent awareness of Jonson’s masques, and Prospero’s abrupt dismissal of the pageantry when he recalls Caliban’s conspiracy, works as a “quiet comment on the pretensions inherent in Jonson’s courtly masquing.”

InigoJonesBJMasqueOfAugures

 

But is this an adequate explanation for the uncanny accuracy of Shakespeare’s imitation? Jonson, after all, knew these transient pretensions firsthand, and Prospero’s “Our revels now are ended” speech directly echoes sentiments he’d already expressed in Hymenaei, published in 1606. With so many examples of his influence over the form and content of this masque, why, I wonder, did Andrew Gurr not ask if Jonson might have written it?  Given the recent scholarship on “collaboration” in Shakespeare’s canon, especially among the later plays, further investigation into Ben Jonson’s hand within The Tempest certainly seems justified.

What follows are just a few of the similarities to Jonson’s masques, as well as Jonson’s thinking about the phenomena of the court masque, as noted by Gurr:

* Transcience: In his preface to Hymenaei, Jonson “wrote of the division between a masque’s “soule,” it’s poetry, and the materiality and transience of its staging. The soul, he argued, had the “lasting” impact. Otherwise, “all the glorie of all these solemnities had perish’d like a blaze, and gone out in the beholders eyes.” Though Gurr hesitates to say so, Jonson’s skepticism about “shows” in his preface actually mirrors Prospero’s dismissal in his “Our revels now are ended” speech, where, just as swiftly as he can clap his hand, the “insubstantial pageant” he’s orchestrated will fade and dissolve, like a blazing moment of sunset.

Instead of acknowledging that Jonson and Shakespeare have the same views on this transcience of the Jacobean court spectacles, Gurr attempts to find difference where there is none: “Jonson’s introductory notes to his 1610 masque must have stimulated Shakespeare’s thinking about such shows. Whatever his reason for so abruptly truncating The Tempest’s masque, Shakespeare seems to have developed his own view of the new art. His feelings seem to have been altogether more modest, or at least more modulated.”

* The Great Globe: Universally and inextricably linked in the public mind of today to William Shakespeare and his Globe theatre, this may not have been the case in early Jacobean London, as Gurr’s next observation suggests:

Hymenaei has several features that must have registered in Shakespeare’s mind… Not the least of the apparent echoes of [Jonson’s] masque in The Tempest is the great orb of silver and gilt, the giant “microcosme, or Globe, (figuring Man)” designed by Inigo Jones. …Whether or not Prospero alludes to it directly when he specifies “the great Globe it selfe” while declaring that “Our Revels now are ended,” a few people in the audience at the Blackfriars, not least Jonson himself, might have been expected to see the link.

To further illustrate, Gurr quotes from John Pory’s letter to Sir Robert Cotton dated 7 January, 1606:

Ben Jonson turned the globe of the earth standing behind the altar, and within the Concave sate the 8 men-maskers representing the 4 humours and the fower affections who leapt forth to disturb the sacrifice to union…

Don’t you just love the image of Ben Jonson turning that huge mechanical globe, with all those gorgeously costumed courtiers sweating in its concave belly?  Note also how his eight men-masquers leapt forth to disturb.  This mirrors the reason for Prospero’s abrupt ending of the masque: the memory of Caliban and his co-conspirators leapt forth to disturb him, the deposed duke of Milan and self-appointed guardian of the island’s “commonwealth”.

JunoIrisWencelasHollar

* Reason: Jonson’s affection for the quality of “wakeful reason” is well-documented in his early Epode, included in Chester’s Love’s Martyr.  Without reaching so far back, Gurr easily connects Prospero’s reliance on reason with Jonson’s symbolic portrayal of the virtue:

Moreover, that in Jonson’s Hymenaei it should be Reason who was the one to restore order, sitting on top of Hymenaei’s globe and descending from it to quell the disruptive Humours and Affections, such a show of control seems nicely echoed in Prospero’s own subsequent dismissal of his disordered masquers.”

Jonson and Shakespeare do seem to be thinking along similar lines at this time, as when we find Prospero declaring, “Yet with my nobler reason gains’t my fury…”  And Jonson’s early use of “wakeful Reason” calls to mind the sleepy terms that Prospero uses to dismiss the pageant when his spy, Ariel, reminds him of the “foul conspiracy”:

We are such stuff/as dreams are made on…

…our little life is rounded by a sleep…

…My brain is troubled, be not disturbed with my infirmity

Had Prospero and his “nobler reason” been awake, rather than invested in staging this dreamy “vanity” (which for some reason he seems to think is expected of him), would he have forgotten Caliban’s mischief?

* Drawn swords: The anti-masque is a Jonsonian innovation, written to portray the disorder that the order of a masque will reform, through its symbolic poetry and pageantry.  At this point in his essay, Gurr moves beyond the Tempest’s masque to a consideration of where, if at all, we may find the play’s “anti-masque”.  He cites Catherine M. Shaw: “who identifies the play’s antimasque as Ariel’s previous maddening of Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio at the end of act 3 while Prospero is standing to view it ‘on the top’.”  If we follow Shaw’s line of thinking as regards the anti-masque, we find it leads us to another echo of Jonson’s Hymenaei:

…Alonso and Antonio have both rebelled against Reason by ‘violating the unity of family and state,’ making them draw their swords just as the masquers do in Hymenaei.

* “on the top”: As we’ve just seen, this phrase appears in act 3, scene 3, where Shaw locates the anti-masque of the play.  Gurr draws our attention to a similar phrase in Jonson’s Hymenaei, where

“a statue of Jupiter is present above the pair, positioned ‘standing in the toppe (figuring the heaven) brandishing his thunder.’ This may well have been reflected in Cymbeline’s Jupiter, suspended from the Globe’s heavens… as much as in Prospero, positioned to watch the banquet during Ariel’s appearance as the Harpy in a superior position specified by the stage direction only as “on the top,a distinctive location not repeated anywhere in any other play.”  

This echo of a unique stage direction in two of Shakespeare’s later plays seems to position Jonson as the Jacobean trend-setter in his staging effects.   Having exceeded my 1,000 word limit for a blog post, I’ll save the remainder of Gurr’s very useful essay for another day.  Thank you for visiting the EO Review.

In a Continual Tempest

November 2nd, 2013 No comments

My brave spirit!  Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil/Would not infect his reason?  ~Prospero to Ariel, The Tempest

Far from being a play that he must have hated, The Tempest actually put a breath of life into Ben Jonson’s stiff ‘Epode’, (click here to read in a separate window) which appeared alongside Shakespeare’s ‘Phoenix and the Turtle’ in Love’s Martyr.   So far, no one but Charles Downing, a turn-of-the-last-century bardolator, seems to have noticed that each of the concepts Jonson had explored in that early morality poem gained a local habitation and a name on Shakespeare’s bare island:  Vice, Virtue, Reason, Blind Desire and True Love all come alive as Antonio, Gonzalo, Prospero, Ferdinand and Miranda.

prospero-and-ariel

The thematic correspondences between Jonson’s poem and Shakespeare’s play seem to me to be sufficiently striking for us to question whether or not there may have been some silent, unrecorded collaboration between the two poets in the composition of The Tempest.  If so, it was a perfect mating of talents. Where Jonson had compressed all his static allegorical figures into a relatively brief ‘Poetical Essay’ (116 lines), Shakespeare, in The Tempest, seems to have unpacked Jonson’s mannequins and clothed their naked utility with robust poetry and ethereal song.  Thought is translated into symbolic action.  Take, for instance, Jonson’s tedious musing in his poem’s first lines:

Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,
Is virtue and not fate :
Next to that virtue, is to know vice well,
And her black spite expel,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure, 
Or safe, but she’ll procure
Some way of entrance) (Epode lines 1-7)

In The Tempest, we find Jonson’s idea moving with swift authority when Prospero questions his “Brave spirit”, Ariel, about the results of his magical project.  Paraphrased as “Was no breast so sure or safe, that this coil/ would not infect their reason?”, the question leads us directly to where Jonson is going in his poem.  A few lines further down, Jonson introduces “Wakeful Reason, our affection’s king”, who depends on us to “plant a guard/Of thoughts to watch and ward” against the entrance of Vice.  In the The Tempest, Shakespeare plants two unreliable guards – Antonio and Sebastian – to watch over the sleeping king:  AHollowBurstofBellowing

We two, my lord,
Will guard your person while you take your rest,
And watch your safety. (TT 2.1.911-13)

A few minutes later in the play, Gonzalo, who plays “Virtue” to the conspirators’ “Vice”, gives us a vivid illustration of lines 22-3 in Jonson’s poem, which speak of what happens when “the sentinel, That should ring larum to the heart, doth sleep”:

Upon mine honour, sir, I heard a humming,
And that a strange one too, which did awake me:
I shaked you, sir, and cried: as mine eyes open’d,
I saw their weapons drawn: there was a noise,
That’s verily. ‘Tis best we stand upon our guard,
Or that we quit this place; let’s draw our weapons. (TT 2.1.1066-71)

The next passage in Jonson’s poem tells how “Wakeful Reason” will “quickly taste the treason” of the Vices attempting to enter each breast that seems so sure.  Once alerted to these temptations, the next step for “Reason” is to “commit/close, the close cause of it”.   The line is dense but not obscure.  “Commit” carries the meaning of imprison, as we find in Shakespeare: “Sir, here comes the nobleman that committed the Prince for striking him about Bardolph” (2H4, 1.2.350).  As for the “close cause” to be committed, it is “close” to us because our own eyes and ears are the ports of entry for Vice.  Therefore, in the logic of Jonson’s poetic essay:

‘Tis the securest policy we have,
To make our sense our slave.  (Epode lines 17-18)

“To make our sense our slave” may be the allegorical logic that binds Prospero (as “Wakeful Reason”) so uneasily to his role as master of two spirit “slaves”, Ariel and Caliban.  Caliban, who “must eat” his dinner, and would gladly people the island with a “brave brood” of Calibans, easily represents our carnal appetites.  At the end of the play, when Prospero has finished taming the beast in Caliban, he confesses what we might have guessed all along: “This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.”

Ariel is much more complicated than Caliban, perhaps because the senses he serves – Prospero’s intellectual pride and desire for vengeance – are in themselves such complex temptations.  These two pitfalls are missing from Jonson’s early poem, which has the perfect love of the Phoenix and the Turtle for its inspiration.  But Ariel also serves as Prospero’s personal Cupid, by bringing Ferdinand and Miranda together:

At the first sight
They have changed eyes. Delicate Ariel,
I’ll set thee free for this. (TT1.2.613)

ariel_ferdinand

As in The Tempest, Cupid isn’t mentioned by name in Jonson’s poem, but the blind boy’s disruptive methods and effects make a strong impression in both works.  One major object of Prospero’s “art” in raising the tempest was to bring Ferdinand safely ashore where he cannot help but fall helplessly in love with the admirable Miranda.  With this in mind, listen closely to Ariel’s response to Prospero’s, “Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil/Would not infect their reason?”

                                     …Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and play’d
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me: the king’s son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring,—then like reeds, not hair,—
Was the first man that leap’d; cried, ‘Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.’ (TT 1.2.329-36)

Now compare this with how Jonson personifies Cupid by his other name, “blind Desire”:

The thing, they here call Love, is blind Desire,
Arm’d with bow, shafts, and fire;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence ’tis borne,
Rough, swelling, like a storm:
With whom who sails, rides on the surge of fear,
And boils, as if he were
In a continual tempest. (Epode lines 37-43)

With both passages still fresh in mind, listen now to Shakespeare’s portrait of Ferdinand riding the swollen surge, lines that were meant as comfort to King Alonso, who has no idea that his son survived the tempest and is now smitten with Miranda: tempestAriel

                                       …Sir, he may live:
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; he trod the water,
Whose enmity he flung aside, and breasted
The surge most swoln that met him; his bold head
‘Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oar’d
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke
To the shore, that o’er his wave-worn basis bow’d,
As stooping to relieve him: I not doubt
He came alive to land.

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Shakespeare wrote these lines, in which there seems to be but one trace of him, and that is “oared”, says H. H. Furness in the Variorum edition of the play, with no further discussion of his reason for doubting Shakespeare’s hand here.  Could Jonson have written these lines?  “I not doubt” is a phrase that appears twice in this play, but no where else in Shakespeare; we find it in Jonson’s Cataline.  Likewise, Shakespeare only combines “bold” with “head” here in The Tempest; Jonson uses “bold head” in his Epigram CXXVI to Mrs. Cary.  He may have publicly dissed The Tempest in Bartholomew Fair, but Honest Ben seems to have left a partial print or two on Shakespeare’s text.  

One Phoenix?

October 25th, 2013 4 comments

elizafuneral

“Sebastian’s pointed allusion to “one tree [in Arabia], the Phoenix throne; one Phoenix at this hour reigning there” (3.3.21-24) can now be appreciated – as it would be in any play dated before 1604 – as a topical compliment to an elderly Queen known as the Phoenix, Elizabeth I (1533- 1603).”  Stritmatter & Kositsky, On the Date, Sources and Design of Shakespeare’s Tempest, McFarland, 2013

In my last post, Phoenix of the Tempest, we saw how Sebastian’s allusion, followed by references to the traveler Puntarvolo of Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour, could, indeed, direct us to a time during Elizabeth’s reign.  Specifically, in a play attributed to Shakespeare, I believe we’re invited to revisit the “Poetical Essaies” on the topic of the Phoenix that he and Ben Jonson contributed to Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr.  Could it be that the author is also inviting us to hear a compliment to Elizabeth while she still reigned, as Stritmatter and Kositsky imagine?

Not necessarily so.  Allusions are notoriously subjective, even more so when so much is at stake, as it is for those who hold that Oxford (who died on June 24, 1604) wrote “Shakespeare” and “Shakespeare” wrote The Tempest.  We must be on guard against hidden assumptions that may limit the scope of our inquiry. For example, as evidence that Sebastian’s Phoenix refers to Elizabeth, Stritmatter and Kositsky state, (in a footnote to the book’s first reference to the Phoenix, ch. 7, p. 79, fn. 36):

Incidentally, the passage suggests that Queen Elizabeth was alive when the play was written: her association with the Phoenix is too well known to require detailed exposition.  As early as 1574 medallions were struck bearing her image on one side and the phoenix on the other, and in 1575 she sat for the “phoenix portrait” by Nicholas Hilliard wearing one. [A second footnote, to ch. 9, repeats this assertion almost verbatim.]

Notice how “too well known” lullabies us into complacency.  Of course, Elizabeth adopted and nurtured the Phoenix myth for herself, but she wasn’t the only Phoenix of the times.  In 1593, The Phoenix Nest included poems of grief honoring the slain Philip Sidney as a Phoenix (with “E.O” as one of the contributors; his poem was later reprinted in England’s Helicon as by the “Earle of Oxenford“).  By marrying Sidney’s widow, Essex symbolically rose from Philip’s ashes to carry on the Sidnean flame of virtue.  After the beheading of Essex in 1601, his role as Sidney’s successor for the mantle of true, virtuous phoenix (or lover of the phoenix) may have been on the minds of the poets – Shakespeare included – who contributed to Love’s Martyr.

Funeral_procession_of_Sir_Philip_Sidney_1587_Theodor_de_Bry_pallbearers

Although they abstain from offering a likely date by which the earl of Oxenford would have written The Tempest, “any play dated before 1604″ is the time frame that Stritmatter and Kositsky stake out for Sebastian’s supposed compliment to Elizabeth as a living Phoenix.  Perhaps they meant to say “any play dated before Elizabeth’s death in March of 1603″?  Once she was gone, the mantle of Phoenix quickly passed, with imperial emphasis, to James:

The most common image with which James was associated, especially in the immediate aftermath of his succession, was that of the phoenix. A device with which writers had lauded Queen Elizabeth, it was one which could be used to celebrate the new king even as it remembered his predecessor. A long-time imperial motif, its use dated back to the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine… As James had returned to the throne of Britain as a Constantine so too was he like Britain reborn.  Theatre and Empire: Great Britain on the London Stages under James VI and I by Tristan Marshall

The list of examples Marshall provides should quickly alert us to the dangers of using Sebastian’s cry of belief in a Phoenix as either a reference to Elizabeth or as a dating marker for The Tempest:

In praising James, use of the phoenix began during the period of mourning for the queen. ‘One Phenix dead, another doth suruiue‘ and ‘thus is a phoenix of her ashes bred‘ wrote the Cambridge contributors to Sorrows Ioy (1603), while Henry Campion described ‘that Phoenix rare, whom all were loath to leaue’. Sylvester’s translation of Du Bartas’s Divine Weeks and Works (1608) mused: ‘from spicie Ashes to the sacred URNE of our dead Phoenix (dear ELIZABETH), A new true PHOENIX lively flourisheth… JAMES, thou just Heire’. Welcoming James to his capital on behalf of its sheriffs the MP and wit Richard Martin effused how ‘out of the ashes of this Phoenix wert thou, King James, borne for our good, the bright starre of the North’. Henry Petowe’s 1603 poem reporting James’s coronation, England’s Caesar, claimed that the king was ‘the Phoenix of all Soueraignty‘ while Dekker’s arch for Jame’s welcome to London, Nova Arabia Felix, associated Britain with ‘happy Arabia…’ …The king’s arrival before the arch represented the phoenix arising out of the ashes of the dead queen

These references to James as a phoenix highlight another problem with using the soft evidence of topical allusions to date the composition of an entire play: changes or additions may have been made at any time before publication, especially to a script revived soon after greatly altered circumstances.  Regardless of who we believe wrote Shakespeare, we should never lose sight of the documentary evidence we do have for dating this play: the first recorded performance at court of 1611, followed by a second royal production in 1613, along with the 1623 date of first publication in the First Folio.

HearseofHenryStuart

By the time the court saw The Tempest for a second time in 1613, they’d just mourned the death of Prince Henry in 1612 and were in the midst of celebrating the wedding of his sister Elizabeth to Frederick, Elector Palatine, on Feb 14, 1613.  Tristan Marshall documents another flurry of Phoenix references inspired by these momentous changes:

Use of the phoenix image was to be given new impetus when James’s heir apparent died prematurely in 1612. The death of Prince Henry was lamented by Christopher Brooke – ‘…this Phoenix …haue sacrificed his life in funerall flame‘ – while Protestant hopes were transferred to his sister and her husband, of which couple Robert Allyne wrote:

As Phoenix burnes herselfe against the Sunne,

That from her dust may spring another one…

So now, raise up a world of royall seed.

That may adorne the earth when ye are dead.

It is no coincidence that Phineas Pett built and launched a ship named the Phoenix in honour of the Princess Elizabeth before her departure with her husband, while Donne refers to the couple repeatedly as being two Phoenixes in his Epithalamion for their marriage.

As should now be evident, in a play first established as a stable text in 1623, Sebastian’s reference to a Phoenix still reigning could apply to Elizabeth as Anne Boleyn’s heir, to Essex as Philip Sidney’s heir, to James as Queen Elizabeth’s heir (1603-5), to the Stuart Princess Elizabeth as her brother Henry’s heir (1612-13), or to none of the above.  I believe the context best fits Jonson’s idealized Phoenix: a being infused with all Virtue and no Vice, wherein Passsion submits to Reason, and Love embraces Chastity.  As I hope to show in future posts, this was Prospero’s vision as well.  On Jonson’s terms, Ariel’s magic begins the work of transforming the treasonous fool Sebastian from a monster into a man.

~Marie Merkel

 

Phoenix of The Tempest

October 18th, 2013 No comments

Now I will believe…

…that in Arabia

There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne, one phoenix

At this hour reigning there.

One of the silliest ideas in Shakespeare studies is that Ben Jonson hated The Tempest.  If all we had to go on were his sly comments in Bartholomew Fair (1614), there might be some excuse for such myopia, but no poet of the era left behind a more comprehensive road map of his artistic journey. Tag along with him for any part of that road, be it through his plays, poems, masques or prose, and you’ll soon gauge the temper of the man: bold beyond belief, short-tempered, righteous, erudite, funny, self-deprecating, wily, smart,

FerdinandMirandaPaulFalconerPoole1850

generous, beloved and scorned.  If he heaped gorgeous praises on those he deemed worthy, no one suffered a fool with more gleeful relish. Prospero’s reforming project coincides with his own: how he would have loved to lure a ship of vicious ninnies to an island and pour into their captive ears and eyes the visionary music of his Art, in order to boil their brains till they came to their senses.

But you don’t need to read all of Jonson’s imposing “Works” to find proof of his essential sympathy with The Tempest.  All you need is one poem, which Sebastian’s sudden belief (3.3.21-4) in a Phoenix reigning “at this hour” would have called up for the play’s original audiences.  Two references in this scene point us towards Jonson.  Sebastian, a slothful, foul-mouthed lord, had just been whispering treason with Antonio when Ariel arrives with strange music and a banquet to ravish their senses.  Ariel’s magic also infects Antonio’s belief system; he seconds Sebastian’s outburst, and proclaims himself ready to swear to “what else does want credit”, such as the tales of “travelers” [that] ne’er did lie.

Not without mustard

Mention of travelers eventually leads Gonzalo to muse about the stories told by “Each putter-out of five for one“.  As Theobald discovered long ago, the meaning of this phrase will be found in Jonson’s highly popular Every Man Out of His Humour (published in quarto three times in 1600).  Both references – to traveler and the “putter-out of five for one” – invite us to recall Jonson’s vain-glorious traveler Puntarvolo, who made precisely this wager.

Once we pick up the author’s cues and land in Jonson territory, we have a new light to shine on Sebastian’s Phoenix.  In a play attributed solely to Shakespeare, any mention of this mythological bird should send us back to Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr: Or Rosaline’s Complaint of 1601, where we’ll find Shakespeare’s poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle” published for the first time.  This intertextuality is reinforced by the bird’s appearance in a scene that not only begins with two unpleasantly witty Lords plotting the king’s death but also contains three phrases or references that call up works from the time of the Essex Rebellion.

Shakespeare appears to have had some sympathy with Essex and his followers, (perhaps blindsided by his devotion to Southampton) whereas Jonson, in Cynthia’s Revels, (1601) publicly chastised Essex in the figure of Acteon.  Here’s the rub: through Ariel, Prospero’s reforming magic elicits from Sebastian a new-found belief in a living Phoenix; Shakespeare, if you recall, ends his threnody on the Phoenix with

Chester_Robert-Loves_martyr_or_Rosalins_complaint

Now let us turn to Jonson, who, as it happens, also wrote a “Poetical Essay” on the phoenix for Love’s Martyr.  His contribution is placed last, as if to give him final say among the four poets (Marston and Chapman are the other two contributors).  Charles Downing (God in Shakespeare, 1901) believes that Jonson’s

Epode will be easily recognised as the germ of The Tempest, and in it the reader will find my interpretation so far of the play…confirmed in important particulars.”  

 

By “germ” it seems to me that Downing has in mind an originating impulse such as we might expect to come from the author himself.  After reading all four of Jonson’s contributions to Love’s Martyr, I agree with Downing’s assessment of the importance, in particular, of his Epode (reprinted later in The Forest).  If you aren’t already familiar with this poem, (reprinted below the turtle) I hope you’ll take the time to read it carefully and impartially, to judge for yourself.  I do believe you’ll find, in embryonic state, the essential concepts regarding reason, passion, chastity and virtue that underlie Prospero’s reforming “project”.  If Shakespeare truly wrote The Tempest, all by himself, then it is his belated salute of honor to Jonson’s moral vision in Love’s Martyr

ThouTortoise 

BEN JONSON’S EPODE.

 

Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,

Is virtue and not fate

Next to that virtue is to know vice well,

And her black spight expel;

Which to effect (since no breast is so sure

Or safe, but she’ll procure

Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard

Of thoughts, to watch and ward

At the eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,

That no strange or unkind

Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,

Give knowledge instantly,

To wakeful Reason, our affection’s King;

Who, in the examining,

Will quickly taste the treason, and commit, 

Close, the close cause of it.

Tis the securest policy we have

To make our sense our slave.

But this true course is not embraced by many,

By many! Scarce by any.

For either our affections do rebel,

Or else the sentinel,

That should ring ‘larum to the heart, doth sleep:

Or some great thought doth keep (as ambition)

Back the intelligence, and falsely swears

They’re base and idle fears

Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.

Thus by these subtle trains,

Do several passions invade the mind,

And strike our reason blind.

Of which usurping rank, some have thought love

The First; as prone to move

Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests

In our inflamed breasts:

But this doth from the cloud of Error grow

Which thus we over-blow.

The thing they here call love is blind desire,

Armed with bow, shafts, and fire: 

Inconstant like the sea of whence ‘tis born,

Rough, swelling, like a storm,

With whom who sails rides on the surge of fear,

And boils as if he were

In a continual tempest. Now true love

No such effects doth prove;

That is an essence far more gentle, fine,

Pure, perfect, nay, divine.

It is a golden chain, let down from heaven,

Whose links are bright and even;

That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines

The soft and sweetest minds

In equal knots: this bears no brands, nor darts 

To murder different hearts,

But, in a calm and godlike unity,

Preserves community.

O, who is he that, in this peace enjoys

The Elixir of all joys?

A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,

And lasting as her flowers;

Richer than Time, and as Time’s virtue, rare; 

Sober as saddest care;

A fixed thought, an eye untaught to glance;

Who blest with such high chance,

Would at suggestion of a steep desire

Cast himself from the spire

Of all his happiness? But, soft; I hear

Some vicious Fool draw near

That cries, we dream, and swears there’s no such thing 

As this chaste love we sing.

Peace, Luxury! thou are like one of those

Who, being at sea, suppose,

Because they move, the continent doth so.

No, Vice, we let thee know,

Though thy wild thoughts with sparrow’s wings do fly,

Turtles can chastely die;

And yet (in this to express ourselves more clear)

We do not number here

Such spirits as are only continent,

Because lust’s means are spent;

Or those who doubt the common mouth of fame,

And for their place and name,

Cannot so safely sin; their chastity

Is mere necessity;

Nor mean we those, whom vows in conscience

Have filled with abstinence;

Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain,

Makes a most blessed gain.

He that, for love of goodness, hateth ill,

Is more crown worthy still

Than he, which for sin’s penalty forbears;

His heart sins, though he fears.

But we propose a person like our Dove,

Graced with a Phoenix’ love;

A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,

Would make a day of night,

And turn the blackest sorrow to bright joys:

Whose odorous breath destroys 

All taste of bitterness, and makes the air

As sweet as she is fair:

A body as harmoniously composed

As if nature disclosed

All her best symmetry in that one feature!

O, so divine a creature 

Who could be false to? Chiefly when he knows

How only she bestows

The wealthy treasure of her love on him; 

Making his fortunes swim 

In the full flood of her admired perfection? 

What savage brute affection

Would not be fearful to offend a dame

Of this excelling frame?

Much more a noble and right generous mind, 

To virtuous moods inclined,

That knows the weight of guilt; he will refrain

From thoughts of such a strain,

And to his sense object this sentence ever,

Man may securely sin, but safely never.”

 

Thank you for visiting the EO Review.

Who Wrote Prospero’s Epilogue?

February 28th, 2011 2 comments

…Now I want

Spirits to enforce: Art to inchant,

And my ending is despaire,

Unlesse I be reliev’d by praier

Which pierces so, that it assaults

Mercy it selfe, and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.

The quality of mercy has a trembling, “unmistakable” resonance in both the work of Shakespeare and in the Geneva Bible owned by Edward de Vere (as my colleague William Ray points out in his comments on “The Subtlest Maze of All”).  What’s more, Elizabeth’s beheading of his cousin, Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk in 1572, just as Oxford was coming of age, must have scorched his psyche with the unbearable horror of mercy denied.

Nevertheless, when we exit the maze of The Tempest, floating on Prospero’s astoundingly Catholic epilogue, with the words “mercy“, “crimes” and “pardon” resounding in our ears, chances are that the artisan responsible for our euphoria was Ben Jonson.   In my view, Jonson trumps everyone as the best candidate for the epilogue’s exercise in octosyllabic couplets, which he used to such touching effect in his elegy “On My First Daughter“.  The evidence is, of course, circumstantial, but strong on both the biographical and literary fronts:

1. THE EPILOGUE IS CATHOLIC: For twelve years, beginning in 1598, Ben Jonson had been a practicing Catholic.  On Nov. 1, 1611, when the King’s Men performed ‘a play called The Tempest’, Ben’s abjuration of his adopted faith was still a recent, and no doubt painful divorce. Curiously, at the start of Prospero’s life story to his daughter, he emphasizes this span of time twice in one line: “Twelve year since (Miranda) twelve year since”, this being the amount of time he’s spent marooned on his enchanted island.
.
2. ITS VOCABULARY MATCHES JONSON’S: Five key words in Prospero’s epilogue – fault, despair, mercy, crimes and pardon – appear in Jonson’s Elegy 38, from Underwoods, a poem which articulates the same essential themes we find in The Tempest, including the “menace of a storm” and the power “to forgive”:
.

…Help, O you that may

Alone lend succours, and this fury stay.

Offended mistress, you are yet so fair,

As light breaks from you that affrights despair,

And fills my powers with persuading joy,

That you should be too noble to destroy.

There may some face or menace of a storm

Look forth, but cannot last in such a form.

If there be nothing worthy you can see

Of graces, or your mercy here in me,

Spare your own goodness yet; and be not great

In will and power, only to defeat.

God and the good know to forgive and save;

The ignorant and fools no pity have.

I will not stand to justify my fault,

Or lay th’ excuse upon the vintner’s vault;

Or in confessing of the crime be nice,

Or go about to countenance the vice,

By naming in what company ‘twas in,

As I would urge authority for sin;

No, I will stand arraign’d and cast, to be

The subject of your grace in pardoning me,

And (styled your mercy’s creature) will live more,

Your honour now, than your disgrace before…

The link between “fault” and “crime” is a natural one, of course; Shakespeare has it here and there.  But in Jonson’s case, it had a particular resonance, one that is absolutely vital to understanding why he participated in the “cover-up” of Edward de Vere’s identity as “Shakespeare”.  In 1602, he linked these two words in his postscript “To The Reader“, when protesting against those unnamed individuals who took offense to his Poetaster:

“Nor was there in it any circumstance

Which, in the setting down, I could suspect

Might be perverted by an enemy’s tongue;

Only it had the fault to be call’d mine;

That was the crime.”

Can you imagine if the miraculous Tempest had suffered the “fault” to be called “Ben: Jonson’s”?  Would anyone ever have perceived it as sublime?

3. JONSON ACTIVELY SOUGHT MERCY THAT WOULD SET HIM FREE: In 1605, while in prison due to the King’s wrath over some objectionable matter in Eastward Ho!, Ben Jonson wrote letters which document this harrowing moment in his life, including a humble plea for the king’s mercy:

“I speak not this with any spirit of contumacy, for I know there is no subject hath so safe an Innocence, but may rejoyce to stand justified in sight of his Soveraignes mercie.  To which we must humblie submytt our selves, our lives and fortunes”.

In another letter written at this time, we find him still highly aggrieved by the supposed “faults” and “crimes” that others have found in his literary works:

“I beseech your most honorable lordship, suffer not other men’s errors or faults past to be made my crimes; but let me be examined both by all my works past and this present…”

4. JONSON PIONEERED THE EPILOGUE-SPOKEN-IN-CHARACTER: As Stephen Orgel observes in his edition of The Tempest, “Prospero’s epilogue is unique in the Shakespeare canon in that its speaker declares himself not an actor in a play but a character in a fiction.”

Unique perhaps for Shakespeare’s Tempest (pub. 1623), but not for Ben Jonson (as Orgel should know!), who has his “Fox” step forward to speak for himself, in character, at the end of Volpone (pub. 1606).  Again, in The Tempest’s inverted twin, The Alchemist (pub. 1612), we find that Jonson has his linked pair of master and servant,  “Lovewit” and “Face”, speak the epilogue in character.

I’ve been asked many times, “Why would Ben Jonson write The Tempest and not claim credit for this masterpiece?”  In Chapter 30 of his dissertation, Roger Stritmatter reveals the “treasure hunt” aspect of The Tempest’s place in the First Folio.  His insights highlight precisely what I believe Jonson had in mind:

I argue that the positioning of The Tempest as the opening movement in the folio substantiates these anti-Stratfordian speculations that the folio is not what it seems to be. If readers are “set off on a treasure hunt for the author” [emphasis added] by the folio’s introductory matter, they discover a literary emblem of that author in the opening play — the exiled magistrate and magus Prospero. Placed here, as an “entry code” to the folio, The Tempest becomes an allegory of the intimate relation between life and art as seen through the “Oxfordian” interpretation of the canon. Placed here, the play foreshadows and legitimizes the deceit required by the Folio itself. The destruction of Prospero’s book becomes the pretext for the action of the folio editors in hoaxing the literary public with the Droeshout engraving. This “sealing up,” or “drowning” of the text enfolded it within a myth of authorship.

“As You From Crimes Would Pardoned Be”

This sounds quite promising to me.  Not only is The Tempest a guide to the First Folio hoax, its author intentionally set out to create a literary labyrinth, one in which the properly initiated pilgrim may discover the truth of how and why Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford became exiled from his dukedom.  But you won’t read that story aright till you’ve entered the maze of the right Prospero – and his Minotaur.

~ Marie Merkel

“The Subtlest Maze of All”

February 20th, 2011 4 comments

Once more, into the labyrinth: When was The Tempest written?  Whether you ask this question from an Oxfordian, Stratfordian, Jonsonian or non-aligned Shakespearean perspective, there is only one absolutely certain answer:

The Tempest was written sometime before its first publication in 1623.

Though scholars seldom linger long on this unsatisfactory terminus ante quem, the plain truth is that whatever play King James and his court enjoyed on Nov. 1, 1611, IT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN THE SAME, in all respects, as The Tempest that took pride of place twelve years later in the First Folio.  With no prior text for comparison, we can’t rule out the possibility of authorial revision, additions by unattributed “co-authors”, editorial intrusions by Ralph Crane or Ben Jonson, or in-house modifications by the players themselves, however uncomfortable these unknown variables leave us.  Therefore, the “rhetoric and logic of academic discourse” (Roger Stritmatter’s phrase) we adopt for examining any aspect of the play contingent upon this elusive date should reflect this basic limitation on our knowledge.

My theory – that Ben Jonson was primarily responsible for The Tempest of 1623 – posits an intentional correspondence between The Alchemist (published 1612) and its near-perfect inversion, The Tempest, (documented as performed twice at court,  in 1611 and 1613).  With this premise in mind, it is probably no coincidence that Jonson himself provides an earlier terminus ante quem for The Tempest when he embeds the date of the initial performance of Bartholomew Fair within the text of his play.  Onthe one and thirtieth day of October, 1614″, he tells us,  – the day before Hallowmas, that is – he offered the public a rambunctious farce, one in which he seems to cast aspersions on The Tempest that had been performed for the Hallowmas festivities of 1611:

If there be never a servant monster i’ the Fair, who can help it, he says, nor a nest of antics?  He is loath to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget tales, tempests, and suchlike drolleries, to mix his head with other men’s heels; let the concupiscence of jigs and dances reign as strong as it will amongst you.

If the documents of court performances in 1611 and 1613 had not survived, Jonson’s sly but unmistakable allusions to Caliban and Trinculo under the gabardine would have been the strongest indication available to scholars that The Tempest must have been written before 1614 – except for one pesky detail.  This play, too, was not published until much later, in 1631.

Yes, we do have a record of Bartholomew Fair played at court on Hallowmas, the following day, confirming Jonson’s internal date.  However, we have no text or manuscript dated 1614 to prove that Jonson’s embedded references to servant monsters and tempests were in the play performed on that day.  When we accept this covert allusion as evidence in dating The Tempest, we do so on faith.  Jonson’s complete overhaul of Every Man in His Humour for publication in his 1616 Collected Works should keep us alert to the chance that he may have inserted something new into the text, convenient to his own purposes.

On the other hand, if we can be certain that no one has monkeyed with the 1612 publication date for The Alchemist (as Thomas Pavier did with his false dating of Shakespearean quartos in 1619), I believe that this play will eventually yield the surest terminus ante quem, or date before which The Tempest must have been written.  David Lucking has already begun the work, with the intriguing correspondences between the two plays that he revealed in 2004 (“Carrying Tempest in his Hand and Voice: The Figure of the Magician in Jonson and Shakespeare“).  When his project is carried forward to cover every act in both plays, those who play The Tempest’s Dating Game may begin to shift their focus away from Strachey’s letter and onto Jonson’s securely-dated Alchemist.

Now for the other side of the question: What is the earliest possible date that anyone could have written The Tempest?  Here, the terminus post quem theories become infinitely more subjective and nebulous.  However, the paper I delivered at the Shakespeare Symposium in Watertown (“Caliban’s Dream and Shakespeare’s Purge”, May 2010) offered strong evidence that the author of The Tempest drew on the play Satiromastix, published in 1602.  Solely on the basis of Caliban and Prospero’s debt to Captain Tucca (a character who appears in Jonson’s Poetaster and reappears in Satiromastix), I am certain that The Tempest must have been written after these two plays of 1601, which were furiously rushed into print by 1602.

Richard Malim’s theory that the mysterious Tragedy of the Spanish Maze, played at court on Shrove Monday, (February 11, 1605) was really The Tempest is truly tempting, especially from my point of view.  Five months after Edward Oxenford’s lonely death on June 24, 1604 – a death for which not one recorded soul shed a tear or wrote an open, sincere epitaph – the court of King James began its Christmas Revels season with a Hallowmas production of Othello, followed by six additional plays attributed to “Shaxberd”.

Curiously, the only other playwright included in this Shax-fest was Ben Jonson, whose two famous comedies, first Every Man Out of His Humour and then Every Man In His Humour, served as bridges between performances of Henry V , Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Merchant of Venice.  As Malim wisely observes:

Why [Every Man Out of His Humour] was chosen baffles the orthodox professor Peter Thomson, but its clear caricatures of both Shakespeare and Oxford, and the demonstration of the relationship between them, readily explain why the choice was made: to keep the record straight.

Just imagine!  A third, new play, written by Benjamin Jonson specifically for this Shrovetide occasion honoring his beloved “Shakespeare”, the master-poet who gave him that humiliating “purge”.  Here’s his auspicious chance to have Lean Macilente (who’d just appeared onstage in Every Man Out of His Humour) bid a Lenten farewell to the Lord of Misrule embodied by dark, dishonest Iago and merry Sir John Falstaff – ah, heart be still!  I confess, this theory sounds terribly, seductively reasonable to me.

Even the title fits Jonson all too well, making it almost impossible to resist.  Poor Ben, the apprentice Bricklayer, had been publicly scorned in Satiromastix for his rugged acting in The Spanish Tragedy. And his Masque of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue shows what a strong hold the figure of the labyrinth had on his poetic imagination.  “The Subtlest Maze of All”, a phrase from this masque, is the subtitle of Robert Wiltenburg’s Ben Jonson and Self-Love (1990).  Yes, indeed, there’s solid ore to mine in this vein.

And yet…and yet…alas!  I’m afraid I have to agree with R. Chris Hassel, who faced a similar temptation when imagining the possible relevance of the “lost play” A historie of the crueltie of a stepmother (1578) to his excellent thesis:

However interesting these early parallels might seem, they are finally, of course, inconclusive without an actual play.

~Marie Merkel

Sir John Falstaff vs. Lean Macilente

February 5th, 2011 4 comments

A Movable Feast: The Liturgical Symbolism and Design of The Tempest

by Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky

Shakespeare Yearbook, Vol. XVII, 2010

So much depends on an impossible-to-answer question: When was The Tempest written?  Oxfordian scholars Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky have just posted what they believe to be “the most important” in their series of published articles challenging the assumption that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest not long before Hallowmas night, 1611, when The King’s Men performed a play by that name for James and his court at Whitehall.

I agree.  This is the most important of the six pieces that Stritmatter and Kositsky have so far published, for the delightful reason that it’s the first in which they’ve allowed Ben Jonson his place within The Tempest’s rarefied circle of “measured harmonies”.  As a specialist who “understands [the paradoxical merging of pleasure and virtue]”, Jonson even earns a spot in their concluding paragraph:

Evidence adduced in the present essay shows that both the symbolism and design of The Tempest are explicable on the premise that the play was written for a Shrovetide performance.  Indeed, so rich and detailed are the associations between Shrovetide and Lenten practices and the design of Shakespeare’s play that it may safely be concluded that it was in fact written, as R. Christopher Hassel has said of Jonson’s epiphany masques and Twelfth Night, “with the major outlines of the festival season firmly in mind”.

Once again, I agree, but this time with a few reservations.  For all we know, The Tempest may not have been written specifically for an upcoming Shrovetide performance, such as that on “Shrovmonday” of 1604/5, when The Spanish Maze appeared and then disappeared.  And the play’s undercurrent of Lenten imagery doesn’t necessarily rule out its necromantic relevance to a Hallowmas night performance. This seems to me the weakest portion of their essay, with insufficient quotations from the scholars whose theories they dismiss as “incorrect”, and no mention of John B. Bender’s essay, “The Day of the Tempest” (ELH, 1980).  Nevertheless, I do think that the authors have tapped into an aspect of the play’s allegoric design that now seems incredibly obvious, after they’ve pointed out the clues.  Here’s one vivid example:

Among the most popular emblems of the season was Jack-a-Lent, a puppet made from a Leek and a Herring and set up on Ash Wednesday as a scapegoat for the deprivations experienced at Lent.  Decorated with herrings, and pelted with missiles he became “both a manifest and a ubiquitous symbol of the long period of austerity and at the same [time?] operated as a kind of safety valve.”  Caliban’s likeness to this “ubiquitous” Lenten scapegoat, half man and half fish, hardly requires emphasis.

If, indeed, the author saturated his scenes with Shrovetide and Lenten imagery and philosophy, how does this fresh insight affect our view of The Tempest from the Oxfordian perspective?

The answer isn’t immediately apparent in “A Moveable Feast”, since Stritmatter and Kositsky’s arguments for a Shrovetide-Tempest never require a mention of Edward de Vere.  “Shakespeare’s” great rival, however, just happens to come in for a lion’s share of their Shrovetide references.  When collected in one place, Ben Jonson’s résumé in the field of Shrovetide and Lenten entertainment and commentary is quite impressive, as witnessed by these quotes from “A Moveable Feast”:

On p. 338:

“In Time Vindicated (1622) Ben Jonson has Fame denounce “lawless Prentices, on Shrove Tuesday” who “compel the Time to serve their riot:/ for drunken Wakes and strutting Beare-baitings, that savour only of their own abuses.”

On p. 346, a reference to The Haddington Masque:

…the title page of Ben Jonson’s 1608 Shrovetide production celebrating the wedding of Viscount Haddington to Lady Elizabeth Ratcliffe, illustrates the traditional association” [of Shrovetide and marriage masques].

In footnote 41, p. 366:

Jonson’s Chloridia, a 1630 Shrovetide masque [which, like The Tempest] also features Juno and Iris as prominent characters.

In footnote 63, p. 368:

The prologue to Staple of News, a play thought to have been written for Shrovetide, emphasizes the connection between the festival and “merrymaking”: “I am Mirth, the daughter of Christmas, and Spirit of Shrovetide.  They say, It’s merry when Gossips meet; I hope your Play will be a merry one!

In footnote 91, p. 370:

The association between Shrovetide and the labyrinth is conventional in early modern drama and would have been readily recognized by Shakespeare’s audience.  Daedalus even appears as the narrative voice of Jonson’s Shrovetide masque, For the Honour of Wales, constructing a knot so cunningly interwoven that “ev’n th’observer scarce may know/Which lines are pleasure’s and which are not” (225-27)  and R. Chris Hassel calls him the “most important interpreter of the Shrovetide festivities” (132) , one who “understands [the paradoxical merging of pleasure and virtue] better than any …subsequent interpreters of this Shrovetide tradition” (129).

One play NOT mentioned by the authors, but with immense relevance to any study of Edward de Vere and/or The Tempest, is Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humor. Not only do we find Jonson building his plot within a merry Shrovetide context, but in the 1601 Quarto of the play, the rascal slyly hitches his play to the turnip-cart of Shakespeare’s Gargantuan hero:

Marry, I will not do as Plautus, in his Amphitryo, for all this: Summi Iovis causa, plaudite:  beg a plaudit for god’s sake.  But if you (out of the bounty of your good liking) will bestow it, why, you may (in time) make lean Macilente as fat as Sir John Falstaff.

The evidence offered in “A Moveable Feast” puts a new spin on this passage.  What does Shakespeare’s fat Falstaff represent for Ben Jonson, and his lean and mean Macilente?   The excess of Carnival vs. the sobriety of Lent?  Purses swollen by the hilarious misrule of London’s infamous “Vice” vs. the empty pockets and hungry rumblings of a Virtuous Poet?  Sir Epicure Mammon vs. Surly Caliban?  Subtle the Alchemist vs. Prospero?  Once again, whether we want him or not, Ben Jonson offers himself as the savviest guide to the mysteries of The Tempest.

~*~*~

NOTE: Two small errors that the authors may wish to correct in their online text:  “6 Nov. 1611″ as the date for the first recorded performance of The Tempest (p. 341) and the attribution to Sebastian of Antonio’s very strange and final words of the play: “A plain fish, and no doubt marketable.” (p. 345-6)

“Carrying Tempest in His Hand and Voice”

January 31st, 2011 4 comments

Have you ever read The Alchemist and The Tempest at the same time?  I don’t mean consecutively, one after the other, but literally, at the same time, Act by Act and scene by scene?  If you do, I guarantee you will be amazed to find out how closely the two plays “talk back” to each other.

Right from the opening scene, Jonson’s thunderous altercation between Face, Subtle and Doll slaps the audience with an in-your-face parody of The Tempest’s thunderous altercation between The Boatswain, Antonio & Co. and The Master, with “The Master” ingeniously split between the ship’s captain and God himself, king of all roarers, who commands the “Elements”.

In both plays, beastly insults foul the air, with “dogs” as a constant theme.  In The Alchemist, Face – who is a mere servant in the house of his absent master – tags his senior partner, Subtle the Alchemist, with several doggy epithets:  “You most notorious whelp”; “my mongrel” and “Doctor Dog”.  Doll calls them both “perpetual curs.”

In The Tempest, we find the reverse situation, with a passel of frightened Lords barking out the canine curses.  Sebastian hollers at the Boatswain, “A poxe o’your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable Dog!”  When the Boatswain dares to backtalk, Antonio roars, “Hang, cur, hang, you whoreson insolent Noise-maker.”

If you look closer, the parallels only intensify.  At line 9 of The Alchemist, Doll warns the two growling pups, “Hark, I hear somebody,” after which Subtle snarls, “I shall mar/All that the tailor has made, if you approach.”  Compare this to The Tempest, line 10, when Antonio demands, “Where is the Master, Boson?”  and the Boatswain growls, “Do you not hear him?  You mar our labour/ Keep your Cabins: you do assist the storm.”

And the correspondences keep on coming.  Read the two in tandem, and this image of keeping within cabins will call to mind the claustrophobic setting of The Alchemist, where the trio of cony-catching rascals have set up shop in Lovewit’s house – “Lovewit” being Face’s absent master.  The Boatswain’s “You do assist the storm,” will have you flipping back the pages of The Alchemist to find Doll’s attempts to quiet her two madmen, with “Will you  betray all?”, and a few lines later, “Will you mar all?” and finally, “Will you be/your own destructions, gentlemen?”

The Tempest’s Boatswain asks a similar question of his “gentlemen” passengers, as he frantically does his best to save the ship:

A plague— [A cry within.  Enter Sebastian, Antonio & Gonzalo.] —upon this howling: they are louder then the weather, or our office.  Yet again?  What do you here?  Shall we give o’er and drown?  Have you a mind to sink?

As you pick up the scent, each pungent echo leads on to the next.  In The Alchemist, Face threatens to turn Subtle in for practicing magic, thus putting the rogue’s “neck/ within a noose.”  In The Tempest, Gonzalo says the Boatswain’s complexion is “perfect Gallows.”  And why does that “gallows” complexion suddenly stop you in your tracks?  Flip some more pages, and you’ll find Face’s vivid description of Subtle-the-bankrupt-and-worthy-to-be-hanged magician, with his “…complexion, of the Roman wash/Stuck full of black and melancholic worms.”

Not convinced yet?  Here’s one more, this time beginning with The Tempest, and Gonzalo’s strange comment on the sinking ship:

“I”ll warrant him for drowning, though the Ship were no stronger then a Nut-shell, and as leaky as an unstanched wench.”

Following this “unsavory simile” (so uncharacteristic of Shakespeare, I might add; where else does he so crudely refer to the privy topic of a woman’s menses?), the Boatswain does his best to save them all, but to no avail.  In come the wet Mariners, crying,  “All lost, to prayers, to prayers, all lost.”  Now turn back to The Alchemist, where you’ll find that the raging human storm also climaxes in a cry of “Lost!”:

SUBTLE:  Cow-herd.

FACE:                           Conjuror.

SUBTLE:                                            Cutpurse.

FACE:                                                                    Witch.

DOLL:                                                                                  O me!

We are ruin’d! Lost!

A few lines later, we hear the shattering of a vessel, as Doll takes matters firmly in hand:

She catcheth out Face his sword: and breaks Subtle’s glass.

Subtle’s glass is one of his alchemical vessels, variously termed curcurbits, gripe’s eggs and bolt’s-heads within The Alchemist.  In The Tempest, the three uses of “vessel” all refer to the cracked ship, which as we’ve just seen, the author oddly and imprecisely likens to an “unstanched wench”.  Which brings us to Doll’s highly significant command to Subtle, after she breaks his alchemical glass:  “And you, sir, with your menstrue, gather it up.”  Menstrue, as you’ll see if you click the link to George Ripley’s work, was a term used in alchemy, as Jonson no doubt knew, given his mention of Ripley within The Alchemist.

David Lucking has many more correspondences in “Carrying Tempest in his Hand and Voice“, but he doesn’t seem to know what to make of it all.  One conclusion he shyly offers is that Ben Jonson’s cynical Alchemist must be commenting on Shakespeare’s Romantic Tempest, rather than the other way around, as the traditional dating has led scholars to believe.  But how does all this intertextuality play out from the Oxfordian perspective, given Oxford’s death in 1604, and the sure dating of The Alchemist to 1610?

The way I see it, these plays are two golden eggs, hatched by the same cackling bird.  Or fraternal twins, nursed on the same rich Shakespearean Boar’s milk.  They are anti-masque and masque, the Cain and Abel,  or Romulus and Remus,  of Ben Jonson’s fiercely independent Novo Orbe.

You cannot fathom the mystery of The Tempest without the aid of The Alchemist.  That’s how the Master planned it.

 

 

 

FACE: You might talk softlier, rascal.

SUBTLE:                                                  No, you scarab,

I’ll thunder you in pieces.  I will teach you

How to beware to tempt a fury again,

That carries tempest in his hand and voice.

FACE: You might talk softlier, rascal.

SUBTLE:                                                  No, you scarab,

I’ll thunder you in pieces.  I will teach you

How to beware to tempt a fury again,

That carries tempest in his hand and voice.