Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Bartholomew Fair’

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.

“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