Monday, March 7, 2011
Friday, April 30, 2010
Apology of Colley Cibber, 1740: curiosity (natural and permissible) of audience into lives of actors, blurring of real/ideal as he constructs an identity for public perusal.
I avoided mentioning courtly romance in the last post, though it’s something of an elephant in the room when it comes to gender roles in depictions of mediaeval tournaments. But I had decided that I’d rather look at that as an element of the idealisation of the observed object, common to both the Restoration stage and depictions of tournaments.
The image of women looking down on the action of competing men, of men competing for the approval of women, necessarily involves a tension of desire. Elaborate social construction goes into increasing the tension on both sides: increasing the desire through idealisation and conditioning, while increasing the obstacles to attaining the ostensible object of desire. Desire then becomes its own end: satisfied, it dies.
The tension between the construction and gratification of desire is a central paradox of courtly romance. A knight may long for, serenade, adore Eleanor of Aquitaine, but his lust must be abstracted so far as to become quasi-religious: if he ever actually gained access to her bed and body the illusion would be shattered, the idealised body worthless. Dante finds Beatrice easier to adore after her death.
The audience, therefore, must be set at a certain distance from the performers, and vice versa – detachment becomes necessary for desire, distance enough for wrinkles and fine gradations of expression to merge into flawless skin and a conventional “smile or frown”.
Stage makeup and conventions would help, no? And of course, not only is almost every play’s plot built around the development, obstruction and gratification of desire, but the experience of theatre itself is constructed around a desirable idealisation of life, in which the irregular wrinkles smooth out into a gratifyingly regular pattern.
The audience is necessarily detached from the action, as the women at a tournament – if either descended to the stage, not only would it look rather more messy than it does from above, but the action would come to a stuttering, appalled halt. which assumes consturction of female audience. but how is it complicated by the female performers? or more, playwrights? how is desire constructed/perpetuated between viewer and viewed if gender roles do not permit?
Of course, the trouble with the term ‘idealisation’ is that virtually every depiction (literal or literary) we have of mediaeval tournaments is filtered through an idealising glass. I can’t think of any first-hand accounts of tournaments - nor, for that matter, of genuine battles, but the convergence in description between them in the writings of Froissarts and Malorys is indicative of the the extent to which what is described is the idea in the head, not the event in question.
and the actor is not performing in his own self, but presenting simultaneously himself, the character and the author
Duality/consciousness of performance. Idea vs. fact of tournament/character/performance. Less to control in limited medium (writing, illustration) vs action of tournament, theatre – does that make that limited medium more of a performance – more perfect in its conscious duality?
Collier’s problem with mirrored gaze in restoration theatre. squeaking cleopatra – losing control of self-representation. Caviness 20.
“The ladies”, a homogenous construction without recourse to individual opinions or differences, within which individuals who happened to be female fit often uneasily, or sometimes not at all.
The question must also arise of how far we can know what actually happened in tournaments, and how far the record we have is simply the idea of the tournament. Certainly literary descriptions and manuscript images are highly idealised, and information about actual events must inevitably be scanty. On the other hand, real tournaments were designed around the idea of the tournament, especially in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries – I seem to recall Henry VIII designing several around Arthurian themes, complete with costuming. And of course, if we are comparing Restoration theatre with Restoration conceptions of mediaeval tournaments, all that remains to them is that idea.
Still, in either case, if I were to take this further I’d want to look in much greater detail into both mediaeval literary and pictorial depictions of tournaments and how they compared to what facts we can glean, and sixteenth-century reincarnations and and reinventions and reminiscences of the idea. Many of which would, inevitably, bring me back to that centre of community visual spectacle, the stage.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In January 1669 Lady Castlemaine bribed Elizabeth Corey, an actress in the King’s Company, to play the part of Sempronia in Jonson’s Catiline in imitation of an enemy at court, Lady Elizabeth Harvey; it is said that when the line was uttered, ‘But what’ll you doe with Sempronia?’, Lady Castlemaine, wishing on her enemy the fate of her ambassador husband, Sir Daniel, cried out, ‘Send her to Constantinople!’ The actress was duly imprisoned, then released at Lady Castlemaine’s bidding; when the play was given again she repeated the performance only to have oranges flung at her by men hired by Lady Harvey. (Roberts 97)Observation turns to participation. Castlemaine and Harvey enter the field from the boxes and tilt in public with the audience as their arbiters; or perhaps we could say, more conventionally, that the ladies select and observe their champions. But one champion remains spatially in the audience, while the other is herself female. As the lady assigns a knight her colours, Castlemaine blurs the line between herself and Corey when she hires the actress to play her part (as it were); but more so when she herself enters the lists, while remaining in the audience, by throwing her own voice into the fray.
At the same time, the effectiveness of the insult involves eliding Corey/Sempronia’s identity with Harvey’s, metaphorically drawing her onto the stage herself – perhaps with an implicit slur on her virtue, given the reputation of theatrical women. And while Harvey does retain her own physical distance from the stage, she nonetheless is drawn into it, to strike against Castlemaine as embodied in the actor/champion – who paradoxically bears Harvey’s own ‘colours’, and, incidentally, her Christian name. Like Lancelot, Corey allows herself to appear to disadvantage and suffer the consequences, day after day – and like Lancelot, she is rescued from shame and receives due reward from that lady. Like Guenevere, however, she languishes in captivity until rescued by her gallant.
The movement in this case between the roles of knight and lady, performer and spectator, has a fluidity that makes such conventional divisions very problematic – at least as they relate to gender. And yet the savour of the tournament field remains: the determination of all three women to maintain their dominance of that socially central space insists on it as an essential site of ongoing social jockeying and proof. Yvain could relate.
I said “gender” in the post title, but have said very little specific to masculinity. I mentioned earlier the idea of masculinity as the true trophy of a tournament, embodied in a woman; but despite the jostling of literary shoulders for social acclaim, despite the ongoing ‘duels’ between various figures in which the pen stood in for the sword, despite the occasional eruption of stage competition into physical violence (as Kinaston and Dryden’s battered sides could attest), I think it would be driving the analogy too far to suggest that proving masculinity was the central concern of the Restoration stage.
But why wasn’t it? Perhaps, in part, because the gender roles it offered for assertion were more ambiguous. As a masked woman could be a noble lady, a prostitute or an actress (who might herself be the mistress of a duke, or a king), a man in the theatre might be anything from a poet, to a discerning (or foolish) cit, to a lord and rake – or a poor actor who mimics one and is (in his own person or his assumed one) cuckolded to the laughter of the public. Cross-dressing (in both genders) and the effeminisation of fops further blurred gender lines, as Marsden points out (188).
Certainly, as a spectacular public space, the theatre was potentially as perfect a vehicle for assertion of a public-centric identity as the tournament field. Is that it, perhaps? that identity was becoming less invested in the public? In qualities of the mind rather than the body? Or more in the everyday reputation than the spectacular proof?
Marsden, Jean. “Rape, voyeurism and the Restoration stage.” Broken boundaries: Women and feminism in Restoration Drama. Ed. Katherine M. Quinsey. Kentucky: UP of Kentucky, 1996. 185-199.
Roberts, David. The Ladies: Female patronage of Restoration Drama 1660-1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
Monday, April 26, 2010
The poet now the ladies help does crave,The actor speaking the epilogue to Thomas d’Urfey’s Trick for Trick (1696) turns to that homogenous, genteel mass known as the fair sex, begging their (its?) intercession for a humble stage-bound suppliant. Lifting his hands, possibly, in the direction of the boxes, addressing the best exemplars of that type, he recalls in attitude the erring knight before a court of women, a suitor gazing up hopefully at a face in a tower – or, of course, a knight in a tournament awaiting the arbitration or favour of one or more women up in the stands. While a woman’s judgement is permitted – indeed requested – in most of these cases it is to be conveyed by the gaze and the expression that surrounds it, rather than through speech or action. She responds with the grace of her eyes to the action of a man’s body on the tournament field, or the action and speech of a man on the stage, without initiating any independent speech or action of her own. She observes – she does not participate.
That with a smile or frown can damn or save.
Now, there are a few immediate and obvious flaws with that, as this constructed “she” in the Restoration audience would not be responding to the actions and speech of a man only, but to a mixed-gender cast. “She” is also not a “she” but a “they”, and “they” are by no means guaranteed not to intervene in the action of the stage, either by verbal interjection during the performance or by influence out of it (patronage, donations, authorship). In addition, in the case of d’Urfey’s epilogue, the actor does not plead for himself: rather, the playwright pleads through the actor. Just as the action of Lancelot’s body can prove the fact of Guenevere’s guilt or innocence, the actors become ‘champions’ of the author, their identity eliding with his as they speak the words prepared by him. But potentially, either playwright or actor (or both) might now be a “her”.
The conventional gender roles a tournament assigns are familiar. Women are inactive and elevated above the action, but their downwards gaze validates the action as chivalric and romantic – the latter potentially in the modern sense, given the emphasis on winning female favour (“a smile or frown”). By this logic, they are also in their own body both judge and reward, and, theoretically at least, justification. They do not, however, set the terms of the game: it is a game of war, defined and enacted by men, with masculinity the true trophy (even if embodied in a woman – hence Yvain’s confusion).
Yet even here, there is some ambiguity as to the extent of female participation. The gaze cannot have a single direction: the woman’s gaze must inevitably meet its reverse, if it is to have effect. If a knight wears a woman’s sleeve into battle, to what extent is she imagined as existing on the field herself? or altering, by instruction or inspiration, the outcome of events? Certainly Guenevere’s command to Lancelot to lose in the tournament compromises the field as a sphere of purely masculine endeavour.
While gaze in the theatre is theoretically as monodirectional as it is (theoretically) in a tournament, the limits of this theory are the subject of ironic play in themselves. Those treading the board feign not to see the audience, feign to exist in a world removed from trappings and scene and “this majestical roof fretted with golden fire”, but regularly turn this very pretence to effect, engaging their audience actively through irony, acknowledgement in direct address, contemporary references and arbitration.
However, the audience constructed in the address of prologues and epilogues can be as artificial as any costumed character. Roberts observes that the audience addressed was male by default, and that when women – or rather, “the ladies” – were addressed, it was not as individuals with differing opinions and tastes but as an undifferentiated single party who approved or rejected en masse (28-29, together with most of that chapter). Marsden points out (195) the paradox and difficulty for female members of an audience when the action and dialogue onstage is designed to invite titillation at the sexual regard, or even the rape, of female characters onstage. The assumption of a male audience is essential for the success of the common stage devices and plots that Marsden describes, in contrast to the conventionally feminised audience of a tournament. May the difference be derived (in part) from the other aspect of the stage, the literary and poetic? The interlocutors in literary debates had long been assumed to be male, although change was grinding slowly into motion here as well.
The increasing popularity of masks among women, literally effacing individual identity, attracting the gaze while seeming to deflect it, can only have assisted a group characterisation. As such a fashion acknowledges, the ladies in a Restoration audience were themselves theatrical objects of view. The gaze was not only reversed from stage to audience, but turned by the audience on itself. It is a rare theatre-visit for Pepys when he does not leave in his diary an impression that the audience around him were as interested in each other as the stage.
And sometimes they did more than look…
Continued in next post.
 Despite the fact that the action of Lancelot’s body has already effected Guenevere’s guilt.
Marsden, Jean. “Rape, voyeurism and the Restoration stage.” Broken boundaries: Women and feminism in Restoration Drama. Ed. Katherine M. Quinsey. Kentucky: UP of Kentucky, 1996. 185-199.
Roberts, David. The Ladies: Female patronage of Restoration Drama 1660-1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Of course, the crucial difference between theatre and tournament as regards actual wars, themes of national import, is that those on the tournament field will usually or potentially be players in the field of war; but the majority of those in the theatre have little chance of even influencing the political aspects of the conflict, and are unlikely to be physically present in war themselves, let alone in a position of command. However, the theatre can sway and express public opinion (for a given value of ‘public’), and by this time that must be allowed rather more weight than it ever had in the High or Late Middle Ages. While the middle and lower classes gathered in the theatre may not have any prospect of affecting the war directly, yet they are present, as they would not have been (or not have been acknowledged to be) four hundred years before; and their opinions are allowed or sought about the action and words on the stage. They may even mount the stage themselves.
Politics as intersection of game and war? Serious effects of tournament – for Erec and Yvain of not participating, of injury or death in mock-combat. Cf. the trouble Kynaston and Dryden got into, both the subject of physical assaults as a result of powerful people taking offence to their activities onstage; or the effects of Buckingham’s satire on Dryden’s reputation. Dryden becomes Bayes – unable to reappropriate his colours/arms?
Blurring of actual identity through the ‘play’ publically observed – eg, tournament knight with his lady’s colours, identified only by his own colours or the colours of his team; potential for disguise, or usurpation of another’s identity (to whatever end). Actor assuming character, playing recognisably in the manner of some public figure, wearing clothes donated by / borrowed from lord/lady, etc. Even cross-dressing: effeminate fops, breeches-clad actresses, boys/men in women’s roles, etc.
The Restoration also seems to foster a deliberate cultivation of the mystique of the actor, until Colley Cibber could not only acknowledge but reasonably expect the fascination of the audience with who an actor is “when in no body’s Shape but his own”,
and whether he, who by his Profession had so long been ridiculing his Benefactors, might not, when the Coat of his Profession was off, deserve to be laugh’d at himself; or from his being so often seen in, the most flagrant, and immoral Characters; whether he might not see as great a Rogue, when he look’d into the Glass himself, as when he held it to others. (Cibber 3-4)There is an irony here – intentional or unintentional, though Cibber seems unable to ever quite refrain from (defensive?) irony. The introduction to his autobiography is far too self-conscious in its construction of the ‘real’ Cibber to be anything but another performance. Which begs the question – does any real interior self remain to the actor after years on the stage? Is he or she only to be found in the mirror? If the knight is so easily effaced – if Lancelot kills his beloved Gareth, unmakes the knight he made, because he does not recognise him out of armour - is he, in fact, anything but his colours?
Cibber, Colley. An Apology for the life of Mr Colley Cibber, Comedian, and Late Patentee of the Theatre-Royal. With an Historical View of the Stage during his Own Time. Written by Himself. 2nd ed. London: John Watts, 1740.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
To the theatre, and there saw, “Argalus and Parthenia”, where a woman acted Parthenia, and came afterwards on the stage in men’s clothes, and had the best legs that ever I saw, and I was very well pleased with it. (Pepys’ diary, October 28 1661)There is an account, in the very opening scene of Dryden’s Conquest of Granada, of a bullfight on a grand scale. Local colour for a trendy Spanish setting, sure – but as I very much doubt Dryden had ever been Granadawards or seen an actual bullfight, it is essentially vibrant foreign colour painted onto an English imaginative concept, the tournament.
[talk through description of bullfight, including features like ladies’ gaze,equestrian skills, focus on individual heroic combatants and arbitration that remind of romance tournament descriptions, and the combination of war (background and present against bulls)/danger with game, as well as the political jostling/favour/power implied by that]
We do not actually see this tournament – rather, it is described to us in retrospect by the characters. It is therefore mediated through their perception, and our reaction to a certain extent controlled by it – appropriately, as these men are the leaders of the land, busily engaged in projecting a show of absolute control that is about to fall to pieces in the disruption of civil war. controlled by men, male arbiters, just as men decide and control the rules and world of tournament even if women are important in other ways. Literary antecedents more obviously recognisable by presenting it in a literary manner rather than representing it.
Now, bear with me, because I want to extend this beyond a solitary example in a solitary play. There are correlations between romance’s tournament and the reported bullfight, between the theatricality of the fight and the theatricality of the Moors’ presentation of it, between the power structures evidenced in the fight and in the world of the play as a whole. And I would argue that all the points noted in common between the tournament and the bullfight are also held in common with the Restoration theatre itself. This may not be deliberate on Dryden’s part, though I wouldn’t put it past him, but as corresponding vehicles for public spectacle, in which power dynamics are given the name of entertainment (or game), I think there are grounds for valuable comparison.
I intend (but probably won’t manage) to primarily keep to note/question form, because there are some very large issues here that would require a major research project to do them justice. Similarly, work may have been done on this already – I haven’t looked at either primary or secondary sources beyond notes I already have, as this is just a series of thoughts of my own, which I may develop at a later date. And if I started, I wouldn’t stop – and a new semester is beginning. [NB: this is exactly what happened.]
Nevertheless, this has already grown into three posts to follow, grouped loosely around the following ideas:
- Play and war – making earnest of game.
- Gender dynamics – gaze and arbitration.
- Idealisation of the observed body.
Analogy can be a problematic critical tactic, as humanities researcher mentioned in a recent article; but this is not a paper, nor do I have a line of argument to present. I will therefore move with little notice from considering the relationship only an externally imposed analogy from the present day; to considering both theatre and tournament as individual cultural phenomena that fulfil similar societal needs in their own times; to considering (aspects of) Restoration theatre as formulated more or less consciously around seventeenth-century reception and development of the idea of the tournament. Let us see which model of anachronism is most fruitful!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Or rather, Evelina. But apparently post titles cannot handle italics.
This is the first draft of a paper I’m preparing for our local English grad conference, on Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina: or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. I think it needs trimming – not so much in length (it’s currently 10 pages, 12 pt double-spaced, so doable) as in extra ideas. It has too many, and it’s probably rather too distracting for an aural format.
In the course of Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina falls under the care of three older women in turn. Each provides the protagonist with a foil and potential model, complementing and commenting on her behaviour. The most intriguing parallels, however, are in relation to the most vividly painted and repellent of the three, Madame Duval. Both the young woman and the older enter the London social scene as outsiders, conscious themselves of the difference and making it apparent to others by (usually) small transgressions of local codes of behaviour. In a series of paired incidents, Burney suggests that the difference between the two women in this regard is not the type of error, but their reactions to it. While both women are faced with comparable impertinences – sometimes provoked by their own errors – the extent to which these incidents disrupt the smooth, unruffled pool of social interaction is largely determined by their experience and expression of potentially the most transgressive of all emotions, anger. Evelina’s mastery of social forms is synonymous with her mastery of her own feelings, and her ability to eliminate anger from even her internal vocabulary is what fits her finally for civilised society.
From the very first letter in the novel, Burney establishes anger as both socially disruptive and a signal of alterity. It is Madame Duval’s inappropriate rage that immediately and irrevocably casts her as ‘other’ in Lady Howard’s letter. The “violent, sometimes abusive” letter to which Lady Howard responds (13), being an extravagantly negative behavioural model and a threat to orderly social interaction, initiates the action of the novel. An external force disrupting the orderly, enclosed, retired life at Berry Hill, Madame Duval’s anger creates the possibility for novelistic narration – just as, years earlier, her “wrath and violence” and “inexorable rancour” were the direct cause of the ruin of Miss Anville’s life (18). This alterity is emphasised when we meet Madame Duval by her affected foreignness and abrasive manners, making her in writing and person an effective external threat to the smooth running of orderly society. Her altercations with Captain Mirvan repeatedly cause uncomfortable and troublesome situations for the rest of the company. They even create real physical danger for Evelina, as those quarrels more than once leave her stranded with Sir Clement Willoughby without a protector (78-79, 182-84). Perhaps more seriously, they provide a model of behaviour for Evelina that she cannot possibly emulate. Evelina’s grandmother thus becomes a means for Burney to explore the over-expression of resentments that her protagonist cannot admit to feeling, never mind express, if her story is to end happily.
The relationship between Evelina and Sir Clement Willoughby, like that between Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan, is built around a series of provocations and responses. The essential elements of the pattern all appear with the first meeting of each pair. At the ridotto in London, Evelina is addressed by “a very fashionable, gay-looking man” (48) who requests the honour of a dance. She informs him that she is previously engaged, but, her artifice being unequal to the lie, her unwelcome new acquaintance sees through her. Blithely setting aside unspoken social limits in retaliation, Sir Clement Willoughby attaches himself to her side and proceeds to torment her with a steady stream of provocations too eloquent and smooth to be repulsed, yet jarring enough to ordinary patterns of social interaction to cause Evelina severe consternation. The very next day (and in the very next letter) her grandmother makes an acquaintance similarly outrageous, according to her own terms. Reacting first against Madame Duval’s foreignness, then against her manners, Captain Mirvan launches into an attack which recalls that of Sir Clement Willoughby’s in its persistence, its affront to regular patterns of acquaintance and familiarity, and its clear intention to drive his target beyond anger into helplessness.
The similarities are too marked to consider either scene in isolation. While Sir Clement Willoughby lays sly insinuations against Evelina’s origin and manners - “why where could you be educated?” (54) - Captain Mirvan abruptly insults Madame Duval’s - “then go to the devil together, for that’s the fittest voyage for the French and the quality” (62). Both men are determined to persist in their behaviour despite attempts by both Mrs Mirvan and Evelina to change the subject, overriding the mildness of good manners with the force of bad. Most importantly, although we observe the second scene more dispassionately as outsiders, the emotional core is the same. Sir Clement Willoughby’s goading and Captain Mirvan’s persistence equally create a sense of helpless frustration, which only grows with each woman’s increasingly desperate attempts to deflect her opponent.
The primary difference between the first scene and its mirror is in the violence of the second. Here is no pretence of civil masks. Madame Duval’s open resentment of the Captain’s impertinences contrasts with Evelina’s useless attempts at retreat. Where Evelina chooses silences and ‘Sir’s for her responses, her grandmother raises her voice and hurls a new synonym for ‘unmannered’ at the Captain in almost every utterance. As a result the scene escalates much faster. Sir Clement Willoughby goads Evelina for five pages before she is driven to agree to a dance, and a further five before she bursts into tears. Within two pages of their first exchange, the violence of the older pair becomes physical, as he “seiz[es] both her wrists” to emphasise his threats (63). On their next encounter, both go further: Madame Duval “dash[es] the candle out of his hand, stamp[s] upon the floor, and, at last, sp[its] in his face”. This triggers a violent response in the Captain, as his amusement is “converted into resentment” and he shakes her “violent[ly]”, in turn begetting further “passion” (81-2). Their behaviour traps both characters in an escalating cycle of violence from which neither can (or is willing to) escape, regardless of the harmful effects of their quarrelling on the remainder of the company.
Madame Duval, in her “grossness” (64), not only articulates but seems to embody the frustration implicit in Evelina’s experience at the ridotto and elsewhere. Nowhere in her confrontation does Evelina admit to feeling anger herself, aloud or in writing – even, it seems, in her own head. The anger of Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan is described without hesitation, in vivid, non-euphemistic terms that remain associated with displays of anger throughout the novel, not one of which is applied to Evelina in the preceding scene. Captain Mirvan addresses Madame Duval “surlily” and is bent on “quarrelling” (61); they speak with “vehemence”, “swearing” in “fury”, both too governed by “passion” to respond to cool reason (62-3). But Evelina has no language in which to articulate her own negative emotional response to Sir Clement Willoughby’s provocation. It seems not to exist – our only proofs of it, despite the first-person narrative, are its external manifestations: inarticulateness, blushing, confusion, tears. Whatever it is that she feels, the parallel with Madame Duval suggests an analogy with anger, but not an equation: Evelina’s experience of her own emotion appears to be completely different.
This reticence on the part of author or narrator in providing terms for discussion of Evelina’s hypothetical anger also has its parallels in the continued development of the two stories throughout the first volume. Madame Duval’s responses to Captain Mirvan continue to function as a comment on Evelina’s to Sir Clement, and the exaggerated emotional displays in which the older woman indulges as a potential (and dangerous) model for her granddaughter’s imitation. They also serve, however, to highlight a crucial difference in focus between the battlegrounds on which each pair contests.
Just as Madame Duval’s emotions are performed and labelled, given unambiguous exterior form, so is her conflict with Captain Mirvan centred on her outward appearance and the means she uses to effect it. He tips her into the mud and laughs at her appearance, mocks the ruin of her “new Lyons silk” (77-8), and targets her clothes, head-dress and rouge both in tipping her into the ditch and in mocking her for it later (186). But Captain Mirvan is not alone in his blindness to all but the external. Madame Duval’s first concern, on emerging from the mud puddle, is also “to save [her silks] from being stained by the wet” (77), and she continues to resent the Captain primarily for the ruin of her silks and wigs.
This is of a piece with her usual priorities: as even Evelina cannot help but notice, “the labour of the toilette seems to be the chief business of her life” (195). Her decision to abandon mourning when she came to England, with her husband “but three months” dead, is on the grounds that “nobody here could tell how long she had been a widow” (66), a justification that calls attention to her inability to draw a connection between outward appearance and interior feeling or motivation. So far as Madame Duval is concerned, the only reason to remain in mourning is social censure, against which is set the (equally external) siren song of fashion. Her preferred – or only – mode of self-construction is visible, public, and repeatedly emphasised as incongruous: characters from Evelina to Captain Mirvan all comment on the grotesque extravagance of her dress and manners.
Evelina, by contrast, constructs herself almost entirely internally throughout the first volume. She is close to inarticulate in public, spends little time at her toilette (and wastes next to no ink writing about it) and is intensely uncomfortable under the gaze of strangers. She is initially so unsuccessful in creating a public image that even Lord Orville – later her truest reader – receives a first impression of her as simply “a poor weak girl” (42). Left to herself, however, Evelina shapes herself with increasing skill in the civilised, private form of the letter. Appropriately, then, where Captain Mirvan targets Madame Duval’s external accoutrements, Sir Clement Willoughby’s assaults on Evelina aim both towards disruption of her outer calm (and thus exposure or alteration of her inner self), and towards the physical intrusion of rape.
There is a (possibly tongue-in-cheek) echo of this distinction in Burney’s use of the repeated coach motif: Captain Mirvan repeatedly tries to eject Madame Duval from coaches, while Sir Clement Willoughby repeatedly traps Evelina inside them. At their first meeting, Captain Mirvan is reluctant to allow Madame Duval into his coach, then threatens to throw her out into the mud (61, 63); on departing for Howard Grove he hauls Monsieur Du Bois forcibly out of the carriage to spite her (147); in their “highwaymen” trick, he pulls her out of the carriage and tumbles her into a ditch in disarray (182-83). Madame Duval values control of the coach’s social functions – its movement, toward places of social power (Howard Grove, Justice Fielding), and its theatrical value (especially when it belongs to a lord). For Evelina, however, the power game is turned on its head, as the space itself becomes a trap with Sir Clement Willoughby controlling the reins. Thus, Evelina and the baronet struggle for possession of the inner space, while Madame Duval’s concern is for the appearance of the carriage from the outside.
This is not to say that Evelina’s social persona does not concern her or does not constitute an element in her perception of her own identity. She is excruciatingly aware at the ridotto of the appearance her awkward manners make, and how they make her seem, but at the same time her language emphasises the disjuncture between appearance and reality. She hangs her head “like a fool” (37), accidentally assumes “seeming airs” (38) though conscious of the “ridiculous part [she] had [her]self played” (39) and makes a determined effort to rally herself and “appear less a fool” (41) (emphases mine). Never once does she make a direct causative correlation between her appearance and her inner self. Rather, the reverse is true, or should be: her inner qualities ought to affect her outward show, and her challenge throughout the book is to bring each into closer alignment with the other. Her conversation with Lord Orville at the ridotto – or rather, Lord Orville’s gallant attempt to draw out more than monosyllables – is far from the last occasion on which Evelina will find her voice unequal to the task she would wish on it. But this works in both directions: not only must she learn to express herself rather than dwelling wholly inwardly, she must also learn to moderate what she feels and thinks, even to herself, according to the modest show of ideal femininity on the outside. If she must learn to say what she feels, it is also necessary to feel no more than she may say, or she risks becoming her grandmother.
Patricia L. Hamilton observes that “according to early-century conceptions of politeness, external behaviour should spring from and be congruent with inner moral virtue” (419). Lord Orville, she argues, is the epitome of this ideal. His manners, decorum and generosity – Hamilton’s three main components of male politeness – all spring from internal qualities. In my terms, Orville has eliminated the disjuncture between inner and outer virtue, and in this he provides Evelina with an alternative to her grandmother, allowing her to develop qualities and inclinations already evident in her from the beginning. Evelina is naturally disposed, or disposed by her upbringing, to constrain her emotions to the socially acceptable. Her internal self-censure is so automatic that, as we have seen, even so early as the scene at the ridotto, her own account shows little emotion but confusion. Only the subsequent sight of her grandmother’s rage suggests that true anger was an option in Evelina’s case: her own experience did not seem to involve it, to the extent that she avoids naming what she does feel even to herself.
Madame Duval’s complete disjuncture of inner and outer is not the model Evelina chooses: instead, she follows Lord Orville. I mentioned earlier that Captain Mirvan is a fitting partner for Madame Duval, as the similarities between them indicate that they occupy analogous places in Burney’s moral map. Sir Clement Willoughby, self-evidently, is not Evelina’s twin in the same way. Rather, he is a complement to the Duval/Mirvan type. His manners and dress are smooth, socially acceptable, even attractive, yet he also lacks the ability to balance internal with external. He offers Evelina a third choice: the appearance of virtue without its substance. In Sir Clement Willoughby, the possession of only the external appearance of goodness is more dangerous than Lord Merton’s lack of both. Sir Clement Willoughby thus prevents the situation from becoming a simple dilemma between presence and absence of polite manners: he proves that they must arise from real goodness inside rather than from a simple hypocritical veneer. Evelina cannot simply smooth-talk negative internal qualities away in public – she must deny them in private, even to herself, until they cease to be a reality.
Evelina’s language thus models her and Orville’s ideal society: it eliminates anger altogether. Her reticence in providing terms for discussion of civilised anger suggests that it does not, in fact, exist in a civilised form – that it must be twisted around into something else, just as “hypocrisy” may be re-termed “politeness” or “tact”. If properly experienced, anger is unspeakable. It is not named, not acknowledged even to one’s self, except with wordless tears. For Evelina, anger is only permissible if it is not experienced.
As a warning, Madame Duval does not disappear when she passes out of the plot. She is a type, and there are plenty more of her out there under different guises. Captain Mirvan himself appoints her successor in their little war, and his election lights on Mr Lovel. A man who does not exist unless he is seen at the theatre, who “stud[ies] for an hour what [he] should put on” (504) and whose first reaction to humiliation is to bemoan the ruin of his “new riding-suit” (ibid), is a fitting heir to Madame Duval’s role. Although his manners are more fashionable, by casting him in the same position opposite Captain Mirvan, Burney suggests that they are intrinsically no better. And indeed the appearance of the monkey, “full dressed, and extravagantly à-la-mode” (501), is a fitting dénouement to this sub-plot. Captain Mirvan is correct in identifying Mr Lovel as Madame Duval’s successor, and the monkey as Mr Lovel’s relation. Unwittingly, however, he implicates himself. In Burney’s terms, the extravagant exteriority of Captain Mirvan, Madame Duval and Mr Lovel is bestial: they have nothing but the outward show of humanity, and the irrational, defensive aggression of the monkey on being struck echoes that of Lovel in striking it, of Madame Duval in spitting at the Captain or slapping Evelina, of the Captain in shaking Madame Duval or threatening to knock Mr Lovel’s teeth down his throat. All three – and they are not alone – are as much ‘creatures’ as the monkey, created by the exterior show they share with it. Violence and social disruption, it seems, is the inevitable result of anger. No matter how it is expressed, it cannot be fully assimilated into civilised society.
Lord Orville and Evelina, smoothing out the violent ‘passions’ within themselves, remain the standard for emulation – but their power is limited. As Hamilton points out (439-40), Lord Orville can throw the monkey out of the room, but he cannot do the same to the man who brought it in. Instead, he changes the subject and suggests a stroll. One’s own emotions may be named away, but the anger of others cannot be so eliminated. The only possible response to it is to turn aside, to ignore it, to avoid acknowledging it in language: to change the conversation.
 “Violence” is also one of the most common terms associated in Evelina with anger. Though not used in this brief scene, its effect is certainly felt, and Evelina’s comment near the end of the same letter that Mrs Mirvan does her best to “heal... those wounds which her husband inflicts” (66) also serves to emphasise the analogy of angry words as a physical assault, by comparison with the medicinal effect of politeness.
 This is not the only parallel between the combatants – Captain Mirvan is also her equal in the art of assaulting the company’s ears with over-loud, tactless exclamations, in a language that ostentatiously and rather vulgarly parades its origins outside polite society.
 For a more detailed discussion of Evelina’s scopophobia and its implications for self-fashioning, see Emily Allen’s “Staging Identity”. Allen also treats Madame Duval as a foil and potential behavioural model for Evelina.
 See Jenny Davidson for a length treatment of eighteenth-century politeness and its relations (tact, gallantry, manners, self-control) through the glass of their extreme – hypocrisy. Establishing hypocrisy first as a morally neutral term, Davidson examines the way arguments (political and literary) refract around it, particularly with an eye to gender roles and the position of servants. In passing, she mentions that Burney shares with Johnson and Burke “a sincere wish to show that politeness and virtue are wholly compatible” (8): I would amend that to potentially compatible, given the myriad examples of characters who fail to achieve that compatibility.
 Mr Lovel takes the word to himself in facing the monkey – 'as I’m a living creature, I would not touch him for a thousand worlds' (502) – unaware that he echoes Evelina's application of it to him earlier at both the ridotto and Love for Love, when she states explicitly that her use of the term is due to his poor behaviour and affectations (40, 103).
Burney, Frances. Evelina: or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. Ed. Frank D. Mackinnon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.
Allen, Emily. “Staging Identity: Frances Burney’s Allegory of Genre.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 31.4 (1998): 433-451.
Davidson, Jenny. Hypocrisy and the Politics of Politeness: Manners and Morals from Locke to Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Hamilton, Patricia L. “Monkey Business: Lord Orville and the Limits of Politeness in Frances Burney’s Evelina.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 19.4 (2007): 415-440.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
In 1993, Ruth Mellinkoff analysed mediaeval European iconography to discover a “specific pictorial code common to later medieval representations of Jews” (Hassig 25). The visual system Mellinkoff describes “depicts Jews as physically repellent, evil, and subnormal”, emphasising their role as “rejecters and murderers of God” (ibid). Common features of the code include distortions, deformities, grotesque facial expressions, dark or reddish skin and hair, blemishes and badges. Debra Hassig builds on Mellinkoff’s work to suggest that there is, in addition to any specifically anti-Semitic iconography, “a more general pictorial code that underlies not only representations of Jews, but also other members of the medieval underclass as well as their ideological parallels”, a code expressive of “sin, evil, barbarity, and subhumanity” (25). Mellinkoff and Hassig thus both detect and describe a detailed visual code, common across much of Western Europe for hundreds of years, which exists to depict and condition responses to alterity, to the oft-threatening and always suspect alien that hovers on the fringes of society. Hogarth seems to draw on the remnants of this tradition, consciously or otherwise, in his depictions of the bodies and visual characteristics of the characters of Marriage à-la-Mode. Characteristic elements of mediaeval iconography appear in Hogarth’s paintings in ways that inform our understanding of his story, while imposing moral comment on it.
Hassig explicates the common mediaeval understanding of the body’s ability to physically reflect mental or moral characteristics, grounded in a detailed theological discourse drawn from Aristotle (28-29). Signs of courage or cowardice, intelligence or stupidity, or willingness to hear the word of God, can all be reflected in physical aspects of the body. Under this system, xenophobia quickly appears - “swarthiness or dark skin indicates a coward, as does extremely wooly [or curly] hair” (28) – as does a co-dependent ethnocentricity, wherein the weakness of the sun in northern climes and its ferocity in the south lend justification to the theory that only in the centre of one’s cultural map do the perfect conditions for ideal humanity exist. Darkness of skin and hair and grotesque features can thus indicate a foreigner, but these markers could hardly be morally neutral. Their extreme version (and there is a solid continuum) is the fantastical bodies of the Monstrous Races, creatures from the extremes of the earth (or beneath it) with two heads, wings on their shoulders, faces fixed on backwards, etc – foreign in the extreme, bestial or diabolical.
The same visual code applied to geographical foreigners could be frequently applied to, for example, the tormentors of Christ (or of saints), and, by extension, to devils. Common markers of vice included “ill-proportioned bodies, contorted postures, and ugly facial features... [including] large, pointy, or bulbous noses; mouths with fleshy lips... grotesque expressions; ruddy or dark skin; and facial blemishes” (29). Similar markers could be used to designate disease, although in most mediaeval iconography physical disease stands as a visual code for moral deformity rather than being represented as literal in itself. Common mediaeval iconography thus settles into a distinct ‘us’ and ‘them’, where distinctions in types and degrees of alterity – whether caused by geographical distance, physical or mental illness, religious differences or simple imagined monstrosity – are collapsed into a single, easily comprehensible set of visual signs that indicate ‘alien’, with an implicit moral judgement.
Hogarth’s characters in Marriage à-la-Mode are not caricatures, not exaggerated as most late mediaeval art can be (or as some of Hogarth’s own other work). They are painted naturalistically, giving more force to those features of their faces that partake in this tradition. While the faces of the main characters are not obviously grotesque, they surround themselves with characters – largely foreigners – with exaggerated noses or loose-lipped mouths (the apothecary and his assistant, the castrato, flautist, hairdresser and African servant). In moments of fashionable fancy, they indulge in facial expressions as extravagant and ridiculous as any monster could manage (see, for example, the swooning admirer of the castrato), as if to align themselves more nearly with those fashionable foreign objects they have brought into their homes. Curled hair is often a sign of alterity in mediaeval art; here, curls are affected to display membership of fashionable society. Curled and powdered wigs are prominent, and ‘The Toilette’ allows a glimpse of two heads of hair being done up to match. The gentleman with his head in curling papers draws attention to his own ridiculous appearance by the exaggerated delicacy with which he sips his cup, preventing a neutral reading of the image.
Dark colouring is an obvious indicator of foreign origin to an English audience, as indeed it remains in the case of the African or Eastern slaves seen in ‘The Toilette’ (and, to a certain extent, of the apothecary). In contrast, the reddish hues and darker skin of the mediaeval alien are also reflected in contrast with the fashionable pallor of the more ridiculous characters, a kind of exaggerated Englishness that becomes all the more foreign for it.
The custom of painting beauty spots on one’s face to contrast with that pallor is perhaps a more sinister echo of the blemishes associated with the mediaeval other. If we read them solely as beauty spots they are self-inflicted and ridiculous, a deliberate choice to deform oneself with the fashions that Hogarth ridicules. But of course, the dark spots have a darker purpose, in that, while they may be politely read by others within the scene as beauty spots, they are for Hogarth and his audience signs of encroaching syphilis – also, of course, self-inflicted. The destructive nature of the whole cycle is made explicit in the parallel between beauty spot and syphilitic deformity, less a visual pun than indistinguishable and inseparable symptoms of a single cause.
Similarly, the twisted and awkward stance of mediaeval aliens such as St Agatha’s tormentors is reflected in the self-inflicted deformities of Marriage à-la-Mode. The two central figures of ‘The Marriage Contract’ – the earl and the alderman – are both affected by it, one sitting awkwardly and inelegantly in this elevated setting with his sword poking between his legs, the other forced to rest his gout-ridden leg on a footstool. More serious physical deformities are shown by those suffering from advanced stages of syphilis – the bowed legs, the broken nose and bulldog face. It may also be noted that, in contrast to the tall, elegant bodies of the morally upright, mediaeval aliens rarely stand erect: similarly, the characters of Marriage à-la-Mode rarely rise to their feet. The only moment in which the viscount is seen out of a chair is in the moment, ironically, of his death and fall – in which the twisting of his legs recalls the bow-legged fate that would have awaited him had he lived.
These deformities of shape also find echo in the fashionable choices of the elite. The broken-nosed statue on the mantelpiece in ‘The Tête à Tête’ seems to mock its owner, whose syphilis is as yet only evidenced by the black spot on his neck. The child in ‘The Toilette’ points with laughter to the horns of a statuette, suggesting another kind of ‘monster’ that the new Earl resembles, as his wife arranges an assignation with Silvertongue. The “puffy and pregnant Chinese idols” (Lichtenberg 41) on the mantelpiece in ‘The Tête à Tête’ sit there naked and leering, as if in comment on the distortion of the human body invited into the very household by their owners. And, it must be said, the exaggerated ‘pug’ faces of the African slaves (fashionable accessories just like the statues) resemble the increasingly twisted faces of the child in ‘The Lady’s Death’ and the apothecary, both of whom are in the advanced stages of syphilis. This repeated alignment suggests a deliberate equation of the physical state of characters with the alien and contemptible other, drawn into that similarity by their own choices and excesses.
Indeed, Hogarth seems to hint that his characters go so far as to approach, not only the Italian or French foreigner, but the ultimate other represented by the Monstrous Races, in which the human blends repulsively with the animal. In the very first painting the coupled hounds serve as a metaphor for the young couple, a metaphor that could be sympathetic; but over the course of the series, the animal imagery begins to lend more serious comment to the moral state of the characters. In ‘The Tête à Tête’ a little dog points out his master’s transgressions with his excitement over the hat in the viscount’s pocket (the angle of his body recalling the viscount’s presumed erection). In ‘The Toilette’, the walls are lined with paintings of classical and biblical scenes that approach the animalistic: Lot reduced to an animal by alcohol and the prospect of sex with his daughters, Io and Ganymede in the embrace of Jupiter’s various incarnations. The latter, with the hint of castration offered by the angle of the eagle’s head, seems to deliberately suggest a comparison with the castrato seated below, implying that the contents of the other paintings should also reflect on the remainder of the characters. In ‘The Lady’s Death’, finally, the dog rises to the level of the humans as he stands on a chair to steal the head of a pig from the table – and the expression on the face of the pig recalls suspiciously the face of the dying Countess, whose father is busily removing the ring from her finger. Spatially, the usual ‘them’ – the animal, the foreigner – is equated exactly with the humans who represent the centre and apex of social existence, precisely those one would expect to be the epitome of the ‘us’.
Indeed, the spatial difference between the old alien and the new is at the heart of Hogarth’s apparent concerns. Where Mellinkoff’s monsters are “subnormal”, outside and degraded below the privileged circle of Christian society, the problem with Hogarth’s monsters is precisely that they are not. They are supernormal, the upper echelon of society, welcomed and treasured, and they invite into that precious core of Englishness those foreign “deformities” that corrupt it, for imitation by the less fashionable. Alien they are not, but worse – they aspire to it. Geographically, they are at the centre of society (and often of the frame), as the glimpses of London through the windows suggest; and they are enclosed, indoors, not outdoors on the more liminal, socially ambiguous zone of the streets. Indeed, every window looks out not onto a street, but over it. Far from being debased below society’s scorning heels, Hogarth’s creatures are elevated above them. Indeed, as we are reminded by the glimpse of scaffolding through the window in ‘The Marriage Settlement’, the hands of the populace are engaged in erecting the high seats of the mighty – as they are the final scaffold of Silvertongue, elevated finally and ironically to his death.
I do not suggest that Hogarth was deliberately reviving visual motifs that he felt to be mediaeval. The effectiveness of such symbolism requires on it being both commonly agreed and, on some level, intuitive. The grotesque and deformed can be, in any culture, a convenient visual code for moral deformity or subhumanity, built on an instinctive sense of revulsion which artists can emphasise by contrasting such visuals with the elegant and the shapely (see the contrast between Agatha and her tormentors in the appendix). However, the possibility – indeed, likelihood – of a negative symbolism constructed around the grotesque arising spontaneously in several different cultures need not imply that it arises spontaneously at different temporal moments within one culture. I propose that Hogarth draws on (and slyly alters) visual codes that are not mediaeval, but eighteenth-century, with centuries of cultural weight behind them. A language must be understood by its audience, after all. Contemporary comments suggest that, indeed, this deliberate twisting of nature on Hogarth’s part was received with sensitivity. Lichtenberg has much to say about the hideous distortions of, for example, the body of the Italian castrato (which he compares to the equally dismaying body of the black servant in the background), the twisted body of the apothecary and the “most outrageous artistic motifs from northeastern Asia” on the mantelpiece (41). To Lichtenberg, these ridiculously affected deformities are like the fish inhabiting the bushes carved into a clock in ‘The Tête à Tête’, “something one rarely gets to see in nature” (43): as unnatural, one might say, as the Monstrous Races that inhabit the fringes of mediaeval maps.
Hassig, Debra. “The Iconography of Rejection: Jews and other Monstrous Races”. Image and Belief: Studies in Celebration of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Index of Christian Art. Ed. Colum Hourihane. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. 25-46.
Lichtenberg, Georg Cristoph. Hogarth on High Life. Trans. & ed. Arthur S. Wensinger & W. B. Coley. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1970.
Mellinkoff, Ruth. Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
 Yes, that link goes to Wikipedia. Yes, I am suggesting use of Wikipedia as a source. Seriously. It has the best-quality digital images of the paintings on the internet, at least so far as I’ve been able to find, and enough of a commentary to tell the story without heading into disputed territory of interpretation.
 I here consider the paintings primarily rather than the engravings, as it allows me to take into consideration elements of colour that add to my argument. For convenience, however, I use the names given to the individual engravings - ‘The Toilette’, ‘The Marriage Settlement’ etc – rather than referring to the paintings by number.
 For example, see the torment of St Agatha. Note the grimaces, full lips and curled hair of her tormentors, the contrast between the colour of her skin and theirs (red in colour in the manuscript, not used lightly given the cost of red ink) , their twisted postures (as emphasised by the folds of their clothing), their obvious physical exertion and the phallic overtones in the positioning of their pliars. By contrast, Agatha seems oblivious to the proceedings (almost smug!), her body is elongated and elegant and she is elevated above the level of her tormentors, approaching Heaven in her position and Christ in her semi-crucified attitude.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
1. OF GYPSIES. That gypsies will frequently, contrary to all logic and often irrespective of any regard for personal interest, safety or gain, break into homes at their convenience and replace children with other children. It must be stressed that:
a) they will do this even when both children are equally healthy, therefore with no apparent gain to their own gene pool;A little consideration, and the observation of the fact that their activities are invariably focussed on small rural communities, will quickly reveal this motive. Gypsies are concerned to stimulate, or we may say stir, the gene pool in order to prevent and counteract the effects of inbreeding. The further consideration that the babes selected for this mixing process are inevitably the strongest, most beautiful, most healthy and frequently most noble of character available in the district further supports this theory, as it ensures a) that those most likely to find mates do so in a town that is not that of their birth and b) that the resulting children will be similarly perfect and amazing.
b) likewise, they will frequently exchange children already abducted for new abductees, and therefore we cannot assume that any particular child abducted will remain with his/her abductors in any permanent sense, as the nature of foundling statistics is such as to befuddle any attempt to determine precise percentages of children abducted and passed on relative to children abducted and retained;
c) we therefore cannot assume that gypsies retain any children at any point, as we have no evidence of their doing so, and everyone knows that lack of evidence is evidence of lack in the best logical tradition, and therefore:
d) gypsies stand to gain nothing from this remarkably frequent abduction of children (which appears indeed to be their sole function in all narratives in which they appear, and therefore occupies at least 100% of their time), and must therefore be acting from selfless motives.
That gypsies devote their lives to these endeavours, for which they are frequently persecuted, must stand as a witness to the selflessness with which poor persecuted misunderstood minorities are always secretly jolly happy good-hearted folks, who probably burst into frequent highly coordinated dance routines to the tune of a Hammerstein song, if we could only see past our sad, sad prejudice.
As a side note, it should also stand that gypsies are therefore single- (well, multi-, but they only function as a single entity anyway, on account of the aforementioned minority thing) handedly responsible for the development and perfection of the Aryan race, which is probably why Himmler advised keeping a few of them around for experimental breeding purposes. They serve a vital genetic function, after all.
2. OF FOUNDLINGS. That all foundlings have a strawberry mark somewhere about their person, but necessarily in such a position that it must be hidden from all other characters until the opportune moment. This position may vary according to the whim of the author.
From this it logically follows that:
a) If your newborn has a strawberry birthmark anywhere on his/her body, he/she is destined to be lost for several years from an age young enough that he/she will not remember you. You may choose to barricade the house, purchase a brace of fine Dobermanns and tattoo your name and address on your infant’s back if it makes you feel better, but it will not prevent the inevitable;
b) if you lose your child, do not hope to recover him/her until he/she would be at least fifteen/sixteen years of age and in the flower of man/womanhood. You need not, however, fear for your child: they may have been raised in poverty, or occasionally servitude, but they will be honest and upright and an example to all neighbours, and also hot;
c) after this time has passed, if you discover a person of approximately the right age possessed of a strawberry birthmark, it is vitally important that you check its location, as otherwise you are quite likely delightedly embracing someone else’s foundling (they are rather common, after all);
d) that all this could be prevented if only parents of newborns with strawberry marks had the foresight to register those marks and their positions with the National Database of Strawberry Birthmarks for the Recovery and Return of Lost Infants.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
- ‘Panegyric’ is full of monarchical language, sometimes applied toCromwell and sometimes to the England he will create: the oppressedpetitioning Cromwell (29-30), England receiving the tribute of other nations’ toil (61-64), England as a lion obedient only to Cromwell (165), etc.His writing contains an exceptional number of surely unintentional ironies, usually at his own expense:
- ‘Liberty’ is defined as the relief of surrendering responsibility tothe “strong and yet a gentle hand” of a higher power, not the lack of interference that some fools believe it (‘Panegyric’ 1-8). The same idea recurs later, with feminised England resting in Cromwell’s arms as the world in the arms of Augustus - hardly a model republican hero (169-172)! The prominent placing and repetition of the word “One!” (124-125) emphasises (unintentionally?) the literal meaning of monarchy, while Cromwell’s “ancient line” in the same verse suggests the hereditary privilege that might fit him for it.
- Replaces the traditional populus>nobility/church>monarch>God figure with Europe>England>Cromwell>?. God not really visible, except insofar as Cromwell is occasionally given divine attributes. Wistful reference to restitution of the “well-born man” (‘Panegyric’ 126) perhaps reveals audience. He seems to write for the traditionalists doubting republicanism, himself included: he paints Cromwell in the royal image to reassure, creating a world in which nothing has really changed.
- His subsequent panegyric to Charles then feels less a change of heart than a relief, more comfortable and natural than his verses in praise of Cromwell.
- Augustus isn’t a republican hero, and you extol him, while reproving Brutus for regicide? And Cromwell saves us from the evil results of regicide (‘Panegyric’ 151-156)?
- Charles might not appreciate being celebrated for his skill in raping women then accidentally killing them (‘To the King’, 33-36). Simile should really be complimentary on both levels.
- Holland is not “content” to bow before England (‘Panegyric’ 101-104), and will shortly assert this – particularly re. “bending sails”(Panegyric’ 18).
- “Man alone can, whom he conquers, spare” (‘Panegyric’ 116), unless the man is Charles I.
- You know, the sea is not traditionally described as “constant” (‘Panegyric’ 56). If Romeo had tried to swear by that instead of the moon, he would have met with exactly the same rebuke. And the sea proves inconstant in ‘To the King’ - she, having“revolted”, “trembles to think she did your foes obey” (16-17). This may be intended as an oblique apology or grovel for all that earlier panegyric for the other side, but it highlights the irony of the earlier “constancy” of the sea – and the poet.
- Quality he seems to admire most in a monarch(ical figure) is military might, which is equated with sovereignty. Despite the length of his panegyric to Cromwell, he praises little but that, other virtues being mentioned fleetingly if at all. Similarly Charles is introduced in terms that define his greatness by his power to cause injury (‘To the King’ 3-4). Cf. Dryden (eg, AM 22-25), for whom valour and piety (and beauty) are necessary corollaries to military might. With Charles more than Cromwell, Waller invokes the possibility of his power turning on his subjects, thus granting him the magnanimity of restraint. It is the traditional tension between wrath and mercy (Froissart’s Edward III and the burghers of Calais, Arthur to Rome’s
emissaries, Chaucer’s Theseus to Palamoun and Arcite), but without the necessary mediæval corollary of largesse.