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World of Words

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Reading Shakespeare’s Dramatic Language, edited by

Sylvia Adamson, Lynette Hunter, Lynne Magnusson, Ann
Thompson and Katie Wales
Shakespeare’s Language, Jonathan Hope
Shakespeare Up Close, edited by Russ McDonald, Nicholas
D. Nace and Travis D. Williams

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World of Words
Edited by Paul Yachnin

Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare

An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

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Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare
An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Imprint previously known as Arden Shakespeare

50 Bedford Square 1385 Broadway

London New York
WC1B 3DP NY 10018


trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

First published 2015

© Paul Yachnin and Contributors, 2015

Paul Yachnin and the Contributors have asserted their right under the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as author of
this work.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or

transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval
system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers.

No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on

or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can
be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: HB: 978-1-4725-1529-2

ePDF: 978-1-4742-5291-1
ePub: 978-1-4742-5290-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Shakespeare’s world of words / edited by Paul Yachnin.
pages cm. -- (Arden shakespeare library)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4725-1529-2 (hardback)
1. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616--Knowledge--Languages. 2. English
language--Early modern, 1500-1700--Rhetoric. 3. Shakespeare, William,
1564-1616--Language. 4. Literature and society--England--History--16th
century. 5. Literature and society--England--History--17th century. I. Yachnin,
Paul Edward, 1953- editor.
PR3069.L3S53 2015

Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN

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Acknowledgements  vii
Notes on Contributors  viii

Introduction  1
Paul Yachnin

1 Well-Won Thrift  33
Michael Bristol and Sara Coodin

2 Proper Names and Common Bodies: The Case

of Cressida  59
David Schalkwyk

3 Antique / Antic: Archaism, Neologism and the

Play of Shakespeare’s Words in Love’s Labour’s
Lost and 2 Henry IV  77
Lucy Munro

4 Learning to Colour in Hamlet  103

Miriam Jacobson

5 Recasting ‘Angling’ in The Winter’s Tale  125

J. A. Shea

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vi Contents

6 ‘What may be and should be’: Grammar Moods

and the Invention of History in 1 Henry VI  147
Lynne Magnusson

7 Othello and Theatrical Language  171

Sarah Werner

8 Slips of Wilderness: Verbal and Gestural

Language in Measure for Measure  187
Paul Yachnin and Patrick Neilson

9 ‘Captious and Inteemable’: Reading

Comprehension in Shakespeare  211
Meredith Evans

10 ‘Time is their master’: Men and Metre in The

Comedy of Errors  237
Jennifer Roberts-Smith

Bibliography  263
Index  279

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It is a pleasure to acknowledge the support of a number of

individuals, institutions and organizations. The work on this
book, first of all, has been fostered by the Shakespeare and
Performance Research Team, which is headquartered at McGill
University and which, from its inception in 1993, has been
committed to crossing the boundaries that usually separate
the fields of literary history, performance studies and theat-
rical practice. The Shakespeare Team has received generous,
long-term funding from agencies of the Quebec government,
first FCAR (Fonds pour la formation des chercheurs et l’aide à
la recherche) and then FQRSC (Fonds québécois de recherche
sur la société et la culture). I am grateful for the support.
The McGill Department of English has also been a valued
supporter of the work of the Shakespeare Team.
I am grateful to the members of the Shakespeare Team who
took part in the work that led to the present book, especially
those who participated in the November 2010 Shakespeare
Language Workshop at McGill. That includes Michael Bristol,
Sara Coodin, Meredith Evans, Wes Folkerth, Leanore Lieblein,
Patrick Neilson, Karen Oberer and J. A. Shea. At that workshop,
we were joined by a number of distinguished guests – Miriam
Jacobson, Lynne Magnusson, Lucy Munro, David Schalkwyk,
James Siemon and Sarah Werner. James Siemon was not able
to contribute his essay to the book, but his work was valuable
for our thinking then and has remained valuable since. To the
other visitors, who very graciously did give their work to this
book, I am profoundly grateful – for their creativity, extraor-
dinary scholarship, collegiality and great patience.
Finally, I must acknowledge the support and unfailing
patience of Margaret Bartley at Bloomsbury Publishing. This
book could not have had a better friend.

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Michael Bristol is Greenshields Professor of English Emeritus

at McGill University. Much of his work has been concerned
with situating Shakespeare’s works in the social context of
their production and reception. His books include Carnival
and Theatre: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority
in Renaissance England; Shakespeare’s America / America’s
Shakespeare; and Big-Time Shakespeare. He has edited or
co-edited several books, including Shakespeare and the Modern
Theatre: The Performance of Modernity; Print, Manuscript,
and Performance: The Changing Relations of the Media in
Early Modern England; and Shakespeare and Moral Agency.
His most recent publication is ‘Macbeth the Philosopher:
Rethinking Context’ in New Literary History.

Sara Coodin is Assistant Professor of Classics and Letters

at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on
classical philosophy’s importance to thought and action
in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as classicism and Christian
Hebraism in Renaissance England. She has published on these
topics in several Shakespeare journals and edited collections,
and is currently completing a book-length study of the moral
agency of Shakespeare’s Jews that focuses on the use of
biblical citation in The Merchant of Venice.

Meredith Evans is Associate Professor of English at

Concordia University, Montreal. She has published articles on
Enlightenment philosophy and literature, seventeenth-century
natural philosophy, critical theory and, most recently, on

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Notes on Contributors ix

Renaissance drama. Her current work on Shakespeare and

political theory focuses on the highly equivocal value of action
and personal agency.

Miriam Jacobson is Associate Professor of English at

the University of Georgia and the author of Barbarous
Antiquity: Reorienting the Past in the Poetry of Early
Modern England, a book that examines how trade with
Asia and the Levant reconfigured early modern English
attitudes toward classical poetry. Jacobson locates evidence
of early modern Mediterranean trade in poets’ importation
and appropriation of new, non-Western words and concepts.
In addition to her work on trade, language and classical
antiquity, Jacobson has published essays on material texts in
the natural world, and is at work on a book about mummies,
corpses and the resurrection of the past in early modern
drama and poetry.

Lynne Magnusson is Professor and Director of Graduate

Studies in English at the University of Toronto, with research
interests in Shakespeare’s language, the social rhetoric of
the early modern letter, early modern women’s writing, and
discourse analysis. The author of Shakespeare and Social
Dialogue: Dramatic Language and Elizabethan Letters, she
has recently edited Shakespeare’s Sonnets for the Norton
Shakespeare and is working on Shakespeare’s Language and
the Grammar of Possibility and co-editing The Cambridge
Companion to Shakespeare’s Language. She is past Director of
the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies and has
served as a Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America
and on the editorial board of Shakespeare Quarterly. Recent
honours include election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of
Canada, a Visiting Fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford,
and the Canada Council’s Killam Research Fellowship.

Lucy Munro is a lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern

Drama at King’s College London. Her research focuses on

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x Notes on Contributors

drama of the period 1580–1660 and its afterlives on stage

and screen, on editing, book history and textual scholarship,
on literary style and genre, and on dramatic representations
of childhood and ageing. She is the author of Children of the
Queen’s Revels: A Jacobean Theatre Repertory and Archaic
Style in English Literature, 1590–1674, and the editor of
Sharpham’s The Fleer, Shakespeare and Wilkins’ Pericles,
Brome’s The Queen and Concubine and The Demoiselle,
and Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed. Her essays have appeared
in the Huntington Library Quarterly, Modern Philology and
a number of journals and edited collections. She is currently
editing The Witch of Edmonton for Arden Early Modern

Patrick Neilson is an Associate Professor in the Department

of English at McGill University. He is a founding member
of the Shakespeare and Performance Research Team. Recent
mise-en-scène credits include Julius Caesar, Taming of the
Shrew, Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends
Well. For the last he staged the bed-trick in choreographed
dumb-show to the haunting trumpet strains of Dear Old
Southland. In retrospect, he feels Measure for Measure would
have benefited from a similar approach.

Jennifer Roberts-Smith is Associate Professor of Drama in

the Department of Drama and Speech Communication at the
University of Waterloo. She has published on early modern
English metrics in language and literature. Her current
research interests also include practice as research in early
English theatre history, digital visualizations of theatrical text
and performance, and technologically assisted environments
for the interpretation of cultural phenomena. She is Principal
Investigator of the Simulated Environment for Theatre project,
and serves as Associate Editor, Performance for Queen’s Men
Editions. Roberts-Smith received an Ontario Early Researcher
Award for her work on digital tools for theatre education with
the Stratford Festival.

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Notes on Contributors xi

David Schalkwyk is currently Academic Director of Global

Shakespeares, a joint venture between Queen Mary University
of London and the University of Warwick. He was formerly
Director of Research at the Folger Shakespeare Library in
Washington, DC, and editor of the Shakespeare Quarterly.
Before that he was Professor of English at the University of
Cape Town, where he held the positions of Head of Department
and Deputy Dean in the Faculty of the Humanities. His books
include Speech and Performance in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and
Plays; Literature and the Touch of the Real; and Shakespeare,
Love and Service. His most recent book is Hamlet’s Dreams:
The Robben Island Shakespeare, published in 2013 by the
Arden Shakespeare. He is currently working on a monograph
on love in Shakespeare.

J. A. Shea received a PhD from McGill in 2011 and, as a

faculty member in the Department of English at Dawson
College in Montreal, lectures and writes on subjects including
Shakespeare adaptations; horror films; and early modern
con artistry and popular magic. Shea was Associate Editor
of Poetry East’s 20th anniversary anthology, Who Are the
Rich and Where Do They Live?; contributing author to
Shakespeares after Shakespeare: An Encyclopedia of the Bard
in Mass Media and Popular Culture; and co-author of ‘The
Well-Hung Shrew’ in Ecocritical Shakespeare. Other research
and teaching projects are emerging from work with the
Miskatonic Institute for Horror Studies, Montreal (faculty)
and the Shakespeare and Performance Research Team, McGill

Sarah Werner is the author of Shakespeare and Feminist

Performance: Ideology on Stage, the editor of New Directions
in Renaissance Drama and Performance Studies, and has
written and spoken in numerous venues on subjects ranging
from Shakespeare and performance to book history and
digital media. She works at the Folger Shakespeare Library as
their Digital Media Strategist.

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xii Notes on Contributors

Paul Yachnin is Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies

and Director of the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and
Ideas at McGill University. He directed the Making Publics
(MaPs) Project (2005–10) and now directs the project Early
Modern Conversions: Religions, Cultures, Cognitive Ecologies
(2012–18). He is Past President of the Shakespeare Association
of America and Director of the McGill Shakespeare and
Performance Research Team. Among his publications are the
books Stage-Wrights and The Culture of Playgoing in Early
Modern England (with Anthony Dawson); editions of Richard
II and The Tempest; and five co-edited books, including
Making Publics in Early Modern Europe (with Bronwen
Wilson). His book-in-progress is Making Theatrical Publics
in Shakespeare’s England. His ideas about the social life of
art, and those of his MaPs collaborators, were featured on the
CBC Radio IDEAS series, The Origins of the Modern Public.

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Paul Yachnin

The eighteenth-century writer and lawyer Arthur Murphy

once imagined himself at Parnassus. Among the poets he saw
there, he found Shakespeare:

The great Shakespeare sat upon a cliff, looking abroad

through all creation. His possessions were very near as
extensive as Homer’s, but, in some places, had not received
sufficient culture. But even there spontaneous flowers shot
up, and in the unweeded garden, which grows to seed, you
might cull lavender, myrtle, and wild thyme. Craggy rocks,
hills, and dales, the woodland and open country, struck
the eye with wild variety … Even Milton was looking for
flowers to transplant into his own Paradise.1

‘Natural’ writing, which is what Murphy thinks Shakespeare

created, is based on lived experience rather than cobbled
together from bits of other people’s literary works. It is
‘woodland and open country’ rather than a tidy garden. It is
the kind of writing Philip Sidney aimed at in his first Astrophel
and Stella sonnet. He had laboured in vain to express his love
by adapting the work of others until, at last, he heard an inner

Arthur Murphy, The Grey’s-Inn Journal 4 (11 November 1752), 35–6
(Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
eighteenth-century-collections-online/, accessed 23 May 2014), italics in original.

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voice tell him just to be natural: ‘Fool, said my Muse to me,

look in thy heart and write.’2
The linkage between Shakespeare and natural, as opposed
to bookish, writing goes back to his own time. For many
in Elizabethan England, the country-boy, non-university
graduate, yeoman-class Shakespeare became exemplary of
natural, experience-based composition. In the university play,
The Return from Parnassus (c. 1601), we are told (likely with
a bit of tongue in cheek given Shakespeare’s evident love of
Ovid): ‘Few of the university men pen plaies well, they smell
too much of the writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis,
and talke too much of Proserpina & Juppiter. Why heres our
fellow Shakespeare puts them all downe.’3 In his commend-
atory poem to the 1640 Poems: written by Wil. Shake-speare.
Gent., Leonard Digges expanded on the idea of Shakespeare’s
natural genius:

Poets are borne not made …

… the patterne of all wit,
Art without art unparaleld as yet.
Next Nature onely helpt him, for looke thorow
This whole Booke, thou shalt find he doth not borrow,
One phrase from Greekes, not Latines imitate,
Nor once from vulgar Languages Translate,
Nor Plagiari-like from others gleane …4

For many in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and

even in our own time, Shakespeare is a natural genius whose

Philip Sidney, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. David Kalstone (New York:
Signet, 1970), 123.
Quoted in The Riverside Shakespeare, gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans (2nd
edn, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 1962. All Shakespeare
citations and quotations are from this edition.
Quoted in Riverside, 1972. For a judicious account of Shakespeare’s
reputation as a ‘natural’ poet, see Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare
(London: Picador, 1997), esp. Ch. 6, ‘The Original Genius.’

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Introduction 3

representations of people, their actions and their ways of

speaking come from experience of the world, from how people
naturally are, rather than from reading literature. For Thomas
de Quincy in 1823, Shakespeare was not even the poet of
nature; he was nature itself: ‘Thy works are not as those of
other men, simply and merely great works of art; but are also
like the phenomena of nature, like the sun and the sea.’5 For
Michael Bristol (himself a contributor to this book) writing
in 2000, Shakespeare is a great vernacular writer, a dramatist
whose main stock of material comes from experience rather
than from books. ‘[I]t might also be worthwhile,’ he says, ‘to
take a second look at the assumption that what we know of
the ordinary people who inhabit our social and personal lives
might be a reliable basis for the interpretation of Shakespearian
drama.’6 Bristol identifies the eighteenth-century man of letters
Samuel Johnson as one of the first who grasped the importance
of Shakespeare’s ‘vulgarity’, his intimate knowledge about
how people naturally act and speak.7
Is Shakespeare really the original, natural genius he has
appeared to be to so many since his own time? The contrib-
utors to this book certainly have no quarrel with Samuel
Johnson’s insight into Shakespeare’s particular ability to create
‘just representations of general nature’, or with Johnson’s
characterization of Shakespeare as ‘the poet of nature’, in the
sense that he is ‘the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful
mirrour of manners and of life.’8 All great artists have their
eyes and ears tuned to the world. The contributors to this
book seek to enrich the understanding of Shakespeare’s art,
not by arguing against Shakespeare’s first-hand knowledge of

Thomas De Quincy, ‘On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth’, in
Shakespeare Criticism: A Selection, ed. D. Nichol Smith (London: Oxford
University Press, 1916), 378.
Michael Bristol, ‘Vernacular Criticism and the Scenes Shakespeare Never
Wrote’, Shakespeare Survey 53 (2000): 89–102, quotation on 92.
Bristol, ‘Vernacular Criticism’, 92–3.
Quoted in Shakespeare Criticism, 92.

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general human nature, but by developing an account of him

also as a genius of rewriting and re-creation, someone able to
generate new languages and new ways of seeing the world by
orchestrating existing social and literary vocabularies.
The book’s enabling idea about the orchestration of
existing social and literary languages draws on the work of
the Russian critic and theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. The novelist,
Bakhtin tells us, organizes a host of different languages (‘social
dialects … professional jargons, generic languages, languages
of generations and age groups … languages of the authorities,
of various circles and of passing fashions’) into a complex,
‘heteroglossic’ literary text, that is, a text having a diversity of
voices, styles of discourse, or points of view. Each particular
social language embodies a particular way of seeing the world,
certain assumptions about what counts as real knowledge
about the world, and ideas about who should hold power over
others.9 Literary orchestration, when it is operating at the top
of its form, has the capacity to reveal the made-up axiological
character of social languages, the mere constructedness of the
worlds and hierarchies embodied in particular idiolects.
And Bakhtin does not ignore literary language’s capacity
also to construct influential, single-voiced ways of describing
the world. He tells us that genres like epic, lyric and drama
tend not to open language up to critical objectification.
He sees the novel as the genre most able to orchestrate all
other languages, including literary ones, and therefore as an
especially critical and liberating literary form:

He [the novelist] welcomes the heteroglossia and language

diversity of the literary and extraliterary language into his
own work not only not weakening them but even inten-
sifying them … It is in fact out of this stratification of
language, its speech diversity and even language diversity,

M. M. Bakhtin, ‘Discourse in the Novel’, in The Dialogic Imagination: Four
Essays, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1981), 262–3.

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Introduction 5

that he constructs his style … The prose writer does not

purge words of intentions and tones that are alien to
him, he does not destroy the seeds of social heteroglossia
embedded in words.10

The authors of this book find Shakespeare’s art as many-

voiced, as capable of the critical orchestration of social and
literary languages, and as liberating as the novels discussed
by Bakhtin. In sum, this book makes an argument for the
artistically and socially creative pre-eminence of Shakespeare’s
world of words.
The contributors undertake the task of making a case
for Shakespeare’s artfulness, learning, critical attention to
language, and social creativity by developing particular case
studies. Each chapter begins with a key word or phrase from
Shakespeare and builds toward a broader consideration of the
social, poetic and theatrical dimensions of his language. The
chapters capture well the richness of Shakespeare’s linguistic
orchestrations by including discussions of biblical language,
Latinity, the philosophy of language and subjectivity, the
technical language of dyes and colour, languages of commerce,
criminality, history and education, the gestural vocabulary
of performance, as well as accounts of verbal modality and
Shakespeare’s metrics.

Shakespeare’s language arts

The close attention we pay to what Shakespeare did with
language is of a piece with his own craft as a writer for
the theatre. That craft is fourfold. It includes the language
training he received as a boy at school in his home town; the
conventionally interlinked practices of reading and writing in
Elizabethan England – writing down or marking bits and pieces

Bakhtin, ‘Discourse’, 298.

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of texts while reading them and then using those bits in one’s
own writing; the demands of writing for the new commercial
theatre, which encouraged someone like Shakespeare to listen
alertly to and put to use the multiple ways of speaking in early
modern London; and, lastly, the interrelationship between
speech and action in theatrical performance: for the actor and
playwright Shakespeare, language was always also gestural
and embodied as well as verbal.
Shakespeare’s language arts were fashioned first of all by
his education at the King’s New School in Stratford, where
he learned Latin grammar and the arts of rhetoric and where
he read Latin poetry and prose, always with attention to how
the writing was constructed, a focus inculcated by instruction
in grammar itself and by translation exercises from English
to Latin and from Latin to the vernacular. Among many
other classical writers to which he was introduced, there
were figures like Horace, Terrence, Sallust and, most notably,
Ovid, whose Metamorphoses informs a great deal of his work,
from the early Titus Andronicus, where a copy of the poem
serves as a stage prop and a key to the mystery of Lavinia’s
rape and mutilation (4.1), to the late play, The Tempest,
where Prospero’s ‘renunciation’ (5.1.33–57) is an adapted
translation of Medea’s speech in Metamorphoses, book 7. In
his early comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, he indicates just
how important and pleasurable and just how unbookish Ovid
could be when Lucentio’s servant Tranio praises his master’s
aspirations in philosophy but reminds him that Ovidian
poetry is the stuff of life: ‘Let’s be no Stoics nor no stocks,
I pray, / Or so devote to Aristotle’s checks / As Ovid be an
outcast quite abjur’d’ (1.1.31–3).
At the New School, Shakespeare also acquired the principles
of ‘copiousness’, famously advocated by Erasmus in his work
De Copia (1512) – the ability to produce rich, layered writing
made up of repetition and variation and the use of myriad
figures of speech, word play and modes of address.
The Sonnets provide wonderfully accomplished models of
the language arts Shakespeare began to cultivate in boyhood.

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Introduction 7

The first two quatrains of sonnet 55 repeat with variation the

idea that the poet’s praise of his beloved is not subject to time.
Eventually, even the ‘gilded monuments / Of princes’ will be
‘unswept’ and ‘besmear’d with sluttish time’ while the poet’s
beloved ‘shall shine more bright.’ Stanza two gets more specific
about the causes of destruction and the things destroyed. Now
it is not the sheer passage of time, but ‘wasteful war’, ‘Mars
his sword’ and ‘war’s quick fire’ that do the damage, and what
war lays waste to are ‘statues’ and the ‘work of masonry.’
What remains untouched by all this carnage is ‘the living
record of your memory’ – not exactly the beloved but rather
the poem about the beloved. The gravitational force of the
theme of the shining immortality of poetry pulls the poem’s
lexicon into a particular orbit: the gilding of the monuments
gives us the bright shining of the beloved; ‘war’s quick fire’ is
bright also but not as bright as the beloved; and ‘quick’, which
also means ‘alive’, is assimilated into ‘the living record’, which
is the poem itself. The pattern of surpassing the agents and
subjects of time and war and at the same time transplanting
their attractive qualities into an argument about the power of
poetry culminates in a brilliant bilingual pun. ‘’Gainst death
and all-oblivious enmity,’ the poet says, ‘Shall you pace forth;
your praise shall still find room.’ ‘Pace’ suggests how beauti-
fully the beloved will move forth into public view, and it also
points to the meter of the poem itself, folding the movement
of the beloved’s body into the movement of the verse. ‘Room’
brings the pattern to a close since the English word ‘room’ is
‘stanza’ in Italian. After death, the beloved will indeed find
room to pace forth, but only in the stanzas of Shakespeare’s
poetry. Finally, sonnet 55 confirms how well Shakespeare
learned the classics. The first two lines, ‘Not marble nor the
gilded monuments / Of princes shall outlive this pow’rful
rhyme’, derive from and help keep living the work of the Latin
poet Horace, whose Ode 3, 30 begins like this:

What I have just completed will be a monument more

lasting than bronze and more imposing than Egypt’s royal

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pyramids, one that rain can never deface or wind destroy –

or the passage of time over the endless years. I shall never
die completely, for some of me will persist, eluding the
Goddess of Death’s grip. I shall grow and thrive, refreshed
by the praise of all my future readers.11


Shakespeare’s recollection of Horace in sonnet 55 is one

instance of the general practice of recording notable passages
in the literature one was reading or marking them in the texts
themselves, both as a memory aid and in order to create a
store of valuable literary material for reuse in one’s own
writing. Erasmus recommended that readers keep careful
track of the memorable parts the books they were reading:

[A]s you read the authors, methodically observe occur-

rences of striking words, archaic or novel diction, cleverly
contrived or well adapted arguments, brilliant flashes
of style, adages, examples, and pithy remarks worth
memorizing. Such passages should be marked by an appro-
priate little sign.12

The marking of texts was one of the language arts taught

in school. In a recent study, William Sherman recounts how
John Brinsley, one of the leading pedagogues of the period,
explained how and why students should mark their texts.
They should ‘doe it with little lines under them, or above
them, or against such partes of the word wherein the difficultie
lieth, or by some prickes, or whatsoever letter or marke may
best … cal the knowledge of the thing to remembrance.’ They

Odes [of] Horace, trans. David R. Slavitt (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 2014), 151.
Erasmus, De ratione studii, quoted and translated in Ann Rose, Printed
Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1996), 98.

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Introduction 9

should mark their books in these ways, Brinsley says, to make

them easier to remember; they should also mark them so
as to make use of what they have read: ‘To read and not to
understand what wee read, or not to know how to make use
of it, is nothing else but a neglect of all good learning, and
a mere abuse of the means & helps to attaine the same.’13
What Shakespeare learned to do as a boy very likely stayed
with him into his adult working life as a playwright, a life
that unfolded within a world of books, what Sherman calls
‘a dynamic ecology of use and reuse’ (p. 6). Marking texts
would also certainly have been supplemented by note-taking
on separate sheets or in a table-book, an instrument that
Hamlet says he makes use of in order to remember the lesson
he has just learned from his father’s ghost (‘My tables – meet
it is I set it down / That one may smile and smile, and be a
villain! (1.5.107–8)). Note-taking of the kind Hamlet seems
to be practising was not restricted to England (or Denmark).
Montaigne tells us that his foundational practices as a writer
grew from his reading, recording and rewriting:

Is not that which I doe in the greatest part of this compo-

sition all one and the selfe same thing? I am ever heere
and there picking and culling, from this and that booke,
the sentences that please me, not to keepe them (for I have
no store-house to reserve them in) but to transport them
into this … thereby to make a glorious shew, therewith to
entertain others, and with [their] help to frame some quaint
stories or prettie tales.14

Shakespeare also picked and culled from this and that book
the sentences that pleased him. We have already seen how

John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius; or, The Grammar Schoole (1612), quoted
in William Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 4.
Michel de Montaigne, The Essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, trans.
John Florio (1603), ed. N. John McArthur (NP: Kindle, 2012), loc. 2945.

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passages from Ovid and Horace turn up in his plays and

poems. So close are some parts of his plays to the work of
other writers (like Enobarbus’ exuberant praise of Cleopatra
(Antony and Cleopatra, 2.2.191–218), a close versification of a
passage in Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s The Lives
of Noble Grecians and Romans) that students sometimes say
that Shakespeare must have been an arrant plagiarist. What is
easy to miss is how Shakespeare resituates, rewrites, critiques
and makes new what he takes from others (Montaigne does
the same with his borrowings). One example among very
many is something Shakespeare took from Montaigne himself,
a passage of praise of the natives of the Americas in the essay
‘Of the Canniballes.’ Shakespeare puts the passage in the
mouth of the counsellor Gonzalo in a scene of time-killing
small talk among the shipwrecked courtiers, chief among
which group is Alonso, King of Naples (the man that Gonzalo
serves). In Florio’s translation of Montaigne, the passage goes
like this:

It is a nation … that hath no kinde of traffike, no

knowledge of Letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name
of magistrate, nor of politike superioritie; no use of service,
of riches or of povertie; no contracts, no successions, no
partitions, no occupation but idle; no respect of kindred,
but common, no apparell but naturall, no manuring of
lands, no use of wine, corne, or mettle. The very words that
import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulations, covet-
ousness, envie, detraction, and pardon, were never heard
amongst them.15

The bolded words and phrases in the passage from The

Tempest below suggest how closely Shakespeare is following
his source, but the differences are more significant than
the parallels. Shakespeare situates Montaigne’s ideas in a

Montaigne, Essayes, loc. 4435.

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Introduction 11

particular narrative and among particular characters in

ways that open those ideas to critique but not in ways that
empty them of their force. What is key is Shakespeare’s
orchestration of different ways of speaking and different
ways of seeing. Gonzalo makes explicit the ideal of a
paradisal life in nature, a new ‘golden age’, that remains
implicit in Montaigne’s ethnographic description. It’s just the
kind of highbrow speechifying a counsellor might make to
entertain a king – not seriously meant and not to be taken
seriously. Antonio and Sebastian make fun of Gonzalo;
and even though they are the villains of the play, they are
not wrong to point out the absurdity of his plan to create
an egalitarian commonwealth over which he would hold
sovereignty. Still, Gonzalo’s vision is hardly to be discounted,
especially in a world, the one he and the others inhabit, that
is wracked by a fierce and violent competition for power and
property. That is why Gonzalo adds a catalogue of weapons
to those things he would not have in his commonwealth;
there is perhaps a sharp edge of remembrance here since
he was the man who (under orders from the King and with
Antonio’s connivance) led the ‘treacherous army’ (1.2.128)
that kidnapped Prospero and his daughter and left them to
perish at sea:

I’ th’ commonwealth I would, by contraries,
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation, all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty –

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Yet he would be king on’t.

The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.

All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavor: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.

No marrying’mong his subjects?

None, man, all idle – whores and knaves.

I would with such perfection govern, sir,
T’excel the golden age. (2.1.148–69)


Shakespeare borrowed abundantly from ancient and

contemporary literature. He is bookish, not in the sense
of being pedantic, but rather because he read widely,
insightfully and very far beyond what he would have needed
to read in order to craft his plays for the commercial theatre.
He read for pleasure and out of deep curiosity, and also in
a hunt for new words or words used in new and interesting
ways as well as for the ideas embedded in those words, as
he did in his critical resetting of the passage from ‘Of the
Canniballes.’ He also invented scores of new words. An
estimate of his vocabulary puts him at the top of writers in

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Introduction 13

English. His works contain some 25,000 different words; his

closest competitor in the period is John Milton, at around
Not all those words came from books. They came also from
the speaking going on all around him – in the playhouses, the
inns, the street, at home, at court (both the royal court and
the law courts), at sermons, in shops and in many other places
where people gathered to converse. It is very important to
recognize how misleading is the traditional characterization of
Shakespeare as a poet of nature or a poet who draws on how
people actually, naturally act or speak, as opposed to a poet
who draws on bookish knowledge and language. The fact is
that all writers do both to varying degrees, but that some do
it poorly while others do it brilliantly. After all, human beings
don’t live in earth like plants; they live in a world of signifying
practices, chief of which practices is language.
We can get a taste of Shakespeare’s critical use of everyday
language by looking again at his resetting of the passage
from Montaigne. Among the other words that draw his
attention is the word ‘idle’, which describes life in a paradise
where nature brings forth everything humans need to live.
But in Shakespeare’s society, the word is also pejorative, and
especially so about people who do no work or who waste
their time by doing frivolous things like going to plays. ‘The
Idle man is the Devils cushion,’ says one preacher in 1614,
‘whereupon he sits and takes his ease.’17 Part of Antonio’s
mockery of Gonzalo is in his resetting of ‘idle.’ Gonzalo says,
‘all men idle … but innocent and pure’; Antonio’s version is ‘all
idle – whores and knaves.’ The irony of Antonio’s comeback is
enhanced by rhythm and vocabulary. Antonio and Sebastian
score points against Gonzalo by the way they talk. Their

These figures are from Stephen Greenblatt, ‘Introduction’, The Norton
Shakespeare, ed. Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 63.
Thomas Adams, The Devills Banket Described in Foure Sermons (London,
1614), 76.

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short, sharp comments in prose and their everyday words

can make Gonzalo’s iambic verse and heightened vocabulary
sound artificial and even foolish, as if what he is saying were
some idle thing confected merely to please the King.
Like the novelists held is such high regard by Bakhtin,
Shakespeare ‘does not purge words of intentions and tones
that are alien to him, he does not destroy the seeds of social
heteroglossia embedded in words. The word ‘idle’ contains
within it different ideas about how to live the good life. In
the particular dramatic resituating of the word, it also takes
part in critical social thinking by bringing into view – in ways
always open to debate – the idleness of courtiers as well as the
idleness of the audience at the playhouse. Are the playgoers
sinfully idle, a whole assembly of cushions for the devil’s
backside, or are they virtuously free of the preoccupations of
a violent, power-hungry political world?
As we have already heard, Michael Bristol has credited
Samuel Johnson as one of the first to recognize the value of
Shakespeare’s multidimensional language. This is what Bristol

For Johnson the heterogeneity of Shakespeare’s language, its

wide ranging familiarity with obsolete, common, and collo-
quial idiom as well as with foreign languages, is something
of an ‘embarrassment for the reader.’ Nevertheless, he was
astute enough to recognize that Shakespeare’s use of collo-
quial or vernacular speech is integral to his achievement
as a writer of lasting value … Johnson is really after
something more than philological description here. The
larger point revealed in Shakespeare’s language is in the
way it is used to work through the social and ethical
exigencies of ordinary life.18

In the chapters that follow, we will hear about how Shakespeare

mines deeply into particular words such as, among others,

Bristol, ‘Vernacular Criticism’, 92–3.

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Introduction 15

‘well’, ‘colour’, ‘slip’, ‘antic / antique’, the name ‘Cressida’,

phrases like ‘may be’ or ‘should be’, and the little demonstrative
word ‘this.’ Each of these words and phrases emerges as a site
for creative rethinking about language, theatrical art, and life
in society. The point is that, while Shakespeare thinks about
things that matter and invites us to think with him by way
of narratives, themes, characters and larger verbal features
such as soliloquies, exchanges and image and word patterns,
he also thinks with individual words since the words he
transplanted into his plays from myriad written and spoken
sources were themselves filled with heteroglossic social and
ideological content to which his particular re-creative genius
was able to give voice.


The signifying practices that transform the natural environment

into a human world include embodied vocabularies as well
as verbal ones. People communicate by throwing up their
hands, turning their backs, hanging their heads, raising their
eyebrows, shaking their fists, opening their arms for an
embrace. Of course they also use their voices in non-verbal
ways. They laugh or cry or sigh with pleasure, or like King Lear
near the end of his tragedy, they howl in pain. Shakespeare’s
language, which grew to maturity in the playhouse, includes
complex gestures as well as complex words. In the theatre,
embodied language was as meaningful and as socially creative
as its verbal counterpart.
Kneeling is something that Shakespeare’s characters do
with surprising frequency. In his plays the gesture of kneeling
is like an interlaced cluster of related words made out of
physical movement. Katherine kneels before her husband
Petruchio at the end of Taming of the Shrew. It is a quasi-
ritual act of wifely obedience and also the culmination of a
scene that mixes submission and self-assertion. Isabella kneels
to plead for Angelo’s life in Measure for Measure; she is asking
the Duke for mercy and also performing an act of solidarity

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with Mariana. Lancelot kneels for his father’s blessing in The

Merchant of Venice in a comic recollection of Genesis 27,
where Jacob tricks Isaac into bestowing his blessing on him.
Lear overturns family and political hierarchies when he kneels
movingly to his daughter Cordelia.
Kneeling was a gesture of considerable social, political and
theological import for Shakespeare and his real-life contempo-
raries. Early modern English people kneeled to their parents,
to secular rulers and to God: it was an everyday gesture that
reinforced relations of power and authority. It was ethically
meaningful too: people kneeled to others, including to God,
for favour, forgiveness or blessing. In Shakespeare’s time, after
almost a century of shifting between Catholic and Protestant
national churches and several generations of divided political
loyalties, the practices of bowing and genuflecting began to
arouse scepticism, especially in relation to religious practice.
Radical Protestants questioned the value of kneeling and
other outward signs of devotion. One reformer quoted St
John Chrysostom: ‘Their lips are moved only, but their mind
is without fruit, and therefore are the ears of God deaf … I
have bowed, thou sayest, my knees. Thou hast bowed indeed
thy knees within, but thy mind wandereth abroad. Thy body
is within, but thy thought is without.’19
In Shakespeare’s play Richard II, the Duke of Bolingbroke,
the future King Henry IV, kneels to Richard II after the King’s
capitulation to the rebels. ‘Stand all apart,’ says Bolingbroke,
‘And show fair duty to his Majesty. / My gracious lord’
(Richard II, 3.3.187–9). The rebel duke is making a show of
his loyalty to the monarch, but it is not clear at this moment
that it is mere show, so it is somewhat surprising and even
self-defeating for the King to characterize his subject’s dutiful
gesture as a piece of sheer hypocrisy:

See Ramie Targoff, ‘The Performance of Prayer: Sincerity and Theatricality
in Early Modern England’, Representations 60 (1997): 49–69, quote on 57–8.

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Introduction 17

Fair cousin, you debase your princely knee

To make the base earth proud with kissing it.
Me rather had my heart might feel your love
Than my unpleased eye see your courtesy.
Up, cousin, up, your heart is up, I know,
Thus high at least, although your knee be low. (3.3.190–5)

The rebel duke’s kneeling coupled with the King’s scepticism

could have opened the actor’s gesture to interpretation and
debate among the audience at the play. An action such as
Bolingbrook’s genuflection, where the authenticity of the
represented inward feeling is in question, could have enabled
early modern playgoers to think about the meaning and value
of their own practices of embodied communication, especially
their frequently performed gestures of social, political and
religious fealty and submission.
Admittedly, there is a methodological problem facing
anyone who wishes to study Shakespeare’s gestural language.
Shakespeare’s words survive almost fully intact in the quarto
and folio texts, but we can be certain about the gestures
performed on Shakespeare’s stage only when they are indicated
either by original stage directions or are clearly called for by
the dialogue. That means we have to be both imaginative and
careful in our attempts to reconstruct what the actors did in
performance; that, however, is not very different from the
chances and precautions we must take in the historical study
of Shakespeare’s words. A focus on embodied language also
brings forcefully to our attention the history of the perfor-
mance of the plays, an attention that can foster new insights
into how the plays might have worked in Shakespeare’s
time. Ian McKellen’s recollection of performing Richard II in
occupied Czechoslovakia in 1969, where his kneeling to touch
the ‘dear earth’ of his native England called forth silence and
then weeping from the whole audience, can open our eyes
to how the play in 1595 might well have used performed
action (including kneeling, sitting and bleeding) to transform
the wooden stage of the playhouse into the earth of England

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and thereby to arouse deep patriotic feelings among its first

Five of the ten chapters that follow focus at least in part
on performance and on Shakespeare’s gestural language.
They undertake to grasp the plays’ poetic and performative
inventiveness and the way those dimensions work together.
In this respect, the present book aims to breach a barrier in
Shakespeare studies between performance studies and literary-
historical criticism, a divide that, we think, has stood in the
way of a full understanding of Shakespeare’s art since at least
J. L. Styan’s book, The Shakespearean Revolution, undertook
in 1977 to redress a long-standing imbalance that had made
Shakespeare a poet first and a playwright after.21 Our accounts
of Shakespeare’s gestural and verbal language will, we hope,
suggest that his art is theatrical and literary, embodied and
verbal, at one and the same time.

The body of the book

Michael Bristol and Sara Coodin lead off the book with
‘Well-Won Thrift’, an essay on The Merchant of Venice.
The chapter is fundamentally about learning to listen to
Shakespeare. Too many critics have not paid enough attention

See Kate Welch, ‘Making Mourning Show: Hamlet and Affective Public-
Making’, Performance Research 16 (2011): 74–82.
In fact, the arguments go back to Shakespeare’s time, appearing in the
numerous disparaging remarks about playhouse performance in the prologues
by dramatists like Marlowe and Jonson and in the playful but serious antithe-
atricalism of Shakespeare’s own drama. For more recent arguments, first for
the literary character of Shakespeare’s art, see Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as
Literary Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Patrick
Cheney, Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2008); for arguments on the other side, see J. L. Styan, The Shakespeare
Revolution: Criticism and Performance in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1977) and W. B. Worthen, Shakespeare and the
Authority of Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

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Introduction 19

to what Shylock says or to how his language signifies. To tune

up our ability to hear Shylock, the chapter connects Shylock’s
language with the language of the Jewish Bible and Jewish
commentators. Bristol and Coodin consider one of Shylock’s
most controversial utterances, his account of why he charges
interest. Where Shylock’s arguments about moneylending
are typically glossed as attempts to rationalize usury, the
authors consider the speech from the perspective of Shylock
as a self-identified Jew. By looking at the biblical parable of
the parti-coloured lambs that Shylock invokes in the scene,
they open the hermeneutic possibilities of the verse, inquiring
into how rabbinic commentators constructed the meaning of
the Jacob stories. They devote some wonderfully imaginative
attention to the different kinds of ‘wells’ in the play and
in the Jewish Bible. Investigating the Judaic significance of
Jacob’s wealth, the chapter offers a biblically-based model for
Shylock’s understanding of his prosperity that draws on the
older sense of thrift as thriving or moral flourishing.
Chapter 2, David Schalkwyk’s ‘Proper Names and Common
Bodies: The Case of Cressida’, invites us to attend to the
freedom of one of the most maligned characters in literature.
The combination of Cressida’s proper name and the perfor-
mance of the character by an actor open up possibilities
of altogether new accounts of the woman that has stood
conventionally as an epitome of ‘untrew[th].’22 The chapter
addresses the question of what role proper names play in the
presentation and possibilities of action of a character in a
play. Starting with Saul Kripke’s causal theory of reference, it
argues that a proper name like ‘Cressida’ is a rigid designator:
it picks out its referent independently of any (contingent)
properties of that object (like infidelity). Given that this is
so, the proper names of characters allow for the imaginary

The word is from Troilus and Criseyde, in The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer,

ed. F. N. Robinson (2nd edn, Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1957), book 5, line

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exploration of other characteristics, destinies or events with

which such names have been associated, in fiction or history.
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida stages the nature of the
proper name, both through the characters’ invocation of their
names as signifiers of an immutable, essential signified, and
by showing the gap that always exists in the theatre between
the common bodies bearing such names and the names as
they have been passed down through history. This staged gap,
combined with the logical nature of the proper name as rigid
designator, enables the theatre to entertain a different destiny
for the name. On the stage Cressida can thus always be other
than her name.
Chapter 3 is ‘Antique / Antic: Archaism, Neologism and
the Play of Shakespeare’s Words in Love’s Labour’s Lost
and 2 Henry IV.’ In it, Lucy Munro explores a pair of early
modern homonyms, ‘antique’ and ‘antic’, and considers what
they suggest about two specific aspects of Shakespeare’s
language: archaism and neologism. Archaisms might be
‘antique’, carrying the gravity of age, but both archaisms and
neologisms were potentially ‘antic’, deforming the language
with grotesquery and disorder. The chapter focuses on two
plays in which the tension between old and new forms of
language is particularly striking: Love’s Labour’s Lost and
the Second Part of Henry IV. Exploring ambiguous figures
such as Don Armado and Pistol – both use both archaism and
neologism – and the archaic pageant of the nine worthies in
Love’s Labour’s Lost, the chapter examines the performative
qualities of archaism and neologism, and their potential links
with ‘antic’ gestures or postures, and also the ways in which
these plays commodify language, selling themselves in part
through their linguistic experimentation. The Chamberlain’s
Men successfully marketed to their audiences a rich combi-
nation of new and old words, styles and postures – the
‘antique’ and the ‘antic’, in a state of productive disjunction.
Munro turns to modern performances of Don Armado, where
the two meanings and styles of antic and antique remain
formatively in play.

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Introduction 21

Chapter 4, Miriam Jacobson’s ‘Learning to Colour in

Hamlet’, studies the fascinating confluence among the materi-
ality of the early modern technologies of colour, the languages
of colour and Shakespearean ideas about chameleon-like
personhood. The chapter takes as its starting point Polonius’s
injunction to Ophelia that reading on a book (or pretending
to read a book) might ‘colour’ her ‘loneliness’ (3.1.44–5).
What does it mean to ‘colour’ one’s loneliness? Drawing on
the material history of imported pigments and dyes used in
art, cosmetics, ink and textile manufacture, the chapter argues
that in the play, ‘colouring’ becomes associated with theat-
rical performance, specifically with masking and inking over
multiple versions of selfhood. But the argument does not stop
there: in order for Hamlet to accomplish his task of avenging
his father’s death, he must learn to colour, in other words,
learn to mask his feelings through emotional and psycho-
logical performance. And colouring as performance does not
entail masking or forced blushing alone; it involves embracing
a less stable identity, becoming a protean, fluid being, like the
chameleons Hamlet references before staging his own play
(3.2.90). In its metamorphic precariousness, colouring mimics
early modern language’s own plasticity. Hamlet’s performance
of his ‘antic disposition’ is an act of colouring, one that
entails not only performing multiple roles, but speaking in
multiple voices.
J. A. Shea’s ‘Recasting “Angling” in The Winter’s Tale’ takes
us into early modern criminal practices and language in order
to open new avenues toward understanding Shakespeare’s
great romance and his theatrical art more generally. This
chapter, the fifth, explores the linguistic weight and dramatic
depth of ‘angling’ in The Winter’s Tale. More than just
‘fishing’, the word ‘angling’ in the play refers to linen thievery
and other criminal practices that government statutes, antithe-
atricalist tracts and cony-catching literature associated with
the entertainment industry. As well as the word, images of
angling gesture toward cultural fantasies about con artists
and criminal networks. By relating the references to angling in

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The Winter’s Tale to the cony-catching literature by Thomas

Harman, Robert Greene and Thomas Dekker, this chapter
suggests that the influence of cony-catching extends beyond
the Autolycus subplot, and that we should see these texts and
also Greene’s Pandosto as informing the whole play. It also
proposes that Autolycus is the play’s foremost angler and
structural middleman. He is the touchstone for other evoca-
tions of angling in the play. Finally, it argues that Autolycus’s
profession, more than his person, contributes most to the
restorative structure of the play. The chapter proposes that,
in The Winter’s Tale, angling comes to stand for the beneficial
potential of Shakespeare’s own theatrical practice.
Chapter 6, ‘“What may be and should be”: Grammar
Moods and the Invention of History in 1 Henry VI’ by Lynne
Magnusson, shows how even very little words can do the most
significant kinds of intellectual work and how his education
in Latin language could have shaped Shakespeare’s dramatic
historiography. The chapter attends to the small words ‘may’,
‘should’ and ‘would’ in 1 Henry VI. It considers how the
interplay in English of three grammatical moods related to
the Latin subjunctive form contributed to the shaping of
English history in the theatre as something beyond Sir Philip
Sidney’s ‘bare was’ of indicative narration. The subjunctive,
the optative and (above all) the potential mood – that is,
the mood known in English ‘by these signes, may, can,
might, would, should, or ought’ – are all in evidence in the
early play 1 Henry VI. Sidney’s characterization of poetry
as ‘borrow[ing] nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be’
but ranging into ‘consideration of what may be and should
be’ is not usually taken literally as suggesting a special role
for the grammar of the ‘potential mood.’ Instead, it is taken
metaphorically to gesture at the special character of fiction,
at how literary mimesis (and by extension, we might imagine,
theatrical representation) creates a hypothetical, projected or
shadow world. The chapter asks whether lessons about early
modern English inadvertently learned in the Latin classroom
played a role in creating a ‘what may be and should be’

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Introduction 23

– or complex forms of ‘potential action’ – to distinguish the

English theatre’s new kind of history. The chapter argues that
grammatical categories associated with Elizabethan schooling
served as potent imaginative and performance resources in
Shakespeare’s early history-writing.
In Chapter 7, ‘Othello and Theatrical Language’, Sarah
Werner considers the interplay of text and performance in
Shakespearean performance. Very near the beginning of the
play Othello, Iago says, ‘I am not what I am.’ This enigmatic
declaration sets the stage for a play whose verbal and gestural
languages challenge our grasp of the meanings of words and
actions. The opening scenes are remarkably unclear about
who is being discussed and what events have transpired before
the play’s beginning. The demonstrative ‘this’ is exemplary
of the design of the play. The word directs attention toward
something, but in this play that something is seldom clear.
There is also a host of pronouns without clear referents, and
even in moments of apparent clarity, meaning turns back
on itself: a ‘he’ that seems to refer to Brabantio slips a few
lines later to seem to refer to Othello. Othello himself goes
unnamed until the third scene, in spite of the fact that he is
central to the action from the start. The audience finds itself
without a firm footing from which to understand the action.
What makes this disorientation effective is how the audience’s
position mirrors that of Othello. What can we know when
we’re not sure whether we can trust what our eyes and ears
tell us? Nothing is stable in this play, from Iago’s ‘I am not
what I am’ to the handkerchief to the time scheme of the story.
The degree to which the play destabilizes not only Othello
but the audience itself – a destabilization that is central to the
play’s considerable power – depends on its successful manipu-
lation of early modern theatrical conventions and the capacity
of language to intrigue, to obfuscate and to draw us into a
shared experience of faith and doubt.
Chapter 8 develops further the relationship between poetry
and performance. ‘Slips of Wilderness: Verbal and Gestural
Language in Measure for Measure’, by Paul Yachnin and

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Patrick Neilson, brings together literary and theatrical ways of

thinking about Shakespeare’s language in order to explain the
remarkably productive life of the word ‘slip’ in Measure for
Measure and in order to suggest how poetry and performance
are made into a single dynamic thing in the play. The discussion
finds verbal and physical ‘slips’ proliferating throughout the
play, shaping the characters, the slippery plot and the themes.
This exfoliation of a single word points to the metaphorical
character of Shakespeare’s thinking. Shakespeare cultivates
a multiplex system of metaphors that allows him to ‘project
patterns from one domain of experience in order to structure
another domain of a different kind.’23 The phrase derives from
the work of Mark Johnson and George Lakoff. Shakespeare’s
use of ‘slip’ exemplifies Lakoff and Johnson’s argument for the
essentially metaphorical, embodied character of our descrip-
tions of the world; Shakespeare also develops, in anticipation
of Lakoff and Johnson, a critical account of the ways by which
metaphor is able to constitute the world itself. The chapter
develops this argument about Shakespeare’s world-making
embodied language by drawing also on the rehearsal process
and performance of Measure for Measure at McGill University
in 2010.
Chapter 9 is by Meredith Evans. ‘“Captious and Inteemable”:
Reading Comprehension in Shakespeare’ extends Chapter 7’s
linking of the experience of the characters in a play and the
audience members watching the play. The chapter studies
how the perplexities of Shakespeare’s language weave together
the same kinds of semantic and intellectual questions with
which his characters are often presented. For example, it is
not enough to say that ‘to be or not to be’ is ‘the question.’
As centuries of scholarship attest, for better or for worse, one
must go on, as Hamlet does, to ask just what kind of question

Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning,

Imagination, and Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1,


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Introduction 25

this is. As the studiously formal tenor of his speech suggests, it

is an inescapably linguistic, declensional question with signif-
icant thematic and socio-political implications. The chapter
examines the ligatures of the semantic and the thematic
in Act One, Scene Three of All’s Well That Ends Well. In
place of Hamlet’s either / or, Helena’s description of her love
for Bertram presents a both / and, expressing a peculiarly
inexhaustible capacity and a rare comprehension of otherwise
inscrutable affects: ‘Yet, in this captious and inteemable sieve,
I still pour in the waters of my love, / And lack not more to
lose’ (204–6). The extended metaphor is notoriously opaque.
But, the chapter argues, the metaphor is also theoretically
and philologically capacious. Setting it within its immediate,
historical, literary and mythological contexts – including
Ovid’s rarely cited tale of incest between Myrrah and Cinyras
– the chapter shows how Helena’s heart-sieve offers a way of
speaking about otherwise unspeakable desires. Absolving her
of the charge being ‘a mere humour of predatory monogamy’,
the chapter builds on Helena’s language in order to articulate
a way of having without holding.24
The final chapter brings together the latest thinking about
early modern prosody with an acute understanding of perfor-
mance practice. The chapter, Jennifer Roberts-Smith’s ‘“Time
is their master”: Men and Metre in The Comedy of Errors’,
shows how Shakespeare’s poetry is an integral part of his
dramatic design. In the play, Luciana reassures her sister that
men are subject to time: ‘Time is their master,’ she promises,
‘and when they see time / They’ll go or come.’25 The conven-
tional Elizabethan senses of the word ‘time’ occur frequently
in the play and articulate its central theme, but Shakespeare
also puts time to work at the levels of narrative, plot, genre
and – perhaps most surprisingly, in a play that has never been

The quote is from E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1950), 126.

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considered a masterpiece of versification – as meter. Theorists

writing during Shakespeare’s lifetime saw timing as an
essential element not just of verse forms we would describe as
accentual, but also of the form we have for centuries thought
of as accentual-syllabic: the English iambic pentameter. In
addition to ‘accent’ or salience, it was the ‘quantitie, (which
is Time) long, or short’ (in Ben Jonson’s words) of syllables,
not their number, that determined the length of a line. With
the help of recent phonological theory, the chapter applies a
working definition of the timed Elizabethan iambic to The
Comedy of Errors. Scanned from this perspective, not only are
the play’s accentual meters structurally related to its ‘iambic
pentameters’ (for want of a better term) and linked to them
by what we might call border lines straddling the two meters,
but also the play’s systematic metrical scheme reflects, at the
line level and across the play, its theme, genre and narrative.
In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare materializes time as
meter, and by doing so defines theatrical style, turns dialogue
into stage direction as well as utterance and provides meta-
metrical commentary, helping to create the ironic distance
between characters’ and audiences’ perceptions of time that is
perhaps the play’s central goal.

Shakespeare’s world of words

Shakespeare wrote in the neighbourhood of 38 plays, two long
poems and 154 sonnets. He published in all nearly 900,000
words.26 That is a great deal of published writing, but why,
it has to be asked, does it make sense to call his published
writing a ‘world of words’? What exactly is that phrase meant
to describe? If it does make sense to call his writing a world,

Folger Shakespeare Library, Shakespeare FAQS,

Content/Discover-Shakespeare/Shakespeare-FAQs.cfm (accessed 6 January


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Introduction 27

what are his writing’s most salient, world-like features? And

how did all those published words become a world?
There is a good set of answers to these questions. People
have since antiquity recognized that all the writings authored
by a single person should have something like a family resem-
blance one with another and that the body of writing by a
single author should be capable of being judged as a whole.
That ancient idea was as normal in Shakespeare’s time as
it had been in the age of Ovid and Virgil or as it is in our
time.27 That traditional linking of authors and their works is
exemplified, for instance, by Francis Meres’ 1598 assessment
of Shakespeare, where he surveys Shakespeare’s poetry,
comedy and tragedy, remarking that ‘the sweete wittie soule
of Ovid lives in mellifluous & hony-tongued Shakespeare’,
and places Shakespeare at the very top among English writers
for both comedy and tragedy.28
The normal identification of writers and their works gives
us the foundation condition of possibility for the world-like
coherence of a body of authored work. A world (like a body)
is whole and complete, something to which nothing can be
added and from which nothing need be taken away. Some
version of this idea lies behind the publication of the 1623
Folio, which gathered Shakespeare’s individually printed plays
and his plays still in manuscript into a single large book with
the playwright’s name on it. More than that – the book was
the author. Shakespeare’s fellows, John Heminge and Henry
Condell, called the quarto editions of the plays ‘surreptitious

There is a large theoretical literature on the relationship between authors
and writing, the latest phase of which begins with Roland Barthes’ and
Michel Foucault’s different but related critiques of how the idea of the author
has served to rationalize and rein in the intertexual field of writing. For a
brief critical survey, which redefines the author as ‘the chief witness and
ethical sponsor of the work’, see my ‘Rejoicing in the Law: The Performance
of Authorship in A View from the Bridge’, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und
Amerikanistik 60 (2012): 77–89.
Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, in Riverside, 1970.

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copies, maimed, and deformed.’ Folio publication gave readers

the plays ‘cur’d, and perfect of their limbes.’29 In his short
poem facing the portrait of Shakespeare at the front of the
book, Ben Jonson advised any reader who wanted to know
Shakespeare to ‘looke / Not on his Picture, but his Booke.’30
The Folio issues, then, from an idea of the organic
wholeness of Shakespeare’s many and various plays (and
certainly also from a desire to honour the company’s chief
writer as well as from a wish to make some money). The
Folio in turn provided the keystone textual apparatus that
enabled editors, scholars, adapters, commentators, actors and
many readers to begin the long-term process of transforming
the approximately 38 plays and 150+ poems into a towering
monolith called ‘Shakespeare.’ The process began mainly in
the Restoration and early eighteenth century. It grew from the
work of scholarly and readerly cross-referencing among all the
plays; attempts to understand individual words and phrases
by setting them beside other, related words and phrases from
elsewhere in the works; comparative analysis of characters,
plots and plays; competing assessments of Shakespeare’s
bookish learning as opposed to his natural genius, his under-
standing of human conduct, his moral and political acuity;
and his standing as a literary artist in relation to great compet-
itors such as Chaucer and Jonson.
All of this helps us understand the development of
‘Shakespeare’ as a whole and coherent body of writing. But
nothing we have said so far allows us to see Shakespeare or
his words as a world, since a world is more than an exemplar
of coherence and completeness. A world is also something
of supreme value: it is so big that no amount of exploration
can reveal everything about it; and it is a place where people
live. There are other writers from Shakespeare’s time who
enjoyed folio publication as well as a significant degree of

Quoted in Riverside, 95.
Quoted in Riverside, 90.

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Introduction 29

scholarly and readerly attention. The folio volume Comedies

and Tragedies Written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
was published in 1647; the Ben Jonson folio appeared in
1616. Beaumont and Jonson were held in high regard in the
seventeen and eighteenth centuries, but few commentators
thought theirs were works of supreme value or inexhaustible
variety, and very few readers, scholars or actors have ever
seemed willing to live in their books.
The same is not true about Shakespeare. Not only is
his work very generally held to be supremely valuable and
limitlessly meaningful, but many people (scholars, actors,
other literary artists and readers) have lived large parts of
their lives in his plays – in scholarly study, editing, perfor-
mance, rewriting and reading. Some people (the late Maya
Angelou was one of them) have said they found themselves
in Shakespeare.31 So we must look beyond traditional ideas
about the coherence and completeness of the writing by a
single author and also beyond more recent ideas about how
material, institutional and socio-political conditions are said
to create canonical writing and writers.32
A return to Bakhtin will show us the way forward and lead
us toward the end of this Introduction. In a short essay written
in 1970, Bakhtin talked about the richness and longevity of
works of art. Literary works do not merely survive over the
long term, he said, but rather they grow larger and richer the
longer they live:

‘What Maya Angelou Means When She Says “Shakespeare Must Be a Black
Girl”’, The Atlantic, 30 January 2013,
must-be-a-black-girl/272667/ (accessed 6 January 2015).
Two major contributions to a political and materialist understanding of
literary canonicity are Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value:
Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1988); and Margreta de Grazia, Shakespeare Verbatim: The
Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 Apparatus (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1991).

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Works break through the boundaries of their own time,

they live in centuries, that is, in great time and frequently
(with great works, always) their lives there are more
intense and fuller than are their lives within their own

How is it that works of literary art are different in kind from

other made things? Literary works are able to grow larger in
future time, Bakhtin says, because they are filled with past

[T]he work cannot live in future centuries without having

somehow absorbed past centuries as well. If it had
belonged entirely to today (that is were a product only of
its own time) and not a continuation of the past or essen-
tially related to the past, it could not live in the future.
Everything that belongs only to the present dies along with
the present.34

Bakhtin takes Shakespeare as the model of works that live

larger lives in ‘great time.’ Shakespeare made his works
out of words that were filled with the socially diverse and
heteroglossic meanings of past time:

The semantic treasures Shakespeare embedded in his works

were created and collected through the centuries and even
the millennia: they lay hidden in the language, and not
only in the literary language, but also in those strata of the
popular language that before Shakespeare’s time had not
entered literature, in the diverse genres and forms of speech
communication, in the forms of a mighty national culture

M. M. Bakhtin, ‘Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff’,
in Speech Genres and other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee, ed. Caryl
Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 4.

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Introduction 31

… that were shaped through millennia … Shakespeare,

like any artist, constructed his works not out of inanimate
elements, not out of bricks, but out of forms that were
already heavily laden with meaning, filled with it.35

Bakhtin’s account of Shakespearean heteroglossia fits squarely

with what we have seen about how Shakespeare borrows
words from written works (from a very wide variety of
traditions, disciplines and periods), from spoken, social
languages, which themselves had sedimented within them
centuries of past meanings, and from the multiple ritual and
everyday gestural vocabularies of early modernity. Bakhtin’s
most striking insight – that words have worlds inside them – is
something that we have begun to see already by considering
Shakespeare’s literary art. Shakespeare’s re-creative genius
gives voice to the complex meanings inside words such as
‘room’ or ‘idle’ or inside an embodied utterance such as
Bolingbrook’s kneeling. Added to that is the creation of
networks of interlaced meanings among words, a process
of semantic enrichment that began with Shakespeare’s own
literary practice of repetition and variation and that has been
augmented by hundreds of years of Shakespeare scholarship,
theatrical performance, rewriting and reading. If we put these
three attributes together – the extraordinary gathering of
different languages in the works, the way Shakespeare opens
up the worlds within words, and the exfoliating networks of
meaning across his works – then it becomes possible to grasp
why it makes sense to characterize Shakespeare’s writing
as a ‘world of words.’ His writing comprises a language
that is coherent and complete, a language of great value
on account of its beauty, critical energy, historicity and
semantic inexhaustibility. Finally, his words comprise a world
in ‘great time’, a world that has been and continues to be
inhabited by many thousands of people – readers, playgoers,

Bakhtin, ‘Response to a Question’, 5.

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students and teachers, researchers, performers, playwrights,

film-makers, composers, novelists and many more – including
the Shakespeareans who have contributed their work to the
present book.

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Well-Won Thrift

Michael Bristol and

Sara Coodin

‘Shakespeare’s principal merit may be conveyed in saying

that he of all men best understands the English language,
and can say what he will.’1 Ralph Waldo Emerson thought
Shakespeare created a world of words, fully populated with
widely diverse social intonations and technical vocabularies.
Stanley Cavell finds in Shakespeare’s language the potentiality
for emancipation from ‘melancholia, idolatry, entrapment in
the views of others, and blindness to the existence of others.’2
Maybe it would be more accurate to speak of deliberate
ignorance or deafness to the utterances of others. The genius

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men: Seven Lectures, in The Complete
Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Centenary Edition, 12 vols, vol. 7 (New
York: AMS Press, 1968), 210.
Stanley Cavell, ‘Skepticism as Iconoclasm: the Saturation of the Shakespearean
Text’, in Shakespeare and the Twentieth Century: The Selected Proceedings
of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Los Angeles,
1996, ed. Jonathan Bate, Jill Levenson and Dieter Mehl (Newark: University
of Delaware Press 1996), 241.

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of Shakespeare’s dramatic art lies in letting his characters

speak for themselves. But how attentively do we listen? The
candour of these fictional utterances often provokes a strong
resistance to what the characters actually say.
Blindness to the reality of others and deafness to their
utterances is a recurring theme in many of Shakespeare’s
plays, but it is nowhere so extreme as with Shylock in The
Merchant of Venice. Well, Shylock is not one of Shakespeare’s
more engaging characters. And there is a further difficulty in
that resistance to what he has to say is linked to the history
of anti-Semitism, both in the fictional Venice and in the
historical reality of our own cultural traditions. The play is
often approached with deliberate ignorance of Jewish thought
and Jewish culture. Barbara Lewalski explains The Merchant
of Venice as a theological allegory, suggesting that such a
reading, based on patristic sources, provides extenuation for
the historical reality of anti-Semitic persecution. She reads
Jewish tradition as an allegory for ‘thrift’ and ‘niggardly
prudence.’ These qualities serve as counter-points to self-sacri-
ficial Christian ‘venturing.’3 Exactly how unselfish love for
Bassanio explains the contemptuous vulgarity of spitting on
Shylock in public, something Antonio never denies, remains
Lewalski appears to be completely oblivious to her
complicity with the historical reality of Christian anti-
Semitism, though maybe it is only a case of entrapment in
the views of others. The Church fathers who distinguished
‘letter’ from ‘spirit’ as theological abstractions provided a
respectable intellectual framework for much more conse-
quential expressions of anti-Semitic violence against actual
Jews at the hands of actual Christians. The other Venetian
characters see Shylock in this way and pay no respect to his
utterances. However, this should not prevent us from attentive

Barbara Lewalski, ‘Biblical Allusion and Allegory in The Merchant of

Venice’, Shakespeare Quarterly 13 (1962): 330.

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Well-Won Thrift 35

listening and close reading of what he tries to express as

we consider the play from within our own world.4 We take
seriously Shylock’s sense of himself as a Jew. Our discussion
of his character acknowledges his integrity, and pays attention
to him as a decision-making agent rather than as a symbolic
figure whose thought and speech allegorize other things.

The well at Haran

Shylock’s first words in The Merchant of Venice are ‘Three
thousand ducats – well’ (1.3.1).5 His next line is ‘For three
months – well.’ And his next line is ‘Antonio shall be bound
– well.’ ‘Well’ is a common word in English, and so it is
not surprising to discover that it occurs over 2,000 times in
Shakespeare’s works, including somewhere between 65 and 75
instances in The Merchant of Venice. It is often used without any
grammatical construction to introduce a remark or statement,
which is how Shylock uses it in his first speeches. ‘Well’ marks a
pause and acknowledges the continuation of dialogue, but it has
no semantic content. The usage is more important as an adverb
of manner, suggesting that something has been done in a good
way, in accordance with a proper standard and thus leading
to good results, or even thrift in Shylock’s sense of affluence or
wealth. This is the sense it has for Shylock in his brief reflection
on the reasons for Antonio’s manifest antipathy.

He hates our sacred nation, and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate,

James Siemon, Word Against Word: Shakespearean Utterance (Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), 36ff.
This and all following quotes from the play are from The Merchant of
Venice: Texts and Contexts, ed. M. Lindsey Kaplan (Boston: Bedford/St
Martin’s, 2002).

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On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift,

Which he calls interest. (1.3.38–41)

Shylock has his own view of the source and the meaning of his
wealth. ‘Each man … has to get by according to the abilities
God has given him. He is justified in this so long as he uses
what is his own and does nothing prohibited.’6 ‘Thrift’ is
mentioned three times in The Merchant of Venice, all in 1.3.
‘Wealth’ occurs seven times and ‘money’ roughly twice as
often. There are 12 mentions of ‘gold.’ Even more important
is the Venetian currency, ‘ducats’, which are referred to 25
times. Conspicuous by its absence is ‘happiness’, something
that money can’t buy.
The network of wealth-words radiates out from Shylock’s
notion of thrift in ways quite typical of Shakespeare’s dramatic
art, though there is nothing here that seems particularly
far-fetched. The more far-fetched possibility is that ‘well-won’
could be an adverb of location with the sense of thrift that is
won at a well. The sense of well as a spring may be a subtext if
Shylock, in thinking of his own well-won thrift, might at this
point be remembering the story of Jacob and the thrift he won
at the well at Haran according to Genesis 29.1-10:

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of
the people of the east.
And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo,
there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that
well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon
the well’s mouth.
And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they
rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the
sheep, and put the stone again upon the well’s mouth in
his place.

Charles Spinosa, ‘The Transformation of Intentionality: Debt and Contract
in The Merchant of Venice’, English Literary Renaissance 24 (1994): 394.

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Well-Won Thrift 37

And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye?
And they said, Of Haran are we.
And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor?
And they said, We know him.
And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is
well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the
And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that
the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep,
and go and feed them.
And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered
together, and till they roll the stone from the well’s mouth;
then we water the sheep.
And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her
father’s sheep: for she kept them.
And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter
of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his
mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone
from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his
mother’s brother.7

The story as related in the King James Version has its own
wordplay with well, similar to what we’ve just seen in
Shylock’s opening speeches. Jacob asks the local shepherds if
his uncle Laban is well, and then he asks about a well covered
with a stone.
In his commentary on Genesis, Martin Luther suggests that
since water was scarce in the desert, wells would often be
protected by stones that would be too heavy for one person
to move. He then adds that ‘in the Jewish commentaries we
read that the holy spirit came upon Jacob so that he was
greatly strengthened and could roll away the stone when he
saw Rachel … and by exhibiting his manly strength, he also

The Bible, Authorized King James Version (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1997). All following quotes from the Bible refer to this edition.

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wanted to win Rachel’s heart.’8 Luther’s idea is consistent

with rabbinical interpretations, which maintain that Jacob’s
strength was evidence of divine favour. Thomas Mann’s
redaction of the story in his Tales of Jacob provides a more
plausible description of Jacob’s actions. The shepherds are
unwilling to alter the conventions of daily existence. Mann’s
description of Jacob’s alacrity is nicely captured in the Hebrew
word seichel – an expression with the dual sense of strategic
intelligence or ‘street smarts’ combined with an ability to
think things through and to grasp the larger picture. It is often
translated as ‘wisdom’ but it might equally well be taken as
‘foresight’ or even ‘prudence.’
A well is a deep subject, and the well at Haran is no
exception to this proverbial truth. The story of Jacob finding
his bride at a well is already belated – a re-enactment of an
earlier story of Abraham’s servant and the search for Isaac’s
bride. Rebecca, Jacob’s mother, is an important part of his
well-won thrift, and, like Rachel, she was also found at a
well. Much later, Rebecca will devise a plan for Jacob to
win his father’s blessing by disguising himself as the more
favoured brother Esau. She knows, because God has told her
so, that Jacob is the true son and must receive the blessing
even if an element of deception is involved in bringing this
about. And we may even think, as Thomas Mann would have
it, that the whole affair was a kind of ‘open secret’ where
everyone played out his role in a drama that was only partly
an actual event and partly the completion of a narrative that
had already been written. ‘Is it possible for a man to become
blind, or as nearly blind as Yitzchak was in his old age,
because he does not like to see, because seeing is a torture
to him?’9

Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, 2 vols,
vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 144–5.
Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers: The Stories of Jacob, Young
Joseph, Joseph in Egypt, Joseph the Provider, trans. John E. Woods (New
York: Everyman Library, 2005), 130.

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Well-Won Thrift 39

Just in case the idea that ‘well-won thrift’ is a reference

to the story of Jacob and the well at Haran isn’t far-fetched
enough, we’d like to have another look at Shylock’s charac-
terization of Antonio as someone who ‘hates our sacred
nation.’ The sacred nation is the ‘sons of Israel’, the name
given to Jacob after he wrestles with – someone – and is
confirmed in the blessing he has received from Isaac. It is not
a nation in the sense of nation-state but rather a people who
share a cultural identity, a preferred way of life and a blessing
or promise that hasn’t always been fulfilled. Shylock certainly
has a grievance with Antonio, who maliciously spat upon
his Jewish gabardine in one of the many scenes Shakespeare
never wrote. But why is this an ancient grudge? We are told,
in Genesis 25.21-3, that even before they were born, Jacob
and his fraternal twin brother Esau were locked in conflict.
Their embryonic conflict is, in fact, embryonic in another
important sense in that it foreshadows the enmity that will
exist between two distinct nations, one fathered by Esau, and
one by Jacob.

And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she
was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and
Rebekah his wife conceived.
And the children struggled together within her; and she
said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire
of the LORD.
And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy
womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from
thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the
other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

The two nations originally refer to Israel and to Edom, or

to the Canaanites. Later commentaries speak of Israel and
the Roman Empire. In the Jewish biblical exegesis and in
other sixteenth-century sources, the two nations are the
Jews, identified as descendants of Jacob and the Christians,
descendants of Esau.

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The third possessor

Jacob is a significant role model for Shylock, signalling
generational entitlements that extend all the way back to
Abram, the first forefather to enter into God’s covenant.
As Shylock begins to negotiate the loan of 3,000 ducats
with Antonio, he recounts the biblical story of Jacob and
the parti-coloured lambs by recalling Jacob’s place in the
line of succession. ‘When Jacob grazed his uncle Laban’s
sheep – This Jacob from our holy Abram was, as his wise
mother wrought in his behalf, the third possessor; ay, he was
the third’ (1.3.62–3). While Jacob may have been the third
possessor, Shylock here positions himself directly in Jacob’s
line, poised to take up his substantial wealth. And Jacob’s
wealth in the Genesis story is substantial, including his flocks
of sheep and goats, his herds of camels, his manservants and
maidservants, his wives and concubines and his 12 sons:
the whole glittering entourage. The Jacob depicted in these
verses from the Torah is someone whose presence generates
prosperity – ‘The Lord hath blessed me for thy sake’ are
Laban’s words at 30.27.
Jacob has observed his growing household and surveyed the
practical resources needed to sustain his flourishing flock of
cattle, women and children. While Jacob is without question
the object of divine entitlement in the Hebrew commentaries,
of equal importance is his much more ordinary entitlement
through hard work, and his commitment to supporting his
family. One commentator explains, ‘There are shepherds who
feed but do not keep guard, and shepherds who keep guard
but do not feed. I will both feed and keep guard. Beloved
is labor, for all the prophets engaged in it.’10 Jacob’s divine
entitlement and his wealth are made possible because of his

Menahem Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation: A Millennial


Anthology, trans. and ed. Harry Freedman, 9 vols, vol. 4 (New York:
American Biblical Encyclopedia Society, 1953), 108.

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Well-Won Thrift 41

hard labour; the two are, in an important sense, coterminous.

That hard labour is also what affords him Rachel’s hand
in marriage – a privilege for which he works an additional
seven years after Laban changes the terms of their agreement
and substitutes the older, less desirable Leah for the younger,
prettier Rachel. And Laban feels enriched by Jacob’s presence
and grateful for it so long as their wealth is held in common.
However, once Jacob decides to split his cattle from the
common stock, both Laban and his sons react angrily. After
Jacob’s breeding success, Laban and his sons behave as though
Jacob had cheated them of their property:

And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob
hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which
was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.
And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold,
it was not toward him as before. (31.1-2)

The same uneasy mixture of dependency and resentment

evidenced by Laban is also present in The Merchant of Venice,
where a Christian businessman is compelled to seek credit
from a Jewish moneylender whom he despises. If Shylock sees
himself as Jacob’s descendant, then the wealth he possesses is
generational, dynastic wealth – wealth that signals his place
within that succession and his membership in the nation
established by his forefathers. Material affluence is really the
least of it, though, when it comes to Jacob’s importance to
Shylock. That significance is also deeply ethical. Jacob’s ethos
– his way of life or moral orientation – is something Shylock
understands as significantly tied to his own present-day
lending practices. By citing biblical precedent in the way that
he does and casting himself as a character in a pre-Christian
biblical narrative, Shylock suggests that, for him, the loan
constitutes a re-enactment of an ancient biblical story. And the
story comes with a particular set of ethical parameters strongly
implied in Shylock’s description of how Jacob succeeds, along
with a cast of characters whose attributes and behaviours are

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well known to him and so, in a sense, predetermine the story

from his perspective.
Shylock’s reference to Genesis 30 in 1.3 describes the
strange bargain between Jacob and Laban and the even
stranger way that Jacob uses the terms of this agreement
to acquire his wealth. Jacob persuaded Laban to agree that
all the parti-coloured lambs would constitute his hire and
then took steps to ensure that the ewes would give birth to
lambs that had these markings. According to Shylock, ‘this
was a way to thrive, and thrift is blessing if men steal it
not’ (1.3.80–1). Shylock’s story about Jacob and the parti-
coloured lambs has often been described – or interpreted – as
an attempt to justify usury. This is certainly the way Antonio
understands the passage, and many commentators have been
willing to accept this characterization of Shylock’s intention
here. But there can’t really be any question of a justification
of usury. Just usury – like just war – is a contradiction
in terms. Early modern Christian moralists were acutely
aware of this point and often took pains to foreground it.
George Downame, a renowned seventeenth-century logician
and bishop, commented in 1604 that ‘although letting [i.e.
lending] in it selfe be a lawfull contract, yet usurie in it selfe
is simply and utterly unlawfull.’11 Furthermore, the word
‘usury’ is never actually mentioned anywhere in The Merchant
of Venice. Shylock’s own term is ‘usance’, which can refer to
simple moneylending but also has a range of other meanings
in early modern English usage.
The primary meaning of ‘usance’ according to the OED is
custom, wont or habit. In early modern England, that sense
of the term is often tied to national custom and ways of life.
Seventeenth-century Venetian Rabbi Leone Modena wrote
Historia de gli Riti Hebrei to explain the customs and mores
of European Jews to King James I, and the term ‘usance’ is
the one used by Modena’s 1650 English translator Edmund

George Downame, Lectures on the XV Psalme (London, 1604), 300.

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Well-Won Thrift 43

Chilmeade to describe the diversity of practices among Jews

living in the diaspora. ‘Usance’ arises in Modena’s account
of ritualistic inconsistencies among Jews: ‘These usances
have sprung from the Dispersion of the Jews into divers and
severall Countries.’12 This understanding of usances as things
that concern customs points up the importance of those very
practical, routine elements of ethical experience – the habits
(both in the sense of practices and styles of dress), rituals and
professional choices that condition daily life.
What we know about Jewish moneylending in the
Renaissance is that it, too, was a profession practised
routinely. Lending money at interest in many parts of early
modern Europe was a distinctively Jewish livelihood – one
often born of necessity rather than choice for Jews who
typically found themselves excluded from professional guilds.
Italian physician and Rabbi David de Pomis had personally
suffered the loss of his professional licence subsequent to
Pope Paul IV’s bull that prevented Jewish physicians from
being employed by Christians. In 1587, de Pomis published
De Medico Hebraeo Ennerato Apologica, which argued for
the reinstitution of Jewish physicians and defended both the
integrity of the Jewish faith and the practice of lending at
interest. De Pomis reasons that moneylending represents a
way to thrive amidst the difficult circumstances of life in the
diaspora, and the Jewish practice of lending to Christians
arises out of necessity rather than malice. ‘If the Jews do
“bite” with usury [i.e. charge usurious interest rates], this is
not by permission of the law, but by a cogent necessity which,
as it is thought, may make this excusable.’13 Although de
Pomis does not excuse the practice of usury, he does provide

Leo Modena, The History of the Rites, Customs, and Manner of Life, of
the Present Jews, Throughout the World, trans. Edmund Chilmeade (London,
1650), 3–4.
David De Pomis, De Medico Hebraeo (Venice, 1587), in H. Friedenwald,
The Jews and Medicine, 2 vols (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1944), 404, quoted in Kaplan, Texts and Contexts, 219.

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some clarification about the motives behind it – motives which

foreground the presence of a strong work ethic blunted by the
constraining circumstances of life in exile.14
Shylock echoes these appeals to cogent necessity and
permissibility when he exclaims, ‘Signior Antonio, many a
time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me about my moneys
and my usances’ (1.3.97–9). Shylock’s point is that he seeks
a chance to practise his profession in a self-respecting way –
one that does not involve being spat on or insulted in public.
(‘You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my
Jewish gaberdine. And all for use of that which is mine own’
(1.3.102–4).) Moreover, it is clear that Shylock regards what
he does as self-respecting, even if Antonio does not, and his
appeal to ‘usances’ here may very well refer to customary
habits that Antonio saw fit to mock.
But perhaps Shylock here refers to the financial practice
widely known in England as lending at usance, which
involved trading in foreign currencies. When lenders
extended credit at usance, they agreed to assume the risk
of transporting a sum of money – for example 3,000 ducats
– from Venice to London. The lender would charge a fee
for moving the money as well as a currency exchange fee.
It was the exchange fee that constituted the most profitable
aspect of the arrangement since currency values would be
fixed in advance by the lender at a rate beneficial to him but
typically out of line with standard values. The intervening
time between loan and repayment – either a month at usance,
or two for double usance – would offer a further opportunity

The sixteenth century saw even more direct rabbinical arguments in favour
of charging interest as a matter of general practice. Both Isaac Abravanel’s
and Abraham Farrisol’s commentaries on the Torah elaborate on the idea
that economic actualities make lending at interest entirely sensible. See
Benjamin Ravid, ‘Moneylending in Seventeenth Century Jewish Vernacular
Apologia’, in Studies on the Jews of Venice (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003),

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Well-Won Thrift 45

for lenders to speculate on foreign currency markets and

profit tidily.15
If Shylock’s ‘usance’ refers to the financial practice of
lending money at interest, is he necessarily attempting to
justify predatory financial practices, as Antonio and many
critics have suggested? Several early modern English treatises
on moneylending condemn usance and double-usance as
unsound and unChristian forms of lending. Usance, according
to George Downame, is merely a clever term concocted by
lenders to trick unwitting borrowers into usurious loan agree-
ments. If we read the term ‘usance’ in the way that Downame
does, Shylock appears shrewd and deceptive for appealing
to the euphemistic ‘usance.’ And yet in Downame’s own
account, usance is not an illegal practice but an immoral
one. What Downame refers to as ‘counterfeit’ or ‘dry’ usance
amounts to foreign currency speculation explicitly motivated
by profit-seeking, and it is incredibly lucrative: ‘The gain
which is reaped by exchange, is greater than any other which
is tollerated by the magistrat.’16 Usance allows speculators
to operate independently of state regulation and set their
own currency values. It is at once threatening and potentially
If Shylock makes his living selling ‘usances’, it is clear
from his use of this term that he regards his own business
practices as legitimate. Antonio, by undercutting the going
rates, is seen by him as prodigal and unscrupulous. This is
also the way Henry Clay Folger, himself a highly successful
man of business with a law degree from Columbia University,
sees the overall situation in an unpublished essay on the play
entitled ‘Shylock’s Bond from the Merchant’s Standpoint.’ The
Venetians in general are a prodigal and vulgar bunch. And as

Shylock hints at this in 1.3.131–2 when he brings up a Dutch unit of
currency – the doit – in his appeal to Antonio: ‘I would … supply your present
wants and take no doit of usance for my moneys.’
Downame, Lectures, 188.

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for Antonio, his ‘sadness, an enigma to himself, is clearly to us

but the dawning consciousness of incompetence … his wealth
must have been an inheritance.’17
Antonio dismisses Shylock’s reference to the story of Jacob
and the parti-coloured sheep by calling him a devil who cites
Scripture for his purpose. But if we actually listen to Shylock’s
unfolding of the story of Jacob’s breeding successes we can
equally recognize it as an act of self-explication. Shylock views
Jacob as a role model. The Folio edition of the play even
substitutes ‘I’ for ‘ay’ in the lines

This Jacob from our holy Abram was,

As his wise mother wrought in his behalf,
The third possessor; ay, he was the third – 18

In this version of the speech, Shylock presents himself not only

as Jacob-like; he is Jacob, the third possessor.
For Shylock, the present negotiations with Antonio may
well represent a recasting of biblical narrative. After all,
Shakespeare’s plays routinely do just this – rework old scripts
into new objects of entertainment. What’s more, at various
points throughout The Merchant of Venice, current investments
and desires are cast as heavily conditioned by scripts from the
past. This is true of the casket test orchestrated by Portia’s
dead father, of Jessica’s desire to escape her father’s house and
convert from Judaism, and even of Bassanio’s need to seek
Antonio’s financial help because of his own bad credit history.
In Shylock’s case, the ‘script’ being appealed to is the so-called
Old Testament. We say so-called because for Shylock, as for any
Jew, invoking the Genesis Jacob parable is a way of invoking an
episode from the Torah. In a sense, there is no ‘Old’ Testament,

Henry Clay Folger, Jr, ‘Shylock’s Bond from the Merchant’s Standpoint’,
unpublished MS.
On this point, see Marc Shell, ‘The Wether and the Ewe: Verbal
Usury in The Merchant of Venice’, Kenyon Review 1, no. 4 (1979): 65–92,
esp. 68.

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Well-Won Thrift 47

at least not where Shylock is concerned; there is only Torah,

with nothing ‘new’ required to redeem or complete it.19
What Shakespeare does by staging an exegetical dispute in
the midst of the loan negotiations in 1.3 – and incidentally,
this represents the only exegetical dispute in Shakespeare’s
entire dramatic canon – is foreground the contested nature of
scriptural interpretation and the presence of multiple inter-
pretive perspectives. In a very real sense, there are multiple
Jacobs being invoked in this scene. On the one hand, there is
Shylock’s Jacob, descendant of Abram, whose cleverness and
important connections help generate his material success; on
the other, there is Antonio’s Jacob whose success is endorsed
by supernatural force, and whose elect status or ‘blessings’
obviate human agency.
Throughout 1.3, Shylock attempts to invoke Antonio’s
participation in an age-old biblical conflict, which requires an
investment that is neither aesthetic, token nor simply financial;
in scriptural terms, it is a function of establishing a covenant
between them. The Jewish covenant, or brit in Hebrew, is
one that requires active and deliberate affirmation from every
member of the community. Moreover, it requires not exactly
a pound but a certain amount of flesh in the form of circum-
cision or what is referred to as a briss. Edward Andrew has
argued that Shylock’s attempt to solicit Antonio’s friendship
in this scene represents a desire to convert the merchant to
Judaism.20 There certainly is anecdotal evidence that some
legal prosecutions of Jews in early modernity for attempting
to forcibly ‘circumcise’ a Christian were actually attempts to
re-establish religious claims over conversos.

This principle was explicitly formulated by Maimonides and forms part
of his Thirteen Principles of Faith. See Moses Maimonides, Maimonides’
Introduction to the Talmud: A Translation of the Rambam’s Introduction to
His Commentary on the Mishna, trans. Zvi L. Lampel (New York: Judaica
Press, 1975).
Edward Andrew, Shylock’s Rights: A Grammar of Lockian Claims (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1988), 36–8.

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While the notion that Shylock is attempting to convert or

circumcise Antonio in 1.3 is undoubtedly a far-reaching one,
Jessica’s desire to abscond with her Christian lover offers a
related way of approaching the notion of covenant that is
directly grounded in The Merchant’s story. If entry into the
covenant is defined by circumcision or briss, Jessica’s story is
the desire for an anti-circumcision – a physical and spiritual
exit strategy from her father’s house.
Genesis presents us with a young female character who also
desires to ‘go out’ from her home, although the extent of her
desire to effect a permanent break from her faith and family
is something the narrative leaves open, unlike Shakespeare’s
portrayal of Jessica. We are referring to Dinah, Jacob’s
daughter, who in chapter 34 winds up in a messy romantic
entanglement with a local non-Jew. In both Shakespeare’s play
and in Genesis, the seduction of a Jewish woman is associated
with the charms of music and poetic language. The commen-
taries tell us that Shechem ‘attracted her [Dinah’s] attention
by playing music within her hearing’, and ‘seduced her with
words.’21 In both cases, the woman in question is reputed to
be very beautiful; with Dinah, the commentaries tell us that,
‘her image stayed in his [Shechem’s] mind, so great was her
beauty.’22 Genesis 34 recounts:

And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto
Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.
And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince
of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and
defiled her.23

The King James translation uses the word ‘defiled’ to describe

what happens to Dinah when she leaves her family and

Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 4:174–5.
Ibid., 4:175.
Genesis 34.1-2.

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Well-Won Thrift 49

explores the surrounding area. The translation from the

Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation prefers the less pointed
‘humbled’ – ‘and he humbled her’ – but the sense of violation
is roughly equivalent, and where the Encyclopedia chooses
a more moderate verb, its commentary is clear about the
egregiousness of the ‘humbling’ that takes place. The exegetes
are inconclusive on the point of whether there was actual
sexual contact between Shechem and Dinah, but even in the
absence of that kind of violation, verbal seduction, according
to one commentator, would have constituted a grave and
irreparable harm to her reputation and the reputation of her
Jacob’s sons initially enter into a compact with the nation of
Shechem in which the Shechemites agree to undergo circum-
cision to try to rectify the messy Dinah debacle, with the
understanding that intermarriage between the tribes will be
permissible in the future. Part of this deal also establishes that
Jacob’s sons will be given full access to Shechem’s commercial
networks. In effect, Jacob’s family is offered the chance at full
and free socio-economic participation. On first inspection,
this appears to be an auspicious and equitable arrangement
for everyone – a non-violent ending to a potentially explosive
series of missteps, and the first stage of successful multicul-
tural coexistence. Of course, things work out very differently,
and the overture of circumcision-as-peace-offering turns out
to be merely a ploy to catch the Shechemites at their most
vulnerable. The sons of Jacob slaughter them all while they
are recovering from their surgery, and Dinah is returned to
her family.
Although there is no denying the unmitigated violence
of the Hebrews’ attack on the men of Shechem, the Jewish
commentaries point out that there was considerable deception
and double-speak in the negotiations between the Shechemites
and Hebrews. There is the matter of Dinah’s initial defilement,

Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 4:174–6.

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which the commentaries suggest could never serve as the basis

for any form of valid contract, be it among nations or between
God and men. One commentator reflects upon Abraham’s
circumcision, the archetypal referent for the principle of

With this my covenant, which was said unto our father

Abraham: If ye will be as we are, that every male of you be
circumcised – for the sake of Heaven and not in order to
contract marriages. For the circumcision that we underwent
when we were admitted to the covenant of Abraham our
father was at eight days old, a circumcision of holiness and
not one of defilement.25

In this commentator’s view, daughters are not to be exchanged

for trade privileges, nor for the privilege of marrying attractive
foreigners. The basic prohibition here is not unlike the
problem of Shylock’s bond with Antonio: living human flesh
cannot be the stuff of bartered exchange. This prohibition also
recalls the so-called Noahide commandments summarized in
Genesis Chapter 9, which specify, among other things, not to
eat flesh cut from a living animal. According to rabbinic law,
there is something fundamentally un-kosher about a business
agreement that traffics in live flesh.
It becomes clear enough how Shylock’s initial bond is most
decidedly un-Jewish, and not only un-Jewish according to a
series of partisan Jewish rules, but also in a much broader
sense of bartering human flesh in the context of a business
arrangement. But the play also shows ways in which the
un-Jewishness of the bond is something the Christian partici-
pants willingly agree to and even take pains to orchestrate.
The Christian interest in the bond may, as in the case of
Jacob’s sons and the Shechemites, have more going on beneath
the surface than a mere loan of 3,000 ducats. That ‘something

Ibid., 4:179.

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Well-Won Thrift 51

more’ is directly related to a pound of flesh, or rather, several

pounds of living flesh that are hotly desired by Lorenzo, and,
once stolen, bitterly mourned by Shylock: Jessica herself.
Dinah is absolutely central to the Genesis account of what
happens at Shechem. Even when the narrative appears to have
shifted concerns and moved on to the subject of lifting trade
restrictions and opening up possibilities for intermarriage,
the brutality of that final act of revenge hammers swiftly
home the conclusion that it was really about Dinah all along.
The possibilities for overcoming deep-seated enmity and for
peace and even friendship are obvious red herrings in the
Genesis account, and they may well be in Shakespeare too.
Shakespeare’s comedy, seen through the lens of this biblical
intertext, dramatizes how genuine gestures of friendship are
often much more fraught than they appear and much rarer too.
Shakespeare’s play certainly seems initially to be ‘about’
the need for a loan of 3,000 ducats to finance a romantic
business venture. The fact is, Antonio’s agreement to the terms
of Shylock’s bond and the subsequent relationship that bond
generates between them – including Shylock’s being called out
to dinner, and leaving Jessica the opportunity to abscond with
Lorenzo – results in the same kind of theft as the one scripted
in Genesis, the theft of a prized daughter. A Christian motiva-
tional scenario that includes the deliberate and premeditated
theft of daughters, unconventional and far-reaching as it may
seem, is not something Shakespeare’s text ever precludes.
The play’s treatment of the loan raises the question: why do
Antonio and Bassanio approach Shylock for a sum of money
which Shylock is incapable of staking and for which he
must approach Tubal, a third party, in order to raise? Why
Shylock? What does he have, in particular, that they want so
badly, and would they not have known whom to approach
directly for such a large sum of money?
If the pound of flesh, thus understood, constitutes the play’s
underlying motivational scenario, the Jewish commentaries
on the final verse of the Dinah episode raise an interesting
point in relation to the final verse of Genesis 34.31: ‘Should

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one deal with our sister as with a harlot?’ One commentator

writes that ‘Their answer was telling and final. It teaches
us that Dinah had been forced, and had not consented to
Shechem.’26 An earlier observation made by one commentator
suggests that consent is really the central issue of the entire
Dinah affair. The Hebrew text uses the word na’ara in verse
4, which translates into ‘damsel’, when Shechem says ‘get me
this damsel unto wife.’ When (as in the case of this verse) the
Hebrew word for damsel lacks the final hei, it shows that the
girl has not yet reached puberty.27 In the Masoretic Hebrew
text, Shechem’s words for ‘get me that damsel unto wife’ are
‘kach li et hayeladah hazot le-ishah.’ Yeladah is the word for
a female child in modern Hebrew, yeled is a male child, and
the resonance is unmistakeable.28 One commentator states the
matter clearly: ‘Dinah was eight and a half years old.’29
Although physically able to effect an escape from her
father’s house, it is not clear what it means for Jessica to
escape from the faith that has defined her life at such a tender
age. Perhaps she, like Dinah, has not yet grown into a mature
sense of Jewish personhood, or developed the agency to
reject or make concerted alterations to that dimension of her
person. Perhaps she simply doesn’t possess enough prudence,
common sense, or seichel, to be able to fully understand the
implications of intermarriage – something that the scene with
Lorenzo at 4.1 would seem to suggest. Perhaps the most
telling account of what it means for Jessica is the story we
hear of her, that she sold her mother’s ring in exchange for
a monkey. This theft of a precious object belonging to her
parent makes her not like Dinah at all but like Rachel who
steals her father’s idols and hides them in the blankets of her
camel’s saddle before she leaves her paternal home. These

Ibid., 4:185.
Ibid., 4:176.
The Holy Scriptures: A Jewish Bible According to the Masoretic Texts (Tel
Aviv: Sinai Publishing, 1979).
Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 4:176.

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Well-Won Thrift 53

idols or ‘teraphim’ were pagan objects reputedly endowed

with the power of speech. One commentator writes that
Rachel’s reason for stealing them was to prevent them from
revealing her location. The ring that Jessica pawns serves the
opposite function, revealing precisely where she is and where
she has been, like pawning a van Gogh painting. This is an
object that narrates her movements and calls attention to her
whereabouts. But even more than that, the stolen ring is an
object clearly endowed with enormous sentimental as well as
economic significance for Shylock’s family. Objects like rings
or household gods report on a family’s domestic history. In
Rachel’s case, there is a sense in which her father’s pagan
idols and her own pagan upbringing are things she will have
to keep hidden, because they no longer have a place within
the household into which she has married. In Jessica’s case,
such objects and their history are sloughed off in exchange for
a worthless diversion, perhaps because she is yet to have truly
laid claim to them in the first place.

Without effusion of blood

‘Shylock, crushed by the law that should have supported him,
was certainly equal to the task of cutting the pound of flesh,
paying the penalty, and making the play a Hebrew tragedy.
But Shakespeare had fallen in love with his Portia, and the
vision of her troubled brow and brimming eyes, decides the
fate of the play. It ends a Christian comedy.’ This is the
conclusion of the already mentioned essay by Henry Clay
Folger, another man whose thrift was won at a well.30 At the
end of the trial scene, Shylock’s last speech is:

Folger served as CEO and later as chairman of the board of the Standard Oil

Company. He protected John D. Rockefeller’s considerable wealth during the

extensive litigation by the Justice Department to break up the Standard Oil
Trust. Folger was amply rewarded for his skilful handling of this challenge.

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I pray you, give me leave to go from hence;

I am not well. Send the deed after me,
And I will sign it. (4.1.390–2)

It is late in the day and Shylock is now a very long way from
the well – the source or the origin of the blessing enjoyed by
Isaac and by Jacob. Harold Bloom has famously declared that
an honest production of this play would be unbearable after
the Shoah. But even in Shakespeare’s day, something almost
as terrible had already happened.
The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Some of
the families went north and west, eventually winding up in
places like Amsterdam and possibly even London. Others
went south and east to Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and also
to Venice. Still others ended up in the hands of the Holy
Office. If they were lucky they would be able to save their
own lives by agreeing to convert to Christianity and to the
confiscation of their wealth. The proceeds of these confisca-
tions were originally taken by the Spanish Crown, but later
they went directly to the Holy Office itself, thus helping
to create a thriving heresy industry. As for the supposed
religious conversions, it is quite apparent that you can
force somebody to go to church, receive the sacraments
and outwardly profess the forms of Christian observance,
but you cannot be sure what they believe in their hearts.
The new Christians were always at considerable risk of
denunciation by their neighbours. Protestant England had its
own heresy industry that staged any number of impressive
spectacles, based in large part on the model of the Spanish
There is an even more sinister reference to the Inquisition
in the play, however, and that is in the much applauded
‘judgment’ issued by Portia in the trial scene:

See Michael Bristol, ‘Henry Clay Folger, Jr.’, in Great Shakespeareans, ed.
Cary DiPietro (London: Bloomsbury, 2011).

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Well-Won Thrift 55

Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh,
But in the cutting of it if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are by the laws of Venice confiscate
Unto the state of Venice. (4.1.303–7)

Priests are traditionally forbidden to shed blood and therefore

it was thought the death penalty for heretics could never
take the form of bloody methods such as beheading. In those
extreme cases where the death penalty was unavoidable it
had to be carried out ‘without effusion of blood.’ Hanging
would be one way to do this, but the Inquisition chose instead
the more spectacular auto da fé: the burning of heretics
or recalcitrant Jews or Muslims at the stake.31 Scriptural
authority for this is found in John 15.6: ‘If a man abide not
in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men
gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.’
Portia is terribly clever to have come up with this ingenious
device, and it provides a very tidy and on the whole satis-
fying resolution to the affair of the bond. There is something
uncanny in Portia’s use of this legal fiction to avert violence.
It is intended to save Antonio’s life, but it can also be read
as a cautionary admonition – or even a threat – to Shylock
about the possibility of retaliation. In this sense it reminds
Shylock that he is likely to be under the kind of life-and-death
surveillance experienced by the new Christians in Spain. To
suggest that this comic strategy has something to do with the
gruesome equivocations of the Spanish Inquisition may seem
more than a bit outré to a sensible reader, but the specific
prohibition on shedding ‘a drop of Christian blood’ is part
of a larger ‘judgement’ that clearly echoes the overall policy

Cecil Roth, The Spanish Inquisition (Cambridge: Cambridge University


Press, 1964), 115ff. See also James Reston, Jr, Dogs of God: Columbus, the
Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors (New York: Anchor Books, 2006), 74ff.

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of the Holy Office. And of course there is the parting shot

directed at Shylock by Gratiano:

In christening shalt thou have two godfathers.

Had I been judge, thou shouldst have had ten more,
To bring thee to the gallows, not the font. (4.1.393–5)

Gratiano is making him an offer he can’t refuse – the likeness

to The Godfather couldn’t be more striking, especially once
you’ve seen Al Pacino perform the role of Shylock. It seems
that the Venetians have not really finished with Shylock – if
you’ve ever visited the Doge’s palace or seen the Bridge of
Sighs you know what we’re talking about.
When Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the banking
dynasty, died, his widow said ‘even the deepest well can run
out of water.’32 Well, Shylock was no Rothschild, though he
definitely thinks of himself as Jacob. But his only child has
abandoned him and there is no reason to think he was even a
particularly rich man. No wonder he says ‘I am not well.’ He
should have taken the money. Tzachi Zamir comments:

Hatred, it seems, cannot be bought. They try several times,

doubling and tripling the money owed. But he persists in
refusing. No amount of money will buy Shylock … the
dramatized oxymoron of a money shunning Jew.33

In the end the Christian debt remains unpaid. The bond

was neither well nor wisely wrought. Melodramatic pursuit
of retaliation is not sensible and it is not characteristically
Jewish either. The affair of honour at Schechem was mainly
engineered by Jacob’s crazy sons. Jacob himself was much
more inclined to settle conflicts by judicious redistribution of

Amos Elon, The Founder (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
Tzachi Zamir, Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakesperean Drama
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), xi.

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Well-Won Thrift 57

his wealth, even when this amounted to buying off his enemies.
Even the feckless Esau could appreciate the value of Jacob’s
generous peace offering when the brothers were eventually
reunited. Jacob’s success was the sign of God’s favour, but
Jacob enjoyed God’s favour because he knew what he had to
do in order to thrive. Shylock thought of himself as another
Jacob. He was at home in the narrative of what Jacob did and
what his mother wisely wrought on his behalf. His gloomy
fate at the hands of Christian Venice came about because he
let himself forget how to live the story of his own life.

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Proper Names and
Common Bodies:
The Case of Cressida

David Schalkwyk

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s a Montague? It is nor hand nor foot
Nor arm nor face nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself. (2.2.33–49)1

All references to Shakespeare’s plays are to The Oxford Shakespeare: The


Complete Works, eds John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and

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When Juliet reflects on the name of the rose and the name of
her love, in what Jacques Derrida calls ‘the most implacable
analysis of the name’,2 she fails to see that the names of roses
and the names of men work in disparate ways. The names
of men (and women) constitute webs of social relations that
cannot be reduced to the body or its parts. In an inverted
blazon of her love, Juliet wishes to reduce the distance
represented by Romeo’s name to immediate deixis, in which
there is no need for proper names. In her view, proper names
are improper adjuncts to common bodies. Neither ‘hand nor
foot / Nor arm nor face nor any other part / Belonging to a
man’, Romeo’s name is, as Derrida puts it, ‘inhuman.’3 Since it
is ‘no part of a man’ he should be able to put it aside, taking in
its stead that which his name resists: the body of Juliet, freed
from the impediment of her name and conjoined lovingly to
This desire to strip the object of denomination of that which
does not belong to it is related to the reiterated (and conven-
tional) thought in the Sonnets that language corrupts nature: ‘I
never saw that you did painting need, / And therefore to your
faire no painting set’ (sonnet 83). The beloved’s body, uncor-
rupted by words, should be left to shine in its pure splendour.
But there is another movement in the Sonnets that takes a
different view of the relation between names and bodies. It is
most cogently expressed in sonnet 54:

OH how much more doth beautie beautious seeme,

By that sweet ornament which truth doth giue,
The Rose lookes faire, but fairer we it deeme
For that sweet odor, which doth in it liue:

Stanley Wells (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). References to Shakespeare’s

Sonnets are to the facsimiles of the 1609 Quarto in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, ed.
Stephen Booth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).
Jacques Derrida, Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge,
1992), 427.

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 61

The Canker bloomes haue full as deepe a die,

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses,
Hang on such thornes, and play as wantonly,
When sommers breath their masked buds discloses:
But for their virtue only is their show,
They liue vnwoo’d, and vnrespected fade,
Die to themselues. Sweet Roses doe not so,
Of their sweet deathes, are sweetest odors made:
And so of you, beautious and louely youth,
When that shall vade, by verse distils your truth.

It is hardly a coincidence that this sonnet celebrates the

power of names (‘by verse’) to distil the essence of the body
by appealing, like Juliet, to the scent of the rose. But whereas
Juliet insists that names are essentially superfluous in her
claim that ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’,
Shakespeare’s poet insists that such sweetness can live on only
in language. Words both intensify the sweetness of the rose
and preserve that essence against the inevitable fading and
departure of the body.
If Juliet discovers in the course of the play that different
forms of logic govern the name of the rose and the name
of Romeo – the common and the proper name – then what
is the peculiar logic of the proper name? It is spelled out
by Saul Kripke in his theory of the rigid designation. This
theory attacks the traditional view that proper names are
abbreviations of a series of descriptions of their referents.4
In the conventional view, the name ‘Shakespeare’ stands
in for various descriptions of the man that are known to
be true: that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, married
Anne Hathaway, wrote Hamlet, was a member of the King’s
Men, died in 1616, and so on. But all these descriptions
are contingently, not necessarily, true of the person called

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1972).

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William Shakespeare. Any of them could turn out – upon

further research and new evidence – to be false. And if any
of them could turn out to be false, then there is no logical
reason why all of them might not turn out to be mistaken. It
would then make no sense to say that the name ‘Shakespeare’
is a placeholder for all such descriptions, for if none of the
descriptions apply to the referent, we would be left with an
empty referent, something to which we could not refer. But we
would still have to be able to refer to Shakespeare in the very
process of saying that everything we thought about him is in
fact false. They would be false about Shakespeare! The name
‘Shakespeare’ therefore cannot be a placeholder for a cluster
of contingently related descriptions. It must be something that
designates its referent rigidly, or necessarily, across all possible
worlds, worlds in which none of the things held to be true
of Shakespeare are applicable to the referent of the name.5
In Kripke’s view, a proper name is attached to its bearer by
an original baptism and remains connected to that bearer via
a series of causal links, independently of any properties that
may be attributed to that person.6

The name has to be able to pick out precisely the person of whom the set of
descriptions does turn out to be false. It does so, in Kripke’s view, not through
any sense that it may have (and which might match its bearer through the
latter’s contingent properties), but through an original act of baptism and a
series of reference-preserving, causal links in the subsequent use of the name.
In a subsequent essay, Kripke has tackled the problem of names in fiction,
in which there is no referent. He argues that names in fiction have referents,
not in a ghostly Meinongian sense, but rather as entities in works of fiction.
To say of Sherlock Holmes that he exists is simply to talk about him in the
world created by Conan Doyle. Kripke argues that statements that could
be said to be true or false of the character are similarly true or false in that
fictional world. He does not, as I do here, consider the possibility of a fictional
name (‘Cressida’) that operates in different fictions, each offering possible
worlds for the character that may diverge from or contradict each other. I see
no reason, given Kripke’s view of fictional names, why his historical theory
of reference – that the designation of the name is established by an original
baptism carried forward through causal links – cannot be applied to names in
fictional worlds. See Saul Kripke, ‘Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities’, in

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 63

Romeo and Juliet enacts the rigidity of the proper name that
Kripke spells out, even though Romeo is a name of a fictional
character.7 Juliet’s invocation of her love in his absence,
despite her urging him to abandon his name, demonstrates
that she has to do so in his name: ‘Romeo.’ This speaks of a
paradoxically simultaneous separability and inseparability of
bearer and name. One can call (to) Romeo (or anyone else) in
his absence only because the name is not part of him – it is
no part of his body. On the other hand, that one can call to
him is an indication of his inseparability from his name. This
‘inhumanity’ of the name paradoxically constitutes Romeo’s
very humanity, for it is what ties him to a family and social
world.8 Romeo is thus Romeo in all possible worlds, including
the world in which he has denied or renounced his name.
The common name of the rose is different from the proper
name Romeo. For ‘Romeo’ ties its bearer to a set of obliga-
tions, relations and values in a way that the word ‘rose’ does
not bind the flower. Romeo may try to set himself apart from
those ties, but the logic of his proper name means that it will
dog him forever, like his shadow. Romeo is at the very least
Shakespeare’s character who renounces his name: ‘Romeo
would not be what he is, a stranger to his name, without
his name,’ as Derrida puts it. If roses were called cankers,

Philosophical Troubles: Collected Papers, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 2011).
For a fuller discussion of this in the context of current philosophical debates,
see my ‘“What’s in a name?” Derrida, Apartheid, and the Name of the Rose’,
Language Sciences 22, no. 2 (April 2000): 167–92.
‘This analysis is implacable for it announces or denounces the inhumanity
or ahumanity of the name. A proper name does not name anything which
is human, which belongs to the human body, a human spirit, an essence of
man. And yet this relation to the inhuman only befalls man, for him, to him,
in the name of man. He alone gives himself this inhuman name. And Romeo
would not be what he is, a stranger to his name, without his name. Juliet,
then, pursues her analysis: the names of things do not belong to the things any
more than the names of men belong to men, and yet they are quite differently
separable’ (Derrida, Acts, 427; emphasis added).

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however, this fact would change none of their properties as

material bodies: they would smell as sweet.
Like Romeo and Juliet and the Sonnets, Troilus and
Cressida explores the burden of the proper name, but it does
so in a different mode. The story is woven around names that
bring with them centuries of accumulated (and sometimes
contradictory) ideological and narrative signification. In the
stories from which such names are derived (Homer, Virgil, De
Ste Maure, Caxton, Lydgate, Henryson, Chaucer), there are
no real, physical bodies: the body is evoked by the name, and
the name accumulates a series of descriptive properties passed
on and reinvented, from poet to poet. For this process to be
possible, the real body must be missing; it must fade so that
its essence may live on as name or idea, like the fair youth as
distilled rose in sonnet 54. Such idealization can occur only if
the body is distilled in verse as pure idea – if petal is turned to
perfume. To render its essence, the body of the rose must be
crushed. In the theatre, however, the body cannot be reduced
or eradicated. On its stage the common body of the actor is
always forced to bear the burden of a proper name that is,
strictly speaking, improper to it.
Take one such proper name, ‘Helen of Troy’: a rose from
which a cumulative poetic tradition has distilled the essence
of beauty. That (es)sense can be called upon, again and again
– ‘truth tired with iteration’ (3.2.172). ‘Helen of Troy’, once
a mere instance or example of embodied beauty, has been
turned into a paradigm or rule by which the very meaning
of beauty is now determined. Shakespeare’s sonnet 54 shows
that no actual body present to the senses can encompass
this (es)sence: the rose must be crushed and transformed by
language to live on as ideal of sweetness. What happens when
that process of distillation is reversed, when the proper name
is carried by the body of the common player? If a paradigm
like ‘Helen of Troy’ is an historical sample withdrawn from
its circulation in ordinary propositional discourse, so that it
can become the measure of beauty as such, the theatre recir-
culates it within such discourse: it reduces its status as ideal

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 65

paradigm to local occasion. The proper name is assumed by

the common player, the once-distilled ‘bloomes’ of the rose are
re-embodied, to ‘play … wantonly, / When sommers breath
their masked buds discloses.’9 In other words, if language can
use the body as paradigm to idealize, theatrical embodiment
can de-idealize, turning rule back into sample, reducing
paradigm to ‘instance.’
‘Helen’ as received poetic idea is no more than a thin
mark, a distilled essence, around which a series of reported
events conglomerate. But, as an embodied figure on the stage
– her ‘greatness’ ‘boyed’ by a ‘squeaking’ youth – her role as
standard or ideal becomes contested, rendered common by
the practice of playing. The embodiment of Helen on stage
returns concept to flesh. But can anyone represent, in the flesh,
the most beautiful woman in the world? Marlowe anticipates
the structural problem that this question poses for the theatre
in Faustus’s ambiguous question in the face of Helen conjured
up by Mephistopheles: ‘Was this the face that launched a
thousand ships?’10 The question divides the body of each
actor (Faustus and Helen) into representing and represented
selves: the expression of overawed desire that Faustus feels
for Helen is bifurcated by a simultaneous scepticism expressed
by the actor playing Faustus that this face before him (and
the audience) could launch a thousand ships. In Troilus and
Cressida Helen’s value is the function of a certain masculine
wilfulness, her beauty ‘painted’ by the blood of brawling
warriors, her paradigmatic idea reduced to this boy. Against
her role as transhistorical ideal, her embodiment on stage must
be a let-down, a counter-ideal that, through the mere quiddity
of specific incarnation, speaks against a tradition of paradig-
matic elevation. Thus the stage exemplifies her ‘monstrosity’,

See Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M.
Anscombe, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. Von Wright (Cambridge:
Blackwell, 1979), 81–8.
The Tragical History of Dr Faustus: A Critical Edition of the 1604 Version,
ed. Michael Keefer (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2008), 5.1.90.

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engendered, like the ‘monster in love’, by the gap between

‘infinite will’ and ‘confined execution’ (3.2.82–3).
To sum up, three things are in play: (1) the proper name as
rigid designator (‘Helen’); (2) the name as disembodied ideal
(‘the paragon of beauty’); and (3) the common body that is
made to bear the name on the stage. Each of these may be
related to each other in different ways. The rigid designation of
the proper name enables the story of Helen to be repeated, and
also for different, counterfactual stories to be told of Helen, as
in ‘Helen was not especially beautiful, and besides she was a
wanton hussy.’ Note that every reiteration of the story involves
a different world to some degree. The logic that governs (1)
makes it possible to contradict (2). Helen is Helen in all possible
worlds, even one in which she is ugly. Also, (3) supports (1)
and can be made to underwrite (2), but it tends to work against
(2) in the theatre. For (2) requires the death of the body –
the disembodying idealization exemplified by Shakespeare’s
sonnets 54 and 84, whereas (3) cannot do without the body.
Physical bodies may be held up as ideals of beauty, but
such an idealizing move always to some degree dematerializes
the specificity of the body, turning flesh into concept. And in
the theatre the body cannot be completely transformed into
concept or text: an excessive remainder escapes, providing
a space for different ways of seeing the body as a material
‘instance’ rather than as a wholly conceptualized idea or ideal.
But it would be a mistake to claim that the theatre reduces
or evades completely the essentializing force of idealizing
words to plain body. Language and body are in continuous
dialogue; the body shuttles between being distilled as ‘essence’
and de-essentialized as mere ‘instance.’ The ‘monstrosity’ of
love, of which Cressida reminds Troilus, lies in its entrapment
between the ideal and the local. As Troilus puts it, ‘this is the
monstrosity of love, lady, that the desire is boundless and the
act a slave to limit’ (3.2.75–7). Taken back to its Latin roots,
the monstrous is the instance, the example, that which can be
pointed at or shown. Its abnormality as monster arises from
its oscillating in a liminal position between the absolute and

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 67

the empirical, the ideal and the instance, the desire and the act,
the proper and the common. It is this oscillation that prompts
Troilus’s bewildered response to the figure who ‘is and is not
Cressid’, the ‘soul of beauty’ and ‘greasy relic.’
Shakespeare prepares for this moment of bewildering
duplicity earlier in Act Three, Scene Two, when he shows the
self-idealization of proper names in the common body of the

True swains in love shall in the world to come
Approve their truth by Troilus. When their rhymes,
Full of protest, of oath and big compare,
Wants similes, truth tired with iteration –
‘As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,
As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,
As iron to adamant, as earth to th’ centre’ –
Yet, after all comparisons of truth,
As truth’s authentic author to be cited,
‘As true as Troilus’ shall crown up the verse
And sanctify the numbers.

Prophet may you be!
If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth,
When time is old and hath forgot itself,
When water drops have worn the stones of Troy
And blind oblivion swallowed cities up,
And mighty states characterless are grated
To dusty nothing, yet let memory
From false to false among false maids in love
Upbraid my falsehood. When they’ve said, ‘as false
As air, as water, wind or sandy earth,
As fox to lamb, or wolf to heifer’s calf,
Pard to the hind, or stepdame to her son’,
Yea, let them say, to stick the heart of falsehood,
‘As false as Cressid.’ (3.2.168–98)

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Troilus founds the idealization of his name upon his own

supposed embodiment of truthfulness as being ‘as true as truth’s
simplicity’ (165), whereas Cressida asks her audience to use her
name as the distillation of the very idea of infidelity if she were
to prove unfaithful. Each embodies the process by which human
figures may become the paradigmatic or defining instances of
the conceptual or ideal. ‘Troilus’ and ‘Cressida’ as names are
thus not only ‘rigid designators’ of historical figures; they also
encapsulate the ideological process whereby these names come
to epitomize the concepts of ‘fidelity’ and ‘faithlessness.’
The performative quality of this process is underlined and
ironized by the dramatist’s decision to make the characters
themselves agents of their future idealization and de-ideali-
zation. Ironically unaware of the generic self-reflexivity of the
moment, Troilus and Cressida (and Pandarus) turn themselves,
through the performative action of the jussive voice, into
the historical paradigms that precede Shakespeare’s play.
Troilus’s claim to renew in his own name the tired inventory
of Petrarchan comparison reflects on the reinvention of poetic
language through the invocation of a particular name as a
conceptual paradigm, and the historical, iterative process
by which such freshness is in turn worn away into cliché.
Fashioning himself as the paradigm of Truth after the paradig-
matic example of Helen as the universal standard of Beauty,
Troilus is looking forward to being drawn into the inventory
of ‘fresh invention’ rather than abandoned as an instance
of ‘truth tired with iteration.’ But looking backward from
a historical perspective by which the name ‘Troilus’ has
itself become ‘tired with iteration’, Shakespeare’s play can
reflect on the peculiarity of a convention by which truth is
defined diachronically, by invention, rather than through the
constancy of unchanging repetition. That is to say, the rigid
designation of the proper name enables the playwright to
entertain an alternative possible world in which such ideali-
zation is, at the very least, complicated or ironized.
In effect, Cressida is calling upon her own distillation or
idealization in ‘louers eies’ or ‘the eyes of all posterity’ as the

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 69

pure idea of infidelity. This is indeed a moment which, as

Linda Charnes puts it, seems to ‘cast every present moment as
a past moment.’11 But it does so only if we treat the speech as
we would sonnet 54, as forcing a pure idea from the crushed
body. The incorrigible body on stage, however, opens the
idealization of the name to the multiple facets of the body
that carries it. Troilus calls upon his name as ‘truth’s authentic
author’ of its own accord, as it were, in an exorbitant act of
self-idealization. He does not begin to entertain the possi-
bility of change posited as an inevitable consequence of either
‘wastfull time’ (sonnet 15) or the more insidious ‘million’d
accidents’ (sonnet 115) which beset the body. This very claim
to truthfulness imputes a deleterious forgetting, a conspicuous
lack of truth, in his own view of himself. Cressida, on the
other hand, is as conscious of the necessity of change over
time as the poet of the sonnets, encapsulated by the wearing
away of the stones of Troy – the immemorial erosion of
‘mighty states’ – but she also encapsulates the capacity of the
name to live on after the destruction of the body.
Her use of the conditional (‘If I be false’) sets her apart
from her lover. For if Troilus is captured and captivated by
the unchangeable idea of himself as Truth, she entertains
the thought of herself as an actor in a different possible
world from the one she occupies at the present moment: a
world which, of course, readers and audience ‘remember’ (in
the future) as the ‘true’ world of ‘false Cressid.’ Just as the
young man’s beauty is supposed to live on in the lines of the
sonnets, so Cressida’s treachery, entertained here merely as
a possibility, will live on – and in fact has already lived on
– in her name. The play can thus embody a process that the
Sonnets, caught in speculative speech acts that are as yet tied
to the moment of their production, can only promise. But, of
course, the very ‘iteration’ by which the Sonnets establish their

Linda Charnes, Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 79.

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‘truth’ guarantees change, if only through the wearing away of

invention into cliché.
Troilus and Cressida’s appeal to their respective names as
pure ideas in the future, as distillations from the dross of the
body, condenses the semantic total of a certain selection of
speech acts into a designating phrase that is only apparently
rigid, or rather, that has the empty rigidity of a tautology.
By picking out only certain descriptions and holding them
together under a title that is itself a shorthand description,
such designating epithets run foul of Kripke’s most important
insight about proper names as rigid designators: that they
allow for alternative descriptions, other possible worlds,
different ideological significations for their referents.12 As
Juliet analyses it in her famous speech in Act Two of Romeo
and Juliet, ‘Romeo’ is a true proper name, a rigid designator
that can neither be ‘torn’ nor abandoned, for it designates
Romeo in all possible worlds. ‘Troilus’ and ‘Cressida’ on the
other hand, as the characters themselves invoke their names in
the scene under discussion, are turned into epithets, carriers of
a particularly ideological, semantic weight: the (intrinsically)
‘true’ knight, the (inevitably) ‘false’ woman. But they also,
necessarily, act in the play as rigid designators. As such, they
allow the dramatist to explore modalities different from those
entertained by Troilus and Cressida themselves or carried
within folk memory. They allow for an alternative exploration
of the very thing that, in Cressida’s utterance, her name will
keep alive ‘out to the ending doome’ (sonnet 55). Unlike the

. See Heather Dubrow, ‘“Incertainties now crown themselves assur’d”: The
Politics of Plotting Shakespeare’s Sonnets’, Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996):
291–305. In this essay, Dubrow subjects the critical and ideological assump-
tions underlying the reading of the Sonnets which regards them as a narrative
of mutual homo-social or homosexual love destroyed by the dark duplicity of
woman to devastating criticism. I am deeply indebted to her argument that
there is no evidence for the traditional ascription of addressees to the poems,
although the logical terms in which I analyse the issue here are very different
from hers.

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 71

‘Dark Lady’ and the ‘Fair Friend’ of the sonnets, who are
without proper names, and whose respective ‘fairness’ and
‘darkness’ are merely bundles of circularly derived proposi-
tions collected under ideological signs, the ‘truth’ that Troilus
appropriates to himself and the ‘falsehood’ that Cressida
entertains for herself may be qualified by different modalities
embodied by the play that bears their names, which is in effect
the play of common bodies.
Whatever Cressida may say about the meaning of her name
as a repository of historical significance, the rigid designation
of the proper name allows that name to be used in a different
possible world: a world in which Cressida does not have to
bear the ideological weight of her name. It is possible to write
a play in which the names ‘Troilus’ and ‘Cressida’ appear as
rigid designators of received characters, but in which they do
not act as the defining instances of (male) truth and (female)
infidelity. The theory of rigid designation explains how we can
entertain the possibility that Troilus was not faithful, Cressida
not faithless; or, for that matter, that Homer was not a single
poet but an oral collective, or that Shakespeare did not write
‘Shake-speare’s’ plays.13 The question that names in Troilus
and Cressida raise is not whether Cressida is false or not, but
whether her name is inevitably the epitome of falsehood, its
paradigm case or essence. The theatricality of Troilus and
Cressida can thus achieve what the Sonnets considered as mere
text on a page cannot: in ‘the two-hour traffic of our stage’ the
players’ medium can combine the embodiment of character
with the phenomenological fusion of change through time and
space, in order to present figures whose historical paths may
be charted differently. The theatre itself possesses a ‘bifold
authority’ (5.3.147) by which a character, especially a histori-
cally received one, both ‘is and is not’ him or herself.

For a classic account of the ‘descriptive’ theory of names, see John R.


Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1969), 157–75.

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The modal positions that Troilus and Cressida respectively

occupy when they distil their names into pure ideas appear to
correspond to those traditionally assumed to be inscribed in
the Sonnets: the presumed fidelity of the ‘man right fair’ seems
to match the ‘truth’ of Troilus, while the promiscuity of the
‘woman coloured ill’ (sonnet 144) is assumed to correspond
to Cressida’s faithlessness. At the time of their invocations of
their names, Cressida is not yet unfaithful. Yet such a possi-
bility is entertained exclusively for her, not her lover. The
subject positions that can be adopted by men and women,
through the modalities of different speech acts, are clearly
related to the struggle in the Sonnets with the possibility of
falsehood in the ‘fair friend’, the certainty of falsehood in the
‘dark woman’, and the ambivalent self-recrimination of the
poet who is shaped by both modes. The copulatio by which
Cressida projects her anticipated falsehood posits a world
in which women are always already untrustworthy: ‘yet let
memory / From false to false among false maids in love /
Upbraid my falsehood’ (3.2.186–7).
Cressida is herself aware of the ways in which women are
always already trapped in an inescapable cycle of falsity – of
necessarily being what they are not – through the received
idea that they are expected to mask their erotic desires. This
awareness is expressed in a particularly clear-sighted way in the
form of a sonnet with which Cressida brings Act One, Scene
Three to a close. Like sonnet 126, it is in rhyming couplets:

Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love’s full sacrifice

He offers in another’s enterprise;
But more in Troilus thousandfold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar’s praise may be.
Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing;
Things won are done. Joy’s soul lies in the doing.
That she beloved knows naught that knows not this:
Men price the thing ungained more than it is.
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 73

Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:

Achievement is command; ungained, beseech.
Then though my heart’s contents firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear. (1.3.260–73)

This passage is not merely a conglomeration of 14 lines. It

has the structure that we have come to expect from the 1609
Quarto: three logically distinct quatrains, followed by a
concluding couplet that succinctly conveys Cressida’s double
course of action and position. Unusually, it presents the
female, Petrarchan beloved speaking directly to an audience
that excludes her lover, in a confession of why she is adopting
the female Petrarchan role of withholding her favours – as if
Rosaline (in Romeo and Juliet), or the dark mistress, or Stella
were suddenly to bare their hearts. The message is striking
not so much for what it tells us about Cressida’s heart or
character, but for its revelation of the role of the Petrarchan
mistress: a fantasy figure constructed out of the generic
necessity of endlessly deferred desire. By self-consciously
drawing attention to her required role as a ‘false maid in love’,
Cressida unfolds the iron but unspoken law of the Petrarchan
mode: once the beloved is won, the Petrarchan mode is done.
Cressida is therefore already marked, before she gives
up her name as the epitome of falsehood, by an imposed
falsehood, which is the product not of names or bodies but of
a discourse that has always already ascribed an unmistakable
language to the body:

Fie, fie upon her!
There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip;
Nay, her foot speaks. Her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body.
O these encounterers so glib of tongue,
That give accosting welcome ere it comes,
And wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts
To every ticklish reader, set them down

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For sluttish spoils of opportunity

And daughters of the game. (4.6.55–64)

Unburdened by Romeo’s reticence, which refrains from

assuming to know what the female body speaks or to whom
that speech is addressed (‘I am too bold. ’Tis not to me she
speaks’ (Romeo and Juliet, 2.1.56)), Ulysses articulates an
attitude by which the ‘idealized body’ is distilled as the always-
common body of the woman – ‘lilies that fester’ (sonnet 94).
The question here is whether it is really Cressida’s body that
speaks, or whether that body is merely ‘fair paper’: the ‘most
goodly book, / Made’, in Othello’s anguished phrase, ‘to write
“whore” upon’ (Othello, 4.2.173–4).
This extraordinary scene encapsulates the oscillating
relationship that I have been analysing among name as rigid
designator, name as distilled essence, theatrical body as bearer
of both forms of the name, and discourse as a way of making
the body speak. We now have four rather than three entities:
to the double roles of the name and the presence of the body,
description is added, the very thing that Kripke’s theory or
rigid designation excludes from the logic of the proper name.14
Shakespeare prepares us for this discursive appropriation of
the body in the second scene of the play, where Pandarus
sets himself up as the commentator upon the Trojan warriors
entering from the battlefield. There Pandarus’s judgements are
in contestatory dialogue both with proper names that already
bear a degree of traditional idealization (Aeneas, Antenor,
Hector, Paris, and so on) and Cressida’s reading of the figures,
which, since it does not bear the weight of poetic history,
enjoys a relative independence. For the theatre audience, the
bodies of the common players who bear those names offer

To be able to designate their referents across all possible worlds, proper


names have to have reference but no sense, for any sense that a name bears
would confine it to the contingent properties of only one possible world.
Helen would be beautiful and Cressida faithless of necessity if Kripke were

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Proper Names and Common Bodies 75

resistance to both idealized poetic tradition and Pandarus and

Cressida’s commentary. The common bodies of the players
speak, as it were, with their own voices, which may confirm
or contradict what is said about them through description or
condensed in their proper names.
The speaking body is precisely what is presented to us
in Cressida’s unhappy transfer to the Greeks, initially in
Diomed’s remark to Cressida that, ‘The lustre in your eye,
heaven in your cheek, / Pleads your fair usage’ (4.5.118–19)
and then in Ulysses’ expansive commentary, ‘There’s language
in her eye, her cheek, her lip.’ In the reception of Cressida
by the Greek men there is no focus on her proper name as
bearer of any significance other than as her father’s property,
‘Calchas’ daughter’ (4.6.14). The focus is on her body, as it is
appropriated by the men in what some cannot help regarding
as a kind of gang-rape. I don’t wish to offer an interpretation
of this scene, but rather to point out its mechanics, insofar as
it involves the interplay of body, name and utterance. For the
Greeks at this point, the name Cressida is nothing but a place-
holder for Calchas’ daughter – it is certainly not weighted with
the burden that Cressida herself places upon it, Shakespeare
inherits and the theatre audience has come to expect from that
poetic tradition. For that audience, ‘Cressida’ is anticipated as
the distillation of faithlessness, a sense that would presumably
predispose them to reading her body as Ulysses does. But as
rigid designator that refers to Cressida in all possible worlds,
the proper name makes possible the embodiment of Cressida
in ways that contradict or complicate her incarceration in the
image distilled by her name. That embodiment takes the form
of the actor on stage, who cannot be reduced to or wholly
consumed by either the meaning of the name or what others
say about her.
Herein lies the difference between the possible world created
by verse or prose and that performed by the theatre: in the
latter a medium of expression or resistance is the substance of
representation that renders impossible the pure textualization
of the figure, either as sonnet 54 distils the essence of the rose

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by crushing its body or as Ulysses tries to distil the essence

of Cressida by speaking the supposed language of her body.
However much the actor plays along with such discursive
appropriation, the body nevertheless resists complete appro-
priation: it speaks a language that cannot be reduced to
misogynist commonplaces that project the monologue of male
desire as the free speech of the univocal female body.
The fourfold relationship that I have been tracing renders
the usual physiognomic picture of the ‘art / To find the mind’s
construction in the face’ (Macbeth, 1.4.11–12) problematic.
It is not simply a matter of determining the hidden interiority
from whatever exterior physiognomy faces us. Whatever we
may finally think of Cressida, our interpretation will be the
product of the extraordinarily complex mutual interrogations
of proper name and common body in the theatre. The name
as rigid designator allows the body on stage to participate in a
possible world that interrogates the name as distilled essence
– it allows us to say that this ‘is and is not Cressid.’ And the
language of the body will always be in a dialogical tension
with whatever discourse is offered as descriptive judgement of
that body. A rose by any other name would certainly smell as
sweet. But it is the proper name, ‘Cressida’, borne by common
bodies, that allows the theatre to open up possible worlds
in which what counts as sweetness or rankness in human
behaviour is contested.

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Antique / Antic: Archaism,
Neologism and the Play
of Shakespeare’s Words
in Love’s Labour’s Lost and
2 Henry IV

Lucy Munro

[T]hree such Antiques doe not amount to a man[.]


This chapter explores a pair of early modern homonyms,

‘antique’ and ‘antic’, and their implications for our consid-
eration of two specific aspects of Shakespeare’s language:
archaism and its evil twin, neologism. The spellings and senses
of these words overlapped,1 making them a productive source

As David Bevington notes in an essay on the problems faced by editors


modernizing Shakespeare’s texts, ‘“Antic”, “antike”, “anticke”, and

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of aesthetic and intellectual play for early modern writers.

In particular, the two words share a connection with tempo-
rality. While old words might be ‘antique’ – in the sense of
old, ancient and time-worn (OED antique, a. 1–2) – both old
and new words could be ‘antic’, that is, grotesque, disorderly
and foolish (OED antic, a. 2). Moreover, the word ‘antic’
brings with it a series of bodily and performative associations,
making it peculiarly effective within drama. As a noun, it refers
to caryatids or other human figures which are represented in
impossible positions (OED antic, n. B. 1b), to grotesque or
ludicrous gestures, postures or tricks (OED antic, n. B. 2), to
grotesque pageants or theatrical shows (OED antic, n. B. 3),
and also to the clowns or mountebanks that might appear in
such shows (OED antic, n. B. 4). As an adjective, it can also
describe grotesque or bizarre clothing (OED antic, a. 2.c), or
a face contorted into a disturbing grin (OED antic, a. 3). The
‘antic’ therefore highlights the extent to which temporally
deformed language is aligned on the early modern stage with a
self-consciously performed bodily disorder, signalled through
movement, facial expression and costume.
Two of Shakespeare’s enduring comic characters – Don
Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Pistol in 2 Henry IV,
The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V – embody the
temporal and performative associations of the antique / antic.
Both characters use not only neologism but also linguistic
and stylistic archaism, and both roles make very particular
demands upon the actor playing them. Moreover, Don
Armado also participates in the inset play that appears
towards the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which itself depends
for part of its effect on archaic diction and style, and which
is twice referred to as an ‘antique.’ Analysing the interplay
of the antique and antic in these plays, I focus here on

“antique” are reasonably interchangeable in early modern English.’ See

‘Modern Spelling: The Hard Choices’, in Textual Performances: The Modern
Reproduction of Shakespeare’s Drama, ed. Lukas Erne and Margaret Jane
Kidnie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 143–57 (151).

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Antique / Antic 79

two features in particular. The first is the way in which the

performance of roles such as Don Armado and Pistol, and
of the inset play in Love’s Labour’s Lost, capitalizes on the
physical and vocal skills of the Chamberlain’s Men. Particular
words or styles may imply certain performance techniques,
or make specific requirements of the plays. ‘Antique’ or
‘antic’ language may bring with it ‘antic’ gestures or postures,
but dramatists might also resist these associations, creating
something more dramatically hybrid and volatile. The second
feature is the ways in which these plays commodify language,
selling themselves in part through their linguistic experimen-
tation; this tendency is thematized within the plays and is also
evident in the ways in which they were marketed in print to
readers. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Don Armado, Holofernes et
al. attempt to please the King, Princess and their courts with
a play written in a ‘high’ style that was rapidly becoming
outmoded. This attempt meets with little success within the
dramatic fiction, but Shakespeare paradoxically manages
to pass off aspects of the same style to his audiences – past
and present – in the shape of Don Armado and, in the later
play, Pistol.


Before looking at these plays in detail, however, it is worth

surveying Shakespeare’s wider uses of ‘antic’ and ‘antique.’
Although he draws on the full range of meanings available to
him, Shakespeare occasionally uses ‘antique’ to mean merely
‘old’ or ‘ancient.’ In Othello, the handkerchief that Othello
gives to Desdemona is described as ‘an Antique Token / My
Father gaue my Mother’ (ll. 3505–6),2 and in Coriolanus,

In order to preserve the interplay between ‘antic’ and ‘antique’, I have used
old-spelling versions of early modern texts. Unless noted otherwise, all refer-
ences to Shakespeare’s plays are taken from The Norton Facsimile: The First
Folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Charlton Hinman (2nd edn, New York:
W. W. Norton, 1996).

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Caius Martius complains sardonically about the fact that he

must submit to custom and display himself to the citizens:

What Custome wills in all things, should we doo’t?

The Dust on antique Time would lye vnswept,
And mountainous Error be too highly heapt,
For Truth to o’re-peere. (ll. 1509–12)

In As You Like It, Orlando praises the faithful old retainer

Adam by referring to ‘The constant seruice of the antique
world, / When seruice sweate for dutie, not for meede’ (ll.
761–2), while Orsino in Twelfth Night calls for ‘that peece
of song, / That old and Anticke song we heard last night’
(ll. 885–6), the value that he places on the song suggesting
that it is prized for its antiquity rather than singled out for
its grotesquery. ‘Antique’ might also recall the ancient world.
Horatio declares that he is ‘more an Antike Roman then a
Dane’ (Hamlet, l. 3826) – his behaviour is in keeping with
a classical ideal, in contrast with that of a (then) modern
Christian – while the Chorus in Henry V likens the Mayor of
London and his fellows when they welcome King Henry back
to London to ‘the Senatours of th’antique Rome’ (l. 2876).
The sonnets feature a number of references to ‘antique’ songs,
pens and books, drawing on notions of classical antiquity
while also conjuring images of the time-worn or wasted, or, in
some cases, the grotesque or disorderly.3
In contrast, some Shakespearean uses tend towards the
‘antic’ end of the spectrum. In the Induction to The Taming
of the Shrew, the leading player claims that he and his fellows
will be able to cope with whatever eccentricity Christopher
Sly may display, with a reference to the theatrical associations
of the ‘antic’: ‘we can contain our selues / Were he the veriest
anticke in the world’ (ll. 110–11). Two plays draw in part on
the classical associations of the ‘antique’ but seem to signal

See, for instance, sonnets 17, 19, 59, 68 and 106.

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Antique / Antic 81

more strongly the disorder of the ‘antic.’ Hamlet’s declaration

that he will put on an ‘Anticke disposition’ (l. 868) alludes to a
Brutus-like stoicism (as Miriam Jacobson argues in Chapter 4
of this book), but it also strongly suggests something grotesque
or disjunctive, which might involve not only chaotic speech
but also unsettled gesture, posture or clothing. A similar set of
associations are in play in the closing stages of the ship-board
revels in Antony and Cleopatra; Caesar comments that:

Strong Enobarbe
Is weaker then the Wine, and mine owne tongue
Spleet’s what it speakes: the wilde disguise hath almost
Antickt vs all. (ll. 1476–9)

Used here – with additional bite – as a verb, ‘Antickt’ perhaps

gains yet more force from the play’s setting in the ancient
world; its primary associations are, however, of disorder and
folly, bodily confusion, and of the dramatic associations of the
‘antic’ as a grotesque pageant or play.
As this might suggest, in many of Shakespeare’s uses of
antique / antic, the various meanings are intertwined and are
difficult to separate. In the Player’s speech in Hamlet, Priam is
found by the vengeful Pyrrhus ‘Striking too short at Greekes.
His anticke Sword, / Rebellious to his Arme, lyes where it
falles / Repugnant to command’ (ll. 1510–12). Priam’s sword
is presumably old, like its owner, but its refusal to serve him
properly is also both disorderly and grotesque. Similar is
the description in sonnet 17 of ‘a Poets rage / And stretched
miter of an Antique song’,4 where the reader is compelled to
stretch out the second line’s meter on ‘stretchèd’, enacting
the potentially antic archaism that the narrator describes.
Especially potent are the very similar descriptions of Death
in 1 Henry VI and Richard II, in which Old Talbot and
King Richard both figure it as a grinning, ‘antique’ parody

Shake-speares Sonnets Neuer Before Imprinted (London, 1609), B4v.

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of a King (1 Henry VI, ll. 2249–53; Richard II, ll. 1520–30).

Figuratively, Death is ancient, but it is also ‘antic’, grinning
like one of the fantastic statues of neo-classical architecture.
Richard also likens Death to a kind of supernatural stage-
manager, allowing earthly kings ‘a breath, a little Scene, /
To Monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with lookes’ before their
inevitable fall ensues (ll. 1524–5).
I will pause for a moment on the use of antique / antic
in Romeo and Juliet, where it appears in the context of
Mercutio’s sardonic caricature of Tibalt as ‘the Couragious
Captaine of Complements’ (ll. 1124–5). In the version printed
in the First Folio, Mercutio declares that Tibalt:

fights as you sing pricksong, keeps time, distance, and

proportion, he rests his minum, one, two, and the third in
your bosom: the very butcher of a silk button, a Dualist, a
Dualist: a Gentleman of the very first house of the first and
second cause: ah the immortall Passado the Punto reuerso,
the Hay.5 (ll. 1125–30)

‘The what?’ is the somewhat baffled Benvolio’s response, and

Mercutio shifts his tone:

The Pox of such antique lisping affecting phantacies,6 these

new tuners of accent: Iesu a very good blade, a very tall
man, a very good whore. Why is not this a lamentable
thing Grandsire, that we should be thus afflicted with these
strange flies: these fashion Mongers, these pardon-mee’s,
who stand so much on the new form, that they cannot
sit at ease on the old bench. O their bones, their bones.
(ll. 1131–9)

On the fencing terms, see Jill Levenson, ed., Romeo and Juliet (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2000), 228–9.
The phrase appears as ‘limping antique affecting fantasticoes’ in the first
quarto: An Excellent Conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet (London,
1597), sig. E1v.

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Antique / Antic 83

As editors from Wilson and Duthie onwards have noted, the

actor playing Mercutio is probably expected to act out the
fencing passes as he speaks – he ‘antics’ in a physical sense.7
Furthermore, the bodily expression of language is maintained
in his next speech, as Mercutio first acts out the style adopted
by fashionable young men – ‘Iesu a very good blade, a very tall
man, a very good whore’ – and then addresses an imaginary
‘Grandsire’ or, possibly, casts Benvolio in that role. When
he describes the ‘antique lisping affecting phantacies, these
new tuners of accent’, Mercutio refers to ways in which
pretentious jargon – here the fashionable language of duelling
– deforms the language; the ‘tuners of accent’ express new
forms of English, or pronounce their words in bizarre and
affected ways. But the resonant use of ‘antique’ here, and
its juxtaposition with both ‘phantacies’ (which can mean
spectres, hallucinations or caprices)8 and neologistic fencing
jargon also invokes implicitly the late-Elizabethan debate
about language, and the relative status of new and old words.9
The word antique / antic thus takes us to the heart of some
key debates about language in the late sixteenth century.
Self-conscious archaisms might be ‘antique’, carrying the
weight and gravity of age, but both archaisms and neologisms
might be ‘antic’, deforming the language with grotesquery and

John Dover Wilson and G. I. Duthie, eds, Romeo and Juliet, The New
Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955), 167.
OED fantasy/phantasy, n. 2.
For recent summaries of this debate, see Paula Blank, Broken English: The
Politics of Language in Renaissance Literature (London and New York:
Routledge, 1996), 40–52, 100–20; Charles Barber, Early Modern English
(2nd edn, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 53–70; Manfred
Görlach, Introduction to Early Modern English (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1991), 136–69. On the Elizabethan language debate as a
context for Love’s Labour’s Lost, see Blank, Broken English, 45–52; Lynne
Magnusson, ‘To “Gase So Much at the Fine Stranger”: Armado and the
Politics of English in Love’s Labour’s Lost’, in Shakespeare and the Cultures
of Performance, ed. Paul Yachnin and Patricia Badir (Aldershot: Ashgate,
2008), 53–68 (esp. 60–8).

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disorder. These associations are developed in detail in Love’s

Labour’s Lost and 2 Henry IV, in which Don Armado, Pistol
and the play of the Nine Worthies are temporally disjunctive
‘antics’, self-consciously theatrical constructs within their
fictive and performative worlds.

Child of fancy: Don Armado

Shakespeare introduces Don Armado and Pistol with notable
care. In Love’s Labour’s Lost he sets out Armado’s character
and language before the actor even sets foot on the stage. In
the opening scene, the King and Berowne discuss Armado in
some detail. The King declares:

our Court you know is hanted [sic]

With a refined trauailer of Spaine,
A man in all the worlds new fashion planted,
That hath a mint of phrases in his braine:
One, who the musicke of his owne vaine tongue,
Doth rauish like inchanting harmonie:
A man of complements whom right and wrong
Haue chose as vmpier of their mutinie.
This childe of fancie that Armado hight,
For interim to our studies shall relate,
In high-borne words the worth of many a Knight:
From tawnie Spaine lost in the worldes debate.
(ll. 173–84)

The King emphasizes the artifice involved with Armado’s

linguistic self-presentation: the Spaniard is ‘refined’ or polished
in his manners; he has ‘a mint of phrases in his braine’;
his words are (at least to Armado himself) an ‘inchanting
harmonie’; he is ‘A man of complements’, the latter term
referring both to formal politeness and to the acquisition of
set phrases or jargon; and he will recite Iberian romances to

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Antique / Antic 85

them in a high style. Navarre chooses his words carefully,

describing Armado as ‘This childe of Fancie that Armado
hight’, the final, archaic word of the line being carefully placed
so as to rhyme with ‘Knight’ two lines later; he also shifts into
rhyme for the entire speech, mirroring Armado’s artificiality
in his own style.
Berowne’s following two-line character sketch, ‘Armado is
a most illustrious wight, / A man of fire, new words, fashions
owne Knight’ (ll. 188–9), picks up the King’s parody of
Armado’s style, as the rhyming hight / wight / knight suggests.
Like the King, Berowne skewers Armado neatly, the emphasis
on his status as a coiner of ‘fire-new words’ being balanced
by the use of the poetic archaism ‘wight’ which, like the
King’s ‘hight’, was rarely used outside poetry in the 1590s.
The association between archaic words and an outmoded and
pretentious style of knightly behaviour is carefully gauged, but
the artificiality of Armado’s stance is underlined by the juxta-
position of these words with the description of his tendency
to neologize.
The extent to which the King and Berowne are mimicking
Armado’s own style becomes evident when Armado’s letter is
read out later in the scene. In it, Armado refers to Costard as
‘that base Minow of [the King’s] myrth … hight Costard’ and
employs further archaisms such as ‘welkin’ for ‘sky’, ‘ycliped’
for ‘called’, and a repeated use of ‘swain’ for ‘man’, which in the
1590s would also have been associated with poetic archaism
(ll. 256, 258–9, 231, 249, 256, 270). His dialogue also incor-
porates a number of proverbial phrases: ‘my snow-white pen’,
‘the ebon coloured Incke’, ‘a childe of our Grandmother Eue’,
‘the weaker vessel’ (ll. 251, 252, 263, 269), linking him with
established patterns of speech and thought. Simultaneously,
however, Armado inserts recently coined or obscure Latinate
words such as ‘dominator’, ‘obscene’, and ‘preposterous’
(ll. 232–3, 250, 251); indeed, one could argue that the use of
the poetic ‘ebon’ is also a 1590s affectation, as it is rare before
this decade but ubiquitous during it. The ‘high’ style noted by
the King also appears in Armado’s careful rhetoric patterning,

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the alliteration of phrases such as ‘that base Minow of thy

myrth’, and the internal rhyme of statements such as ‘sorted
and consorted’ (ll. 256, 259).
The King’s shift into rhyme when he initially describes
the ‘refined traveller’ suggests that he is enacting something
of Armado’s style, as does, perhaps, the line ‘With a refinèd
trauailer of Spaine’, with its stretched-out meter. It is not
unlikely that the actors playing the King and Berowne are
required to imitate the tonal and physical ticks – and, perhaps,
accent10 – that the actor playing Armado will demonstrate
when he finally enters later in the play. This technique is still
more evident in the sequence in which the King reads Armado’s
letter, in which he is required to ventriloquize the Spaniard’s
actual words. Shakespeare heightens this effect, moreover, by
juxtaposing Armado’s style with that of Costard and Dull,
the former’s blunt statement ‘With a wench’ contrasting effec-
tively with Armado’s string of euphemisms and the simulated
passion of the King’s delivery.
Appearing in his own person later in the play, Armado
confirms the accuracy of his portrayal in absentia. In the next
scene, discussing his melancholy with the page, Moth, he uses
the Latinate words ‘congruent’, ‘apatheton’ (i.e. epitheton or
epithet) and ‘nominate’ (ll. 324–6), all used rarely before the
mid-sixteenth century.11 Similarly, at the opening of Act Two,
he tells Moth, ‘go tendernesse of yeares: take this Key, giue
enlargement to the swaine, bring him festinatly hither: I must
imploy him in a letter to my Loue’ (ll. 775–8). These lines
demonstrate the truth of the King and Berowne’s mockery,
the archaism of ‘the Swaine’ jarring with the neologism
‘festinately.’12 Later in the play, Armado uses more new

Armado’s name periodically appears as ‘Armatho’ in both the quarto and
folio texts, which may suggest the intended use of a soft, faux-Spanish ‘d.’
OED congruent, adj. 1; epitheton, n. 2; nominate, v. 1.a.
This is the OED’s earliest use of the adverb ‘festinately’ (s.v. festinate).
‘Festination’ appears in texts dating from the 1540s, such as Thomas Elyot’s
The Image of Government (OED, festination), while the verb appears in

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Antique / Antic 87

words, including ‘annothanize’ (l. 1048) and ‘perambulate’

(l. 1815),13 but he also employs old-fashioned diction and
verse forms. For instance, in Act Three he drops into a rhymed
Poulter’s Measure for two lines, telling Moth, ‘No Page, it is
an epilogue or discourse to make plaine, / Some obscure prece-
dence that hath tofore bin saine’ (ll. 855–6). This metrical
archaism heightens the artificiality of Armado’s dialogue: it
is noticeable that Shakespeare elsewhere uses it mainly in
metadramatic or heightened sequences, such as the workers’
play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the appearance of the
ghosts in Cymbeline.
In Armado’s use of both archaism and neologism,
Shakespeare satirizes both sides of the Elizabethan language
debate; simultaneously, however, he levels out the distinction
between old and new forms of language. Armado is, in
Mercutio’s terms, ‘an antique lisping affecting phantac[y]’ –
indeed, Boyet refers to him as a ‘Phantasime, a Monarcho’ (l.
1080).14 A ‘tuner of accent’ who lacks real linguistic substance
or roots, his status as a Spaniard in Navarre makes him
marginal, but his temporally unstable language may render
him truly ‘other.’ Nonetheless, his exaggerated comic language
makes him theatrically engaging, and – as we will see – the

Thomas Hyll’s translation of Bartolommeo della Rocca Cocles’ A Brief and

Most Pleasaunt Epitomye of the Whole Art of Phisiognomie (London, 1556),
sig. C3v (this predates by nearly a century the OED’s first example). The
pretentious quality of the word in a 1590s context can be seen in its use by
Thomas Nashe in a parody of Gabriel Harvey at his most verbose: ‘he would
accelerate and festinate his procrastinating ministers’ (Have With You to
Saffron-Walden. Or, Gabriell Harveys Hunt is Up (London, 1596), sig. O3r).
Some definitions: ‘annothanize’: annotate, anatomize or ‘explain analyti-
cally’ (not in the OED and in EEBO found only in Love’s Labour’s Lost);
‘perambulate’: walk or go before. See the OED, perambulate v.1; H. R.
Woudhuysen, ed., Love’s Labour’s Lost, Arden Shakespeare Third Series
(Walton on Thames: Bloomsbury, 1998), 178, 229.
A ‘monarcho’ is defined by the OED as ‘[a] person who is the object of
ridicule for absurdly grandiose beliefs’ (Monarcho, n. 1).

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opportunities that it offers actors have been enthusiastically


Swaggering rascal: Pistol

A similar linguistic concoction appears to be presented in the
form of Pistol, who makes his first appearance The Second Part
of Henry the Fourth and returns in The Merry Wives of Windsor
and Henry V. However, this is in fact a more complex example,
not least because of its generic context and because Pistol is a
native speaker of English. The use of archaism in a history play
itself deserves comment.15 Unlike twentieth- and twenty-first-
century writers of costume drama, early modern dramatists
rarely attempt to historicize the dialogue of history plays.
Instead, they employ deliberately up-to-date language, appar-
ently in order to underline the applicability of the historical
narrative to their own day.16 This style of language is accom-
panied by the frequent appearance of anachronistic elements:
references to Elizabethan costume, popular songs, artefacts
and customs. In this context, it is therefore intriguing to find a
character in a history play that is given sustained use of archaic
diction and syntax, but unsurprising to find that archaism goes
hand-in-hand with neologism and other presentist techniques.

For more detailed discussion, see Lucy Munro, ‘Speaking History: Linguistic
Memory in the Late-Elizabethan History Play’, Huntington Library Quarterly
76, no. 4 (2013): 519–40.
For instance, Jonathan Hope argues that the pronoun choice – that is, the
overwhelming use of ‘you’ over ‘thou’ forms – in Fletcher and Shakespeare’s
Henry VIII suggests that ‘a consciousness of authenticity might manifest
itself in the language of the play, and specifically in the language of upper-
class court interchange: perhaps the language of the play is deliberately
modern, aping contemporary court usage, just as the events portrayed are
self-consciously related to the contemporary events of the Jacobean court’,
The Authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays: A Socio-Linguistic Study (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1994), 82–3.

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Antique / Antic 89

Such interplay between past and present is evoked even in

Pistol’s name, which Shakespeare takes care to emphasize. On
his first appearance in Act Two, Scene Four of 2 Henry IV he
is introduced as ‘Ancient Pistol’ in both dialogue and stage
direction.17 The primary meaning of ‘Ancient’ here is ‘ensign’,
but it also evokes the antique or old-fashioned. In contrast, the
word ‘Pistol’ had been coined relatively recently: it was first
used in England perhaps as late as 1560.18 Moreover, Pistol is
associated with another new word before he even appears on
stage. When the Drawer announces his arrival, Doll Tearsheet
cries, ‘Hang him swaggering rascal, let him not come hither: it
is the foule-mouthdst rogue in England’ (D3v), and Mistress
Quickly picks up the term, repeating it in various forms –
swaggerers, swaggering, swagger – eight times in the forty or
so lines before Pistol enters. The repetition suggests that these
words might have been unusual, and a comparison of the OED
and electronic resources such as EEBO suggests that ‘swagger’
was a 1590s coinage.19 A ‘swaggerer’ or ‘swaggering rascal’ is
a roaring boy, an Elizabethan tavern lout, and the term is at
odds with the military professionalism suggested by the term

The Second Part of Henrie the Fourth (London, 1600), sigs. D3v, D4r. All
citations are taken from this edition, which appears to be a more accurate text
than the folio for the scenes with which I am concerned here.
The OED’s earliest citation, and the earliest that I have been able to find,
is from Thomas Norton’s Orations of Arsanes Agaynst Philip the Trecherous
Kyng of Macedone (London, 1560 ?), sig. B4v; it is perhaps notable that
a 1546 proclamation regarding the use of hand-guns refers only to ‘hand
gounnes, hagbusshes, or other gunnes’ (A Proclamacion Divised by the Kynges
Highnes with Thadvise of his Most Honourable Counsaile, for the Restraynte
of Shootyng in Handgunnes [London, 1547]). As A. R. Humphreys notes,
Shakespeare’s character ‘is well named, the early pistol being erratic, stupen-
dously noisy, and less dangerous than it sounded.’ See Humphreys, ed., The
Second Part of King Henry IV (London: Methuen, 1977), 67–8. See also Paul
A. Jorgensen, ‘“My Name is Pistol Call’d”’, Shakespeare Quarterly 1 (1950):
See the OED swagger v. 1; swaggerer, n.; swaggering, n.; swaggering, adj.

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Before he appears on stage, therefore, the swaggering

Ancient Pistol is presented as a complex oxymoron, both
‘antic’ and ‘antique.’ And this first impression is complicated
yet further when he finally enters the stage. Pistol’s initial
lines are violent and sexually charged bluster, but he sounds
a different note in his first extended speech, in which he
exchanges insults with Doll and refuses to leave:

Ile see her damnd first, to Plutoes damnd lake by this hand
to th’infernal deep, with erebus & tortures vile also: holde,
hooke and line, say I: downe, downe, dogges, down faters
haue we not Hiren here? (sigs. D4v-E1r)

Repeating the word ‘damned’ as ‘damnèd’, and lifting his

register into classical allusion, Pistol takes flight linguistically.
For S. Musgrove, this moment reflects Shakespeare’s own
indecision: ‘It looks as though it was precisely here that
Shakespeare paused, and wondered what Pistol was to say
next. “Damned” suggests hell, with all its literary associations,
the idea is born, and Pistol starts to talk like a stage play.’20
While appealing, this theory is not entirely necessary; Pistol’s
linguistic flight may be less spontaneous than it appears, given
that Shakespeare has already prepared his audience for its
combination of new and old.
As J. W. Lever notes, many of the characteristics of Pistol’s
speech – its corruption of the ‘high’ style, with its classical
allusions, rhetorical questions and exaggerated threats – are
drawn from the style of ‘Seignior Cocodrill’, a ‘Bragger’, in
John Eliot’s idiosyncratic French language manual, Ortho-epia
Gallica (1593).21 But while Pistol’s speeches echo that of the
Bragger, they are richer and more multiple in their effects,
including proverbial language (‘Hold hook and line’) and
archaism. When Pistol refers to the other characters on

In ‘The Birth of Pistol’, Review of English Studies 10 (1959): 56–8 (57).
‘Shakespeare’s French Fruits’, Shakespeare Survey 6 (1953): 79–90.

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Antique / Antic 91

stage as ‘faitors’, or rogues, he uses a word that appears to

have become outmoded by at least the 1560s, when Richard
Grafton glossed it in his Chronicle. By 1590 its use was
mainly restricted to literary texts.22 In addition, the Bragger’s
reference to ‘Mahound God of Turkes and of Arabians’ (sig.
r4r) appears to have mingled with quotations from contem-
porary drama: in referring to Pluto and Erebus, Pistol echoes
George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar. Moreover, his final
question, which puns on ‘Hiren’ (‘Irene’) and the ‘iron’ of
Pistol’s sword, is probably a quotation from a lost play, Peele’s
The Turkish Mahomet and Hiren the Fair Greek, dating from
around 1594.23
Later speeches continue in this vein, incorporating quotation
from plays such as Marlowe’s Tamberlaine, snatches from
an Italian madrigal and a song supposedly written by Anne
Boleyn or her brother while awaiting execution, heavy-handed
classical reference, newly fashionable words such as ‘humour’,
and an old-fashioned emphasis on alliteration. In response
to Falstaff’s declaration, ‘nay, and a doe nothing but speak
nothing, a shall be nothing here’, Pistol exclaims:

What shall we haue incision? shall we imbrew? then death

rocke me a sleepe, abridge my dolefull daies: why then, let
grieuo[u]s ghastly gaping wounds untwind the sisters three,
come, Atropose I say! (sig. E1r)

Pistol manages paradoxically to embody both the old and

new, his language as temporally unstable as his ‘Ancient
Pistol’ sobriquet. The Spenserian and chivalric touches in
words such as ‘welkin’ (sig. D4v) and lines such as ‘Sweet
Knight, I kisse thy neaffe’ (sig. D4v) become ironic as they are

A Chronicle at Large and Meere History of the Affayres of Englande and
Kinges of the Same (London, 1569), 2:598 (sig. 3F6v).
See The Battle of Alcazar, ed. W. W. Greg (Oxford: Malone Society,
1907), ll. 1230–54; E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1923), 3:462.

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spoken by an otherwise up-to-date 1590s tavern swaggerer.

However, Pistol’s linguistic volatility is an appropriate match
for his violently unpredictable behaviour.
It is sometimes said that Pistol echoes the dramatic ‘hits’
of the 1570s and 1580s,24 but Shakespeare’s target is actually
more precise than this: the plays that the swaggering Ancient
quotes and mimics are popular works written in the late
1580s and early 1590s and with a continued life on the late
1590s stage. In particular, he homes in on the high style
associated with Marlowe’s Tamburlaine and its imitators;
as Russ McDonald notes, ‘Attempting to pass himself off as
a valiant warrior, the coward has filched the rhetoric of a
hero.’25 In Henry V, this stance becomes increasingly hollow,
and the Boy comments of Pistol, Bardolph and Nym:

As young as I am, I haue obseru’d these three Swashers: I

am Boy to them all three, but all they three, though they
would serue me, could not be Man to me; for indeed three
such Antiques doe not amount to a man[.] (ll. 1145–8)

The Boy’s criticism is finely calibrated: the trio are indeed

‘antics’ in the context of the war with France, embodying an
increasingly grotesque parody of proper martial behaviour,
but they are also throwbacks to the tavern world of Hal’s
apparent youthful rebellion, relics from an earlier age. Pistol
in particular is also a theatrical ‘antic’, the Boy later scornfully
describing him as ‘this roaring divell i’th olde play’ (l. 2450),
suggesting the extent to which the ancient’s mock-heroic

See, for instance, Alison Thorne’s otherwise excellent essay, ‘There is
a History in All Men’s Lives: Reinventing History in 2 Henry IV’, in
Shakespeare’s Histories and Counter-Histories, ed. Dermot Cavanagh, Stuart
Hampton-Reeves and Stephen Longstaffe (Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 2006), 49–66 (64).
‘The Language of Tragedy’, in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean
Tragedy, ed. Claire McEachern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2002), 23–49 (23).

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Antique / Antic 93

persona is outmoded in this new world of warfare and


Playing the antic

It would be possible at this point to argue that both Don
Armado and Pistol may be ‘antic’ in terms of the perfor-
mance style required from the actor playing each part. There
has been a tendency for twentieth- and twenty-first-century
productions to treat Don Armado and Pistol as dramaturgi-
cally similar figures, and for both characters to be performed
in a self-consciously dated style, something that Paul Menzer
and Thadd McQuade have described in a recent paper as
‘gestural antiquing’ (a wonderfully evocative term for my
purposes here).26 Recent performers of the role of Don Armado
have generally employed extravagant delivery and gesture,
and, often, a highly exaggerated Spanish accent, making the
character into a self-consciously archaized embodiment of
knightly affectation. Two contrasting takes on the role, seen in
two British productions in autumn 2008, illustrate this tendency
in different ways. Peter Bowles’ performance in Peter Hall’s
revival at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, was criticized by some
reviewers for the actor’s failure to adopt the expected accent.
In the Sunday Telegraph, for instance, Tim Auld lamented that:

Hall’s production falls into the trap of being just a bit too
mature for its own good. I’d have liked to have seen his
star turn, Peter Bowles, camping it up with a cod Spanish
accent as Don Adriano de Armado – instead he gave an
old-timer’s comic take with posh accent and rolled r’s and
accentuated t’s[.]27

Paul Menzer and Thadd McQuade, ‘Ink, Inc’, paper delivered at the
‘Shakespeare’s Globe Gesture Lab’, London, 5 November 2010.
‘New Labour’s, New Danger; … but Peter Hall’s Staging Lets Shakespeare’s
Comedy Speak for Itself’, Sunday Telegraph, 2 November 2008, 31.

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No such inhibition was felt in Gregory Doran’s revival for

the Royal Shakespeare Company, which opened in Stratford-
upon-Avon a month earlier. Here, Joe Dixon drew on a broader
tradition of British comic performance and was described
by Paul Taylor in The Independent as being ‘hilarious as
the English-mangling Spanish braggart Don Armado (‘Men
of piss, well encountered’).’28 A similar tendency towards
exaggeration and self-conscious theatricality has been at
work in actors’ interpretations of Pistol. Reviewing Mark
Wing-Davey’s production of Henry V at the Delacorte Theater
in New York in 2003, for example, Charles Isherwood
describes the ‘cartoonish exuberance’ of Bronson Pinchot’s
‘Teddy-boy’ Pistol and Tom Alan Robbins’ Bardolph, and the
way in which Pinchot ‘ad-libs a fair portion of his dialogue to
general delight.’29 A particularly rich example of this tradition
can be seen in Robert Newton’s performance as Pistol in
Laurence Olivier’s film version of Henry V, which draws
heavily on stage convention. As Anthony Davies points out,
apart from the Chorus only Pistol breaks the fourth wall and
addresses the camera directly, making eye-contact with the
cinema audience.30 This harking back to theatrical tradition
is part of the paradoxically up-to-date archaism of Olivier’s
film in general, with its opening and closing scenes in a recon-
structed Globe theatre, its picture-book scenery at the French
court, and its vibrant realism in the Agincourt sequence.
Powerful as it can be, however, this tradition may under-
estimate the contextual differences between Armado and
Pistol, and downplay the complexity with which Shakespeare
presents the Ancient. It is not that there was no sense in
the early modern period that gestures could – like words

‘Tennant’s Labours not Lost on Bard Lovers’, Independent, 9 October 2008,
‘France Under Siege in Central Park’, Variety, 21–27 July 2003, 37.
Filming Shakespeare’s Plays: The Adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson
Welles, Peter Brook, Akira Kurosawa (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988), 32.

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Antique / Antic 95

– become outmoded. For instance, Thomas Tomkis’s early

seventeenth-century university play, Lingua (published 1607),
features a sequence in which Phantastes the poet instructs
Communis Sensus on how to perform Terence’s Eunuchus,
and a stage direction states that ‘he acts it after the old
kinde of Pantomimick action.’31 This apparently refers to
exaggerated gestures; Communis Sensus comments, ‘I shold
iudge this action Phantastes most absurd, vnles we should
come to a Commedy, as gentlewomen to the commencement,
only to see men speake’ (sig. H3r). However, it is unlikely that
Pistol was originally performed in an ‘old’ or ‘Pantomimick’
manner, given the currency of his dramatic exemplars and his
characterization as a tavern ‘swaggerer.’ Indeed, his gestures
when he declares that he ‘will discharge upon’ Mistress
Quickly ‘with two bullets’ (sig. D4r), or shouts ‘when Pistol
lies, do this, and fig me, like the bragging spaniard’ (sig. K3r),
may be all too contemporary.
The tendency to play Pistol as a theatrical revenant may have
begun with Theophilus Cibber in the late eighteenth century,
and with Henry V; according to Francis Gentleman, Cibber
‘made more of the popgun Ancient Pistol than possibly ever
will be seen again, by a laughable importance of deportment,
extravagant gestures, and speaking it in the sonorous cant of
old tragedizers, he exhibited a very entertaining piece of acting
merit.’32 With its comic exchanges between Pistol and Fluellen,
Henry V is more adaptable to such crowd-pleasing ‘gestural
antiquing’ than 2 Henry IV, but even in the later history play
it may cause problems. As Gary Taylor has argued:

for modern actors ‘the sonorous cant of old tragedizers’ has

dwindled from a particular and recognizable grand style,
capable of being taken seriously in the proper context,

Lingua: or The Combat of the Tongue, and the Fiue Senses for Superiority
(London, 1607), sig. H3r.
The Dramatic Censor; or, Critical Companion, 2 vols (London, 1770),

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into a merely embarrassing, repetitive, generalized display

of over-acting; as a consequence Pistol’s marvellous tight-
rope balancing of grandeur and incongruity too easily
degenerates into unfunny and unbelievable shouting and

Ancient Pistol becomes, in such interpretations, merely antic,

diminishing the potential power of the high style, which, as
Taylor stresses, is capable of considerable theatrical impact if
it is handled carefully.
It is rare for productions to resist the temptation to ham
Pistol up, but when they do the results can be unusually
effective. Stephen Booth writes of the 1977 production of
a conflated 1 and 2 Henry IV and full-text Henry V by the
California Actors Company, ‘Tom Ramirez was a subdued
Pistol and more than usually comic for being less a noisy
clown than usual and a more efficient and threatening fraud.’34
A rather noisier Pistol in Dominic Dromgoole’s production of
both parts of Henry IV at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in
2010 was also powerful, partly because the same actor, Sam
Crane, doubled Pistol and Hotspur. Pistol thus represented
a parodic debasement of Hotspur’s vibrant but problematic
model of military masculinity, retaining in the process a certain
edge. Moreover, Crane appeared to have modelled aspects
of his performance of Pistol on the comedian Russell Brand,
a figure who similarly manages to combine parodic verbal
archaism with flashes of genuine outrage and disturbance. The
character’s verbal violence was matched by an abrupt physical
Despite the similarities in the diction of Don Armado and
Pistol, and the fact that both draw at least part of their dramatic
heritage from the braggart soldiers of classical comedy and the

Gary Taylor, ed., Henry V (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 65.
‘Shakespeare in the San Francisco Bay Area’, Shakespeare Quarterly 29
(1978): 267–78 (271).

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Antique / Antic 97

commedia dell’arte,35 there are some important differences

between these characters, not least in the ways in which they
are introduced to spectators. While Armado is relentlessly
mocked and parodied before he even appears on the stage, in
2 Henry IV the repeated use of the word ‘swaggerer’ creates
an impression of violence that is only reinforced by Pistol’s
abrupt and volatile behaviour when he appears. Moreover,
his presentation forms part of the gradual darkening of the
way in which the tavern underworld is represented in this
play. In contrast, the more consistently comic presentation of
Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost is reinforced through
the inclusion of the inset play of the Nine Worthies, which
not only features him in a prominent role, but also mimics his
archaic diction and metrical proclivities.

I am ycliped Machabeus: The play of

the Nine Worthies
There are marked similarities in the dramaturgical means
through which Armado and the play of the Nine Worthies are
introduced, similarities that suggest the connections between
Armado and the play even though he is not its author or the
major force behind its performance. Before the actors take to
the stage, the nobles discuss what they are about to see, the
King saying:

Here is like to be a good presence of Worthies; He [Armado]

presents Hector of Troy, the Swaine Pompey ye great, the
Parish Curate Alexander, Armadoes Page Hercules, the
Pedant Iudas Machabeus: And if these foure Worthies in

For detailed discussion of Don Armado’s dramatic heritage, see Daniel C.


Boughner, ‘Don Armado and the Commedia Dell’Arte’, Studies in Philology

37 (1940): 201–24.

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their first shew thriue, these foure will change habites, and
present the other fiue. (ll. 2477–82)

Towards the end of this speech the King appears to quote

from the paper that he has been given by Armado, and he and
Berowne quickly slip into a parody of its rhyme and its long,
ragged lines:

Ber[owne]. There is fiue in the first shew.

Kin[g]. You are deceiued, tis not so.
Ber. The Pedant, the Braggart, the Hedge-Priest, the
  Foole, and the Boy,
Abate throw at Novum, and the whole world againe,
Cannot pricke out fiue such, take each one in’s vaine.
King. The ship is vnder saile, and heere she coms
  amain. (ll. 2483–9)

As in the presentation of Don Armado, the inset play that

follows reinforces the impression given by the King and
Berowne. It takes Costard a while to properly begin his
first speech, as his audience keep interrupting him, but he
eventually manages to finish his opening line and get on to the
old-fashioned fourteener lines that follow:

Pompey surnam’d the great:

That oft in field, with Targe and Shield, did make my foe
to sweat,
And trauailing along this coast, I heere am come by
And lay my Armes before the legs of this sweet Lasse of
France. (ll. 2499–504)

The authors of the play of the Nine Worthies appear to

believe, with their contemporary Gabriel Harvey, that the
‘braue long verse, stately & flowing’ was suited to ‘heroical
discourse, or statelie argument’, a view that was increasingly

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Antique / Antic 99

out-of-kilter with late sixteenth-century tastes.36 The use of

the long line thus suggests the unwillingness of the inset play’s
author to conform to up-to-date styles, and it also underlines
its pedantic quality.
The courtiers’ hostility towards linguistic and stylistic
aberrance is reinforced later in the play, when they mock
mercilessly the inclusion of an archaic word, ‘ycliped’ (used –
as we have seen – by Don Armado in his letter to the King).
Holofernes enters and introduces himself:

Ped[ant]. Iudas I am.

Dum[aine]. A Iudas?
Ped. Not Iscariot sir.
Iudas I am ycliped Machabeus.
Dum. Iudas Machabeus clipt, is plaine Iudas.
Ber[owne]. A kissing traitor. How art thou proud
  Iudas? (ll. 2548–53)

Pretending to confuse the great warrior Judas Maccabeus

with the traitor Judas Iscariot, the courtiers drive Holofernes
to a point of humiliation at which he can only say ‘This is
not generous, not gentle, not humble’ (l. 2582). The courtiers
reject two aspects of the inset play’s style – its weakness for
long, fourteener lines and its recourse to archaic diction – and
in doing so they cruelly reject the performers and belittle their
genuine attempt to please.
However, while the courtiers mock the play of the Nine
Worthies, the very stylistic quirks for which they condemn
it seem to have been successfully ‘sold’ to a paying public by
both the Chamberlain’s Men and the London publishers. The
title-pages of the 1598 quarto of Love’s Labours Lost and the
1600 quarto of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth both
deploy carefully chosen adjectives as part of their sales pitch,

Gabriel Harvey’s Marginalia, collected and edited by G. C. Moore Smith
(Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1913), 170.

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alongside other tactics such as the boastful advertisement of

court performances, multiple public performances, claims to
textual authenticity, and the authorial imprimatur. The title-
page of Love’s Labour’s Lost describes it as ‘A PLEASANT
Conceited Comedie CALLED, Loues labors lost As it vvas
presented before her Highnes this last Christmas. Newly
corrected and augmented By W. Shakespere.’ The key word
here is ‘conceited’, a term highlighting the play’s wit, intel-
ligence and capacity to amuse but also, simultaneously,
registering the affectation of characters such as Armado.37
2 Henry IV is presented on its title-page as ‘THE Second part
of Henrie the fourth, continuing to his death, and coronation
of Henrie the fift. With the humours of sir Iohn Fal-staffe, and
swaggering Pistoll. As it hath been sundrie times publikely
acted by the right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine
his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare.’ The key
words here are ‘humours’ – that late 1590s buzzword – and
‘swaggering’, as the publishers pick up Pistol’s most important
attribute. Furthermore, they are attached to characters, as
potential readers are expected to be drawn by ‘the humours of
sir Iohn Fal-staffe, and swaggering Pistoll.’ Armado, with his
richly ‘conceited’ language, is a prominent element in Love’s
Labour’s Lost’s appeal to readers, while Pistol is singled out,
along with Falstaff, in the advertising of 2 Henry IV.

In a recent essay on Love’s Labour’s Lost, Lynne Magnusson
notes that Don Armado is ‘a surefire stimulus to theatrical
pleasure.’38 The title-pages of Love’s Labour’s Lost and 2
Henry IV suggest the ability of Armado and Pistol to provoke
pleasure in both playgoers and readers. Yet I have argued in

See the OED, conceited, 1c, 2a, 4a.
‘Armado and the Politics of English’, 53.

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Antique / Antic 101

this chapter that their appeal is based on an odd, potentially

unpredictable amalgam of novelty and archaism, one that is
rooted in the language of the plays but which also depends
on the body of the actor to bring it to life. Through these
characters, Shakespeare and the Chamberlain’s Men success-
fully market to their audiences a rich combination of new and
old words, styles and postures – the ‘antique’ and the ‘antic’,
in a state of productive disjunction.

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Learning to Colour
in Hamlet

Miriam Jacobson

Colour your loneliness

Early in the third act of Hamlet, right before the prince in his
antics tells Ophelia to join a nunnery or a brothel because
he has ‘heard’ of her ‘paintings’, Polonius places a book in
Ophelia’s hands. ‘Read on this book,’ the councillor advises,
‘That show of such an exercise may colour / Your loneliness’
(3.1.44–5). But what does it mean, to ‘colour … loneliness’? Is
loneliness a black and white printed page? A charcoal drawing
before it is transferred to a painter’s canvas? An actor’s face in
need of make-up? Editors have glossed the verb ‘colour’ here
in various ways. Stephen Greenblatt and the Norton editors
take the word ‘colour’ to mean give reason to, paraphrasing
the passage with ‘may explain your solitude and also give it
a virtuous or pious look.’1 David Bevington dispenses with

William Shakespeare, The Norton Shakespeare, vol. 2, Later Plays, ed.
Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean Howard, Katherine Maus and
Andrew Gurr (New York: Norton, 2009), 153.

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the notion of ‘colouring’ as explaining Ophelia’s solitude,

interpreting it instead as giving ‘a plausible appearance to’
her loneliness, which suggests that this moment is more
about fakery and staging than about rationalizing Ophelia’s
appearance in that particular hall of Elsinore.2 Neil Taylor
and Ann Thompson’s gloss of ‘colour’ in the Arden gets closer
to the sense of ‘colouring’ as painting, offering both ‘provide
an excuse for’ and ‘camouflage.’3 ‘Camouflage’ seems to
get closer to the meaning of colouring here by suggesting a
disguise, but then Polonius would be suggesting that Ophelia
camouflage or disguise her loneliness, when her solitude is
exactly what Polonius, the King and Queen are trying to
heighten. What Polonius wants to camouflage is this scene’s
orchestration. If this is the case, then ‘colour’ may operate to
make Ophelia seem more realistic and less posed. These are all
excellent readings of the way ‘colour’ works metaphorically
in the line, but few of them point to the material dimension
of the word. In other words, we still have that word ‘colour’
which suggests a transition from a state of colourlessness
to something brighter and more, well, colourful; a kind
of enhancement or performance of loneliness. But what if
‘colour’ in the early modern period indicated something
different from what it suggests to modern readers?
Just as early modern language was shifting and plastic,
so was the early modern understanding of colour, which
depended upon the metamorphic nature of words. The system
of primary and secondary colours was not proposed (by a
physician rather than a painter) until 1601, and it remained
one of several competing theories for most of the seventeenth
century. Newton did not identify the prismatic spectrum
until 1672. How, then, did people conceive of colours? The

David Bevington, ed., The Necessary Shakespeare (3rd edn, New York:
Longman, 2008), 574.
Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson, Arden Shakespeare
(London: Thompson Learning, 2006), 283.

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language of colour has always been problematic: scholars are

still arguing about whether Homer’s kuan means dark blue or a
foggy absence of light, or precisely what shade of red or violet
the Romans meant with purpura.4 As new pigments, dyes and
colour-fixing techniques arrived in Europe from non-Western
countries, a large number of new words for colour entered early
modern English, all tied to coloured textiles, pigments and dyes.
Nearly every new early modern English name for a colour
bore an imported material and geographic signature: for reds
there were scarlet (from Persian saqalat, meaning a richly
coloured cloth), crimson (from Turkish Kirmizi, meaning the
kermes beetle, once thought to be a grain or berry) and later
cutchenel (cochineal, deriving from the Italian word for a
scarlet-robed magistrate). For blues, indigo (originally from
India, though in Hakluyt the dye is sometimes called anil from
the Sanskrit word for blue), byce (made from smalt and glass),
perse (a blue from Persia), turquoise, named for the blue-green
stone mined in Turkey and Iran (frequently spelled ‘Turkeys’)
and ultramarine, a precious deep-blue pigment made from
crushed lapis lazuli mined in Afghanistan for centuries and
used by artists to colour the veil and dress of the Virgin
(the Virgin in Van Eyck’s Annunciation that hangs in the
National Gallery in Washington, DC, sports one such cloak).
Ultramarine did not mean that the pigment mimicked the
depths of the ocean, but that it came from far away, beyond
the sea. Yellow included Saffron (from the Aramaic and Arab
root zafran), which briefly flourished in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries in the English wool town of Chipping
Walden, officially renamed Saffron Walden in the sixteenth
century.5 And then there’s purple, derived from ancient Greek
(porfura), which has continued to perplex classicists because

See Michel Pastoureau, Blue: The History of a Colour (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 2001), 23–5.
See Victoria Findlay, Colour: A Natural History of the Palette (London:
Ballantine Books, 2002), 228–9.

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no one can figure out whether it refers to red or violet or a

variety of shades in between. However, in the sixteenth century
purple was also the name for the murex, a small, endangered
mollusc living on the island of Tyre and responsible for one
of the most historically expensive dyes by that name, so
expensive that it was reserved for ornamenting a small strip
on the hem of Roman senator’s robes, and so valuable that
after 1453 when Tyre and its precious dyes belonged to the
Ottoman Empire, European cardinals switched from purple to
red. Cleopatra’s purple sails must have been expensive Eastern
commodities indeed, and this may have been heightened if her
barge actually appeared on an early modern stage later on in
the play, after Enobarbus has already described her entry at
Cydnus in lavish, Plutarchian detail.
This chapter will argue that not only were words for
specific colours fluid and unfixed in early modern English
due to England’s increasingly global role in mercantile trade
and conquest, but that the very notion of changing colour, or
colouring oneself, mirrored the semantic fluidity of early modern
English. In other words, if colour terminology is key in under-
standing a culture, then the early modern English nouns and
adjectives for names of colours, and verbs for changing colour,
not only embody the protean, associative nature of language
in early modern England, but also enact and describe it. And
the play that most clearly dramatizes the connection between
colour-changing, shape-shifting and linguistic mutability is
Hamlet, where to colour means to act (as in Polonius’s remark
to his daughter), and Hamlet’s survival and success depend
upon his ability to learn how to change his colour, and with
it, how to move fluidly from one linguistic register to another,
exploiting the material instability of early modern English.
As I have noted elsewhere, imported dyes and pigments
were precious commodities in early modern England, gathered
from central Asia and the New World.6 Colourfast dyes were


See Miriam Jacobson, Chapter 4, ‘On Chapman Crossing Marlowe’s

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prepared in Europe (Venice) and the Eastern Mediterranean

and Asia (Turkey and Persia), using carefully hidden, secret
formulae. The brightest and darkest crimson ‘grains’ (kermes)
and madder (rubia tinctorum) were imported from Eastern
Europe and Asia to dye European textiles, but these reds were
likely to fade unless kept in a cool, dark place. Persian and
Turkish carpets, on the other hand, continued to look dark
and fresh in their reddest spots for hundreds of years. The
Ottoman recipes for making reds colourfast were guarded
from European merchants until 1750.7 Perhaps on account
of impenetrable Ottoman trade secrecy, European merchants,
in around 1560, turned away from Eastern kermes and
embraced cochineal from the New World, a related white
scale insect that when crushed produced larger amounts of
deeper red dye.
Though only related to pigments tangentially through trade,
one early modern use of the verb ‘to colour’ involves secretive
and deceptive mercantile practices. Obtaining Ottoman dye
formulae was one of English merchants’ secret missions.8

Hellespont’, in Barbarous Antiquity: Reorienting the Past in the Poetry

of Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
2014), 174, 176–7. Whereas in Barbarous Antiquity I am chiefly concerned
with the mediating role of poetry, here I examine the elastic and material
nature of the early modern English language and its relationship to theatrical
Once chemical dyes overtook natural dyes, the exact recipe of the secret was
lost and the recipe only recently rediscovered in 1998 by the British chemist
John Edmonds. See Robert Chenciner, Madder Red: A History of Luxury and
Trade (Richmond: Curzon, 2000), 293. The problem was not how to extract
the purple dye from the Murex shell, but how to dissolve the pigment into an
alkaline solution. Edmonds discovered that another type of shellfish, cockles,
provided the necessary alkalinity when mixed with Murex shells to produce
the vivid violet colour.
The itemized list authored by Richard Hakluyt senior in the Principall
Navigations urges merchants ‘to learne of the Diers to discerne all kind of
colours; as which be good and sure … Then to take the names of all the
materials and substances used in this Citie or in the realme, in dying of cloth
or silke’ (233–4). Dye ingredients and colour pigments feature prominently in

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These merchants trading for the first time with the Ottomans
were urged to conceal their entire mercantile agendas, not only
from other merchants trading in the Mediterranean, but also
from the English public. In a private letter to the first members
of the Levant Company in 1581, Elizabeth’s secretary and
spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham urges merchants to conceal
their journey’s purposes and to let ‘lies be given out.’9
Walsingham’s advice to English traders is both not to reveal
any information about which commodities they are trading
with the Ottomans as well as to conceal the fact that they
are trading with the Ottomans at all. Though Elizabeth’s
Protestant England formed an alliance with Muslim Turkey
to confront a common European Catholic enemy, the general
English populace may still have felt politically and religiously
betrayed by their own government if they were to discover
the full scale of Anglo-Ottoman diplomatic trade relations.
Jonathan Burton’s analysis of early modern Anglo-Ottoman
trade goes further: ‘[F]rom its foundation, England’s policy
on trade with the Ottoman Empire depended upon saying one
thing and doing another.’10
If English trading privileges with the Ottoman Empire were
publicized, whether in print in England or by word of mouth
in the Mediterranean, such publicity would have threatened
the entire Anglo-Ottoman enterprise. The Bark Roe affair
serves as a good example of this. In the middle of one of his
diplomatic missions to Turkey, William Harborne’s merchants

the shopping lists Walsingham sent Levant Company officers departing for the
East: indigo, rubia, kermes, gum lac, sal ammoniacke and alum, all materials
used in the dyeing and paint-making processes appear of chief interest to
English importers. See ‘Lord Burghley’s notes on towns and commodities of
the Levant’, in S. A. Skillerter, William Harborne and the Trade with Turkey
1578–1582 (London: British Academy, 1977), Document 30, 177.
S. A. Skilleter, William Harborne and the Trade with Turkey (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1970), Doc. 1A, 33.
Jonathan Burton, Traffic and Turning: Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624
(Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005), 59.

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sailing a ship known as the Bark Roe revealed information

about the Anglo-Ottoman trade alliance to the French ambas-
sadors assigned to protect the ship’s passage. The French
complained to the Sultan, and Harborne and his mates were
arrested and accused of spying and seeking the downfall of the
Ottoman Empire. Harborne’s Levant company came danger-
ously close to forfeiting all of its trafficking privileges and
ruining the Anglo-Ottoman alliance. In the formal letter of
apology to Sultan Murad III, Queen Elizabeth’s rhetoric paints
a picture of mercantile deception spiralling out of control.11
Dominating her imagery is a powerful instance of the word
‘colour’: ‘whether it were true or fained, we knowe not …
but under the colour thereof they have done that, which the
trueth of our dealing doeth utterly abhorre.’12 Feigning an
activity ‘under the colour thereof’ does not simply suggest the
switching of heraldic allegiances. If we look at mercantile uses
of the verb ‘to colour’, Elizabeth’s usage here can also indicate
both deceptive masking and misconstruing. Unwilling to admit
her subjects’ complete and knowing guilt, Elizabeth’s rhetoric
suspends the indeterminacy between disguise and mistake,
profiting from the ambiguity of early modern English. To
perform an action under a colour is to act under pretext or
pretence, as Shakespeare’s Lucrece acknowledges when she
confronts her rapist Tarquin, demanding ‘under what colour
he commits this ill’ (The Rape of Lucrece, 476). Tarquin
converts this phrase into a reference to heraldry’s ‘colours’,
claiming that the colour in Lucrece’s cheeks serves as the
banner under which he performs his act of violation (The
Rape of Lucrece, 477).
Elizabeth’s use of ‘under colour thereof’ to refer to painting
one’s actions with pretence also suggests a kind of nautical
heraldry, though here we may imagine both ship’s flags and
shady mercantile practices. One meaning of ‘colouring’ relates

See Skilleter, William Harborne, 154–8.
Ibid., 167.

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to the illegal mercantile practice of forging the ‘marks’ or

cipher signatures of different, foreign merchants in order to
avoid paying a particular country’s customs fees, as Alan
Stewart has revealed.13 A merchant would ‘colour’ a ship’s bill
of lading in order to pretend that his own goods belonged to
another merchant, thereby having the customs bill sent to the
wrong person. Early modern English merchants engaged in
this practice ubiquitously, as did European traders in general.
Mercantile ‘colouring’ has affinities with theatrical perfor-
mance, but also with rhetorical and poetic practice. Early
modern poetic theorists and poets frequently describe poetic
ornament or rhetorical dissimulation (all figurative language
in effect) as cosmetic painting, adding artificial colour to
the skin.14 In The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George
Puttenham’s Allegory takes the shape of ‘a dissimulation
under covert and darke intendments.’15 Because metaphor,
allegory and all other figurative tropes ‘draw’ language
‘from plaineness and simplicitie to a certain doublenesse’,
all figurative language is thus ‘forraine and coloured talk.’16
Extending the metaphor of colouring to rhetoric was well
established by the late sixteenth century: medieval commen-
tators described poetic ornament and rhetorical tropes as
coloures, and their treatises appeared in well used rhetorical
handbooks in the Latin grammar schools of sixteenth-
century England.17 Puttenham’s treatise takes the notion of
coloures further, describing these tropes as cosmetic paints

See the OED, ‘colour’ v. and Alan Stewart, ‘“Come from Turkie”:
Mediterranean Trade in Late Elizabethan London’, in Remapping
the Mediterranean World in Early Modern English Writings, ed. Goran
Stanivukovic (New York: Palgrave, 2007), 157–77.
See George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589), 150.
Ibid., 166.
See James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: A History of Rhetorical
Theory from Augustine to the Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1974), 151–205.

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and a painter’s palette of ‘rich, Orient colours’, and to ladies’

cosmetics. For Puttenham, overuse or indecorous application
of figurative language mimics putting cosmetics in the wrong
place on the face: ‘[I]f the crimson tainte, which should be laid
upon a ladies lips or right in the center of her cheekes, should
by some oversight or mishap be applied to her forehead or
chinne, it would make (ye would say) but a very ridiculous
bewtie.’18 Puttenham seems to advocate both ladies’ use of
cosmetics and poets’ uses of rhetorical figures, but only if
they are placed properly. Mercantile and rhetorical instances
of ‘colouring’ thus indicate forgery, disguise, dissimulation
and even cosmetic painting, a practice important to theatrical
actors and audiences alike.19
By posing Ophelia with a prop to ‘colour’ her loneliness,
Polonius is essentially setting Ophelia up to dissimulate, or
to say one thing and mean another, which is exactly what
Hamlet then observes: ‘God hath given you one face, and you
make yourselves another’ (3.1.145). Ophelia obviously fails
at this dissembling – Hamlet can see right through it, as he
sees through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: ‘there is a kind of
confession in your looks, which your modesties have not craft
enough to color’ (2.2.246). ‘Colouring’ also functions meta-
theatrically (or meta-meta-theatrically), as the play is hyper
aware that these are actors playing roles, not only a boy acting
out the part of Ophelia, but an obedient daughter acting
out Polonius’s little marriage proposal scene gone wrong.
Therefore we can also imagine Ophelia’s act of reading, ‘show
of such an exercise’, as a show itself, a secret pageant put on
by the King and his advisor in order to entrap Hamlet into

Puttenham, Arte of English Poesie, 150.
In Chapter 4 of Barbarous Antiquity, I connect mercantile colouring and
diplomatic dissimulation to rhetorical and poetic colouring as well, but that
argument goes on to make larger claims about Anglo-Ottoman diplomacy
itself as poetic, and early modern poetry as diplomatic, whereas here I pursue
a different line of inquiry, investigating the role of rhetorical and theatrical
dissimulation and its connection to the materiality of writing in Hamlet.

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declaring his love for Ophelia. Ophelia’s ‘show’ of reading is

echoed by the dumb show and The Mousetrap, which Hamlet
will use in turn to ‘catch the conscience of the king.’
Polonius calls Ophelia’s reading ‘an exercise’, which encodes
the book as a devotional object and the activity of reading as a
religious exercise. Hamlet confirms and interpolates this when
he hails Ophelia with ‘Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins
remembered’ (3.1.91–1). But ‘exercise’ also suggests Ophelia’s
feigned reading as a kind of physical exertion that might
bring colour in the form of real blushes to Ophelia’s chaste
(or unchaste) cheeks. Ophelia’s pretence of reading might also
bring a real blush to her cheeks, a blush of shame in her deceit-
fulness. Thus the book itself functions as a cosmetic as well
as a prop. Mercantile colouring sheds new light on Polonius’s
words as well, suggesting that reading a book will make
Ophelia’s artificial loneliness seem more realistic. Further,
like an early modern merchant, Polonius is masking his own
‘goods’ here, passing them off as belonging to someone else. As
Polonius’s goods, Ophelia is a precious commodity: a young,
marriageable maiden, presumably a virgin, and it is an early
modern commonplace to metaphorize virginity and chastity
as a bright, colourful gemstone – Lucrece is Collatine’s ‘rich
jewel’, Hero’s virginity is an ‘inestimable gemme.’20 Ophelia
is deliberately placed in Hamlet’s way for the prince to
encounter and (Polonius hopes) take up as his own through
marriage. Ironically, Polonius had earlier warned Ophelia to
be wary of men who say one thing and mean another, using
the same language of colouring, in this case dyes: ‘Do not
believe his vows, for they are brokers / Not of that dye which
their investments show / But mere implorators of unholy suits’
(1.3.125–7). The personified vows are dressed in one colour,

Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece (London: Richard Field, 1594), 34;


Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander (London: Paul Linley, 1598),

2.77–8. I have argued in the final chapter of Barbarous Antiquity that in most
early modern English texts and images, virginity’s jewel usually figures as a

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but disguise themselves as another. Taylor and Thompson

wonder whether this means a black (sinful) vow in white
(truthful) robes, but the words ‘dye’ and ‘in-vestments’ and
‘un-holy suit’ (with a pun on ‘suit’ as suing and clothing)
suggest a red, magisterial or clerical garment (and both judges
and priests were called ‘Scarlet’ in this period).
Following Ophelia’s colourful reading, Claudius takes
up the language of cosmetic painting, in an aside that
compares his own deception to ‘the harlot’s cheek blistered
with plastering art’, admitting that his crime is concealed by
‘my most painted word’ (3.1.51–2). Like Polonius, Claudius’s
colouring can also be seen as mercantile: in addition to the
murder, the King is also trying to disguise the commodities
he possesses, the Queen and the kingdom, though in his case,
Claudius passes off his late brother’s possessions as his own.

Inky cloaks and grained spots

Hamlet, it turns out, is full of the language of colour, dye and
ink. If colouring suggested both rhetorical and mercantile
dissimulation in early modern England, it is only a small
jump to connect Hamlet’s own dissimulative rhetoric with
colour, the ‘antic / antique disposition’ he adopts in order to,
Brutus-like, overthrow Claudius’s tyrannical regime at the
end of the play.21 And Hamlet’s antic actions have colourful,
material resonances. In his early modern English lexicon

Margreta de Grazia and George Walton Williams both point out the
connection Hamlet is making between himself and a long line of Brutuses
by adopting a disposition that is both antic (ludic) and antique (Roman).
See Margreta de Grazia, ‘Hamlet the Intellectual,’ in The Public Intellectual,
ed. Helen Small (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 89–109; George
Walton Williams, ‘Antique Romans and Modern Danes in Hamlet and
Julius Caesar’, in Literature and Nationalism, ed. Vincent Newey and Ann
Thompson (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991), 41–55. See also my
Introduction to Barbarous Antiquity.

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of 1604, Robert Cawdrey lists the definition for ‘antic’ as

‘disguised.’22 Furthering this notion, ‘Antik sutes’ are found
in Alleyn’s 1598 costume inventory for the Admiral’s Men,
which Jones and Stallybrass surmise are jesters’ motley
suits, caps and bells, which would be very colourful outfits
indeed.23 Hamlet’s ‘antic’ behaviour calls to mind a colourful
material practice associated with clowns. But in morality
plays, clownish antics could be devils, too. According to
Pastoureau, polychromatic fabric like striped damask was
frequently associated with the daemonic due to the prepon-
derance of sumptuary laws, so a fool’s motley (the word
has an uncertain origin, but the OED editors suggest it
derives from ‘mote’ which can mean ‘pigment’) might also be
devilish.24 But according to John Cox, stage devils, just like
Hamlet, wore black.25
Unlike his ‘antic disposition’, Hamlet’s black suit is meant
to reveal, not to conceal. But part of Hamlet’s journey is
learning that insides and outsides sometimes do not corre-
spond, and learning how to exploit this opacity. When the
Queen urges him to ‘cast thy nighted colour off’ (1.2.68),
Hamlet clings to his mourning weeds, responding that the
cloak helps to articulate his inexpressible grief:

Tis not alone my inky cloak, good(F) / cold(Q2) mother,

Nor customary suits of solemn black …
For they are actions that a man might play
But I have that within which passes show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (1.2.77–86)

Robert Cawdrey, A Table Alphabeticall (London, 1604).
Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the
Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 248.
Michel Pastoureau, Black: The History of a Colour (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 2009), 98; and The Devil’s Cloth: A History of
Stripes and Striped Fabric (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).
John Cox, The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350–1642
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5–6.

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As a ‘suit of woe’ the inky cloak indicates Hamlet’s pre-modern

interiority, something that intrinsically resists presentation –
‘that within which passes show.’26 At this point in the play
there is a correspondence between Hamlet’s outside and his
inside. The inky cloak is the signifier, and Hamlet’s interior
subjectivity, the unreachable signified. And yet throughout
the play, Hamlet repeatedly oscillates between dissimulative
‘show’ and honesty, as he learns to adapt to his circumstances
and become like early modern language itself: plastic and
iridescent. At this moment in time, Hamlet eschews ‘actions
that a man might play’ in favour of something inaccessible
but true. What he has yet to learn is that there is nothing
that distinguishes good play-acting from having ‘that within
which passes show.’ Even as he rails anti-theatrically against
Ophelia’s colouring and cosmetic painting, he acknowledges
that the players are the ‘abstract and brief chroniclers of our
time’ (2.2.504) and puts on an antic disposition, becoming
more and more like a player himself. Hamlet next compares
his own, supposedly more genuine rage (supposedly because
Hamlet is a performance, too) with the First Player’s well
feigned tears, trying to conjure a similar change in himself in
his soliloquy, as I will discuss in more detail in the next section
of this chapter. Yet Hamlet’s task in learning to change his
colour depends upon the ineffectiveness of other characters in
colouring themselves. Claudius’s words must remain visibly
‘painted’, they can never go deeper than the surface; otherwise
Hamlet will not be able to find him out. Hamlet’s main proof
of Claudius’s guilt lies in an involuntary physical colour
change that mimics the bleaching process: ‘if a but blench, /
I’ll know my course’ (2.2.574–5). The technique of a good
actor is to shift not only one’s words, but one’s emotions as
well, to be able to change colour at will, instead of involuntary

Patricia Fumerton has argued that early modern interiority is something that
resists signification, in Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the
Practice of Social Ornament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

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blushing or blenching. Polonius remarks of the First Player,

‘Look where he has not turn’d his colour / and has tears in’s
eyes’ (2.2.457). The indication that the actor is skilled at his
craft lies in his ability to call forth his own blushes. Unlike
Hamlet, whose ‘native hue of resolution’ (red? black?) gets
‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’, (white? 3.1.83–4),
this player is in full control of his face, painting it with what
emotional colour he chooses. Claudius must change colour
involuntarily for Hamlet to be right about him. The irony, of
course, is that both Hamlet and Claudius are performances,
portrayed by even more skilful actors, who must conjure
such colours in their faces in order for the audience to agree,
along with Hamlet, with both Claudius’s guilt and in Hamlet’s
convincingly ‘genuine’ emotions.
The play is not only Hamlet’s crucible, but also his dye
bath. If all goes well, it will function (al)chemically, catalyzing
a physical colour metamorphosis in Claudius (which is also
humoral), causing him to turn from sanguine red to phleg-
matic white. In the early modern dyeing process, the fibre
went through several different shades, changing colour more
than once. Material dyed with Tyrian purple and crimson
would appear mottled green in the vat, and only turned purple
or red when it was taken out and exposed to the air. Woad and
indigo produced a dark yellow colour in the vat; the blue was
achieved when the fibre was exposed to oxygen. It was always
risky, since the dyer would only know if the dye worked, and
the mordant was strong enough for the dye to take once the
fibre was exposed to the air. Since humours were associated
with colours, and unbalanced bodily humours connected to
excessive fluids in the body (black bile, yellow bile, blood
and phlegm), perhaps there is more of a connection between
dyes, ink and humours in the period than has previously been
As regards Hamlet’s suit of sables, it was not until the
mid-seventeenth century that black and white began to be
considered extrachromatic, and only in the early eighteenth
century, with Newton’s discovery of the prismatic spectrum,

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and his arbitrary designation of the seven colours of the

rainbow, that people understood black as an absence of light
and therefore a lack of colour, and white as all the colours
of light.27 Michel Pastoureau has demonstrated the shift in
book history from colour to black and white: medieval illumi-
nated books and even simple brown and beige manuscripts
were polychromatic, whereas the early modern printing press
made black and white dominant colours.28 A fabric dyed
black had to pass through several different coloured dye
baths, layering red over green over blue over brown, until
the fabric was so saturated and so dark that it appeared
black. Therefore, Hamlet’s ‘inky cloak’ calls to mind multiple
material practices: clothing, the many-staged dyeing process,
writing and printing. All of these practices are connected in
the image of his ‘inky cloak’ through references to gall, which,
depending on context, could indicate the bitter bile produced
by the liver or gall-bladder, general bitterness, poison, an
appetite for revenge, and the tannin-producing oak galls used
in dyes and ink. Other Shakespearean characters create more
obvious puns on ‘gall.’ In Twelfth Night, Sir Toby urges Sir
Andrew to write a fierce and vicious challenge to Cesario
with ‘let there be gall enough in thy ink; though thou write
with a goose-pen’ (3.2.41), suggesting that the letter will have
a bitter and hurtful effect on its victim, as well as supply Sir
Andrew with a bit more of the courage he so sorely lacks. In
Cymbeline, Posthumous engages in a moment of imaginary
bibliophagia, telling Imogen during their adieus, ‘I’ll drinke
the words you send / Though ink be made of gall’ (1.1.101–2)
And finally, when Lady Macbeth summons demons to unsex
her, to ‘come to my woman’s breasts / And take my milk

John Gage narrates this moment in the history of science from an art
historian’s perspective in Colour and Culture: Practice and Meaning from
Antiquity to Abstraction (New York: Little, Brown, 1993), 153–76.
Pastoureau, Black, 119. Pastoureau compares polychromatic images from
medieval illuminated manuscripts with black and white woodcuts and text
from early modern printed books.

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for gall’ (1.5.45–6) she simultaneously calls for a blanket of

sinister darkness to blot out her action:

Come thick Night,

And pall thee in the dunnest smoake of Hell,
That my keene knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peepe through the blanket of the darke,
To cry hold, hold. (1.5.48–52)

It is thus no accident that Hamlet describes his cloak as ‘inky’,

dyed as it was with the same caustic and bitter galls found in
the darkest printing and manuscript inks. An ‘inky cloak’ is
therefore also an inky coat or coating. By associating his black
cloak with ink, Hamlet connects his dress to a parallel form of
signification, the material practice of printing. Just as Hamlet’s
black suit of woe can only weakly indicate the depth of grief
he feels inside, so the glassy / glossy black ink of the early
modern printed text repeatedly risks semantic instability. But
this semantic precariousness is precisely what Hamlet thrives
on, as he shifts the shape of his linguistic registers throughout
the play, embodying the very instability of language and
rhetorical dissimulation that his messy black inky cloak and
antic disposition permit.
A dye whose status improved markedly during this period
was crimson, as faster access to kermes and cochineal made
deep reds more accessible, and slightly more affordable. The
phrase ‘dyed in grain’, which first appeared in the fifteenth
century, originally meant dyed in colourfast crimson, though
poets as early as Spenser began using the verb ‘ingrained’ to
describe anything saturated with a fast colour unlikely to fade.
Olivia’s reply to Viola’s piquant suggestion that at least some
of Olivia’s face might be enhanced by cosmetics, is that her
face is ‘in grain, Sir. ’Twill endure rain and weather’ (Twelfth
Night, 1.5.227). Continuing her own witticism comparing
her face to a veiled portrait, Olivia seems to be saying that
the colours God – or she herself – has used are undetectable.
Gertrude’s curious half-admission of guilt in the closet scene

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describes her interior self as dyed in grain: ‘O Hamlet speak

no more: / Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul / And
there I see such black and grained spots / As will not lose their
tinct’ (3.4.97–100). Unaware of the dark interiority lurking
under Hamlet’s inky cloak in 1.3, Hamlet’s no-longer-‘cold’
mother is forced to look inside herself. But ironically, all she
sees there is another inky cloak. Is this her soul’s natural state
or has Hamlet permanently dyed it with his accusation that
she has sinned against her previous marriage? Has he dyed
her soul with the colours of rhetorical persuasion, or has he
merely bullied or ‘galled’ her with guilt? And what colour
are these spots anyway, black or red? ‘Dyed in grain’ could
mean either dyed with scarlet grain beetles, or dyed deep in
unwoven wool with a colourfast dye. Perhaps they are both
black and red: I am reminded of the ‘crimson’ moat of blood
that circles Lucrece’s corpse, some of it ‘crimson’ and pure,
and some of it stained black with her shame.
Hamlet’s predilection for black also marks him as a melan-
choly aristocrat. As Pastoureau has demonstrated, black fabric
was expensive and therefore highly desirable among the
aristocratic males in early seventeenth-century Europe: ‘Until
the mid-seventeenth century,’ he writes, ‘the famous “Spanish
etiquette” triumphed everywhere. Black was part of this, as
it had been part of the Burgundy protocol in the preceding
century, all the more so because the emperor Charles V
(1500–58), grandson of Mary and Maximilian, demonstrated
a personal taste for this colour in all areas.’29 Although we
can assume that Hamlet stays in black throughout the play, at
least from his reference to his ‘inky cloak’ in 1.2 to his jokingly
calling for ‘a suit of sables’ in 3.3, Hamlet’s dress changes when
he assumes his antic disposition (which he describes as ‘putting
on’, as if he were donning a cloak): from Ophelia’s report,
he has unbuttoned his doublet and loosened his stockings,
‘down-jived to his ankle.’ If Burton is to be believed, this is the

Pastoureau, Black, 103.

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traditional garb of the melancholic. In early modern medicine,

gall or bile was produced by the liver or the gall bladder,
and early modern physicians generally understood it as bitter
tasting and yellow in colour. But it could also be black like ink,
and black bile in excess produced melancholy. Michael Bristol
and Olga Valbuena have already connected Shakespeare’s use
of ‘gall’ as bitterness and melancholy to the material oak galls
used to give ink its black colour in the Sonnets.30 Valbuena
connects the figure of the dark mistress to bitter ‘blotting,’
the nexus of ink, publication and betrayal, which ultimately
unravels the poet’s intention to immortalize the fair youth in
the first 126 sonnets. Bristol, on the other hand, reminds us
that any early modern poetic invocation of blackness materi-
alized as ink and gall must necessarily participate in a larger
philosophical discourse of melancholy, which is a public
performance. For Bristol, Hamlet performs melancholy, but
Shakespeare publishes melancholy in the Sonnets. The Sonnets
gain their power as experiments in materialized melancholy
and in smudgy betrayal, by the poet’s activation of the space
of the printed page through publication. But I want to suggest
that Hamlet stages more than the performance of melan-
choly; it stages the performance of early modern language.
What happens when ink, gall, melancholy and the blot take a
more physical and animated shape, moving around the stage
in Hamlet’s cloak? By drawing attention to the connection
between his suit of sables and the smeary, volatile medium of
ink, Hamlet gives us a glimpse into the metamorphic and fluid
nature of early modern language in action.
When Hamlet compares his true grief with the First
Player’s artificially coloured grief, Hamlet’s grief diminishes

Michael Bristol, ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Publication of Melancholy’,
in Making Publics in Early Modern Europe, eds Paul Yachnin and Bronwen
Wilson (London: Routledge, 2009), 193–211; Olga Valbuena, ‘“The Dyer’s
Hand”: The Reproduction of Coercion and Blot in Shakespeare’s Sonnets’,
in Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Critical Essays, ed. James Schiffer (New York:
Garland, 2000), 325–46.

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in authenticity: ‘for it cannot be but / I am pigeon-livered

and lack gall / To make oppression bitter’ (2.2.554–6). Here,
‘gall’ isn’t simply bile or bitterness, but a desire for revenge.
In the following lines, Hamlet works himself into a frenzy
with language, physically building up the bitter gall in his liver
until he ends with a string of expletives and invective: ‘Bloody,
Bawdy villaine, / Remorseless, Treacherous, Lecherous,
kindless villain! O, Vengeance!’ (adds the Folio, 2.2.515–16).
Over the course of this soliloquy, Hamlet shifts from wanting
to change his colour at will, to being able to do so, summoning
gall from deep in his bowels, pushing the words out into the
physical soundspace of the stage. By the time the guests arrive
at The Mousetrap play, Hamlet believes he has achieved
his goal of internal and external colouring, manipulating
the semantic instability of words into puns as he answers
Claudius’s question as to how he fares. Hamlet’s response is to
translate ‘fare’ (feeling) into ‘fare’ (food and drink), replying
that he fares ‘of the chameleon’s dish’ (3.2.90), and eats the
‘air, promise-crammed’, turning the belief that chameleons
sustained themselves entirely on air into a gibe at Claudius’s
lack of ‘heir.’ In early modern England, chameleons were
thought to be mercurial, transparent creatures that absorbed
whichever colour was closest to them. As a chameleon,
Hamlet allies himself with the actors and the performance
they are about to see, announcing that he has mastered the
protean art of rhetorical and physiological dissimulation.31
The word ‘gall’ appears in Hamlet five times (the only
other Shakespearean play to use the term so much is Troilus

Chameleons were emblems of the protean aspect of nature itself and were
frequently featured in cabinets of curiosities. See Paula Findlen, Possessing
Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Europe
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 298–303. Findlen cites the
Dutch naturalist Isaac Schookius (1671), who compared the chameleon’s
colour-changing to an actor’s role-playing, as well as Pico della Mirandola,
who saw human nature’s adaptive abilities illustrated in the metamorphic
nature of the chameleon. Findlen, Possessing Nature, 300.

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and Cressida, which has seven instances of the term). There

is a lot of galling going on; the play seems to list the word’s
full polysemia. Hamlet describes Gertrude’s eyes seduced too
soon by Claudius as ‘galled’ or dominated: ‘ere yet the salt of
most / Unrighteous teares had left their flushing / in her galled
eyes; she married’ (1.2.154–6). And he sarcastically rejoices
in The Mousetrap’s hoped for success in frightening Claudius:
‘let the gall’d jade winch: our withers are unrung’ (3.2.236).
In the song that follows, Hamlet changes Claudius from
‘gall’d jade’ (a spooked horse) into a weeping ‘stricken deer’,
whereas Hamlet is now its opposite, a fearless ‘hart ungalled’
(3.2.249–50). The inky gall that Hamlet has managed to
conjure from his own emotions takes physical form in his
inky cloak, performative form in his antic disposition, and
linguistic and aural form in his repeated use of the word ‘gall’
in the play’s dialogue. The echoing of ‘gall’ twice after the end
of The Mousetrap to describe Claudius’s lack of courage, and
Hamlet’s excess of it, almost billows out into the play’s speech
like an ink-splattered word on a page.32 Here Hamlet shows
off his conjured gall, physically, vocally and emotionally. But
as Horatio notes, this has gone too far, and Hamlet must
reign it in: when Hamlet verifies the success of The Mousetrap
by telling Horatio that he ought to invest in a full share of
the theatre, Horatio dubiously responds with ‘Half a share’
(3.2.256). Unfortunately it is almost impossible to control the
wayward fluidity of early modern ink, just as it is difficult for
Hamlet to control the gall that he has awakened in himself.
This leads to a number of mishaps, including Polonius’s death.
It is not until the ghost arrives to remind Hamlet not to stray
too far (like watery ink) from his purpose that Hamlet finally


Impressed by the gravedigger’s wit, Hamlet intimates that the classes
are mingling if a peasant is able to scratch a blister on his toe, or ‘gall his
kibe’ (5.1.130) on the heel of a courtier. This unsettling image of galling as
scratching, oozing and mingling reminds us not only of the wayward nature
of early modern ink and language but also of the early modern argument that
the printing press was common.

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manages to quell his billowing gall: ‘This visitation is but to

whet thy almost blunted purpose’ (3.4.100–1). The ghost
describes Hamlet’s purpose as if it were a dull, edgeless knife.
But quills, like knives, also had to be sharp in order to keep the
ink from sliding and around smudging the page. If Hamlet’s
purpose is a quill, with which he will write his revenge in gall,
then it is time to blot the page and sharpen the quill, not to
keep spattering ink everywhere.
Throughout the play, Hamlet continues to worry about
the precariousness of his desire for revenge. ‘Do not look
upon me,’ he rebukes the ghost in Gertrude’s closet, ‘Lest
with this piteous action you convert / My stern effects! Then
what I have to do / Will want true colour, tears perchance for
blood’ (3.4.123–6). It is as if the ghost’s imploring glance will
ruin Hamlet’s dye, draining it of gall and therefore colour.
This demonstrates that Hamlet’s gall itself is artificial, like
a weak or non-colourfast dye, subject to leaking or fading.
Like Lady Macbeth’s, it has to be conjured and repeatedly
sustained. When Hamlet finally succeeds in his mission, he
drives his point home by simultaneously stabbing Claudius
and forcing the poisoned wine down his throat. Laertes has
already associated his foil’s deadly tip with gall, punning on
two meanings of gall as poison and intimidation: ‘Ile touch my
point / With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly, / it may
be death’ (4.7.147–9). In carrying out his revenge, Hamlet
galls Claudius inside and out, while with his last two breaths
he performs two metaphorical acts of inky inscription, writing
a will and voting: Hamlet bequeaths his story to Horatio,
and casts his ballot for Fortinbras. A final inking follows as
Hamlet dyes, his silent pen finally at rest.

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Recasting ‘Angling’ in The
Winter’s Tale

J. A. Shea

In his 1893 book Shakespeare as an Angler, a clergyman and

fishing enthusiast by the name of Henry Nicholson Ellacombe
calls for readers to trawl the depths of Shakespeare’s plays
for the words that got away. One elusive term was of special
interest to Ellacombe, who writes, ‘[I]t is worth while to
notice the way in which Shakespeare, and other early writers,
use … “angle”; for the word has a curious history, and gives
a good example of the way in which words rise, change
their meaning and disappear.’1 The reverend then presents
a selective etymology and sentimental analysis that indeed
reaffirm the protean nature of language, but he achieves this
goal as much by omission as by what he includes.
Ellacombe explains that ‘angle’ derived from the Anglo-
Saxon word for the hook on the end of a piscator’s line and
later, by extension, came to name the rod, line and other

Henry Nicholson Ellacombe, Shakespeare as an Angler (London: Elliot

Stock, 1883), 14. I thank Sara Coodin for introducing me to this book.

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tackle to boot.2 The word also functioned as a verb, meaning

literally to fish or figuratively, as the author’s collection of
‘angling’ quotations by Shakespeare implies, to ensnare –
though Ellacombe, following a long literary tradition of
romantic defences of fishing, largely ignores the question of
‘angle’s’ association with corruption, trickery and criminality.3
His book, instead, focuses on Shakespeare’s knowledge of the
pike and what he sees as the playwright’s nostalgic represen-
tation of fishing holes, the likes of which dappled the Stratford
countryside of Shakespeare’s youth.4
Shakespeare may or may not have been ‘a brother-angler’,
as Ellacombe imagines him.5 What we do know is that the
playwright was adept at wielding ‘angling’ metaphors as
well as tapping the word’s primary definition: the practice of
fishing. Yet this chapter recasts ‘angling’ as a term that, for
Shakespeare, meant more than fishing. ‘Angling’ was a word
of considerable linguistic depth, and its dramatic weight,
especially in The Winter’s Tale, warrants greater consid-
eration. In this play the word ‘angling’, along with angling
images, persons and activities, points outward beyond the
play’s fictional world. References to angling suggest crimi-
nalized cozening practices that Elizabethan and Jacobean

Ibid., 15.
I am thinking here of what is perhaps the most famous English treatise
on angling, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653) and also of John
Dennys’s earlier work The Secrets of Angling (1613). Both texts present
angling as a Christian and contemplative art, one which demands patience
and wit and gives the angler the rare opportunity to experience the diversity
of God’s natural wonders. See Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler or the
Contemplative Man’s Recreation (London, 1653). See also John Dennys, The
Secrets of Angling Teaching, the Choisest Tooles Baytes and Seasons (London,
Ellacombe says, ‘Yet I think there is little doubt that he [Shakespeare] was
a successful angler, and had probably enjoyed many a day’s fishing in the
Warwickshire and Gloucestershire streams, to which he looked back with
pleasant and refreshing memories while he lived and wrote in London’ (8–9).
Ibid., 5.

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legislation, antitheatricalist tracts and even cony-catching

literature associated with theatrical role-playing and enter-
tainment markets.6 Images of angling in the play gesture
toward cultural fantasies about con artists, who were believed
to operate not independently but as part of criminal associa-
tions. Ranked among these organized con men and women
were linen thieves called anglers. Authors of cony-catching
narratives, including Robert Greene, suggested that such
thieves disguised themselves, lured people into lechery and
stole bed sheets, occasionally selling them through brothels. In
essence, anglers promoted a cycle of sullying both sheets and
the social fabric itself.
As well as indicating real social practices fictionally repre-
sented, angling in The Winter’s Tale also gestures inward,
where it functions variedly in the dialogic world of the text.
In The Winter’s Tale, angling is a source of chaotic energy and
meaning making; it is a locus of slippery play that escapes
reductionism. This chapter argues, however, that there is
some logic behind angling’s extended metaphors. Angling is
also a site of cohesion amidst a vast network of seemingly
disconnected metaphors involving theatrical playing versus
sexual playing; hospitable entertainment versus professional,
sexual entertainment; and legitimate families versus criminal
families.7 Shakespeare uses forms of the word angling only

I revisit antitheatricalist discourse and especially cony-catching literature
later in this chapter. For the treatment of con artists in legislation, see England,
and Sovereign Wales, An Acte for Punishment of Rogues, Vagabonds and
Sturdie Beggers (1598). This act criminalized wandering players along with
masterless entertainers and con artists, classifying them together as rogues and
According to the OED, definitions of ‘entertainment’ in the period included:
Def. 2a, ‘The action of maintaining persons in one’s service, or of taking
persons into service. Also, the state or fact of being maintained in or taken
into service; service, employment’; and also Def. 2b, meaning ‘wages’ or ‘pay.’
This and all subsequent entries are from OED Online (accessed 23 August

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four times in The Winter’s Tale but employs images that

suggest angling throughout the play.
By following images of angling as they appear throughout
The Winter’s Tale and by placing them in the context of
cony-catching literature written by Thomas Harman, Robert
Greene and Thomas Dekker, this chapter pursues a threefold
thesis. First, following the lead of Steven Mentz and Barbara
Mowat, I suggest that the influence of Greene’s cony-catching
pamphlets extends beyond the Autolycan subplot and that
we should see these texts, along with Greene’s Pandosto, as
informing the rest of the play.8 This chapter carefully considers
the influence of other cony-catching authors as well as Greene,
and it ventures into largely uncharted territory by arguing
that angling is the specific criminal occupation to which
Shakespeare gives much line. Second, I argue that Autolycus
is more than the rogue that critics have rightly called him. He
is the play’s foremost representative of the angler; and as the
play’s structural middleman, he is the touchstone for other
evocations of angling in The Winter’s Tale. Finally, in the
tradition of B. J. Sokol, this chapter suggests that Autolycus
contributes to what is, for the most part, a restorative structure
to the play.9 However, diverging from this line of criticism, I
argue that, more than his person, his practice – angling – takes
on a mostly positive and increasingly self-reflexive trajectory
over the course of The Winter’s Tale. Initially filthy, then clean
if criminal, then life-giving if deceptive, angling comes to refer
to the beneficial potential of Shakespeare’s theatre.

See Steven R. Mentz, ‘Wearing Greene: Autolycus, Robert Greene, and the
Structure of Romance in The Winter’s Tale’, Renaissance Drama 30 (1999):
73–92. See also Barbara Mowat, ‘Rogues, Shepherds and The Counterfeit
Distressed: Texts and Infracontexts of The Winter’s Tale 4.3’, Shakespeare
Studies 22 (1994): 58–76. Greene wrote six cony-catching texts between
1591 and 1592, and most critics suggest that it is Greene’s The Second Part of
Conny-catching that most influenced the Autolycan subplot (Mentz, ‘Wearing
Green’, 73n. 1; Mowat, ‘Rogues’, 61).
B. J. Sokol, Art and Illusion in The Winter’s Tale (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1994).

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Act 1: Leontes and the angler in

After jealously imagining his wife ‘entertaining’ Polixenes,
Leontes responds to Hermione as she prepares to retreat with
her husband’s boyhood playfellow:

If you would seek us,
We are yours i’ th’ garden. Shall’s attend you there?

To your own bents dispose you; you’ll be found,
Be you beneath the sky. [Aside] I am angling now,
Though you perceive me not how I give line.
Go to, go to!
How she holds up the neb! the bill to him!
And arms her with the boldness of a wife
To her allowing husband! (1.2.178–84).10

Almost invariably editors either ignore the extended metaphor

of ‘angling’ in this passage (Pafford, Blakemore Evans) or
gloss it as the art of fishing used figuratively (Orgel, Snyder).11

Unless noted otherwise, citations from the play come from G. Blakemore
Evans, ed., The Riverside Shakespeare, with corrections and additions
(6th edn, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).
See The Riverside Shakespeare; The Winter’s Tale, ed. John H. P. Pafford
(London: Methuen, 1963); The Winter’s Tale, ed. Stephen Orgel (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1995); The Winter’s Tale, ed. Susan Snyder and Deborah
T. Curren-Aquino (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Leontes,
in the lines above, will rely on secrecy and cunning as did the early modern
fisherman. In one of the earliest extant manuals on fishing, Juliana Berners
suggests that ‘the fyrste and pryncypall poynt in anglynge’ is to ‘kepe ye euer
fro the water fro the sighte of the fysshe: other ferre on the londe: or ellys
behynde a busshe that the fysshe se you not’ (sig. H4v). See Juliana Berners,
The Booke of Hauking, Huntyng and Fysshyng (London, 1518). The idea

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That Shakespeare is, on one level, referring to fishing and

particularly unlawful poaching becomes increasingly clear
as the metaphor crystallizes a few lines later. After watching
Polixenes and Hermione exit arm in arm, Leontes adapts the
image as he searches for cold comfort in a vulgar fantasy
of universal betrayal. To him the linked arms of husband
and wife (1.2.193) form a loose and illusive bond. Many a
husband clings fast to his wife unaware that his neighbour’s
pole is fishing her pond (1.2.185–207).
Leontes’ monologues open up further when we consider yet
another definition of ‘angle’, besides fishing and the curved hook
used to do it. As it does now, angle then described other hooks,
corners and bends. Aptly, this episode is filled with curvature
and crookedness, from the imagined ‘bents’ (1.2.179) of
Hermione and Polixenes, to hooked arms (1.2.183–4, 1.2.193),
to ‘practiced’ smiles (1.2.116, 1.2.196).12 The metaphor of
fishing and the hook works something like this over the course
of the first two acts, though not precisely in this order: Leontes
imagines his own wife to be an alluring and easy catch for
Polixenes. He conceives of Polixenes as the crafty fisherman and
thief who has snagged his wife – again, visualized gesturally in

that the fisherman should disguise or hide himself must have persisted into
the sixteenth century, for Dennys advises wearing camouflage garments while
fishing (sig. B5v) and Walton suggests that the fisherman ‘get secretly behinde
the tree’ so that the fish don’t retreat in fear (p. 52). Leontes will also rely
on the fish’s own instinct to retreat. Giving line describes giving fish the free
play to tire themselves out – a technique used then and now, one facilitated
nowadays by the drag mechanism. As Dent noticed, giving line was also
proverbial for giving someone enough rope to hang himself (Orgel, Snyder).
See OED ‘angle’ Def. n.1.1–2: ‘fish hook,’ fishing ‘apparatus’, or 2. fig.
someone or something that ‘ensnares like a hook.’ Def. n.2 describes ‘angle’
as, among other things, a ‘corner’, ‘vertex’ or ‘projection.’ See ‘Etymology’
on the word’s relationship to ‘ancient Greek ‘ἀγκών bend of the arm, nook,
bend, angle, ἀγκύλος crooked, curved.’ While OED suggests that the English
word didn’t come to mean bend or curve until the eighteenth century (Def.
n.2.7), MED Def. n.2(c) demonstrates that ‘angle’ was used to describe curves
as early as the fourteenth century.

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the hooked arms of Polixenes and Hermione. Using the terms

and tools of ‘angling’, Leontes finds appropriate recourse (and
perhaps revenge) by exchanging roles with Polixenes, recasting
himself in the part of angler.13 This role reversal is emphasized
by the line’s emphasis on I (‘I am angling now’). Through craft,
Leontes will beguile and ensnare his prey – though circum-
stances dictate that he must seek a more accessible catch than
Polixenes: ‘for the harlot king / Is quite beyond mine arm …
but she [Hermione] / I can hook to me …’ (2.3.4–7). As one can
see, Leontes’ portrait of an angler is hardly flattering, instead
suggesting the crook and coward.
Undoubtedly Shakespeare had fishing in mind when he
summoned up angling in 1.2, especially when we consider the
popular equation at the time of fish with ‘whores’, a category
to which Leontes clearly believes Hermione belongs. It seems,
though, there is another kind of angling at play here, one that
has surprisingly gone overlooked. Angling also referred to
a commonly discussed cony-catching practice whereby con
artists fished for goods, especially sheets and clothes, in open
windows and other vulnerable spaces. Though absent from
the OED, the angler, who was also known as a ‘hooker’ or
‘curber’, is described in works on cony-catching by Harman,
Greene and Dekker and later in the canting dictionaries of
the seventeenth century. Harman in A Caveat or Warning for
Common Cursetors (1566) writes:

These hokers or Anglers be perillous and most wicked

knaues, and … when they practise their pilfryng, it is al by
night, for as they walk a day times from house to house to
demaund charitie, thei vigilantly mark where, or in what
place they may attayne to there pray, casting their eyes vp
to euery window, wel noting what they sée ther, whether

The metaphor of recasting, one which at once refers to fishing and acting,
seems particularly apt here as Leontes is baiting Hermione and Polixenes,
waiting for them to slip as he pretends to grant them a certain amount of

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apparell or linnen, hanging neere vnto the sayde wyndows,

and that wil they be sure to haue [the] next night folowing,
for they customably cary with them a staffe of v. or vi. foote
long, in which, within one inch of [the] top therof is a little
hole [b]ored through: in which hole they putte an yron
hoke, and with the same they will pluck vnto them quikly
any thing … thei may reach therwith, which hoke in the
day time they couertly cary about the[m], and is neuer sene
or taken out till they come to the place where they worke
their feat.14

In his Second Part of Conny-Catching (1591), Robert Greene

depicts the angler (whom he calls a courber or hooker)
in similar terms, but Greene adds an explanation as to
how anglers might have passed for honest citizens.15 In his
‘discovery’ of what he calls ‘the Courbing law’, Greene
explains that the hooker’s nine-foot rod is ‘made with joyntes
like an angle rod, and can be convaid into the forme of a
trunchion & worne in the hand like a walking staffe.’16
Greene, Harman and Dekker suggest that angling was not
a solitary practice (as fishing often was). Courbing, according
to Greene, involved two persons: the ‘Hooker’ or ‘Courber’,
and a ‘Warpe,’ who stood as lookout for the theft and stuffed
the goods underneath a long coat.17 In The Belman of London

I cite here the 1573 edition of Harman’s Caveat. When possible, I have
retained the original spelling, though for ease of reading I have modernized
certain letters, bracketed above. See Thomas Harman, A Caveat or Warening
for Common Cursetors Vulgarely Called Vagabones (London, 1573), sigs.
Greene uses the term ‘angler’ throughout The Blacke Bookes Messenger
Laying Open the Life and Death of Ned Browne One of the Most Notable
Cutpurses, Crosbiters, and Conny-catchers, That Euer Liued in England
(London, 1592).
See Robert Greene, The Second Part of Conny-Catching Contayning the
Discouery of Certaine Wondrous Coosenages, Either Superficiallie Past Ouer,
or Vtterlie Vntoucht in the First (London, 1591).
Ibid., sigs. E3v–E4r.

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(1608), Dekker writes that ‘Diuer[s]’, criminals very similar

to Anglers, used young boys known as ‘Figgers’, presumably
in the place of hooks. These Divers performed what Dekker
calls their ‘iugling feats’ by hoisting young, light-of-hand
figgers into windows where, in order to get inside, they often
had to pick locks (a practice known commonly as the Black
In The Blacke Bookes Messenger (1592), Greene suggests
that often the angler would use a female accomplice, who was
usually the mistress of the male cony-catcher. This accomplice,
or ‘wife’ as she was called, would play the role of the inter-
ested and available woman. Such wives would then sleep with
and set up men, leaving their prey vulnerable to the angler’s
hook.19 The practice of employing so-called ‘whores’ in these
theatrical set-up schemes was called crossbiting.20 Greene’s
cony-catching mouthpiece Ned Browne recounts a story of a
crossbiting and angling operation thwarted. Ned’s wife, after
making a compact with an angler, lures a man to bed, asking
him to stay with her and whisper stories in her ear during the

Thomas Dekker, The Belman of London Bringing to Light the Most
Notorious Villanies that are Now Practised in the Kingdome (London, 1608),
sigs. G2v; G1r–G2v. Greene in Second Conny-Catching also mentions the
‘figging boy’ (sig. E4r).
In The Blacke Bookes Messenger see, for instance, ‘A merry [J]east how Ned
Brownes wife was crosse bitten in her owne Arte’, sigs. D2v–D3r.
In A Notable Discouery of Coosenage, Greene defines the ‘Cros-biting law.’
He says, it ‘is a publike profession of shameles cosnage, mired with incestuous
whoredomes’ where ‘base rogues … doth consent, nay constraine their wives
to yeeld the use of their bodies to other men, that taking them together, he
may cros-bite the partie of all the crownes he presently can make … that
the world may see their monstrous practises.’ See A Notable Discouery of
Coosenage (London, 1591), sig. D1r. See also the character Nan, a female
cony catcher, in Greene’s A Disputation, Betweene a Hee Conny-catcher, and
a Shee Conny-catcher (London, 1592). Nan says to a male cony catcher, ‘you
know Laurence that though you can foyst, nyp, prig, list courbe, and vse the
blacke Art, yet you cannot crosbite without the helpe of a woman, which
crosbiting now adaies is growne to a maruellous profitable exercise’ (sig.

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night. Before sleeping, she convinces him to lay his clothes by

the window. Waking up to use the chamber pot in the middle
of the night, the man sees the window spring open and a hook
enter. Surprised and sleepy, the man dumps the chamber pot
out the window, drenching the angler in its contents. Before
going back to bed he exchanges his own window-side clothes
for the wife’s clothes, which are later that evening stolen by
the half-drowned, yet persistent angler.21
As one might glean from Browne’s tale, angler accounts
made for good fish stories. Harman’s five-foot pole becomes a
nine-foot retractable pole in Greene, and the plight of Greene’s
naked accomplice calls to mind an even more implausible
story told by Harman in which an angler robs a man and two
large boys of their sheets and also plucks their britches clean
off their bodies:

I was credibly informed that a hoker came to a farmers

house in the dead of the night, and putting abacke a drawe
windowe of a low chamber, the bed standing hard by the
said window, in whiche lay thrée persons, a man and two
bigge boyes: this hoker wyth hys staffe plucked of their
garments which lay vpon them to kepe them warme, with
the couerlet and shete, and left them lying a slepe naked
sauing their shyrtes, and had away all cleane & neuer could
vnderstand where it became. I verely suppose that when
they were wel waked with cold, they surely thought that
Robin good fellow, (according to the old saying) had bene
with them that night.22

As well as telling stories of anglers in the act of stealing,

courbing accounts described what ensued. After the sheets
and other textiles were stolen, they were delivered to a
fence, ‘either … a Broker or some bawd (for they all are

The Blacke Bookes Messenger, sigs. D2v–D3r.
Harman, Caveat, sig. B4v.

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of one feather)’, writes Dekker.23 They were then resold by

merchants, according to Dekker, and by ‘doxes’ according
to Harman, doxy being another name for the cony-catcher’s
mistress or a ‘prostitute’, according to the OED.24
These stories and descriptions give us a sense of how angling
and related cozening operations were described figuratively as
gaming or hunting practices and also as theatrical enterprises.
As for the latter metaphor, there are costumes particular to
the trade, scripts to be followed and nimble-fingered feats to
perform, which authors represented as acts of legerdemain
and juggling. We will recall, for instance, that Dekker depicts
the handiwork of Divers as ‘juggling feats’; literally this
meant the tricks of performing street magicians, but in the
period ‘juggling’ had many diverse meanings, including the
one intended by antitheatricalists who used it to describe the
diabolical illusions of theatre.25
More importantly perhaps, the selections I’ve chosen
underscore what these authors depicted as the reach of
angling, from the extending rod to the spanning network of
criminal associations that cony-catching authors claim to lay
bare like the angler’s victim. Angling, these writers suggest,
was not a solitary but a confederate operation, one involving
many players and feeding into other markets. For instance,
these authors link angling, along with other cony-catching
practices, to the sex trade. From the seduction set-up to
the circulation of tainted sheets on the black market, loose
women and bawdy houses are implicated. We may notice
too that the criminal associations these authors highlight
are not only broadly social, but also figuratively familial.
Crossbiting operations are carried out by accomplices called
‘aunts’ and ‘wives’, terms that were often synonymous with

Dekker, The Belman of London, sig. G2v.
Ibid.; Harman, Caveat, sig. B4v; OED, ‘doxy’ Def. n.1.
For more on juggling and its relationship to angling, see J. A. Shea, ‘The
Juggler in Shakespeare: Con-artistry, Illusionism, and Popular Magic in Three
Plays’ (PhD diss., McGill University, 2011).

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whores in cony-catching literature. In keeping with this

language, Dekker describes angling as a kind of ‘husbandry.’26
He may be referring sarcastically to cultivation and cross-
breeding, ‘industrial occupation’, economic management of a
household, and other definitions of ‘husbandry’ in the period
(OED). But there is, of course, a ‘husband’ at the root of
‘husbandry’, and by using the term he seems to gesture toward
what emerges in cony-catching literature as the criminal anti-
family: a broken household of scheming husbands, whoring
wives and house-breaking boys.
Turning our attention back to The Winter’s Tale, we see why
angling is a fitting metaphor for Leontes and for Shakesepeare
to employ. Angling, when understood as confederate and
theatrical thievery, lends some coherence to the vast network
of seemingly disparate metaphors in Acts One and Two and
gives shape to Leontes’ anxieties as they ramblingly unfold.
Leontes fears ‘playing’, both theatrical and sexual, and he
uses theatrical metaphors frequently. It is, in part, Hermione’s
playing that prompts him to act out his own roles from
cuckold to angler to perhaps, I would suggest, Hamlet-like
director. Leontes ‘giv[es] line’, stage directing Polixenes and
Hermione to ‘Go to, go to’ (1.2.181) and adapting the scene
before him to reflect his jealous mind frame. Leontes’ ‘line’ at
once evokes the ‘play’ lines he will insert into the scene, the
fishing line that will catch the fish, the blood line that hangs
precariously in the balance, the clothes line from which thieves
(like Stephano and Trinculo in The Tempest) stole apparel,
and the rope lines on which anglers and other thieves met
their end.
More than Leontes fears Hermione playing around, he
fears an organized ‘plot against [his] life, [his] crown’ (2.1.47)
perpetrated by a web of professional tricksters and complicit
audiences. Polixenes is a poacher who laughs with Camillo at
Leontes’ misfortune (2.3.24). Camillo has been ‘pre-employ’d’

Dekker, The Belman of London, sig. G2r.

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by Polixenes and is ‘A federary with her [Hermione]’ (2.1.49,

90). Paulina ‘baits’ Leontes (2.3.93). And even unnamed
characters are ‘whisp’ring, rounding’ (1.2.217) about his
cuckoldry while Leontes helplessly stands by, ‘a pinch’d thing;
yea, a very trick’ for others ‘to play at will’ (2.1.51–2).
Leontes describes those around him as if they have partici-
pated in a nefarious ring of theft and sexual exchange. Polixenes
is a ‘harlot king’ (2.3.4); Camillo is Polixenes’ ‘pandar’
(2.1.46); Paulina is a ‘most intelligencing bawd!’(2.3.69); and
Hermione is ‘a [hobby]-horse’ (1.2.276) and overly-hospitable
wife. As it does in cony-catching literature, ‘wife’ becomes, for
Leontes, a word loaded with the suggestion of sex for sale and
of thieving kinship networks. In the midst of rehearsing playing
and angling scenarios, Leontes fixates on Hermione’s offering
up of her arm to Polixenes ‘with the boldness of a wife to her
allowing husband’ (1.2.183–4). Leontes here and in the scene
that unfolds depicts a secret family that threatens to steal from
and corrupt his line. Because Leontes fears scheming wives
and thieving anti-husbands, and because they are summoned
up alongside images of angling and sexual entertainment, we
should reconsider Leontes’ curious comparison of Hermione’s
sigh to the ‘mort o’ th’ deer’ (1.2.118). ‘Mort’ likely refers to
the killing tune of a hunter’s horn, but in canting language a
mort was a so-called ‘harlot’ and criminal accomplice.27
If we locate the play’s references to angling in the context
of hooking teams and other criminal cohorts described by
Greene and others, Shakespeare’s vast field of semantic possi-
bilities opens wider; more delimiting interpretations give way
to other potential meanings that are less accessible to modern
readers but that Shakespeare and his audience may well have
When Leontes looks at his boy’s skirts and envisions his
childhood-self ‘unbreech’d’ (1.2.155–8), is he not beginning

For musical definition, see Blakemore Evans, Riverside Shakespeare,
n.1.2.118. The term ‘mort’ is used to mean ‘harlot’ throughout cony catching
literature. See, for instance, Harman, Caveat, sigs. F1v–F4r.

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to imagine his adult pants plucked off by Sir Smile’s angling

rod? Shakespeare was likely familiar with stories like the
one mentioned earlier, of emasculating night visitors who
penetrate windows and leave grown men pantless. More
importantly, as I discuss further in the next section, we might
see his preoccupation with his own sleeplessness and stolen
and corrupted sheets as part of an extended angling reference.

4.3: Autolycus – The angler as

Trickery takes a turn in Act Four, the play’s structural centre.
Suspicion begins to make way for good-natured confidence,
despite the fact that deception is now real and not imagined.
Autolycus, unlike Polixenes or Hermione, is actually a thief,
a cony-catcher the likes of which Harman, Greene and
Dekker describe. Autolycus is reminiscent of several trickster
types. His strategy of feigning injury recalls the practices of
Rufflars (who claimed to have suffered injuries in war) and
Palliards (who opened up wounds on their legs with arsenic)
(Harman).28 His adeptness at stealing wallets aligns him with
‘Foists’, or pickpockets (Greene).29 His claims to seek out
some kinsmen (a scam dependent on the pretence of long-lost
kin is where the term cozener comes from) calls to mind the
Rogue (Harman).30
While Autolycus’s strategies affiliate him with many types
of thieves, his preferred plunder and his word choice align
him mainly with the angler. ‘My traffic is sheets’ (4.3.23),
Autolycus announces, suggesting that he is a professional

Harman, Caveat, sig. B1v, C4r.
Greene, Second Conny-Catching, sigs. C3v–D2v. Greene suggests that foists
are like nips, but use their hand to lift pockets rather than a knife to cut purse
Harman, Caveat, sigs. B4v–C1r.

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angler securing his livelihood through pilfering and selling

sheets and apparel. When Autolycus says he is a ‘snapper-up
of unconsider’d trifles’ (4.3.26), he uses a phrase straight from
Greene’s Second Cony Catching and Dekker’s Belman. Both
Greene and Dekker call the spoils of Anglers ‘snappings’, a
word which these texts associate exclusively with Anglers and
their counterparts, Divers.31
Of course Autolycus’s traffic in sheets connotes more than
fabric business. Autolycus is also involved in the sex trade,
winning his clothes through ‘die and drab’ (4.3.26–7) – drab
meaning a female sex worker or supposedly promiscuous
woman. Perhaps he is the kind of middleman bawd whom
Dekker describes as brokering for anglers, though this can
only be conjecture. Finally, he is a theatre man and storyteller,
donning various disguises and peddling unbelievable tales in
the form of ballads. It is not surprising that critics including
Richard Meek have compared Autolycus to the playwright
who, in bringing us The Winter’s Tale, spins a far-fetched yarn
and breaks more than a few dramatic rules.32
Autolycus with his traffic in sheets associates angling with
playing (theatrical and sexual), just as Leontes does; but in the
pastoral world, angling, playing and the connections between
them re-emerge as comic, if still criminal. Singing of Spring’s
rebirth, Autolycus awakens images of peering daffodils
followed by thoughts of ‘dox[ies]’ and ‘aunts’ (4.3.2–12). The
cheating family that Leontes dreams up, one with ‘allowing
husband[s]’ (1.2.184) and whoring wives, reappears comically
here as Autolycus describes his mistresses, presumably his

Greene says, ‘The Courber, which the common people call the Hooker, is he
that with a Curbe (as they tearme it) or hooke, do pull out of a windowe any
loose linnen cloth, apparel or other houshold stuffe what soeuer, wh[at] stolne
parcells, they in their Art call snappinges’ (sig. E3v); Dekker, The Belman of
London, sig. G2r-v.
Richard Meek, ‘Ekphrasis in The Rape of Lucrece and The Winter’s Tale’,
Studies in English Literature 46, no. 2 (2006): 389–414. See especially

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partners in angling, in beggars’ cant. Autolycus’s thoughts

turn from doxies to other rousing images of Spring, including
‘a white sheet bleaching on the hedge’ (4.3.5). If Spring is the
season of Florizel and Perdita, it belongs also to Autolycus.
His affiliation with vernal (and venereal) trickery is suggested
by both his list of descriptions and his subsequent wordplay
of springe (trap) / Spring when he marks the gullible clown: ‘If
the springe holde, the cock’s mine’ (4.3.35). Spring, it would
appear, signals not only the renewal of nature but also of
trickery. In other words, this is a season favourable for cony-
catching, a time of easy cocks and liftable linens practically
growing on trees. Spring’s arrival also marks a more symbolic
renewal of the imagination, as now Leontes’ sullied images of
both con-artistry and sexuality begin to come clean.
One image aired in Act Four is that of the freshly laundered
sheet Autolycus covets. These call to mind the sheets mentioned
earlier in the muddying accusations of Leontes against
Hermione. With the appearance of Autolycus, the angler
returns, stealing back and purifying the sheets so besmeared
by Leontes’ imagination. The sheet as Autolycus describes it
is bleached, we will recall, and though still associated with
the paintedness of bawdry, it flags a movement toward more
playful evocations of whoring specifically and less suspicious
views of sexuality generally.

4.2, 4.4: By hook or by crook

Another image partially reformed is the angling hook itself,
taking the shape of a shepherd’s crook in the fourth act. This
is not to say that the crook here is a radical counterpoint to
Leontes’ hooks, that it is redeemed as an unequivocal sign
of pastoral innocence, or even that it remains in the firm
possession of herders. When Polixenes wields the sheep-
hook as metaphor and perhaps as disguise, he underscores
the crook’s paradoxical status in representation as well as its

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affiliations with angling. Like images of angling hooks, crooks

sometimes came to stand in for ‘something that misleads’,
deceives or seduces according to the MED.33 When Polixenes
says of the shepherdess Perdita, ‘(I fear) the angle that plucks
our son thither’ (4.2.46), he activates the crook’s more insidious
cultural associations, including the tool’s resemblance to the
cony-catcher’s gear. Crook and angle, shepherd and charlatan
continue to merge when Polixenes recharacterizes his son.
Florizel shifts from stolen property to angling affiliate when
Polixenes recycles the metaphors he used to describe Perdita:
Florizel is now ‘a sceptre’s heir, / That thus affects a sheep-
hook!’ (4.4.420). Reminiscent of Greene’s anglers, Florizel
dresses outside of his station and bears a hook.34
Of course, Polixenes’ angling plot is not just a cultural
echo, but also an intertextual one. Both Leontes and Polixenes
fear they have fallen victim to conspiratorial thievery and
seduction, which they similarly describe in angling terms. In
response, both men play out the hunted-turned-hunter motif
as they take up an angle of sorts – Leontes, I suggested earlier,
when he baits Polixenes and Hermione (‘I am angling now’),
and Polixenes when he disguises himself – probably as a
shepherd – in order to catch Florizel in the act of deception.
At first sight, ‘angling’ here is ugly; it is a term cast as insult,
and it is a theatrical role adopted to entrap. Looking closer,
however, we see that subtle wordplay and the pastoral love
plot sanction and even at times sanctify the practices of angling.
Behind Polixenes’ depiction of Perdita as ‘angle’ is the near-
homograph ‘angel’, a word that David Garrick chose in place

MED, 4.c. Such connotations were striking counterpoints to the crook’s
iconic status as a symbol of good guidance – Jesus is represented throughout
the Geneva New Testament as both a fisher of men and a shepherd of
lost souls, and our English words ‘pastor’ (Christian spiritual leader) and
‘pastoral’ (the genre to which play’s subplot belongs) come from the Latin
‘pāstor’, shepherd. See pastor, n and pastoral n. and adj. (OED).
The irony here is, of course, that Polixenes does the same thing.

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of ‘angle’ in his version of the play (Variorum).35 While this is

likely an editorial corruption, ‘angel’ seems appropriate in the
context of Camillo’s praises of Perdita, a shepherdess of ‘rare
note’ whose reputation, like the angling hook, reaches far and
wide (4.2.41–4). And the play of angle / angel makes sense when
we consider how fishing and shepherding functioned alike,
especially in the Bible, as metaphors for spiritual guidance.36
Bad angling is also made good in the play’s dramatic arc:
the young lovers stealing away to Sicily is a precondition for
finding the lost heir. And as Perdita herself learns, engaging in
a theatre of deception is sometimes necessary. Disguised and
bound for Sicily she admits, ‘I see the play so lies / That I must
bear a part’ (4.4.655–6). Initiated by Autolycus and consum-
mated by the lovers, Act Four’s complex resuscitation of con
artistry and playing paves the way for angling’s reappearance
in the fifth act.

Act Five: The angling of theatre

In 5.2, three gentleman tell an angler’s tale:

The dignity of this act was worth the audience of kings
and princes, for by such it was acted.

One of the prettiest touches of all, and that which angled
for mine eyes (caught the water, though not the fish)
was when, at the relation of the Queen’s death … she
[Perdita] did, (with an ‘Alas!’), I would fain say, bleed

Furness, however, suggests this may be a printer’s error. See Horace Howard
Furness, ed., A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Volume 11, The
Winter’s Tale (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1898), 4.2.46–7.
See above, footnote 33.

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tears; for I am sure my heart wept blood. Who was most

marble there chang’d color … (5.2.79–90)

In the history of the play’s critical reception, the recognition

scene, including this, the relation of Hermione’s death, has
elicited charges that the playwright is being deceptive. For
instance, Sir Quiller-Couch claimed that Shakespeare cheats
us here,37 while recently in a more generous reading of the
play, Richard Meek argues that Shakespeare exercises cunning
by employing inherently deceptive narrative strategies like
The language of this passage appears to suggest that
Shakespeare knowingly plays the con artist, that he is having
fun letting the gentlemen steal the scene. Here Shakespeare
arouses suspicions of criminal and conning practices, while at
the same time he disarms them; this we see particularly in his
alignment of angling with theatre. Not a person but theatre
itself plays the angler.
The scene that angles for our eyes and ears, one of bleeding
tears and moving statues, recalls Catholic animation hoaxes,
also cony-catching of sorts, the likes of which Reginald Scot
describes in his Discovery of Witchcraft (1584).39 More

He remarks, ‘Are we not baulked? In proportion as we have paid tribute to
the art of the story by letting our interest be intrigued, our emotion excited,
are we not cheated when Shakespeare lets us down with this reported
tale?’ (266). See Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, Notes on Shakespeare’s
Workmanship (New York: Henry Holt, 1917).
See Meek, ‘Ekphrasis’, especially 393–5.
See both Reginald Scot’s (1584) and Nicholas Partridge’s (1538) account of
the discovery of the mechanics behind the Rood of Grace, a statue of Christ
that was said to have movable eyes and shed tears (Scot 137–8; Butterworth
124–5). See also Leo Koerner’s discussion of the Jetzler hoax at Bern, in
which two Dominican monks supposedly made a statue of the Pietà bleed
tears (146–7). Reginald Scot, The Discouerie of Witchcraft (London, 1584);
Letter by Partridge rept. in Philip Butterworth, Magic on the Early English
Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Joseph Leo Koerner,
The Reformation of the Image (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

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than just summoning papist puppetry, the episode calls to

mind antitheatricalist precepts inflected no doubt by residual
beliefs in extramission and persistent beliefs in the trans-
formative imagination. These ideas held that theatre had the
potential to turn one to stone or to reach into audiences,
transforming viewers through a spectacle that was both
visual and tactile.
For instance, Stephen Gosson (1582) in Playes Confuted
writes that those who ‘gape vpo~ plaies’ are like men that
‘stare on the head of Maedusa & are turned to stones.’40
Gosson warns also that those same hardened audiences may
become criminals; having learned lessons in criminality from
the theatre, one day they ‘may priuately breake into euery
mans house.’41 William Rankins in A Mirrour of Monsters
(1587) suggests that Players are Satan’s ‘armes that stretch
out [to] catch the people within the compasse of his chaine.’42
In The Winter’s Tale, we should notice that the episode
under consideration is rendered both theatrically and tactilely.
Perdita’s weeping is one of the ‘prettiest touches’ (5.2.82) in
a moving ‘act’ (5.2.79) that reaches out and transforms its
audience into likenesses of the spectacle beheld. By under-
scoring the tactile nature of a theatre with pretty touches, by
associating a scene, which reaches out to touch, with angling,
and by alluding to an audience once marbled, Shakespeare
engages with both detractors of theatre and detectors of
trickery. At the same time the scene recycles images deployed
by Leontes, who in Act One plays, along with cuckold, the
angler, the angler-catcher and antitheatricalist.
If we take into account only this episode’s imagery and not
its dramatic function, the scene appears to reaffirm anxieties
concerning con-artist players and playing con-artists; such
would seem to be a counterintuitive undercutting of the

Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted (London, 1582), sig. E7v.
Ibid., sig. C7r.
William Rankins, A Mirrour of Monsters (London, 1587), sig. B2v.

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play’s redemptive scheme and of Shakespeare’s own theat-

rical practice. Rather than merely echo antitheatricalists like
Leontes, however, the scene answers back with a difference.
Angling as represented in Act Five may activate associations
with criminal and conning practices, but it functions dramati-
cally here as a positively-charged metaphor for the emotional
hook of theatre. The rod’s re-rigging for beneficial effect reflects
another stage in the resuscitation of the play’s earlier anglings.
The practice of angling is employed insidiously by Leontes,
entertained comically by Autolycus and invoked creatively
here to suggest the life-renewing impact of performance. If the
theatre leaves audiences petrified with wonder, it also quickens
them. The play encourages us to read the transformed audience
not as automated statues but as social beings, the warming of
their empathy legible in their newly-sanguine hue. The Third
Gentleman says, ‘Who was most marble there chang’d color’
(5.2.89–90). Theatrical angling is graced here with the power to
bring stone to life. Thus, Shakespeare conditions us to embrace
the play’s greatest deception: the illusion of Hermione’s death
and the fact that Shakespeare nabs the Queen from the grave.


This chapter aims to bring to the surface the lively play of

angling in The Winter’s Tale. With an emphasis on close reading
and an eye to socio-cultural and literary influences, I have
looked at how words, practices and people invoking angling
behave dialogically – both in specific textual environments
and through those largely arbitrary structural divisions that
critics of the play (including myself) tend to reinforce. I am
proposing that Shakespeare is aware of and makes use of
the word angling’s polysemic potential. I am suggesting that
criminal angling in The Winter’s Tale speaks doubly: as a
practice to watch out for and as one to embrace with greater
confidence. And I am arguing that representations of angling
in Shakespeare engage with detectors of criminality and speak
also to a readership versed in the social language of thieves.

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What is at stake here in recuperating angling’s former

meanings for a modern reader is both political and poetical.
By examining crude articulations of angling in the period (like
those made by Leontes) we might consider the possible ways
in which imagined associations between ‘loose women’ and
anglers came to influence our language now. Our slang word
‘hooker’, for example, is a term of unknown origin. Might
we not consider that it derived from writings, like those by
Greene (or Shakespeare), which implicate women in so-called
‘hooking’ operations? Shakespeare, especially through the
character of Leontes, may have joined Greene in bequeathing
us burdensome legacies, but Leontes has the final word neither
on sexuality nor on angling. Shakespeare leaves us with an
angling play of pretty touches, blushes and new life; angling
exits as a complex and fertile metaphor promising to deliver
more, if we pay it heed.

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‘What may be and should
be’: Grammar Moods and
the Invention of History in
1 Henry VI

Lynne Magnusson

It is time, that I did, Look a litle, into the Potential.


And yet I would that you would answer me.


This chapter considers how the interplay in English of three

grammatical moods or modes related to the Latin subjunctive
form that are identified in Lily’s Latin Grammar contributed
to the shaping of English history in the theatre as something
beyond Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘bare was’ of indicative narration.1

Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (Manchester:


Manchester University Press, 1973), 110.

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The subjunctive, the optative and (above all) the potential

mood – that is, the mood known in English ‘by these signes,
may, can, might, would, should, or ought’ – are all in evidence
in the play I will focus on, 1 Henry VI.2 Sir Philip Sidney’s
characterization of poetry as ‘borrow[ing] nothing of what
is, hath been, or shall be’ but ranging into ‘consideration of
what may be and should be’3 is not usually taken literally as
suggesting a special role for the grammar of the ‘potential
mood.’ Instead, it is taken metaphorically to gesture at the
special character of fiction, at how literary mimesis (and by
extension, we might imagine, theatrical representation) creates
a hypothetical, projected or shadow world, or – from another
perspective – a more substantial world of which the actual
can be taken as the shadow. I ask whether the grammatical
modes in Early Modern English historically associated with
the Latin subjunctive played a role in creating a ‘what may be
and should be’ to distinguish the theatre’s new kind of history.
This is a chapter about that dreaded and generally avoided
subject, grammar, and it argues that historical grammatical
categories associated with Elizabethan schooling served as
potent imaginative resources in Shakespeare’s and his collabo-
rators’ early history-writing.

William Lily [and John Colet], A Shorte Introduction of Grammar (1567),
introd. Vincent J. Flynn (New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1945),
sig. B3v. For a complementary articulation of the importance of grammatical
mood in early Shakespeare, with examples from Titus Andronicus and
Richard III, see Lynne Magnusson, ‘A Play of Modals: Grammar and
Potential Action in Early Shakespeare,’ Shakespeare Survey 62 (2009): 69–80.
Also treating grammatical mood in ways relevant to the interpretation of
Renaissance drama or literature and influential on my approach are Alysia
Kolentsis, ‘‘Mark you/ His absolute shall?’ Multitudinous Tongues and
Contested Words in Coriolanus’, Shakespeare Survey 62 (2009): 141–50;
Hugh Craig, ‘Grammatical Modality in English Plays from the 1580s to
the 1640s’, English Literary Renaissance 30 (2000): 32–54; and Brian
Cummings, The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Sidney, Apology, 102.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 149

I will isolate four movements of 1 Henry VI and consider

them as discrete ‘inventions’ or experiments in finding a
grammar of mood suited to staged history. The authorship
of this play is contested, and, in approaching it as a series of
improvisations towards the discovery of historical drama in
the ‘potential’ mood, I am not positing a single controlling
authorial intelligence. Those persuaded by the arguments
for multiple authorship set forth by Gary Taylor and Brian
Vickers might well understand the four ‘mood’ experiments I
distinguish as derived from as many as three or four different
collaborators.4 Indeed, the four examples of mood exper-
iment I have isolated – the battle scenes introducing Talbot
and others in Act One, the invented Countess of Auvergne
scene in Act Two, the battle scenes culminating in Talbot’s
death in Act Four, and Suffolk’s wooing of Margaret in Act
Five – come from sections of the play that Taylor has assigned
to four different hypothetical collaborators, the first and third
of whom he conjecturally identifies as Thomas Nashe and
William Shakespeare.5 Even favourers of Shakespeare’s single
authorship acknowledge a considerable degree of unevenness
in this play’s composition rather than a fully unified effect. If
they choose to regard my argument for four distinct tactics
being tested out as consistent with Shakespeare’s own myriad-
minded habits of experimentation, there is still no necessity
of regarding the linguistic choices made in the microcosm of
the play’s speech action as matters of fully conscious delib-
eration. We need to formulate new ways of understanding
how imaginative problem-solving and linguistic innovation
may draw at times on unconscious cognition and nonetheless
constitute a significant form of literary achievement.6

See Gary Taylor, ‘Shakespeare and Others: The Authorship of Henry the Sixth,
Part One’, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995): 145–205;
and Brian Vickers, ‘Incomplete Shakespeare: Or, Denying Coauthorship in
1 Henry VI’, Shakespeare Quarterly 58, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 311–52.
Taylor, ‘Shakespeare and Others’, esp. 168–9 and 196.
Compare the arguments based on cognitive theory in Mary Thomas Crane,

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As we shall see, the first movement of 1 Henry VI, focused

mainly on the siege of Orléans, relies heavily, and bathetically,
on indicative was and shall. Even here we find a recognition
that theatrical representation of the historical past necessarily
differs from prose narration or historiography in that indic-
ative was cannot be counted upon as a chief verbal resource.
To stage the past, to bring complex historical action alive
onstage in present moments, one must, paradoxically, cast it
into the future. My three further examples explore ways of
casting futurity not, as in Act One, as a bare indicative shall but
instead in the ‘potential’ mood – treating the potential might
of a subjunctive Talbot in the Countess of Auvergne scenes;
creating and extinguishing possible futures in the scenes of
Talbot’s and his son’s defeat; bringing different potentialities
related to desire, obligation, will and compulsion into play
where Suffolk woos Margaret as England’s future queen. All
of these methods come into play in Shakespeare’s later history
plays – plays, I am arguing, that gained some of their imagi-
native power from an engagement fostered in the Elizabethan
schoolhouse with Latin grammar and its English translation.
In comparison to the arts of rhetoric and oratory, the history
of grammar is underexplored in relation to Shakespeare’s
theatrical arts and dramatic representations. As sixteenth-
century English grammar-school boys, Shakespeare, his fellow
playwrights, the more educated among his fellow players, and
many in his audience would have passed through a stage of
life when they were being drilled daily in their ‘accidence’,
that is the Latin parts of speech and their inflexions. Learning
the ‘accidence’ involved schoolboys in regular activities that
were closely related to the work and skill sets of the theatre
performer. As these activities are described by an educator like
John Brinsley in his Ludus literarius, or The Grammar Schoole,
they included memory work to learn a text (or, indeed, a ‘part’)

Shakespeare’s Brain: Reading with Cognitive Theory (Princeton, NJ, and

Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001), 18–19.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 151

so fully as to be able to recite it perfectly ‘without booke’,

group rehearsal of parts as a reinforcement of understanding
and memory work, vocal performance before a monitor or
schoolmaster and assembled classmates, and deployment of
memorized material in apparently improvised question-and-
answer dialogue.7 It is commonly acknowledged that many
Elizabethan players acquired acting techniques by way of the
oratorical training of the grammar schools and school perfor-
mances of actual plays.8 It is not, however, clearly recognized
that the protocols internalized by boys in the earliest grammar-
school forms (as young as seven or eight years) for perfecting
the complex grammar-text or script ‘without booke’ would
undoubtedly have contributed to the habitus or embodied
knowledge of players so schooled. Admittedly the theatre of
the Elizabethan classroom was not always the place of gentle
reinforcement and group solidarity represented by Brinsley.
There can be no denying what critics like Lynn Enterline have
forcefully emphasized: the prevalent associations of grammar-
school Latin – and especially the risk-filled difficulties of the
noun and verb declensions – with regimes of brutal punish-
ment.9 Indeed, we can find the modal categories of the verb
quite specifically being evoked when Gabriel Harvey writes
in Pierces Supererogation of a sadistic schoolmaster ‘that
experimentally prooued what a rod [soaked] in lye could do
with the curstest boy in a Citty; and founde the Imparatiue

John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius, or The Grammar Schoole (London:
Thomas Man, 1612), 53–70. See also the repeated accounts of recitation
regimes in T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Small Latine & Lesse
Greeke, 2 vols (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944), for example vol.
1, 426.
John Astington, Actors and Acting in Shakespeare’s Time: The Art of Stage
Playing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 38–47.
Lynn Enterline’s book, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline,
Emotion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), accents
regimes of punishment as a key part of the theatricality of the Elizabethan
classroom, a topic she brings to life in exciting new ways.

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moode a better Oratour, then the Optatiue.’10 But in other

instances, Renaissance writers appropriated the terminology
of modal categories as welcome expressive resources. Francis
Bacon, for example, deploys it to structure and develop his
proposal for a new British history to the Lord Chancellor,
Thomas Egerton, Lord Ellesmere: ‘Thus much, if it may please
your Lordship, is in the Optative Mood. It is time, that I did,
Look a litle, into the Potential.’11 Before Prince Hal thought
(or I imagine he did) ‘I may, I can’ and then pronounced ‘I
do; I will’ (1 Henry IV, 2.5.439), before Richard Gloucester
mused of King Edward, ‘He cannot live, I hope, and must
not die’ (Richard III, 1.1.145), before the boy playing Olivia
voiced desire for Viola in the words ‘I would you were as
I would have you be’ (Twelfth Night, 3.1.133),12 before all
these theatrical projections deploying English auxiliary verbs
to contrast the indicative with the potential or optative mood,
Elizabethan schoolboys in the thousands voiced and rehearsed
the English words that gave meaning to their voicing and
rehearsing of the interminable Latin verb declensions. A highly
repetitive practice, they recited all the tenses and conjugations
of the Latin potential with their English translations: ‘Amem
… I maie or can loue’, ‘Amarem … I might or could loue’,
‘Amauerim … I might, would, should, or ought to haue loued’,

Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, or a New Prayse of the Old Asse
(London: John Wolfe, 1593), 118.
Francis Bacon, ‘A Letter, to the Lord Chancellor, Touching the history, of
Britaine’, in Resuscitatio, Or, Bringing into Publick Light Severall Pieces of
the Works, ed. William Rawley (London: William Lee, 1657), sigs. Ddd3v–
Ddd4v (Ddd4r). The online Bacon Correspondence Catalogue (developed by
Alan Stewart and Jan Broadway and based at the Centre for Early Lives and
Letters, dates this
letter to Thomas Egerton, Lord Ellesmere, 2 April 1605 (accessed 23 August
All quotations from Shakespeare’s plays are cited from The Norton
Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition, 2nd edn, gen. ed. Stephen
Greenblatt (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2008). 1 Henry IV,
2.5.439; Richard III, 1.1.145; Twelfth Night, 3.1.133.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 153

‘Amauissem … I might, would, should, or ought to had loued’,

‘Amauero … I maie or can loue hereafter.’13
Shakespeare’s early plays including the histories, as T. W.
Baldwin made clear, repeatedly refer to specific elements of
grammatical training and even quote from Lily’s Grammar,
the one Latin grammar textbook authorized for use in English
schools from the Reformation through the seventeenth
century.14 Jack Cade, the rebel leader in 2 Henry VI, lambasts
Lord Saye for corrupting ‘the youth of the realm in erecting
a grammar school’ and having ‘men about thee that usually
talk of a noun and a verb and such abominable words as no
Christian ear can endure to hear’ (4.7.27–8, 32–4). Queen
Margaret’s repetitive speeches in Richard III calling Queen
Elizabeth a ‘sign of dignity’ and offering to ‘Decline all
this’ (4.4.90, 97, emphasis added) make explicit use of the
Grammar’s terminology, for schoolboys were quizzed about
the ‘signs’ in English for the various Latin forms and the most
frequent instruction issued would be to ‘decline’ a noun or
verb. Her references would likely be all the more salient on
the Elizabethan stage, being voiced by an adolescent boy-actor
whom audience members would recognize as not long past
the recitation of noun and verb declensions. Furthermore,
such references in the drama of the early 1590s were by
no means confined to Shakespeare. In Summer’s Last Will
and Testament, Thomas Nashe, a likely collaborator with
Shakespeare and other dramatists in 1 Henry VI, has his
satirical character Will Summer professing himself like Jack
Cade ‘[a]n open enemy to Inke and paper’ and ranting against
repetitive educational regimes reinforced by harsh discipline:
‘Ile make it good vpon the Accidence body, that In speech is
the diuels Pater noster: Nownes and Pronounes, I pronounce
you as traitors to boyes buttockes, Syntaxis and Prosodia,
you are tormenters of wit, & good for nothing but to get a

William Lily, A Shorte Introduction of Grammar, sigs. B4r–B4v.
Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Smalle Latine & Lesse Greeke, 1:557–80.

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schoolemaster two pence a weeke.’15 In a completely different

vein, as we shall see later, Christopher Marlowe explicitly
invoked the terminology of grammatical mood to characterize
the ambitious determination of his imperial overreachers in
Since schoolboys learning the ‘accidence’ were constantly
quizzed about the ‘signs’ in English for the various Latin
forms, the Latin lesson also supplied a wide-ranging initiation
into early modern English grammatical forms. There is no
doubt that distortions were created by the transfer of Latin’s
synthetic (or inflexion-based) grammar onto the increas-
ingly analytic vernacular language (registering distinctions by
function words and word order). Nonetheless, one quality of
their own English tongue that must have stood out as they
encountered three overlapping mood categories – optative,
potential and subjunctive, all signalled mysteriously in Latin
by exactly the same subjunctive endings – was the suggestive
variety of their English counterparts. We can see how the
schoolteacher John Brinsley’s drill in The Posing of the Parts
– intended to assist schoolboys in understanding and learning
Lily’s definitions for the three different moods by heart –
labours to sort this all out:

Q. How know you the Optatiue?

A. It wisheth or desireth.
Q. What signes hath it?
A. These signes: Would God, I pray God, or God grant.
Q. What hath it ioined with it in Latine?
A. An Aduerbe of wishing: as, vtinam Amem, God grant
I loue.
Q. How know you the Potentiall Moode?
A. It sheweth an abilitie, will, or duetie to doe any thing.
Q. What signes hath it?

Thomas Nashe, A Pleasant Comedie, called Summers Last Will and
Testament (London: Water Burre, 1600), sig. G3v.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 155

A. May, can, might, would, should, ought or could: as,

Amem, I may or can loue.
Q. How differs it in Latine from the Optatiue and
Subiunctiue, seeing how they haue all one termination?
A. Because it hath neither Aduerbe nor Coniunction ioined
with it.16

The subjunctive mood proper as labelled in Lily (sometimes

called the conjunctive) would most likely have made the least
imaginative mark on young Elizabethans’ understanding of
English. It was defined in purely formal terms, as having
‘evermore some Conjunction joyned with him: as “Cum amarem,
When I loved”, and it is called the Subjunctive mode, bicause it
dependeth of an other verbe in the same sentence, either going
afore, or comming after: as “Cum amarem eram miser, When I
loved, I was a wreatche.”’17 In this example, the equivalent in
English is actually a verb in the indicative. This is not to say that
early modern English did not have a separate subjunctive form,
used at times in hypothetical and counterfactual ‘if’ clauses,
but Lily’s grammar would have done nothing to identify that
English verb form or to associate an imaginative dimension
distinct from the potential with this category.
The optative was, on the other hand, defined by function
(wishing or desiring) as well as form (following vtinam). This
chapter will focus more attention on the ‘potential’ than the
optative mood, but Shakespeare and his (educated male)
audience members would easily recognize the optative as the
key mood of prayers and curses, a speech mode exploited
in Richard III when Queen Margaret’s repetitive use of it
constructs an imaginative world in which her speech acts lay
claim to a power or force she lacks in the actual world.

John Brinsley, The Posing of the Parts (London: Thomas Man, 1612), sigs.
Lily, Shorte Introduction of Grammar, sig. B2v. I have modernized i/j and

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While we often use the term ‘subjunctive’ to gesture

at a hypothetical realm, for the educated Elizabethan it
was the more evocative ‘potential mood’ that most readily
signalled the kind of alternative reality gestured at when
Sidney distinguishes the poet’s ‘what may’ or ‘should be’
from the historian’s ‘bare was.’ Unlike the optative, a long-
standing grammatical category identified in the earliest extant
Greek grammar of Dionysius Thrax, the potential mood was
only introduced into the Latin grammar in the first decade of
the sixteenth century by the Englishman, Thomas Linacre.18
Linacre’s Renaissance innovation – creating this system of
three closely related moods in Latin all formally identical –
would not stand up to the scrutiny of modern-day linguists
like F. Th. Visser, who insists that ‘a linguistic description must
be based either on form or on function (meaning), but not
on both simultaneously.’19 Nevertheless, it had the effect of
highlighting a very interesting development in the vernacular
language. As schoolboys traced the possible variations upon
this ‘potential’ mood of loving (for the verb ‘amo, amare’
served as the principal example for verbs in Lily) through
every imaginable tense and voice, variations that filled up
pages of Lily’s grammar, they would have gathered out of the
exercise a very full acquaintance with the developing range
of English modal auxiliary verbs and their own language’s
resources for setting forth what the Latin grammarian Priscian
had called the ‘inclinations of the mind.’20
As I have previously discussed in ‘A Play of Modals’, the
fourth and most accomplished play in Shakespeare’s first
history tetralogy, Richard III, also exploits the potential
mood to suggest, in keeping with Aristotle on the trajectory

Ian Michael, English Grammatical Categories and the Tradition to 1800
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 114–15.
F. Th. Visser, ‘The Terms “Subjunctive” and “Indicative”’, English Studies
36 (1955): 205–8, esp. 205.
See Michael, English Grammatical Categories, 114, and Cummings, The
Literary Culture of the Reformation, 125–6.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 157

of dramatic plot, the creation, at its outset, of multiple

possible worlds (or states of affairs) and then, by its finale,
of the illusion of a necessary state of affairs. The initial
speech patterns of Richard Gloucester, the internal plot-
maker in Richard III, initially highlight the potential mode,
in catachreses like ‘He cannot live, I hope, and must not die’
(1.1.145, emphasis added) and in dizzying word play on
grammatical ‘signs’ like ‘may’: ‘What may she not? She may
– ay, marry, may she’ (1.3.98, emphasis added). This chapter
asks if we can see a similar focus on grammatical moods in
the earlier composition that is more usually associated with
Shakespeare’s apprenticeship, and often also with collabo-
rative authorship, 1 Henry VI.

‘How would it have ioyed

brave Talbot’
1 Henry VI may seem like an unlikely place to look for a
sophisticated play of grammatical mood. Indeed, what a close
look at verbs in the early movement of the play discovers is a
kind of pedestrian allegiance to the bare indicative of chronicle
history. In a strangely reflexive moment when the French have
been beaten back near Orléans, the Duke of Alençon makes
explicit reference to history as a matter of record that even
their patriotic spirit cannot gainsay: ‘Froissart, a countryman
of ours, records / England all Olivers and Rolands bred /
During the time Edward the Third did reign’, and he claims
this to have been ‘now … verified’ in the skirmish (1.3.8–11).
While we would imagine that a play whose plot turns on
warring armies and warring factions must inevitably stage
a competition between alternative or potential futures, this
does not initially appear to be imaginatively realized in the
microcosms of the language. Instead, we find characters
talking to themselves and to others in odd report-like ways
about what is happening or what they expect to occur and

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little in the way of what I would call ‘potential action’,

hypothetical projections based on characters’ assessments of
what they want, what is possible, what resists them, what
they might have power to effect.21 ‘Valiant’ Talbot’s deeds are
first introduced into the play in the past tense of historical
narration, when a messenger arrives at Westminster Abbey
to ‘inform’ the English lords ‘of a dismal fight … wherein
Lord Talbot was o’erthrown’ (1.1.105–8). Then, when we
first meet Talbot, newly released from prison, he is spurred by
Salisbury’s instruction, ‘Discourse, I prithee, on this turret’s
top’ (1.6.4), to provide a report in the past indicative on
the circumstances of his own prison sojourn and release. A
similar indicative style for recording ongoing action occurs in
the present tense, as in Talbot’s description of action before
Orléans: ‘A woman clad in armour chaseth men. / Here, Here
she comes’ (1.7.3–4). Similarly, after the same skirmish, Joan
in turn reports, ‘Rescued is Orléans from the English’ (1.8.2).
Even more curiously, both sides tend to report intended action
in the future indicative, as if uncertainty and supposition have
no part in projecting futures:

And here will Talbot mount, or make his grave.

Now, Salisbury, for thee, and for the right
Of English Henry, shall this night appear
How much in duty I am bound to both. (2.1.34–37;
emphasis added)

The alternating future indicatives of the French and English

combatants contribute to an effect in the war scenes of sudden
and unprepared reversals. Still, the future indicative can never
simply show ‘a reason true or false’,22 as Lily’s Grammar
defines the role of the indicative; the future being always
uncertain, will and shall must inevitably project some modal

Magnusson, ‘A Play of Modals’, esp. 79–80.
Lily, Shorte Introduction of Grammar, sig. B2v.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 159

element of wishing or hoping or possibility that allies them to

the optative or the potential mood. Indeed, this is what makes
Tamburlaine’s praise of Theridamus’s shall in Marlowe’s
play so outrageous, when he self-consciously comments on
grammatical mood and vaunts the match of will and shall to
his project of world domination:

Well said, Theridamas, speak in that mood,

For Will and Shall best fitteth Tamburlaine,
Whose smiling stars gives him assurèd hope
Of martial triumph ere he meet his foes. (1 Tamburlaine,

The oxymoron ‘assured hope’ accents Tamburlaine’s audacity

and overreaching as he takes ownership of a pure future
indicative, giving dramatic motivation not to the ‘bare was’
of history but the unqualified shall of prophecy, revelation or
divine foreknowledge.
1 Henry VI is an uneven play, and, even if its bare and
somewhat lame indicatives disappoint in this early movement,
we need to ask how it achieved, for its first audiences, the
extraordinary effect that Thomas Nashe claimed in 1592
in Piers Penilesse for the onstage triumph of Tamburlaine’s
warrior counterpart, Lord Talbot. Nashe celebrates Talbot’s
staged resurrection in terms closely allied to Sidney’s celebration
of poetry’s subjunctivity, inventing his own subjunctive or
hypothetical scene in which the long dead Talbot contemplates
and responds to his own theatrical representation:

How would it haue ioyed brave Talbot (the terror of the

French) to thinke that after he had lyne two hundred yeares
in his Tombe, hee should triumphe againe on the Stage,
and haue his bones newe embalmed with the teares of ten

Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, ed. Joseph Sandy Cunningham


(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981), Part One, 3.3.40–3.

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thousand spectators at least (at seuerall times), who in the

Tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold
him fresh bleeding.24

Here, in one of the earliest examples of Shakespeare

criticism, we have a critic vividly distinguishing the theatre’s
representation of the historical person from his representation
in the ‘English Chronicles’ or in ‘worm-eaten bookes.’25 It
is, of course, conceivable that the effect Nashe articulates
derives primarily from the powerful onstage presence of
the great tragic actor who played Talbot, probably Edward
Alleyn.26 But the question I am raising here is whether there is
anything in the play’s deployment of grammatical mood that
is answerable to Nashe’s evocation of poetic history as this
powerfully moving ‘speaking picture.’27

Subjunctive Talbot: Substance

and shadow
My answer is that the subjunctive mood of Talbot’s encounter
with the Countess of Auvergne in Act Two, Scene Three
self-reflexively foregrounds and explores this issue of how
dramatic poetry can create a separate and superior reality. In
an invented episode not deriving from Hall or Holinshed, the

Thomas Nashe, Piers Penilesse his Supplication to the Diuell, in Works, ed.
Ronald B. McKerrow (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904), vol. 1, 149–245, esp. 212.
Ibid., 212.
There is some controversy about this definition. On Alleyn, see Michael
Taylor, ‘Introduction’, Henry VI, Part One (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2003), 4; on Richard Burbage as a candidate, see Anthony B. Dawson
and Paul Yachnin, The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England: A
Collaborative Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 14.
If Gary Taylor’s attribution of Act One to Nashe is valid, then (ironically)
Nashe himself is the one collaborator who does not contribute significantly to
the invention of history in the potential mood in this play that I am arguing for.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 161

French Countess invites the warrior who has just conquered

Orléans to visit her castle, on the pretence that she wants to
boast of having ‘beheld the man / Whose glory fills the world
with loud report’ (2.2.42–3). When he arrives, apparently
letting down his guard at a ‘lady’s courtesy’ (2.2.58), she
declares him her prisoner, only to be foiled in her attempt to
become ‘famous … by this exploit’ (2.3.5) by the fact that
Talbot has protected himself against this contingency by
ensuring that a company of English soldiers is within hearing
of a loud blast on his horn. In one sense, it would seem to
be merely a scene in which the Frenchwoman’s trickery is
countered by the English hero’s superior trickery, but the
language of the interaction transmutes the simple plot devices
into something far more interesting. Talbot’s representation in
this episode tests not only the French Countess’s courtesy but
also the adequacy of the bare indicative to articulate or contain
the potent representations of the theatre’s historical persons.
First of all, in contrast to the battles anticipated simply by
the competing future indicative projections of the opposing
camps, this episode deploys the subjunctive or, more specifi-
cally, the potential mood and the auxiliary periphrasis that is
its expression in early modern English to prepare (or set the
‘mood’) for the encounter:

All hail, my lords! Which of this princely train
Call ye the warlike Talbot, for his acts
So much applauded through the realm of France?

Here is the Talbot. Who would speak with him?

The virtuous lady, Countess of Auvergne …
By me entreats, great lord, thou wouldst vouchsafe
To visit her poor castle where she lies,
That she may boast she hath beheld the man

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Whose glory fills the world with loud report.

(2.2.34–43, emphasis added)

Indeed, this exchange (‘Here is the Talbot. Who would speak

with him?’) marks an interplay of the indicative and potential
moods signalling the announcement of a change in mood in the
invented episode at the Countess’s castle. A change in key is also
signalled by the Duke of Burgundy’s metadramatic suggestion
that the woman’s desire to orient the hero’s action changes the
dramatic genre: ‘Nay, then I see our wars / Will turn unto a
peaceful comic sport, / When ladies crave to be encountered
with’ (2.2.44–6). When the scene shifts to the lady’s castle, the
Countess expresses her wishful projection of the encounter by
way of a hypothetical condition and the optative mood:

The plot is laid. If all things fall out right,
I shall as famous be by this exploit
As Scythian Tomyris by Cyrus’ death …
Fain would mine eyes be witness with mine ears,
To give their censure of these rare reports [of Talbot’s
feats]. (2.3.4–10, emphasis added)

But it is when Talbot enters that the scene’s remarkable

contrast between alternative planes of reality – the apparent
facticity of the indicative and the truth-telling supposition
of the subjunctive – is fully played out in the complex
interrogation of Talbot’s identity. In Shakespeare’s mature
play, Troilus and Cressida, we have the actors representing
the great heroes and personages of the Trojan war repeatedly
greeted with paradoxical identifications, variations on ‘this
is and is not’ Ajax, Hector or Cressida.28 Something similar

See, for example, the identifications and misidentifications of Trojan

heroes in Troilus and Cressida,1.2, including comments like ‘Troilus is

Troilus’ (1.2.61) and Troilus’s comment in 5.2 when observing Cressida with
Diomedes that ‘This is and is not Cressid’ (5.2.146).

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‘ What may be and should be’ 163

occurs with this scene’s initial denial and then ‘subjunctive’

affirmation of Talbot’s identity. It works to interrogate the
conditions of theatrical representation, whereby no actor
on the bare Elizabethan stage – not even a great tragedian
like Edward Alleyn – can be a fully convincing stand-in for
‘valiant Talbot’, ‘the scourge of France.’ When the messenger
announces Talbot’s arrival, the Countess questions whether the
actual figure who stands before her can be the authentic Talbot:

What, is this the man?

Madam, it is.

Is this the scourge of France?
Is this the Talbot, so much feared abroad … ?
I see report is fabulous and false.
I thought I should have seen some Hercules,
A second Hector …
It cannot be this weak and writhled shrimp
Should strike such terror to his enemies. (2.3.13–23,
emphasis added)

Talbot offers to leave, claiming ‘she’s in a wrong belief’ so

he goes ‘to certify her Talbot’s here’ (2.3.30–1), and then the
scene’s central dilemma is communicated in the Countess’s
response as a competition between subjunctive and indicative
moods: ‘If thou be he, then art thou prisoner’ (2.3.32). Talbot
laughs, and then he articulates in a riddling language of
‘here’ and ‘not here’, ‘shadow’ and ‘substance’, how literary
representation in the subjunctive mood can create a realer
Talbot than the shrivelled figure of the stage actor, the static
picture of him that hangs in the Countess’s gallery, or even the
actual Talbot were he standing on stage – that is, a Talbot as
what might or should be:

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No, no, I am but shadow of myself.
You are deceived; my substance is not here.
For what you see is but the smallest part
And least proportion of humanity.
I tell you, madam, were the whole frame here,
It is of such a spacious lofty pitch
Your roof were not sufficient to contain’t.

This is a riddling merchant for the nonce.
He will be here, and yet he is not here.
How can these contrarieties agree? (2.3.50–9; emphasis

In plot terms, the contrarieties are resolved by the appearance

of Talbot’s soldiers, but the grammatical subjunctive is
deployed to harness the audience’s imagination and to amplify
the capacity of theatrical representation to persuade that its
shadow world is substantial. This episode builds a situation
where declarative report, glimpsing at shadows, ‘is fabulous
and false’, and ‘substance’ is to be discovered in such theatrical
potentialities as can be articulated with the help of subjunctive
and potential moods.

Would but cannot: Tragic potential

and plot trajectory in Talbot’s downfall
In direct contrast to the clashing shalls of Act One, the scenes
of Talbot’s defeat and death in Act Four, Scenes Two to Seven
(scenes regularly assigned to Shakespeare’s authorship) tap
into a complex play of possibility afforded by the English
language’s resources for the potential mood. It is common-
place to suggest that Shakespeare borrows from other genres
to structure his mature history plays, adapting elements of

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‘ What may be and should be’ 165

tragic form in Richard II and elements of comic form in Henry

IV, Part One. Not recognized, however, is how the strategic
deployment of grammatical mood at the microcosmic level of
speech action can sketch out a tragic or a comic plot trajectory
or how the trajectory of the speech action in 1 Henry VI tests
out a tragic arc in Act Four’s defeat of Talbot and then a comic
arc in Suffolk’s wooing of Margaret.
Lord Talbot, appearing with army and trumpeter before
Bordeaux, sounds a parley with the French general and sets
forth his preferred and dispreferred projections of future
action: ‘English John Talbot, captain, calls you forth, / Servant
of arms to Harry King of England / And thus he would’
(4.2.3–5). The future projection he offers in the positive, what
‘he would’ is their humble surrender; the grim alternative,
his ‘But if’, is ‘Lean famine, quartering steel, and climbing
fire’ (4.2.9, 11). The dramatic encounter that follows is not
merely a matter of stage action – of drums, trumpets, artillery
and clashing swords. The general’s verbal response sets up
a collision of modals: set against what Talbot would is the
challenge that he cannot – ‘On us thou canst not enter but
by death’ (4.2.18). In contrast to the Countess of Auvergne’s
judgement on seeing Talbot that ‘report is fabulous and false’,
Talbot hears the general’s challenge to his own construction of
futurity, reinforced by ‘the Dauphin’s drum, a warning bell’,
as substantial: ‘He fables not’ (4.2.39, 42).
As with the other episodes in 1 Henry VI where I am arguing
that the playwrights improvise in the potential mood to create
contested futures, there is other strong evidence for strategic
shaping of material from English chronicle history. Peter
Saccio emphasizes Shakespeare’s revision of his source material
as he conflates events from other campaigns to ‘arrange for this
defeat to result from the domestic antagonisms of the English.’29
Shaping plot in microcosm as well as macrocosm, in the scenes

Peter Saccio, Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama
(2nd edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 109.

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of the English nobles’ betrayal of Talbot, Shakespeare deploys

modal verbs to pick up and ring variations on the drama of
contested futures. Against what should be, Richard Duke of
York and the Duke of Somerset set forth fables of disability. In
Scene Three, York blames Somerset, claiming that he is ‘louted
by a traitor villain / And cannot help the noble chevalier’
(13–14) and shutting down any imagination of alternative
possibilities: ‘No more my fortune can / But curse the cause I
cannot aid the man’ (43–4, emphasis added). In the next scene,
Somerset reiterates this miniature narrative of disability: ‘It is
too late, I cannot send them now’ (4.4.1). When Sir William
Lucy arrives, disgusted with the noblemen’s inaction and
offering news of how seriously Talbot is beset, a debate ensues
over what should and might have been: ‘York should have sent
him aid’ and ‘might have sent’ Somerset protests, while Lucy
presses the case that ‘the fraud of England, not the force of
France’ has entrapped Talbot, predicting ‘Never to England
shall he bear his life’ (38). A subtle shift is occurring, with verbs
signalling potentiality increasingly cast in the past tense (‘might
have sent’) to mark the frustration of Talbot’s hope and closing
down of possibility. The scene’s climax captures Talbot’s
plight by foregrounding a tragic play of potentiality in modal
wordplay: ‘He is ta’en or slain, / For fly he could not if he
would have fled, / And fly would Talbot never, though he might’
(42–4, emphasis added). The tragic trajectory of the remaining
action closing in on Talbot’s and his young son’s deaths is
also crafted in the potential mood. The young son is brought
into the action to open up a new arc of possibility, projecting
the fresh hope ‘That Talbot’s name might be in thee revived’
(4.5.3) to intensify the tragic element of its extinction. Once
Talbot expresses the hope that John will escape to preserve his
life and Talbot’s name, the tragic conflict between and within
them is foregrounded in stichomythic dialogue pitting the
potential against the future indicative mood: ‘TALBOT: Part of
thy father may be saved in thee. / JOHN: No part of him but
will be shamed in me’ (4.5.38–9). When the final defeat comes
and English soldiers lay John’s body in dying Talbot’s arms,

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‘ What may be and should be’ 167

the hero’s last words succinctly register the extinction of future

possibility by merging the potential and indicative moods: ‘I
have what I would have, / Now my old arms are young John
Talbot’s grave’ (4.7.31).

I would, I can’t, I may, I shall:

Suffolk’s comic potential
The other key scene where an English mood related to the
Latin potential mood is brought into imaginative prominence
is also an interpolation to Hall’s historical account of this
reign – an invented scene involving a complicated encounter
with a French woman and a debate over suppositious bondage.
Upon the defeat of the French forces before Angiers, the Earl
of Suffolk takes Margaret of Anjou prisoner, announcing, in
words that echo the Countess of Auvergne’s, ‘Be what thou
wilt, thou art my prisoner’ (5.5.1). Very quickly, however, as
Suffolk’s desire is sparked by Margaret’s beauty, a situation
develops whereby, in the words Prospero will use, years later,
of Ferdinand and Miranda’s first encounter, ‘[T]hey are both in
either’s powers’ (The Tempest, 1.2.454). This wooing episode
dramatizes an unsettling of possible futures, both the personal
future and trajectory of selfhood for Suffolk and Margaret and
the political future of England as Suffolk switches gear and
woos not simply for himself but for his king. What is skilfully
played out in the language or microcosm of the encounter is
a kind of action seldom previously explored in this play, and
little explored in Shakespeare criticism, but ultimately crucial
to dramatic form – that is, potential action, projections of and
conflicts over what might or can be, what may or ought to be.
Indeed, this scene turning on Suffolk’s debate with himself,
expressed as a competition among the plurality of English
signs for the potential mood, makes it clear how the linguistic
realization in early modern English of ‘potential’ action
contributes at once to effects of plot complexity (foregrounded

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with a tragic accent in Act Four) and of character complexity

(foregrounded with a comic accent here).
The linguistic key to the creation of an effect of character
complexity or inner psychology in this scene is somewhat
bizarrely highlighted in its punning on ‘wood.’ As Margaret
comments after an extended passage in which Suffolk has
been present with her but talking to himself, oblivious to
her repeated questions about ‘[w]hat ransom’ she ‘must’ pay

And yet I would that you would answer me.

[aside] I’ll win this Lady Margaret. For whom?
Why, for my king – tush, that’s a wooden thing.

[aside] He talks of wood. It is some carpenter.
(5.5.43–6; emphasis added)

In her first remark, Margaret echoes Suffolk’s language, and

the punning interplay on ‘wood’ (as in trees) and ‘wooden’
(as in dull, blockish or inert) is triggered by the word Suffolk
has been repeating over and again throughout his monologue,
one of the key words referred to in Lily’s grammar as a ‘sign’
for the potential mood – that is, the English modal auxiliary
verb, would. Indeed, in keeping with the sometimes overly
ingenious wordplay that the play’s editor, Michael Taylor,
critiques as apprentice enthusiasm,30 the scene’s punning even
associates ‘would’ – the modal verb – not only with ‘wood’ but
also with ‘wooed’ – the complex speech act or social speech
genre of courtship, a mainstay of the comic genre. Suffolk’s
debate with himself about wooing Margaret is choreographed

Michael Taylor, ‘Introduction’, 67.

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‘ What may be and should be’ 169

to proceed through a complex interplay or competition among

the variegated signs in early modern English for the potential
mood. The trajectory of Suffolk’s self-debate moves through
would woo – a sign at once of volition and uncertainty:

[Aside] I have no power to let her pass.

My hand would free her, but my heart says no. (5.5.16–17)

Fain would I woo her, yet I dare not speak. (5.5.21);
to can or (more specifically in this situation) can’t – a sign
of ability or power:
How canst thou tell she will deny thy suit
Before thou make a trial of her love? (5.5.31–2)

Fond man, remember that thou hast a wife;
Then how can Margaret be thy paramour? (5.5.37–8);
to may – a sign of permission or possibility:
And yet a dispensation may be had. (5.5.42)

I’ll win this Lady Margaret … for my king …
Yet so my fancy may be satisfied. (5.5.44–5, 47);
and finally beyond potential to resolution:
It shall be so, disdain they ne’er so much.
Henry is youthful, and will quickly yield. (5.5.54–5)

Here, the playwright has discovered how a competition among

the English modal auxiliary verbs can articulate inner conflict
and mental deliberation within a single character, or a struggle
of wills between two or more characters, as the opposing
claims of volition, ability, obligation, possibility and power are
played out among the various English signs for the potential
mood. It is important to recognize that while this interplay is
an expressive resource that may have been suggested by Lily’s
Latin grammar, it is a resource that Shakespeare and his fellow
poets discovered in the English language. It is not available
in Latin’s grammar of inflexions. As noted earlier, in Latin
the optative, subjunctive and potential mood are all covered

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by one unvaried ‘termination.’ But more significant for the

example of Suffolk’s ‘potential’, where the Latin potential
mood itself provides only the one unvaried termination
or linguistic form, English affords a bountiful variety of
conflicting projections of future possibility in the variety of
available ‘signs’, including may, can, might, should, would,
ought, and others. In improvising with the English language,
Shakespeare and / or his collaborator seems to discover
that wooing, putting desire into action through words, is
not only more than ‘willing’ but also more than a singular
unidirectional act of ‘woulding.’ It involves an anticipation
of and encounter with resistant voices – not in this case just
Margaret’s voice that Suffolk is actually managing to close
off in his anti-social spinning out of asides. Just as cognitive
grammar hypothesizes a debating society in the brain (not a
unitary homunculus), so English historical grammar gives boy
and men actors more ways of dividing up and uttering the
various inclinations of the mind than even Linacre envisaged
when he added to the number of discrete Latin moods.
And the Elizabethan playwrights tapped enthusiastically into
this theatre of mental deliberation, extending their options
for representing subjectivity and intersubjectivity by using
grammatical mood to script speech or dialogue as potential
Moving beyond hypothetical deliberation, once Suffolk has
returned to England and aroused his monarch’s desire, he ends
the play, like Tamburlaine, with a shall and will of ‘assured
hope’: ‘Margaret shall now be queen and rule the King; / But
I will rule both her, the King, and realm’ (5.7.107–8). But,
unlike Tamburlaine’s, his is a negotiated shall, a resolution
issuing out of that potent imaginative space for mental
deliberation to be found in the grammatical variability of
the English potential mood. Furthermore, in 1 Henry VI,
Shakespeare and his collaborators discover, paradoxically,
how to stage the past and develop the genre of the history
play by tapping into the resources of early modern English for
projecting futures.

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Othello and Theatrical

Sarah Werner

‘This’ is a powerful word in the theatre, a pointer that can

indicate physical objects, subjects of discussion and stage
actions. ‘This’ is a word that can conjure imaginary places on
a bare stage and contain new worlds in its utterance. ‘This is
Venice’ (1.1.107), we are told, and we are in Venice. ‘Here,
stand behind this bulk’ (5.1.1) and we know that the stage
pillar, which might have been something else in another scene,
is now a shop stall. ‘Take me this work out’ (3.4.175) and we
understand the speaker means to have the handkerchief in his
hand copied, not the work on some other object.1
If ‘this’ can localize objects, it can also create a space
inhabited by gestures. ‘And this, and this, the greatest discords
be / That e’er our hearts shall make’ (2.1.195–6) makes it
clear (even without the quarto stage direction ‘they kiss’)

All quotations from and references to Shakespeare’s plays are taken from The
Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton,

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that some sort of action is performed at these two moments,

although the specifics of ‘this’ are made clear only in seeing the
actors’ gestures. Such flexibility is part of the word’s strength,
working as it does both to bridge language and action and to
link specific moments and larger circumstances. Desdemona
states, ‘I have not deserved this’ (4.1.236), and the audience
concurs: she has not deserved being struck. But ‘this’ also
stands in for more than the specific action. She does not
deserve that, nor does she deserve the distrust and anger that
lies behind the blow. Emilia tells Othello after Desdemona’s
death, ‘This deed of thine is no more worthy heaven / Than
thou wast worthy her’ (5.2.167–8), and Othello’s deed is,
most immediately, the murder of his wife. But it is also clear
from Emilia’s vehement objections to the accusations of
Desdemona’s infidelity that ‘this deed’ expands to include
Othello’s lack of faith in his wife.
But if ‘this’ can clarify a story on stage, ‘this’ can also
obfuscate it. Consider this beginning of a play: two men are
alone on a bare stage, one man speaking about an event that
has upset him: ‘I take it much unkindly / That thou, Iago,
who has had my purse / As if the strings were thine, shouldst
know of this’ (1.1.1–3). The second speaker, Iago, protests
‘If ever I did dream / Of such a matter, abhor me’ (5). He
goes on to describe his outrage that ‘he’ has not made the
speaker his lieutenant, but has rather chosen ‘Michael Cassio,
a Florentine’ (19), while Iago must be ‘his Moorship’s ensign’
(32). After another speech in which Iago describes how he is
only seeming to serve as ensign, but really is looking after his
own interests, the speakers’ attention returns to the upsetting
matter that started the scene off: ‘What a full fortune does
the thick-lips owe / If he can carry’t thus!’ (66–7). Our first
clue of what the ‘it’ of this ‘matter’ might be comes with
Iago’s reference to ‘her father’ (67) and their subsequent
cries, ‘Awake, what ho, Brabanzio, thieves, thieves, thieves! /
Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags. / Thieves,
thieves!’ (79–81). In response to Brabanzio’s question, ‘What
is the matter there?’ (83), Iago finally answers the play’s

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opening question: ‘Even now, now, very now, an old black

ram / Is tupping your white ewe’ (88–9).
I take my time replaying these opening moments of Othello
to remind us of how little the audience knows what is
happening at the beginning of this play, particularly, as is key
to my investigation, if we imagine an audience contemporary
to the play’s creation, one for whom the story of Othello has
not yet become omnipresent. For such an audience – for us,
if we can imagine ourselves back in that place – something is
clearly afoot, and we must rely on the dialogue to begin to
put the pieces together, establishing where we are and what is
happening. This technique of thrusting the audience into the
middle of a story is not unique to this play, of course. As You
Like It begins with Orlando complaining feelingly to Adam of
Oliver’s mistreatment of him, leading almost immediately into
the brothers’ fight. Nor is the manner of introducing major
characters through the eyes of minor ones unusual: Antony
and Cleopatra starts with Philo’s disapproving description of
Antony’s behaviour in Egypt.
What is striking about Othello is how long Shakespeare
withholds crucial information about the action. Not all infor-
mation is withheld, of course: we learn Iago’s name within
two lines of his entrance, Cassio is named the first time he is
mentioned, and Brabanzio’s name summons him forth. It takes
30 lines before Roderigo’s name is revealed, a bit of a delay,
but not an important one since it is clear from his opening
lines that his function is to be Iago’s tool. Other context is
established more generally: there is an ongoing war, the action
seems to be set somewhere in Italy, and there is a Moor.
But the event that sets off Roderigo’s dismay in the opening
lines, the ‘this’ about which he is so upset that Iago didn’t tell
him – how long does it take to establish what ‘this’ is? Iago’s
response doesn’t immediately clarify what the matter is that
is upsetting Roderigo, but insists on his innocent ignorance:
‘If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me’ (5). Roderigo
wavers – ‘Thou told’st me thou did hold him in thy hate’ (6) –
and Iago’s lengthy reply focuses on the proof of his hate of this

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‘him’ rather than explicating what ‘such a matter’ is. Here is

Iago’s response in full, so we can experience what information
is shared and how it is presented:

Despise me
If I do not. Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capped to him; and by the faith of man
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.
But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuffed with epithets of war,
Nonsuits my mediators; for ‘Certes,’ says he,
‘I have already chose my officer.’
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damned in a fair wife,
That never set a squadron in the field
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster – unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the togaed consuls can propose
As masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice
Is all his soldiership; but he, sir, had th’election,
And I – of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds
Christened and heathen – must be beleed and calmed
By debitor and creditor. This counter-caster,
He in good time must his lieutenant be,
And I – God bless the mark! – his Moorship’s ensign.

There are some odd details in this speech, even aside from the
fact that it has veered away from the question of what has
upset Roderigo. The first is that although Iago is very clear
that he hates him, who is the object of his hatred? To whom
were the great men making suit? While that question is left

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dangling, we learn not only the name of Iago’s rival, but his
nationality and other specific details, including the tantalizing
description that Cassio is ‘a fellow almost damned in a fair
wife’, a phrase that scholars still puzzle over, given that Cassio
does not appear to be married in the play. The plethora of
detail lavished on Cassio’s characterization spills over so that
the pronouns referring to Cassio blur confusingly with those
referring to the as-yet-unnamed ‘he’ in lines 26 and 27: ‘he
[clearly Cassio, given the previous context and the phrase
immediately following] has th’election, / And I – of whom his
eyes [his eyes? Cassio’s eyes?] had seen the proof / At Rhodes,
Cyprus [and wait, these can’t be Cassio’s eyes, given Iago’s
insistence that Cassio knows only the theory of warfare and
has never ventured onto the battlefield; these eyes must belong
to the unnamed he].’ That usage of ‘he’ to refer to both Cassio
and the unnamed man comes again in the penultimate line of
the speech – ‘He in good time must his lieutenant be’ – and it
is not until Iago’s last line, and the last clause of the last line,
deferred by Iago’s interjection, ‘God bless the mark!’, that we
finally get a referent for the unnamed: ‘his Moorship’s ensign.’
If this blurring of pronouns seems confusing, the deictics
get even more muddled when Iago turns his attention to
waking Brabanzio. In response to Roderigo’s musing, ‘What
a full fortune does the thick-lips owe / If he can carry’t thus’
(remember: what is ‘it’ here?), Iago proclaims:

Call up her father,

Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,
Plague him with flies. Though that his joy be joy,
Yet throw such chances of vexation on’t
As it may lose some colour. (1.1.67–73)

‘Her father’ is clear enough, even though we don’t know yet

who the woman is, and the first three uses of ‘him’, and the
first ‘his’, seem to refer to ‘her father’: ‘Call up her father, /

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Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight, / Proclaim

him in the streets.’ The second ‘her’ surely refers to the same
woman – Iago wishes not only to disturb her father but her
other kinsmen. So, on to the next part of the speech: ‘And,
though he in a fertile climate dwell, / Plague him with flies.’
That ‘he’ and ‘him’ could refer back to her father, too: his
delight is being poisoned, he is being plagued with flies. But
does Brabanzio live in a fertile climate? I suppose, yes, but does
Iago worry about Brabanzio’s fertility? A sense that things are
not quite so settled grows stronger in the next lines: ‘Though
that his joy be joy, / Yet throw such chances of vexation on’t
/ As it may lose some colour.’ Again, this could certainly refer
to Brabanzio, but it seems, especially with reference to losing
colour, to invoke the Moor as well. The venom that Iago
expresses seems in keeping with the hatred he has insisted he
feels towards the Moor – if there is anyone that he has insisted
he wanted to plague and vex, it is certainly the Moor.
Editors of the play do not find the matter settled. Norman
Sanders, in the New Cambridge Shakespeare, flatly declares that
all the pronouns in line 69 refer to Othello and then questions
the rest of the passage no more.2 But Ernst Honigmann, in the
Arden 3, glosses line 68 as referring to Brabanzio; though he
notes that some editors think the ‘him’ throughout is Othello
as suggested by the Folio punctuation, he rejects that on the
basis that there is nothing authoritative about that punctua-
tion.3 Michael Neill, in the Oxford, takes a more judicious
route: ‘Editors are divided as to whether the pronouns refer to
Othello (as F’s punctuation might suggest) or Brabantio (as Q
appears to indicate). Though “rouse” might seem to anticipate
the noisy wakening of Brabantio which follows, the other
injunctions seem more appropriate to Othello.’4 The question

Othello, ed. Norman Sanders, New Cambridge Shakespeare (updated edn,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 1.1.69n.
Othello, ed. E. A. J. Honigmann, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series (London:
Bloomsbury, 1997), 1.1.68n.
Othello, the Moor of Venice, ed. Michael Neill, Oxford Shakespeare

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of punctuation – the difference is primarily that of Q’s comma

following ‘streete’ versus F’s period after ‘streets’ – is the sort
of editorial quibble that obscures the larger play of meaning
here, in which one pronoun seems to call forth two separate,
yet simultaneous, referents.
Although these editorial rabbit holes might not seem
connected to theatrical language, there is a purpose to this
journey. My overarching theme is that it is very hard to know
what is going on in these opening moments. It is not only
that we do not know where deictics are pointing, but that
even in moments of seeming clarity, meaning turns back in on
itself. The speech that these two slippery uses of ‘he’ bracket
is perhaps the best instance of this point. This is the speech in
which Iago explains that his service as ensign meets his own
designs, not his master’s: ‘I follow him to serve my turn upon
him’ (42). But that might be the speech’s greatest moment of
clarity. Compare it to the culmination of the speech:

for, sir,
It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor I would not be Iago.
In following him I follow but myself.
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so for my peculiar end.
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am. (1.1.55–65)

Here, even when the referents seem to be the most spelled out,
they circle back in on themselves. ‘Were I the Moor I would
not be Iago.’ ‘I am not what I am.’ What does an audience
learn from this, other than to not be sure about trusting Iago,

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 201.

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even as he seems to be the only one who has any information

to share?
I first began to be bothered by the opacity of the play’s
opening when I noticed how long it takes for anyone to use
Othello’s name. He is referred to, in order of usage, as ‘he’
(1.1.12), ‘his Moorship’ (32), ‘the Moor’ (39, 57, 118, 127,
148, 165, 178), ‘the thick-lips’ (66), ‘an old black ram’ (88),
‘the devil’ (91), ‘a Barbary horse’ (113), ‘an extravagant and
wheeling stranger’ (137) – but never is he named in the first
scene. In the second scene, he finally appears on the stage,
but again is not named. It is not until the Duke greets him
in the third scene as ‘Valiant Othello’ (1.3.48) that anyone
uses his proper name. This deferral of his name, combined
with his absence from the stage for the first 230 lines of the
play, leaves the audience with little way to refer to him other
than by using Iago’s racially loaded terms. It is not only Iago
who cannot think of Othello outside of these epithets, but the
audience as well, who has only Iago’s evocative language to
go by.
My point is not only that Iago is the audience’s entry
into the world of the play, but that the nature of the play’s
theatrical language normalizes the audience’s dependence on
Iago’s viewpoint. In a theatre without extensive scenery or
playbills, for a recent play that has not yet entered the canon
of our memory, the audience relies on a play’s dialogue in
order to establish its mise-en-scène. The funeral procession at
the start of 1 Henry VI, described as mourning ‘King Henry
the Fifth, too famous to live long’ (1.1.6), establishes the
time and location of that play. The beginning of a play might
not always locate the story as clearly in terms of geography
or chronology: ‘In sooth, I know not why I am so sad’ (The
Merchant of Venice, 1.1.1) – but in this case it sets Antonio’s
mood and his subsequent relationship with Bassanio that
drives the plot. But Othello begins with the unclear ‘this’; and
its opening lines, with their emphasis on unspecified events
and repetition of indeterminate pronouns, mystify rather
than clarify. It is a deliberate strategy of obfuscation and it

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is successful because the audience does not have the tools to

supply the information withheld.
The absence of Othello’s proper name and the shiftiness of
pronouns are only some of the ways in which the audience is left
to fend for themselves in this play. Consider, again, the matter
that so troubles Roderigo. Initially we do not know what it is.
Then we gather that, as Iago tries to convince Brabanzio, it
is that the Moor has stolen his daughter. Brabanzio, in turn,
proposes a slight modification to this story: the Moor has
enchanted her. It is not until many lines later, more than 300
lines later, that the counter-narrative of a mutual elopement
is presented, with Othello and Desdemona falling in love over
tales from his ‘traveller’s history’ (1.3.138). Given the length
of time in which Iago’s presentation dominates in the absence
of any other narrative, how easily is it displaced? How does
the audience decide to shift from one narrative to another?
Do they make that shift, or do both stories exist, a single
event pointing in two different directions at the same time?
In experiencing this shift, the audience’s position mirrors
that of Othello’s in the course of Iago’s trickery. Which
story do we believe? What can we know when we’re not
sure whether we can trust what our eyes and ears tell us?
Nothing is stable in this play, from Iago’s ‘I am not what
I am’ to the dual time scheme of the story (does the action
in the play happen over a few days or many months?).5 If
Othello is a play about searching for ocular proof, it is also
a play that achieves its proof, and undermines it, through the
theatrical techniques of descriptions of offstage action and the
heightened significance of props. But while the audience is not
duped to the same degree as Othello – we know what Cassio
and Iago are discussing when Othello is spying on them, we
know how Cassio got hold of the handkerchief – the audience

Honigmann’s introduction to his edition provides a concise overview of the
critical debates about the time scheme of the play’s action (68–72). Even
the play’s textual history and the differences between the quarto and folio
versions adds to the play’s instability.

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is also kept from understanding other key mysteries of the

play, including insight into Iago’s hatred. The obfuscation of
the opening scenes and the theme of not knowing what to
believe carry over the rest of the play. Othello is successful in
destabilizing the audience because it successfully manipulates
early modern theatrical conventions. Theatrical practice is
a nuanced language that can be turned to the playwright’s
devices just as well as English can.
Brabanzio’s insistence, when he confronts Othello, that he
already knows that she was enchanted, is key here:

Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her,

For I’ll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curlèd darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t’incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou – to fear, not to delight.
Judge me the world if ’tis not gross in sense
That thou hast practised on her with foul charms,
Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals
That weakens motion. I’ll have’t disputed on.
’Tis probable, and palpable to thinking. (1.2.64–77)

‘’Tis probable, and palpable to thinking.’ It is clear enough

from Brabanzio’s perspective why his explanation is probable
– it fits in with his conception both of Desdemona (so tender
even curlèd darlings weren’t good enough for her propriety)
and his notion of Othello. But what makes this palpable to
thinking? It is a phrase that, in contrast to the problematic
‘he’s, does not get glossed in most editions. And certainly the
sense of it as meaning ‘obvious to thought’ is clear enough.
But palpable does not only mean ‘obvious.’ Its primary
sense is, as John Bullokar’s 1616 An English Expositor
puts it, ‘That which may bee felt with the fingers: manifest,

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notorious.’6 Brabanzio’s emphasis throughout this speech on

sense – ‘I’ll refer me to all things of sense’, ‘Judge me the world
if ’tis not gross in sense’ – keeps the double meaning of sense
and palpable at the forefront: he might be asking about what
can be judged, but he is always doing so in terms of our senses,
what can be seen and felt.
‘’Tis probable, and palpable to thinking.’ Does not theatre
make things palpable? Is it not the work of players to take
written words and attach them to moving, feeling bodies?
And isn’t that work done in conjunction with an audience,
who must judge whether to see character or personator, who
must decide what is probable? A player who is not probable
in his role, who is only visible as an actor rather than as part
of the story, is usually failing as a player. Describing theatre
as palpable has its own pitfalls. Audiences do not, generally,
reach out and touch the players. It of course is not Henry V on
stage, nor should it be (that’s not theatre; that’s celebrity). But
theatre does turn thought and words into visible and audible
presences, into something that can be seen and heard and
could, potentially, be felt. It is one of the few art forms that
brings living artists into the same physical space at the same
time as their audience.
If one of the pitfalls of thinking of theatre as palpable is that
you do not actually reach out and palpate it, another is that,
in this play, what is palpable to thinking is exactly wrong.
Brabanzio assumes incorrectly that Othello has enchanted
Desdemona; Othello assumes incorrectly that Desdemona is
having an affair with Cassio. It seems that what is palpable
to thinking are our own worst thoughts, our prejudices and
fears. So is Othello a play that is fundamentally antitheatrical?
A play that teaches us not to trust theatre?
I think, rather, the reverse is true. Othello is a play that
investigates the problem that all people face – how to judge

John Bullokar, An English Expositor Teaching the Interpretation of
the Hardest Words Vsed in Our Language. With Sundry Explications,
Descriptions, and Discourses (London: Iohn Legatt, 1616), sig. L6v.

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people, how to trust a story, how to know when something

is or is not true. It is able to investigate that truth in the
theatre precisely because it is theatrical language that allows
us to look at the question. Just as the opening of the play
succeeds because it draws on theatrical language to heighten
the audience’s disorientation and then uses that disorientation
to align them with Othello’s disorientation in the play, so the
question of what is palpable to thinking is central both to
theatrical language and to the play’s urgency. To emphasize
what is palpable to thinking puts the audience’s and Othello’s
disorientation in terms of theatrical performance that then
must resolve those paradoxes. By the end of the play, the
obfuscating ‘this’ becomes the dramatic ‘this’ that carries the
story forward. ‘Set you down this’ (5.2.360) asks Othello of
his witnesses, just before he points out ‘No way but this: /
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss’ (368–9). ‘This is thy work’
(374) Lodovico tells Iago and then takes on the burden of the
play, ‘This heavy act with heavy heart relate’ (381).
The importance of thinking about Othello in terms of its
theatrical language lies not in how it enables us to under-
stand new aspects of the play, but in what it suggests for
how scholars should understand early modern drama. If we
are no longer in danger of understanding the plays too much
in terms of real life, reading the characters as people rather
than as roles, current critical habits are too inclined to study
the plays in terms of historicity – reading through the lens
of historical difference, linking the language and politics of
plays to pamphlets, or colonialism, or an emerging rhetoric
of science. With the exception of the work of performance
scholars – those of us who take performance as the focus of
our inquiries and therefore who read the plays in terms of
theatre and other performance media – very little scholarship
on Shakespeare thinks of the plays in terms of theatrical
performance. There might be discussion of how geography
is connected to the humors, an analysis of the connections
between sleep and political discourse, or a teasing out of
the resonances of animal imagery. But if that scholarship is

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drawing on Shakespeare’s plays, then where is the recognition

that the staging of those texts might somehow be involved in
shaping their meanings? Is the effect of describing humours
on stage the same as reading a description of those humours
in a receipt book?
I do not want to reopen those tiresome debates about
whether the plays can only be understood through perfor-
mance, a point of view that denies the long history of the plays
as texts that were and are read and that sees all performance
as the same, as if how it is staged today reveals how it was
experienced then.7 I am not arguing that we can only under-
stand the plays through performance; nor am I insisting that
Lukas Erne’s promotion of Shakespeare as a literary dramatist
is leading us down a path of peril.8 But it is important to
remember that there are stages there and that those stages
were not just platforms on which the players strode, but a way
of making meaning, a language.
There are some significant challenges to working this way,
not least the fact that it is hard to separate what we might
know about early modern theatres from what we imagine
we know from our own experiences. After the first wave
of optimistic and joyful insistence that we could rediscover
Shakespeare’s real meaning through performing him, came a
second wave of caution, one correctly pointing out that the
nature of performance changes as its material conditions and
producing cultures change. We ought not go back to assuming
that our theatrical habits can be merely transferred wholesale
onto Shakespeare. But it is not impossible to see traces of
earlier theatrical languages. Andrew James Hartley recently

For a brief overview of the history of performance scholarship and
Shakespeare, see my introduction to New Directions in Renaissance Drama
and Performance Studies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 1–11.
See Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003); for a critique, see W. B. Worthen, ‘Intoxicating
Rhythms: Or, Shakespeare, Literary Drama, and Performance (Studies)’,
Shakespeare Quarterly 62 (2011): 309–39.

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argued that even as many aspects of performance have

changed over the centuries, enough is constant that modern
performances might in fact teach us something: there are still
actors and audiences and they still work together to create
a character out of the written role.9 Carolyn Sale connects
the wrestling with written language and alphabets she sees
in Titus Andronicus with Shakespeare’s wrestling to create a
new theatrical language.10 Those are just two quick examples
of how some scholars have found ways of thinking about
theatrical practices even as they might not know the full scope
of how drama was realized on early modern stages. But it is
clear that there are rich possibilities in thinking about plays in
terms of how theatre makes meaning.
In thinking of theatrical practice as a language, I am
arguing that all scholars – not only performance scholars –
need to push past the recognition that Shakespeare’s plays
were informed by early modern staging practices to an
understanding of the constitutive power of those stagings.11
Theatrical practice does not merely provide the platform
from which his plays speak; theatrical practice is the language
through which the plays speak and with which they make
When Iago asserts ‘I am not what I am’, he is telling us
something more true than the obvious statement that his
schemes run deeper than his surface actions. No matter what


Andrew James Hartley, ‘Page and Stage Again: Rethinking Renaissance
Character Phenomenologically’, in New Directions in Renaissance Drama
and Performance Studies, 77–93.
Carolyn Sale, ‘Black Aeneas: Race, English Literary History, and the
“Barbarous” Poetics of Titus Andronicus’, Shakespeare Quarterly 62 (2011):
There is a long history of thinking of theatre through semiotics; see, for
example, Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theater and Drama (London; New
York: Methuen, 1980); and Erika Fischer-Lichte, The Semiotics of Theater,
trans. Jeremy Gaines and Doris L. Jones (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1983). I am less interested in theatrical semiotics than I am in seeing
theatrical languages as relevant to literary study.

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else might be true about Iago, he is not who he is: he is not

a man named Iago, but an actor playing a character named
Iago. The work of theatre is to make things other than they
are: a man represents a character, a wall stands in for a castle,
a pair of chairs and a table become a tavern. The audience
knows what these things are because we accept the terms of
the fiction. The man tells us he’s waiting for his lover and it’s
cold outside; he gestures at the wall and wishes she would
emerge from the castle; they sit at the table and hold tankards
in their hands and we understand that the wall behind them
is no longer the castle but a tavern. These things are obvious
enough to us that the inability of others to follow those
rules is a source of laughter – think of the mechanicals in A
Midsummer Night’s Dream or the grocers in The Knight of
the Burning Pestle. They are also a source of tragedy – Romeo
cannot perceive the difference between Juliet asleep and Juliet
dead, the Duchess of Malfi mistakes the artificial figures of her
family as their corpses.
But what if the terms of the fiction are lying to us? What
if all the women on stage are played by boys because female
characters are always played by boys, but one character is
revealed to be played by a boy because the character is actually
a boy? What if a play teases its audience with knowledge of a
precipitating event that it refuses to share and then reveals that
event only through competing stories even as it tells us not
to trust reports of news? How does the audience know what
to make of what’s happening on stage? This is what makes
Othello such a powerful play. The lack of clarity about what
is happening, our inability to decide what is probable – the
struggles the characters face in the play are mirrored in the
struggles the audience faces in watching the play.
This examination of Othello and call for reading the plays
with an awareness of theatrical language has been grounded in
the practices of the early modern theatre. But the recognition
that theatrical practice is a constitutive language holds true
for any performance, not only early modern ones. Today we
are generally so habituated to mainstream theatre that we do

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not dwell on its conventions. It is the unusual practices that

catch our eye and make us look at theatre anew. Performance
scholars have used the multi-media and multiply layered
Shakespeare performances of The Wooster Group to explore
how acting techniques and mediation shape the story they are
telling with Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida.12 The five hours
of the Toneelgroep’s Roman Tragedies, with its projections
and microphones and onstage audience, is another out-of-the-
ordinary production the theatrical language of which prompts
scholars to consider its impact on how the performance’s
meaning is created.13 But even the usual theatrical language is
also constitutive, enabling and disabling meanings, as the work
of W. B. Worthen, Barbara Hodgdon and others have shown.14
The specialization of fields within the larger body of
Shakespeare scholarship has meant that performance scholars,
theatre historians and literary scholars have too often talked
within their own circles, as if they have nothing to offer each
other. But Shakespeare’s works and Shakespeare’s reception do
not exist within silos. We need to think of Shakespeare’s plays
not as literary vehicles or as theatrical ones, but as works that
draw on multiple languages to create their rich play of meanings.

For more on their production of Hamlet, see Sarah Werner, ‘Two Hamlets:
Wooster Group and Synetic Theater’, Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008):
323–9; W. B. Worthen, ‘Hamlet at Ground Zero: The Wooster Group and
the Archive of Performance’, Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008): 303–22; and
William N. West, ‘Replaying Early Modern Performances’, in New Directions
in Renaissance Drama and Performance Studies, 30–50. For Troilus and
Cressida, see Thomas P. Cartelli, ‘“The Killing Stops Here”: Unmaking the
Myths of Troy in the Wooster Group / RSC Troilus & Cressida (2012)’,
Shakespeare Quarterly 64 (2013): 233–43.
See Christian M. Billing, ‘The Roman Tragedies’, Shakespeare Quarterly
61 (2010): 415–39; and Sarah Werner, ‘Audiences’, in Shakespeare and the
Making of Theatre, ed. Stuart Hampton-Reeves and Bridget Escolme (New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 165–79.
See, for example, W. B. Worthen, Drama: Between Poetry and Performance
(Chichester and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); and Barbara Hodgdon,
‘Introduction’, A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance (Oxford:
Blackwell, 2005), 1–9.

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Slips of Wilderness: Verbal
and Gestural Language in
Measure for Measure

Paul Yachnin and

Patrick Neilson

In this chapter, we bring together literary and theatrical ways

of thinking about Shakespeare’s language. We seek to explain
the life of the word ‘slip’ in Measure for Measure; this single
word grounds our argument about how poetry and perfor-
mance are incorporated – made into a single dynamic thing
– in the play. That means that we use the word ‘language’
in a special way, to mean both verbal and gestural kinds of
expression. We think about poetry and performance as inter-
twining art forms, and we therefore also consider play-reading
and play-watching (as well as literary interpretation and theat-
rical performance) as interrelated practices.
The key phrase in our title comes from Isabella’s tirade
against her brother Claudio, a young man condemned to die
for having sex outside of marriage. He asks her to submit to

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being raped by the judge so that his (Claudio’s) life may be

spared. ‘Heaven shield my mother played my father fair,’ she
says angrily, ‘For such a warpèd slip of wilderness / Ne’er
issued from his blood’ (3.1.144–60).1 A ‘slip’ is a young
shoot, something that grows out of the stem of a plant and
that might be grafted onto another plant or might be planted
on its own. A ‘warpèd slip’ is a shoot that grows crookedly.
‘Wilderness’ means ‘wildness’, a quality of radical naturalness
outside human cultivation. It can also suggest a confused
and desolate space, just as in modern English.2 The OED
tells us that in this particular case the word means ‘wildness
of character, licentiousness’, but Isabella’s speech is the only
instance the OED is able to adduce, so it likely makes sense
for us to stick with the basic meanings. The whole sentence
imagines an illicit grafting of crooked wildness onto the
licit, patrilineal bloodline of the family by way of Claudio’s
mother’s alleged adultery.
‘Slip’ also means an immoral act, a sudden falling downward
from moral uprightness, which is what Isabella imagines her
mother doing – her immoral ‘slip’ issuing in the ‘warpèd slip’
of the bastard child Claudio. Isabella uses the word to mean
‘sinned’ explicitly in her first scene with Angelo: ‘If he had
been as you, and you as he, / You would have slipped like him,
but he like you / Would not have been so stern’ (2.2.64–6).
The word here might be intended by Isabella to diminish the
gravity of her brother’s trespass, especially by suggesting its
ordinary and even merely accidental character. Escalus’ use of
the word later in the play, however, unmistakably designates
an act of grave wrongdoing (though Escalus still retains the
connection between moral slipping and sexual heat):

I am sorry one so learned and so wise

As you, Lord Angelo, have still appeared,

This and all following quotations from the play are from the edition by N. W.
Bawcutt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Oxford English Dictionary, ‘wilderness’ (accessed 27 June 2011).

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Slips of Wilderness 189

Should slip so grossly, both in the heat of blood

And lack of tempered judgment afterward. (5.1.473–6)

Together, these three uses of the word tell us that sin is a

violation of natural goodness and a disordering of natural
growth, whether of a plant or a family; but they also suggest
that there might be something slippery and sinful within the
order of nature itself.
To use the word ‘slip’ as a synonym for ‘sin’ is to shift
from an exclusively theological understanding of wrong-
doing and to insist on the natural and physical dimensions
of transgression. Acts borne of natural human desire and the
shoots of young growing plants can both be ‘warpèd slips of
wilderness.’ That the unnatural is of a piece with the natural
suggests that the wild slips and warps of the characters’
actions might at the end be recuperated as the unfolding of
natural processes. After all, Claudio’s ‘sin’ or ‘crime’ of getting
Julietta with child in advance of their intended marriage seems
indeed merely a ‘slip’ in the most innocent sense of the word.3
But since ‘wilderness’ is something set apart from the natural
order as well as a synonym for ‘natural’, it cannot designate
an untroubled understanding of the natural. ‘Wilderness’ thus
points to the play’s critical account of the internal contradic-
tions in early modern ideas about ‘the natural.’ That interest
in unnatural nature, which this play shares with Hamlet and
King Lear, is gathered perfectly in the word ‘slip’ – both a
natural growth and a sinful transgression of nature.
These readings of the word ‘slip’ were part of what was
taken up by the actors in a production of Measure for Measure
at McGill in autumn 2010, directed by Patrick Neilson. Using
the word and its cognates to create a verbal network was not
an accident of the rehearsal process but rather a deliberate


Isabella’s initial response (1.4.45–9) to the news of Julietta’s pregnancy
sounds like happy surprise. The Provost and Escalus share her lack of moral
disapproval. See 2.1.4–16 and 2.2.3–6 respectively.

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creative strategy. Neilson and the actors hoped that this

verbal network (or guide-words, as they thought of them)
would become a practical tool during rehearsals. The guide-
words represented a series of initial choices to help steer the
performers through the play’s notorious inconsistencies. In
this way, the actors found themselves creating links between
text and stage from the beginning of the rehearsal process.
Preselecting these guide-words provided the student actors
with early pathways into their characters’ thoughts and
emotions and an initial direction for embodying their roles,
incorporating the language of the play and using their bodies
to write that language on the stage through movement.
Slips, slippages and the network of closely related words
that link to ‘slip’ through its several valences current in the
seventeenth century became integral to the actors’ thinking
about the play. The play uses both verb and noun forms of
the word and appears to pun on almost the full range of its
meanings. Once recognized, their traces seemed to surface
everywhere in the text. Inconsistencies and changes in tone
became less troublesome if looked at through the lens of
slippage. A series of puns emerged pointing to a multilayered
metatheatricality. That lens became an invaluable tool for
making interpretive choices not only about character, narrative
style and movement, but also about costumes and properties.
The student actors were encouraged to develop individual
lists of guide-words for their character or characters (some
actors played multiple roles). The actors who played Isabella
and Angelo, for example, both had ‘seeming’ on their lists.
‘Seeming’ was related to ‘slip’ through ‘counterfeit’ and thus
to ‘false’ and its homophone ‘faults’, and further to ‘error /
sin.’ ‘False’ and ‘seeming’ also pointed to the metatheatrical
disguisings, storytelling, parabasis and the play within a play
that is Act Five.
The multiple related verbal clusters became a unifying
linguistic network. While not a substitute for other forms of
textual analysis, this approach had the advantages of being
evolutionary in nature in ways that allowed the actors to

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Slips of Wilderness 191

come to a better understanding of the text through their

own invention and exploration. As the actors became more
familiar with their lines, they discovered new links among
words that greatly expanded the verbal network. The root
words provided a ready map of this expanding and increas-
ingly coherent vocabulary that could be shared by actors and
director. In this growing verbal world, the word ‘slip’ retained
its centrality.


In what follows, we want to develop two interrelated lines

of thought. One approach finds ‘slips’ and its cognate words
proliferating everywhere in the play, shaping the play’s
characters, plot and themes. This exfoliation of a single word
points to what we suggest is the remarkably metaphorical
character of Shakespeare’s thinking. In our account,
Shakespeare develops a critical representation of personhood,
action and the world by cultivating an unfolding, multiplex
system of metaphors that allows him to ‘project patterns from
one domain of experience in order to structure another domain
of a different kind.’ The phrase is Mark Johnson’s; throughout
this chapter, we draw on his work and on his collaborations
with George Lakoff.4 Shakespeare’s use of ‘slip’ exemplifies
Lakoff and Johnson’s argument for the metaphoricity of
language itself and for the essentially metaphorical character
of our descriptions of the world. Shakespeare also develops, in
anticipation of Lakoff and Johnson, a critical account of the
ways by which metaphor is able to constitute the world.

Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning,
Imagination, and Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1,
xiv–xv. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (1980;
rpt. with a new Afterword, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).
See the foundational work by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology
of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (rpt. London and New York: Routledge,
2010), esp. 202–32.

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In Shakespeare, metaphor is both a world-making form of

language and an instrument of critical inquiry. For instance,
sonnet 129’s first line, ‘The expense of spirit in a waste of
shame’, brings together the monetary, sexual and spiritual
by playing on ‘expense’ (outlay of substance or funds; sexual
ejaculation), ‘spirit’ (vital principle or immaterial being;
bodily substance such as semen) and ‘a waste’ (an act of
dissipation; a waist, i.e. female genitals).5 The line invites us
to think about sex in terms of at least two related kinds of
‘spending’, as if the bodily act were neither a form of procre-
ation nor a means of shared fulfilment but rather a reckless
dispersing of material goods and spiritual being. The line is
exemplary of how metaphor can make us see something in a
particular way. But the Sonnets as a whole cultivate a more
complex representation of sex than we see in the first line of
sonnet 129, a multifaceted depiction that invites a manifold
judgement and that also reveals the constructedness of human
sexuality itself. In sonnet 2, to take one example, we find a
monetary metaphor similar to sonnet 129’s, but this time the
yoking of money and sex argues in favour of sex as a way of
fostering beauty and community against time and old age. If
the beautiful young man addressed in the sonnet fails to have
children, the poet says, it will be ‘an all-eating shame.’ What
the young man should do instead is ‘use’ his beauty – both
employ it and invest it at interest – by fathering a child whose
beauty in turn will ‘sum [his] count’ (i.e. add up and thereby
balance his father’s account):

How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,

If thou couldst answer, ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine. (ll. 9–12)

All Shakespeare quotes other than those from Measure for Measure are from
the Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (2nd edn, Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

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Slips of Wilderness 193

A second approach leads us to Shakespeare’s gestural language,

which, we argue, is closely tied to the words of the play.
Bodies and minds and their respective expressive repertories
are bound together in Shakespeare. Lakoff and Johnson are
important for us here also since they have developed a rich
argument about how we make sense of the world, which finds
any meaningful grasp of the social and physical environment
grounded in metaphorized embodied experience. They argue
that we organize the world by projecting metaphorically from
one domain to another: ‘our normal conceptual system is
metaphorically structured; that is, most concepts are partially
understood in terms of other concepts.’6 The non-metaphorical
ground from which this tree of metaphor grows is bodily
experience. In answer to one key question – how do we make
space and movement humanly meaningful? – they point to
how we experience our bodies – proprioceptively, perceptually
and kinaesthetically:

The concepts front and back are body-based. They make

sense only for beings with fronts and backs. If all beings on
this planet were uniform stationary spheres floating in some
medium and perceiving equally in all directions, they would
have no concepts of front or back. But we are not like this
… We have faces and move in the direction in which we
see. Our bodies define a set of fundamental spatial orien-
tations that we use not only in orienting ourselves, but in
perceiving the relationship of one object to another.7

Lakoff and Johnson’s insights into the embodied and

metaphorical nature of the human world inform our linked
accounts of the poetic and performative ‘slips’ of Measure
for Measure. In the rehearsals for the McGill performance,

Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 56.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied
Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1999),

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the actors’ lines grew more meaningful as they developed an

understanding of the play’s metaphorical system, and they also
adjusted their gestures, carriage and movement to the emerging
slipperiness of the poetry. The two, poetry and performance,
grew up together quite naturally. Thea Fitz-James, the actor
playing Lucio, for example, was able to incorporate slipperiness
into her movement. Gracefully athletic, she could slide, stop,
dip and glide about the stage. Her carriage and movement
suited the character’s speaking, which could slip easily out
of prose into verse, as it does when Lucio substitutes for
Claudio on his mission to Isabella in 1.4.8 And her movements,
gestures and facial expressions could be just as self-consciously
performative and ironic as were her character’s lines.
It is also worth suggesting that understanding embodied
metaphorical meaningfulness might go some way toward
drawing together performance studies and literary approaches
to Shakespeare. Movement and facial and gestural expression
on stage are of a piece with poetry, character and story on
the page. Indeed, Shakespeare’s theatrical art, founded in the
necessary and natural commerce between embodiment and
poetry, makes visible and accessible the metaphorical and
‘body-based’ quality, not only of theatrical performance, but
also of the humanly meaningful world itself.


Because the word ‘slip’ has multiple meanings, it serves well to

create a metaphorical network that is able to shuttle meaning
from one zone of thinking and feeling to another. ‘Slip’ is one
example of Shakespearean wordplay (‘expense’, ‘waste’ and
‘use’ are others), where a single word contains within it a number
of potential meanings, which Shakespeare is able to draw out.
Consider one of the most difficult passages in the play. Here the
Duke, about to go into disguise as Friar Lodowick, tells Friar

Claudio enjoins Lucio to ‘Implore her in my voice’ (1.2.178).

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Slips of Wilderness 195

Thomas how he hopes Angelo will restore the moral order that
he, the Duke himself, has allowed to break down:

We have strict statutes and most biting laws,

The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds,
Which for this fourteen years we have let slip,
Even like an o’ergrown lion in a cave
That goes not out to prey. (1.3.19–23)

The imagery is complex, but the primary meaning of the lines

is clear enough: Vincentio admits that for 14 years he has
neglected to enforce (‘we have let slip’) the laws that might have
served to maintain order in the city; thus the lion-like law has
stayed indoors and has grown fat and slothful. Many editors
since the eighteenth century have emended ‘weeds’ to ‘steeds’
or to ‘jades’ because ‘bits and curbs’ seemed the language of
equestrianism rather than of horticulture. The Oxford editor,
who retains the original reading, points out that ‘weed’ could
refer in Elizabethan English to a troublesome person and
that Promos and Cassandra, Shakespeare’s source for the
play, uses the word in just this way.9 Accordingly, ‘weeds’
are bad people; we note that the word connects with Lucio’s
description of himself later as a ‘burr’ (4.3.174), and that
Vincentio later imagines Angelo as both weedy garden and
weed-loving gardener: ‘Twice treble shame on Angelo, / To
weed my vice and let his grow!’ (3.1.523–4).10 But weeds, of
course, are also weeds. A straightforward interpretation of the
word invites a secondary reading of ‘let slip’, not as ‘neglected’
(in relation to ‘biting laws’) but as ‘allowed to put forth
shoots’ (in relation to ‘headstrong weeds’).11 Furthermore,

Measure for Measure, ed. Bawcutt, pp. 231–2.
Iago develops an elaborated version of the ‘weed / garden / gardener’
metaphor in Othello, 1.3.320–2.
For a suggestion along these lines, see Measure for Measure, ed. Brian
Gibbons (updated edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006),

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the image of uncontrolled weedy growth connects with the

‘o’ergrown lion’ that reclines in his cave like (to quote another
play obsessed with nature and sin) ‘the fat weed / That roots
itself in ease on Lethe wharf.’12
In Vincentio’s speech, ‘slip’ links the abrogation of moral
responsibility with weedy germination. It is the same metaphor
that animates Isabella’s denunciation of her brother – bad
human actions connect with rank and ugly plants. A ‘warpèd
slip’ and a ‘weed’ are bad plants and bad people in equal
measure, but the metaphorical relationship between them
also invites reflection on a system of categorization that
makes some people and some plants illicit and unnatural and
others legitimate and even perfections of nature. In the play,
horticultural metaphor lies at the root of a critique of the
operations of power and the delegitimation of natural desire
– how the law transforms naturally sexual persons into sexual
transgressors. Importantly Claudio and Isabella seem to grasp
this point but demur from making it in any sustained way.
They embrace the guilt the law ascribes to Claudio’s natural
sexual slip; and their softening under the pressure of the law is
formative of their characters in ways that reveal slipping, not
as a deviation away from a true line of conduct, but rather as
the most natural path toward a fulfilled personhood. Before
we come to that, however, we want to track the word ‘slip’
into several more fields of practice and thought.


‘Slips’ are people and plants, and they also have a place in
the economic, political and social domains of the play-world.
It makes sense for Isabella to call her brother a slip, not
only because slips are moral faults, but also because slips
are counterfeit coins (just as Isabella suggests that Claudio
is a counterfeit son). ‘You gave us the counterfeit fairly last

The ‘fat weed’ is from Hamlet, 1.5.32–3.

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Slips of Wilderness 197

night,’ Mercutio says to Romeo, ‘The slip, sir, the slip, can
you not conceive?’ (Romeo and Juliet, 2.4.45–8). The slip as
counterfeit coin was resonant for the McGill production. Act
Four is filled with counterfeits. Vincentio’s gnomic ‘When vice
makes mercy, mercy’s so extended / That for the fault’s love is
the offender friended’ puns on ‘faults’ and ‘false’ but glances
also at the idea of the counterfeit (4.2.112). The Provost
attempts to tame the incorrigible Barnardine: ‘We have very
oft awakened him, as if to carry him to execution, and showed
him a seeming warrant for it; it hath not moved him at all’
(4.2. 150–3). Claudio’s death is counterfeited and Ragozine’s
head is presented to Angelo as proof of the execution (4.2.99).
The Duke uses Marianna as a counterfeit Isabella and has her
slip into Angelo’s garden house for the bed-trick. Ironically,
Marianna is not a counterfeit at all; rather, she is Angelo’s
true wife.
The idea of the slip as counterfeit coin raises important
questions about political and social power – what is legit-
imate and what is not? How do some things and people
achieve legitimacy while others don’t? How are we to tell the
difference between the legitimate and the illegitimate? Ideally,
the image of the monarch impressed on the coin’s face confers
legitimacy and value on the coin. Angelo’s second speech in
the play is:

Let there be some more test made of my mettle,

Before so noble and so great a figure
Be stamped upon it. (1.1.49–51)

‘Mettle’ and ‘metal’ were interchangeable spellings. In Angelo’s

formulation, all the value and legitimacy belongs to the figure
of the ruler and all the uncertainty to the metal, but in the
play and in real life, the relationship between image and
metal can never be so straightforward. The government of
Shakespeare’s day tried several times to reduce the precious
metal content of the coinage; in each case, the marketplace
rejected the debased coinage, and the government backed

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down.13 In the play, the nobleness of the Duke’s figure is

similarly put in question by his strategy to impose himself
on Angelo and to impose Angelo (a man he does not trust
– 1.3.50–4) on Vienna; and at the end, his figure is cast into
doubt again, ironically enough, by his offer of himself as a
sexual partner to Isabella, a young woman whose religious
vocation he has laboured to preserve. In view of these actions,
it is hard to resist Lucio’s characterization of Vincentio as ‘the
old fantastical Duke of dark corners’ (4.3.154–5) and harder
still not to hear what is surely an unintended pun in Isabella’s
lines – ‘we [women] are soft as our complexions are, / And
credulous to false prints’ (2.4.130–1), where ‘false prints’
(false prince?) suggests how the powerful impress themselves
upon the credulous. Isabella’s metaphor brings sex and gender
into the picture: men dominate women by imprinting upon
them just as Vincentio impresses his figure on Angelo. Claudio
refers to writing rather than to printing when he explains
Julietta’s pregnancy to Lucio – ‘it chances / The stealth of our
most mutual entertainment / With character too gross is writ
on Juliet’ (1.2.151–3) – but his metaphor nevertheless shares
with Isabella’s an understanding of sex and gender in terms of
the material processes of impressure.
Angelo brings the domains of sex, coinage and power
together when he describes sexual transgressors as counter-
feiters of natural forms (he goes so far as to equate having a
child out of wedlock with murdering a living person):

It were as good
To pardon him that hath from nature stolen
A man already made, as to remit
Their saucy sweetness that do coin heaven’s image
In stamps that are forbid. ’Tis all as easy
Falsely to take away a life true-made,

C. E. Challis, The Tudor Coinage (Manchester: Manchester University


Press, 1978), 81–112.

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Slips of Wilderness 199

As to put metal in restrainèd means

To make a false one. (2.4.42–9)

In addition to the outlandish equating of conception outside

marriage with murder, what is striking about Angelo’s speech
is how his metaphor recalls his earlier lines, in which he
asked the Duke to make ‘some more test’ of his mettle before
stamping him with ‘so great a figure.’ An important feature
of Shakespearean metaphor is its systematic organization,
which allows particular instances to generate critical insights
unconnected with what characters might mean to say. Isabella
does not intend to suggest that the prince is false, but
the suggestion is being put forward anyway; Angelo might
or might not recall his earlier use of the metaphor of
metallic impressing, but his repeated usage of the metaphor
nevertheless reflects critically on the Duke.


Printing, writing, minting (including counterfeiting), fathering

children and ‘stamping’ subjects with the figure of the prince
share with the word ‘slip’ a focus on how impressive force
works and how substances and people respond to pressure.
It is useful to note that, among its other meanings, a ‘slip’
is also ‘a semi-liquid material, made of finely-ground clay or
flint, etc., mixed with water to about the consistency of cream’
(OED). So far as we can tell, this is not a Shakespearean
meaning, but it is one that suggests the processes of softening,
liquefaction and heightened mobility that enable the actions
of the characters as well as their movement toward the
fulfilments they are afforded by the play. Any progress that the
major characters make toward their goals is made by slippage.
The major characters undergo some kind of force that
causes them to slip in ways that are central to their stories.
The force might be internal (desire or fear), external (the law,
ideology, state power, social approval), or a mix of the two,
but in each case, the degree to which the characters slip under

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pressure demonstrates that none of them is of metal suffi-

ciently pure to take an impression straightforwardly. Indeed,
the pressure of the force upon or within them produces heat
that warms and softens them, allowing them a greater degree
of mobility, even including an ability to deviate from what
they themselves might have thought would be their normal
lines of feeling, thinking and acting. No major character
reproduces the impressive figure of the law, ideology, power
or society truly; all deviate in ways that reveal their individual
qualities, leading them along an irregular course toward
something like a revelation of self. Vincentio differs from
the other characters because his slips are often intentional
whereas those of the others (Claudio, Isabella, Angelo) tend
to be unintentional, but he too discovers his true path by way
of a series of slips, swerves and deviations. The pattern of
slipping toward fulfilment shows Shakespeare adapting the
central story-form of Judeo-Christian culture, the ‘fortunate
fall’ of Adam and Eve.


Mark Johnson identifies ‘forceful encounters with other

objects and persons’ as one of the fundamental kinds of bodily
experience that grounds our metaphorical conceptualization
of social life:14

Everyone knows the experience of being moved by external

forces, such as wind, water, physical objects, and other
people. When a crowd starts pushing, you are moved along
a path you might not have chosen, by a force you seem
unable to resist. Sometimes the force is irresistible, such as
when the crowd gets completely out of control; other times,
the force can be counteracted, or modified.15

Johnson, Body in the Mind, 42.
Ibid., 45.

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Slips of Wilderness 201

What Johnson calls ‘image-schematic gestalt structures’ are

formed as ‘patterns of typical experiences of force work their
way up into our system of meaning and into the structure of
our expression and communication.’16 The characters’ slips
(whether intended and strategic sleights, impetuous moves in
the face of changing circumstances, or movements of surrender
to desire, fear or social or political power) are all meaningful
actions grounded in the physical experience of force and
motion. The various slips of the characters are body-based
image schemata that are capable of being performed by the
actors physically and verbally and experienced deeply and
even proprioceptively by the playgoers as physical, emotional
and cognitive events.
Claudio enters the play having already slipped, prompted
by mutual passion with Julietta, and he goes on slipping in
the face of the power of the state. One of the meanings of
‘slip’ is ‘leash for a dog … so contrived that the animal can
readily be released’ (OED). In the McGill production, Neilson
and the actors briefly entertained the idea of putting Claudio
on a leash led by Elbow. Instead, given the contemporary
costuming, they opted for handcuffs as a more immediately
recognizable visual metaphor. Claudio is being displayed on
the stage in an early seventeenth-century version of what is
now known as a ‘perp walk.’ Under the pressure of what
seems to be a summary conviction (there seems to have been
no trial) and a public shaming, and rendered actually and
symbolically powerless by the handcuffs, Claudio’s change-
ability is perhaps not surprising. He shifts back and forth
between seeing the Viennese law as tyrannous and seeming to
take the law’s judgement deeply to heart.
When the Provost explains to him that he is being shown ‘to
the world’ (1.2.115) by special order of the Deputy, Claudio
responds by seeming to decry ‘authority’ as a ‘demi-god’,
equating the capability of the earthly judge and unfathomable

Ibid., 42.

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power of divine election, which Bawcutt suggests correctly is

‘daring, even blasphemous’, and ending with a simple decla-
ration of the justice of his punishment, which, given the speech
as a whole, is anything but simple:17

Thus can the demi-god, authority,

Make us pay down for our offence by weight.
The words of heaven: on whom it will, it will;
On whom it will not, so; yet still ‘tis just. (1.2.119–22)

When Lucio asks him, ‘whence comes this restraint?’ his

answer is a baleful self-accusation coupled with a redescription
of the operations of the law as if they were natural processes:

From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty.

As surfeit is the father of much fast,
So every scope by the immoderate use
Turns to restraint. Our nature do pursue,
Like rats that raven down their proper bane,
A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die. (1.2.124–9)

And against this naturalization of his crime and punishment

is his claim, twenty-five lines later, that Angelo is imposing
the ‘the drowsy and neglected act’ on him merely to bolster
his own position as governor. Claudio’s slippage between
blaming himself and blaming the governor is a fitful attempt
to counteract the seemingly irresistible force of the law. It is
his character note, but it is also something he shares with the
other characters. It might look, moreover, like mere weakness
and impressionability, but it is in fact the source of his and the
other characters’ strength.


Measure for Measure, 1.2.121n.

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Slips of Wilderness 203

Lucio hopes that Isabella will be able to ‘soften Angelo’,

elsewhere characterized as ice-hard, by her ‘fair prayer’
(1.4.69–70).18 In the event, she succeeds, but not in the way
Lucio or the others expected. Angelo ‘slips’ when desire for
Isabella heats his ‘austereness’ (2.4.156) and leads him to
prosecute his evil plan against her. The action of slipping is
a quick movement caused by a partial softening of character
under the pressure of the law or natural impulse, or under
the oppression of an untenable situation. Angelo’s moral slip
takes place when the pressure of desire melts his congealed
Angelo’s accusation in 2.4 that Isabella ‘seem’d of late to
make the law a tyrant / And rather prov’d the sliding of your
brother / A merriment than a vice’ became more confessional
than accusatory (2.4.115–16). It was as if he were saying to
Isabella that she should take Claudio’s sliding more seriously
that she does, especially since Angelo knows well the horror
of his own sliding. Were Angelo as upright as he imagines
himself, his sexual slipping might suggest only the particular
attractiveness of Isabella, but this is in fact the second time he
has injured a woman who had only one protector, in each case
a brother, and in each a brother in extreme peril. The first was
Mariana, whom he abandoned and slandered when her brother
Frederick was drowned. This time he intends to coerce Isabella
into sex by promising to spare her brother when he intends to
have him killed anyway. His present sexual slipping is therefore
not a single instance but rather the revelation of a pattern.
The Duke of course is the master of verbal and physical
self-obfuscation and self-display. He likes to imagine his
action in the play in terms of upright carriage and forward

He who the sword of heaven will bear

Should be as holy as severe;

For Angelo’s coldness, see 1.4.57–9 and 3.1.370–2.

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Pattern in himself to know,

Grace to stand, and virtue, go. (3.1.515–18)

In fact, he is the slipperiest of the characters. He surprises

by appointing Angelo rather than Escalus as the deputy. His
re-entry is a massive piece of indirection, about which even
Isabella complains (4.6.1). To top off these and other slippery
stratagems, he makes an astonishing ‘motion’ of marriage
to Isabella at the end. Vincentio’s approach to governing
owes something to Machiavelli’s Prince, which Shakespeare
evidently drew on for the ‘strict deputy’ plot, and which
recommends to rulers the advantages of impetuous over
circumspect action, especially in the face of the unpredictability
of fortune.19
At the start, Vincentio seems to leave Vienna. In his hurry,
he is brusque with Angelo. He avoids giving him an expla-
nation of his actions. Rather than exiting with the pomp his
station merits, he chooses to slip away:

Yet give leave, my lord,
That we may bring you something on the way.

My haste may not admit it.

Give me your hand;
I’ll privily away. I love the people,
But do not like to stage me to their eyes.
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud applause and aves vehement,

For the connections between Machiavelli and the play, see Steven Mullaney,

The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 88–92. For Machiavelli, see
The Prince, trans. George Bull (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999), 79–82.

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Slips of Wilderness 205

Nor do I think the man of safe discretion

That does affect it. Once more fare you well. (1.1.63–8)

The lines suggest the gestural language of the character. Apart

from the obvious handshake, the speech seems to call for
companion gestures by the actor: first to ward off Angelo’s
token of amity, then to emphasize the hastiness of affairs and
then to dismiss the notion of a public send-off. Escalus’ parting
wish, ‘Lead forth and bring you back in happiness!’ (l. 75),
with its suggestion of fanfare and procession, draws ironic
attention to the Duke’s light-footed solo exit. The McGill
version captured this contrast between public and private
forms of leave-taking by way of staging: a video camera
captured a proscenium-filling image of Spencer Malthouse as
Vincentio in close-up, and camera flashes brightened his broad
smile as he vigorously shook Angelo’s hand only to drop it
instantly and exit quickly once the photographer had departed.
Vincentio can sometimes seem the master of the action. But
before the action of the play even begins, he was, by his own
account, a governor who let things slide. His disguised ruler
strategy provides him with little more real mastery of events.
Several times we see him contending with unpredictability,
including the impasse created by Angelo and Isabella, Angelo’s
reneging on his promise to spare Claudio, Barnardine’s refusal
to be executed and an ardour for Isabella that seizes him at
some point.
His plot was to have the severe judge Angelo bring moral
order back to Vienna and also to ascertain if the ‘seemer’
Angelo was as virtuous as he appeared. The original plan
therefore was not without some serious shortcomings. When
faced with Angelo’s thoroughly bad conduct, the Duke, we
might think, could simply reveal himself and denounce Angelo.
But he doesn’t do that. Likely it would be embarrassing to
have to break off his disguise without any opportunity to stage
a triumphant reappearance. In any case, the Duke makes a
proposition of his own to Isabella – that she play along with
Angelo, set up the sinful assignation and allow him, Vincentio,

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to arrange for a substitute, Mariana, to have sex with the

unwitting judge. That will be no sin, Vincentio assures Isabella,
because Mariana was supposed to marry Angelo anyway.
It is a harebrained scheme, full of moral, ethical and legal
pitfalls. How exactly would sex between Angelo and Mariana
be different in law from sex between Claudio and Julietta?
How could it be ethical to sponsor an evidently illegal tryst?
What would Mariana suffer on account of having sex with a
man who had so grievously betrayed her? That her husband
had sex with her only because he thought she was someone else
would not greatly improve the marriage that she would thereby
consummate. Who could possibly accede to such a proposal?
Isabella readily does just that: ‘The image of it gives me
content already, and I trust it will grow to a most prosperous
perfection’ (3.1.260–1). It is perhaps not surprising that she
immediately elects to go along with the Duke since she finds
herself at that moment at a tragic standstill, one that can
end only with either her brother’s death or her defilement
and damnation. Vincentio’s plan, the swerve in the plot that
turns the action away from tragedy, is a piece of idiocy by
any measure, but it is also a nimble, unexpected divergence
from what appears to be an inevitable, downward pathway.
Shakespeare invariably gives his actors breathing space after
a particularly intense scene, and the actor playing Isabella has
had indeed an intense few minutes, but this shift nevertheless
seems particularly abrupt. Her credulous commentaries ‘Can
this be so? Did Angelo so leave her?’ (3.1.226) suggested
to Neilson and his assistant director Alexandra Meikleham
that the Duke’s Mariana narrative was in fact a dramati-
cally efficient, one-man inset play. In the production, the
actor playing the Duke performed the narration with a series
of signifying mime postures and stances for each of the
characters in the tale, an approach that highlighted the weird,
vaudevillian inventiveness of the scheme. The effect of the
scene as well as of Vincentio’s other acts and speeches was of
a man making it up as he went along, someone negotiating
(to quote Johnson again) a series of ‘forceful encounters with

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Slips of Wilderness 207

other objects and persons’, though not by open confrontation

but rather by subterfuge and slippage.
As it turns out, Isabella’s support for the bed-trick is
not decisive for the working out of the comic plot. Even
though he believes he has had sex with the condemned man’s
sister, Angelo still sends a special warrant for Claudio’s
execution. Since Vincentio is unwilling to reveal himself,
matters are saved only by accident when a prisoner named
Ragozine, dying of fever, supplies the head that Angelo has
demanded as proof of the execution. Isabella’s acquiescence
to the bed-trick is decisive in a larger sense, however, since
it is of a piece with how the characters achieve a peculiarly
human flourishing by slipping around or away from the
seemingly irresistible pressure of the law, power, custom, the
seeming fatality of desire and even the coherence of human
Isabella’s story is exemplary of the pattern that we have
been sketching. At the start, she seeks an even greater restraint
on her speech and action than is enforced by the famously
strict Sisters of Saint Claire, the order in which she is a novice.
Ironically, her insistence on rigorous external government
demonstrates her own self-assertiveness and hardness, but
she still shares some of her brother’s impressionability. Her
first response to the news that he has got Julietta with child
is simple and sympathetic: ‘Someone with child by him? My
cousin Juliet? … O let him marry her!’ (1.4.45–9). By the time
she gets to her first audience with Angelo, however, her view
has changed: ‘There is a vice that most I do abhor, / And most
desire should meet the blow of justice’ (2.2.29–30). While she
is made malleable by the force of the law and authority, the
hardness of her ‘mettle’ persists in the rebuke of her brother
with which we began, when, as we have seen, she responds
to his unmanning fear of death with a fierce accusation of
Isabella’s last act in the play recapitulates and reforms
the gestural and verbal slips that, as we hope we have begun
to show, characterize the poetry and action of the play. Of

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course, kneeling is more deliberate and graceful than slipping,

but both are downward movements that enable the debased to
rise and be renewed. In the scene, Isabella moves and speaks
under pressure that comes at her from two sides. Mariana asks
her to kneel with her as she (Mariana) pleads for Angelo’s life.
Vincentio insists that Angelo deserves to die for having killed
Claudio. The pressure also comes from within – from her
evident feeling of sisterhood with Mariana and from her grief
for Claudio and anger against Angelo. Mariana does not ask
Isabella to speak for Angelo’s life, but asks only for a gesture,
a simple movement of her body and a corresponding uplifting
of her hands: ‘Sweet Isabel, do yet but kneel by me. / Hold
up your hands, say nothing; I’ll speak all’ (5.1.438–9). The
pressure is redoubled as Mariana and Vincentio each reiterate
in turn what they would have the silent, thoughtful Isabella
do or not do.
In the McGill production, Kate Sketchley, who played
Isabella, registered both the outward and inward pressure as
it worked its way upon and through her. At first, her head
went down and away from Mariana on ‘Sweet Isabel, take
my part.’ Vincentio stood centre-stage on a little wooden box.
At his ‘Against all sense’, his riposte to Mariana’s first plea,
Isabella’s head came up to look at him. She then looked down
and drew back slightly from Mariana, who was scrabbling at
her skirts for ‘Isabel, / Sweet, Isabel’, the start of Mariana’s
second plea. She looked up at Vincentio when he said, ‘He dies
for Claudio’, then paused, closed her eyes for several beats
before she began her petition for Angelo’s life. She said, ‘Most
bounteous sir’, then she paused again, and then she knelt in
supplication before Vincentio. But she looked at Mariana, not
at Vincentio, as she spoke her final lines:20

The speech, of course, is intended to be spoken to Vincentio. The produc-
tion’s decision to have Isabella speak to Mariana turned the speech into a
gesture of solidarity between the two women, as if the real forgiveness had to
come from Mariana rather than from the Duke. The shift changed the focus
of the scene from the political and legal to the psychological.

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Slips of Wilderness 209

Look, if it please you, on this man condemned

As if my brother lived. I partly think
A due sincerity governed his deeds
Till he did look on me; since it is so,
Let him not die. My brother had but justice,
In that he did the thing for which he died.
For Angelo,
His act did not o’ertake his bad intent,
And must be buried but as an intent
That perished by the way. Thoughts are no subjects.
Intents but merely thoughts. (5.1.445–55)

This is the most moving speech in the play. It is also the most
slippery. In law, of course, the intentions of the accused,
especially in a capital crime, must be ascertained in order
for judgement to be rendered. ‘Thoughts are no subjects’ is
true only if the thought in question is not connected to an
action. In this particular case, Angelo’s intentions are certainly
pertinent since the distinction between his use or abuse of
power is a matter of the thought-content of his act. It only
makes matters worse to claim, as Isabella does, that Angelo
was well intentioned until he looked on her. The judge cannot
be exonerated from wrongdoing because his wickedness was
occasioned by lust for the accused man’s sister. Isabella is
twisting logic and law and bracketing her first-hand experience
of Angelo’s brutality. Her speech is itself a ‘warpèd slip’, a
crooked utterance that comes from a former straight-talker.
But, like the other slips we have noted, it emerges as a form
of self-disclosure and, here but also elsewhere in the play, as
a means toward the achievement of a complex goal. Isabella’s
genuflection and crooked speaking are ways of moving under
pressure. She fulfils Mariana’s request, resists the authority
of the Duke, asserts her independence, and honours her own
espousal of the value of judicial mercy in a way that anticipates
and facilitates the mercy of the state that ends the play.

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‘Captious and Inteemable’:
Reading Comprehension
in Shakespeare1

Meredith Evans

What each night she had given with such extravagance, –

… when she woke, had not been given.

The perplexities of Shakespeare’s language weave together

the same kinds of semantic and intellectual questions with
which his characters are often presented, and which they
present to us in turn. Here I will essay an interpretation of

If it wouldn’t implicate my student in this chapter’s flaws, I would name John
Casey co-author. For helping me to develop an inchoate paper into something
more substantial, I am grateful to the members of the 2013 SAA seminar on
‘Sovereignty and Sexuality in Early Modern Drama’, especially Daniel Juan
Gil for facilitating the seminar, and Aaron Kunin for his characteristically
shrewd and generous feedback. Finally, I thank Paul Yachnin for his kind
patience and for some very timely words of encouragement.

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Helena’s speech in 1.3 of All’s Well That Ends Well and

in particular the ‘captious and inteemable sieve’ to which
Helena, attempting to read her desire and make it legible,
compares it.2 I will argue, further, that through this process
of reading – in the specific sense I will lend it here – political
and subjective sovereignty emerges through ongoing affective,
social and sexual transactions.
The fugitive tenor of Helena’s speech has a suitably
capacious vehicle: intellectually engaging and densely allusive,
it comprehends otherwise inscrutable affects. It is also notori-
ously opaque and textually unstable. Like the desire it attempts
to describe, the speech is capacious and potentially deceptive. I
draw these adjectives from its pivotal turn, from the impotence
of love to its miraculous capacity and resilience: ‘Yet, in this
captious and inteemable sieve, I still pour in the waters of
my love, / And lack not more to lose’ (1.1.204–6). Since the
metaphor is partly informed by its immediate context, it is
worth providing a portion of it here. And so, Helena:

I love your son.

My friends were poor, but honest; so’s my love:
… it hurts not him
That he is lov’d of me; I follow him not
By any token of presumptuous suit,
Nor would I have him till I do deserve him;

I know I love in vain, strive against hope;
Yet in this captious and inteemable sieve
I still pour in the waters of my love
And lack not to lose still. …

if you yourself,
Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth,

All’s Well That Ends Well, ed. G. K. Hunter, Arden Shakespeare (London:

Routledge, 1994). Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from this edition.

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 213

Did ever in so true a flame of liking,

Wish chastely and love dearly, that your Dian
Was both herself and love – O then, give pity
To her whose state is such that cannot choose
But lend and give where she is sure to lose;
But riddle-like lives sweetly where she dies! (1.3.189–212;
italics added)

At the pivotal turn of l.197, Helena’s love is no longer

described in simple terms of ‘honesty’ or ‘desert’, as her
declarative, largely monosyllabic speech gives way to a series
of compacted metaphors, allusions and analogies that shuttle
between grammatical moods. The shift to figurative language
at this particular moment is significant. ‘Yet’: Helena’s
‘captious and inteemable’ sieve can plausibly function (or be
read) as negation, diminishment or an alternative to the vain
hopelessness she has conceded. Insofar as metaphor opens a
descriptive and conceptual distance between the speaker and
what she is speaking of – between her arduous affect as it
is experienced and her affect as represented – it is a form of
consolation, affording a momentary transcendence of limited
agency and linguistic capacity. As a concession to futility,
Helena’s heart-sieve offers a metaphorical framework in which
subsequent actions can be interpreted. It is an alternative way
of sense-making that enlarges the stage on which both the
intellectual drama and comic plot unfold.
Describing Helena’s speech in these terms – taking ‘captious’
possibly to mean deceitful; ‘inteemable’ to mean bottomless
– I have already offered an interpretation of it. However,
the sense of these words remains a matter of editorial
debate. And the senses make a world of difference. Among
their textual variants are, for example, David Bevington’s
‘captious and intenable.’ Emphasizing ‘intenable’ as ‘incapable
of holding’, this gloss does not allow for the miraculous
capacity of retention accorded to threateningly autonomous
virgins, nor for Helena’s capacity to usher her desires into

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a place of holding: a pause, at least, complete in itself. 3 The

1997 Riverside edition, like Bevington, offers ‘intenable’ as
‘unretentive’, and glosses ‘captious’ as ‘readily receptive’ – a
reading that connotes a plain sieve with nothing miraculous
or puzzling about it.
Both Hunter and Bevington gloss ‘captious’ as ‘capacious’
or ‘absorptive’ and as ‘deceitful’ or ‘deceptive’, and emphasize
the latter. ‘Deceitful’ is the less obvious choice. It allows for
the ambiguity of whether it is Helena’s heart that deceives, or
the sieve: an ordinary everyday object that is, in fact, extraor-
dinary. In any case both meanings, taken together, provide yet
another angle on – or reading of – Helena’s situation: another
way of grasping the play’s sustained interest in the indeter-
minate source of actions, events and affects. Further, the
emphasis on ‘deceitful’ rightly underscores the play’s riddling
epistemology; that is, its interest in reading comprehension, by
which I mean not only our interpretive capacities as readers
of Shakespeare, but also the plays’ diverse representations
and enactments of hermeneutic effort; the attempt, more often
than not, to position one’s self more or less comfortably, less
or more coherently, in relation to a social world composed of
seemingly incomprehensible prohibitions and unanticipated
elusive affordances. But thus whether the sieve is defined by its
limitlessly absorptive capacity, or by its constitutive inability
to retain what is poured into it, the etymological justification
for emphasizing deceitful lies in its definition as ‘a taking
[in]’, itself a gloss on capere: to catch or to teach.4 To get it;
to have it.
Taking ‘teem’ as the root word of ‘inteemable’, Hunter
paraphrases the line as: the lover’s hope is like a sieve in that
‘what has been poured in cannot be “teemed” (i.e. poured

Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington (New York:
Longman, 2008), 1.3.240, differs from Sylvan Barnett’s 1965 Signet edition,
which, like Hunter’s 1994 Arden edition, prints ‘captious and inteemable’,
and gives basically the same gloss (1.3.240f.).
OED a.1, and Hunter (31n. 197).

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 215

out again)’; it is not only captious but retentive.5 Yet, the ‘still
common’6 use of ‘teem’ requires further definition. To pour
out, to drain, to empty – or else to be full of, swarming with
life: these are all at play in the metaphor Helena draws, just as
being drained or overflowing are not mighty opposites in All’s
Well, but recurrent, overlapping tropes for multiple actions or
states. For instance, the King’s fistula needs draining; Helena’s
‘too capable’ heart / memory threatens to undo her if it isn’t
lanced (1.1.93); virginity ‘breeds mites … consumes itself
to the very paring’ (1.1.139–40). Instead of allowing for a
multiplicity of meaning, Hunter’s paraphrase is disorienting.
Surely it matters whether the emphasis falls on love’s parthe-
nogenetic capacity to sustain and reproduce itself (to breed
mites, as it were) or constitutive deprivation (its cheesy self-
consumption). If what’s been ‘poured in’ cannot be ‘poured
out again’, is that because what passes through a sieve will
be a different and therefore, by definition, an irrecoverable
substance? Or is it that something designed to lose the
substance it momentarily holds (hope; love; desire; what have
you) is a kind of indemnity against loss?
Part of the difficultly of Helena’s speech derives from
the generous space it gives to impossibility: its capacity to
hold contradictory or incompatible properties and claims in
solution. Separated from Bertram by the impermeable bound-
aries of sex and class, not to mention by the contingent but
non-negotiable laws of nature and attraction, she is acutely
aware of the odds against her. Remarkably, though, this
awareness is not paralyzing, for she also invests her love with
an inexplicable capacity to transcend impossibility.
The fugitive tenor of her speech is given a suitably accom-
modating vehicle. The description of Helena’s desire as a
‘captious and inteemable sieve’, of infinite capacity and
law-defying retention, tells of a miraculous performance she


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must replicate: to enter a scene where her integrity is tested

and proved. Less remarked but at least as significant, the (ob-)
scene in which Helena is tested also tests the King’s bodily and
political integrity, already compromised by the brute fact of
his fistula.7
Ultimately, what Helena and her readers are enjoined to
think about is comprehension itself, understood as both an
affective capacity and intellectual ability, and the questions
to which it gives rise. As, for example: how can one get
something without having to give anything away? What does
it mean to ‘get it’, and what are the rewards, if any, of doing
so? What is it to hold (or, to be able to hold) what’s beyond
one’s capacity? Is holding something the same as having it?
The alliterative, familiar phrase ‘To have and to hold’8 would
seem to suggest their basic commensurability, if not identity.
However, the historical, juridical origins of the phrase argue
otherwise. The traditional preface to conveyances of titles and
lands (i.e., to contracts governing the terms of the transfer
of property), ‘to have and to hold’ sharply distinguishes
between ‘having’ and ‘holding.’ Whereas the first clause (also
known as the habendum) denotes the object of negotiation
and transfer, the second (the tenendum) signifies the subject
thereby entrusted and, most importantly, stipulates the condi-
tions of ownership to which both parties are bound. For all
its mythological and romantic resonance, then, the ‘captious’
love that would both have and hold Bertram must also be
grasped in these more legal and propriety terms.


But it all starts with a dying king and a girl whose sole
possession is the ‘remedy’ to cure him (1.2.225). Despite
her willingness to give this possession away and against

This is a point to which I shall return.
The phrase would have been familiar from the Book of Common Prayer and
as a term of jurisprudence.

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 217

the counsel of his advisors, he initially rejects her proposal,

convinced she is incapable of success and himself past cure.
Like the fox in Aesop’s fable, what he cannot reach he
pronounces sour. Once she has finally seen to him, his reach is
considerable, but even then we are far from pronouncing ‘All’s
Well That Ends Well’, for reviving the King is but a means to
a further end. By demonstrating her worthiness and gaining
the King’s favour, the girl hopes to gain access to her beloved
(indifferent at best, contemptuous more often than not) and,
ultimately, win his hand. This much at least is clear: Helena’s
sovereign touch restores the sovereign’s body.9
The nature of the mysterious transaction between Helena
and the King takes place between Act One, Scenes One and
Two – or more precisely, during 1.2. It occupies a good part of
the pages to follow, and small wonder. For, the philosophical
drama of All’s Well is built on the presumed antipathy of
ineffable events (‘mysteries’) and mundane exchanges (‘trans-
actions’). Whereas the former is presumed to be non-agential
and serves no immediate or discernible end or need, the latter
is a rule-based exchange, generally commercial, stipulating
such human capacities as consent, calculation and respon-
sibility. Yet the drama itself transpires on quite another
stage. Conveniently dark bedrooms, for instance, or situations
measured, if they are measured at all, blindfolded; places, I
mean, that reduce one’s capacity to tell human plots from
heavenly design, disrupting the comfortable alliance generally
presumed of intention, action and authority.
When Helena presents her suit to the King, she mollifies
his masculine pride by suggesting he regard the operation as
God’s handiwork, not hers: ‘it is presumption in us when /
The help of heaven we count the act of men. / Dear sir, to
my endeavours give consent; / Of heaven, not me, make
and experiment’ (2.1.150–4). The context in which this

‘Sovereignty’ as ‘Supreme or pre-eminence in respect of excellence or efficacy’
(esp. the efficacy of treating or healing). Cf. OED, ‘sovereignty’ n. 1a., which
cites All’s Well, 1.3.219.

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argument is advanced compromises neither its coherence

nor, evidently, its persuasive force. After all, what Helena
faces is not more merely a dull generic ‘masculine pride’, but
a king. Her government, that is, and, if the authorities are
to be believed, the closest thing to heaven on earth. In any
case, she rightly assumes it will be easier for the sovereign to
submit to his Sovereign than to the mere slip of a girl, even
if she is a credit to her father and bears his reputation and
authority, and that it will feel better (not great, but better) to
be indebted to God than to be in someone else’s debt. And
so the King swallows her argument and everyone almost
benefits and so forth.
However, Helena’s ‘sovereignty’ (1.3.221) pushes gently
but firmly on the sovereign power she is tasked to restore.
Her relationship to the King is therefore a useful framework
for articulating questions concerning the nature and source
of authority: legitimate or illegitimate; in theory and in
practice; occulted or verifiable. In the work of Carl Schmitt,
the sovereign decision is likened to a miracle. Indeed, the
miracle as guiding metaphor for sovereign power, and for
the sovereign decision especially, informs much of Schmitt’s
political philosophy.10 All’s Well recruits the same metaphor
for its representation of sovereign power. Specifically, it sets
Helena’s ostensibly miraculous power alongside the ostensibly
transcendent of political sovereignty. But the play’s apposition
of miracle and decision is not strictly drawn and seems to raise
more questions than it answers.
No one in All’s Well engages these questions more persis-
tently, or is more engaged by them, than Helena, but they are
primarily directed at her. Is Helena’s power a reflection or
an illustration of the King’s power? A challenge to and rival

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of


Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab, foreword by Tracy B. Strong (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2005). See also Chapter 4 of Bonnie Hoing’s
Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2009).

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 219

of it? An assertion of each, or the demystification of both?

The play traces both individual and corporate authority to
multiple, possibly incompatible sources, leaving their relative
legitimacy and / or efficacy undecided. For instance, Helena’s
authority – confirmed by her restoration of the King – is patri-
lineal. It derives from her physician father, since deceased, and
the knowledge he bequeathed her. But this is not the only or
even the most important source to which her singular capacity
is attributed. At various points, it is also attributed to some
intangible quality or unique talent she possesses: an ineffable
something ‘more than [her] father’s skill’ (1.3.238); divine
inspiration (cf. 2.1.150); or else simple resolve: in her own
words, an inexplicably ‘fix’d’ intent to grasp that which she
knows to be beyond her reach (1.1.225).
Now here is a person who will eat grapes.
Whatever drives Helena’s resolve, it is, I have suggested,
most powerfully expressed in 1.3, where she confesses her
love for Bertram to his mother, the Countess. I do not say,
most clearly expressed, for the riddle of her desire is insepa-
rable from her articulation of it, capturing the wonder that
it should exist at all. Her central preoccupation, the thing of
which she is most certain, is a confounding and inscrutable
object. The riddling form of her reply reflects this, reproducing
it in other terms, and is woven into the play’s interrogative
texture. Like most riddles, it is marked by guarded obscurity,
an alluring capacity to tell the future, the intimation of dark
pleasures sensed but rarely ever known. As such, it is both an
invitation and medium of thought.11 To thinking, that is, but
more specifically to reading.12 As we witness Helena’s attempt
to make her desire comprehensible, we are required to read
her interpretive efforts in turn.

See Daniel Tiffany’s exquisite Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2009), 40–2.
See the OED entry for ‘read’, v. 1(b), which links reading to the OE Riddle,
and describes it in terms of conjecture; discernment; linguistic comprehension
or study. See also Tiffany, Infidel Poetics, 40, n. 9.

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The name for what Helena wants to have most, for which
cultural conventions and class distinctions have set well
beyond her reach, is ‘Bertram.’ I say ‘Bertram’ because the
object of her desire is a cipher. One of Shakespeare’s least
charismatic characters, he is also strikingly unsympathetic;
not in the way of an Iago, mind; rather more in the manner of
a tool. As Helena is well aware, this also makes her subjective
desire difficult to decipher. Further, it allows that ‘Bertram’
(i.e. the object of her desire) may refer to several things,
including the satisfaction of lust, naked ambition, the affect or
experience of loving, the ideal of ‘love’ itself, or – who knows?
– maybe even the man himself. Her attempt to explain just
how she loves Bertram gives rise to a series of related, equally
perplexing questions. Given the knowledge that one’s actions
will likely be fruitless, how and why might one proceed? If
one proceeds, what purchase does knowledge have on one’s
actions and decisions anyway?
At least the burden of these questions is broadly distributed.
The play is saturated by perplexity about what it means
to have something – and therefore, also, to let things slip,
fail to ‘get it’, or lose someone. Here, for instance, are the
play’s opening words, pronounced by the recently widowed
Countess as she sees her only son off to war: ‘In delivering
my son from me, / I bury a second husband’ (1.1.1–2). The
grieving Countess is promised she will ‘find of the king a
husband’ (1.1.6), a fit substitute for her husband’s substitute.
Likewise, while Bertram still ‘weeps o’er [his] father’s death’,
he is now devoted solely to the King’s authority. As it turns
out, then, part of what it means to have and have lost someone
is to receive someone else in their place.


At least as it is presented here, Helena’s interpretive capacity

supplies a nearly adequate antidote to a heart too readily
impressed and altogether ‘too capable’ (93). And if this
makes her ‘fancy’ ‘idolatrous’, well, she seems to say, so be it

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 221

(cf. 95–6).13 The hopes invested in this ‘young gentlewoman

who had a father’ (1.1.16), the authority she is believed to
carry, threaten to lose vigour and specificity. Such enervation
is reflected even in the Countess’s otherwise passionate
apostrophe, whose focus shifts from Helena’s immediate loss
to a more general register of loss, and, from there, to a purely
hypothetical ‘death of the king’s disease’ (1.1.21–2):

This young gentlewoman had a father – O that ‘had,’ how

sad a passage ‘tis! – whose skill was almost as great as his
honesty; had it stretch’d so far, would have made nature
immortal, and death should have play for lack of work.
Would for the king’s sake he were living! (1.1.16–22;
emphasis mine)

As the Countess remarks the sad passage of ‘had’, Helena is

still passing through the continuous present of ‘having.’ Yet in
her subsequent appearance before the Countess, her ongoing
condition is readily legible according to the social and literary
codes of courtly love. Jumpy, pale and hollow-eyed (see
1.2.134–47), she inadvertently communicates her otherwise
unspeakable desire.
Betrayed by her body, Helena is then asked to ‘disclose /
The state of [her] affection’ in words (1.3.184–5). Already
provided with evidence that speaks for itself, ‘the state of [her]
affection’ could presumably be stated briefly and directly.
And so it is – briefly. ‘I love your son,’ she declares (1.3.189).
This forthright declaration, with its authoritative positioning
of subject and object, is immediately qualified. As if embar-
rassed by her affective capacity, Helena goes on to assure the
Countess that by loving Bertram she ‘hurts not him’, and that
she harbours no illusion her love will be reciprocated. Bertram,
she continues, is merely ‘lov’d of me’ (1.3.189–92; emphasis

According to Hunter, Helena ‘worships, and despises herself for it’ (8, nn.

95–6). I fail to see any evidence of self-contempt here, or elsewhere.

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mine). Even this slight grammatical shift from the nominative

to the dative signals Helena’s self-protective deflection, if not
disavowal, of her personal agency and authority. Properly
speaking, Helena seems to be suggesting, he is not and cannot
be the ‘object’ of my affection; as if he belonged to a species
different from my own, he is someone to whom I am inexpli-
cably drawn and cannot help but admire, but who remains
beyond any influence of mine, good or bad; he has the power
to hurt; I, none.
In All’s Well, self-representation can and does bend to the
exigencies of occasion – underplaying authority here, inflating
it there.14 Despite Helena’s qualification of agency and the
self-declared limits of her authority in 1.3, however, the scene
is not one of those occasions. What dramatic interest and
affective tension the scene has would be lost were we to read
Helena as disingenuous. If she neither believes in the benign
nature of (her) love, nor genuinely despairs of it, she would
indeed be, as E. W. M. Tillyard thought, ‘a mere humour of
predatory monogamy.’15 Put another way, the play would
be less ‘problematic’, certainly, but also less engaging and
challenging than it is.
And yet …
None of this blunts Helena’s resolve. Irrespective of her
deflection of personal agency and the earnest admission of her
attenuated authority in 1.3, her wager with the King pitches
her sovereign powers against his. The lines of their contest are
sharpened by the fact that the authority she derives from her
father has an unnamed supplement that, while never precisely
located, is never really in doubt. At least, not for Helena. After
considering the matter at some length, the Countess finally
asks her for simple assurance, ‘Dost thou believe it?’ (244),

See, for example, the entire exchange between Parolles and Lord Lafew at
E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1950), 126.

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 223

to which Helena replies, ‘Ay, Madam, knowingly’ (1.3.245).

This reply leaves little room for doubt. Simple and direct, it
wins the Countess’s full confidence more surely than the prior
inducements and explanations Helena has offered.
It is less certain what the Countess has confidence in,
exactly. The ‘success’ of ‘his grace’s cure’, certainly, for which
Helena is requesting leave to ‘try’ or test. Yet this success is
predicated on several other objects of faith or confidence,
among them a vague ‘something … / More than [her] father’s
skill’, the professional knowledge behind that skill, as well
as the ‘luckiest stars in heaven’ – stars, Helena claims, that
will ‘sanctify’ her father’s reputation and secure her proper
‘legacy.’ Any one of these might be the object of contention
requiring a leap of faith, and, although they are interre-
lated, are not easily to be reconciled. Slightly reframing the
Countess’s question, Helena’s reply does, then, leave a little
room for doubt. For it is one thing to believe and another
thing to know, just as the objects of belief (say, miracles) are
different kinds of objects from those attributed to knowledge
(the verities demonstrated by natural science). If believing
and knowing are so different, is it possible to do both at
once? Does Helena’s ‘knowingness’ come from an ineffable,
unnamed ‘something’ that surpasses skill, or does it refer to
a worldly and embodied quality, something more than her
father could possibly offer, something more frankly transac-
tional than a miracle? The possibility that ‘Our remedies oft
in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven’ (1.1.212–13)
would be especially uncomfortable to entertain if one has
staked one’s life on their success. If there is any suspense in
All’s Well That Ends Well, it probably lies here. In the figure of
Helena, we are confronted with the unsettling hypotheses that
what one knows has little to do with how one will act, and
that how one acts may have little influence on what happens.
Before surrendering to Helena’s proposal, the King decides
the terms of the wager: should Helena fail, she will surrender
her life, extinguishing the happiness of ‘Youth, beauty,
wisdom, courage’ (2.1.180). Having spelled out precisely what

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she stands to lose should she accept his terms, he resolves to

‘try’ her ‘physic’ after all, opining, ‘What impossibility would
slay / In common sense, sense saves another way’ (2.1.176–7;
cf. 2.1.174–85). For her part, Helena is hardly reluctant to
venture her bare life on untried ‘confidence’ (2.1.168), or on
whichever sense of ‘sense’ the King has in mind.
In keeping with the logic of the play’s usurious estimation
of virginity, Helena estimates her value to the King in negative
terms, plus interest, emphasizing the remunerative excitement
that her ‘divulged shame, / Traduc’d by odious ballads’
(2.1.170–2) could arouse. She is nevertheless emphatic about
her terms of the agreement, as precise as he about what she
stands to gain or lose. Should she succeed, she is promised the
very thing she will be unable to do, the one thing that exceeds
her capacity: namely, the power to choose a husband from
among those in the King’s power to command, exempting
‘the royal blood of France’ (2.1.194). Her chosen one turns
out to be Bertram, a figure at least twice removed from the
centre and substance of sovereign power, but upon whom the
proof of sovereignty (whether as decision or pardon) now
seems to depend. This makes Helena’s ‘socially transgressive
claim to a husband’ all the more so, especially insofar as it is
also an ‘incidental’ ‘claim to his property, the transmission of
which only she can guarantee by providing him with heirs.’16
Incidental or not, her claim is clearly couched in terms of
social stability and political gain. Yet Helena’s claim is also,
unmistakably, an assertion of right to the free enjoyment of
Bertram’s body – ‘the great prerogative and rite of love’, as
Parolles puts it (2.4.39). As it turns out, her enjoyment is in
fact (re-)productive, thus securing patrilineal continuity. So
far as Helena is concerned, though, this is merely a collateral
benefit. With the terms of their wager agreed upon, 2.1 ends
with the King extravagantly offering Helena ‘[his] hand’,

Harry Berger Jr, Making Trifles of Terrors (Stanford, CA: Stanford University

Press, 1997), 298.

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 225

promising that her ‘will by [his] performance shall be serv’d’

(200–1). Despite or because of the several ironies engendered
by the sovereign decision, the scene strikes a judicious balance
between competing interests, casting promises in rhymed
couplets that seem imported from another play.
Meanwhile, many of the assumptions we rely upon to
order and interpret experience are being quietly exploded.
The assumption, for instance, that there is a substantial,
legible difference between intention and action, willing and
performing, having and holding. Between standing up, say,
or just standing by. Despite their judicious ring, the King’s
parting words implicitly accede to a somewhat scandalous
equivalence. By staking her body on the King’s body in order
to win Bertram’s, Helena has assumed an underlying commen-
surability of these bodies.17 The idea implicit in the terms
of their transaction – namely, that they can each (and do)
stand in for another – is ratified by the King’s decision to be
Helena’s ‘resolv’d patient’ (1.2.223). By the same token, the
legitimacy of Helena’s desire and her ‘right’ to see it satisfied
are conceded before even being tried. When the King offers
Helena his hand, Bertram’s is as good as lost.
As I have said, Helena is no mere ‘predator of monogamy’,
but she is not the virginal saint to whom she sometimes
compares herself, either. Her relationship to her own sexual
desire is something altogether more mysterious than the laws
of predation or, for that matter, their exception. Wishing she
could be at once chaste and unchaste, both Dian and love
(1.3.208), she presents her predicament as essentially tragic;
she is one ‘whose state is such that cannot choose / But lend
and give where she is sure to lose’, and, ‘lives sweetly where
she dies’ (1.3.209–10). The common Shakespearean sense of
‘to die’ as ‘orgasm’ is no doubt at play here, but it goes only
so far in elucidating this passage, which proceeds to describe

This is not to say that Helena intentionally or consciously assumes it, only
that the terms of wager dictate it.

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her desire in less obviously compliant terms. Her further

articulation of her desire or love as ‘riddle-like’ mimes a satis-
fying solution, only to present another riddle in turn (‘Thus,
riddle-like …’). In what sense is her present state like a riddle?
Maybe Helena is riddled because the idea of death is greater
than our capacity to understand it; maybe one lives only so
long as death exceeds full comprehension, which can only
be achieved, if at all, by dying. However tragic, though, this
dilemma also suggests that the inability to grasp something
fully, or to arrive at a satisfying resolution, can be a spring of
agency. Or at least a means of persisting.
Before Helena goes on to describe her desire in more
diaphanous terms of transcendence and sanctification, she
comprehends both the urgency and recklessness of her desire
for Bertram in a less riddling analogy: ‘The hind that would be
mated by the lion / Must die for love’ (1.1.89–90). Despite the
familiar motif of dying of / for love compounded by punitive
social restrictions, nowhere else is Helena’s desire more frankly
stated. She wants to – no, she would be, indeed wills to be –
mated. There are more expansive terms of comparison at her
disposal, more finely-tuned instruments of understanding and
communicating, but this analogy gets us closest to the King’s
obscene bedchamber, and to the quasi-incestuous surrogacies
that shape the play’s philosophical drama.
Helena’s relationship to her own desire is defined by the
object of desire and the sovereign power that can as easily
obstruct as facilitate it. In 2.1, these relationships converge in
the extra-diegetic time that elapses between this scene and the
following. It is ob-scene because it is off-stage, and because,
like Helena’s love for Bertram, it transgresses proprieties
of class, family and generation, as well as ‘honour’ in the
putatively feminine and masculine applications of that term.18
Eventually, however, Helena does gain access to the royal

Cf. also OED, ‘obscene’, adj and`n, which derives the word from the Latin
partes obscenae, and the genitals (Obs.).

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 227

body and expends on it her only inheritance: namely, the book

in which her father’s knowledge has been preserved and was
his ‘only darling’ (2.1.106). His ‘only darling’? Let me try that
again: Finally, though, Helena does gain access to the royal
body, and expends on it her only inheritance: namely, her self.
Helena is given three days to ‘enforce her office’ and restore
the King’s failing body, or, in more clinical terms, to cure him
of his fistula. Today ‘fistula’ is a more specific term, referring
to ‘an abscess external to the rectum.’ Its earlier definition
was looser, covering a range of ailments and a variety of
unusual bodily protrusions. In the play’s source-text, Painter’s
Palace of Pleasure, the French king is said to be suffering from
‘a swelling upon his breast, which by reason of ill cure, was
growen to be a Fistula’,19 while in Jacques Ferrand’s 1623
Treatise on Lovesickness, ‘fistula’ refers to ‘a specific disease
of the eye.’20 None of this means, however, that the King’s
ailment and Helena’s cure are all above board and within
sight. In the Treatise, a ‘fistula’ is a clear symptom of ‘erotic
melancholy’, and is introduced within a broader discussion
about the potential medical benefits that might be had from
sex. He pointedly denies that illicit sex could be of any medical
benefit, attributing this view to ‘Mohammedans and infidels’
(334). It is less clear whether he thinks there are such benefits
to be had from sex tout court. ‘Indian-like’ and ‘Religious in
[her] error’ (1.3.199–200), as she describes herself, Helena
probably would not grant such distinctions as readily.
The text is clear about the nature of the King’s restored
health, if not the precise nature of his ailment and cure:

I have seen a medicine

That’s able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and dance canary

Quoted in Hunter, n. 31, and Appendix, 146.


Jacques Ferrand, A Treatise on Lovesickness (1623), trans. Donald A.


Beecher and Massimo Ciavolella (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990),


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With sprightly fire and motion; whose simple touch

Is powerful to araise King Pippen, nay,
To give great Charlemain a pen in’s hand
And write her a love-line. (2.1.71–7)

While the King is not immediately convinced that Helena’s

sovereign ‘simple touch’ (2.1.74) will suffice to ‘araise’ him,
its power is very much in evidence. As Lafew remarks of him,
‘Your dolphin is not lustier’ than he; he is, even, ‘Lustique’, the
old lord continues, though not without a twinge of homosocial
jealously: ‘I’d like a maid the better whilst I have a tooth in my
head. Why, he’s able to lead her a coranto’ (2.3.41–3).
Having proved his power already, the King still has
something to prove, something that will make his power
manifest: ‘My honour’s at the stake, which to defeat, / I must
produce my power’ (2.3.149–50). In exchange for his life, he
has assumed Bertram’s compliance and promised his hand
to Helena. Bertram is impertinently reluctant, and roundly
rebuked. Yet this alone will not suffice to ‘produce’ his power,
for by commanding Bertram’s assent, indeed staking his very
honour on it, the King also attests to the contingency of his
power. He is confronted by the double bind of sovereign
power, whereby power’s requisite manifestation simultane-
ously discloses its dependence on and continuity with other
merely natural bodies. Confronted thus, he might well want
to know what Helena wanted to know: ‘Is there no military
policy how virgins might blow up men?’ she asks Parolles
(1.1.119). The full interest of the question emerges only when,
having been rebuked, Bertram is made to know precisely what
is at stake for him: ‘It is in us,’ the King reminds him, ‘to plant
thine honour where / We please to have it grow’ (2.3.156–7).
Given his dependence on other bodies (Helena’s, for instance),
the threat is a concession. His power, and the sovereign
decision above all, cannot but draw attention to its captious
and arbitrary nature (‘where we please’). Here, power is as
vulnerable to the variegations of honour; as vulnerable, at
least, as Bertram’s ‘honour’ is to sovereign whimsy. With this

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 229

threat, the King might just as well be asking (of both Bertram
and himself, since they have both been blown up by virgins
in one sense or another): is there no policy how men might
blow up virgins? What policy is there for men who have been
blown up by virgins? Once planted, has the destiny of his
honour, bound as it is to Bertram’s dubious honour, already
been determined?
For All’s Well to end well, the play must see its heroine
legitimately coupled with the guy she somewhat inexplicably
desires, and she must receive the King’s benediction. As
in other Shakespearean comedies, here one of the primary
functions of sovereignty is the legitimation of sex, whether
sex that’s been had or sex still to be won. Indisputably, it is
one of the primary means through which sovereign power
reveals and asserts itself. In All’s Well That Ends Well, the
final coupling is presented as a miracle of sorts, even though
we have been privy to the various contrivances that have in
fact brought it about: exchanging this head for that, say, or,
provided the lights are sufficiently dim, one willing body for
another. In effect, the King gives Helena Bertram’s hand in
exchange for his own life, but that life – what remains of the
King – depends on Bertram to take it.
Another way of putting this is to say that the ‘legitimate’
heterosexual couple amplifies sovereign power. With its worldly
and immediate legibility, and its implicit promise of continuity,
the couple also serves as a figure of this power. Whether this
figure is ultimately celebrated or whether some taint of moral
ambiguity and coercion still clings to it, will be contingent
on the specific literary, historical and cultural contexts in
which it is delivered and received. As the crowning figure
of Shakespearean comedy, however, it intimates the genre’s
deep and broad investment in sovereign power. Other generic
markers, like the havoc wrought by desire, or the frantic
pursuit of illicit sex, only strengthen this investment – and not
by virtue of any cycle of containment and release, either.
The function and proof of sovereign power as the legiti-
mation of sex is perhaps clearer in Measure for Measure,

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where the rights of marriage are bestowed to reward but more

often than not to punish. As Lucio, condemned to marry his
‘punk’, remarks, ‘[It] may prove worse than hanging.’21 This
is bitter comedy. It attests to sovereignty as the power to
decide the exception, and as the power over life and death
above all. In All’s Well, the King’s authority, particularly
as expressed as legitimizing benediction, is no less punitive
than the Duke’s. Certainly it is a punishment for Bertram,
one he has earned but which, one feels, he does not deserve.
As for Helena, she has earned her reward, though not before
staking her life on it. In All’s Well, the punitive function of
sovereign power, and the violence embedded in it, are not as
broadly and self-consciously applied as they are in Measure
for Measure. However bitter, All’s Well is an easier pill to
swallow. The darker cast I have been pointing to is marked
from beginning to end, but not to the extent that it obscures
the play’s other, less ‘problematic’ registers.22 Nevertheless,
it is intrinsic to the play, whose most revealing and conse-
quential acts are, after all, performed in the dark. That is, it
is intrinsic to the play’s adulterated cynicism: its invitation, or
rather demand, not only to read but positively credit incom-
patible generic, ethical and philosophical positions. Insofar as
these are also embodied positions, it is also intrinsic to how
Helena answers – or fails to answer – the same demand, and
our evaluation of it.
The transaction between Helena and the King has twin
accomplishments, though they do not emerge until the end
of the play. Having given Bertram’s hand in exchange for his
own life, the King claims to speak for Justice, and justice has
been served. In addition, at least one miracle, maybe more,
has been performed. Helena gets to be the ‘Dian[a]’ who

Measure for Measure, ed. Jonathan Crewe (New York: Penguin Putnam,
2000), 5.1.358.
Including that announced by its title, however hedged by conditionals and
unfinished business (see 5.3.311–28).

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 231

‘Was both herself and love’ (1.3.208), and to ‘[live] sweetly

where she dies’ (212). When all is said and done, she gets
to be chaste and get laid, as if, ‘riddle-like’, or king-like, she
can avail herself of two bodies – and while presumed dead,
procure a third.
The King’s threat, it appears, has turned fact, confirming
his claim that ‘it is in [him]’ to ‘plant’ Bertram’s honour
wherever he would ‘have it grow’ (2.3.156–7). Diana, for
whom Helena had served as surrogate, once in a dark room in
Florence, reappears in Act Five. She has come to repay Helena
who, by lying down for Diana (i.e. the real, not the mythical
girl), preserved her honour and protected her chastity. As
the prologue to Helena’s ‘miraculous’ reappearance, Diana
presents a riddle of her own, claiming Bertram ‘knows himself
my bed he hath defil’d; / And at that time he got his wife with
child. / Dead though she be she feels her young one kick. / So
there’s my riddle: one that’s dead is quick, / And now behold
the meaning’ (5.3.294–8). And so, behold the meaning. The
riddle isn’t hard to grasp, but it does require the visual image
Helena’s body can provide in a way that her heart-sieve
For anyone troubled by Shakespeare’s implausible temporal
schemes, the implication that the King has stood in as a
surrogate father would at least make some sense of Helena’s
advanced stage of pregnancy in the final act. Just as he
provided Helena with a temporary stand-in or surrogate for
Bertram, so Bertram, after a fashion, serves as the King’s
surrogate, now charged with husbanding the seed planted
by someone else. ‘Thou know’st she has rais’d me from my
sickly bed,’ comes the King’s paternal admonition, urging his
adoptive son to take Helena’s hand and accept a new role.
The familiar retort comes just as quickly: ‘But follows it,
my lord, to bring me down / Must answer for your raising?’
Well, yes; and yes.


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By advancing this obscene interpretation of the King’s cure,

I do not mean to say that Helena’s motives are pure and her
affections merely misplaced. My reading does not necessarily
contradict, much less cancel, Helena’s idealized and idealizing
account of her desire. I would argue that her affections have
been displaced, had she not already made that argument herself.
Charged with the task of carrying and disseminating ‘the credit
of [her] father’ in her own person (1.1.75–6), alone, she
confesses to her infidelity – a source no doubt of both anguish
and relief.23 Since Bertram has assumed her father’s place in her
imagination, the King, who has assumed the place of Bertram’s
father, is a likely stand-in for Bertram. If anything, this
contributes to the erotic incitement of her prohibitive station:
‘My master, my dear lord he is; and I / His servant live, and
will his vassal die. / He must not be my brother’ (1.3.153–5).24
What I am suggesting is that what transpires between the King
and Helena off-stage is a rehearsal of what later transpires,
unbeknownst to him and also off-stage, between Bertram and
Helena. Not exactly the consummation of their marriage, but,
just as surely, a realization of Helena’s desire.
As she is aware, the impropriety of her desire has to do
with transgressions of gender, class and station, as well as the
factum brutum of desire itself, and female desire in particular.
They also include her ‘idolatrous’ worship of body above
spirit and, worse, image above body. And so, in Act Five,
Helena stands before her audience repenting that ‘’Tis but

‘I think not on my father / … / … What was he like? / I have forgot him; my
imagination / Carries no favour in’t but Bertram’s’ (1.1.77–81).
The tale of Myrrha and Cinyras in Metamorphoses X: 297–511 is an uncannily
resonant but, to my knowledge, unremarked source-text. Like Helena, Myrrha
may choose from among ‘Young lords from every land’, but ‘there is one
who can’t belong / to those from whom [she chooses]’ (338): her father, the
one man with whom she longs to mate. Helena begs the Countess not to call
her ‘daughter’, since that would make Bertram her ‘brother’ (cf. 1.3.133ff.).
Similarly, for Myrrha ‘filial’ is a term of chastisement and prohibition; hearing
it, ‘she lowers her eyes: she knows she’s criminal’ (339). See The Metamorphoses
of Ovid, trans. Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993).

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 233

the shadow of a wife you see; / The name and not the thing’
(5.3.301–2). But in fact she is both ‘name’ and ‘thing’; only
the King’s closing benediction remains. Such knowingness
prompts a re-reading of her earlier claim that, in worshiping
Bertram as she does, she is ‘religious in [her] error.’ Instead
of a forthright admission of the carnality or impurity of her
love, it is a clear-sighted recognition that such an ‘error’ might
consist precisely in its religiosity; that, for all its embodied
erotic force, it remains incorrigibly attached to the pathos
of distance, ideals of transcendent love, and an abiding faith
in miracles. Or, that for all its enduring faith in miracles,
religiosity cannot but comprehend – take note of, experience,
register – embodied force, be it erotic or political.
Through the mysterious transaction between 2.1 and 2.3,
All’s Well stages sovereignty’s need to recruit licit and illicit
forms of sexuality to its own ends. It might stipulate, further,
the fundamental irrelevance of the distinction between ‘licit’
and ‘illicit’ forms of sexuality: however obliquely; in spirit, if
not in word. Helena’s uneasy cohabitation of sexual assertion
and subjection argues the same point. This is not a simple
debunking, for to question the arbitrariness and materiality of
certain objects of worship (whether Helena’s miraculous cure,
Bertram’s erotic appeal, or the King’s potency) is, again, to
attest to their power.
To describe sovereign power in terms of one of its primary
functions – namely, the legitimation of sex – says only so much
about that power per se. Nevertheless, it would be reductive to
read this ending or resolution as dependent solely on the inter-
vention of sovereign power, just as it would be mistaken to see
the legitimation enacted on this particular stage as a process
aimed, more or less successfully, at correcting the defects of
human sexuality.25 In All’s Well That Ends Well, the quiddity

Or, in more traditional terms, to read it as the intervention of grace working
through divinely appointed deputies. Here again, Measure for Measure would
prove the better example.

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of sex is too persuasively frank and too broadly distributed to

be accommodated by such neat remedies. Perhaps, then, it is
neither personal nor political sovereignty that is asserted, but
the sovereignty of desire in its various manifestations? In this
case, one might reasonably (and, in my view, rightly) conclude
that sovereign power and sexuality are coextensive, if not
co-constitutive, and so begin to tease out its theoretical and
practical implications.
But we’re not done yet.
To be sure, the realization of Helena’s sovereign desire is an
act of subjugation (the King’s), but it is no less an act (Helena’s
act) of submission. And not even to the object of her idola-
trous fancy, to which she would happily subject herself, but to
the King. In a last-ditch effort to gain access to his body, she
does question both the justice and the potency of the sovereign
decision: ‘Inspired merit so by breath is barred’ (2.1.147).
But she does so only hypothetically: as if incredulous that a
king’s breath could deflate ‘inspired merit’; as if the binding
power of the sovereign decision were inconceivable. Helena
is not only complicit with the King; she is also compliant to
his wishes and desires. Upon presenting herself to him, she
says she comes ‘to tender’ her father’s gift (the remedy) and
her ‘appliance’ (her compliance together with the remedy)
(2.1.112). We have been primed for this note of subjection
already. However capacious or deceitful, Helena’s heart is
adamantly ‘too capable’ (1.1.93): too passive, too receptive;
impressionable to a fault.


In this politically restricted context, where knowledge vies

with belief and only rarely wins, the most devastatingly
eloquent voice of dissent belongs, of all people, to Parolles.
‘Of all people’, I say, but, more than anyone else on this
stage, it is he who most fully grasps what it means to live
in a world of words and is best equipped to live there.
Stripped of his honour, his standing and his clothes – all

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‘Captious and Inteemable’ 235

that which presumably makes a man – he is, of all things,

‘thankful’ (4.3.319, my emphasis). ‘If my heart were great, /
‘Twould burst at this,’ he continues, thus drawing Helena’s
comprehensive heart-sieve to where it most properly belongs:
where swords rust, blushes cool and, riddle-like, one is ‘Safest
in shame’ (4.3.319–27).
There, Parolles invents a stark definition of his self: ‘Simply
the thing I am / Shall make me live’ (4.3.322–3). This
announcement of radical autonomy is, at the same time, a
powerful renunciation of the subject as an entity dependent
on and defined by sovereign power. Persisting in a world that
may well turn out not to ‘have place and means for every
man alive’ (328), Parolles cuts an interestingly fragile figure.
Like Helena, he has, in equal measure, little to lose and much
to gain. They are both threatened by the possibility of losing
their honour; both have traded on it, too. Who’s won and
who’s lost, who’s in or who’s out: at the end of All’s Well That
Ends Well, these remain tangled, open questions, of utmost
significance but little importance. Unlike everyone else in the
play, who live in fear of losing ‘honour’ and are sustained by
the hope of winning it, only Helena and Parolles have seen it
for the ethically insubstantial trifle that it is. To snatch a line
from Dorothy Parker, they may have already lost it, but they
still have the box it came in.

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‘Time is their master’:
Men and Metre in The
Comedy of Errors

Jennifer Roberts-Smith

Introduction: Metre and timing

Early in The Comedy of Errors, when Adriana’s husband is
late for lunch, her sister Luciana reassures her that although
men’s liberties are great, they are subject to time: ‘Time is their
master,’ she promises, ‘and when they see time, / They’ll go
or come’ (2.1.8–9).1 The literal and conventional Elizabethan
senses of the word ‘time’ occur frequently in the play and
articulate what has long been recognized as its central theme.
Despite the action’s apparent temporal chaos, which culmi-
nates in a reversal of time in Act Four, when Syracusian
Dromio complains, ‘It was two ere I left [my master], and

All references to Shakespeare’s plays are to the Riverside Shakespeare, ed.


G. Blakemore Evans et al. (2nd edn, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

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now the clock strikes one’ (4.2.53), men are not ultimately
masterless in Ephesus. True to romance conventions, ‘there’s
a time for all things’ (2.2.65), as the play’s protagonists grope
blindly towards a resolution that is guaranteed by the play’s
structural and generic chronologies.
Perhaps surprisingly – in a play that has never been
considered a masterpiece of versification – Shakespeare puts
the ordering influence of time to work in The Comedy of
Errors at the metrical level as well.2 Of course, as George T.
Wright explains in his seminal book, Shakespeare’s Metrical
Art, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is not normally thought
of as literally timed. There are two categories of rhythm in
English poetry; one is timed and the other is not, and iambic
pentameter belongs to the latter:

If the meter is accentual, it measures the intervals between

stressed syllables by the time that elapses between them,
without specifying how many unstressed syllables appear
in that interval …
But if the meter is not only accentual but also syllabic,
then the interval between its accented syllables is marked
not by a measured time-lapse but by the occurrence of a
fixed number of unaccented syllables (usually one). In such
meter we hear a pulsation … in each stressed syllable, but
the intervals between stressed syllables are not so regular.3

Wright sees ‘grave theoretical problems’ (p. 3) in the effort

to explain the iambic ‘pulsation’ by means of an analogy

The comments in the Oxford edition give a good indication of the play’s
metrical reputation. See Comedy of Errors, ed. Charles Walters Whitworth
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 6–7. See also Brennan O’Donnell,
‘The Errors of the Verse: Metrical Reading and Performance of The Comedy
of Errors’, in The Comedy of Errors: Critical Essays, ed. Roberts S. Miola
(London: Routledge, 1997), 403.
George T. Wright. Shakespeare’s Metrical Art (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1998), 3.

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‘Time is their master’ 239

between a line of verse and a line of music. His reservations

notwithstanding, however, he uses the analogy in a concession
to the voice’s tendency to compensate for trochaic inversions
in spoken iambic verse. The voice slows or quickens, he says,
in order to articulate the ‘beat’ of a line of iambic pentameter
at equal intervals in time:

As I make it out, either there is a pause before the stressed

syllable of a trochaic foot, or else the voice lingers on the
preceding syllable (if the trochee is medial) while enough
time passes to let the next syllable be positioned to accept
the beat. (p. 187)

In this brief surrender to his intuition as a performer, Wright

hears iambic pentameter for a moment in the way that
Shakespeare’s contemporaries did.
For Elizabethan metrists, the distinction between timed
accentual meters and untimed accentual-syllabic meters was
not so clear-cut: the ‘English Iambick’, as Thomas Campion
called it, was widely understood to organize syllable duration
as well as accent (or stress) and syllable-count in its rules.4
Elizabethans thought that the line ‘whiche hath in it fewest
syllables, shalbe founde yet to consist of words that haue
suche naturall sounde, as may seeme equall in length to a verse
which hath many moe syllables of lighter accents.’5 In addition
to ‘accent’ or salience it was the ‘quantity’, or time (long or
short) of syllables, not just their number, that determined the
length of a line. In other words, Elizabethans heard the same
tendency for salient syllables to occupy ‘beats’ in a line of

Thomas Campion, Obseruations in the Art of English Poesie (London,
1602), sig. B1v. See also Samuel Daniel, A panegyrike congratulatory … With
a defence of ryme, heeretofore written, and now published by the author
(London, 1603), sig. G1–I1.
George Gascoigne, Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making
of Verse or Ryme in English … The Posies of George Gascoigne Esquire
(London, 1575), sig. T2v.

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verse as Wright does, whether one or two non-salient syllables

or no syllables at all fell between them. The ‘English iambic’
was to them more like native English accentual verse than
it was like the continental models identified by more recent
theorists as its precedent.
Like Wright, modern theorists have tended, sometimes
regretfully, to understand the Elizabethan characterization of
the iambic as misguided;6 but recent developments in the field
of linguistics suggest that Shakespeare’s contemporaries may
have been right after all. In particular, Kristin Hanson has
provided phonological evidence that Philip Sidney accurately
identified the durations of syllables he used in his quantitative
dactylic hexameters.7 Her methodology, applied to Thomas
Campion’s work, confirms that both his theory and his compo-
sition of quantitative ‘English iambics’ were as phonologically
grounded as Sidney’s classical meters.8 Even more importantly,
Hanson has shown that Shakespeare moves in thematically
motivated ways in Richard II between a purely accentual-
syllabic iambic pentameter, which she identifies as common
in contemporary lyric forms such as sonnets, and an iambic
pentameter that also systematically organizes syllable duration,
which she identifies as a contrasting dramatic form of iambic
pentameter.9 This is an important discovery: if Shakespeare

The most sympathetic but still sceptical treatment of the so-called quanti-
tative movement in English verse theory and practice is Derek Attridge,
Well-Weighed Syllables: Elizabethan Verse in Classical Metres (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1974).
Kristin Hanson, ‘Quantitative Meter in English: The Lesson of Sir Philip
Sidney’, English Language and Linguistics 5, no. 1 (2001): 41–91.
Jennifer Roberts-Smith, ‘Thomas Campion’s Iambic and Quantitative
Sapphic: Further Evidence for Phonological Weight in Elizabethan English
Quantitative and non-Quantitative Meters’, Language and Literature 21, no.
4 (2012): 381–401.
Kristin Hanson, ‘Shakespeare’s Lyric and Dramatic Metrical Styles’, in
Formal Approaches to Poetry: Recent Developments in Metrics, ed. B. Elan
Dresher and Nila Friedberg (Berlin and New York: M. de Gruyter, 2006),

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‘Time is their master’ 241

could generate meaning perceptible to a live theatre audience

by switching between timed and untimed iambics, a whole
new mode of performed linguistic expression has opened up
for exploration in Shakespeare’s world of words.
The Comedy of Errors is a useful starting place for an
exploration of how Shakespeare’s timed dramatic iambics may
have made meaning in performance because it incorporates
the two categories of English verse most clearly distinct not
just to Elizabethan but also to modern ears. Although The
Comedy of Errors is mainly written in what has traditionally
been described as an accentual-syllabic iambic pentameter,
a significant passage is written in a meter identified by
Brennan O’Donnell as an ‘accentual or strong-stress verse’
that especially encourages a timed delivery in performance.10
Because of the play’s thematic preoccupation with time, it
also offers an opportunity to explore the relationships among
meter, theme, structure, style and genre in performance. In
The Comedy of Errors, I suggest, Shakespeare gives metrical
form to Elizabethan ideas about time as the bringer of order.
The accentual meters and quantitative iambic pentameters are
linked by what I call border lines, with features that straddle
the two kinds of meter. The play’s metrical scheme as a whole
operates as a meta-level commentary on the action in which
male characters are most fully mastered by time when they are
least able to master themselves. This structural gesture helps to
create the ironic distance between characters’ and audiences’
perceptions of time that is perhaps the play’s central goal.

Time and tune

Shakespeare never uses the word ‘time’ with reference to
meter anywhere in his corpus of 90,000 or so words. In fact,
he almost never discusses meter at all. He never uses the term

O’Donnell, ‘Errors of the Verse’, 403.

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‘iambic’; he names no other classical foot-type; nor does he

ever use the words ‘pentameter’ or ‘quantity’ with reference
to syllables. Of four instances of the technical terms ‘foot’ or
‘feet’, three are in a seven-line prose passage in As You Like
It where Rosalind and Celia mock Orlando’s bad love poems;
the fourth, in Gower’s prologue to the fourth act of Pericles,
regrets ‘the lame feete of my rime’ (4.4.48–9).
There was probably good reason for Shakespeare to eschew
metrical terms in general: they were rare, specialized, classical
imports, ‘words of art’ which Samuel Rid explained in his
1611 Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine when he said that ‘you
must also haue your words of Arte, certaine strange words,
that … may … breed the more admiration to the people.’11
Even Samuel Daniel, with his regular-English agenda, invoked
the rarity of the term ‘iambic’ and its Latin and continental
cachet when he complained:

[W]hat a doe haue we heere, what strange precepts of Arte

about the framing of an Iambique verse in our language,
which when all is done, reaches not by a foote, but falleth
out to be the plaine ancient verse consisting of tenne
sillables or fiue feete, which hath euer beene vsed amongest
vs time out of minde.12

Shakespeare did not think his poetry needed help from

continental practices – ancient or contemporary. As Mercutio
puts it, ‘The pox of such antic lisping affecting [phantasimes],
these new tuners of accent! … Why, is not this a lamentable
thing … that we should be thus afflicted with these strange
flies, these fashion-mongers, these [pardon-]me’s, who stand
so much on the new form, that they cannot sit at ease on the
old bench?’ (Romeo and Juliet, 2.4.28–35). In Mercutio’s play

Samuel Rid, The Art of Iuggling or Legerdemaine (London, 1611), sig.
Daniel, Defence of Ryme, sig. H4r.

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‘Time is their master’ 243

on words in this passage, Shakespeare displays the bias of his

own metrical vocabulary, an English inventory of terms less
precise or technical than the classical lexicon. English ‘accents’
are ‘tuned’ and they do not need to be ‘new tuned’; attempts
to ‘new tune’ them merely ‘affect’ the ‘antic’ (both clownish
and ancient) and the ‘lisping’ (Spanish?); those who make such
attempts are ‘strange [i.e. foreign] flies’, ‘fashion-mongers’
and Frenchified ‘pardon-me’s.’ And what is an ordinary
English ‘tune’, from which our ‘accent’ need not be trained?
A ‘tune’ is a ‘time’, as Shakespeare explains in As You Like It
– not primarily a pitched pattern, but a rhythmic one. When
Touchstone is offended by the Pages’ song ‘It was a lover and
his lass’ in Act Five, he complains, ‘Truly, young gentlemen,
though there was no great matter in the ditty, yet the note was
very untuneable’; and the First Page objects, ‘You are deceiv’d,
sir, we kept time, we lost not our time’ (5.3.34–8). For the
Page, the temporal rhythm of a note is as integral to its ‘tune’
as its pitch, and although ‘tune’ did often refer to works of
sung pitch in Elizabethan English, it also referred to spoken
metrical works, especially those written in the native English
tradition, as described in the specialized contexts of treatises
attempting both to associate the English tradition with and
distinguish it from the classical and continental traditions.13
To my knowledge, this exchange in As You Like It is
Shakespeare’s only reference to metrical time.

Measure and due time

For modern readers of Shakespeare, ‘measure’ is a term
that perhaps more recognizably links metrics to ‘time’ than
‘tune’, in part because the analogy between dance measures

For a discussion of Puttenham’s use of the term ‘tune’, see Jennifer

Roberts-Smith, ‘Puttenham rehabilitated: the significance of “tune” in The

Arte of English Poesie’, Computing in the Humanities Working Papers/Text
Technology 12, no. 1 (2003): 75–91.

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and metrics is recognized (however vaguely) by the Oxford

English Dictionary at sense 16a: ‘Rhythm in poetry as defined
by syllabic quantity or stress; a kind of poetical rhythm; a
metrical group or unit, such as a dactyl or two Iambuses,
trochees, spondees, etc. … Also: a metrical foot.’ One of the
citations offered by the OED in support of this sense is from
Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which King Henry apologizes to
Princess Katharine of France for the fact that ‘for the one [i.e.
verses], I have neither words nor measure; and for the other
[i.e. dance], I have no strength in measure, yet a reasonable
measure in strength’ (5.2.134–6). George Puttenham is more
explicit than either the OED or Shakespeare when he explains
that ‘meeter and measure is all one … and is but the quantitie of
a verse, either long or short.’14 A contemporary of Puttenham
and Shakespeare like John Florio extended the analogy from
the organized rhythmical timings of music, dance and verse
to a general sense of order when he associated ‘due time and
proportion’ with ‘measure and order in syllables or verses.’15
This is exactly the association Shakespeare makes between
conceptual and experiential timeliness in The Comedy of
Errors by materializing his characters’ (and his audiences’)
sense of the appropriateness of the play’s action in terms of its
metrical temporality. The approximately 1,125 occurrences
of the word ‘time’ in his corpus as a whole16 do generally
reflect the most common senses of the word (then and now),
as described in the OED. Yet although The Comedy of Errors
by no means contains the most frequent references to time
in Shakespeare’s works, the occurrences of ‘time’ in the play

George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589), 55.
John Florio, ‘Numero’, in A Worlde of Wordes, or Most Copious, and Exact
Dictionarie in Italian and English (London, 1598).
This is a rough calculation, based on results returned by Internet Shakespeare
Editions’ search function. I have calculated occurrences in modern-spelling
editions where they are available; in the Folio where an alternate text is
available; in the Sonnets and narrative poems as well as the plays; and in
Edward III and Henry VIII as well.

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‘Time is their master’ 245

overwhelmingly focus on the idea of ‘due time’, the right

moments for particular events. The right time of day for
particular activities is essential to the plot: it may be time for
‘dinner’ (1.2.11; 2.1.5; 2.2.10), ‘supper’ (3.2.174), or ‘bed’
(1.2.28); ‘time … to trudge’ (3.2.153) or ‘that I were gone’
(4.2.53); or more urgently ‘hie time’ (3.2.147). Characters
hope that events will unfold ‘in good time’ (2.2.57, 64) and
‘lest I come not time enough’ (4.1.40–1) is a worry; in general,
‘there’s a time for all things’ (2.2.65). When time is personified
as Father Time (2.2.70), his credit is good, since the idea
that ‘Time were in debt’ (4.2.57) or ‘bankrout’ (4.2.58) is
preposterous. On the other hand, time’s rule is inflexible and
unavoidable, since he ‘comes stealing on’ (4.2.60) unper-
ceived. In The Comedy of Errors, time organizes human
behaviour as though it were subject to a metrical schema of
the kind described in the OED’s special and technical uses:
‘III. 23. Prosody. A syllable, regarded as a metrical unit or unit
of duration’; ‘III. 26. a. Music. Rhythmic quality of precision
in singing or dancing’; or ‘III. c. The rhythmic pattern or
character of a piece or passage of music, typically expressed
in terms of the way in which beats are grouped into recurring
groups, and the temporal relationship between these larger
groups and their smaller subdivisions.’ Ultimately, as Adriana
predicts in Act Two, Scene One, ‘time is [mens’] master,
and when they see time, / They’ll go or come’ (2.1.8–9):
once characters understand timeliness, they will respect it.
Shakespeare is testing our sense of the ‘time for all things’
(2.2.65) by materializing it in verse.

Accentual verse in The Comedy

of Errors
For the most part, my metrical analysis of The Comedy of
Errors will avoid the technical details of historical linguistic
analysis, although there is much potentially fruitful work to be

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done, for example, on the ways word-stress in Shakespeare’s

English may have differed from our own. In general, I follow
Hanson in accepting that ‘as a system, the length distinctions
relevant to syllable weight [in early modern English] were
completely parallel to those of the present-day language.’
Since Hanson’s approach to scansion draws on linguistic
theories of phonology and generative methodologies for
analysing metrics, however, two concepts need explanation.
First, in early modern as in present English, a syllable that
was phonologically short contained only one unit of sound
(the technical term is one ‘mora’) in its nucleus and coda
combined. So, if C stands for consonant and V for a short
vowel, the following syllable-types are short: V, CV (‘a’, ‘the’).
A syllable was long if it contained more than one mora in its
nucleus and coda combined. So, if VV stands for a long vowel,
the following syllable-types are long: VV, VC, CVV, CVC,
CVCC (‘oh’, ‘at’, ‘too’, cat’, ‘cats’), and so on. It is helpful
to remember that phonological time is functional rather than
material. Since two-mora syllables do not behave any differ-
ently in phonological processes than do syllables containing
more than two mora, English syllables have only two ‘phono-
logical durations: they are either long or short.’18 As native
speakers of English, we perceive equivalences in phonological
time even when they are expressed differently (measuring in
fractions of seconds) by different speakers.
Second, to illustrate my scansions, I will borrow the model
used by generative metrists to visualize metrical structure.19

Hanson, ‘Quantitative Meter’, 52. On changes to the English stress system
from old to early modern English, see P. Fikkert, Elan Dresher and Arunditi
Lahiri, ‘Prosodic Preferences: From Old English to Early Modern English’,
in A Handbook of the History of English, ed. A. Van Kemanade and B. Los
(London: Blackwell, 2006).
See Bruce Hayes, Metrical Stress Theory: Principles and Case Studies
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
See Morris Halley and Samuel Keyser, ‘Chaucer and the Study of Prosody’,
College English 29, no. 3 (1966): 187–219; Halle and Keyser, ‘Illustration and

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‘Time is their master’ 247

It hypothesizes a series of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ ‘positions’

organized into sequential groups to create ‘lines.’ Each
‘position’ is filled by one or more syllables; usually ‘strong’
positions are filled by stressed syllables and ‘weak’ positions
by unstressed syllables. The model for a given line of meter is
called a ‘template’, on the understanding that it will be filled in
a variety of ways by actual words, which conform more or less
to the pattern the template establishes. Positions are normally
numbered. As an example, the general template for a line of
iambic pentameter looks like this, where ‘W’ stands for ‘weak’
and ‘S’ stands for ‘strong’:

W1 S1 W2 S2 W3 S3 W4 S4 W5 S5

With that framework in mind, I begin with accentual verse in

The Comedy of Errors.20
The longest continuous passage of accentual verse in The
Comedy of Errors (sixty-five lines long) occurs in Act Three,
Scene One, the structural climax of the play known as the
‘lock-out scene.’ The template for a line of accentual meter in
The Comedy of Errors consists of eight weak positions alter-
nating with eight strong positions. It looks, very generally,
like this:

W1 S1 W2 S2 W3 S3 W4 S4 W5 S5 W6 S6 W7 S7 W8 S8

The impression that each line of accentual verse is equal in

duration in these lines is created by five of its characteristics:
rhyme, the alternation of primary and secondary stresses in
strong positions, mid-line caesura, a line-final ‘rest’ and the
treatment of weak positions.

Defense of a Theory of Iambic Pentameter’, College English 33, no. 2 (1971):

154–76; and Kristin Hanson and Paul Kiparsky, ‘A Parametric Theory of
Poetic Meter’, Language 72, no. 2 (1996): 287–335.
My complete scansion of The Comedy of Errors may be consulted at http://

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First, the lines of accentual verse in The Comedy of Errors

almost always rhyme: 95 of 106 (or 90 per cent) do so. Line-final
rhyme emphasizes line-endings as predictable recurring events;
this encourages the impression that line-endings occur at
regular rhythmic, and hence temporal, intervals.
Second, there is a strong tendency in the accentual verse to
fill strong positions with alternating primary and secondary
stresses, particularly in the second half of the line: in seventy-
nine lines (or 75 per cent), the following pattern appears. In
this representation, primary salience is in BOLD CAPS and
secondary salience is in CAPS:

S5 primary – S6 secondary – S7 primary

In sixty-nine lines (or 65 per cent), the first half of the line
shows an identical pattern:

S1 primary – S2 secondary – S3 primary

This alternating pattern is so regular that it, too, emphasizes

the rhythmic, hence temporal, equivalence in line-structure.
That this is true at the half-line level as well as the line-level
only reinforces the effect.
Third, the meter shows a strong tendency to create a
mid-line caesura, realized as a ‘rest.’ Position S4 is left empty
in 51 lines (47 per cent). Since positions S1, S2 and S3 are
always filled, and since the convention is to begin with a
primary stress and then alternate, the auditor expects position
S4 to be filled with a secondary stress. Position S5 shows
an even stronger conventional tendency than S3 to be filled
with primary stress; so if the stressed syllable after S3 carries
primary stress, the speaker’s preference is to place it in S5,
rather than disrupt the pattern of alternation. Position S4
can be filled; it is filled in fifty-five lines (53 per cent) of the
time; and when it is, it almost always continues whatever
alternating pattern has been established in the first half of
the line (forty-eight out of fifty-six times, or 86 per cent of

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‘Time is their master’ 249

the time). Again, the pressure of the binary pattern and the
slight preference in the meter to fill position S4 mean that
S4 is experienced as essential to the structure of the line. The
speaker’s tendency, then, is to acknowledge it even when it is
empty by leaving a ‘rest.’ 21
Fourth, the same structural technique applies to position
S8. Although position S8 is never filled, by the end of the line,
the structural prediction that another secondary stress will
follow is so strong that we allow a rest after every line. The
rest operates like punctuation, reinforcing the line-ending (and
hence the rhyme) and also emphasizing the equality of each
half-line (S1–S2–S3–[rest]; S4–S5–S6–[rest]).
The meter’s treatment of weak positions, the fifth character-
istic creating the impression of temporal equality, reinforces this
impression. Weak positions at the beginning and end of the line
are often left empty: W1 in fifty-three lines (50 per cent) and
W8 in ninety-five lines (92 per cent). The extreme outer strong
positions – usually filled by syllables bearing primary stress –
hence supply more predictable line-boundaries than the outer
weak positions, especially since S1 and S7 are always filled; the
textual part of the line is generally perceived to begin at S1 and
end at S7. W7 is empty in only four lines (4 per cent), providing
an up-beat to S7, which, in combination with line-final rhyme,
draws further attention to the line-ending as a marker of time.
Line-internally, when two syllables fill a weak position,
there is a strong tendency to use syllables that can be elided
or whose vowels are reduced when they are not stressed. That
is, almost all can be encouraged to occupy the phonological
duration of a single long, or bi-moraic, syllable.22 In the

For other, helpful observations about the role of rhyme, alternating strong
and weak stresses, and mid-line caesura in accentual verse, see Derek
Attridge’s Chapter 4, ‘The four-beat rhythm’, in his Rhythms of English
Poetry (London and New York: Longman, 1982).
My description of the forms of syllable reduction employed in the accentual
verse of The Comedy of Errors may be consulted at http://www.arts.

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stress-timed meter of The Comedy of Errors, vowel reductions

can be made in the vast majority of weak positions containing
two syllables. Exceptions are rare: in W1, syllables are
irreducible in only thirteen lines (12 per cent); in W2, eleven
lines (10 per cent); in W3, six lines (6 per cent); in W4, two
lines (2 per cent); in W5, ten lines (9 per cent); in W6, ten lines
(9 per cent), and in W7, ten lines (9 per cent). Two syllables
adding up to more than two mora in duration occur in 62 of a
possible 848 weak positions in 106 lines of stress-timed verse;
that is, only 7 per cent of the time.
This reduction of unstressed syllables has two effects. The
first is to give the impression that the duration of a weak
position is fixed at two mora; that is, the phonological time
that elapses between strong positions is predictable and
consistent. The second effect is that when speakers utter two
unstressed syllables in a row, they are hurrying. Auditors are
aware in every case of the kind of reduction being employed,
just as, when native English speakers hear contractions such
as ‘can’t’ for ‘cannot’, they understand that two semantic
elements normally represented by two separate syllables have
been optionally combined. So the syllable reductions used in
weak positions are experienced not as a regularity in the meter
but, to borrow another metaphor from generative metrics, as
a ‘complexity’ through which Shakespeare can manipulate
the auditor’s experience of the passage of time. By cramming
additional syllables between strong positions operating as
markers of time, he creates the impression that time is moving
faster than text.
We might summarize the characteristics of a line of stress-
timed verse in The Comedy of Errors as follows. In this
representation, optionally filled positions are in parentheses,
the least often filled positions are in double parentheses, and
the letter A indicates that the line is a member of a rhyming

((ww1)) S1 (ww2) S2 ww3 S3 (ww4) (S4) (ww5) S5 (ww6)

S6 ww7 S7 ((w8)) [rest] A

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‘Time is their master’ 251

Accentual metre and dramaturgy

The longest passage of accentual verse in The Comedy of
Errors occurs, as I have said, occurs in Act Three, Scene One,
at the structural centre of the play. This climax is anticipated
by the exposition in Act One, Scene One, where a scheme is
established according to which five elements must be united
in an unreasonable time frame in order to resolve Egeon’s
misfortune: his Syracusan son, his son’s twin, his son’s servant,
the twin’s servant, and 1,000 marks in ransom, all by five
o’clock. Act One, Scene Two provides four of these elements:
a young Syracusan in search of a brother who is in possession
of 1,000 marks, and whose servant has a twin, reducing their
pressure on the dramatic action from absence to misplacement,
and hence isolating the still missing fifth element, the protago-
nist’s lost brother, as the greatest problem of the play. Act
One, Scene Two also articulates the metaphorical significance
of that problem at the moment when Syracusan Antipholus,
the protagonist, does not recognize his servant’s twin. If he
had recognized Syracusan Dromio’s double, he might have had
some hope of discovering his brother, but at this moment he
commits an error in perceiving identity. Syracusan Antipholus’s
error in perception is the dramaturgical crisis that will drive
all of the subsequent action, reaching its climax in Act Three,
Scene One, when the fifth element required to redeem Egeon
and resolve the problem of the play – Ephesus Antipholus – is
at last supplied. From the moment of Ephesus Antipholus’s
first entrance, the audience perceives (even if the characters
cannot yet) that it is has become possible for the protagonist to
meet and recognize his twin (the resolution that will complete
the action in Act Five). Shakespeare explicitly enacts this
potential by means of a visual mirroring of characters – the
other two characters who could resolve the action if only
they could recognize one another – when the audience for the
first time can see both Dromios on stage simultaneously.23

I argue that Shakespeare intended both Dromios to be visible on stage for two
reasons: there is no specification in the stage directions that Syracusan Dromio

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Metrically, he reinforces it at Ephesus Dromio’s entrance with

the scene’s first line of accentual verse, a line that is noticeably
longer and more rhythmic than its iambic predecessors. The
tendency of the scene’s accentual lines to fall into two halves,
equal in duration and stress contour, as well as their tendency
at the stanza level to fall into rhyming couplets, create an
auditory image in parallel to the visual image of the mirrored
characters. Both visually and metrically, then, the audience
experiences a structural balance in the play that the characters
do not perceive, and the hilarity of that dramatic irony drives
the ensuing farcical action of near-misses in the scene.
The shift in the metrical pattern here is as much a stylistic
shift as it is a structural one, moving us from comedy into
farce. By organizing characters’ speech into unnatural, struc-
tured rhythms, the accentual meter provides an auditory image
of the characters’ increasing sensation that they lack control
over events. The 2003 Complete Arkangel Shakespeare audio
recording of The Comedy of Errors offers a widely accessible
illustration of the impact of this image in performance. The
beginning and end of the accentual passage are clearly audible at
lines 11 – Ephesus Dromio’s ‘Say what you will sir, I know what
I know’ – and 88 – Balthazar’s ‘Herein you war against your
reputation’ (Arkangel 2003, Disc 1, track 5, 0:26 and 4:16).24
Lines 31 and 32 are particularly good examples of the meter’s
influence on delivery. Both are lists of names (or nicknames):

E. Dro. Maud, Bridget, Marian, Cis’ly, Gillian, Ginn!

Enter S. Dro.

is ‘off’ when he speaks, and when Adriana joins the fray thirty lines later, she
gets a stage direction to ‘Enter’ (3.1.62). For more on the possible original
staging of this scene, see Kent Cartwright, ‘Staging the “Lock-Out” Scene in
the Folio Comedy of Errors’, Shakespeare Bulletin 24, no. 4 (2006): 1–12.
The Comedy of Errors, The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare, prod. Bill
Shepherd and Tom Treadwell, Arkangel Productions, 2003, Audio CD, Disc
1, track 5, 0:26 and 4:16.

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‘Time is their master’ 253

S. Dro. [Within.] Mome, malt-horse, capon, coxcomb,

idiot, patch!

Each member of each list is equivalent in semantic and

grammatical terms, so there is nothing in their phrasing
that makes it necessary to speak them according to the
alternating stress contour pattern, with mid-line caesura, of the
accentual meter. Allowing for common contractions (Marian
pronounced ‘Mar-yan’, Gillian pronounced ‘Gill-yan’, and
Idiot pronounced ‘Id-yot’), each line arguably contains ten
syllables. Nor is there anything in their verbal stress-patterns to
prevent them being delivered as iambic pentameters, like this:

Maud, BRID-get, MAR-ian, CIC-ly, GILL-ian, GINN!

Mome, MALT-horse, CA-pon, COX-comb, I-diot, PATCH.

Yet both Alan Cox and Jason O’Mara (who play the two
Dromios) prefer the accentual rhythm, pronouncing all
syllables, following the primary–secondary–primary stress
contour in each half-line, and resting at the mid-line caesura:

MAUD, BRID-get, MAR-i-an [rest] CIC-ly,
GILL-i-an, GINN [rest]

MOME, MALT-horse, CA-pon [rest] COX-comb,
I-di-ot, PATCH [rest] (Arkangel 2003, Disc 1, track 5,

The meter here exerts an external pressure on words, so

that rhythm overrides thought, and this in turn is a classic
condition of farce: characters behave not as they should, but
as they for some reason believe they must, and the singular
overriding principle that motivates their actions – whatever
it may be – renders them incapable of self-reflection or
appropriate behaviour.

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In The Comedy of Errors, that singular overriding principle

is ‘due time’, the sense that the characters have that things
ought to happen when they ought to happen, and this sense is
materialized metrically not only at the verbal level but also at
the level of the farcical stage business suggested by the meter
in Act Three, Scene One. In the action preceding this sequence,
the Duke feels compelled to ‘limit’ Egeon’s life to the length of a
day; Adriana insists upon a fixed ‘dinner time’ (1.2.45, 2.1.3);
and the lock-out scene begins with Antipholus of Ephesus
insulting his wife to his business partners, complaining of their
disagreement about ‘hours’ (3.1.2). By line 84, this anxiety
about ‘due time’ so rules the characters that the rest in a line
where Ephesus Antipholus chastizes Ephesus Dromio begs to
be punctuated by a blow. In the Arkangel production it sounds
like this:

GO GET thee GONE BANG GET me an I-ron
CROW (Arkangel 2003, Disc 1, track 5, 4:10–12)

The rhythmic punctuation is funny – a classic farce trick – and

the line provokes Balthazar’s ‘Have patience sir, O, let it not
be so!’ (3.1.85) all the more effectively. Here as elsewhere in
the scene, characters are ruled by timing, in the sense that they
are preoccupied with literal, material, measureable time. Their
perspective is the one that has caused the crisis in Act One,
Scene Two, when it seems impossible to unite all five essential
elements of the play’s resolution by five o’clock.
Like all farce characters, the two Dromios and Ephesus
Antipholus in Act Three, Scene One suffer from limited
perspectives upon the scenarios in which they find themselves.
But whereas they as characters are preoccupied with literal
time, the farcical behaviour resulting from their limited
perspectives draws the attention of the play’s audience to
the fact that they – we – are experiencing time differently
from them. Theatrical time from an audience’s perspective
is measured not in minutes, hours or beats, but in the

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‘Time is their master’ 255

passage of events leading to the conclusion of the play’s

conflict. When a theatrical event is anticipated as potentially
occurring at some point in the future, time is experienced by
the audience in terms of the number of intermediary events
between the creation and the fulfilment of their expectation.
The comedy of the lock-out scene derives from the possi-
bility that the two Dromios, on stage simultaneously for the
first time, could meet at any moment; that if they met and
recognized one another as twins, and their meeting led to
a meeting of the two Antipholuses, the conflict of the play
would be resolved. The climactic scenario, then, of Syracusan
Antipholus’s entrance and the simultaneous onstage presence
of the double Dromios, situates this scene structurally at the
moment immediately before the play’s conclusion. Since that
conclusion is not accomplished, the structural moment is
extended indefinitely. While for the characters, ‘due time’ is
like clockwork determining their actions, for the audience, it is
as if time is stretching to allow more occurrences to intervene
before the anticipated resolution of the action. At the metrical
level, the shift to accentual verse in Act Three, Scene One
provides an auditory experience of the expansion of time by
increasing the number of metrical events occurring between
anticipated metrical markers of time (line-endings). In other
words, metrical time, like dramaturgical time, is perceptually
expanded at the centre of Act Three, Scene One.
This sensation of the stretching of time perhaps explains
the curious chronology of the plot in the second half of the
play: in Act One, Scene Two, we learn at line 11 that ‘Within
this hour it will be dinner-time’; by line 45, ‘The clock hath
strucken twelve’ and the dinner is burnt and cold; and only
sixty-three lines (and one scene-break) later, ‘it is two a’ clock’
(2.1.3). These two hours and a bit have passed quickly. That
is, very little has happened between the markers (times of the
clock) we recognize as measuring units of time. Two o’clock,
however, lasts an astonishing 721 lines and 18 French scenes,
since the event Syracusan Dromio is referring to when he
says ‘It was two ere I left him, and now the clock strikes one’

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(4.2.54) occurs at 4.1.108. This is partly a result of the fact

that the hours between one and two, as Syracusan Dromio
reports and Adriana confirms, ‘come back’ (4.2.55); they are
experienced at least twice (once forward, once backward, and
possibly a third time forward, en route to five o’clock at the
end of the play).
Chronology perhaps seems to reverse in Act Three, Scene
One, because anticipated events do not happen. Before that
scene, the action moves forward: Syracusan Antipholus’s
money, despite confusion, is deposited safely at the Porpentine
in Act One (reported at 2.2.1–2); the man summoned to
dinner with Adriana eventually dines with her in Act Two.
However, in Act Three, Scene One, Ephesus Antipholus
never does manage to get his friends into his house for
lunch. In fact, between Act Three, Scene One and the play’s
conclusion in Act Five, the characters never accomplish what
they intend.
Of course, the ironic distance between characters’ and
audience’s perspectives in the second half of the play, following
its metrical and dramaturgical climax, has the function of
exaggerating the audience’s sense that there is a larger, ordered
temporality at work in the world of the play, of which the
characters are unaware. It opens up an experiential explo-
ration of the perceptual nature of time and its relationship
to human purpose, the preoccupation that underpins expres-
sions like ‘due time’ and the ‘time for all things.’ Five o’clock,
like every other quantitative measure of time in the play, is
an impossible limit, whereas ‘due time’ and ‘the time for all
things’ are more flexible ideas, linked at their core to what is
necessary for human beings to accomplish in order to achieve
the conditions of the ‘time’ they wish to experience. The
dramatic irony of the lock-out scene emphasizes the frustrated
agency of its characters who, in their desire to master time,
become slaves to it instead; they cannot see, as the audience
can, that there will be a ‘time for all things.’

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‘Time is their master’ 257

Timed Iambics
There are obvious differences between the accentual and
the iambic meters in The Comedy of Errors: the line is
shorter, containing only five strong positions alternating with
a potential six weak positions; strong positions are never
left empty; and weak positions are empty only 5 per cent
of the time. However, the iambic pentameter also shows
certain surprising similarities to the stress-timed meter. The
most important of these similarities is the treatment of weak
positions. There is a slightly stronger tendency than in the
accentual verse to limit weak positions to one syllable (two
syllables fill each of positions W1, W3, W4 and W5 no more
than 8 per cent of the time). When two syllables do occur,
they are reduced to a total of two mora in duration as often
as and by a wider variety of means than analogous syllables
in the stress-timed meter. They are never irreducible in more
than 8 per cent of lines (position W4 allows 8 per cent); but
the pattern is most clearly illustrated in position W2, which
in forty-three lines (27 per cent) contains two syllables,
irreducible in only one case. The iambic pentameter, even
more strictly than the stress-timed meter, fixes the duration of
the interval separating strong positions at two mora.
The frequency with which two syllables occur in W2 is
matched exactly by the frequency with which W1 is left
empty. This can be explained by the familiar convention that
the first foot of a line of iambic pentameter may be reversed;
that is, the initial iamb is replaced with a trochee. However,
in combination with the tendency to reduce the syllables after
the first strong position, the effect of the so-called ‘trochaic
substitution’ in The Comedy of Errors is not a rearrangement,
but a reduction of the line. Since two of the ten syllables are
squeezed into the duration of one, the line seems shortened to
the duration of only nine syllables. It is probably also relevant,
as I noted above, that the stress-timed meter shows a similar,
though less marked, tendency to fill W2 with two syllables

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when W1 is empty. ‘Trochaic substitution’ of this kind, then,

is not unique to iambic pentameter; rather, it is a convention
that allows both meters to manipulate the impression of the
passage of time. The treatment of weak positions in the iambic
pentameter also emphasizes the first and last strong positions
as the boundaries of the line, with particular focus on the line-
ending. In Act One, Scene One, W1 is empty 27 per cent of
the time; W6 is filled only once in 157 lines. So the line has a
similar symmetry, centred at S3, and slightly weighted, like the
stress-timed line, towards its ending.
This symmetry is reinforced by the second important
similarity: the treatment of the strong position at the centre of
the line. In thirty-four lines (22 per cent), position S3 is filled
by a word that bears only tertiary stress. This is by far the
highest proportion of tertiary stresses occurring in any strong
position in the line: the next highest occurrence is 12 per cent
in W4; the others are 5 per cent or under. The words always
bear some stress relative to their neighbours: twenty-four
of them, for example, are prepositions bearing some stress
because they introduce phrases. They therefore cannot share
a weak position with the unstressed syllables immediately
following, leaving the kind of caesura attested in the stress-
timed meter. The effect of the pattern is to weaken the centre
of the line, creating an impression that the line is divided into
two equal halves, much like the line in the stress-timed meter.
Finally, in two scenes, most of the iambic pentameter
verse is organized into rhyming couplets. The first of these
scenes is Act Two, Scene One, occurring about halfway to
the stress-timed centre of the play, Act Three, Scene One.
In it, 68 per cent of iambic pentameter lines rhyme; this is
the first major departure from the conventions for the meter
established in Act One, Scene One. The second is Act Four,
Scene Two, in which 83 per cent of iambic pentameter lines
rhyme; this occurs about half way between the stress-timed
centre and the most highly regulated (and longest) stretch of
iambic pentameter in the play, Act Five, Scene One. These
two rhymed sections of pentameter, then, arguably function

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‘Time is their master’ 259

as transitional markers between two metrical modes, or treat-

ments of time at the metrical level.
All of these characteristics of the iambic pentameter in
the play make it susceptible to comparison with the play’s
accentual meter. We might represent the line like this:

((ww1)) S1 (ww2) S2 (ww3) S3 (ww4) S4 (ww5)

S5 ((ww6)) (A)

Unlike the accentual verse, however, timing in the iambic

pentameter is entirely consistent with the interior characteristics
of the natural language. It is phonologically regular, never
requiring characters to unnaturally twist their pronunciations
of words in order to achieve an arbitrary external sense of
order. Rather, the play’s timed iambics express the rightness
of the order that already exists, embodying the sense of ‘due
time’ and the faith that there will be ‘a time for all things’ that
constitute the worldview of the Romance genre. Act Five, the
longest stretch of iambic pentameter in the play, delivers 1,000
marks, reunites lost twins, and in its final act of resolution,
provides a longed-for life partner; in doing so, it reinstates
the pre-chronological order of the distant past described in
iambics by Egeon at the beginning of the play. Ultimately,
as Adriana predicts in Act Two, Scene One, ‘time is [mens’]
master, and when they see time, / They’ll go or come’: once
characters understand timeliness, they will respect it. Men are
masterless in Ephesus only when they fail to recognize that
more flexible, functional order; they master themselves most
fully when they give over to it.

Conclusion: Ambimetricality
Of course, in Act Five, theatrical – or Romance, or functional
– time does not entirely supersede measurable material time,
since five o’clock does finally arrive. Rather, as the gap

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between characters’ and audience’s perceptions of time is

bridged, characters become able to see the ways in which
material time enables and manifests a larger order: looked
at one way, five o’clock is a death knell; looked at another
way, it is a celebratory clarion. It is not accidental, then, that
the similarity between the accentual meter and the accentual-
syllabic iambic pentameter of The Comedy of Errors is so
extensive that certain lines can be scanned in both meters; I
count twenty-one of these in total. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the
best examples are the lines forming the borders between the
iambic pentameter and the accentual verse in Act Three, Scene
One. At the beginning of the passage of accentual verse, line 9
is clearly iambic pentameter, line 10 is what I would call ‘ambi-
metrical’, and line 11 is the first of a rhymed accentual couplet.
In Table 1 syllables bearing primary stress are in BOLD
CAPS; syllables bearing secondary stress are in CAPS; syllables
bearing tertiary stress are bold; unstressed syllables are in
regular type.
Line 10 is not the model line for either meter: it differs from
line 9 in that it contains an additional secondary stress that
must be placed in a weak position; it differs from line 11 in that
it does not display an alternating primary–secondary–primary
stress pattern in each half-line. However, it is not unmetrical
in either meter: the additional stress is a secondary one, and
the stress contour in strong positions is an alternating one. At
the end of the passage, lines 85 and 86 (Table 2) are not only
‘ambi-metrical’ but also accomplish the transition between
meters by degrees.
Line 85 is closer to the model stress-timed line in that
it preserves the mid-line caesura, the alternating primary–
secondary–primary stress contour in the second half-line, and
alters the stress contour in the first half only by filling S1 with
a secondary stress. Line 86 is closer to the iambic in that it
reverses the stress contour and fills the mid-line ictus. These
two border lines also rhyme; they can function as a rhyming
stress-timed couplet, a rhyming iambic pentameter couplet, or
as a rhyming mixed-metrical couplet.

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9781472515292_txt_print.indd 261

Table 1
W1 S1 W2 S2 W3 S3 W4 S4 W5 S5 W6 S6 W7 S7 W8
9 E. Anti. And that I DID de- NIE my WIFE and HOUSE;
10 Thou DRUN kard THOU, WHAT didst thou MEANE by THIS?
10 Thou DRUN- kard THOU, WHAT didst MEANE by THIS?
11 E. Dro. SAY WHAT you WIL Sir, but I KNOW WHAT I KNOW

Table 2
W1 S1 W2 S2 W3 S3 W4 S4 W5 S5 W6 S6 W7 S7 W8
For a FISH wi- THOUT a FINNE, THER’S a FOWLE wi- THOUT a FE- ther,
84 [Ant] If a CROW HELP us IN SI- rra, PLUCKE a CROW to- GE- ther.
85 Ant. GO, GET thee GON, FETCH me-an I- ron CROW.
85 GO, GET thee GON, FETCH me-an I- ron CROW.
86 Balth HAVE PA- tience SIR, OH LET it NOT be SO,
86 HAVE PA- tience SIR, OH LET it NOT be SO,
87 Hee- RIN you WARRE a- GAINST your RE- pu- TA- tion,
17/04/2015 11:50

I favour this last option, because a rhyming ambimetrical

couplet embodies the differences between the two lines as well
as their similarity, emphasizing the metaphorical resonance
of the relationship between the accentual and the iambic
meters in the play. Lines such as these illustrate the perme-
ability of apparently hermetic systems, modes of expression,
temporal rhythms or points of view. They are a metaphorical
expression of the Romance worldview: that ‘errors’ are errors
in perception only; what seems contradictory (the behaviour
of an Antipholus or a Dromio) is the result of an underlying
unity (the presence of a twin). Like the two Dromios in the
final lines of the play, apparently contrasting metrical struc-
tures underlyingly ‘go hand in hand’ (5.1.426).
One advantage of thinking about the meter of The Comedy
of Errors in the way that Shakespeare and his contemporaries
did – in terms of timing – is that it makes clear why poetic
rhythm mattered in this performative medium in its time and
why it might be meaningful in our own. The metrical struc-
tures of The Comedy of Errors are not optional ‘ornaments’ to
the play’s arguments, as sixteenth-century rhetorical theorists
would put it. On the contrary, meter is an essential element
of the play’s dramaturgical structure, and it makes thematic
arguments in itself; it also provides guidance to actors about
some aspects of their performances that might contribute to
those arguments. More broadly, if The Comedy of Errors
and Richard II both demonstrably employ metrical timing in
systematic ways to organize audience responses to the plays,
linguistic and stylistic evidence have combined to create a new
opportunity to explore Shakespeare’s world of words at the
prosodic structural level.

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Worthen, W. B. ‘Intoxicating Rhythms: Or, Shakespeare, Literary
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1 Henry IV (Shakespeare, miracles and 218, 223

William) 96 Parolles 234–5
1 Henry VI 81–2, 178 reading comprehension and
authorship 149 212, 214, 216, 219
grammar and 150, 157–8, sexual desire and 212–15,
159–70 219–20, 221–2, 225–7,
mood experiments and 149 229, 232–4
Suffolk, Earl of 167–70 sieve 213, 214
Talbot, Lord 158–65 sovereignty and 217–19,
2 Henry IV (Shakespeare) 89, 228–9, 230, 233–5
95, 96–7, 99–101 ‘to have’ in 216, 220–2
Pistol 89–93, 94–7, 100–1 unteemable 213–16
2 Henry VI 153 wager terms and 223–5,
accentual-syllabic iambic Angelo (Measure for Measure)
pentameter 240–1, 203
260 see also iambic angle 125–6
pentameter angling 126–31
accentual verse 241, 247–51, cony-catching and 131–6
252–3, 255, 257, 260–4 Winter’s Tale, The and 126,
actors 115–16, 151, 181, 127–31, 136–43, 144–6
189–91, 194 see also anti-Semitism 34
performance Merchant of Venice, The
All’s Well That Ends Well and 34–5, 39
(Shakespeare) 212 antic 77–84, 90, 92–3, 101,
authority and 218–19, 113–14
222–3 antique 77–84, 90, 92–3, 101
Bertram 220 antitheatricalism 144, 181
captious 213–16 Antonio (Merchant of Venice,
fistula 227 The) 35, 39, 44–7
Helena see Helena Antony and Cleopatra
King, the 216–18 (Shakespeare) 10, 81,
knowingness and 223 106, 173

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280 Index

archaism 77–9, 83–4 bodily experience 193 see also

2 Henry IV and 89–93, body, the
100–1 body, the 60–1, 64–6, 69,
Hamlet and 81 73–6, 193
Henry V and 92–3, 94, 95–6 Bowles, Peter 93–4
history plays and 88 Brinsley, John 8–9
Love’s Labour’s Lost and Ludus literarius, or The
78, 84–8, 97, 98–101 Grammar Schoole 150–1
performance and 93–5, 96 Posing of the Parts, The
Art of English Poesie, The 154–5
(Puttenham) 110–11 Bristol, Michael 3, 14, 120
Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine
(Rid) 242 Campion, Thomas 239–40
As You Like It (Shakespeare) Cassio (Othello) 175
80, 173, 242, 243 categorization 196
Astrophel and Stella (Sidney) Catholic animation hoaxes 143
1–2 Caveat or Warning for
authors 27 Common Cursetors, A
Autolycus (Winter’s Tale, The) (Harman) 131–2, 134–5
128, 138–40 Cawdrey, Robert 114
chameleons 120
Bacon, Francis 152 Chilmeade, Edmund 42–3
Bakhtin, Mikhail 4, 29–31 Chronicle (Grafton) 91
Bark Roe affair 108 Cibber, Theophilus 95
Battle of Alcazar, The (Peele) circumcision 47, 49–50
91 Claudio (Measure for Measure)
Beaumont, Francis 29 187–9, 201–2
Belman of London, The Claudius (Hamlet) 113
(Dekker) 132–3, 134, clothing 106, 114–15, 116–17,
139 119–20 see also linen
Bertram (All’s Well That Ends thieves
Well) 220 clowns 114
Bevington, David 103–4, colour 116–18
213–14 dyes and pigments 106–7
biblical stories 36–42, 46–53, Hamlet and 103–4, 106,
57 111–16, 118–20
black 116–17, 119–20 language and 104–6,
Blacke Bookes Messenger, The 107–11
(Greene) 133–4 Newton, Isaac and 104,
Bloom, Harold 54 116–17

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Index 281

Comedies and Tragedies Written De Medico Hebraeo Ennerato

by Francis Beaumont and Apologica (de Pomis) 43
John Fletcher 29 Death 81–2
Comedy of Errors, The death penalty 55
(Shakespeare) Dekker, Thomas: Belman of
accentual verse in 247–51, London, The 132–3,
252–3, 255, 257, 260–2 134, 139
farce in 252–4 Desdemona (Othello) 180
iambic pentameter in 241, devils 114
257–62 Digges, Leonard
meter in 241, 245, 247–55, Dinah (Genesis) 48–9, 51–2
257–62 Discovery of Witchcraft (Scot)
mirroring in 251–3 143
performance and 252–3, 254 Dixon, Joe 94
plot of 251 Doctor Faustus (Marlowe) 65
time and 237–8, 241, Don Armado (Love’s Labour’s
244–5, 254–6, 259–62 Lost) 84–8, 93–4, 97–9,
trochaic substitution in 100–1
257–8 Downame, George 42, 45
cony-catching 131, 133, 135, dramatic iambic pentameter
138, 140 240–1
cony-catching literature 127–8, dyes and pigments 106–7, 116,
131–6 118
Coriolanus (Shakespeare) 79–80
counterfeit coin 196–9 education 150–5
courbing 132, 139 n.31 Eliot, John: Ortho-epia Gallica
cozeners 138 90
Crane, Sam 96 Elizabeth I 109
Cressida (Troilus and Cressida) Ellacombe, Henry Nicholson:
69–76 Shakespeare as an Angler
criminals 127–8, 131–8 see 125–6
also crooks embodied metaphorical
crimson 118 meaningfulness 193–4
crooks 140–2 Erasmus 8
crossbiting 133, 135 De Copia 6
currency, trading in 44–5 Esau (Genesis) 39
Cymberline (Shakespeare) 117
fabric 106, 114, 116–17, 119
Daniel, Samuel 242 see also linen thieves
De Copia (Erasmus) 6 faithfulness 67–73, 75

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282 Index

farce 252–4 indicative tense 158–9,

Ferrand, Jacques: Treatise on 162–3
Lovesickness 227 optative mood, the 154,
fistula 227 155, 156, 162
Fitz-James, Thea 194 plot trajectory and 164–7
flesh 47, 50–2 potential mood, the 154,
Florio, John 244 156–7, 161–2, 166–70
Folger, Henry Clay 45, 53 Richard III and 153, 156–7
‘Shylock’s Bond from the subjunctive mood, the
Merchant’s Standpoint’ 154–5, 160–4
45 Summer’s Last Will and
foot/feet 242 Testament and 153
forces 199–201 Grammar (Lily) 147, 153–6
future indicative tense 158–9, grammar schools 150–4
166–7 Greenblatt, Stephen 103
Greene, Robert 127–8
gall 117–18, 120–3 Blacke Bookes Messenger,
Genesis 36–42, 48 see also The 133–4
biblical stories Pandosto 128
Dinah 48–9, 51–2 Second Cony Catching 139
Esau 39 Second Part of Conny-
Jacob 36–42, 46–7, 56–7 Catching 132
Rachel 52–3 guide-words 190
genres 4
gestures 15–18, 193 Hamlet (Hamlet) 113–16,
Measure for Measure and 119–23
193 Hamlet (Shakespeare) 9, 80, 81
Richard II and 17–18 Claudius 113
Godfather, The (film) 56 clothing and 114–15, 117,
Gosson, Stephen: Playes 118, 119–20
Confuted 144 colour and 103–4, 106,
Grafton, Richard: Chronicle 91 111–16, 118–20
grammar 147–53 gall in 120–3
1 Henry VI and 150, 157–8, Hamlet 113–16, 119–23
159–70 language and 120
2 Henry VI and 153 Ophelia 112
character and 167–70 Hanson, Kristin 240, 246
education and 150–5 Harborne, William 108–9
future indicative tense Harman, Thomas: Caveat or
158–9, 166–7 Warning for Common

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Index 283

Cursetors, A 131–2, Horace 7

134–5 humours 116
Hartley, Andrew James 183–4 Hunter, G. K. 214–15
‘Helen of Troy’ 64–6
Helena (All’s Well That Ends Iago (Othello) 172–5, 177–8,
Well) 184–5
authority and 219, 221, 223 iambic pentameter 238–42,
curing and 216–17, 223, 257–62
226–8 idle 13–14
Diana and 230–1 indicative tense 158–9, 162–3
knowingness and 223 Isabella (Measure for Measure)
pregnancy and 231 206–9
sexual desire and 212–15, Israel 39
219–20, 221–2, 225–6,
232–3 Jacob (Genesis) 36–42, 46–7,
sovereignty and 218 56–7
submission and 234 family of 49
wager terms and 223–5 Jessica (Merchant of Venice,
Henry IV Part One see 1 The) 48, 52–3
Henry IV Jews 42–3, 47 see also
Henry IV Part Two see 2 anti–Semitism
Henry IV moneylending and 43–4
Henry V (film) 94 Spain and 54
Henry V (Shakespeare) 80, Johnson, Mark 191, 193,
92–3, 94, 95–6, 244 200–1
Henry VI Part One see 1 Johnson, Samuel 3, 14
Henry VI Jonson, Ben 29
Henry VI Part Two see 2 juggling 135
Henry VI
heretics 54–5 King Lear (Shakespeare) 16
heteroglossia 4–5, 41 kneeling 15–17
Historia de gli Riti Hebrei Kripke, Saul 61–2
(Modena) 42–3
history plays Lakoff, George 191, 193
archaism and 88 language 30–1, 33, 60–1, 187
grammar and 147, 150 see also antic; antique;
homonyms 77–8 gestures; grammar; meter
Honigmann, Ernst 176 83–4
hooker 146 colour and 104–6, 107–11
hooks 140–2 drama and 79

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284 Index

Hamlet and 120 Macbeth (Shakespeare) 117–18

heteroglossia 4–5, 41 Machiavelli, Niccolò: Prince,
homonyms 77–8 The 201
metaphors 24–5, 126–31, McKellen, Ian 17
136, 191–9, 212–13, 218 Mann, Thomas: Tales of Jacob
metrical terms 242–3 38
neologism 77–8, 83–8, Marlowe, Christopher
89–93 Doctor Faustus 65
Othello and 171–2, 180–2 Tamburlaine 154, 159
performance 183–4 measure 243–4
pronouns 175–9 Measure for Measure
punctuation 176–7 (Shakespeare) 15–16
syllables 246–7, 249–50 Angelo 203
theatre and 79, 171–2, Claudio 187–9, 201–2
180–2, 185–6 counterfeit coin 196–9
Latin 147, 150–1, 152–4, 156, force and 199–200, 208
169–70 guide-words and 189–91
legitimacy 197 Isabella 206–9
Leontes (Winter’s Tale, The) mettle/metal 197–200
129–31, 136–7 performance and 189–90,
Lewalski, Barbara 34 193–4, 201, 205, 206,
Lily, William: Grammar 147, 208
153–6 sexual desire and 229–30
Linacre, Thomas 156 sexual transgression and
linen thieves 127 see also 187–9, 196, 198–9, 203,
angling; cony–catching 205–7
Lingua (Tomkis, Thomas) 95 slip 187–9, 190–1, 193–7,
literary works 29–30 199–204, 207–9
Lives of Noble Grecians and sovereignty and 229–30
Romans, The (Plutarch) Vincentio, Duke of Vienna
10 194–6, 198, 200, 203–6
Love’s Labour’s Lost weeds 195–6
(Shakespeare) 78–9, melancholy 120
84–8, 93–4, 97–101 Merchant of Venice, The
Don Armado 84–8, 93–4, (Shakespeare) 16, 34, 51,
97–9, 100–1 178
Ludus literarius, or The anti-Semitism and 34–5
Grammar Schoole Antonio 35, 39, 44–7
(Brinsley) 150–1 biblical stories and 36–42,
Luther, Martin 37–8 46–9, 50–1

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Index 285

flesh and 47, 50–2, 55 Troilus and Cressida and

Jessica 48, 52–3 64, 67–72, 74–6
Judaism and 47, 50, 52 Nashe, Thomas: Piers Penilesse
Portia 54–5 159–60
Shylock 35–6, 40–2, 44–7, Summer’s Last Will and
50–1, 53–4, 55–7 Testament 153
usance 42, 44–5 ‘natural’ writing 1–3
usury 42 Neill, Michael 176
wealth 35–6, 40–2 Neilson, Patrick 189–90, 201,
well 35–9 206
Metamorphoses (Ovid) 6, 232 neologism 77–8, 83–4
n.24 2 Henry IV and 89–93
metaphors 24–5, 126–31, 136, Love’s Labour’s Lost and
191–9, 212–13, 218 84–8
meter 238–44, 246–7 Newton, Isaac and 104,
Comedy of Errors, The and 116–17
241, 245–5, 247–55, Newton, Robert 94
257–62 Noahide commandments 50
metrical terms 242–3 novel, the 4–5
mettle/metal 197–9
Comedy of Errors, The and ‘Of the Canniballes’ (de
241 Montaigne) 10–11
Mirrour of Monsters, A Old Testament 46 see also
(Rankins) 144 Genesis
Modena, Leone: Historia de gli Olivier, Laurence: Henry V 94
Riti Hebrei 42–3 Ophelia (Hamlet) 112
moneylending 43 optative mood, the 154, 155,
Montaigne, Michel de 9 156, 162
‘Of the Canniballes’ 10–11 Ortho-epia Gallica (Eliot) 90
mora 246 Othello (Othello) 178
Murphy, Arthur 1 Othello (Shakespeare) 79,
music 245 172–5
Cassio 175
names 60–1 Desdemona 180
in fiction 62 n.6 disorientation and 178–82,
Helen of Troy 64–6 185
Kripke, Saul and 61–2 Iago 172–5, 177–8, 184–5
Romeo and Juliet and 60–1, language and 171–2, 180–2
63, 70 Othello 178
Sonnets, and the 71, 72 palpable 180–2

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286 Index

pronouns and 175–9 Pinchot, Bronson 94

punctuation and 176–7 Pistol (2 Henry IV, Henry V)
this 171–5, 178–9, 182 89–93, 94–7, 100–1
Ottomans 107–8 players see actors
Ovid: Metamorphoses 6, 232 Playes Confuted (Gosson) 144
n.24 Plutarch: Lives of Noble
Grecians and Romans,
Painter, William: Palace of The 10
Pleasure 227 Poems: written by Wil. Shake-
Palace of Pleasure (Painter) speare. Gent. 2
227 poetry 238–40
palpable 180–2 Polixenes (Winter’s Tale, The)
Pandosto (Greene) 128 140–1
Parolles (All’s Well That Ends Pomis, David de 43–4
Well) 234–5 De Medico Hebraeo
Pastoureau, Michel 117, 119 Ennerato Apologica 43
Peele, George Portia (Merchant of Venice,
Battle of Alcazar, The 91 The) 54–5
Turkish Mahomet and Hiren Posing of the Parts, The
the Fair Greek, The 91 (Brinsley) 154–5
performance 17–18, 182–6 see potential mood, the 154,
also actors 156–7, 161–2, 166–70
1 Henry IV 96 Prince, The (Machiavelli) 204
2 Henry IV 96 pronouns 175–9
Comedy of Errors, The prosody 245
252–3, 254 punctuation 176–7
Hamlet 115–16 Puttenham, George: Arte of
Henry V 94, 96 English Poesie, The
languages 183–4 110–11
Lingua and 95
Love’s Labour’s Lost 93–4 Rachel (Genesis) 52–3
Measure for Measure Ramirez, Tom 96
189–90, 193–4, 201, Rankins, William: Mirrour of
205, 206, 208 Monsters, A 144
Romeo and Juliet 83 Rape of Lucrece, The
techniques 78–9 (Shakespeare) 109
time and 254–5 religion 16
Pericles (Shakespeare) 242 Return from Parnassus, The 2
Petrarchan sonnets 73 Richard II (Shakespeare)
Piers Penilesse (Nashe) 159–60 16–18, 81–2, 240

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Index 287

Richard III (Shakespeare) 153, Antony and Cleopatra 10,

155, 156–7 81, 106, 173
Rid, Samuel: Art of Iugling or As You Like It 80, 173,
Legerdemaine 242 242, 243
Robbins, Tom Alan 94 Comedy of Errors, The 237
Roman Tragedies (Toneelgroep) Coriolanus 79–80
186 criticism and 160
Romeo and Juliet 60–1, 63, 70, Cymbeline 117
82–3 (antique/antic, use deception and 142–3, 145
of), 242–3 education 6, 150–1
roses 60–1, 63–4 Hamlet see Hamlet
Rothschild, Mayer 56 Henry V 80, 92–3, 94,
95–6, 244
Sale, Carolyn 184 King Lear 16
Sanders, Norman 176 Love’s Labour’s Lost 78–9,
Schmitt, Carl 218 84–5, 93–4, 97–101
Scot, Reginald: Discovery of Macbeth 117–18
Witchcraft 143 Measure for Measure see
Second Cony Catching Measure for Measure
(Greene) 139 Merchant of Venice, The see
Second Part of Conny-Catching Merchant of Venice, The
(Greene) 132 meter and 240–3
seichel 38 name 61–2
sex trade, the 135, 137, 139 as natural genius 2–4
sexual desire 229 Othello see Othello
All’s Well That Ends Pericles 242
Well and 212–15, 225–7, Rape of Lucrece, The 109
229 reading and 12
Measure for Measure and Richard II 16–18, 81–2,
229–30 240
Shakespeare, William Richard III 153, 155, 156–7
1 Henry IV 96 Romeo and Juliet 60–1, 63,
1 Henry VI see 1 Henry VI 70, 82–3, 242–3
1623 Folio 27–8 sonnet 2 192
2 Henry IV 88–93, 95, sonnet 17 81
96–7, 99–101 sonnet 54 60–1, 64
2 Henry VI 153 sonnet 55 7–8
All’s Well That Ends Well sonnet 129 192
see All’s Well That End’s Sonnets, the 6–8, 71, 72,
Well 80, 120

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288 Index

Taming of the Shrew, The 6, sonnet 55 (Shakespeare) 7–8

15, 80 sonnet 129 (Shakespeare) 192
Tempest, The 6, 10–14 Sonnets, the (Shakespeare) 6–8,
time and 238, 241–3, 244, 71, 72, 80, 120
250 Spain 54
Titus Andronicus 6, 184 Spanish Inquisition, the 54–6
Troilus and Cressida 64, Spring 139–40
65–76, 162 Styan, J. L.: Shakespearean
Twelfth Night 80, 117, 118 Revolution, The 18
Winter’s Tale, The see subjunctive mood, the 154–5,
Winter’s Tale, The 160–4
word invention and 12–13 Suffolk, Earl of (1 Henry VI)
wordplay and 194 167–70
works of 26–9 Summer’s Last Will and
writing craft and 5–15 Testament (Nashe) 153
Shakespeare as an Angler syllables 246–7, 249–50
(Ellacombe) 125–6
Shakespearean Revolution, The Talbot, Lord (1 Henry VI)
(Styan) 18 158–65
Shakespeare’s Metrical Art Tales of Jacob (Mann) 38
(Wright) 238–9 Tamburlaine (Marlowe) 154,
Shechem 48–9 159
Shylock (Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, The
The) 35–6, 40–2, 44–7, (Shakespeare) 6, 15, 80
50–1, 53–4, 55–7 Taylor, Gary 149
‘Shylock’s Bond from the Taylor, Neil 104
Merchant’s Standpoint’ Tempest, The (Shakespeare) 6,
(Folger) 45 10–14
Sidney, Philip 240 templates 247
Astrophel and Stella 1–2 texts, marking 8–9
poetry 148 theatre 66, 71, 76, 185 see
sin 189 also history plays and
slip 187–9, 190–1, 193–7, performance
199–204, 207–9 antitheatricalism 144, 181
social languages 4–5 see also criticism and 160
heteroglossia disorientation and 185
sonnet 2 (Shakespeare) 192 language and 171–2, 180–2,
sonnet 17 81 185–6 see also language
sonnet 54 (Shakespeare) 60–1, mise-en-scène 178
64 palpability and 181

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Index 289

this (Othello) 171–5, 178–9, Twelfth Night (Shakespeare)

182 80, 117, 118
Thompson, Ann 104
thrift 34–6, 42 usance 42–3, 44–5
time 30, 241–3, 244, 250 usury 42, 43–4
Comedy of Errors, The
and 237–8, 241, 244–5, Valbuena, Olga 120
254–6, 259–62 verbal network 189–90
performance and 254–5 Vincentio, Duke of Vienna
poetry and 238 (Measure for Measure)
Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare) 194–6, 198, 200, 203–6
6, 184
Tomkis, Thomas: Lingua 95 Walsingham, Sir Francis 108
Toneelgroep: Roman Tragedies weeds 195–6
186 wells 35–9
Torah, the 46–7 wilderness 188–9
trade 107–10 Winter’s Tale, The
Treatise on Lovesickness (Shakespeare)
(Ferrand) 227 angling and 126, 127–31,
trochaic substitution 257–8 136–43, 144–6
Troilus and Cressida Autolycus 128, 138–40
(Shakespeare) 64, 65–76, deception and 142–3, 145
162 hooks/crooks and 140–1