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Nana (updated 13 November, 2022)

Nana with my sister Julie and I, Franklin Park Zoo, Boston, 1961

1963. The summer before President Kennedy was assassinated.

The last words I heard Nana say were the only ones I remember.

“I’m laughing and I’m crying.  I’m laughing and I’m crying.”

I could see her waving and smiling, though the sun obscured her expression through the shadowed screen door of my grandparents’s house. Its three stories seemed to loom over Washington Street, with hardly a sidewalk separating its front steps from the traffic. It was slate blue, the same shade as my parents’s place hundreds of miles away. That’s still my favorite color.

Nana died three years later, at 61, months after my beloved aunt’s wedding, her youngest child, Dianne, her tenth. It was the same year the Beatles had given their final live show, at Candlestick Park. By coincidence, she passed on the fifty-seventh anniversary of her grandfather’s death, peritonitis contracted from an ill-advised gall-bladder operation. Yesterday, 12 November, 2022, was the fifty-sixth anniversary of her passing.

Nana left the earth on a Saturday afternoon after walking back from the market. My father, her eldest son, had taken our Cub Scout troop to a college football game, and my mother gave him the news on our return. He sat in his rocking chair for awhile without moving or speaking. It was the only time I can remember him in a state that excluded me, one in which he did not appear to be conscious of my presence.

Fifty years ago, there were no ATMs, online stores of cash, credit cards, or EZ-checks. Dad had to leave right away by rail, a trip that would take about eighteen hours. Boston was over 800 miles away. Amtrak was a cash-only operation, and there was none in the house. So as to exacerbate the awfulness of his afternoon, Dad was forced to go door to door to our several neighbors and ask to borrow a few dollars from each of them for the train ticket. On Monday, my mother would be able to pay them all back because the bank would be open. And she did. When my dad arrived at North Station, at the Boston Garden, and called the house, his sister-in-law answered the phone and suggested that he take a cab into the city. Her husband, my uncle, took the receiver from her and told my dad he’d be right there. And he was.

Nana’s Devotion, which she always carried with her

Nana’s death was fairly sudden and completely unexpected, a heart attack. This is the only unchanging account of the event I know. All other details have been contradictory, since my mother, cousins, aunts, and uncles have said different things.  Nana had walked back from the market with heavy bags of groceries. Or she had been forced to climb the steep stairs at Forest Hills Station.  Or there had been no onerous hike with packages, because no one would have allowed her to do that. She had complained earlier about not feeling well. Or she had seemed perfectly fine all day. On her return from the grocery, she showed no signs of stress. Or when she got back from the store, she was pale and shaky. One of my uncles who lived with my grandparents thought Nana should go to the hospital. Or my grandfather did not appear concerned because she looked fine to him. She died at home. She died in an ambulance. She died at the hospital. The sacrament of extreme unction had been performed. Or it had not.

Nana was devotedly Roman Catholic, a daily attendee at Mass at her local church. However, few people knew that she had descended from an old Yankee Protestant family in Newburyport, on Cape Ann.

Samuel Dexter Post, Jr.

Her father’s family, the Posts, had been in America since at least the early nineteenth century, and the various branches, such as the Ellsworths and the Noyses, had emigrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s.  My great-grandfather, Samuel Dexter Post Jr. (1861-1926), was the second son and fourth child of Samuel Dexter Post Sr. (1834-1909), a shoemaker, and Harriet Noyes Ellsworth Post (1834-1910), who were married by a Congregational clergyman in 1854.  There were nine children. Harriet’s first cousin, Captain Thomas Fouldes Ellsworth (1840-1911), was a Civil War hero. Samuel Jr. appears in two censuses with his family in Newburyport, in 1870 and 1880, in the second one listed as a farm laborer and a seaman along with his older brother John William. By 1885, he had moved to Boston and was working as a waiter in a restaurant. On 11 October of that year he married an Irish immigrant named Catherine Donoghue, sometimes spelled Donohue. She was Catholic, and he converted, presumably for her sake.  By 1891, Samuel Jr. was employed as a captain mariner. Ten years later, he listed his profession as a meat-cutter, or butcher in the Census of 1900 (7 June). He and Catherine had six children by then: May Ella, Harriet E, Fannie (Frances) N., Albert B., Ellsworth E., and Cathelene [sic] E. They listed their residence as 33 Suffolk St., Chelsea, still its own town rather than part of Boston, separated from Charlestown and East Boston by the rivers Mystic and Chelsea.

1900 census
The Post family of 33 Suffolk St., Chelsea, in the Census of June, 1900
33 Suffolk St., Chelsea, Mass., August, 2017

My mother, Nana’s daughter-in-law, along with my Aunt Virginia, her eldest child, said the same thing about her. She didn’t like to talk about the past. Apparently there was no discussion about her father or his family or her relation to it. When there were interactions with relatives, it was always the in-laws, my grandfather’s family, the Stapletons. Several years after Nana’s death, Aunt Virginia heard something about her mother or her family and investigated it, but didn’t want to discuss it, she said, because she wasn’t sure she was right or didn’t know what it meant. The other thing that she and my mother had said was about Catherine. She had “flown the coop,” but it wasn’t clear why or how.

Thirty years ago, the prospect of finding anything out was, to put it mildly, dim. By the time I had been able to conduct any research, Aunt Virginia, who knew all, and my father had died (1990). There wasn’t an because there wasn’t an internet yet with easily accessible files that computer algorithms could reconcile and robotically send in an email as a notification because there was, of course, no email, either. There were the LDS records on microfilm and microfiche, but they were not searchable because no one knew what that was yet. I didn’t even know where Nana had been born. I had guessed Newburyport and contacted the town clerk by mail, paying my $25.  He did not seem sorry to inform me when I called that he had discovered no information and rewarded himself for his tiny effort by cashing my check and pocketing my money.

Twenty-five years later, all those aforementioned unimaginable modern contraptions and contrivances were in existence. Websites gave me access to census information, and selected records gradually arose from the chaos of virtual archives that unaccountably flew through the air from satellites to cell phones, wireless tablets, and laptops via invisible applications. At first, the data came fast and was hard for me to process.  The Census of 1900, above, made no mention of Nana because she wouldn’t have been born yet.  However, the Census of 1910 (16 April) suggested that a major change in the Post family structure had occurred.

In 1910, my great-grandfather Samuel Jr. listed his profession as a deckhand on the ferry, perhaps the Newburyport-Boston line that he later skippered. Five of his six children with Catherine from 1900, ranging in age from 21 to 12, lived in the house, with the eldest, May Ella, presumably having married a Mr. McCluskey by this time. There were Harriet, Frances (Fannie), Albert, Ellsworth, and Kathleen (misspelled phonetically as Cathelene in 1900). But Catherine was no longer the spouse, presumably having flown the coop by then.

1910 census
Census of April 1910

Instead, a Mary E. is the wife, aged 31, with “M1” noted as her marital status and “M2” for Samuel, 48. It was her first marriage and her husband’s second. He and five of his children with Catherine have each aged precisely ten years. Now there were two more little girls who seem to have been born to Mary E.: Alice Elizabeth, 8 as of 19 February (b. 1902), and Edna Gertrude, Nana, 4, who would turn 5 in another month, on 12 May, the feast day of St. Pancras  (b. 1905), the second of the “ice saints,” whose name in Greek means “the one who holds everything.” What happened, and when did the seismic family shift occur? Was it when Alice had to have been conceived, in May, 1901? Or did things change later, or even earlier? If Mary E. was thirty-one in 1910, then she had to have been born around 1879, which would have made her twenty-three when Alice was born. Samuel would have been thirty-nine. So it would have been only eight months after the Census of 1900 that they had united to create Alice.

Alice’s birth record, 19 February 1902, listing Samuel Post and Mary E Davidson as her parents.

These figures added up, so to speak, though the circumstances of Catherine’s departure, Mary’s promotion to spouse, and the births of Alice and Nana remained mysterious to me. Then I came across yet another piece of evidence that to some extent, confused rather than clarified things, the Census of 1920. Again, everything seems to have been in order regarding names and ages with not only the two youngest daughters, but with three of the six children from Catherine: Ellsworth, Harriet, and May Ella, now a widow. Albert was out of the house by that time, as were Fannie and Kathleen. Maybe they had all gotten married. By this time, the Posts resided at 25 Beacon Place in Chelsea, the house that my grandparents lived in by 1930 with their four small children, Virginia Marie, Leo Jr., Richard Dexter, and James. As it happened, Mary died in this house on 17 October, 1928, with my grandparents, their first three children, and her stepson Albert and his family. Ten or so people in that little house.

25 Beacon Place, Chelsea, August 2017, the Post family residence in 1920. The street sign is hard to read, and the residence and the street are almost under U.S. 1, which the Bostonians refer to as the Central Artery
1920 census
Census of January 1920

But something about this listing of my relatives from 1920 struck me as odd. Everyone who had been listed in the Census of 1910 had aged approximately ten years, give or take a few months, to account for birthdays that occurred before or after this census had been taken. Well, not everyone. Although a decade had passed since 1910, when my great-grandmother Mary E. Post had given her age as 31, in 1920 she claimed to be 35, which would put her birth year as 1885. This meant that she had only aged four years since 1910. So, which age was correct? Was Mary E. born in 1879 or 1885?

Then something else turned up that initially made even less sense to me. Again, in the Census of 1920, Mary E. had been listed as spouse. So when had she married my great-grandfather? Two records manifested themselves and were consistent.  The Boston City Register listed Samuel Dexter Post Jr. as having taken a wife in 1905.

1905 marriage

And there was a handwritten record, as well, though it is difficult to read on this medium. I’ve marked the marriage in green.


Here the record is enlarged as much as this platform will allow. I’ve cut it into halves so that its left-handed script should be somewhat easier to read.

1905 pt 2

My great-grandparents were married on 1 June 1905, by Father Thomas E. Power, a Chelsea priest, who recorded the event on 20 June. My second great-grandparents, Samuel Sr. and Harriet Noyes Ellsworth, were accounted for, as were Mary’s:  John and Elizabeth Tracey Davidson. Samuel has aged five years from 1900, as people usually do over half a decade. He was 43. But this time, my great-grandmother gave her age as 30. So, here is the tally.  Mrs. Mary E. Davidson Post said that she was 30 in 1905, 31 in 1910, and 35 in 1920. Clearly, something does not add up.

Why this chicanery? One thing was obvious. There were the embarrassing circumstances of the births of Mary E.’s daughters.  Alice and Edna were born out of wedlock. At their parents’s marriage, Alice would have been 3 years old, Nana about 3 weeks. These days, parents are frequently unmarried when their children are born, and some of them stay that way.  Some of Edna’s great- and second great-grandchildren, in fact, fall under this description. And no one bats an eye. Nor should one be batted, frankly. In the USA and Europe, “illegitimate” and “bastard” are almost never used now in their original senses, thankfully, because of the advances against patriarchal structures by second- and third-wave feminism. As we now understand, the terms in the previous sentence were created by men who were trained to think of women and children as primarily theirs, almost like property. In 1905, this would have been standard thinking. It was, I must say, the norm in 1965. There were still homes for unwed mothers then. And in 1985, such residences were scarce but the scorn remained. Now,  “Bastard” is something you say about someone who cuts you off in traffic or cheats you on eBay. And no baby could be described credibly as “illegitimate.” We know that this adjective is itself inhumane in its implications. It was used to oppress women and children, to justify slavery and indentured servitude, to fuel the obscenity of Nazism.

But Nana and Alice did not have the advantage that their descendants do, who live in a more enlightened world. Technically, before 1 June 1905–and for the rest of their lives–they were considered bastards. They were, after all, illegitimate. Their culture conditioned them to be ashamed of themselves for something they obviously could not help.  And one can imagine how their mother felt.

Nana, age 14 or 15, 1919 or so.

I can’t believe that these circumstances were freely discussed at 33 Suffolk St. in Chelsea, at any time. Clearly, my great-grandmother adored her youngest daughter, given the formal portrait that she had made of her at age 14 or 15. I can only hope that Nana and Alice were treated decently by their step-siblings, and that their father possessed at least some of the bonhomie, courtliness, and sweetness of his grandsons if they needed his comfort about the matter. One of them was my father, who could charm virtually anyone at any time.

There remains the issue of my great-grandmother’s wildly fluctuating ages on the census and the marriage record. It is possible that none of the numbers is correct. If she were 30 in 1905, 31 in 1910, and 35 in 1920, her birth years would have been 1875, 1879, and 1885.  These disparate figures have one thing in common that I can see. To some extent, they (somewhat) respectably complement my great-grandfather’s reported ages, all of which square with his recorded birth year, 1861: 43, 48, and 58. Why would Mary have obfuscated her age and birth date for the benefit of the census-taker, who was creating a public record?

To my mind, there is only one reason to be dishonest about such a matter. There was something to hide. Perhaps at her marriage in 1905, Mary E. gave her age as 30, and as 31 in 1910 because she really was born in 1885. So the reported age of 35 in that year was absolutely truthful, and had been the correct figure all along.

Perhaps an important clue lies in the date of Alice’s birth: 19 February 1902.  If her mother, my great-grandmother, had been born in 1885, this means that at most, she would have been 17 at that time, maybe even 16. Samuel would have been 40, 41 on 5 September. This means that my aunt had to have been conceived in approximately May 1901. For the sake of historical perspective, this was the spring before the assassination of President McKinley and only a few months after the formation of the American League, which included the Boston Pilgrims, later known as the Red Sox. Samuel would have been 39 going on 40.  My great-grandmother would have been 16. Or even 15. At this time, then, my great-grandfather was the father of six other children and married to Catherine Donoghue.

I have withheld one detail.  I had known that Mary had begun as a housekeeper-nanny in the Post household at 33 Suffolk Place. Her parents, the Davidsons, were Irish immigrants, presumably Catholic. Perhaps Catherine had been acquainted with the family: the same Chelsea church or parish. Mary’s profession as a live-in babysitter is still a viable one. Mrs. Post needed help. There was enough money and space in the house to provide room and board for a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood. From a good family. Maybe from church. What could go wrong?

These days, in the early twenty-first century, there is nothing respectable or decent or excusable, nothing at all, about a man of 40 who takes up with a girl of 15, 16, or 17. Films such as Gigi, Pretty Baby, or Blame It on Rio, released in 1958, 1978, and 1984, respectively, could not be made now. Believe it or not, though there were teen mothers in the early twentieth century, wedded or otherwise, the usual age for marriage was somewhat higher.  As far back as the sixteenth century in Europe, the median for both sexes was 25, though there was the notable exception of young William Shakespeare, 17, who stood before the priest at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford with Anne Hathaway, 26, heavily pregnant with twins. Putting that observation aside, the consequences for my great-grandfather would not have been as fatal as they would be now, but the behavior would not have been considered appropriate no matter how old Mary actually was.

Surely this intimate knowledge would have created another level of shame for Nana and Alice, not to mention Mary E. It would explain what my Aunt Virginia discovered and kept under her hat, and why Nana didn’t like to talk about the past. It might also account for Catherine’s departure from the household, though not why she seems to have gone without any of her children. There is no record of a divorce because, of course, the Church frowned upon this heathenish Reformation innovation. There were annulments, but these were not easy to procure. When was Mary’s pregnancy discovered? How was it handled? What did the Davidsons or the Donoghues have to say about the matter? What did Samuel do or how did he account for himself? How did his Protestant Yankee family back in Newburyport, including his parents, take the news? How could he have lived with himself?

Roman Catholic standards for wifelihood decreed that sex was for procreative purposes only, which in the strictest sense would have ruled out even rhythm as birth control.  Yet men were understood to have their needs that required gratification. Perhaps Catherine had had enough of fulfilling these after her sixth child. Perhaps Samuel did not wish to forego sex for the rest of his life.  Husbands sometimes had other relationships in such circumstances, which wives silently tolerated as a compromise. There were unwanted pregnancies in as well as out of wedlock. This is one reason why virtually every urban neighborhood in America, including Boston, had its abortionist, usually a middle-aged woman who made her living this way.

Catherine death warrant

Another document suggests what might have happened: Catherine’s death certificate, dated 20 April 1904. It mentions her Irish parents, Timothy and Mary O’Brien Donoghue. It gives her burial place as “Cavalry” in “Roxbury,” which was sometimes called Old Cavalry, now known as Mount Cavalry Cemetery in West Roxbury, Mass. as opposed to Roxbury itself, an inner-city neighborhood in Boston proper. It also mentions her cause of death: tuberculosis, or as it was sometimes still known, consumption.  It was a terrible scourge from the ancient world into the twentieth century. It has remained so even after the discoveries of streptomycin in 1944 and isoniazid in 1952 as non-toxic, antimicrobial cures, or means of arresting the disease. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the afflicted sometimes went to sanatoriums. For the poor, these were prisonlike. For the middle and upper classes, they were humane, with good food, exercise, and medical attention. But those with TB usually died anyway, regardless of social class. It has always been a contagious disease, but not from casual contact, only from breathing in the bacteria expelled from the sufferer by coughing or spitting.

I mention these details because of another discovery.  Frances, “Fannie” Post, the middle daughter, died of the same disease, 16 October 1910. She was 20. Likewise, a year later, Kathleen E, the baby of the family, succumbed to TB, 28 July 1911. She was 13. Both had been ill for two years, and are buried in New Cavalry Cemetery, in Mattapan, away from their mother, whose early passing at least spared her from watching her children die. Did they contract TB from Catherine? Many people harbor the bacterium, but most of us have immune systems that are strong enough to neutralize or destroy it. This is why those with weakened immunity from HIV-AIDS are sometimes susceptible. The health records of the mother and her daughters list their address as 33 Suffolk St., with Samuel as the reporter of the deaths. Hence their absence from the Census of 1920. One comforting circumstance was that the attending physician for Fannie and Katherine was George B. Fenwick, M.D. an expert in the understanding and treatment of tuberculosis, whose location was Chelsea. By 1922, he was the leading physician for the Chelsea Board of Health.

Samuel, who was spared none of this parental agony, ensured that Fannie and Katherine had the best care available to them. I imagine that he made the same efforts for Catherine, regardless of the probable strain in their relations. Nana and Alice lived in the same house with their consumptive sisters for perhaps as long as five years.  Miraculously, they did not become ill. If two years of recognizable symptoms and suffering were the norm in the first decade of the twentieth century for those with TB, Catherine was already ill by the time that Alice was born. She might have been sick and in a sanatorium by the time Samuel and Mary had conceived this little girl. Their amours would have been difficult to conceal from the children, and the older siblings surely intuited it. Mary and Samuel could not marry as long as Catherine was alive. Once she had died, it was possible to wed. And they did. Father Powell saw to that.

If this slightly less than hallowed union had not occurred, I would not be here. Neither would any of my aunts or uncles, my father, my siblings, my nieces, my cousins, their children and their grandchildren.

In 1920, Mary and Alice were employed as packers in a candy factory, perhaps the New England Confectionary in Boston, where Necco wafers were made. After this date, I can find no trace of Mary E. or Samuel Dexter Post, Jr. I conjectured his death date based on a line in my father’s notes about him: “Died at 62.” However, the records show that he died at 65 in 1926. Perhaps my father read the 5 as a 2. Nana was married on 19 August 1923, so Samuel lived to see her wedding, since his birthday was 5 September 1861. I have been told that he is buried in the same cemetery as Catherine, Mount Cavalry.

We were fortunate to have Nana and to know her as a person. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her. I am getting to know her older sister a little better because her life is fairly well documented in various censuses.  I was able to trace Alice because of another note of my father’s, probably based on my Aunt Virginia’s extensive family knowledge: “Married a Thompson.”

Alice and Nana 1921
Alice and Edna, c. 1921

I have hope that someday I will make a connection with one of her grandchildren who knows her family history, just as I hope I can meet one of our cousins who is a descendant of Grandpa Leo’s brothers Bill, Jack, Eddie, and Harold, or perhaps of his sister Madelaine. Alice E. Post Thompson (1902-86) outlived her little sister by two decades. In one picture, perhaps taken on their front porch at 33 Suffolk St in Chelsea, they seem to be about 19 and 16, respectively, which would make the year 1921. Their facial expressions and postures are fascinating. They seem to have enjoyed a close relationship and were all dressed up for some autumn or spring occasion. In those days, of course, ladies did not leave the house without their hats. Alice and Edna appear as though they posed for the photographer with bemused reluctance, as if he or she were a parent who had cajoled them into cooperation. It would be interesting to know more about them at this age, or what relationship they had with their half-siblings, Catherine’s children.

Alice was married by 1921 or so to a Clifford Henry Thompson (b.1899), whose family had immigrated to Chelsea from Nova Scotia. Like his future brother-in-law Leo J. Stapleton Sr. and Leo’s brother Bill Stapleton, Thompson registered for the draft for World War I. His mother was a widow by 1920 and he defined his profession as chauffeur of a grocery truck.

Nana and Alice 1925
Edna and Alice, c. 1927-28

The family listed its native tongue as French, which is an intriguing detail. His nickname was Frenchy. In 1930, he was unemployed like millions of Americans, and they lived at 56 1/2 Library St., Chelsea. By 1940, he worked as a stevedore who moved ground cargo on the docks of the Boston waterfront. He and Alice had seven children according to that year’s census, all at home at 26 ½ Spencer Ave. in Chelsea, the eldest at that time Doris, 18, the youngest Lawrence, 4.  One daughter is named Mary E., probably for their grandmother. In a slightly later picture of them, taken about 1927 or 1928, they still seemed close and have cut  their hair short, as was the fashion of the decade. In the part of the 1940 census dated 4 April, Edna and Leo, now at 54 Falcon St. in East Boston, have seven children themselves, from Virginia (15) to Thomas (2), with another on the way, Edna, who would share a birthday with her grandfather Samuel, and her brother Ronald, 5 September.

Perhaps it was not coincidental that Nana was born on St. Pancras’s Day, the saint whose name means “the one who holds everything.” That describes not only the famous London train station that bears his moniker, but also Nana as a spouse, parent, and grandparent. Just as the men in their lives worked at their professions, Edna, Alice, and Mary E. were engaged in theirs for every day of their adult lives, with no time off. They ran their households: children, food, cooking, baths, cleaning, marriage. And surely the profession of housewife was no less  exhausting then than it is now. What’s more, Nana and her sisters enjoyed few or none of the conveniences that we take for granted, or only experienced them in the beginnings of their technology. Fresh fruit and vegetables were hard to find out of season, needless to say, so people were forced to be locavores.

My beautiful picture
Nana and my sisters Julie and Carol in 1963. I am the little boy grimacing.

There were no microwave ovens or frozen food.  There were no disposable paper products such as diapers, Kleenex, or paper towels. There was little prepackaged baby food or premeasured medicine for children. There were no pediatricians or professional child care centers. There were no antibiotics. There was not always reliable hot running water for convenient bathing and for keeping messy children clean. For that matter, not everyone had indoor plumbing for baths or toilets. There was no refrigeration besides that provided by the iceman, no supermarkets, washing machines, dryers. Central heating was uncommon, and many stoves were still wood-burning into the early 20th century. Lighting was frequently gas rather than electric. Irons with easily adjustable settings, synthetic clothing that resisted wrinkling, convenient hair care and skin products, inexpensive new clothing and corner drugstores would have been unimaginable luxuries.

Frankly, I don’t know how they did it or how they stood it. But they did. I appreciate it more than I can say. However, I will say it anyway. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Marlovian Joan la Pucelle

(This was a paper I was going to give at a conference in Florida last March, but it didn’t work out. This is somewhat “lite,” like the beer.)

The Joan episodes in 1 Henry VI  have struck Shakespeareans as Marlovian from the era of the duo of Victorian Fredericks, Fleay and Furnivall, though Marlowe scholars have not reciprocated the attention.

Joan la Pucelle, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

To this end, a careful reading of the scenes that the New Oxford Shakespeare recently attributed to the poet-playwright is entirely in order. No matter who actually made Joan, or whether we view her as la pucelle or de Arc, her lineage was Marlovian, even to his Ovidian core, as descended from his speaker in the Elegies, his translation of the Amores.

The authorship question concerning 1 Henry VI is nothing new. It has unsettled scholars since the mid-nineteenth century. They have expressed their doubts in equally unsettling ways, taking strong positions to the point of demonizing their opposition. This unfortunate trend continues today. A polemical PMLA article by one Henry David Gray from a century ago, 1917, typifies such exchanges. He argued that Shakespeare merely revised an old play by an anonymous author who was abetted in some fashion by Robert Greene. His emotional appeal to the truth of his thesis would seem to rival the histrionics of those politicians debating our entry into the Great War in that very year.

“no one will deny that in most of the scenes there is not the faintest evidence of [Shakespeare’s] workmanship. . . . It is certain that he left much that was crude and raw, I presume because it was theatrically effective.”

academics pointlessly disputing

Moreover, the Joan who is captured, exhibited, and interrogated by the English at the end of the play is “shameless and disgusting,” at odds with the more modest figure earlier in the action. Though Gray’s predecessors occasionally detected Marlowe’s hand, the playwright’s infrequent “double-endings” to finish his mighty lines ruled him out as authorial candidate for this person. “There is something Marlowesque in the opening lines and in other bits; but I think that Marlowe himself cannot be read into this drama,” Gray concluded.

Nearly four decades earlier, the genial and eccentric Victorian Frederick, Furnivall, had championed the opposite view in his preface to the Leopold Shakespeare, his English-translated version of the edition by the great German scholar Nicholas Delius. He was not only a founder of the Early English Text Society and the Oxford English Dictionary, but of the sport derivative from rowing known as sculling. He in fact helped design early sculls.  Furnivall’s Dictionary of National Biography entry says that he undertook the sport “with his usual boyish enthusiasm, for it brought together two of his favourite activities: vigorous outdoor exercise and enjoyment of the company of young women.” However, I wouldn’t want you think this latter activity–innocently enjoyed by many of us old men, even today—denotes an impure heart beating in Dr. Furnivall.

Professor Furnivall and the rowing club

As a Christian Socialist, he was a vociferous advocate for women’s rights, education, and exercise. He founded the Hammersmith Rowing Club for working-class girls and women, still in existence, now named for him. And he encouraged young women to pursue scholarship.  He lamented “the abominable way in which Joan of Arc is treated by Frenchmen as well as English. Traditional as the witch-view of Joan was in Shakspere’s time, one is glad that Shakspere did not set it forth to us.” He clearly thought of Joan as a real person in need of gentlemanly encouragment and nurturing. Very much like a Miss Jane Lee he praised highly for her analysis of 2 and 3 Henry VI: “never before has the [authorship] question been so ably and thoroughly handled.” Believe it or not, in 1876, the year of our Centennial and of the massacre of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, she argued for full collaboration between Shakespeare and Marlowe in these plays, long before there was even the first Oxford Shakespeare by W. J. Craig, not to mention the New Oxford of today.

As it happens, many of Jane Lee’s exercises in Marlovian detection regarding 2 and 3 Henry VI  by way of the parallel passage method anticipated those claims by the New Oxford attributionists with their big data and function-word-clusters. For 1 Henry VI, Gabriel Egan and his crew assigned most of Act 5, scenes 1 and 2, to Marlowe. Hugh Craig preferred to think of scenes 2, 3 and 4 in the same act in the same way.

A “word cloud” cluster based on Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech

The results of the two methodologies are the same. The difference is that one is no longer considered intellectually tenable. An advocate of the newer and officially approved method derides work such as Lee’s as “aimless” and “old-fashioned parallel hunting.”

As Desdemona said to her father, I feel a divided duty. Let me say that I do not care one bit who wrote what. I find attribution study in any age to be the equivalent of a fool’s errand, one that I must admit to having undertaken myself. At the same time, I would be delighted to have the Marlowe canon expanded. 41lonke+5pL._SR600,315_PIWhiteStrip,BottomLeft,0,35_SCLZZZZZZZ_Or, better yet, it would be wonderful to stretch our understanding of Shakespeare’s Marlovianism, building on the great work of my predecessors: F. P. Wilson, Nicholas Brooke, Harry Levin, Irving Ribner, Harold F. Brooks, Marjorie Garber, Kenneth Muir, David Riggs, Laurie Maguire, Robert Logan.

I’ll turn my attention to Joan and ask: what is Marlovian about her?

Though Marlowe is not known for writing women well, his talent for actualizing androgyny such as Joan’s was notable, albeit with gender reversal. Shakespeare of course made boy actors into women who pretended to pretend to be the young men whom they actually were. Marlowe preferred to remove one step and turn another upside-down so that male characters explored their feminine inner cores without shame. I think of Ganymede, King Edward, Gaveston, King Henri Trois, Leander, and Neptune. He was also adept at making such figures great rhetoricians and persuaders who are greatly self-deluded, like Joan: Faustus, Barabas, Gaveston, the Guise, and my favorite, the speaker in the Elegies.

Isabella and Mortimer, from a production by the Diversionary Theatre, San Diego, CA

Marlowe’s Isabella in Edward II is another Joan doppelganger. This neglected queen finds herself becoming a woman warrior and, by necessity, the enabling mistress of the Incredible Shrinking Mortimer Junior. The very men who secretly despise Isabella and Joan because they fail to fulfill banal notions of womanliness deceive them into trying to prove themselves worthy of the masculine power and respect that they can never, as a result, earn.  Yet both male playwrights would seem to allow for empathy toward these women. The men they create as virtual escorts are, in a word, vile.

1 Henry VI  presents Joan as an oddly appealing antagonist, a Shakespearean touch: Iago, Edmund, Cassius, Suffolk. Or, to invoke Harley Granville-Barker’s defnition of such a figure: “the character of which a dramatist not morally, but artistically, most approves.” This observation is almost always true for Marlowe in all his genres: Barabas, the Elegies speaker, the unreliable tale-teller who editorializes in Hero and Leander, the epic narrator of Lucan, Gaveston, Aeneas, Mephistophiles, and the ever-blank-versifying Tamburlaine. 

Production of Tamburlaine by Shakespeare Theater

The dramatic members of this crew get the best lines: “how sweet the bells ring now the nuns are dead”; “’Twas thine own seeking, Faustus, thank thyself”; “Musicians that with touching of a string May draw the pliant king the way I please”; “infinite riches in a little room.” The observation is equally true with Marlovian Joan, whose poetry illuminates her play like a pulsing arc light.  Her confident declaration in its final act on the plains of Anjou shows her at her sententious, imperative-delivering best:

Of all base passions fear is most accurs’d.

Command the conquest, Charles, it shall be thine,

Let Henry fret and all the world repine.

This tendency is constant, from her first speech, where she tells Reignier, “Be not amazed, there’s nothing hid from me.” And this continues: “Glory is like a circle in the water.” “Come, come, `tis only I that must disgrace thee.” Some critics have suggested that Joan is a parody of Tamburlaine, whose wise sayings and boasts tend to run a little longer than hers. He too is a former shepherd grown great, self-elevated like the Maid of Orleans. “Lie here, ye weeds, that I disdain to wear!” “Hallo, ye pampered jades of Asia!” At the same time, his eloquence, like Joan’s is indisputable.

1 Henry VI 5.3 seems most Marlovian of all, the author himself or a Shakespeare haunted by his late contemporary. Faustian Joan occupies its first half with her rhetoric full of maxims, spells, and curses. And at her departure, the initial appearance of the Mortimer-like Suffolk and the guileless Isabella-Margaret appropriately finishes the scene.

Suffolk and Margaret, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The earl who will find himself headless in the sequel either anticipates or echoes Shakespeare’s sonnet 41 when he says of Anjou’s daughter: “She’s beautiful and therefore to be woo’d; / She is a woman, therefore to be won.” Sonnet 41:

Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,

Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;

And when a woman woos, what woman’s son

Will sourly leave her till she have prevailed?

These complementary episodes recall the ancient writer most important to both poet-playwrights, Ovid. Joan’s angry and unsuccessful magic seems a parodic inversion of the fearsome Medea in the Metamorphoses. And the tableau of the soon-to-be adulterous lovers re-enacts the dynamic of the Amores, the sourcetext for Marlowe’s wickedly witty Elegies.

Joan’s speeches and failed spells recall the incidentals of Doctor Faustus and the rhetoric and personality of the Elegies speaker. John D. Cox once observed that the magus and the woman warrior share a libido dominandi, the will to power, though 1 Henry VI  merely grazes the edge of the demonic so central to Faustus. I would add that both characters share a guilelessness and blindness to their hypocrisy, along with considerable rhetorical chops. Burgundy says of Joan, “she hath bewitched me with her words,” a feat that Marlowe’s character tries often to perform on others, albeit with comic effect regarding a pope and an emperor, and with considerable assistance from Mephistophiles, at that.

Joan’s changes in rhetorical direction and skill in self-creation can be summarized by Marlowe’s Ovidian speaker with his “ambitious changing mind.”  She succeeds in creating herself ex nihilo, designing an androgynous identity in order to function in a world hostile to her. In this, she resembles the Elegies lover, the Sulmonian parvenu come to Rome with its worldly Corinnas and their easily-deluded husbands.

The second edition of Marlowe’s translation

And ultimately, both metamorphose into failures perhaps intended to appeal to an audience’s empathy. Joan rightly curses her despicable captors as they lead her to the stake: “Changed to a worser shape thou canst not be.” Marlowe’s Elizabethan reincarnation of Ovid’s young man complains that the libertinism he claimed to have adopted redounded against him: “This is he whom fierce love burns!” In short, those married women he thought he had seduced to his exclusive use peevishly refused to be faithful to him.

The last two scenes of 1 Henry VI  contain some phrases usually associated with Shakespeare. York mocks Joan by referring to the Dauphin as “a proper man,” an epithet that Desdemona and Iago use to describe Lodovico and Cassio, respectively. Joan’s peasant father exclaims at her disavowal of him before execution, “this kills thy father’s heart outright,” an expression that appears seven other times in the Shakespeare canon, most notably when Mistress Quickly says of Falstaff, “the king hath killed his heart.” As it happens, Catherine de Medici turns the same phrase in Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris, “thou kill’st thy mothers heart.” York again savages Joan, saying that “she hath lived too long, / To fill the world with vicious qualities.” This hyperbolic metaphor of voluminousness shows up twice more in Shakespeare, once in the same play, and another time at the end of 3 Henry VI when Gloucester-cum-Richard III exclaims of Margaret, “Why should she live, to fill the world with words?” So Marlowe, in Lucans First Booke: “Filling the world, leapes out and throwes forth fire.” Does this mean that Shakespeare and Marlowe were echoing each other? Perhaps. Though none of Marlowe’s characters refers to someone as “a proper man,” the adjective surfaces nine times in his canon, for the record.

The prosody of 1 Henry VI is in some ways Marlovian. The late Russ Macdonald once observed that Marlowe tended to chisel his mighty lines of blank verse into epigrammatic, self-contained distichs such as one sees in Tamburlaine. I think this is because he had been working in couplets such as comprised the Elegies and Hero and Leander. We forget that Shakespeare’s blank verse did not begin as the discursive, enjambed, and naturalistic type he perfected in his tragedies and romances, but was similar to his contemporary’s unrhyming couplet-ism. This seems especially true in 1 Henry VI. Whoever wrote it knew his Marlovian verse effects, but added trochaic reversals for emphasis, and was not afraid to rhyme.

Critical opinion of Joan has remained dichotomous. One recent commentator insists that she is “a whorish witch and conjuror, exaggerating even the English chroniclers’s calumnies against her.”

Handbook for whorish witch-conjurors

Another more diplomatic voice suggests “her triumphs are based simply on boldness, common sense, and resourcefulness. . . . this supposed witch is the most down-to-earth pragmatist in the play.” I would add that her Marlovian vaunting in her final scene results from terror, since the flames await. One set of men who has used her then betrays her to another set of men who will burn her at the stake, no gunpowder necklace provided.

Sometimes being the only woman is not much fun.

I’d like to conclude with an editorial, for which I hope you’ll forgive me.

That the New Oxford Shakespeare attributed significant portions of Shakespeare’s Henry VI  plays to Marlowe furthers a sensible concept that needs advancing. Early modern dramatists were artisianal as well as artistic, and as craftsmen, they collaborated by necessity, the size of their enterprises demanding it, leaving scant space for our anachronistic notions of rivalry. This concept of teamwork relieves Shakespeare of his solitary splendor while valorizing Marlowe by expanding his canon and joining him with his more esteemed colleague who survived him. This association might encourage more and better scholarship about the interdependency of playwrights concerning textual production.

Yet the New Oxford means of attribution, big-data analysis of function-word syntactic placement, creates an obstacle for itself as a tool for general use.

Diagrams, tables, graphs

Its laudable aim of authorial fingerprinting would appear to create foolproof results, but these methods cannot be reproduced or challenged except by another computer program or formula. And unless a scholar regularly immerses herself in machinery of this kind, its many tabulations and percentages might seem inaccessible or useless for interpreting the texts whose words the algorhithms have spun thus into diagrams, tables, and graphs. Should a means arise for investigating function-word similarities that does not require computer assessment, such likenesses would probably be invisible to the investigator, likely advised in advance that because of the impersonal authority of such data, the case, as they say, is closed. For this reason, the methodology appears to provide its adherents with what most academics secretly desire most: the last word.

But the approach does not allow for human reading skill or ingenuity. To one New Oxford editor, this is for the best, deriding these talents as “old-fashioned parallel hunting” for the sake of detecting ephemeral similarities of character or verbiage.

A parallel hunter found a new friend instead

The critical practice of inter- or intratextuality, investigating multiplex correspondences between one author and another or a work by a given writer and the rest of his canon, ought not to be so cavalierly dismissed.  And it can only help a function-word-frequency case for attribution if the disinterested reader may employ such techniques in discovering how authors or works could be in dialogue with one another. Graphs and tables are not enough.


Those of you who have read Horace’s great Actium ode will remember that though it was intended to please and honor Augustus and Agrippa, its real praise was for the unnamed and toxic Cleopatra, that enemy of the Empire, who burns through the poem like a comet. In its Marlovian antagonist, 1 Henry VI would seem to perform a similarly subversive maneuver. It advances Joan to the most prominent position at play’s end. She becomes dolphinlike, her back above her element, and embodies Horace’s epithet for the unnamable Egyptian queen. non humilis mulier: not a base woman whatsoever.

Thomas Heywood and the Man Who Loved Women

Note: this was an essay I was going to publish in an edited collection but I decided against it.

Thomas Heywood’s plays are preoccupied with the nature, merit, burdens, and actions of women. Their female characters and their tribulations demonstrate a capacity for empathy and an ability to recruit and cultivate a potentially profitable theater audience. 1Such drama anticipates the Hollywood studio “women’s pictures” of the 1930s and 1940s.[1] Arguably, the Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis roles descend from the likes of Anne Frankford and Susan Mountfort in A Woman Killed with Kindness. Heywood’s other dramatic productions feature similarly complex heroines, such as Jane Shore in Edward IV ; Queen Elizabeth in If You Know Not Me; Mris. Arthur in How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife from a Bad; Bess Bridges in The Fair Maid of the West;  Phyllis Flower in The Fair Maid of the Exchange; Lauretta and Julia of A Maidenhead Well Lost; and the title role of The Rape of Lucrece.  And there are others “reserued amongst two hundred and twenty” in which the playwright claims to have had “an entire hand, or at the least a maine finger.”[2] His feminocentrism inspired him to write treatises and to compile encyclopedias devoted to women: A Curtaine Lecture (1638), Exemplary Lives of Nine the Most Worthy Women of the World (1640), and Gunaikeion (1609).  Each text praises those who embodied and transcended traditional modes of womanly virtue.

Recent commentators have tended to see Heywood as a proto-feminist rather than a moralist-misogynist sermonizing in poorly-conceived playhouse speeches about Grandmother Eve.

Narcissus, the archetype of the self-obsessed lover, from a ms. of the fourteenth-century Ovide moralis

Some maintain, for example, that Anne in Woman Killed was meant to represent the chief agent in an allegory in which male hegemony destroys the agency of womankind, not the Weaker Vessel simultaneously promulgating and symbolizing female frailty and lust.[3] To this end, Heywood constantly dramatizes a retrograde and self-negating phenomenon that women are compelled to replicate, to his apparent dismay. As Anne, Jane Shore, and even Lucrece (anachronistically) strive to fulfill the tenets of middle-class marital ethics, the very attempt to obey the patriarchy that so oppresses them makes it impossible for them to succeed as wives.  Yet the most extreme case of this dynamic in the plays, the vileness of Mr. Arthur toward his spouse in in How a Man May Chuse, does not invalidate the idea of the institution itself, even though he is clearly a misogynist idiot who hates his devoted wife who believes in companionate Protestant marriage.  Her repeated affirmations of her role are more important to her and to Heywood than her spouse and his profound idiocy, which her patience and constancy eventually reform. “Wife” is a title that she intends to keep. For reasons such as this, Marilyn L. Johnson, the first critic who devoted an entire study to Heywood and women (1974), asserted that his writing revealed him to be “a man both sensitive and modest, kind and tolerant, genial and good-humored; a man of intelligence and moral refinement.”[4]


How curious, then, that proto-feminist, non-moralizing Heywood deemed Ovid’s distinctly unfeminist Ars Amatoria and its adjunct Remedia Amoris appropriate for translation, the former the first complete rendition of the poem into English, titled Loues Schoole in most editions throughout the seventeenth century.[5]

Two lovers. Medallion mosaic (3rd-4th CE) from the cubicle of erotic scenes in the Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Italy.

The ancient writer claimed repeatedly in his Tristia that his narrator in the Ars, the glibly misinformed and occasionally misogynist praeceptor Amoris, was hardly his alter ego but a comic persona, perhaps intended as a satire on the decadence of the patrician class. Yet male medieval and early modern readers from Andreas Cappelanus and Jean de Meun onward identified Ovid with his erotic poetry and considered him a learned doctor, his Ars and Remedia authoritative on love as an affliction or disease—which it obviously is, as everyone knows. Early modern reception took note of his theatricality in the plays he was supposed to have written; in the speeches and monologues he composed in the Heroides and Metamorphoses that strongly resemble soliloquies and other types of playhouse speech; and in the prosaic form of comic advice in the Ars that urges the prospective lover to troll for “prettie wenches” who are “thick in full great nomber” at the theater (LS 1.34, 71). Heywood the playwright seems to have been aware of these three traditions and to have informed his translation accordingly. He tacitly reconfigures many such Ovidian canards and at the same time portrays his Ars-informed seducers as studies in romantic ineptitude. These two transformational authorial activities, his amelioration of the praeceptor in his translation and critique of the unredeemable libertine type in his plays, inform one another in his work. In this way, Heywood’s reading comprises a truly subtle and unique reception of Ovid. Some of his dramatic tableaux resemble his “revisionist” passages in his Ars. Heywood destroys the conception of the erotic Ovidian personae that some despised and remakes him onstage as the better man he believed this figure was meant to be.

However, women and clergymen tended not to adopt such a benevolent perspective about Ovid’s poem or attempts to reconfigure it, and many condemned it as antifeminist and ungodly.  In the twelfth-century Guigemar, Marie de France describes a tapestry showing Venus herself casting “Le livre Ovide” [Ovid’s book] into the fire, a volume that recommends “s’amur estreine” [restraining love], the Ars itself.

A portrait of Marie de France writing, in a ms. of the Lais

Three centuries later, in Christine de Pizan’s exchange with Pierre Col about La roman de la rose, the “Querelle de la Rose,” she refers to Ovid’s poem harshly as “art de faulse malicieuse industrie de decepvoir famnes” [the art of false and malicious work of deceiving women], “la perverse doctrine, et le venin engoisseux” [perverse doctrine and poisonous venom]. In 1496, Savonarola listed the Ars first in his list of books to be condemned and burned in Florence: “Ma si vorria fare una legge che’l fussi escluso Ovidio De arte amandi” [But one should make a law that would ban Ovid’s Art of Love]. In 1599, Bishop Bancroft and Archbishop Whitgift decreed the same fate for Christopher Marlowe’s translation of the Amores, Certaine of Ovids Elegies. Pope Paul IV indexed the Ars in 1564, the birth year of Galileo, Marlowe, and Shakespeare.[6] Though Heywood probably knew of this notorious reception history in some form, he ceaselessly asserted his authorship of the translations and first complained of their piracy by the bookseller Henry Austin in his preface to The Brazen Age:


a Pedant about this Towne, who, when all trades fail’d, turn’d Pedagogue, & once insinuating with me, borrowed from me certaine Translations of Ouid, as his three books De Arte Amandi, & two De Remedio Amoris, which since, his most brazen face hath most impudently challenged as his own, wherefore I must needs proclaime it as far as Ham, where he now keeps schoole, Hos ego vericulos feci tulit alter honores, they were things which out of my iuniority and want of iudgement, I commited to the view of some priuate friends, but with no purpose of publishing, or further communicating them. Therefore I wold entreate that Austin, for so his name is, to acknowledge his wrong to me in shewing them, & his own impudence, & ignorance in challenging them.[7]

Apparently, lost revenue did not concern him as much as the pilfering of his Loues Schoole, which served as the standard version of Ars for English readers, reprinted at least six times before 1700, when it was displaced by John Dryden’s rendition, Ovid’s Art of Love, in Three Books (1712).[8] Why would an author of alleged moral refinement, whose plays argue that his mother must have reared him to respect, revere, and champion women, associate himself with poetry that many believed to be aggressively antifeminist?

Perhaps such a question is anachronistic, reflective of twenty-first-century concerns rather than those of early moderns. Heywood and his contemporaries clearly relished and made frequent use of texts heretical, pornographic, and anti-monarchical, such as those by William Tyndale, Pietro Aretino, and Niccolò Machiavelli. As for Ovid, Ben Jonson knew the Ars and subtly deployed it in his poetry and drama. In his corrupting charm, Volpone behaves as a type of Ovidian seducer and puppeteer, best exhibited in the carpe diem lyric “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” In Epicoene, the approving playwright ensured that the rakish True-wit repeatedly paraphrases or quotes from the poem as magister Amoris. Those who fail spectacularly in this type of gallantry rightfully embody their less respectable names, such as Sir Amorous La Foole. In Poetaster, Jonson changed history by depicting Ovid himself at the time of his exile as a romantic youth, rather than the middle-aged man he was, who ardently risks his all for a woman, then suffers banishment for his amour with Augustus’s daughter Julia, actually that emperor’s granddaughter.[9] Heywood likewise featured the Ars-infused male in his plays, such as Mr. Fuller in How a Man May Chuse and the king himself in Edward IV.  This figure complements the author’s female archetypes: reluctant adulteress, endangered maiden, unappreciated housewife, scorned adultress.[10] Ovid, it should be noted, is the most frequently cited author in Gunaikeion, with twenty-seven different verse translations of more than four lines in length, most of which quote from or rewrite passages from Loues Schoole.[11] Men who revere women, according to Heywood, are allowed to love Ovid, including himself.

I alluded to François Truffaut’s L’homme qui amait les femmes (1977) in my title because this epithet evokes aspects of Heywood’s Ovidian theater and shares some of its traditions, however unconsciously.[12]  3 The film does not valorize its incorrigible protagonist, Bertrand Morane or mock him for contracting gonorrhea as dramatists such as William Wycherley or Molière might have, were he to have taken a bow in a later seventeenth-century play. Nor does it demonize him as as a charmless boor who, as we would say now, harasses and degrades women, such as Michael Caine’s Alfie (1966).[13]  Truffault’s tone, embodied in the affectionate narration of the intermittent female narrator Geneviève, suggests that Bertrand’s skirt-chasing is compulsory, even pathological, not always an activity he enjoys. So the director, drolly disinterested, presents his roué’s amorous progress in a cinematic narrative simultaneously picaresque and circular, his end encoded in his beginning. In the opening sequence at Bertrand’s funeral, set in Montpellier, the camera’s eye focuses on the legs of his myriad former lovers, clad in the ultra-feminine bias-cut sheer Saint-Laurent and Halston dresses complemented with the requisite Charles Jordan high heels and wedges he so loved, as the women approach his open grave, ritually toss dirt on his coffin, and pass by like grieving angels. In the finale, the hero causes his absurd death by inadvertently disconnecting his IV drip while stretching to gape at a nurse’s beautiful legs from his hospital bed, his night’s lodgings because an automobile hit him as he was, of course, straining to look at the similarly shapely legs of two women walking down the street. Bertrand thinks of himself as a man who loves women, beginning with his unashamedly promiscuous mother, though as Truffaut and Geneviève constantly imply, he does not understand what a relationship is.


In the middle of the film, one of his many nightly companions, Fabienne, explains this to him in a way that recalls Christine’s condemnation of the Ars: “Homs qui veult selon ce livre faire / N’amera ja” [the man who wants to learn from this book will never understand how to love].[14]


Ovid’s praeceptor Amoris has obviously fooled himself into thinking himself a man who loves women, a delusory sensibility that Heywood evokes in Loues Schoole. His male play characters in this mode foretell the film’s title and its hero who runs in circles, minus his good nature and his feminine champions. They suffer from a similar inability to understand or sustain intimate relationships, to accept women as peers, or to benefit from their companionship, perspective, and wisdom. Naturally not one of them can recognize that virtualy any man such as himself who boasts that he is knowledgeable about loving the opposite sex ironically reveals the opposite. That is, he is an ignoramus whose very claims of expertise actually betray his contempt for women. In this way, Heywood depicts his masters of love as dispassionately as Ovid allows his speaker to portray himself, or as neutrally as Truffault presents Bertrand.

Heywood might have undertaken his translations before he began constructing drama that features rogue male characters. If so, Loues Schoole would have been a felicitous means of teaching himself to write dramatic speech, just as Christopher Marlowe’s rendering of the Amores into English helped him learn his theatrical craft, that text surreptitiously and posthumously published as Certaine of Ovid’s Elegies and then All Ovids Elegies (1599). These complementary Ovidian personae reconfigured from antiquity represent types of the masculine voice, advising, cajoling, seducing, describing, dissembling, commanding, grieving, joking, and raging, in frequently idiomatic classical Latin. The act of transforming them into men of one’s own time provides the shrewd translator of any era with training in creating speakers with a multiplex spectrum of emotional ranges, which essentially defines the playwright’s job. Heywood, like Marlowe before him, happily subjected himself to this translinguistic and transgeneric schooling.

Ovid’s praeceptor manifests himself repeatedly in Heywood’s dramatic corpus. Unlike Jonson, he chose not to elevate this teacher-lover into a mostly wise Mr. True-wit. Instead, when his pseudo-Ovidian figures surface in the guises of diverse male characters, the plays undermine and lampoon them. Various scenes of seduction that correspond uncannily to passages from Loues Schoole tend to end disastrously for the perpetrators. They show that the praeceptor’s advice for convincing women to indulge in a merry romp is trite, oversimplified, and unsuccessful. Other men who love women in A Woman Killed with Kindness and How a Man May Chuse agonize guility about their passions and the trouble they might cause for their objects, qualms that no functional Lothario would likely allow to trouble him. By such means, Heywood thought of himself as a man who loved women, dedicated to “the praise of their much honoured sexe,” as he puts it in A Curtaine Lecture.[15] His continual criticism of the rogue male praeceptor figure consititutes such praise.

In order to dramatize this critique, Heywood mans his plays with those who adopt the program and mores of the praeceptor.  Ovid’s persona intimates that love is an assault that compels a virulent counterattack: “the more deepe my flaming heart is found, / The more I will reuenge me of my wound” (LS Pr.31-32). In the works of the seventeenth-century dramatist, such vindictiveness manifests itself in unexpected ways. Tarquin’s son Aruns defends the ravishing of Lucrece to her kinsmen: “was she not a woman, / I, and perhaps was willing to be forc’d[?]” (RL 5:240).[16]  The similarly tactless and outspoken Sir Francis Acton from A Woman Killed says aggressively ribald things about his own sister on her wedding day:  “In a good time that man both wins and wooes, / That takes his wife downe in her wedding shooes” (WK 2:94).

A novelization of the life of the unfortunate Jane Shore

In 1 Edward IV, the similarly ungallant Falconbridge informs a certain goldsmith that his pretty spouse should be his for the asking, thus ironically foretelling the king’s later conquest in a gesture bordering on the mythical droit de seigneur: “Shore, listen: thy wife is mine, that’s flat. / This night, in thine own house, she sleeps with me” (1E4 1:16). In the same play, Edward, whose scruples occasionally trouble him, expresses his inflamed passion for Jane with violence that anticipates Macbeth: “Gaze, greedy eies; and be not satisfied / Till you find rest where hearts desire doth bide” (1E4 1:64). Lucrece’s soon-to-be rapist, Sextus, assaults her with words that resemble the violation he is about to perpetrate in their virulence, jagged meter, and heavy consonance: “Not love-sicke, but love-lunaticke, love-mad: / I am all fire, impatience, and my blood / Boyles in my heart, with loose and sensuall thoughts” (RL 5:217). Heywood’s prosody rose above the pedestrian when it suited him.


Heywood often portrays one of his amorous rogues as a pedagogue of whose lessons he scarce approves, whom he depicts with the contempt that he expressed for Henry Austin the plagiarizing schoolmaster. His idiomatic translation reveals his recognition that Ovid’s praceptor dispenses his advice with absolutely zealous overconfidence, reinforced by the closed couplets and their sometimes discordant rhymes. This intensity compliments the profound inaccuracy of his precepts. For example, since “Stolen pleasure . . . To women is now and at all times euer gratefull,” any attempt on their virtue can only be doubly productive, for the lover and the beloved.  A woman’s reluctance should not be confused with unwillingness, for “what she most forwarnes she most desires:  / In frosty woods are hid the hottest fires” (LS 1.315-17; 622-23).

Bertrand and his obsession

Or, “’Tis easie to make vs thinke we are beloued, / Their faith which do desire is quickly moued” (3.815-16). Surely few beloved women would appreciate their lovers following this advice in order to move them: “Warme thy cold hands betwixt her panting breasts” (2.290).  Heywood’s ultimate example of the type is Mr. Fuller in How a Man May Chuse. He advises Mr. Anselme about the best way to approach a woman he adores for purposes of seduction. In this case, she happens to be the virtuous Mris. Arthur, that heroine whom Heywood so esteems for holding to marital chastity in spite of the hateful behavior of her husband.  Fuller advises against the conventional romantic approach, what he terms “antick queint formalitie” such as bashfulness, blushing, being “too apish female,” arriving in her presence armed with “foolish Sonets,” “pend speeches, or too far fetcht sighes” (B4v).

Geneviève tutors Bertrand in writing his amorous memoir

Should Anselme wish to free himself permanently from feminine companionship, Mr. Fuller says, “list to me, Ile turn thy hart from loue, / And make thee loath all of the feminine sexe” (HMC B3). This preposterous invitation to inculcate blanket misogyny foretells the theme of Ovid’s Remedia Amoris and Heywood’s translation of that poem misattributed to Sir Thomas Overbury, The Remedy of Loue: “Il’e ease you now which taught to loue before, / The same hand which did wound shall heale the sore” (1.17-18).


Heywood includes a scene featuring Fuller counseling Anselme in a series of asides as he reluctantly approaches the faithful and constant Mris. Arthur that firmly locates his translation in his play. It is unsurprising that the student eventually refers to the teacher as “my bitter Genius” (HMC Hv). He fulfills the praeceptor’s dictum about fortitude in his advice to his pupil and in his own persistence in providing the lesson. Heywood’s Ovid assures the reader, “Do but persist the suite thou hast begone, / In time will chaste Penelope be wonne” and “Flatter, speake faire, ʼtis done with little cost” (LS 1. 608-09; 556). Likewise, Fuller demands that Anselm proceed with similarly merciless and mendacious assurance regarding Mris. Arthur: “Be not afraid man, shee’s but a woman . . . Thinke but vpon my former principles” (C2).  His student infirm of purpose, the teacher expresses his exasperation to the audience: “Neuer was such a trewant in Loues schoole, / I am asham’d that ere I was his Tutor” (C2v).

Bertrand visiting the lingerie shop that a friend owns

As scholars have observed, this line invokes the title of Heywood’s translation, albeit one likely provided by Austin and Visscher. Anselme’s profound lack of success with Mris. Arthur explains the relative efficacy of Fuller’s pseudo-Ovidian tutorial in seduction. Another difficulty is that Anselme truly loves Mris. Arthur. He is no rogue male and his instincts are gentlemanly: “I cannot chuse but when a wench saies nay, / To take her at her word and leaue my sute.”  In response, Mr. Fuller’s scorn echoes the praeceptor’s, emphasized in rhyme: “Continue that opinion, and be sure / To die a virgin chaste, a mayden pure” (C2).

Ovid from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493 

This cynicism echoes Heywood’s translation of Ovid’s imperative “Fallite fallentes,” “Deceiue the sly deceiuer, they find snares / To catch poore harmlesse louers vnawares” (LS 1.846-47). Such facile counsel, flip, glib, and negative, speaks for itself.  It is unsurprising that after Anselme makes this discovery he finally explodes at Fuller in a fashion reminiscent of Roderigo to Iago in the fifth act of Othello: “Now where is your instruction? wheres the wench? / Where are my hopes? where your directions?” (C3).

Heywood frequently heightens this criticism of the praeceptor figure by contrasting him with a complementary character whose experience in following his romantic advice demonstrates that it is often ineffective and sometimes invalid. The gulled prospective lover then voices his displeasure. A man such as Anselme, an inoffensive sort who would leave his suit when a wench said nay, finds out for himself that Fuller’s deeply flawed pseudo-Ovidian program for chasing, seducing, and abandoning women is inimical to him as a person, contra naturam. “These are the easie footsteps thou maist tread, / Which haue made way to many a wanton bed” (LS 2.441-42). Trapped by his own bafflement at women and helpless in the face of his feelings for them, his master’s voice confuses rather than clarifies, no more so than in the assurance of “easie.”  Most men in Heywood’s plays who actually indulge in the illicit behavior such as the praeceptor recommends seem conflicted, and perhaps tormented. Compulsory rogue maleness is without joy:

What change is this? proud, fancy, rouing eye,

What whisperst in my braine that she is faire?

I know it, I see it: fairer than my Queene?  (1E4 1:60)

The speaker is no less than a king of England. In the manner of Mark Antony, Edward makes clear that as he readies himself for infidelity, his eyes are wide open and his will is free: “loue makes no respect, where’er it be” (61). Or as Ovid’s Medea puts it, “Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor” (Met. 7.20-21) [I see and know the better way, I follow the worse]. 6Similarly, Mr. Wendoll in A Woman Killed with Kindness, who quotes Loues Schoole, reveals himself to be a seducer and cuckolder with a conscience, saying of himself, “I am a Villen if I apprehend / But such a thought . . . Slaue thou art damn’d without redemption.” He idealizes Anne Frankford as if he were a sonneteer: “when I meditate (Oh God forgiue me) / It is on her diuine perfections” (WK 2:108). Anselme uses similar imagery when approaching Mris. Arthur directly if apologetically, “this bold intrusion to your sacred selfe” (HMC C2v).  Some on further reflection find themselves translated, like Bottom. Francis Acton decides that he cannot allow his desperate debtor Sir Charles Mountford to prostitute his sister Susan to him after all.  “I cannot be so cruell to a Lady / I loue so deerely” (WK 2:146).

Since Heywood constantly championed women and thought of them as transformative agents for good, those who appear in his plays constitute another riposte to the praeceptor type. He strives to show them at their best. As he says in A Curtaine Lecture, “Marrie: feare nothing, Audaces fortuna juvat: for it may be suspected, if there were fewer Bachelours there would be more honest wives; therefore I say againe, Marry at all adventure.”[17] In 1 Fair Maid of the West, Heywood puts this homely observation into dramatic practice. Bess has accustomed herself to men on the make, be they kitchen help or sultans. She deflects their advances and converts them to allies who respect her and channel their admiration of her beauty into a desire to please her and gain her approval. As she battles the previously unregenerate Mr. Goodlack, she transforms him with “Sir, I will fetch you wine to wash your mouth, / It is so foule, I feare’t may fester else” (1FMW 2:301).  Those less independent and capable assert themselves nevertheless. Lucrece nearly wins over her assailant with “To make thy lust live, all thy vertues kill” (RL 5:222).[18]  That this type of self-respecting heroism endures in film and literarture designed specifically for women suggests that the playwright might have employed it in order to appeal to his target audience, whom he hoped would empathize with his heroines by imagining themselves in their roles. [desunt nonulla]

[1] For American cinematic depictions of women, see Jeanine Basinger, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960 (New York: Knopf, 1993).

[2] “To the Reader” in The English Traveller (London: Printed by Robert Raworth), A3.

[3] For criticism devoted to Heywood and women, see Bonnie L. Alexander, “Cracks in the Pedestal: A Reading of A Woman Killed with Kindness,” Massachusetts Studies in English 7 (1978): 1-11; Laura G. Bromley, “Domestic Conduct in A Woman Killed with Kindness,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 26 (1986): 259-76; Emily Detmer-Goebel, “What More Could Woman Do? Dramatizing Consent in Heywood’s Rape of Lucrece and Middleton’s Women Beware Women,” Women’s Studies 36 (2007): 141-59; Kathleen Kalpin, “Framing Wifely Advice in Thomas Heywood’s Curtaine Lecture and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 48 (2008): 131-46; Wendy Wall, “Forgetting and Keeping: Jane Shore and the English Domestication of History,” Renaissance Drama n.s. 27 (1998): 123-56.

[4] Images of Women in the Works of Thomas Heywood (Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur Universitat Salzburg, 1974), viii.

[5] For the history of the authorship issue for Loues Schoole and The Remedy of Loue, see Thomas Heywood’sArt of Love”: The First Complete English Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, edited by M. L. Stapleton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 12-20; and M. L. Stapleton, “A Remedy for Heywood?” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43 (2001): 74-115. All references to Heywood’s translations follow the lineation of these texts.

[6] Guigemar, 239-40. See The Lais of Marie de France: Text and Context, edited by Glyn S. Burgess (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 136. Christine’s remarks are cited from Debating the Roman de la Rose: A Critical Anthology, edited by Christine McWebb (New York: Routledge, 2013), 172. For Savonarola, see Michel Plaisance, Florence in the Time of the Medici: Public Celebrations, Politics, and Literature in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, translated by Nicole Carew-Reid (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008), 65n63. For the Bishops’s auto da fe, see Cyndia Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). For the Vatican indexing, see David O. Frantz, Festum Voluptatis: A Study of Renaissance Erotica (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), 59.

[7] The Brazen Age (London: Printed by Nicholas Okes, for Samuel Rand, 1613), A2.  For the publishing history of Ovidian texts and translations in English, see A Short-Title Catalog of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland, 3 vols., 2nd. ed., edited by A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave et al. (London: Oxford University Press, 1976-91), 2:201.

[8] Ovid’s Art of Love, in Three Books, Translated by Mr. Dryden, Mr. Congreve, &c, Together with the Remedy of Love, to Which Are Added, The Court of Love, A Tale from Chaucer, and the History of Love, Adornd with Cuts (London: Jacob Tonson, 1712).

[9] Jonson’s Under-woods (1640) includes three examples of neo-Ovidian elegies in closed pentameter couplets: “That Love’s a bitter sweet,” “Since you must goe,” and the celebrated “Let me be what I am, as Virgil cold.” Joseph A. Dane argues that True-wit’s lines in Epicoene frequently paraphrase the Ars amatoria. The play is “itself a metamorphosis of Ovid’s texts: it contains all the varied tones and ambiguities found in those texts that we can still refer to as a coherent unit under the single name of their author.  . . . Ovid’s poetry itself is a synthesis and compendium of classical traditions and it is difficult to view such an Ovid as alien to Ben Jonson.” These ideas apply nicely to Poetaster.  See “The Ovids of Ben Jonson in Poetaster and in Epicoene,” in Drama in the Renaissance: Comparative and Critical Essays, edited by Clifford Davidson, C. J. Gianakaris, and John H. Stroupe (New York: AMS Press, 1986), 113; 103-15.

[10] Johnson, Images of Women, 27.

[11] See Robert Grant Martin, “A Critical Study of Thomas Heywood’s Gunaikeion,” Studies in Philology 20 (1923): 169; 160-83.

[12] L’homme qui aimait les femmes, directed by François Truffault (Paris: Les Films du Carrosse, 1977).

[13] Alfie, directed by Lewis Gilbert (Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1966).

[14] Epistre au dieu d’Amour, 374-5, cited in Judith L. Kellogg, “Transforming Ovid: The Metamorphosis of Female Authority,” in Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference, edited by Marilynn Desmond (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Press, 1998), 181-83; 181-95.

[15] A Curtaine Lecture, (London: Robert Young, 1637), A3

[16] Most quotations from Heywood’s plays follow The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood, 6 vols. [edited by Richard Herne Shepherd] (London: J. Pearson, 1874), with title abbreviation, volume, and page number in parentheses. The exception is A Pleasant conceited Comedie, Wherein is shewed how a man may chuse a good Wife from a Bad (London: Printed for Mathew Lane, 1602), with references to signature numbers.

[17]A Curtaine Lecture, A3v-A4

[18] As Richard Rowland notes, women in 1 Edward IV, A Woman Killed, and The English Traveller are punished or punish themselves for sexual transgressions that are hardly their fault, and Heywood often modifies his sources to emphasize how easily their seducers elude responsibility for their fornication in the “ethical and emotional wilderness” of their “domestic spaces.”

Brian Jones and Tudor Ovid

Note:  this is a section of an essay that had to be cut to make word length for an edited collection. My paper concerns the first English translation of Ovid’s semi-satirical love treatise, the Ars amatoria, The flores of Ovide de arte amandi with theyr englysshe afore them: and two alphabete tablys. The fyrst begynneth with the englysshe hauyng the laten wordes folowynge. the other with the laten hauyng ye englysshe wordes folowynge (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1513).

Some things cannot be ameliorated, nor should they be, and find their best expression in musical form. Music is feeling, then, not sound, as a spectacular Wallace Stevens poetical effusion goes, featuring Peter Quince in its title. To this end, the Rolling Stones’s “Street Fighting Man” became an unofficial anthem of worldwide student movements and unrest in the momentous year it was released, 1968: the Prague Spring, Paris Left Bank protests, the riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Brian Jones, 1967, Hyde Park, for the Between the Buttons album cover shoot

The track, acoustic except for an electric bass, consists largely of a duel-duet between Mick Jagger’s vocals and Keith Richards’s staccato C, F, and G-chorded guitar. Already stirring, the song’s conclusion rises to magnificence as the main theme recedes in favor of more exotic sounds, the sitar and shehnai supporting the otherworldly siren-like drone of Brian Jones’s tamboura, with the arpeggios of Nicky Hopkins’s piano weaving around them.

Imagine for a moment this twenty seconds of innovative sublimity fueled by ancient Indian instruments resonating back across the centuries, recalling melodies that pupils and masters must have heard echoing in winding streets and stone hallways as they parsed their Latin with Wynkyn’s textbook. In an oddly similar fashion, the crumhorn, bagpipe, shawm, and rebec might have twined themselves into an anthem of sorts as a group encountered subversive Ovidian adages in the Flores. Perhaps they were aware of another Wynkyn publication, Here bygynneth a lytell geste of Robyn hode (c. 1506). robinThis set of ballads, which probably had musical accompaniment, championed the well-known folk hero who in his pursuit of social justice and personal profit robbed the moneyed, subsidized the underprivileged, and battled the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham, mocking him as his captive: “I shal the teche proud sheryfe / An out lawe for to be.” Recent scholarship has demonstrated Robin’s importance as a figure used to comment on religious reform, taxes, corruption, and other dangerous topics. [1] For as we have seen, the second decade of the sixteenth century was a time of great unrest, as well, not dissimilar to the late twentieth. To paraphrase Stevens again, in 1968, the ancient aspect was touching new minds. 

Without question, student unruliness would have been nothing new to the Flores editor and his target audience of pedagogues. It has, in fact, remained notoriously constant, on as continuous a note as the droning crumhorn and tamboura. The cinematic analogue to “Street Fighting Man,” Lindsay Anderson’s if .  .  . (1968), in its depiction of a violent uprising at a British boarding school, demonstrated considerable anxiety about such occurrences. Its influential predecessor, Richard Brooks’s The Blackboard Jungle (1955), presented a darker vision in its hero’s struggle with his violent and psychopathic charges, the dystopian plot complemented by expressionistic black and white photography and its frenzied soundtrack that introduced rock and roll to an international audience, including the young Stones.

Glenn Ford gives Vic Morrow merely half the beating he deserves, Blackboard Jungle

Thomas’s remarkable pamphlet, Rule and Misrule in the Schools of Early Modern England (1976), documents three centuries of similar struggles, disorder, and resistance by students and the prehistoric administrative classes.  For instance, in 1595, the High School of Edinburgh endured a lethal “barring-out” prank that led to actual battles between students and townspeople armed with swords, pistols, and farm tools after the youngsters had accidentally killed a town bailiff intent on breaking up the fray. Gerald Graff’s “institutional history,” Professing Literature (1988), details student resistance to the rote-reading, discussion-free authoritarian methods of Hiram Corson (1828-1911) at Cornell that included shoe-throwing and reading newspapers in class while the professor lectured on Chaucer and modes of literary criticism. Riots and disorder were standard occurrences at American universities throughout the nineteenth century.[2]

The radical unconventionality of the Flores, its implicit critique of pious platitudinousness regarding manhood and manliness and its subversive source material implies another purpose, perhaps, besides that of an elementary language primer. Maybe it was meant to address students in a somewhat radical way, as future intellectual peers. Perhaps its compiler or sponsor intended its wordliness and familiarity as a means of cultivating intimacy and collegiality, a preventative against adolescent alienation, restlessness, and disenfranchisement, all conducive to becoming fighters in the streets or stealing from the unjustly wealthy.

Title page to the Flores

Some of the Ovidian adagia included do not seem to have any other purpose, since they could not easily be disguised or altered to be anything else than what they were, and clearly, the editor had no desire to do so. They advise in the full-throated voice of the magister Amoris that the successful seduction of women depends on dissimulation and other types of politic, crafty, “suttyl” behaviors. Ultimately, why the editor chose to include these in the Flores is mysterious and likely to remain so, though if its morally ambiguous material impressed the boys or garnered their respect and cooperation by speaking to them as adults, the unadulterated Ovidian passages could only have enhanced this strategy.

One could hardly imagine a twenty-first century father counseling his fourteen-year-old son to avoid drunkenness when trying to encourage his female middle school classmates to go to bed with him. But the Flores does precisely this, since it offers no easy tranference to a less worldly context to say that the overconsumption of alcohol interferes with seductive eloquence: “Ebrietas vt vera nocet: sic ficta iuuabit. / Fac: titubet bl[a]esso sub dola lingua sono” (AA 1.597-98). It would be no more wholesome to recommend pretended inebriation to aid in the cause: “Like as very dronkynnes indede hurtith: euyn so feynede dronkennes shall helpe, or p[ro]fet otherwhyle therefore cause that thy suttyl deceytfull tunge that is to sey, that thy tunge whan thu gost about suttiltes: may stu[m]bil with a bussynge sonde” (FL 22).

erotic art from Pompeii

The assumption couched in the second person that the young seeker of feminine pulchritude is already possessed of a “suttyl deceytfull tunge” could hardly be moralized or rationalized away, either. And “suttilties,” like “suttyl,” possessed a much stronger, negative meaning in the early sixteenth century: “Craftiness, cunning, esp. of a treacherous or underhand nature; slyness, guile” (OED subtlety n. 3.b). Drinking and wenching are presented as themselves, without adulteration.

Indeed, an adult in any time period, in this case the “suttyl” man, already knows that some form of ars governs love, as the magister Amoris teaches.  Yet the sixteenth-century adolescent novice clearly did not possess this knowledge any more than his counterparts five hundred years later, regardless of the availability of instructive cable television programming. An early modern youth might have encountered more conventional wisdom, such as that proffered by, once again, Erasmus:

Ex aspectu nascitur amor.  Of syght is loue gendred.  Noma[n] loueth ye thynge he knoweth not, of companyenge and resortynge together spryngeth mutuall loue. And namelye the eyes be lures & baytes of loue. Wherfore yf thou woll not loue the thynge ye is vnlawfull for the to loue, absteyne from beholdynge.  He that beholdeth a woman (sayth Christ) wyth a lust vnto her, hath alredye played an aduowterers parte wt her in hys harte. (AD fol. xjv)

Oddly, the eyes as “lures & baytes of loue” squares with the view of the matter in the Ars, though the moralized caveat against sight-engendered lust does not. This is why the Flores editor’s first choice of Ovidian locus in the Flores must have struck its users entirely unconventional, a direct contradiction of standard pieties: “Arte citt[a]e, veloque rates, remoque reguntur / Arte leuis currus: arte regendus amor” (AA 1.3-4). In paraphrased form, the first thing that the editor thought his readers should learn about loving was that guile should be employed: “Swifte shippis be gouerned be craft / & with seale and oure & a light swyfte chace is gouerned by crafte: and lyke wyse loue most be gouerned by crafte” (FL 1).

erotica from Pompeii

The key term, interchangeable with “art,” posseses negative overtones in its early sixteenth-century usage: “In a bad sense: Skill or art applied to deceive or overreach; decit, guile, fraud, cunning. . . . An application of deceit; a trick, fraud, artifice” (OED craft n.4.a-b). What sort of lesson is this for young men who know nothing about love or women? Or, for that matter, who was meant to benefit from a similar observation in the middle of the text regarding flattery? “Blanditiis animum furtim deprendere fas est: / Vt pendens liquida ripa subibit aqua” (AA 1.619-20); “It is lauful to gete a bodyis mynde priuely by flatteryngis: so to faul in fauer with hym. as the hangyng bancke shal com vnder the clere watyr: what hit hath preueyly fretyn awey the erthe vndernethe” (FL 26). In the event that the message of this couplet and translation was unclear or, conversely, seemed blatantly cynical, there is hope: “S[a]epe tepens vere c[o]epit simulator amare. / S[a]epeque quod incipiens finxerat esse fuit” (AA 1.615-16); “A feyner of loue slacke at the begynnyng hath oftyntymis in conclusio[n] fal an honde to loue ernestly: & hath byn oftymys a mater indede afterwarde that he hath feynid hymselfe to be: whan he beganne” (FL 25). So: the subtle lover, one who understands that flattery and craftiness are his allies in seducing women, might discover in the midst of his chicanery that he can love after all, and sincerely. How reassuring this must have been to the man aware of his own corruption. But what would London schoolboys have known about the perplexing complexities of feigned love to begin with?

Enterline argued that the concept of imitation as presented in the humanist schoolroom, with its constant stress on learning to copy the styles of great writers and then make them one’s own, must have taught a type of deceit, that one should not be oneself, which might have bred cynicism.[3] This theory, ingenious and entirely conducive to Ovidian chicanery, predicts an outcome for this pedagogical convention wildly divergent from its early modern intent, however familiar it might seem to us. Still, the Flores editor, as if to anticipate such an example of the amorphousness of literary identity half a millenium earlier, includes material in his schoolbook designed to stymie dishonesty, in contradiction to other passages that recommend craft in love.

Ovid from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Simply put, the master of love frequently discredits himself as an authority, albeit implicitly and ironically, in a strange conjunction with the standard Erasmian counsel: “Veritas simplex oratio.  Trouthes tale is simple, he that meaneth good fayth, goeth not aboute to glose hys communicatio[n] wyth painted wordes” (AD fol. xiiijv). Though a reader’s awareness of the narrator’s studied inconsistency in the entirety of the Ars aids in its analysis, a peruser of the Flores unfamiliar with Ovid’s poem as a whole might wonder why the compiler included these self-conscious passages. It might be expected after reading the first four hundred lines of the poem that the narrator might defend himself in some way: “Non ego per pr[a]eceps: & acuta cacumina vadam / Nec iuuenu[m] quisquam. me duce captus erit” (AA 1.381-82). In short, he does not give faulty advice or proceed by erecting needless difficulties to strew in his path: “I wol not goo cu[m]mberly by en hedlyng passage & sharpe rought hilly clyfis. neryet any body of yong folke shal be bygylid whyle I am is gyde” (FL 10). He claims to be entirely reliable and credible. But why would a speaker so endowed feel the need to say so? His actions and words would have already established his reliability and credibility. And what bit of wisdom, besides an implicit message to tell truth and shame the devil, could the Flores editor meant to have transmitted by choosing the lines for translation? The self-sabotaging tendency becomes stronger in the third book of the poem, and more pronounced in the bilingual text: “Ducere consuescat multas manus vna figuras. / Ah pereant per quos ista monenda mihi” (AA 3.493-94). Namely, though a person might need to imitate different types of handwriting to protect him or herself, it is unfortunate that someone would need such advice, and from someone such as himself. “Let oon man hand vse to draw mony maner figur[e]; ah I prey god: they come to euyl prese: by whome these wordis shuld be exortid & seyd of me” (FL 77). Though Ovid’s original point is aimed at women attempting to protect their reputations against the perfidity of their blackmailing handmaids, treacherous trulls all, the transference here makes no difference, its subtlety senseless in the context of the schoolbook, and again openly undermines the speaker as an authority.

Ars amatoria ms. from the Bodleian Library, Oxford, with Latin and Old Welsh glosses

This becomes even more pronounced toward the end of the Ars and the Flores: “Quo feror insanus? quid ap[er]to pectore in hoste[m]. / Mittor, & indicio prodor ab ipse meo” (AA 3.667-68); “whyther am I brought madde man that I am. why am I fynde be myn own madnes ayenst myn emny with my brest opyn vnharnest: & am be trade myselfe through myn own shewynge: p[re]sentynge myself folyshly” (FL 83). The master speaks ironically to the women he has been addressing in the third book of the Ars that someone like him usually does not reveal his technique, though he presents himself rather than them as prey.  And if the students using the Flores were keeping track of its many assertions, why would these disavowals of reliability not destabilize Ovid’s authority, however fragmented? Instead, perhaps, they somehow undermined the idea that deceit was as inevitable or as necessary as Enterline supposes, that it was acceptable “to be trade myselfe through myn own shewing,” and “folyshly,” at that.

The daring and editorial artistry of the Flores editor can hardly be disputed, no matter what his purpose: language training, social subversion, gentlemanly advice, or preparation for a cruel and predatory world. Amidst such morally ambiguous Ovidian material, some of it surprisingly undiluted, he might have been tempted to include an aphorism from the accompanying poem to the Ars, the Remedia Amoris.  Sometimes described as its fourth book, this comic prescription of cures for love was a medieval medical text. Erasmus alludes to it in the Adages: “Satius est initijs mederi, q[ui] fini.  Better it is to remedy the begynnynges then the endes. Stoppe a disease (sayeth the poete Ouide) whyle it is in the commynge” (fol. ixv).

Wynkyn’s colophon for the Flores

Arguably, this is what the Flores was meant to do: “Principiis obsta; sero medicina paratur, / cum mala per longas convaluere moras” (RA 91-92) [Resist beginnings; too late is the medicine prepared, when the disease has gained strength by long delay]. Here the praeceptor means to contradict his earlier advice in the Ars by recommending that the lover would be better off by avoiding love altogether. Erasmus sensibly implies that a young man can avoid disagreeable results by knowing their causes, and understanding how he might avoid contributing to them. Above all, one should not hurry. Festina lente, as Aldus’s emblem of the dolphin and anchor symbolized.  The Flores editor knew this well, which he showed in what was probably the most pungent bit of Ovid’s love treatise he included: “Crede michi: Veneris non est [pro]peranda voluptas / Sed sensim tarda perficienda mora” (AA 2.717-18). In the translation, he added a pilcrow for extra emphasis:  “¶ Beleue me verily: the bodily plesure of the wanton fleshe is not to be made hast fore. but it shulde be performyde with a slowe let tariynge by litil & litil: what nature felith his tyme in a maner constrayng thereto” (FL 59). Why should this have been included? Again, Erasmus provides the best answer imaginable, one that should guide anyone teaching the young, no matter what the subject: “Candidæ musarum ianuæ.  The doores of the muses be without enuye, that is to saye, learned persons ought frely, gentylly and wythout enuye admytte other vnto them that desyre to be taught or informed of them” (AD fol. xijv).

[1] See the edited collection Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. Stephen Knight (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and Sean Field, “Devotion, Discontent, and the Henrican Reformation: The Evidence of the Robin Hood Stories,” Journal of British Studies 41 (2002): 6-22. For the quotation, see Here bygynneth a lytell geste of Robyn hode (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1506?), Ciiv.

[2] See William Steven, The History of the High School of Edinburgh (Edinburgh: Maclachan and Stewart, 1849), 22-27; 47-50; and Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Twentieth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 48-49.

[3] Lynn Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 7-8.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

George Marshall Directed This Film Noir

This film noir, based on an original screenplay by Raymond Chandler, contains all the standard conventions of the genre: the not-entirely-on-the-level hero in over his head, the femme fatale, the (true) love interest, the strangely sympathetic and idiosyncratic villains, the friends or associates, the aura of whodunit, a twisty plot, lots of rain, and the secret darkness of postwar Los Angeles, with its housing shortages, guys who will punch you in the kidneys, and the lurking presence of illicit sexuality, without that Good Housekeeping seal of approval. This Spanish movie poster communicates almost all of this, if you really look at it. There is certainly no shortage of similar films in this year: The Big SleepGildaCrack-UpThe KillersThe Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Even Hitchcock’s Notorious and Welles’s The Stranger partake of noir. The film was shot in under two months in 1945, just as the Allies were victorious in Europe, and produced by the great actor and theatrical entrepreneur John Houseman.

The Plot

John Morrison, the hero (Alan Ladd), returns from the war a decorated Navy commander only to discover that his lady wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), has been unfaithful to him with at least one man, the oddly engaging Eddie Harwood (Howard da Silva), and maybe more. For those who enjoyed The Best Years of Our Lives, also produced in 1946, you might remember that a similar hero, Dana Andrews, comes home to an almost identical L.A. bungalow also to find his adulterous wife throwing all kinds of parties for men she has been sleeping with while he has been off fighting the Japanese. In Dahlia, part of the sadness at the root of the hero’s psyche, besides the horrors of war and the sense of displacement at his return Stateside, is that he and his wife lost their only child, a little boy who allegedly died of diphtheria while he was in the service, perhaps an attempt at explaining Helen’s promiscuity and hostility. As is common to the genre, she ends up dead under mysterious circumstances, and John is blamed. In his attempts to avoid capture, he meets a golden girl (Veronica Lake), who just happens to be Joyce Harwood, the estranged wife of Eddie. That’s when things get very interesting indeed. The film also features William Bendix (Buzz) and Hugh Beaumont (George), whom most aficianados of 1950’s Hollywood culture will remember as Mr. Cleaver in what is generally acknowledged to be, by all sensible people, the finest sitcom in the history of Western Christendom. In a very nice touch, the villainous Leo, bedeviled by poor eyesight and gout, and who keeps soaking his feet and wiping his glasses even as he is kidnapping John and hitting him with a blackjack, is on the receiving end of one of the more remarkable assaults in the movies, truly contrapasso. The actor who played him, Don Costello, died a few months after the film wrapped production. The Blue Dahlia was also, unfortunately, the last reputable film in which Veronica Lake appeared.

Great Quotation

Noir is famous, even notorious, for snappy, sometimes insolent dialogue. Think of Bogart’s comment to Bacall in The Big Sleep, when he explains to her that her little sister has been “trying to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” In The Blue Dahlia, John’s retort to Joyce’s “You’ve never seen me before” is “Every guy’s seen you before. The trick is to find you.” Great romantic compliment or supremely rude? The not-quite-a-couple seems to end up together.

La retour de Martin Guerre (1982)

La retour de Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne, 1982)

Quite a Tale

In sixteenth-century France, in the village of Artigat in the region of Languedoc during the reign of François I, a boy who does not acclimate well to his peers, his community, his work, or the idea of marriage deserts his young bride and both of their families after his father accuses him of theft, only to return many years later to claim what he thinks is rightfully his. Then, of course, problems ensue. Who is this person? Is he really who he says he is? Some say he strongly resembles one Arnaud du Tilh. His deserted wife is only too happy to have him back, and although his parents have both died and cannot verify his identity, others can, including his uncle, who for a time seems to accept and forgive him for what he has done. The story is both legendary (different versions and divergent details depending on the teller) as well as based on actual events (court transcript, official legal records). The academic account by Natalie Zemon Davis is a classic of its kind and is eminently useful for any student of the early modern period. How did a community define itself or react to a stranger? What was a family? What did privacy mean? If someone identified herself as a certain person, did it necessarily follow that others would accept the conception of the self that she had constructed? Would a woman who knew perfectly well that the man in her bed was not her husband be complicit in the ruse? If so, why?

Camera’s Eye

The film by Daniel Vigne is probably the most realistic and believable evocation of an early modern European village that one could possibly make. Its piety and paganism intersect at numerous points: the attempted cure for Martin’s inexplicable and catastrophic wedding-night impotence by the wise-woman and the priest; his trial; and, less noticeably, the musical score by Michel Portal, deliberately primitive, especially in the use of percussion. Vigne collaborates beautifully with the actors so that the aesthetic and tone of the story are never violated. He positions us as observers, as if each viewer were a villager who is not necessarily privy to any more information than the characters are, although the camera’s eye turns away at appropriate points (e.g., marital reunion of the long-separated couple). Although the audience is naturally supposed to sympathize with the protagonist, played by Gérard Depardieu (I have always thought of him as the French Gene Hackman), Vigne is fairminded enough to give equal weight to the viewpoint of the uncle and his family, who certainly do not want to turn over their property or assets to a hustler. The director also displays a curious sympathy for the interrogators who come to Aritgat to get to the bottom of the controversy, especially Jean de Coras, whose Arrest Memorable (1561) was the first real account of the case, and, after converting to Protestantism the next year, was later murdered in prison during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre(1572). However, the center of the film seems to be Bertrande de Rols, Martin’s wife, played subtly and guilelessly by Nathalie Baye.

Watch a clip.

Here is a fine web page from the U.K. on the film.

This is the only film I know of

that began production at approximately the same time that an academic treatise on the subject was underway, by an American, no less. The book by Natalie Zemon Davis was published in the following year (1983) and was a well-written example of the cultural studies or historicist movement that began in the 1970’s and flourished in universities in the 1980’s. The author did not entirely approve of the changes that the director made, e.g., the real Martin was a Basque, but seems to have understood that the nature of the story itself allowed for such variations. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the story.



I Married a Witch (1942)


I Married a Witch (dir. René Clair): An Underrated Film

This excellent, underrated romantic comedy by the French master René Clair (1898-1981), one of his few English-language features, makes fine use of Veronica Lake (Jennifer), Frederick March (Wallace Wooley), Robert Benchley (Dr. Dudley White), Cecil Kellaway (Daniel), and Susan Hayward (Estelle Masterson). It was shot in six weeks (April-May 1942) on a small budget, which shows in some of the small gaffes in direction and cinematography that should have been re-takes: tops of heads tend to be cut off. But the film’s fineness minimizes these imperfections, and not just because of the cast. Its (uncredited) producer was the great Preston Sturges, who had just directed the masterpieces The Lady Eveand Sullivans Travels (1941), and who was in the middle of a third, The Palm Beach Story (1942). Much of the dialogue was written or repaired by Dalton Trumbo, the celebrated screenwriter who was later blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten by the McCarthyites. Disguised as a fantasy-trifle, Witch is a meditation on marriage, gender, and sexuality, especially critical of the way that men view and fear women, and try, as fathers and husbands, to control or stifle them. The keyword in the title describes what men secretly desire in a spouse or are afraid that they have contracted. As Daniel, Jennifer’s father says: “Every man who marries marries the wrong woman.” This plainly stated theme, in tandem with the wife-as-witch metaphor, epitomizes the masculinist view of woman as Other.


By legend, the film was the inspiration for the 1960’s tv series Bewitched. It is also part of the lore of the production, gleaned from anecdotes from the actors themselves in their biographies, that March and Lake battled continually during the six weeks of filming. Joel McCrea, who starred with her in Sullivans Travels, said that Clair’s film should be retitled I Married a Bitch in her honor. Perhaps the mental illness and alcoholism that would ruin Lake’s career and bedevil her until she died began at that point as she seemed to behave erratically. Perhaps she felt, like Jennifer the witch, controlled and stifled by the men in her life who undermined her professional self-confidence. They told her she was a terrible actress, only seemed to value her for her blonde hair and figure, and refused to accept her unless she conformed to their notions of feminine decorum. It is a tribute to her professionalism, however (and that of her male peers), that viewers would never guess how unhappy she was, or how angry the principals were with one another on the set. Her character’s desire for freedom, optimism, and demand to be loved on her own terms is consistently realized in her performance.


Thorne Smith’s novel The Passionate Witch, incomplete at his death in 1934, was finished by Norman Matson and published in 1941. Smith created the Topper character so beloved by moviegoers in the 1930’s. Most of his fiction concerned sex, the sexes, and the supernatural. (Six Degrees of Separation Alert: one of my professors in graduate school, the celebrated official biographer of Faulkner, wrote his doctoral dissertation on Smith’s fiction.) The screenwriters changed the plot radically, as well as many of the details in the novel, de-sexualizing Jennifer’s character, who spends a good deal of time clad in little besides Smith’s prose. Apparently, she is absolutely a natural brunette, unlike her Hollywood counterpart.

However, Clair’s sensibility, aesthetics, and sense of humor enabled him to work with the screenwriters and actors in order to infuse this conservative American film genre with several of the conventions of French cinematic sex comedy in spite of the puritanical strictures of the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. One example is the heroine herself, often a somewhat forward young woman, coquettish, who keeps showing up where she’s not invited and working her magic on the man she wants, causing disorder and taking complete control of her environment, to the scandal of the sensible elders who disapprove of her. Clair also uses double entendre and veils sexual references in the witty banter between the characters. Jennifer’s first appearance, as the audience can infer, is au naturel, although she is wearing Wooley’s coat as he rescues her from the hotel that her father has set afire, and the hero carries her in the posture of a groom cradling his bride in his arms as they enter the bridal chamber. Later, she shows up in his bed wearing (absolutely nothing under) his pajamas on the last night of his bachelorhood while his future wife and her father wait downstairs, scandalizing the longtime nanny.

The soundtrack, by Roy Webb, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1943. It features two memorable songs appropriate to the themes in Witch, “You Came Along (Out of Nowhere),” the standard written by Johnny Green and Edward Heymann (1931) and recorded by countless jazzmen such as Charlie Parker, and the Johnny Mercer favorite “I Remember You” (1942).

The film is literary in its use of motifs and symbols, although not intrusively or self-consciously so. The cycles of history, the sacredness of trees, the healing power of women, and the foregoing of revenge in favor of renewal, rebirth, and fertility are all commonplaces in mythology and poetical narrative. Its structure and movement are tripartite, and to mark these divisions Clair features a tree in three spots: the beginning, where the witches are burned and the ashes scattered beneath it and the souls of Jennifer and Daniel are imprisoned; a bit later, on the night of the rally for the Wooley governorship, when the lightning bolt hits the same oak so that the heroine and her father are released; and then at the end, when the taxicab that the father is improbably driving through the air crashes into the very tree to which the father says they should return after enjoying their revenge on their persecutors. Jennifer at times resembles a pagan or even Pelagian concept of Eve, in accordance with this unifying arboreal device..The film has many memorable lines, but one epitomizes the film itself, the heroine, and the actress playing her. It is ironically uttered by the father who wishes to repress her natural impulses to be independent of him, to choose her own mate and to multiply as she sees fit: “Be a bad girl, Jennifer!” One can only be glad indeed that this advice informed film, heroine, and actress in I Married a Witch.

This fine film is FINALLY on DVD and Blu-Ray, from the Criterion Collection. A cause for celebration!

Here is a film clip. Criterion did not include many extras on the disc, but the accompanying booklet is useful. Turner Classic Movies has a terrific short essay on Witch. Here is another I recommend.



Hôtel Terminus: Klaus Barbie et son temps (1988)

Marcel Ophüls

was the director of the masterwork Le Chagrin et la pitié (1969), also a four-hour documentary about France during the Second World War. In Chagrin, Ophüls interviews Resistance fighters, German officers, and the citizens of Clermont-Ferrand, and by seemingly innocent and neutral questioning, allows most of his subjects to expose themselves in their own words: that not everyone in the town stood up to their occupiers; that many more citizens collaborated with the Vichy government than they would admit, including Maurice Chevalier; and that some of the German officers in the film did not understand that they were war criminals. Ophüls was the son of the great director Max, whose films include the trilogy La Ronde (1950), Le Plaisir (1952), and Madame de . . . (1953).

Now on DVD!

This gripping film, even at over four hours in length, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature as well as the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes (1988). The narration by the beautiful and beloved actress Jeanne Moreau serves as counterpoint to the interviews with the many whom Ophüls gleefully helps to expose themselves as knaves, rogues, fools, and war criminals—by his trademark technique of asking apparently ingenuous questions and getting even more than the answers he seeks, sometimes even a broken camera or a punch in the mouth for his trouble. Hôtel Terminus is in some respects even better than its predecessor, Le Chagrin et la pitié (1969). It takes its title from the days when the Gestapo headquarters was located at the train station in Paris and known by this grim nickname.

Barbie (1913-1991), also known as the Butcher of Lyon, was truly a human cockroach. He attained the rank of Hauptsturmführer (i.e., army captain) in the S.S. and on his assignment to this city in the region of Rhône-Alpes between Paris and Marseilles, became head of the Gestapo there. His crimes were many, since at least 10, 000 people are estimated to have died under his stewardship. Two of his most notorious deeds were the capture of Jewish children at Izieu, their transportation to the Drancy internment camp, and then their deportation to Auschwitz for extermination; and, of course, the feat for which he was most celebrated by the S.S., his torture and murder of the Resistance fighter Jean Moulin.

The Film

Although the subject is one man rather than the members of a community, the scope and reach of Hôtel is in many respects even greater and broader than its predecessor Chagrin, since the later feature seems to indict an entire world that appears to have been complicit in aiding, abetting, and even hiding Barbie. Even though the Nazi-hunters the Klarsfelds had tracked him down and identified him in Bolivia as early as 1971, that government had no apparent interest in extraditing him. That country’s army uniforms, in fact, bore a strong resemblance to those designed by Hugo Boss for the S.S. And of course there were others who not-so-unwittingly collaborated with this war criminal, as the director helps us discover through his gentle but firm interrogation of his subjects: the U.S. intelligence officers who used him as a spy on the Communists; the many citizens of Lyon who appeased him to survive; and, most horribly, those who served proudly with Barbie and appeared not to be at all repentant when interviewed, such as Wolfgang Gustmann, the former Waffen-S.S. officer, sitting genially in front of his Christmas tree. Upon Barbie’s extradition, he was defended at trial for crimes against humanity by the leftist lawyer Jaques Vergès, who used the occasion to expose human rights violations by the French in Algeria. The prisoner was found guilty and died in prison, receiving the best of care, in 1991.


John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1647-80)

Life and Works

Born on April Fool’s Day, he lived to be thirty-three. One misfortune, besides being born into great privilege, was having the equivalent of a war hero for a father who was constitutionally incompatible with the woman he married, Rochester’s mother (Anne St. John). She remained religious for her entire life, surviving her only child by some years. Henry, Viscount Wilmot, was named First Earl of Rochester in 1652, as partial reward for helping the then-Prince Charles escape the New Model Army by hiding in the Boscobel Oak after the disastrous Battle of Worcester in 1651. Upon his father’s death, John assumed the earldom. He attended Wadham College, Oxford, for two years and was awarded the M.A. at the age of fourteen by his uncle, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. No one is certain when he took up poetry, developed his love of reading and study, and began his prodigious episodes of drinking and wenching, or why any of this happened, but some think it occurred during the early years of the Restoration, 1660-66. He was a companion of the king’s, and enjoyed his favor at court, which included many indulgences of bad or inappropriate behavior: drunkenness, debauchery, and the writing of scurrilous and satirical poetry. There are many, many different accounts of Rochester’s misadventures, so there is no need to rehearse them here. The anonymous painting of him now in the National Portrait Galleryepitomizes a certain construction of him: he offers the laurel to a monkey, who is tearing apart a book or journal that he has written. Both ape and man seem indifferent to the proceedings, though the true subject of the piece seems a bit heartbroken as he looks out at us, with an expression that asks, Why am I doing this?

Rochester was no clown, regardless of his self-destructive and unfortunate behavior. Like his father, he proudly served in the military (navy), and posed in his armor in the Lely portrait from the Victoria and Albert Museum. He saw combat in the Second Dutch War at the Battle of Vågen (Norway) on 1-2 August, 1665, during the height of the last great outbreak of plague back in London. The night before the real hostilities began, he made a pact with two of his friends: if one of them were killed, that gentleman would come back from the dead and tell the other two what the afterlife was like. The next day, one of these two friends was blown apart by a cannonball as he stood next to Rochester, who was obviously traumatized by the event, wearing a good part of his mate’s remains for the rest of the battle. During this time and afterward, and perhaps because he studied Hobbes, he became an advocate of atheism and libertinism, and not just for the license these pseudo-philosophies appear to allow us to enjoy ourselves. He was the subject of at least two plays: Aphra Behn’s The Rover and George Etheredge’s The Man of Mode, both of which are subtly critical of him and his ethos, which he probably appreciated, given his subversive sensibility.He was well known to the important playwrights and poets of the time, such as Wycherley, Etheredge, Dryden, Behn, Tate, Southerne, and Buckingham. He feuded with John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, and most famously with the king’s first real official mistress, Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, Lady Castlemaine, a formidable, frightening person whom no one would want to anger without understanding the possible consequences of doing so. He was passionate about the theater, attended frequently, allegedly wrote epilogues, prologues and scenes, and may have acted on occasion. Also, he seems to have loved his wife, the former Elizabeth Mallet, very much, having abducted her before marriage as a kind of prank in which she may have colluded. She, along with his mother, attended his deathbed. It is hard not to be charmed by the line, “Yielding to your fair Bum the Breeches,” in the lyric “To his more than Meritorious Wife,” apparently his recipe for marital harmony. However, his most enduring relationship was with the Restoration actress Elizabeth Barry, whom he may have tutored early in her career. (She played the first Mris. Marwood in Congreve’s The Way of the WorldPortraits of her depict a plain-looking woman, not the sort of trophy-mistress one would expect from someone of his reputation. Many of his letters to her survive.) His farce known as SodomOrthe Quintessence of Debauchery, whose studied attempts at offending one and all is not recommended reading, may nevertheless be admired for its pornographic ingenuity. Some of his lyrics are remarkably obscene, but almost always highly amusing and self-deprecating. He understood the poetic conventions of his own time and of the previous age, in many instances seeming to critique the courtly cavalier ethos as personified by Jonson, Herrick, and Waller, all of whom he admired fervently. Authors as diverse as Behn, Anne Wharton, Marvell, Voltaire, and Hazlitt praise him extravagantly. A most unlikely champion and protector was Alexander Pope, who corrected negative appraisals of Rochester in print, and who wrote a poem, “On His Lying in the Same Bed Which Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, Used at Atterbury, a Seat of the Duke of Argyle’s in Oxfordshire, 9 July 1739.”

The Rochester canon is by no means an agreed-upon body of work. For reasons that are still mysterious, he did not collect or try to edit his own poetry in his lifetime, the usual causes given for this not entirely credible: e.g., aristocrats did not care about publication; the obscenity of the verse; Rochester himself was too addled by Signor Gonorrhea or drunkenness to care one way or the other. The attempt to establish this canon, however, has been a fascinating scholarly project over the last half-century that challenges us to ask how and why we attribute works to various poets, and whether we know what we are talking about when we do so. The landmark study, which led to the first true scholarly edition of Rochester (1968), is David M. Vieth’s Attribution in Restoration PoetryA Study of Rochesters “Poems” of 1680 (1963). Poets such as he did not always think of their work as taking a final form, since there could be multiple editions of a given work passed around in manuscript, so-called scribal publication. Two great poems in 1680, “The Disappointment” and “On a Juniper-Tree,” are not Rochester’s at all, but masterworks by Aphra Behn, who claimed them for her own in her collection (1684). The discussion and controversies continue, as do the editions. Links to three early collections are below. Should you not wish to negotiate these, here is an easy link from the Luminarium site devoted to his work. One of my favorite poems is “A Song of a Young Lady to Her Ancient Lover.” Enjoy!

The Libertine (1994 / 2006)

Stephen Jeffreys’ play (1994) was originally performed at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, with John Malkovich in the title role. The film version, directed by Laurence Dunmore (2006), features Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton (Elizabeth Barry), Malkovich (ironically cast as Charles II), and Rosamund Pike (Elizabeth, Lady Rochester). That first scene is a doozy. The question that both the theatrical production and the screenplay cannot answer is: why? What drove Rochester to dissipate himself so completely so that he became a clownish, useless bore intent on swandiving into the abyss? Apparently, in the spirit of “Upon Nothing,” the answer is: nothing. The series of fragments collected into this story is supposed to speak for itself. And there are many fine scenes, some of which serve as the illustration of a method, especially the one in the stagecoach between Rochester and his wife that begins the film.

Gilbert Burnet, Some Passages (1680)

I have always thought that a marvellous film could be made out of the encounter memorialized in this biography of Rochester, with this celebrated churchman (1643-1715) at the Earl’s deathbed as the film opens, the entire middle of the film a flashback of his short but eventful life, and at the end a return to the sickroom, with a twist at the finish. No one knows, of course, how true any of Some Passages actually is, but it would have been in Burnet’s interest to portray himself as a benevolent father-confessor who would preside over the final conversion of such a terrible sinner. Born in Scotland, he earned his M.A. in philosophy by the age of thirteen and doctorate in divinity at eighteen, and eventually became proficient in Dutch, French, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He was even (briefly) holder of the chair in divinity at the University of Glasgow. Eventually, he came down to London and became a staunch advocate of Whiggery in all its forms. A true-blue Protestant, he engaged in pan-European intellectual controversies, such as the efficacy and morality of the Reformation, about which he published his most celebrated work, a three-volume history of that movement. Oxford was impressed enough with the first volume so that this institution also awarded him a doctorate in divinity, whereby he was generally known as Dr. Burnet, and this is when he was called to the bedside of Rochester. On the accession of James II in 1685, he went into exile and corresponded with William of Orange and Princess Mary, eventually taking up residence at The Hague. He opposed the king on the matter of the Test Act, which angered James enough to make him persona non grata, charge him with high treason, and request his extradition from Holland back to England. The Glorious Revolution, then, was a truly felicitous occasion for Burnet, as he accompanied William to England at that moment, and was given the high honor of preaching his coronation sermon in April, 1689. Soon after, at Eastertide, he was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury, and made chancellor of the Order of the Garter. During the reign of Queen Anne, he fell out of favor, but maintained his living and his wide circle of contacts, as well as the great respect of the wise men and women of England until his death in 1715. Behn’s Pindaric on him suggests that he was motivated more by self-interest than by sound morality, perhaps not an unjust assessment.

Works and such

Poems (1680)

Works (1714)

Artemiza to Chloe” (1680)

Link to Rochester page with criticism