Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 47) 9782503597034, 2503597033

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Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 47)
 9782503597034, 2503597033

Table of contents :
Front Matter
Arnaud Zimmern. One-World Ambitions: Reading Donne’s Globalism Otherwise Post-9/11
Paul Hartle. The Convergence of the Twain: Early Modern Encounters Between Japan and Britain
Kyle DiRoberto. Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute in Puritan and Anti-Puritan Satire: Or the Rhetoric of Plainness and the Reformation of the Popular in the Harvey–Nashe Quarrel
Angela Loewenhagen Schrader. The Darkside of Celtic Mythology: The Evil Eye, Evil Creatures, and the Frightening Side of the Otherworld
Elizabeth Labiner. Women Wearing the Pants: Cross-dressing and Performativity in Early Modern Drama
Albrecht Classen. Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain in Medieval Literature: The Evidence of Der Stricker’s Daniel von Dem BlühenDen Tal
Meg Lota Brown and Kari Boyd McBride. Designing Disgrace: Early Modern Female Artists Creating in the Margins
James W. Fuerst. “Die a King”: Gonzalo Pizarro’s Rebellion in the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries
Lindsay Weiler-Leon. Veiled Truths: Early Modern European Travel Accounts of Ottoman and Safavid Women
Sharonah Esther Fredrick. Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity: The Xtabay Legend and its Resonances
Back Matter

Citation preview

Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Volume 47

Founding Editor Robert E. Bjork

Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Edited by

Meg Lota Brown

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

© 2021, Brepols Publishers n.v., Turnhout, Belgium All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. D/2021/0095/275 ISBN: 978-2-503-59703-4 e- ISBN: 978-2-503-59704-1 DOI: 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.126373 ISSN: 2034-5585 e-ISSN: 2294-8546 Printed on acid-free paper

For Mallory and Aaron Heather and Nancy Eric and Barb all of whom are at the epicenter

Table of Contents Acknowledgements




One-World Ambitions: Reading Donne’s Globalism Otherwise Post-9/11






The Convergence of the Twain: Early Modern Encounters between Japan and Britain


Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute in Puritan and Anti-Puritan Satire: Or the Rhetoric of Plainness and the Reformation of the Popular in the Harvey-Nashe Quarrel


The Darkside of Celtic Mythology: The Evil Eye, Evil Creatures, and the Frightening Side of the Otherworld


Women Wearing the Pants: Cross-dressing and Performativity in Early Modern Drama


Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain in Medieval Literature: The Evidence of Der Stricker’s Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal


Designing Disgrace: Early Modern Female Artists Creating in the Margins


“Die a King”: Gonzalo Pizarro’s Rebellion in the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries















viii 9.


Veiled Truths: Early Modern European Travel Accounts of Ottoman and Safavid Women



10. Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity: The Xtabay Legend and Its Resonances





Acknowledgments The origins of this volume are in the Annual ACMRS Conference of 2016, which convened scholars from several continents to discuss Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and Renaissance. Thanks are due to Robert E. Bjork, who was the Director of ACMRS at the time of the conference, and to Ayanna Thompson, who has skillfully taken over the Directorship since Bob’s retirement. I am grateful, too, to the staff of ACMRS—especially Roy Rukkila, Managing Editor—for their expertise in organizing the annual conference and assisting with the publication of this collection. For his generous professionalism and assistance with technology, I am indebted to David Bradshaw. For their insights, support, and invaluable production skills, I thank Dr. Elizabeth Labiner and Dr. Kyle DiRoberto. Many anonymous readers strengthened the quality of this collection; without them, the volume would not have been possible. And special thanks go to the authors themselves for their patience and expertise. They have extended the reach of scholarly conversation and augmented readers’ understanding of pre-modernity. Dr. Andrew Carnie, Dean of the University of Arizona Graduate College, has provided both perspective and resources that have contributed significantly to the completion of this work. Dr. Jenny Hoit, Dr. Amanda Shufflebarger, Dr. Travis Sawyer, and all the University Fellows have been inspiring models of engagement and high-octane achievement. While this book is about margins, at the epicenter of all that is important to me are Mallory and Aaron, Heather and Nancy, Eric and Barb.

Introduction The motives and methods of marginalization are at the forefront of critical attention to both contemporary politics and pre-modern constructions of power. While technology and global economic policies have augmented the methods of oppression, the motives have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries. The chapters in this volume interrogate those motives. The authors deepen our understanding not only of our antecedents and our present moment but also of the urgency of being “ethically awake to the needs, sufferings, sorrows, and dignity of others around the globe” (Zimmern, 2). Whether indigenous laborers of the New World or twenty-first-century refugee children who die in border detention camps, the marginalized are subject to what Giorgio Agamben terms “a state of exception,” removed from the protection of the law. 1 Efforts to fence off, dehumanize, and disenfranchise those who are relegated to cultural margins or borders are rationalized as self-preservation or religious imperatives. The essays in this collection demonstrate that such practices disavow a shared humanity. 2 As now, dislocation and precarity in the global Middle Ages and Renaissance were intensified by numerous conditions: war, religious dogmatism, human-rights violations, environmental injustice, famine, bigotry, global economic paradigm shifts, financial crises, etc. These adversities transect national, geographical, temporal, and social boundaries. They inform the histories and cultural production of populations throughout the globe. In the following chapters, we will see them shape the literature, economies, cartography, art, politics, and mythology of nations across five continents and over more than 700 years. While privation and violence are common conditions of the liminal, so are resistance and the generation of new forms of knowing. In her groundbreaking 1

“What the ark of power contains at its center is the state of exception — but this is essentially an empty space, in which a human action with no relation to law stands before a norm with no relation to life”; see Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 86. 2 As Paul Krugman asserted in the New York Times, the United States is in thrall not to an immigration crisis but to a hatred crisis; see “Return of the Blood Libel,” June 21, 2018. Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. xi–xv.



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Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa theorizes borders of all kinds. She notes that “the prohibited and forbidden are [the border’s] inhabitants.” Aliens, the hybrid, projections of monstrosity, the dispossessed whose potential for resistance leads to greater persecution: these are the denizens of the margins. “The only legitimate inhabitants are those in power.” 3 Like the “double consciousness” that W.E.B. Du Bois elucidates, “mestiza consciousness” is both a violently imposed alienation and an internalized division. But Anzaldúa adds that it can also produce greater understanding. From a position of alterity, she maintains, one can develop the agility to navigate ambiguity 4 and the recognition that social categories are contingent, constructed. This greater understanding can strengthen resistance to intersecting forms of violence. Several of the following chapters study not only resistance from the margins but also its recuperation by the dominant culture (Labiner, Fuerst, Brown and McBride). Kyle DiRoberto examines how popular writers in early modern England valorized the prostitute and the lower class in order to posit a subversive ethic that exposed the violence of “masculine rationality,” the hypocrisy of religious oppression, and the predation of mercantile economies. Echoing Anzaldúa’s assertions about the generative power of hybridity, Sharonah Fredrick discusses the polyphonic elements of myth — the mingling of cultures, histories, ideals, and anxieties that characterizes folkloric narratives. Fredrick writes that the constant clashing of those elements “is actually the source of the legend’s richness. Western stories are also the result of cultural fusion, and fusion creates and engenders new forms” (Fredrick, p. 220). The chapters in this collection trace cultural fusions and the operation of marginalization throughout pre-modern Europe, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and what are now Mexico, Iran, Peru, Syria, and Costa Rica. The authors offer a rich variety of perspectives on precarity and privilege, resistance and hybridity. They unpack the intersections of power, tradition, and difference. And they examine the relationship of marginality to both violence and creativity not only in the global Middle Ages and Renaissance but also in our contemporary moment. Arnaud Zimmern’s “One-World Ambitions: Reading Donne’s Globalism Otherwise Post-9/11” probes the ironies of twenty-first-century human-rights discourse and the embeddedness of Donne’s construction of humanity in the collectivity of the church and its liturgical apparatus. Examining Donne’s notion of mankind, Zimmern critiques modern deployments of the Devotions on behalf of dehumanizing terrorists. He interrogates different paradigms of “man” that inform contemporary invocations of Donne’s well-known passage that begins, “No man is an island entire of itself.” In doing so, Zimmern challenges and reformulates the two key terms in the title of this volume: “marginal” and “global.” 3 Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2007), 25. 4 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 86.



Paul Hartle’s “The Convergence of the Twain: Early Modern Encounters Between Japan and Britain” examines cultural interconnections and the evolution of contact between Japan and Britain. Despite social estrangement from Japanese habits, early modern English traders developed a fascination with, and an evolving understanding of, indigenous Japanese practices. As Richard Cocks marveled, “Many of their customs are so distant, foreign, and far removed from our own that it is difficult to believe that one can find such stark contrasts in customs among people who are so civilized, have such lively genius, and are as naturally intelligent as these.” 5 Mining copious records associated with the East India Company (ships’ logs, correspondence, account books, commercial transactions, and diaries), Hartle controverts the prevailing view that there was only a superficial engagement of the two cultures. Kyle DiRoberto studies the deployment of marginal figures, such as the prostitute and the rural plowman, in the aesthetic and ideological quarrel between English Puritans and popular artists. With the pastoral as their arena, Puritans attempted to reform popular culture, while their antagonists championed carnivalesque excess and “feminine disorder.” DiRoberto elucidates the welter of attacks, counterattacks, appropriations, lampoons, and mimicry that characterize debates between Gabriel Harvey, Edmund Spenser, and Richard Harvey on the one hand and Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, and John Lyly on the other. She demonstrates that not only is artistic expression at stake in the debates; economic practices, political control, ethical precepts, and the multaneity of meaning itself inform competing representations of the prostitute and the rural plowman. Angela Loewenhagen Schrader’s chapter, “The Darkside of Celtic Mythology: The Evil Eye, Evil Creatures, and the Frightening Side of the Otherworld,” begins with a useful review of the superstitions and mythological figures of the Celtic tradition. The author discusses the embeddedness of pagan sources in religious beliefs of medieval Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. She traces Christian appropriation of their affective power and delineates the Church’s strategies of assimilating folkloric traditions. Whether pagan or Christian, however, the archetypal figures sustain a complex and often resistant relationship to binary constructions of good and evil. Elizabeth Labiner discusses several early modern texts that demonstrate how acting from the margins can be more effective than confronting systems head on. She grounds her close reading of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Middleton and Dekker’s Roaring Girl in early modern controversies about cross-dressing. Central to those controversies is an epistemological anxiety about the “truth” and stability of identity. Playwrights who staged gender as performative or contingent upon costuming called into question the essential nature of identity, along with its cultural accoutrements of authority and privilege. The representation of women 5

Eds. Richard K. Danford, Robin D. Gill, and Daniel T. Reff, The First European Description of Japan, 1585 (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 31.


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wearing men’s clothing is “dangerous because it can become the truth.” Labiner examines how early modern authors both undermined and re-instantiated conventional scaffoldings of power. Albrecht Classen argues for the significant influence on medieval literary narratives of the lore associated with the Order of the Assassins, “a militarized Shiite sect in Persia.” At the heart of this lore is the Old Man of the Mountain, the leader of the Assassins. Classen focuses on the presence of this myth in Der Stricker’s Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal (ca. 1220). He then traces its ideological power for Marco Polo, Boccaccio, and, more recently, modern computer and video games, popular fiction, and other media. Drawing from a rich range of texts, periods, and cultures, the chapter makes manifest the global dimension of the medieval world. Meg Lota Brown and Kari Boyd McBride discuss the history and contributions of early modern women artists, despite cultural hostility and the impediments of gender construction. The chapter locates female sculptors, painters, writers, musicians, and engravers in socially inflected hierarchies of media, artistic genres, and subject matter. Brown and McBride examine the criminalizing of female expression and the alternative perspectives that early modern women brought to artistic production. Most female practitioners gained access to their professions only as the daughters or wives of male artists. But their marginalization did not systematically prevent women from creating extraordinary and influential work, a broad range of which is catalogued in the chapter. James Fuerst examines the complex web of power struggles in early modern Peru. He argues that the early modern mestizo historian el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega is “the first American thinker to see armed insurrection in the service of independence as an alternative to colonial rule” (p. 186). Focusing on Inca Garcilaso’s Second Part of the Royal Commentaries (pub. 1617), Fuerst unpacks the political, economic, cultural, and even folkloric embeddedness of a potentially revolutionary ideology. His close readings of historical texts and contexts demonstrate the relationship of marginalized or colonized populations to power, subversion, and the generation of new subject positions. A governing assertion of the chapter is that Inca Garcilaso argued not only for armed resistance in order to restore indigenous sovereignty but also for the creation of “a new mestizo polity through the political alliance and intermarriage of encomenderos and Incas” (p. 175). Lindsay Weiler-Leon provides an account of the complex roles of Ottoman and Safavid women as well as of their misrepresentation in early modern European narratives. The author gives particular attention to the motives and audience in European constructions of “Eastern” culture and gender roles. Primary evidence includes the travel narrative of two English brothers, Robert and Anthony Sherley, whose Relations of Travels into Persia was published in 1613. Examining nuances of sexuality, power, and “contact zones,” the chapter draws from a rich range of texts. It highlights global intersections of early modern cultures and posits a revisionist view of the lived experiences and material conditions of Ottoman and Safavid women.



Sharonah Fredrick examines the rich history and contradictory status of the Xtabay, a Mayan manifestation of the archetypal femme fatale. Feared and demonized for her seductive power, the Xtabay is also revered for her protection of the marginalized: the poor, orphaned, sick, and abandoned. Fredrick traces the nuances and complexities of similar figures in a variety of cultures, noting that the myth continues to “haunt and plague us in contemporary music, movies, and prose” (p. 203). An examination of the historical and literary production of narratives related to the Xtabay legend, the chapter focuses on constructions of sexuality, power, and gender conventions in oral and written accounts from numerous countries, including Greece, Spain, Peru, Costa Rica, Britain, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The myth of the Xtabay “intrigues and compels not because she is an artifact of a romanticized lost culture, but because she is the continuing manifestation of a living imagination” (p. 220).

One-World Ambitions: Reading Donne’s Globalism Otherwise Post-9/11 Arnaud Zimmern

In June 1965, a few years after his pilgrimage to India, Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the young graduates of Oberlin College, urging them to achieve, as he had, “a world perspective.” Channeling both Christ’s warning to the slumbering apostles at Gethsemane and the rhetoric of the Gandhi National Memorial Fund (Gandhi Smarak Nidhi) that had sponsored his earlier travels, King entreated the students to “stay awake” in the midst of an ongoing revolution that was about to make this world “geographically one.” 1 Jet planes and Sputnik had transformed the world into a neighborhood, he reminded them, but “now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood.” The words of exhortation that followed are among MLKs most famous: All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be — this is the interrelated structure of reality.

What King called the inescapable network of mutuality reminded him of John Donne’s seventeenth Meditation in the Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and the famed passage that begins “No man is an Island entire of itself.” After reciting 1 My thanks to Rev. Dr. Melanie Marshall for pointing out that it is ultimately unclear whether Christ’s injunction to the apostles in the various renditions of the Gospels enjoins them to stay compassionately alert to his suffering or, more eschatologically, to stay alert for his messianic return.

Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 1–27.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126376


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those well-known lines, soberly punctuating the final monosyllables — “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” — King elevated it all into an article of revolutionary piety, an antidote against the soporific status quo. “By believing this,” he proclaimed confidently, “by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.” 2 Unlike Hemingway, whose protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls leaves to fight, kill, and die in the Spanish civil wars, King had the subtlety to read Donne’s “No man is an island” not as a call to action, let alone violence, but as a call to awareness; as the means by which one remains ethically awake to the needs, sufferings, sorrows, and dignity of others around the globe. In other words, what Hemingway popularized as a summons, King internalized and (paradoxically) internationalized as a maxim, thereby opening a new chapter in the reception of Donne, one we might entitle “Donne as global ethicist.” Of course, it is always easiest to speak of things like “global ethics” and “universal brotherhood” using the broadest gestures — which is why we should linger on the ambiguity in King’s phrase “For some strange reason.” The phrase obfuscates important differences between several paradigms of “mankind” within which King and his audience were operating. They include but are not limited to: a humanity that transcends geography by the networks of global techno-capitalism and its jet planes; one that is spooked into a fragile fraternity by the threat of Sputnik, nuclear annihilation, and the collective anxiety of the Cold War; one that is bound under a juridical universalism defined in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights; one that is irrigated by a Christian (or, in Gandhi’s case, Hindu) conception of natural law; and one that is cocooned under some divine providential order that has plans for what you and I “ought to be.” It is not clear which of these, or which combination of these, conceptions of the human collective King meant his audience to imagine; indeed, the ambiguity seems to have posed him and them little problem. But King’s “fudging” of distinctions — to borrow a term Peter Lake fondly applies to John Donne — reveals the extent to which we assume Donne, too, is fudging when he invokes “mankind.” That assumption, in my opinion, stands to be challenged. A varied and growing scholarly interest in Donne’s cartographical imagination, his participation in the Virginia Company, and his fascination with New World natives has yet to produce a study of the conditions and assumptions that undergird Donne’s globalism, especially his synecdochic and solidary conception of “mankind,”

2 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Oberlin College Commencement Address, Oberlin, OH, June 1965. Comparison with later speeches attests that King shuffled between an instrumental injunction (“By believing this”) and a more urgent imperative (“We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution”), c.f. “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Washington DC?, March 31, 1968? Quotations taken from Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers (Series I–IV), Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., Atlanta, GA, T-60.

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where the whole suffers whenever the part suffers. 3 What, according to Donne, are the ties that bind humanity together? What technologies facilitate and condition human interconnectedness? Why might a seventeenth-century English cleric feel compelled to concern himself not just for neighbors and strangers but also for the very people he is destined never to meet, those for whom no bells toll, no media laments, no funerals are given? My response in this chapter will be to show that the “mankind” Donne conceives of and addresses in the Devotions is more liturgically specific and ecclesiastically defined than King’s globalist interpretation suggests. For students of Donne, the idea is so unsurprising as to risk seeming banal. After all, Donne’s Meditation arrives at the synecdochic nature of mankind by first considering the synecdochic nature of the church: The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. 4

Yet it is precisely this synecdochic and membered aspect of the liturgy that has been most overlooked in the wild and various afterlife of Donne’s “No man is an island.” Take two instances from scholarship, the first from 1947 and the second from 2015. For Donald Ramsay Roberts, Donne’s “conviction” that no man is an island amounts to the semi-vocational and semi-careerist belief “that every man must find and fulfill his vital function in the world of men, a conviction which had much to do with [Donne’s] decision to enter the Church, and even more to do with his subsequent success as the most admired preacher in England.” 5 The clever conflation Roberts makes between being a part of mankind and playing a part in mankind, fulfilling a “vital function,” leans his reading of Donne in the direction of Hemingway’s call to action. Yet, as we have already seen, Donne’s “I am involved in Mankind” awakens us to an ethical awareness about our being human rather than obliging us to any particular ethical deed. His seventeenth Meditation, rather


The literature here is expansive and difficult to summarize. One might begin with Paul Harland’s essay “Donne and Virginia: The Ideology of Conquest,” John Donne Journal 18 (1999): 127–52; or with Tom Cain’s essay “John Donne and the Ideology of Colonization,” English Literary Renaissance 31, no. 3 (2001): 440–76. 4 John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, “Meditation XVII,” in The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, ed. Charles M. Coffin (New York: The Modern Library, 2001), 445. Subsequent citations of “Meditation XVII” are taken without exception from the Coffin edition. 5 Donald Ramsay Roberts, “John Donne’s Death Wish,” PMLA 62, no. 4 (1947): 958.


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like Emmanuel Levinas’s notion of the human face, 6 reminds us that we are awash in ethical bonds well before we are aware of our potential to act. Roberts’s take on Donne’s interdependent humanity, in sum, minimizes this participative ontology to focus instead on the labor each individual can and should do, as Donne says, to “contribute something to the sustentation of the whole.” Humanity, in sum, risks having more to do with what one does to or for others than with how the company of all others itself constitutes the one. More recently, Mingjun Lu has published on what she calls Donne’s “theological cosmopolitanism” — a desire to find common ground with cultural Others and engage human diversity by reconceptualizing biblical discourse within a global framework that engages others on their own terms. Lu’s evidence for Donne’s cosmopolitanism is plentiful. He speaks, for instance, of “heathens” such as “the Easterne Chineses, or Westerne Americans” as “mere naturall man,” 7 or persons in need of catechesis but no less part of the mono-parental line of Eve and Adam. Moreover, in his infamous Virginia Company Sermon (1622), preached shortly after the Powhatan massacre that took 300 or 400 English colonists by surprise, Donne counters the hawkish, retaliative sentiments of his fellow stakeholders in the Company with a stark reminder: all are our Neigbours . . . [a] man is thy Neighbor, by his Humanity, not by his Divinity; by his Nature, not by his Religion: a Virginian is thy Neighbor, as well as a Londoner; and all men are in every good mans Diocess, and Parish. 8

Donne’s irenicism here is undeniably liberal for its time and context. That should not lead us to reduce Donne’s vision of a global humanity to a biological principle, as Lu does when she concludes that “[b]y locating the universal neighborhood in common humanity, . . . Donne articulates a kind of cosmopolitanism grounded in the law of nature.” 9 Donne here takes back with one hand what he gives with the other: the neighborliness that he first presents as anchored in a shared human “Nature” or “Humanity” rather than in religious confession is, by the end of the sentence, revised into a global parishioner-ship: “all men are in every good mans Diocess, and Parish.” That is, the heuristic framework within which Donne makes sense of and illustrates our belonging to a human collective remains that of the church, 6 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2005). 7 Cited in Lu, “The Anyan Strait and the Far East: John Donne’s Global Vision and Theological Cosmopolitanism,” Criticism 57, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 445, citing John Donne, Sermons, ed. G.R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, 10 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953–62), 9:336 and 3:357. 8 John Donne, Sermons, 4:110. 9 Lu, “The Anyan Strait and the Far East,” 447.

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particularly its organizational structures (diocese) and its visible communities (parishes). What needs to be articulated, then, is not merely that Donne believes in a universal human nature irrespective of religious background (hardly a distinctive belief among early modern humanists) but how that common nature enjoins us to become, as he says elsewhere, “shepherds of one another.” Achsah Guibbory proposed an important way forward when she first noted that Donne’s “seventeenth Meditation is often thought to express Donne’s universalism, but the embrace of community comes within Donne’s extended defense of the controverted ceremonies of the Church of England.” 10 To better define and distinguish Donne’s universalism or globalism, this chapter sets its scene, first, with a brief account of Donne’s reception in global human-rights discourse, reporting on and analyzing the confusion Martin Luther King, Jr., inaugurated when he first interpreted Donne as a fellow-advocate of a secular universal brotherhood. It is meant to attest to the perils of fudging distinctions when invoking humanity or “mankind” and to prompt a reflection on the gap between what Donne was saying then and how he is being cited now. For, since King’s speech, the Donnean mantra has continued to be appropriated by human-rights discourse and in unforeseen ways has become, post-9/11, an expedient for the United Nations’ mandate to enforce global security. In the writings of the international legal order, Donne’s phrase has been periodically “defanged” of any narrow churchly partisanship so as to better proselytize a modern and secular cosmopolitanism. In this new form, Donne and his words have accompanied the UN in its uncanny transformation from a promoter of non-violence to a promoter of counter-terrorism, defending “humanity” against terrorists whose membership in humankind is frequently disavowed. In that process, the liturgical notion of humanity to which Donne was referring has been largely eclipsed (or, rather like a palimpsest, overwritten) by a politicized and secularized “humanity” with which it shares few affinities. The second part of the chapter turns back to the early seventeenth century. It reveals how Donne, as he set aside his Catholic roots and assumed a position in the Anglican clergy that led ultimately to the deanery of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, conceptualized “mankind” in light of his pastoral, sacerdotal, and liturgical duties. The church, or what he frequently called “the office of mutual society,” was on his mind as he contemplated not only the toll of bells but also the toll of victims in the seventeenth century’s bitter religious and colonial conflicts. He found in the church a model for thinking of humanity as a “corporation” whose boundaries are supple and un-delimited, capacious enough to embrace the good and the bad, the living and the dead, the elect and the damned, the beatified and the self-dehumanized, welcoming all people no matter their status, from the English Protestant monarch, to his Jesuit enemies from the Continent, to the Amerindians 10

Achsah Guibbory, Returning to John Donne (London: Routledge, 2015), 13.


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who had become not only the king’s subjects but also his neighbors. By reading Donne’s seventeenth Meditation as a reinvestment in world affairs via liturgy, I am consciously departing from Mary Papazian, who claims that the Devotions mark an inflection point in Donne’s career away from secular-political concerns and towards inward supernatural meditation. For Papazian, the Devotions “reveals [Donne’s] readiness to turn away from the active, earthly, political life as he longs not for physical recovery and further engagement in the world, but rather for the triumphant moment when his soul can join Christ in heaven,” a desire that is “never so powerfully expressed as in the seventeenth and eighteenth Meditations.” 11 My suggestion is to see Donne not as fleeing the world to better retire within the church (which in some ways presupposes a modern separation between the church and the world) but as collapsing the difference. He certainly never saw the sacerdotal vocation as a way to “withdraw oneself from the offices of mutual society.” 12 For Donne, a subtle reader of Greek etymologies, liturgy (“leit-ourgos”) was “public service.” Whether or not Donne’s liturgical conception of humanity can be restored helpfully in a secular or post-secular age; whether it can provide a useful key with which to resolve ongoing global religio-political conflicts; whether we can generalize from this case-study a historical trajectory from the pre-modern church to the post-modern globe and argue the religious origins of today’s cosmopolitanisms — these are all worthy questions but well beyond the scope of this chapter and its author. What remains urgent, however, is the need to retrieve such pre-modern conceptions of “humankind,” lest we lose the opportunity to historicize, make sense of, and monitor our own confused uses of such powerful and easily abused terms. We may discover, in so doing, that we can say more about the historical conditions that have made of global citizenship and ethical cosmopolitanism a new moral imperative. At the very least, rather than continue to assume that our common human nature or our common earthly home will prove sufficient incentives for global ethical behavior, we might do well to ask instead “What makes a diocese? What makes a parish?”

Part I — Donne’s Reception Post-9/11 The fever of Islamophobia was high five days after the attack on the Twin Towers. In response, Fred Halliday, then a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, penned a column for the London Observer warning its socialliberal readership away from any self-righteous turn against Islam and the East. He affirmed that since “all religions have texts that can be used to justify terror, we 11 Mary Papazian, “No Man [and Nothing] is an Iland ”: Contexts for Donne’s “Meditation XVII,” John Donne Journal 26 (2007): 385. 12 John Donne, The Works of John Donne: Dean of Saint Paul’s, 1621–1631, ed. Henry Alford, 6 vols. (London: John W. Parker, West Strand, 1839), vol. 3, Sermon LVIII, Psalm xxxii.7, 7.

One-World Ambitions


have to trust, instead, in international law.” 13 Reasonable in his tone and soothing in his serenity, the professor concluded, not unlike Reverend King, by buttressing his plea with Donne’s well-known proverb: “Perhaps most fitting in the light of the global repercussions of these events, and as an antidote to nonsense from East and West about cultural clash, are the words of John Donne: ‘No man is an island.” 14 For a time, it seemed he was right. An unexpected and violent rejoinder to Halliday would come two years later, in September 2003, in the throes of the Iraq War. Kofi Annan, then SecretaryGeneral of the UN, marked the organization’s annual International Day of Peace and the ringing of the Peace Bell with “those powerful words of the poet John Donne, written four centuries ago.” 15 “They are timeless words that have been quoted countless times since then,” he continued, acknowledging the dangers of a cliché, but “[t]oday, there are good reasons to utter them yet again.” Among those reasons was the previous month’s Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, in which Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and his jihadi extremists targeted and killed nearly twenty members of the UN’s Assistance Mission in Iraq. These included Kofi Annan’s Special Representative and heir apparent, Sergio Vieira de Mello. It was, to date, the most direct announcement that terrorists took issue not only with the American hegemony but also with the entire international legal order that Fred Halliday had earlier promised as an antidote to East–West culture clash. Halliday, it seems, had miscalculated the degree to which international law itself constitutes a Western religious text. He had misunderstood also how the one-world ambitions of the UN might clash with the one-world ambitions of Al-Zarqawi. In Kofi Annan’s case, as in most funeral contexts, Donne’s Devotions served to intimate and consecrate what Judith Butler rightly calls the precarity of life, for Annan knew all too well it could have been him rather than de Mello that the UN mourned that day. 16 In that respect, the tolling of the Peace Bell in the autumn of 2003 chimed especially harmoniously with the bell tolling in 1623. Cliché or not, a phrase like Donne’s could be revitalized and made to run along the pulse. “No cliché,” Dame Gillian Beer quips, “is a cliché all the time.” 17 Indeed, clichés can serve a surprising range of political functions:


Fred Halliday, “No Man Is an Island,” The Observer (London, 16 Sept. 2001), 46. Halliday, “No Man Is an Island,” 46. 15 Kofi Annan, “Secretary-General’s Remarks at the Ringing of the Peace Bell,” United Nations Secretary-General, September 19, 2003,–09–19/secretary-generals-remarks-ringing-peace-bell, accessed October 10, 2018. 16 Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (New York: Verso, 2006). 17 Gillian Beer, “The Making of a Cliché: ‘No Man Is an Island,’” European Journal of English Studies 1, no. 1 (April 1997): 33–47, here 34. 14


arnaud zimmern [C]liché is indeed a way of neutralising dreads and yearnings held within a community. It acts, that is, as a sealant, a kind of polish or patina, over things that won’t bear too analytical a scrutiny: floor-boards, and under them dust, electrical wiring, darkness, cellars. One crucial function is to dampen ardour while claiming community. But, equally and less often recognized, when those underground communal experiences cannot be contained, or when the words become the property of a different group, cliché retains the capacity to re-awaken as insight, perhaps as warning: No man is an island. 18

Neutralizing dreads, sustaining group identity, papering over the unpleasant unthinkables of society, and warning against the encroachment of other groups are surely not the first themes that come to mind when thinking of Donne, a poet of love and a preacher of charity. Then again, is it not precisely because Donne is known for such tender-heartedness that we find his words used again, three years after Annan’s statements, in mid-January of 2006, by the late Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, HRH Prince Saud Al-Faisal (d. 2015) as he stood addressing London’s Royal United Service Institute, the world’s oldest security and defense think-tank? Al-Faisal’s remarks concerned the international cooperation that would be required to understand and overhaul global terrorism. His thesis was unambiguous: neither the Middle East nor Islam maintains a monopoly on terrorism, for “terrorism has no specific religion, ethnic origin, nationality, or geographical relation.” 19 In fact, the Prince insisted, to associate terrorism singularly with any religious or cultural marker, for example Islam, is to focus naïvely on one of the hydra’s many heads rather than on the hydra itself. No terrorist is an island, he seemed ready to imply. But further at the heart of Al-Faisal’s remarks was the paradoxical idea that to adequately dismantle a deterritorialized enemy like global terrorism, one must act as a deterritorialized globe. His ambitious proposal for a more tightly knit alliance included “the establishment of an International Counterterrorism Centre under United Nations auspices for the exchange of information, in real-time, on terrorism and the means to combat it.” 20 After detailing the nature of the Counterterrorism Centre, especially the means by which it would consolidate national surveillance systems and their troves of data, Al Faisal concluded his speech on a more optimistic note. Under the specter of a new and unfamiliar kind of world war, he cautioned that “we should not allow fear to drive us into isolation, or close the door on the 18

Beer, “The Making of a Cliché,” 47. His Royal Highness Prince Saud Al-Faisal, “Prince Saud Al-Faisal Addresses Conference of ‘Transnational Terrorism,’” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, April 5, 2010,, accessed October 10, 2018. 20 Al-Faisal, n.p. 19

One-World Ambitions


human-to-human contact that is so essential for [. . .] interchange between cultures. As your great poet once said in his Meditations, and I need not name him to this audience.” 21 Like Martin Luther King in his address to the Oberlin graduates, Al-Faisal asked his audience to stay awake and achieve a new kind of world-perspective; he too ended by elevating Donne’s phrase to the level of poetico-political maxim. Unlike King, he was not talking about personal awakening and revolution but about macro-political engagement and global surveillance. Al-Faisal crescendoed: “[Donne’s] words of wisdom apply to nations as well as to individuals. For no nation is an island unto itself.” Aligning the poet’s cause with his own, the prince reinforced the notion that only those who contribute to counter-terrorism contribute to humanity. In so doing he reminded us chillingly that we may not know for whom the bell tolls, but we can be sure it never tolls for terrorists. One trend we might already begin to identify running through these implementations of Donne’s Meditation maps onto a rather critical account of humanrights discourse since the fall of the Twin Towers. Drawing on earlier critiques of humanitarianism and the League of Nations by Hannah Arendt and Carl Schmitt, respectively, scholars such as Giorgio Agamben, Adi Ophir, Richard Jackson, and Faisal Devji have all noted how forces of international humanitarianism have arrogated to themselves a narrow and troublesome conception of “humanity.” The UN, in particular, by self-identifying with all of humankind, not only transforms terrorist groups into de facto enemies of the unified globe; it also disregards the rhetoric of these terrorist groups who likewise claim to act on behalf of “humanity” and for whom a “one-world alliance” is likewise a lasting aspiration. For Islamist terrorists in particular, Devji points out, “the worldwide Muslim community or ummah has become a global cause on the same pattern as a humanity threatened by global warming or nuclear war. In fact, the Islamic community literally takes the place of humanity in modern times. It does so by claiming the status of global victim, the purity of whose suffering serves as an equivalent of its pure humanity.” 22 Ophir and Agamben, though they come to different conclusions, highlight how humanitarians and terrorists, by labeling one another as enemies and themselves as defenders of humankind, disavow the uncanny kinship they share. 23 Both parties, terrorist and humanitarian, constitute non-state actors intervening substantively in state affairs; both undermine local political and cultural sovereignty in order to enforce the primacy of what they claim to be transcendental supra-political priorities. Thus, whether it is through international law, as Fred Halliday would have 21

Al-Faisal n.p. Faisal Devji, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 176. 23 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), Part I; Adi Ophir, “The Sovereign, the Humanitarian and the Terrorist,” in Nongovernmental Politics, ed. Michel Feher (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Zone Books, 2007), 161–81. 22


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it, or shari’a law, as Al-Zarqawi would have it, we return to a common conception of the one-world order, one that begins in victimhood and vulnerability but turns quickly therefrom to a righteous crusade for universal justice. “Crusade” may seem the most provocative of all terms to use in this context — its Christian origins, certainly, make it inadequate — yet few words render more clearly the combined power of intra-religious turmoil, personal zeal, self-justification, bureaucratic state-thinking, and heavy weaponry. It certainly begins to be justified if we consider, following Richard Jackson, that more victims have died in the name of counter-terrorism since 9/11 than have died from acts of terror in the same time. 24 The retaliative (or is it merely reckless?) attitude with which much counter-terrorism has been undertaken leaves little doubt that the UN, in joining nation-states like America and Britain in the war on terror, has wandered astray from the non-violence and enlightened relativism with which King had earlier envisaged a “world home.” It leaves in doubt, moreover, whether we should continue to rely on such metaphors of a united humanity to begin with and, if so, for how long. The more cynical amongst us may be unsurprised to learn that the UN’s hoped-for Counterterrorism Centre (UNCCT) opened early in May 2017, two years after Al-Faisal’s death, a testimony to the effectiveness of his appeals to a certain kind of “humanity.” Judging, however, by the inauguratory words of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and President Donald Trump, as well as by the Centre’s opening conference on border control, it seems Al-Faisal’s enthusiasm for a world where no nation is an island has ushered in instead an ambition to see no nation without fences. With regard to security, it is worth noting that we are leagues away from Donne’s seventeenth Meditation, which ends on an overtly theological note pondering how, “by the consideration of another’s danger, I take my own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.” 25 It is precisely on this theological or spiritual note that I want to close this brief report on the afterlife of Donne’s “No man is an Island.” It is striking that, even in thoroughly confessional contexts, Donne’s phrase should serve as a rhetorical gesture for a secular embrace of non-violence and universal peace-keeping. For instance, in his general audience on 28 January 2009, Pope Benedict XVI aimed to honor the UN’s decree to mark an international day of remembrance for the Holocaust with these words: “May the Shoah be a warning for all against forgetfulness, denial or reductionism, because violence committed against one single human being is violence against all. No man is an island, as a famous poet wrote.” 26 24 Richard Jackson, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). See also Richard Jackson, “CTS, Counterterrorism and Non-Violence,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 10, no. 2 (May 4, 2017): 357–69. 25 Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 446. 26 His Holiness Benedict XVI, “General Audience of 28 January 2009,” Theological Vision of Pastoral Letters (N.p., Jan. 28, 2009),, accessed September 7, 2017.

One-World Ambitions


Benedict’s theological and pastoral focus on upholding a certain conception of human dignity is well documented; his sincere attention to Donne’s synecdochic, “one for all” understanding of humanity is refreshing in light of prior instances where it is largely neglected. Yet we should not lose track of the pope’s biographical and pontifical relationship to the Shoah. Briefly and involuntarily a member of the Hitler Jugend during his seminary years, the German bishop was expected to speak all the more stridently against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism during his pontificate. Hence the general disappointment at his decision to lift a predecessor’s decree of excommunication on Cardinal Richard Williamson — a member of the hyper-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X, which broke with the Catholic Church over the Second Vatican Council. In an interview on Swedish TV, Williamson added scandal to injury by denying that the Nazis had used gas chambers to exterminate Jewish victims. Explanations for the pope’s decision to rescind excommunication despite such obvious offenses tended to emphasize Benedict’s central mission: to maintain Church unity. Those explanations could be taken to mean one of two things: either the Church suffers from a fundamental incapacity to value the pain of the worldwide Jewish community above its own disunity; or the Church upholds a politics of mourning that considers all pains and all victimization to be “the Church’s pains” and “the Church’s victimization,” in part for the better manipulation of public outrage. Adam Gregerman, commenting on Benedict’s statements regarding the Shoah within the longer papal tradition, sides rather with the latter, pointing out astutely that Roman pontiffs generally have tended to view “Nazi hostility as a wide-ranging religious attack on God,” a hostility that went “far beyond the Jews . . . to include all of God’s worshipers.” 27 To cite one especially vivid instance, at Auschwitz in 2006, Benedict proclaimed that “By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, [the Nazis] ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith.” 28 Thus we might reread the 2009 pronouncement, with its allusion to Donne’s “no man,” in the same light, that is, as another instance within papal discourse of translating and appropriating the specific pains and tragedies of the Jews into a catholic (and therefore Catholic) expression of human vulnerability. On 19 June 2017, Pope Francis, echoing his predecessor with just as stern a voice but in a more ludic medium, first TED-talked and then tweeted to 30 million followers: “None of us is an island, autonomous and independent from others. We can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.” 29 The Argentine pope had been known to make similar endorsements for human (and 27 Adam Gregerman, “Interpreting the Pain of Others: John Paul II and Benedict XVI on Jewish Suffering in the Shoah,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 48, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 443–66. 28 Cited in Gregerman, “Interpreting the Pain of Others,” 450. 29 For the TED2017 talk, see His Holiness Pope Francis, “Why the only future worth building includes everyone,” TED Talk, April 2017,, accessed October 10, 2018. For the tweet, see @Pontifex, “None of us is an island, autonomous and independent from others. We can only build the future by standing together,


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non-human) solidarity in his first encyclical, Laudato Si (2015). There he vouched eloquently for the ecological and anthropological renewal that would be needed to face present and future environmental catastrophes. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home,” Francis insisted, “includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. .  .  . Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” 30 The notion of “humanity” the pope invoked in his encyclical — identical to the tweet’s “everyone,” which “can only build the future by standing together” — is cousin to the one Hannah Arendt insightfully addressed when sizing up the very real implications of total nuclear annihilation. “By putting in jeopardy the survival of mankind [. . .],” she warned, “modern warfare is about to transform the individual mortal man into a conscious member of the human race, of whose immortality he needs to be sure in order to be courageous at all and for whose survival he must care more than for anything else.” 31 For Arendt as for Francis, humanity is not only a supra-political super-set of individuals accidentally lodged on a common home; it is a body made aware of itself, of its potential for agency and transformation, and of its need to continue existing at all costs, whenever that common home, the Earth, is threatened by the very annihilation (nuclear or ecological) of which humanity is both the victim and perpetrator. In 2017, however, Pope Francis’s tweet appeared after two days of coordinated attacks on Western Europe by the Islamic State — the Brussels Central Station suicide bombing, the Champs-Elysées car-ramming in Paris, and the Finsbury Park attack in London, the second of its kind in that month. Thus the tweet — whatever global, human, or ecological condition it meant to allude to — was recast in the stark light of East–West culture clash. As we have come to expect, pro-Trump and pro-Le Pen followers of the @Pontifex twitter account left peeved commentary, concerned that the Argentine pontiff might ignore the virtues of border security and the benefits of isolationism. These politicized, indeed nationalist, responses confirm that, in order to exonerate themselves from the burden of international solidarity, persons otherwise actively involved in the most international and interconnected technology (the internet) are willing to disavow what Arendt elsewhere called “the idea of humanity, excluding no people and assigning a monopoly of guilt to no one.” 32 What is being advocated by the pope, on the one hand, and disavowed including everyone,” Twitter, June 19, 2017, 4:30 a.m., 63998384934912?lang=en. 30 His Holiness Pope Francis, Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home, Article 13 (Vatican: May 2015). 31 Hannah Arendt, “Europe and the Atom Bomb,” in her Essays in Understanding (1930– 1954): Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 2005), 422. 32 Arendt, “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility,” in her Essays in Understanding, 131.

One-World Ambitions


by many of his readers, on the other, is Arendt’s notion that humanity constitutes a body of mutual responsibility and guilt: “For the idea of humanity, when purged of all sentimentality, has the very serious consequence that in one form or another men must assume responsibility for all crimes committed by men and that all nations share the onus of evil committed by all others.” 33 Or, as Benedict put it, “violence committed against one human being is violence against all.” While these papal interpretations of Donne’s “No man is an island” have the merit of being more concerned with universal charity than Halliday’s, Annan’s, or Al-Faisal’s, they persist in focusing more on castigating the committers of violence than on mourning with the mourners. It is the abiding trademark of these many different implementations of Donne’s phrase that they bear within them certain agendas for reform and justice against violence that are nowhere to be found in the original Meditation. Taken as a whole, this afterlife of Donne’s “No man is an island” bespeaks the extent to which the phrase, burdened with supra-national compassion and cosmo-political goodwill, has gradually lost the ring of the spiritual, even when uttered by religious patriarchs. The cliché, revitalized, has become something Dame Gillian Beer had not explicitly anticipated: a call to (re)action. In 1955, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton could still use the phrase as the title to his guide for the inner life of prayer and charity, intent on imparting a sense of interconnectedness with the communion of saints that transcends the grave. 34 Have such spiritualist and ontological-ethical interpretations as Merton’s or King’s been permanently edged out by activist ones? I doubt it. But, as I have already begun to suggest, this transformation from an internal/spiritual to an external/political hermeneutic has something to do with the way in which these post-9/11 uses of Donne engage the problem of violence, and more exactly how they reassign the role of “universal enemy of mankind.” For Donne and those of his time, that ominous title was reserved with near total exclusivity for Satan and for Death, non-human figures par excellence, existential adversaries rather than political ones. As a result of lifting that title and assigning it instead to tyrannical fascist regimes (in the case of Hemingway or Benedict XVI) or terrorist organizations (in the case of Annan and Al-Faisal), it has become inevitable that appeals to global interconnectedness should ultimately serve as much to de-humanize those who commit “crimes against humanity” as to reassert the humanity of their victims. The emergent irony, of course, is that Donne’s notion of mankind, conceived as global yet apolitical, may well have been more expansive and inclusive, at least conceptually, than that of the human-rights discourse that regularly invokes his wisdom. In light of that irony, we cannot help but wonder if today’s rhetorical appeals to human interconnectedness — to “Humanity” with a capital “H,” tied in one mutual garment of destiny — have not lost their punch. It would not be the first time we have been tempted to 33 34

Arendt, “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility,” in Essays in Understanding, 131. Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955).


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give up on the concept and concede to Carl Schmitt that whoever claims to act on behalf of humankind is merely trying to cheat. 35 Hence the urgency of retrieving Donne’s specific notion of “mankind” and reading his global ethics otherwise than as a seventeenth-century prefiguration of John Lennon’s secular hymn, “Imagine all the People.”

Part II — Donne’s Liturgical Humanity I want to propose an unlikely avenue for retrieving Donne’s notion of “mankind”: his love of the liturgy. It will have come as no surprise that, in its adoption by the international legal order and by Roman Catholic pontiffs, Donne’s most anthologized phrase has been stripped of its confessional garb and its local flavor — what Achsah Guibbory rightly calls the trappings of Anglican liturgy; the bells, the funeral procession, etc. Even the Baptist Reverend King, speaking in a secular age and for a secular audience, could not help but betray this ecclesiological aspect of “mankind” that Donne was elaborating in seventeenth-century England when the sacred and the secular, the Church and the State, the bells of Parliament and the bells of St. Paul’s were conceptually undivorceable. My claims here and below risk seeming chronological, as though Donne or the seventeenth century more broadly had inaugurated a notion of mankind that had never existed previously. This may or may not be the case; a rigorous demonstration would go far beyond the confines of this essay. I simply persist in thinking that it is Donne’s attention to the Anglican liturgy — the Book of Common Prayer, the bells, the priestly vocation — and its attendant ecclesiology that should be the first place to turn to if we are to get any finer granularity on his notion of “mankind” in the Devotions. The sickly and vulnerable Donne we find writing there is, in Guibbory’s words, not the solitary thinking mind of the Holy Sonnets, whose conversations with God take place removed from any Church. .  .  . Confined to home, to his bed, he longs for “the Instruments of true comfort, in thy Institutions and in the Ordinances of thy Church” (Prayer 3, 18). . . . He longs for communion with the church in which he’s a priest .  .  . defining himself as a conforming member and priest of the English Church, with its ceremonies that were becoming ever more sharply criticized by puritans in the 1620s. Embracing 35 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, ed. Leo Strauss (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 54: “The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism. Here one is reminded of a somewhat modified expression of Proudhon’s: whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat. To confiscate the word humanity, to invoke and monopolize such a term probably has certain incalculable effects, such as denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity.”

One-World Ambitions


the ceremonial aspects of the Church of England’s worship that these “hotter” Protestants disliked, Donne insists that God is present “otherwise in thy Church, then in my Chamber, and otherwise in thy Sacraments, then in my Prayers” (Prayer 11, 60). 36

Donne in the 1620s had at his disposal as many paradigms for thinking about the human collective as did King in 1965. Intercontinental trade was flattening the Earth, and a common home was being increasingly well mapped; disciplines of ethnology and anthropology were coming into being through the help of travelogues and comparative anatomy; questions of human nature and body–soul relationships continued to excite philosophical inquiry; a legal understanding of the English commonwealth and of a ius publicum europeanum were beginning to emerge; and even universal human rights were being championed in the ethics of the Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas (1484–1566). 37 Perhaps most important and most prevalent among these paradigms of “mankind” was the classic Stoic aspiration to become a “world citizen.” Donne’s contemporary Francis Bacon (1561–1626) would even revise the metaphor of islands and continents to define this Stoic cosmopolitanism: “If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island, cut off from other lands, but a continent, that joins to them.” 38 Despite these and other paradigms for conceiving of and connecting to the human collective, none seems to have interested Donne as much as the mystical body of the church and, more exactly, its liturgical apparatus. In the letters leading up to his ordination to the clergy, Donne can already be seen pondering a liturgical humanity, one in which birth and death alike are sacraments of initiation. By the time he writes the Devotions, Donne is thinking not only with extended metaphors or metaphysical conceits, for which Donne-the-poet is otherwise so famous, but also by actively articulating human connectedness as an 36

Guibbory, Returning to John Donne, 12–13. For more on anthropology in seventeenth-century thought, see Margaret Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964). For universal human rights and the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas, see David Lantigua, “Faith, Liberty, and the Defense of the Poor: Bishop Las Casas in the History of Human Rights,” in Christianity and Freedom, vol. 1: Historical Perspectives, ed. Timothy Samuel Shah and Allen Hertzke (New York: Cambridge University Press), 176–209. 38 Francis Bacon, “On Goodness and Goodness of Nature,” in his Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, ed. Brian Vickers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 29. The reference was first pointed out by Geoffrey Keynes, then misconstrued by Gillian Beer; too little has been made of it. We should ask ourselves why, in light of this fascinating little piece of potential plagiarism, Donne of all people has become the mascot for the international legal order, as opposed to Bacon, with whom Carl Schmitt otherwise famously opens his critique of international humanitarianism in The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum (New York: Telos Press, 2006). 37


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“office of mutual society,” in the liturgical sense of “office,” i.e., a ceremonial and daily service. Why, then, the liturgy? In what follows, I aim to show that part of the answer has to do with the way liturgical technologies remediate the problem of geographical distance. The other part of the answer has to do with the way liturgy, in Donne’s estimation, handles the relationship between parts and wholes. Liturgical technologies, bells for instance, are already on Donne’s mind in the sixteenth Expostulation of the Devotions. There he considers the period’s antiliturgical puritans and their increasingly sectarian critiques of ornamentation in the mainstream Church of England, including bell-ringing: “Lord, let not us break the Communion of Saints, in that which was intended for the advancement of it; let not that pull us asunder from one another, which was intended for the assembling of us.” 39 We might step back from the theo-political context invoked by Guibbory, Papazian, and others and first consider bells, their function and functioning. As musical instruments, as alarm systems, and as a form of communication or media, early modern church bells depended on and instantiated a local community’s values. Not only did villagers and city-dwellers alike have to be expert decoders of the various bell-tones, patterns, and tunes they might hear throughout the day; those bell-tones also re-mediated and reverberated their very affects and moral sentiments, e.g., sympathy for the dying, dread of the plague, joy for the baptized and the married. One did not opt-in or choose which bells, which media one tuned into, for as Donne puts it: “Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings?” One simply partook as an affective member in an acoustic community that was all-environing. Importantly, that community was never strictly delimited: no measures or regulations determined who did or did not hear, who is in and who is out: “The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth.” All who had ears to hear did hear, at least all who were in sufficient proximity to the bell-tower. And all who were addressed by the tolling of bells became, in Donne’s term, an assembly. Thus, in a spatial and sonic sense, bells helped define yet never delimit the field of one’s fellow parishioners. It is with a reflection on precisely this membered, participative, and un-delimited nature of the church that Donne opens the seventeenth Meditation of the Devotions: The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me. 40

39 Donne, Devotions, “Expostulation XVI,” in The Works of John Donne, ed. Henry Alford (London: Parker, 1839), 572. 40 Donne, Devotions, “Meditation XVII,” in The Complete Poetry, ed. Coffin, 445.

One-World Ambitions


A closer look at the sentence-level construction reveals that the first “body” Donne mentions (the one to which the baptized child is connected) is not the same as the second (whereof Donne claims to be a member). The former refers obliquely to Christ’s person (“which is my head too,” Donne specifies faithfully), while the latter refers to the corporate body of the church. Immediately a confessional problem emerges: which church? Ostensibly the Church of England, although it is worth noting that, across Donne’s earlier prose works as well as in his later sermons, he more than occasionally leaves the door open for a universal church that all Christian professions shall make up hereafter. 41 So it seems, at least, to Thomas Merton who, in glossing this passage of the Devotions, deems Donne to be less interested in defining the strict outer limits of a confessional church than intent on rehearsing the Pauline conceit of Christ as the head of the churchly body. [T]he meaning of my life [.  .  .] is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ. That was what the poet John Donne realized during a serious illness when he heard the death knell tolling for another. “The Church is Catholic, universal,” he said, “so are all her actions, all that she does belongs to all. [. . .] Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?” Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Every Christian is part of my own body because we are members of Christ. 42

Merton is right to insist on Donne’s open-door understanding of the universal church. “Every Christian,” he says, not every Catholic or Anglican, “is part of my own body.” But Merton also insightfully mis-reads Donne on two important points. First, Donne makes conspicuously short shrift of what Merton calls his “integration in the mystery of Christ.” If we compare the earlier Biathanatos to the later Devotions, for instance, we note that while Biathanatos is punctuated with frequent references to Christ as head or soul of the church, the oblique reference in Meditation XVII to “that body which is my head too” is the only one of its kind in Devotions. 43 Instead, Donne’s verb choices in the seventeenth Meditation — belongs, 41

James Albert Smith makes this point regarding Biathanatos and later sermons in The Metaphysics of Love: Studies in Renaissance Love Poetry from Dante to Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). He reports that Donne’s “essential objection to a [Jesuit] spiritual absolutism is that no single human institution has a monopoly of truth . . . however the [religious] sects may vary in the corruptness of their doctrines yet they are parcels of the universal Church which we shall make up hereafter, if only hereafter” (p. 207). 42 Merton, No Man is an Island, xxii 43 See, for instance, Biathanatos, reproduced from the First Edition (New York: The Facsimile Text Society, 1930), 179: “All our growth and vegetation flows from our head, Christ. And . . . he hath chosen to himselfe for the perfection of his body, limmes proportionall thereunto, and


arnaud zimmern

concerns, connects, ingrafts — show him juggling potential images with which to describe the participative and membered nature of the church. His mid-sentence switch from the body of Christ to the body of the church “whereof I am a member” intimates, then, that it is not only (and perhaps not primarily) because Christ is the head of the church that baptisms and burials concern all Christians but also because the church itself constitutes a membered body, one capable of being ingrafted into. The point is not that Donne denies Christ’s unifying role in the church but that a participative aspect of the church’s internal dynamic needs to be emphasized and brought forward if the collectivity of the church is then to serve as a heuristic for the collectivity of “mankind.” Which brings us to the second point. In addition to exaggerating the Christocentricity of the church in the seventeenth Meditation, Merton more fundamentally misconstrues the relationship Donne is drawing between the church and humankind. Donne is not juxtaposing or drawing similarities between the unity of Christians and the unity of mankind, the way Merton more obviously does when he concludes: “Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Every Christian is part of my own body because we are members of Christ.” Mere parallelisms are not what Donne is after. By moving swiftly from his prior reflection on how he is “ingrafted” in the church to his later reflection on how he is “involved in mankind,” Donne expands from the classic Pauline metaphor of the church-as-body to a comprehension of mankind-as-church. This expansion is not, properly speaking, an analogy. Donne is rather making sense of and observing the ties that bind the human collective through ecclesiological terms on the basis of a common structuring principle: the synecdochic, part–whole relationship. To better fathom the importance of synecdoche and membership in Donne’s conception of mankind-as-church, we need to look beyond the Devotions and turn to evidence of Donne’s evolving understanding of the church, especially his understanding of the priesthood and the church’s mystical body. We find the earliest traces of an ecclesiological conception of humanity in 1608, as Donne was beginning to set aside ambitions of a courtly career and consider more seriously a position among the English clergy. “As we are all sheep of one fold,” Donne-the-layman writes in Biathanatos, “so in many cases, we are all shepherds of one another, and owe one another this dutie, of giving our temporall lives, for another’s spirituall advantage; yea for his temporall.” 44 That Donne describes interpersonal and universal solidarity through the lens of pastoral care, using imagery so firmly associated with the sacerdotal office he would take up only six years later in 1615, is . . . as a soule through all the body, so this care must live, and dwell in every part, that it be ever ready to doe his proper function, and also to succour those other parts, for whose reliefe or sustentation it is framed, and planted in the body.” Further examples of Donne’s Christological notion of the Church in Biathanatos and other texts are given in Smith, The Metaphysics of Love, 207–10. 44 Donne, Biathanatos: A Modern-Spelling Edition, ed. Michael Ruddick and M. Pabst Battin, (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1982), III.iv.3, 169.

One-World Ambitions


not trivial. The trope Donne is invoking is that of the “universal priesthood,” or priesthood of all believers, a long-standing Protestant tradition that states that all members of the church, not just clerics, are called to enjoy a direct and unmediated access to Christ. As he does in the Devotions, Donne here expands a well-established doctrine, which has to do primarily with the mediation between individuals and Christ, in order to define a universal “dutie” of caring for others, on earth (“temporall”) and beyond it (“spirituall”). Once again, when Donne shifts from contemplating Christendom to contemplate a more general “everyone,” the need for a uniting principle like Christ is set aside to better emphasize the distributed agency and responsibility of a universal priestly office (“we . . . owe one another this dutie”). Evidently, at this early stage, prior to any clerical career, it remains vague for Donne how the universal priesthood operates: what real assistance, what intercession one person can provide another escapes him, perhaps in part because the ties that bind persons to each other escape him even more. Moreover, as empowering as the notion of universal priesthood may have seemed to him at first, it seems also to have proven more and more inadequate as Donne’s desires to enter the clergy manifested themselves more and more strongly. In a 1608 letter to his friend Henry Goodyer, we find Donne increasingly moved by a need to contribute in a special way to a body greater than himself. “Which body?” is the question Donne struggles to answer: I would fain do something, but that I cannot tell what is no wonder. For to choose is to do; but to be no part of any body is to be nothing. At most, the greatest persons are but great wens and excrescences; men of wit and delightful conversation but as moles for ornament, except they be so incorporated into the body of the world that they contribute something to the sustentation of the whole. 45

Tellingly, the same question that irked Biathanatos — how concretely do I become incorporated into “the body of the world” — continues to annoy. As does the sentiment that there exists a synecdochic relationship between the individual and the whole of the world and that it must be satisfied. In the rest of his correspondence to Goodyer in 1608, Donne will attempt a first, unsatisfactory response to the question of how humanity is bound together. He begins by evacuating a few false theories, considering the half-truths available in Averroes and in the Roman Catholic popular beliefs he inherited: It is not perfectly true which very subtil, yet very deep wit Averroes says, that all mankinde hath but one soul, which informes and rules us all, as one 45

Edmund Gosse, The Life and Letters of John Donne, 2 vols. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899), 1:190–91, emphasis added.


arnaud zimmern Intelligence doth the firmament and all the Starres in it; as though a particular body were too little an organ for a soul to play upon. And it is as imperfect which is taught by that religion wch is most accommodate to sense (I dare not say to reason (though it have appearance of that too) because none may doubt but that that religion is certainly best, which is reasonablest) That all mankinde hath one protecting Angel; all Christians one other, all English one other, all of one Corporation and every civill coagulation or society one other; and every man one other. Though both these opinions expresse a truth; which is, that mankinde hath very strong bounds to co-habit and concurre in other then mountains and hills during his life. 46

What Donne calls mankind’s “very strong bounds to co-habit” might seem a mere reassertion of the Aristotelian “zoon politikon” or sociable animal. It should certainly strike us as a very distant opinion from those Donne presents as belonging to Averroes or the Catholics. The contrast between him and them, however, allows Donne once again to insist that no unifying principle (whether it is “one soul which informes and rules us all” or “one protecting Angel”) suffices to explain this gregarious habit of mankind’s. Something more sociological is at work, and Donne will propose instead a four-tiered schema of human relations: First, common, and mutual necessity of one another; and therefore naturally in our defence, and subventions we first flie to our selves; next, to that which is likest, other men. Then, naturall and inborn charity, beginning at home, which perswades us to give, that we may receive: And legall charity, which makes us also forgive. Then an ingraffing in one another, and growing together by a custome of society: and last of all, strict friendship, in which band men were so presumed to be coupled, that our Confessor King had a law, that if a man be killed, the murderer shall pay a sum felago suo, which the interpreters call, fide ligato, et comite vitæ. All these bands I willingly receive, for no man is lesse of himself then I: nor any man enough of himself. To be so, is all one with omnipotence. And it is well marked, that in the holy Book, wheresoever they have rendered Almighty, the word is Self-sufficient. 47

Donne’s terseness makes the schema rather hard to parse, and it is difficult to imagine Goodyer making much sense of it unless the two men had discussed it lengthily before. Donne does not specify how his scale of human “bands” is organized: do things intensify or rarefy as they near the stage-four of “strict friendship?” Nor does he seem concerned with defining abstruse terms such as “legall charity.” Like 46 John Donne, Letter xvii, “To all my friends: Sir H. Goodere,” in Letters to Severall Persons of Honour, ed. Charles Edmund Merrill, Jr. (New York: Sturgis and Walton, 1910), 37–38. 47 Donne, Letter xvii, “To all my friends: Sir H. Goodere,” in Letters to Severall Persons of Honour, 38–39.

One-World Ambitions


Hobbes some forty years later, Donne is trying to imagine the pre-history of society and sees human bonding first as the fruit of “mutual necessity” and “defence” or self-preservation in the face of general precariousness. Unlike Hobbes, however, whose “state of nature” is one of total war between all humans, Donne sees charity as “inborn” and “naturall.” Then again, “naturall” for Donne equates here to “domestic” (“beginning at home”): the modern categories of nature and nurture are conflated as home and family, both considered a biological reality. They become for Donne the space where we learn to “give, that we may receive.” We may find in the phrase “no man is lesse of himself then I: nor any man enough of himself ” a predecessor of the later “no man is an island.” If so, then the sentiment of being “involved in mankind” translates here into a realization that no self, beside God’s, is entirely self-sufficient. Are these opposite sides of the same coin? In the midst of these opaque and turbulent statements, one thing remains clear: apart from the mention of “the holy Book” and an echo of Donne’s favorite verb with which to describe mystic union — “ingraffing” — the passage lacks any overt references to churchly business. Is Donne finished thinking in such ecclesiastical terms by 1608? Or have the contours of ecclesiastical life simply not come into sufficient definition? The theme of the universal priesthood certainly becomes more concrete a year later, in another letter to Goodyer dated ca. 1609. Here we find Donne troubled by the growing internal divisions within English Protestantism. Thinking in particular of the reconciliatory duty of clerics and synods, Donne exhorts his lay friend Goodyer to join him in furthering that reconciliation: “They [i.e., clerics] whose active function it is, must endeavour this unity in religion: and we at our lay altars (which are our tables, or bedside, or stools, wheresoever we dare prostrate ourselves to God in prayer) must beg it of him.” 48 “Lay altars” is a telling expression: Donne combines the puritan emphasis on private prayer at tables, bedsides, and stools with the Church of England’s ceremonial emphasis on maintaining church altars. The term itself is reconciliatory. It is, moreover, another example of Donne’s interest in the Church of England’s liturgical apparatus as a way to unite parts into wholes. Donne invites Goodyer to imitate the clerics not only in mental prayer but also in private prostration before “lay altars,” that is, in a devotional choreography that synchronizes the sundered members of the fragmented confessions into a single corps and even bridges the otherwise stern divide between clergy and laity. Tellingly, the letter to Goodyer goes on to relate Donne’s abiding belief in a universal church, one that acts as a “corporation” even when its members “fall out”: for, whether the Maior and Aldermen fall out (as with us and the Puritans; Bishops against Priests) or the Commoners voyces differ who is Maior and


Donne, Letter lii, “To his honourable friend Sr H. G.,” in Letters to Several Persons of Honour, 141.


arnaud zimmern who Aldermen, or what their Jurisdiction (as with the Bishop of Rome, or whosoever), yet it is still one Corporation. 49

In 1609, then, and at peak disunity in the church, Donne reasserts in ecclesiological terms that a “corporation” can remain “still one” despite internal fissures — in time, and in the process of embracing a clerical role, he would come to understand how a corporation does so in spite of geographical divisions. The particular technology uniting Donne’s parochial world was not the early modern equivalent of Sputnik or jet-planes, caravels and galleons, technologies of mobility. It was, instead, the Psalter and the Book of Common Prayer, technologies of liturgy. “Every day,” the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral announced to his assembly, God receives from us (howsoever wee be divided from one another in place) the Sacrifice of Praise, in the whole Booke of Psalmes. And, though we may be absent from this Quire, yet wheresoever dispersed, we make up a Quire in this Service, of saying over all the Psalmes every day. 50

The Book of Common Prayer was so fundamental and coextensive to Anglican liturgy that it would quickly become synonymous with it. 51 Such a confidence in the power of a liturgy preserved in written and rote prayer may seem surprising at first glance, but Donne is well known for having granted tremendous unitive agency to manuscript and print. The very stanzas of love poems like “The Good Morrow” promise to make “one little room an everywhere,” 52 while a famous verse epistle to Henry Wotton assures Donne’s distant friend that “Letters, more than kisses, mingle souls.” A similar sentiment, that written words can reunite persons beyond all geographical barriers, animates his confidence that the Book of Common Prayer can make of one little chapel an everywhere. Donne’s abiding trust in written words as avatars of personhood would be common-placed and echoed across seventeenthcentury England, perhaps most visibly in the Familiar Letters of James Howell. To Thomas Pritchard, Howell writes, “Friendship is that great Chain of human Society, and intercourse of Letters is one of the chiefest links of that Chain: you know this as well as I.” Similarly, to Daniel Caldwell, Howell lamented:

49 Donne, Letter lii, “To his honourable friend Sr H. G.,” in Letters to Several Persons of Honour, 142. 50 Donne, Sermon LXVII, “The Third of my Prebend Sermons upon my Five Psalms,” in The Works of John Donne, ed. Alford, 178. 51 OED, definition 2b. 52 Donne, “The Good Morrow,” in The Complete Poetry, ed. Coffin, 8. The phrase at line 15 of this poem — “Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one” — inspired the title of this essay.

One-World Ambitions


We are now far asunder, for no less than a Sea severs us. [. . .] Distance sometimes endears Friendship, and Absence sweetneth it; it much enhanceth the value of it, and makes it more precious. Let this be verify’d in us; let that Love which formerly us’d to be nourish’d by personal communication and the Lips, be now fed by Letters [. . .] [for] they have a kind of Art like Embraces to mingle Souls. (1:27–28)

Donne-the-poet would take the metaphor further than Howell; he deemed his coterie of readers and the transmission of his work a kind of liturgy of friendship. When alerting one of them that he had composed a new poem — “a meditation in verse, which I call a Litany” — he compared himself to Pope Nicolas V, who had commanded that the litanies of Ratpertus and Notker be used “for publike service in their churches: mine is for lesser Chappels, which are my friends.” 53 The idea is revisited in Meditation XVII, where Donne imagines heaven as a library in which all souls, like books, “shall lie open to one another.” 54 Of course, the metaphysical quality of Donne’s “letters [.  .  .] mingle souls” reminds us to remain careful: “liturgical” always runs the risk of becoming synonymous with “mystical” in ways that are inadequate for Donne’s ecclesiology. For the most part, the Dean of Saint Paul’s spoke of the corpus mysticum not as otherworldly, non-corporeal, or transcendental. The word “mystical” in Donne’s mouth (when it did not refer to a certain level of allegorical interpretation also called “anagogical”) signified something close to “synecdochic.” It signaled the mysterious reassembling of scattered or severed parts, often of the decomposed human body at the resurrection. Take, for example, Donne’s commendation of Thomas Coryat’s eclectic book Coryat’s Crudities as “mystical, / For every piece is as much worth as all.” 55 The Crudities was a satirical work and so was Donne’s poem in its honor; doubtlessly the notion that every piece of the book was as worthy as the whole carried with it the backhanded compliment that none of it was worth very much at all. Yet in the more earnest “Epithalamion made at Lincoln’s Inn,” Donne similarly describes marital union as a mystic joining of one to all. Thy two-leav’d gates faire Temple unfold, And these two in thy sacred bosome hold, Till, mystically joyn’d, but one they bee; [. . .] All elder claimes, and all cold barrennesse,


Gosse, “Letters to Several Persons of Honour,” in Life and Letters of John Donne, 196. Donne, Devotions, “Meditation XVII,” in The Complete Poetry, ed. Coffin, 145. 55 “Upon Mr. Thomas Coryats Crudities,” in The Complete Poetry, ed. Coffin, 112, ll. 71–72. Thanks go to Julian Neuhauser for calling my attention to Coryat and to Donne’s prefatory poem. 54


arnaud zimmern All yeelding to new loves bee far for ever, Which might these two dissever, Alwaies, all th’other may each one possesse; 56

It is precisely this synecdochic understanding of the corpus mysticum, and not what Mingjun Lu calls a “law of nature,” that prompted Donne to remind his London parishioners fondly that we are debters to all, because all are our Neighbours. Proximus tuus est antequam Christianus est: A man is thy Neighbor, by his Humanity, not by his Divinity; by his Nature, not by his Religion: A Virginian is thy neighbour, as well as a Londoner, and all men are in every good man’s Parish and Diocese. 57

The same Donne who, prior to his ordination, intuited that “we are all shepherds of one another” and that to be “no part of anything is to be nothing” seems to have taken very seriously to heart the parable of the good shepherd, who abandons the rest of the flock to retrieve the single lost sheep, the part being of equal worth as the whole. He seems also to have understood that, when discussing mankind as a church, one need not invoke the shepherd, for the sheep are to serve as “shepherds of one another,” the whole caring for the one, as the one does for the whole. Importantly, the concept of humanity, understood on this synecdochic scale, loses the paradoxical quality of being at once singular and plural; where parts and wholes are indistinguishable, the classic distinction between the one and the many also fails.

Conclusion: Terrorists, Poetics, and “Global Truths” It is important to reassert in closing that Donne never rescinded the Pauline metaphor of Christ as the head of the church’s mystical body or denied the unifying social impact of the Eucharist, as Eamon Duffy has elegantly described it. 58 But when in the Devotions he uses the church’s participative structure and membered nature to ponder what it means for him to be “involved in mankind,” he resolutely sets aside the idea of a unifying principle, whether that be the Averroean worldsoul, the mono-parental family of Adam and Eve, the Catholic belief in guardian angels, or any other alternative. What kind of body, then, does Donne’s humanity possess? Contrary to the famous frontispiece of Hobbes’s Leviathan, Donne’s body of humanity seems to have no head, only limbs — limbs whose distributed 56

37–46. 57

“Epithalamion Made at Lincoln’s Inn,” in The Complete Poetry, ed. Coffin, 175–77, ll.

John Donne, Sermons, 4:110 (Easter Monday 1622). Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1400–c. 1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 91ff. 58

One-World Ambitions


sentience, like those of an octopus, enjoins each part to remain awake to the pain of its remotest cousin. In his efforts to describe how the church holds together, Donne emphasized in particular certain technologies and ritual practices that helped hold him and his fellow parishioners bound in “mutual society” despite all geographical distance. The English Church’s liturgical media, including its bells, its prayers and rites, its devotional books, its altars (we might add also its choirs, its creeds, its doxologies, its translations of the psalms, and all those elements of the liturgy whereby a “We” becomes synonymous with an “I”) held — in Donne’s estimation — the promise to eliminate the severing impact of oceans and doctrines, in ways that a unifying principle (such as a Roman pontiff, for instance) simply could not offer. These ecclesial and liturgical technologies further helped Donne conceptualize and grapple with the problem of “mankind,” that is, the problem of an undelimited, universal community, a parish or corporation that eschews all gatekeeping, conceives of no political enemies, and knows not its own boundaries because its parts and its whole are indivisible. Just as no one other than God knows where the outer limits of the universal church lie, so no one knows where the outer limits of “mankind” lie. Hence the need to reassert and remind ourselves frequently that no man is an island. The last point is a rather urgent one if we look forward from Donne’s liturgical humanity to contemporary dilemmas surrounding global counter-terrorism, with which this essay opened. De-territorialized or “global” terrorism, of course, was not a concept in Donne’s English, but it was nonetheless a reality. Jesuit priests like John Gerard, transported from the continent by a missionary zeal to retake Protestant England and its colonies, were often accused of partaking in or masterminding violent political insurgencies using scare tactics such as the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, supplanting local sovereignty in the name of supra-political, moral, and theological agendas the way modern terrorists do. The accusations of violence and other caricatural representations of the Jesuits — in which the young John Donne partook, despite deep family connections to the Society of Jesus — almost certainly belie the historical reality of the Jesuit order. Historical accuracy notwithstanding, the point remains that Donne’s acidic satires in Ignatius His Conclave, where the founder of the Jesuits is described as a second and “the verier Lucifer of the two,” come well short of the universal charity he elsewhere proselytized. Donne is no exception, nor in himself an antidote, to the humanist penchant for dehumanization. 59 The same might be said of the rhetorical and practical dehumanization of terrorists by the UN and the international legal order. The strategic politicization of the concept of “humanity” and its equalization with victimhood, as Faisal Devji suggests, have been two of the key contributing factors towards facilitating this dehumanization.


A big thank you to Susannah Monta and to Marla Lunderberg for rightly insisting that Donne’s treatment of the Jesuits is not merely uncourteous or vainly satirical but sharp-toothed.


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Donne, in his own shortcomings, reminds us of a third: the unjust demonization of the violent. I want to end, however, not on terrorism but on teaching. This project of recuperating the narrower liturgical specifics of Donne’s “mankind” may ultimately run afoul of an interpretive habit I and others, as teachers of literature, are often guilty of perpetuating in our classes. I am thinking of the college freshman’s perennial quest for universal timeless truths — what are increasingly being called “global truths” — none more jaded or more reassuring than that we are all in this together. It is as teachers of reading, as much as cultural critics, that scholars of early modern literature should pause at the fact that, throughout the examples of Donne’s reception given above, Donne has been almost exclusively referred to as a poet, and “no man is an island” has been cited or recited as verse. We can see the effects of this stereotypically “freshman” way of reading concretely captured in this transcript of one US senator’s address to Congress, eulogizing the late director of the Peace Corps. Here we find Donne’s prose not only strategically re-worded to foster American patriotism but also fancifully lineated to emphasize its poetic virtues. The poet John Donne expressed it well, how each man’s life — and each man’s death — touches ours: No man is an island, entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main; If a clod be washed away by the sea, [America] is the less, As well as if a promontory were, As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were; Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind; And therefore Never send to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee. 60

I recognize that Donne’s prose is never un-poetic, but there is something to be said for our habits vis-a-vis of poetry that renders such emendations less than innocent. Is it because Hemingway or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Kofi Annan elevated it from a prose excerpt to a stand-alone political maxim that Donne’s “no man” can suddenly pass from a political maxim into a cosmic truth? Or is it because we teach poetry in a certain way, stripped of its liturgical resonances yet reinvested with the sweet harmony of humanist sentiment, that Donne’s “no man” has proven a reliable mantra for international liberalism? Either way, it is in a false poetic robe that it 60

Anonymous, “The Bell Tolls for Thee,” Congressional Record, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, vol. 146, no. 97 (July 2000), S7462.

One-World Ambitions


has shored up what António Guterres, the current Secretary General of the United Nations, approvingly calls the “dream” of a one-world alliance. I have aimed to show that it has done so at times with rhetorical panache, at times with frightening effects, yet always with particular aptness upon those occasions when the one-world community mourns its losses and consolidates its global ambitions. While we can be sure that Donne would have mourned with the mourners — “who bends not his ear to any bell . . . which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?” — it remains unclear whether he would have shared their politics, let alone their sense of scale. 61


This paper has racked up debts and gratitudes. First, to Faisal Devji and the extraordinary colleagues gathered at the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory in 2017, where this chapter first took shape. Then to Susannah Monta, Laura Knoppers, and the early modern faculty and graduate students of the University of Notre Dame, especially the Early Modern Circle and the Early Modern Seminar, who took time to provide perceptive feedback. Also to the Writing Center at the University of Notre Dame, especially Eric Lewis, whose probing questions made the piece much stronger. Not least to the John Donne Society, whose members welcomed a short version of the piece at the 2018 Conference and gave it a second life by their enthusiasm. Thank yous to the Nanovic Institute for European Studies for their generosity in support of my research, and especially to Meg Lota Brown for her editorial grace and patience.

The Convergence of the Twain: Early Modern Encounters Between Japan and Britain Paul Hartle

This chapter combines two papers given at successive ACMRS conferences, in 2015 and 2016, in which I shared the first fruits of what I hope will develop into a larger project exploring the cultural encounters between Japan and Britain in the period between 1600, when the famous William Adams (more celebrated now in Japan than in his homeland) made landfall in a new country, and 1673, when the last Englishmen to enter Japanese waters before the nineteenth century were forbidden to set foot upon its soil. Inevitably, the chapter therefore bears the marks both of its origin as oral performance and of its new portmanteau status; I hope the reader will be indulgent to both. The central thesis of the combined essay is that cultural interconnections between the two countries in the early modern period were both more various and — often but not always — more imbued with a desire to understand and value difference than has usually been argued; however, almost every aspect of this relationship needs fuller and broader exploration than is attempted here, whether it be the admiration in Britain for Japanese arms, medicine, or writing or in Japan for British engravings, spectacles, and even cuisine. I hope that, for myself and others, it will prove to be a waymark.

Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 29–53.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126377


paul hartle

Part One “Attitudes Queer and Quaint”: Doing Business with the Mikado in Early Modern Japan, 1613–1623 My title for this part is multiply anachronistic. The quotation is from the opening chorus of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s 1885 opera The Mikado, an imperial appellation first used in English in 1727. 1 In fact, no business was done with the Emperor in 1613–1623, control of all temporal affairs lying instead in the hands of the shõgun, 2 resident in Edo (today’s Tokyo), whilst the emperor was installed in Miyako (today’s Kyoto). My own first idea of Japan derived from a childhood visit to see that opera; since then, two periods as visiting professor in Kyoto have developed a more authentic (if nonetheless inevitably exterior) enthusiasm for and interest in things Japanese, and inspired a planned survey, A Treatise of Japanning (the title of a 1688 English manual on lacquer, which will be discussed later), exploring the cultural presence of Japan in early modern Britain. Maps, histories, travel narratives, artistic influences, objects will all be grist to that mill. But where to start? With Hirado — or “Firando,” as the first Portuguese traders interpreted the Nagasaki-accented Japanese they heard, the transliteration also adopted by the English and their commercial rivals the Dutch, 3 the harbor site of the English Factory (trading-post) on an islet on the extreme western edge of the island of Kyushu. For ten years, this was the one place in recorded history, until approximately the date of composition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera, where a small band of Englishmen traded and lived amongst the Japanese. We are fortunate that, as might be expected from a business run by the bureaucratically entrepreneurial East India Company, 4 thousands of pages of records survive: accounts, ships’ logs, correspondence, even the (sadly incomplete) day-to-day diary of the chief factor, Richard Cocks. Yet, although the documents have been edited and the history of the factory written, the dispiriting conclusion initially drawn by its leading chronicler has been that:


The title is attested in Portuguese in 1603. Although Hidetada had become the second Tokugawa shõgun in 1605, real power resided with his father Ieyasu until the latter’s death in 1616. 3 For the interactions of the Dutch with both the English and their mutual Japanese hosts, see W.Z. Mulder, Hollanders in Hirado, 1597–1641 (Haarlem: Fibula-Van Dishoeck, n.d. [198– ?]); Adam Clulow’s recent The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) is both more scholarly and narrower in its focus. 4 See K.N. Chaudhuri, The English East India Company (London: Frank Cass, 1965); John Keay, The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (London: HarperCollins, 1991). 2

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On the whole, the Japanese world into which the English entered and lived for just over ten years left the factors [traders] remarkably untouched. . . . The English factors in Hirado took Japan at face value and made little effort to explore Japanese culture and society beyond the superficial level required to ease the conduct of their business. As a result the contribution of the factors to our knowledge of seventeenth-century Japanese culture and society . . . is trifling. 5

If this is so, then the prospect for at least part of my project is grim indeed. But can it be true that we can glean so little from the voluminous records of a whole decade of continuous interaction? This chapter aims to demonstrate that, on the contrary, the textual traces of the encounter between the British traders and the indigenous Japanese (the “naturalls”) 6 show on the English side an engagement marked by both puzzled curiosity and a developing understanding, even admiration, especially in the cosmopolitan sophistication of the chief factor. 7 For Richard Cocks at least, the cultural estrangement from Japanese habits of mental and social life that he necessarily shared with his fellow Englishmen did not prevent him from indulging an unfailing fascination with Japanese practices, some of which he came to imitate and adopt out of an unusual absence of any perception of Western cultural superiority. What might the first band of traders have expected to find? 8 From Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, 9 help5

Derek Massarella, A World Elsewhere: Europe’s Encounter with Japan in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990), 241. A more sympathetic view of Richard Cocks, “perhaps .  .  . the most interesting of all the Europeans who left on record their impressions of Japan during this period,” is found in Michael Cooper, ed., The Southern Barbarians: The First Europeans in Japan (Tokyo and Palo Alto: Kodansha, 1971), 114–19, here 114. James Lewis’s unpublished PhD dissertation, “Nifon Catange or Japon Fation — A Study of Cultural Interaction in the English Factory in Japan, 1613–1623” (University of Sheffield, 2003), also “challenges the assumption that overseas Europeans made little cultural adaptation to their new home” (Abstract, np), concluding tentatively that “to a certain extent the British were immersed in and indulged in Japanese life” (p. 197), a pattern of engagement constituting “a significant level of cultural interaction between the British and local Japanese practices” (p. 327). 6 E.M. Satow, ed., The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613 (Nendeln and Liechstenstein: Kraus, [1900] 1967), 79 [hereafter cited as Saris, Voyage]. 7 From 1603 to 1608, Cocks had lived in Bayonne, where he traded as a freeman of the English Clothworkers’ Company (see Anthony Farrington, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Richard Cocks”). 8 For a survey of early modern British texts, see Michael J. Huissen, “England Encounters Japan: English Knowledge of Japan in the Seventeenth Century,” Terrae Incognitae 5 (1973): 43–59. 9 Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London: George Bishop, Ralph Newberie, and Robert Barker,


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fully supplied by the Company on board their ship The Clove “to recreate their spiritts w’th varietie of historie,” 10 they would have derived mixed messages from the principal anthologized text, Richard Willes’s The History of Travayle (first printed 1577), 11 incorporating one of the Jesuit Luis Frois’s letters. 12 Japan is described as “neither so warme as Portugall, nor yet so wealthy, . . . wanting oyle, butter, cheese, milke, egges, sugar, honny, veneger, saffron, cynamom and pepper.” 13 Willes had actually written “ne[i]ther so warme . . . & yet very poore,” 14 but Hakluyt sought to encourage exploration rather than the reverse. Notwithstanding this dearth of foodstuffs familiar to the Western diet, “[t]hey live chiefely by fish, hearbes, and fruites, so healthfully, that they die very old.” 15 Health (although they “drinke [alcoholically] largely”), not Wealth. But would the natives be friendly? The people are tractable, civill, wittie, courteous, without deceit, in vertue and honest conversation exceeding all other nations lately discovered [not Englishmen, obviously], but so much standing upon their reputation, that their chiefe Idole may be thought honour. The contempt thereof causeth among them much discord and debate, manslaughter and murther. 16

Tractable and discordant, civil and prone to manslaughter; “that is hot ice and wondrous strange snow.” The severity of Japanese justice against theft is attributed to national poverty, which also leads to widespread infanticide. And “[t]he greatest delight they have” is in arms and armor. 17 Frois’s further comment that they “contemne all other nations in comparison of themselves, and standing in their owne conceite doe far preferre themselves before all other sorts of people in wisedome and policie,” 18 suggests that this paradoxical land “craves wary walking,” yet a page later he tells us that “[t]hey are given very much to intertaine strangers, of whom most curiously they love to aske even in trifles what forraine nations doe, and their fashions.” 19 The factors had ample time to consider the possibilities that lay ahead; 1598–1600). 10 Anthony Farrington, ed., The English Factory in Japan, 1613–1623, 2 vols. (London: The British Library, 1991), 983 [pagination is continuous over the 2 vols.]. 11 See Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 8 vols. (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1927), 4:191–95. 12 For the letter, see Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:195–208. 13 Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:191. 14 Richard Willes, The History of Travayle in the West and East Indies, and other Countreys lying eyther way towardes the fruitfull and ryche Moluccaes (London: Richarde Jugge, 1577) [expansion correct?], 251. 15 Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:192. 16 Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:191–92. 17 Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:192. 18 Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:196. 19 Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, 4:196, 197.

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sailing from England on 18 April 1611, they anchored just outside Hirado Harbor on 11 June 1613. 20 They were fortunate in having a national forerunner in William Adams; 21 all but shipwrecked on the Japanese coast in 1600, piloting the Dutch vessel De Liefde, Adams had prospered in Japan, becoming adviser to the first Tokugawa shõgun Ieyasu and earning both samurai rank and an estate near Edo on which he lived with his second family. He had encouraged the East India Company to explore the opportunities for trade and persuaded the shõgun to extend a welcome. 22 Accordingly, the first response of the Matsura family daimyo (lord) of Hirado, and his retired but still powerful grandfather, was both “civill” and “courteous,” conducting an immediate and ceremonious visit to the English ship. A rich series of social exchanges ensued, constituting the core of the two nations’ interactions; here, rather than in the trade itself, lies the principal interest of the English factory at Hirado. Trade did not prosper. Notwithstanding the Company’s advice to Saris to “take good advise . . . espetiallie with William Adams,” 23 Adams had as yet had no opportunity to recommend suitable goods to be traded, and the Company had stocked The Clove with English woolen broadcloth, whilst what the Japanese craved was silk (and what both the English and Dutch wanted was silver). Moreover, Matsura Shigenobu (the grandfather) was later to explain to James I, according to an English version of his letter (the original does not survive), that he was unable “immediately to find any of our products which may be suitable for exchange,” a clause silently expunged from Samuel Purchas’s version of this text. 24 Later, after his return to England, the expedition’s “Captaine and cheefe Comander” John Saris had drawn up a list of “the comodities Japaun doth yeald,” 25 a short list: hemp, dyes (“allmost [my italics] as good as indico”), rice, brimstone, saltpetre and cotton wool. Regrettably, throughout the decade of the Factory’s existence, the Company persisted in

20 Saris noted, “[half] a league short of Ferando, the Tyde spent that we could not get further in” (see Voyage, 79). 21 Adams, thinly disguised as John Blackthorne, is the hero of James Clavell’s 1975 novel Shogun (TV miniseries in 1980) and is also the protagonist of Giles Milton’s popular book Samurai William (2002). 22 The EIC commission to Saris, “Captaine and cheefe Comander” of the Eighth Voyage to the East Indies, is dated 4 April 1611 and sets out in detail the trading instructions for his flotilla en route to the East, before advising on Japan as the final goal of his own ship The Clove, where he is to consult with Adams and establish “your factorie,” unless local conditions prevent him, in which case he may return via the Philippines, bringing Adams home if he wishes it (see Saris, Voyage, x–xv; Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 974–80). 23 Saris, Voyage, xiii. 24 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 93; Samuel Purchas, ed. Cyril Wild, Purchas his Pilgrimes in Japan, Extracted from Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes (Kobe and London: J.L. Thompson, 1938), 168–69. 25 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 211.


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its lading of things undesirable or unnecessary to its Japanese customers, although even in the Factory’s first year Adams was giving sound and emphatic advice to the contrary; 26 its “good hopes of proffitt and honour to his Ma’tie and the English nation’ 27 were rarely realized, and Japanese silver bullion (the most desired commercial prize) stayed at home. Cocks’s acerbic colleague Richard Wickham (“very sullen [and] turbulent”) 28 mocked Saris’s useless freight: great store of English comodytys, amongst the rest a most rare invented p’tido of combe cases, knives, pictures (the most p’t bawdy), bells, spectacles, hauking powches & a rare p’cell of gallypotts, being a cargazon of Gen’ll Saris his invention .  .  . that yf we were lerned alchimists we could not so soone turne mettles into silver as the Hon’ble Compa” (being deluded) are bouldly confident that we can turne these idle comodytys into mony with a woord speaking. 29

The Japanese, when they are persuaded to buy, “desire not our comodities soe much for cheapnes as for strandgnes . . . beinge a people desireinge change,” 30 and novelties have short lives, so that, in Cocks’s pungent phrase, “I pray yow stand not upon the price of anything, . . . & so may we sowne be shut of the rest yf we will let it goe for a grunt.” 31 Given that they had so little of what Cocks ruefully called “the needfull,” 32 it would be unsurprising if Robert Markley was right to claim that Japan, “itself . . . a commercial power . . . regard[ed] English efforts to open trade with indifference, bemusement, or contempt.” 33 If they could not trade, however, they could instead, as Cocks urges the irascible Wickham (whose own advice had been, “[c]onceave not well of any Japoners” 34), determine to “use these cuntrey people kyndly, both in word & deede, for fayre wordes will doe much and as sowne are spoaken as fowle, and allwais good will com thereof.” 35 Except in moments of greatest professional distress, Cocks endeavored


See his third letter; Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 76–79, esp. 77. Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 238. 28 Richard Cocks, Diary Kept by the Head of the English Factory in Japan: Diary of Richard Cocks, 1615–1622, ed. Tokyo Daigaku Shiryo Hensan-jo, 3 vols. (Tokyo: Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo, 1978–1980), 1:64. 29 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 585. 30 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 341, 345. 31 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 483. 32 Cocks, Diary, 3:130. 33 Robert Markley, The Far East and the English Imagination 1600–1730 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 55. 34 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 280. 35 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 124. 27

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for ten years to maintain this standard of courtesy and civility to “the cuntrey people” — and they responded in kind. From the first shipboard entertainment offered the Matsuras and their retinue sprang a pattern of reciprocation familiar from Marcel Mauss’s The Gift: “[W]hat they exchange is not exclusively goods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances, and feasts.” 36 At Hirado tables, the tripartite cuisines of Japan, England, and Holland meet and mingle. His first meal on board The Clove clearly piqued the Matsura tastebuds, since the old daimyo later requests “English poudred [preserved] beefe, and . . . porke sod with turnips, raddish and onions by our cooke.” 37 Cocks later provides “2 piges, 2 duckes, 2 hense, & a loyne pork, all rosted, w’th a banket sweetmeates.” 38 The daimyo’s new taste for cuisine à l’Anglaise leads to local emulation, as one of his advisors sends “for som sweet meates, having invited the king. Soe [writes Cocks] I sent him of 3 severall sortes. Thus these noble men vse to doe in these p’rtes.” 39 Even the Matsura family chamberlain, entertaining his master, “sent to me to desire to haue a pie, & roset hen, & a duck, dressed after our Eng’sh fation.” 40 It was not one-way culinary traffic; the daimyo “gaue vs a kind welcom w’th a colation, serveing vs w’th his owne handes.” 41 What was served to the English guests we do not know, probably because the interpreter had no means — perhaps no possibility — to supply a translation, nor does any hint exist that local food was found unpalatable. In an early despatch to England, Cocks describes dinner at the Dutch Factory, to which the daimyo invites him, with instruction “to bring a Bottle of Wine”: [W]ee had a very good Dinner at the Dutch house, the meate being well drest both after the Japan and Dutch fashion, and served upon Tables, but no great drinking. . . Captaine Brower did not sit at all, but carved at Table, all his owne people attending and serving on their knees, and in the end, he gave drinke to every one of his ghests, with his owne hands, and upon his knees, which seemed strange to me, and . . . I asked him why he served these people upon his knees, they sitting at Table: he answered me it was the fashion of the 36 Marcel Mauss, The Gift, trans. Ian Cunnison (London: Cohen and West, 1954), 3. In his História, Joao Rodrigues notes that “it is customary in Japan . . . to send gifts of cloth, robes, silk, gold, silver and many sorts of food, such as birds or animals caught in hunting, special fish, fruit, wine and many other things” (see Michael Cooper, ed., This Island of Japan: Joao Rodrigues’ Account of 16th-Century Japan [Tokyo and New York: Kodansha, 1973], 91–92). See also Lewis, “Nifon Catange,” 181–87. 37 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1025. 38 Cocks, Diary, 1:86. 39 Cocks, Diary, 1:81. 40 Cocks, Diary, 2:72. 41 Cocks, Diary, 1:159.


paul hartle Countrey; and if the King himselfe made a Feast, hee did the like for the more honour of his ghests. 42

Cocks was a quick learner; Hendrik Brouwer, his Dutch equivalent, had served both national cuisines at the same meal; Cocks instead invited the Matsura entourage to “dyne[d] after the Japon manner, and sup[ped] after the English.” 43 He does not tell us whether, unlike Brouwer, he uses a European table and chairs for the English supper but the culturally appropriate low tables for the Japanese meal. It seems clear from inventories and account books that the factory held such items for export, and it is striking that local Japanese entertaining their lord more than once borrowed from the English not only food and wine but also Japanese decorative screens to beautify their homes. 44 The daimyo’s brother, meanwhile, was entertaining the Dutch and sent to borrow our chears, cushins, spoons, silver forkes, cups, tableclothes, & napkins, w’th one of our Japon servantes, to shew them how to order the meate after the Christen fation, and w’thall sent for a bottell Spanish wyne and som salet oyle; all w’ch was sent hym. 45

Similarly, when Cocks was invited to dinner by the Japanese Master of the Mint, they “had good cheare after Xxtion fation, syting at a hie table w’th cheares.” 46 But this was in more cosmopolitan Nagasaki, where a few nights earlier [w]e were envited to Capt. Whaw, the China, to dyner, where we were extraordenarely entertayned, w’th musick at our entry, w’th the lyke at first, second, & therd course, where there wanted not wyne of all sortes, & each one a dansing beare to serue vs. Nifon cantage. 47


Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrimes in Japan, 191–92. Cocks, Diary, 1:97. 44 Cocks, Diary, 1:154; 2:278. 45 Cocks, Diary, 2:129. 46 Cocks, Diary, 2:260. 47 Cocks, Diary, 2:257; I suspect “cantage” here is a typographical error for “catange,” the latter itself standing for “catage/katagi,” as a result of the nasal Nagasaki Province dialect (e.g., Firando for Hirado). The pattern of mutual entertainment here represented seems more easygoing than the spectacle described in Fernão Mendez Pinto’s account of his Japanese host, who “sent for us all five, and intreated us that we should eat in his presence after the manner of our Country . . . we fell to eating after our manner, of all that was set before us, whilest the jeasts which the Ladies broke upon us, in seeing us feed so with our hands, gave more delight to the King and Queen, then all the Comedies that could have been represented before them: for those people being accustomed to feed with two little sticks . . . they hold it for a great incivilitie, to touch the meat with ones hand, as we use to do” (see The Voyages and Adventures, of Fernand Mendez Pinto, a Portugal [London: Henry Cripps and Lodowick Lloyd, 1653]), 312). 43

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Although unknown to OED, 48 the phrase “dansing beare” is used throughout Cocks’s correspondence and diary (and once in Saris’s ship’s log) 49 to signify a female companion for dinner and afterwards, what we might now (anachronistically) call a geisha. The English developed a decided (and costly) taste for such provision, rarely recorded as available in more provincial Hirado but eagerly embraced when further afield in Nagasaki, Osaka, Miyako, or Edo itself, and when the traders’ Japanese concubines were absent and unable to supply their needs. Initial unfamiliarity with local traditions of elegant female service in pouring wine and providing musical and danced entertainment was quickly overcome, and by 1618 (halfway through the Factory’s life), “[t]he kinge and rest of noble men . . . came to dyner & . . . were entertayned to theire owne content, & had the dansing beares to fill them wyne, Nifon catange (or Japon fation), w’th a bli[n]d fidler to singe, ditto.” 50 Telling here also is the transliterated phrase Nifon catange, insistently used by Cocks to describe his own conduct when it aligns with traditional Japanese customs, or — as he elsewhere puts it — “after the order of Japon.” 51 Cocks’s whole aim is to learn and emulate “the order of Japon” — Nifon catange. Unlike Saris, who thinks that the Japanese can be bought with trinkets and who refuses — to Adams’s horror — to conduct himself in the shõgun’s presence according to “the manners and coustoum of all strangers which had bein yeerly in this countri,” 52 Cocks embraces Nifon catange, sharing Luis Frois’s respectful amazement: Many of their customs are so distant, foreign, and far removed from our own that it is difficult to believe that one can find such stark contrasts in customs among people who are so civilized, have such lively genius, and are as naturally intelligent as these. 53

48 The one possible other use I have found is in Dekker and Webster’s 1607 play Northward Hoe, 4.[iii].49–50, when visitors to Bedlam are invited to inspect some lunatics, the first of whom is introduced (see Fredson Bowers, ed., The Dramatic Works, 4 vols. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964], 2:458): Enter the Bawd. Omn[es]. Gods so, looke, looke, whats shee. Bell[amont]. The dancing Beare: a pritty well-fauourd little woman However, it may be that it is her antic performance that generates the description, rather than her erstwhile profession. 49 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1026. 50 Cocks, Diary, 2:272. 51 Cocks, Diary, 1:340; his editors note that “Katagi means turn of mind, or spirit” (see Cocks, Diary, 1:30). 52 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 104. 53 Luis Frois, The First European Description of Japan, 1585, ed. Richard K. Danford, Robin D. Gill, and Daniel T. Reff (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 31.


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Cocks, too, wonders at Japan, sometimes in conventional ways, tourist ways: Edo, still expanding around its central castle when he tours it, “will be one of the greatestes [sic] citties in the world”; the Giant Buddha of Kamakura is “a wonderfull thinge”; Miyako’s Sanjusangendo temple is “the most admerablest thing that ever I saw . . . before any of the noted 7 wonders of the world,” 54 even if he rather overestimates the number of “bras images” (3,333 rather than the actual 1,001 — the “sanjusan” of the name refers to the thirty-three bays of the temple, not — as Cocks apparently misinterprets — the number of Kannon statues). Where they are available, he hires informative monastic guides and, seeing Japanese worshippers at their devotions, does not (like the Jesuit Frois) dismiss them as diabolists, “[b]ut that w’ch I tooke most notis of was of the liberaletie & devotion of these heathen people.” 55 Inevitably, Cocks interprets things Japanese through an English lens (one of Saris’s more popular imports was spectacles 56 — and even he was impressed with Osaka — “as great as London”): 57 the shõgun’s palace alone in Edo is variously “much more in compas then the citty of Coventry” 58 and “far bigger then the cittie of York,” its moveable shoji screens dividing the rooms are like “our windoes in England”; 59 Buddhist priests “live in great pomp, lyke our frairs [sic] & monkes in Christendom, from whence it seemeth they had their origenall; for the pagan religion is of more antiquetie, & as ma[n]y sects or orders as the Xxrtians.” 60 The cultural relativism and lack of overt condemnation of either Buddhism or Roman Catholicism are striking. Despite Massarella’s assertion that “none [of the factors] had made much effort to learn Japanese,” 61 it is clear that, although Cocks used interpreters throughout his Japanese decade, he came gradually to some understanding of the language. He may have been described in 1616 by one of the shõgun’s retinue as “on . . . that could not speake,” 62 but in 1620 he recounts a later audience at the shõgun’s court, where a Hollander . . . which had lived in Japan almost twentie yeeres, and speaketh the Japan Language well . . . beganne to extoll their King of Holland, to be the greatest King in Christendome, . . . little thinking that we had understood


Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 542; Cocks, Diary, 1:328, 1:337. Cocks, Diary, 2:377. 56 Or so William Eaton and Richard Wickham both claim (see Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 535, 585 (quoted above), although they do not appear in Saris’s own lists (see Saris, Voyage, 201, 203–6, 215-16, 227–30). 57 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1012. 58 Cocks, Diary, 1:299. 59 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 542. 60 Cocks, Diary, 1:338. 61 Massarella, A World Elsewhere, 219; for a corrective view, see Lewis, “Nifon Catange,” 121–46. 62 Cocks, Diary, 1:324. 55

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what he said, but I was not behind hand to tell him that he needed not to lye so loud. 63

Ironically, the euphemism used by Wickham to describe the factors’ Japanese concubines, “your tutor in the languadge,” 64 must have encapsulated a truth — these were not transactions requiring an interpreter, and (in Cocks’s case at least) involved much gift-giving and the building and furnishing of a house, whilst for others, children of the union were born and acknowledged. By 1620 Cocks was marking his Diary dates by both Japanese and English calendars; 65 in 1618 he had begun to measure fabric lengths in “a tottamy [sic] [the six-foot long woven mat determining room size] & a halfe.” 66 His fellow-factor John Osterwick was measuring sizes of nails using transliterated Japanese: “20,000 nissungobun [about 7.5 cm] . . . 2000 sansun [about 9 cm].” 67 Osterwick may have rivaled Cocks in his attempts to assimilate, but he left fewer textual traces, although a nice self-awareness emerges when he comments that if the Company fails to reward his Japanese service, “patience must helpe me, as it did Coreat when hee had no shifte.” 68 The allusion is to the threadbare plight of the notoriously eccentric English traveler Thomas Coryate, who thought it necessary to record that he departed Venice “single-shirted.” 69 Perhaps Hakluyt was not the only travel writing in the English factors’ baggage. Whilst Adams’s impressive fluency had set the precedent for language acquisition and enabled the opening of trade, he had, after all, lived in Japan as a solitary Englishman for more than a decade before The Clove arrived and was consequently too acculturated for all his old countrymen fully to relish — “it is generallye thought amongest us that he is a naturalised Japanner.” 70 63

Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrimes in Japan, 226. Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 163–64. 65 Cocks, Diary, 3:3. 66 Cocks, Diary, 2:237; although the Japanese actually measured building interiors by the “ken,” the two-yard length was the same (see Massarella, A World Elsewhere, xii). 67 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 489. 68 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 495. 69 See Thomas Coryate, Coryat’s Crudities, 2 vols. (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1905), 1:41 and Hugo Holland, “A Parallell betweene Don Ulysses of Ithaca and Don Coryate of Odcombe,” 1:47–49: Minerva holpe Ulysses at a lift, And Pacience Coryate, for there was no *shift. *Because he came from Venice with one shirt. The Crudities were published in 1611; for details of the reception of Coryate’s writing, see Michael Strachan, The Life and Adventures of Thomas Coryate (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), esp. 138–57. 70 Saris, in his “Journal” (Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1004); Adams’s evenhandedness in dealing between the Dutch (whom he had served), the retired shõgun (whose 64


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What Cocks in particular manifests is not identification with Japan but a restless curiosity; in Miyako in 1616 he bought “54 Japon bookes printed, of their antiqueties & cronicles from their first begyning” — perhaps the visit of local dignitaries the day before, “only to see the fation of our English habit & our behavior,” 71 had reciprocally inspired him. One of his earliest diary entries is simply “the jurebassos [interpreter’s] wife brought a present of Japan apels, or rather other frute lyke appelles”; 72 he finds an interpretative equivalence, but he also acknowledges difference. He finds shõgun Hidetada sitting “vpon the mattes cros-legged lyke a telier [tailor],” 73 but intends no satirical disrespect. He tells the Company to send no more Western paintings; the shipment not only arrived damaged beyond repair, but even had they com in their full beautie would never have sould heare for a quarter part of the money they cost in England. Soe it is noe sending such matters into these partes, for they esteem a painted sheet of paper w’th a horse, shipp or a burd more then they doe such a rich pickture. 74

In Joao Rodrigues’s words, “they do not like a multitude and jumble of things [in pictures], but prefer to portray, even in gilded and lovely palaces, just a few solitary things with due proportion between them.” 75 Cocks may not have understood Japanese aesthetics, but he was coming to respect them, unlike the Company’s Directors in England who, when they received the gift of ten painted screens sent by the shõgun to James I — presumably masterpieces of the Kano school — decided that they were “not soe good as some of those w’ch the Company have” and swapped them for several from stock. 76 vassal he became), and his compatriots never quite sat comfortably with them, although when he died in 1620 he bequeathed his best samurai sword to Cocks, who later protected his Japanese widow and children. 71 Cocks, Diary, 1:343. 72 Cocks, Diary, 1:17. 73 Cocks, Diary, 1:294. 74 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 594. 75 See Cooper, This Island of Japan, 305, part of Rodrigues’s longer discussion of Japanese painting; his fellow Jesuit Alessandro Valignano also noted with astonishment that “a piece of paper with a painting of a little bird or a small tree done in black ink will be bought and sold among them for three, four or ten thousand ducats if it is the work of a recognised ancient master, although it is quite worthless in our eyes” (see Michael Cooper, ed., They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543–1640 [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965], 261–62). For a fascinating account of the meeting of native Japanese habits with imported Western styles of painting, see Fernando Gutiérrez, “A Survey of Nanban Art,” in Cooper, Southern Barbarians, 147–206. 76 It is possible, of course, that the pictures destined for James I had suffered damage in transit or had been found aesthetically too radical; but it is noteworthy that, a few months later, the Directors auctioned off most of the original gift amongst themselves, so they may have been

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Understandably, those at home in England never grasped the experience of Japan; Cocks bemoaned the fact that “in the Wor” Companie’s letters they urge nothing but money, money, &c” 77 and his failure to supply it led to disgrace, the factory’s closure and, on the voyage home, “[t]his daye Captain Cock died and wee . . . threwe hime overebourd.” 78 Despite English plans to reopen contact with Japan in the reigns of Charles I and the ill-starred Protector Richard Cromwell, it was not until 1673 that another English ship cast anchor at Hirado. 79 The welcome was different; not a foot was ever set on shore, and our next vision of Japan was to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s Titipu: “Attitudes Queer and Quaint.”

Part Two ‘Where’er our country’s banner may be planted” (The Mikado): Japanese presences in Early Modern Britain A memorial tablet in the Italian city of Rimini records, on 16 June 1585, the visit of four young gentlemen “ab Iapanorum Remotissimis Insulis,” 80 from “Japan, the furthest place in the world.” 81 Of those visitors, whose arrival caused a sensation in continental Europe, this chapter will make mention later, 82 but although fêted in Portugal, Spain, and Italy, they never reached Elizabeth I’s heretical Britain, a detour hardly conceivable for more politic (or shrewder) than I have given them credit for (see Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 239, 289–90). See further discussion in note 103 below. 77 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 433. 78 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1257. 79 See Massarella, A World Elsewhere, 329–69. The relevant papers are collected in Roger Machin, Experiment and Return: Documents concerning the Japan Voyage of the English East India Company, 1671–3 (Kyoto: for the Richard Cocks Society, 1978). 80 Marco Musillo, “Travelers from Afar through Civic Spaces: The Tenshõ Embassy in Renaissance Italy,” in Christina H. Lee, ed., Western Visions of the Far East in a Transpacific Age, 1522–1657 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 165–79, 174. 81 See Japanese Travellers in Sixteenth-Century Europe: A Dialogue Concerning the Mission of the Japanese Ambassadors to the Roman Curia, ed. Derek Massarella (1590) (London: Hakluyt Society Series III Volume 25, 2012), 273. 82 It will, alas, have no space to say anything concerning the second Japanese mission to Europe, that led by the Samurai Hasekura in 1613, which resulted in both the arresting depiction of the delegation in the fresco in the Palazzo Quirinale in Rome and the contemporary portrait of its leader now in the Palazzo Borghese (see Mayu Fujikawa, “The Borghese Papacy’s Reception of a Samurai Delegation and its Fresco-Image at the Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome,” in Western Visions of the Far East, ed. Lee, 181–201). Centuries later, novelist Shūsaku Endō reimagined this mission in his extraordinary The Samurai (London: Peter Owen, 1982 [published in Japanese in 1980]).


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an expedition directed by Jesuits whose most cherished ambition was a welcoming papal embrace. How does one country come to know another, when they stand at opposite ends of the earth? Let me count the ways: visually, textually, materially, humanly. This second Part will gesture towards some of those paths. Visually first, then, and to maps, where scholarship is fortunate to have available Jason Hubbard’s Japoniae Insulae, a comprehensive account of early Western cartography of Japan. 83 The first sixteenth-century maps place “Zinpan gu” closer to Cuba than to China and derive not from observation but from Marco Polo’s imaginative Travels. For a century, Japan shifts shape from rectangle to oval to archipelago to an ebi, or Japanese shrimp. Not until 1585 does the Ortelius Atlas portray Japan “with some semblance of accuracy,” although the shrimp persists elsewhere until 1605. 84 As with so many early modern maps, even those that provide a fair approximation of the coastline offer mostly conjecture concerning the interior, 85 especially when, as in the case of Japan, the shõgunal administration (bakufu) imposed increasingly stringent constraints on foreign travelers. Eventually, resident European aliens (only the Dutch remained) were confined to the artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, making a single annual journey to Edo to offer tribute to the ruler. Yet maps are not the only images, and illustrative engravings might have provided a source of visual stimulation to a British audience but are, in fact, elusive. Despite its encyclopedic reach, an Elizabethan reader would have sought in vain for any Japanese clothing in Cesare Vecello’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni (1590), the great Renaissance compilation of world costume. 86 Nor were any illustrations to be found in the earliest accounts of Japan in English: Willes’s The History of Travayle (1577); Parke’s translation of Mendoza’s Historie of the Great and Mightie Kingdome of China (1588); Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations . . . of the English Nation (1589; 1598–1600); Purchas’s Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625); Mendez Pinto’s The Voyages and Adventures (1653); and Caron’s A True Description of the Mighty Kingdoms of Japan and Siam (1663), where the illustrations to the Dutch edition of 1661 were not reproduced in the English version. 87 Only in 1670, when John Ogilby’s 83

Jason Hubbard, Japoniae Insulae (Houten: Hes & De Graaf, 2012). Hubbard, Japoniae Insulae, 16–19. 85 See Catherine Hoffmann, Hélène Richard, and Emmanuelle Vagnon, L’âge d’or des cartes marines (Paris: BNF/Seuil, 2012). 86 Margaret Rosenthal and Rosalind Jones, eds., Cesare Vecello’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni: The Clothing of the Renaissance World (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008). 87 See M. Paske-Smith, ed., England and Japan: The First Known Account of Japan in English Extracted from the “History of Travayle” 1577 (Kobe: Thompson, 1928); George Staunton and Richard Henry Major, eds., Juan González de Mendoza, History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China and the Situation Thereof, 2 vols. (London: Hakluyt Society, 1853); Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, 8 vols. (London: 84

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handsome folio version of Arnoldus Montanus’s Atlas Japannensis appeared, did a major illustrated text come from English presses, reprinting and adding vernacular captions to the engravings prepared for the Dutch edition of 1669. 88 Since Ogilby’s Asia (1673), although projected to include Japan, in fact advanced no further East than India, it is on the Atlas Japannensis that we must rely for the only printed images of Japan available to early modern British readers; the next substantial collection of new images (including musical instruments and acupuncture) appeared in Engelbert Kaempfer’s The History of Japan, which, although reflecting his experiences in Japan in 1690–1692, was not printed in English translation until 1727. 89 The many Atlas Japannensis engravings include cityscapes and scenes of civic, religious, and domestic life, with a focus on costume and accoutrements. Only in the later seventeenth century are these seen by an English readership, and even then the distinctiveness of their “Japaneseness” is rendered uncertain both by a tendency to merge Japan with its larger neighbor China, and by the use of the catch-all term “Indian” to describe anything originating from the East Indies. Hence, when Pepys chooses to be painted, following a fashion set in Holland, in what the Dutch called a “Japonsche rock” — a Japanese costume — he describes it only as “an Indian gown.” 90 Notwithstanding the adjective, it is clear from John Hayls’s portrait, now in London’s National Portrait Gallery, that this is a Japanese robe, closely similar to that used for Caspar Netscher’s portrait of Sir William Temple in 1675. 91 Temple is an important figure in the understanding and importation of Japanese culture to Restoration England; we may with some confidence attribute to him the first English experiments in Japanese alternative medicine through the use of moxa — burning vegetable extract topically on the skin — and in Japanese gardening, through the introduction of the irregular asymmetries of “sharawadgi” [shara’aji] on his Moor Park estate. 92 Dent, 1907); Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes, 20 vols. (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1905–07); Fernand Mendez Pinto, The Voyages and Adventures . . . During his Travels . . . in . . . Japan, and a great part of the East-Indiaes (London: Dawsons, 1969); and C.R. Boxer, ed., A True Description of the Mighty Kingdoms of Japan & Siam by Caron & Schouten (Amsterdam and New York: N. Israel and Da Capo Press, 1971). 88 Gedenkwaerdige Gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in’t Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669); John Ogilby, Atlas Japannensis being Remarkable Addresses by way of Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Emperor of Japan (London: Tho. Johnson for the Author, 1670). 89 Engelbert Kaempfer, The History of Japan, trans J.G. Scheuchzer, 2 vols. (London: 1727). 90 R. Latham and W. Matthews, eds., The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 11 vols. (London: Bell, 1970–1983), 7:85. 91 See Wybe Kuitert, “Japanese Robes, Sharawadgi, and the Landscape Discourse of Sir William Temple and Constantijn Huygens,” Garden History 41, no. 2 (Winter 2013): 157–76, here 166. 92 See J.A. Nicklin, ed., Essays of Sir William Temple (London: Blackie & Son, ?1911), 67–101, 56–58; and Wybe Kuitert, “Art, Aesthetics, and a European Discourse: Unraveling


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As late as 1694, a broadsheet advertisement for A Proposal for the Sale of several Rich Indian Goods goes on to supply a list of lacquered items “and several other sorts of Japan.” 93 If the visual trace of Japan remains slight, the textual is greater and more influential, especially in the popular compilations of Hakluyt and Purchas, which are discussed in this chapter’s first part and which provided continuing impetus to British attempts to establish trading and diplomatic connections, under the aegis of the East India Company. In addition to textual material about Japan circulating in early modern Britain, textual material from Japan began to arrive, in the form of letters sent back by trading vessels. Adams was the first correspondent, his early messages being carried in Dutch ships, but after the Factory’s foundation in 1613, a flow of correspondence was maintained, now held in the British Library. From the correspondence we learn much of the British merchants’ Japanese experiences and also about the Japanese paper on which it was written and the Japanese ink with which it was penned. The quality of the first must have been grasped by the factors when they found bundles exchanged as gifts within the remorselessly donative local culture. 94 Purchas notes the delight of one recipient, for whom “[n]othing gave him such content as two Bookes of Japon paper.” 95 In English, the first description of its making is found in Kaempfer’s History of Japan, where eight pages and several Plates describe the various “true” and “false” “paper-trees,” whose bark is exploited. 96 Although I have not found Japanese paper advertised for sale in England, the national adjective was already being applied to the highest quality ink, known as “the Shining JapanInk” and sold “in the Strand, London” by Thomas Harbin, “Maker and Inventer,” according to his broadsheet Advertisement; 97 “Japan-Ink” here predates the earliest OED citation (1807) by about a century. Paper and ink already introduce my third category of the Japanese presence in Britain: the material. 98 Here I will focus on two more only, in both of which Japanese craftsmen were acknowledged supreme: weaponry and lacquerware. Sharawadgi,” Japan Review 27 (2014): 77–101. 93 Published for Joseph Rose and dated 9 January 1693/4 in a contemporary hand; Wing R1939A. 94 E.g., Cocks, Diary, 3:31: “A Japon telors wife brought me a pr’sent of pap’r.” Cocks’s Diary is itself written on Japanese paper (see Lewis, “Nifon Catange,” 42). 95 See Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, 12:302. 96 See Kaempfer, History of Japan, vol. 2, Appendix, 21–28 (and Plates). 97 Dated ?1700 [ante 1737]; see Early English Books tract supplement interim guide; / E4:2[136]. 98 Japanese books and calligraphy deserve further space too, with John Saris importing erotica (for a recent discussion in context, see Timothy Clark, C. Andrew Gerstle, Aki Ishigami, and Akiko Yano, eds., Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art [London: The British Museum, 2013], 108–19); and Richard Cocks’s a “Japan Almanacke, whereby yow may see their order of

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The Japanese sword has always been a prized possession, the incarnation of family honor. 99 The Lord of Hirado, Matsura Shigenobu, offered as parting gifts to John Saris, “Captaine and cheefe Comander” 100 of The Clove, not only one of his personal swords, a katana (the long Samurai sword), but also “a faire armor,” which he had worn in the Korean War of the 1590s. 101 The shõgun Hidetada’s first gift to James I was two suits of Samurai armor, and although later confusion over nomenclature (“Indian” rather than “Japanese”) led to one of these suits of armor being wrongly recorded as a gift “by the great Mogull” to Charles II, it is now correctly catalogued and displayed in the Tower of London. In his will, William Adams specified the gift of “my best cattane” — katana — to “my loving and good friend” Richard Cocks, who also acted as an unofficial guardian to “Joseph and Susana,” the children of Adams’s Japanese marriage. “The others of my cattans [katana] and wagadashes [wazikashi]” were left to his son Joseph, whilst “all my bookes and sea instruments I will and bequeath unto my loving friend William Eaton, one of the English factors resident in Japan.” 102 As Cocks records in his Diary, “I deliverd the 2 cattans & wacadash of Capt. Adames, left p’r will to his sonne Joseph; where were teares shedd at delivery.” 103 Of William Eaton, more later. Traditional Japanese armor was remarkable to Western eyes for not only its form but also its material — lacquer — attracting (in 1662) “many persons of quality . . . to the Armoury in the Tower of London to see that most noble and strong defence for the body,” 104 the shõgun’s diplomatic gift.

Printing, Figures, and Characters” (Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrimes in Japan, 216), a volume shown to James I in 1619 (who may have been as unbelieving of this as he was of the rest of Cocks’s report). Peter Kornicki records the presence of early printed books in Trinity College, Dublin, Cambridge University Library, and the Bodleian at Oxford, all received in the early seventeenth century (see Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History [Leiden: Brill, 1998], 313). As to manuscript calligraphy, I have traced no early English evidence, but the European fascination is evinced by the gift of calligraphy left by the Japanese envoys when they visited Imola in 1585 (see Musillo, “Travelers from Afar,” 175–78). Visiting Naples in 1645, John Evelyn greatly admired “tables of the rinds of Trees writen with Japonique characters” (The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E.S. de Beer, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 2:331). 99 See Leon and Hiroko Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara, The Art of the Japanese Sword (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2012), 68–103. 100 Saris, Voyage, x. 101 See Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1000, 1003. 102 See Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 795; William Adams, The Eleven Letters of William Adams, ed. Eiko Tanakamaru (Bilingual Text) (Nagasaki: Shinbunsha, 2010), 122. 103 Cocks, Diary, 3:221. 104 Thomas Rugge, Mercurius Politicus Redivivus; or, A collection of the most materiall occurrances and transactions in publick affairs since Anno Dm: 1659, until the 28 March 1672, London, British Library, Add. MS 10117, fol. 39.


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Export lacquerware had begun to reach the West as early as the mid-sixteenth century, after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543, but the establishment of Dutch trading after 1600 gave a major impetus to the business. Japanese lacquer products were universally recognized as the finest in the East; the Ming Chinese author Kao Lien comments, “[t]hey are supremely beautiful . . . Japanese lacquer is quite outstandingly lovely.” 105 Purchas had noted in 1625 that a shõgunal diplomatic message was “inclosed after the Japon manner in a Boxe, which for the price and workmanship was so admirable, that the subtiltie and excellence of the work might amaze all Europeans.” 106 The return to England of The Clove in 1614 brought the first English shipment of lacquerware to the East India Company, where it was sold by auction. Objects included cabinets, escritoires, and screens decorated with animals, hunting and war. 107 English craftsmen began to copy the imported lacquer items; a lacquered ballot-box was manufactured for the EIC in 1619, 108 but the gap in quality was all too apparent: No arts are to be met with . . . that are not known in Europe, except that of making lacca, of which there is some so fine and curious, that whereas in this country one may buy an ordinary small box for 3 or 4 crowns, one of the same size, when made in Japan of exquisite lacca, will sell for more than 80 crowns. 109

By 1688 the shoddiness of local lacquer manufacture provoked John Stalker and George Parker to publish A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing. As well as a detailed technical account of how to achieve the highest possible quality “in imitation of Japan-work,” 110 twenty-four engraved plates supply images of hybrid Sino-Japanese landscapes, costumes, and animal life, recommended as suitable for decorating 105

See K. Herberts, Oriental Lacquer: Art and Technique ([London]: Thames and Hudson, [1962]), 256. 106 See Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrimes in Japan, 41. 107 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 239–40, 289–90; the shõgun had sent a gift of ten screens to James I (pp. 1020–25), although on arrival in London, several of these were exchanged by the EIC for others in the shipment and the originals auctioned to the company’s directors (p. 239). If their quality even approached the “Azuchi” screens sent to Pope Gregory XIII by the shõgun Nobunaga in 1582, the loss to the royal collection was severe (see Michael Cooper, The Japanese Mission to Europe, 1582–1590 [Folkestone: Global, 2005]); according to Farrington, the whereabouts of none of the screens sent to James I are known. 108 Anna Jackson and Amin Jaffer, Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe 1500–1800 (London: V & A Publications, 2004), 372. 109 C. Hutton, G. Shaw, and R. Pearson, eds., The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 18 vols. (London: Baldwin, 1809), 4:366, section “Some Observations Concerning Japan.” 110 H.D. Molesworth, ed., A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing 1688 (London: Alec Tiranti, 1960), 19.

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various domestic goods. Meanwhile, in Japan, the production of export lacquerware for English tastes was attaining industrial proportions; William Adams reported that their “makeman” — makié is lacquer — has “50 men at woourk w’ch woourk night and daye.” 111 So familiar was the relationship between Cocks and the trader in lacquer whom he calls “Maky Dono” that he orders bespoke: 20 scritorios, 100 combcases, 2 beetell boxes for the King of Syam and “10 chirurgions boxes & 10 saluatores to them, maky ware.” 112 Not only does “Maky Dono envite[d] vs to supp’r at a tavarne (or banketing howse), where we were well entertayned,” 113 the first recorded visit of an Englishman to a Japanese restaurant, but he dedicates his son to the childless Englishman, “he bringing hym to me to geue hym the name of Richard Cockes.” 114 If the number of Englishmen to experience Japan in the early modern period was small, confined to Adams, the few factors in Hirado led by Cocks, and the very occasional ship’s company on all-too-often unruly shore leave, that number still exceeds that of any reciprocal visitors. Notwithstanding the claim of the 1585 ambassadors to Rome that “[w]e ourselves often, at various points in our journey, saw Japanese men who had been sold and condemned to slavery,” there is no record of any such slaves reaching England. 115 Indeed, the first documented presence of named individual Japanese there is to be found in Hakluyt, in the account of two Japanese sailors taken by Thomas Cavendish off the coast of America as part of a Spanish prize, the Santa Ana: [B]efore his departure, he tooke out of this great shippe two yong lads borne in Japon, which could both wright and reade their owne language, the eldest being about 20 yeers olde was named Christopher, the other was called Cosmus, about 17 yeeres of age, both of very good capacitie. 116

It was aboard Cavendish’s ship The Desire that these two made landfall in Plymouth in September 1588, but of their activities for the next three years we know nothing: a frustrating total absence of mention of these “extravagant and wheeling


Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 641. See Cocks, Diary, 2:401, 403. 113 See Cocks, Diary, 2:180. 114 See Cocks, Diary, 2:398. 115 See Japanese Travellers, ed. Massarella, 185. Christina Lee notes the linguistic evidence of the Spanish surname “Japón” as proof of Japanese presence in Europe but, notwithstanding the assertion in Japanese Travellers, maintains that “[a]t this time, there is little proof that the Japanese were bought and sold as slaves in Europe. The Japanese who traveled to the continent were Christians sent by the missionaries in Asia as proof to fellow Europeans of successful evangelization; others were exiles driven out of Japan by anti-Christian persecution (post-1587)” (“Introduction,” in Western Visions of the Far East, ed. Lee, 1–16, here 14–15). 116 See Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, 8:237. 112


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stranger[s]’ 117 in contemporary texts, in striking contrast with the outpouring of interest in the Jesuit Japanese embassy, then still en route back to the East. 118 But since we next hear of the pair taking ship with Cavendish again on his ill-fated voyage of 1591–1592, it seems likely that they remained in Cavendish’s service for the intervening years. 119 It is to Purchas that we turn for their further adventures, and in particular to the waspish Anthony Knivet, whose narrative Purchas prints: [I]t happened that two men of Japon which the Generall [Cavendish] had taken in his first voyage (bearing envie to a poore Portugall . . .) conspired his death in this sort: The Generall being at dinner, these two Japoners came to his Cabbin, telling their tale so loud that every one might heare the report . . . that the Portugall of the ship was a Traytor, and that he had often given them counsell to run away with him at Brasil: moreover (quoth he) if it so had pleased God wee had taken the Towne of Santos, as our Generall had pretended, from thence that hee would guide them to the South Sea, where they should be well rewarded for their intelligence; upon the which accusations, the poore Portugall was hanged. 120

At this distance in time, it is impossible to untangle the relative reliability of the Portuguese, the two Japanese, Knivet the Englishman, or indeed of “the Generall” Cavendish himself, but Knivet’s allegations here square oddly with his report, only a few pages later, that: From our first setting forth from England, till we came to Santos, I had great love to Christopher the Japon, because I found his experience to bee good in many things. This Indian 121 and I grew into such friendship one with another, that wee had nothing betwixt us unknowne together. I a long time having found him true, I told him of the money I had found under the Friers bed; with that hee told mee of some money that hee had got, and wee swore to part halfe from thenceforth whatsoever God should permit us to obtaine: some foure dayes after that, when we were ready to depart, . . . we determined both, that the same day we were to goe a shipboord, that then he should take all the money in a Canoa, and hide it by a River side; in the morning I delivered all the money into his hands, and he swore that in lesse than two houres he would returne, but I staied above five houres, and might have tarried all my life, for

117 Othello, 1.i.138 (William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. S. Wells and G. Taylor [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988], 822). 118 See Japanese Travellers, ed. Massarella, 379; and Cooper, The Japanese Mission, 161. 119 See Philip Edwards, ed., Cavendish, Hudson, Ralegh: Last Voyages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988). 120 See Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, 16:178–79. 121 See Part One above for the frequent use of this adjective to describe things or persons Japanese.

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he was gone aboord the Ship, afterward by good meanes I got myne owne againe, and so our former friendship was parted. 122

Greed, aborted escape plans, and either sharp practice or misunderstanding underlie Knivet’s sense of disappointed friendship and supply a retrospective gloss on his account of Japanese perfidy in bringing the “poore Portugall” to the rope. This is the last we hear of Christopher or of Cosmus. If they did not die in Cavendish’s disastrous skirmish with the Portuguese, they may have returned again to England in early 1593 on his flagship The Leicester, although their admiral and patron died on the voyage, possibly by his own hand. Although identification is speculative, Hakluyt tantalizingly observes in his 1589 “Epistle Dedicatorie” that “Is it not strange that the borne naturalles of Japan . . . are here to be seene, agreeing with our climate, speaking our language, and informing us of the state of their Easterne habitations[?]” 123 Of whom might he be speaking if not of Christopher and Cosmus, who had returned the previous year with Cavendish and in whom Hakluyt had clear professional reasons to be interested, as might his dedicatee, Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State. Although there has never been any challenge to E.V. Gatenby’s assertion that “[n]o English author of any note outside the field of travel and discovery seems to have come into contact with anything connected with Japan in the Elizabethan era,” 124 I think he may be mistaken. Traveling with Cavendish on The Leicester was Thomas Lodge, poet and playwright, whose prose romance A Margarite of America (printed 1596), although in its plot unconnected with America, is the incidental treasure — a Margarite is a pearl — of that voyage: Som foure yeres since being at sea with M. Candish . . . it was my chance in the librarie of the Iesuits in Sanctum [Santos] to find this historie in the Spanish tong, which as I read delighted me, and delighting me, wonne me, and winning me, made me write it. The place where I began my worke, was a ship . . . I wrote vnder hope rather the fish should eate both me writing, and my paper written, then fame should know me. 125

A Margarite includes, amidst its prose, a number of experimental numerically constrained verse forms, “the curiousness and cunning whereof the learned may iudge.” 126 It is undeniably tempting to wonder whether these might have been influenced by the formal structures of Waka, Renga, or the emergent form of Haiku 122

See Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, 16:183–84. See Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, 1:4. 124 E.V. Gatenby, “The Influence of Japan on English Literature,” Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, 34 (1936–37): 37–64, here 39. 125 G.B. Harrison, ed., Menaphon and A Margarite of America (Oxford: Blackwell, 1927), “To the Gentlemen Readers,” 113; see also Edwards, Last Voyages, 46–49. 126 Edwards, Last Voyages, 203. 123


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as known and perhaps practiced aboard by Lodge’s fellow seamen “of very good capacitie,” Christopher and Cosmus; but proof is, alas, lacking. Much the largest group of Japanese to visit Britain were also seamen; as well as being the largest, they were also almost certainly the last wholly ethnic Japanese to set foot on British shores for the next two and a half centuries, until the reopening of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century. In his Journal entry for 14 November, 1613, John Saris recorded that he sent M. Cockes and my jurebasso [interpreter] to both the kings [the Daimyo of Hirado and his father], to entreat them to provide me of a dozen sea-men that were able to doe their labour, to goe with me for England . . . they spake with their secretaries, who told them they need not speake about that matter to the kings, for that they would provide mee a dozen such as should be fit. 127

In the event, Saris reports that he took on “fifteene Iapaners” as part of his motley crew on board The Clove, although his purser William Melsham’s accounts entry for 3 December records “monyes advanced to 14 Japon marriners w’ch returned to England w’th our Generall.” 128 Of these fourteen, it appears that eleven survived the voyage to England, since that is the number given by Walter Peyton in listing the supernumeraries to the English crew of the East India Company First Joint Stock Fifth Voyage, which left England in January 1615 in four ships, Dragon, Lion, Peppercorn, and Expedition, 129 Peyton’s own command: “Wee carried with us in the Fleete eleven Japonezas brought into England by the Clove, divided proportionably amongst the shippes.” 130 These eleven survivors of The Clove had endured a hard English winter; for natives of Kyushu, experiencing the European Little Ice Age would have caused extreme discomfort, leading the East India Company’s Court of Committees to record that [t]he time beinge very could, it was mociond to have gownes bestowed upon the condemned men that are abourd [convicted felons also served on the vessel], and likewise upon the Japoneses, to shelter them from the ext’mitie of the weather, w’ch beeinge a charitable deed and of noe greate chardge, they resolved to have 30 bought. 131


Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1025. Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1028, 1267. In his Trading Places: The East India Company and Asia 1600–1834 (London: British Library, 2002), Farrington mistakenly says (p. 118) that Saris hired only eleven. 129 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1580. 130 See Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, 4:289. Satow is mistaken in noting that all eleven returned in The Expedition (see Saris, Voyage, 183). 131 Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 277. 128

The Convergence of the Twain


Although neither Purchas nor Farrington supplies the information, Peyton’s Journal in fact provides us with the names of the two Japanese who sailed with him on The Expedition (his proportionable share of the eleven in the Fleet), he records in his noat of all the menns names whoe sayled in the good ship the Expedicion owtward bound & what that became of them is mentioned (the name of the Shipp or place into w’ch they weare removed or left, or els returned or dead). 132

His hand is difficult to read, but seamen numbers 70 and 71, both bracketed as “Japonesas,” are almost certainly “Petter” and “Michell” [Peter and Michael]. The first, Peyton notes, was later transferred to The Dragon, in what seems to have been a straight exchange with another “Japon,” this time apparently with the name “Muggatt,” transferred “out [of the] Dragon.” 133 Upon the arrival of the Fleet at Bantam [Banten] in Java (site of an established English trading post), the Japanese seamen were again redistributed to other ships, and at least two of those who had wintered in England returned home to Kyushu, when on 2 August 1617, the English vessel The Advise entered Hirado harbor and unloading began. All did not go smoothly, however, and on the 18th Richard Cocks confided to his Diary: 134 We had much a doe w’th the brabling Japons w’ch came out of England, they demanding more then their due . . . for their losses in Eng’d; . . . & one of them took Capt. Adames by the throte in his his [sic] owne lod[g]ing . . . I had much a doe to hold my handes that I had not cut affe one or two of their heades.

By the end of the month, relations have deteriorated further, Cocks discovering that the mutenose Japons w’ch are com out of England had had [sic] put vp a petission against me to the justice, that I would not pay them their wagis, I made answer to yt of their villanos cariadge & falce slandering of me.

After an intervention by the Matsura family, settlement is reached and payment made to “the Japon mariners w’ch came out of England,” Cocks leaving the next day for Miyako to visit the English trading-post there. Of “the brabling marreners


“Autograph Journal, by Walter Peyton, of a Voyage to East India and back, in the Company’s ship “Expedition,” 24 Jan. 1614 [1615]–29 May, 1617,” London, British Library, Add MSS 19276, Fo. 1r (p. 1). 133 Ibid., Fo. 1v (p. 2); Peyton notes that the cost was “0,” in contrast with other “menn Changed since in the voyadge w’th other Shipps, & received from other places.” 134 See Cocks, Diary, 2:150.


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Japons” we hear no more. 135 Notable here is the boisterousness of the two Japanese, a national characteristic as untypical in the seventeenth century as the in twentyfirst, together with the inference that they were “brabling” in English, Cocks being unable at this date to understand much Japanese. Since he is repeatedly clear that they have traveled from England rather than been picked up along the way, it is intriguing to observe their acculturation to British habits. And so to my last example of Japanese — or rather half-Japanese — human presence in England. Although the newborn Richard Cocks whom Maky Dono named for the Chief Factor had no English blood, William Eaton (legatee of William Adams’s “sea instruments”) had sired a William Junior by his Japanese consort, Kamezõ. When Eaton returned to England in 1623 after the Hirado Factory closed, he brought with him his namesake son, the only such Anglo-Japanese child recorded to have made the journey. By processes I am still exploring, he made his way to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1633, taking his BA in 1635–1636. 136 In 1638 he was nominated by the Bishop as Vicar of St. Mary’s, Happisburgh, on the North Norfolk coast, although the Parish Register nowhere records his name, and he may never have seen his cure of souls. 137 In 1639/40, he was officially made a denizen of England, the same year in which he took his MA, having migrated to Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 28 June 1637; he was in residence there again from March to June, 1639. 138 In 1640, he was instituted Rector of AllSaints, Catfield by Thomas, Earl of Arundel, but is again unmentioned in the Parish Register, and by 1641 he has been succeeded by Alexander Kirbie, so once again he may never have visited the parish in person. 139 In the same year he was instituted Rector of St. Margaret’s, Drayton, by the Bishop, and here he apparently did take up residence for at least some time, since the Parish Register records “Will: Eaton Rector” at the end of the entries for both 1641 and 1643. 140 The Drayton Rectors’ Board in St. Margaret’s, dated 1951, records Richard Vinn as Rector in 1656, followed by William Hawkins in 1665, whereas the British History Online entry cited below makes no mention of Vinn and records Hawkins as Rector from 1662; it is clear that there is further work needed to ascertain whether Eaton remained Rector until 1656 or whether, in the troubled times of Civil War and Interregnum, he was


See Cocks, Diary, 2:53–54. W.W. Rouse Ball and J.A. Venn, eds., Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge, 1546– 1900, 5 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1911–1916), 2:339. 137 Happisburgh Parish Register; Norfolk Record Office Transcript NNAS 894717. 138 See Massarella, A World Elsewhere, 321–22, 422; and Lewis, “Nifon Catange,” 245. Extraordinarily, both Massarella and Lewis assert that Eaton “does not appear in the college records.” I am most grateful to David McKitterick of Trinity and Roger Lovatt of Peterhouse for tracing Eaton in those records. 139 Catfield Parish Register; Norfolk Record Office Transcript NNAS 894718. 140 Drayton Parish Register; Norfolk Record Office PD 69/1. 136

The Convergence of the Twain


removed — by deprivation or by death (no grave can be identified at Drayton). 141 It seems fitting that, given the occasion and subject of this collection of essays, a journey that begins in Hirado in the far west of Japan should end in Drayton in the far east of England: a global Renaissance indeed, but — even then — a small world.


See–301,–293,–413. If he was dead by 1656, he predeceased his father, who is recorded as still living in Highgate in 1668 (see Anthony Farrington, “Some Other Englishmen in Japan,” Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Third Series, vol. 19 [1984]: 1–15, here 6).

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute in Puritan and Anti-Puritan Satire: Or the Rhetoric of Plainness and the Reformation of the Popular in the Harvey–Nashe Quarrel 1

Kyle DiRoberto

This chapter argues that Puritans attempted to purge the carnivalesque pastoral of feminine disorder and that popular writers wrote to defend it, as it represented for them artistic liberty. Moreover, it traces the development of both Puritan and popular writers’ aesthetic sense concerning the pastoral and its carnivalesque expressions through such debates as the anti-Ciceronian movement, the Marprelate affair, and the more general Puritan reform of Carnival in popular culture. It provides any necessary background information as the argument unfolds. For example, the Ramist ideology that influenced the Harveys’ anti-Ciceronism — i.e., the anti-feminism that prompted the Puritan reform of popular culture — is discussed in detail throughout. The chapter focuses on Puritan and popular writers’ representations of masculine rural figures, such as the plowman, the yeoman, and the shepherd, and on figures of feminine disorder, such as the courtier, the prostitute, and the shrew as they reflect the battle between Puritan and popular writers over the aesthetics of popular art through the genre of the pastoral. 1

Originally published as Kyle DiRoberto, “Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute in Puritan and Anti Puritan Satire: Or the Rhetoric of Plainness and the Reformation of the Popular in the Harvey Nashe Quarrel,” in Rural Space in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: The Spatial Turn in Premodern Studies, ed. Albrecht Classen (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), 755–94, Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 55–93.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126378


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In Elizabethan literature, the court and the country often did not define actual places or populations. In fact, depictions of the courtier and the rustic were frequently literary constructions that represented rhetorical stances and their ideological positions. This is apparent in a popular sixteenth-century battle between Puritans and popular writers over the aesthetics of popular art. This literary fliting, known as the Harvey–Nashe Quarrel (1579–1596), primarily involved the Puritans Gabriel Harvey, Gabriel’s brother Richard, and Gabriel’s student Edmund Spenser on one side and the popular writers Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, John Lyly, and, later, Ben Jonson on the other. The quarrel began with Spenser’s publication of The Shepheardes Calender (1579). In the Calender, Spenser attempted to appropriate the popularity of vernacular and colloquial literature along with “the extraordinary power of the plowman conceit during [the] age of . . . reform” in order to make of himself a populist poet laureate, an “English Virgil.” 2 Through the publication of a new genre of pastoral, based on classical sources and the rhetoric of Puritan schoolmasters such as Peter Ramus, Spenser attempted to purge popular culture of its carnivalesque disorder, just as earlier reformers had purged religion of its abuses. 3 Gabriel Harvey’s Three Witty and Familiar Letters (1580) exacerbated Spenser’s assault on popular culture and drew the wrath of popular writers. Harvey attempted to create anew the aesthetics of popular art by constructing an opposition in terms of gender between representations of the plowman as a masculine voice of the people and representation of popular artists as effeminizing purveyors of feminine deception and sensuality. His letters to and from Spenser denigrated the style of popular writers, such as Greene and Lyly, by associating their style with the garb of courtiers. Harvey maligned their works as “womanish,” characterized by apish and grotesque “oyster Ruffs” and “unkodpeased,” or unmanly, “halfe hose.” 4 Harvey, instead, promoted a rhetoric of plainness and simplicity and created a virile fighting image of masculinity out of the pious plowman. As Harvey asserted, he came in to print “to defend himself, manfully, at the paper-bar” against the rural figure “Robin 2

Albert Charles Hamilton, The Spenser Encyclopedia (1990; Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 717. 3 Abraham Fraunce, in fact, wrote one of his manuals on Ramist rhetoric, The Shepherdes Logike, demonstrating Ramists’ method through Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender. See Mary McCormick, “A Critical Edition of Abraham Fraunce’s The Shepherdes Logike and Twooe General Discourses” (PhD diss., St. Louis University, 1968); and John King, English Reformation Literature: Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 22. Also see Mike Rodman Jones, Radical Pastoral, 1381–1594: Appropriation and the Writing of Religious Controversy (Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011). 4 Gabriel Harvey, Three proper wittie familiar Letters, lately passed between two University men, touching the Earthquake in April last, and our English reformed Versifying, 1580, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey for the first time collected and edited, with memorial-introduction, notes and illustration, etc., ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, 3 vols. (London: The Huth Library, 1884–1885; New York: AMS Press, 1966), 1:84.

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


Good-fellow” (one of Robert Greene’s pen names). 5 He did so, he claimed, to protect the institutions of learning and art from the “encroaching pock” of the popular writers and their “curtisan schoole.” 6 His latter attacks on Greene, in fact, suggest he was as envious as he was outraged that Greene’s popularity was greater than Spenser’s. In his Four Letters (1592) he laments that “the Countesse of Pembrookes Arcadia is not greene inough for quesasie stomackes,” but the masses had to have “Greenes Arcadia and [he] beleeves most eagerly longed for Greenes Faerie Queene.” 7 While depicting popular writers as Robin Hood figures and courtesans, both the Harveys and Spenser portrayed themselves as rural plowmen, when, in fact, judging by Gabriel Harvey’s letter to Spenser (1580), Gabriel and Spenser were plotting their advancement at court. Rather than representing real figures from the court or country, the Harveys’ representation of popular writers as courtiers forged parallels between the courtiers’ traditional qualities of luxuriant abundance and duplicity and popular writers’ effeminizing theatricality and grotesque sensual abundance in art. 8 They characterized the style of popular writers as a carnal “cornucopiae.” Gabriel claimed this copious style had produced “whoreson tales of a tub” and that popular writers, whom both Gabriel and Richard associated with the courtiers’ coat of double “piled velvet,” were “sophisters . . . a generation of curroption . . . whore[s] of Babylon,” “butter-whores,” and “oyster- whore[s].” By contrast, the Harveys and Spenser linked their own literary style with the “sheeps russet coate” of the plowman. The Harveys claimed to fear the corruption of the “wool,” of common sense, and their “plain speeches” by these “curtisans.” 9 Popular writers, in contrast, especially Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe, strategically wrote pamphlets to undermine the association of the Puritan with 5

Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, 1596, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:52–53. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:52. 7 Gabriel Harvey, Four Letters and Certain Sonnets, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 1:22. 8 As Patricia Parker claims, and Harvey’s association of “whor[ish] tales” with “cornu copiae” confirms, linguistic copia was associated, in the early modern period, with an aberrant feminine sexuality that threatened masculinity. The theatrical was likewise a threat to masculinity; as the writing of Stephen Gosson attests, it “effeminated” the mind. See Patricia A. Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London and New York: Methuen, 1987), 8–35; and Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse (1579) (London: The Shakespeare Society, 1841), 19. 9 Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:52, 232–33, 343; and Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval the Peace-maker in England Sweetly Indeavoring with his Blunt Persuasions to Botch Up a Reconciliation Between Mar-ton and Mar-tother (1590) (Early English Books Online, 16 Nov. 2011), 12. While it may seem that Gabriel Harvey is writing only in opposition to popular culture, in fact his publication of the Three Letters reveals that he is reform minded rather than against the popular as such. He writes to Spenser to “send . . . some odde fresh paulting threehalfepennie Pamphlet . . . or some Balductum Tragicall Ballet in Ryme, and without Reason,” and he wishes that “some learned, and well advised University man, woulde undertake the matter, and bestow some paynes in deede upon [this] famous . . . materiall.” See Gabriel Harvey, Three Letters, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 1:62. 6


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the plowman, while embracing the designations of themselves as representatives of the feminine grotesque in popular art. They tied the grotesque to expressions of the carnal, the uproarious, and the unbridled in carnivalesque culture, and yet they also often completely inverted the oppositions created by these Puritan rhetoricians. Greene’s Quip for an Upstart Courtier, for example, created links between Puritans and courtiers that suggested that Gabriel Harvey, a Puritan schoolmaster and the ringleader of this reform of the popular, was the true courtier. In Quip, Harvey is the courtier character Velvet Breeches. Moreover, Greene points to the artificiality of academics and the uncharitable economic practices associated with the rising Puritan urban class, in Quip, in order to suggest the courtier practice of economic fraud as consistent with Puritan ideology. Likewise, Thomas Nashe echoes Greene’s accusations in Pierce Penniless and suggests that the revelation of corruption and injustice, associated with Langland’s Piers Plowman, is an attribute of artists like himself, who reveal the fraudulent reform practiced by falsely pious Puritans, who hypocritically attempted to adapt the voice of popular culture to their own cause while claiming to reform it. Suggesting Pierce Penniless (1592) as the original source for Harvey’s appropriation of the identity of the plowman in Pierces Supererogation (1596), for example, Nashe points to the hypocrisy of Harvey’s becoming a popular writer by associating with rather than reforming Nashe’s writing. He claims that Harvey takes a new lesson of Plutarch, in making benefit of his enemies & borrows . . . the name of Piers Penniless (one of my Bookes), which he knew to be most saleble, (passing through sixe Impressions,) to help his bedred stuffe to limp out of Powles Churchyard. 10

In other words, Harvey’s writing would have been too feeble to leave the bookstalls if it were not for Harvey’s association of himself with Nashe’s red-blooded plowman identity. Many of the popular writers involved in this battle over the aesthetic in popular art were courtiers, in the sense that they also were trying to advance at court, and none of these writers was a rural figure. What was significant in the writing of both popular writers and Puritans, therefore, was not actual plowmen or courtiers but the ideology expressed in their representations of these figures. In fact, through the course of the Puritans’ argument with popular writers, the term “courtier” is so obviously only a vehicle for their prejudice in art, regarding what they considered feminine disorder, that it quickly gives way to the representation of the popular writer solely as prostitute rather than as courtier. Therefore, this essay examines Puritan and popular ideology expressed through representations of the plowman 10 Thomas Nashe, Have with You to Saffron Walden or Gabriel Harvey’s Hunt is Up (1596), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald Brunless Mckerrow, 5 vols. (London: A.H. Bullen, 1904), 3:35.

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


and the prostitute. It looks not at actual courtiers, prostitutes, plowmen, or other rural figures but at the Puritans, who, subscribing to an anti-carnivalesque bias in art, used the gendered opposition of the plowman and the courtier to reform what they conceived of as a sinful corporeal theatricality. It also examines the popular artists’ counterattack, especially their defense of the carnivalesque. Through representations of the plowman and the prostitute, popular writers indict the Puritans’ economic practices, lack of charity, and hypocrisy while revealing much about their own ideology concerning not just their personal artistic preferences but also the potential attack on intellectual liberty at stake in the Puritan construction of a “plain and simple” aesthetic sensibility. 11 As Patricia Parker has already observed, this battle between popular artists and Puritans was a long time coming. Earlier in the century, popular writers had become associated with a “corrupting and enervating” femininity that became a “preoccupation .  .  . of the schoolmaster.” 12 This femininity was associated with the Ciceronian or Asiatic style in literature, a verbal “copia” of voluptuous description and linguistic play. This effeminate style was also associated with youthful prodigality, youth being conceived as a period in one’s life of gender ambiguity marked with a lack of restraint. As Parker argues, this Ciceronian style had been contrasted by scholars, such as Lipsius and Erasmus, with “the more virile Attic [style],” which was terse and therefore thought to be manly and disciplined. “Erasmus’s Ciceronianus (1528) speaks of seeking in vain in Ciceronian eloquence for something ‘masculine’ and of his own desire for a ‘more masculine style,’” while Lipsius claims no longer to like the Ciceronian or Asiatic Style: “I have become a man, and my tastes have changed. Asiatic feasts have ceased to please me; I prefer the Attic.” 13 The schoolmaster Ramus, in Brutinae Quaestiones, blames Cicero for making rhetoric the whore of wisdom rather than its “handmaid”; he adds that the softness of Cicero’s style is “scarcely adequate for a noble man” and that he “spurn[s] and condemn[s] it as worthy of an unassuming woman.” 14 Ramus warns that “the lure of Asiatic exuberance rather than the critical judgment of Roman seriousness” is harmful. 15 Moreover, like Lipsius, he associates Cicero’s style with a dangerous lack of restraint that, if practiced in youth, cannot later be overcome. He cautions that Cicero from early on was “steeped in Asiatic verbosity” and that because of this


This study looks at the construction of aesthetic sensibility concerning the pastoral and so does not bind itself to any particular manifestation of this genre (i.e., poetry, prose, drama) but, rather, examines the writings in the genre that are relative to the argument. 12 Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, 11. 13 Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, 14. 14 Peter Ramus’s Attack on Cicero: Text and Translation of Ramus’s Brutinae Quaestiones, ed. James J. Murphy and Carole Elizabeth Newlands (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1992), 29–34 [hereafter cited as Ramus, Brutinae Quaestiones]. 15 Ramus, Brutinae Quaestiones, 29.


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“he later found it impossible to restrain and check himself.” 16 This gendered rhetoric (note its preoccupation with manly styles and styles worthy only of women in the above quotes) created an opposition between a “whor[ish],” copious, and undisciplined use of language and a disciplined masculine style that appealed to Puritans. The Harveys and Spenser adapted this reformation of Ciceronian copia into their reformation of popular literature. The plain style, like the Attic, was characterized by a disciplined lack of wordiness, a “manly” insistence on reason in art, and the rejection of corporeal pleasure, especially the overuse of metaphor. As Parker points out, rhetoricians have linked women with the “deceit [and] doubleness . . . of tropes.” 17 The Harveys certainly condemned this linguistic playfulness in popular writers’ works and their use of puns and parody in carnivalesque satires, as well as the visual voluptuousness of their romances. Spenser, too, wrote to overturn this style. In opposition to the Harveys’ Puritan artistic ideology, which subscribed to a “one-to-one ratio between word and thing,” popular artists’ use of puns as well as metaphors suggested an infinite regress of meaning and language’s participation in the creation of truth rather than its use as a vehicle for the expression of truth. 18 This copia, or abundance of meaning and words, and the bodily pleasure it provoked was fraught with sexual implications for early modern Puritans and represented the sin of unrestrained appetite and the evil temptation of sensual delight. 19 Spenser’s Dame Excess, as Parker points out, is an exemplary representation of these convictions, but so is Spenser’s Duessa. Spenser’s representation of Duessa reflects his ideology on writing; her abundance evokes the frighteningly repulsive feminine grotesque that overwhelms the construction of masculine identity and emphasizes the loathsomeness of the carnal in Ciceronian excess. Other authors in the period represented the grotesque feminine as comedic. For example, through the laughter-provoking and grotesquely feminine Falstaff and Hal’s equally funny 16

Ramus, Brutinae Quaestiones, 8. Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, 111. 18 According to Sister Mary McCormick (a student of Walter Ong) in her critical edition of Abraham Fraunce’s The Shepherdes Logike, Ramus insisted on a “one-to-one ratio between word and thing” in which case the slipping of the signifier and the signified in the construction of meaning that takes place in the use of puns would be troublesome to his ideology, pointing as it does to the instability of language. Moreover, metaphor creates meaning by forging connections between things that appear to be unrelated, adding new ways of understanding and thereby threatening the view that language corresponds to a reality independent of the creative influence of language. Metaphor also confirms the polysemic nature of language that threatens the correspondence theory of language and reality. See McCormick, “A Critical Edition,” 43. 19 Fraunce claims that he writes The Shepherdes Logike to facilitate Ramist logic and so “correct those who have . . . defaced the right use of liberal arts . . . or perverted good manners, as arts of lovinge, magike, quaffinge, with the rest of that heathenish rable.” See McCormick, “A Critical Edition,” 58–59. 17

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copious descriptions of Falstaff, Shakespeare highlights the pleasure in the corporeal experience of abundance, especially in Henry IV Part One. Spenser’s suppression of this comic aspect of the grotesque suggests the fear of laughter that the grotesque provoked in those distrustful of unrestrained bodily reactions to this effeminizing art. 20 In the Puritan battle with popular culture, the object against which the Puritan author struggles is “this temptress,” the temptress being in this case, according to Parker, the “dilated body of the text” or the “ensnarement of Created Pleasure.” 21 The popular artist, as well as the feminine grotesque in popular art, represented this disordered female in the Puritans’ battle with sinful art and thus became not only objects of scorned fascination but also objects of reformation. This battle between the Puritan and popular writer over the reform of popular art takes place through representations of gender in the pastoral genre, a popular and academic genre associated with the carnivalesque. In Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender, written almost a decade before the Marprelate affair (under the tutelage of Gabriel Harvey), Spenser constructed a puritanical masculine pastoral identity. 22 The rural figures that had been associated variously in the carnivalesque pastoral tradition with the shepherd, the pious plowman, the rebel plowman, and even the licentious plow boys, Spenser subordinated under the character of the pious plowman plagued by love and so exiled from an ideal state of being. 23 Replacing the shepherd of the popular carnivalesque pastoral (the often bawdy outlaw Robin 20 In the early modern period, laughter was understood as a semi-sexual experience, and the lack of control that it provoked in the body was suggestive of the dangerously weakening power Puritans associated with the feminine. According to Gail Kern Pastor, Laurent Joubert argues in Traité du ris (1579) that “In laughter . . . our will to bodily control is overcome by a violent solicitation from the body below.” Furthermore, Pastor claims that “Laughter is [for certain thinkers in the period] a bodily phenomenon that one ought to find astonishing . . . ‘who could not be amazed upon seeing the entire body thrown into motion and shaking with an indescribable stir for the pleasure of the soul.’” See Gail Kern Pastor, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Discipline of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1993), 123,124. See also the contributions to Laughter in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: Epistemology of a Fundamental Human Behavior, its Meaning, and Consequences, ed. Albrecht Classen, Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture 5 (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2010). 21 Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, 9. 22 At the end of the 1580s, a group of anonymous Puritan authors, known as the “Martin Marprelate” writers, adapted the popular style of the carnivalesque stage clown and lampooned the prelacy through the publication of pamphlets that soon became extremely popular. Seeing the effectiveness of the Marprelate writers’ adaptation of this popular style, the bishops under attack hired Lyly, Nashe, and Greene, to answer these Puritan authors in a like manner, thus creating the Marprelate affair. 23 E.K. Chambers’ discussion of the wooing theme in plough plays and festivities reveals marked similarities between cultural association of the plowman and the shepherd in the pastourelle tradition, suggesting a shared motif between these rural figures that Spenser reinterprets


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Hood) with the Protestant tradition of the pious plowman, and identifying himself with this plowman, Spenser associated the shepherd with the Puritan cause and the Puritan cause with early reform. 24 However, as Albrecht Classen points out, the original story of Piers Plowman, as used by Langland, had “portrayed through the lens of religious allegory . . . the social conditions of [Langland’s] time, both in their concrete economic manifestations and in idealist terms.” 25 Spenser’s agenda is more moral and aesthetic than economic. 26 Casting himself and Gabriel Harvey as shepherds/plowmen, within the Calender referring to himself as Colin Clout (Skelton’s Piers figure) and Harvey as Hobbinell, Spenser highlights his and the Harveys’ roles as reformers of carnival rather than as economic reformers. 27 The plowman in the Shepheard’s Calender, like the Puritans, speaks out against the May games and against the feminine disorder (here represented as love) that keeps the shepherd from a harmonious state of existence and threatens true art. 28 A decade later, the Harveys will draw from the Calender for their carnivalesque masculine identity in the Marprelate Affair. In Pierces Supererogation and in Plain Perceval, the Harveys use the identity of the plowman to attack the disorder of popular writers, emphasizing the virile fighting image of the plowman in their construction of masculinity and opposing this identity to that of popular writing; the latter they treat

in the Shepheardes Calender, reforming both the shepherd’s and the plowman’s merriment. See E.K. Chambers, The English Folk-Play (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933). 24 Lawrence Manly claims that “The medieval plowman who had in early Tudor complaint still represented the virtue of all members of a unitary estate of commoners was replaced . . . by the pastoral shepherd, whose very being was defined by a new opposition between rural husbandmen and urban merchants.” By the time of the Shepheardes Calender, the figure of the plowman associated Puritans with shepherds, perhaps allowing urban merchants to manipulate a rhetoric that appealed to the rural poor and so better negotiate that opposition. Greene and Nashe’s parody of the Harveys’ economic motives in using the voice of the shepherd/plowman, which I analyze later in this chapter, suggests as much. See Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London (Cambridge, New York, et al.: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 75. 25 See DiRoberto, “Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute in Puritan and Anti Puritan Satire.” 26 Greene and Nashe’s plowman counter-critique, with its blatant economic focus, by opposition draws attention to Spenser’s primarily moral and aesthetic concerns, indicting Puritans as part of an emerging urban class and suggesting Puritans’ cultural reform as a mere screen for obscuring the predatory practices that popular writers threaten to uncover. 27 According to Paul Alpers, “there is every reason to accept E. K.’s word that Colin Clout represents the poet. Spenser’s contemporaries referred to him as “Colin”; later in his career, Spenser unambiguously used the name of himself in Book VI of The Faerie Queen.” See Paul Alpers, What is Pastoral? (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 181. 28 See Alpers, What is Pastoral? 179, who claims: “Colin Clout is depicted as exiled by love from the world which he once shared with his fellows and to which Hobbinoll urges him to return.”

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as representative of a disordered femininity (worse than “Long Meg of Westminster . . . or Maid Marian”) that corrupts an otherwise moral society. 29 Spenser’s attack on feminine disorder in the genre of the pastoral utilizes the elegiac convention to replace the grotesque female of a popular pastoral with a feminine identity as absence, presenting women who are either lost or completely out of reach: the dead Dido, the betraying Rosalind, and Queen Elizabeth. He does away with the popular feminine pastoral conventions associated with the figure of the plucky shepherdess of the May Games, ballads, and the Pastourelle when he strips the pastoral of its comedy and bawdiness, such as that found in the witty and bawdy banter between shepherds vying for their love, or shepherdesses defeating their would-be lovers. These mirthful and celebratory songs of the shepherds and shepherdesses represented disorder in their linguistic playfulness. The shepherdess’s banter was often funny, as in her witty banter with her would-be assailant knights or with her cherished lover, Robin Hood. It could also be erotic, as in the vivid descriptions of lovers and their suggestions of sexual acts, and often it was both when these elements were combined. In response to this Puritan assault on the carnivalesque in art, Greene and Nashe embraced the grotesque feminine identity in all its sexual, comedic, and verbal disorder in the pamphlets Menaphone (1589), A Disputation Between a He Conycatcher and a She Cony-catcher (1592), Have with You to Saffron Waldon (1596), and Pierce Penniless (1592). Celebrating the licentiousness of the disordered feminine in language, character, and content, Greene and Nashe wrote to defend pleasure in art and to uphold the freedom of the shepherd’s popular ambiguous masculine identity. Their shepherd/plowman was associated in a positive way with feminine corporeality. Although the battle over the reformation of the carnivalesque had begun between the Harveys, Spenser, and the popular writers at least as early as with Harvey’s letters to Spenser, it was with the publishing of the more radical Puritan, Martin Marprelate (1588–1589), who was willing to use the comedic in popular writing to reach a larger audience, that the battle over the carnivalesque became particularly pronounced. Popular writers entered the Marprelate fray with a more open vehemence, outraged by the hypocrisy of Puritans writing in the genre they had so long opposed but also obviously relishing the ease by which they could now lampoon Puritan hypocrisy in the arts. In Pap Hatchet (1589), Lyly, conflating the anti-Ciceronian Harveys and Spenser with Marprelate, reveals the hypocrisy of Puritans who condemned popular styles as copious, light, and vulgar and then used the same methods to appeal to a popular audience. Lyly cautions Martin:


Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:65.


kyle diroberto to find fault with no broad terms, for I have measured yours with mine, & I find yours broader just by the list. Say not my speaches are light, for I have weighed yours and mine, and I find yours lighter by twenty grains than the allowance. For number you exceed, for you have thirtie ribauld words for my one. 30

Humorously weighing the difference between popular writers and the Marprelate writers, Lyly implies an incongruity in the Puritans’ new style under the Harveys and Spenser. Countering the accusation of copiousness, his parodic measuring of art suggests that Puritans have been doing just that — preposterously measuring art. Popular writers often condemned Puritans for having minds for business but not for art. 31 Lyly assumes their persona and determines that, in fact, the Puritans are now guiltier than he is of copiousness. Lyly’s mockery illuminates a critically important byproduct of the quarrel over popular culture between popular artists and Puritans: the exaggerated presence in each other’s writing of the opponents’ style. This phenomenon has created critical confusion around the Marprelate affair and the Harvey–Nashe quarrel, making critics mistakenly attribute moral intentions to popular writers, such as Nashe and Greene, and a true spirit of Carnival to Puritans. Critics’ misattribution has disrupted longstanding critical perceptions of the relationship of Puritans to the carnivalesque. Scholars have long written about the Puritans’ moral objections to popular culture in the late Tudor period. Peter Burke, in Popular Culture in Early Modern England, observes that such objections are well known and well documented. 32 He discusses “Calvin’s campaign against festivity in the 1570s,” the “English Anglican,” as opposed to “Puritan,” sympathy “for festive tradition, and the “opposition of English Puritans to popular recreation.” 33 Keith Thomas, in his often quoted “The Place of Laughter in Tudor and Stuart England,” claims that “The Puritan attack on holy days . . . [was] only part of this much wider movement to stamp out all those sources of entertainment which involved the temporary suspension or inversion 30

John Lyly, Pappe with an Hatchet: Alias, a Figge for my God Sonne (1589), in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. Richard Warwick Bond, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), 3:394. 31 See the preface by Sister Mary Martin McCormick in her critical edition of Abraham Fraunce’s Shepherdes Logike. The Puritan philosophy of Peter Ramus was very much preoccupied with balance and so the measuring of art and its practical application. In fact, Ramus seems to be measuring art in Brutinae Quaestiones when he complains of such things as the length of a period being “four cola.” See Ramus, Brutinae Quaestiones, 131. Also see Ben Jonson’s Sad Shepherd, in which Jonson’s characters complain of Puritans’ economic view of holiday celebrations. See Ben Jonson, F.G. Waldron, and Peter Whallev, The Sad Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood a Fragment (London: J. Nichols, 1783), 79. 32 Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), 219. 33 Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 300.

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of the social order.” 34 Thomas’s account of the Puritan attack on popular culture is confirmed in Jonas Barish’s Anti-Theatrical Prejudice and in E.K. Chambers’s study of the Elizabethan stage. Though he does not distinguish between Puritans and Protestants, Mikhail Bakhtin remarks that the Protestants who objected to Carnival “deplored the joking and degrading use of sacred text in familiar verbal intercourse.” 35 More recently, however, a growing number of scholars (John King, Paul White, Grace Tiffany, Joseph Black, and Kristen Poole) have begun to point out the seemingly contradictory evidence of the use of a carnivalesque style amongst supposedly Puritan authors after 1570. Pointing in particular to the Martin Marprelate writers Richard and Gabriel Harvey, and even Steven Gosson and Philip Stubbs, these critics render problematic the work of earlier scholarship. Some have gone so far as to suggest an uninterrupted continuity between Elizabethan Puritans and their carnivalesque Protestant predecessors. 36 For example, they suggest that the inversion of hierarchy and the attempt to overthrow ecclesiastical authority by the rhetoric of the lowly layperson associated with the figure of Piers Plowman are instances of the carnivalesque in Puritan writing. Joseph Black writes that the Marprelate writers attempt to link this rhetoric to that of early reformers by appropriating the “plain speech” of the Ploughman tradition: “A 1592 Presbyterian petition attributed to Job Throkmorton defends Martin by allying him with an oppositional culture that reached back through Tyndale, Barnes, Hooper, and Hugh Latimer, to John Wycliffe, Piers Ploughman, and the pseudo-Chaucerian Ploughman’s Tale.” 37 Job Throkmorton, of course, is thought to be one of the Martin Marpelate writers. In fact, these scholars’ analysis of Puritan carnivalesque rhetoric in the Marprelate affair ought to include another carnivalesque figure, almost completely overlooked by critics, the feminine grotesque, or disorderly female. Whether figured as an oyster wife, oldwife, alewife, fishwife, or prostitute, her unruly “railing” voice is so intrinsically linked to the rhetoric of Carnival that her presence is more indicative of Carnival than is Piers’s “plain speech.” Like Piers, she represents in 34

Keith Thomas, “The Place of Laughter in Tudor and Stuart England,” The Times Literary Supplement 21 (January 1977): 77–81, here 80. 35 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélèn Iswolsky (1965; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 87. 36 See, for example, Kristen Pool, Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton: Figures of Nonconformity in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Grace Tiffany “Puritanism in Comic History: Destabilizing Hierarchy in the Henry Plays,” Shakespeare Studies 2 (1998): 256–87; the introduction by Joseph Black to The Martin Marprelate Tracts: A Modernized and Annotated Edition, ed. Joseph Black (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Paul Witfield White, Theatre and Reformation: Protestantism, Patronage and Playing in Tudor England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and King, English Reformation Literature. 37 Black, introduction to The Martin Marprelate Tracts, xxix.


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Puritan texts the inversion of hierarchy, signaling to those familiar with the carnivalesque the abused subordinate’s overthrow of an unjust authority. 38 An exemplary representation of this figure is Dame Lawson. In The Epistle, Martin calls her “the shrew of Paul’s Gate”; she is not only an “enemy to all dumb dogs and tyrannical prelates in the land” but also so skillful in wit as to be able to put tyrannical prelates in their place. 39 Martin claims that she shut the bishop up when he threatened her with Bridewell, the women’s jail, by answering his charge with the remark that “she was an honest citizen’s wife, a man well known, and therefore bade his grace, an he would, send his Uncle Shorie thither.” 40 Martin adds to her reply the rhetorical flourish of laughter and lauds her prowess in putting down the bishop: “Ha ha ha: now, good your grace, you shall have small gains in meddling with Margaret Lawson.” 41 Martin’s mocking laughter and shifting familiarity with Dame Lawson (his calling her Margaret once she has put the bishop in his place) ally the power of the shrew’s colloquial voice with Martin’s own carnivalesque voice throughout these pamphlets. Like Martin’s colloquial attack on the bishops, her neighborly familiarity with the bishop’s “uncle Shorie” is what overturns the bishop’s authority. However, though the more radical Puritans, the Marprelate writers, incorporated the figures of the plowman and the shrew into their texts, they were not advocates of a popular carnivalesque in general. The presence of Carnival in their writing was due to their attempt to transform the carnivalesque from what it had become in popular culture to something more beneficial to Puritanism and to take back a large, powerful audience: the masses. The Marprelate writers defended their adaptation of this style against the admonitions of their Puritan audience, claiming that “jesting is lawful by circumstance” and reassuring them that, at any rate, they never “profaned the word in any jest.” 42 This suggests that Puritans in general were not proponents of the carnivalesque but that some were open to its possible transformation by appropriation. In fact, the Marprelate writers are transforming

38 See, for example, Gretchen Mieszkowski’s discussion of the representations of feminine trickery as “undermining conventional power structures” in her essay “Old Age and Medieval Misogyny: The Old Woman” (299–319, here 312), and Karen Pratt’s observation, in “De Vetula: the Figure of the Old Woman in Medieval French Literature,” that this “gift for outwitting husbands and lovers, could also represent for some readers, a positive image of female intellectual superiority” (321–42, here 341). Both essays appeared in Old Age in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Interdisciplinary Approaches to a Neglected Topic, ed. Albrecht Classen, Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture 2 (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007). 39 The Martin Marprelate Tracts, 13. 40 The Martin Marprelate Tracts, 13. 41 The Martin Marprelate Tracts, 14. 42 The Marprelate Tracts, 115.

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Carnival in their reassurance that the sacred word was never profaned by jest, for, as Bakhtin reveals, in Carnival the sacred and profane cohabitate. 43 The Marprelate writers’ use of the carnivalesque provoked the wrath of both popular writers and the Harvey brothers — their Puritan allies in the adaptation of the carnivalesque to a Puritan ideology. For the Harveys, Marprelate’s reforming of the church was as important as the Harveys’ reforming of the carnivalesque. It was not enough that the sacred word was not profaned by jest. Jest itself, and female disorder, were the primary targets of the Harveys’ reform. 44 On the other side of the controversy, the Marprelate authors offended popular writers by hypocritically posturing as their adversaries. The popular writers retaliated with anti-Marprelate pamphlets, like Pap Hatchet, but it is with their true adversaries’ entrance into the fray — the Harvey brothers — that the real battle over the carnivalesque commenced. In Plain Perceval (1590), Richard Harvey reveals, through a veiled allusion to Ramism, how great a part the schoolmasters’ ideology was playing in the universities of England and how great a role it would play in their own reformation of the carnivalesque. When the steel and the flint be knocked together, a man may light a match by the sparkle: surely but I think tender be verie dank now adais and though light by leisure: for there hath been striking and jarring ever since . . . a learned man somewhat on thy side, Martin, seemed to persuade that contention for good matters was good. I have seen them, which have seen such hurly burlies about a couple . . . Aristotle & Ramus . . . such a quoile with pro and contra such begging ergoes, til they have gone fro Art togither by the ears, & made their conclusions end with a clunch-fist, fight . . . like those children which sitting in the chimney corner, some at one side some at another, with the fire in the middle; fell to it with firebrands, when they should have but warmed themselves and away . . . one little house of dessention, is able to set a whole house, a towne, an universitie, a citie, a whole Realme on fire. 45

By echoing the evangelicalism of early Protestant martyrs in this veiled allusion to the controversy of Ramists’ rhetoric in the universities, the Harveys were reassuring 43

See Bakhtin, Rabelais, 285. Although the targets of Harvey’s reform are not actual women but representations of female disorder by men, Pamela Brown suggests that there were concrete threats of female insubordination in actual women joking and composing “mocking verse” and “inversionary humor [that] could extend far beyond the holiday pleasure of ‘women on top’ into day-to-day life” in the period, which may have contributed to the anxiety of schoolmasters like Harvey and their desire to silence even the representation of such disorder. See Pamela Allen Brown, Better a Shrew Than a Sheep: Women, Drama, and the Culture of Jest in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 82. See also Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 20. 45 Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 20. 44


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Martin that they were carrying on the light of Martin’s argument, if not his style, through a reformation of art that purged literature of feminine corruption in the vein of Ramus’s anti-Ciceronianism. Ramus and many other schoolmasters, as Parker shows, were responsible for a more vehement anti-Ciceronian movement (really an anti-grotesque femininity movement) that the Harveys would champion in their war with popular writers. These schoolmasters introduced the Puritan “plain style” in prose, a style colloquial but not grotesque. 46 The colloquial style that had been adapted by the Marprelate writers alluded to this Ramists’ plain style, but its grotesque humor, as in the figure of Dame Lawson, was in need of a further reformation, as was the popular carnivalesque writing of the anti-Marprelate writers. Harvey’s mentioning of the feud in the universities involving Aristotelians (Ciceronians) versus Ramists was a well-known allusion to the controversy surrounding the reformation of the arts and the continued acceptance of traditional philosophy at the universities that involved Nashe and Greene, on one side, opposed to Ramism, and both the Harvey brothers, on the other, who lectured and published in support of Ramism. 47 Through his use of the rhetoric of the Reformation, Richard Harvey suggested his reformation of the arts as one all Protestants should embrace. His representation of a light of dissention that is able to set a house, city, and realm on fire — especially his repeated use of the word “light” — echoes the sermon on the mount (Matthew


In fact, Parker attributes an anti-Ciceronism to Ascham that is really more fitting for Ramus, whose more vehement attack on the feminine copiousness of Cicero actually provoked Ascham’s defense of Cicero in the Schoolmaster. Nevertheless, for all of these schoolmasters, even Ascham, grotesque femininity and its copiousness were clearly a problem. As Walter Ong points out, Ramus provided a “business stress on rhetoric” that appealed to Puritan schoolmasters and Calvinists in general. Moreover, he contributed to the plain style against which Ciceronians wrote. According to Ong, a “patristic and medieval love of ornateness” produced “the lushness met among many writers more or less of the episcopal party” in the seventeenth century. See Walter J. Ong, “Tudor Writing on Rhetoric,” Studies in the Renaissance 15 (1968): 36–69, here 64, 67. 47 Ramism consisted of “a definite set of philosophical and literary attitudes derived from the Paris arts professor . . . Peter . . . Ramus.” This essay is concerned with the “literary attitudes” of Ramus that are expressed in the anti-Ciceronian movement and the promotion of the plain style discussed in more depth above. According to Ong, “there [was] a considerable reading of Ramist works by students . . . and a good deal of shouting for and against Ramism by sophisters or other youthful university disputants, who are echoed and improved by Robert Greene, Nashe, and the Harveys.” See Walter J. Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 3, 303. Robert Greene and Nashe represent the “sophists’” side of course. See also Nashe’s reference to this controversy in The Anatomy, Gabriel Harvey’s Ciceronianus, and Richard Harvey’s Ephemeron, sive Paean, in gratiam perpurgatae reformatque dialecticae (1583). Also see Ong, “Tudor Writing on Rhetoric,” 66, where Aristotelians are referred to as Ciceronians.

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5:14–16). Protestant evangelists, according to John King, the editor of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, took this passage as a scriptural prediction of the Protestant Reformation, Ye are the light of the worlde. A citie that is set on a hill, cannot be hid. Nether do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

King adds that Foxe alludes to the same scripture in his “artistic embellishment” of the conversation between the martyrs Latimer and Ridley that was reported to have taken place just before they were to be burned. Latimer says to Ridley: “Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England as I trust will never be put out.” 48 The Harvey brothers’ use of this rhetoric suggests the fervor with which they approached their reformation of the carnivalesque and their hope of extending an acceptance of their artistic ideology among all Protestants. In their reformation, the Harvey brothers believed that the Marprelate writers did not go far enough. They may have introduced the plain style in their use of the colloquial, but they had yet to purge fully their artistic language of the criminality of “feminine” excess and duplicity, to completely “play the man,” as they variously took on the voice of the scold as well as the plowman. Richard claims that Martin’s style, like that of popular writers, is feminine and contagious: “When [Martin] began to skold first, you should have betooke him to an ostler, to walke, while you had cald an officer to chamber his tong. So if you had done, his own poison would have festered in his own flesh.” 49 The Harveys evoke the image of the shrew in describing Martin, but the popular artists are clearly deceptive and sinful. Their writing represents evil-doing and seduction. It is a “foule Devill that brings foorth changeable covred urchins, which can glister like a glose worne neare gold.” 50 Martin is fighting the good fight. His only fault is mixing the message of reformation with the poisonous femininity of popular art: Martin has drawn in his “customers” with one word, “Reformation,” but he will poison them with the “Hemmlock” he has “mingled” with it. 51 Greene and Nashe responded to the Harveys’ and Spenser’s attempted reformation of popular art with the publishing of Menaphon, in which they affect praise for Gabriel Harvey, Spenser, and the schoolmasters but overturn their agenda, creating a compelling celebration of feminine liberality that mocks the sterility in Spenser’s pastoral and continues the Harvey– Nash quarrel. Their fundamental battle was over the Puritans’ attempt to excise the feminine grotesque from the carnivalesque. 48

John Foxe and John King, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Select Narratives. Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 154. 49 Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 2:10. 50 Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 2:13. 51 Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 2:17.


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This feminine grotesque in popular culture could be represented by the mere presence of disorderly writing, copiousness, or bawdy subject matter and jests, or even by the writer’s social disobedience, but it also had a more concrete representation in the popular pastoral character of the shepherdess, known as the Queen of May, or Marian. She was associated with profane acts, laughter, and social disorder. This is reflected in a Puritan minister’s complaint (1597) of a Whitsun ale 52 in which he asserts that piping, dancing, and Maid Marian coming into the church at the time of prayer to move laughter with kissing in church . . . deserve[s] to be called profane, riotous, and disorderly. 53 This popular pastoral figure of the feminine grotesque was more than just a part of the Carnival; it had also become a part of popular entertainment. In fact, Chambers argues that the Pastourelle “forms a link between” the carnivalesque May-games and “folk-song and drama”; 54 he adds that in the Elizabethan period, the figure of Marian also represented gender inversion and cross-dressing, which both infuriated the Puritans and was used to mock them: By the sixteenth century, the May-game Marian developed her own separate persona as a figure of sexual license, frequently presented as a conspicuously crossed-dressed male, as illustrated in an anti-Marprelate play of the 1580s where Martin appears on stage as the “Maide marian,” possibly to satirize puritan opposition to boys playing female roles. 55

The popular writers and their Puritan adversaries battled in the arena of representations of gender and its stability for control over the rhetoric of popular culture. The popular writers attempted to preserve and even to amplify the grotesque in 52

A Whitsun ale was a church fundraiser held on Whit (white) Sunday, or the seventh Sunday after Easter (Pentecost), in which beer was sold to raise money for the Church. A Robin Hood play was usually performed. Players were not always contained within the play, as is evidenced by this complaint, but became part of the general festivities and must have even entered into the church services, at times. 53 François Laroque and Jane Loyd, Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage, European Studies in English Literature (1988; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 139. As E.K. Chambers notes, the games themselves — as well as Marian — represented an inversion of authority: “the conventional freedom of women from restraint [occurred] in May, the month of their ancient sex-festival and the month in which the medieval wife-beater still ran notable danger of chevauschée.” The name of the May Queen also reflects this carnivalesque insubordination: the name Marian, Chambers claims, is “an ironic expression of wifly submission, belong[ing] to Shrove Tuesday.” See E.K. Chambers, The Medieval Stage, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1954), 1:170. 54 Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, 1:171. 55 Stephen Thomas Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren, Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. Middle English Texts Series, 2nd ed. (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), 282.

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their carnivalesque, as it represented artistic liberality, their art largely being viewed as libidinal. Richard and Gabriel Harvey, in contrast, in their attack on Greene and Nashe assert their notion of a masculine popular identity by drawing a distinction between their version of the carnivalesque and the feminine grotesque. Their version, as mentioned earlier, promoted masculinity that was forceful, chaste, and simpleminded. It combined elements in popular art, such as the voice of the lowly shepherd, with the Ramists’ anti-Ciceronian plain style and its bias: fear of feminine disorder. 56 To the Harveys, Ramist rhetoric shared with the carnivalesque a “native” rudimentary use of language over the excessively ornate. It was liberating. It overthrew the authority of Aristotle, “the prince of philosophers,” and the older order of scholasticism (anti-Ciceronians were synonymous with anti-Aristotelians, as Ramus attributed Aristotle with teaching Cicero his deceptions). 57 However, this is where the similarities end. Ramist rhetorical ideology, as Greene’s and Nashe’s writing reveals, was not, despite its pretentions to plainness and hard work (or “discipline”), a language of the masses; it was the language of elite schoolmasters and ambitious courtiers, and it was far from representing the freedom of Carnival. 58 Though it was not obviously courtly, it nevertheless represented an aspect of the Puritans’ reformation of manners. 59 It was based on a desire for order, and it attempted to replace the deviance of a body-based pleasure in the arts with the virtue of art as an intellectual exercise or as a vehicle for moral instruction. 60 The proponents of Ramist rhetoric, including the Harveys, represented the visceral power in unrestrained artistic language as a dark primal “motion in the soul,” which they wanted to reduce through a logical and ordered discipline to a


As mentioned previously, Fraunce’s Shepherdes Logike emphasizes this agenda. See Ramus, Brutinae Quaestiones, 40. 58 Indeed, Ramus’s attack on the philosophic traditions that precede him, according to Ong, was enabled by the powerful allegiances at court he had made while an impoverished student at the university (see Ong, Ramus, 25). 59 According to Abraham Fraunce’s Shepherdes Logike, a manual illustrating Ramist principles through Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender, Ramist was meant to “correct those who have . . . perverted good manners.” See McCormick, “A Critical Edition,” 58. 60 David Graeber claims, when talking about Norbert Elias and Peter Burke, that Elias “has made a famous argument that the sixteenth century marked the beginning of a broad “advance of thresholds of shame and embarrassment ‘throughout Western Europe,’ an increasing tendency to repress open displays of or even references to bodily functions in everyday interactions — a process which came to a peak around the end of the nineteenth century. Burke . . . has noted that at this same time Church authorities throughout Europe were also engaged in a much more explicit campaign to ‘reform popular culture’ — that is, to eradicate what they considered to be immoral elements in public life and ritual. English Puritans of the time spoke of both as part of the same ‘reformation of manners.’” See David Graeber, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2007), 694. 57


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mere subdued “ornamentation.” 61 Artistic expression within the more civilized confines of reason could be useful in certain circumstances. Under Ramism, for example, poetry could be seen as belonging “less to rhetoric than to arithmetic”; it was useful for teaching eloquence, and it was also useful for breaking down complex ideas into simple percepts for “moral teaching.” 62 This is obvious in Harvey’s and Spenser’s experimentation with meter and in their morally edifying writing. The most popular writing, the highly pleasing and morally ambiguous popular works, as well as the artists who created them, were increasingly condemned by an educated Puritan elite. The first of the Puritans to attack the popular writers personally was Richard Harvey. He lambasted Nashe in The Lamb of God (1590), as Lorna Hutson has pointed out, because Nashe “had the temerity to publish an unsolicited review of the contemporary state of English literature.” 63 According to Harvey, Nashe “had acted in civil learning as Martin doth in religion.” 64 In other words, Nashe had challenged the hierarchy of learning as Martin had challenged the hierarchy of the church. Moreover, Gabriel Harvey disparaged as “womanish” what popular writers believed was the essence of art: its purely aesthetic appeal, imaginative abundance, and creative liberation. The tensions subtending their opposition were not only a product of their ideological bias but also a product of the changing world of popular art. Before the sixteenth century, “every craftsman and peasant was involved in the transmission of popular culture, and so were their mothers, wives and daughters”; 65 but increasingly, because of the printing press and because of Puritan critics, the rich, polyphonic, and playful communal nature of the voice of the populace was condemned, while the “plain speech,” the simple, clear sincerity of a monologic author, was promoted. 66 An important record of this shift is evident in Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender (1579). The Puritan philosophy of Gabriel Harvey had a profound influence on his friend Spenser, as their published letters suggest. In the Shepheardes Calender, 61

Ong, Ramus, 272. Ong, Ramus, 218, 285. 63 Lorna Huston, Thomas Nashe in Context, Oxford English Monographs (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press, 1989), 201. 64 Richard Harvey, The Lamb of God (Epistle), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5:179–80. 65 Burke, Popular Culture, 91. 66 As Morris Croll suggests, a “new emphasis on the inner and individual life of men” was arising in this period, “a ‘heroic’ virtue of self-dependence,” especially among those who ascribed to these rhetorical practices . See Morris William Croll and J. Maz Patrick, “Attic” and Baroque Prose Style: The Anti-Ciceornian Movement. Essays, by Morris W. Croll, ed. J. Ma Patrick and Robert O. Evans, with John W. Wallace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), quote from 113. To Puritans, this was associated with the spiritual independence of the individual self from the authority of the church; for the artist, the insistence on the morality of a consistent identity in the arts was nothing less than artistic imprisonment. 62

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


Spenser, a supremely monologic and moral author, goes so far as to provide an interpreter of his intentions. A Mr. E.K. is “made privy to [Spenser’s] counsel and secret meaning” in a glossary that follows every month (the poem is in the form of a calendar). 67 He explains away allegorical ambiguity and reduces the possibility of polysemic meaning in metaphors; for example, in the allegory about a kid and a fox, E.K. lets the reader know that “by the kid may be understood the simple sort of faithful and true Christians.” 68 Similarly, in the conclusion of November, he sums up the moral in that portion of the poem with the phrase “Death biteth not.” 69 The Harveys and Spenser also tied the sincere to the linguistically chaste, where chaste meant both subdued ornamentation and chaste sentiment. Spenser is minimalist in his praise of Rosalind and apologetic for any seductive expressions, forswearing carnivalesque Mayday festivals, lascivious music, and lust and only bursting forth in flowery passionate praise for his queen, which the logic of the poem justifies, as it occurs in the end of the month of April. 70 Rosalind is conspicuously missing in the poem. The shepherds’ songs are represented as lewd complaints from wayward youth, which the author chastises, except when the song is the author’s, in which case his elegiacs are already chaste. The entire poem is written to correct the improper, or, as Colin claims in his conclusion, he writes to “save [his] sheep from shame.” 71 There is no song of the shepherdess, as in the fifteenth-century ballad “Robene and Makyne,” where Makyne is given a voice, or as is in Greene’s Menaphon, wherein the shepherdess and her lover negotiate romantic relationships and the woman is shown to take part in the pastoral convention of displays of wit. Spenser’s pastoral is anti-carnivalesque. There are no comedic moments, there is no eroticism, no unbridled joy in song or love, only a lamenting of misguided lust, heavy sorrow, relinquishment, and rejection of the worldly. Critics who do not see the popular pastoral as associated with the carnivalesque miss a rich tradition of popular pastoral. Francis Waldron believes that Ben Jonson wrote his final play (which was never finished) entitled The Sad Shepherd: A Tale of Robin-Hood (1637) 67

Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender & Other Poems, ed. Philip Henderson (London: Aldine Press, 1932), 7. 68 Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, 49. 69 Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, 94. 70 Spenser’s relationship with music is as vexed as his relationship with love. E.K. claims that Spenser in the persona of Piers in the October eclogue warns against the Arcadian Melody, in much the same way Lipsius and Ramus caution the reader regarding Cicero’s style. E.K. recounts that “Plato and Aristotle forbid [it] from children and youth. For that being altogether on the fifth and seventh tone, it is of great force to mollify and quench the kindly courage, which useth to burn in young breasts. So that it is not incredible which the poet [Spenser] here saith, that music can bereave the soul of sense.” Furthermore, suggesting a potential for sinfulness in music and poetry, he reminds the reader that Orpheus recovered his “excellent skill in music and poetry . . . from his wife Eurydice in hell.” See Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, 84. 71 Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, 97.


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to resurrect this lost tradition in the seventeenth century. Indeed, Laroque claims it is “a late rejoinder to Spenser,” and it contains many of the elements contained Greene and Nashe’s works, especially the condemnatory mockery of Puritans. 72 Jonson himself claims to write his play in order to confute “the heresy . . . that mirth by no means fits pastoral.” 73 Moreover, Jonson’s play reinstates the outlaw Robin and his plucky shepherdess, Marian, whose voice begins the play. He restores her active female agency to the genre. She is introduced in the act of killing a deer with which to feast Robin’s men, and like the shepherdess and knight of the pastoral, she is engaged in a verbal game of seduction with her would-be seducer, Robin Hood. As in the pastoral, she is also capable of wittily rebuffing seduction if she pleases. Here she initiates the banter. Running to Robin Hood, embracing and kissing him, she talks about all that has added to her pleasure that day: finally seeing him, the hunt, and her pleasing the dogs by giving them “tongues, ears, and dowcets” (the sweetmeats of the deer). To which Robin provokingly asks, “what? and the inch-pin?” (the inch-pin being part of the sweetmeats but also evocative of the penis). 74 She misses his suggestion, just replying “yes,” and so he makes it more explicit, using her own suggestion of pleasure. He asks, “your sports then pleased you?” In response to which, now getting his suggestions, she laughingly calls him a wanton. His reply implies that she was the initiator and that he grew to her embraces: I wanted till you came, but now that I have you, I’ll grow to your embraces, till two souls Distilled into kisses through our lips, Do make one spirit of love. 75

The loving equality expressed in the exchanges between Robin and Marian stands in stark contrast to Spenser’s portrayal of Colin’s relationship with Rosalind, and while an elegiac passion is a convention of the pastoral, various conventions can be used to various political, artistic, and ideological ends. 76 In the case of The Shepheardes Calender, Spenser is using a pastoral convention to overthrow the feminine grotesque so as to reform the carnivalesque in popular literature. Greene and Nashe responded to these attempts to adapt and overthrow the carnivalesque in the arts in a similar manner to Jonson in his Sad Shepherd. They mocked the Harveys’ and Spenser’s attempt to reform the carnivalesque in art and wrote to liberate it. Their works lampooned many of the Harveys’ notions about art 72

Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World, 115. Jonson, Sad Shepherd, 4. 74 Jonson, Sad Shepherd, 21. 75 Jonson, Sad Shepherd, 21. 76 See William Empson, Some Versions of the Pastoral: A Study of the Pastoral Form in Literature (Norfolk: New Directions, 1950). 73

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


and overturned the engendered discourse sometimes used against popular writers by emasculating the Harveys and (Robin like) by embracing their carnivalesque designation of popular writers as “women on top.” 77 Greene writes Menaphon (1589) in order to restore the feminine grotesque to the pastoral. The delightfulness of inordinate women and the acceptance of female sexuality are major themes in Menaphon. This fact together with Nashe’s praise of Harvey, Spenser, and the schoolmaster in the introduction to Menaphon probably infuriated the Harveys and inspired the retaliatory Lamb of God even more than did Nashe’s mere “unsolicited review” of literature. 78 Menaphon is Greene’s carnivalesque inversion of Spenser’s chaste, silent, and, indeed, absent female. In Menaphon, Greene promotes female agency, especially wit (associated with feminine disorder by Puritans), in his love matches; in fact, inordinate female sexuality finds acceptance in his work, as the highborn as well as the lowborn shepherdesses’ chastity is, unproblematically, less virtuous than cautious. In fact, chastity seems a necessary condition in a sexually tyrannical male world. Though doubt is cast over the sexual propriety of the heroine, Greene never struggles to resolve it. He seems content to leave the issue ambiguous. The shepherdess’s former lover suggests they had sex outside of marriage, though we do find out later they were probably married at the time; the fact that she almost has sex with her father and is willing to pay Menaphon with marriage for his hospitality, after she is finished mourning, suggests chastity is not at issue in this highly sexualized world so much as survival. She is redeemed as a character, as are all the characters, by wit. From old married couples to lowbrow young shepherds, a playful banter between men and women is the proof of their unity. Perhaps the most endearing example of the importance of wit to Greene’s pastoral and the importance of it in endearing women to their spouses (and to the reader) is found in a conversation regarding a Marigold that takes place between Agenor and Eriphela. While sitting in the garden, Agenor suggests that there is a lesson to be learned in the Marigold, but, tongue in cheek, he says that women (referring indirectly to his own wife) would probably prefer not to hear it, as it deals with the “Servile . . . duty” of a dedicated wife. The Marigold, he explains, “waketh and sleepth, openeth and shutteth her golden leaves, as [the Sun] riseth and setteth,” suggesting that a wife should likewise be so attentive. The plucky Eriphela responds, “were the condition of a wife so slavish as your similtude would inferre, I had as leave be your page as your spouse, your dogge as your darling.” She claims she will have Marigolds thrown out of the garden so that they will not poison her. Agenor teasingly replies that there is no need for “a thistle to fear being stung of a nettle.” At which point, she mockingly threatens 77 See Natalie Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), especially 124. 78 Richard Harvey, Lamb of God.


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him to “beware, least in wading too farre in comparisons of thistles and nettles, you exchange not your rose for a nettle.” 79 These witty exchanges that mask camaraderie in hostility suggest a warm equality that is the absolute inverse of Spenser’s icy love complaint to his utterly absent shepherdess. Likewise, in counter-distinction to Spenser’s pastoral characters’ insistent godliness, chastity, and rejection of the sensual even in music, Greene writes of a heroine who loves music, of base and noble shepherds who sing bawdy songs (odes to women’s breasts and genitalia), and of oedipal plots as if they were everyday matters. Confuting critics who argue that Greene is in fact a moralist, the shepherds’ songs of Menaphon and Melicretus are bawdy and affirm the Harveys’ objections to Greene’s writing as sexual. Both Menaphon and Melicretus take turns in a shepherds’ song competition to describe their love. They include the usual blazons of their lovers’ white skin and red blushing, but they become quite lascivious when they describe her breasts and vagina. Both contain images of sucking in their descriptions of her breasts. Menaphon’s eclogue claims: Her Paps are like fair apples in their prime, As round as orient pearls, as soft as down, . . . from their sweets love sucked his summer-time. 80

Melicertus replies to this image in his description of her breast in the following stanza: Once Venus dreamt upon two pretty things, Her thoughts they were affections Cheifest nests, She sucked and sigthed . . . And when she waked, they were my mistress breasts. 81

Melicertus’s use of the term “sucked” in this description of the creation of his lover’s breasts by Venus could be read merely as sucking in breath. However, the juxtaposition of Melicertus’s use of this word in a poetic competition with Menaphon, in which Menaphon uses “sucked” to refer to an erotic sucking action (summer-time sucking his sweets from her breasts), suggests that sighing is meant to be read as moaning rather than breathing. Things become even more obviously erotic when the shepherds describe her genitals. Menaphon claims his mistress’s genitals are incomparable, Her maiden mount, the dwelling house of pleasure, not like, for why no like, surpasseths wonder, 79

Robert Greene, “Menaphon: Camillas Alarum to Slumbering Euphues,” in his Meloncholie Cell at Silexedra, 1589, in The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 15 vols. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1964), 6:95. 80 Greene, Menaphon, 124. 81 Greene, Menaphon, 127.

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


O, blest be he may . . . search for secrets of that treasure. 82

Melicertus’s reply is downright pornographic, evoking vivid images of wings as veiling her “bliss” and describing the liquidity of his mistress’s genitals: Once Cupid sought a hold to couch his kisses, And found the body of my best-beloved Wherein he closed the beauty of his blisses . . . The Graces erst, when Alcidian springs Were waxen dry, perhaps did find her fountain Within the vale of bliss were Cupid’s wings, Do shield the nectar fleeting from that mountain. 83

Greene’s shepherds are the carnivalesque inversion of Spenser’s pious plowmen and an inversion that incorporates the highly visual use of metaphor to create the sexually pleasurable experience in literature that was so feared by schoolmasters. Moreover, Greene’s highly visual image of female genitalia in its pleasantly avian description as “cupid’s wings” stands in direct contrast to Spenser’s images of female genitalia as a bird’s nest, or rather his negative and oblique references in The Shepheardes Calender (1579) to what is suggestive of female genitalia. For example, Colin finds a foul/fowl nest (though he avoids this pun by calling the bird an owl) when searching for love in nature. The nest suggests a vagina. He complains that when he was hoping to find the honey bee “working her formal rooms,” he instead finds “a grisly toad-stool grown there . . . and loathed paddocks . . . where the ghastly owl . . . her grievous inn doth keep.” 84 This description of the owl’s nest seems to refer to the vagina in that it is an “inn,” whose rooms are “worked.” Moreover, though its direct reference is obviously elided — by using such anxiety-ridden and morally loaded adjectives as “ghastly,” “grisly,” and “grievous” — in his description, Spenser suggests the nest’s association with the lust the whole poem sets out to repudiate. Like Spenser, Harvey also divorced the comic and the pleasurable from the carnivalesque and attempted to reform popular culture, which he depicted as a form of feminine disorder. In his letters, Gabriel Harvey expresses to Spenser this wish to reform and adapt popular print culture. He puts his wish into practice with the publication of his pamphlets to Nashe (and perhaps, as Nashe accuses him, prior to this in his anonymous publishing of almanacs). 85 Harvey suggests that a “learned” university man, such as himself, might reform the publishing of the unlearned: 82

Greene, Menaphon, 124. Greene, Menaphon, 128. 84 Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, 97. 85 There is actually some evidence in Harvey’s letters to Spenser that he was anonymously publishing work that the university might find objectionable. He says, “If peradventure it chance to cum once owte whoe I am I am (as I can hardly conceive howe it an nowe possibely be wholye 83


kyle diroberto Send me within a weeke or two, some odde fresh paulting threehalfepennie Pamphlet for newes: or some Balductum Tragicall Ballet in Ryme, and without Reason, setting out the right myserable, and most wofull estate of the wiked, and damnable worlde at these perillous days, after the devisers best manner: or whatsoever else shall first take some of your brave London Eldertons in the Head. In earnest, I could wishe some learned, and well advised University man, woulde undertake the matter, and bestow some paynes in deede upon so famous and materiall an argument. 86

In highlighting the masculinity of his imagined corrector, calling him a university “man,” and by referring to popular literature as “material” (or “matter”) that with toil “pains indeed” could be disciplined into something worthwhile, Harvey is alluding to a well-known conception of undisciplined language as female “matter” and equating that femininity with popular writers. According to Parker, “the image of “matter . . . readie to be framed of the workeman” is repeated again and again in descriptions of proper disposition”; 87 moreover, this “proper disposition” linked by Harvey with the “university man” shapes and brings order and rule to a “matter” that calls attention to affinities between this language of control of matter in discourse and the reigning gynecological conception of the male as “disposing” the female in generation, “wandering,” uncontrollable, and excessive materia. 88 Harvey’s praise of Elderton as “brave” or masculine is obviously ironic. The sentence that follows his praise begins with “in earnest,” suggesting his shift in sincerity. In earnest, he sees writers from the university as men. The stories of the popular press he associates with a female matter that needs to be corrected. In his letters to Spenser, Harvey clearly disparages popular culture and links it with nonrational, weak-minded women. His sentiment here is also echoed in the opposition he sets up between the popular and the learned in his earlier statement. He claims that after dinner, a couple of women in the company with which he dined asked him to try their “wits a little, and let them heare a peece of our deepe University Cuning” regarding the cause of earthquakes. After his long scientific explanation, he reports that they exclaimed, Here is much adooe, I trowe, and little helpe. But if pleaseth Master H to tell us a trim goodly Tale of Robinhood, I knowe not what. Or Sver if this

kept in) .  .  . nowe, good Lorde, howe will my right worshipfull and thrisevenerable masters of Cambridge scorne at the matter.” See Gabriel Harvey, Letters to and From Edmund Spenser (1579–1580), in The Works of Gabriel Harvey , 114. 86 Gabriel Harvey, Three Letters, 62. 87 Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, 116. 88 Mark Breitenberg, Anxious Masculinities in Early Modern England, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 86.

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


be Gospell, I dowte, I am not of good beleefe. Trust me truly, Syr, your Elogquence farre passeth my Intelligence.

To which he responded: Did I not tell you aforehand, quoth I, as much? And yet would you needes presume of your Capacities in such profound mysteries of Philosophie, and Privites of Nature, as these be. . . . It is enough to caste you both into a fitte, or two of a daungerous shaking feaver, unlesse you presently seeke some remedie to prevent it. 89

Harvey suggests an opposition between the popular and the learned discourses and, by this reported conversation, constructs the alternative discourse of popular tales as a comforting remedy (a toothless pleasure) for the dangerous shaking fever that the hyper potent “deepe University coning” is capable of provoking in frailer mental dispositions. His forays into the carnivalesque in his responses to Nashe will reveal that he is not as unthreatened by the pleasurable in popular entertainment as he here suggests. Like Martin Marprelate’s threatening the bishops with Dame Lawson, Harvey threatens popular writers with the specter of the female scold in Pierces Supererogation. His engendering of language mirrors the threat that he sees in the popular artists’ “womanish” writing, and his strategy in undermining their scolding rhetoric is not only to reflect and thereby deflect their assault but also to emasculate their feminine empowerment by reforming the scold. Harvey represents the scold in the most derogatory form of feminized insubordination, the whore; simultaneously, he figures a reformed version of the scold as a chaste and upright lady. His female figure of carnival seems schizophrenic if the logic behind her dual depiction is not clear to the reader. In fact, most critics have ignored the unreformed scold in this work and have debated the significance of Harvey’s upright lady. They miss the fact that the scolds in Harvey’s work represent the modes of writing that Harvey suggests are available to Nashe; he can be a reformed scold or remain a harlot. Harvey’s scold/whore parodies popular writers; she exposes the “harlotry” in their “unbridled stile,” as Harvey terms it. His mocking explanation of why he has chosen to adapt this feminine discourse is that he “must learn to imitate by Example”; that is, he will take Nashe’s example of imitation and use his style against him. 90 Nashe often imitated the flatfooted Harvey to hilarious effect, but what Harvey is suggesting here is a mirroring of mirroring. He will, in other words, attempt to mirror the popular authors’ mirroring of the Puritans’ indictment of “womanish” writing. His indictment provoked

89 90

Harvey, Three Letters, 44, 47. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:233.


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Nashe and others to represent themselves deliberately as scolds, prostitutes, and oldwives. 91 The popular writers’ strategy for liberating their artistic expression from Puritan opposition is similar to the strategy Luce Irigaray suggests women practice in seeking liberation from a discourse of oppression constructed upon “masculine logic.” She suggests that they “play with mimesis” and thus recover their place in discourse, without allowing themselves to be simply reduced by it. “One must assume the feminine role deliberately, which means already to convert a form of subordination into an affirmation, and thus to begin to thwart it.” 92 Having been reduced to the cultural position of the feminine by a constructed “masculine” logic of the Harvey brothers, early modern popular writers do not allow themselves to be simply reduced to the insignificant. Instead, they assume the feminine role of bodily disorder voluntarily: Greene is as lascivious in Menaphon as Nashe is uproariously funny in his disordered carnivalesque overturning of Puritan authority in Pierce and other pamphlets. As Irigaray suggests women do, they turn their subordination into an affirmation. They are so successful that Harvey tries to reform them by a similar mimicry. Imitating their feminine writing and suggesting simultaneously, if rather lamely, an alternative female position and, hence, artistic identity, Harvey tries to make virtuous women/artists out of them. First Harvey reveals just what he despises in the popular artists and their “womanish” writing. He calls Nashe a “gossip” and asserts that the “Cuckingstoole” is his Copyhold. Condemning Nashe’s rhetorical excess, Harvey remarks that his adversary could “reade a Rhetoric, or Logique Lecture to Hecuba in the Art of raving, and instruct Tisiphone herselfe in her owne gnashing language.” His indictment culminates in tying Nashe’s excess of language, his “Unbridadle stile,” to the unbridled sexuality of a whore. Indeed, he refers to the scold Nashe as a “butter whore.” His “Oven-Mouth,” indicative of that other orifice, Harvey renders insatiable, able to “swa[p]-downe a pounde of Butter . . . of a Breakefast.” 93 Harvey further claims that it takes a scold to correct a scold and that therefore a “Butterwhore . . . like an arrant Knight . . . might peradventure in some sort pay [Nashe] home with Schoolebutter.” Indeed, a virtuous scold 91 Although Greene was dead before the publications in which Harvey blatantly referred to Nashe and Greene’s writing as Harlotry, Puritans had, before this time, drawn “an analogy between poets . . . [and] prostitutes” in their attacks against popular culture. See Ian Fredrick Moulton, Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England, Studies in the History of Sexuality (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), especially 83. 92 Luce Irigaray, The Sex Which is Not One (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), 8. 93 Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:231. Harvey includes all artists associated with Nashe in his attack on Nashe. Though this is not evident in this quote, there are many instances in which it is and many other instances in which their artistic expressions are also associated with a lack of sexual restraint. See, for example, page 91, where Harvey refers to them as “inventours of newe, or rvivers of old leacheries” and calls them a “whole brood of venereous Libertines.”

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


(Harvey in a carnivalesque gender inversion with virtue intact, of course) is coming through his new pamphlet entitled Nashe’s S. Fame, to school him: S. Fame is disposed to make it Hallyday. She hath already put-on her wispen garland over her powting Croscloth: and behold with what an Imperial Maistie she commeth riding in the ducking-chariot of her Triumphe. 94

The scold/whore and Harvey’s reformed scold share many characteristics. In his gentlewoman’s imminent scolding pen, for example, Harvey echoes the image of the knight, the equestrian hero: “A very Pegasus indeede, [that] runneth like winged horse, governed with the hand of exquisite skill.” 95 He engenders her triumphant lambasting, however (and also his), as masculine. Her scolding is a supererogation, or military action beyond the call of duty: “She it is,” he asserts, “that must returne the mighty famous worke of Supererogation ” 96 Harvey’s anxiety with assuming the feminine role is so profound that he must simultaneously undermine what he attempts to set up. The moral genre of the correcting mirror justifies Harvey’s adaption of Nashe’s style in Pierces Supererogation. Moreover, his correction through imitation works not just to show Nashe what a monster he is, by reflecting his style and thus correcting him; it also works to amend the figure of the scold, i.e., to reform the carnivalesque through reforming popular writers. As usual, Harvey’s attack on Nashe is also an attack on Greene and the rest of the “gawdie witts” of England’s “most-villanous Presse.” 97 Drawing on Nashe’s notorious style of mixed metaphors, punning, and allegory, Harvey uses a mixed metaphor consisting of a urinal, mirror, and a scold to diagnose, reflect, and reform Nashe’s rhetoric. He claims that in his imminent work S. Fame — the work that also contains the threat of the virtuous scold — Harvey will determine and cure Nashe’s malady (i.e., his artistry). He claims that he cannot well cast his water, without an Urinall either old, or new: but an old Urinval will not so handsomly serve the turne: it would be a new, as the Capcase of Straunge Newes: but a pure mirrour of an impure stale; neither grose the clearer to represent a grose substãce; nor green, the livelyer to expresse some greene colours, & other wanton accidents; nor any way a harlot, the trulyer to discoover the state of harlatrie. 98

The metaphor completely breaks down as it is being created. He goes from talking about urine to talking about prostitutes and popular writers. His awkwardness illustrates his contempt for artistic subtlety, lively writing, and elaborately 94 95 96 97 98

Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:229. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:322. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:322. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:218. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:228.


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figurative language; by exposing the dual meaning of the word “stale” and by alluding to Robert Greene, life, and disease in the word “green,” he undermines the significance of metaphor to meaning. His contrivances and topical allusions, rather than suggesting the complex meaning that metaphor creates between seemingly contrary things, emphasize the belaboring of unlike terms unnaturally yoked to one another. Reflecting Nashe’s malady and Harvey’s judgment of that malady, this passage hangs upon three words: “gross,” “stale,” and “green,” in many senses of the words. If Nashe’s urine is literally thick, or gross, it is suggestive of disease, the disease that in fact Harvey attributes to the other meaning of thick, a meaning freighted with moral judgment: bloated with excess. This excess, as shown by Harvey’s imitation, is in the nature of puns and metaphors. Like the pun on stale, meaning both corrupting female and urine, puns and metaphors reveal the polysemy of words that, depending on one’s perspective, clutter or enrich the semantic field of language. 99 For Harvey, even more than cluttering, multiplicity perverts meaning, tying art to the unruly. Though he is obviously teaching through imitation, in his anxiety with the lawlessness that comes with imitating Nashe, Harvey claims to be teaching by contrast. He reflects through a chaste woman, “a pure mirror,” where woman stands for artist, an “impure stale.” As he claims early in Supererogation, Nashe’s lawlessness in practicing the arts would destroy the authority of rhetoricians, the universities, and proper artists, and replace it with the criminality of prostitution and disease. Harvey laments, Godnight poore Rhetorique . . . adieu good old Humanity: gentle Artes . . . sometime floorishing Universities . . . your vassalles of duety must . . . become the slaves of that dominiering eloquence, that knoweth no Art but the cutting Arte; nor acknowledges no school but the Curtisan schoole. The rest is pure natural . . . would it were not an infectious bane, or an incroching pocke. 100

Nashe’s style is criminal, according to the above passage. It is infectious and brings “an incroaching pocke,” or syphilis. This is further developed in Harvey’s diagnoses of Nashe’s diseased style. In discussing Nashe’s urine, he is also taking yet another stab at the style of Greene, and he blames Greene for Nashe’s adaptation of this “wanton” style. He sets up an opposition throughout the pamphlet between writers such as Greene, “mockers of the simple world,” and the correct, chaste style, which is represented as not “greene” but “clear.” 101 “Simple,” “plain,” “clear”: all these terms 99

See The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., (hereafter OED), last accessed 6 Nov. 2011. A “stale,” in the sense of snare, or a false bird that lures other birds in order to entrap them, was often used figuratively to mean a woman, and an impure stale in the above quote suggests as much. 100 Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:52. 101 Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:229.

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contrast with Greene’s and Nashe’s abundantly imaginative and verbose “green” style — alluding to the fertile element in nature. Harvey interprets such a style as feminine. He refers to Nashe and Greene as “mother wits” and complains of their “mother-tongues.” 102 The masculine, by contrast, is associated with restraint and reason, even a lack of fertility. The fertile style of popular writers, when linked to the feminine as it is in Harvey’s perspective, is not only deceptive but also sinful; its excess suggests unbridled sexuality and inordinate appetite. In Harvey’s view, artistic civility, ironically, consists not in artfulness but in discipline. Art associated with corporeal pleasure is sinful and must be chastened. Hence Harvey’s chaste scold. The new chaste scold, however, has problems. These are reflected in the inability of Harvey to represent a chaste scold; the construction lies outside the logic of his discourse. He claims of the lady, Every eye of capacity will see a conspicuous difference betweene her, and other mirrors of Eloquence . . . it will then appeare, as it were in a cleere Urinal, whose witt hath the greene-sickness. 103

His reformed scold represents all the artistic qualities he promotes: control, homosocial alliance, and simplicity, yet she remains a “urinal,” associated with the lower bodily stratum. Harvey provides an example of her work; it contains jest book conceits and is less than decent by Harvey’s standards, full of “bawdry,” images of flaccid “meacocks” like “flagging flowre[s] in the rain,” and pure “Nasherie” that Harvey cannot help but use in reply to Nashe’s assault on Harvey’s construction of masculinity. 104 Most scholars ignore the duality and contradiction with which Harvey represents the scold in this pamphlet. They concentrate on his depiction of a virtuous lady and on his hinting at the possibility that she might be the Countess of Pembroke, rather than on all the ways in which he also disrupts this image with the specter of the carnivalesque “butterwhore” scold anxiously wedded to the active agency of the gentlewoman. Her wildly contradictory elements of chaste, lady-like behavior, masculine aggression, and sexual and linguistic excess belie the anxiety with which Harvey approached this carnivalesque figure. His attempt to harness her sexuality and transgression, and that of artistic expression, is obvious as is his telling failure to do so. Similar to Gabriel, Richard Harvey also attempted to engender an idealized plain speech as masculine and to emasculate popular writers in the process of trying to harness the power of the female wit. Richard’s Plain Perceval opens with

102 103 104

Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:51. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:324. Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, in The Works of Gabriel Harvey, 2:17.


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an old wives’ tale beginning, which it almost immediately interrupts with a more authoritarian voice. Gossip Reason the chiefe actor in the pageant of my brain, began this motherly, and well powdered tale. The medling Ape, that like a tallwood cleaver, assaying to read a twopeny billet in two pieces, did wedge in his pettitoes for a saie: and remained forth coming at the direction of those, whose occupation he encroached upon until he was free. Short though his apprenticeship, did he not pay for his learning. 105

Richard’s description of the gossip’s story as a motherly, powdered tale suggests the same biases found in Gabriel’s rhetoric and indeed in the general logic of the masculine discourse with which the Harvey brothers have aligned themselves. The style of the woman’s tale is associated with a carnivalesque sexual excess, “powdered” having a plethora of meanings but most often suggesting pickled, ornamented, and having been treated for venereal disease. 106 Powdered tales, in their ornamentation, are associated with the popular writers; therefore, the moral of the story, ironically, is as true for Martin as it is for the Harveys. Richard claims, in the above passage, that Martin “the medling Ape . . . assaying to read a twopenny billet in two pieces,” or to read a carnivalesque pamphlet in a contrary vein (i.e., wresting the carnivalesque style in support of Puritan causes, the heretofore enemy of popular culture) “pays” deeply for his cunning. In imitating the popular writers, “whose occupation he encroached upon,” he becomes afflicted with their disease; in other words, he tells powdered tales and even assumes the inordinate female voice. Richard Harvey suggests, as a warning to others, that he almost succumbs to the contaminating style of popular culture. Upon entering the fray, he begins by telling his audience a “poweder’d” tale, through Gossip Reason, “in the pageant” of his brain. In illustration of the reformation of popular literature, however, he recovers and is interrupted by the simple masculine plain style. As the Puritans’ reconfiguring of the carnivalesque ensues, Gossip Reason’s powdered tale is reformed. This “chiefe actor” in female garb is subordinated to her Landlord and is taught to “give every man his right.” Following the above quote in which Martin is warned by the gossip’s tale, the character of the landlord breaks in and, through the remainder of the plowman’s tale, corrects the plowman: Tush Percevall, hath no felicite in these captious intergatories. And therefore good sweet Tennent Reason, speake plainely, and say Landlord mine (Give every man his right). He that thrusts his finger between the bark and the tree,


Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 5. The OED gives the first meaning as pickled, the second as ornamented, and the definition of having been treated for venereal disease is at 1b. (last accessed 7 Jan. 2012). 106

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is like to be pinched. Counterfet Martin . . . encounter not them . . . they carry fier in their harts, and death in their mouths 107

In this passage, Richard Harvey reforms and reduces the gossip by having her first submit to her lord, and then making her speak plainly. She then warns the imitating Martin against the wiles of the popular writers in a less obtuse style but with the same message. If you imitate the popular writers’ style, you may be infected with their diseases. Similar to Puritan descriptions of prostitutes, the popular writers are depicted as carrying fire in their hearts (having an inordinate sexual appetite) and spreading their sexually transmitted diseases through their use of language (carrying death in their mouths). The popular writers defended their use of artistic language in a carnivalesque way by hysterical inversions and comedic parodies, in which they suggested the Puritan simplicity in the arts, which the Harveys promoted and which Spenser practiced, to be the product of an uncharitable avarice and an attempted imposition of an anti-carnivalesque, overly pious schoolmaster tyranny upon the arts. For example, Nashe’s Pierce Penniless reveals the way in which the Harvey brothers wreck the carnivalesque in his mockery of Gabriel’s stereotypically Puritan moral outrage and piety as well as his pedantry in attempting to wed the rhetorical theories of a schoolmaster to popular culture: “Monsterous, monsterous and palpable, not to be spoken of in Christian congregations though hast skumd over the schoolemen, and of the froth of their folly made a dish of divinitie Brewesse, which the dogs will not eate.” 108 Then, in a typical parody, and simultaneously an inversion, he poses as a schoolmaster himself and gives Gabriel a rhetorical spanking for his misuse of language: “Thou that came to the Logicke Schooles when thou wert a freshman, and writist phrases; off with thy gowne and untrusse, for I mean to lashe thee mightly.” 109 There are few writers who could match Nashe’s or Greene’s playful virtuosity, and, in fact, the more the Harvey brothers tried to engage in a battle of wits with Nashe and Greene, the more their sincerity seemed to beg lampooning. In Pierce Penniless, Nashe affirms the association (created by Puritans) of prostitutes as the enemies of plowmen, completely inverting their construction. He attributes to Puritans the feminine deception with which he has been accused and attributes to himself the vice-correcting characteristics of the plowman. Instead of copiousness, he suggests, hypocrisy is the source of Puritan femininity. He creates a mock blazon of the proud hypocrite (ruby cheeks, cherry lips) in which the Puritan is said to cover his “uglie visage of Pride . . . after the color of the new Lord Mayor’s posts” and so appear what he is not. 110 The Lord Mayor was the moral authority 107

Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 5. Thomas Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse His Supplication to the Devill (1592), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:98. 109 Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:198. 110 Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:181. 108


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to whom people in London reported indecencies. Nashe claims that the Puritans’ sinfulness is painted over with the color of moral authority. Similarly, in the following lines, Nashe asserts, Wise was that sin washing poet that made the Ballet of Blue starch and poaking stickes, for indeed the lawne of licentiousnesse hath consumed all the wheat of hospitalities. It is said, Laurence Lucifer, that you went up and down London crying . . . like a lanterne & candle man. I mervaile no Laundresse would give you the washing of your face for your labour, for God knowes it is as black as the black prince. 111

Utilizing the criticism of predatory economic practices and religious abuse employed in Langland’s Piers Plowman, where wheat can buy absolution, Nashe claims the hypocritical Puritan would white-wash his face with starch in order to cover his hypocrisy, but all the wheat has been consumed by the covetous Puritan courtier. 112 As David Baker interprets this passage in On Demand, “the wheat which once was given away in the name of charity is now given over to the making of starch to stiffen . . . ornate ruffs.” 113 The ornate ruffs are worn by Laurence’s counterpart, the upstart courtier. According to both Nashe and Greene, again in the topoi of Langland’s Piers Plowman, the Puritan upstart is responsible for overturning the feudal system through a rejection of charity and through the introduction of a new system based on commerce and rack-renting. The upstart in Quip claims his curious and quaint apparel motivates “merchants to seek foreign marts, to venture their goods and hazard their lives.” 114 What Nashe refers to as the “lawn of licentiousness” in the previous passage 115 is also evocative of its opposite, the privatization of the land and the uncharitable barriers, or enclosures, that Nashe and Greene attribute to middle-class landowners who are destroying the hospitality of the old feudal system. This is what Greene claims in Quip, when he represents the “yeoman” as hating the upstart because he has “persuaded so many Landlords, for the maintenance of [his] bravery, to raise


Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:181. As Jones (Radical Pastoral, 18) points out in Langland’s Piers Plowman, “‘a confessor coped as a frere’ (B3.35/C3.38) approaches Mede and proclaims ‘I shal assoile þee myself for a seem of whete’(B3.4/C3.42) Absolution is being sold for material gain, the process of confession which should depend on genuine contrition for one’s sins is being hijacked by financial selfinterest in the form of ‘wheat.’” 113 David Baker, On Demand: Writing for the Market in Early Modern England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 40. 114 Robert Greene, A Quip for an Upstart Courtier: or A Quaint Dispute Between Velvet Breeches and Cloth- breeches (1592), in The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse, 11:230. 115 The term “lawn” in the early modern period referred to an open grassy field between woods. See the OED (last accessed 7 Jan. 2012). 112

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the rents.” 116 Greene’s dedication of Quip to a “supporter of ancient hospitality” belies this same sentiment, as does his claim that he wrote Quip to oppose “upstart gentleman” who “raised rents, racked their tenants, and imposed great fines” and because of whom “hospitality was left off, neighbourhood was exiled, conscience was scoffed at, and charity lay frozen in the street.” 117 Nashe, like Greene, mocks the sparse style advocated by Ramist rhetoric, evident in the writing of the Harvey brothers, as evidence of their uncharitable natures. He tells the Harveys’ friend Richard Litchfield, in Have With You to Saffron-Waldon: in tender charity and comiseration of [Richard Harvey’s] estate, I add ten pound & a purse .  .  . on that condition in their last will & testament they bequeath me eighteene wise words in the way of answere betwixt them. I dare give my word . . . they will never doe it, no . . . their whole stock of wit, when it was at best, being but ten English Hexameters and a Lenuoy . . . Wherefore, generous Dicke . . . I utterly despair of them. 118

Nashe’s prefacing and closing with the words “charity,” “generosity,” and “despair” emphasize not only the parsimony in the Harvey brothers’ rhetorical philosophy but also Nashe’s judgment of its economic underpinnings. Even in Jonson’s late pastoral Sad Shepherd, his final assault on Puritans, Robin complains of the loss of “those charitable times” “when all did either love or were beloved.” 119 Tuck agrees that “the sowrer sort of shepherds” (which the editor glosses as Puritans), who are filled with “covetise and Rage” are poisoning the lambs and digging ditches so that calves drown and heifers break their necks just to vex their neighbors. Jonson’s editor mentions Jones’s Adrasta as “another instance of pastoral satire directed against Puritans.” Adrasta complains about “The curious precisness, / And all pretended gravity, of those, / That seek to banish hence harmless sports / Have thrust away much ancient honesty.” 120 If Nashe and Greene were not drawing on an already existent anti-Puritan discourse, they were instrumental in creating one. As discussed earlier, utilizing the rhetoric of economic abuse, the Harveys had attempted to link artistic language and popular writers with the worldly greed and effeminate nature of the courtier. The courtier was traditionally represented as defrauding and extorting the plowman. Richard warns, “I pray you defile not my sheeps russet coate . . . this home made Barley, and my plain speeches may have as much wool (I dare not say so much wit) as your double pild velvet.” 121 Moreover, the 116 117 118 119 120 121

Greene, Quip, 11:210. Greene, Quip, 11:210. Nashe, Have With You to Saffron Waldon, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 3:11. Jonson, Sad Shepherd, 15. Jonson, Sad Shepherd, 79. Richard Harvey, Plain Perceval, 12.


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Harveys include in their representation of themselves as plowmen a nationalistic rhetoric evocative of domesticity and England’s one major industry: wool. They claim their plain speech has much wool and not wit (wit, they suggest by this opposition, is foreign). Nashe and Greene completely invert this nationalistic, economic, and engendered rhetoric. In their works, the Puritan is represented as the insatiable upstart courtier. He is a foreigner in Quip; in Penniless he is an Englishman so disconnected from his own nation that he would not only defraud and extort the poor and noble alike but also would defraud them of their English festive traditions and customs and attempt to enclose poetry and the literary arts within the parsimony of their economically motivated aesthetics. In Quip, Greene not only mocks Puritans, and especially Gabriel Harvey, as upstart courtiers, but he also lampoons the Ramist philosophy behind the businesslike outlook of the Puritan poet. In Harvey’s reformation of poetry, his self-proclaimed invention of English Hexameter, Greene objects to his arrogant attempts to enclose the richness of experience within the boundaries of his mathematical approach to language. Greene claims, Methought I saw an uncouth headless thing come pacing down the hill, stepping so proudly with a geometrical grace as if some artificial braggart had resolved to measure the world with his paces; I could not decry it a man although it had motion for it wanted a body, yet seeing legs and hose, I supposed it to be some monster nourished up in those deserts. 122

His mockery of Gabriel’s poetic persona corroborates what Walter Ong has argued: under Ramism, poetry “become[s] appliqué work of the worst mechanical sort, for, as Ramus occasionally hints, the rules that govern it belong . . . less to rhetoric than to arithmetic.” 123 However, even Harvey’s arithmetic is flawed. The meter he has promoted, hexameter, is completely at odds with the natural rhythms of the English language, as Nashe’s parody of Harvey’s poetry reveals. It is “all up hill and down . . . like a horse plunging through the myre in the deep of winter, now soust up to the saddle, and straight aloft on his tiptoes.” 124 Greene also points to a lack of discernment and, indeed, a lack of manliness in Harvey’s inability to recognize his incongruous “motions.” He suggests Harvey’s and, in general, the Puritans’ stereotypical repudiation of bodily pleasure when, upon seeing velvet breeches approach, he claims that he could not “decry it a man although it had motion for it wanted a body.” Pleasing rhythms normally determine the music of poetry. This is a very basic bodily response to rhythm. Understanding the rhythms that were pleasing, in the early modern period, was equated with a certain manliness, honorability, and sense. As Lorenzo tells Jessica in Merchant 122 123 124

Greene, Quip, 9. Ong, Ramus, 282. Nashe, Have With You to Saffron Waldon, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 3:7.

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of Venice, “The man that hath no music in himself . . . / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; / The motions of his spirit are dull as night, / Let no such man be trusted.” 125 Nashe suggests that Harvey’s failings in art are a product of his lack of ability to discern the pleasurable. In Pierce Penniless, Nashe creates an allegory about Puritans who attempt to convince the masses to repudiate the pleasurable experience of art. Nashe’s allegory draws upon the “Plutrachan image of the bee sucking its honey even from noxious herbs,” an analogy that, as Chambers claims, had become a commonplace in the defense of the arts against Puritans in the Elizabethan era. 126 The allegory involves the husbandman who, like the plowman and the yeoman, is associated with the soil, which is suggestive of native wit. The fox, who “can tell a fair tell, and covers all knaverie under conscience,” attempts to convince “the good honest husband man to pause, and mistrust their own wits.” He does this, according to Nashe, in order to “purge [his] popular patients of the opinion [that] their old traditions and custums” are any good. 127 He convinces them that they are poisoned because the soil that produced them (England) is poisonous (infected with frogs), “whereas in other countries, Scotland, Denmarke and some pure parts of the 17th provences” there are “no creatures to curropt” the goodness of the soyle.” 128 In equating the better soil with Puritan countries, Nashe’s allegory suggests that a treasonous anti-English sentiment underpins the Puritans’ desire to reform the arts. In answer to the Puritan objection to an Italian, or foreign, extravagance in the abundance of Nashe’s language, Nashe defends his rhetorical style as pro-English, though not nationalistic; he would not be so confined: Old Romanes in the writings they published, thought scorn not to use any but domestical examples of their own hom-bred actors, scholers and champions . . . Coblers, Tinkers, Fencers, none escapt them, but they mingled all in one Gallimafrey of glory. Here I have used a like method, not of tying my selfe to mine owne Countrie, but by insisting in the experience of our time; and if I ever write any thing in Latine (as I hope one day I shall), not a man of any desert here amongst us, but I will have up. Talrton, Ned Allen, Knell Bentlie, shall be made known to France, Italie, and Spain. 129

125 William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice (1600), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997), 5:1.91–96. 126 Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:238. 127 Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:225. 128 Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:225. 129 Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 1:215.


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As Nashe claims in the above quote, Pierce Penniless is indeed a glorious “gallimafrey.” 130 It mingles and embodies the essence of the carnivalesque in a clowning celebration of abundance and disorder that excludes nothing but exclusion. There is perhaps no voice unheard in the parodies that make up Pierce Penniless. Even the schoolmaster is included by way of parody. Nashe and Greene shift the definition of “Pierce” in their responses to the Harveys. He is not plain but poor, having been robbed by upstarts like the Harveys. The Harveys’ attempt to impose an ordered simplicity upon this carnivalesque figure is yet another assault. In his association with the liberality of artists, the defenders of popular traditions, the plowman, though poor, remains a figure of abundance and hospitality, inhabiting the fertile world of the imaginations of writers such as Greene and Nashe. In opposition is the stark world of the court or city, the place of the upstart Puritans and their rejection of charity. Nashe and Greene suggest that the sterile realm of an imagination ruled by Ramism was no place for a plowman. In Disputation, the redeeming of pleasure and abundance and the restoration of a carnivalesque liberation through insubordination continues through Greene’s representation of the repentant prostitute. The Disputation is Greene’s urban pastoral. Like all of Greene’s repentance and cony-catching pamphlets, it was written in opposition to the Puritans’ carnivalesque reformation. In Disputation, Greene writes to overturn Puritans’ attributing chastity to honesty, promulgating provincial morality, and imposing sincerity in authorial identity, but, primarily, to invert Spenser’s pastoral. Paul Alpers claims that an important element of pastoral literature lies in its “creation of imaginative space,” and, as he further notes, this is a space within which relationships are negotiated. Commentators on Shakespeare’s As You Like It (1598–1600), as Alpers points out, refer to other plays in which “a sojourn in a ‘green world’ enables a return to court.” 131 As in As You Like It, gender, filial, and class relationships are resolved. Identities are tested there, and some harmonious resolution is usually found: brothers are reconciled and lovers are united. In Spenser, gender relationships begin and end estranged, and the only evolution in Colin’s relationship with Rosalind is his reported discovery of her betrayal. Colin himself does not emerge reconciled or more fully realized, and even nature, in this pastoral, is portrayed as a place of seduction and error, not of growth. Greene’s Disputation responds to The Shepheardes Calender by inverting its scheme. The pastoral space, as Terry Gifford claims, is created “with an implicit or


The OED gives the definition of “gallimaufry,” in 1551, as a dish made out of hashing up odds and ends of food; a hodge-podge, a ragout. 131 Paul Alpers is quoted in Timothy Gray’s essay, “Semiotic Shepherds: Gary Snyder, Frank O’Hara, and the Embodiment of an Urban Pastoral,” Contemporary Literature 39, no. 4 (1998): 523–59, here 523; and see Alpers, What is Pastoral? 130.

Representations of the Plowman and the Prostitute


explicit contrast to the urban” in mind. 132 This urban space is imagined as having become too corrupt or too restrictive to find new forms of community or understanding. In Disputation, Greene re-imagines the pastoral space in an urban environment, the inverse of the country, creating out of the place of the tavern a site of refuge and gender negotiation. The witty banter between Nan and Lawrence, in which they invert the aspiration to virtue by holding a competition over who is the most detrimental to the commonwealth (and by vigorously attempting to attain that title), evokes the camaraderie of the old married couple in Menaphon. When Lawrence attempts to diminish the seriousness of Nan’s criminality by claiming, after she has told him about one of her tricks, that he thinks his “mother wiser than all the honest women of the parish besides,” Nan mockingly replies, “belike she was of our faculty, and a matron of my profession.” 133 Greene’s urban pastoral anticipates the modern genre in which the city acts as a pastoral space where subjectivity is always in play and hence subject to newly ambiguous possibilities that allow one to escape from deleterious proscriptions . . . the city is . . . available for those who want to change their roles, abandon a fixed identity, or otherwise disguise themselves. 134

Greene’s city is more alive than Spenser’s countryside, and the reader participates in the vivacity of its characters. In fact, their vivacity, in contrast with Spenser’s sincere monologic morality, consists in their heroic adaptability in role-playing and in the quick improvisation of witty comebacks; it echoes the heroism of the shepherdess in Menaphon, who survives by playing the role of the shepherdess and who escapes precarious situations by the use of her skill in language. Malleability and tenacity, not sincerity and honesty, are what is praiseworthy in Greene’s characters. Malleability, for example, is what allows for the seeming villain, the prostitute, to become a Robin Hood figure, i.e., the outlaw who betters society by outwitting criminals (often masquerading as officials). In one of the prostitute’s merry tales, a strumpet and some cony-catchers trick a braggart cony-catcher out of his stolen money. After having come up with various strategies, which the braggart cony-catcher is too clever to fall for, the strumpet and her confederate cony-cathers finally conceive a hilarious scheme in which they play various roles (sheriff, bawd, and 132 Terry Gifford, Pastoral: The New Critical Idiom (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 94. 133 Robert Greene, A Disputation Betweene a Hee Conney-catcher, and a Shee Conney-catcher, whether a Theefe or a Whoore, is Most Hurtfull to the Common-Wealth, 1592, in The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse, 10:11. 134 Timothy Gray, “‘A World without Gravity’: The Urban Pastoral Spirituality of Jim Carroll and Kathleen Norris,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 47, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 213–52, here 225.


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virtuous wife) and by which they eventually get the most notoriously proud conycatcher to hide naked in a closet and gladly give up his money-filled clothes. In fact, Greene himself seems to pop in and assume the Puritan designation of the popular writer as whore and the Harveys’ and Spenser’s designation of themselves as shepherds (only he converts them to a Robin Hood type shepherd, the thief Lawrence). At the beginning of a Disputation, Nan tells Lawrence to “put up [his] pipes and chop logic and give [her] leave to speak.” 135 Moreover, Greene challenges Spenser’s notions of virtue, especially chastity and honesty, showing more love and understanding between a thief and a whore negotiating their professional relationship than Spenser shows between Hobinal and Colin Clout, Spenser’s “pædrastice” model of ideal masculine friendship that supersedes his “gynerastics.” 136 Finally, Greene mocks the Harveys’ attempt to depict the popular writer as prostitute and their moral certainty regarding puritanical agendas by writing a pious tale of self-deception. In the tale of the conversion of an English courtesan, Greene tells his own version of the story of St. Thais. In the story of St. Thais, a devout old man of God converts a rich and famous courtesan. She burns all her belongings and spends the rest of her short life in penance for her disgraceful acts. In Greene’s version, the courtesan tells a story of a devout, attractive young man who convinces her in a dark room that her “bewtifull faire, and well formed . . . bodie” has become “the habitation of the divel.” Rather than convincing her to give up all pleasure and spend her life in repentance, he merely asks that she leave the house in which she is staying, “and [he] will become [her] faithful friend in all honestie.” Although he promises to “use [her] as [his] own sister,” he ends up marrying her. 137 As Virginia Macdonald astutely observes, “despite her religious focus and her emphasis on God’s hand in her change . . . her own narration implies that her sexual attraction for the man, his appeal to her vanity, and his wish that she ‘were as honest . . . as bewifull,’ prompts her reform more than does any true sense of repentance.” 138 The courtesan is obviously not the only pious hypocrite in the story; convert and converter alike are self-deceiving. Through this allegory of conversion, Greene suggests the possibility that the Harveys, his would-be converters, might be motivated by such a guilty pleasure. Focusing on the Puritan’s rather than the prostitute’s hypocrisy, Greene’s story suggests that sometimes the converter is really more interested in the convert than the conversion. In the pursuer and pursued theme of

135 Greene, Disputation, in The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse, 6. Ramists were often mocked for their logic chopping, and pipes are symbolic of shepherds. 136 Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, 16. “And so is pœderastice much to be preferred before gynerastice, that is, the love which enflameth men with lust toward womankind.” 137 Greene, Disputation, in The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse, 79. 138 Virginia Macdonald, “Robert Greene’s Courtesan: A Renaissance Perception of a Medieval Tale,” Zeitschrift für Anglistic und Amerikanistik 32, no. 3 (1984): 211–19, here 214.

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shepherds, prostitutes, and popular writers, Greene makes absolutely clear just who the grotesque really is, and he never lets his reader forget the ubiquity of hypocrisy. Both the prostitute and the pastoral play important roles in the battle over artistic expression between the Harveys and popular writers. The rhetoric of the rural and the riotous, embodied in the figure of the prostitute and the plowman/ shepherd, though not referring to an actual place or real people, articulates oppositional literary identities that both suggest the liberality important to the popular writers and underwrite the condemnatory coercion that enabled the Harveys’ attempted reformation of popular art. The Puritans configure the prostitute as the ultimate outsider, the abject female. She inhabits the opposite ideological place of the pastoral shepherd, whom they have reconceived of as a pious plowman. Having constructed the pastoral as a place of imagined community, the prostitute’s disorder establishes, through opposition, the boundaries of their chaste puritanical social identity, while justifying their literary engagement with popular writers. In contrast, drawing on the festive tradition that underwrites the pastoral tradition, the grotesque absence of boundaries in the carnivalesque, popular writers tear down the edifice of a religiously chaste Puritan identity based on a deceptively chaste pastoral. Popular writers not only redefine the pastoral space as riotous but also expose the Puritans’ pretense to reformation as an excuse to engage in the corporeal pleasure of popular disorder. In summary, the trope of rural space plays an important part in the Harvey– Nashe Quarrel in expressing Puritan and popular aesthetic sensibilities in general, especially the figure of the plowman. “Plain Pierce” is associated by Puritans with an aesthetically pleasing plain-dealing. Popular artists associated plain-dealing with stupidity and Puritans with the suppression of complex artistic expression and inane sets of artistic rules, such as the notoriously misguided English hexameter. Moreover, popular writers shifted the definition of “plain Pierce” so that he is newly associated with the liberality of artists defending popular traditions. That is, they defined this rural figure through his generous hospitality, revealing a stark opposition between this attribute and the widespread urban acceptance of usury, the rejection of charity, and the unnatural desire for social advancement, which they suggested characterize their (hypocritically pleasure-seeking) Puritan adversaries. Indeed, it is this same discourse of animosity that will contribute to the anti-Puritanism of the Jacobean and Restoration comedy of the next century.

The Darkside of Celtic Mythology: The Evil Eye, Evil Creatures, and the Frightening Side of the Otherworld Angela Loewenhagen Schrader

Every human society has its creation and destruction myths, as well as its mythology of fantastical gods and creatures. Sometimes the people and creatures in these mythologies are depicted as benevolent and helpful to mankind, although many mythological figures most definitely do not fall into this category. The Celtic tradition has a wide array of mythological creatures which, if they were real, would give us reason to leave our lights on at night and bar the doors on certain nights of the year. I will focus here on the legends of such creatures as the banshee, the pooka, and the darker side of the well-known leprechaun, as well as such prevalent superstitions as the presence of the evil eye and the frightening side of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. I will also analyze these creatures and superstitions in relation to the religious beliefs the Celtic people held during the Middle Ages in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and then examine how the advent of Christianity affected these beliefs. 1 Many of these popular stories were imparted to me as a child, from the lips of my great-grandfather, James O’Leary. He passed them down to me via the same method by which such stories have been handed down to children in the Celtic world for generations: by word of mouth. He had learned these stories from his mother and his grandfather, who had heard them from further ancestors, and so on. In the Middle Ages, this was more than common; it was tradition. Writing 1 I would like to thank my great-grandfather, James O’Leary, for his stories throughout my early childhood; they sparked my interest in medieval history and folklore. Thank you also to the editor of this volume, Dr. Meg Lota Brown, as well as the blind reviewers who aided me in making this a much better work than when I began.

Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 95–108.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126379


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was taboo in Celtic culture for centuries, and one of the most honored positions in society belonged to those who spent years (perhaps even decades) apprenticing to masters in the art of storytelling, to learn how to memorize and tell their people’s stories, histories, and news: the bards. Today, of course, many of these stories have been put into writing for those populations who do not have the benefit of a loquacious great uncle, or grandmother, or great-grandfather from Ireland, Wales, or Scotland who would be willing to pass those stories down to the next generation. However, the oral tradition still lives on in many family living rooms, villages, and gaeltachts (areas of Ireland where Irish Gaelic is still the primary language spoken). Many of the references I will use here are from experts in their field of cultural lore and mythology, some of whom may perhaps even have gleaned knowledge from an older generation of their own families.

The Banshee The banshee (Irish bean sídhe or bean sí) is one of the more commonly recognized specters of Irish myth and legend. The term “bean sídhe” translates literally to mean “hill woman” or “woman of the hills”; however, the translation “woman of the fairies” is also acceptable, due to the mythological connotations given to the term “sídhe” and its having been linked to the fairy-folk of Irish folklore. 2 Associating the banshee with fairy-folk is especially apt, as many of them are known to be able to change their shape or general appearance. This fearsome being affects either the guise of a horribly ugly old woman or a strikingly beautiful young one; she can look incorporeal and ghostlike, or she can appear to be quite real and present. Most often, the banshee is associated with one of the older families of Ireland and will take on the look of one of the young maidens of the family’s household. Lady Wilde indicates that the maiden “cannot enter heaven until some other member of the family, who must likewise be young and beautiful, takes her place through death.” 3 She adds that ordinarily there would be nothing to fear from such an apparition, unless she was heard to be weeping; this would be a sure indication that someone in the family would die soon. 4 The family banshee has also been known to follow its emigrating kin to the New World and continue its vigil over them there.


Peter Beresford Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABCCLIO, Inc., 1992), 39. 3 Lady Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland: Contributions to Irish Lore (Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1970), 83. 4 Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland, 83.

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Because of her grisly task of notifying mortals of their impending demise, the banshee is also referred to as “the spirit of death.” 5 Indeed, Nigel Pennick describes her “as either an aged hag dressed in a winding-sheet or as a beautiful young woman, finely appareled, aspects of the threefold goddess.” 6 Prominent in Celtic mythology, the Morrígan is in some accounts one goddess with three aspects (the warrior, maiden, and crone) and in others three separate entities (the sisters Badb, Macha, and Morrígu). According to legend, the Morrígan, in the visage of Badb, “who haunts battlefields, often in the form of a raven, mutilating corpses,” is also associated with the banshee in her more hideous hag form. 7 These more macabre forms of the banshee and of Badb provide a connection from Irish to Scottish Celtic mythology, in the Bean Nighe, or “washerwoman at the ford.” 8 A common Scottish apparition, the Bean Nighe is described as a spirit seen frequently by the fords of rivers, “washing the bloodied shirts or shrouds of those about to die.” 9 Clearly this creature is not attached to any one family but can appear to anyone at her chosen location. Before bridges were built in the British Isles and Ireland, people would cross at fords, points in the river where (during times when water levels are normal) it is relatively safe to cross. There are various stories of the Bean Nighe appearing at these water fords, perhaps as a warning to those who wished to cross during times of high, fast flooding. There is a very famous banshee associated with the area of Skibbereen, in County Cork, Ireland, by the name of Cliodhna [pronounced klee-na]: Cliodhna [Cleena] is the potent banshee that rules, as queen, over the fairies of South Munster; and you will hear innumerable stories among the peasantry of the exercise of her powerful spells [. . .] [one story relates that] she was a foreigner, and that she was drowned in the harbor of Glandore, near Skibbereen, in Cork. In this harbor the sea, at certain times, utters a very peculiar, deep, hollow, and melancholy roar, among the caverns of the cliffs, which was formerly believed to foretell the death of a king of the south of Ireland; and this surge has been from time immemorial called Tonn-Cleena, Cleena’s wave. 10

This, then, is another instance of the banshee as more than just a spirit. Here we see that the banshee was believed to rule the fairy-folk of the region, suggesting that she was once a much greater force in Irish Celtic mythology. Patricia Monaghan 5

Lady Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland with Sketches of the Irish Past (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925). 6 Nigel Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996). 7 Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 148. 8 Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 148. 9 Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths, & Customs of Britain (Thrupp, Stroud, and Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2002), 13. 10 P.W. Joyce, LL.D., The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places Vol. I (Dublin: The Educational Co. of Ireland, 1869–1913), 195.


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argues that the banshee may very well have been considered an aspect of the Morrígan but was diminished over time. The Irish word bean-sídhe [. . .] originally referred to any woman of the Otherworld. Such beings were often early goddesses of the land [. . .], diminished into regional Fairy Queens when their worshipers were conquered by those who honored other divinities. Over time, however, the banshee’s domain narrowed, until she became a spirit who announced forthcoming death, a transformation that has been linked to the seizure of Irish lands by the English in the 16th and 17th centuries. 11

It is possible that the reduction of the banshee’s realm of influence may have begun to occur much earlier, as Christianity became more prevalent throughout the Irish countryside and various cultural elements began to be absorbed by the new faith; we will address that in more detail later on.

The Pooka The pooka (Irish púca, phouka; Welsh pwca) is a curious creature in Irish legends. It comes into the panoply of stories quite late in history, and Irish mythology itself has no equivalent figure to substantiate it. Peter Beresford Ellis describes the pooka as “a mischievous spirit who led travellers astray or performed other devilment.” 12 He suggests that this wild spirit was an addition to the Irish legend structure from the incoming Norse, who have a similar creature called a puki in their story system. Even if the pooka came later into Ireland’s legends, it has certainly been prolific enough in those stories to gain a few place-names for itself. P.W. Joyce names a few: Pollaphuca in County Wicklow, “a wild chasm where the Liffey falls over a ledge of rocks into a deep pool .  .  . signifying the pool or hole of the Pooka”; Boheraphuca in County Tipperary, a potentially “dangerous” road crossing; Carrigaphooca near Macroom, also known as “the Pooka’s rock,” which is located at Mac Carthy’s castle; several locations throughout the countryside called Rathpuca (the Pooka’s fort); and Castlepook in County Cork, an old tower house. 13 Having been to a few of these locations myself, I can attest to their slightly ethereal, almost creepy atmosphere, and I can very well understand why the local residents still tell stories of the pooka and warn travelers to beware strange animals at night. There are many different accounts of a pooka’s appearance. W.Y. EvansWentz says, “Pookas are black-featured fellows mounted on good horses; and are 11 Patricia Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2004), 34. 12 Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 183–84. 13 Joyce, The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places Vol. I, 188–90.

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horse-dealers. They visit racecourses, but are usually invisible.” 14 W.G. WoodMartin and Charles Squire both describe the pooka as taking a horse- or donkeyform that then entices travelers to ride them. 15 This does not normally work out to the benefit of the traveler; indeed, as Wood-Martin adds, the creature will carry the traveler violently for hours, never allowing him to dismount, and at the first sign of dawn will throw the traveler from its back into a marshy area. 16 However, being something of an imp in nature, the pooka will occasionally decide to take pity on its passenger and help instead, carrying the rider to his destination with no problems whatsoever. One prevalent story in Irish folklore constructs the pooka as a harbinger of good luck and prosperity; it is still told in many places around the island today. In this narrative, recounted by both Wilde and Monaghan, an old pooka befriends a farmer’s son and brings his workers with him each night to mill the farmer’s corn for him. 17 The farmer becomes very rich and prosperous, and the boy wishes to thank the pooka by giving him a new set of clothes. However, when the pooka receives his new clothes, he disappears and goes to seek his own fortune in the world. The farmer has no more need of work by then, having amassed so much money, and the boy grows up rich and powerful and is blessed with a beautiful wife and great happiness. As Monaghan observes, however, the pooka is more often “a harbinger of doom, indicating bad luck on the way.” She describes an account in which “a pooka, in the form of a goat, leaped onto a man’s shoulders; when he went home, he took to his bed and was unable to move for three weeks with intense pain, although there was no visible mark from the attack.” The sightings of the pooka in Ireland seem to happen most often after Samhain (1 November), during the winter months, which leads Monaghan to suggest that the people may also associate the pooka with the dying of the plants in winter. 18 Either way, this little creature certainly seems to get up to no good on a regular basis, as is also the case of the good-natured Robin Goodfellow in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, more familiarly known as Puck. He is, of course, the Anglicized version of the creature, appearing as a half-man, half-goat fairy sprite who (in true impish fashion) causes innumerable problems for a group of humans 14

W.Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (New York: University Books, Inc., 1966), 53. 15 W.G. Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, a Folklore Sketch: A Handbook of Irish Pre-Christian Traditions Vol. I (London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902). See also Charles Squire, Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry, and Romance (London: The Gresham Publishing Co. Ltd., 1910). 16 Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland. 17 Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland. See also Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore. 18 Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore, 384.


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overnight, to his own amusement, and then, by dawn, sets the world right again. The legend of the pooka is a popular one; by turns the creature is devilish and cruel but can also do great good when it chooses to.

The Leprechaun The leprechaun (Irish leprehaun) is perhaps the best-known of the fairy-folk of Celtic lore. Popular culture has portrayed these little men as very small and always dressed smartly in kelly-green fine clothing; they are purported to know the whereabouts of the proverbial pot of gold, sometimes at the end of a rainbow. 19 The rainbow, of course, has no end; far from being an arc, a rainbow’s prismatic light is actually a full circle, making an “end” virtually impossible. Interestingly, no Irish mythology mentions the rainbow; I suggest, then, that this part of the legendary creature was perhaps an addition of the twentieth-century film industry. Nearly all accounts of the leprechaun indicate that they do know where gold and/or treasure is hidden, however. Perhaps because of the attractiveness of this prospect, the leprechaun’s main occupation is frequently forgotten today: that of shoemaker (and sometimes tailor) for the fairy-folk. Evans-Wentz describes the leprechaun simply as “a red-capped fellow who stays round pure springs, generally shoemaking for the rest of the fairy tribes.” 20 Squire adds riches to this, saying, “Such is the Leprechaun, who makes shoes for the fairies, and knows where hidden treasures are.” 21 Wood-Martin contributes more detail to this succinct description, adding the fine clothing and suggesting that the leprechaun is a very solitary creature, never having been seen with anyone of his own kind; he can be found in quiet places, busily making his shoes. The leprechaun, if caught, could give his captor “unbounded wealth,” just so long as that person can keep an eye on him long enough to collect it. If the leprechaun can get his jailor to look away for even a moment, he is able to escape and disappear. 22 Wilde relates two well-known stories, each with very different results. 23 The first story is a positive one: a strange boy (said by many of the local people to be a fairy changeling because of his manner of keeping quiet most of the time and always reading) manages to capture a leprechaun. The leprechaun decides he likes the boy and shows him a vast treasure hidden in an old local fort; the boy is only 19

Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, 52–53. 21 Squire, Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry, and Romance, 247. 22 W.G. Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, a Folklore Sketch: A Handbook of Irish Pre-Christian Traditions Vol II (London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902), 22–23. 23 Wilde Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 56–59. 20

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permitted to carry away as much gold and treasure as he can remove before the sunset is complete and full dark sets in. He becomes very rich; and his succeeding generations continue to be wealthy with the fairy’s blessing, their riches never getting any less despite their large contributions to society. In the second tale that Wilde recounts, a mean boy catches the leprechaun and tortures him for information about the gold. The leprechaun sends him to dig a very big hole in order to find nothing. Then he sends the boy’s parents to a quarry to look for the gold, and in their greed, the boy’s mother breaks her leg and never walks quite right again. Of course the family never does find the reputed gold. These two examples certainly indicate that it is always a good idea to stay on a leprechaun’s good side; he can either bless you or curse you according to his humor. Wilde also discusses a more colloquial version of the leprechaun’s hidden treasure. 24 Rather than guarding the whereabouts of the gold, the leprechaun instead keeps the secret of an herb and a particular charm that will allow the user to gain immeasurable wealth. Following the narrative structure of many folktales, whoever discovers the magic herb and charm can never tell anyone else, or the person relating it will die; this would seem to be an excellent way of forcing someone to keep the secret of the gold. The story does not specify whether the leprechaun would die, or the human who divulges the tale. Apparently, the leprechaun has been mistaken for the pooka and its mischievous activities a time or two. Joyce tells of stories from the town of Creevagh, where nearby “there is a cave called Mullenlupraghaun, the leprechauns’ mill, “where in former times the people left their caskeens of corn at nightfall, and found them full of meal in the morning.” [Wilde 1872, 209] [. . .] ground by the leprechauns.” 25 Such largesse is reminiscent of the nocturnal activities of some pookas when they are feeling magnanimous about the local humans, and it runs counter to the tasks that leprechauns seem eager to work on. One of the possible origins of the leprechaun is that of Lugh, an extremely accomplished and knowledgeable god known for his patronage in craftsmanship and the arts. He was one of the more important (and popular) deities in early Celtic society. The god Balor (also known as Balor of the Evil Eye) attempted to have Lugh murdered as a baby, because of a prophecy that a grandchild of Balor’s would someday kill him. Lugh was rescued and raised in secret; according to Ellis, the versions differ on who raised him, but it was commonly held to be one of his uncles, Manannán Mac Lir (the sea god) or Goibhniu (the smith god). 26 Lugh grows up strong and well favored, and he succeeds in overthrowing and killing his grandfather, Balor, thus fulfilling the prophecy. 24

Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland, 56. Joyce, The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places Vol. I, 191. Within this reference, Joyce quotes from Sir William Wilde, Lough Corrib, its Shores and Islands: With Notices of Lough Mask (Dublin: McGlashan and Gill, 1872), 209. 26 Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. 25


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As Christianity began to prevail and the old gods were either diminished or nearly eclipsed, the significance of Lugh’s accomplishments, as well as his status, were also diminished. Ellis suggests that Lugh was demoted, “becoming a fairy craftsman named Lugh-chromain, ‘little stooping Lugh.’” 27 Finally, even this denomination was reduced, and Lugh-chromain became the leprechaun, making shoes and tailoring clothing for the fairy-folk.

The Evil Eye The evil eye is quite well known in many cultures; some of the earliest evidence of its existence occurs in Sumerian texts from the third or fourth millennium bc. 28 Envy characterizes the evil eye. Indeed, if we look admiringly at someone or something, our admiration may be mixed with envy, greed, or aggression, since we would like to possess these special qualities or objects ourselves. It is this complex mixture of emotions that is connected to the belief in the evil eye. Admiring or envious looks are believed to be capable of doing harm: they can destroy the admired object. 29 Examining the idea of evil resulting from the actions of someone who is envious of another, it is not difficult to believe that some sort of actual legislation would result, to mitigate perceived offenses caused by the use of the evil eye. Jacqueline Borsje discusses the Old Irish law (referred to as the “Evil Eye Fragment”) as evidence of penalties for usage of the evil eye in everyday practice. 30 The law itself could possibly date to 1000 bc, but the manuscript evidence is from about the seventh century ad, when monasteries began to document aspects of Celtic culture and law. There are even some corrections made in Middle Irish to the manuscript evidence, dating back to about the twelfth century. 31 It is evident that the evil eye may have had a place in Celtic mythology since its beginning. Some of the earliest legends regarding the evil eye begin with Balor, a Fomorian giant and great god of death, also known as Balor of the Evil Eye. All accounts of Balor indicate that he was extremely evil and terrifying; he was known to have an eye whose gaze was so strong and powerful that, if it fell on a person or animal, it would kill them instantly. 32 27

Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 147. J. Borsje, The Celtic Evil Eye and Related Mythological Motifs in Medieval Ireland, (Leuven, Paris, and Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012), 63 (contribution by Fergus Kelly). See also Stephen Langdon, “An Incantation in the ‘House of Light’ against the Evil Eye,” in The Evil Eye: A Folklore Casebook, ed. A. Dundes (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1981), 39–40. 29 Borsje, The Celtic Evil Eye, 66. 30 Borsje, The Celtic Evil Eye, 63–77. 31 Borsje, The Celtic Evil Eye, 65. 32 Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 37. 28

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How did Balor come to have this horrible eye? The story is told thus by Wilde: Balor was passing by a window one day, through which he could see Druids casting some kind of incantation around a cauldron. Curious, he came closer, and something bubbled up out of the cauldron and hit him full-force in the eye. The eye became imbued with all of the frightening essence of the incantation, and his brow swelled up so much that it would forever-after take several servants to lift it up in order for Balor to use his terrible new weapon. 33 The defeat of Balor and his evil eye came, as mentioned above, by the fulfilment of a prophecy made about his grandson, Lugh. Lugh was reared with the education necessary to become a great leader. Powered by his knowledge and abilities, and after many adventures spanning decades, he finally came into battle against his grandfather. At the moment when Balor had his servants raise his immense eyelid so that he could vanquish Lugh’s army, Lugh threw a perfectly aimed stone, which penetrated the evil eye and lodged deep in Balor’s skull, killing him and winning the battle of Magh-Tura. 34 In modern folklore, the power of the evil eye is diluted. Although it no longer kills its victim instantly, the Brehon law dictates restitution and/or punishment for any who use it to harm someone else or their property. Since the evil eye is linked so directly with envy, greed, or aggression against another, how can one be sure that someone who comes down with a sudden ailment or has an unfortunate accident will not just blame someone randomly or accuse an enemy? There is a very old custom in Ireland that helps prevent the inadvertent effects of the evil eye. Someone might cause such effects accidentally simply by appreciating another’s good fortune (such as a lovely new baby or a healthy herd of cattle), but without wishing harm. 35 This is why one may hear some form of blessing being bestowed (i.e., “God bless it!”) upon the admirable person or item. 36 It is a charm, or a sort of amulet, if you will, against the envy that might harm someone. In addition to ancient mythology and legal systems, Wilde discusses at great length some of the more common superstitious remedies for the evil eye, in order to avert great injury, sickness, or even death of the victim. 37 If someone has been afflicted by the evil eye, only a fairy witch-doctor can fix the situation, and s/he must be sent for in time to prevent the progression of the curse. A fairy witch-doctor is imbued with the knowledge of herblore and charms that prevent and protect against curses and other maladies the fairy-folk might place on mortals. Curtin relates the tale of Maurice Griffin, who was given the fairy knowledge of curing and foretelling by drinking the milk of an enchanted cow. He was only permitted to divulge his knowledge to a particular one of his sons when he passed away 33 34 35 36 37

Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 23. Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 23. Borsje, The Celtic Evil Eye, 67. Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 20. Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland.


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(presumably the one with the ability to accept it), but since that child was not present at his passing, the knowledge was lost. 38 If someone puts the evil eye’s glance on a child, that child must be given a potent counter-charm or the child will die; other effects of the evil eye include paralysis, horrifically bad luck, accidents, and fatalities. 39 Another counter to the evil eye is to address it before it can be fully cast upon you: you must say, “The curse be upon thine eye.” 40 The evil eye can be very powerful if it is cast during Beltane: And it is then advisable to sprinkle oatmeal on the cow’s back, and bleed cattle and taste of the blood. In old times, the men and women were likewise bled, and their blood was sprinkled on the ground; but this practice has now died out, even in the western islands, though sacrifice through blood is always considered sacred and beneficial. 41

A few charms could be worn to help the wearer avoid being cursed. Bells hung from collars give protection to animals, and children wear red ribbons hidden in their clothes; however, the best way to nullify the evil eye immediately is to spit in the offending person’s eye. 42 The Celtic goddess Brigit is the best deity to aid in counteracting the effects of the evil eye. 43 There are holy wells dedicated to Brigit all over Ireland, which predate the advent of Christianity; these wells are believed to provide healing of all kinds to the local people and their animals. Cattle were frequently driven to drink at a holy well of Brigit, to heal them from the effects of the evil eye; prayers were also said over the cow. Great care was taken to keep the cow from looking at any graveyards while this remedy was applied, or the cure would not work. 44 It is little wonder that, when the bringers of Christianity began to convert the Irish from their pagan ways, a new saint appears in the canon: St. Bridget. With the new saint came a new legend: the idea that the Virgin Mary gave St. Bridget a charm to ward off the evil eye: And she wrote it down and hid it in the hair of her head, without deceit — “If a fairy, or a man, or a woman hath overlooked thee [with the evil eye], there are three greater in heaven who will cast all evil from thee into the great and

38 Jeremiah Curtin, Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World, Collected from Oral Tradition in Southwest Munster (New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1971), 81–89. 39 Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 20–21. 40 Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland, 51–52. 41 Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland, 51–52. 42 Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths, & Customs of Britain, 86. 43 Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore, 164–65. 44 Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland, 51–52.

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terrible sea. Pray to them, and to the seven angels of God, and they will watch over thee. Amen.” 45

The Death Coach and Other Omens of Death In ancient and medieval society, death was at best a sacred experience and at worst was a frightening journey into the unknown, the Otherworld. Illness and lack of modern medical practices and medicines increased the likelihood of death occurring from even the simplest of illnesses. The wailing of the banshee at a family’s front door and the Bean-Nighe’s washing of bloody clothing at the ford were only a few of the omens of death available to a very religious and superstitious population. Other common examples of premonitions include corpse candles, a demonphantom called the Dublachan, the Ankou, the Keimach, and the Tash (Irish). 46 Corpse candles are spheres of light that float to and from a person’s house and a graveyard; this is the pathway that the funeral procession will take after a person of that household soon dies. 47 The Dublachan is another frightening apparition that appears in the location where someone will soon die. 48 The Ankou and the Keimach, of Breton and Manx origins respectively, both deliver their death omens to those who meet them in graveyards. 49 The Tash (Irish) is a little different from the others: it is the spirit of someone who has already died and who is now rooted to the location where he or she passed away, having reached a violent end (either by their own hand or by another’s); the presence of the Tash is meant to serve as a warning to others. 50 One of the most terrifying presages of death, however, arrived in the form of the death coach. This macabre conveyance is driven by a headless horseman and is often led by headless black horses. The coach will stop at the house of the person who is supposed to die, to carry their spirit to the Otherworld, and it will never depart without a passenger. The only way to keep the coach from taking the victim it came for would be to stand in its path and become its new target; otherwise, you should avoid making any kind of contact with the coach and its driver, to avoid an imminent demise. 51

45 46 47 48 49 50 51

Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 194. Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 145–47. Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 145. Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 147. Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 147. Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 147. Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore, 120.


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Beltane, Samhain, and the Portals to the Otherworld Two of the most important Celtic holidays of the year are connected with both the Otherworld and, in later centuries, with Christianity. The Celtic communities were extremely focused on maintaining good relations with the gods, so several times each year they would hold religious festivals in order to make offerings and ask for protections, cures, good growing seasons, good harvests, etc. To miss a festival of offerings to the gods would be catastrophic to the community. Although there were several festivals throughout the year, the two most important ones were Beltane and Samhain. Beltane, which falls on 1 May, is the symbolic beginning to the summer and renewal. On this day, all of the household fires were extinguished, and great bonfires (“the sacred fires of Bel”) were built on hilltops throughout the countryside to relight the household fires. This ceremony was performed in homage to the sun god Bel (also known as Belenus or Bíle), who presided over both life and death. 52 All of the cattle were then forced to walk between the bonfires, to give them supernatural protection during the summer months that they would spend in the pastures. 53 Beltane was also reputed to be a festival of sacrifice, of both humans and animals, before the advent of Christianity. Having the livestock walk between the fires is a holdover from that time and is now a considered to be a more Christian ceremony of cleansing the spirit and gaining some measure of protection from the devil. There are accounts of the cattle being bled slightly as well, and of burning the blood as an offering to Bel. 54 Many other superstitions are associated with Beltane. For example, if a white heifer is born on Beltane, it is the greatest form of good luck for the farmer who owns it. Witches “make great efforts to steal the milk on May morning, and if they succeed, the luck passes from the family, and the milk and butter for the whole year will belong to the fairies.” Milk, fire, and salt are never given away on Beltane — these are sacred items and can only be offered to the gods. Primroses are strung around animals’ and children’s necks, to ward off the fairy-folk. 55 One of the most important superstitions is never to sleep outside during Beltane; this night is one of the most powerful nights of the year for the fairies of the Otherworld, and to sleep out in the open where there is no protection from them is to invite them to kidnap you and take you to the Otherworld to be a bride or groom for one of the fairy-folk. 56 For “on this night the gates to the Otherworld are

52 53 54 55 56

Ellis, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 40. Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes, 19. Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 102. Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 104–6. Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland, 105.

The Darkside of Celtic Mythology


opened and the Goddess chooses her Year King, her champion and earthly lover from among the young heroes of the country.” 57 Samhain, which falls on 1 November each year, is Beltane’s polar opposite in every way. It marks the last day of the year and the beginning of the new year, the death of summer and the birth of winter. It is the festival of the moon and the celebration of the dead. Samhain is when pigs are slaughtered for winter food storage, cattle are brought back from their summer pastures for the winter, and the summer’s yield of alcohol is fully consumed. 58 During Samhain, the portals to the Otherworld are wide open, inviting the fairy-folk as well as the dead to roam among us in this world. Everyone could see the spirits, not just those who were gifted with the sight to do so during the rest of the year. It was also quite common to be kidnapped by fairies on this night, so many people did not leave their homes; if they did, they would carry iron and salt and turn their clothing inside-out, to protect against fairy attacks. 59 Also during Samhain, Cernunnos, the Hunter-god, rides on the Wild Hunt with a great pack of dogs and his fairy-folk; he is also known as Herne the Hunter (England) and Arawn (Wales). “The hunting season was the time when the chosen champion of the goddess, the Year King, met with sacrificial death .  .  . usually staged as a hunting accident. . ..” 60 This sacrificial death ended when Christianity was introduced, and a new story developed. It involved “a miraculous stag with a crucifix between its antlers, which leads hunters into paradise or at least succeeds in converting them to Christianity.” 61 I have heard many folk stories even in this new century, however, which describe Cernunnos leading his Wild Hunt each year, so the old ways may have been diminished to mere tales instead of ritual sacrifices, but that is as far as the Church has been able to reduce them. Christianity co-opted and adapted the most important Celtic holidays. Many now call Beltane May Day; some communities still perform the may dances and may-pole ceremonies, but without understanding the ceremonial significance of the acts. Some people have retained the celebratory aspect of the day, rejoicing in the summer to come. Samhain has become All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) and All Saints’ Day. Many cultures still honor the dead during this time, some in a very religious fashion and others in a more fun yet spooky way. The belief still remains, however, that the dead are much closer during this time and that anything can happen; it is an echo of the intense beliefs of the past. In closing, it is worth noting that the Celtic Otherworld and the fairy-folk are, in turns, depicted as both benevolent or good and wonderful or helpful, yet also 57

Claire French, The Celtic Goddess: Great Queen or Demon Witch? (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2001), 30. 58 Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore, 407. 59 Monaghan, The Encyclopedia for Celtic Mythology and Folklore, 407. 60 French, The Celtic Goddess, 30. 61 French, The Celtic Goddess, 30.


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torturous or cruel and hellish or spiteful. One fairy may cast a curse, and another can remove it. The Otherworld can be a wonderful place (i.e., if a fairy kidnaps you to be a bride or groom for a fairy noble) or a horrible place of eternal torment, prefiguring the Christian ideals of heaven and hell. The one constant throughout these mythologies is a sense of universal balance. If a pagan is cunning and resourceful, or a Christian is good and faithful, it is possible to succeed in thwarting the forces of darkness. There are noticeable changes between pagan Celtic society and later Christian society in general beliefs. However, various original underlying ideas remain, including many of the remedies for curses, religious holidays, and ritual times of year. In short, no matter the religious faith, there is almost always a method of combating evil and warding off the darker creatures of the Otherworld.

Women Wearing the Pants: Cross-dressing and Performativity in Early Modern Drama Elizabeth Labiner

As we know, women on stage in England during the early modern era were not women at all. Women were legally barred from the so-called indecency of appearing on stage, so all female characters were played by men in dresses. This crossdressing alone caused some serious hand-wringing amongst those who felt, as Laura Levine puts it, that “male actors who wore women’s clothing could literally ‘adulterate’ male gender.” 1 This anxiety was heightened when the men dressing as women cross-dressed as men, as was seen in quite a few dramas at the time, including The Merchant of Venice (ca. 1596) and The Roaring Girl (1611). While the stage dramas provide a convenient medium of study, the concern over cross-dressing was part of “an increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process” in the sixteenth century. 2 Female characters that cross-dress serve as a focal point for “inquiry into cultural constructions and performances of gender; androgyny, hermaphroditism, and monstrosity; [and] crossdressing as theatrical convention and as social transgression.” 3 Female cross-dressing in the early modern era was seen as somehow inherently dangerous and wrong, yet there also existed a spectrum of cross-dressing and gender performativity that ran from safer incidents of transgression to highly dangerous and destabilizing female expressions of masculinity. 1

Laura Levine, Men in Women’s Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization, 1579–1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 10. 2 Greenblatt, qtd. in Levine, Men in Women’s Clothing, 11. 3 Jennifer Panek, introduction to The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2011), xii. Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 109–122.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126380


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Questions of nature and gender performance were topics of debate in Elizabethan and Jacobean England well before either The Merchant of Venice or The Roaring Girl were staged. A major reason for this was the “recurrent fad for masculine clothing and accessories on women — doublets in place of bodices, broadbrimmed feather hats, cropped hair, boots with spurs, decorative daggers — [that] had been surfacing in London since at least 1583.” 4 While female cross-dressing is the primary focus here, it is clear that male cross-dressing, or at least the adoption of feminine clothing items and accessories as part of a male wardrobe, is the inverse and equally lively aspect of the debate. Pamphleteers actively engaged in the controversy, publishing tracts such as Hic Mulier; or the Man-Woman (1620) and the immediate rebuttal called Haec Vir; or the Womanish Man (1620). Both tracts attack the given sex for dressing like, and perhaps more importantly acting like, the other. The disconnect between one’s biological sex and the gender performance they enacted was seen as a threat to stability, causing conservatives to respond by defining the expectations for enactment of gender ever more rigidly. Of course, clearer boundaries mean it is easier to tell when one has crossed the line. Breaking those boundaries, however, came with significant tension when the behavior could not be labeled a purely positive or negative act. On stage, playwrights explored the exciting transgression of cross-dressing in a number of characters, setting up clothing as a central player in the question of how gender is represented and performed. In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the audience is introduced to Portia indirectly through Bassanio’s description of her to Antonio. Bassanio rhapsodizes, A lady richly left, And she is fair, and fairer than that word, Of wondrous virtues. [. . .] Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia. [. . .] and her sunny locks Hang on her temples like a golden fleece. 5

Portia is clearly a valuable woman in many forms, not least of which is her economic worth to a potential husband. Her riches are followed by beauty and virtue, each of which serves to augment Bassanio’s — along with her other suitors’ — appreciation of the other traits. Portia has minimal freedom of movement or freedom of choice, and she laments that “the will of a living daughter [is] curbed by the will of a dead 4

Panek, introduction to The Roaring Girl, xiii. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, ed. Leah S. Marcus (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2006), 1.1.164–173. 5

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father.” 6 However, when she steps into the guise of Balthazar, Portia consciously erases the consideration her beauty and wealth have previously won her, as well as the patriarchal influences that have ruled her thus far. Instead, she demonstrates her character in a role not primarily defined by her economic value or her looks, finally foregrounding the traits that are typically only an afterthought to those viewing her as a potential wife. Bassanio, when choosing a casket in his pursuit of Portia, notes that “the outward shows be least themselves. / The world is still deceived with ornament.” 7 While he is referring directly to the selection of caskets, Bassanio could just as easily be referring to Portia. Though she claims that Bassanio sees her “Such as [she is],” 8 Portia is self-effacing when it comes to the sum of her worth. In The Heroines of Shakespeare, Anna Jameson describes Portia as a “heavenly compound of talent, feeling, wisdom, beauty, and gentleness” who is individualized by “her high mental powers, her enthusiasm of temperament, her decision of purpose, and her buoyancy of spirit,” all of which make her eventual disguise as a learned young man seem to be “the simple and natural result of her character.” 9 Though elements of this characterization are highly debatable — “gentle” Portia displays a calculating viciousness in the courtroom that is frankly breathtaking — the thought that her disguise is “natural” for her bears further scrutiny. Her many admirable traits as a woman will do little to aid Bassanio and Antonio’s cause in Venice — until she transfers those traits into a masculine form. Even before dressing in men’s clothing, however, Portia clearly has a high estimation of herself as a man. She plans her performance — and Nerissa’s, as well — carefully, sure that the men “shall think we are accomplished / With that we lack.” 10 Essentially, Portia is declaring that she is sure that they will not only be considered hyper-masculine men but also will seem sexually accomplished. Portia boasts to Nerissa, I’ll hold thee any wager When we are both accoutered like young men, I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two, And wear my dagger with the braver grace, [. . .] and turn two mincing steps Into a manly stride, and speak of frays


Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 1.2.21–22. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.75–76. 8 Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.153. 9 Anna Jameson, “Portia,” from The Heroines of Shakespeare (1832), in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, ed. Leah S. Marcus (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2006), 141–43. 10 Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.4.63–64. 7


elizabeth labiner Like a fine bragging youth, and tell quaint lies How honorable ladies sought my love, Which I denying, they fell sick and died — I could not do withal! Then I’ll repent And wish, for all that, that I had not killed them; And twenty of these puny lies I’ll tell, That men shall swear I have discontinued school Above a twelve-month. I have within my mind A thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks, Which I will practice. 11

Here Portia sets up an interesting structure of what makes a man, as well as what makes others respect and like that man. Much rests on bravado; all others need to see to believe in one’s masculinity is a manly stride, and all they need to hear are lies about brawls and women. More than anything else, it is a crafted presentation. Women, meanwhile, are mincing and weak, liable to collapse and die if they do not get what they want. Portia challenges all of this. She already possesses ample bravado — she is about to dress as a man in order to interrupt a legal trial — and she is ready and willing to tell “twenty of these puny lies” in order to support the larger falsehood of her assumed manhood. Portia casts all gender as performative, regardless of whether the individual’s biological sex matches his or her presented gender. It is also interesting to note that Portia has already acted twice in the masculine role of the gift-giver or provider: first, when she gives her new husband Bassanio her ring, symbolizing their marriage and the transfer of all her wealth and property, and second, when she gives him multiple times the amount of money as is needed to pay Antonio’s debt. These moments, though couched in terms of a loving wife giving her husband everything he needs, also carry dangerous connotations of a power play in which Portia establishes her status “by giving a gift that cannot be reciprocated, either because of its kind or its excess.” 12 This gift-giving is made even more culturally intolerable due to the way it circumvents male power; Portia subverts her father and underscores her husband’s socio-economic impotence at the same time. However, Portia’s role as the masculine gift-giver is complicated by the very fact of her giving the gifts that she does; in pledging herself to Bassanio in marriage, Portia both verbally and symbolically accepts the standards of female subjection and loss of legal rights that accompanied marriage at the time. The exchange is made even more problematic when the terms of the gift-giving are examined, as Portia’s declarations end with a warning that if Bassanio were to ever lose or give away her ring, it would signify the “ruin of [their] love” and Portia’s “vantage to exclaim on 11

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.4.64–80. Karen Newman, “Portia’s Ring: Unruly Women and Structures of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice” (1987), in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, ed. Leah S. Marcus (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2006), 253. 12

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[Bassanio].” 13 Already, Portia is working with bonds and legalese, though in this case of the domestic variety. Disguised as Balthazar, a doctor of the law, Portia steps into the world of the courtroom and capably takes control. In the letter of introduction for “Balthazar,” Portia sets herself up as not just equal to the men in the courtroom but better than them; indeed, it can be argued that “all the finest parts of Portia’s character are brought to bear in the trial scene.” 14 She displays “Her intellectual powers, her elevated sense of religion, her high honorable principles, [and] her best feelings as a woman” — but all as a man. 15 Much like Portia’s “gentleness,” the “elevated sense of religion” ascribed to her is problematic, to say the least, as the so-called Christian charity shown to Shylock is unapologetically cruel, and Portia seems positively gleeful as she metes out consequences. The religious ramifications of her actions in the courtroom will be further addressed shortly, but to return to her much-vaunted intellect for the moment, one must remember that both the other characters and the audience are set up to treat Portia, in the guise of Balthazar, with deference. The introductory letter emphasizes how well read Balthazar is, as well as the extent of his intellect: He is furnished with my [Bellario’s] opinion which, bettered with his own learning — the greatness whereof I cannot enough commend — [. . .] I beseech you, let his lack of years be no impediment to let him lack a reverend estimation; for I never knew so young a body with so old a head. 16

This introduction demands respect; Portia presses that advantage by beginning with what might be expected as a feminine plea for mercy, but framed in terms above and beyond simply a woman’s bleeding heart. Portia frames mercy as a blessed act that “’Tis mightiest in the mightiest” and “is an attribute to God himself.” 17 In doing so, she subtly tries to give Shylock the power, or at least the semblance of power, that is utterly missing from his place in Venetian society. If he is merciful, Portia indicates, he attains a stature above that of most men and gains sway for a reason other than fear. When Shylock rejects the option of mercy and cries out for justice to be done in the letter of the law, Portia drops any show of softness. Though having before been praised for “a noble and a true conceit / Of godlike amity,” Portia demonstrates a willingness to be coldly businesslike in pursuit of justice. 18 Pure amity has no place in a legal battle, and so Portia sets it aside along with her feminine clothing. She 13 14 15 16 17 18

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.176–177. Jameson, “Portia,” 143. Jameson, “Portia,” 143. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.158–164. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.192, 199. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.4.2–3.


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warns Shylock, “For as thou urgest justice, be assured / Thou shalt have justice more than thou desir’st,” and later reiterates, “The Jew shall have all justice! [. . .] / He shall have nothing but the penalty.” 19 Portia’s command of the courtroom, along with her eagerness to pursue punishment for Shylock, places her in a space between the patriarchal structures of justice and revenge. Alison Findlay asserts that Portia’s cross-dressed work in the courtroom “admitted [the audience] to a hall of mirrors in which appearances, gender identities and forms of behavior could be grotesquely distorted. Religious truths or conventional values could be bent, even inverted.” 20 The religious and cultural values of this scene bear further scrutiny, however. After forcing Shylock to renounce all claim to collecting either the money or the flesh, Portia tells him that “The law hath yet another hold on you” and explains that his attempt on Antonio’s life means that all of Shylock’s property is forfeit, to be split between the state and the victim. 21 After having pretended to be Shylock’s ally for just long enough to gain the upper hand, Portia pushes the suit and ends the new prosecution against him by ordering him to kneel “Down, therefore, and beg mercy.” 22 While modern audiences are likely quite uncomfortable with the treatment of Shylock, historian Alexandra Walsham points out that current conceptions of mercy and tolerance are a far cry from the way such notions were viewed in the early modern period. She explains, In a context in which truth was held to be single and indivisible, the persecution of dissident minorities was logical, rational, and legitimate. Ecclesiastical and secular authorities were believed to have a solemn responsibility to punish those who departed from orthodoxy, to use any means necessary to uphold the true religion and reclaim those who strayed from the straight and narrow way. [. . .] To persecute was to display a charitable hatred: a charity toward the sinner that was inextricable from a fervent hatred of the sin that endangered his or her salvation. It was to mimic the loving discipline and fatherly chastisement of the Lord. 23

Such an understanding of the religious ideals could easily cast Portia as a Christian champion, seeking to bring Shylock into the fold through unyielding discipline, but such a superficial acceptance would ignore the fact that “economic anxiety fused powerfully with confessional prejudice — not least in relation to wealthy Jewish merchants and financiers, whose prominence and prowess in the field of


Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.324–325, 331–332. Alison Findlay, A Feminist Perspective on Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1999), 49. 21 Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.358. 22 Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.374. 23 Alexandra Walsham, Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500–1700 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 1–2. 20

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money-lending had fostered jealousy in many countries.” 24 Religious righteousness may well be a motivating factor for Portia, but it is certainly not operating in a vacuum; the laws against religious nonconformity could also be wielded as a weapon, as they are in this case, in order to bring down rivals or enemies. This calculating coldness would likely be called shrewish in a woman, but it is lauded in the figure of a man. Portia even goes so far as to admit that she has a “mercenary” mind; the audience must be inclined to agree, given that she outthinks, outtalks, and outmaneuvers every man in the room. 25 The changes allowed by becoming Balthazar echo Portia’s commentary on the caskets between which her suitors were required to choose in order to win her hand: “I am locked in one of them; / If you do love me, you will find me out.” 26 There are epistemological ramifications to this statement, indicating a breakage between outward appearances and internal realities. While “locked” in the body and garments of Portia, only certain exterior markers may be perceived. When in the clothing of a man, however, Portia is able to throw off the façades and allow her interiority, her true traits and personality, to be seen. She is merciful as well as mercenary, encouraging forgiveness before vengeance, but shying away from neither. She is bold and intelligent, well read and well spoken. She is both the giver of gifts and the gift itself. Portia “gives more than Bassanio can ever reciprocate, first to him, then to Antonio, and finally to Venice itself in her actions in the trial which allow the city to preserve both its law and its precious Christian citizen.” 27 If not for Antonio’s crisis necessitating her foray into a man’s role, it is unclear whether any of these aspects of Portia’s character and capabilities would have been more than superficially revealed. Portia is in many ways the typical “unruly woman” who “steps outside her function and role as subservient, a woman who dresses like a man, who embarks on behavior ill-suited to her “weaker” intellect, a woman who argues the law.” 28 There is a distinct tension between the ways in which Portia undermines as well reinforces traditional patriarchies and hierarchies in society. She displays linguistic power and female dominance but does so in a masculine disguise. As a man, she is unquestionably a powerhouse. Though Portia’s Balthazar persona is threatening in the way it “out-mans” the men, it is ostensibly made “safe” when considered in context. It is vital to remember that Portia disguises herself not for her own sake but, rather, for her husband’s. As Balthazar, Portia focuses all of her energy on helping Antonio, the man who made it possible for Bassanio to pursue and marry her. To help the men, Portia must become one of them. When this specific goal is completed, Portia gives up her disguise, once again bestows her ring on Bassanio, and “returns to 24 25 26 27 28

Walsham, Charitable Hatred, 133. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.431. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.42–43. Newman, “Portia’s Ring,” 261. Newman, “Portia’s Ring,” 264.


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‘unthreatening femininity.’” 29 However, the return to her “unthreatening femininity” does not undo the work Portia has done as Balthazar; she has eclipsed the former primacy Antonio enjoyed in Bassanio’s life, exposed the structures of power as merely theatrical, and demonstrated the ease with which she can manipulate those structures to bring them and the people they encompass under her control. The Roaring Girl, Moll Cutpurse, is far indeed from that ideal of “unthreatening femininity.” The titular character of Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl dresses occasionally as a woman, occasionally as a man, and more often, some combination of the two. Her transvestitism is neither a masquerade nor a costume — or at least no more so than gender as a whole is considered such. Unlike characters such as Shakespeare’s Portia, she has no specific endgame to justify dressing as a man. Rather than disguising her identity, as women in other contemporary plays are doing by dressing as a man, it is a mode of self-expression: “Moll seeks not to conceal her sexual identity, but rather display it.” 30 Moll is “a grown woman who has no interest in passing as a man but combines male and female attire as she pleases, smokes a pipe, defends herself with a sword, and flatly refuses marriage.” 31 Simply by being present, Moll demands “that people reconcile her apparent sexual contradictions” and “arouses unspeakable social and sexual anxieties in the established society of the play.” 32 Other characters in the play describe Moll as “a creature / So strange in quality, a whole city takes / Note of her name and person.” 33 Further descriptions paint her in a less curious and more sinful light, calling her “A creature [. . .] nature hath brought forth To mock the sex of woman.” It is a thing One knows not how to name; her birth began Ere she was all made. ’Tis woman more than man, Man more than woman, and — which to none can hap — The sun gives her two shadows to one shape. 34

Moll at first is not even categorized as human; she is a “creature,” an “it,” and a “thing.” Even once Moll becomes a “she,” she is still an unnatural abomination. Part of this epistemological struggle comes from Moll herself as she glides with ease along the gender spectrum, openly flouting the structure of the male/female binary. 29

Newman, “Portia’s Ring,” 265. Mary Beth Rose, “Women in Men’s Clothing: Apparel and Social Stability in The Roaring Girl ” (1984), in The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2011), 228. 31 Panek, introduction to The Roaring Girl, xii. 32 Rose, “Women in Men’s Clothing,” 228. 33 Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, The Roaring Girl, ed. Jennifer Panek (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2011), 1.1.100–102. 34 Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 1.2.128–133. 30

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When Moll appears on stage, she is wearing a combination of men’s and women’s clothing, specifically a man’s woolen jacket and a woman’s riding skirt. She is recognizably female, despite her mixed attire, and seems to be all the more attractive — at least to Laxton — because of it. Laxton exclaims, “Heart, I would give but too much money to be nibbling with that wench. Life, sh’ has the spirit of four great parishes, and a voice that will drown all the city!” 35 Laxton’s immediate sexual attraction to Moll is not dampened by Mrs. Gallipot’s informing him that “Some will not stick to say she’s a man,/ and some, both man and woman.” 36 Instead, this only heightens his sense that Moll’s transgressive behavior must be paired with illicit and unconventional sexuality. Laxton, rather than being put off by this possibility, is amused by the idea of one person being able to “first cuckold the husband and then make him do as much for the wife.” 37 The rumors that Moll is allegedly a hermaphrodite intrigue and allure rather than repulse. Laxton’s attraction to someone of indeterminate gender is countered by the outrage and anxiety felt by others when confronted by Moll’s “masculine womanhood.” 38 One such outraged party is Sir Alexander, who has been led to believe that his son Sebastian is romantically pursuing Moll. Sir Alexander’s concern is centered on the idea that Moll will destabilize the gender roles. He cries, “What, will [Sebastian] marry a monster with two trinkets? What age is this! If the wife go in breeches, the man must wear long coats like a fool.” 39 The clothing, it would seem, absolutely makes the man. Sir Alexander sees wearing breeches as symbolic of masculine power and evidently believes that a woman in the costume of the patriarchy assumes that power automatically. The clothes, then, are constitutive of the character. If the woman is the man, then, her husband has no choice but to vacate the role, and in doing so becomes a fool. To make matters worse for Sir Alexander, Moll will not allow herself to be confined to one role or the other in a marriage scenario. She explains to Sebastian: I have no humor to marry. I love to lie o’both sides o’th’bed myself; and again, o’th’other side, a wife, you know, ought to be obedient, but I fear me I am too headstrong to obey; therefore I’ll ne’er go about it. I love you so well, sir, for your good will, I’d be loath you should repent your bargain after, and therefore we’ll ne’er come together at first. I have the head now of myself, and am man enough for a woman. Marriage is but a chopping and changing, where a maiden loses one head and has a worse i’th’place. 40

35 36 37 38 39 40

Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 2.1.176–178. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 2.1.196–197. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 2.1.198–199. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 2.1.336–337. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 2.2.78–80. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 2.2.37–45.


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This speech, given within earshot of Sir Alexander, reasserts the message given by Moll’s jerkin and safeguard; Moll is not nailed to either sex with any permanency, and is able to move between them at a whim. Inhabiting this in-between space, or, as Moll puts it, lying on both sides of the bed, challenges the accepted norms of societal gender constructs. She is a woman, but not obedient enough to be a wife. She has control over herself and her life, and she is “man enough for a woman” but not enough to be a husband; because she is not, in fact, a man, and because of her own outsider status, Moll would not be able to cement the social and familial ties that are typical of patriarchally arranged and approved marriages. In announcing her own transgressions of the gender boundaries, Moll also helps delineate them for the other characters. Moll does not always stay in the nebulous middle area of the spectrum of gender performance, however. After being insulted by Laxton’s sexual proposition, especially his clear attempt to buy her as a prostitute, Moll enters “like a man,” ready to duel Laxton. 41 Moll’s persona is utterly male; Laxton does not even recognize her and instead takes her for “some young barrister.” 42 When he does realize the young man before him is Moll, Laxton is still eager for sex. The obvious homoerotic undertones are cut short by Moll’s challenging him to a duel “To teach thy base thoughts manners” and stop Laxton from viewing every woman as a “fond flexible whore.” 43 Moll acts both to defend her own honor and as a champion for all women who are either victims of baseless rumor or of men taking advantage of them through whatever means necessary. They fight, and Moll wounds Laxton. On top of denying him the sexual conquest he expected, Moll further unmans him by besting him in combat. When Moll stays her sword from killing him, Laxton calls her “a noble girl” but, in an aside, wonders if she is a familiar or a ghost. 44 In a short space, Moll is identified as man, then girl, then demon. The inability to categorize her is no longer alluring to Laxton; learning the extent of Moll’s capabilities as a being outside rigid taxonomies terrifies him. Moll, too, rejects the idea of one categorization for herself and reflects that “Base is the mind that kneels unto her body.” 45 While this thought seems to advocate for women striving above the traditional expectations and confines placed on them due to their sex, it is problematized by Moll’s immediate follow-up: “As if a husband stood in awe on ’s wife!” 46 While Moll encourages female empowerment on the one hand, she firmly situates herself within the traditional male-female hierarchy on the other. The mind being ruled by the body would be ridiculous, as would a marriage be if the husband bowed down to his wife. And, as soon as she 41 42 43 44 45 46

According to the stage direction in 3.1. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 3.1.46. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 3.1.72–73. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 3.1.124–125. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 3.1.137. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 3.1.138.

Women Wearing the Pants


seems to support the patriarchy, Moll turns her rhetoric again, vowing, “My spirit shall be mistress of this house / As long as I have time in’t.” 47 Moll refers to her spirit in the feminine, but also masculinizes it with the reminder that “this house” is her female body, from which her mind and spirit are separate and superior — that is to say, not merely female. Moll’s thought that the masculine element ought to be in control is momentarily comforting to those who uphold the patriarchy, but it is a double-edged sword because that support for the masculine is coming from a woman who ignores her position in the system and instead plays both sides and everything in between. In a scene of dizzying sexual ambiguity and gender-based sleight-of-hand, Moll is a “bold masculine ramp,” a “gaskin-bride,” and a “fair bride” in rapid succession. 48 Moll arrives for her purported wedding to Sebastian dressed as a man; Sir Alexander is scandalized by her attire but is comforted by Goshawk’s reminder that “No priest will marry her, sir, for a woman / Whiles that shape’s on.” 49 Sir Alexander insists that absolutely any woman would be a better match for his son than Moll and gives his consent to the “fair bride” that next enters without even having yet laid eyes on her. When Moll reenters, masked and dressed as a woman, Goshawk compliments her “proper lusty presence” and Sir Alexander calls her a “goodly personable creature” worthy of his approval. 50 The men are entirely unable to reconcile their ideas of Moll with the feminine woman before them, and so assume it must be a different person entirely. When Moll is unmasked to Sir Alexander’s horror, she taunts him by chiding, “Methinks you should be proud of such a daughter — / As good a man as your son.” 51 Even in a wedding gown, Moll is masculine. While this can also be read as a jab at Sebastian’s questionable manhood, it seems to be largely a commentary on the fact that the clothing does not make the man. Moll’s character and predilections are the same whether she is dressed as a dashing young man or a glowing bride; perhaps this is why she tends to settle somewhere between the two. If her clothing is not constitutive, however, Moll’s cross-dressing should not be as alarming as it is. The problem, it seems, is twofold. There is no certainty from society at large that clothing does not affect the nature of the person wearing it, and on top of that, Moll is impossible to read through her clothes. If one cannot tell who, or even what, she is, there is no way to place her in a definite category. Power is at stake, particularly in terms of the patriarchal power structure that necessitates the classification of women as lesser than men. Moll is a woman who is altogether too good at being a man. Moll, like Portia, repeatedly upstages men in arenas that they supposedly rule. However, Moll does so according to her own whims, following her own code of conduct, and proudly broadcasting her identity, without a 47 48 49 50 51

Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 3.1.139–140. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 5.2.15, 26, 128. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 5.2.108–109. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 5.2.133–134. Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl, 5.2.157–158.


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disguise to help her make the leap. She simply dresses for the occasion. The reactions to Moll’s malleability, reflected in her wardrobe, are indicative of “the fear [that] is based on the idea that the signs themselves are constitutive, an idea which implies that there is nothing fixed underneath.” 52 The character of Moll is more overtly threatening than Portia in part because of her basis in a real woman, the “notorious cross-dresser named Mary Frith.” 53 While audiences would have been unlikely to see the scenario of Portia taking over the courtroom in the world off-stage, Moll Cutpurse had a real-life counterpart. Suddenly, the epistemological struggles of the characters are the struggles of the audience as well, in a blatantly recognizable way. According to an entry in Consistory Court of London’s Correction Book, Frith answered the playful call in the play’s epilogue and appeared on stage “at ye Fortune in man’s apparel and in her boots and with a sword by her side” and teased the audience by telling those that thought she was a man to come home with her and find out she was a woman. 54 Further, Moll is dangerous because she is an “unruly woman” who defies expectations apart from the basic confusion over her cross-dressing gender performance. Moll embodies aspects of both the chaste maiden and the common whore, giving a superficial performance of the whore while living according to the moral values of chastity, and as a result she “establishes that virtue is not merely a matter of conventional images.” 55 Again, Moll’s actions simultaneously uphold traditional values from one side while destabilizing them from another. Her chastity is “not obedience to a social or religious code: it is the assertion of an individual will.” 56 Moll will not conform to male control either as a wife or a lover, and she flouts their expectations by refusing submission in any form, either to them or the physical nature to which she was born. Moll’s unconformity, though a rebellion in many ways, serves also to uphold the patriarchy it resists, as previously indicated through Moll’s various comments and actions. Though she herself never plans to marry, Moll helps a loving heterosexual marriage come to fruition. Though she strives to mentally overcome her female body, Moll frames her personal power structure in terms of the mind as a husband and the body as wife; hence, it is only natural that the “wife” should submit to the “husband.” In light of this, Moll’s rejection of the patriarchy, as well as her appropriation of it, can be viewed as a way to clarify and stabilize the hierarchical structures: Moll’s actions “provide an expression of, and a safety valve for, conflicts 52

Levine, Men in Women’s Clothing, 21. Panek, introduction to The Roaring Girl, ix. 54 “Mary Frith’s Appearance at the Consistory Court January 27, 1612,” from The Consistory of London Correction Book (1612), in The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2011), 147. 55 Alexander Leggatt, “Chaste Maids and Whores” (1973), in The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2011), 195. 56 Leggatt, “Chaste Maids and Whores,” 195. 53

Women Wearing the Pants


within the system” 57 She remains essentially outside the system, challenging but not changing the status quo. This is indicative of a larger issue raised by Jacques Derrida, in which binary notions of sexual difference “allot to one pole, usually the masculine, a positive value, and to the other a negative. From such a perspective, all resistance is already contained, dissipated, [and] recuperated” to the societal norms. 58 However, a woman taking power in a gender-coded role is complex; though she must be masculine, she also elides definition by not wholly relinquishing her feminine nature. She must be the mannish woman. Moll and Portia both necessitate consideration of the aforementioned Hic Mulier and Haec Vir. Hic Mulier asserts that since the days of Adam women were never so Masculine: Masculine in their genders and whole generations [. . .]; Masculine in Case, even from the head to the foot; Masculine in Mood, from bold speech to impudent action; and Masculine in Tense, for without redress they were, are, and will be still most Masculine, most mankind, and most monstrous. 59 This, then, seems to be the view that would apply to Moll. Many words and phrases used by the characters in The Roaring Girl to describe Moll are also repeatedly used in this later tract, such as “stranger than strangeness itself,” “exorbitant from Nature,” and “high Treason to God and Nature.” 60 The mannish woman is, “in brief, so much man in all things that they are neither men nor women, but just good for nothing.” 61 The problem is that Moll does not even fit this paradigm. She is virtuous, unlike the assumed nature of Hic Mulier, and she does seem to be a woman who is good for something; Moll helps those in need, though she certainly does so in her own manner and according to her own moral code. Portia does not quite fit into the role laid out by Hic Mulier, as she does not habitually dress or act as man. What Portia does do, though perhaps unintentionally, is point out the other side of the coin, Haec Vir, through juxtaposition of her own example. Portia is one of the “women [who] adopted masculine clothing and behavior [. . .] to preserve ‘those manly things which [others] have forsaken.’” 62 Essentially, Portia becomes a man because no one else is stepping up to sort out the legal issues that have lives hanging in the balance. But when Portia’s mission is complete and the men reassert that they are “men in shape, men in show, men in words, men in actions, men in counsel, [and] men in example,” Portia seems to settle into the promise set out in Haec Vir 57

Davis, qtd. in Newman, “Portia’s Ring,” 264. Newman, “Portia’s Ring,” 269–70. 59 “Hic Mulier; or, the Man-Woman,” in Half Humankind: Contexts and Texts of the Controversy about Women in England, 1540–1640, ed. Katherine Henderson and Barbara F. McManus (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 265. 60 “Hic Mulier,” 266, 268, 269. 61 “Hic Mulier,” 270. 62 “Haec Vir; or, The Womanish Man,” in Half Humankind, ed. Henderson and McManus, 288. 58


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that women will then return to their roles of love, obedience, and modesty — or at least a semblance thereof. 63 Moll, in contrast, gives no such indication. She, too, steps into a masculine role when the men around her fail to act honorably, but after correcting their faults when and where she can, Moll returns to her betwixt-andbetween insubordinance. She incidentally works to uphold a heterosexual union and helps the bride and groom garner the approval of the patriarch, but these are not the reasons she assumes a masculinized persona. That, simply, is who she wants to be. Additionally, Moll encourages others to subvert the system, especially in regard to the latent homoeroticism charging many of the interactions and much of the wordplay in which she engages. Moll is a cheerful loose cannon, unapologetic and uncompromising. Both women have superficially reified the patriarchy in which they live, but neither has completely given up her cross-dressing persona; Portia still retains all the intellect and capabilities she displayed as Balthazar; and Moll is still an unorthodox champion for women. The problem is, no matter how many attempts are made to stuff Portia and Moll back into a conventional box at the end of the play, neither quite fits. Both Portia and Moll have become the alpha male through anthropologically established paths: the biggest and most extravagant gift-giver and the swordsman of martial prowess, with displays of cunning and bravery. Though the initial anxiety is that wearing men’s clothing was wrong because it was a lie, the greater fear becomes that wearing men’s clothing is “dangerous because it can become the truth.” 64 The clothes may be changed, but the woman underneath is still markedly unfeminine in some way.

63 64

“Haec Vir,” 288. Levine, Men in Women’s Clothing, 21.

Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain in Medieval Literature: The Evidence of Der Stricker’s Daniel von Dem BlühenDen Tal Albrecht Classen

In light of the current wave of assassination attacks globally, it is important to understand more of the medieval history of the Order of the Assassins under the rule of the mythical, but certainly concretely identifiable, Old Man of the Mountain. Crusader chroniclers included references to this figure, and soon enough medieval poets also talked about him. This article examines the range of medieval literary texts, including Marco Polo’s travelogue, where we can detect traces of this myth. I will focus, above all, on Der Stricker’s Middle High German Arthurian romance Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal (ca. 1220), which proves to be a most fascinating reflection of those accounts coming from the Middle East about this militarized Shiite sect in Persia. Those cross-references underscore the global dimension of the medieval world, and this also in literary terms.

The History of Assassinations Today, we can hardly ever open any newspaper or online news source, can hardly listen to the radio, or watch television news without learning once again about another suicide attack somewhere in the world. Of course, assassinations have been carried out in the past as well, and particularly the modern history of the United States is darkly marked by such attacks on civic and political leaders (John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, both in 1968, etc.). Tragically, such brutal slaughter has also happened in many other countries both in earlier times and most recently (Norway, France, India, etc.). Killing unarmed people, including children, Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 123–40.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126381


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for political purposes, by means of a suicide bombing, is particularly heinous, but it has not been an exceptional phenomenon, often because assassination has commonly yet oddly granted the perpetrator a unique opportunity to rise above the crowd and to attract attention, to satisfy some religious needs, or to fulfill a personal agenda, such as hatred of women. In the words of Gavin Baddleley and Paul Woods: “Today, the word [‘assassin’] evokes a rogue’s gallery of killers for hire or drug-crazed thugs, or perhaps lonely little men who long to usurp the status of the bigger men they plan to kill” (Baddeley and Woods 2009, 7). The public stands by, frozen and horrified, mostly helpless, or responds with a roar leading to an entire war campaign that leaves only devastation and massive death in its path — see, for instance, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003 — whereas the assassin, who might have blown him/herself up anyway, and his/her group remain in the shadow and seem rather elusive for the governmental forces. The assassin creates mayhem and escapes the grip of the authorities, demonstrating thereby that terrorists, operating covertly and alone or in small groups, can defy even the mightiest powers in this world, suddenly appearing from and then hiding again among the civilian population. Intriguingly, however, it remains a debatable issue whether the assassin actually achieves his or her goal as intended, because the death of a leader such as Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968 did not stop at all the movement he had led for the liberation of his people and for establishing freedom and justice for all. On the contrary, assassins ultimately create much counter-force and mostly, quite involuntarily, steel the resolve of the opposing side to defend itself, as the circumstances involving, for instance, the Red Army Faction in Germany from the 1970s to the late 1990s indicate. 1 Ultimately, not only the military machine but also the legal system becomes heavily involved, along with the police force and other governmental entities, to defeat the terrorists and bring them to justice, especially when the population supports those efforts (Gotzel 2010). Unfortunately, at the present moment, neither Al-Qaeda nor ISIS, neither Boko Haram nor the Muslim Brotherhood, have been really eliminated, despite many military successes by the authorities (2020). Many different governments continue to struggle with finding the right strategies to overcome those terrorists, because their strength commonly exists in their idiosyncratic, often religio-political ideology (Stern and Berger 2015). 2 French and American revolutionaries were 1 (last accessed 23 Feb. 2020). Despite many hesitations to refer to this online encyclopedia, this and some of the following articles cited below are of exceptional quality. Much of the information contained in them would have been difficult to retrieve through other sources, and since the anonymous authors obviously closely followed standard scholarly criteria, offering solid references and convincing arguments, I dare to rely on their work. My original research was completed in 2016, and I have verified that all of those websites are still active now (2020). 2 See also the highly illuminating article by Croitoru (2016).

Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain


certainly terrorists, at least from the view of the British crown and the French king. There are also numerous right-wing and fascist groups that do not hesitate to assassinate their opponents. This phenomenon is actually a global one, with terrorists fighting for a variety of their own causes but regularly pursuing the same strategies and, in more abstract terms, the same goals, gaining power and establishing their own political system by destabilizing the ruling regime. 3 Assassination, hence, is not simply a modern issue; instead, its specific historical appearance can be traced back at least to the eleventh century when a Shiite sect split from the main group and resorted to what was later known as assassination attacks. Within the context of global studies regarding the Middle Ages and the early modern age, we thus face the fascinating opportunity to recognize how much geographical boundaries meant relatively little for our understanding of past events and that a proper analysis of the pre-modern world already requires us to pursue a much more global perspective than has heretofore been endeavored. 4 After all, assassins reach out from far away and strike at unexpected moments, creating horror and despair. Just as the war between Great Britain and the American colonies was a global affair, the struggle today between the Western world and ISIS, for instance, proves to be of a similar caliber and hence should also be studied through a historical lens. However, the purpose of this paper is not to trace the entire history of the Assassins once again, which has already been done admirably by a number of excellent scholars (see Hodgson 1955, Lewis 1965, Franzius 1969, Burman 1987, Bartlett 2001, and, most recently Pagès 2014). 5 Instead, the focus rests on the questions of how much European authors were familiar with this phenomenon and how they integrated comments about the Assassins into their literary works. This will allow us to identify a unique and fascinating narrative line of communication between the Middle East and Western Europe, especially in literary-historical terms. Muhammad Ashraf Ebrahim Dockrat (2010, 194) succinctly summarizes what we know about the Assassins as follows: The movement later associated with 3 (last accessed 23 Feb. 2020). This is an excellent, highly informative, and well-documented article. 4 To write global history, however, represents a huge challenge and might be altogether too problematic to be translated into reality. Nonetheless, see, for example, Salisbury and Fitzsimmons (2009) and Fried and Hehl (2010). Most innovative and far reaching prove to be the arguments developed by Kulke (2016), who observes a direct line of influence from ancient Greece to late antique India, and from there to early medieval Japan, for instance. 5 The emphasis here rests on the historical background, particularly the assassination of the King of Jerusalem, Conrad of Montferrat, on 28 April 1192, then on French chronicles, the account by Marco Polo, Occitan poetry, and the fourteenth-century Middle French chanson de geste Baoudouin de Sebourc. In my study I will build on Pagès’s insights and those by previous scholars but will then introduce new literary material of significance for the history of the myth surrounding the Assassins.


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the name of Assassins was launched by al-Hasan ibn al-Sabbah (d. 1124), “a Persian who claimed descent from the Himyarite kings of South Arabia.” After having returned from Egypt, he established himself in the strong mountain fortress of Alamut northwest of Qazwin or, further away, Teheran. Their greatest military strategy, regularly rewarded with victory, consisted of surprise attacks on distant fortresses and assassinating leading figures among their enemies. Their followers completely submitted under the theocratic rule of al-Sabbath as their grand-master. Those mysterious murders of major Muslim leaders — the first victim having been the Seljuk vizier Nizam al-Malik in 1092 — baffled the entire Muslim world and cast a deep shadow of fear and insecurity over the entire population. No Muslim force could ever take the fortress of Alamut, until finally in 1256 the Mongols, under the leadership of Mulagu, captured and destroyed it completely. In 1272 the Mamluk Baybars put the death knell to the Assassins altogether as a political and military unit, but the disciples, the real Assassins, continued to exist throughout the entire Muslim world and have found a multitude of ominous successors, such as the members of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as Neo-Fascists and other radical rightwing groups, both on the left and especially on the right of the political spectrum, and this in 2020! The current threat worldwide of Islamic and other suicide bombers finds an intriguing historical corollary that dates back to the myth of the Old Man of the Mountain, the infamous leader of the Assassins, who were, better phrased, an important minority group among the Shiites, called Isma’ilis, who account for about ten percent of the entire Muslim population today. In 1094 the Isma’ili split into the group of Nīzaris and the Musta’ilians, with the former controlling numerous mountain strongholds of Alamaut in northern Persia, 6 and this in a political framework dominated by the Seljuqs who had migrated into and soon dominated Persia (Peacock 2010). 7 As an anonymous author informs us: While “Assassins” typically refers to the entire medieval Nizari sect, in fact only a class of acolytes known as the fida’i actually engaged in assassination work. Lacking their own army, the Nizari relied on these trained warriors to carry out espionage and assassinations of key enemy figures, and over the course of 300 years successfully killed two caliphs, and many viziers, sultans and Crusader leaders. 8

6 (last accessed 23 Feb. 2020). This article provides not only the relevant geographical, but also historical, information about the lords of Alamut Castle who ruled the Nizārī Ismā’īlī state from Alamut. 7 See also (last accessed on 23 Feb. 2020). 8 Quoted from the excellent survey online: (last accessed 23 Feb. 2020).

Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain


Little wonder that the Assassins hence gained an almost mythical status, surrounded by a nimbus of secrecy, terrifying striking power, mercilessness, and brutality in the pursuit of their military goals, and all this sustained by a ferocious religious zeal embraced by individual assassins (Nowell 1947). The particular Shiite sect, which had very old roots in the history of Islam, “looked on itself as a saved remnant in a corrupt world. . . . [Hence, the] Shi’a offered its imāms an intense personal loyalty; it invested them with a prestige more than human” (Hodgson 1955, 8). In other words, this sect heavily relied on the cultivation of secret, conspiratorial loyalty. Although the Nīzârî Ismà’îlîs were ultimately eliminated as a separate political power and had to give way first to the Mongols and later to the Sunnis, the terror that their assassins had caused continued to dominate public opinions and sentiments for centuries to come. The myth of the Assassins has survived in Iran and Syria until today, although the group of adherents has completely distanced itself from the violent past and pursues, as far as we can tell, purely religious goals. 9

Marco Polo As has often been mentioned, Marco Polo in his famous travelogue about his journey to China (end of the thirteenth century) also included a report about the Assassins, but he was not the first one at all to share news of this terrorist group, the myth of which had reached the West through numerous channels. This allows us to study both the phenomenon of globalization already in the Middle Ages and the workings of marginal but influential groups in Syria and Persia having a huge impact on the history of the Middle East and of the Crusades. Let us first examine the way Polo discussed this secret Shiite sect and then turn to a remarkable example of the translation of the so-called “Old Man from the Mountain” who led these mysterious Assassins into a significant opponent of King Arthur and his entire court in Der Stricker’s Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal (ca. 1240–1250). This literary verse narrative reflecting a specific reception of this mythical figure from the Middle East has so far never been discussed by scholars working on the history of the Assassins. At first sight, it seems as if we can keep the study of Polo’s text short because it has already been examined numerous times in the context of the history of the Assassins. Baddeley and Woods, for instance, cite an entire relevant passage that, perhaps surprisingly, focuses only little on the sneaky murder attacks, ferocious and obsessed suicide killers, and religious fanaticism. Instead, Polo noted — above all, and almost to the exclusion of all other elements, such as the fortification, the military organization, or the political system among the Assassins — the leader’s 9

Bartlett (2001, ch. XII). See also the homepage for that group: /home (last accessed on 23 Feb. 2020).


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paradisiacal garden to which only select guests had access. They were first treated with hashish before they were allowed to be carried into it: “every form of flower and fruit grew there among gilded palaces and fountains of wine, milk and honey, while beautiful maidens sang like angels and played enticing melodies” (Baddeley and Woods 2009, 204). For our purpose, however, we need to revisit Polo’s account and connect it with numerous predecessors within medieval literature. Even Polo could not resist relating the myth of the terrorist missions launched by the Assassins: When he required somebody to undertake a mission for him, he would drug the strongest of these young men once more and have him taken from the garden. . . . So none of his agents held any fear and would kill the Old Man’s foes, craving the embrace of death and a return to Paradise. (Baddeley and Woods 2009, 205)

However, studying Polo’s text more carefully, we discover a plethora of additional details about the leader of the Assassins, the Old Man of the Mountain. The garden that he had set up in a valley between two mountains was almost something like a locus amoenus, populated not only by all kinds of fruit trees and bushes and endless types of flowers but also by “the most beautiful damsels in the world, who could play on all manner of instruments, and sung most sweetly, and danced in a manner that it was charming to behold” (Polo 1975, ch. XXIII, p. 140; Polo 1958, 70–71). The purpose of the garden was to create the illusion of Paradise here on earth, to which the Old Man admitted only those young men destined for their assassination attack. By means of a drug potion (hashish) that he had them drink beforehand, he could make them believe that they actually had entered a heavenly space. Subsequently, through manipulations, he had the designated assassin believe that through the murder of the designated person he would be granted re-entrance to Paradise: And in this manner the Old One got his people to murder any one whom he desired to get rid of. Thus, too, the great dread that he inspired all Princes withal, made them become his tributaries in order that he might abide at peace and amity with them. (Polo 1975, 143) 10

Polo then adds a few comments on the demise of the Old Man of the Mountain, who was, after a three-year siege by the Tartars (Mongols), captured and executed, which brought an end to assassinations on his behalf: “And since that time he has had no successor; and there was an end to all his villainies” (Polo 1975, 146). 11


For a list of those rulers or ministers who were thus murdered, see Polo (1975, 144–45). For the historical background of the siege and the long-term development, see Polo (1975, 146–48); see also Bartlett (2001, 160–85); cf. also Hammer-Purgstall (2008). 11

Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain


It proves difficult to determine from where Polo might have drawn his information, especially because he composed his text, with the help of Rustichello da Pisa, many years after having returned from his travels to China, based on his personal memories and a vast library of comparable texts. But for our purposes, it does not matter whether Polo had personal knowledge of the Assassins or whether he only had learned about them through other sources, because our only concern consists of recognizing and identifying the curious phenomenon that Western Europeans knew something about — the Assassins and their leader, the so-called “Old Man from the Mountain” — and worked with this myth in a variety of literary contexts (Daftary 1994). As is rather typical of Polo’s account, he only included the report about the Assassins as a sidenote for the entertainment of his audience, since he quickly returns to his actual travelogue: “Now let us go back to our journey” (Polo 1975, 146). The character of an interlude is also underscored by the introductory words to Chapter XXIII: “Mulehet is a country in which the Old Man of the Mountain dwelt in former days” (139). To inject veracity to this report, he confirms that he had “heard it from several natives of that region” (139). In reality, however, the mythical account had already made its way from the Middle East to Europe, which I will trace subsequently through the lens of literary history. After all, other world travelers, such as Odoric of Pordenone (ca. 1286–1331), who left for Mongolia in 1318, were fully aware of Polo’s narrative and included basically the same information about the Assassins. 12

Assassins and Medieval Chroniclers Western forces were obviously quite familiar with the Assassins’ leader well before Polo. For example, King Louis IX of France — who led the Seventh Crusade between 1248 and 1254 and went, after his devastating defeat at Damietta in 1250, to Acre in Palestine, where he stayed until his return home — During that time he exchanged numerous embassies and gifts with the local leader of the Nizari Isma’ilis in Syria, just before the Mongols moved into Persia and Syria and destroyed the Assassins (Daftary 1994, 60). Long before that major event, Crusader accounts about the Assassins had made their way into the European imagination, as reflected, for instance, by Provençal poets who compared their own dedication and loyalty to their courtly ladies with that of the Assassins and their leader (Chambers 1949). After all, causing a huge scandal and political uproar amongst all Crusaders, the King of Jerusalem, Conrad of Montserrat, was murdered by two men in Tyre on 28 April 1192. Although one of the assassins admitted that they had carried out 12

See Bartlett (2001, 228–29). For global perspectives on the various travel authors, see Münkler (2009, 89–101, 135–41, and passim). See also the contributions to Classen, ed., 2018.


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orders from the Old Man of the Mountain, rumors quickly spread that Richard the Lionheart had been involved as well, having secretly arranged this attack in coordination with the leader of the Shi’ite sect (Pagès 2014, 72–74). Poets such as Aimeric de Peguilhan, Bernart de Bondeilh, and Giraut de Bornelh, all flourishing at the end of the twelfth century, either identified themselves as Assassins in a playful or facetious way or made references to those zealous warriors in the Middle East in order to underscore their own adamant and unwavering love for their addressees. It is quite likely that historians or chroniclers such as William of Tyre (1130– 1186) or Graindor de Douai (late twelfth century) had been the first to promulgate information about the Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain. The diplomatic report by Burchard of Straßburg on behalf of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1152–1190) contains early comments on the Syrian Nīzaris. These have been preserved in the Chronica of Arnold of Lübeck (d. 1211/1214), who provides already quite detailed aspects regarding the “Heyssessini” or “segnors de montana”: “They dwell in the mountains and are quasi impregnable, because they withdraw into fortified castles” (Daftary 1994, 70). Moreover, in Frank Chambers’s words: [i]n 1192, Philip Augustus let it be known that he suspected Richard the Lion-Heart of having induced the Old Man of the Mountain to send some of the Assassins to France for the purpose of murdering him (Philip), and he redoubled his personal guard. This is recorded by several historians, and undoubtedly tickled the popular fancy. (Chambers 1949, 249)

Chambers is not aware of any other references to the Assassins in medieval European literature (251), but we can discover specific echoes of this myth in a major Middle High German Arthurian romance (Pagès 2014). The medieval world was, after all, much more globally oriented than we tend to assume today. However, we first need to be very careful with the entire notion of the use of hashish as underlying the phenomenon of assassins within the European context, because the Western poets were not fully aware of it and reflected, if they even knew anything about the Old Man of the Mountain, only on the killing machine set up by him. Chroniclers such as Jacques de Vitry, William of Rubruck, William of Tyre, and Jean de Joinville discussed the phenomenon quite extensively, but it remains unclear how their reports then transpired into more general knowledge, especially because the “modern sense of ‘assassin’ dates, in England as in France, from the 16th [century]” (Pelliot 1959, 54). The OED, however, already lists citations from 1340 and ca. 1450 and then provides references since ca. 1520. 13

13 result=1#eid (last accessed 23 Feb. 2020).

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Der Stricker and Assassins Curiously, all researchers so far have focused primarily, if not exclusively, on English and French sources to trace the reception history of the Assassins. In addition, modern pop culture has fully embraced the myth of the Assassins for its own purposes (film, print media, video games, computer games, etc.), but one of the most interesting, truly fascinating literary reflections of the Assassins, dating from the first half of the thirteenth century, has mostly evaded the attention of non-German medievalists, who in turn do not seem to have noted the direct connection to the history of this Shiite sect in Persia. While Der Stricker (pseudonym of a Middle High German itinerant poet of the first half of the thirteenth century) has enjoyed considerable respect and admiration by German scholars, his literary contributions have remained mostly unknown elsewhere (Resler 1984). So we need to provide a brief introduction to his works. He composed not only the most remarkable collection of entertaining tales of the Pfaffe Amîs, a smart and deceptive priest operating as a rogue who knows well how to undermine the clerical authorities and to expose people’s ignorance and stupidity, but also a major “translation” of the famous Rolandslied by the Priest Konrad, his Karl der Große, as well as numerous short verse narratives, fables, and his Arthurian romance, Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal (ca. 1210–1225) (Der Stricker 2015). The latter work proves to be the first truly creative innovation by a German medieval poet, although Der Stricker himself includes a reference to a presumed French source, by Alberich de Besancçon (v. 7). However, that source has never been found, and this reference was probably only a shield to protect the poet from the charge that he was not learned enough to create his work. Daniel is of great significance in our context because here we come across a fascinating example of the reflection of the myth of the Assassins in late medieval German literature. We do not really learn much, if anything, about the Assassins themselves, but do learn extensively about the Old Man of the Mountain, which indicates how much poets and their audiences in the West were, after all, familiar with major accounts about this mythical figure as they circulated in the Middle East. Here is not the place to discuss the entire romance, which contains numerous intriguing themes and topics, projecting a protagonist who does not belong to the Round Table and yet comes to King Arthur’s rescue when he is severely threatened by the King Matûr of Clûse. 14 The latter has available for his support two giants who are virtually invulnerable and are rather robot-like. 15 Daniel, most anxious to gain the highest fame, departs from the court before everyone else, trying to figure 14

For a solid monograph on this text, see Reisel (1987). She does not, however, concern herself with the issue at stake in the present study. This is globally the case with most Stricker research. 15 See Truitt (2015). She does not seem to be aware of Der Stricker’s Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal, however. See my review of Truitt in The Rocky Mountain Review 70, no. 1 (2016):


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out how to defeat those giants, which would pave the way to the Kingdom of Clûse. He succeeds with the help of several noble ladies, whom he had previously assisted in their struggle against monstrous creatures, to kill those giant brothers, and when King Arthur and his company finally arrive, they altogether overcome and kill King Matûr (Classen 2005; Wambach 1996). As unusual as all this might sound for those familiar with the traditional Arthurian romance, the real surprise follows only in the last part of this text (Wennerhold 2005, 138–39). Scholarship has already identified numerous Middle High German sources with which Der Stricker seems to have been familiar and from which he apparently culled some motifs and narrative elements (Resler 1984, 119–23). However, we can certainly widen the perspective and point to a significant alternative range of sources that connect the Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal not only with various Crusade chronicles but also with the world of the Middle East because of the commonly shared motif of the Old Man of the Mountain. Markus Wennerhold (2005) comments on the surprising episode in Der Stricker’s text but does not mention the phenomenon of the Assassins with one word. However, we can observe in this romance a remarkable late medieval reflection of this Middle Eastern terrorist organization. After the war against King Matûr has been successfully completed, resulting in a triumphant victory, King Arthur organizes the usual court festival during which a major disruption occurs that undermines all the traditional values and ideals, indicating that even the best knights of the Round Table are not skilled and strong enough to oppose the elusive and yet powerful enemy force. An old man appears who later turns out to be the father of the two robot giants. He is described almost in monstrous terms, at least appearing in a very different outfit, wearing only a long silken shirt and nothing else, which clearly marks him as an outsider (vv. 6905–6913). With a stick, he hits at everyone who is in his way until he has reached King Arthur. He calls out to everyone to make room because he wants to show them a game of a very new kind, which no one has ever witnessed before (vv. 6935–6940). Once all have moved away, anxious to be entertained by this rogue, as they believe, he suddenly grabs the king and simply carries him off to a high mountain peak, where he deposits him, entirely unable to free himself. As the narrator informs us, the old man knows of more secret tricks than anyone else in the world (vv. 6990–6991), and all the knights’ efforts to assist and liberate their king prove to be useless. Daniel hence urges them not to try to kill the old man because he would be the only one capable of carrying the king back down from the mountain peak again. But the old man then threatens to catch each one of them and put them into the same horrible situation without any opportunity to free themselves (vv. 7095–7100). 120–22. The same applies to Okken (1987). See also Montero Navarro (2008); Schmitt (2003); and the contributions to Grubmüller and Stock (2003).

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Next, challenged by the old man, the supremely famous knight Parzivâl, of course well known from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s eponymous romance (ca. 1205), steps forward, but he, too, is quickly overpowered and kidnapped, taken to another mountain peak. However, he continues struggling against the old man, who finally, tired of this silly resistance, hits him so hard against a rock that he pales and faints (vv. 7210–7215). Everyone is so aghast that they desperately try to shoot arrows against the old man, until Daniel interrupts them and announces his plans to overcome their opponent. He eventually manages to do so with the help of a magical net in which they can capture the old man, who then has to learn that his two sons, the robot giants, had been responsible for their own death because of their arrogant and foolish behavior. In fact, Daniel affirms that it had caused them great grief to pursue that strategy to overcome and kill the giants but that they had been forced to do so to defend their lives against the two brothers (v. 7711). This then solves the conflict, and the old man retrieves the two prisoners, thus returning joy to the disrupted courtly festival in concrete and in symbolic form (Classen 2016). As a gesture of new friendship, they hand over the magical net and salve to the old man, who greatly appreciates these gifts that are entirely appropriate for him since he is a master of magical arts as well (Classen 2017). At the end of the court festival, the old man requests a particular gift from King Arthur, which adds important information about how much Der Stricker incorporated the elements from the myth of the ruler of the Assassins. The old man only wants to be granted rule over a country on the other side of the mountains, which King Matûr had previously assigned to him, as well as a fief (vv. 8365–8366). That country is surrounded by a ring of mountains and extends only for a mile. The mountains, which form a kind of natural wall, are so high and steep that no creature that the old man had ever brought into his country would ever be able to depart again (vv. 8369–8372). He himself, however, as he emphasizes, commands so many magical skills that he can easily come and go. That secret country is filled with many joys and appears to be very similar to the paradisiacal garden that the Old Man, the leader of the Assassins, had created for his own purposes. Specifically, the secret space is filled with “kurzewîle und ze spil” (v. 8377; entertainment and games), which the old man had transported there himself (v. 8378). The old man has no greater desire but to be granted that distant land behind the mountains once again as his fiefdom (vv. 8380–8384). For Arthur, this request is easy to fulfill, especially because the old man would be the only one capable of entering and leaving that land at will. So it would be foolish of the king not to grant that wish, and he rather would own, as he comments, an ordinary egg than two of such distant and mysterious lands (vv. 8391– 8393). Moreover, whereas King Matûr had only released that unique country to the old man as a fiefdom, King Arthur now goes one step further and hands over that land to the old man as his property in return for the service that he has performed so far, that is, taking him down from the mountain peak again (vv. 8395–8400). For the old man, this is a most valuable gift, for which he deeply thanks the king,


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whereas for Arthur this generosity only underscores his own fame as a worthy and honorable ruler (v. 8409). Subsequently, we never hear a word about the old man again, since the romance concludes with final remarks on Daniel’s marriage with Danîse, the widow of King Matûr, and his ascendancy to the throne of Clûse. From a narratological perspective, the reference to the mysterious country can thus disappear, especially because the danger resulting from the old man and his necromantic skills has been banned and basically removed from this world. By granting him the land beyond the mountains, King Arthur has drawn a distinct line between the known and the unknown world, and the latter is then relegated completely to the margin, never to be heard of again. In Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal we are thus presented with the deliberate attempt to colonize and eliminate the mysterious dimension of magic hidden behind the mountains, and this both in geographical and historical terms. There is little doubt that Der Stricker specifically alluded to the Kingdom of the Old Man of the Mountains, even though there is no direct mention of assassination attempts. However, even the workings of the two robot giants insinuate a certain familiarity with this aspect so characteristic of the twelfth-century Shiite kingdom in Persia. This Middle High German poet thus reflected a global perspective that was never paralleled again so explicitly in medieval German literature, as far as I can tell. Of course, many poets have their protagonists travel widely, even far into the Middle East, and the anonymous author of the late-thirteenth-century Reinfried von Braunschweig (1997) even included extensive reports about his hero’s “touristic” adventures that took him through the Persian kingdom and beyond. However, the myth of the Old Man of the Mountain disappeared from the literary horizon, just as the old man in Daniel disappears from view after he has received his country as his own property. We do not need to probe further whether Der Stricker consulted some Crusade chronicles or whether he had learned about the myth of the Old Man through oral sources; we have no documents for his biographical background and can only surmise what sources he might have consulted. However, the testimony from Provençal troubadour poetry confirms that the notion of the assassins was already well established in the twelfth century, at least in southern France. There might be further allusions to that myth in the late Middle Ages in a variety of texts, but we can already conclude that with Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal we have available a major thirteenth-century Middle High German romance as a further testimony of the extensive reception process of this fascinating account about that kingdom of assassins as it had been received in Western Europe — and now also within the German-speaking world. While Farhad Daftary provides the most detailed survey of the relevant chronicle reports about the Assassins (Daftary 1994, 49–87), we can now include a major literary source where this myth found traction and was curiously integrated into the tradition of Arthurian accounts. The old man in Der Stricker’s romance is portrayed first as a dangerous and potentially evil character, but, as it turns out,

Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain


he does not really harbor evil intentions against King Arthur and his court. Once having been enlightened about King Matûr’s wrongful manipulations of his two sons, the robot giants, the old man emerges as a friendly, cooperative, even submissive character who only wants to gain the distant land behind the mountains as his personal property. Once all this has been settled, he disappears from our view and is not mentioned again. Nevertheless, with this curious and certainly unique episode in Daniel von dem Blühenden Tal, we recognized an important source within late medieval German literature where the poet worked more or less directly with material derived from military and religious accounts concerning the mysterious kingdom of the Nīzaris in present-day Iran. The channels connecting the historical events in the Middle East from the twelfth to the thirteenth century with this impressive romance might remain unknown or at least pretty unclear to us, but we have now available two critical end nodes of a cultural-historical bridge between Europe and Persia.

Conclusion We can conclude our investigation with a final literary reference to the myth of the Old Man of the Mountain in another context, which contributes further evidence to the observation that we are dealing with a pan-European phenomenon. In Boccaccio’s Decameron (ca. 1351), the story told by Lauretta on the third day (eighth tale) describes a lustful abbot who has fallen in love with the wife of the foolish Ferndando, who tortures his wife through his excessive jealousy. The abbot promises the lady to heal him from this bad character if she agrees to grant him her love. Even though she is at first rather hesitant, since she, like everyone else, had deemed the abbot a holy man, she soon agrees and allows the abbot to manipulate her husband. While the abbot and Fernando share a meal together, the latter is drugged with some potion and falls so deeply asleep that everyone believes that he has died. After his entombment, the abbot and a confidant monk take him to a pitch-black cell where he stays for ten months, believing that he has entered purgatory. The monk whips him twice a day as a punishment for his extreme jealousy, but otherwise he is fed and kept well. In the meantime, the abbot regularly sleeps with the wife until she becomes pregnant. This forces the abbot to bring Fernando back to “life,” but now cured of his jealousy, and this so thoroughly that the abbot can continue having an affair with his wife. The crucial passage connecting this tale with the myth of the Old Man of the Mountain consists of the scene where the abbot drugs the foolish man: He possessed a powder of marvellous virtue which he had received from a great Prince of the Levant, who asserted that this powder was used by the Old Man of the Mountain when he wished to put anyone asleep and send him to


albrecht classen Paradise and then bring him back. According to the quantity administered, the person who took it slept a shorter or longer period without any harm, and as long as its virtue lasted everyone would swear the person who took it was dead. 16

The common elements that Boccaccio drew from the mythical account are the references to the use of a drug and to Paradise. In the world of the Assassins, as we have already seen above, those young men who were designated to carry out the personal attack on an enemy were given a drug, then taken to the paradisiacal garden, and thereupon sent off to carry out their charge, in the firm belief that ultimately they would be allowed to return to that garden (Baumann 1977). Boccaccio changed the setting slightly, removing all allusions to military operations, but otherwise he has the narrator explicitly point out that the potion, certainly a form of hashish, originated from the Old Man in the Levant, that is, in Persia. In fact, Boccaccio apparently stayed closer to the original account of the Nīzaris than Der Stricker, but then changed it strongly as well, transferring the motif of the drug use to the monastery where the learned abbot possesses some of that powder and knows how to utilize it skillfully. Der Stricker, by contrast, completely left out any mention of the drug and focused on the Old Man of the Mountain exclusively, including, however, the two robot giants, who might have been a far cry from the actual assassins. Insofar as we are dealing here with a most intriguing myth that fascinated and puzzled Western authors, it is little wonder that it had become freely available to a wide variety of medieval European chroniclers, poets, and writers after it had already circulated widely in Middle Eastern sources (Guyard 1877). Almost casually, the famous Walter Map, for instance, included a brief discussion of the Assassins in the chapter “De sene Axacessi” contained in his De nugis curialium (ca. 1180–1200) (2010, ch. xxii; 33; see also 241). Not surprisingly, we also find some detailed comments about the Assassins in John Mandeville’s famous but basically fictional Travels (middle of the fourteenth century) (1983, 171–72). Even in the most metaphorical context, it remains very clear that those writers and poets were aware of this mysterious figure and enjoyed integrating him into their own accounts as a source of mystery and necromancy, nefarious activities, and monstrous pursuit of murdering his enemies with the help of his willing “slaves.” Modern computer and video games, card games, popular fiction, and other media have rediscovered the medieval assassins as intriguing figures and thus prove to be creative avatars of the tradition developed as early as the thirteenth century by Der Stricker and subsequent writers such as Marco Polo and Boccaccio. This long tradition contextualizes modern assassins or suicide bombers quite differently, 16 Here I cite the English translation by Aldington (Boccaccio, Decameron 1970, 224). See also Boccaccio, Decameron (2012) and Boccaccio, Das Decameron (1965). For a very useful introductory approach, see the contributions to Armstrong, Daniels, and Milner (2015).

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especially because the myth has always been predicated on the idea of a master of all assassins, hidden in his mountain fortress, manipulating his disciples from a distance and trying to gain power over his enemies by means of secret attacks. The propagandistic effect of such onslaughts has always worked in favor of the Old Man of the Mountain. It seems rather surprising that, in light of these insights drawn from medieval sources, our modern military leaders do not follow the connection line between the suicide bombers or assassins and their commanders. The assassins do not simply represent a military threat; they are also an ideological challenge. To win a war only with military might is difficult, but the real battleground rests in the realm of ideas, beliefs, charism, religion, and ideology.

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Designing Disgrace: Early Modern Female Artists Creating in the Margins Meg Lota Brown Kari Boyd McBride

Interest in Renaissance women artists has burgeoned over the past few decades, in significant part because of the effort of feminist scholars engaged in a recuperative project to recover the lost and misattributed works of women and to study their reconstituted oeuvres. In spite of the cultural barriers to women, including their exclusion from training, the disparagement of their art, and the impediments to their work as professionals, female artists of the early modern period produced extraordinary and influential creative works. The training, audience, genres of expression, opportunities for patronage and commissions, and even the permissible subject matter were significantly limited for female artists. They were banned from life-drawing studios. They were rarely admitted to the academies where painters were taught linear perspective, spatial relationships and proportions, anatomy, and mathematical systems of representation. Instead, they were typically trained in the studios of their fathers, husbands, or other male relatives. Their professional lives were made possible by family ties and not by any widespread public encouragement or even social acceptance. Those few who competed with men for commissions were often vilified as morally corrupt, and most were systematically excluded from producing in the most lucrative genres such as oil painting and monumental sculpture. Most, too, were excluded from court and aristocratic commissions. In addition, the logistical and cultural constraints of marriage and motherhood prevented many women from developing their abilities or their artistic output. Indeed, the production of gifted and successful young female artists frequently ceased completely when they were married. Either their husbands forbade them to fill such untraditional roles, or the daily demands of the household filled all available time. (Those demands often included carding, spinning, and weaving wool Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 141–63.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126382


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

into cloth, sewing clothes, cultivating vegetables, scrubbing, laundering, cooking, childrearing, raising livestock in the yard, butchering animals, preserving meat and fruit, helping with harvesting and planting, milking cows and goats, making butter, cheese, bread, and beer, or overseeing such work.) In the late sixteenth century, an Italian church decorator named Caterina Ginnasio remarked that the needle and distaff were the most formidable obstacles to the paintbrush and artist’s pencil. Despite fierce odds against women’s professional production, however, the Renaissance benefitted from increasing numbers of talented, original, and even internationally celebrated women artists. Discrimination and deficient working conditions notwithstanding, they produced in a wide range of media, subjects, and projects. Their achievements were remarkable not only because of the adverse circumstances in which they were created but also because in their own right they were distinguished contributions to one of the most magnificent periods of artistic production in Western history. Just as literary genres have always been politicized and ranked according to their culturally determined value, there was a hierarchy of genres in which Renaissance painters worked. Large-scale historical or mythological paintings and religious subjects or altarpieces were the most prestigious and remunerative, and therefore they tended to be the male-dominated genres. Such works were considered more important and demanding than were portraits, still lifes, and book illustrations — genres whose practitioners were predominantly female and which were held to be “worth less” both financially and aesthetically. Embroidery, needlework, and miniatures were similarly devalued as women’s work; they required the meticulous industry and constrictive manual labor that came to signify a domesticated femininity. The vast majority of porcelain painters and lace makers were women whose production was properly limited to household materials and to the private rather than the public sphere. Domestic subjects and interior settings were the appropriate focus of female painters. They often created small-scale works, the size of which many held to be emblematic of their diminished significance. Ironically, however, several of the “inferior” genres to which women were relegated became so popular during the Renaissance that women still-life painters and miniature portraitists were some of the highest paid and celebrated artists among the courts and monied classes of Europe. Other creative media were devalued as their status fell from skilled labor to feminine craft. Embroidery, for example, had been a respected guild trade in the Middle Ages, practiced by both males and females and compensated with pay similar to that accorded to painters. During the Renaissance, however, embroidery was designated women’s work and therefore suffered a demotion in both economic and aesthetic value. As one historian explains, Middle- and upper-class girls were taught to embroider because embroidered clothing and household objects became signs of class status, and because embroidery was seen as the best way to inculcate the traits most admired in a

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woman — passivity, chastity, attention to detail, domesticity. As more embroidery was produced in the home for domestic consumption, it was increasingly considered an “accomplishment” rather than an art, and those who embroidered for pay received lower wages, except for the male designers of embroidery patterns and the few men employed as court embroiderers by Europe’s monarchs. 1

Needlework was meant to teach not only patience and restraint but also ideological precepts. Biblical verses and homilies about obedience and other feminine virtues were stitched onto pillows, screens, and other domestic objects. Because embroidery was not considered an art, few women applied their names to the work; consequently, far less is known about the individual creators of needlework pieces than about artists in male-dominated media. Women in the Renaissance were effectively forbidden from engaging in certain subject matters and media. Most importantly, females were not allowed to study techniques for representing nude figures or details of male anatomy. As a result, women artists were at a disadvantage in painting the historical scenes with numerous figures that were so popular and lucrative in the period. Even the most accomplished women artists would customarily drape the male bodies in their paintings with robes or dark shadows so that their lack of training in representing the male nude would be less apparent. Proscriptions against some media were as rigorously enforced as were conventions against women studying or depicting naked male anatomy. Fresco — the application of paint to wet plaster walls — was a medium from which females were almost always excluded. (The Italians Onorata Rodiani and Anna Maria Vaiani are among the few known exceptions.) Fresco required that the artist work outdoors or in public places, which was considered disgraceful for women. Landscape painting was another genre in which women’s limited freedom and limited mobility led to their limited participation. With very few exceptions, women did not even try landscape painting until the nineteenth century. It was evidently not possible for women to go on sketching trips and long scenic journeys alone to collect the raw material this new genre required. Thus men not only controlled the most remunerative and most esteemed public commissions as well as landscape, one of the three popular genres, but also had an almost total monopoly over sculpture, architecture, and even printmaking before 1800. 2 Though rare, female architects, sculptors, and printmakers did distinguish themselves and compete successfully for recognition during the Renaissance. One of the few known architects was Plautilla Bricci (1616–1690), who was born in 1 Merry E. Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 178. 2 Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550–1950 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), 29.


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

Rome to a family of artists. Her design of Elpidio Benedetti’s villa near Porta San Pancrazio was commissioned in 1663, and construction was completed in 1665. Benedetti claimed that Plautilla only assisted her brother with the design, but surviving documents — including the building contracts and preliminary drawings — prove that Plautilla was the sole architect. Although apparently reluctant to publicize his employment of a female, Benedetti was so pleased with her ability that he commissioned her to design another work, the chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. Elizabeth of Shrewsbury (1527–1608) was one of the few women of her era who controlled enough wealth to oversee independently the design of a new-built aristocratic estate; she is known to history as Bess of Hardwick in honor of her masterpiece, Hardwick Hall. Although she was not an architect, one scholar describes her as “capable, managing, acquisitive, a businesswoman, a money maker, a landamasser, a builder of great houses, an indefatigable collector of the trappings of wealth and power, and inordinately ambitious, both for herself and her children.” 3 Climbing the only ladder of success available to women of the era, she “married up” four times, surviving all four husbands and accruing, in the process, a magnificent fortune. By the time of her fourth marriage to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess had purchased the land and houses of Hardwick estate and had begun replacing the medieval manor house with the massive building project of the new Hardwick Hall. When her husband died in 1590, Bess gained control of all the family properties and received a substantial widow’s jointure. She spent the next thirteen years of her life building, remodeling, buying and commissioning furnishings, and acquiring more property. She oversaw work on the great house whose castellations spell out her own initials: Hardwick Hall, which contemporaries claimed was “more glass than wall.” Hardwick is unusual among Tudor houses in a number of ways. Its situation atop a hill makes it one of the most striking country houses to dominate the landscape. While its plan was probably drawn up by the surveyor Robert Smythson, Bess’s influence is pervasive. For example, the most impressive high-ceilinged state rooms are not on the second floor, as was usual, but on the third. Bess presided over ceremonial dinners in the High Great Chamber, “the ceremonial pivot of the house.” She conducted business from her withdrawing room, and the apartments were all “conveniently on the warm, south side [of the house], well away from the smells of the kitchens and the noise of the hall, and the chapel was on the same floor.” 4 Bess and her ladies in waiting occupied the premier places of Hardwick Hall, dominating the social and economic life of the house from her personal and


Mark Girouard, Hardwick Hall (London: The National Trust, 1989), 6. David N. Durant, Bess of Hardwick: Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynast (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), 162. 4

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public suite of rooms. Though she remained appropriately domesticated and cloistered, Bess made that domestic space the power center of Hardwick Hall. The most impressive of the furnishings at Hardwick were its fabulous embroideries. One scholar has shown the many ways in which Elizabeth of Shrewsbury “made conscientious use of classical and Christian figures . . . to describe female authority in the household,” including images of “the virtuous wife,” especially Ulysses’s faithful spouse, and many mythic and historical warrior queens. Bess employed male professional embroiderers throughout her life and put members of her household to work on such projects as well. She herself rarely spent time doing needlework. Bess’s monogram — a stylized ES with the “Hardwick stag and eglantine [wild rose]” — appears on many of the embroideries, marking her authority over the decoration of the household and its management. 5 Few women (or men) had Bess’s great wealth and the ability to put their stamp on entire houses and estates, but many women contradicted the prevailing wisdom about females’ limitations in their choice of artistic medium. Two acclaimed female sculptors in Renaissance Europe were Properzia de’ Rossi (1490–1530) and Luisa Ignacia Roldan (ca. 1656–1704). De’ Rossi was the only early modern Italian woman known to have worked in marble. Born in Bologna, she trained first as an engraver and became famous at an early age for her astonishingly detailed carvings on peach stones and cherry pits. Her first public commission was to decorate the canopy over the altar of S. Maria del Baraccano. Subsequently, she won a competition to create a number of sculptures for the church of San Petronio. One of her most famous marble bas-reliefs for the cathedral of Bologna depicts the biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Giorgio Vasari, the Tuscan courtier whose published biographies of artists were both popular and influential, applauds the energy and dramatic tension of the scene; he also mentions that de’ Rossi received meager payment for her work because of libelous allegations that an envious painter spread against her. Indeed, both her success and her ambition scandalized contemporaries who believed that women should never compete with men and never join a public profession. Vasari attempted to temper her inappropriate strength of character by assuring his audience that she was beautiful and accomplished at domestic chores. Marveling at her “miraculous” artistic ability, he portrays her as an exception among women. The implication of all such left-handed compliments, of course, is that females are not naturally able to excel in a man’s world. This strategy of accounting for the success of an individual at the expense of women in general was a common way of making females’ achievements less threatening and therefore more tolerable. Use of the strategy was not limited to men; Queen Elizabeth of England, for example, repeatedly described herself as an exception to the rule of otherwise weak women. Another “exceptional” sculptor was Luisa Ignacia Roldán. The first known female sculptor in Spain, she was trained in her father’s workshop in Seville, along 5

Girouard, Hardwick Hall, 24, 28.


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

with her older sisters and two brothers. She distinguished herself at an early age and became widely known for her wooden and terra-cotta sculptures. At fifteen, she married another sculptor, whose only recorded works are collaborative pieces that he assisted his wife in producing. Roldán’s fame spread throughout the country. King Charles II appointed her Sculptor of the Chamber, and she moved with her two children and husband to the court in Madrid. Her prolific output included larger-than-life-size wooden statues, relief sculptures, and her acclaimed terracotta figures. The small clay sculptures depicted religious scenes in vivid gold and bright colors. This use of polychromy, along with her intimate details from nature, was unprecedented in terra-cotta religious forms. Roldán’s clay groups were so treasured that they were kept on permanent display with relics and other sacred icons in many churches throughout Spain. Roldán’s career illustrates one role Renaissance women artists might assume, if rarely — that of court professional. Other women artists served as facilitator to their father’s or husband’s business. Diana Scultori Ghisi, also known as Diana Mantuana, fulfilled the latter role very successfully. Born in Italy in 1547, Diana was the daughter of an artist who trained her to produce engravings that he then bestowed as gifts to potential benefactors. The purpose of her early art was to procure work and favors for her father. After her marriage to Francesco da Volterra, she continued in her role as facilitator by designing engravings meant to solicit architectural commissions for her husband. The couple moved to Rome, where Francesco served as architect to members of the papal court. There Pope Gregory XIII granted Diana an unusual dispensation to produce, distribute, and market her prints in her own name. That privilege made Diana legal owner of her work, conferring on her some of the protections that modern copyright laws insure. There is no record of her receiving commissions, and of approximately seventy-five engravings that have survived, most were produced on behalf of her father and husband. Once Francesco was securely established as a prominent architect who could attract commissions on his own, Diana’s print-making career seems to have ended. She died in 1612, twenty-four years after producing her last dated print. Like Diana Mantuana, Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) was a talented and successful Italian engraver as well as a prolific painter. Her father was an artist in Bologna where she was born. By the age of seventeen, she was earning her own living as an artist. Precocious and gifted, she attracted many wealthy, private patrons, and her work was commissioned for several royal collections. Sirani supported her entire family — both parents, three siblings, and herself — not only through her internationally celebrated renderings of mythological and religious subjects but also through her instruction of more than a dozen female students who became professional artists themselves. She died suddenly at the age of twenty-seven, having produced an enormous corpus. Public spectacle and solemn orations distinguished her funeral. Sirani’s body lay in state on a huge scaffolding that was topped by a life-size statue of the artist. Such an elaborate commemoration was remarkable for

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a female commoner and was testimony to the esteem in which her engravings and paintings were held. Another noted engraver was Magdalena van de Passe (ca. 1600–1638). She was born to a Dutch family of engravers who settled in Utrecht and who were all trained by the father, Crispin van de Passe. Magdalena is known to have made or contributed to engravings of many of the English nobility and members of the royal family, including Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey, and Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham. Magdalena was particularly renowned for her biblical scenes and landscapes, and her work has been praised for its skilled deployment of chiaroscuro, the artistic technique of sharp contrast between light and dark popularized in the Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Caravaggio, and Rembrandt van Rijn. Magdalena worked in the family business alongside her father and brothers until she married at the age of thirty-four. She was widowed two years later and returned to the family home but probably had ceased working as an engraver from the time of her marriage. 6 A compatriot, fellow-engraver, and near contemporary of van de Passe was Geertruyd Roghman (1625–bef.1657). Born into a family of engravers, Roghman produced an eloquent series of works that depict women’s occupations, including sewing, spinning, pleating fabric, cooking, and cleaning. The engravings highlight the painstaking aspects of domestic labor, humanizing rather than romanticizing or moralizing the daily details of women’s work. Comparing the “leisure and reverie” of Jan Vermeer’s (1632–1675) Lacemaker to the “physical labor” of Roghman’s working women, one art historian observes: In Vermeer’s painting, a stylish young woman bends over her bobbins completely absorbed in her task. In contrast, Roghman’s figures are often in strained poses with their heads bent uncomfortably close to their laps as if to stress the difficulty of doing fine work in the dim interiors of Dutch houses of the period. Surrounded by the implements necessary to their activities — spindles, combs, bundles of cloth and thread — they demonstrate the complexity and physical labor of the task. 7

Roghman’s art emphasizes the arduous material circumstances of domestic work while also conveying the dignity and even beauty of such engagement. No discussion of Renaissance women engravers could be complete without a consideration of the work of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717). In addition to producing exquisitely detailed etchings and beautiful water colors, she revolutionized the fields of zoology and botany. Born in Germany to a Swiss engraver and his Dutch wife, Merian studied and sketched plants and animals from a very early age. 6 Grove Dictionary of Art, s.v. “Magdalena van de Passe.” The Grove Dictionary is available online at 7 Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society (London: Thames & Hudson, 1990), 115.


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

Her father died when she was three, and her stepfather — a Flemish flower painter — trained her to illustrate the meticulous observations of natural life for which she became famous. In 1665, she married a painter, with whom she had two daughters. When she was only twenty-three, Merian published a three-volume set of her flower engravings, the first of which appeared in 1670. Her major contribution to entomology and botany came nine years later, with the publication of her second three-volume work, The Wonderful Transformation of Caterpillars and Their Singular Plant Nourishment. In an abrupt departure from the traditional method of drawing from preserved insect specimens, she carefully studied living examples of 186 kinds of European moths and butterflies, recording their appearance and activities at various stages in their life cycles. Merian’s scrupulously accurate, painstakingly detailed illustrations provided a wealth of new information for the scientific community. 8

The careful observations recorded in Merian’s illustrated books were foundational for the scientific classification of species that the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus undertook a generation later. Her influence in both scientific and artistic spheres was tremendous. By the 1690s, Merian had divorced her husband and moved to Holland. Fascinated by the collections of South American flora and fauna that were increasingly popular among Europeans, she resolved to take her two grown daughters with her on a cataloging expedition to the Dutch colony of Surinam. Such an undertaking was extraordinary. The perils of transatlantic travel and the risks of disease in a tropical colony were serious, but considered even more grave — indeed, shocking — was her venturing forth without a male chaperone. Nevertheless, the city of Amsterdam funded her two-year project of studying and drawing indigenous insects, plants, and animals of South America. Merian became one of the first Europeans to observe and record the local peoples and their traditions. Suffering from malaria, she was forced to return to Holland, where she published a lavishly illustrated collection of commentaries that included sixty engravings made from her water color paintings. The book was entitled Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, and it earned her international acclaim. International acclaim was a remarkable achievement for any Renaissance artist, whether male or female. The first woman painter whose reputation extended beyond her own country was Sofonisba Anguissola (1535/40–1625). The oldest of six daughters, all of whom were painters, she was born in Cremona, Italy, to a minor noble family. Her father supported the artistic training of his children and even consulted with Michelangelo about Sofonisba’s skill. She became a respected portraitist at an early age and taught her younger sisters techniques that she had 8


Nancy G. Heller, Women Artists: An Illustrated History (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987),

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studied with master artists. Her specialties were both formal and informal portraiture; the latter was an innovative variation that she was instrumental in developing. It was characterized by a domestic setting and sometimes a “conversation arrangement” of figures. One of the most famous examples of such a construction is “The Chess Game,” which depicts three of her sisters poised in the midst of their game. Each of the younger sisters looks at her older sibling, and the eldest gazes directly at the viewer. Anguissola was a prolific painter who produced an extraordinary variety of portraits. She created more self-portraits than any artist between Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn. 9 Word of her ability spread to Spain, where she was invited to join the court of Philip II. In 1559 she moved to Madrid and served for ten years as both court painter and lady-in-waiting to the Queen. She amassed great wealth in her royal position, setting an example and providing an incentive for subsequent female artists. Even the pope commissioned one of Anguissola’s paintings. A further measure of the high esteem in which she was held is that the Spanish king arranged her marriage to a Sicilian lord in 1570; the monarch also provided her with a sumptuous wedding and a substantial dowry. The couple moved to Sicily, where her husband died four years later. Sofonisba continued to paint during her two marriages (she wedded a Genoese ship captain in 1584) and until her death in 1625. Anguissola exerted an important influence on her compatriot, Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614). Born in Bologna, Fontana was the most prolific female artist in Europe before 1700. Her corpus is exceptional because of its broad range of subjects and format. In addition to portraits, she produced large-scale biblical and mythological works, many of which depicted male and female nudes. Her expertise in representing male nudes was extremely uncommon among women artists. In fact, she was refused acceptance to the Carracci academy because instruction there included studying and drawing male models. It is likely that she learned in her father’s studio to paint the nude form. Fontana was also unusual in that she continued to have a successful career after marrying and giving birth to eleven children. Also extremely unusual was the fact that her husband, a wealthy painter who had been one of her father’s students, gave up his own profession in order to further hers. He stopped producing his own works so that he could help construct the frames and backgrounds of her paintings and assist with childrearing. His wife supported the family throughout her adult life. She created many works for patrons and private clients, and she began to win public commissions in 1584. Summoned to Rome by the pope, she received a papal commission for a large altarpiece in the basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura. The piece depicted the stoning of Saint Stephen Martyr and was more than twenty feet high. Her subsequent paintings won her election to the Roman Academy, which was an extraordinary distinction for a woman and which 9

Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society, 70.


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enabled her to charge exceptionally high prices for her work. Ambassadors, princes, Pope Paul V, cardinals, and numerous other dignitaries commissioned her to paint their portraits. King Philip II of Spain paid her 1,000 ducats for her painting “The Holy Family with John the Baptist.” Fontana’s reputation was so prominent that a medal was struck in her honor three years before she died. Her distinguished oeuvre, illustrious clientele, supportive husband, recognition by academies, and her earning power set invaluable precedents for subsequent female artists. Fontana’s study of male nudes and their inclusion in her work were very unusual for a woman of her time, since women were prohibited from the academic studios where young men perfected their skills drawing the human body. 10 For male artists, in contrast, “the nude” — especially the female nude — was a significant sign of their technical skill. Because of her lack of training in representing the male body, even Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1652), probably the most successful female Baroque artist, draped men’s naked bodies when they formed part of her paintings, as she did in her many renditions of the biblical story of Judith slaying Holofernes. However, when Gentileschi portrayed the female body, as she did most famously in her Susanna and the Elders, painted when she was only seventeen, she rejected the kind of awkward and eroticized display that marks so many Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Whereas Jacopo Tintoretto’s painting of Susanna makes her complicit with her own attempted rape by portraying her gazing into a mirror and enjoying her own sexuality in anticipation of the arrival of the two elders who will proposition her, Gentileschi’s Susanna makes it clear that what the elders intend is rape. Rather than placing Susanna in a romanticized pastoral bower, Gentileschi shows Susanna seated naked on cold stone, her body twisted in agony as the two elders lour over her. Moreover, Gentileschi foreshortens the depth of field, so that the figures in the painting seem pressed too close together; the viewer, as well, feels uncomfortably too close to the figures in the painting. In Gentileschi’s work, the beauty of Susanna’s naked body is placed in tension with the uneasiness the viewer feels at her situation, both her narrative situation and her situation within the field of the canvas. Though Gentileschi’s skill was confirmed by this early painting, she nevertheless met with censure, financial hardship, and ostracism throughout her life. Until very recently, she was not even recognized as the creator of many of her most important works. Though only thirty-four works of a much larger corpus remain, many of them were previously attributed to her father and other male contemporaries. Only the work of recent art historians has sorted out her oeuvre and returned her to her proper place in the history of painting. Her newly established inclusion 10 Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in Art and Sexual Politics: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? ed. Thomas B. Hess and Elizabeth C. Baker (New York: Collier Books, 1971), 24.

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in the canon of artistic merit is based on the excellence of her work, the originality of her treatment of traditional subjects, and the number of her paintings that have survived. But she was both praised and disdained by contemporary critics, recognized as having genius, yet seen as monstrous because she was a woman exercising a creative talent thought to be exclusively male. Like many other women artists of her era, Gentileschi was the daughter of an artist, the successful painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639). Her father trained her as an artist and introduced her to the working artists of Rome, including Caravaggio, whose chiaroscuro style greatly influenced her work. Among those with whom Orazio worked was the Florentine artist Agostino Tassi, whom Artemisia accused of raping her when she was nineteen. Her father filed suit against Tassi for injury and damage (since rape in the Renaissance was a crime of property against fathers or husbands), and the transcripts of the seven-month-long rape trial have survived. According to Artemisia, Tassi attempted to be alone with her repeatedly and raped her when he finally succeeded in cornering her in her bedroom. He tried to placate her afterwards by promising to marry her and gained access to her repeatedly on the strength of that promise, but he always avoided following through with the actual marriage. The trial followed a pattern familiar even today: she was accused of not having been a virgin at the time of the rape and of having many lovers, and she was examined by midwives to determine whether she had been “deflowered” recently or a long time ago. Perhaps most galling for an artist like Gentileschi, Tassi testified that her skills were so pitiful that he had to teach her the rules of perspective and was doing so the day she claimed he raped her. Tassi denied ever having had sexual relations with Gentileschi and brought many witnesses to testify that she was “an insatiable whore.” 11 Their testimony was refuted by Orazio (who brought countersuit for perjury), and Artemisia’s accusations against Tassi were corroborated by a former friend of his who recounted Tassi’s boasting about his sexual exploits at Artemisia’s expense. Tassi had been imprisoned earlier for incest with his sister-inlaw and had been charged with arranging the murder of his wife. He was ultimately convicted on the charge of raping Gentileschi, and he served less than a year in prison. During and soon after the trial, Gentileschi was working on her now-acclaimed Judith Slaying Holofernes (1612–1613). One month after the long trial ended, Artemisia was married to a Florentine businessman Pietro Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, and they moved to Florence. While there, she gave birth to a daughter. In Florence, Gentileschi returned to the subject of Judith, completing Judith and her Maidservant. Again, Gentileschi’s treatment of the familiar subject matter is

11 Mary D. Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). The entire transcript of the rape trial is reprinted in an appendix to Garrard’s book. See also Kari Boyd McBride’s website on Gentileschi at http://


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

unexpected and original. Both she and her husband worked at the Academy of Design, and Gentileschi became an official member there in 1616 — a remarkable honor for a woman of her day, probably made possible by the support of her Florentine patron, the Grand Duke Cosimo II of the powerful Medici family. During her years in Florence, the duke commissioned quite a few paintings from Gentileschi, and she left Florence to return to Rome upon his death in 1621. From Rome, she probably moved to Genoa that same year, accompanying her father who was invited there by a Genoese nobleman. She also received commissions in nearby Venice during this period and met Anthony Van Dyck, one of the most successful painters of the era. Moreover, it is possible that she became acquainted with Sofonisba Anguissola, a generation older than Gentileschi and one of the handful of women who worked as professional artists. Gentileschi soon returned to Rome and is recorded as living there as head of household with her daughter and two servants. (Evidently, she and her husband had separated, and she eventually lost touch with him altogether.) Gentileschi later had another daughter; both her daughters are known to have been painters, though neither their work nor any assessment of it has survived. Her own fame is evident in a commemorative medal bearing her portrait made between 1625 and 1630 that calls her pictrix celebris [celebrated woman painter]. At some time between 1626 and 1630 Gentileschi moved to Naples, where she painted her Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting and many other works. She collaborated with a number of artists (all male) while in Naples. In 1637, desperate for money to finance her daughter’s wedding, Gentileschi began looking for new patrons. The new patron to whom she finally attached herself was King Charles I of England. Gentileschi was in residence at the English court from 1638 to 1641, one of many continental artists invited there by that art-collecting king. She may have gone specifically to assist her father, Orazio, in a massive project to decorate the ceilings of Queen Anne’s house at Greenwich. After civil war broke out in England in 1641, Artemisia returned to Naples, where she lived until her death. She remained very active there, painting at least five variations on Bathsheba and perhaps another Judith. The only record of her death is in two satiric epitaphs — frequently translated and reprinted — that make no mention of her art but figure her in exclusively sexual terms as a nymphomaniac and adulterer. While the Church and the court provided the bulk of the art patronage in most European countries, it was the wealthy middle class that supported the art market in the Netherlands. By the seventeenth century, Holland was a major economic and naval power with an extensive colonial empire. The esthetic taste of its prosperous merchants influenced the development of genres that were particularly suited to the limited mobility of women and their limited opportunities for academic training. Still lifes, flower paintings, and portraits were extremely popular genres, none of which required knowledge of the male nude or travel to study with Italian masters. The Dutch had a penchant for realistic detail and for representations of material culture. Accordingly, paintings of ordinary or even domestic

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subjects, precisely observed and meticulously rendered, were in far greater demand than vast historical or mythological pieces. Because the merchants who bought so much of the art intended to hang it in their homes, it was generally small-scaled. An open market economy rather than patronage or commissions drove the production of paintings (except portraits), and the possibility of competition outside the guilds provided Dutch women with opportunities that their counterparts in other European countries rarely enjoyed. 12 Female artists had been successful still-life painters before the florescence of the genre in seventeenth-century Holland. Fede Galizia (1578–1630) in Italy was a leader in the genre, and four women painters of still lifes had been elected to the French Academy in the seventeenth century. However, one scholar notes that “the most noteworthy women still life painters were Flemish and Dutch, since these schools were the most active and suffered least from the French Academy’s low esteem for this genre.” 13 Flower paintings, too, were especially marketable in the Netherlands. Growing and selling flowers was a robust sector of the Dutch economy by 1600. Tulips sold for extravagant sums, and middle-class households incorporated flower gardening into their leisure-time activities. In addition, explorers brought exotic floral species back from their voyages to the New World and the East. Intense interest in these non-native species prompted artists to include them in still lifes and flower works in order to improve the marketability of their canvasses. One of the early women painters of still lifes in the Netherlands was Clara Peeters (1594–ca. 1657), who had already distinguished herself as an accomplished artist by the age of fourteen. Little is known about her personal life except that she did not marry until very late, at the age of forty-five. Born in Antwerp, she was among the originators of a popular category of painting called the “banquet” or “breakfast piece.” Such works display a table on which food, a few porcelain or metal dishes, and glass vessels are arranged. Peeters had a superb talent for representing the varied textures and patterns of light reflected in such objects. An early series of four banquet pieces — one a painting of fish, another of game, a third of a dinner composition, and one entitled “Still Life with Flowers, a Goblet, Dried Fruit, and Pretzels” — established her as a leader in her field. Though Peeters was only seventeen years old at the time she painted them, they were immediately recognized as “among the masterpieces of early seventeenth-century still life.” 14 She was particularly famous for rendering textures and juxtaposing natural objects with manufactured ones. Her 1612 “Still Life with a Vase of Flowers, Goblets, and Shells” is celebrated not only for its composition of objects and their relationships

12 Wendy Slatkin, Women Artists in History from Antiquity to the 20th Century (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 55–56. 13 Slatkin, Women Artists in History, 56. 14 Slatkin, Women Artists in History, 59.


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

to each other but also for the exquisite reflections of light. In the metallic surface of one goblet, for example, Peeters’s own image is reflected seven times. Another important innovator from the Netherlands was Judith Leyster (1609– 1660), one of the first artists to develop the “intimate genre,” a scene of one or only a few figures captured in a narrative moment. The lighting in these scenes often comes from a single source, thus focusing our attention on the figures and their ordinary, but vitally rendered, activity: sewing, singing, drinking, painting, fluteplaying. Leyster created an unusual variety of works, including still lifes, genre paintings, and portraits. Born in Haarlem to a brewer and a clothmaker, she supported herself not only as an independent artist but also as the head of her own workshop of pupils. In her twenties, she became the only female member of the Haarlem painter’s guild. Two years later, she successfully sued fellow artist Frans Hals for violating professional ethics by apprenticing one of her students. Ironically, art critics since her death have enabled another kind of appropriation of Leyster by Hals: they have misattributed a number of her works to her male colleague. The most prolific period of Leyster’s career was between 1629 and the year of her marriage in 1636. After she wedded the painter Jan Molenaer, her artistic production decreased drastically. One of the most intriguing works from her period of greatest artistic output was “The Proposition” (1631), an excellent example of the intimate genre. It portrays a woman intently sewing as a leering man leans from behind her into the light. The unresponsive woman studiously ignores both the coins that the man offers and his hand on her shoulder as he tries to pull her away from her work. The scene of unwelcome interruption contrasts the looming shadow and dark attire of the male harasser with the illuminated face and startlingly white blouse of the restrained woman. Other Dutch and Flemish renderings of sexual propositions are typically lively and bawdy; their male and female figures are mutually invested in the exchange of money for sex. Leyster’s scene, however, presents a different view. As one critic dryly remarks, the painting suggests that “not every transaction occurs between willing participants.” 15 Born just one year after Judith Leyster, Louise Moillon (1610–1696) was perhaps the best still-life painter of seventeenth-century France. Both her father and stepfather were artists in Paris. By the age of ten, she was selling her paintings and contributing to the support of her six siblings and widowed mother. As was true of Judith Leyster, Moillon’s artistic production nearly ceased after her marriage in 1640. But before losing her professional independence, she achieved a considerable reputation for her work. Especially remarkable was her ability to render texture and reflections. In her still lifes, “she delighted in showing off her technical expertise in rendering water droplets on a table and the individual highlights on shiny berries. Also notable is the dark background, which focuses attention on the fruits


Slatkin, Women Artists in History, 63.

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themselves, giving the picture a quiet intensity.” 16 Despite her talent and success, however, she was not allowed into the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (established in 1648), because its members held that still life was an inferior genre — inferior to the representation of the human form and of historic or mythic scenes. The Royal Academy revised its exclusionary position in 1663, when King Louis XIV decreed that female artists should be allowed membership if they excelled in their medium. Within twenty years, four female still-life painters were elected to the Academy. Records show that the number of professional women artists in France grew steadily, from only three in the sixteenth century to twenty-eight by the end of the seventeenth century. After the admission of Catherine Perrot to the Academy in 1682, however, no woman was elected for another forty years. In 1706, the policy of banning all females was reinstated, although a small number of exceptions were made over the next century. Like still-life paintings, portraits were a “minor” genre in which women artists throughout Europe excelled. One of the most prolific portraitists was the English Mary Beale (1632–1697), who also taught students in her own workshop. Her contemporaries especially praised — and purchased — her studies of children. Unlike many female painters whose careers waned or ended altogether upon their marriage, Beale began her apprenticeship after she wedded her husband Charles. From his scrupulously detailed notebooks, we learn of her extraordinary output; in just one year, for example (1677), he records that his wife completed eighty-three commissions. Mary was the primary wage earner of the family, while Charles managed the household, helped raise their two sons, and assisted his wife with preparing her paints and canvasses. She was distinguished not only for the quality of her art but also for the variety of materials with which she worked, including oils, water colors, and pastels. In the course of the Renaissance, the conditions of artistic production and the social restrictions on women improved gradually. More females engaged in creative vocations, and more enjoyed the patronage and wage-earning power that their male counterparts had long commanded. Art historians have identified thirty women artists of fifteenth-century Italy; that number tripled within the next 100 years. By the seventeenth century, there were more than 200 women painters who have left some historical record. Similar increases occurred elsewhere in Europe, as both the reputation and the works of female Italian painters, engravers, and graphic artists moved north. As their professional presence grew, so did their income. Court painters often received liberal honoraria, and even their extended family could benefit from royal patronage. The Spanish king paid Sofonisba Anguissola’s father an annual salary of 800 lire for his daughter’s work. 17 The prestige of appointments to European courts significantly enhanced the status of female artists. Caterina van 16 17

Heller, Women Artists, 58. Edith Krull, Women in Art (London: Studio Vista, 1989), 12.


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride

Hemessen (ca. 1527–ca. 1566) served as painter to the court of Mary of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, accompanying Mary to Spain when she moved her court there in 1556. The Flemish Levina Teerline (ca. 1510–1576) was appointed painter to the court of three English monarchs: Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. She was also commissioned to work for King Henry VIII, but she agreed to do so only on the condition that her father could accompany her to the household of that notorious philanderer. Levina’s miniatures were so highly esteemed that her annual salary was greater than that of the two most renowned male portraitists of the English court, Nicholas Hilliard and Hans Holbein the Younger. Maria van Oosterwyck (1630–1693) was a Dutch still-life painter whose exquisitely detailed and luminous works were commissioned by royalty throughout northern Europe, including Emperor Leopold, King William and Queen Mary of England, Louis IX of France, and the Elector of Saxony. August II of Poland is said to have paid her 2,400 guilders for two of her flower paintings. Isabella del Pozzo (1660–1700) was court painter to Adelheid, wife of the Elector of Bavaria. Her payment was an annual salary of 400 guilders as well as a daily allowance of beer, wine, and bread. After she became blind, the Elector awarded her an annual pension of 200 guilders. The English Susan Penelope Rosse (1652–1700) was one of the most popular miniaturists in history. Some of her paintings were only one inch high. She served as commissioned artist to a number of the members of Charles II’s court. Late in the period, Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750) was appointed court painter to the Elector Palatine in Dusseldorf. Her productivity included not only a long and successful career of flower painting but also the birth of ten children. Court appointments were by no means the only source of revenue for female artists. Although there are few extant records of average earnings, evidence of exceptional wages is more available. Whereas Rembrandt rarely received more than 500 guilders for any of his works, his compatriot Rachel Ruysch charged between 750 and 1,250 guilders per painting. The papal exchequer disbursed 348 scudi to Anna Maria Vaiani (d. 1655) for her decorations of one of the Vatican chapels. To determine the value of such sums, compare early modern artists’ wages to those of other workers: Lavinia Fontana’s “The Holy Family with John the Baptist,” for which King Philip of Spain paid 1,000 ducats, was worth four times the annual salary of a German town clerk in 1600. Anna Maria Vaiani received the equivalent of about half the clerk’s yearly wages for just one fresco in the Vatican. Clearly, many women artists were able to support their families with their earnings, and many did. Elisabetta Sirani was a major source of income for her household. The French Elizabeth Chéron (1648–1711) paid her father’s debts, supported her mother and siblings, and paid for the education of at least one brother and one sister. Some of the families that women artists were helping to sustain were exceptionally large. As mentioned earlier, Lavinia Fontana had eleven children, and Rachel Ruysch had ten. The Dutch Aleyda Wolfsen (b.1648) gave birth to eight children. Their financial contributions to such sizeable households were essential.

Designing Disgrace


Even if some female artists were not fully supporting their families, their professional lives were closely tied to family life. Most were born into their calling, working in family-operated studios or craft shops and producing art along with their fathers, brothers, husbands, mothers, sisters, and daughters. It was common for several generations of families to collaborate in the production of art, overseeing the business and training — or serving as — apprentices. Titian employed all of his daughters, and Tintoretto apprenticed four of his eight children. Indeed, the paintings of his daughter Marietta (1560–1590) were often attributed to her father; her talent was so great that even experts have found some of their works indistinguishable. Such misattribution was fairly common. The Italian painter Carlo Dolci taught his daughter Agnese Maria (d. 1686) to copy his works. She became so adept that some art critics believe the picture that the Louvre attributes to her father, “Christ Blessing the Bread,” is probably her own creation. Not only producing art but also training others to do so was one of the roles of female painters. Jan Breughel’s grandmother, Marie Bessemers (1520–1600), was his first teacher. The French miniaturist Antoinette Hérault (1642–1695) trained her five daughters, all of whom became painters and all of whom married other artists. Not only did women artists in the Renaissance produce excellent work, but many of them also did so at an astonishingly early age. Oddly, women were far more precocious than their male counterparts. As one scholar puts it, Fede Galizia’s artistic promise was noted publicly when she was twelve. Angelica Kauffman painted her self-portrait at the age of thirteen. VigéeLebrun was supporting her family at the age of fifteen. Giovanna Garzoni signed a painting of the Madonna at the age of sixteen. Sirani’s own list of her work records five paintings made when she was seventeen, and Artemisia Gentileschi was the same age when she painted her Susanna and the Elders in Pommersfelden. Leyster had already attracted public comment on her gifts when she was seventeen, Clara Peeters’ first dated work was painted when she was seventeen, and those of Rachel Ruysch and Anne Vallayer-Coster when they were eighteen. Susan Horenbout was eighteen when she sold a miniature to Dürer. Louise Moillon’s first surviving painting was made when she was nineteen. Caterina van Hemessen and Judith Leyster have both left us works painted when they were twenty. While references to precocious artistic activity by male artists are not unknown, it is by no means usual to be able to discuss works made before they reached their twenties. 18

It is not certain why women’s professional success often came at an earlier time in their lives than did men’s; perhaps the latter spent their early years on formal training that was not available to females, thereby delaying their production for the public. Perhaps accomplished women artists were galvanized at a young age because their career prospects were often diminished significantly upon marriage 18

Harris and Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550–1950, 41–42.


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and childbearing. Whatever the reasons, female artists typically distinguished themselves earlier and overcame far greater cultural barriers to their creativity than did men. Women’s opportunities to create and perform musically were — perhaps even more than their prospects as artists and writers — limited to the private or cloistered spheres. It is certain, however, that women participated in the musical culture of Europe more fully than surviving records document; the records themselves are incomplete or non-specific, especially in the case of popular music. Songs, lullabies, ballads, and other forms of folk music were often passed from generation to generation vocally rather than in print with the author’s name included. Folk songs that were eventually published were often anonymous, but one scholar has commented wryly that “anonymous was a woman.” Furthermore, many such folk songs “accompanied traditionally women’s work such as child care or weaving,” so that singing was connected with women’s work. 19 By the seventeenth century, musical training was an integral part of middle- and upper-class girls’ education. Singing and playing an instrument were cultivated as “accomplishments” rather than serious skills, and women’s performances typically were private occasions confined to a family audience. As was the case with artists, most female musicians were the daughters of fathers who composed or performed professionally and who allowed them both training and public opportunities in music. Such were the circumstances of Francesca Caccini (born 1587), who became the highest paid performer in the Florentine court of the Medicis. A generation later, another Italian vocalist, Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) was renowned for her public performances and for her music salon in Venice. Neither woman was permitted to make her career in opera — the most popular and prestigious musical genre in Italy — and many of their compositions are rather short songs of love. But Strozzi composed cantatas; in fact, she is sometimes credited with inventing the genre. She was born in Venice and was the “adopted” daughter and heir of the poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi, in whose household her mother, Isabella Garzoni, was a servant. Strozzi was probably Barbara’s natural father. He oversaw her extensive education, particularly in music, preparing her for the life of a professional musician and, later, providing her with an opportunity to perform for the elite of Venice. She was a singer, composer, and accomplished performer on many instruments. She published eight volumes of arias and secular cantatas for solo voice and continuo, taking a short break from publication and performance during the years she gave birth to her four children but then resuming her career. Strozzi may have been a courtesan, although the fact that she was labeled so by contemporaries does not by itself provide conclusive evidence of the fact, as many women who excelled in “masculine” occupations were called whores. Opportunities for females who produced secular music increased gradually in the course of the 19

Wiesner, Women and Gender, 186.

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Renaissance. By 1700, women were creating longer compositions, and there were at least twenty-three published female musicians in Italy. The French ElizabethClaude Jacquet de la Guerre (ca.  1664–1727) composed important instrumental works as well as an opera. Also late in the period, the Austrian emperor commissioned Camilla di Rossi to write oratorios and other choral pieces. The court and the convent were the most common venues for female musicians. Court ladies were expected to have training in voice and choral performance. Castiglione’s The Courtier describes music as not only an ornament but also a professional necessity for the women and men whose lives and careers depended on the court. Many female musicians, singers, and composers sought patronage at courts throughout Europe. Anna Magdalena Bach (1701–1760), the second wife of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, met him when they were both musicians at the court of Prince Leopold at Cöthen in Germany. Perhaps the first woman who ever published madrigals was the Italian lutenist, singer, and composer Maddalena Casulana (ca.  1540–ca.  1590); she attached herself to the Venetian court and in 1568 dedicated her Primo libro de madrigali a quattro voci to Isabella de’ Medicis Orsina. A second volume of her work appeared two years later. Another prominent singer and published composer at the Medici court was Francesca Caccini. Born in Florence in 1587, she was the daughter of an accomplished musician who taught his entire family to sing and play several instruments. In addition, Francesca was trained in music theory and composition. She made her first professional appearance at the age of thirteen when she sang in her father’s opera Euridice. In 1618, she published her collection entitled Il Primo Libro, and she presented her own opera at court in 1625. Extraordinarily talented and celebrated, she became the most highly paid singer at the Medici court. Nobles from other parts of the country similarly sponsored female musicians. The Duke of Ferrara formed an all-female singing group in 1580, and other Italian courts followed his lead. Women who specialized in playing a number of instruments joined the groups, and by the end of the Renaissance, members were writing a significant portion of the music they performed. The professional “concerto delle donne” would typically rehearse from two to six hours each day, and although they are said to have been paid less than their male counterparts, they earned considerable acclaim throughout Italy. Convents were havens for female composers, singers, and instrumentalists. In Renaissance Europe, more than half of the women who published both secular and religious music were nuns. The musician Gracia Baptista, for example, was a Spanish nun who lived in the first half of the sixteenth century in Avila. Her variations on the chant “Conditor Alme Siderum,” written for voice and either organ or harpsichord, was published in 1557 in one of the first collections of Spanish keyboard music. In Italy, convents organized choirs for girls who lived in orphanages, training them so well that the city government in Venice, for example, sponsored and even made revenue from their performances.


meg lota brown and kari boyd mcbride The choirs these schools produced became so renowned that girls who were not orphans were taken on as day students, including some daughters of Venice’s elite. These Ospedali grandi [orphanages] were not strictly convents, but the girls vowed to sing or play for ten years after they were trained, so could not leave until they were about thirty. They gave frequent public performances, which the city used as a source of income, and it also encouraged the girls and women to develop their talents by sending them to study with distinguished teachers and commissioning special works for them. 20

In 1563, however, the Council of Trent decreed that convent performances should be strictly curtailed, and the Catholic Church forbade nuns to play any instrument other than the organ. Religious constraints increased. By the time of a 1686 papal injunction against any Catholic woman learning music from any male, opportunities within the church for creating or performing music were significantly diminished. The explanation that Pope Innocent XI gave for prohibiting even daughters to study with their fathers specifically linked music with immorality: “music is completely injurious to the modesty that is proper for the [female] sex.” 21 A woman’s public display of any art — whether painting, dance, sculpture, or music — invariably invoked questions about her morality. This was particularly true for Renaissance women actors. English law proscribed females from the public stage until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Countries on the continent were less repressive, but even treatment of women who were legally allowed to earn their living in the theater was abusive and discriminatory. Some women sought protection, in addition to supplementary income, as mistresses of wealthy patrons or of males affiliated with the theater. By the late sixteenth century in France and Italy, women were part of itinerant troupes of actors who staged comedy for public audiences. In some instances, they even served as directors as well as players; the French Madeleine Béjart and the German Caroline Neuber were directors of their own troupes, as was Catherina Elisabeth Velten, who published a defense of the morality of actresses in popular comedies. Madeleine Béjart (1618–1672) came from a family of eleven children, five of whom were professional actors closely affiliated with the great French playwright Molière. Madeleine led the traveling troupe in which her siblings performed until they all joined Molière’s company in 1643. She earned an impressive reputation playing the roles that Molière created for her, as did her sister, Armande Béjart (1645–1700). Armande married Molière when she was seventeen and he was forty. They had a tempestuous relationship, separating after the birth of their daughter and then reuniting six years later. Even during their estrangement, however, 20

Wiesner, Women and Gender, 187. Qtd. in Jane Bowers, “The Emergence of Women Composers in Italy, 1566–1700,” in Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150–1950, ed. and trans. Jane Bowers and Judith Tick (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 139. 21

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the playwright continued to create starring roles for his talented wife, who was celebrated at the French and English courts for her performances. During the last twenty years of her career, she was the leading comic actress at the Comédie Française. The Béjart sisters were anomalous in that their father was not associated with the theater. (He was a minor government official on the verge of poverty.) As was the case with female artists and musicians, many women actors on the Renaissance stage had fathers who were professionally involved in the arts. Many, too, married men who were similarly affiliated; otherwise, the women’s careers were far less likely to develop. One of the most successful actors in seventeenth-century France, Marie Champmeslé (1642–1698), was married to the actor and playwright Charles Chevillet. Marie and her husband were sought after by some of the most popular play houses in Paris, and the acclaimed dramatist Jean Racine wrote his greatest tragedies for her to star in. For the last thirty years of her life, she specialized in playing the tragic heroine; her popularity contributed to the tremendous success of the newly established Comédie Française. Women made a later debut on the public stage in England than did their sisters on the Continent. Although English women performed in masques and in private theaters or manor houses, they were forbidden by law until 1660 to appear on public stages. Both Queen Anne and Queen Henrietta Maria acted in court masques and achieved notoriety among anti-theatrical puritans for doing so. After the Puritan Parliament closed London theaters in 1642, citing them as dens of immorality, public playhouses were inoperative until the monarchy was restored with the coronation of Charles II. At that time, the king ordained that women should play women’s roles on the stage. No doubt Charles was motivated to issue the decree because of his experience attending plays while in exile on the Continent, where actresses had been routinely performing since the mid-1500s. But many in England conflated women who performed in public with “public women,” or prostitutes, and many considered both professions equally disgraceful. Although few “respectable” women pursued a career in the theater, it was for some an attractive alternative to being a servant or to poverty. Actors needed to be literate, an attribute that few lower-class females possessed. Many professionals, then, were from straitened circumstances in the middle or lower middle-class. They included women whose good families had come down in the world, like the popular singer and comedienne Charlotte Butler, daughters of tradesmen, like tragedienne Sarah Cooke, and gentlemen’s bastards, like Moll Davis. While the most obvious career for the genteel, dowerless female was domestic service, the less respectable job of actress offered better pay and better prospects. 22


Elizabeth Howe, The First English Actresses: Women and Drama 1660–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 8.


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Despite the better pay, the life of an actress was arduous and demanding. She worked every day but Sunday, rehearsing all morning and performing every afternoon. In addition, she might have private performances at court in the evenings. If she missed just one rehearsal, she could be fined a week’s wages. The production schedule was grueling: Each theater seems to have produced between forty and sixty different plays each season. Clearly, in their spare time successful players needed to study their lines: even the best new plays or revivals rarely ran for longer than six days. A leading actor or actress might have to play as many as thirty different parts in the course of a season. During the years from 1673 to 1709 the brilliant Elizabeth Barry is known to have played 142 named parts, with presumably more in cast lists which have not survived. Once a player possessed a particular part, he or she was expected to be prepared to play it at every subsequent revival, no matter how much time had passed since the last performance. Sometimes when a play proved unsuccessful one day, another had to be hastily substituted on the next. 23

As was the case for Renaissance women who participated in any of the arts, women gradually claimed more authority and earned more entitlement on the stage. In England, for example, Elizabeth Barry became one of the highest paid performers, male or female, in the 1690s. She was extremely popular with both court and public audiences and was a shrewd businesswoman as well, whose earning power gave her considerable influence over her theatrical company. Such enfranchisement came at a cost, however. Many who resented Barry’s self-assertion and financial independence reviled her as unnatural, insatiable, and predatory; her detractors made their allegations in sexual terms, accusing her of prostitution and sexual extortion. Despite the fierce resentment, though, her success made it possible for other women to forge their own place in the theater. Records name more than eighty professional women on the English stage by the end of the century, and many more were earning their livelihood in theaters throughout Spain, France, and other European countries. Clearly, women in the Renaissance were distinguished actors, artists, sculptors, architects, engravers, scientific illustrators, and musicians. In addition, they were important patrons. Noblewomen provided support and commissions for all kinds of producers of art. In turn, their beneficiaries celebrated their largesse and paid tribute to their discerning taste. Patronage was a means of displaying one’s wealth and establishing one’s cultural position. Late in the period, for instance, Sophie Charlotte, Queen of Prussia (1668–1705), engaged Gottfried Leibniz to be the head of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, which she founded and supported. Moreover, noblewomen hired architects and sculptors to transform castles designed 23

Howe, First English Actresses, 9–10.

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for defense into châteaux and palaces where they could live comfortably, and to construct elaborate tombs for themselves and their husbands. They arranged for the building and decoration of convents, churches, hospitals, and orphanages, choosing the architect and often approving the plans down to the smallest detail. 24 Patronage was the most significant source of maintenance for the majority of Renaissance artists and writers, whether male or female; the latter frequently turned to noblewomen or female monarchs for sympathetic support of their careers and even for protection. Queen Anne of Denmark not only commissioned and acted in court masques but also brought the artist and architect Inigo Jones to England, initiating a revolution in state architecture. Anne had Jones design a private retreat for her at Greenwich, known as Queen Anne’s House, and later, Jones designed the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace in London. Of course, women rulers sometimes supported women artists as well: Maria of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands (1505–1558), was the major patron of Caterina van Hemessen; and Sofonisba Anguissola was court painter to Isabella of Valois, Queen of Spain (1546–1568), to name only two. Despite the many shrill public voices of contemporary moralists who excoriated women artists and claimed that they lacked creative capacity, women were active participants in all fields and artistic media, making a unique contribution to the history of the Renaissance. Though they were inspired by the same developments in technique that influenced male artists, women, by virtue of the particular social and cultural limitations and expectations of their times, brought a different perspective to the subject matter of all the arts, from painting to music. 25


Wiesner, Women and Gender, 168. Originally published as Chapter 7, “Women and the Arts,” in Meg Lota Brown and Kari Boyd McBride, Women’s Roles in the Renaissance, 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC, Santa Barbara, CA. 25

“Die a King”: Gonzalo Pizarro’s Rebellion in the Second Part of the Royal CommenTaRies James W. Fuerst

The late sixteenth-, early seventeenth-century Peruvian mestizo historian el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega is best known for the First Part of his masterpiece the Royal Commentaries, which was published in 1609 and is a monumental reconstruction of Inca history and culture that defends the rational capacities and personhood of indigenous peoples against the misconstruals and devaluation they had suffered at the hands of Spanish imperial historians. The Second Part of the Royal Commentaries, however — which was published posthumously as the General History of Peru in 1617 and which covers the Spanish conquest, the civil wars between rival conquistador factions that followed, indigenous resistance, the execution of the last Inca Tupac Amaru, and the consolidation of colonial power under Viceroy Francisco de Toledo — has received far less critical attention. Often dismissed as stylistically inferior, lacking originality, or even as self-serving when compared to the First Part, the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries nevertheless holds high importance for the political thought of the early modern period, in that it opens the possibility for a potentially revolutionary ideology in Peru and the New World by arguing for colonial insurrection as a legitimate response to the injustices of monarchical rule. The event in Peruvian history that Inca Garcilaso uses to make his case is Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion against the New Laws (1544–1548). Sent forth from Barcelona by order of King Charles V on 20 November 1542, the New Laws were designed to regulate the conduct of Spanish conquistadors, administrators, clergy, and settlers in the Spanish overseas territories. Inspired in part by the tireless lobbying of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the principal intent of the laws was to provide for the “conservation and increase of the Indians” and to ensure that indigenous populations were both instructed in the Catholic faith and treated as “free persons” and Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 165–86.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126383


james w. fuerst

“vassals” of the Spanish crown. Among the forty-plus stipulations were those forbidding further enslavement of Indians under any pretense, strict limitations on the amount and kind of tribute that could be exacted from Indians held in encomiendas (which completely ruled out personal service to encomenderos), prohibitions against the grant of encomiendas to colonial administrators and clergy, a moratorium on the creation of new encomiendas, and the elimination of the succession of encomiendas through inheritance. 1 The storms of protest in the Americas that resulted from the laws in many ways exposed the underlying intent of the monarchy — to diminish the threat to regal authority posed by the growing political and economic power base of the encomenderos and secular clergy in the New World. Such royal efforts to safeguard and indoctrinate indigenous vassals and to neutralize, if not outright dispossess, the conquerors were nothing new. In the preceding fifty years, for instance, there had been numerous attempts by both the Spanish crown as well as high-ranking religious officials to protect indigenous peoples from the abuses of their new masters, some of the most notable being Queen Isabella’s prohibition of Indian slavery in 1500, the Laws of Burgos in 1512, and the 1537 bull Sublimus Deus by Pope Paul III, which included Amerindians within the brotherhood of humanity redeemable through Christ. 2 At the same time, however, the crown was also beginning to exhibit a pattern in its pragmatic policies toward the conquerors and settlers of the new realms. In general terms, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, and later Charles V, were often very generous in granting broad powers, titles, estates, pensions, and tax exemptions to the most promising explorers and then slowly tightening the reins, thereby undermining the previous grants, to establish a state-controlled, bureaucratic regime once the territories had been subdued. Despite vociferous petitions and litigation on their own behalf, this was the treatment accorded to such notable figures as Christopher Columbus and his son Diego, Hernán Cortés, and Francisco Pizarro. 3 Although opposition to the New Laws churned throughout the Spanish overseas possessions, the attempts to defuse the potentially explosive consequences of the legislation in Mexico and Peru marked a somewhat drastic turn in the trajectories of these colonial centers. While Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and Royal 1

“R. Provision de Las Leyes Nuevas,” in Colección de documentos para la historia de la formación social de hispánoamérica, 1493–1810, ed. Richard Konetzke, 2 vols. (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1953), 1:216–20. 2 Lewis Hanke, All Mankind is One (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974), 7–21. 3 On Christopher and Diego Columbus, see C.H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975), 8–22. On Cortés, see Peggy K. Liss, Mexico under Spain, 1521–1556 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 26–30. On Pizarro, see Rafael Varón Gabai, Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers: The Illusion of Power in Sixteenth-Century Peru, trans. Javier Flores Espinosa (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 70–89.

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Inspector Francisco Tello de Sandoval were able to avoid catastrophe in New Spain by suspending the application of the laws and striking a compromise with the interests of encomenderos and the secular clergy, Peru erupted. 4 The latter was particularly hard hit by the ordinances in the first place, due to its higher concentration of encomenderos. For instance, James Lockhart has estimated that the roughly 480 encomenderos represented anywhere from one-eighth up to one-fourth of the total Spanish population in Peru in the early 1540s. 5 Further, the laws found Peruvians in a precarious state of mind as they were just limping away from yet another internal convulsion. On 16 September 1542, two short months before the New Laws were signed, the mestizo rebel Diego de Almagro the Younger had been defeated in the bloody battle of Chupas by the forces of Licentiate Cristóbal Vaca de Castro. Almagro’s defeat and execution carried the hope of respite from five years of intermittent fratricidal conflict between the Spaniards, which (among scores of Spaniards and Indians alike) had accounted for the deaths of the two leading Peruvian conquerors, Diego de Almagro the Elder and Francisco Pizarro. Instead of soothing these social tensions, however, the New Laws curtly revoked the encomiendas of all those who had participated in the Peruvian civil wars, regardless of whether they had been Pizarristas or Almagristas, royalists or rebels. 6 To make matters worse, the rule of Licentiate Vaca de Castro (1541–1544) brought little salve to the wounds of the fledgling realm — concerned as he was with devising ways to profit from the vast holdings of the Pizarro estate — but the final insult arrived with the first Viceroy of Peru Blasco Núñez Vela (1544–1546). 7 Whereas Mendoza and Tello de Sandoval appear to have proceeded with discretion in Mexico, Núñez Vela, notorious for his ill-temper, not only insisted upon full, immediate, and rigorous implementation of the laws but also refused to hear any petitions against them. 8 Núñez Vela’s impertinence was more than the encomenderos, nearly all of whom stood to lose their Indians to the crown, could suffer. Although the laws were retracted by royal decree on 20 September 1544, news of the suspension reached Peru too late. On 23 October 1544, the Audiencia of Lima appointed Gonzalo Pizarro (Francisco’s youngest half-brother) Governor, General Procurator, and Captain General of Peru. 9 The following day Gonzalo took the appropriate oaths, and Peru was in revolt.


Haring, The Spanish Empire in America, 51–53. James Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532–1560 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 12. 6 “R. Provision de Las Leyes Nuevas,” 1:216–20. 7 On Vaca de Castro, see Varón Gabai, Francisco Pizarro and His Brothers, 94–97. 8 Rubén Vargas Ugarte, s.j., Historia general del Perú, 6 vols. (Lima: Carlos Milla Batres, 1966), 1:184–90. 9 Guillermo Lohmann Villena, Las ideas juridico-políticas en la rebelion de Gonzalo Pizarro (Valladolid: Casa-Museo de Colón y Seminario Americanista, 1977), 13. The letter of Gonzalo Pizarro’s appointment can be found in Documents from Early Peru: The Pizarros and the Almagros, 5


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The next three and a half years would see Gonzalo defeat and behead viceroy Núñez Vela — legally an extension of the king’s very person — and take control of Peru at the battle of Iñiquito in January 1546, hand another stunning defeat to Charles V’s forces at Huarina in October 1547, and six short months later, his ranks diminished through desertion — lured as they were by promises of pardon and reward from the king’s minister Licentiate Pedro de la Gasca — he would succumb to the royalists under Diego Centeno at the battle of Sacsahuana outside Cuzco on 8 April 1548. Gonzalo and his military commander Francisco de Carvajal were charged with high treason and executed the next day, public hangings and beheadings that Inca Garcilaso as a young boy — just days shy of his ninth birthday — was there to witness. Inca Garcilaso (still called by his birth name Gómez Suárez de Figueroa at the time) was somewhat more than a youthful eyewitness, however, as his own life appears to have been endangered on more than one occasion thanks to the skirmishing and the apparent inconstancy of his father’s loyalties. For instance, Captain Sebastian Garcilaso de la Vega is listed amongst those who immediately, yet secretly, protested and repented of Gonzalo’s election to Captain General as well as General Procurator in Cuzco to appeal the New Laws, for he realized that a heavily armed Gonzalo would be tempted to rebel (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Vol. II). 10 As such, Captain Garcilaso was also among the first, along with the chroniclers Pedro Pizarro, Diego de Trujillo, and Diego de Silva, to abandon Gonzalo’s cause and seek alliance with Viceroy Núñez Vela. 11 For this betrayal Pedro de Puelles sacked and threatened to burn the home of Captain Garcilaso, causing the young Inca Garcilaso, his mother, sister, and the rest of the household to flee for their lives, and Hernando Bachicao routinely cannonaded the house from across the plaza in Cuzco (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. X, Vol. II). This was only the beginning of the bizarre relationship between the rebel leader and the captain — the two of whom had previously been closely aligned and had undertaken the successful conquest of the Charcas together — that unfolded through the course of the rebellion. Captain Garcilaso became the nominal prisoner of Gonzalo despite the fact that the two continued to dine at the same table and sleep in the same field tent. Moreover, during this time Gonzalo loaned 800 pesos to Captain Garcilaso, which allowed the latter to purchase the famous 1531–1578, The Harkness Collection in the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.: United States Printing Office, 1936), 181–87. 10 References to the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries contain the part, book, chapter, volume, and page number from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Historia general del Perú. Segunda parte de los Comentarios Reales [1617], ed. Ángel Rosenblat, 3 vols. (Buenos Aires: Emece Editores, S.A., 1944). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. 11 Guillermo Lohmann Villena, “La Parentela Española del Inca Garcilaso de la Vega,” in El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega entre Europa y América, ed. Antonio Garrido Aranda (Córdoba: Caja Provincial de Ahorros de Córdoba, 1994), 264–65.

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Peruvian steed, Salinillas. This is the very same Salinillas that would later undermine the sincerity of Captain Garcilaso’s commitment to the crown in the eyes of some Spanish officials and prove disastrous during Inca Garcilaso’s petition to the crown in Madrid in 1563. 12 The testimonies of historians Francisco López de Gómara, Agustín de Zárate, and Diego Fernández the Palentine credited Captain Garcilaso with having given this horse, and hence the victory, to the fallen Gonzalo during the battle of Huarina. Inca Garcilaso dedicated an entire chapter in the Second Part to restoring his father’s reputation from the slanders of previous historians, and he claims that this one incident had forced him into los rincones de la soledad y pobreza (“corners of solitude and poverty”) from which he wrote, having done penance for the sin of his father, a sin that had never been committed (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XXIII, Vol. II, p. 216). Yet the destruction of their home, the enduring suspicion of his father, and his own failure at court were not the only losses suffered by the de la Vega family during the revolt. Juan de Vargas, Captain Garcilaso’s youngest brother and Inca Garcilaso’s uncle, received four fatal harquebus wounds at Huarina fighting for the king (Pt. 2, “Prologue”). Considering, then, the negative consequences of Gonzalo’s rebellion on the mestizo historian’s childhood and early adulthood, one might expect Inca Garcilaso’s portrayal of the last, youngest, and perhaps most audacious of the Pizarro brothers in Peru to balance the scales for the considerable harm caused to the author and his family. This, however, is not the case. Not only did Inca Garcilaso remember both Gonzalo and Carvajal fondly; he also explicitly defends and, as far as possible, exalts them. For instance, according to Inca Garcilaso, the ones who knew Gonzalo best saw that “era hombre de bastante entendimiento, no caviloso ni engañador ni de promesas falsas ni de palabras dobladas, sino senzillo, hombre de verdad, de bondad y nobleza, confiado de sus amigos, que le destruyeron” (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XLI, Vol. II, p. 137). 13 And to fill out the portrait: Fué Gonzalo Pizarro gentilhombre de cuerpo, de muy buen rostro, de próspera salud, gran sufridor de trabajos, como por la historia se habrá visto. Lindo hombre a caballo, de ambas sillas; diestro arcabusero y ballestero, con un arco de bodoques pintaba lo que quería en la pared. Fué la mejor lanza que ha pasado al Nuevo Mundo, según conclusión de todos los que hablaban de

12 Inca Garcilaso’s account of his appearance before the Council of Indies in Madrid can be found in Book V, Chapter XXIII of the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries. For Captain Garcilaso’s relationship with Gonzalo Pizarro, see John Grier Varner, El Inca: The Life and Times of Garcilaso de la Vega (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968), 60–97. 13 “He was a man of sufficient understanding, neither quarrelsome nor deceptive, neither of false promises nor double words, but rather a simple man of truth, kindness and nobility, trusting in his friends, who destroyed him.”


james w. fuerst los hombres famosos que a él han ido. (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XLIII, Vol. II, pp. 278–79) 14

As for Francisco de Carvajal, Inca Garcilaso assures us that he would have been known as “flower of the Peruvian militia” if he had served the king (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XVIII, Vol. II, p. 199), and for those who knew him (amongst whom the mestizo historian numbers himself), many said that not since Julius Caesar had there been another soldier such as he. Above and beyond his prowess in the field, however, it was Carvajal’s unswerving loyalty and feral military discipline that caused him to respond so mercilessly to the rebellion’s tejedores (“weavers”), whose allegiances passed to and fro like the spindles of a loom (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XXVI, Vol. II, p. 89). Such weavers provoked Carvajal’s wrath and, more often than not, earned themselves a wage of exemplary execution in return for their lack of resolve (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XXVIII, Vol. II, p. 98). The ostensible cruelty of these spectacles, which according to Inca Garcilaso were as understandable as they were excessive, was the main reason why Carvajal’s character had been so thoroughly misunderstood and misrepresented. Finally, Inca Garcilaso devotes no fewer than two full chapters to Carvajal’s wry witticisms and gallows humor (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XLI– XLII, Vol. II), and perhaps these stand as the clearest evidence of the historian’s fondness for the aged warrior. For, in the entirety of the Royal Commentaries, the hardened veteran of countless wars in the Old World and the New is paid the high compliment of being the most consistently and intentionally funny of any person to appear in the texts. These vindications of Gonzalo and Carvajal propel the craft of Inca Garcilaso’s narrative into troubled waters. For in the published record of the time (the works of López de Gómara, Zárate, and Fernández mentioned above), Gonzalo was generally portrayed as a dimwitted traitor to the crown and a tyrant whose bellicose transgression of royal privilege duly warranted his execution. 15 Francisco de Carvajal fared even worse. While all agreed that the wily Carvajal was perhaps the 14

“Gonzalo Pizarro had the build of a gentleman, with a very fine face, good health, and great endurance for hardships, as our history has shown. An elegant rider on horseback in both saddles; a skillful harquebusier and crossbowman, with an arc of clay pellets he could paint anything he desired on a wall. He was the best lance to have come to the New World according to the conclusion of all those who have spoken of the famous men who have gone there.” 15 Gonzalo’s purported lack of cognitive prowess may be true or exaggerated, but it is a description that appears to have stuck. See James Lockhart, The Men of Cajamarca (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972), 175–89. Of the three colonial historians mentioned above, Zárate’s work is often charitable toward Gonzalo, but it highlights his lack of intelligence and is quite far from the endorsement found in the Royal Commentaries. See Agustín de Zárate, Historia del descubrimiento y conquista del Perú, ed. Franklin Pease G.Y. and Teodoro Hampe Martínez (Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 1991), Book V, Chapter I to Book VII, Chapter VIII, 185–375.

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greatest military commander to set foot in the New World, his callous indifference to human life and his appetite for butchery earned him the sobriquet el Diablo de los Andes (“the Devil of the Andes”). López de Gómara suggested that of the 400 needless executions of Spaniards after Viceroy Núñez Vela’s arrival in Peru, Carvajal and his four African guardsmen were responsible for nearly all of them. 16 In speaking so highly of Gonzalo and Carvajal, Inca Garcilaso was defending sordid characters indeed. Added to these difficulties, Inca Garcilaso had a strong personal stake in the events. Captain Garcilaso, as we have seen, had suffered the guilt of his mere association with the rebels, regardless of his true loyalties and what may or may not have occurred in the heat of battle. In order to restore his father’s reputation, Inca Garcilaso had two rhetorical strategies open to him: first, to deny that the gift of Salinillas to Gonzalo at the battle of Huarina had occurred in the way previous historians suggested; and, second, to transform the act, regardless of when or how it occurred, into an expression of his father’s nobility. Inca Garcilaso pursues both strategies (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XXIII, Vol. II), yet it is the second that most jeopardizes the authority and veracity of his narrative. For if the donation of Salinillas to his friend Gonzalo in a harrowing moment of pitched battle displayed el ánimo, esfuerzo, y valentía (“the spirit, strength, and bravery”) of Captain Garcilaso, then, within the standards of rank, nobility, and gallantry of the day, the recipient of such a gift would have to have been worthy of receiving it. This, of course, veritably requires a re-estimation of Gonzalo’s worth and status, for no nobleman deserving of the title would shirk his duty to his king to aid and abet a criminal. Yet, insofar as Gonzalo’s treachery and tyranny were widely accepted among his contemporaries, Inca Garcilaso’s positive re-appraisal of the rebel’s character threatened to raise serious concerns about the mestizo historian’s partiality, understood here in terms of doling out excessive praise or blame in accordance with his own personal interests. Attesting to this predicament, Inca Garcilaso claims that he had long ago lost hope of benefiting from the truth of these matters (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XXIII, Vol. II), and on more than one occasion he goes so far as to say that previous historians had impugned both Gonzalo and Carvajal out of their desire to flatter the powers that be, i.e., the Spanish monarchy (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XLIII, Vol. II). Finally, in a clear allusion to Tacitus’s mantra sine ira et studio (“without ire or interest”), 17 Inca Garcilaso restates his obligation as historian to relate the truth of events in his own time a todo el mundo . . . sin pasión ni afición (“to the whole world [. . .] without passion or partisanship”) (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XXXIX, Vol. II, p. 263).

16 Francisco López de Gómara, Historia general de las Indias [1552], 2 vols. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1941), 2:179–80. 17 Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, trans. Michael Grant (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996), 32.


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Needless to say, abundant complications attended Inca Garcilaso’s treatment of Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion, which in many respects represents the most difficult historical revision undertaken in the Royal Commentaries. And while Inca Garcilaso’s desire to vindicate the memory of his father certainly contributed to his assessment of Gonzalo’s character and actions, it barely begins to grasp the full significance of this reconstruction. 18 For at stake in his portrayal of Gonzalo’s rebellion is nothing short of Inca Garcilaso’s espousal of the mestizo polity that he envisioned for a just political future of Peru. Such an arrangement was not only in direct opposition to the bureaucratic, state-controlled, viceregal regime of the Spanish empire, but by defending the rights and characters of those who had already rebelled against that regime, Inca Garcilaso also opened the discursive possibility of an anti-absolutist, anti-viceregal, and potentially revolutionary ideology in Peru. 19

18 Cf. Roberto González Echeverría, “The Law of the Letter: Garcilaso’s Comentarios,” in González Echeverría, Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 43–92. As part of his broader argument concerning the importance of artis notoriae, or notarial rhetoric, to the historical development of the Latin American novel, González Echeverría suggests that the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries is best understood as a legal petition in the form of a relación, or “relation” (p. 70). More precisely, he argues, “the book is actually a relación, a letter of appeal to the Council of Indies to have Sebastián’s name cleared and Garcilaso’s petitions granted” (p. 73), and he adduces the foregoing statement as the “compelling and concrete reason to view the entire book as in many ways determined by the artis notariae” (p. 72). For an insightful critique of González Echeverría’s views relative to legal writing and colonial historiography, see José Durand, “En torno a la prosa de Inca Garcilaso. A propósito de un artículo de Roberto González Echeverría,” Nuevo Texto Crítico 2 (1988): 209–27; and Rolena Adorno, “Discurso jurídico, discurso literario: el reto de leer en el siglo XX los escritos del XVI,” in Memorias. Jornadas Andinas de la Literatura Latino Americana [conference publication] (La Paz: Plural Editores, 1995), 15–25. 19 As Silvio Zavala points out, the Spanish conquest of the New World was carried out by private individuals who contracted with the crown. As recompense for their services, the conquistadores expected to become lords of Indian vassals in the territories they subdued. There was, thus, an immediate and enduring conflict between the encomienda system used to achieve these purposes and monarchical interests. For, as a grant of Indian labor and tributary rights, encomiendas effectively removed a large portion of the indigenous populations from direct monarchical control and limited the amount of tribute the crown could exact from the territories. These logistical loggerheads, however, signaled a deeper ideological divide. The conquerors were operating from the medieval and semi-feudal perspective of achieving aristocratic or hidalgo status through military service, which had been dominant through the Spanish reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Muslims (711–1492). At least since Ferdinand and Isabella, however, the Spanish monarchs had consciously attempted to erode the power of the aristocracy in favor of a more powerful monarchy and centralized state. The viceregal system in the New World was an extension of royal supremacy and state centralization over the competing idea of the New World as a locus for the erection of new feudal estates. See Silvio Zavala, New Viewpoints on the Spanish Colonization of America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1943), 69–92.

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Before turning to Inca Garcilaso’s political recommendations and the champion of this perspective, Francisco de Carvajal, it is best to review how Inca Garcilaso authorizes Gonzalo Pizarro’s character and deeds for his Andean readers. 20 As I argue elsewhere, Inca Garcilaso transforms some of the first conquerors — those who arrived with Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro — and encomenderos of Peru into Viracocha Incas in order to establish the newcomers as implicit kinsmen and, therefore, legitimate heirs to the Inca dynasty. 21 Gonzalo, one of the four Pizarro brothers explicitly lauded as divine emissaries at the outset of the Second Part (Pt. 2, Bk. I, Ch. II, Vol. I), reaps the benefits of this association. Moreover, Inca Garcilaso draws a series of parallels between the eighth ruler, Viracocha Inca, and Gonzalo through which the latter’s defeat by La Gasca’s troops at Sacsahuana is the mirrored inverse of the former’s victory over and restoration of the empire from the rebelling Chancas on the same site (Pt. 1, Bk. V, Ch. XVII, Vol. I). 22 The treatments of both figures, occurring as they do in Books IV and V of their respective parts, represent equally climactic moments of the narrative. The major difference between the two is that whereas Viracocha Inca’s victory rescued the empire from the invaders and Inca Yahuar Huacac’s flight, thereby representing a pachacuti, a turning of the world for the better (Pt. 1, Bk. V, Ch. XXVIII, Vol. I), Gonzalo’s defeat by the royalists represents the opposite; it is a pachacuti for the worse. José Antonio Mazzotti has moreover suggested that Gonzalo’s geographical movements during his campaign duplicate and invoke the route of the culture-hero cum deity Viracocha in Andean myths. 23 For instance, in many of the Inca myths of origins, the god Viracocha arises from Lake Titicaca in the region of Tiahuanaco, proceeds on a diagonal journey in a northwesterly direction to Cuzco, during which he calls various tribes into being, and continues along this path until he departs over the sea at either Pachacamac or Puerto Viejo. 24 As Henrique Urbano 20 José Antonio Mazzotti’s Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso (Lima: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996), revised and translated into English as Incan Insights: Inca Garcilaso’s Hints to Andean Readers (Madrid and Frankfurt am Main: Iberoamericana and Vervuert, 2008), is widely credited by Garcilaso scholars with opening new avenues for exploring Andean subtexts and meanings in the Royal Commentaries. 21 James W. Fuerst, New World Postcolonial: The Political Thought of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), Chapter 3. 22 References to the First Part of the Royal Commentaries contain the part, book, chapter, volume, and page number from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Comentarios reales de los Incas [1609], ed. Carlos Araníbar, 2 vols. (Lima: FondoCultural Económica, 1991). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. 23 Mazzotti, Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso, 293–322. 24 The early myths have it that Viracocha departs at Pachacamac, yet through Inca manipulation to express the expanse and greatness of their empire, many later versions place Viracocha’s departure at the northwestern most point of Puerto Viejo, Ecuador. See Arthur A. Demarest,


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has demonstrated, two of the major components of the Viracocha myth-cycle are “codes of kinship” and “codes of space,” which are distinct yet inseparable elements expressing crucial ideological aspects of a broader socio-political worldview. In this sense, the very route or movements of the god Viracocha had a profound social significance for indigenous Andeans, and his diagonal trajectory (southeast to northwest) was inextricably bound to his manifestation as Viracocha Pachayachachi, the organizing and civilizing agent of the world. 25 After his defeat of Viceroy Núñez Vela outside Quito, Gonzalo eventually heads toward Collao in order to confront the royalist troops of Diego Centeno. Gonzalo’s surprising triumph over Centeno at Huarina is fought on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and in order to recall Viracocha, in the twofold sense of recalling the deity and his relationship to the Spaniards signaled earlier (Pt. 2, Bk. I, Ch. XL, Vol. I), Inca Garcilaso reminds us that Gonzalo’s outnumbered band was victorious thanks to their “illapas, que, como está dicho, en lengua de indios significa relámpagos, truenos y rayos, que tales fueron aquellos arcabuzes para el nobilíssimo y hermoso ejército del general Diego Centeno [. . .] casi todos perecieron en aquella desdicha y cruel batalla” (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XX, Vol. II, p. 206). 26 When Gonzalo arrives in Cuzco shortly thereafter, his abbreviated itinerary coincides with what Mazzotti has identified as “the route of Viracocha,” and he is received with all the pomp and ceremony of the former rulers, even to the extent that the Indians were “aclamando a voces grandes, llamándole Inca y otros renombres que a sus Reyes naturales solían decir en sus triunfos” (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XXVII, Vol. II, p. 213). 27 Viracocha: The Nature and Antiquity of the Andean High God, Peabody Museum Monographs 6 (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1981), 43–49. For at least one version of this myth collected in Cuzco, see Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, History of the Incas, trans. Clements R. Markham (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1999), 32–37 (Chap. 7). For a collection of additional versions as well as an excellent analysis, see Henrique Urbano, Wiracocha y Ayar: Heroes y funciones en las sociedades andinas (Cuzco: Centro de Estudios Rurales Andinos “Bartolomé de Las Casas,” 1981). 25 Urbano, Wiracocha y Ayar, XXXII–XXXIII. 26 “Illapas, which, as I have said, means lightning, thunder and thunderbolts in the language of the Indians, and such were the harquebuses to General Diego Centeno’s most noble and splendid army. . .[that] almost all of them perished in that unfortunate and cruel battle.” Illapa was associated with the god Viracocha in Andean religions and the Inca cult. 27 “Hailing in loud voices, calling him Inca, and other majestic titles that they used to say to their natural Kings in their triumphs,” my emphasis. Regardless of his actual itinerary, Inca Garcilaso only traces Gonzalo’s movements from the all-important battle of Huarina (Lake Titicaca, Bolivia) through Pucara and his triumphant entrance in Cuzco (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. XIX–XX and XXVII, Vol. II). All three of these sites have mythological importance. Lake Titicaca marks the beginning of the god Viracocha’s journeys and, as Inca Garcilaso notices, is also the first Incas’ place of origin (Pt. 1, Bk. I, Ch. XV, Vol. I). Cuzco was not only the capital of the empire but also the center or navel of the world-universe as far as the Incas were concerned (Pt. 1, Bk. II, Ch. XI, Vol. I). In Pucara, which is the geographical midpoint on the northwestern diagonal

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At this moment in the text, the return of Viracocha is actualized in the person of Gonzalo Pizarro, and his role as a potential restorer of the Inca Empire is authorized for Andean readers through his emulation of the ancient deity. 28 If we remember with Franklin Pease that Andean originary myths were not myths of creation in the Judeo-Christian sense but, rather, tales of founding and ordination, 29 then the resemblance between the god Viracocha, the ruler Viracocha Inca, and Gonzalo Pizarro forwards the encomendero rebel as a re-founder of the Inca Empire to Andean readers. At this point it is therefore necessary to explore what kind of social and political restructuring the arrival of the new Inca promises for Peru. The first response is obvious enough; Gonzalo’s victory promises the end of the viceregal regime, for, after defeating Viceroy Núñez Vela, Gonzalo almost immediately turns to governing in the best interests of both Indians and Spaniards: “Procuró Gonzalo Pizarro hacer leyes y ordenanzas para el buen gobierno de la tierra, para la quietud y beneficio de indios y españoles, y aumento de la religión cristiana” (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XXXV, Vol. II, p. 119). 30 This, however, is just the beginning of a more detailed plan for restoring indigenous sovereignty and creating a new mestizo polity through the political alliance and intermarriage of encomenderos and Incas. This proposal is voiced by Francisco de Carvajal in two speeches made while advising Gonzalo of the best way to secure his rule (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XL and Bk. V, Ch. IV, Vol. II), and since Inca Garcilaso does not provide external corroboration from other historians for the speeches, his conspicuous omission of references strongly suggests he is articulating his own views. 31 The first speech occurs after Gonzalo’s victory in the battle of Iñiquito (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XL, Vol. II). Carvajal warns Gonzalo that there can be no hope for pardon now that the viceroy has been killed, no matter what assurances are offered, and urges Gonzalo to place a crown on his own head and call himself king. He should then restore the encomiendas to their previous holders in perpetuity; create a landed, high nobility of dukes, marquises, and counts; and establish military orders of knighthood like those in Spain. In order to secure the loyalty of the indigenous populations, Carvajal recommends that Gonzalo wed the Inca princess closest to the royal family tree and then restore the Inca in hiding at Vilcabamba to his throne, between Titicaca and Cuzco, there was a shrine to Viracocha commemorating his exemplary punishment of unruly tribes, which he turned into stone. See Sarmiento de Gamboa, History of the Incas, 29–30 (Chap. 6). 28 Mazzotti, Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso, 311–14. 29 Franklin Pease G.Y., Las crónicas y los Andes (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 1995), 152. 30 “Gonzalo Pizarro endeavored to make laws and ordinances for the good government of the land, for the peace and benefit of Indians and Spaniards, and for the augment of the Christian religion.” 31 The post-conquest peace treaty between Titu Atauchi, Francisco de Chaves, and Hernando de Haro (Pt. 2, Bk. II, Ch. VI, Vol. II) is another important example.


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so that the latter may govern the Indians in matters of peace while Gonzalo governs the Spaniards and all parties in matters of war. With the support of both Spaniards and Indians, along with the vast wealth of Peruvian gold and silver, Gonzalo would be safe from internal and external threats alike and able to comprar a todo el mundo (“buy the whole world”), if he so desired. Carvajal ends by exhorting Gonzalo to “muera Vuessa Señoría Rey; y muchas veces vuelvo a dezir que muera Rey y no súbdito, que quien consiente estarse mal, meresce estar peor” (“die, Your Lordship, a King; and many times I repeat, die a King and not a subject, for whoever consents to being wronged deserves worse”) (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. XL, Vol. II, p. 135). Carvajal’s advice reconciles the conflicting political interests of the social groups with which Inca Garcilaso was most closely aligned: 1) the dispossessed Inca elite in Cuzco; 2) what he calls the first and second conquerors, in other words, those who respectively arrived with Francisco Pizarro and Diego Almagro and then with Pedro de Alvarado, such as his father Captain Sebastian Garcilaso de la Vega; and 3) their collective progeny, or the indios, mestizos, and criollos of early seventeenth-century Peru, to whom Inca Garcilaso dedicates the Prologue of the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries. Most intriguing, however, is the mestizo quality of the polity Carvajal forwards, seen in the seedlings of a mestizo ruling class that the intermarriage of Gonzalo and an Inca princess would establish, on the one hand, and the double governing system between Incas and Spaniards, on the other. Although not explicitly stated, what Inca Garcilaso has in mind here is the duality, or co-rule, endemic to political structures throughout the Andes. As María Rostworowski de Diez Canseco succinctly states, Every chiefdom within the Inca state was divided into two moieties corresponding to the native concept of hanan and hurin (upper and lower) or ichoq and allauca (left and right). Each moiety was governed by a chief . . . [and] one of the chiefs of the two moieties was always subordinate to the other, although this dependence might vary, sometimes the upper half (as in Cusco) being more important and in others, the lower (as in Ica). 32

Having demonstrated his knowledge of hanan and hurin in a chapter describing Cuzco in the First Part of the Royal Commentaries (Pt. 1, Bk. I, Ch. XVI, Vol. I), we can see that Inca Garcilaso has inserted an Andean organizational concept within Carvajal’s speech that results in an interplay between Inca and Spanish rulers, in which the two participate in government with their own distinct functions, i.e., peace and war respectively, yet are connected through kinship and co-rule. Carvajal’s second piece of advice comes after Licentiate Pedro de la Gasca arrives in Peru, sent by Charles V with broad powers to restore order to the war-torn 32

María Rostworowski de Diez Canseco, History of the Inca Realm, trans. Harry B. Iceland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 144.

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colony, but before Gonzalo’s victory over Diego Centeno in the battle of Huarina. La Gasca’s messenger, Pedro Hernández Paniagua, presents Gonzalo with two letters, one from Charles V and one from La Gasca, the contents of which are much the same (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. IV, Vol. II). Both letters make excuses for Gonzalo’s behavior, urge him to enter negotiations with La Gasca, and even offer reward and pardon. Perhaps unexpectedly, Carvajal concludes that the letters contain muy buenas bulas (“very good bulls”), bulls that they all should accept because traen grandes indulgencias (“they carry great indulgences”), a seeming contradiction from his earlier insistence that no pardon could be expected and that Gonzalo should “die a king” (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. V, Vol. II, p. 157). An attentive reading of Carvajal’s response, however, shows that it is not a reversal of his earlier proposal but, rather, an elaboration in light of changed conditions. He first notes that, from his current station, Gonzalo will enter negotiations with La Gasca from a position of strength and that if the rebels do not find La Gasca’s arrival fortunate, they can have him brought to Cuzco and podremos hazer dél lo que quisiéremos (“we can do with him what we please”), which is to say, Gonzalo can obtain governorship of Peru legally from La Gasca or dispense with him and force Charles V’s hand (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. V, Vol. II, p. 158). The ultimate goal — Gonzalo obtaining rule over Peru — remains unchanged; Carvajal is now merely more flexible regarding the means to obtain it. The other reason Carvajal gives for accepting the king’s offer is that “en el porvenir se tome orden y parecer de los regimientos de las ciudades, para ordenar lo que al servicio de Dios y al bien de la tierra y beneficio de los pobladores y vecinos della convenga,” or again, due to “el orden que se ha de tener de aquí adelante, en que gobierne lo que convenga, con el parecer y consejo de los regimientos de las ciudades, nos hacen señores de la tierra, pues la hemos de gobernar nosotros” (Pt. 2, Bk. V, Ch. V, Vol. II, p. 158). 33 It now becomes apparent that Carvajal’s proposal includes some form of encomendero and vecino (“citizen”) representation, in which the opinions and agreements of the regimientos de las ciudades (“city assemblies”) will participate in political decision-making and administration. This is an interesting interpretation on Carvajal’s part, for in neither Charles V’s letter nor La Gasca’s is there the slightest mention of such an arrangement. 34 But this seems to be Carva33

“For the future the orders and opinions of the city assemblies are to be taken, so as to order that which is agreed upon for the service of God and the good of the land and the benefit of its settlers and residents [. . .] with the order that is to be held from this moment forth, in which the land will be governed by that which is agreed upon with the opinion and council of the city assemblies, we are made lords of the land, since we have it to govern ourselves.” 34 It should be pointed out that Carvajal’s statements on city assemblies and their role in colonial government are primarily based on the customary political practices of Spanish settlers in Mexico and Peru and should not be understood as a gesture by Inca Garcilaso toward a more democratic or republican form of government. The cabildo or municipal corporation was the fundamental unit of local politics in the Spanish overseas territories, and it was comprised of either


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jal’s and Inca Garcilaso’s point, for if Gonzalo had managed to take and consolidate control of Peru, whether by force or through royal concession, he then would have been able to construct a government more or less of his choosing, a government that promoted rather than paralyzed encomendero interests. Moreover, Inca Garcilaso is careful to point out that, contrary to popular opinion at the turn of the seventeenth century, the cabildo government of the encomenderos was not only capable of looking after el buen gobierno de la república (“the good government of the republic”) but also was supportive of royal interests in Peru (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. IV, Vol. II, p. 16). For instance, after Francisco Pizarro’s assassination by the supporters of Diego de Almagro the Younger, Captain Garcilaso de la Vega’s cousin, Gómez de Tordoya, calls for an election of new officials to confront the rebels on the king’s behalf. Mucho caballeros iguales en calidad y méritos (“many gentlemen equal in quality and merits”) from Los Charcas, Arequipa, and Cuzco convened in the capital city, held an election, and declared war on Almagro. Inca Garcilaso adds, pudieron hazer esto con buen título los de aquella ciudad, porque, a falta de gobernador nombrado por Su Majestad, podía el cabildo de Cuzco (como cabeza de aquel Imperio) nombrar ministros para la guerra y para la justicia, entre tanto que Su Majestad no los nombrava. (Pt. 2, Bk. III, Ch. XI, Vol. I, p. 273) 35

Although it should be kept in mind that the conflicts between Pizarristas and Almagristas were factional struggles for supremacy in Peru conducted with little regard for the desires of the distant monarch, Inca Garcilaso asserts the legitimacy of political and military initiatives taken by the city assemblies to defend both their own and royal interests. This line of argumentation becomes important later, when Gonzalo is elected General Procurator, Governor, and Captain General in Cuzco at the beginning of the rebellion. For, in applying the New Laws so strictly and immediately, it is Viceroy Núñez Vela who jeopardizes royal interests in Peru by denying the encomenderos’ legal rights to petition against the legislation: Este escándolo y temor acrecentava el rigor de la condición del Visorrey, y no querer oír en particular suplicación de ciudad alguna sobre las ordenanzas, sino que se havía de llevar todo a hecho por todo rigor. Por lo cual les pareció a elected or appointed (most usually the latter) members on the pattern of the Castilian system of cortes, or municipal courts. See Haring, The Spanish Empire in America, 147–51. For a thorough examination of the role of the cortes in Spanish political life and the comunero revolt, see Aurelio Espinosa, The Empire of the Cities: Emperor Charles V, the Comunero Revolt, and the Transformation of the Spanish System (Boston: Brill, 2008), 35–82. 35 “Those in the city could do this with just title, because in lacking a governor named by His Majesty, the council of Cuzco (as the head of that Empire) could nominate ministers for war and justice during the interim in which His Majesty had named none.”

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las cuatro ciudades, que son Huamanca, Arequipa, Chuquisaca y el Cuzco, en las cuales aún no estava recebido el Visorrey, que eligiendo ellas un procurador general que hablasse por todas cuatro y por todo el reino, porque eligiéndolo el Cuzco, que era cabeza de aquel Imperio, era visto elegirlo todo él, se remedaría el daño que temían. (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Vol. II, p. 28) 36

The precedent to which Inca Garcilaso is cautiously alluding in his portrayal of Gonzalo’s rebellion is the comunero revolt in Castile (1520–1521) against the newly crowned King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. 37 When the Flemish Charles succeeded to the throne of Castile in 1516, Castilians were faced with the prospects of being ruled by a foreign king ignorant of their language, culture, and politics who, in addition, would most often rule in absentia due to his imperial duties (after 1519). Moreover, through his appointment of equally foreign courtesans and advisors, chief among them being the Lord of Chièvres William of Croy and Adrian of Utrecht, to the most powerful and lucrative posts in the Spanish realm, a system of corruptive abuse replaced the normal flow of government in Castile, which Charles’s new subjects found intolerable. As John Lynch puts it, “Castilians were kept at a distance from their king and were forced to watch offices and sinecures invaded by newcomers and the national wealth plundered by foreigners

36 “The rigid character of the Viceroy increased this scandal and fear, along with his not wanting in particular to hear the appeal of any city over the ordinances, but rather to have them applied with full rigor. As such, the settlers of the four cities, which are Huamanca, Arequipa, Chuquisaca, and Cuzco, in which the Viceroy had not yet been acknowledged, decided that electing a general procurator to speak for all four and the entire kingdom, because being elected by Cuzco, which was the head of that Empire, was seen as being elected by all of it, could remedy the injury they feared.” 37 Inca Garcilaso’s obvious caution in treating these matters must stem in part from the printed rumors regarding his father’s relationship to Gonzalo Pizarro mentioned above and, rather surprisingly, his having at least three relatives who had actually participated in the Castilian revolt: Garcilaso de la Vega, the Golden Age poet who suffered a facial wound serving the king (Joseph Pérez, La revolución de las comunidades de Castilla, 1520–1521, trans. Juan José Faci Lacasta [Madrid: Siglo XXI de España Editores, 1998], 365 and 648); Don Pedro Laso de la Vega, the poet’s older brother and a former student of humanist Peter Martyr Anghiera, who was not only one of the most notable and admired members of the movement but also one of its instigators (Pérez, La revolución, 476, also 621–22); and Gómez de Tordoya y Vargas, first-cousin to Inca Garcilaso’s father who was sentenced to death in Spain for his actions on behalf of the comuneros and years later officially banned from all realms under Spanish jurisdiction (Varner, El Inca, 31 and 47). This is the same Gómez de Tordoya — perhaps not so coincidentally — that Inca Garcilaso credits with having called the legitimate election in Cuzco after Francisco Pizarro’s assassination, mentioned above (Pt. 2, Bk. III, Ch. XI, Vol. I). With so many personal connections to comunero and Peruvian antagonists, all of whom had openly resisted royal interests, it would have been at the very least imprudent, if not extremely dangerous, for Inca Garcilaso to link his defense of Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion explicitly to the earlier revolution.


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who neither understood nor cared for the problems of Spain.” 38 In order to voice their grievances with the new government, Castilians turned to the cortes (“courts”), which were representative bodies in each city composed of members elected from each of the three estates (nobility, clergy, and commons). The cortes, in existence since the Middle Ages, had not traditionally been regularly convening deliberative assemblies with legislative powers but, rather, generally lent prestige and credibility to, without being able to restrict, royal prerogatives. 39 Despite their practical powerlessness, the cortes also functioned as the institutional locus in which protests against royal injustices were lodged. According to A.W. Lovett, by the sixteenth century a living and long established tradition maintained that the cities had the right to petition against misrule; and if remedy were not forthcoming, many thought that their inhabitants were authorized to take whatever action was required, including resistance to the king, or his representative. 40

In general terms, this is what transpired in fourteen of the eighteen ciudades (“cities”) of Castile: representatives were elected; formal petitions against misrule were submitted; and when it became clear that no remedy could be expected from the monarchy, Castile revolted. With its initial critical mass located in Toledo and Salamanca, the short-lived rebellion, which lasted from May 1520 until the comuneros’ lopsided defeat at Villalar on 23 April 1521, represented not only a profound rejection of Charles V but also a socially diversified, geographically extensive, and primarily urban social movement with an explicitly revolutionary agenda. 41 As Aurelio Espinosa has argued, what began as a tax revolt against the foreign patronage system of an absent king “developed into a political experiment; city-states, or comunidades, were realizing their potential to rule without a monarchy [. . .] and the tax revolt became a struggle for a representational form of government.” 42 The twin bases of comunero political thought were the Aristotelian and Neo-Scholastic notion that the comunidad, and its synonymous ciudad, was an associative agreement amongst a multitude for the common good, on the one hand, and the principle from Roman law quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus debet approbari (“that which touches all must be 38

John Lynch, Spain, 1516–1598 (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1991), 51. Also see J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain, 1469–1716 (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), 144–51; and Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 35–46. 39 Lynch, Spain, 1516–1598, 10–11 and 65; Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 46–65. 40 A.W. Lovett, Early Habsburg Spain, 1517–1598 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 34. 41 Elliott, Imperial Spain, 1469–1716, 151; Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 71–82. 42 Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 71–72. For the argument that the comunero movement represents the first “modern revolution,” see José Antonio Maravall, Las comunidades de Castilla: Una primera revolución moderna (Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 2nd edition, 1970), 87–92.

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agreed to by all”), on the other. 43 In this sense, the city or community was not only a moral entity composed of distinct yet interdependent members (i.e., the corporate union and partnership of the three estates) but also the ultimate source of political power. As Maravall explains, for the comuneros, “the comunidad was never simply the urban conjunction, considered physically, or an informal mass of materially adhering inhabitants, but rather the moral and political body that constituted those integrated within it.” 44 Their program for structural reform centered on increasing the power of the cortes as representative, deliberative, and legislative bodies that actively participated in national politics in order to limit and render accountable royal power, particularly in the realm of judicial appointees, while stressing the need for a mixed constitution with republican institutions anchored in an active citizenry on the model of the Italian city-states. 45 The underlying vision, as Maravall again points out, was of confederated city-states “with their own governments, not subjected to a superior lord, that is, cities governed by councils, in terms of magistrates elected by the community.” 46 Comunero goals, which explicitly proposed a more inclusive, diverse, and ultimately proto-nationalist conception of the common good, were a direct and drastic challenge to Charles’s views on royal sovereignty, which were founded on the idea of dynastic privilege and denied the very possibility of either conflict or contradiction between dynastic interests and those of subjects. 47 43 Maravall, Las comunidades, 201. For the Scholastic concept of polity or ciudad, see Aristotle, The Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), Bk. 1, Chap. 1, 1252a1–5, 35; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I–II, Question 96, Article 1, in Saint Thomas Aquinas on Law, Morality, and Politics, ed. William P. Baumgarth and Richard J. Regan, s.j. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988), 65–66. Throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this was the central idea in the theories of natural rights and popular sovereignty developed by Dominican and Jesuit theologians in Spain, such as Francisco de Vitoria, Domingo de Soto, Melchior Cano, Luis de Molina, and Francisco Suárez. See Bernice Hamilton, Political Thought in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963); Carlos G. Noreña, Studies in Spanish Renaissance Thought (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975); J.A. Fernández-Santamaría, The State, War and Peace: Spanish Political Thought in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 2:135–73; and Richard Tuck’s Natural Rights Theories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) and Philosophy and Government, 1572– 1651 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 137–46. For an analysis of how Jesuits in particular derived political authority from the notion of polity or commonwealth, see Harro Höpfl, Jesuit Political Thought: The Society of Jesus and the State, c. 1540–1630 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 192–217. 44 Maravall, Las comunidades, 103, my translation. 45 Pérez, La revolución, 539–45. 46 Maravall, Las comunidades, 194, my translation. 47 Maravall, Las comunidades, 110–16; Pérez, La revolución, 558–59; Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 71–82. For more on Charles V’s political views, see José Antonio Maravall, Carlos V y el pensamiento político del renacimiento (Madrid: Boletín Oficial del Estado, 1999), 67–107.


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The defeat of the comunero movement not only demonstrated the power of the Spanish nobility’s coalition in favor of the king but also spelled the end of any republican pretensions of potential city-states on the peninsula, while further enhancing and consolidating monarchical rule. 48 Spanish historians of the sixteenth century were certainly not oblivious to this point, as the words of Francisco López de Gómara attest: “the comunidades began in Castile, which from a good beginning achieved a bad end, and, wanting to humble the king, they made him greater than he was before.” 49 Moreover, the failure of the comuneros elicited a generalized rejection of the representative and republican ideals of the movement throughout Spain. Pedro de Mejía, the accomplished humanist and Charles V’s Royal Historian, with whose other works Inca Garcilaso was well familiar, scorned the comuneros for having made bold to demand that Charles should establish “such order in the government that part of it would be given to the cities of the realm”; such a demand made “a minor and a pupil of the king, and them his tutors.” 50 In his Apologética historia summaria, Bartolomé de Las Casas illustrated his opposition to the comuneros by placing them within his first two classes of barbarians, which included whichever Christian nations transgress the bounds of reason by way of their cruel, harsh, ferocious, and disorganized works or through their furious impetuosity for frightful opinions, as is clearly seen in Castile in the year 1520 in the time of the comunidades. 51


Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 88–99 and 91. José Antonio Maravall has argued that the defeat of the comuneros resulted in the end of resistance to the increasing power of the Caroline monarchy, which was rapidly moving in the direction of centralized, bureaucratic absolutism, and ultimately undercut or delayed the creation of a modern state apparatus in Spain (Maravall, Las comunidades, 12–13, 244, and 266–67). In his comprehensive revision of the comunero movement and its historiography, Aurelio Espinosa contends that “the steps the Castilian republics took to change the government Charles first installed in 1517 gradually transformed the Spanish empire of cities and towns into a constitutional monarchy accountable to the parliament . . . by rejecting the Burgundian regime (c. 1517–22) and laying the foundations for the reconstruction of a meritocratic bureaucracy” (Espinosa, Empire of the Cities, 83). According to Espinosa, the comuneros paradoxically lost the civil war but in fact won the battle for political reform that they had initiated. 49 Francisco López de Gómara, Annales de Carlos Quinto [1556?], ed. Roger Bigelow Merriman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), 201, my translation. 50 Pedro de Mejía, Historia del Emperador, Bk. II, Chap. II, 136 and Bk. II, Chap. IX, 187. Unless Inca Garcilaso had access to this text in manuscript form, perhaps through his numerous Jesuit friends and associates, it is unlikely that he knew it because it was not published until centuries later. 51 Bartolomé de Las Casas, Apologética historia sumaria [1560], in Obras completas, ed. Vidal Abril Castelló, Jesús A. Barreda, et al., 8 vols. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1992), vol. 8, “Epílogo,” my translation.

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The stain associated with comunero involvement and ideology endured through the end of the sixteenth century and beyond; so much so, in fact, that in 1578 the Admiral of Castile complained, “everything is in the hands of lowly and vindictive people, many of whose fathers were comuneros.” Philip II, whose government the admiral was criticizing and who never seemed to forget any insults against the royal person of either his father or himself, at least agreed with the admiral’s evaluation of the rebels. For as late as 1591, seven decades after the fact, the prudent king was still referring to Juan Padilla, one of the comunero leaders, as a “tyrant.” 52 As Guillermo Lohmann Villena’s study on the legal and political thought of Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion amply demonstrates, it was not a movement with the same diversified scope and revolutionary political goals as the comunero revolt in Castile, although it attempted to appropriate similar justifications. 53 Nevertheless, similarities between the two were both noted and recorded in varying degrees by New World historians of the sixteenth century, and it is through his citation of other authors that Inca Garcilaso transfers the comunero defense of their right to resist to Gonzalo and his followers. 54 In Book IV, Chapter VII of the Second Part, Gonzalo is elected in Cuzco, and Inca Garcilaso quotes Agustín de Zárate’s History of the Discovery and Conquest of Peru (1555) for the arguments in favor of allowing Gonzalo to travel to Lima with an armed guard. Inca Garcilaso cuts Zárate’s passage off following this statement:


Henry Kamen, Philip of Spain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 177 and 228. In simplest terms, Gonzalo’s rebellion was primarily about taking the government of Peru for himself, of which he thought he had been cheated, and defending the interests of certain Peruvian encomenderos against the Spanish crown. Compared with the comprehensive and wellconsidered ideas of the comuneros, the arguments offered by Gonzalo’s supporters appear piecemeal, grasping, and opportunistic. Lohmann Villena makes a persuasive case that the ostensible justifications for the rebellion were dubious at best, and he uses the apt phrase la justificación de lo injustificable (“the justification of the unjustifiable”) to describe those efforts (Lohmann Villena, Las ideas juridico-políticas, 39). That Gonzalo’s rebellion was not a comunero movement in terms of the contents of its political thought, see also Pérez, La revolución, 680. 54 Rolena Adorno has argued that the citation of other authors was one of the ways to avoid Inquisitorial censorship in sixteenth-century Spain and that this was the strategy used by Augustinian Friar Jerónimo Román y Zamora in his Repúblicas del mundo (“Republics of the World,” 1575), which includes copious passages from Las Casas’s Apologética historia sumaria (1560). Las Casas’s other works were banned in Mexico in 1553, Peru in 1572, and sequestered by royal order of Philip II in 1579, and for including it in his own work, Román suffered official censorship. See Rolena Adorno, “Censorship and its Evasion: Jerónimo Román and Bartolomé de Las Casas,” Hispania 75, no. 4 (October 1992): 812–27. Since Inca Garcilaso had read and refers to Repúblicas de las Indias Occidentales (“Republics of the West Indies’), the shortened, censored edition of Román’s earlier text published in 1595, in the Royal Commentaries (Pt. 1, Bk. I, Ch. IV; Bk. II, Ch. II; and Bk. V, Ch. XVIII), it is quite possible that he picked up this strategy from the Augustinian author. 53


james w. fuerst No faltaron letrados que fundavan y les hazían entender cómo en todo esto no había ningún desacato, y que lo podían hazer de derecho, y que una fuerza se puede y debe repeler con otra, y que el juez que procede de hecho puede ser resistido de hecho. Y desta manera se resolvieron en que Gonzalo Pizarro alzasse banderas y hiziesse gente, y muchos de los vezinos del Cuzco se le ofrecieron con sus personas y haziendas, y aun algunos hubo dezían que perderían la ánimas en esta demanda. (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Vol. II, p. 30) 55

Thanks to Zárate, Inca Garcilaso establishes the right of Peruvian encomenderos not only to appeal but also to forcefully resist Viceroy Núñez Vela and the New Laws, on the grounds that Núñez Vela had violated legal procedures by disallowing encomendero petitions against the ordinances: el juez que procede de hecho puede ser resistido de hecho (“the judge who proceeds de facto can be resisted de facto”). The same argument is extended in the following chapter, through use of Francisco López de Gómara’s General History of the Indies and Conquest of Mexico (1552), whose author, as the chaplain and historian of Hernán Cortés, is the most sympathetic to Spanish conquistadores and encomenderos of any of the writers cited by Inca Garcilaso in the Second Part. Again, the passage concerns the arguments forwarded by the encomenderos to justify their actions, and amongst those enumerated we find the following: Otros, que podían defender por armas sus vassallos y previlegios, como los hidalgos de Castilla sus libertades, las cuales tenían por haber ayudado a los Reyes a ganar sus reinos de poder de moros, como ellos por haber ganado el Perú de manos de idólatras; dezían en fin todos que no caían en pena por suplicar de las ordenanzas, y muchos que ni aun las contradecir, pues no les obligavan antes de consentirlas y recebirlas por leyes. (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. VIII, Vol. II, p. 31) 56

To clear up any possible discrepancies between previous accounts, Inca Garcilaso explains that in the beginning of the revolt, the “true intention of the four cities” that had elected Gonzalo to Governor and General Procurator — the cities of 55 “There was no lack of lawyers who established and made understood that in all of this there was no disrespect, and that they had the right to do so, and that force can and should be repelled by force, and that the judge who proceeds de facto can be resisted de facto. And in this way they resolved that Gonzalo Pizarro should raise his standard and enlist men, and many of the residents of Cuzco offered him their persons and properties, and some even said that they were willing to lose their souls for their demands.” 56 “Others [said] that they could defend their vassals and privileges with arms, as the hidalgos of Castile had defended their liberties, which they possessed for having helped the Kings win their kingdoms from the power of the Moors, just as they had won Peru from the hands of idolaters; in the end they all said that they would not fall into trouble for appealing the ordinances, and many [said] that they would not even if they opposed them, since they were not obliged until they had consented to them and acknowledged them as laws,” my emphasis.

Die a King


Huamanca, Arequipa, Chuquisaca, and Cuzco — was not to rebel but to embiaron sus procuradores con poderes bastantes (“send their representatives with sufficient powers”) to petition peacefully against the ordinances as vasallos leales que habían ganado aquel Imperio para aumento de la corona de España (“loyal vassals who had won the Empire for the augment of the Spanish crown”). Although he sticks rather closely to the procedures of the Spanish legal system and downplays the threat of force that was present from the outset, Inca Garcilaso selects as the “true intention” of the rebellion the one that López de Gómara explicitly links to the “hidalgos of Castile” and that invalidates legislation that has not received the consent of the citizens. This was their intention, according to Inca Garcilaso, because “fiaban que si les oyessen de justicia, no se la habían de negar, aunque fuese en tribunal de bárbaros” (“they trusted that if they were justly heard, they could not be denied, even by a tribunal of barbarians”). Although the encomenderos had justice on their side, it was the “terrible harshness of the Viceroy’s character” that made a peaceful appeal and resolution impossible and caused Gonzalo to take up arms (Pt. 2, Bk. IV, Ch. VIII, Vol. II, p. 32). Inca Garcilaso’s invocation of the comunero movement to defend the initial moments of Gonzalo’s rebellion comes well before the announcements of Carvajal’s political recommendations. His use of comunero arguments, however, is directly related to the latter for the obvious reason that, regardless of what he portrays as the desirability and justice of Carvajal’s proposals, he still needed to justify Gonzalo’s actions in the first place. In simpler terms, Inca Garcilaso needed a strong argument for the right to resist and even take up arms against monarchical and viceregal abuses, which he found in the comunero revolt. Just as important, furthermore, it is very likely that Inca Garcilaso found a ready-made critique of the Peruvian viceroyalty in the comuneros’ rejection of Charles V’s foreign ministers. Viceroy Núñez Vela’s actions are representative of precisely the kind of problems that frequently attended the appointment of native Spaniards to the highest offices in Peruvian government. The idea here, which is an undercurrent running throughout the Second Part, is not simply that the conquistadores had not been properly rewarded for their services to the crown but more, that giving charge of Peru to those who were completely unfamiliar with local politics inevitably opened the door to unnecessary and often systematic abuses for which there was insufficient remedy. Again, in Inca Garcilaso’s view, Núñez Vela’s ill-temper and imprudence are extreme examples, as is the poder absoluto (“absolute power”) later wielded by the fifth Viceroy, Francisco de Toledo (Pt. 1, Bk. VI, Ch. XXXVI, Vol. I, p. 409). Theoretically, and if the Spanish monarchy had actually been concerned with the general welfare of its Peruvian subjects, this should not have been so often the case, given the normal procedures and institutions of Spanish constitutionalism. That the Spanish monarchy, and therefore the ministers and functionaries appointed by the monarchy, was more interested in exploiting rather than benefiting Peru, however, is a point Inca Garcilaso makes bold to relate. In concluding the chapter in which he tabulates the amount of Atahualpa’s ransom, he writes, “Los cuales embía aquella mi tierra a toda


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España y a todo el mundo viejo, mostrándose cruel madrastra de sus propios hijos y apasionada madre de los ajenos” (Pt. 2, Bk. I, Ch. XXXVIII, Vol. I, p. 103). 57 Somewhat like the comuneros, then, Inca Garcilaso suggests that the rule of an absent king through “foreign” peninsular ministers is prejudicial to just governance in Peru, which in turn supports his argument that Gonzalo was well within his rights in resisting it. The defense of Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion advanced in the Second Part of the Royal Commentaries establishes Inca Garcilaso as the first writer both to consider seriously as well as argue for the possibility of an independent Peru freed from the direct control of the Spanish monarchy. Inasmuch as he is also the first native-born and self-identified person of indigenous descent to publish texts about the New World in the Old, one can legitimately push this point a bit further and say that Inca Garcilaso is the first American thinker to see armed insurrection in the service of independence as an alternative to colonial rule. Finally, in that his depiction of Gonzalo Pizarro’s rebellion includes the forging of a mestizo polity in which leading sectors of Inca and Spanish society are coordinated and aligned in a system of co-rule, Inca Garcilaso reminds us that political justice across the New World requires that Spaniards and Europeans engage with indigenous peoples throughout the Americas as active and equal partners in governance and administration rather than captive laborers and pawns.


“These were sent by my country to Spain and the rest of the Old World, showing herself to be a cruel step-mother to her own sons and a devoted mother to those of foreigners.”

Veiled Truths: Early Modern European Travel Accounts of Ottoman and Safavid Women Lindsay Weiler-Leon

During the seventeenth century, European governmental elites judged perceptions of Asian culture by European standards. This Euro-centric viewpoint occurred after a shift from the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire as the focal point of advanced civilization to Latin Christendom in the Western territories. The European chroniclers writing about the battles against the spread of Islam starting in the eighth century ce painted the Muslim empires and territories as barbaric and uncivilized, particularly in their published works promoting the various crusades taken to the Middle East between the tenth and twelfth centuries. 1 Although the battles between Latin Christendom and the Islamic regions eventually facilitated economic, diplomatic, and military relations with one another, the perception of Asian cultures by Europeans altered little. The fear and fascination of Islamic lands persisted into the seventeenth century, painting various elements of these cultures as “barbaric” and “primitive,” particularly the inhabitants and their daily lives and habits. Through analysis of the source material written in the seventeenth century by two English brothers, the travelers Anthony and Robert Sherley, as well as their associates, this essay aims to show how women in both the Ottoman and the Safavid Persian empires were perceived by European chroniclers. While this project 1

Albert Hourani. A History of Arab Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 84; see also Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954), 147–65, for early Islamic and Christian battles studied by Renaissance humanists for justification of the fear and fascination of Muslim empires; and Nancy Bisaha, Creating East and West (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 13–30, for more on the medieval perception of Muslims through interpretations of crusaders’ works. Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 187–201.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126384


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focuses mainly on women and gender relations, men in both the Ottoman and Safavid Empires were viewed with similar distaste, as barbaric and uncivilized, and their women as subservient and oppressed. Women in particular embodied the “exotic” nature of Middle Eastern culture based on their difference from European women in dress, social roles, and their visibility, thus becoming, albeit unofficially, the representation of Muslim culture, a representation that still persists today. 2 The cultural impressions of Muslims by Europeans involved many different aspects, particularly the aspect of women and how Europeans interpreted their role in Middle Eastern societies. However, European interpretation of the “primitive nature” of Ottoman and Safavid Muslim cultures, including the roles of women, differed greatly from the actual cultures. Based on sources written by European gentlemen adventurers during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women appeared to fall into one of two categories of roles within the cultures: either they were “gallant gentlewomen” needing the protection and support of men as their wives, sisters, or mothers; or they appeared “much like the wild Irish,” accompanying the shah on horseback and performing music and dance for the royal court and its European guests. 3 This essay will compare the perception of Muslim barbarity with the reality of women’s variegated roles and lives in these two Muslim empires, utilizing secondary source material written by both Ottoman and Safavid historians. I will employ the concept of “Orientalism” as defined by Edward Said as a descriptor for the European fear and fascination of these Muslim empires, particularly when it


For a view on modern “Orientalist” views of Muslim women that date back to the reign of the Safavids, see Kathryn Babayan, “The ‘Aqa’id Al-Nisa’: A Glimpse at Safavid Women in Local Isfahani Culture,” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Gavin R.G. Hambly (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 349–81; see also Madeline Zilfi, ed., Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern History in the Early Modern Era (Leiden: Brill, 1997). 3 For a recounting of the event of a “gallant gentlewoman” and the punishment of her would-be ravisher, see George Manwaring, “A True Discourse of Sir Anthony Sherley’s Travel into Persia,” in Sir Anthony Sherley and his Persian Adventure, ed. E. Denison Ross (London: Routledge, 1825), 125; for another viewpoint, yet calling this woman a “courtesan” with a comparison to the “wild Irish,” see Abel Pincon, “The Relation of a Journey Taken to Persia in the Years 1598–1599 by a Gentleman in the Suite of Sir Anthony Sherley, Ambassador from the Queen of England,” in Sir Anthony Sherley and his Persian Adventure, ed. Ross, 98; for a general viewpoint of the bazaar in which “no mans wife comes thereat,” see William Parry, “A New and Large Discourse on the Travels of Sir Anthony Sherley, Knight, by Sea, and Over Land, to the Persian Empire, Wherein are related many strange and wonderful accidents: and also, the Description and conditions of those Countries and People he passed by: with his return into Christendom,” in Sir Anthony Sherley and his Persian Adventure, ed. Ross, 76; and for another analysis on the categories women fell into within the Safavid Persian Empire, see Rudi Matthee, “Prostitutes, Courtesans and Dancing Girls: Women Entertainers in Safavid Iran,” in Iran and Beyond: Essays in Middle Eastern History in Honor of Nikki R. Keddie, ed. Rudi Matthee and Beth Baron (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, Inc., 2000), 121–50.


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came to women’s roles within each society. 4 I will also use the concept of Renaissance self-fashioning as defined by Stephen Greenblatt to explain the motivation behind European men traveling to these regions, even through their fear and fascination. 5 Ottoman and Safavid women’s roles contrasted with European conceptions, demonstrating a wider range of social and class variations than European travelers understood.

Renaissance European Impressions Scholars of the Sherleys and the Safavids, such as D.W. Davies and Rudi Matthee, have examined the reasons why this voyage to Persia gained such significance. Too numerous to include in this project, since they cover economic, political, and diplomatic motivations of various countries, I will instead examine how the sponsorship of European middle-class men and lower nobility by the wealthy to explore the world primarily for monetary gain was fed by the middle-class men’s need and desire for improvement of reputation among the wealthy, who could then continue to sponsor them. This need was the motivation that influenced the definition of Greenblatt’s self-fashioning in the early 1980s. This motivation also influenced Europeans’ perceptions of “oriental” countries — as Asian countries were referred to starting in the fifteenth century — as less civilized than European countries, which in turn influenced how the residents of those regions were both viewed and treated. 6 This particularly affected the women who, even though they were on a far more equal standing to their men than European women based on the Qu’ran and Shari’a law, were already seen as second-class citizens by virtue of their gender. 7 European travelers appeared to show no desire to see Ottoman and Safavid women as they really lived.

4 “Orientalism . . . is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient, but a created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment. Continued investment made Orientalism, as a system of knowledge about the Orient, an accepted grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness . . .”; see Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), 6. 5 “Self-fashioning is achieved in relation to something perceived as alien, strange, or hostile”; see Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 9. 6 For more on how travel literature written by male Europeans affected oriental studies and Renaissance Orientalism, see Robert Irwin, Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents (New York: The Overlook Press, 2006), 60, 62–66; see also Said, Orientalism, 3–4, for more on “Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” 7 Ronald Ferrier, “Women in Safavid Iran: The Evidence of European Travelers,” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Hambly, 383–406.


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As the second and third sons of a minor nobleman in the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England, Sir Anthony and Robert Sherley desired to live up to the reputation of Her Majesty’s “gentlemen adventurers,” men such as Walter Raleigh and Frances Drake, who earned prestige by bringing money to England’s coffers through exploration and privateering. This desire for prestige permeated the atmosphere of the English court itself, because it resulted in royal favor of gifts of property and trade monopolies, leading Elizabeth’s courtiers to compete with each other to gain reputation. Both Sir Anthony and Robert took the opportunity to earn that same prestige when, while in Italy, they planned a trip to Persia; this had the benefit of not only bolstering their reputation but also, potentially, increasing their own family fortune. 8 To survive a trip to the “oriental” lands of southwest Asia would add shine to their reputation through Renaissance self-fashioning, as well as improve their standing in the court of Queen Elizabeth, especially after their father lost the family fortune by fleecing Her Majesty while on campaign in the low countries with the Queen’s favorite at the time, Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. 9 Sir Anthony and Robert’s father spent time in both an Ottoman “Turkish” prison as well as Fleet Prison in London, a location in which Sir Anthony resided for a time. The Sherley’s motivation to travel to locations that would improve their reputation, as well as potentially earn them money, was derived not only from their family history but also the from very atmosphere of European courts. This selffashioning would also influence the discourse with and impressions of both the Ottoman and Safavid Empires. Education played a big part in the Orientalist viewpoint of Europeans. The Sherleys’ later desire to go to the Safavid Persian Empire appeared to be partially inspired by their Oriental studies education at Oxford University. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europe showed marked advances in education in comparison to the Middle Ages, particularly in the sciences, thanks to Humanism, a resurgence of ancient Greek and Roman philosophical education. The primary form of higher education was made up of the Trivium, comprised of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the Quadrivium, comprised of music, arithmetic, geometry, and

8 For more information on the initiation of the Persian voyage and what precipitated it, see Anthony Sherley, His Relations of Travels into Persia, the Dangers, and Distresses which befell him in his passage, both by sea and land and his strange and unexpected deliverances. His Magnificent Entertainment in Persia, his Honourable imployment there hence, as Embassadour to the Princes of Christendome, the cause of his disappointment therein, with his advice to his brother, Sir Robert Sherley, Also, a True Relation of the great Magnificence, Valour, Prudence, Justice, Temperance and other manifold Vertues of Abas, now King of Persia, with his Great Conquests, whereby he has enlarged his Dominions (London: Printed for Nathaniell Butter and Joseph Bagset, 1613), 7–8. 9 D.W. Davies, Elizabethans Errant: The Strange Fortunes of Sir Thomas Sherley and His Three Sons, As Well in the Dutch Wars as in Muscovy, Morocco, Persia, Spain and the Indies (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), 44–45.

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astronomy. 10 These topics made up the Humanist study popular in Europe. Ironically, Humanist education provides some of the earliest evidence of Euro-centrism, as well as “orientalism”; mathematics, particularly algebra and geometry, came first out of the Middle East, yet European universities did not credit the original region of discovery. This education also included new specialized fields, such as the one known as “Oriental” studies, enabling young men attending university to learn about Asia, primarily for purposes of trade. These “Oriental” studies appear to have started about the time the Church Council of Vienna made the decision to “establish a series of chairs in ‘Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac [region of modern-day Syria] at Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Avignon, and Salamanca,’” in 1312, although Christian travel writers on pilgrimage in the fourteenth century seemed to be the inspiration behind the need for these studies, making the Orient more interesting through their publications, which in turn made more people eager to study these “fascinating” regions. 11 Such studies certainly contributed to the Sherley brothers’ desire to travel to the Persian Empire; the university seems to be the most likely place both Anthony and the Earl learned about this destination. 12 However, this same university education also perpetuated the Oriental stereotype to European men attending, who viewed this region with a combination of fear and fascination. This included the inhabitants, both male and female, of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, as well as their lifestyles; everything was open to scrutiny by the Europeans. In his own publication, Sir Anthony wrote about “the royalty of the Sophi,” or Shah Abbas I, from conversations with a Persian merchant while in Italy, and later with the Earl of Essex. 13 This was in stark contrast to the Ottoman Empire, with its inhabitants, all the way up to the sultan, being referred to as “Arabs” or “Turks” by the Europeans, in demeaning and insulting ways. Yet the Persian Empire fared little better in European estimation; as a Muslim empire, it still fell into the category of “Oriental” and “Other.” In addition to Renaissance self-fashioning, this offers another explanation as to why the Sherleys saw the “oriental” Ottoman and Safavid Empires as less civilized than Europe, and yet why they had no desire to learn about the reality beyond what they encountered and interpreted themselves. As Europeans, they already knew everything they needed to know. The first stop for the Sherley brothers and their entourage outside of Christian territory occurred at Aleppo, an inland city that acted as the hub for goods going in and out of the Middle East to Europe. A required stop for travel in the Ottoman Empire, Aleppo teemed with merchants and craftsmen alike, from all over the Mediterranean as well as European countries, offering a cross-sectional look at life within a Muslim territory. Women occupied this scene as well, going about 10

Greenblatt, Self-Fashioning, 17; see also Irwin, Dangerous Knowledge, 64. For more on the origin of “Oriental Studies,” see Said, Orientalism, 49–50; for more on the travel writers of the fourteenth century, see also Irwin, Dangerous Knowledge, 50–53, 61. 12 Manwaring, “True Discourse,” 107. 13 Sherley, Relations, 15. 11


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on their day-to-day business in their coverings required for traveling throughout the city, and even this was limited because of their gender. One of Sir Anthony’s attendants, William Parry, speaks of the women one assumes he comes in contact with, however briefly, as being “fair, barbed [veiled] everywhere . . . closely chambered up,” an assertion backed by another gentleman retainer, George Manwaring, in his publication. 14 This appeared to be the only view of women in the Ottoman Empire encountered directly by European gentlemen; believed to be subservient, oppressed, lazy, and emotional, women did not engender positive reviews of their roles in Ottoman society. European opinion reduced them to secondary citizens who spent the majority of their time lounging in their “Bastows,” or gardens, or going “to the graves to bewail their dead . . . and then no part of them shall be discovered neither, but only their eyes.” The account of their attire suggests a niqab-type covering from head to toe, as described by traveler William Parry. 15 Sir Anthony and his retainers all seemed to have the same perception of those who resided in Muslim territories, particularly the Ottoman Empire. To the Europeans, Ottoman men appeared “insolent, superbous, and insulting,” gluttonous in every desire, from their food to their women. 16 Apparently aware of the allowance by the Qu’ran of up to four wives, every single European source cited that as evidence of Muslim barbarianism, contrasting European discipline to Ottoman greed. Sir Anthony’s experience traveling through the Ottoman Empire appeared to be somewhat different and possibly more pleasant than that of his retainers; he speaks on little of Aleppo or Ottoman nobility, save a mention of the mother of Sultan Suleiman, implying that she was involved in the sultan’s desire to “subdue . . . all of Persia,” which suggests that he did not have the same horrific experiences as the others in his party. 17 Rather, Sir Anthony focuses on the Bedouin community his entourage encountered as they traveled over land to the Persian Empire. His opinion of these tent-dwelling “Arabs” matches the opinion of his gentleman retainers; he remarks on the European’s clothing being “much better than theirs” and on their greed in claiming a portion of the goods Sir Anthony carried with him. 18 While only one of Sir Anthony’s accounts actually reveals the European impression of female’s social roles, albeit at the royal level, both accounts demonstrate the distaste Sir Anthony and his entourage had for Ottoman culture. One glaring difference between the way the Europeans viewed the Ottoman and Safavid Empires can be found in Sir Anthony’s referral to the shah as “Sophi,” while Suleiman was simply called “Sultan.” Both “shah” (Persian) and “sultan” (Arabic) translate to “king” in their respective languages. However, Sir Anthony 14

Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 69. See also Manwaring, “True Discourse,” 112. “Bastow” is interpreted here as a form of bustan, meaning “garden”; see Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 69. 16 Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 68–69. 17 Sherley. Relations, 31. 18 Sherley, Relations, 19–20. 15

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and his entourage continually referred to Shah Abbas as “The Great Sophi.” While a European corruption of the dynastic name Safavi, it also translates in Greek, one of the languages of humanist research, as “wise one.” 19 Highlighting the exotic titles afforded to the rulers of those regions did not necessarily place the shah on the same level as European royalty. Instead, it revealed anti-Ottoman sentiment prevalent in Europe during the seventeenth century and differentiated the term from the title of “Majesty” used to denote European monarchs. This notable contrast in the forms of address in European versus “Oriental” monarchs thus contributed to the underlying fear and fascination that shaped European impressions of both the Ottoman and Safavid Empires. It also had the effect of combining these impressions of “Oriental” men and women in Europeans’ minds, since both were present in the royal courts and were addressed in radically different ways from men and women of European courts. Greeted by Shah Abbas I at Qazvin, a city on the western edge of the Persian Empire, the Sherleys gained permission to accompany him and his entourage into the city after formal respects were paid. This gave the Sherleys ample opportunity to observe women in a major city in the Persian Empire. The shah’s entourage also included a number of women, dressed differently from those they saw in the Ottoman territories, wearing looser skirts that allowed them to sit astride and lacking the full face covering so prevalent on Turkish women’s faces. 20 They also cried out loudly, known as a “ululation,” or trilling of the tongue, at the Safavid’s approach of the Europeans, “with such a cry as the wild Irish make,” and conversed freely with the Muslim men they rode aside. This account emphasizes their exotic nature and their “wildness,” as distinct from the European women with whom the Sherleys and their entourage maintained relations. 21 Such details left Sir Anthony, Robert, and their retainers wondering what roles these women played in the court to permit such familiarity with the shah. Although not as prevalent as the anti-Ottoman sentiment, in the estimation of the Europeans, Persian men fared little better than their Ottoman counterparts. According to Abel Pincon, a Frenchman traveling with the Sherleys, the Persians, while described by others as generous and liberal, appeared more as “greedy . . . liars, wantons, blackguards . . . worthless and lacking in courage.” 22 He portrayed Shah Abbas not as the loving father of his people but, rather, as feared by them. While others do mention customs that made the Persians sound quaint and exotic, such as the practice of kissing the shah’s foot upon meeting him as a sign of respect, as the Sherleys did when meeting Shah Abbas outside Qazvin, more than one of the 19

Sherley, Relations, 33–34; see also Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 60, for the European corruption of the dynastic term Safavi; and Manwaring, “True Discourse,” 120. 20 Matthee, “Prostitutes,” 121–50. 21 Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 74; see also Manwaring, “True Discourse,” 122, for another viewpoint of the women accompanying the shah. 22 Pincon, “Relation of a Journey,” 98.


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travelers in the entourage depicts these customs as a particularly negative feature of Safavid culture. 23 These unique practices did not improve the estimation of the Safavids in the Sherleys’ minds, instead contributing more to the perspective of the non-European “Other” and its barbaric nature. To the European men accompanying the Sherleys, women in the Safavid Empire — while appearing to have more freedoms than their Ottoman counterparts, such as riding with the shah and eating as his table — still appeared as exotic creatures far removed in class from the refined European women of the Sherleys’ acquaintance. 24 Based on the sources written by European gentlemen adventurers during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women’s roles appeared to fall into one of two categories: as gentlewomen and ladies; or as the wild, exotic “Other” who, in European minds, fell outside of the protection and support offered to the ladies of European male acquaintance, such as Irish women, who represented the closest reference to “Other” in European, particularly English, lexicon, since they refused to accept English rule in the sixteenth century. 25 Other travelers in the region, such as John Cartwright, an English clergyman of dubious claim to any specific religious house, noticed that “to sensuality [the Persian women] are much inclined, having three sorts of women, as they terme them, viz. honest women, halfe honest women and courtezans.” 26 This account attributes to even those outside the official Safavid court preconceived notions of the wild, exotic, and barbaric women of the Orient. 23

Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 77, on the “customes” of Persians, and his distaste of many of them, direct comparisons to the “Turks.” 24 Matthee, “Prostitutes,” 121–50. 25 For a recounting of an event with a “gallant gentlewoman” and the punishment of her would-be ravisher, see Manwaring, “True Discourse,” 125; for another viewpoint, yet calling this woman a “courtesan,” implying similarity to “the wild Irish,” see also Pincon, “Relation of a Journey,” 98; for a general viewpoint of the bazaar where “no man’s wife comes thereat,” see Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 76. 26 John Cartwright, The preachers trauels. Wherein is set downe a true iournall to the confines of the East Indies, through the great countreyes of Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Media, Hircania and Parthia. With the authors returne by the way of Persia, Susiana, Assiria, Chaldæa, and Arabia. Containing a full suruew of the knigdom [sic] of Persia: and in what termes the Persian stands with the Great Turke at this day: also a true relation of Sir Anthonie Sherleys entertainment there: and the estate that his brother, M. Robert Sherley liued in after his departure for Christendome. With the description of a port in the Persian gulf, commodious for our East Indian merchants; and a briefe rehearsall of some grosse absudities in the Turkish Alcoran (Oxford: Magdalen College, and Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Digital Library Production Service, November 2003), 63; see also William Biddulph, The travels of certaine Englishmen into Africa, Asia, Troy (Turkey), Bythinia, Thracia, and to the Blacke Sea. And into Syria, Cilicia, Pisidia, Mesopotamia, Damascus, Canaan, Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Palestina, Ierusalem, Iericho, and to the Red Sea; and to sundry other places. Zbegunne in the yeere of Iubilee 1600 and by some of them finished in the yeere 1608. The others not yet returned./ Very profitable for the helpe of trauellers, and no lesse delightfull to all persons who take pleasure to heare of


Veiled Truths

Women in the Ottoman and Safavid Empires: The Reality After reading stories of European travelers encountering the “wild” nature of the Muslim cultures, one might believe that the inhabitants of these regions would benefit greatly from European influence, particularly their “civilizing” influence, resulting in these cultures changing societal aspects, such as interactions with foreigners, slavery, food consumption, and, of course, women, in an effort to become more European. Even the Persian Empire, viewed far more favorably by the Europeans, appears almost quaint, yet barbaric and certainly not up to European standards. For example, when greeted by Shah Abbas in Qazvin, Sir Anthony and his brother were required to “alight off their horses, and came to kiss the king’s foot,” certainly not something expected by even the most stringent European monarchs. 27 European accounts of “oriental” cultures from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries provided scholars knowledge about customs in those regions, yet also created an inaccurate representation of the reality. Both the Ottoman and Safavid Empires possessed rich cultures with as diverse inhabitants as any European community. This includes the women, whose roles in the seventeenth century were far more extensive than any European traveler ever had the opportunity to witness and appreciate. The regions of the Ottoman Empire initially encountered by the Sherleys differed from their reports, mainly in areas they experienced minimally, such as the marketplace, bazaar, and merchant and wealthy upper-class homes, as well as the rural areas passed through on their way to Persia. The reality consisted of a diverse population of lower, middle and upper classes, as well as slaves and concubines. The Europeans most commonly encountered either the wealthy elites and other nobles as potential business partners, or the common folk — mainly men — in the bazaar or while traveling through the country, all of which shaped their impressions of the region in general. The women they encountered were ordinary Muslim women, who, along with Jewish and Christian females, covered themselves when in public places, unable to speak with any man save their husband or male family member and therefore unable to give the Europeans any information about who they were. 28 Thus they shaped the impression the Europeans had, even though Muslim women belonged to a variety of religions and social classes, with the same ability as European women to affect their own lives, just in different ways. European women of the sixteenth century, particularly those in the merchant or noble classes, were the manners, government, religion, and customes of forraine (foreign) and heathen countries (London: Printed by Th. Haueland, for W. Apsley, and are to bee sold at his shop in Paules Church-yard, at the signe of the Parrot, 1609), for another outside perspective. 27 Manwaring, “True Discourse,” 122; see also Pincon, “Relation of a Journey,” 94. 28 Yvonne Seng, “Invisible Women: Residents of Early Sixteenth-Century Istanbul,” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Hambly, 236.


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considered the property of the men in their lives, given by fathers to husbands for the purpose of running a household and bearing children. 29 However, much like Muslim women of similar classes, European women managed a household’s finances and gained some financial freedom upon being widowed or even through divorce settlement. Slaves, in contrast, appeared far more visible to European and other travelers: slaves consisted of both men and women from various socio-economic classes and regions. 30 One specific class was connected to the government itself. After conquest of territory, Ottoman sultans took male slaves and trained them as soldiers in the military, or as bureaucrats and government officials, ensuring their loyalty to the sultan, particularly if they had come from prestigious families within the conquered region, such as the Caucasus. Female slaves from the Caucasus and Balkins, in contrast, found themselves as domestic servants and concubines, particularly within wealthy households and the royal harem. This did not necessarily mean they were powerless; they often manipulated their situation to their advantage, exerting a certain amount of control as favored consorts over their male masters or within the royal harem and in their interactions with non-slave women. For example, one of the best-known concubines in Sultan Suleiman’s court, Roxelana, known as Hurrem in the Ottoman court, gave the sultan six children in ten years, including a boy who would go on to be sultan himself, securing her position of power as a favorite. 31 Women of the Ottoman court during the reign of Sultan Suleiman had far more power than was perceived by European travelers of the seventeenth century. Known as the “Sultanate,” they operated behind the throne, as seclusion of women, particularly higher-ranking noblewomen, became more common starting as early as the fourteenth century. 32 While it appeared to outside observers that seclusion meant women had no power, the reality was that the women of the sultanate exercised control over the money they brought into the marriage, known as the mahr, or bride price. 33 Led by the queen mother, known as the valide sultan, women in the harem maneuvered for advantageous marriages for daughters with high-ranking 29

H.G. Koenigsberger, et al., Europe in the Sixteenth Century, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Longman Inc., 1989), 72–74. 30 Leslie Pierce, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 38–39, for information on the Ottoman Empire slaves and the structure of the military corps and the elite slaves. 31 Leslie Pierce, “Beyond Harem Walls: Ottoman Royal Women and the Exercise of Power,” in Gendered Domains: Rethinking Public and Private in Women’s History, Essays from the Seventh Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, ed. Dorothy O. Helly and Susan M. Reverby (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 42; see also Pierce, Harem, for more information on Roxelana/Hurrem and her influence on Sultan Suleiman. 32 Pierce, Harem, 113–49, for more information on the Imperial Harem institution, hierarchal structure, and the networks of power within the harem. 33 Pierce, Harem, 38.

Veiled Truths


noblemen and officials of the court, to continue to influence decision-making, and oversaw administrative and housekeeping duties within the sultan’s household, going even so far as to train the women waiting on the sultan or his mother, comprised mainly of the female domestic slaves mentioned earlier. 34 Sir Anthony touched on this briefly, acknowledging the influence of the sultana. Although he considered female influence a weakness of the sultan’s court and further emphasized the backwardness of the Ottoman culture, his narrative, indicating this influence, later encouraged scholars and Ottoman historians to further examine the structure of the royal court household, since most of the source material available to scholars consisted of European accounts. 35 Women in Suleiman’s court contributed to their society outside the harem, including funding the building of mosques, schools, wells, and soup kitchens for travelers and the poor. 36 They also invested in businesses, although a male proxy was often sent to represent the investment, since elite women did not often venture outside the harem or involve themselves directly in business. Thus it economically benefitted this male-dominated society to enable advantageous marriages, particularly with high-ranking women. Queen Elizabeth knew of the influence of the sultanate both within and outside of the Ottoman royal court. As a woman, she could use this knowledge in a way her European ruler counterparts could not; she contacted the sultana Walide Safiye directly, in an attempt to gain military aid against Spain in the 1580s, using her excommunication by the pope and her subsequent heretic status as common cause between England and the Ottoman Empire. 37 While she was not successful in gaining the aid she desired, she did manage to secure better trading rights for the English merchants dealing with and in the Ottoman Empire. Yet this was not common knowledge for the Sherley brothers or their European compatriots and was not reflected in their writings.

34 Leslie Peirce, “Beyond Harem Walls,” 42–43; see also Pierce, Harem, 91–112, on the power structure and influence of the Sultanate comprised of the “Queen Mother” and other influential women. 35 Rudi Matthee, “From the Battlefield to the Harem: Did Women’s Seclusion Increase from Early to Late Safavid Times?” in New Perspective on Safavid Iran: Empire and Society, ed. Colin P. Mitchell (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), 110; see also Zilfi, Women in the Ottoman Empire, 3–5, pertaining specifically to Ottoman women source material; and Maria Szuppe, “The ‘Jewels of Wonder’: Learned Ladies and Princess Politicians in the Provinces of Early Safavid Iran,” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Hambly, 325, for more sources pertaining to Safavid women’s involvement in the public sphere. 36 Seng, “Invisible Women,” 239; see also Peirce, Harem, 40. 37 Lisa Jardine, “Gloriana Rules the Waves: Or, The Advantage of Being Excommunicated (And a Woman),” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 14 (2004): 56; see also Jerry Brotton, The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam (New York: Penguin Books, 2016), 59–62, on Elizabeth’s excommunication and subsequent movement towards Islam as ally.


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One of the most common misconceptions about women and gender roles in the Middle East, primarily in the Ottoman Empire, concerns the definition of harem and what it actually entails. The harem, derived from the Arabic root h-r-m, translates to “sacred precinct,” an area permitted only to select people. Within the Persian Empire, the andarun (inside space) or haram amounted to the same sacred space, although this extended out into the bazaar area for shopping for noble and high-ranking women on certain nights, as well as when the shah rode out with his female companions, known as qoroq. 38 In the case of the royal harem in the Ottoman Empire, that restriction meant that only the sultan, the women related to him, and children, both male and female, were allowed within the household; most of the female involvement with the sultan did not entail any sort of sexual relationship. 39 However, given the private nature of the harem, it makes sense that those not allowed within would have their own assumptions about what took place within the sacred spaced dedicated to the sultan or shah and his extended family. The assumptions simply were not correct. Shah Abbas I maintained an extensive court of both Persian nobles and loyal slaves, known as ghulams, captured on various conquests and brought back to the Persian court. Comprised of both men and women, these slaves served in the royal household either as personal bodyguards and soldiers to the shah, or as waitingwomen and concubines in the harem, in a similar occupation to those in the Ottoman royal court. 40 A Circassian waiting-woman named Teresia ended up being given in marriage to Robert Sherley, who brought her with him on his travels into Europe after leaving the Safavid Empire. Because of the esteem in which Shah Abbas appeared to hold Robert, many Europeans in the seventeenth century believed that this particular woman could call herself a member of the royal family, even a direct relative of the shah himself; works published on Robert Sherley after the Persian voyage call Teresia the “the Emperour of Persia his Neece.” 41 This belief lends credence to the fact that the “slaves” of conquered peoples taken by the shah to serve him in the Persian Empire were in fact treated incredibly well, and thus maintained loyalty to the shah. This parallels the Ottoman treatment of domestic slaves serving in the sultan’s court.


See Matthee, “Prostitutes,” 122, for information on the female sacred spaces in the Safavid Persian Empire; see also M.A. Djamalzadeh, “Andarun,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. Touraj Daryaee,, accessed 4 November 2015. 39 Pierce, “Beyond Harem Walls,” 42; see also Peirce, Harem, 39. 40 Matthee, “From the Battlefield,” 103. 41 Anthony Nixon, The Three English brothers Sir Thomas Sherley his trauels, with his three yeares imprisonment in Turkie: his inlargement by his Maiesties letters to the Great Turke: and lastly, his safe returne into England this present yeare, 1607. Sir Anthony Sherley his embassage to the Christian princes. Master Robert Sherley his wars against the Turkes, with his marriage to the Emperour of Persia his neece (London: Printed and are to be sold by John Hodges in Paules Church yard, 1607).

Veiled Truths


These were the women believed to be seen with the shah when riding to meet European envoys; due to Shah Abbas’s reforms that included greater seclusion of women, particularly high-ranking ones, women of high status would not have been uncovered in the presence of strange men. 42 The women accompanying the shah, as well as the female entertainers, had the same status as the courtesan, high-class consorts of wealthy merchants and nobles in the courts of Italian principalities. Knowing courtesans were common in Italy, the country from where the Sherleys first devised their voyage to Persia, the shah may have invited these women specifically to show Persia as civilized as Italy, and to emphasize the difference between them and the Ottoman Empire, for the Sherleys to take back to Europe. 43 The inability to access the private spaces restricted to the high-ranking women and the appearance of courtesan-like dancing girls and musicians at Shah Abbas’s feasts explains the reaction of the Sherleys and their entourage to the “wild” and exotic women accompanying the shah. In this light, the Sherleys’ misconception about the relationship of the Safavid royal family to women within the court becomes more clear. Although a handful of European travelers wrote explanations in letters about who the women appeared to be, it would not be until the twentieth century that scholarly works explained the actual role these women played in the Safavid Persian court. 44 Because most Europeans had only limited access to translations of the Qu’ran, they remained mostly unaware that the Qu’ran allows women to control and maintain the money that comes with them into marriage, known in Persian as the mahriyeh, or bride price. 45 As in the Ottoman Empire, this enabled women to have small influence over education and small business, although this occurred more in later dynasties. Common women had the ability to participate in trade, although they often did so by proxy, like their Ottoman counterparts, since women were not allowed in the bazaar. 46 The exception to this was special nights at the bazaar in Isfahan during Shah Abbas’s reign, market nights open to only women buying and selling. 47 This control of money also enabled the arrangement of beneficial marriages, particularly in the andarun, similar to the Ottoman Empire royal harem. 42 See Matthee, “From the Battlefield,” 101, for more information on the quruq or qoroq ban that forbade men from seeing women of the royal harem during Shah Abbas’ reign; see also Matthee, “Prostitutes,” 122. 43 Matthee, “From the Battlefield,” 102; see also Matthee, “Prostitutes,” for more information on the role of the courtesan in entertaining European travelers to Safavid Persia. 44 Matthee, “From the Battlefield,” 102–3. 45 Irwin, Dangerous Knowledge, 85–86, for information on the European study of the Qu’ran; see also Daniel Customs of Iran, 165, for more information on the Safavid shari’a law and the bride price; and see Szuppe, “‘Jewels of Wonder,’” 331. 46 Seng, “Invisible Women,” 236; see also Matthee, “From the Battlefield,” 110. 47 Matthee, “From the Battlefield,” 102; see also Matthee, “Prostitutes,” 121–22; and Parry, “New and Large Discourse,” 76, for a primary source accounting of women and the bazaar.


lindsay weiler-leon

Many high-ranking and wealthy women within the Safavid Empire also enjoyed opportunities to learn skills attributed more to men, such as literacy and writing. Even prior to the start of the Safavid dynasty, women were writing and publishing poetry and other literary works, albeit under pen names, implying a certain amount of education taking place. 48 While it appears that both boys and girls of all social classes attended primary school in the early part of the Safavid reign, only high-ranking women continued with any sort of education after reaching the age of marriage. The primary-school education also enabled women of any means to dabble in politics, both financially and personally, in addition to noblewomen and royalty. 49 This occurred more during the early part of the Safavid dynasty in the early sixteenth century, but set the precedent for women’s political involvement as seclusion became more prominent in the latter part of the sixteenth century and early part of the seventeenth. 50

Conclusion Many of the impressions of both Ottoman and Persian Empires during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries come from male European accounts, mainly Christian preachers attempting to reach both Christians and Muslims alike, merchants trading goods from the far eastern Asian territories, and nobles developing economic and military relationships with the sultan and the shah on behalf of their monarch. This differed from earlier relationships between Latin Christendom in Western Europe and the spread of Islam during the tenth and eleventh centuries involving mostly warfare and conquest of new territory in the name of either Christianity or Islam. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many European nobles and merchants, after learning about the Orient in European universities, took voyages to the Orient to make money, improve their reputation, or gain prestige with their own royal court. The Sherley brothers, Sir Anthony and Robert, took such a trip to the Safavid Persian Empire, traveling through the Ottoman Empire and accompanied by an entourage of gentlemen from England and France. They wrote about their adventures, providing source material for scholars studying these regions after the seventeenth century. Although the sources were decidedly skewed against Muslim countries in favor of the Eurocentric shift that had occurred during the Renaissance starting in the thirteenth century in Italy, they spoke about inhabitants of these regions, men and women, their customs and cultures, and what sort of events took place while they were there. However, these sources did not provide the

48 49 50

Szuppe, “‘Jewels of Wonder,’” 327. Ibid., 332. Mathee, “From the Battlefield,” 111.

Veiled Truths


complete picture of the customs and cultures of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, particularly the reality of women’s lives. Women residents in both the Ottoman and Safavid Empires enjoyed far more opportunities in their culture and society than European accounts give them credit for. Only in the last few decades have women and gender studies of the Middle East given women the agency they deserve. 51 Women of all classes in both regions maintained the money they brought into the marriage, enabling them to participate in business, education, and investment. High-ranking women exerted a certain amount of power within the harem structure, which in turn influenced political and military policy to a certain extent. There appeared to be far more diversity in women’s roles in Muslim society than what European men would initially have their readers think. While women represented both the exotic and “wild” nature of countries outside of the European sphere and influence, as well as the repression and barbarism of southwest Asia, their lives were far more full and diverse than European impressions and stereotyped viewpoints offered.


Babayan, “A Glimpse,” 349–51.

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity: The XTaBay Legend and its Resonances Sharonah Esther Fredrick

Antonio Mediz Bolio’s skillful retelling of the Xtabay legend is one of the few postcolonial era versions that preserves genuine elements of Maya cosmology, while, of course, incorporating Mediz Bolio’s great talent as a master of Spanish-language prose. This is not to insinuate that the Xtabay is some folkloric recreation artificially frozen in time; rather, it illustrates aspects of pre-Columbian Maya culture as they have survived and evolved over five centuries of often violent cultural contact between the Maya and Spanish, English, and Mexican mestizo society. The Xtabay is a Maya manifestation of a universal human archetype: the femme fatale. One could find external similarities between the Xtabay and the man-killing sirens of Homer’s Odyssey; as well as with the infamous first wife of Adam, Lilith, feared she-demon of medieval Judeo-Spanish mythology; and, of course, John Keats’s alluring La belle dame sans merci. This is an intriguing figure in our consciousness: the heartless woman who ensnares and ultimately undoes even the most conceited male suitor. She is a constant motif in folk-tales the world over, and her image continues to both haunt and plague us in contemporary music, movies, and prose. Mediz Bolio’s Xtabay thus partakes of a general and particular nature, being both an ever-present trope in oral and written literature and, in this case, a perilous figure unique to Maya symbolism, in pre- and post-Conquest phases. In the decades since the legend of the Xtabay first appeared in print, her story has spread to the Caribbean and beyond, encountering its most recent, and charming, English-language embodiment in a book of local folktales from the Virgin Islands, Tales of St. John (Suger 2001). The Xtabay’s Spanish-language bibliography, together with its Maya originals, may be traced back to a bilingual version of the story from 1939, “La Xtabay y la Xtabentun” (that last word refers to a flower that will be discussed shortly), which first appeared anonymously, in the Maya-language Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp. 203–21.


DOI 10.1484 / M.ASMAR-EB.5.126385


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Yikal Maya Than, a summary of Maya tales, legends, and myths. Her magical biography had been transmitted orally by Maya villagers in the centuries since the brutal subjugation of Yucatan by the Montejos (father and son Conquistadores) in the 1540s. But we should not assume that the Xtabay’s legend has always been oral. Maya codices and hieroglyphic manuscripts were burned en masse by the fanatical Bishop Diego de Landa in 1562 in the Yucatec town of Mani, and it is very possible that the Xtabay may have seen her origins in the written language of the Maya before that language’s written use was discontinued by the fire-breathing Landa. That literary bonfire marked the introduction of the Inquisition to the area of Central America, a fact often scurrilously denied by apologists for Spanish imperialism, who point to the fact that officially, the Inquisition had no control over the Indians of the New World, directly subject to the Crown. Such an argument seeks to blur a distinction of powers not at all evident in Landa’s time: the Franciscan clergy, to which Landa belonged, was fully empowered to assume “extraordinary” Inquisitorial powers, and Landa himself was “empowered” to do so, thereby embarking upon a campaign of torture, religious persecution, and, above all, obliteration of the written Maya language, deemed by the clergy to be a tool of the devil. 1 A legend such as that of the Xtabay, in which a sensual woman is celebrated whilst a more “virtuous” one is excoriated, would not have been at all to the Counter Reformation Church’s liking. By the same token, it is also possible that the Xtabay story grew up as a reaction to European Puritanism and its incompatibility with Maya societal mores that, though far from the exotic and somewhat “orientalized” vision of native American life purveyed by 19th- and 20th-century historical novels, certainly did not share dichotomous notions of sin and purity as being linked to what the priests of the sixteenth century would have codified as inappropriate sexual behavior. The Maya definitely had — and have — a firm notion of right and wrong; but sensuality does not signify for them what it apparently did for the Inquisition-era clergy. The Xtabay as femme fatale is botanically linked in the Yucatec mind with the flower called the Xtabentun, which evokes her metonymically from the moment of her death, even as it continues to intoxicate those who consume her liquor today. The name Xtabentun may be translated Ish-Ta-Ben-Tun, Ish being the female prefix common to Maya women in the Classic (100–900 ad) and post-Classic period (900–1521 ad). 2 The term ta to this day signifies a local flower in the Campeche 1

Such a phenomenon of extraordinary Inquisitorial powers being exercised over the Indians was in no way unique to Central America. Karen Spalding, in her masterful tract Huarochiri: An Andean Society under Inca and Spanish Rule (1988) has documented similar processes applied to the Yunca and Yauyo people of the Huarochiri highlands near Lima during the 17th century. The Yunca and Yauyo, like the Maya, were somewhat notorious for maintaining their beliefs in their pre-Incan deities, Pariacaca and Chaupinamca, several generations after the Spanish Conquest. 2 The most famous example of this prefix is undoubtedly the mother of the Hero Twins, Ixqiq, in the Popul Vuh, whose name Dennis Tedlock translated alternately as Lady Blood or Lady Blood Moon in his definitive English-language translation of the Popul Vuh (1996). It should be

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


region of the Yucatan peninsula; ben is a term that occurs as one of the sacred daynames — the thirteenth, in the sacred Maya calendar of twenty days and thirteen number headings — and is defined by the Guatemalan Academy of Maya Language as referring to young or unripe corn; and tun is of course one of the most widely used and known of all Maya words, referring as it does to both “stone” and “day,” linking the primordial and most ancient substance on earth, the rock, with the passing of time. The indivisibility of time and space, 3 the feminine presence, the young/ unripe plant, and the flower, all congeal in the post-mortem representation of the sensuous Xtabay. That flower is believed to have been the one that bloomed when this woman, known originally by the derisive title of “Xkeban” (literally, a “female giver of sex” in Yucatec Maya) died. The legend transposes the seemingly profligate but warm-hearted and generous Xtabay with her nemesis, the superficially upright but prudish Utz Colel (literally, “good damsel”). When Utz Colel, who has never seduced or been seduced, dies, her body exudes a foul odor, identified ever after with the tzacam cactus, a spiny and foul-smelling bit of flora that Yucatec horticulturalists generally avoid. Such a contrast, between the sweet-smelling blossom that invites closeness and the reeking cactus flower, pretty to behold but impossible (sexually) to pluck, is more than a paradigm for the inner natures of the Xtabay and Utz Colel. It may actually hearken back to what the researcher Karl Taube, in his studies on the Maya afterlife, determines as the definitive symbol of the Maya Eternity: the flower itself. 4 Says Taube: “In Classic Maya art, floating or falling flowers and jewels mark the heady atmosphere and place of honored spirits, the realm of the flower world” (2004, 78). And as Taube reminds us, the flower is associated by the Maya with the all-important symbol of breath, of breathing and of air; 5 the idea of the Xtabay’s cadaver exuding a sweet flower-based perfume, while that of Utz Colel propagates a foul stench, is quite pertinent. Fragrance foreshadows the place of the Xtabay in the afterlife. In other words, it is a sort of divine dictum on the life of the Xtabay, noted that the Popul Vuh was originally written in sixteenth century Quiche Maya, a related but not an identical language to Yucatec Maya. Nonetheless, the female honorific remains the same. “Xkik, daughter of Blood Gatherer and mother of Hunahpu and Xbalanque. As a moon goddess she may account only for the waxing moon, leaving the waning moon to her mother in law, Xmucane, and the full moon to Xbalanque” (Tedlock 1996, 338). 3 The all-encompassing concept in Quechua, “pacha,” contains both time and space within its definition. Catherine Allen notes, in her excellent article “When Utensils Revolt” (1998, 22): “A pacha is a specific configuration of matter, activity, and moral relationship, a state of experience.” 4 Taube, in his highly original article “Flower MountainConcepts of life, beauty and paradise among the Classic Maya,” (2004) has convincingly demonstrated that the flower in Maya religious art was a tangible symbol of the spirit and not merely a decorative embellishment. 5 “The floral paradise closely related to the concept of a breath soul, a vitalizing force frequently symbolized by flowers or jade” (Taube 2004, 69).


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as opposed to her outwardly virtuous but stingy and hard-hearted virginal counterpart, Utz Colel. The tale of the Xtabay can thus be viewed as a sort of moral fable where appearances are delusions and moral judgments are skewed: people view the good as bad (Xtabay) and the bad as good (Utz Colel). And though the Xtabay, whose sexual abandon places her inevitably on the wrong side of the moral arbiter, is portrayed as superficially questionable, the truth reveals itself in the end. Her death is sweet, and Utz Colel’s death is physically and ethically nauseating. Before approaching the strikingly beautiful segment of the Xtabay myth by Mediz Bolio, which constitutes the crux of this article, a run-through of the basic outlines of the legend is in order. They have remained remarkably consistent since the first publications of the Xtabay legend in academic journals of the late 1930s, and may or may not predate the publication of Mediz Bolio’s classic Tierra del faisan y del venado (Land of the Partridge and the Deer) in 1922. Maya writing and the Maya imagination with its accompanying bilingualism are an ongoing phenomenon, and an older story may have been grafted onto a more recent framework that expressed ethical rejection of the hypocrisy of a puritanical, post-Conquest society. Either way, they provide a Maya understanding of an eternal axiological dilemma: the dichotomy of generosity and selfishness, the misleading nature of the physical shape of things. The Xtabay, who lives in an unspecified time but one that occurs firmly within the boundaries of the pre-Conquest world, when the Maya culture and its gods held sway in Yucatan, is sought after by her endless suitors and shunned by more prudishly minded villagers. She is, of course, the only figure in the Maya countryside who tends to the marginalized members of society, a fact alluded to by her own luminal status as a “woman of pleasure.” (The term “prostitute” may be too much of a westernization to apply to this character. Besides, there is no part of the legend that implies that she demands payment for her sexual favors.) In fact, the Xtabay is showered with opulent gifts for the boon of her love-making, but she does not avail herself of any of them. She distributes them among the poor, traveling from village to village and tending to the elderly, the orphans, and the infirm, while simultaneously enchanting all the able-bodied men with her sexual arts. Meanwhile Utz Colel, who enjoys the respect of the villagers of Mayab but who detests the Xtabay for her lecherous ways, lives alone and maintains (combatively) her virginity. She allows no man to touch her and touches no man. And, unlike the Xtabay whom she reviles, she also detests the poor and the infirm. Utz Colel never shows any sign of kindness to the poor or the sick, as she cannot tolerate disease. She bans all abandoned animals from her dwelling, unlike the Xtabay, who is a protectress of stray mammals, lizards, and birds. And when the Xtabay dies, the villagers are not aware of it, believing that this supposed “witch” has gone adventuring in another town. There is, however, a persistent fragrance of the beauteous Xtabentun flower, one that eventually leads the inquiring townsfolk to the house of the Xtabay, itself distanced from the central living area. There, in the physical and moral periphery of the Xtabay’s abode, they discover her lonely cadaver, intact

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


and sweet-smelling, tended to by the animals that she has collected and loved during her life. When she is buried, the sweet odors fill the air, the flowers that, if we adhere to Karl Taube’s vision, are the symbol of the Hereafter itself. Utz Colel, meanwhile, is as uncharitable as ever. She denounces the perfume of the Xtabay’s death as witchcraft, only to be eventually undone by her own argument. When she dies, surrounded by the admiring townspeople who sing her praises as an uncorrupted virgin, her body radiates an odor so grotesque that the villagers must flee from her final resting place. And unlike the Xtabay, who roams the lands of Mayab in spirit form, tending to the poor, the infirm, and the orphaned, aiding the stray animals that people have left to their own sad fate, Utz Colel remains as mean in spirit in death as she was in life. It is here that the legend does indeed take a twist: the apparition that we think of as the Xtabay may be, indeed, a camouflaged image of the vindictive Utz Colel, returned as a ghost to chastise the men whose presence she so feared in life. That tradition, common in contemporary Maya oral and literary tradition, is nonetheless not as applicable in Mediz Bolio’s retelling of the story. There, the Xtabay does not ensnare innocent wanderers, only vain and pompous young men who seem to be deserving of the Xtabay’s anger. This paradigm, of the avenging apparition, is hardly limited to Maya legend; it finds many parallels in the traditions of Native American peoples throughout the Americas. One of the most interesting and unusual parallels may be found in the Lambayeque culture of northern Peru, which flourished roughly between 700 and 1100 ad. Known for their magnificent artistry in goldsmithing and lithic art, the rulers of Lambayeque had, so the account goes, arrived by sea at the time when the previous Moche Empire began to decline. 6 That earlier culture had long venerated the figure of the Owl Priestess, the female shaman whose visions inspired the actions of Moche rulers and who occupied a role roughly comparable to advisor and royal prophet, a role unthinkable for European or Islamic women who were her historical contemporaries. The Moches were absorbed into the Sican dynasties of Lambayeque, and those last rulers maintained the primacy of the female seer. She appears again, but in a sinister form, when the last sovereign of Sican, Fempellec, 7 mistakenly decides to heed the sorceress’s urgings to topple the green stone statue of his lineage’s founder, Naymlap. She seduces/bewitches Fempellec, a transgression that provokes pestilence, flood, and finally Fempellec’s disgraced fall from power. 8 The sorceress continues to appear in Peruvian folklore as a sensual and threatening

6 Alva and Longhena point out that the Lambayeque rulers had, as a divinized progenitor, “the god hero Naymlap, who, according to tradition, founded the Sican civilization after reaching land from the sea on a raft” (2007, 126). 7 Moseley 2001, 262. 8 Miguel Cabello Valboa first recorded this legend in 1586 in his Miscelanea Antartida. A fine version of this colonial compendium may be found in the 1951 edition; see Cabello Valboa (1586/1951).


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figure but one who, as in Mediz Bolio’s retelling of the Xtabay narrative, limits herself to castigating those who deserve such comeuppance. Some outstanding researchers in the field of Peruvian pre-Columbian culture, such as Alana Cordy-Collins of the University of San Diego, have noted certain similarities between the cultures of northern Peru and the Mayas in terms of religious ritual. Certainly the attitude towards female priestesses was more in agreement between Moches and the Mayas than between the Mayas and the most dominant culture in their region, the Toltecs, and later their Aztec successors. It would indeed be tempting to speculate upon the possibility of early trade routes that may have connected some of the cultures of Central and South America, particularly since recent archaeology has revealed that pre-Columbian trade routes were far more extensive than was previously thought. 9 (Such possibilities remain an open question for debate: the Museum of Pre-Columbian Jade in San Jose, Costa Rica, does reveal tangible evidence of interchange of both Maya and Andean goods within the area of today’s Costa Rica, although that does not necessarily imply any wide-scale interchange between these cultures or that the region of contact extended beyond such trade posts.) Nonetheless, Costa Rica provides us with yet another parallel for the Xtabay legend, in her more punishing aspect as a disciplinarian of vain and pompous suitors. That would be the story of the witch Zarate. 10 Zarate, the beautiful enchantress of the Guetarre Indians (residents of Costa Rica’s Talamanca province and speakers of a Chibchan-based tongue possibly deriving from the forests of modern-day Colombia), was believed to have fallen deeply in love with a Conquistador, Alfonso de Perez y Colma. Unbeknownst to her (and in keeping with the model established by Hernan Cortes), he actually already had a fiancé back in Spain. Infuriated by his refusal to marry her, and infuriated as well by the townspeople’s revilement of her (their dislike is presented as far stronger than the relatively cautionary arm’s length at which the Maya villagers hold the Xtabay), Zarate decides to wreak havoc on Conquistador and villager alike. Through the conjuring of a soft rain, the deceptively gentle “cilampa,” 11 townsfolk and Spaniards are transformed into lizards and mute animals. They would not speak to Zarate in life, and now they will bear that silence throughout the centuries.


Recent finds in eleventh-century pottery of Pueblo Bonito, in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, reveal traces of cacao, evidence of contact with Central American cultures far to the south of them. Continuing research in this area is easily consulted at the American Museum of Natural History: “Curious Collections: Chocolate Pots from Chaco Canyon,” news/2011/07/curious-collections-chocolate-pots-from-chaco-canyon. 10 A fine retelling of this story in Spanish may be found in Gaju 1989, 44–53: “La gran piedra de Aquetzarri.” Unfortunately the story remains untranslated into English at present. 11 Rubio, in the glossary provided with his retelling of the Zarate myth ( 53) [add to Bibliography], defines the Guetarre Indian term “cilampa” as “llovizna” in Spanish, which I translate as a light soft rain, in other words, a drizzle.

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


As for the Conquistador and heartbreaker, Zarate transforms him into a most apropos animal for his pride and conceit: a strutting peacock that she leads around the neck by a golden chain. It is not a happy fate for the proud soldier, but it does strike the contemporary reader, and possibly the colonial-era listener, as some form of poetic justice. Similarly, the Costa Rican narrative meshes well with the idea of Zarate/Xtabay as a seductive witch, but one who metes out her spells to those whose behavior merits them. There is yet another literary and legendary figure, from pre-Christian Ireland but enduring long after evangelization as a fixture of the Celtic imagination, whom we may equate, to a certain degree, with the Xtabay: the keening, longhaired banshee. In this case, any cultural and literary influence of banshee tales on the narrative evolution of the Xtabay would have to have been in the very late post-Conquest phase, when English and Irish travelers entered the Maya world as traders, and sometimes as subversive allies (the pirate Dampier in late seventeenth-century Campeche) in the struggle against Spanish power. There is, to the best of this author’s knowledge, absolutely no evidence of any historical contact or exchange in this particular case, although the oral process was alive and well and voyagers generally carried, and transplanted, their folklore with them. But, as Western readers of European witch-lore will doubtless recognize, the Irish female augury of death, the banshee (literally woman of the fairies, bean-si in Irish Gaelic) is, like the Xtabay, an alluring and somewhat terrifying figure. She bewitches and frightens, appearing by rivers and crossroads (liminal boundary areas in most of the world’s folklores) washing the clothes of the soon to be deceased . . . and, like the Xtabay, combing her hair. 12 As we shall see in this article’s conclusion, hair will also be the key to unlocking, and diminishing, the Xtabay’s force. As with the biblical Samson, the symbol is two-fold, and strength and weakness spring Janus-like from the same source. The seduction inherent in the allure of a woman’s long hair has long been a motif in world folklore: one might think of references in Japanese poetry regarding the excitement of a woman’s unfastened tresses; and, of course, Rapunzel, in whose hair (and bosom) the hapless prince entwines himself. We should not be surprised that shared symbols crop up in widely separated narratives: human beings, despite external variations, are ultimately one and the same species, and their basic drives of survival — one of which is, of course, sexual/reproductive — will inevitably produce a somewhat repetitive repertoire, even as they traverse the globe. 12 Kathleen Briggs in her An Encyclopedia of Fairies (1976, 15) gives this description of the bean-si, taken from Lady Wildes’ Ancient Legends of Ireland (vol. l, p 259–63): “she may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees, lamenting with veiled face, or flying past in the moonlight, crying bitterly. . .” Note that the banshee, like the Xtabay, appears always in the company of trees. Trees, in Maya culture, are shelter and, more importantly, the metaphysical axis of the universe. That axis, the ceiba tree sacred to the Xtabay, thus defies conventional definitions of life and death.


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Mediz Bolio would have been aware of such folkloric commonalities, but it was his sharp eye for Maya culture and detail that rendered his retelling of the story by far the most captivating and, we may add, the most literarily successful to date. The author’s evocation of “the vanilla smell in a woman’s hair” is a vividly tactile image, recreating, as it does, the geographical reality that gave birth to the Xtabay legend. That reality is “Mayab,” which specifically refers to the Yucatec region of Maya civilization, rising to the cultural foreground in the Post-Classic period (9001521 AD). This area constituted the matrix of all of Mediz Bolio’s research, and it is a land of chocolate and vanilla, species first cultivated there by the Mayas 3,000 years ago. Their aroma penetrates the food, the perfume, and the air of Yucatan. The “vanilla” scent of the Xtabay is a uniquely Maya motif, impregnating the woman’s body with the region’s sweet spices. Another one of Mediz Bolio’s poetic descriptions of the Xtabay’s beauty — “fragrant as incense burnt before the gods” — deftly invokes a pre-Christian, and contemporary, devotional practice of the Maya peoples: the consecration of the incense smoke to the Spirit World. The pungent copal rods, fabricated out of tree resin, send up a dense smoke that signifies the “Vision Serpent,” the voice of the ancestors whose appearance graces, and frightens, the Maya noblewoman who has summoned him. That noblewoman, Lady Xook, mother of a Maya king, is cast as the beholder and receptor of the scepter-bearing prince, who in turn arises from within the Serpent’s jaws. 13 Mediz Bolio rightly stresses the impact of the Xtabay’s voice: “when you hear her call your name and you tremble,” owing to the fact that in Maya culture, the name — one’s responsibility to enunciate it and assume it — represents the ability to direct one’s own destiny. The famed Hero Twins of the Popul Vuh, Hunahpu and Ixbalaamque, do not reveal their true names to the Lords of the Underworld until they in fact have triumphed over the Lords. By the same token, the Twins frustrate the designs of the Infernal Lords at the outset, unraveling their protective cloaks of anonymity and, significantly, learning each one of the Lords’ names. Therefore, when the Xtabay pronounces the name of her victim, she has already entrapped 13

One of the most famous portraits of Maya art is the Yaxchilan lintel nu. 25 (originally from Yucatan and transferred by the British archaeologist Maudsley to England, where it currently resides in the British Museum). A fine reproduction of it may be found in Schele and Miller (1986, 198–99). That lintel reveals the astonished face of the noblewoman Lady Xook, peering at the Vision Serpent that she has conjured up from her offering of sacred tree resin. It dates to the late Classic Period (  680–750 ad). In the preceding lintel nu. 24, Lady Xook is offering up a lower-scale sacrifice, not human but simply her own blood from a painful, knotted cord that she has passed through her tongue. That was a priestly rite common at the time among Yucatec Mayas, and Lady Xook was thus presented as a worthy member of the priestly caste. Some, but not all, Native American cultures permitted women to occupy sacred functions, among them the Mapuche of South America, whose machis prophet is specifically designated as a female; and the Iroquois of the northeast United States, where women chose the leaders in tribes and could also depose them.

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


him, stopped him dead in his tracks, both literally (he is a night traveler) and figuratively. By pronouncing his name, his numen and his destiny are irrevocably under the sway of the Xtabay’s power. The Xtabay, who waylays male travelers venturing out onto the roads of Mayab at night, is evanescent, intangible. Mediz Bolio remarks: “She escapes from you like a hummingbird and you follow after her like the thrust of a dart.” Particularly appropriate is the hummingbird motif here: most Mesoamerican societies, from the Aztecs in the northern Mexican valley and all the Maya peoples, from Veracruz down to Belize, viewed, and view, the hummingbird as an invincible, if diminutive, warrior, whose deceptively pretty appearance belies its strength. No metaphor could be more apt to delineate the prowess of a female fighter. The Aztecs, of course, compared their principal solar deity, Huitzilopochtli, to a hummingbird, but they would never have employed such an idea with those of the female gender. The Maya, in contrast, maintained a tradition of outstanding female protagonists in their literature, some of whom — such as Grandmother Ixmucane in the Popul Vuh, even achieve co-creator status with other male divinities. (Similar traditions may be found among the Native Americans of North America, especially among the Lakota Sioux and their stories of the Creator and Protectress White Buffalo Woman.) The idea, then, of the Xtabay “escaping like a hummingbird,” should not be seen as a Western-style nineteenth-century reminiscence of female fragility. On the contrary, it is a Maya indication of the Xtabay’s steely and resolute character. 14 Such steeliness manifests itself in the almost vampire-like depictions of the Xtabay’s penetrating eyes. They are eyes that stab and spellbind, simultaneously. Mediz Bolio wrote: “They will be like the spears for hunting monkeys with backward curving barbs that once sunk in can never come out.” Yucatan’s ancient forests become palpable in this literary fusion of love, surrender, and pain. As in love, Mediz Bolio presents us with the hunter and the hunted, and the male is cast, uncharacteristically for Western eyes, as the prey. These forests are brimming with unusual weapons — “the backward curving barbs” — and the omnipresent monkeys that chatter incessantly, as do humans. According to Maya tradition ranging from Guatemala through the Yucatan Peninsula, monkeys were the once human halfbrothers of the Popul Vuh’s Hero Twins. It is precisely here that Mediz-Bolio’s use of the “spears for monkeys” simile demonstrates the homicidal nature of the Xtabay, since the monkey is the closest living relative to the human in Maya spiritual thought


Female indigenous warriors in Peru are mentioned by the colonial-era Spanish-language mestizo chroniclers Guaman Poma de Ayala (1615) and Garcilaso El Inca (1609) as having fought Inca encroachments on their territory in the period before the Spanish Conquest. Even earlier, Augustin de Zarate (1555) mentions female indigenous fighters in clashes with Spanish troops. And in Quechua, the term “warmi auca” (women of combat) appears in colonial texts and in modern-day speech. In Aztec and European society, such terms were far less common.


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The Xtabay’s eyes produce the phenomenon of monkey death, and this death will be extended, metonymically, to the human victim upon whom she has set her sights. That man, according to Mediz Bolio, “walks alone, and is arrogant and thinks of love.” He is a self-centered Prince Charming, without the latter’s ability to commit to one true love. 15 And this frivolity will not go unpunished. The Xtabay legend is essentially a Maya legend-cum-parable. Its moral message is clear, warning men not to stray from family commitments, and it was a message entirely understandable in the context of the tightly woven family and clan nucleus that comprised the base of the traditionally self-sufficient Maya village. 16 The consequence of the man’s conceit will be eternal captivity, at the base of a tree, the ceiba, associated by the Maya with the sacred representation of the Universal Axis, the World Tree so omnipresent in cosmologies throughout the globe. 17 The men are consigned to a sort of nothingness: “In the depths of the earth, where the enchanted ceiba trees reach their roots, are hundreds of thousands of captive young men that have been taken by the Xtabay.” By entering into this metaphysical exile from Life, the Xtabay removes the men from the Maya cosmic cycle, one that includes not only death but also constant regeneration and rebirth. Put in Maya terms, these prisoners cannot ever be reborn in the Celestial Realm because they have never gone down to the Underworld of Xibalba to die. These men are not consigned to hell. They languish in endless forgetfulness, the antithesis of the higher consciousness so prized by the Maya spiritual guides, the ah b’e. 18 Mediz Bolio succeeded in translating a Maya legend for Western readers through an emphasis on specifically Maya icons — the ceiba, the hummingbird, and countless others — proving that a universal narrative line may be enhanced, and not obstructed, through a careful analysis of the circumstances in which that narrative was originally constructed. His reconstruction of the Xtabay legend cannot have failed to impact the social consciousness of his first Mexican lectors of the 1920s. At that point, the War of the Castes in Yucatan was less than a century old, and the stark reminders of the 1840s conflict could be found in every pathway of 1920s Mayab. Owing to the Mexican central government’s penchant for giving 15 A similar male motif may be found in the Quechua-speaking areas of Peru and northwest Argentina, in songs and poems that warn of the Llulla Mak’ta, the handsome Village Liar, who goes through the mountains breaking women’s hearts. Its parallels in Western literature are, without a doubt, too numerous to mention. 16 The British historian Nick James has explained in great detail the importance of the selfsustaining Maya settlement, in pre- and post-Colonial settings. Infidelity would certainly not have contributed to social cohesion. 17 Welsh Celtic and Norse mythologies, for example, share this idea of the Yggdrassil, the world-tree. 18 Tedlock’s masterful translation of the Popul Vuh includes a fine introduction that details the place of life, death, and spiritualism in the ancient and contemporary Maya worlds (1996, 21–60).

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


lip-service to the cause of Maya cultural autonomy while it determinedly confiscated their land for the benefit of mestizo hacienda owners, the Maya of the 1840s had risen up, only to be brutally repressed and some even sold into slavery in Cuba (Cuba retained the slave system until 1876) by the officials in Mexico City. The 1920s in Mexico were hardly propitious to the Maya historical narrative: it evoked political rebellion. That was not in keeping with a falsely unitary “Aztec” narrative that was being spun by Mexico’s leaders (and enthusiastically embraced by supposedly “revolutionary” muralists such as Diego Rivera, as can be seen in his frescoes for the Ministry of Education in Mexico City, begun in 1923). In that imaginary history, in which the Aztec Empire was presented as a unifying force that pervaded all of Mexican consciousness, the great multiplicity of Mexico’s indigenous populations was subsumed under the heavy guise of the Nahuatl confederation, itself subsumed under the equally heavy guise of Spain. But such simple reductionism in Mexico ignored basic facts of the Conquest: the Aztecs had been hated almost to the extent that the Conquistadors would be (due in both cases to their extreme bellicosity and military brutality). Following the remarkably swift collapse of all Aztec resistance in 1521 — their opposition to Cortes’s armies lasted barely three years — many other Native American groups continued to fight on, including the Mayas, until well into the eighteenth century. 19 Maya culture was therefore a problematic proposition for the Mexico of the 1920s, whose more submissive (because thoroughly defeated) Aztec past was easier to deal with than the fractious and very defiant Maya population, who had managed to preserve their language, traditions, and belief systems in a more coherent manner than most of their Nahuatl-speaking cousins. Mediz Bolio’s book, La tierra del faisan y del venado, from which the Xtabay tale is extracted, had been published in 1922. It stood in sharp contrast to the “Aztec nostalgia” that was being propagated by both the Mexican government and its far-left critics: all, except the Mayaists, were in agreement regarding the fabrication of an Aztec identity that was not, even in terms of census, the dominant one among Mexico’s heterogeneous indigenous peoples. But, whatever its detractors among the Aztec-based officialdom, the appearance of Mediz Bolio’s book coincided, felicitously, with a burst of interest on the part of archaeologists and anthropologists in Maya history. La tierra del faisan y del venado would resonate with the likes of Alfred Tozzer, Sylvanus Morley, and 19

Prominent Mayaist David Stuart has pointed out the importance of the collapse of the last independent Maya kingdom in Yucatan, Tayasal/Nohpeten, only finally defeated in 1697: “Hundreds of troops [of Martin de Ursua] set off from the lakeshores for Nohpeten, some in a large boat bearing cannon. But the great battle of conquest never came; when they arrived they found Nohpeten almost empty, its houses, temples and palaces largely abandoned” (2011, 16–17). The Mayas had escaped into the forest, carrying what they could of their culture with them. Meanwhile, other indigenous groups further to the South, notably the Mapuche of Argentina and Chile, proved just as tenacious at resisting the Conquistadors as they had to invading Incan armies.


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Adele Breton in the English-speaking world; and it would draw the attention of the Spanish-speaking public to the ruins of Chichen Itza and Palenque, as well as to the very living inhabitants, speakers of the Maya language in all of its varied dialects, who lived beside such places. The strong female protagonists portrayed in Mediz Bolio’s text, of which the Xtabay (and Utz Colel) are but two, were also highly significant in terms of providing an ideological alternative to the Nahuatl/Aztec paradigm. As opposed to the folklore of Aztec/Nahuatl-based sources, with the woman cast in a subservient and abandoned role, the Maya woman would share more, ideologically, with her Native American cousins farther to the south: the Andean women who, as Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock has pointed out, often followed their men into battle. 20 In contrast, the Aztec supernatural female of oral and written tradition did little but submit and lament her fate. She was the Llorona, the phantasm who roamed the streets of Tenochtitlan, the shattered Aztec capital, after midnight, weeping for the fate of her sons but entirely incapable of averting their doom. Infamously, she was also Malinche, Cortes’s Indian translator and mistress who bore him a son and then conveniently faded away into obscurity when the Conquistador’s Spanish bride arrived. 21 But there is a particular point that must be better elaborated in order to understand the resonance of the Xtabay myth, particularly in contrast to the more submissive Aztec model. That point is the access that Maya culture historically afforded the woman to the higher spiritual realms. This status was shared with Moche women in Peru, and Guetarre women in Costa Rica, but it was unattainable in the Aztec world. A Nahuatl speaking woman could never conceptualize anything similar to the Xtabay, given the strongly paternalistic bent of Aztec society. Lady K’abal Xook, of the famed Yaxchilan lintels (late seventh to mideighth centuries) is, as we have made clear earlier, seen summoning the Vision Serpent of the ancestors. It is an honor to which no Aztec woman could ever aspire; the sacerdotal lineages in Tenochtitlan were as male as was the papacy in Europe (stories of Pope Joan notwithstanding). Anna Lanyon has described clearly the gender divisions made 20 Cock’s research is particularly interesting regarding the 1536 Inca uprising against the Pizarros in both Cuzco and Lima. In the last, evidence has been found of women traveling with, and aiding, Indian insurgents on the battlefield. 21 For the record, Conquistadors rarely treated Spanish women any better than they did Amerindian ones. For example, Cortes was rumored for many years to have killed Catalina, his Spanish wife, by strangling her in November of 1522, shortly after her arrival in Mexico. In relation to the many years of litigious struggle by Catalina’s mother to indict Hernan Cortes for the murder of her daughter, “the fact that Cortes had summoned carpenters and placed his wife’s body in a closed coffin without allowing time for the usual vigil to be observed, suggested to many of his contemporaries that he had murdered her” (Lanyon 1999, 142). As for Malinche, Cortes rid himself of her unwanted post-Conquest presence by marrying her off to one of his underlings, Juan Jaramillo.

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patent by Cortes and Malinche’s admission into the inner sanctum of Montezuma, a place that the female Malinche is permitted to enter purely because of the need for a linguistic interpreter between Montezuma and the Conquistador. To see what she [Malinche] did that day, and live, made her unique among Mesoamericans, and she would have known it. In her world, only priests and victims made the long and terrible journey up the hundreds of steps to the temple platform, and only the priests returned. (Lanyon, 125)

The priests, of course, in Aztec society, were all male. The Xtabay myth, with its prominent and powerful woman (or women, if we include her nemesis and, by some accounts, her post-mortem impostor, Utz Colel) is a glorious composite of social and cosmological lore. Different and sometimes contradictory elements have accrued to the Xtabay trope during the centuries before her more well-known literary avatars with modern Yucatec authors. 22 It would be reasonable to assume that the Xtabay may in fact be a combination of pre-Columbian sensuality and subsequent rebellion against the post-Conquest Puritanism of the Church. In addition, elements of the romantic historical novel of the nineteenth century doubtless influenced the first collectors of the myth in the twentieth century who recorded anonymous Maya informants. Those informants, in their turn, had been impacted equally by their own Maya culture and the centuries of colonialism to which they had been subjugated. There may be little room for Mayaist purists in the ongoing articulation of the Xtabay myth (which at present embraces animation and YouTube videos that recount contemporary “sightings” of the Xtabay). Those who wish to find an uncorrupted pre-Columbian cosmology, free of any hint of cultural contact in the intervening centuries since the Spanish Conquest, will not find it in the Xtabay story. Nonetheless, her continued apparitions, including those Internet “sightings,” provide us with ample room for optimism regarding ongoing Maya literary creation and, just as significantly, the entry of that creation into non-Maya and mainstream society, which frequently has exoticized the Maya rather than attempting to study that culture in all its complexity. Refusing to relegate itself to the dust-bin of history, or to purist conceptions of some romanticized idea of a “star-gazing” and “hyperspiritualized” Amerindian, 23 the Maya culture has adapted and changed. Their 22 Apart from Mediz Bolio, mention must be made here of another fine modern Maya literati, Ermilo Abreu Gomez; see esp. his Leyendas y consejos del antiguo Yucatan (1985). 23 Such an idea, which still pervades popular misconceptions about the Maya, was actually enshrined in academia by the late Sir Eric Thompson. Thompson was a fine scholar in his own right but a remarkably intolerant man who attempted to prevent the ground-breaking research of Russian linguists such as Knosorov, primarily because Knosorov’s studies led him to question the overly theoretical (and non-phonetic) interpretations that Thompson had devised for the Maya


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older myths continue to illuminate their current literature, written in both Maya and Spanish, in much the same way that contemporary Western writers continue to draw inspiration from their own classical sources. The Xtabay who is recognizable to a twenty-first-century reader may have been unrecognizable to a Classic Period Yucatec scribe, but then, Shakespeare’s vision of ancient Athens, the backdrop for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, would probably have raised eyebrows among many a Classic Period Greek. What is important here, in the narrative sense, is the continuity and strength of the Xtabay myth, capable of absorbing and even engendering new elements as Maya life transforms with time and as non-Maya readers (such as this author) become more acquainted with the richness of Maya literature, past and present. Interestingly enough, some extremely ancient components have survived in the tapestry of the Xtabay myth, and credit must go to researchers at the Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY), in particular to Cecilia Rosado Aviles and Georgina Rosado Alvarado, for having the keen insight to recognize them. 24 These writers observed that there may be a connection between the pre-Hispanic Maya goddess Ixtab — whose name, I would add, shares the semantic root “ta” or “blossom” with the Xtabay — and the Xtabay herself. Citing Sylvanus Morley’s description of Ixtab, the goddess entrusted with the care of the souls of suicide victims, Rosado Aviles and Rosado Alvarado remark, correctly, that such an attitude towards the Xtabay/Ixtab, one that views the goddess as having compassion for suicide victims, would have been unquestionably out of place within the hierarchy of Churchinspired values, in which suicide was deemed one of the worst sins imaginable. I believe this brief but intriguing mention of the protectress of suicides, Ixtab, in relation to the Xtabay, deserves much greater attention than that quick but brilliant observation by the UADY researchers. It may be that here, in the connection between a compassionate face of Death, and the fatal allure of the Xtabay, we have one of the points of origin of a legend that does entwine sex and doom in a complex fashion. Seduction is inextricably bound up with submission and forgetfulness: the male suitors of the Xtabay lie in a torpor at the roots of the Maya world-tree, barely remembering their past lives or their haughty behavior and what led them to such a fate in the first place. Wakefulness and right actions — faithfulness to one’s betrothed, avoidance of roadside temptations and temptresses — are tantamount to life. But if one of the origins of the Xtabay lies in the enigmatic image of the suicide rescuer-goddess Ixtab, who leads her sad souls to a happy floral paradise, then the fact that both the Xtabay and Ixtab are to be found at the base of great shady trees (Morley 1947, 218) must be more than coincidental. Gary Feinman, in much of his hieroglyphs, which he did not fully understand. An excellent discussion of the Thompson–Knosorov divide may be found in Michael Coe’s now classic Breaking the Maya Code (1999). 24 In a fine Spanish-language article entitled “La Xtabay: Mujer, sensualidad y poder en un mito maya — un acercamiento a los arquetipos femeninos” the authors provide a balanced overview of the uses of Xtabay myth in Mexican society in general and Maya culture in particular.

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


research on Central America, has often remarked how Mesoamerican peoples continue to view trees, like the ceiba, as the axis mundi that preserved the levels of our Middle World, Xibalba, place of death and rebirth, below, and Can-or the flowered and jade heaven, above”. The iconic scene of the woman under the tree — Ixtab/ Xtabay — grows clearer if we understand this in the sacred sense: the Xtabay/Ixtab unites the worlds of life and death and life again, concepts that are enshrined in every Maya text from the Popul Vuh to the Book of Prophecy of Chilaam Balaam. The Maya faith emphasized reincarnation and regeneration. Always. Death for the Aztecs was a sordid, and morbid, affair: only warriors, nobles, and women who died in childbirth (warriors in their own right) were admitted into the Aztec paradise of Tlalocan (literally, “sky of the rain-god”). The rest of humanity went to perish in oblivion, after an unpleasant underworld journey that ended in the putrefaction and eventual disappearance of the spirit, which was itself composed of multiple parts, and divided at death. Death in the monotheistic world has other variants, but the three Abrahamic faiths are unanimous in their belief in a final and irrevocable Day of Judgment (although the criteria for salvation may differ greatly). Maya theology has no final Judgment Day, but it does have the promise of eternal renewal. That is why the Hero Twins’ murdered father in the Popul Vuh is resurrected. That is why later oral Maya tradition linked that figure with the Corn God. Corn dies and is reborn, constantly. Xtabay/Ixtab, in their ambiguity and their indefinable stance straddling and merging Life and Death and Life, are more typical of that eternal cycle than they are of the End of Days. In Mayab, the days never end, and death does not have the crushing metaphysical finality with which it was invested in Aztec culture, and in our own. 25 Before proceeding with the Xtabay/Ixtab analogy, it behooves us to clarify the nature of suicide in Maya culture. It was in no way considered a desirable or a good thing, and there was no military cult surrounding it, as there was in medieval Japan, or as exists in certain political spheres today. Ixtab was not prayed to as an ideal; she was looked to as a source of succor and hope for those who had lost their loved ones in this way. The deities and energies whom the Maya reverered were gods of life: the Old Scribe, Itzamna; the Grandmother spirit, Ixmucane; the dragon-like creators of life from the watery deep, Tepeuh and Gukumatz. Their characters are those that predominate in the Popul Vuh and the other theological writings of Maya authorship. Ixtab appears only as a side reference, visually evoked in the Dresden Codex 26 and revered by villagers as one who brings comfort to the families 25 For a superb discussion of Maya belief in the afterlife, there is no better reference than James Fitzsimmons’ Death and the Classic Maya Kings (2009). Using evidence from archaeology, anthropology, and epigraphy, Fitzsimmons displays the relative lack of a deterministic vision of Eternity among Maya culture at its apogee. 26 The Dresden Codex is one of the few surviving Pre-Columbian codices of the Maya, the others having been burnt in Diego de Landa’s religious persecutions of the Maya in the 1560s. According to J. Eric Thompson (1972), whose translation and study of the Codex remains the


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of suicides and to the unfortunate subjects of that act. Ixtab is pictured in the Dresden Codex with a noose around her neck, and there does appear to be a connection between the act of hanging and the goddess. If suicide was accomplished among the Maya more by hanging than by other means, the reason for Ixtab haunting groves of trees and the ubiquitous nature of trees in both the Ixtab and Xtabay stories becomes self-evident. For the tragic suicide victim, the tree is his/her path to a form of Paradise, and Ixtab will lead them. For the pompous young men who break hearts and desert their lady-loves, the tree is their path to perdition, and the Xtabay, conversely, will lead them to it. This is the Maya overworld/underworld view, in which the celestial region reflects, upside down, the goings on in the underworld and vice versa. The Maya Middle World, or uleew, the one in which we live, constitutes a porous channel that leads endlessly to both worlds. It fits in well with all that we know of traditional Maya thought, including their spirituality of present day Yucatan, Guatemala, and Belize. If we view the suicide victim as a marginalized individual, the echoes of Ixtab resound quite positively in the later legend of the Xtabay. Since the Xtabay tends to the ill and the orphaned, the poor and the abandoned, since it is she who takes in injured animals that have outlived their usefulness, it is easier to trace some sort of axiological teaching here. In an indirect way, Ixtab/Xtabay may be compared to Kwan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, since she is the only one specifically designated in the Maya pantheon to offer aid to those deemed, then as now, socially undesirable. Indubitably, elements of this kindness and concern for those “beyond the pale” surface in both narratives. If we remember that Ixtab was also firmly associated in the Maya mind with eclipses, a recurring phenomenon, the ambivalent link between life and death and life reborn also insinuates itself below the surface of both myths. The Dresden Codex provides, among other things, a table of predictions for the eclipses that were a regular part of life and agriculture in Mesoamerica. The eclipse was not, it is clear, viewed by the Maya as an unpredictable or bizarre occurrence. On the contrary, they charted the eclipse at regular intervals, expected it, and mapped out its progress. Once again, in contrast to their Aztec cousins/ antagonists, the Maya differed in their perspective on the nature of the eclipse. For the Aztecs, the eclipse was a sign of terror, a sign that the sun might be dying, and it provoked mourning and hysteria. 27 The Maya saw it as an event that, however definitive one, the form of the hieroglyphs indicates a Yucatec provenance of approximately the twelfth century, one that may or may not link the Codex to the Itza kingdom, that was then dominating the Yucatan Peninsula. It was sent by Cortes to the Hapsburg emperor Charles I during the Conquest of Mexico. Cortes had actually encountered the Maya prior to the Aztecs, when he landed in what is now Veracruz in 1519. The Maya offered him a belligerent and unwelcoming stance, and Cortes quickly made his way to the Mexican Valley, where the Aztecs offered him a friendlier, and probably terrified, response. 27 Aztec religious attitudes illustrate many examples of teleological and fear-based exegesis of natural phenomenon. These include eclipses, floods, diseases, and the like.

Early Modern Retellings of Pre-Conquest Maya Femininity


disagreeable, would be outlived and overcome. They incorporated it into their daily lives, instead of fleeing from it. Hence, if the Xtabay is, in a literary sense, a distant descendant of her namesake, Ixtab, the meaning of the recurring eclipses may be seen as an acceptance of death and rebirth: as with the sun in the firmament, so with life on earth. Life comes, life goes, and it comes around again. The Maya did not fear the Sun’s disappearance; nor did they wait for it to shine eternally after some distant Final Judgment. Their image for the ever-present sun is the jaguar, whose black contours against the forest darkness and shining eyes made it a fine metaphor for the Sun in the night sky, when it is nearly invisible, but always here, shining like the eyes of the jaguar. The Xtabay, too, is always here, as are her male captives, suspended in that limbo between life and death but able to be returned to life if one is brave enough to defy, and bewitch, the Xtabay. As Mediz Bolio recounts, May you ever be free from the spells of the Xtabay, lovelorn happy youth, for you do not have the strength to resist her. If I could give you a talisman, I would do so, and indeed one exists, but I cannot give it to you. For he alone has it who has managed to reach the Xtabay and snatch out a lock of her hair. Then she followed him like a slave, and he became her master, needing only to command and she obeyed. But who is this man? Where is he?”(Mediz Bolio, 1922, unnumbered edition).

The Xtabay, it would seem, is simply waiting for a man strong enough to bedevil her as she bedevils weaker men, and it is her hair, which she combs banshee-like, Rapunzel like, which ensnares those who court her, that may possibly ensnare her in the end. In this sense, Mediz Bolio’s retelling of the legend affords us a glimpse of vulnerability, more in keeping with the generous Xtabay who feeds the poor and the orphaned, who shelters stray animals, than with the heartless harpy who leads men astray. A literary affinity with other figures of legend far beyond the Maya world reveals itself here. Other sorceresses, such as Morgana Le Fay, had their Achilles heel as well: Morgana schemed for King Arthur’s downfall, but that had as much to do with her jealousy at having been rejected by Arthur, even after she bore him a son Mordred, as it did with any latent evil on her part. Lilith, the sublime literary creation of Jewish mystics in the Kabala, 28 is credited with killing children in the cradle and, Xtabay like, seducing men at night in the crossroads. Lilith had wanted to bear Adam children, and her desire was thwarted when Adam banished her from the Garden of Eden. Is her rage merely repressed agony at not having fulfilled her desire with the First Man? Are all these legendary figures — Lilith, Morgana Le Fay, the Xtabay — merely cautionary tales that warn women 28 The most complete account of the Lilith story, which appears fragmentarily in ancient Jewish texts such as The Alphabet of Ben Sirah, can be found in the thirteenth-century text the Zohar, which is generally attributed to the Spanish Jewish mystic Rabbi Moises de Leon.


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to downplay their own sensuality, such an uncontrollable and potentially chaotic factor in an otherwise male-dominated and patriarchal society? Such an explanation might be plausible, in part, but it would be a stark oversimplification. The Xtabay myth, in Mediz Bolio’s retelling of it and beyond, radiates contradictory strands of thought that fascinate and perplex, inviting deeper analysis precisely because of their contradictions. There are hints of paternalism, and of female rebellion; there are Maya and post-Conquest elements; there is both an oral and a literary voice, and if they clash constantly, that clashing is actually the source of the legend’s richness. Western stories are also the result of cultural fusion, and fusion creates and engenders new forms. The Xtabay legend will continue to grow and evolve. She intrigues and compels not because she is an artifact of a romanticized lost culture but because she is the continuing manifestation of a living imagination. We should not be surprised then, to find that the Maya literary imagination is as flawed, as brilliant, and as latently contradictory, as our own.


Abreu Gomez, Ermilo. 1985. Leyendas y consejos del antiguo Yucatan. Mexico, D.F.: FCE-CREA.. Allen, Catherine. 1988. “When Utensils Revolt: Mind, Matter and Modes of Being in the Pre-Columbian Andes.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 33 (March): 18–7. Alva, Walter and Maria Longhena. 2007. The Incas and Other Ancient Andean Civilizations. New York: Barnes & Noble.. Anonymous. 1939. “La Xtabay y la Xtabentun.” Bilingual Maya/Spanish version. In Yikal Maya Than. 1, 1. Yucatan, Independently Published. Briggs, Katherine. 1976. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures.New York: Pantheon Books. Cabello Valboa, Miguel. 1586/1951. Miscelanea Antartida.Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos & Instituto de Etnologia. Coe, Michael. 1999. Breaking the Maya Code. New York: Thames & Hudson. Feinman, Gary M. 2001. “Mesoamerican Political Complexity: The Corporate Network Dimension.” In From Leaders to Rulers, ed. J. Hass, 151–75. New York: Kluwar Academic.. Fitzsimmons, James. 2009. Death and the Classic Maya Kings. Austin: University of Texas Press. Gaju, Mercedes (ed). 1989. Cuentos de Lugares Encantados. Argentina: Aique Grupo Editor & UNESCO. Lanyon, Anna. 1999. Malinche’s Conquest. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin Publishing. Mediz Bolio, Antonio. 1922/1974. La tierra del faisan y del venado. Mexico, D.F.: B. Costa-Amic.

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Morly, Sylvanus G. 1947. La civilizacion maya. Mexico D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Economica. Moseley, Michael. 2001. The Incas and their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru. London: Thames and Hudson.. Rosado Aviles, Cecilia and Georgina Rosado Rosado. La Xtabay: Mujer, sensualidad y poder en un mito maya:un acercamiento a los arquetipos femeninos: Schele, Linda, & Mary Ellen Miller.. 1986. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. New York: George Braziller Inc. and Fort Worth. Spalding, Karen. 1988. Huarochiri: An Andean Society under Inca and Spanish Rule. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Stuart, David. 2011. The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012. New York: Harmony Books.. Suger, Andrews. 2001. Tales of St. John. Virgin Islands: Sombrero Publishing. Taube, Karl. 2004. “Flower Mountain: Concepts of Life, Beauty and Paradise among the Classic Maya.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 45 (Spring, 69–98). Tedlock, Dennis. 1996. Popul Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Maya Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings. New York: Simon & Schuster. Thompson, J. Eric Sydney. 1972. Commentary on the Dresden Codex. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Contributors Meg Lota Brown is Professor of English and Director of the Graduate Center at the University of Arizona. She is the author or editor of four books on Donne, early modern women, the global Middle Ages and Renaissance, and early modern discourses of conscience. She has published numerous articles on Renaissance literature, science, art, gender, and theology; Reformation politics; and authors from Shakespeare and Donne to Christine de Pizan and Rachel Speght. Dr. Albrecht Classen is University Distinguished Professor of German Studies at the University of Arizona. He has published more than 111 scholarly books, and well over 700 articles on medieval and early modern German and European literature. He is the editor of the journals Mediaevistik and Humanities Open Access. His latest monographs are Water in Medieval Literature: An Ecocritical Reading (2017), Prostitution in Medieval and Early Modern Literature (2019), and Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World (2021). Dr. Kyle DiRoberto is an Associate Professor and Program Director of English at the University of Arizona, Sierra Vista. She has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Folger Shakespeare Library for her work on Shakespeare, diversity, and technology. She has published articles and chapters on early modern literature, sacred parody, social media and pedagogy, gender studies, and, most recently, “Corrupting the Curriculum: The Abject in J-Horror, Shakespeare, and Digital Games.” She is completing a book entitled The Rhetoric of Reformation: Robert Greene in Context. Sharonah Fredrick is Clinical Assistant Professor of Spanish Language and Hispanic Literature at SUNY at Buffalo. She is also Section Editor the Early Modern Americas in Routledge’s Encyclopedia of the World Renaissance. Dr. Fredrick focuses on Latin American and indigenous literature, Celtic legend, and JudeoSpanish literature as well as early modern global history. She has taught in four languages throughout several countries. The 2017 winner of the University of Florida’s “Jews in the Americas” research scholarship, she studied the role of Sephardic Marginal Figures in the Global Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Meg Lota Brown, ASMAR 47 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021), pp.





Jewish exiles in the development of New World piracy during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. James W. Fuerst is Assistant Professor of Writing, at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School. He is a published novelist and scholar with an AB in Politics from Princeton University, a PhD in Political Theory from Harvard University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Paul Hartle is Senior Fellow at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he has been Lecturer in English for almost forty years. He has published widely on medieval and Renaissance topics, and his Oxford English Texts edition of The Poetry of Charles Cotton was published in 2017. He is currently working on cultural traffic between Japan and Europe—especially Britain—in the early modern period. Elizabeth Labiner earned her doctorate in English literature from the University of Arizona. Her dissertation, titled “‘Carv’d Out in Bloody Lines’: Interiority, Truth, and Violence in Early Modern Drama,” focuses on the dramatic presentations of the tensions between truth, evidence, and interpretation, particularly in moments of knowledge crises. Her research interests include epistemology, subversions of gender and sexuality, constructions of the self, monstrosity, and witchcraft. Dr. Labiner is the Director of Education at The Scoundrel and Scamp Theater. Kari Boyd McBride is Professor Emerita of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona. She was the co-founder and Director of the Group for Early Modern Studies, and her publications include Country House Discourse in Early Modern England: A Cultural Study in Landscape and Legitimacy; Domestic Arrangements in Early Modern England; Women’s Roles in the Renaissance; and numerous articles on gender and desire in early modern English lyrics, English Catholic women writers, early modern women and education, Middleton, Southwell, Lanyer, and Fletcher. Angela Loewenhagen Schrader is a recent PhD graduate in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, earned in the Department of English at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on historical linguistics, medieval studies, and forensic linguistics. Working primarily with Old English, her dissertation examines the use of forensic linguistic testing methods in attributing authorship to medieval manuscripts. She also studies Old Norse, as well as Middle and Modern Welsh, in order to include the Celtic languages in her linguistic research. Lindsay Weiler-Leon earned a Master’s degree in European History with a minor emphasis in Persian Studies from California State University, Fullerton. She is currently a part-time instructor of World and American History at community



colleges in southern California. She received the Dr. Haleh Emrani award for Iranian History in 2015. Arnaud Zimmern is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame where he teaches and researches the intersections of medicine, religion, and literature, focusing on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. His work is forthcoming with The John Donne Journal and The James Joyce Quarterly.