Male Passions and the Problem of Individuation
Abstract and Keywords
Thomas Wright begins his influential 1604 treatise The Passions of the Minde in Generall by explaining his topic's “goodly and faire glosse of profit and commodity” for many sorts of Englishmen. This chapter examines how Wright's use of thermal imagery to express the passionate unrestraint characteristic of some birthright gentlemen calls attention to the role that Galenic humoralism plays in the master social tropes of early modern urbanization and elite socialization. It discusses the problematic relationship between the social and the emotional hierarchies of early modern England, with particular attention to the key issue of humors and passions in men—and especially the social privileges both required by and often assumed in the expression of male anger. First, it suggests how contemporary rhetoric of the passions and the humors functions in two discourses that work together to express, manage, and adjudicate among claims to emotional privilege: biological discourse and discourse of literary satire. The latter describes the humors as an agreed-upon social fiction by which men describe and claim individuality.
Keywords: Thomas Wright, passions, thermal imagery, men, urbanization, socialization, England, humors, anger, individuality
General interest in the passions as natural phenomena and perturbations of the soul, as we have seen, ran high in early modern English thought and writing.1 But in such a hierarchical society, more specific and more urgent questions concerned whose passions counted most and whose passions most required the twin disciplines of scrutiny and regulation—by self and others. Thomas Wright begins his influential 1604 treatise The Passions of the Minde in Generall by explaining his topic's “goodly and faire glosse of profit and commodity” (2) for many sorts of Englishmen. The passions as “speciall causes” (2) of sin and “extrinsecall causes of diseases” (4), he writes, are of keen professional interest to preachers and physicians, the healers of bodies and souls. For the good wayfaring Christian, whose passions take away his quiet, threaten his prosperity, and deject him in adversity, knowledge of the passions allows him the better to view his “domesticall enemie” (5). But Wright's recommendation of his subject to preacher, physician, and Christian seems to me perfunctory in tone by comparison to the strong interest he demonstrates in attracting the attention of the English gentleman. Wright's main goal lies in promoting secular knowledge of the passions as the master key to social conduct for the “ciuill Gentleman and prudent Politician” (5–6), who, by restraining his inordinate emotions, (p.190) “winneth a gratious carriage of himselfe, and rendreth his conuersation most gratefull to men” (6).2
So far, so good, one might say: who would not wish to have a gracious carriage and grateful (i.e., pleasing) conversation? But Wright's apparently unexceptionable phrasing points to a more contested early modern project involving codes of conduct, urbanization, and individuation, a project contested because it enlisted a discourse of passions and humors in a critique of gentlemanly behavior. Thus, in his preface, Wright compares Englishmen to Italians or Spaniards and faults his countrymen for a lack of “wit, policy, and prudence” and a “defect of conversation” (lx), which he attributes to worldly inexperience derived from living in the country or smaller cities. With a rhetorical authority derived from years of living among Italians, Wright implies that Englishmen do not know how to behave themselves when possessed by extraordinary passions and lack the civilized arts of “gentlemanlike conversation” (lxii). Even allowing for the inflated rhetoric characteristic of prefaces to the reader, Wright's remarks about the passionateness of the English gentleman seem pointed and direct. “I thought good,” he writes, “to trie if a little direction would helpe our Countriemen to counterpoise their native warinesse, and open the way … to discover other mens passions, and how to behave our selves when such affections extraordinarily possess vs, the which is the chiefest poynt of prudence, and fittest mean to attayne vnto religious, civil, & gentlemanlike conversation, which is vertuous” (lxii). As this emphasis suggests, it is less the knowledge of others than the control of oneself when “extraordinarily” possessed by passion that constitutes for Wright a gentleman's “chiefest poynt” of prudence.
Wright's concerns for Englishmen's behavior reflect the tensions of a particular moment in the history of manners, one that Anna Bryson has described as the replacement of modes of lordship with modes of urbanity. In the first mode, male elites enjoy a commanding position in relatively isolated country households organized by hierarchies of service, kinship, and allegiance. In the second mode, members of elites centered in courts and cities express their social identity through a shared culture and more or less socially equal relations with one other (113). The transition from one mode of conduct to another was both slow and tentative, as Bryson suggests—and as Wright's treatise also implies. Among lordly men asked to give up commanding positions in a household for the more equivocal pleasures of (p.191) being a courtier, the transition cannot have been an easy one—especially among courtiers under a powerful and capricious female monarch.3 Indeed, it is precisely Norbert Elias's point that, compared to isolated households with their relative unconstraint in personal demeanor, court society required a more exigent degree of autoscopic self-control not just in bodily matters such as nose-wiping or evacuation but in the whole terrain of emotional control.4 As a result, the very terms of homosocial relationships, once securely hierarchized through kin and allegiance networks, would seem to need fundamental rethinking in new, more egalitarian settings—as would the emotions supporting them.5 That Wright has such social anxieties in mind is clear when he reports to “haue seen some, Gentlemen by blood, and Noblemen by birth” who were “so appassionate in affections, that their company was to most men intolerable” (6). Wright's language here hints broadly at a social crux that he says he has witnessed—that of the intemperate birthright gentleman or, worse, the intolerable nobleman who must nevertheless be tolerated, even indulged, by those beneath him. Indeed, the phenomenon of a socially intolerable nobleman in a society as hierarchical as early modern England would have been no small matter, as Wright goes on to imply, especially in the dense copresence of courts and cities: “how vngratefull must his company seeme, whose passions ouer-rule him? and a man had need of an Astrolabe alwayes, to see in what height or eleuation his affections are, lest, by casting forth a sparke of fire, his gun-powdred minde of a sudden bee inflamed” (6). Ungrateful here means unpleasing, disagreeable, what we might call ungracious. But it is the odd ambiguity in Wright's syntax and male pronouns and the solecism of his mixed metaphor that indicate the real delicacy of the problem, for astrolabical inspection of the height and elevation of one's own passions—though grammatically if not anatomically possible—is only secondarily at issue. There are two men imagined in this passage: one man encounters another—identified obliquely as the referent for “his affections” and “his gun-powdred mind”—and must use an astrolabe to check the state of the other's passions, lest an unintended word or gesture ignite an outburst. If the two men are equals in rank and age, the obligation of one anxiously to (p.192) inspect the other's emotional state is disagreeable enough. But a larger danger would belong to the lower-status man in this vaguely imagined but nevertheless threatening scenario, navigating his way through socially dangerous waters, carefully measuring the mood of his superior, lest an ill-timed or ill-phrased remark cause an explosion that—in the rhetorical logic of the figure if not in the hierarchical logic of early modern social life—will destroy them both.
The tension in Wright's language here may, of course, reflect the insecurity of his own position, as a Jesuit living in England on sufferance of the great men holding his life and freedom in their hands.6 But his tropes seem meant to generalize beyond the autobiographical, because Wright's metaphorical reference to an astrolabe for the passions implies, even as it exaggerates, the scale and generality of the matter—the unknowable distance between the little man on the ground and the remote but powerful heavenly object whose unstable affections are a cosmological given in his universe. Indeed, if we take the liberty of pushing the astrolabe metaphor further than Wright does, the passionate nobleman as planet or star becomes an astrological influence, raining down invisible forces—benign and malign—on all those who live, planet-struck, below. The mixed metaphor relies on what Frank Whigham has called “Mystification of the Contingent as Absolute,” which he defines as “the presentation of difference of degree as difference in kind, of contingent difference as absolute.”7 Here the effect is to magnify the destructive power of the nobleman, not so much because of his greatness per se as because of his catastrophic explosiveness. But despite Wright's focus on the nameless great man, the real cause of such explosiveness, as Mervyn James has suggested, was not individual but structural. Aggressivity was always latent in the relations of “men of honour” and, by extension, among aspirants to that place in the social order. Among equals, each gentleman was expected to assert preeminence, a “requirement which imparted a note of tension even to ordinary social intercourse and conversation.”8 Vincentio Saviolo cautions that “he that is a Gentleman and conuerseth with men of honorable quality, must aboue all others haue a great regard to frame his speech and answeres with such (p.193) respectiue reuerence, that there neuer growe against him anie quarrell vpon a foolish worde or a froward answere.”9 The tendency to resolve quarrels with swords, according to Bacon, bore the potential for general social upheaval in the state. He describes the consequence in humoral analogies: “so that the state by this means shall be like to a distempered and unperfect body, continually subject to inflammations and convulsions.”10 This tension in everyday intercourse—what we might think of as a propensity to quarrelsomeness leading to violence—is why Stefano Guazzo recommends that the gentleman should relax only in the company of his inferiors: “he shal be the chiefe man … and rule the company as he list; neither shall he be forced to favor or do anything contrary to his mind: which libertie is seldom allowed him amongst his equals,” for “they will look for as much preheminence every way as himselfe.”11 Notice the dream of personal liberty here—the possibility of emotional and psychological unconstraint, the fantasy of emotional sway, the lure of autonomy.
However, as Wright's mixed metaphor of the heavenly object with a gunpowdered mind suggests, the great man is not really an unapproachably distant or mystified object on the social horizon but a more proximate source of danger. The exact content of his disposition at any given moment is an object of critical scrutiny for those in his immediate orbit who might cast forth the “spark” of an unthinking word or gesture. Later in his treatise, Wright again resorts to the gunpowder analogy in a similar context to describe how the same passion works differently on different persons depending on their disposition: “for, as we see fire applied to drie wood, to yron, to flaxe and gunpowder, worketh diuers wayes; for in wood it kindleth with some difficultie, and with some difficultie is quenched; but in flaxe soone it kindleth, and quencheth; in yron with great difficultie it is kindled, & with as great extinguished; but in gunpowder it is kindled in a moment, and neuer can bee quenched till the powder be consumed” (37). Choleric men, he goes on to explain, “are all fiery, and in a moment, at euery trifle they are inflamed, and, till their hearts be consumed (almost) with choller, they neuer cease, except they be reuenged” (37). His reference to revenge here calls to mind threatened aristocrats such as Lorenzo in The Spanish Tragedy, whose exquisitely vengeful acts of hypertrophied will (p.194) against the vulnerable lower orders who dare to infringe on his sense of absolute social mastery have been examined with scrupulous attention by Frank Whigham.12 More specifically, Wright's reference to flammable materials recalls the exchange between Duke Ferdinand and his courtiers at the opening of The Duchess of Malfi, also quoted in chapter 3, when Ferdinand excoriates one of his courtiers for daring to laugh without his permission: “Why do you laugh? Methinks you that are courtiers should be my touchwood, take fire when I give fire; that is, laugh when I laugh, were the subject never so witty” (1.1.122–25). Only a carefully willed subjection of body and mood would protect against the social danger represented here, as when, in Jonson's Sejanus, flatterers are described as men who
- laugh, when their patron laughs; sweat, when he sweats;
- Be hot, and cold with him; change every mood,
- Habit and garb, as often as he varies.
If a nobleman chooses inferior company in order to achieve a relaxation understood to require this kind of social mirroring and responsiveness, the members of that company have no such option, this passage suggests, because each must be ready to alter body, mood, and behavior in response to the patron's.
What I wish to emphasize is how Wright's use of thermal imagery to express the passionate unrestraint characteristic of some birthright gentlemen, like the imagery in the passages quoted above, calls attention to the role that Galenic humoralism plays in the master social tropes of early modern urbanization and elite socialization. I have argued elsewhere that the language of the bodily spirits coursing through the veins, arteries, and neural pathways of the (normatively) male body enacts a highly differentiated narrative of social privilege and stratification that values the energetic faculties—the “spirits”—making a body move and feel, but it wishes at the same time to regulate impulsivity and bodily force.14 These qualities can be beautiful, even awesome, as Bacon suggests when he explains the forcefulness contained and expressed in human movements by comparing it to the combustible properties of various minerals: “Flame and Aire do not Mingle, (p.195) except it be in an Instant; Or in vitall Spirits of vegetables and liuing Creatures.” He goes on to compare explosion in such materials as “Brimstone, Pitch, Camphire, Wilde-Fire, and diuers other Inflammable Matters” and sudden exertions of physical force in the human body: “It is no maruaile therfore, that a small Quantity of Spiritts, in the Cells of the Braine, and Canales of the Sinewes [i.e., the nerve pathways in the tendons and ligaments] are able to moue the whole Body, (which is of so great Masse,) both with so great Force, as in Wrestling, Leaping; And with so great Swiftnes, As in playing Diuision vpon the Lute. Such is the force of these two Natures, Aire and Flame, when they incorporate.”15 What is dazzling here is that Bacon travels with air and fire up the scale of nature from gunpowder to the hands of the lutenist, from mining saltpeter to wrestling and making music. The beauty of human movement is seen as part of the structure of the cosmos. We ought to notice here what kinds of activities Bacon singles out as examples of human forcefulness. Though he writes enthusiastically about the animal spirits to be found in the neural pathways of all human bodies, his praise of the explosive force of the spirits acting on muscle uses physical skills associated with the athletic, and implicitly gentlemanly, body as the human equivalent of gunpowder and quicksilver. In the larger narrative implied here, high cultural value is assigned to aristocratic spiritedness, courage, and impulsivity. Thus a character such as Hotspur in 1 Henry IV is conspicuously marked by traits of high spiritedness—by vigorous strength, athleticism, spontaneity, and all the other behavioral products of hot-bloodedness. His aristocratic vivacity is directly opposed to Prince Hal's initial languor and forms the core of what the beleaguered King Henry IV finds to praise when he describes Hotspur as
- a son who is the theme of honor's tongue,
- Amongst a grove the very straightest plant.
And the king himself acknowledges having lacked the appropriate heat to respond to Hotspur's defiant hot-bloodedness:
- My blood hath been too cold and temperate,
- Unapt to stir at these indignities.
(p.196) But high-spiritedness in Hotspur is valued only so long as that spirit can be managed by and accommodated to the long-range interests of the centralized state; once it escapes such management and escalates into political rebellion, impulsivity is recoded as rusticity, social backwardness, or archaism. “You are altogether govern'd by humors,” Hotspur's wife tells him reprovingly (3.1.233) when the restless warrior is unable to lie quietly, his head in his wife's lap, long enough to listen to Lady Mortimer's Welsh singing: “I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish” (235–36), he complains. The moment is part of the play's careful revaluation of Hotspur from the valued warrior, “amongst a grove the very straightest plant,” to a version of Wright's intolerable aristocrat with the gunpowdered mind, unable or unwilling to calibrate his behavior to time, place, and civilized company. Hal throws off idleness and “unyok'd humor” (1.2.196)—that is, throws off bodily faculties uninformed by discipline and not harnessed to any larger enterprise. Thus it is he who responds to royal and paternal injunction with a sudden explosion of heated activity, a timely show of youthful aristocratic spirit. He and his comrades-in-arms, says Vernon, are
- as full of spirit as the month of May,
- And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer.
In many early modern texts, such ethical oppositions as those between Hotspur and Hal work to reveal the historically specific regulatory reforms of the civilizing process and to display the kind of moderated, emotionally continuous, and socially distinct subject those reforms were meant to produce. Characters, whether male or female, represented in fictions as impulsive, inconsistent, or unable to sustain a mood or an action are also likely—like Hotspur—to bear an imprint of social backwardness, rusticity, or offensiveness. The humors, as the fluids most directly associated with impulsiveness, are thus a key part of the narrative of social reform that texts such as Wright's moral treatise on the passions are meant to promote. In this chapter, I want to expand on the problematic relationship between the social and the emotional hierarchies of early modern England, with particular attention to the key issue of male humors and passions—and especially the social privileges both required by and often assumed in the expression of male anger. First, though, it is important to suggest how contemporary rhetoric of the passions and the humors functions in two discourses that work together to express, manage, and adjudicate among claims to emotional privilege. One, the biological discourse we have seen (p.197) earlier, describes the humors as a psychophysiological determinant of gentlemanliness, in a more or less socially recognized system classification; the other, a discourse of literary satire, describes the humors as an agreed-upon social fiction by which men describe and claim individuality.16 The first discourse borrows heavily from Galenic theory and carries with it the semantic authority of literal meaning. In the second discourse, the bodily humors are recognized as part of a self-interested claim to emotional privilege and peremptory interiority—a way of demanding the humoral right of way in order to have something of the emotional unconstraint that Guazzo saw as possible only for a man secure in his preeminence among inferiors. In this discourse, the usefulness and meaningfulness of the concept of the humors—hence a traditional way of appraising the behavior of others—is represented as at issue. In the induction to Every Man out of His Humour, the two choric characters Cordatus and Asper lament how the “poor innocent word” (83) humor “Is racked and tortured” (84) through misuse when it refers properly to a set of biological givens:
- we thus define it
- To be a quality of air or water,
- And in itself it holds these two properties,
- Moisture and fluxure;
- . . . . . . . .
- And hence we do conclude
- That whatso'er hath fluxure and humidity,
- As wanting power to contain itself,
- Is humour. So in every human body
- The choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood,
- By reason that they flow continually
- In some one part, and are not continent
- Receive the name of humours.
- (induction, 88–91, 95–102)
Here Jonson introduces humor in its largest sense—as the name for the two liquid elements helping to compose all things—and then applies it to the more complex liquids in the human body. He is even willing to acknowledge that the word humor may extend to characterize the “general disposition” of a person “by metaphor” (104, 103). A metaphorical transfer of terms (p.198) is required here in that a disposition is not a liquid itself but is rather the result, Jonson says, of a “peculiar” quality's power to
- All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
- In their confluctions, all to run one way.
But even though disposition may not literally be liquid, Jonson does conceptualize affects, spirits, and powers to flow—sometimes in a single direction, as in the behavior of one ruled by a single affect, but more often (he implies) in the changeable currents of feeling characteristic of most individuals. But Jonson's spokesman Asper is unwilling to extend the proper meanings of humor to include such behavioral signs as transient social affectations of dress and adornment:
- But that a rook, in wearing a pied feather,
- The cable hatband, or the three-piled ruff,
- A yard of shoetie, or the Switzers' knot
- On his French garters, should affect a humour!
Asper's rapid rhetorical descent from the overarching dignity of the elements to a “yard of shoetie” or “three-piled ruff” suggests Jonson's overall line of attack on contemporary forms of masculine desire. In this contemptuous (and ultimately circular) formulation, the rook borrows from the order of things as if it were available to him as an additional resource in the process of self-adornment, as if the cosmological framework were his for the taking or could be demonstrable in clothes, feathers, and other forms of decoration. Such affectation is not merely narcissism in a socially conspicuous form—indeed narcissism for the sake of conspicuous form—but colossal misrecognition of one's place in the world. For Jonson, there is nothing humanly voluntary, nothing chosen about the cosmological framework or the human frame that reproduces it in little. Presumably that is why he begins by defining humor as a function of the cosmos first and the human body later. Thus Jonson seeks to distinguish between the universal givens and the arbitrary range of human social practices, to place human passions within their proper cosmological framework. The signs of the order of things are not subject to human manipulation or to the vagaries of fashion; they cannot be lodged in ruffs, feathers, or shoelaces. It is true that the (p.199) human being whose affects, spirits, and powers all run in one direction might have some small power of self-regulation over his disposition, except that Jonson-Asper describes him as “possessed” by a quality—possessed, that is, by something itself unquestionably part of the fabric of things. Such a person has no real choice about how or who to be. But there is nothing similarly inevitable or cosmically demonstrable, Jonson wants to insist, in one's petty range of choice in what to wear, or eat, or take as medicine, especially when that choice is itself preceded by an exaggerated insistence on its importance as signifier of one's peremptory humorality. The offense is, among other things, one of proportion and scale. Jonson's sense of the alarming downward mobility or diminution of the term humor is clear in the prologue to The Alchemist when he introduces his topic as “manners, now call'd humours” (9)—as if the universal were now being subsumed by the particular, interiority by exteriority, the timeless by the ephemeral.
For Jonson, the fashionable discourse of the humors thus arises as an offense to the order of things, as when, in Every Man in His Humour, Cash seeks to inform the water-carrier Cob of what it means to have a humor: “I'll tell thee, Cob; it is a gentleman-like monster, bred in the special gallantry of our time by affectation; and fed by folly” (3.4.18–20).17 Humorality in this sense is monstrous, as Peter Womack has explained, because it represents “incompleteness and difference” as opposed to the self-sameness of the universal order.18 Although as a liquid, any humor wants “power to contain itself,”19 its status as an “incontinent” part requiring containment is not in itself problematic except when self-containment fails, as it does for humorous gentlemen who, like the prototypical gull in Dekker's Gull's Hornbook, “desires to pour himself into all fashions” and abandons the quest for identity as self-sameness.20 Humors can be yoked to accomplishment—as Hal's specification of his own humor early in 1 Henry IV as “unyok'd” implies. So it is lack of containment, lack of manly fixity and yoking to worthy activity, that produces the “gentleman-like monster,” that emblem of uncontainment and Bakhtinian grotesqueness.
(p.200) In social practice as it is embodied in play texts, the two senses of humor as denoting the psychophysiological and the social become deeply intermingled, since (as we shall see) characters in plays tend to use their humorality—or their claim to humorality—as an unstable but necessary instrumentation of complex social performances, especially performances undertaken to forward what Guazzo calls preeminence. While this rhetoric of the humors is worked out most systematically in Jonsonian humors comedy, where the two senses of the term are easier to disentangle, it also hovers around Shakespeare's figures of comic aspiration such as Malvolio or that figure of wildly comic disintegration, the irregular humorist Nym. My intention is to follow the trail of male humors in and out of several play texts, Shakespearean and not, in order to rescue the humors from their critical relegation as an annoying and psychologically archaic feature of early city comedy and argue for their importance, instead, as a key heuristic in the troubled representations of male individuation.
It has been easy for historical criticism to dismiss Jonsonian and other forms of humors comedy as long as the Galenic humoralism on which it rested was reductively linked to a rigid typology of the four temperaments—sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic. But Jonson, as we just saw, regards that application of the term as hardly its major semantic function: “it may, by metaphor, apply itself / Unto the general disposition.” Once humoralism is seen properly as “a vibrantly inconsistent but brilliantly supple discourse of selfhood and agency,”21 the specific function of characters associated with or representative of the humors takes on a new interest. As a case in point, I would like first to offer Shakespeare's irascible Corporal Nym of Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor, since of all Shakespearean characters he most relies on the term humor, defending his actions by citing his humor as that force within him that simply and unanswerably moves him to feel and do: “I have an humor to knock you indifferently well,” he tells Pistol early in Henry V. “I would prick your guts a little in good terms, as I may, and that's the humor of it” (2.1.55, 58–59). As Keir Elam writes, Nym uses the word “as a substitute for virtually any existing lexeme (noun, verb, modifier, and all), or simply as a hopefully prestigious filler in place of nothing at all.”22 As the choric presenter Mitis says in Every Man out of His Humour, “this fellow's discourse were nothing, but for the (p.201) word humour” (2.1.50–51). But for Nym, the possibility of verbal recourse to humor as a word that substitutes for his lack of ideas and normative vocabulary makes his world full of self-evidence. Nym's speech habits are thus worth examining with some care. Humor is the force Nym recognizes not only in himself but in all other things as well; no wonder that it can do duty for any part of speech. It is synonymous with, or metonymic for, things as they are, which explains why tautology and pleonasm function so frequently in Nym's fatalistic phraseology: “Faith,” he tells Bardolph, “I will live so long as I may, that's the certain of it; and when I cannot live any longer, I will do as I may: that is my rest, that is the rendezvous of it” (Henry V, 2.1.14–16). The verbal form of Nym's self-interest, humor is also the badge of his self-acceptance and the source of his resistance to alteration. He is marked no less for what he will say and do as for what he will not or cannot do—kiss Mrs. Quickly, fight at Harfleur, pay for what he takes, or explain himself. This obsessively reiterated language of interiority in Nym points to its own primitiveness and rigidity. Nym tries to use self-reference to compel his social world's acknowledgment of his peremptory moodiness, yet his ferocity in doing so instead breeds doubt that meaningful interiority exists in him at all. The deictics of feeling in him are untouched by the subtleties of personal expression and self-reference that language allows us to construct. In this sense Nym is the humoral opposite of Hamlet and his famous inexpressibility, because Nym insists on his own psychophysiological promptings as always the same, always articulable as uninflected humor. He would deny Nietzsche's declaration on the limits of physical self-knowledge that “however far a man may go in self-knowledge, nothing however can be more incomplete than his image of the totality of drives which constitute his being. He can scarcely name even the cruder ones.”23 Nym always names the cruder ones, and names them with variations on the theme of humors, because in effect they constitute the only drives that he has.
In Merry Wives, Nym's reliance on the term is even more pronounced than in Henry V, perhaps, as Patricia Parker has suggested, because of the play's preoccupation with the vagaries of language generally and English variations of it in particular.24 The word humor in that play is deliberately evacuated of denotative meaning, I think, in order that we may ponder the nature of its usefulness not as a description of the world or self but as a (p.202) mode of competitive social practice. In this sense the term functions not just in Elam's terms as a “psychophysiological catch-all,”25 but as a linguistic weapon, both offensive and defensive, against a world that Nym understands as conflictual at its core. In Merry Wives, as in Henry V, it is what Nym will not do that demonstrates a fixed belief in mutual resistance as the hallmark of his relations with the world. To deliver Falstaff's letter to Mistress Page becomes an unworthy act that Nym vows not to do: “I will run no base humor. Here, take the humor-letter; I will keep the havior of reputation” (1.3.77–78). Seeking to inform Page of Falstaff's adulterous intentions, Nym finds himself suddenly forced into the odd position of rhetor, moved reluctantly into the social intricacies of persuasion by the force of his passion (or appetite, or humor) for revenge against Falstaff's poor treatment of him. But Nym discovers that forwarding this revenge involves consecutive and deeply triangulated discourse, because he must convince a stranger who is his social superior of his veracity even though he can only point tautologically to the self-evidence of his humor—his inability to be other than he is—in order to do so: “And this is true; I like not the humor of lying. He hath wrong'd me in some humors. I should have borne the humor'd letter to her; but I have a sword, and it shall bite upon my necessity. He loves your wife: there's the short and the long. My name is Corporal Nym; I speak, and I avouch; 'tis true; my name is Nym, and Falstaff loves your wife. Adieu. I love not the humor of bread and cheese [and there's the humor of it]. Adieu” (2.1.128–37). The irony here is that Nym really is moved by a humor of revenge against Falstaff's negligence, but his overuse of the term and his inability to explain himself even as he endeavors mightily to do so cloud that emotional reality for his astonished listeners—whether or not the bracketed phrase from the quarto is included in his speech. The term “bread and cheese,” according to most of the play's editors, signifies meager rations, a poor man's diet—hence metonymically the servile life Nym feels he has led in Falstaff's service. “The humor of bread and cheese” may be nonsensical—as Page's bemused response to this speech quoted below may indicate. But to humor bread and cheese, insofar it refers to an activity of mind upon the world, is Nym's way of rendering the object world phenomenological, making it an expressive part of his self-experience and consciousness (however we might wish to imagine the inner workings of that consciousness), putting himself into the object world. In this sense, all the humors named here—of bread and cheese, of lying, of letters needing to be delivered—seem to me at the heart of Nym's (p.203) labored efforts at sincerity, his attempts to have a communicable point of view and to find a place for it in a phenomenologically resistant world. Master Page's response cues us—superfluously, according to Elam26—to marvel at Nym's inarticulateness and the odd discontinuity of his speech: “‘The humor of it,’ quoth ̓a! Here's a fellow frights English out of his wits” (138–39). But, pace Elam, the phrase is wonderful, encompassing both Nym's effect on language—frightening English out of its ability to mean resourcefully—and the effect of Nym's language on Nym himself. In Nym's eyes as self-declared humoral subject, the socially recognized autonomy of the humors serves not only to excuse his boorishness but also to justify his unwillingness to regulate, articulate, or reflect upon his words and actions (on his words as actions)—or indeed upon the curious nature of his world. In this respect, Nym's humors are both real and fictional insofar as the word describes both the totality of his impulses and the core of his social performance. The running of his bad humors against others, in that sense, is his actions, the stream of impulsive behaviors and disconnected speech that through their repetition constitute psychologically continuous self (such as it is) in Nym. For my purposes here, Nym's importance is to demonstrate how the humors, from being a physiological attribute or a catch-all term in vogue—the two options offered earlier—may expand to become the basis of a way of life, a way of being in the world. In Nym's case, the way is maladaptive and inarticulate, identified by a prominent impulsiveness and aggressiveness that he and others see in humoral terms. He does not persuade Page of what he says, the letter does get delivered, and the play's action moves on without him. “I never heard such a drawling, affecting rogue,” Page complains (2.1.140–41) on Nym's exit, marking in his use of these pejorative adjectives the bold, or perhaps crudely unaware, presumption involved in Nym's aggressively mannered, indolent selfpresentation before his social superiors. Thus, while Jonson would agree with Nym in understanding the humors as part of the way things are, as a given (like bread and cheese) in a world of elements, objects, and social practices, he would disagree with Nym in finding the way things are to be an adequate justification for the boorish self-acceptance that Nym, like so many of Jonson's gulls, manifests.
A second case in point comes in Shylock's brilliant use of the term for purposes of self-justification in a world he correctly believes is stacked against him. His use of the term is a far more effective recognition of humoralism's status as a discourse of nature to signify the materially (p.204) unanswerable and to promote an individual's social resistance. Before Shylock enters the Venetian courtroom, the duke prejudges Shylock's obdurateness in terms that radically qualify his claim to be a human being, calling him
- a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch,
- Uncapable of pity, void and empty
- From any dram of mercy.
- (Merchant of Venice, 4.1.4–6)
Such language of texture and moisture is implicitly humoral—the “dram” of mercy anticipating Portia's famous description of mercy as heaven's gentle rain. The concept of the natural humors is thus conveniently available to Shylock when he rejects the duke's plea to accept repayment of Antonio's debt in ducats rather than flesh or even to explain his refusal to do so. The duke has framed the plea in terms of sympathy as the response properly ordained by nature—the touch of “humane gentleness and love” (25)—to the spectacle of extreme suffering, a response so natural that it is to be found even among peoples whom the Elizabethans regarded as cultivating ferocity. Even “stubborn Turks, and Tartars never train'd / To offices of tender courtesy” (32–33) would pity Antonio, the duke remarks, seeking perhaps to include the Jew in some part of Venetian corporate selfhood in opposition to the barbaric Eastern Other. But the duke's rhetorical strategy of calling on natural compassion not only to authorize Shylock's change of heart but also to proclaim his city's confident expectation of it backfires. Shylock initially bases his refusal to relent on the inviolability of his contract with Antonio—“if you deny it, let the danger light / Upon your charter and your city's freedom” (38–39)—but he goes on to turn the duke's own discourse of the natural body and its capacity for pity strongly against the duke by invoking the equally natural status of his bodily “humor” and its capacity for antipathy:
- You'll ask me why I rather choose to have.
- A weight of carrion flesh than to receive
- Three thousand ducats. I'll not answer that;
- But say it is my humor, is it answer'd?
- . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
- Some men there are love not a gaping pig;
- Some that are mad if they behold a cat;
- And others, when the bagpipe sings i'th'nose,
- (p.205) Cannot contain their urine: for affection,
- [Mistress] of passion, sways it to the mood
- Of what it likes or loathes.
The brilliance of this reply lies precisely in Shylock's determination to broaden the scope of the natural to allow not only for the unpredictability of appetite's objects but for their evident predictability as well. His list includes those things most men actively like, such as roasted pig or bagpipe music, as well as those things they tolerate with indifference, such as the “harmless necessary cat” (55). In this account, as in Nym's, no object in the world is neutral or even self-same, because people will feel about it differently, will find it pleasing or not. It is important to note that Shylock's examples—the man who cannot hold his urine against the screech of the bagpipe or the man maddened by seeing a cat—not only indicate the involuntary power of the humors over the subjectified body but also, and once again, the early modern elision of the psychological and physiological. He thus reduces his animosity—animosity grounded complexly in personal history, wounded self-interest, and religious hatred—to an intense and by definition involuntary humoral incompatibility. He constructs his obduracy as a natural antipathy of the sort common in humans and animals both, indeed the sort of antipathy—as we have seen in chapter 3 among the wisely temperate animals in La Circe who eat what is good for them and avoid what is not—that keeps animate life safe from what would harm it. His strategy here is less to remind the duke of culture's strong effect on behavior (a Jew's allusion to the dietary prohibitions against roasted pig would accomplish that) than it is to ground behavioral difference in the undeniable variety and obduracy of the physical body's appetites and their resistance to reason. He uses bodily humors as an agreed-upon instance of what comes before cultural inscription, before religious and ethnic difference, before the history of Christians and Jews, even before will power. In this respect, the humors become a perfect instance of what Judith Butler sees as bodily materiality's uncontested status in Western discourse as sign of the irreducible (28). The effect is subversive: to point out how elites use the discourses of natural knowledge for their own ends and also—as Ulysses found out from his animal interlocutors—how those discourses may be used against them. Shylock, in support of his defiance of his Christian enemies and the Venetian state, can then invoke the doctrine of bodily humors himself as a determinative part of innermost bodily being that evades state manipulation and the subject's own articulation:
- (p.206) As there is no firm reason to be rend̓red
- Why he cannot abide a gaping pig;
- Why he, a harmless necessary cat;
- Why he, a woollen bagpipe, but of force
- Must yield to such inevitable shame
- As to offend, himself being offended;
- So can I give no reason, nor I will not,
- More than a lodg'd hate and a certain loathing
- I bear Antonio.
The telling irony here lies in the multiple analogies among the several sorts of bodies affected by the humoral doctrine of mutual modulation between the early modern subject and its social and physical environment.27 Shylock disingenuously constructs the duke's request that he explain himself as one involving a bilateral shame—the shame of the humoral body offended by an environment (here Venice) containing things that it cannot help but find disgusting (pig, cat, bagpipe, Antonio) and the reciprocal shame of that environment offended by the social consequences of its disgust. Shylock offers a mock apology, by describing, in the third person, the shame of the man who involuntarily offends against social codes, “himself being offended” (58). And he insinuates that Venice is also shamed when he is forced by the duke to remind everyone in the courtroom that someone so highly valued in Venice as Antonio could be found naturally disgusting by an abject lower Other such as Shylock.28 Shylock thus relies here on his listeners' recognition not only that antipathies are natural and that the determinants of disgust vary among peoples or individuals but also, as William I. Miller notes, that disgust is a “(nearly) universal feature of human society”—a feature in which Jews as human beings can be understood to participate (15). What Shylock defines as the humoral body's inability to be other than it is—what we might call the Nym defense—becomes emblematized in the incontinent body of the man caught unaware by bagpipe music.29 By means of such examples, Shylock claims to be physically unable to cease hating his enemy and to identify with him through (p.207) pity instead. To the duke's unwillingness to accept him as fully human in Venice, Shylock responds by constructing Antonio as himself less than human to Shylock—like the gaping pig, the necessary cat, the intolerable bagpipe music. Bassanio immediately recognizes this implication of Shylock's argument, asking, “Do all men kill the things they do not love?” (4.1.66).
But the logic of Shylock's argument about Antonio extends further to encompass the political body of the state that suddenly finds itself legally unable either to regulate or to expel Shylock. In their embarrassment, all these humorally determined bodies point proleptically to Antonio, who, in terms responsive to Shylock's references to a phenomenal world full of more and less desirable or whole objects, objectifies himself as that “tainted wether of the flock … the weakest kind of fruit” (4.1.114–15). Perhaps equally important, at least for my purposes here, is the image that Bassanio employs in his outraged reaction to Shylock's refusal to show mercy:
- This is no answer, thou unfeeling man,
- To excuse the current of thy cruelty.
Though Bassanio claims to be unpersuaded by Shylock's humoral logic, his reference to Shylock's cruelty as a current is itself humorally based, a localization of “psychological function by organ or system of organs.”30 Cruelty acts as a current in the blood because it is the effect of choler—the sharp humor produced by the gall bladder. Choler is what Hamlet famously accuses himself of lacking (“I am pigeon-liver'd, and lack gall /To make oppression bitter” [2.2.577–78]), but Shylock, for whom oppression is bitter indeed, does not lack for gall however we might wish to interpret it—as vengeful cruelty or as something more sympathetic, such as embattled courage, determination, or even self-defense.
It is key to recognize that all parties in this play's dispute, whatever else their disagreements, recognize the natural basis of the humors and the status of the passions they support and release as environmental determinants. By acknowledging Shylock's cruelty as a current in his blood, Bassanio in effect agrees to Shylock's brilliant naturalization of his hatred for Antonio as a form of material irreducibility. Antonio concedes much the same not only in the self-descriptions quoted above but earlier when he tells his friend despairingly that he may as well dispute with tide or wind as to
The anti-Semitism of such remarks distracts us from their contemporary logic: that the drying and hardening effects of choler, the bodily fluid produced by cruel or grasping behavior and reciprocally productive of it, would toughen the flesh of any heart and render it less receptive to entreaty. The same logic underlies Lear's anguished cry about his cruel daughters, “Is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts?” (3.6.77–78).31 And we have seen a similar logic of the hard heart in the wolf man Ferdinand's merciless behavior to his sister, the Duchess of Malfi. The dry-eyed Ferdinand, whose eyes dazzle, is like Shylock in this respect: he does not pity because he cannot cry, or cry because he cannot pity. This is their monstrousness. Indeed in his overpowering choler, which rhubarb cannot purge, Ferdinand can pity the Duchess less and less until she, as his choler's object and stimulant, is finally dead.
In Merchant, even Portia concedes the naturalness of Shylock's cruelty by figuring its opposite emotion, mercy or compassion, as a liquid belonging equally to the body and its environment—not as raging wind or mounting tide but as “gentle rain from heaven” dropping “upon the place beneath” (4.1.185–86). Whether or not the place beneath—in this case Shylock's heart—would soften as a result of such gentle (and here Gentile) moistening would thus depend, literally, on how hard it was in the first place; the change of heart will have to be a literal one. Again passions become ecological: this, at least in part, is why Portia assumes the natural too-hardness of Shylock's heart and turns instead to that product of culture, his written word, discovering release in a strict interpretation of the bond. She allows Shylock's excision of Antonio's flesh only on the condition that
- in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
- One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
- Are by the laws of Venice confiscate.
In this stipulation, both nature and culture work on Portia's behalf: nature because Shylock cannot hope to cut flesh without spilling blood, culture because the legal distinction that she invokes between Christian and Jewish (p.209) blood is located in a discursive register conveniently independent of the old fluid physiology. (The classical antecedents of humoralism, while recognizing geography as a form of innate difference in bodies, did not so recognize religion.)
Shylock and Portia manipulate different aspects of humoral discourse: Shylock its theoretically undeniable basis in nature, Portia its actual susceptibility to hegemonic redefinition or even displacement through the symbolic complexity of blood. It is in Shylock's interest—and perhaps a conventional element of Shylock's character as stage Jew—to portray the bodily humors as fixed and irreducible. More often in humoral discourse, however, the humors are represented as a part of the natural body that can and must be manipulated through various dietary regimes for the achievement of physical health and emotional stability.32 But though in one sense all bodies were equally humoral since they were equally material—being composed of the same four humors—they were, as we have seen, humorally all different. For a traditional society like that of early modern England, as I suggested at the opening of this chapter, humoral difference guaranteed that the structure of humoralism would reflect hierarchical social values and could be used powerfully to naturalize them. Affect, that is to say, was expected to mirror the social hierarchy because both were built into the analogical order of things. Thus in The Comedy of Errors, part of the ethos of service in the Syracusan servant Dromio is subordinating his humor to that of his moody master Antipholus. “A trusty villain, sir,” the wandering Antipholus tells a friendly merchant,
- that very oft,
- When I am dull with care and melancholy,
- Lightens my humor with his merry jests.
Antipholus here invokes the neofeudal assumption that Dromio's service to him proceeds from the whole man, from body and mind, from interior and exterior, from his humorally saturated and socially subordinated flesh. The duty of the “villain”—the rascally low-born man—would thus include the subjection of his bodily substances to those of his master, here by directing his bodily humors into the production of jests in order to leaven his master's heaviness of mood. It does not matter whether we understand the jests (p.210) to derive naturally and spontaneously from Dromio's humorality or to be produced by Dromio for purposes of entertainment. The social significance of jests in this context lies in their ability to temper the humors of a master and, not coincidentally, to express Dromio's own subordination. It is not surprising, then, that the Syracusan Antipholus reacts with outrage when the Ephesian Dromio fails to answer his question about the money entrusted to him:
- I am not in a sportive humor now:
- Tell me, and dally not.
Dromio, expecting to receive what he calls a “dry” or choleric “basting” (2.2.63), becomes the object of his master's anger because it seems that he has neglected a fundamental discipline of service in hierarchical society—the humoral right of way and who gets to have it. This discipline, in his master's words, is to
- know my aspect,
- And fashion your demeanor to my looks.
The play suggests that Dromio's inability to do so is in part a function of low-born men's unruly humoral propensities (to make ill-timed jokes or otherwise not know their place) and in part a function of the play's eerie duplication of masters, the confusing replication of Antipholuses to whom the bewildered servant-twins must respond. The play, that is, steers neatly between the poles of humoral determinism and environmental constructivism, finding a middle course in which the Dromios—being far less distinguishable from one another than the Antipholuses—both are and are not representatives of the humoral common man and the natural basis of servitude.33
Like the resistance mounted by Nym or Shylock, the subjection produced by the requirements of social deference has a humoral component and signifies a characteristic quality of flesh, spirits, and inner organs. The emotions associated with servitude would ostensibly be the cooler ones of timidity or even fearfulness, just as the emotions associated with resistance or mastery are hotter. The properly deferential servant—the servant who (p.211) feels the subjection required of his place—would in theory have a natural, bodily basis for matching his mood to that of his master, as the Syracusan Dromio used to do, balancing his master's heaviness with his own lightness. As a matter of bodily habitus, the servant should learn to incorporate his social inferiority into the quality of his substances and to limit the character of his moods. By the same token, the independent gentleman would claim possession of his own humor rather than seek subordination to those of others; this is why he would seek to “feed” his humor as part of his being in the world. The willingness of the sycophantic courtier to relinquish this emotional autonomy to a great man for the sake of social advancement prompts Jonson's contemptuous description of emotional vacuity in Sejanus and, significantly, of the unfirm flesh that goes with it, the
- soft and glutinous bodies, that can stick,
- Like snails, on painted walls.
In this contemptuous model of abjection for the sake of advancement, clients have subjected themselves to complete body makeovers: “there be two,” the Germanican Silius explains,
- whose close breasts,
- Were they ripped up to light, it would be found
- A poor and idle sin, to which their trunks
- Had not been made fit organs.
Such malleability, contemptible in the body of an independent gentleman, is a signifier of humoral lack of worth and grotesque abjection. This is exactly what Dekker implies in the mock advice he offers in that piece of anticonduct literature The Gull's Hornbook, by describing “that true humorous gallant that desires to pour himself into all fashions, if his ambition be such to excel even compliment itself must as well practise to diminish his walks as to be various in his salads, curious in his tobacco, or ingenious in the trussing up of a new Scotch hose” (88). The multitude of fashionable behaviors that the humorous gallant aspires to adopt by pouring himself into them seems to involve a softening and remolding of the outer body—a diminishment of walks—even as it requires a complication of tastes within. As an example of such malleable adaptation of flesh to fashion and a reversal of the right order of things, Dekker recommends that the gallant “strive (p.212) to fashion his legs to his silk stockings and his proud gait to his broad garters” (88). It is the natural resistance of solid flesh to the gull's desire for variousness and adaptability that, at least in part, inspires the horror of bodiliness that Barbara Correll finds animating Dekker's partly real, partly mock outrage here: “The horror of body, controlled by keeping the image of horror ever present, creates and maintains a repressive self-consciousness that renders one marketable or, as Dekker expresses it so well, allows one to publish one's suit: it is that investment in horror which is the necessary precondition in the urban world for the professional exchange relations that mark the mobile, negotiable, fluid economic urban environment.”34
If, as Linda Charnes has argued, identity can be understood as a relatively fixed and objective feature of social (and/or textual) being and subjectivity as the moment-to-moment experience of that identity, then appropriate humoral subjectivity involves a temperate correspondence between one's humoral interior and the immediate environment, so to speak, of one's exterior social identity (75). Humoral inflection in the discourse of subjectivity is, as we have seen, a matter of qualities—of hot and cold, wet and dry. Thus in Twelfth Night, Fabian rebukes Sir Andrew Aguecheek for lacking the warmth proper both to his elite station as a knight and to the role of ardent suitor of Olivia. The latter's show of favor to Cesario, Fabian tells Sir Andrew disingenuously when the knight threatens to quit the household and give up publishing his suit, was intended “to put fire into your heart, and brimstone in your liver. You should then have accosted her, and with some excellent jests, fire-new from the mint, you should have bang'd the youth into dumbness” (3.2.20–23). Fabian tries to persuade the foolish knight that Olivia was hoping to heat him up and encourage the production not only of bold behaviors but of “excellent jests” as well. By wasting the opportunity, “you are now sail'd into the north of my lady's opinion, where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman's beard” (26–28).35 Sir Andrew has returned to nature in this frighteningly comic image of castration, has become merely an elemental appendage to another, sturdier man's bearded masculinity.36
From a humoral point of view, it is easy to see that, by contrast with the thermally deficient Andrew, the steward Malvolio is almost literally too full (p.213) of himself, too full of radical heat and moisture and the prepossessing behaviors associated with them. It outrages Sir Toby and other members of the household that Malvolio should be found “yonder i' the sun practicing behavior to his own shadow” (2.5.16–17), mirroring himself to himself in a parodic imitation of gentlemen's conduct manuals, seeking out the natural light of autoscopic possibility, practicing self-advancement in its purest form as the psychophysiological looks for external reification.37 At this moment, we recognize in Malvolio a form of humoral vanity and self-satisfaction that leads him to imagine Olivia's attraction to him straining against the linguistic constraints imposed by her maidenly modesty: “I have heard herself come thus near, that should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion” (24–26). Released here by his fantastic aspirations of marriage from the affective subjection required of social subordinates, Malvolio imagines himself as future determiner of affect in his little world, the weather-maker of his microclimate. He sees himself, newly ennobled and having sexually pacified Olivia with daytime dalliance that has left her sleeping on a daybed, as a man dictating mood, time, and place to others: “And then to have the humor of state; and after a demure travel of regard—telling them I know my place as I would they should do theirs—to ask for my kinsman Toby … I extend my hand to him thus, quenching my familiar smile with an austere regard of control” (52–55, 65–66). In that imaginary quenching of the smile—the disciplinary cool wetness that dampens what Malvolio insinuates either as his own (hypothetical) tendency to brotherly warmth or the inappropriate warmth of boisterous Sir Toby—lies the humoral triumphalism of the new man on top.
What Malvolio finds in the forged letter—the letter that Fabian hopes will win Malvolio “liver and all” (2.5.95)—are not only specific requests for items of clothing and forms of behavior but an overall injunction to rise up humorally, to embolden his bodily substance, to remake his surface demeanor of “humble slough”: “Thy Fates open their hands, let thy blood and spirits embrace them, and to inure thyself to what thou art like to be, cast thy humble slough and appear fresh” (146–49). The exhortation is to a new mode of self-presentation in Malvolio that, though it eventuates in bold smiles and yellow, cross-gartered stockings, begins as an elevation and expansion of bodily stuff.
In its focus upon the expressive production of bodily liquids, the letter's advice strongly resembles the encouragement that Sir Toby delivers to Sir Andrew: “My very walk should be a jig. I would not so much as make water (p.214) but in a sink-a-pace” (1.3.129–31). Even more interesting, perhaps, it resembles that moment of erotic encounter in Midsummer Night's Dream when Titania, newly enthralled with Bottom, promises to etherealize him by means of a program of delicate sensual allurements produced by fairy attendants and designed to
- purge thy mortal grossness so
- That thou shalt like an aery spirit go.
As I have argued elsewhere, the reformation through purge that Titania promises is both spiritual and physical in its aims and methods, since, along with the refinements in his environment, it involves a distinctly laxative diet of
- apricocks and dewberries,
- … purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
We are asked to imagine (if not necessarily to believe) that such a diet would have the effect of lightening his bodily substance and thus of refining the words and behaviors coming out of it.38 As Thomas Walkington argues in The Optick Glasse of Humors, the right nutriment roused and lightened the spirits, which, in turn, lightened the flesh: “a mery pleasant man is more light then one that is sad, and a man that is deade is farre heavier than one aliue” (100–101).
The encouragement in all these cases presupposes the metonymic significance of fluids in the humoral body—blood and spirits standing here for bold behaviors, urination (as a still possible mode of male public display) standing in for ejaculation and the proof of expansive bodily capacities of all sorts. If the body is a container of the fluids—blood and spirits—that produce behaviors, then a bigger capacity for containment shows the bigger man. Like Sir Andrew, Malvolio is being invited not just to change his external demeanor—his “humble slough” of steward's clothing and deferential manner—but in effect to alter and expand the capacity of his internal substance or at least to perform the prepossessing behaviors that would signal (or, in the reciprocity of humoral logic, even produce) such an alteration and expansion. The advice, Maria tells Toby later, is (p.215) specifically designed to offend Olivia in terms of humoral antipathy not unlike those that Shylock has offered the Duke of Venice—presenting her with a color she abhors, a fashion she detests, and a feigned mirth unsuitable for her mood as Maria reads it: “he will smile upon her, which will now be so unsuitable to her disposition, being addicted to a melancholy as she is” (2.5.200–202). And indeed, Olivia does exclaim right away to Malvolio about the inappropriateness of his affective display: “Smil̓st thou? I sent for thee upon a sad occasion” (3.4.18–19). Like Dromio, Malvolio has offended against the humoral proprieties proper to his relation to Olivia as servant to mistress, even if the mistress herself is criticized as being “addicted to a melancholy” (2.5.202)—that is, to the by-products, both psychological and physiological, of her own complexion. He has been encouraged to become a humorous gallant, to pour himself into all fashions, but such changeability in this play is reserved for the wellborn—even the impoverished wellborn such as Viola and Sebastian.
The evident social fluidity, especially the fluidity of gender, that has so preoccupied recent criticism of Twelfth Night is—again as I have argued elsewhere—everywhere contained in the play by a more conservative biological discourse, which prescribes the blood and heat—hence the behavior—humorally proper to men and women, to the elite and their social inferiors.39 Humoral impropriety in the case of the class-jumping Malvolio turns less upon gender than upon status, especially since his attentions are fixed on a woman who herself threatens the “natural” boundaries of gender by presuming to control male access to her person and fortune, to choose the object of her affections for herself, and to act vigorously in pursuit of those affections.40 That both lady and steward threaten social norms in similar ways is clear in the exposure to which they are jointly subject in the famous dirty joke that emerges from Malvolio's attempts to decipher her handwriting: “By my life, this is my lady's hand. These be her very c's, her u's, and her t's, and thus makes she her great P's” (2.5.86–88). As critics have noted, Malvolio's spelling out of “c-u-t”—an Elizabethan slang word for vagina—enacts the misogynist reduction of all women to their genitalia, the metonymical displacement of the writing hand as the emblem of individuality by the vagina as emblem of female lowliness and lack of worth.41 That reduction is itself aggravated in the satiric identification of Olivia, who (p.216) wants to be walled off and self-enclosed in her household, with her great “pees.” It is an identification of the female body with incontinence and physical lack of control. For Malvolio to know Olivia's great pees, moreover, is to associate him with the lowly household task of waste removal, a job proper only to servants far below him in rank.42 This image of excretion, coming so early in a scene where Malvolio thinks he is being enjoined to an elevation of bodily matter and social habitus thanks to the fates' recognition of his worthy blood and spirits, functions as a leveling reminder of the social limits of humoral transformation. For the behaviors that Maria's forged letter asks Malvolio to perform on command—the expenditure of spirit in incessant smiling, the cross-gartering that numbs and swells his legs—represent an extreme of humoral manipulation. “Sad, lady?”Malvolio exclaims when he first appears to Olivia in costume, “I could be sad. This does make some obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering … Not black in my mind, though yellow in my legs” (3.4.20–21, 26–27). Here Malvolio's flesh and blood resist their appropriation by fashion, signal their resistance to melting. In humoral terms, Malvolio is punished physically for the excessive warmth of his aspirant blood and spirits by the imposition of “obstruction in the blood”—a mechanical obstruction that would slow and cool his blood. In this play, the steward “sick of self-love” who “tastes with a distemper'd appetite” (1.5.90–91) is not allowed to aspire romantically to the lady he serves. And he is also not allowed to enjoy the warmth and increase of blood and spirits such aspirations evidently produce; indeed he is humiliated because of them. The madness of which he is accused—“midsummer madness” (3.4.56) or the madness produced by the drying of the brain and spirits in hot weather—ironically acknowledges the great expenditure, again both physiological and psychological, that Malvolio's performance has required. In bodily terms, Malvolio has been trapped into committing a particularly egregious form of humoral insubordination—the failure to suit one's own humor and behaviors to those of one's social superiors—and is punished, spectacularly, with the symbolic social nullification and physical isolation reserved for those possessed by alien spirits. Even Sir Toby's punning allusion to Malvolio as being inhabited by scriptural devils—“if all the devils of hell be drawn in little, and Legion himself possess'd him” (85–86)—fosters the humoral context of Malvolio's entrapment: “Legion” was the name of an “unclean spirit” (Mark 5:8–9); here it is the domestic equivalent of the socially “unclean” spirit that the household revelers accuse Malvolio of becoming.
(p.217) But it is important to recognize how Malvolio's social offensiveness differs from the offenses committed by the gentlemanly aspirants of Jonsonian humors comedy. Indeed, while satire directed against a household steward did have some resonance for contemporary playgoers, insofar as Malvolio is seen sometimes as representing a new professional class, sometimes as representing unattractive Puritan behaviors, the codes of conduct mocked in Twelfth Night participate more in what Bryson calls modes of courtliness than in modes of urbanity. Olivia's narcissistic withdrawal from active management of her household has permitted a disturbance in its social hierarchy—the complementary forms of misrule manifested in Malvolio's aggressive interpretation of her wishes and in the out-of-season revelry by everyone else. That hierarchy is not restored by the gulling of Malvolio—which is just another manifestation of misrule—but by the arrival of Sebastian, a social aspirant undone by shipwreck who can legitimately claim to be birthright gentry and whose marriage to Olivia thus resolves a myriad of tensions generated by the combination of female rule, stewardly class-jumping, and the thermal inadequacies of the other men and near-men. Unlike the humorally deficient Sir Andrew and Viola, whose lack of a “little thing” signals her female coldness, Sebastian needs no encouragement to fight in response to Sir Andrew's attack—“Why, there's for thee, and there, and there. Are all the people mad?” (4.1.26–27)—or to draw first on Sir Toby: “If thou dar'st tempt me further, draw thy sword” (43). His spontaneous willingness to marry an overeager woman whom he does not know at all and whose sanity he doubts are also evidence that his blood and spirits willingly embrace what the Fates have handed him, with no need of a guileful letter to lead them on. He need not publish his suit, since his sister has already done so for him, and his behavior toward Olivia, Toby, and Sir Andrew demonstrates presence of the hot blood and spirits that Viola's physical timidity shows her to be lacking. In Twelfth Night, it is Sebastian who secures the humoral chain of being even as he resolves the crisis of sexual (non)difference that Cesario's imitation of him created.
Certainly by comparison to the urban world of Jonsonian comedy, the household hierarchy restored at the end of Twelfth Night is—in early modern terms—a belated and nostalgic one. Jonson's comedies—including the quarto version of Every Man in His Humour with its Italianate characters and setting—express Bryson's emergent codes of urbanity by constructing a society where more or less socially equal men of radically unequal talents, abilities, and means vie for recognition and approval mostly from one another rather than from some recognized source of social (p.218) authority.43 In these plays, the claim to possession of a humor is at the core of social performativity, the basis for any hope of preeminence, a mark of “individuality” achieved—paradoxically—through imitation. For London gallants at the end of the sixteenth century, as J. B. Bamborough has noted (103) and as we have seen in Dekker's Gull's Hornbook, having a humor came to mean having a whim or a caprice—as if the mind were suddenly flooded by the current of an impulse. What such a formulation occludes, however, is the social struggle for preeminence and individuation that the claim to having a humor represents. To be able to act boldly on one's whims, one's momentary passions, might well be thought of as the essence of what Bryson would call the codes of lordliness. In Taming of the Shrew, as I noted in chapter 2, it is the lord's whim to conduct an elaborate social experiment on the tinker Christopher Sly, whom he finds passed out from drink on an alehouse floor. It is the lord's humor to humor Sly, to endow Sly with humorality in the fashionable sense of the word, to manipulate the humoral chain of being in order to tease the base-born man with the humoral sensation of his own potential for lordliness. When Sly resists—“call me not honor nor lordship” (ind., 2.5–6)—the lord treats it as just another example of Sly's distemper and departure from the norms of his station in life: “Heaven cease this idle humor in your honor!” (13). But the play does suggest the limits of the lord's command over his servants when the page Bartholomew, dressed up as the “lord” Sly's wife, has to put off Sly's increasingly sharp demands for sexual gratification: “Servants, leave me and her alone. Madam, undress you, and come now to bed” (ind., 2.116–17). The page might be sexually available to the lord—though there is no textual evidence for this supposition—but he is apparently unwilling to be sexually available to a man so much his social inferior, since he begs his real master:
- Thrice-noble lord, let me entreat of you
- To pardon me yet for a night or two;
- Or if not so, until the sun be set.
- (ind., 2.118–20)
(Daytime dalliance—as Malvolio's daydream also suggests—was the prerogative of gentlemen who owned their own time. The page presumably hopes that nighttime will end his real lord's humorous experiment.)
(p.219) But for the citizens and gentlemen in humors comedy with less power than Sly's lord, to announce a humor publicly is an attempt, rather like Nym's, to make their interiority have an effect within and upon a social and physical environment in full recognition of that environment's tendency to push back. Their need to be aggressive in their claims to individuality matches that of Nym, and many of Jonson's humoral characters share Nym's utter disregard for his own offensiveness. Indeed it is the mighty power of the social world's resistance to the claims of the humorous individual that gives action in Jonsonian comedy its tendency to devolve into quarrelsomeness—exemplified in the famous game of vapors in Bartholomew Fair in which “every man” is “to oppose the last man that spoke, whether it concern'd him, or no” (44.22 S.D.). Such occasions, as we shall see below, are the very antithesis of courtly subordination—a grotesque antithetical mirroring of courtly subjection by opposition for its own sake. For Jonson, as we shall see, quarrelsomeness, even more than capriciousness, is the primary form that humorality takes in urban characters. And quarrelsomeness is intimately related to what I referred to in chapter 1 as the “pneumatic character” of early modern life, with the swirling movements of passions among characters imitating the movements of wind and air in the atmosphere around them.
Air and passions, we need to remember, were among the six nonnaturals that helped to determine early modern well-being. In The Optick Glasse of Humours, Walkington suggests the importance of air to the character of the flesh and the soul housed within it: “Giue mee leaue to speake a little of the ayre: howe it is receiued into the body doth either greatly advantage or little availe the minde. It is certaine that the excellencie of the soule followes the purity of the heavens, the temperature of the aire” (26). If we think of air as a material presence rather than merely vacuity, it becomes a charged medium for all social exchange. Especially in the self-conscious and resonant atmosphere of the theater, air is what the playwright or his character says it is—“the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament” (Hamlet, 2.2.300–301).44 For Shakespeare and Jonson, in its human form as breath—sometimes with but also without speech—the pneumatic movements of air between characters become metonymic of their power relations, as characters strive for a dominance that they construe as an instrumentalization or a playing of one upon another. We have already noted this in chapter 1 in the terms of Hamlet's rebuke to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “Do you think I am easier to be play'd on than a pipe?” (3.2.369–70). We find it too (p.220) in Maria's scornful account of Sir Andrew's quarrelsomeness: “He's a great quarreller; and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarreling, ̓tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave” (Twelfth Night, 1.3.30–33). Her pun on gust—as taste or appetite and as burst of air—establishes the connection between inside and outside worlds, suggests the link between movements of air and currents of emotion. In a pneumatic context, the claim to humorality is thus also, implicitly, a claim upon deference and a demand for social accommodation. Sometimes that demand is part of a claim to be accorded the rights of the gentleman, but in a variant case, it sometimes expresses a protodemocratic resistance to gentlemanly claims of privilege in the realm of affect, as when the lowly water-carrier Cob in Every Man in His Humour exclaims, “Nay, I have my rheum”—Cob's old-fashioned word for humor—“and I can be angry as well as another, sir” (3.4.12–13). Having the right to anger, having the right literally to give one's anger an airing that others must take in, and being able to feed one's humor—these become the watchwords for Jonson's male characters as they seek to promote their own interests and, as we shall see, for some of his more aggressive female ones as well.
But Jonson's representation of humorality is more complex—indeed more interesting—than his characters are inclined to make it seem in their repeated claims for what I am calling the humoral right of way. For Jonson makes use of both aspects of humoral discourse that I mentioned near the start of this chapter—one, the more or less Galenic biological discourse of the four qualities of heat, moisture, cold, and dryness that naturalizes even as it complicates the sources of human psychophysiological difference; the other, the social discourse of humorality through which individual characters seek to advance themselves in individuated social existence against the panoply of social forces competing for emotional precedence. Jonson's characters claim their humorality in socially explicit terms—by declaring their need to feed their humors, their right to have a humor—even as they speak a figurative language that deeply embeds a physiological humorality that qualifies or even contradicts the individuating emphasis of their social claims. I want to follow this argument in several Jonson plays, concentrating especially on Every Man in His Humour and Bartholomew Fair, in order to see how Jonson's humor characters respond to the built-in emotional possibilities and constraints of the social order and how their hopes of advancing their individuality fare in the fierce winds of social competition.
Every Man in His Humour suggests that Jonson understood the confusingly fluid relations of urban life to be themselves productive of emotional disorder between and within individual subjects. In his urban comedies, the (p.221) social and emotional structure of deference and accommodation that I have called the humoral right of way seems ambiguous, in disrepair, or frighteningly open to radical renegotiation. Once Wellbred's dinner invitation to Edward Knowell has begun the movement from a paternal country household into the city, the action centers loosely around two households—those of Master Kitely and of Cob the water-carrier, where the presence of Wellbred and Bobadill as gentlemen lodgers has caused a disruption of order and authority leading to jealousy, anger, and periodic outbreaks of physical violence. Put otherwise, the evident confusions in the social hierarchy in the play's London breed confusions in the domestic and emotional hierarchies, too. When Cob declares that, even in his lowliness, he “can be angry as well as another, sir” (3.4.12–13), we can see how deeply into the social order the play's interest in the question of emotional autonomy or sway reaches. It is important to note that Cob's notion of affective privilege—having physiological “rheum” or humor—seems to reduce ultimately to a right to have and express anger as opposed to other, kindlier emotions. Anger maintains physical and psychological boundaries that other emotions might compromise. For Jonson, the overarching issues of civil life may thus reduce to the question of managing quarrelsomeness—which seems to be the characteristic temperature and endpoint of urban intercourse. This is not only because of the inevitability of anger, generally, but because of the incentives to aggression and impulsivity—both structural and psychophysiological—that exist when individuals have to negotiate their places in an unclear social order and are forced to share the same physical and symbolic spaces with equally anxious others.45
Jonson arranges the opening of Every Man in His Humour so as to emphasize the relation, in the display and management of anger, between the social and emotional hierarchies and between the two discourses of the humors. Stephen, the play's country gull, pays an early visit to the Knowell household in order to announce his sudden desire to learn the languages of hawking and hunting, because “he is for no gallant's company without ̓em” (1.1.40). In old Knowell's long Polonian rebuke, a host of conservative ethical precepts, associated here with rural retirement, are naturalized by metaphors drawn from humoral biology.46 Knowell counsels Stephen against spending money foolishly on “every foolish brain that humours you” (63) and thrusting himself boldly into company instead of waiting
His reproof, interestingly, includes a specific objection to having Stephen look at him directly—“Nay, never look at me” (49). The moment is glossed by Thomas Wright, who explains that it is not “good manners, that the inferiour should fixe his eyes vpon his superiours countenance … because it were presumption for him to attempt the entrance or priuie passage into his superiors minde” (29). Knowell's angry reaction suggests that Stephen's eyes, attempting intersubjectivity without invitation, have claimed an equality where it does not exist; he has broken a social rule of the hierarchized gaze especially at a time when eyebeams were thought to act upon what they saw. More pointedly, Knowell adopts an elemental language of the qualities to construe Stephen's bold attempts at gentlemanly display as a shameful wasting of bodily stuff:
- Nor would I you should melt away yourself
- In flashing bravery, lest while you affect
- To make a blaze of gentry to the world,
- A little puff of scorn extinguish it,
- And you be left, like an unsavoury snuff,
- Whose property is only to offend.
Knowell's language returns us to the portrait of hyperresponsive flatterers at the opening of Sejanus. He images what he regards as socially valueless—including perhaps that human object called Stephen—as physically malleable or insubstantial, an insignificant expenditure of heat in a larger pneumatic world. Thus the “flashing” of Stephen's “bravery” does not refer to a heat of estimable deeds proceeding from the inner worth but rather to splendid clothes decking his outside (OED, bravery, 3b). The equation here is between the expenditure of fortune and the expenditure of self. The contemptuous troping of Stephen's body as a tallow candle quickly burning itself out with an extravagant little blaze of expensive, fashionable behaviors is thus both social and physiological, based on the early modern conception of physical life as sustained by the expenditure of radical heat and moisture, ideally held in balance. In order to grasp the trope's inner logic—even at the risk of grotesquely magnifying Stephen's importance—it should be understood that moisture here is both bodily irrigation and fuel. As (p.223) Walkington explains, “Mans life saith Aristotle, is vpheld by two staffes: the one is … natiue heate, the other is, … radicall moisture” (64). He cites Aristotle's simile that “our heate is like the flame of a burning lampe; the moisture like the foieson or oyle of the lampe, wherewith it continues burning. As in the lampe, if there bee not a symmetrie and a just measure of the one with the other, they will in a short time, the one of them destroy the other” (64–65). In this comparison, blood is “the oyle of the lampe of our life” (111). Walkington uses the candle—here signifying soul or spirit—to describe the imbalance of a distempered soul: “a candle in the lanterne can yeeld but a glimmering light through an impure and darkesome horne” (23). An intemperate burning of bodily stuff—usually, as we have seen, by means of choler, and in Stephen choler expressed in modestly aggressive acts of social display such as a desire to learn hawking and hunting—leads to smoke, soot, and noxious vapors. Stephen's “blaze of gentry” threatens to extinguish Stephen's potentially worthy inner stuff—whether we construe that stuff as biological or social—just as Stephen's noxious behavioral display, imaged here as a smelly wick or an “unsavoury snuff,” prompts another's scornful blowing out into social nullification. This is what it means to be subject to the pneumatic character of another's contempt, to the larger breath of the bigger man. Knowell's tropes of extinction and self-extinction furthermore stand in opposition to gentlemanliness as a measured maintenance of fortune and of bodily stuff—solidity contrasted to the evanescence of waxy, or fatty, bodiliness losing itself in melting and blazing. Knowell warns Stephen that gentility is merely
- an airy and mere borrowed thing,
- From dead men's dust and bones: and none of yours
- Except you make or hold it.
This makes the contrast between substantial and insubstantial kinds of bodily being cognate with substantial and insubstantial forms of gentility.
My point in dwelling overlong on poor Stephen as a smelly, blown-out candle is that the overdetermined interplay between social and bodily formations here also runs throughout the play in the language that characters use to render sharp social judgments upon one another and to seek to invent or secure their places in a jostling urban world. An organic imagery—of environmental interactions of bodily mettle/metal with breath or air, water, and fire—attaches to characters in order that we may (p.224) form judgments in material terms of their worth, their substantiality, their effect in the world, and their claims on our attention. The pun on mettle/metal discussed in chapter 1 returns here with particular force in an early modern urban ecology of the passions—as a way of extending subject status to characters who claim to have humors but otherwise speak without benefit of interior complexity. Thus, clothes and behaviors—the expenditure of self in the world—become the surface ornamentations of metal on mettle, or they function in tropes of the tempered interactions of metals with air and fire. Young Knowell greets his cousin Stephen by mock-praising him as a man “so graced, gilded, or (to use a more fit metaphor) so tin-foiled by nature, as not ten housewives' pewter (again̓ a good time) shows more bright to the world than he” (1.3.91–93). The quarto text for the same speech adds, “Not that you have a leaden constitution, coz—although perhaps a little inclining to that temper and so the more apt to melt with pity when you fall into the fire of rage” (1.2.100–103). As in old Knowell's rebuke in the previous scene, Stephen is seen as still in danger of melting—this time not as a smelly candle but as a body thinly covered over with a protective or decorative layer of tin. As Miola points out in his edition of the 1601 quarto text for Every Man in His Humour, the trope systematically reduces Stephen from graced (with the air of gentility?) to gilded to covered with base metal. In both the 1601 quarto and the 1616 Folio texts of the play, Edward/Lorenzo junior's metaphor recognizes the use of lead to make tin and may also imply lead's softness and malleability and the dirty smoke involved in its smelting. Like tin, the trope implies, Stephen melts down messily at low temperatures; he will not last. The image of a gallant as a man covered in thin foil may also reflect the social distance and decline in early modern manhood from the sturdily carapaced figure of the armored knight. The same implied comparison between more and less worthy metals, we recall, lies behind Prince Hal's comparison of his future reformation to “bright metal on a sullen ground” (1 Henry IV, 1.2.212), which,
- glitt'ring o'er my fault,
- Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
- Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
And it returned in Middleton's Chaste Maid in Cheapside, as we saw in chapter 2, in Mrs. Yellowhammer's disparaging comments on her daughter's heaviness, as she tells Moll,
Characters in this play turn repeatedly to a metal-based scale of values in offering judgments of fellow human beings—of their inner mettle. Old Knowell rebukes Brainworm, begging in disguise as a poor veteran, for being one of those men who do not care
- how the metal of your minds
- Is eaten with the rust of idleness.
The play's urban gull Matthew reports to Bobadill that he and Downright have quarreled over a hanger, which Matthew valued “both for fashion and workmanship,” as “most peremptory-beautiful and gentlemanlike” (1.5.72–73). Bobadill in reply mocks Downright as a man “born for the manger” who has “not so much as a good phrase in his belly, but all old iron and rusty proverbs! A good commodity for some smith to make hobnails of” (82–85). At these moments, self is imagined as a physical substance showing its innate properties—for remaining self-same or for becoming other—through its associations with a value-laden object world and with elemental interactions with the environment. Life in time is imagined as rusting in the air, or as melting with rage, or as being a man so old-fashioned that words rust in his belly before they are spoken.
A man's mettle is also signaled by the metal he wears on his person or attempts to purchase. Thus Stephen's unworthy—or perhaps merely middling—mettle is presumably to blame when he lacks the judgment to tell a good sword from a bad one, buying one of obviously poor quality on the disguised Brainworm's assurance that it is “a most pure Toledo” (2.4.72). The link between flesh and mettle comes in the quality of tempering, which is itself the heated interaction of qualities: the specially valued temper of Toledo swords, according to Miola, came “from some peculiar quality of the water [from the Tagus] in which the metal was plunged, while glowing from the forge.”47 In 1.5, the braggart soldier Bobadill, seeking to avoid any dangerous encounters at all, practices combat with a bed staff. And Justice Clement, surprised at Cob's temerity in speaking against taking tobacco, (p.226) scorns the water-carrier in metallic terms: “A slave that never drunk out of better than pisspot metal in his life! And he to deprave and abuse the virtue of an herb, so generally received in the courts of princes, the chambers of nobles, the bowers of sweet ladies, the cabins of soldiers” (3.7.55—59). Cob, drinking from a metal that his betters use only for chamber pots, becomes in effect guilty of exchanging beer and urine, nutriment and excrement. Base-born and base metal reveal their inner lack of worth in the eyes of their betters.
The mechanism involved in all these metallic tropes is more than an ethical judgment rendered by associating a character with an unworthy substance; the force of analogical thinking or of embedded cosmological epistemology requires us to think of the characters themselves either as made of unworthy and insubstantial materials (Stephen as tin foil or smelly tallow, Brainworm as rusting with inactivity, Cob as pisspot metal), as containing them or as being linked, analogically, to the properties of substances. In this logic, the old metal of scrap-iron words in irascible squire Downright's belly leads to the rusty proverbs of his speech, much as Andrew Aguecheek is encouraged to warm up his slow-cold wits for the production of “excellent jests, fire-new from the mint” (Twelfth Night, 3.2.22). The structure of differences among men is thus materialized as qualitative differences in the substance of their flesh, with flesh given properties analogous to objects in the world. This equation is not by itself novel: we have already seen in chapter 1 how wrath hardens Pyrrhus in his rampage through Troy. We recognize the significance attributed to hardness when Henry V exhorts his soldiers before Agincourt to
- stiffen the sinews, [conjure] up the blood,
- Disguise fair nature with hard-favor'd rage.
Or when Hamlet, raging against the men who would restrain him from pursuing the ghost, describes “each petty artere” in his body as “as hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve” (1.4.82–83). The more particular question in humors comedy involves what mettle/metal is proper to the complex interactions of modern urban life, what are the proper psychophysiological mainsprings of behaviors and conversation in such a confusing and ambiguous social order.
That this is at least part of the question may underscore why Jonson includes a braggart soldier and would-be fencing instructor such as Bobadill in the populace of Every Man in His Humour's London and why Brainworm (p.227) chooses a disguise as a turned-out veteran—that is, why he chooses a debased version of the archaic figure of the armed warrior in the heart of the city. But it also suggests the role of other elements in the determination of qualitatively proper flesh, in the reciprocal interactions that connect self and spirits to the environment. There is, for example, metaphorical reference to the quality of flesh implied in Wellbred's letter to young Knowell, which includes an invitation to meet a fellow poet, “a rhymer, sir, o' your own batch, your own leaven” (1.2.74–75). Poets are softer than warriors or even would-be gentlemen. The image of the body as tallow candle here yields to the yeastiness of flesh as dough—expansive, aerated, rising, an image that involves flesh with the elements of air and heat and moisture. Dough is metamorphic, its rising an absorbing of moisture and heat. Insofar as moisture and heat explain the activity of flesh and the spirits housed in a doughy body, the figure links flesh with the heated activity of spirits and the force of inspiration, the airy insubstantiality of poetic invention that old Knowell describes when he speaks of his son's aspirations to being a poet in humoral terms:
- Myself was once a student; and, indeed,
- Fed with the selfsame humour he is now,
- Dreaming on naught but idle poetry.
Or, as the adjective “idle” suggests, doughy poets may be more phlegmatic than aerated. But the quality of their flesh and hence perhaps their minds—as the hint of disparagement here conveys—is bred of inactivity. This reflection on inactivity is presumably the force behind Wellbred's invitation to Edward to “come over to me quickly,” to “make hither with an appetite” (1.2.72, 78) for a feast of gulls. (We shall contemplate the implications of eating gulls and feeding one's humor later.)
Characters here, as we have seen elsewhere, represent each other in terms of organic relationships to the elements, as if those relationships fixed them ethically and socially. We may wish to question or even dismiss specific judgments—Bobadill's judgment of Downright, for instance—even as we recognize the early modern habits of thought about self and the object world that such judgments represent. Of all the elements mentioned in the play, however, references to the air as the source of health, life, and power are particularly expressive. Characters more self-aware than Stephen understand and express their experience of this threatening penetrability and openness to others in their responses to the air. Thus when the (p.228) paranoically jealous Kitely confesses to having a headache, his wife replies sweetly, “I pray thee, good sweetheart, come in; the air will do you harm, in troth” (2.3.50–51). Kitely, presumably hearing “sweet hart,” responds as if he were an animal being hunted by its scent: “The air! She has me i'the wind!” (53). In this grandiose paranoid fantasy, Dame Kitely is Diana and he is Actaeon. The buried allusion is of course reminiscent of the opening of Twelfth Night, where the lovesick Orsino imagines the beauty of his beloved as having the power to purify the air:
- O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
- Methought she purg'd the air of pestilence!
- That instance was I turn'd into a hart.
Plague was thought to be airborne. The air Orsino breathed was pestilent before he was in love, before Olivia was there to cleanse it. Kitely has the opposite sensations: jealousy is a poisoning of his household air, the contamination of one passion by another, the dampening of love's heat by fear's cold, the erosion of love by fear. Jealousy
- May well be called poor mortals' plague:
- For, like a pestilence, it doth infect
- The houses of the brain. First it begins
- Solely to work upon the fantasy,
- Filling her seat with such pestiferous air,
- As soon corrupts the judgment; and from thence
- Sends like contagion to the memory:
- Still each to other giving the infection.
- Which, as a subtle vapour, spreads itself
- Confusedly through every sensive part,
- Till not a thought, or motion, in the mind,
- Be free from the black poison of suspect.
This self-report depends on an analogy between domestic spaces and cognitive spaces, between the air occupying house and brain. We have seen (p.229) Othello, too, express his sense of jealousy as living within an imprisoning miasma:
- I had rather be a toad
- And live upon the vapor of a dungeon
- Than keep a corner in the thing I love
- For others' uses.
Air takes on liquid properties in such figurations. Othello's later trope (in 4.2.61–62) of decayed love as a cistern poisoned by the presence of toads knotting and engendering within it also describes jealousy in terms of environmental pollution—the poisoning of a domestic landscape by emotional toxins. What citizen Kitely discovers is that having the gentlemanly Wellbred as a lodger is to have his domestic space invaded and turned into a “public receptacle / For giddy humour” (2.1.59–60)—a waste space for the expression of fashionable behaviors. But it is also to be penetrated psychophysiologically by the new distempered atmosphere that Wellbred and his followers create in his household. Jealousy reverses the cleansing effects of love; to be jealous is to live in a house of distemper, to be filled inside one's brain with a “black cloud” (2.3.71) of bad air. The action of this play, like other plays centered on jealousy, underscores the social contagion of which jealousy is both cause and effect. What Kitely articulates is like Othello's pain in his sense of being invaded by alien substances, but the imagery is etherealized and localized as one space in the brain infects the others.
If disease is the poisonous spread of bad air in one's internal spaces, then health is the balanced flow of bodily fluids, blood and air preeminent among them. In a firm and socially fixed body, it is the proportions of blood and air that express its particular ethical and moral weight. So when Kitely remembers Wellbred when he first was welcomed as gentleman lodger into his household, Kitely expresses Wellbred's attractiveness in terms of a balance of blood and aerated spirits:
- Methought he bare himself in such a fashion,
- So full of man, and sweetness in his carriage,
- And (what was chief) it showed not borrowed in him,
- But all he did, became him as his own,
- And seemed as perfect, proper, and possessed
- As breath, with life, or colour, with the blood.
(p.230) Blood and breath, in this formulation, are metonymic of the behaviors they animate, so that Wellbred's initial self-possession is described as a proportion-ateness of lively breath and sanguine color. They produce what Kitely recognizes as authenticity, self-sameness—“all he did, became him as his own.” Here, according to Walkington, lies the biological basis of Wellbred's gentlemanly preeminence: “if there were a monarch or prince to bee constituted over all temperatures, this purple sanguine complexion should, no doubts, aspire to that hie preheminence of bearing rule: for this is the ornament of the body, the pride of humors, the paragon of complexions, the prince of all temperatures, for blood is oyle of the lampe of our life” (110–11). What is important here is not to judge whether Kitely's praise of Wellbred is sincere or not (Kitely's jealousy makes this possibility doubtful) but to recognize his strategic desire to ground Wellbred's social preeminence and pleasing manner in human biology—even if, in the circularity of humoral logic, those material qualities of well-balanced breath and blood have to be inferred from the behaviors they are designed to explain. But this not-quite-metaphorical equation of social preeminence with bodily health and solubility allows Kitely to describe the onset of urban gallantry in Wellbred as a communicable disorder that transforms Kitely's house and threatens its deferential order:
- He makes my house here common as a mart,
- A theatre, a public receptacle
- For giddy humour, and diseased riot;
- And here (as in a tavern, or a stews)
- He and his wild associates spend their hours,
- In repetition of lascivious jests,
- Swear, leap, drink, dance, and revel night by night,
- Control my servants: and indeed what not?
Not surprisingly, Kitely goes on describe Wellbred's transformation as the heating of his blood to diseased excess and an expansion of his breath into the air:
- if I should speak
- He would be ready from his heat of humour,
- And overflowing of the vapour in him,
- To blow the ears of his familiars With the false breath of telling what disgraces
- And low disparagements I had put upon him.
Like Hamlet, Every Man in His Humour is sensitive to the movements of breath and air between characters as signaling relations of power and preeminence—especially as breath is expended aggressively in laughter, anger, or scorn. In Hamlet, one key affective change took place when he moved from imagining himself passively as the object of another's scornful breath in the second soliloquy—who “plucks off my beard and blows it in my face, / Tweaks me by the nose, gives me the lie i'th'throat / As deep as to the lungs?” (2.2.573–75)—to rebuking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for imagining him as their pipe to blow on. In the opening of Every Man in His Humour, after being scolded by his uncle, Stephen reverses the current of anger that he may not express and vents it onto a serving man—“Whoreson base fellow! A mechanical serving-man!” (1.2.24)—who accepts the unjustified tirade in deferential silence. Old Knowell, having threatened his nephew's pitiful blaze of gentility with the breath of social extinction, then rebukes Stephen for trying to inflate himself—or reinflate and reinflame himself—by expressing anger toward one who cannot reciprocate:
- You see, the honest man demeans himself
- Modestly toward you, giving no reply
- To your unseasoned, quarreling, rude fashion;
- And still you huff it, with a kind of carriage
- As void of wit as of humanity.
Stephen here inhales and exhales angrily—huffs it—at another's expense. The sequence of events—Knowell scolding Stephen, Stephen scolding the servant, the older man over the younger, the birthright gentleman over a serving man, his social inferior—offers a clear correspondence among the pneumatics of power, the humoral right of way, and the social hierarchy. But we soon see that the tin-foiled Stephen is himself merely instrumentation for the greater social powers of his cousin Edward and his friend Wellbred. Part of Edward's mock-praise of Stephen is as one who, with “every word” has left “the savour of a strong spirit” (1.3.90)—as if Stephen holds mastery over the field of air around him. (Since “savour” of a strong spirit suggests halitosis—and in performance could easily be made to do so through gesture—Edward's praise of Steven's strong words is even more equivocal.) But he and Wellbred regard all the gulls as “wind instruments” (p.232) (3.1.52) for them to play upon; Stephen is not only his cousin's drum, since “everyone may play upon him” (3.2.20–21), but also “a child's whistle” (22). Taken together, such tropes suggest not only Stephen's openness to the world but the internal emptiness or vacuity of a human shell who invites the aggressive breath of others. Far from being neutral, then, a vacant medium of social exchange in the play, the air is part of the social body vexed by the distempers of its quarreling members.
The social relations among Kitely, Wellbred, and Downright are particularly expressive of the mobility and fluidity of social relations in this play's London—since the half-brothers Wellbred and Downright are gentlemen but related to citizen Kitely by his marriage to their sister. We learn that some of Kitely's displeasure with Wellbred comes from the rancor of being mocked as a citizen: they
- Make their loose comments upon every word,
- Gesture, or look I use; mock me all over,
- From my flat cap unto my shining shoes.
The emotional constraints imposed by class differences seem involved in Kitely's reluctance to express his anger to Wellbred directly. By using Downright as the agent of his disciplinary efforts, Kitely turns his attempts to dislodge or at least contain his gentleman lodger and his companions into a contest for gentlemanly preeminence between the brothers—the very relationship that Louis Montrose has identified as particularly prone to tension and hostility (28–54). The brothers are both disposed to a sudden anger that seems to express their sense of gentlemanly privilege and mark of superiority and which establishes the emotional character of their bitter competition. Downright sees himself as shamed by his brother's disorderly companions: “Let me not live, and I could not find in my heart to swinge the whole ging of'em, one after another, and begin with him first” (2.2.27–29). Downright explodes to Kitely, “he mads me, I could eat my very spur-leathers for anger! But why are you so tame?” (2.1.78–79). But Wellbred himself is no less choleric in the face of his half-brother Downright's disapproval: “You are an ass, do you see,” he tells Downright in a fury. “Touch any man here, and by this hand, I'll run my rapier to the hilts in you” (4.2.109–10). The point is not that Wellbred values most of his companions—we know that he does not—but that he regards public reproof from his brother as a point of dishonor. As Bridget tells Downright,
It might be fair to ask whose poor opinion and loss of respect Wellbred fears, given the odd assortment of characters who follow in his wake; the answer would have to come from that fantasy realm of the ideological—where the illusion of visible social preeminence as a value in and of itself would, Slavoj Žižek tells us, necessarily originate.49 Certainly what Bridget's remark points to is the competitive atmosphere established from the very beginning of the play, when Wellbred invites young Knowell to visit him in London and inspect the assortment of gulls he has assembled for their mutual enjoyment as men of sense. Wellbred surrounds himself with gulls—at least in part—to establish his social preeminence, but he can only maintain that preeminence by inviting others to watch him enjoy it. This is of course why he invites young Knowell to visit him in the city, but it is also why he labels the poetaster Matthew and the braggart soldier Bobadill as a “present” for Edward (1.2.73)—indeed as present of rarities more magnificent than the presentations made by the Levant Company to the Sultan of Turkey. “I would ha̓ you make hither with an appetite,” Wellbred tells Edward in his letter. “If the worst of'em be not worth your journey, draw your bill of charges … and you shall be allowed your viaticum” (78–81). The language here of gift-giving underscores the invitation as initiating a genial competition in homosocial preeminence and explains the terms of reciprocal hospitality in Edward's response—to “furnish our feast with one gull more toward the mess” and to equal Wellbred's “brace” by bringing his cousin Stephen and finding one: “here's one, that's three: oh, for a fourth” (1.3.56–57). This is why Edward seeks to encourage in Stephen the very conduct his father has singled out for reproof and containment. “I will be more proud,” Stephen promises his cousin, “and melancholy, and gentleman-like, than I have been” (104–5)—a pledge Edward takes as hopeful augury that “we may hap have a match with the city, and play him for forty pound” (108–9).
The struggle between Edward and Wellbred for preeminence in the matter of finding gulls and then feasting on them works to highlight the (p.234) abundance and variety of urban humors generally, but the real point of the objectification of gulls is enhancing the subjectivity of the gentleman who finds, names, and masters them. The term for such enhanced subjectification is “feeding one's humor”—the process of enlarging the scope of one's ability to be socially capricious at the expense of others, to orchestrate men and dictate their manners as a form of social mastery. Here is where the humors as a social discourse find widest expression in Jonson's humors comedy—in the competitive claims to humorality by gulls who wish to claim individuality as a way of fixing their identities in the mobile, fluid exchanges of urban society and by young men such as Wellbred and Edward Knowell. They develop an appetite for the spectacle of others' affectations in order to enhance the quality of their self-experience. But in a setting in which the movement of air between characters is metonymic of power relations, in which men become wind instruments for others to blow upon, the experience of one's own humorality seems—like the process of garnering credentials as a gentleman—achievable only at others' expense. This is, of course, entirely predictable in societies like those in early modern comedy, where, as we have seen, the humoral hierarchy does indeed match—or is supposed to match—the social hierarchy. It should not be surprising, then, that emotional privilege can seem to be a commodity reserved only for the elite, or that lack of choice in one's social circumstances can seem synonymous with emotional enforcement.
The emotional constraints of the social hierarchy for everyone placed within it are especially clear in the humoral set-piece scene in 3.4 between Cob, the water-carrier, and Kitely's serving man Cash when Cash instructs Cob in the nuances of humorality—what it is and who is allowed to claim it. Cob enters complaining so bitterly of the disciplines of fasting days, when fish-eating was prescribed, that Cash wants to know “what moves thee to this choler?” (3.4.5). Cob seems to understand the question as an injunction to moderation: “Nay, I have my rheum, and I can be angry as well as another, sir” (11–12). He cites his possession of humor as proof that he exists, resents injury, and is moved by the self-love that moves everything else in early modern cosmology in general. If his answer sounds familiar, it is because it rests on exactly the same tautological premise as Shylock's refusal to answer the duke on the grounds of his natural antipathy for Antonio.50 Here, however, social difference can only involve birth and rank, not ethnicity or religious difference, and Cash's superiority to Cob in the matter of humor reduces to a matter of linguistic currency: “Thy (p.235) rheum, Cob?” Cash asks, “Thy humour, thy humour?” (14), and he goes on to define humor in creatural terms as “a gentleman-like monster, bred in the special gallantry of our time by affectation; and fed by folly … humor is nothing, if it be not fed … It's a common phrase, ‘Feed my humour”’ (18–23). possessing the humoral monster within is a luxury for the likes of water-carriers, as Cob instantly realizes.
Cob does not claim to have the social privilege or emotional autonomy of Wright's explosive aristocrat with the gunpowdered mind or even the emotional sway that Wellbred, Downright, and Justice Clement struggle to achieve throughout the play. He claims, as basic to his humanity, the right to be angry at externally imposed disciplines such as fasting. If such a right turns out to be monstrous and need special feeding such as might come in the form of quarreling, then Cob will try to forswear it: “humour, avaunt, I know you not, be gone. Let who will make hungry meals for your monstership, it shall not be I. Feed you, quoth he? ‘Slid, I ha’ much ado to feed myself; especially on these lean rascally days, too” (3.4.24–27). If gentlemen understand special feeding of their humors as a form of pleasure or self-enhancement, Cob understands it as a kind of work: “Let who will make hungry meals for your monstership, it shall not be I” (25–26). By insisting on the difference between necessary humors and gentleman-like humors, Cob recognizes the force of the social hierarchy as involving an emotional and behavioral hierarchy but also chooses his own degree of freedom from and within it: “I'll none on it” (24).
That Cob exercises this freedom querulously and unwisely—publicly fulminating against gentlemanly habits of smoking tobacco, beating his wife, finally incurring the wrath of Justice Clement—does not take away from the pointedness of Jonson's ethical distinction between the physiological humors, which one cannot choose not to have, and the social humors of caprice that one can freely renounce. If feeding social humors is supplementary to the elementary task of feeding physical humors, then humorality itself becomes the prerogative of gentlemen—not the great equalizer defining the human. On this view, folly's feeding of gentlemanly humors becomes peripheral to, or even parasitic upon, the feeding essential to biological life and perhaps essential as well to a social life understood in corporate rather than individualistic terms. The point in noting the humoral language embedded in the quarrelsome exchanges in Every Man in His Humour is not only to suggest why geniality is so hard to come by in Jonsonian comedy but also to highlight how alert Jonson is to the ferocious social struggles that deploy humoral discourse in order to disguise affectation as natural impulse. Jonson uses the periodic quarrels in Every Man in (p.236) His Humour to underscore how predictable it is in civil society for emotional unrestraint to be a function of relative social position, indeed for emotional unrestraint to be constitutively expressive of social privilege—as when Wellbred furiously defends his privilege to have whatever companions he pleases against his brother's equally vociferous disapproval. Even Stephen in his quest for recognition as a gallant seems to regard opposition for its own sake as gentlemanly prerogative, quarrelling with his cousin Edward Knowell over whether or not to buy the sword Brainworm wants to sell him by insisting, “but I will buy it now, because you say so … I have a mind to't” (2.4.77, 82). It is as if the emotional autonomy that Stephen equates with gentlemanliness reduces to irritability, quarrelsomeness, and opposition for its own sake. When a gentleman's assumption of emotional autonomy is married to social authority—as it is in the whimsical Justice Clement, for example—the results may include behavior notable even in a crowd of humorists. “He has a very strange presence, methinks,” remarks Edward, “it shows as if he stood out of the rank from other men … They say, he will commit a man for taking the wall of his horse.” Wellbred replies, “anything indeed, if it come in the way of his humour” (3.5.46–52). Perhaps this is the urban version of what Christopher Sly experiences in the induction to The Taming of the Shrew, for it is precisely his coming in the way of his lord's humor that leads to his amazing, if temporary, transformation. But since emotional unrestraint in Every Man in His Humour equates mostly to the dominant emotion of anger, the result, Jonson demonstrates, is structural encouragement to anger and opposition among men of equal station as a normal state of affairs.
What humors are to Every Man in His Humour, vapors are to Bartholomew Fair—vapors being a term that subsumes all forms of meaningful difference into its own endless metamorphoses, both grammatical and material. Jonson is forced into this verbal variation at least in part because, by 1614, the fashion of humoral affectation—of feeding one's humors in public—and the brief but substantial vogue of humors comedy had largely passed.51 That Jonson wishes us to understand the two terms as nearly interchangeable is signaled by Jordan Knockem's Nym-like reliance on vapors as a personal verbal signature and catchall phrase for things as they are—especially emotionally driven things as they are: “Let's drink it out, good Urs, and no vapours” (188.8.131.52–23), (p.237) Knockem tells Ursula on finding the irascible pig-woman again at the fair and hoping to enter into a comfortable business relationship with her. Yet it becomes clear in Knockem's endless playing with the word, as he wanders in and out of the action, that the vapors are conceptually even more useful than the humors were for expressing the deep reciprocity linking self to world in early modern cosmology. Knockem's tendency to use the term interchangeably as noun and verb makes us attend to vapor—both as word and as thing—as signifying agency of all kinds.
Humors and vapors are alike in being fluids: humors denote anything liquid but especially the living fluids of plant and animal bodies. Vapor is liquid involved with heat and air—matter in “the form of a steamy or imperceptible exhalation,” an “emanation of imperceptible particles, usually due to the effect of heat upon moisture” (OED, 1 and 2a). Insofar as all life in Aristotelian biology involved the interactions of radical heat and moisture, a vapor was thus one of the basic physical activities of the humoral body and one way the human body expressed its likeness to elemental forms of atmospheric action. Vapors were part of the atmosphere within and without. Body and earth were alike in housing and producing vapors, good and bad, like the “vapor of a dungeon” that Othello would rather live upon
- than keep a corner in the thing I love
- For others' uses.
Many of the constituent elements of human bodies in the period are described as vapors: thus sleep was caused by vapors rising into the brain from the concoctions of the lower body; their release was fundamental to health. In The Castel of Helth, Elyot distinguishes among the consistencies of humors: “Of humors some are more grosse and colde, some are subtyle and hot, and are called vapours.”52 Here again we are reminded of the pneumatic character of early modern life in time, of the human body as a threshold for the passage of air, of human flesh as a sponge in the atmosphere. “For the matter of mans body,” says Helkiah Crooke in 1615, “it is soft, pliable and temperate, readie to follow the Workeman in euery thing, and to euery purpose: for man is the moystest and most sanguine of all Creatures” (5). A 1623 (p.238) sermon of John Donne describes every man as “a spunge, and but a spunge filled with tears.”53
Jonson's brilliance in Bartholomew Fair is first to establish the vapors as an idiosyncratic feature of one character's language—that is, as a part of verbal phenomenology, a word used to claim or prove individuality—and then to reify vapors theatrically in the redolent steam rising from the fair's central location, the booth where Ursula roasts her pigs and serves her ale. The transformation of pigs from animal to food to human self aligns with the fermentation of the ale to suggest the dynamism, causality, and endless transformability of the physical world and the human beings within it. In act 4 the vapors become the name of a word-and-drinking game structured around quarreling, created by an assortment of male characters including Wasp, the wrestler Puppy, Captain Whit, and Knockem's accomplice Val Cutting. (The latter is enjoined to keep the game going—we learn—in order to distract Wasp and eventually allow Edgworth to steal the marriage license that Wasp is guarding.) Language and stage properties come together to make vapors virtually a dramatic emblem—of physical appetite and reciprocity, of the metamorphosis of forms, of the human body as a threshold for the passage of air and other elements, and of language itself as an atmospheric social barometer.
I have written elsewhere of the conceptual force of the Bakhtinian grotesque body in Bartholomew Fair, especially as that grotesque body is exemplified in the play's leaky women, Win Littlewife and Mistress Overdo, who relieve themselves with an old bottle at the back of Ursula's booth.54 Here I want to concentrate on the game of vapors as Jonson's emblematic representation, in this play, of male humorality in distilled form. As Jonson explains the game in a stage direction, the job of the game's players is “to oppose the last man that spoke, whether it concerned him or no” (4.4.28 S.D.). The reason to call the game “vapors” has to do with Knockem's equation of humors and vapors—his reduction of vapors to moods (indeed to bad moods unless the word is otherwise modified). Thus when he asks Ursula for “a fresh bottle of ale, and a pipe of tobacco; and no vapours” (2.3.56–57), it is the power of her bad mood over himself and others that he fears. And it is to countervail her mood that he welcomes the arrival of Ezekiel Edgworth as bringing “a kind heart; and good vapours” (60–61). By act 4, when Jonson introduces the game of vapors, its most important player, (p.239) Wasp, has been exhausted by a day spent wandering more or less aimlessly around the fair with Cokes's marriage license in a box. As Edgworth explains it to Quarlous and Winwife, “Yonder he is, your man with the box fall̓n into the finest company, and so transported with vapours; they ha̓ got in a northern clothier, and one Puppy, a western man, that's come to wrestle before my Lord Mayor anon, and Captain Whit, and one Val Cutting, that helps Captain Jordan to roar, a circling boy: with whom your Numps is so taken, that you may strip him of his clothes, if you will. I'll undertake to geld him for you; if you had but a surgeon, ready, to sear him” (4.3.106–14). Wasp is transported by vapors—carried away by emotion—in several senses: he is transported by his own choleric vapors as one of the play's grumpiest characters, who, having spent the day looking for Cokes, is even grumpier than usual; and he is transported by the vaporish activity—human and gastronomic—that rises in the air around Ursula's booth. Finally, he is transported by the force of his new attraction to Val Cutting. It is the congregation of vapors—of physical steam, of quarreling language, of human moodiness—that reveals the production of emotion at the fair as a physical and social transaction between individuals rather than an experience within the body of the individual subject.55 The fair itself, as an ephemeral occasion supported by its satisfaction of appetite and the release from the everyday that its customers seek, helps to underscore this definition of emotion. That is, both the fair's attention to appetite and its ephemerality align it with the humors and the passions that they breed. Here the humors and passions float free of their ordinary social contexts, especially in the game of vapors, where the participants have only just come together at the booth as strangers. Within that context, the game of vapors considers biological life functions to be both fundamentally pneumatic and fundamentally oppositional in nature, occurring in the public space of the air as the site and instrumentation of noise. The vapors are a language game structured around contradiction, produced through the warming stimulation of drink and the exhalation of air. As a symbol for embodied emotions, the game changes constantly yet predictably. Most important, perhaps, the nature of the vapors game goes unrecognized by all the participants. In order to participate in the game at all, each man must take turns, cooperate, and perhaps above all listen to one another; ordinary conversational deference and accommodation strategies may be stretched here almost beyond recognition, yet the structure of the game insists on (p.240) contradiction as an intimately homosocial act, even among strangers. The result is a paradoxical set of speech acts—an improvised agreement to engage in contradiction—as the result:
- KNO. To what do you say nay, sir?
- WASP. To anything, whatsoever it is, so long as I do not like it.
- WHIT. Pardon me, little man, dou musht like it a little.
- CUT. No, he must not like it at all, sir; there you are i'the wrong.
With its physical backdrop of the steam arising from Ursula's pig booth, which has its own fundamental concoctions of pig flesh, this occasion for playing a game of vapors shows emotionally embodied life as a difficult, fluid, but rule-bound form of play with opposition itself as its event, structure, and goal. It is also fundamentally an instrumentalization of air, with the thresholds of the players' bodies continually crossed and recrossed as characters take in the air (and sounds) of each other's contradictions, saying yea or nay in turn, and respond with their own. Yet the game holds its participants in social and emotional bonds as they negotiate the limits of their desire to disagree with one another as an expression of social form and improvisatory rule-making. As the one who declares the utter incommensurability of his appetites and his reasons, Wasp is probably the essential exponent of the game: “I have no reason, nor I will hear of no reason, nor I will look for no reason, and he is an ass that either knows any, or looks for't from me” (38–40). But in the metamorphic logic of the vapors, no position—even a confession such as “I have no sense” (45)—may long obtain. No sooner does Wasp relent on the question of whether or not he makes sense than the “vapor” of relenting is itself made the subject of debate—whether it is sufficient or not, sweet or stinking, and whether or not Wasp gives his vapor permission to stink. (Parsing nonsense is as risky as nonsense itself.) Wasp's final paradoxical position—a Cretan liar's declaration that he was “not i' the right, nor never was i' the right, nor never will be i' the right” (66–68)—is itself met by a paradoxical debate on whether or not anyone in the group is listening to what Wasp says.
The game's potential—the potential of language itself—to extend itself indefinitely as dialogic opposition is resolved by Quarlous and Winwife's desire to use Edgworth to steal the marriage license out of the box. But Quarlous's definition of the vapors as a “belching of quarrel” expresses the nature of vapors—and the humors they stand in for—exactly. As Quarlous (p.241) seems almost to recognize in watching the spectacle of strangers listening intently to one another only for the purposes of contradiction, a quarrel belched is the physical product of drink and the social product of urban fair-going. It is an instrumentalization of air that is both humoral self-expression and physiological event, both language and sound, both mental intention and bodily eruption. It signals control and loss of control, aggression and release.
At such moments and in such phrases, Jonson invokes humorality, much as Shakespeare does, in order to represent the body and its products—even its affective products—as the endlessly renewable raw materials of social signification. Feeding one's humor, declaring one's humorality or lack of humorality, is, as we have seen, a complex social performance that relies upon the stern facts of bodily obduracy for its rhetorical persuasiveness and material power. But, as Shylock and others discover, humoral strategies do not always carry the day in a contest between bodily obduracy and the social hierarchy. To be in one's humor or out of it is not always in a man's power to decide. (p.242)
(1.) The philosophical value of the topic has “darkened with time and grown opaque,” remarks Susan James (1), by way of reminding readers of the passions̓ centrality in early modern thought generally.
(2.) On the importance of conversation to regulation of the passions, see Lorna Hutson, “Civility and Virility in Ben Jonson,” Representations 78 (2002): 11–15.
(3.) On Elizabeth's cultural power, see Louis A. Montrose, The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 152–59; also Steven Mullaney, “Mourning and Misogyny: Hamlet, The Revenger's Tragedy, and the Final Progress of Elizabeth I: 1600–1607,” Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1996): 139–62.
(4.) See Elias, The Civilizing Process; but see also Chartier, 74.
(5.) On a similar point, see Daniel Juan Gil, “At the Limits of the Social World: Fear and Pride in Troilus and Cressida,” Shakespeare Quarterly 52 (2001): 338–39.
(6.) On Wright's biography generally and the political delicacy of his tenure in England, see the introduction to Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Mind in General, ed. William Webster Newbold (1604; New York: Garland, 1986), 3–10.
(7.) Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 67.
(8.) Mervyn James, English Politics and the Concept of Honour, 1485–1642 (Oxford: Past and Present Society, 1978), 5.
(9.) Vincentio Saviolo, His Practice: In Two Books, in Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals, ed. James L. Jackson (London, 1595; reprint, Delmar, NY: Scholars̓ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1972), 194.
(10.) Francis Bacon, “The Charge Touching Duelling,” in Francis Bacon: Selections, ed. Brian Vickers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 305.
(11.) Stefano Guazzo, The Civile Conversation of M. Steeven Guazzo, trans. George Pettie (London, 1581), bk. 2, fol. 44b; also quoted in Mervyn James, 5.
(12.) Whigham, Seizures of the Will, 31–36.
(13.) Ben Jonson, Sejanus, in The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson, ed. G. A. Wilkes, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981).
(14.) See Paster, “Nervous Tension,” 116–21.
(15.) Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum; or, A Naturall Historie in Ten Centuries (London, 1626), 10.
(16.) See Shapin, 42–64.
(17.) Unless otherwise noted, I quote from the 1616 Folio version of Every Man in His Humour reprinted in The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson, ed. G. A. Wilkes, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981). But I am interested in Jonson's humoral language in both the Folio and the earlier 1601 quarto text, with its Italian setting and characters, and I quote from the quarto when its language provides interesting evidence of Jonsonian humoralism. For the quarto, I follow Every Man in His Humour, ed. Robert S. Miola (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).
(18.) Peter Womack, Ben Jonson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 48.
(19.) Every Man out of His Humour, induction, 97.
(20.) Thomas Dekker, The Gull's Hornbook, in Thomas Dekker, ed. E. D. Pendry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 88.
(21.) I am quoting here from Schoenfeldt, 11.
(22.) Keir Elam, Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse: Language-Games in the Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 274.
(23.) Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 74–76. I owe this reference to David Hillman.
(24.) Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins, 124.
(25.) Elam, Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse, 274.
(27.) Sutton, Philosophy and Memory Traces, 39–41.
(28.) On the poetics of the low Other, see Stallybrass and White, 2–6.
(29.) The idea of an inability to hear bagpipe music without an involuntary physical reaction may be conventional; see young Knowell's question to Wellbred about whether Downright can “hold his water, at reading of a ballad” and Wellbred's response, “a rhyme to him is worse than cheese or a bagpipe” (Every Man in His Humour, 4.1.17–19).
(30.) Park, “Organic Soul,” 469.
(31.) Erickson, 14.
(32.) Schoenfeldt, 25.
(33.) On the distinguishability of the two Antipholuses, see Crane, 51–55.
(34.) Barbara Correll, The End of Conduct: “Grobianus” and the Renaissance Text of the Subject (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 167.
(35.) Paster, “Nervous Tension,” 122.
(36.) On the ubiquitous topos of castration in Twelfth Night, see Keir Elam, “The Fertile Eunuch: Twelfth Night, Early Modern Intercourse, and the Fruits of Castration,” Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996): 1–36.
(37.) Whigham, Ambition and Privilege, 91–92.
(38.) Paster, Body Embarrassed, 130–31.
(39.) Paster, “Unbearable Coldness,” 434–35.
(40.) Jean Howard, “Crossdressing, the Theater, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 432–33.
(41.) Jonathan Goldberg, “Textual Properties,” Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1986): 213–17.
(42.) Paster, Body Embarrassed, 32–34.
(43.) P. K. Ayers says that Wellbred and Edward Knowell are “the first true gallants on the English Stage”; see “Dreams of the City: The Urban and the Urbane in Jonson's Epicoene,” Philological Quarterly 66 (1987): 75.
(44.) See Smith, 7–8
(45.) Gil, 338–39
(46.) On this speech, see Jonathan Haynes, The Social Relations of Jonson's Theater (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 37.
(47.) See Miola's note to 2.1.78, in his edition of Every Man in His Humour.
(48.) The allusion to hunting (“she has me in the wind”) is missing in the quarto, so it is at least possible that Jonson may indeed be thinking of Twelfth Night here; see Every Man in His Humour, ed. Miola, 1.4.200–201.
(49.) Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), 45.
(50.) Womack, 52.
(51.) For a good overview of the phenomenon, see Miola's introduction in Every Man in His Humour, ed. Miola, 13–15.
(52.) Thomas Elyot, The Castel of Helth (London, 1541), 53r.
(53.) John Donne, The Sermons of John Donne, ed. George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, vol. 4 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959), 337.
(54.) Paster, Body Embarrassed, 34–39.
(55.) As M. L. Lyon and J. M. Barbalet point out, “emotion is not only embodied but also essentially social in character” (57).