Friday, April 30, 2010

Thomas Middleton, Michaelmas Term

Thomas Middleton, Michaelmas Term, ed. Gail Kern Paster, The Revels Plays, Manchester Univ. Press, Manchester, 2000.

As in other Middleton plays, wordplay and especially sexual innuendo pervade Michaelmas Term. R. B. Parker’s comments about A Chaste Maid in Cheapside that ‘scarcely a phrase lacks its lewd implication’ seems equally true here. (Introduction, 45)

Sexual innuendo in Michaelmas Term seems almost wholly governed by the play’s dual preoccupations with class boundaries and the terms of male friendship. It is not surprising that much of the wordplay concerns the complex relations between social and sexual endowment, between entitlement and position, or that the persistent sexual reference eroticizes London as a battleground between the forces of sex and money here personified in phallicly overendowed gallants and phallicly deficient merchants. This produces a whole series of phallic puns, on bag or purse as scrotum (Ind., 24), on Shortyard as short measuring stick and small penis, on the ‘moving stuff’ (sentimental letter, sexual activity) which ‘works best with a citizen’s wife’ (1.1.233-4). There is, of course, a distinctly misogynistic component to the satirically reductive sexual economy of city comedy sice city wives and daughters are said to be so sex-starved that Easy has only to ‘peep out his head’ (= display his member) and a ‘bow’ (= vagina) will be ‘bent at him’ (2.1.108-9). (45-46)

The play’s persistent sexual innuendo can make the play’s women characters naïve or unwitting reporters of their own hunger for pleasure. (46)

But these gender hierarchies are powerfully complicated by the play’s overriding interest in the relations of the play’s male characters with one another and with the homo-erotic appeal of the boy actors especially to characters like the ‘easily possessed’, ‘open’ Easy, undone by a shortyarded, shape-shifting apprentice. (46)

The play’s homoerotic investments, that is, reveal a greater fluidity in the world of sexual practice and sexual discourse than are admitted by the sexual innuendo accompanying the merchant-gallant competition for city wives. That the erotic attractions of men and women cannot be kept apart becomes clearer when the Country Wench is advised to wear her hair ‘still like a mock-face behind’ because in an ‘Italian’ world—in a world practicing anal intercourse—‘many men know not before from behind’ (3.1.18-20). To admit this sodomistical pun is then, possibly, to admit another earlier in the play, when the ‘bills for chambers’ to be let advertise a house ‘not only endued with a new fashion forepart but, which is more convenient for a gentleman, with a very provident back-door’ (1.1.138-40). In a world where men know not before from behind, the house’s back door—presumably for letting in and out whomever, like courtesans, one cannot admit at the front—yields readily to bodily images and to the scatological reference to the ‘house of necessity’ which follows immediately in the dialogue: ‘I like that thing that’s necessary as well as pleasant’ (1.1.142-3). (46-47)

Michelmas Term: Boy!
Boy: Here, sir!
Michelmas Term: Lay by my conscience, give me my gown;
[Removes cloak and dons gown.]
That weed is for the country.
We must be civil now and match our evil.

(Induction, 1-5)

Rearage: They’re worthy spirts, i’faith. Heard you the news?
Salewood: Not yet.
Rearage: Mistress Difficult is newly fall’n a widow.
Salewood: Say true, is Master Difficult the lawyer dead?
Rearage: Easily dea, sir.


Rearage: He savours. Stop your nose; no more of him.
[1.1.40; savours: stinks]

Cockstone: And wants the city powd’ring. But what news?
[1.1.58; wants…powdring: lacks a) urban refinement, b) seasoning given him by the city. The sweating-tubs used for treatment of veneral disease were jokingly referred to as ‘powdering tubs’.]

Quomodo: I have a task for thee, my pregnant spirit,
To exercise thy pointed wits upon.
Shortyard: Give it me, for I thirst.
Quomodo: Thine ear shall drink it.
Know then I have not spent this long vacation
Only for pleasure’s sake. Give me the man
Who out of recreation culls advantage,
Dives into seasons, never walks, but thinks,
Ne rides, but plots. …


Quomodo: Where I have seen what I desire.
Shortyard: A woman?
Quomodo: Puh, a woman! Yet beneath her,
That which she often treads on, yet commands her—
Land, fair, neat land.
Shortyard: What is the mark you shoot at?
Quomodo: Why, the fairest to cleave the heir in twain.
I mean his title—to murder his estate,
Stifle his right in some detested prison.
There are means and ways enough to hook in gentry,
Besides our deadly enmity, which thus stands:
They’re busy ‘bout our wives, we ‘bout their lands.
Shortyard: Your revenge is more glorious:
To be a cuckold is but for one life,
When land remains to you, your heir, or wife!


Quomodo: Observe; take surely note of him. He’s fresh and free. Shift thyself speedily into the shape of gallantry; I’ll swell thy purse with angels. Keep foot by foot with him; out-dare his expense; flatter, dice and brothel to him; give him a sweet taste of sensuality; train him to every wasteful sin that he may quickly need health, but especially money; ravish him with a dame or two. Be his bawd for once, I’ll be thin for ever. Drink drunk with him; creep into bed to him; kiss him and undo him, my sweet spirit.

[1.1.121-130; Elizabethan men slept with one another as a habit of friendliness.]

Rearage: Puh, wish his health a while; he’ll be laid shortly. Let him gorge venison for a time; our doctors will bring him to dry mutton. Seem respective to make his pride well like a toad with dew.

[1.1.166-169; venison…dry mutton; contrast between high living, symbolized by venison, and abstemiousness, expressed by roasted mutton. In Your Five Gallants. 1.1.330-2, dry mutton seems to be part of a symphilitic’s diet]

Lethe: ‘Esteem is made of such a dizzy metal.’

[1.1.179; ‘To be a person of high estimation is to be made dizzy by attention’.]

Lethe: Ay truly. Are you not knights yet, gentlemen?
Salewood: Not yet.
Lethe: No, that must be looked into; ‘tis your own fault.
I have some store of venison. Where shall we devour it,
Salewood: The Horn were a fit place.
Lethe: For venison fit.
The horn having chased it,
At the Horn, we’ll—rhyme to that?
Cockstone: Taste it.
Salewood: Waste it.
Rearage: Cast it.

[1.1.186-198; cast: vomit (Bullen); according to Thomas Willis’s rhyming dictionary, Vestibulum linguae latinae (London, 1651), ‘cast’ does not rhyme with ‘taste/waste’.]

Lethe: The daughter yields, and Quomodo consents; only my Mistress Quomodo, her mother, without regard runs full against me and stick hard. Is there no law for a woman that will run upon a man at her own apperil? Why should not she consent, knowing my state, my sudden fortunes? I can command a custard and other bakemeats. Death of sturgeon!

(1.1.209-15; apperil: peril, risk; a rare spelling. Cf. Tim., 1.2.33, ‘Let me stay at thine apperill, Timon.’; state: financial and social condition. ; command…bakemeats: Bakemeats are pies; Lethe can get food from the court kitchen simply by asking. The satire is on the absurdity of boasting about having influence in the court kitchens. ; scullery—A custard was fashionable food.)

Lethe: [reads:] ‘Good Mistress Quomodo, or rather as I hope ere the term end, Mother Quomodo, since only your consent keepts aloof off and hinder and copulation of your daughter.


Mother Gruel: …I have known the day when nobody cared to speak to him.
Lethe: You must take heed how you speak ill of him now, I can tell you, he’s so employed.
Mother Gruel: Employed for what?
Lethe: For his behaviour, wisdom, and other virtue.
Mother Gruel: His virtues? No, ‘tis well known his father was too poor a man to bring him up to any virtues. He can scarce write and read.


Mother Gruel: I’ll wait upon your worship.
Lethe: Two pole off at least.

(1.1.308-9; two pole off: in statutory measure, a pole or rod was 16.5 feet; he wants her far away, partly because she smells.)

Shortyard: [offering a toast] To Master Alsup, sir, to whose remembrance I could love to drink till I were past remembrance.
Easy: I shall keep Christmas with him, sir, where your health shall likewise undoubtedly be remembered, and thereupon I pledge you. [Drinks] …


Shortyard: Come, you shall bear yourself jovially. Take heed of setting your looks to your losses, but rather smile upon your ill luck and invite ‘em tomorrow to another breakfast of bones.

(2.1.114-117; breakfast of bones: dice game. Dice were made of bones..)

Shortyard: Forswear dice? I would your friends heard you, i’faith.
Easy: Nay, I was but in jest, sir.
Shortyard: I hope so. What would gentlemen say ofyour? There goes a gull that keeps his money? I would not have such a report go on your for the world as long as your are in my company. Why, man, fortune alters in a minute; I ha’ known those have recovered so much in an hour their purses were never sick after.
Rearage: [Exclaiming against his losses] O worse than consumption of the liver! Consumption of the patrimony!


Thomasine: He lies in his throat like a villain.


Thomasine: And as for my child, I hope she’ll be ruled in time, though she be foolish yet, and not be carried away with a cast of manchets, a bottle of wine, or a custard;

(2.3.20-2; cast of manchets: loaves of fine-quality wheaten bread; a cast was the quantity made at a single baking)

Quomodo: How now, what prating have we here? Whispers? Dumb shows? Why, Thomasine, go to! My shop is not altogether so dark as some of my neighbours’, where a man may be made cuckold at one end while he’s measuring with his yard at t’other.
Thomasine: Only commendations sent from Master Lethe, your worshipful son-in-law that should be.
Quomodo: Oh, and that you like not; he that can make us rich in custom, strong in friends, happy in suits, bring us into all the rooms o’ Sundays from the leads to the cellar, pop us in with venison till we crack again, and send home the rest in an honourable napkin—this man you like not, forsooth!


Thomasine: At his house you shall be served curiously, sit down and eat your meat with leisure. There we must be glad to take it standing, and without either salt, cloth, or trencher, and say we are befriended too.

(2.3.67-70; tapestry or wall-hanging, like the ‘arras’ in above quotation. ; take it standing: eat standing up, but with puns here and in 1.74 on it standing as erect penis and having sex standing up)

Quomodo: O that sweet, neat, comely, proper, delicate parcel of land, like a fine gentlewoman i’thi’waist, not so great as pretty, pretty! The trees in summer whilstling, the silver waters by the banks harmoniously gliding—I should have been a scholar—an excellent place for a student, fit for my son that lately commenced at Cambridge, whom now I have placed at Inns of Court. Thus we that seldom get lands honestly must leave our heirs to inherit our knavery. But whist, one turn about my shop and meet with ‘em.


Quomodo: It may be so. Yet under both your pardons I’d rather have a citizen.
Easy: I hope you will not disparage me so? ‘Tis well known I have three hundred pound a year in Essex.
Shortyard: Well said! To him thyself, take him up roundly.
Easy: And how doubtfully so e’er you account of me, I do not think but I might make my bond pass for a hundred pound i’th’city.


Easy: Is that your wife, Master Quomodo?
Quomodo: That’s she, little Thomasine.
Easy: Under your leave, sir, I’ll show myself a gentleman.
Quomodo: Do and welcome, Master Easy.
Easy: [kisses her] I have commission for what I do, lady, from your husband.


Quomodo: My son, Sim Quomodo!—Here’s more work for you, Master Easy. You must salute him too. [aside] For he’s like to be heir of thy land, I can tell thee.
Sim. Vim, vitam, spemque, salutem.
Quomodo: He shows you there he was a Cambridge man, sir; but not he a Templar. Has he not good grace to make a lawyer?
Easy: A very good grace to make a lawyer.
Shortyard: [aside] For indeed he has no grace at all.

(2.3.435-43; vim..salutem: latin for ‘let me salute vigour, life, and hope’)

Quomodo: Admire me, all your students at Inns of Cozenage.


Mistress Coming: [To Country Wench] Say what you will, this wire becomes you best.—How say you, tailor?
Tailor: I promise you, ‘tis a wire would draw me from my work seven days a week.
Country Wench: Why, do you work o’Sundays, tailor?
Tailor: Hardest of all o’Sundays, because we are most forbidden.
Country Wench: Troth, and so do most of us women; the better day the better deed, we think.

(3.1.7-15; behold their parents: i.e. consider the tailor and tirewoman as engaged in procreation, creating between them a beautiful woman; wire: frame supporting the hair; the better day…deed: commonplace expression.)

Mistress Comings: …if you be ruled by me, you shall wear your hair still like a mock-faced behind. ’Tis such an Italian world, many men known not before from behind.

(3.1.17-20; Italian world: ‘Italian’ frequently connotes sodomy, as here (Williams, pp. 720-2, citing these lines). Cf. the puns on ‘back door’ in 1.1.141.)

Salewood: And is she but your underput, Master Lethe?
Lethe: No more, of my credit; and a gentlewoman of a great house, noble parentage, unmatchable education—my plain pung. I may grace her with the name of a courtesan, a back-slider, a prostitution, or such a toy. But, when all comes to all, ‘tis but a plain pung. Look you, gentlemen, that’s she, behold her.

(3.1.80-86; underput: mistress, whore; pung: variant spelling of punk, or whore)

Country Wench: A gentlewoman must swagger a little now and then, I perceive; there would be no civility in her chamber else.

(1.188-90; swagger: speak threateningly)

Shortyard: This Rhenish wine is like the scouring-stick to a gun; it makes the barrel clear. It has an excellent virtue: it keeps all the sinks in man and woman’s body sweet in June and July. And, to say truth, if ditches were not cast once a year and drabs once a month, there would be no abiding i’th’city.

(3.1.220-3. makes…clear, i.e. cleans out bodily wastes, the gun barrel being likened to the body cavity. ; sinks…body: alimentary tract. Sinks were sewage pipes or conduits. ; drabs…month: whores purged through menstruation; cf. references to menstruation above)

Quomodo: Now comes my golden days in.—Whither is the worshipful Master Quomodo and his fair bedfellow rid forth? to his land is Essex. Whence comes those goodly load of logs? From his land in Essex. Where grows this pleasant fruit, says one citizen’s wife in the Row. At Master Quomodo’s orchard in Essex. O, o does it so, I thank you for that good news, i’faith.


Easy: Pray keep a little patience, sir. I shall find him at last, you shall see.
Shortyard: A citizen of my ease and substance to walk so long afoot!


Shortyard: You have a towardly son and heir, as we hear.
Quomodo: I must needs say, he is a Templar indeed.
Shortyard: We have neither posterity in town nor hope for any abroad. We have wives…

(4.1.29-32; towardly: promising; abroad, i.e. illegitimate children)

Dyce. A fine journey in the Whitsun holy-days, i’faith, to ride down with a number of citizens and their wives; some upon pillions, some upon side-saddles, I and little Thomasine i’th’middle, our son and heir Sim Quomodo in a peach-colour taffeta jacket, some horse-length or a long yard before us. There will be a fine show on’s, I can tell you, where we citizens will laugh and lie down, get all our wives with child against a bank, and get up again.

(4.1.73-80; Whitsun holy-days: festival days before and after White Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. Whitsun celebrations resembled May Day, with maypoles, ales, and other rural recreations. It may have been associated with colourful clothing. ; pillions: back parts of saddles, used to hold a second rider. ; peach-colour taffeta: deep pink, a new colour associated with gallants. ; laugh and lie down: card game, often used with a bawedy quibble)

Dyce: …what’s got over the devil’s back (that’s by knavery) must be spent under his belly (that’s by lechery). Being awake in these knowings, why should not I oppose ‘em now and break destiny of her custom, preventing that by policy which, without it, must needs be destiny? And I have took the course. I will forthwith sicken, call for my keys, make my will, and dispose of all; give my son this blessing—that he trust no man, keep his hand from a quean and a scrivener, live in his father’s faith, and do good to nobody. Then will I begin to rave like a fellow of a wide conscience and, for all the world, counterfeit to the life that which I know I shall do when I die—take on for my gold, my lands, and my writings, grow worse and worse, call upon the devil, and so make an end.

(4.1.95-103; keep…scrivener, i.e. stay away from a prostitute and from signing your name to a bond; fellow…conscience: man who is mad or delirious; take on: rave or rage about; have indented with: will have engaged, i.e., bribed to make a false report)

Father: You are so glued to punishment and shame,
Your words e’en deserve whipping—
To bear the habit of a gentlewoman
And be in mind so distant!
Country Wench: Why, you fool you, are not gentlewomen sinners? And there’s no courageous sinner amongst us but was a gentlewoman by the mother’s side, I warrant you. Besides, we are not always bound to think those our fathers that marry our mothers, but those that lie with our mothers; and they may be gentlemen born and born against for aught we know, you know.
Father: True, corruption may well be generation’s first;
‘We’re bad by nature, but by custom worst.’

(4.3.17-29; no…side: ‘no prostitute with spirit who won’t claim to be a gentlewoman for sure’; generation’s first… ‘originate in the act of generation’ ; by custom… by habitual practice, especially in a negative sense.)

Easy: [To the passing coffin] The devil grind thy bones, thou coz’ning rascal!


Quomodo: Not I, my lord.
Judge: Then y’are not Quomodo but a counterfeit.
[To Officers:] Lay hands on him, and bear him to the whip.
Quomodo: Stay, stay a little,
I pray. Now I remember me, my lord,
I cozened him indeed, ‘tis wondrous true.


Quomodo: Not only this was in my death set down,
But thereby a firm trial of my wife,
Her constant sorrows, her rememb’ring virutes,
All which are dews; the shine of a next morning
Dries ‘em up all, I see’t.


Lethe: Why, well then, if none should be married but those that are honest, where should a man seek a wife after Christmas?

(5.3.127-29; after Christmas, i.e. after the holiday revelry when, Lethe supposes, chaste (‘honest’) young women were no longer virgins.)


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