‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Was Othello first performed as early as 1599-1600?

The answer is probably no. Most scholars date the play to 1604 (the earliest mention of it comes from a 1604 Revels Office account: "on Hallamas Day, being the first of Nouembar ... the Kings Maiesties plaiers [performed] A Play in the Banketinghouse at Whit Hall Called The Moor of Venis"). E.A.J. Honigmann [in his 1997 Arden edition of the play (Appendix 1, pp 344–350)] thinks it might have first been performed as early as 1602. But 1599/1600 is quite a bit earlier. Why might I think it was staged so early?

Because of John Weever's Faunus and Melliflora, or The original of our English satyres (1600). This
begins as an erotic poem in the style of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and after a thousand lines in this vein abruptly veers toward satire, with a description of the mythological origins of the form and translations of satires by classical authors. It concludes with references to contemporary satirists Joseph Hall and John Marston, and also to the Bishops' Ban of 1599, which ordered the calling in and destruction of satirical works by Thomas Nashe and others.
Here's how Jeffrey Knapp [Shakespeare Only (Chicago 2009), 103] describes Weever's attitude to Shakespeare:
In the years immediately following the completion of Shakespeare’s history cycle, the poet John Weever was fairly obsessed with him. As Ernst Honigmann notes, “four of Weever’s five publications” during this period allude to Shakespeare. A sonnet entitled “Ad Gulielmum Shakespear” in Weever’s 1599 Epigrammes constitutes “the first extant poem addressed to the dramatist”. Weever’s epyllion Faunus and Melliflora, published in 1600, recalls Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis; it even picks up and revises the story of Shakespeare’s poem. The next year, Weever’s Whipping of the Satyre invoked two characters from Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, Falstaff and John of Gaunt.
Concentrating on Faunus and Melliflora for a moment. Here's a description of love play between the two title characters:
Longer hee stove, that longer hee might stay
But Deiopeia bade her come away:
(For shee poore soule was liver-sicke of love,
And fear’d such strife another strife would move.)
And yield to Faunus, then the ports him froe,
(Though she from him, nor he from hir could goe)
Let us (she feard againe they would contend)
Of Barlibreake for this time make an end,
Some other play, some other sport begin,
That standers by, and lookers on be in:
It ended, thus the other play began,
Some fiftie maides, (too many for one man)
Tooke hand in hand, which made a spherie round,
Or globe the perfectst figure to be found,
Then one (whose lot is first among them all)
Must goe about and let a napkin fall:
And whomsoe’re it lieth next behind
So soon as ever she the cloth doth find,
Must with swift-running foote the other chace,
Until she come unto her ranke and place:
OK: that reference to the 'globe' seems forced; and prompts the reader to suspect a double meaning in the way 'play' is being used here (not play as in larking about; but play with an audience -- play 'that standers by, and lookers on be in'). Remember, Shakespeare's Globe was brand new in 1600 (it was built in 1599). Is Weever here playfully referencing the sorts of love-story plays his beloved Shakespeare was staging there? And in which play does the love story hinge upon a dropped 'napkin' or handkerchief?

It's a little tenuous, I know. But it's suggestive. [13th April: another thought -- is 'fifty maids' a reference to the fact that the Globe was built just off Maiden Lane?]

1 comment:

  1. Or Shakespeare got it from Weever -- or they both got it from somewhere else. (I'd certainly be prepared to allow that Weever doesn't look bright enough to have made it up, at least on the evidence of this poem.)