‘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 September 2015

Shakespeare's ghost, 1634

Shakespeare, eighteen years dead, crops up as a passing reference in William Habingdon, his Castara (1634). Since Habingdon was only eleven years old when Shakespeare died I suppose it's unlikely he ever knew the playwright. Then again, he grew up in Worcestershire (at Hindlip Hall), not a million miles away from Stratford, where Shakespeare spent his retirement; and the Habingdons were a famous Catholic family, so if your pleasure runs in the direction of the theory that W.S. was a closet Catholic there may be something there.

At any rate, Castara is a miscellany, containing a great many sonnets and much else. Here's the volume's reference to Shakespeare (I quote the entire poem, although Shakespeare's ghost pops up early on, in line 7):
May you drinke beare, or that adult’rate wine
Which makes the zeale of Amsterdam divine,
If you make breach of promise. I have now
So rich a sacke, that even yourselfe will bow
T’ adore my genius. Of this wine should Prynne
Drinke but a plenteous glasse, he would beginne
A health to Shakespeare's ghost. But you may bring
Some excuse forth, and answer me, the king
To day will give you audience, or that on
Affaires of state you and some serious don
Are to resolve; or else perhaps you’le sin
So farre, as to leave word y'are not within.
The least of these will make me onely thinke
Him subtle, who can in his closet drinke,
Drunke even alone, and, thus made wise, create
As dangerous plots as the Low Countrey state;
Projecting for such baits, as shall draw ore
To Holland all the Herrings from our shore.
But y’are too full of candour: and I know
Will sooner stones at Salis’bury easements throw
Or buy up for the silenc’d Levites all
The rich impropriations, than let pall
So pure Canary, and breake such an oath:
Since charity is sinn’d against in both.
Come, therefore, blest even in the Lollard’s zeal,
Who canst, with conscience safe, ’fore hen and veale
Say grace in Latine; while I faintly sing
A penitentiall verse in oyle and ling.
Come, then, and bring with you, prepar’d for fight,
Vnmixt Canary; Heaven send both prove right!
This I am sure: my sacke will disengage
All humane thoughts, inspire so high alrage;
That Hypocrene shall henceforth poets lacke,
Since more enthusiasmes are in my sacke.
Heightned with which, my raptures shall commend
How good Castara is, how deare my friend.
Prynne drinks a toast/to Shakespeare's ghost. The allusion here is to William Prynne’s Histriomastix ('The Scourge of Actors', 1632) 'for the publication of which,' (to quote 19th-century scholar Sir Charles Abraham Elton) 'the author was sentenced by the iniquitous court of star-chamber to pay a fine to the king of five thousand pounds; to be degraded from his profession of the law, and to lose his ears in the pillory.' Prynne's famous book is a thousand pages of anti-dramatic spleen, attacking the theatres as dens of iniquity and sexual immorality, and, unfortunately for the integrity of Prynne's ears, it contains the phrase 'Women actors are notorious whores'. Since King Charles' wife, Queen Henrietta Marie of France, was fond of acting, this landed Prynne in grave trouble.

Three things. The first is the obvious reading: Habingdon is telling his lady-love, Castara, that he has some Dutch wine so good it would persuade even so notorious an anti-theatrical Puritan as Prynne to toast the ghost of the famous playwright.  If we constellate this with the tradition that Shakespeare famously played the ghost of Hamlet's father in his own play, the reference may be more pointed: Prynne lost his ears; Old Hamlet was murdered via his ears. If we want to be really far-fetched, we might suggest that Habingdon is here recording, obliquely, the knowledge that the play Histriomastix (1599), anonymously published but generally attributed to John Marston (or perhaps the so-called ur-Histriomastix scholars sometimes talk about as existing behind Marston's version) was written by Shakespeare himself. Now that's an intriguing possibility, don't you think?


  1. "...and his argument was followed and elaborated by Philip Edwards (who nevertheless accepted the revision hypothesis)"

    I never!