The (Self)-Fashioning of Ezekiel Edgworth in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair
University of Alberta
MacIntyre, Jean. "The (Self)-Fashioning of Ezekiel Edgworth in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.3 (January, 1999): 4.1-21 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-3/macijons.html>.
- On December 31, 1611, John Chamberlain sent Dudley Carleton, King James's ambassador in Venice, word of an unusual crime: "On Christmas day there was a cutpurse taken in the chappell, even at the Kings elbowe as he was going up to the communion. He was to be tried yesterday and they say shalbe executed at the courtgate" (Chamberlain I, 325). Thanks to the time and place of his crime, and to his impersonation of a gentleman to gain entrance to the royal chapel, the cutpurse, John Selman, became a popular news item. But even before Selman went to the gallows on January 7, 1612, he had become a literary creation in Jonson's Twelfth Night masque Love Restored as "the Christmas Cutpurse," an identity which endured. On the very day he was hanged, an anonymous pamphlet and two extant ballads were registered, and on January 8 and 9 there followed two more ballads now lost. In the autumn Samuel Rowlands published two epigrams about him. Two and a half years later, in Bartholomew Fair, Jonson revived him in a ballad whichWilliam Gilbertson reissued some years later as a broadside with five additional verses. Selman, or rather the purported image of Selman in Archer's pamphlet and Smith's broadsides, seems the most likely model for Bartholomew Fair's Ezekiel Edgworth, in which "The cutpurse, the hero of many a rogue pamphlet, . . . presents an heroic figure" (Berlin, 152). Edgworth is Jonson's fictional fashioning of Selman's self-fashioning of a cutpurse into a gentleman.
- The anonymous Archer pamphlet reports that Selman "did presume to come into the Chappell at White-Hall, with intent and purpose . . . either to cut a purse or pick a pocket . . . in very good and seemely apparell, like unto a Gentleman, or Citizen: viz. a faire blacke Cloake laced, and either lined thorow or faced with velvet. The rest of his apparel in reasonable maner being answerable thereunto. Which was the cause that he without resistance had free entrance into that holy and sanctified place" ( Arraignment, 6). A witness, Edmund Doubleday, recognized Selman because "at Westminster Hall in the Cheker Chamber . . . [he] was very neere about me, . . . having no businesse with me . . . [which] made me very strickly, but covertly to watch him, notwithstanding his formality in apparrell" (Arraignment, 10-13 [sic, for 11]). Hence Doubleday saw Selman, "after long hawking, and following," pick the pocket of Leonard Barry, a servant to Lord Harrington of Exton, and leave the chapel. Doubleday quickly alerted Barry; they followed Selman, caught and searched him, and found in one pocket a knife and in the other Barry's purse containing 40s (Arraignment 2-3). Their "hasty following of Selman forth of the Chappell, caused the by-standers with admiration to look after them, and one to enquire of another, what might bee the cause of that sodaine tumult. In briefe it came to his Maiesties eare, who being then in his royall person [with his family and court] . . . ready to receiue the Sacrament, was somewhat disturbed with the report thereof, . . . [and] gave commandement that the malefactor should be detained and further examined" (Arraignment, 4). After the service Selman was brought before Sir Robert Bannister, a Household official, to whom he confessed his crime. He was then taken to the Marshalsea Prison, where "his gallant apparel was fetcht from him, and meaner brought unto him, in which he came to his araignement" (Arraignment, 6). This "meaner" apparel displayed his true lowly status vis-à-vis the jurymen (honest yeomen and gentlemen) and a panel of judges, among whom was Sir Francis Bacon.
- Since the goods had been found on him within minutes of his crime Selman had no choice but to plead guilty, and was condemned to death. He begged that his body should be given to his wife for Christian burial and that "the goods which he had (part of which was well gotten, some otherwise) not be taken from her" (Arraignment, 13). This Bacon agreed to, provided that Selman named "of those of your faculty and fraternity, who are still . . . ready to enter into the presence Chamber of the king" to cut purses. Selman in answer named one I.H., supposed to be then in the hall, who, he said, could identify "many of that profession" (Arraignment, 140). His execution was deferred until the day after the Christmas season ended, taking place between Whitehall and Charing Cross near, but not at, the court gate.
- The night before, Jonson had already converted him into a literary persona in a hasty addition to the Twelfth Night masque Love Restored. Describing his many subterfuges to get into the masquing room, Robin Goodfellow says that when he took the form of a citizen's wife, "one o'the blackguard . . . was groping of me as nimbly as the Christmas cutpurse" (Jonson, LR 110-11). The very next day, within hours of Selman's execution, Archer registered his account of Selman's trial on December 31 with the addition of Selman's gallows speech, and Henry Smith had produced two ballads, "The Arrainement condemnation and execution of the gra[nd cutpurse] John Selman" and "The Captaine Cut-purse." The first of these, in the form of the conventional gallows confession, is illustrated with two "clip art" woodcuts, one showing an elegantly dressed gentlemen with a feathered hat, cloak, and rapier, and the other a man "in meaner apparel" dangling from the gallows (see Figure 1). The second tells a generic "prodigal" story of drunkenness, whoring, gaming, oaths, felony, and the gallows, with Selman's name inserted in the first stanza to make it topical. Both the anonymous pamphlet and Smith's ballads were printed by W. Hall, who used the same woodcut of a well-dressed man carrying a purse on the title page for Archer (repeated to fill its blank last sheet) and for "The Captaine cutpurse" (see Figure 2). (Both images are reproduced by kind permission of the Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.) In More Knaves Yet: The Knave of Hearts, published the following autumn, Samuel Rowlands based his moralizing epigrams about Selman on Archer's pamphlet, including its final statement about another cutpurse working the crowd about the gallows:
They say, The better day, the better deede:
Sellman sayes no, who with the Diuell decreed,
Upon the day of Christs Nativitie,
In the King's Chappell, to commit Fellonie . . .
Betweene the Court-gate hang'd, & Charing-crosse:
One of his Fellowes (for the diving trickes)
When this Picke-pocket, suffer'd vitall losse,
As th'execution place a pocket pickes:
One in the Church, where God is honour'd chiefe;
Another at the Gallowes playes the thiefe.
(Rowlands, II, 46)
- In Bartholomew Fair (1614), Jonson revived Selman in Nightingale's ballad "A Caveat for Cut-purses," which lists among other bold pickpockets the "one without grace, . . . In Court, and in Christmas, before the King's face" (BF III.v.117). William Gilbertson's broadside added to Jonson's ballad five new verses about more cutpurse victims, among them an actor in Bartholomew Fair. While Ezekiel Edgworth has a more complex personality than the writings about the historic Selman allot to him, he owes a good part of the way Jonson depicts his self-fashioning to John Selman, whose historic identity had vanished by 1614 into a literary figure, the Christmas Cutpurse.
- In The Second Part of Cony-catching Robert Greene's persona names two grades of cutpurse, the nip and the foist: "Although their subject is one which they work on, that is, a well-lined purse, yet their manner is different, for the nip useth his knife, and the foist his hand; the one cutting the purse, the other drawing the pocket. . . . the foist holdeth himself of the highest degree, and therefore they term themselves gentlemen-foists, and so much disdain to be called cutpurses" that they will not carry even an eating knife (Salgado, 211). But in A Disputation between a He-Cony-Catcher and a She-Cony-Catcher, Greene's probably fictional Laurence Pickering does not share this disdain: "who is so base, that if he see a pocket fair before him, will not foist it if he may, or, if foisting will not serve, use his knife and nip; for, although there be some foists that will not use their knives, yet I hold him not a perfect workman or master of his mystery that will not cut a purse as well as foist a pocket" (Salgado, 273). Selman "foisted" Barry's pocket, but the knife found on him suggests that he was the "perfect workman or master of his mystery" who would cut or foist as occasion served.
- A cutpurse, as Doubleday's experience in Westminster Hall shows, would try to get close to his victim by mimicking someone of a class or occupation unlikely to arouse suspicion. Greene's Laurence claims that cutpurses who work the law courts "go so neat in apparel, so orderly in outward appearance, some like lawyers' clerks, others like servingmen, that attended there about their masters' business, that we are hardly smoked" (Salgado, 272). In other places, he adds, cutpurses might mimic a higher rank than servingman or clerk; ". . . at plays, the nip standeth there leaning like some mannerly gentleman against the door as men go in, and there finding talk with some of his companions, spyeth what every man hath in his purse" (Salgado, 212). Elsewhere he relates how, to make a cautious farmer in Paul's leave his purse unguarded, one of "such a crew of gentlemen-foists," walked before him, and suddenly feigned a swoon. "The poor farmer, seeing a proper young gentleman, as he thought, fall dead before him," helped him up and later found his purse was gone. Even so, he still called the thief "The gentleman even now that swooned here" (Salgado, 218-19). A stage direction in Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl specifies "Enter a Cutpurse very gallant, with four or five others." Reading only his appearance, Lord Noland asks, "What gallant comes yonder?" Sir Thomas Long thinks the "gallant" is "one of Cumberland," but the Roaring Girl knows better; she declares him "one that cumbers the land indeed . . . This brave fellow is no better than a foist. . . . A diver with two fingers, a pickpocket" (V.1.274SD-292), who has made himself "very gallant" to fit in among such gallants as her companions.
- Pursenet in Middleton's Your Five Gallants at one time robs a fellow-gallant on the high road, but at other times cuts purses. In 1590 ". . . 'gentlemen', some of them clearly working out of London, certainly appear with unusual frequency in indictments for highway robbery [in Hertfordshire] . . . an 'esquire', three 'gentlemen', and a 'yeoman' [Selman's status]" performed a major robbery, "the only member of the quartet to be brought to trial [being] arrested in the City of London" (Cockburn, 65-6). The esquire and gentlemen were very likely soi-disant in the way of Greene's gentlemen-foists, yet occasionally "true gentry" did take to theft. In 1585 Lord Burghley received a report of "One Wotton, a gentleman borne," who had set up a training school for cutpurses in London, though the report does not say whether he also practiced the trade (Sharpe, 114), and in January 1619 Chamberlain wrote that "a certain Lady Sands that hath don a robberie in her owne person. Her husband was hanged for the like about a yeare since" (II, 205).
- Though probably of the same low origins as the Bartholomew birds Knockem, Whit, and Leatherhead, like the clever foists of Greene's pamphlets, the cutpurses detected by Moll Cutpurse, and the historic Selman, Edgworth has fashioned himself in the image of a gentleman and persuades almost everyone in the fair that he is one. Only Quarlous and Winwife, who see him cut Cokes's second purse, have some title to the status Edgworth has assumed; Quarlous, at least, has studied at both Oxford and the Inns of Court, though he now is living as a gamester. But Edgworth seems to take his disguise beyond its utilitarian purpose of deceiving his victims; some of what he says and other things said about him indicate that he has fashioned himself into an almost credible image of "true gentry," and most of the other characters treat him according to his own valuation.
- Sumptuary laws, sermons, and diatribes like Philip Stubbes's Anatomy of Abuses show that members of the lower classes were often believed to assume the apparel of the higher. In 1584 the City of London promulgated a set of sumptuary rules for apprentices; they were restricted to simply-cut garments of tawny, blue, or white cloth, to leather hose and aprons of English manufacture, to plain belts for utility only, and to the narrowest of ruffs, and they were forbidden to conceal non-regulation garments away from their masters' houses (Nichols I, 205). These rules show that at least some were "jetting" in clothes above their current humble degree. Social anxiety about unauthorized claims to higher status than one was born to was not confined to England; the Italian Stefano Guazzo was also concerned that "the unnoble" will not acknowledge and confesse themselves inferiour to Gentlemen":
they will not sticke to vaunt themslves to be that which they are not, and both in their talke and in their apparel brave it out like Gentlemen. . . . [M]any rich Pesantes . . . are not ashamed to attire them selves like Gentlemen, to weare weapons by their side, and such like ornaments, which are proper only to gentlemen. . . . Our abuse herein is in deede insupportable, and requireth that Princes . . . make them come downe from their degree of gentrie, by forcing them to weare suche apparell as may bee at least different from Gentlemen, if they will needes have it as costly, for besides, that under such a maske there may be much falshood wrought. (Guazzo I, 195-97)
- In Jonson's collaboration with Chapman and Marston, Eastward Ho, the idle apprentice Quicksilver (a gentleman's younger son) keeps his "gallant's" attire at the usurer Security's house, in violation of the 1584 regulations, though these were perhaps forgotten by 1605. Characters in other plays believe "gentry" is contained in the fabrics and fashions which Tudor sumptuary laws tried, without success, to reserve for the landed and wealthy classes. In Middleton's Michaelmas Term the country wench whom the pimp is recruiting as a London prostitute is made to think that if she can "go like a gentlewoman" she will "be a gentlewoman." In his Your Five Gallants, the broker Frippery and four other members of the lower (indeed criminal) orders don the fashionable clothes that impoverished gentlemen have pawned in hope to persuade a young heiress that they are gentlemen and suitable marriage choices for her. "Gallant," here and elsewhere, means no more than someone wearing fine clothes in the latest fashion -- perhaps a gentleman, but very likely not. Henry Smith makes Selman confess
In silke and velvets faire I sometimes used to goe
As I had used the Marchants trade, for such I was in shew,
And at the worst I went, like one of good degree,
And often used to change my sutes, As needfull I should see.
Nightingale's ballad against cutpurses alleges that one motive for them to "advance their own fortunes" and risk being hanged is to "go gay/ In silks as you may" (III.v.140-42). Ursula identifies Edgworth with gallants when worrying about not being able to supply the fancy whores she has promised to "'Zekiel Edgworth and three or four gallants with him" (IV.v.14-16) that night, "gallants" presumably like those in Middleton's play, several scenes of which take place in a bawdyhouse. Edgworth and Nightingale secure both Cokes's two purses and his "gay" trappings -- "my cloak, and my hat, and my fine sword" -- which he hands to them to scramble more easily after the Costermonger's deliberately spilled pears (I.ii.74-5). These indications that Edgworth qualifies as a "gallant" suggest that Jonson wanted the actor of the role to be costumed "in very good and seemely apparell like to a gentleman or Citizen," as was Selman when his clothes gained him admission to the Royal Chapel.
- Nightingale prepares the audience to see Edgworth as a kind of gentleman the first time he is named; he asks Ursula, "was 'Zekiel here this morning? . . . 'Zekiel Edgworth, the civil cutpurse" (II.ii.52-54), and Ursula recalls that "he promised to be here this morning" (57). This exchange signals Edgworth's high status among the Bartholomew Birds, but Jonson introduces confusion about his identity in the next scene, when Ursula accuses Knockem (not yet addressed by name) of "cutting halfpenny purses" (II.iii.8), mere petty larceny, the value of the purse Selman stole from Leonard Barry. Ursula's words make Justice Overdo, disguised as "Arthur of Bradley," take this variant on the miles gloriosus for "A cutpurse of the sword, the boot, and the feather"(II.ii.11-12), and invite the audience to think him the promised "'Zekiel." Mooncalf clears this up when he tells "Master Arthur" that the sword, boot, and feather belong to "Knockem -- Jordan, the ranger of Turnbull . . . a horse-courser" (II.iii.8-31), and Knockem removes whatever confusion remains to both Overdo and the audience with "Look! here's Ezekiel Edgworth, a fine boy of his inches as any is i' the Fair! Has still money in his purse, and will pay all with a kind heart" (II.iii.54-6). Edgworth responds liberally: "That I will, indeed, willingly, Master Knockem" and calls for "ale and tobacco" (II.iv.1-2). It seems as if his coming enlivens the fair; Leatherhead, Corncutter, Tinderbox-man, Trash, and Nightingale only then begin to cry their wares. Though Mooncalf knows what Edgworth really is, he goes on to describe him to "Master Arthur" as "A civil young gentleman . . . that keeps company with the roarers and disburses all, still. He has ever money in his purse. . . . They call him the secretary, but he serves nobody" (II.iv.24-28). The deference shown him, and still more the words "he serves nobody" makes him seem like the lord of the manor, at least to Mooncalf, whose lowly status as Ursula's servant and apprentice cheater puts him at the bottom of the Fair's business hierarchy.
- Overdo understands "secretary" to mean "A proper penman" and so imagines seeing "a good clerk's look with him, . . . a quick hand" (II.iv.32-3), somebody like the innocent Dapper in The Alchemist. Thanks to this misreading, until the end of the very last scene Overdo believes in Mooncalf's "civil young gentleman" and remains determined to "rescue this youth here out of the hands of the lewd man and the strange woman" (II.iv.64-5) immediately after we hear Edgworth and Ursula bargain about "smocks . . . and good whimsies . . . the best the Fair will afford, . . . if bawd Whit keep his word" (II.iv.53-6). But even as Overdo misreads him, Edgworth's gentlemanly image slips as, with merchant-like practicality, he tells Nightingale how they will together work the assembling crowds and convey their gettings to Ursula's booth.
- "Liberality was the guiding principle for the gentleman's expenditure, both upon others and upon himself, his mode of living" (Kelso, 89). Guazzo notes that "riches . . . are a readie instrument to put in practise certain vertues belonging to gentrie: and especially liberalitie, wherby gentry, like a glass stricken with the beames of the sun, is made more bright and shining" (I, 186), so that "the father ought to stirre up his sonne to liberall and gentlemanly deedes" (II, 67) and the master "upon his courtesy" be liberal to his servant (II.109). Edgworth attempts gentleman-like liberality, paying for everyone's ale and tobacco, then counting thirty shillings from his purse and declaring that "Half I have, Master Dan Knockem, is always at your service" (II.iv.71-2). Knockem, the roaring boy, has no such gentrified ideas; he demands "Gi' me it all, gi' me it all" (II.v.20), though it is not clear whether Edgworth does so, since at this point Knockem is distracted by the arrival of Winwife and Quarlous, with whom he also tries to claim a kind of equality. Winwife wants to "avoid him," but Quarlous chooses to join the roarers as they have "nothing to do . . . but to see sights now" (II.v.10-11). Yet when Knockem asks them to "take . . . smoke and froth" with the company, Quarlous at once asserts his and Winwife's superior status with "we knew not of so much familiarity between us afore" (II.v.34-5). Their ensuing gibes provoke a quarrel which progresses from greasy language to the threat of Ursula's "scalding pan." Edgworth, and his collaborator Nightingale, side with the higher status, crying "Ware the pan, the pan, the pan . . . gentlemen" (II.v.143-4).
- When Winwife and Quarlous exit (probably right after Ursula's fall), Nightingale can see only a lost chance to "venture." Edgworth, however, has contemptuously read such gentlemen as unprofitable: "these fellows were too fine to carry money" (II.v.164-5). Yet despite this contempt, he still wishes their esteem. Having caught him picking Cokes's pocket during "The Cunning Cutpurse," they promise not to betray him if he will get the contents of the box Wasp is carrying, which they know contains Cokes's marriage license but which Edgworth believes may hold the "patent" Wasp "has of his place; which I think the gentleman would have a reversion of" (IV.ii.60-61). He considers the display of his skill an essential of his persona: "Would you ha' the box and all sir? of only that that is in't? I'll get you that, and leave him the box . . . (which is the harder of the two) because I would gain your worships' good opinion of me" (III.v.231-34), and later he insists, "except you would go with me and see't, it's not worth speaking on. The act is nothing without a witness" (IV.iii.101-3). This recalls some remarks about how to gain esteem in Castiglione's Courtier:
he that is of skill, when he seeth that hee is not knowne for his workes of the ignorant, hath a disdaine, that his cunning should be buried, and needes must he open it one way, least he should be defrauded of the estimation that belongeth to it. . . . where the Courtier is at skirmish, or assault . . . or in such other places of enterprise, he ought to worke the matter wisely in separating him selfe from the multitude, and undertake notable and bolde feates . . . in the sight of noble men (37, 95-6).
Unlike Edgworth's instructions to Nightingale about making opportunities for him to "venture," his wish to display his "cunning" to social superiors indicates an aspiration beyond the practical.
- Here and elsewhere Edgworth tries to treat Winwife and Quarlous as equals, and to gain their recognition that he and they have something in common. Though deferential in his language, he assumes a right to accompany them when he courteously invites them to observe the game of vapours: "I beseech you come away, gentlemen, and see't" (IV.iii.101-113). After he has stolen the license and Quarlous warns him against being "spied hereafter" in a dismissive tone, Edgworth tries to maintain his sense of their comradeship, using the same courteous language and liberality he showed when offering Knockem half his purse: "Sir, will it please you enter in here at Urs'la's and take part of a silken gown, a velvet petticoat, or a wrought smock? I am promised such, and I can spare any gentleman a moity" (IV.vi.16-19). But Quarlous grows angry at being thought "one of your companions in beastliness; I am none of 'em, sir. . . . go your ways, talk not to me, the hangman is only fit to discourse with you" (IV.vi.20-25). He levels the "gentleman-foist" with the most contemptible person in London, whom Edgworth has good cause to fear.
- When Edgworth arrives at the puppet show in Act V he has recovered his pseudo-gentlemanly demeanor. He "courts Mistress Littlewit," telling her, "Madam, you are very welcome hither. . . . This is a very private house, madam. . . . What else, madam? . . . Is not this a finer life, lady, than to be clogged with a husband? . . . madam . . . lady" (V.iv.36-68). Win marvels "they do so all-to-be-madam me, I think they think me a very lady" (V.iv.43-4). Overdo sees only fine clothes and manners, but though pleased "to see [my care] in so good company," even he is surprised "that persons of such fashion should resort hither" (V.iv.37-8). Edgworth easily accepts that another man's wife should become his whore, yet with her he mimics a gentleman's manner of wooing a gentlewoman, at least as such wooing was represented in popular romances. As in his liberal offers to give Knockem half his money, pay for everyone's ale and tobacco, and share his whore with "any gentleman," he is striving to act like and be taken for a gentleman.
- Despite the way Winwife and Quarlous try to dissociate themselves from Edgworth, even as they make use of him, he resembles them more closely than they think. All three are opportunists who "venture" for wealth: Edgworth for Cokes's money and valuables, Winwife the widow-hunter and Quarlous the gamester for the much bigger stake of rich brides. Winwife's word "Palemon" defeats Quarlous's "Argalus" in the lottery for Grace Wellborn, gaining him a young landed gentlewoman instead of the elderly middle-class widow he was wooing as the play opened. Yet Quarlous the gamester wins the biggest prizes, seizing Occasion by the forelock every time she passes. By robbing Trouble-all of his clothes and his identity he secures not only Dame Purecraft and the £6000 she has accumulated but, thanks to Overdo's blank warrant, also the wardship of Grace Wellborn. This enables him to extort from Winwife the "value o' [her] land" (III.v.254). Unlike Edgworth, who if he does not "read word at my need" (III.v.242) can expect to "die above ground" for such minor thefts as Bartholomew Cokes's purses and clothes, Winwife (with some reservations) and Quarlous exploit his skill to help them steal things of much greater value: from Overdo his wealthy ward, from Busy his hope of Dame Purecraft's fortune, from the Littlewits the likelihood of inheriting from her. Yet even as they blackmail Edgworth into stealing Cokes's marriage license, they distance themselves from the act of theft by disparaging their agent. Winwife declines to see the feat; after it is done Quarlous privately regrets having "employed this fellow; for he thinks me such [as he is]," and weakly justifies himself because "it was for sport." He then begins to consider how this alliance with a cutpurse may yet prove futile for him:
. . . the getting of this license is nothing to me, without other circumstances
concur . . . if the word be not mine the ragged fellow marked; and what
advantage I have given Ned Winwife in this time now, of working her,
though it be mine. He'll go near to form to her what a debauched rascal I am,
and fright her out of all good conceit of me. I should do so by him, I am sure,
if I had the opportunity. (IV.vi.26-35)
Quarlous cannot tolerate Edgworth's levelling himself with "gentlemen," but is himself willing to cheat his comrade and fellow-gentleman, and he assumes that Winwife (and by implication all gentlemen) will likewise rob and cheat, given a chance to gain something as desirable as Grace and her fortune. The links the two gentlemen form with the gentleman-foist show how small is the distance between those who think themselves "true gentry" and the cutpurse who tries to ape their manner.
- In fact Edgworth's idea of the gentleman feels rather old-fashioned in Jacobean times. It suggests a lower-class understanding of sixteenth century courtesy literature that includes liberality, deference to women, self-display with a kind of sprezzatura, even if these are exercised toward petty criminals and whores and to exhibit skill at foisting the pockets of child-men like Cokes and incompetents like Wasp. His nostalgic attempts to be Sidney in Bartholomew Fair suggest the ideas of chivalry Gertrude in Eastward Ho started with, and the disillusioning truth she discovers:
The knighthood nowadays are nothing like the knighthood of old time. They
rid a-horseback; ours go afoot. They were attended by their squires; ours by
their lackeys. They went buckled in their armour; ours muffled in their
cloaks. They travelled wildernesses and deserts; ours dare scarce walk the streets.
They were still prest to engage their honour; ours still ready to pawn their
clothes. They would gallop on at sight of a monster; ours run away at sight of
a sergeant. They would help poor ladies; ours make poor ladies. (v.i.37-47)
Both she and her maid Sindefy recognize their impossible nostalgia: "they were knights of the Round Table at Winchester that sought adventures; but these of the Square Table at ordinaries, that sit at hazard" (V.i.48-51). Edgworth's ideas of gentry are closer to those Gertrude got from romances, even if embodied in "adventuring" for someone else's purse so he can be liberal to such a parody of knighthood as Jordan Knockem. Winwife, and still more Quarlous, exemplify the gentry of "Nowadays, Newguise, and Nought," using status and manners to exploit rich women.
- Despite his airs and graces and his skilled opportunism, Edgworth fails to gain from Winwife and Quarlous recognition that they are of the same kind. When Quarlous flatly tells him, "You are a cutpurse," he begs, "Good gentlemen, do not undo me" (III.v.223) and claims the virtual innocence of "a civil young man, and but a beginner, indeed" (III.v.223-4). He tries to regain his feeling of gentle status by swearing, "if ever I break my word with a gentleman, may I never read word at my need" (III.v.243-4) when finally caught, as was Selman, despite his almost-convincing mimicry of gentlemen. His attempted "liberality" to Quarlous, the offered "moiety" of a fine whore, fails to ingratiate him with Quarlous, who dismisses him with the threat of hanging or whipping: "talk not to me, the hangman is only fit to discourse with you; the hand of beadle is too merciful a punishment for your trade of life" (IV.vi.24-6). At this Edgworth is plainly silenced by fear or by shame; he cannot answer, and evidently leaves Quarlous alone on stage for his ensuing soliloquy about opportunism.
- As Stephen Greenblatt writes, "self-fashioning . . . crosses the boundaries between the creation of literary characters, the shaping of one's own identity, the experience of being molded by forces outside one's control, the attempt to fashion other selves" (Greenblatt, 3). Courtesy books, poems, fictions, and plays presented models of gentlemanly language and behavior to assist in such fashioning; even the satire Hic Mulier could be read to learn proper gentlemanly dress and behavior. Though Selman dressed like a gentleman for a utilitarian reason, to get into the royal chapel, his fine clothes also fashioned for him a self raised above his low birth and poverty. The mixture of elegance and privilege called a "gentleman," to which many another Englishmen of lower status aspired, must have seemed to become reality when he donned garments in the latest or almost the latest fashion, even if, as is probable, he had acquired them well used from a broker's stall. Ironically, members of the class whose dress and behavior he emulated detected both the real cutpurse and his fictional successor, and thereby degraded both from the social rank they reached toward. As soon as he was put into the Marshalsea prison Selman was stripped of the "gallant apparel" that falsified his social placing, and given "meaner" garments that displayed his true status for his trial and execution. Edgworth's self-fashioning is also betrayed as a sham when Quarlous reveals to Overdo and the company that "your 'innocent young man' you have ta'en such care of all this day, is a cutpurse, that hath got all your brother Cokes his things, and helped you to your beating and the stocks" (V.vi.74-77). He does give Overdo an out: "if you have a mind to hang him now and show him your magistrate's wit, you may; but I should think it were better recovering the goods, and to save your estimation in him" (V.vi.77-70). Unlike Wasp, who collapses with a word, Overdo says nothing in answer, but advises Wasp to develop patience and accepts Quarlous's suggestion to "invite us all to supper," cutpurse and all, in a benign spirit: "I will have none fear to go along, for my intents are ad correctionem, non ad destructionem" (96-109), even of a felon. For the time being, at least Edgworth and the rest are to share more than half a purse of stolen money or "plover [and] quail" in the pig booth, as Overdo demonstrates a truer liberality. Unlike Selman, who gained his fame at the price of his life, Edgworth leaves the stage incorporated, at least for a time, in the kind of society he has aspired to. Overdo's supper table may be thought an analogue of the communion table in the Royal Chapel, to which all, from king to servant, were invited on Christmas Day 1611, but for which John Selman did not remain and from which he was forever excluded.
1. Herford & Simpson 9, 198-9 for the Gilbertson reprint, the Archer pamphlet, the two anonymous ballads, and one of Rowlands's two epigrams, but not Henry Smith's ballads.
2. "But see the gracelesse and unrepenting minds of such like kinde of liuers: for, one of his quality (a picke pocket, I meant) euen at his execution, grew master of a true mans purse, who being presently taken, was imprisoned, and is like the next sessions to wander the long voiage after his grand Captaine" (Archer 17).
3. The Newgate Calendar relates the story of a similar theft, alleged to have occurred in 1691:
. . . one day going to the playhouse in Drury Lane, very well dressed, [Tom Taylor] seated himself by a gentleman in the pit, whose pocket he picked of about forty guineas, and went clean off. This good success tempted Tom to go thither the next day in a different suit of clothes, when, perceiving the same gentleman in the pit whose pocket he had picked the day before, he takes his seat by him again. [But] the gentleman was so sharp as to know his face again, for all his change of apparel, [and] had sewed fishing hooks all round the mouth of the pocket.
Though Tom explained "very courteously pulling off his hat . . . 'I have somehow put my hand into your pocket instead of my own,'" his victim held him fast until Tom "sent for some of his cronies, who paid down eighty guineas" for his release. Not yet satisfied, the gentleman also "most unmercifully caned him" before turning him over to the mob to be beaten, seriously hurt, and ducked in a nearby horse pond (II, 78). This story reverses the normal cleverness of Elizabethan cutpurses, whose disguises are never penetrated and whose subterfuges always succeed.
4. Similarities between The Civile Conversation and some lines in Bartholomew Fair suggest that Jonson had some memory of Guazzo (perhaps not conscious) as he wrote. Guazzo says of certain idlers that "their soule is given to their bodie in stead of salt, lest they should smell" (I, 50); although the saying was proverbial, this is close to Edgworth's "Talk of him to have a soul? . . . if he have any more than a thing given him instead of salt, only to keep him from stinking" (IV.ii.50-52). Elsewhere Guazzo draws on another proverb: "it is a perilous thing to mock and scoffe at others, and, as the saying is, To anger a Waspe" (I, 162.) He also juxtaposes cutpurses with players (I, 118).
5. The anonymous referee for this article suggested that with the words "proper penman" and "quick hand" Jonson was identifying Edgworth with himself.
6. Knockem makes no claim to gentry, so, despite his solicitude for Ursula, he cannot be said to practice "the vertue of justice, nor of liberalitie" (Guazzo II, 53).
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