“Away, Stand off, I say”: Women’s Appropriations of Restraint and Constraint in The Birth of Merlin and The Devil is an Ass

Sarah E. Johnson
McMaster University

S.E. Johnson. '“Away, Stand off, I say”: Women’s Appropriations of Restraint and Constraint in The Birth of Merlin and The Devil is an Ass'. Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10). <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-1/johnaway.htm>.

  1. Ben Jonson’s Masque of Queens ends with a provocative image: twelve virtuous queens, played by Queen Anne herself and eleven noblewomen, progress in triumph with the antimasque’s unruly “hags” or witches bound before their chariots. While mythological creatures pull the chariots, the positioning of the restrained hags before the attendant torch-bearers creates an image of the hags drawing the chariots as well (472-8).[1]  Even if they do not actively pull the chariots, the hags’ capture is the very reason – the real fuel or energy – behind the queens’ stately public procession.  This image powerfully suggests, as several critics have noticed, that far from destroying the hags’ transgressive energy, vividly expressed only moments before in their dance involving “strange fantastical motions of their heads and bodies,” and utterly “contrary to the custom of men,” the victorious queens actually harness and make use of that energy (Queens 327-332).[2] 

  2. In addition to the hags’ transgressive sexuality (a quality which the queens, with their revealing costumes, share[3]), anger is a significant component of their unruly energy. The ingredients of the hags’ charms, such as “breath” “sucked” from a sleeping child (159-160), an infant’s “fat” procured with a “dagger” (162-163), a “sinew” “bit[ten] off” a corpse (166-168), eyes “scratched out” of an owl (184), and so on (142-190), while reflecting popular beliefs about witchcraft, are also the fruits of startling violence. The hags gather to “let rise / Our wonted rages” (123-124), and the Dame’s “rage begins to swell” the more her words go unheeded (279). Anger, perceived as a just and often necessary response to provocation when expressed by men, was considered one of two extremes in women, childish and irrational, or dangerously destructive, so that the more openly women expressed their angry frustration, the more easily it could be either dismissed or condemned (Kennedy 3-12; 20-1).  The image of the bound hags – figures for transgressive female sexuality and emotion -- under the control of the queens, then, arguably represents women’s strategic use of restraint and constraint as a source of increased power and agency in their relationships with men. When freely venting their fury the hags appear repulsive and ineffective (their charms never do succeed), but when carefully harnessed, their energies affirm the queens’ potency as rulers and increase the queens’ mobility within the public sphere.  As powerful women who hold on to the witches instead of destroying them or turning them over to the custody of men, the queens essentially co-opt and sequester a negative view of themselves. Beginning with Penthesilia, Queen of the Amazons, Heroic Virtue presents us with eleven female political leaders known for their independence from men and for their military prowess (Queens 375-385). These “brave” and “bold” queens’ historic involvement in the political sphere paired with their engagements in violence on the battlefield, both conventionally male domains, might well be interpreted as unnatural, even monstrous (especially given the Amazons’ practice of removing a breast to facilitate their use of weapons in combat), and so could easily earn them the title of “hags” had their actions as warrior-queens failed to secure their institutionalized power (375, 385).

  3. In Jonson’s masque, the warrior-queens’ active appropriation of restraint is quite different from passively complying with contemporary gender codes that imposed on women both the restraint and constraint of unruly sexuality and emotions. I take up these two terms not as identical, but as complimentary, “constraint” referring to an internal, immaterial check or restriction of emotions, thoughts, and desires likely to be read as inappropriate for women in their full expression, and “restraint” referring to the physical confinement of the body, whether within marriage (in terms of one, exclusive physical relationship), within the walls of the home, or within actual physical bindings. Of course, as I am defining these terms, “restraint” and “constraint” are complexly interrelated (various forms of literal restraint could be used to enforce internal constraint, for instance), and the masque’s image of queens and hags begins to suggest this complexity, with the physical restraint of the hags functioning as part of the queens’ internal constraint and carefully controlled expression of the same transgressive energies the hags embody. Rather than suggesting a facile distinction between “restraint” and “constraint,” then, I use both terms with the aim of maintaining an awareness of how various forms of restriction and confinement women confronted and manipulated operate on both physical and mental levels in ways not easily extricable.

  4. I have begun with this intriguing image from The Masque of Queens because, as I will argue, the representations of women in both Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass and Rowley’s The Birth of Merlin[4] could be crystallized or condensed into this very image. At first, though, The Devil is an Ass and The Birth of Merlin might seem odd plays to compare. The Devil is an Ass satirizes contemporary London city-life with the help of the bumbling Pug, a novice-devil desperate to prove his mettle to Satan. Pug is permitted to possess the body of a newly hanged thief and try his hand at luring souls to hell. As Satan warns, however, Londoners have become so sophisticated in their new vices and fashions that hell can hardly keep up. Pug is soon begging to return to hell as a safe-haven from the wildly abusive Fitzdottrel – one of those whom Pug originally set out to corrupt but who proved already more corrupt than the new devil could handle. The projector Merecraft and his colleagues, however, prove quite capable of ‘handling’ Fitzdottrel for their own financial benefit. The obsessively jealous Fitzdottrel imposes strict physical confinement on his wife Frances, who helplessly watches him squander her fortune on Merecraft’s scams. Amidst all the scheming, devilry, and the licentious ladies Tailbush and Eitherside’s vacuous discourse about fashion and cosmetics, help comes to Frances in the form of the witty, charming gentleman Wittipol. Frances is not a Pug in need of rescue, however, and defines what ‘help’ is before accepting Wittipol’s services.

  5. In contrast to the critical and comic focus on Jonson’s London, Rowley’s play provides a version of Britain’s imagined history that begins before Merlin’s birth and stretches forward, through Merlin’s prophecies, to the time of King Arthur. The Birth of Merlin draws on Arthurian legend and mythical history about struggles for power between the Britons and Saxons. It dramatizes sensational events surrounding Merlin’s own unusual birth with a full beard and set of teeth, son to the devil and the countrywoman Joan Go-To-’T. The play intricately weaves together “four clear plot lines,” which Megan Lynn Isaac concisely identifies as “Constantia’s and Modesta’s romances, Joan’s attempt to find a father for her child, Aurelius’s and Uter’s entanglements with Artesia, and Vortigern’s struggle to hold the kingdom” (110).

  6. The Birth of Merlin was performed in 1622, [5] and so within six years of Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass, performed in the autumn of 1616. Despite the differences in genre and scope between these two Jacobean plays, a compelling reason for their comparison lies within each play’s representation of female success and empowerment in a way that resonates with the masque’s image of queens roping hags to their chariots. As I will discuss in detail, both plays show us men who try obsessively to closet ‘their’ women, but who fail when the women manage to redirect that impulse in order to advantageously constrain and restrain themselves, or in other words, to sequester and harness the power of ‘negative’ (according to conventional gender norms), alternative, selves, without being soiled by patriarchal imperatives.  

  7. A further intriguing similarity between these two plays is that in both, the themes of constraint / restraint and magic repeatedly intersect at points where the future courses of female characters’ lives are determined. Whether they are being physically, emotionally, or intellectually isolated from the rest of society, Modesta, Constantia, and Artesia in Merlin, and Frances Fitzdottrel in Devil, make use of their constraint and restraint, either as a shield against the seductive and exploitive ‘magic’ of others, or as an impenetrable (because socially sanctioned) base from which to extend their own ‘magical’ influence. Each play’s representations of women suggest that patriarchal attempts to restrain women – whether to the weakness of the body, within traditional roles that supported the status-quo, or from exercising significant political power – could be co-opted into an effective means of resisting and subverting male authority.

  8. The feat of using restraint and constraint to resist male agendas is set into relief and problematized in both plays by other female characters for whom this feat is out of reach. Just as Jonson’s queens achieve empowerment and mobility at the expense of other women representing a lower social class, both Merlin and Devil construct portraits of sophisticated women who can turn restraint to their advantage by contrasting them to women who cannot. While this juxtaposition serves to foreground a particular vision of female empowerment, it should certainly caution us against idealizing female success in the plays.  In Rowley’s play, Merlin magically confines his mother, Joan Go-to-’t, within his “Bower” after rescuing her from his father, the devil, who meant to force an unwilling Joan to serve as “Quench to [his] lust” (5.1.90, 34). The devil’s magic, namely his disguise as a fashionable gentleman, “bewitch[ed]” Joan once before, resulting in the birth of Merlin, the son a ‘reformed’ Joan can now only “name” “with my deepest sorrow,” and the son who decides she will remove to “a place retir’d” to “dwell with solitary sighs” (4, 89-91). While Merlin’s plan for his mother seems in keeping with her plea for “help” and her entreaties that “darkness cover me” and “Sweet death deliver me,” a verbal expression of gratitude or even agreement from Joan is conspicuously absent (52, 16, 27). Significantly, both of Joan’s wishes for oblivion come immediately after the devil reminds her of their son as a link between them. Perhaps it is difficult for Joan to express gratitude when the son she wishes she could forget about confines her “To weep away this flesh you have offended with, / And leave all bare unto your aierial soul” – a punishment that would seem to involve never forgetting, and which is just the inverse of Joan’s plea, “Oh rot my memory before my flesh” (93-4, 24). Joan demonstrates that failing to emotionally constrain and physically restrain oneself from the temptations of another’s seductive magic and exploitive agenda – even once – can quickly lead to an imposed form of permanent restraint.  

  9. Ladies Tailbush and Eitherside in Devil do not face the solitude Joan faces in Merlin’s bower, but their ridiculous bodily trappings constitute a different form of confinement. These ladies think their ‘fashionable’ life “tastes more liberty” than other women’s lives because:
  10. Eitherside        We may have our dozen visitors at once make love t’us.
    Tailbush          And before our husbands! (4.4.92-94)

    But their "liberty" is an illusion; they are really tied to Merecraft’s costly, phoney schemes, which they repeatedly fall for, and they are very much defined by and dismissed because of their extravagant attire and cosmetics – which they spend their money on simply because others assure them it is the fashion.[6] Tailbush and Eitherside are entirely unaware of how Merecraft is using them for personal profit, and their obsession with the latest fashions – so encouraged by Merecraft – actually hinders their social advancement by blocking advantageous connections with Wittipol and Manly. Both are respectable gentlemen and useful friends to have, as demonstrated by their efforts to protect Frances Fitzdottrel from financial ruin at the hands of her husband.

  11. Artesia, Modesta, and Constantia in Merlin, and Frances in Devil, in contrast to Joan, Tailbush, and Eitherside, manage to transform experiences of restraint, performing understated magic acts of their own in plays full of flashy magic events involving thunder and lightning, wands, possessing a corpse, prophesying, and so on. Because Artesia, Modesta, and Constantia share the stage with the legendary sorcerer Merlin, not to mention the earlier magicians Anselme and Proximus, and the devil himself, these three women – despite being accused of witchcraft – are not immediately obvious as practitioners of magic in their own right. The same is true for Frances Fitzdottrel in Devil, who shares the stage with Pug, the novice devil desperate to prove his mettle during his excursion on earth; Iniquity, an outmoded Vice figure who nonetheless materializes onstage fresh from hell; and Satan himself. But magic is certainly not limited to these unmistakably supernatural figures. In fact, the presence of blatantly magical elements in the plays alerts us to and encourages us to consider a complex and often subtler discourse of magic that permeates the entire plot. If we consider magic as an alternative, often secretive and mysterious system of knowledge from that which is commonly accessible, and thus as a powerful means of accessing an alternate reality when one’s current situation is unsatisfying or desperate, then Artesia, Donobert’s daughters, and Frances Fitzdottrel are all skilled in magic. And their magic is not the usual maleficia we see in witchcraft plays, but a transformative magic that belongs more to the early modern construction of magician-as-poet or stage-director that Prospero exemplifies: their magic involves directing the course of their own lives, and often through a skilful manipulation of language.

  12. In The Birth of Merlin, Artesia’s powers of enchantment elicit the most violent reaction. Her presence is unnerving to King Aurelius’ counsellors, who find their words powerless against the confounding influence Artesia’s beauty has over the king (1.2.91-221).[7]  Artesia’s enemies progress from labelling her a “black devil” for her ability to “so bewitch the king” (2.2.42-43) that he foolishly trusts the Saxons and weds her (when he should be taking advantage of the Saxons’ defeat to secure his kingdom against them), to a “witch by nature, devil by art” (3.6.87), when Artesia turns the king against his own brother, to finally condemning her to a death that clearly indicates their fear of her enchantments. They impose a triple barrier between Artesia and the rest of society: she is to be starved (no nourishment will pass the physical borders of her body), buried, and “circled in a wall” all at once (5.2.65-66). Though Donobert’s response to Modesta’s and Constantia’s unexpected refusal to marry their noble suitors is less extreme, Donobert similarly accuses his daughters of being “inchanted with infected Spells,” “bewitcht with error,” and thus dangerous to the social order (3.2.96, 112). In a last desperate attempt to prevent Constantia from joining Modesta in a life of religious seclusion, Donobert tellingly commands: “hear her no more Constantia,” aware of the subversive and enchanting quality of Modesta’s words (3.2.111). In contrast, in The Devil is an Ass, the witchcraft charge against Frances is more funny than serious for an audience fully aware that both the accuser, Fitzdottrel, and the Justice who sides with him are merely self-centred fools. Nonetheless, Merecraft, however immoral, is not a fool, and the fact that he is the one who initially suggests levelling a witchcraft accusation at Frances is not insignificant: with his skills as a manipulative projector, Merecraft senses that such an accusation in connection with Frances is somehow fitting. With the possible exception of Artesia, these female characters may not be immediately recognizable as sorceresses alongside Merlin’s impressive prophecies or Satan’s sulphurous exits, but other characters certainly perceive and often fear their magic qualities.

  13. The Birth of Merlin’s Modesta proves the strength of her magic qualities in a contest with her father Donobert, which in some ways mirrors the play’s magical contest between the rival wizards Anselme and Proximus. When her suitor Edwin’s own “best skill” fails to woo Modesta (3.1.31), Donobert, convinced that because Modesta “is a woman” she “will be won”(1.1.46), stages an illusion designed to seduce her away from a life of religious enclosure and towards marriage. Donobert twice refers to the ritualistic marriage procession that he directs past the church porch where Modesta stands as his “trick” (3.1.32, 3.2.70). Cador also calls the procession Donobert’s “trick” (3.2.137), and the illusion is complete with “Lights and Musick” (3.1.37). This “trick” fails miserably when Modesta’s words expose the emptiness of Donobert’s parade to the parade’s chief participant, her sister Constantia:
    Oh my good sister, I beseech you hear me,
    This world is but a Masque, catching weak eyes,
    With what is not our selves but our disguise,
    A Vizard that falls off, the Dance being done,
    And leaves Deaths Glass for all to look upon,
    Our best happiness here, lasts but a night,
    Whose burning Tapers makes false Ware seem right;
    Who knows not this, and will not now provide
    Some better shift before his shame be spy’d. (3.2.84-92)
    Modesta achieves much more here than the exposure of Donobert’s procession as a false appearance. She attacks its very source, the real marriage ceremony it mimics, as merely one of many superficially appealing, and thus deceptive, “disguises” or “vizards” that belong to the transitory material world. Modesta warns Constantia that the family life to which marriage is a prelude guarantees nothing but sorrow, as it involves “seeing the fruit that we beget endure / So many miseries, that oft we pray / The Heavens to shut up their afflicted day” (3.2.106-108). She also warns that if Constantia becomes Cador’s wife, her “best” hope will be to “bring forth Heirs to die, / And fill the Coffins of our enemy” (3.2.109-110). These “powerful” words are pitted against Donobert’s use of spectacle (95).  Indeed, Donobert’s instructions to Constantia, Cador, and all those in the procession to “pass on” before Modesta and “salute her not” emphasize his reliance on spectacle to enchant her (3.2.52, 54).  By penetrating Donobert’s spectacle with her words, by piercing the “vizard” of his false parade to reveal genuine married life as “death’s glass beneath,” Modesta proves herself the stronger enchantress using the same tactic the Briton hermit and magician Anselme uses to assert his superiority over the Saxon magician Proximus.  For Anselme does not attempt to outdo Proximus’ magic spectacle by conjuring a spectacle of his own. Instead, like Modesta, he dissolves Proximus’ illusion through his understanding of the source behind the spectacle. When Proximus is baffled that the spirits he summoned to impersonate Achilles and Hector flee at the mere sight of Anselme, Anselme criticizes him for failing to perceive that the source of his magic -- “hells unbottom’d depths,” cannot compare to Anselme’s source -- “that Power” who “onely can controul both hell and thee” (2.2.217-233). While Donobert is not explicitly connected with hellish spirits, his use of spectacle and illusion in an attempt to deceive certainly aligns him with Proximus in the play’s construction of parallel magic contests.

  14. As with Anselme, a figure who embodies the connection between religion and magic in his status as both holy hermit and “Prophet” (1.1.81), or “witch,”[8] Modesta’s magic is also the magic of God.  As a hermit, Anselme provides Modesta with a model of seclusion from a worldly life.[9] He does not stay long with Modesta and Edwin to deliberate upon Modesta’s desire to take religious vows, but exits with the excuse “my contemplation calls me, I must leave ye” (3.2.20), and Modesta recognizes and admires his reclusiveness when she first addresses him by asking “may I without offence / Give interruption to your holy thoughts?” (1.2.227-228). Modesta’s zeal for the restraints of religious life, however, soon surpasses the hermit’s, and significantly, so does her magic. Despite his propensity for secluded contemplation, for instance, Anselme is quite prepared to bring his religious fervour into the public sphere, aiding King Aurelius in battle with “clear and glorious beams” of holy light (1.2.23), and voicing blunt political advice, even when unsolicited, as when he warns the king that in marrying Artesia “Thou hug’st thy ruin, and thy Countries woe” (1.2.184). In contrast, as Monica Karpinska notes, Modesta’s desire to shut herself in a “nunnery” (5.2.3) incorporates unmistakable “anti-war sentiment” (124-5), evinced by her comment that childbearing only helps “fill the coffins of our enemy,” and by her rejection of Edwin partly because she does not relish that he is “employ’d in blood and ruine” (3.2.110, 1.1.33).

  15. Furthermore, whereas Anselme, “with his cross and staff” goes before the marching troops and “boldly fronts the foe” (1.2.19-20), Modesta triumphs over her father’s “trick” without moving from the church porch. [10]  The juxtaposition of Donobert’s moving procession with Modesta’s rootedness to one spot is significant. Contrary to Gloster’s belief that “it now begins to work; this sight has moved her,” Donobert’s procession does not sway Modesta in the least. Instead, from her firm stance on the threshold of her chosen enclosure, Modesta brings Donobert’s wedding march to a grinding halt; stillness conquers motion. Moreover, Constantia’s decision to restrain herself from worldly life along with Modesta seals Modesta’s victory in her magical contest with Donobert even more resolutely than King Aurelius affirms Anselme’s victory over the Saxon magician by advising Proximus to “give o’er your charms” (2.2.231). Where Anselme merely defeats Proximus, who vows to “enforce new charms, / New spells, and spirits rais’d from the low Abyss” (2.2.228-229), Modesta converts Constantia from utterly “drown[ing] a sisters name” in her, to agreeing with her that they must “seek eternal happiness in heaven, / Which all this world affords not” (3.2.67,127-128). Conversion is a feat of which Anselme cannot boast, neither in the case of his rival, Proximus, nor in the case of Aurelius in his decision to marry Artesia.

  16. Modesta, then, and later Constantia, use a form of restraint subversively to achieve empowerment and independence. The life of religious seclusion they choose is not particularly subversive in itself; rather, it is a socially sanctioned option set in place for women – or sometimes imposed on women – as an acceptable alternative to marriage.  What is subversive about the sisters’ choice is the fact that it is not a “last resort,” but enthusiastically preferred over “worthy, devoted, parentally approved” suitors (Isaac, 111). By committing to a life of religious devotion, Constantia and Modesta actively choose one form of restraint instead of passively accepting another, for the marriages pressed upon them might indeed entail far worse restraints and constraints than the bodily renunciation of earthly pleasures, as Frances Fitzdottrel’s miserable situation, married to a doltish and abusive husband, demonstrates. The sisters define themselves according to a legitimate role for women, just not the role Donobert and his approved suitors envisioned for them.[11]

  17. Similarly, Modesta and Constantia also define themselves according to their legitimate given names, though clearly not in the way Donobert intended.  Karpinska observes “the irony of the sisters’ names” when, “changing [her] mind nearly in the midst of [her] wedding ceremony,” Constantia appears to be anything but constant, and “readily dismissing her suitor in front of both fathers in the first act,” Modesta is “certainly not a woman who acts ‘shamefastly, bashfully’” (124). While the sisters might not be constant to or modest before their father and suitors, nothing suggests that they do not fulfil these names – definitions imposed on them, in a sense – in their unexpected vocation. Indeed, we can add another layer to the irony that Karpinska observes in the sisters’ names, in that “Modesta” and “Constantia” seem perfect names for aspiring nuns. Anselme even remarks, when Modesta is asking him to instruct her how to live a religious life, “your name and vertues meet, a Modest Virgin, / Live ever in the sanctimonious way / To Heaven and Happiness” (1.2.246-248). The sisters’ names are thus doubly ironic: the sisters seemingly defy these names while in fact fulfilling them in the extreme.  This tactic parallels their rejection of the conventional social obligations of marriage and childbearing through embracing extreme forms of other qualities conventionally valued in women, chastity and piety.  Isaac describes the sisters’ decision as “baffling” (111). Indeed, their ability to transform a socially sanctioned role that in other contexts might be oppressive and restrictive for women, into an incontestable means of thwarting the will of men who fully expect their compliance is undoubtedly baffling for Donobert, Edwin and Cador. According to Isaac, “the audience,” like father and suitors, “experiences [the sisters’] choice as disappointment” (111), but there is a danger in assuming that all members of a playhouse audience would react in the same way.  I would argue that for some audience members, Modesta’s triumph in her contest with her father, and the satisfying proof that Donobert is sadly mistaken in his belief that as “a woman” Modesta “will be won,” far outweigh that disappointment.

  18. By restraining themselves to a life of religious seclusion, the sisters prove formidable figures able to resist the seductive spectacle and “magic” of others - pressures that not only Joan gives in to when she is at first taken with the devil’s “rich Attire, a fair Hat and Feather, a gilt Sword, and most excellent Hangers” (2.1.15-16), but that the king himself succumbs to, when, enchanted by Artesia’s beauty, he endangers his kingdom by marrying her. The sisters bolster their position, however, with a defence that neither Joan nor Aurelius initially raise against their seducers – anger.

  19. The sisters do not in any way lash out in rage against their father or suitors, but certainly a hint of bitterness surfaces in Modesta’s revision of Edwin’s claim that she would lack “faith” if she does not profess love to him. She asserts, instead, that refraining from any such profession would show a lack of “credulity” and so would be a sign of wisdom, not faithlessness (1.1.26-33). Arguably, resentment, both at being answered for (Edwin is assuring Donobert that unless Modesta is faithless she will agree to marry him), and at Edwin’s confident assumption that he knows how Modesta feels about marriage, lies behind Modesta’s retort – especially given her disapproving emphasis on what she perceives as an irreconcilable disparity between the “heat of Loves desires” and Edwin’s recent, soldierly employment “in blood and ruine” (30-33). Modesta at first tries to ease Edwin into her decision with the consolation that if she were to choose a husband, it would be him: “I do beseech you let this mild Reply / Give answer to your suit, for here I vow / If e’re I change my virgin name, by you / It gains or looses” (103-106). As Edwin persists in urging his suit, however, her replies become less “mild.” Hearing Modesta tell Anselme of her intention to take religious vows, Edwin asks “What meanes my Love? thou art my promis’d wife,” to which Modesta answers more directly, “To part with willingly what friends and life / Can make no good assurance of” (3.2.8-10). When begged to “recant thy vow,” she bluntly responds with “Never: / This world and I are parted now for ever” (12-14). Significantly, once Constantia sees from Modesta’s perspective, her words to her father and suitor become just as abrupt and direct as her sister’s. When Donobert, perceiving the persuasiveness of Modesta’s speech to Constantia, orders Constantia to “leave her,” Constantia replies, “Then must I leave all goodness, sir: away, / Stand off, I say” (112-114); when Cador implores her to remember “thou art my promis’d Wife,” she impatiently dismisses him with “Pray trouble me no further;” and when both beg to call her “daughter” and “wife,” she deflects these bonds by telling them, plainly, “Your words are air” (129-130, 140-142). Repeatedly, the sisters’ curt responses to their father and suitors are responses that reject these men’s claims to them based on conventional social obligations: as their father, Donobert claims their obedience, and as approved suitors, Edwin and Cador claim their future devotion, but the sisters will only recognize what they consider God’s claims to their obedience and devotion.

  20. The hints of anger and impatience in the sisters’ responses, surfacing most noticeably in Constantia’s bold command to her father to “stand off,” and to her suitor not to “trouble” her, erect a double barrier to reinforce the sisters’ religious enclosure. As Gwynne Kennedy explains, since anger involves assuming a position of judgment towards another, it constitutes a form of “self assertion and a claim to possess equal worth, despite [a woman’s] allegedly inferior status” (13). Not only do the sisters assert equal worth with the men in their lives by refusing to obey their wishes, they impatiently imply their superiority in perceiving something that the men do not. Constantia’s comment that Cador and her father merely “speak of want, to wealth, / And wish her sickness, newly rais’d to health” tellingly conveys her sentiment of elevating herself above those she is leaving behind (3.2.142-143). The sisters’ disobedience stemming from their assertion of equality with and even superiority to their father and suitors certainly creates distance between them, distance which Constantia’s angry demand that her father “stand off” literalizes. But what further separates the sisters from Donobert, Edwin, and Cador is also what distinguishes them from the hags and aligns them with the queens in Jonson’s masque – the fact that they constrain their anger. We only sense hints of it in their abrupt and uncompromising responses to these men. A reason for this might be that “early modern moral and philosophical discourse on anger” not only associated women with the body and emotions, but because of their supposed inferior physiology considered them particularly susceptible to unruly emotions, especially anger (Kennedy 1, 3, 5, 12). This same discourse gendered the intellect, which was to govern the (feminine) emotions and body, as masculine (Kennedy 4-5). Thus, women’s overt expressions of anger or frustration could easily be, and often were, dismissed as irrational rebellion against their preordained inferior status, and proof of their lack of understanding and subsequent need to be ruled (Kennedy 4, 12). For Modesta and Constantia, then, expressing anger fully and emotionally would have meant undermining their position as rational beings capable of choosing for themselves religious vows over marriage. If the hints of anger that do surface indicate deeper, suppressed anger, this very act of strategic constraint – a withdrawing into the self which creates a distinction between inner feelings and outward comportment – adds an intangible barrier between the sisters and their father and suitors.

  21. Artesia, with her bitter laughter in the face of her captors and their terrifying death-sentence, seems to express her anger more freely than Modesta and Constantia do.  Artesia’s anger, however, is very much connected to her body, and Artesia exercises precise and calculated control over her body. “The royal Saxon princess”[12] makes her body such an effective instrument of revenge against her enemies, the Britons, that Aurelius cannot even look at her without losing his train of thought (1.2.90-94). Aurelius’ brother, Prince Uter, finds “one look,” the “sudden view” of Artesia, enough to strike the viewer, no matter how powerful or driven by desire, into “astonishment” and “everlasting stand” (2.1.65-67). Unlike the powerful Medusa here alluded to, however, Artesia’s power is more discriminant; her body appeals to and repels only and precisely those she means to. Artesia has little difficulty, first in isolating Aurelius and Uter (both awestruck by her body) from Aurelius’ trusted council (who can only see her as a witch and devil) (2.1., 2.2.), and then in wedging her body between Aurelius and Uter, overthrowing not only the “natural love of two brothers” (Karpinska 126), but their moral sense and faculties of reason as well. When, for instance, immediately after solemnly asking heaven’s pardon for desiring his brother’s wife, and vowing that henceforth “She’s banisht from my bosom” (2.2.320), the prospect of enjoying Artesia’s body freshly presents itself to the Prince with a message and symbolic token from Artesia’s gentlewoman, Uter does not hasten to share Artesia’s adulterous invitation with Aurelius. Instead he decides – amusingly, given his moral condemnation of adultery, only moments ago, as “a sin / Not to be blotted out” (2.2.318-319) – to “confer with” Artesia, with the aim of discovering how she might be plotting the Britons’ “destructions” (2.2.367-377). Rationalizing at length that “men wise / By the same step by which they fell, may rise,” that “Vices are Virtues, if so thought and seen, / And Trees with foulest roots, branch soonest green” (2.374-7), the Prince justifies indulging in some enjoyable “vice” for the benefit of the kingdom. This ‘reasoning’ is (almost comically) inspired by Artesia’s body, and when the Prince finally does try to alert the King to Artesia’s treachery – significantly not until the moment Artesia rudely shatters her bodily spell over Uter (3.6.33-87) – Aurelius finds Artesia’s claim that Uter tried to seduce her more plausible, since, as he informs the Prince, “I have observ’d your passions long ere this” (3.5.89). Artesia thus achieves her “best of wishes” (5.2.70), a wish, born out of anger, to poison Aurelius, through the skilful use of her body and her awareness and control over how others perceive it. Overall, she embodies the association, in early modern discourse on anger, between anger and the body, but challenges the placement of emotions and the body on the inferior side of a binary with the intellect and soul. For Artesia’s body, as a fine-tool of her anger, triumphs over the Prince’s moral resolution and reason in a way that we cannot simply dismiss as what happens when weak bodily urges impair the intellect. Significantly, we never hear Artesia reasoning about her plot as we do Prince Uter. Instead, her body speaks for her, representing a controlled, rational approach that is undoubtedly the stronger force in a sustained battle with the Prince’s reasoning skills: though Uter is aware of the possibility of Artesia’s revenge from the beginning, over the course of his (reasoned) indulgence in vice he does not fully penetrate the agenda her body conceals until it is too late.

  22. By spitefully welcoming any death her captors can devise for her, Artesia maintains control over her body in such a way that she eludes the physical restraints of starvation, burial and circular wall which her captors would impose upon her. Artesia robs her enemies of the satisfaction of inflicting torture on her: they cannot kill her when she appropriates starvation as an action she will perform willingly in order to “starve death when he comes for his prey” (5.2.67). Artesia further disempowers her captors by turning their “curses” into a “diet” she can “live upon” until the time when death will arrive to find her body missing (68-69). Indeed, as affirmations of the success of her revenge upon the Britons, these curses could only be welcome to the angry Artesia. Ironically, then, Artesia’s overt spite – which she strategically constrained up until this point – protects her from the worst physical restraints her male captors’ intellects can invent for her, enabling her to transform the gruesome prospect of physical starvation and burial alive into a bodily magic act of subsistence on curses and controlled disappearance in a way that defies logic.

  23. Whereas Artesia controls her body to such an extent that she defies enforced physical restraint, Frances Fitzdottrel makes use of the social and moral constraints of her marriage to escape the physical restraint of her body. Rather than merely suffering her husband Fitzdottrel’s strict confinement of her, Frances appropriates that confinement as a firm ground from which she does not simply resist the wooing Wittipol’s seductive “magic,”[13] but accepts it on her own terms and turns it to her own ends of mental and spiritual liberation.

  24. Even the novice devil Pug, on his first day on earth, does not miss the excessive restraints that Fitzdottrel, paranoid about cuckoldry, imposes on his wife, which include imprisonment in “a backroom” inaccessible from the street, and the interdiction of “paper, pen, and ink” (2.2.91-102). Part of Wittipol’s seductive appeal as he is wooing Frances is his sensitivity to her plight of stifling confinement – a sensitivity perhaps tainted by his longing to have Frances for himself. Deploring Frances’ condition of being “Locked up from all society or object,” and speaking with striking perceptiveness from her perspective when her husband denies her a voice, Wittipol encourages Frances to break free from her “bondage” of marriage by becoming his lover (1.6.100-105, 156). He assures her that she can trust him not to further “entrap” her, even as his rhetoric attempts to hedge her into adultery by presenting his “proffer” as the only possible escape from her situation – a “proffer / Which never fair one was so fond to lose” (170, 115-16). Frances would be “stupid, or (what’s worse) ingrate” to pass the opportunity up – or so Wittipol contends when he assumes the silenced Frances’ voice (174). Despite his capacity to sympathize with Frances, Wittipol’s decision to “make your answer for you” (146), when Fitzdottrel bars her speech is a decision to interpret her silence in a way that suits his own desires, and in one sense, this pinning down of her silence to an acceptance of his invitation restricts Frances as much as, if not more than, the silence that her husband imposes.[14]

  25.  Wittipol’s wooing words are further restrictive in that they risk becoming entrapped, themselves, in the physical.  To put it differently, Wittipol’s words become enmeshed in the same materiality that Fitzdottrel simply cannot see beyond when he “sells fifteen minutes of his wife’s time to Wittipol, and thinks that merely by forbidding ‘all lip-work…melting joints and fingers’ (I.ii.191, 199-200), he has prevented adultery” (Ostovich 167). As Helen Ostovich observes of Fitzdottrel, “only the material world weighs with him: words, ideas, feelings, none of these intangibles register” (167). Of course, this is not true of Wittipol. Wittipol’s willingness to part with his cloak, an item of considerable material value, for the fleeting chance to simply speak to Frances demonstrates his understanding of how these “intangibles” that Fitzdottrel misses defy his obsessive closeting of his wife. And yet, at the climax of Wittipol’s verbal seduction, his words, in one sense “far more arousing than any mere embrace” (Ostovich 168), in another sense pale before the possibility of physical embrace they evoke. Wittipol assures Frances that only his “bargain” with Fitzdottrel “binds” him from teaching “Our lips” to “seal the happy mixture / Made of our souls” (1.6.195-198, 203), and begs her:
    Do not think yet, lady,
    But I can kiss, and touch, and laugh, and whisper,
    And do those crowning courtships, too, for which
    Day and the public have allowed no name. (1.6.199-202)
    While relying on the limitlessness of the imagination to fill in the endless possible details of those nameless “crowning courtships,” Wittipol paradoxically acknowledges limits to his imaginative words.  He implies that the union of souls between himself and Frances, expressed through words, is something incomplete without the physical “seal” of a kiss. He thus admits the effectiveness of Fitzdottrel’s physical restraint of Frances even as his words penetrate it; from Wittipol’s perspective he can only partially breach Fitzdottrel’s protective barrier (at least for the time being), and he clearly finds this inadequate and unsatisfying. Indeed, he presents the physical union his words so skilfully and erotically evoke as surpassing his words. As “crowning courtships,” forms of physical connection are superior to, the ultimate end and consummation of, other forms of courtship, including Wittipol’s immaterial verbal and later musical wooing. Wittipol’s privileging of the body and physical union over spiritual and intellectual communion is further evident in his urging Frances to “Let not the sign o’ the husband fright you, lady. / But ere your spring be gone, enjoy it” (1.6.127-128) and his warning that:
    Though fair, are oft but of one morning. Think,
    All beauty does not last ’till autumn.
    You grow old while I tell you this. And such
    As cannot use the present are not wise. (1.6.128-132)
    The carpe diem warning Wittipol here resorts to, with its emphasis on the fleetingness of physical, seasonal beauty, significantly undermines his earlier claim of a “mixture / Made of our souls,” a connection that can only strengthen with accumulated wisdom over time. Through his very eloquent, imaginative, and erotic emphasis on his desire to connect physically with Frances, Wittipol essentially commits the inverse of Fitzdottrel’s error when Fitzdottrel assumes that once “he turns his wife about” physically, to “face this way” and “look on [him]” he can make her “forget” what has just passed with Wittipol; he can constrain her thoughts by physically restraining her body (1.6.227 SD-229). Wittipol, on the other hand, connects helping Frances escape mental isolation with freeing her body. He assumes that because he better appreciates Frances’ intellect, and because his own sentiments have more affinity with Frances’ than do those of her “sordid” (1.6.155), “asinine” (165), “devil-given” (95), “cautelous jailor” (142), and “moonling” of a husband (158), he is also far more deserving of her body. In other words, if Frances accepts their intimate “mixture” of “souls,” their mixture of bodies will necessarily follow.

  26. Barbara Kreps draws attention to how, unlike Fitzdottrel, who frames Wittipol’s fifteen minutes with his wife in terms of lending and borrowing, Wittipol envisions establishing a permanent relationship with Frances, as evinced by his talk of having “‘purchased’ the blessing of Frances’ eyes [1.6.120-21]” along with the “time” “purchast” to speak with her (1.6.75, Kreps 96). Frances, however, has something even more permanent in mind than becoming a purchase whose novelty might “not last ’till Autumn,” according to Wittipol’s warning. With reference to Wittipol’s wooing, which, she confesses, “took me,” Frances expresses her hope to Wittipol
    That whom I found the master of such language
    That brain and spirit, for such an enterprise,
    Could not but, if those succours were demanded
    To a right use, employ them virtuously. (4.6.6-15)
    It is telling that Frances feels it necessary to articulate her expectation that Wittipol would employ his skill “virtuously,” and to assert “’Tis counsel that I want, and honest aids: / And in this name I need you for a friend! / Never in any other” (25-27).  She indirectly expresses her reservations by forcing Wittipol to prove that his offer of friendship is not merely a disguise for solely physical desires, nor does it depend upon Frances’ bodily compliance with his desires. Frances is here insisting upon a separation between body and intellect.  Her emphasis on Wittipol’s mastery of language, his brain, and spirit, unmistakably privileges his immaterial powers of intellect and compassion over the physically suggestive content of some of his words – which Wittipol himself tends to privilege. Where Wittipol’s most stimulating words rely upon the real physical possibility of actualizing what the words could only hint at, Frances views intellectual exchange as an acceptable replacement for physical exchange. Following the meeting with Wittipol during which she was constrained to silence by her husband, she reflects, for instance, that Wittipol “did presume / By all the carriage of it, on my brain / For answer,” and fears he “will swear ’tis very barren / If it can yield him no return” (2.2.30-33). Here, Frances expresses her desire to show Wittipol is correct in crediting her with superior intelligence through an image of insemination and fertility. But this language is not so much erotically suggestive (like Wittipol’s), as it is suggestive of how, like physical exchange, intellectual exchange might be seen as both intimate and productive in and of itself.

  27. Francis thus rejects Wittipol’s invitations to make Fitzdottrel the cuckold he deserves to be (1.6.179-182), while readily accepting the immaterial help he can offer with his powers of intellect and sensitivity. She clearly does want to engage with Wittipol in meaningful exchange, to “give” a “requital” for his desire to help her, just “not unto [his] ends”(4.6.8-10). Frances’ reasons for refusing physical intimacy with Wittipol are moral: she asserts before Wittipol that Fitzdottrel’s “ill / Must not make me, sire, worse” (26-27). As Ostovich points out, “the freedom to choose virtue is quite different from the imposition of virtue on a wife as her husband’s chattel” (166), and here, by morally constraining herself to stay, physically, within the bounds of her marriage, Frances appropriates her confinement, instead of simply enduring it, not unlike Artesia’s appropriation of her burial. By choosing to physically restrain herself to her marriage, Frances achieves a more significant freedom; she liberates her wit from her body, in a double sense.  That is, by insisting on the separation of her body from her “Wit”-tipol, she enforces his recognition of her mental and spiritual merits as completely independent from her physical beauty (37-41); she achieves the possibility of a stimulating, engaging connection with a man that is not tied to and makes no claims upon her body.

  28. In this achievement, Francis both accepts and transforms her name by marriage, just as Modesta and Constantia do their birth-names. A dotterel is a bird that is easily trapped, and not only does Fitzdottrel leap into every imaginable trap Merecraft sets to cozen him of money, but in the way he dresses – or restrains – his wife’s body, he sets her body up to be a trap for herself. In addition to all the “oils,” “tinctures,” “pomatums” and so on, for the face and skin, with which Fitzdottrel wants Frances to adorn herself (2.8.35), “in every dressing he does study her” (1.1.18). Significantly, when Fitzdottrel catches Pug attempting his wife, he asks, “did her silks rustling move you?”, signalling his awareness that the apparel he imposes on her encourages illicit urges (2.3.27). But Frances does not become absorbed in her own external appearance like Ladies Tailbush and Eitherside, and does not fall into a trap as her dotterel husband so often does, even though he makes it excessively easy for her to do so, fitting her with eye-catching, sensuous garments and then unwittingly bringing Wittipol, a suitor far worthier than himself, to her attention. By choosing not to breach the restraints of her marriage in order to transcend, in spirit and intellect, the confines of her body, Frances remains the “bird” Fitzdottrel calls her (2.7.28), but instead of a dotterel, she is closer to the bird as a conventional symbol for the soul that transcends the cage of its body – or perhaps more accurately, the cage of the female body as it is socially defined.

  29. That Frances is not entrapped by surface appearances is not the only thing that distinguishes her from her husband. Like Artesia’s, Frances’ anger serves as a protective self-constraint within the physical restraint he imposes on her. Whereas Fitzdottrel is seduced by the false magic of conjurors and projectors like Merecraft, when he repeats their schemes to Frances in long-winded ramblings, they fail to enchant her. She easily deflects Fitzdottrel’s speeches with a few lines laced with suppressed anger, as when, in response to his delineation of all the pain and expense he incurs to have her educated by ‘the Spanish lady,’ she finishes his claim that he has provided her “all helps that could be had for love or money –” with “To make a fool of her” (4.4.110-123, see also 2.3.33-60). Here, by constraining her anger to one line, Frances effectively preserves herself from association with her husband’s many foolish lines. Moreover, given early modern attitudes towards women’s anger, and considering how Fitzdottrel tries Frances’ patience almost beyond endurance, renting her out for a cloak and jeopardizing her financial security in the pursuit of ridiculous hoaxes, Frances is likely constraining the full extent of her anger to guard her own credibility. This constraint creates, as it does between Modesta, Constantia, and their suitors, an intangible emotional barrier between Frances and her husband. Significantly, this particular barrier does not exist between Frances and Wittipol, who not only understands the frustration and anger Frances does not openly express, but shares in it when he witnesses from a window, but is helpless to prevent, Frances’ beating at the hands of Fitzdottrel. Therefore, even though Fitzdottrel does his utmost to restrain his wife as a jealously-guarded “fruit” he wants no one else to have (2.2.159), because of Frances’ carefully constrained anger, he himself does not have full access to her, nor do his blunders penetrate her own reputation for intelligence and discretion.

  30. Devils and magicians might perform the most obvious magic in The Devil is an Ass and The Birth of Merlin, but the magic Frances, Artesia, Modesta and Constantia practice is the most impressive. With the exception of Pug, who ends his first day on earth doubly confined, in prison, and “tied […] up” in “the unlucky carcass of a cutpurse, / Wherein I could do nothing” (5.6.31-36), these devils and magicians are free to speak their minds without fearing consequences (as when Anselme gives his opinion about Aurelius’ marriage), just as they are free to wander and practice their magic where they please, whether on the battlefield, at court, or back and forth between hell and earth. They clearly do not operate under the same physical restraints and social constraints these four female characters do. Unlike Pug, however, Frances, Artesia, and the sisters are in no need of rescue. Instead, to return to that image in the masque of the hags tied to the queens’ chariots, each female character turns some form of constraint or restraint that existing gender codes require – from the constraint of ‘unruly’ emotions to the restraint of the body within a dull marriage – into defiant energy, extra fuel, carefully managed and kept from men’s control, but used to advance the women’s interests, just as the witches advance the chariots.

  31. And yet restraint is never affirmed as a permanent condition, whether chosen or imposed. Modesta and Constantia perceive the restraint of their bodies from worldly life as one step closer to ultimate spiritual liberation after death. Though Frances chooses not to breach the physical bounds of her marriage, there is a good chance that before long these bounds will not be an issue. As Ostovich argues, Frances’ many similarities to Mary Wroth, who deferred “the consummation of her love for Pembroke until after her husband’s death,” and Fitzdottrel’s “sickbed finale” symbolically suggesting “that he may not be around for long,” indicate that Frances could soon be a widow with “the determination to decide her own future as a lover” (177). Finally, the ambiguity of Artesia’s final claim that she will “starve death” leaves open the mysterious possibility that she will elude death entirely. Indeed, throughout the play Artesia’s body has displayed impressive powers of enchantment, and this last statement could well be an expression of her confidence in her body to escape her triple confinement through means other than appropriating her own starvation and leaving an emaciated corpse. Overall, then, just as the hags roped to the chariots can be read as the queens’ own sequestered, alternative versions of themselves, the magic of these four female characters ultimately reveals that the concept of restraint itself is an illusion they are all willing to manipulate as long as others try to suppress them.


[1] All references to The Masque of Queens are to line number of Stephen Orgel’s edition in The Complete Masques.

[2] See, for instance, Clare McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage. With reference to “the threat of the amazon” as that of “female community and male redundancy,” McManus argues “such female community […] points to the essential similarity of the witches and queens and so helps to collapse the artificial polarization between the monstrous and virtuous woman in this masque” (133).  Margaret Maurer points out how the entrance of the twelve queens keeps alive, rather than dispelling, the memory of the twelve vanished witches (241-242). Lawrence Normand discusses how “the categories of witch and queen, intended to be antithetical, threaten to infiltrate each other and lose their identity, because, in some cases, both use magic and both are motivated by rage and revenge,” and raises the question “whether the queens, as Jonson represents them, are indeed absolutely different from the witches” (117). He suggests that class might be the only dividing factor, asking whether the witches represent “a true realization of the kind of power and autonomy that peasant women can only aspire to in magic?” (117). See also 107-120.

[3] See, for instance, McManus’ discussion of “the performing female body as a site of ideological conflict” where “the martial, and therefore masculine, erotics of [the female masquers’] costumes transgressed the passively erotic femininity of the court’s ideal” (130-131).

[4] There is uncertainty surrounding the authorship of Merlin, and like Isaac, I treat the authorship as “unitary” only for “expository convenience” (n.3).

[5] Sir John Astley, Master of the Revels, records a fee for “The Childe hath founde his Father, for perusing and allowing of a New Play, acted by the Princes Servants at the Curtayne, 1622” (Bawcutt 136).

[6] In The Devil is an Ass, when disguised as the Spanish lady in 4.3 and 4.4, Wittipol makes sport of ridiculing the superficial Tailbush and Eitherside’s obsessions with fashion and cosmetics, unbeknownst to them, in order to expose to Manly “what they are you so pursue” (4.4.4). For a nuanced reading of the multiple levels of satire operating in Jonson’s treatment of cosmetics, including criticism of cosmetic-using women for poor household management, gullibility, ostentatiousness, and affectation in their desire for foreign commodities, see Farah Karim-Cooper’s Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama, especially 126 -129.  All references to Devil are to Michael Cordner’s edition in The Devil is an Ass and Other Plays.

[7]  References to The Birth of Merlin are to Joanna Udall’s edition.

[8] Citing Toclio’s description of Anselme to Modesta: “They say he is half a Prophet too: would he could tell me any news of the lost Prince; there’s twenty talents offer’d to him that finds him,” Isaac explains: “the title ‘prophet’ can certainly suggest religious power as well as occult power, but Toclio’s modification of his description with the word ‘too’ suggests that he has moved on to discuss the skills that Anselme wields in addition to (as opposed to simply an aspect of) his sacred abilities. […] Toclio’s request that Anselme might help him find a lost man puts Anselme firmly in the category of the witch. Finding lost property or people, especially when such recoveries would prove financially rewarding, was one of the most common functions of English witches” (117).

[9] A model that Modesta emulates without prompting, least of all from Anselme, who remains neutral over the question of whether Modesta should or should not commit her life to secluded religious devotion (3.2.22-24, 5.2.10).

[10] William Kozlenko’s edition of The Birth of Merlin indicates the location of this scene as “The Porch of a Church” (p.309).

 [11] The extent to which Donobert’s marriage plans for his daughters aimed less to ensure their personal happiness than to further male interests and social alliances becomes clear when, disowning Modesta and Constantia for choosing “Single Life,” Donobert swears “by the Honor of my Fathers House” to divide his estate between their suitors, asking them only to call the suitors his “Sons” (5.2.2, 34-6).

[12] The 1662 first edition of The Birth of Merlin assigns to Aurelius the line (as does Udall’s edition) “It is Artesia, the royal Saxon princess,” spoken in response to Prince Uter’s desire to know her name. Kozlenko assigns the line to Artesia, so that in response to a question addressed to the King – almost as if she were not there – Artesia introduces herself before anyone can speak for her (Kozlenko 305, Udall 2.2.264). In Artesia’s mouth, the line would be fittingly suggestive of her assertiveness and preference to be in control.

[13] Though Wittipol claims “I protest ’gainst all such practice” of “spells or spirits,” and insists “I work by no false arts, medicines, or charms / To be said forward and backward” (1.6.107-110), his skill with words amounts to an enchanting force far more influential than anything Pug – the genuine devil in their midst and so the most likely of anyone to possess magical qualities – can come up with in his desperate attempts to tempt humans into vice.

[14] Although Fitzdottrel understands Frances’ silence as under his control (enforcing her silence is his strategy to stump Wittipol in his amorous advances while still obtaining the coveted cloak) – and certainly Frances avoids physical abuse at the hands of her husband by withholding speech – we need not read her silence as passive obedience to Fitzdottrel’s command. Christina Luckyj’s important study on gender and silence alerts us to the dangers of associating female silence with subjection and obedience, and highlights the potential for silence, “increasingly associated in early modern England with the unreadable, ‘inscrutable’, private subject who cannot be fathomed or decoded” (7), to be unsettling, even threatening, as a response to speech. In this light, Wittipol's quick move to define Frances’ silence after an initial surprised pause (“How! Not any word?” 1.6.137) is telling.

Works Cited



Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2010-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).