Social and political satire in the impotency poems of Rémy Belleau and Thomas Nashe

Hannah Lavery
The Open University

Hannah Lavery, "Social and political satire in the impotency poems of Rémy Belleau and Thomas Nashe". [EMLS 15.3 (2011): 3]

  1. Rémy Belleau and Thomas Nashe produced their entries to the impotency poem tradition in the second half of the sixteenth century. Where it has already been recognised that Nashe responds primarily to Ovid’s Amores 3.7 in his “Choise of Valentines”, Belleau’s “Jan qui ne peult” is understood by Kuin and Prescott “to imitate and merge two classical Roman approaches to sexual dismay: the self-mockery of Ovid/Petronius on the inexplicable impotence afflicting a young man who disappoints a willing young woman and the aggression (and satire – what, for example, is the speaker doing with an admittedly rich but old partner to begin with?) with which Horace scoffs that his dysfunction is due to the woman’s repellant body.”[1] This would seem to suggest that these writers produced their verse in order to emulate earlier, Latin erotic-satiric modes, and therefore offer separate entries to the longer line of works in this area.[2] However, in a reading that pays attention to the intertextual significance of works, which use the impotency motif to respond to antecedent texts, yet with a historically contextualised re-interpretation of sense, Belleau and Nashe’s texts can be usefully compared in order to consider why these poets responded to the impotency poem tradition within the context of their own time.

  2. The very form and process of writing the love or erotic elegy is predicated on a satiric exploration of the wider political implications of the choice to write or act publicly in a certain way within a wider ideological framework. As Peter Davis says of Propertius: “choosing to write elegy means one thing: not writing epic”.[3] Part of the vitality of the impotency poem tradition depends on the self-conscious adoption of positions of seeming social and political ‘impotence’, by failing to write within the terms of a culturally acceptable literary form. Within impotency poems, then, we see some of the pressures felt by those who enacted public voice at times of particular political and cultural pressure. More importantly, we can explore the implications of those times, as they relate to understandings of nationality and authorship.

  3. For Belleau, who primarily produced poetry following a French anacreontic tradition focussed on idealized, natural forms, the decision to extend a typical representation of eroticised female-land imagery, to incorporate a moment of impotency leading to obscene self-destruction, is significant. This development of an elegy form to include the impotence incorporates references to national identity and what it means to write within this genre in mid-sixteenth century France. Awareness of this French antecedent text in the longer line of impotency poetry then allows me to identify the ways in which Thomas Nashe responds through allusion to other texts. By doing so, he is able to shape his own obscene, satiric parody of the erotic adventure as a process of self-degradation in pursuit of pleasure and money, leaving all empty and unfulfilled. Nashe’s decision to circulate this poem in manuscript form is then part of the very process by which meaning is constructed for the text, suggesting the positions of impotence to which those involved in the production and consumption of acts of excessive sexuality are necessarily subjected. The wider comment this makes within the context of Elizabethan literary patronage systems allows us to glimpse the pressures under which ‘professional’ writers practised in the latter half of the sixteenth century.

    Rémy Belleau’s “Jean qui ne peult”

  4. Although this poem is dated 1577 on the earliest extant version of the manuscript (the year of Belleau’s death), it is likely it was written earlier.[4] Belleau’s earliest poetry collection Les petites inventions (1556) are a collection of odes modeled on the Greek poet Anacreon (570 BC-488 BC). Belleau was known for his skill in this mode, producing ornate depictions of aspects of nature. Belleau’s Anacreontic mood in his poetry, celebrating life and love, with darkness and mortality set at a remove, drew on links between fecund nature and a reading of the female body as land, developing petrachist readings of the female ‘catalogue’. The conceptual link between erotic domination and identity as linked to land enabled Belleau to draw together various exempla from earlier impotency poems, to relate an instance of failed erotic conquest and masculine self-flagellation within a more specifically rooted French poetic tradition.

  5. This is clear from the first part of “Jean qui ne peult”, which opens with a representation of ideal, positive female sexual form as linked to images of nature and as a source of fecundity: “Dessus son large sein les Oeillets et les Roses” (l. 8) (“On her full bosom fragrant pinks and roses”, l. 9). This presents a break with the impotency poem tradition, it seems, as this warm and natural positive envisaging of the female lover sets his version apart from the coldly lascivious lover of the Catullan and Ovidian texts, for instance:
    illa quidem nostro subiecit eburnea collo
    bracchia Sithonia candidiora nive,
    osculaque inseruit cupida luctantia lingua
    lascivum femori supposuitque femur

    Her ivory arms, gleaming more brightly than Thracian snow, she cast about my neck and with eager tongue implanted wanton kisses, and lasciviously slid her limbs beneath mine. (Amores 3.7)
    However, Belleau’s Anacreontic intrusion to his longer elegy is important for his development of the form and structure of the impotency poem within a French context.

  6. Indeed, the very emphasis on idyll and purity as part of the anacreontic mode, with its simple content matching simple form, has been seen as an “escape into irresponsible oblivion” at a time of religious and political turbulence in France.[5] By opening with this image of female beauty, Belleau allows the impotence to ring a sharp satire on the unreality of the verse. Belleau’s response to the impotency poem tradition, then, is influenced by the development of French elegy in the early decades of the sixteenth century, “adopted as a love poem because of the sadness as opposed to the joyfulness of love”.[6] Marot’s introduction of the elegy form to France in 1533 came through his knowledge of the Heroides as epistles on loss. Influenced by earlier Rhetoriquer models of poetry, the French elegy then is closer to medieval love poetry in its use of allegory and focus on loss, than the erotic playfulness that comes into the English elegy tradition through Ovid’s Amores. The relationship then between these French and English entries to the impotency poem line suggests how the intertextual development of a particular motif in poetry gains its vigour from a hybridity stemming from the process of translation and transformation, as it crosses and is adapted to different literary traditions.

  7. Kuin and Prescott comment that there is something new, however, in Belleau’s adaptation of the impotency poem, as he includes a significant amount of hunting and battle imagery in his work. He uses this in particular to juxtapose the cowardly impotent penis with the raging and warlike virility of previous sexual encounter:

    … ce Vit enflé Daudace,
    Escumant de colere et de fumante ardeur
    Et qui pour galopper ne fasoit du restif,
    Mais maintenant, ô Dieux, est Couard et Craintif. (ll. 31-37)

    …a prick with daring swollen,
    Foaming with rage and ardour’s snorting steam.
    That from a gallop never shied away;
    But now, oh Gods, the coward fearful lies. (ll. 33-38)

    The opposition constructed between the representation of ‘vigorous in action’ and ‘old and weak in inaction’ is something the earlier Roman poets seek to engage with in their exploration of what it means to write elegy not epic.[7] The pitiful appeal here by the protagonist to the ‘Gods’ situates the poem within a classical tradition and, written within the terms of a mock-epic style, treats the sexual failure as a symptom of a wider failure to live up to a national ideal of heroic masculinity.[8] Discussion of the sexual episode as a military encounter is common since Roman literatures, and one with which Belleau would be familiar, having previously written in the vein of the Italian dramatist Plautus, who made heavy use of sexual metaphors that link the penis to a weapon.[9] But Belleau’s incorporation of this concept within the terms of his poem situate this more clearly in relation to a sense of national identity at a time of violence and civil warfare. Symbolically, impotence is then not simply stunted action but an actual threat, in that it symbolizes the removal of the man’s ability to participate in established masculine discourses of power.

  8. The use of the militia amoris concept in writing love elegy, first clearly established by Propertius, is one in which the idea of service is emphasised, and especially fides within that.[10] The position of degradation this ‘service’ can force a male into, as a result of the pressures of duty, is what is most important to a reading of Belleau. However, what is interesting in Propertius’ impotency poem 2.15 is the emphasis on the ‘lost opportunity recovered’ motif, which the moment of impotence or failure allows for:
    illa meos somno lapsos patefecit ocellos
    ore suo et dixit, “Sicine, lente, iaces?”
    quam uario amplexu mutamus bracchia! quantum
    oscula sunt labris nostra morata tuis!
    She pushes open my lids, as they slip into sleep,
    and says, with her expression, “So, you lie there spent?”
    With such varied embrace we exchange positions!
    So many of my kisses linger on your lips!
    Although the male protagonist suffers a moment of impotence, or ‘failure to serve’, he is soon recovered and able to perform.[11] Later poets take this idea of an individual’s ‘love militia’ as a rejection of expected, public service, to explore anxieties stemming from an expectation to perform in the service of particular political bodies. From the earliest moments in Latin erotic elegy, then, the idea of elegy as ‘not epic’ has been established as a source for anxiety within the texts, but it also suggests a retreat or escape from what it means to perform in public life. Within these environs, the impotence episode is a harsh reminder of the ‘failure to serve’ that lurks beneath the surface of the elegiac life. Within the context of Belleau’s France, and Nashe’s England, we can see how the time of writing influences the content of, and indeed even the decision to write, the impotency poem.

  9. Belleau’s re-writing of an impotency poem allows him to develop away from the original Ovidian model in Amores 3.7 towards a more cutting and vicious military-based imagery. In this, he is indebted to the militia amoris component of the elegiac tradition. Belleau picks up on the comedic tool of the sword-penis but also, and significantly, develops this motif to link military and agrarian imagery in order to express a positive idea of masculine vigour:
    Roide, entrant tout ainsi que la pointe d’un soc
    Qui se plonge et se cache en toute terre Grasse
    Jusqu’aux Couillons?                          (ll. 29-31)

    Stiff, plunging, like a steelhard plowshare’s point
    That dives and hides itself in good fat soil
    Right to the hilt:                                  (ll. 31-33).

    Add to this the reference to:
    … ce Vit a la Pointe acerée,
    Vit rougisant ainsi, que la Creste Pourprée[12]
    Qui couronne, flotant, le morion d’un Coq  (ll. 26-28)

     … the hero of the Golden Point
    Who used to redden like the wreathèd crest
    Triumphant on the helmet of a cock? (ll. 28-30),

    and we see how Belleau’s process of imitation involves the incorporation of earlier images from impotency texts to present a specific reference to a Gallic identity in his reworked version. This choice of imagery on one level speaks to a topographical slant to the verse, but also performs a bigger function in allowing for a metaphorical descent into impotence, from fecund land to “ash-filled sepulcher”, to reflect a sense of a troubled national identity.

  10. As we have seen, Belleau’s poem opens with a typically anacreontic representation of ideal, positive female sexual form as linked to images of nature. The moment of impotence creates humor through the irony of a male’s inability to live up to that ideal, with the subsequent obscene railing at failure, and thus comments on the very form within which he chooses to explore this motif: “la joliesse meme de certaines descriptions trahissent le caractere artificiel du sentiment, la faussete de cette evasion aristocratique vers une naivete de convention”.[13] Indeed, whilst Belleau was engaged in writing his perfect ‘miniatures of nature’, for dedication to the Guise family, elsewhere war raged and Frenchmen were engaged in a battle over identity and ownership of land. Throughout his works, Belleau’s aesthetic ideals can be seen not to be the representation of objectivity and realism but refinement and artifice.[14] It is striking, then, that in a poem such as “Jean qui ne peult” this process of idealisation is brought sharply into focus through the device of obscene poetics. Surely the juxtaposition of a typically idealised female beauty allowing for this obscene satire comments on the very forms within which authorised poetic voice exists in mid-century France.

  11. So, Belleau’s emphasis on fertile nature and the female form, which opens the poem and titillates the reader, in fact emphasises the fall into impotence through the use of imagery linked to landscape. This allows Belleau to mediate the change from the beauteous female form as “Voiant du beau Printemps les Richesses escloses”, (l. 7); (“glad spring’s wealth disclosed, displayed:”, l. 8), through the trope of the military/pastoral, and into the decidedly infertile image of the aged pudendum, which constitutes the penis’s punishment for impotence:
    … vne Peau desia morte,
    Entrouurant tout ainsi qu’un Sepulchre Cendreux,
    Beant, sur le portail, tout rance, et tout poudreux,
    Ou pende, pour trophees, et pour aultres enseignes,
    Vne Crespe tissu des Lanes des Araignes (ll. 43-47)

    … skin already dead,
    And open like an ash-filled sepulcher
    Its gate agape, rancid and powdery,
    Where hang as trophies and for battle-flags
    A few grey hairs, like spiders’ dingy webs  (ll. 45-9)
    The destruction of the fertile pasture land, linked previously with the gallus, and this later equating of the “ash-filled sepulcher” of the aged vagina with both a tomb and a defeated military fort, suggests an attempt to explore the idea of impotence as one in which identity is crushed and negated. Indeed, the production of impotency poems can often be seen to coincide with times of particular social or cultural stress: for example, the factional destruction of a Republic in Propertius’ time, or the restoration of a king after a failed Republic in Rochester’s time. So too here with Belleau we have a poetry that relies on a conception of identity as linked to landscape, destroyed through the impotence of failed warfare, and produced at a time of war, which challenges conceptions of national identity and representation.

  12. A notable influence from Ovid, adapted by Belleau, which serves as a key influence on the development of English impotency poems from Nashe onwards, is the inclusion of a heightened level of obscenity. This comes in the section of the poem that presents the protagonist’s railing against his impotent penis.[15] Importantly, in this Belleau follows Ovid’s earlier model in the Amores 3.7, whereby the penis is figured as a distinct anthropomorphised entity, which can be railed against and punished separately:
    quin istic pudibunda iaces, pars pessima nostri?
    sic sum pollicitis captus et ante tuis.
    tu dominum fallis; per te deprensus inermis
    tristia cum magno damna pudore tuli. (vv. 69-72)

    Lie down there, you shamefaced creature, worthless part of me: I have
    been tricked by promises like this before. You deceive your master;
    through you I have been caught defenceless, and suffered a painful
    and humiliating reverse.

    The idea of removing the penis as punishment is something Petronius literalises with Encolpius’s threat to remove the flaccid member with a knife, interestingly gesturing to the anxieties of male service within a dominant military discourse. This idea of punishment is taken to a new level in Belleau, however, where the episode of railing at his limp penis – occupying just a few lines in Ovid – takes over the majority of “Jean qui ne peult”, occupying 55 of the 75 lines in the poem:
    Vne Trippe, vne Peau, vne Sauatte infette,
    Rebouschant, Remousse, et pliant de facon
    Que fait contre L’acier vne lame de Plom,
    Braue sur le Rampart et couard a la bresche,
    Vn Canon desmonté, sans amorce et sans Mesche,
    Vn Manche sans Marteau, vn Mortier sans Pilon,
    Vn nauire sans mast, Boucle sans Ardillon,
    Vn Arc tousiours corbé et qui jamais ne bande,
    Vn nerf tousiours lasché et qui jamais ne tende. (ll. 55-63)

    A tripe, a flap, an old and grungy shoe,
    Battered and blunted, weakly bending like
    a blade of lead against the hardened steel.
    Brave on the walls and coward in the breach,
    Dismounted cannon, powder- and fuseless both,
    Hammerless handle, mortar without pestle.
    A ship without a mast, a pinless buckle,
    A bow that’s always bent and never drawn,
    A cord that’s ever slack and never tense.           (ll. 57-65)
    The humour of this part of the poem lies in the image built up of a man who, having lost control of his body, appears to also lose control of his mind. It is as if the perverse pleasures, gained through the idea of punishment in the crudest and most obscene way, spurs the man on to more and higher levels of self-loathing and self-pleasure. The pace and rhythm of the work add to this idea of a sadomasochistic release of sexual tension which, presumably, an engagement in romantic sexual coupling could not provide. This is most clearly seen in the French original, where the manipulation of metre and rhyme produces a sense of a destabilised form to the narrative, though individual rhymed couplets share the same metrical construction to emphasise the pairing of imagery within them. Here too we see use of metre to emphasise the humour, completed by a couplet at lines 62-3 which draws attention to metaphors of impotence as based on military or epic imagery.

  13. The use of the rhyme and meter not only serves to highlight the humour of this, as drawing on a mock-heroic imagery and tone, but also adds to the heightened level of obscenity in which this poetry revels. This marks a clear move away from Ovid’s model towards something that we more clearly recognise in the later works of Rochester, for example. Kuin and Prescott describe this “pleasure of heaping” (13) as an integral part of Belleau’s development of this new type of ultra-explicit impotency poem. Indeed, in reading the work, the joyous nature of the sounds and form of the verse appear to be in direct opposition to the content. As the protagonist’s anger appears to rise, the concurrent pleasure for the reader is heightened. The impotency poem therefore antithetically serves as a release from failure, and a source of sexual pleasure and climax not found elsewhere. Interestingly, in the Belleau, this also then presents a rejection of idealised beauty as sexually fulfilling.

  14. This draws attention to the role of audience in these works. The idea that this is a public display and release of anxieties suggests that these positions of impotence must be shared in order to signify. The satire works alongside the humour in allowing this most entertaining of literatures to signify within a public domain, engaging with the very processes of writing poetry in a specific cultural milieu. Part of the vitality of these works, then, is their enjoyment in interpellating and engaging with ‘the reader’ in displays of sexual loss and reclamation. Thomas Nashe takes this further by developing an erotic-satiric episode that recognises the inclusion of the reader as part of this discourse of obscenity and impotency, which then satirises an audience’s reaction to these types of literature, and in doing so directly responds to “the poetics of disgust” as established by Belleau in his impotency poem.
  15. The punishment for the impotence in Belleau’s work also carries implications as to the particular historical and cultural significance for the image of failed heroic masculinity at this point:

    Donc pour te faire arser, mon Vit il te fault ores
    Vne Vieille a deux Dents, qui se souuienne encores
    De Jeanne la Pucelle, a qui L’entrefesson
    sans enflure, sans Poil, soit gelé de facon
    Et si peu frequenté qu”on sente,                     (ll. 38-42)

    So now to make you stand, my prick, it takes
    A two-toothed ancient, who can still recall
    The Maid of Orleans                                       (ll. 40-42)

    References to Joan of Arc, who a century before led the French military forces to victory against the English, sets up a harsh contrast to the current failed and cowardly impotent cock, which is punished with and through impotence:
    Rebouschant, Remousse, et pliant de facon
    Que fait contre L’acier vne lame de Plom,
    Braue sur le Rampart et couard a la bresche   (ll. 56-58)

    Battered and blunted, weakly bending like
    a blade of lead against the hardened steel.
    Brave on the walls and coward in the breach (ll. 58-60)
    Such references can be usefully set in context of the French military defeats occasioned during the campaign undertaken to recapture Italian territories, which Belleau himself served in during the1550s. Given the time of writing, this broader context for the handling of the impotency episode, in the terms of a military force threatening land and identity, gestures to the turmoil associated with campaigns concerning both external and internal threats. Certainly, in the general atmosphere produced in this reworking of the impotency poem, Belleau’s juxtaposition of fecund with barren land, and through the associated imagery of fertile female youth and impotent aged bodies, suggests a wider anxiety as to understandings of an active national body of force, with the specific reference to Joan of Arc linking the idea of a sexual to a military reading of the female body.

  16. The influence of anacreontic poetics on Belleau’s Bergerie is also clear, and the dates of these pieces suggest they are contemporaneous to “Jan qui ne peult”: in 1565, working at Joinville as tutor to Elboeuf’s son, Belleau dedicates the first day of his Bergerie to his patron, the nephew of Charles de Lorraine; and in 1572 he publishes the complete edition with a dedication to Lorraine. Similarities between descriptions of the female bosom in the Bergerie and that which appear in “Jan qui ne peult” suggest links between them: most significant are the revisions and additions Belleau made to the poem “L’Este” from that 1572 collection, to note the bosom as “wide path between two small mountains… skirting the most secret forests”, and with comment on a “beautifully rounded belly” below. Belleau draws out the erotic nature of the land-female form as a result, emphasising the principle of male exploration of such. In his impotency poem, however, Belleau’s emphasis on pastoral simplicity and purity is made ironic by the later impotency, as coming in response to a failure to respond successfully to the imagined conquest. Nashe later plays on this concept of rural simplicity for his own very English impotency poem, in which he draws on the concept of linking female and nature, and specifically addresses this in order to parody a ‘shepherd’s song’ which combines “pleasures of wine and love and banishes thoughts of trouble or death”.[16] Nashe’s response to this rural idyll in his “Choise” utterly negates the possibility of love or pleasure, and presents instead a stark nihilism that speaks to the impossibility of ‘pure love’ in his vision of the corrupt and corrupting urban environment. It is his response to various elements of the impotency poem tradition that allow for the development of his own satire, within the context of late sixteenth century London.

    Nashe’s Dildo

  17. Nashe’s early works contain many biting satires which circulated in published form. On the other hand, the erotic-satiric poem “Choise of Valentines”, popularly known as “Nashe’s Dildo”, circulated in manuscript form in the early 1590s, around the time of his release of Piers Penniless (1592). Nashe’s anger at the poverty attendant upon his position as a struggling ‘professional’ writer in London at that time is something which had preoccupied him previously:
    for all my labours turned to loss, my vulgar Muse was despised and neglected, my pains not regarded, or slightly rewarded, and I myself, in prime of my best wit, laid open to poverty. Whereupon, in a malcontent humour, I accused my fortune, railed on my patrons, bit my pen, rent my papers, and raged in all points like a madman.[17]
    In particular, Nashe is bitter about the insecurity and humiliation of scraping around for patrons, whose whims ultimately direct the content and success of a work. Through the release of his “Dildo” in manuscript form, Nashe engages with the very concept of authorship and publication, to critique positions of selfishly driven action wherein service to another is not repaid, and neither party are capable of fulfilment as a result. By considering his own and others’ writings from the period of composition of the “Dildo” we can perhaps clarify something of the symbolic meaning of the piece, the action that takes place within it, and some important links between this and Belleau’s poem for building satire.

  18. Nashe is driven by the Gabriel Harvey’s attacks on his publications in April 1593 to defend his earlier work, and does so by making direct critique, not on the content of his work, but on the systems which force him into those positions of courtesan-like wantonness.[18] Here, then, is evidence of the kind of ‘commercial’ writing practices Nashe simultaneously loathed, and yet entered into:
    As newfangled and idle, and prostituting my pen like a Curtizan, is the   next Item that you taxe me with; well it may and it may not bee so, for I neither deny it nor will I grant it; onely thus farre Ile goe with you, that   twise or thrise in a month, when res est augusta domi, the bottome of my purse is turnd downeward, and my conduit of incke will no longer flowe for want of reparations, I am faine to let my Plow stand still in the midst of a furrow, and follow some of these new-fangled Galiardos and Senor Fantasticos, to whose amorous Villanellas and Quipassas I prostitute my pen in hope of gaine; but otherwise there is no newfanglenes in mee but pouertie, which alone maketh mee so vnconstant to my determined studies.[19]
    This statement deserves close attention, as in it we can see the context and approach within which the “Choise” was made. It suggests, moreover, that such ‘profane’ texts (as gave Nashe his infamy) could be commissioned works, appealing to what we would consider a popular market, and therefore an appropriate endeavour for a writer who finds himself in need of some urgent financial support.

  19. The difference between writing for manuscript circulation and writing for print is an important part of the poem’s significance. At a time when commercial ideas of publication were creating seeming social and economic divisions between writing for print (i.e. public) or manuscript (i.e. for circulation within a specific, private group), Nashe’s production of a poem in manuscript form that plays on the very concept of patronage and service seems to contradict his statement regarding the production of erotic ephemera as commercially driven. However, as Love notes, such binary division of publication and reading as ‘private or public’ is too blunt. Instead, manuscript circulation amongst communities and groups can be seen as participating in a careful balance between private and public, with membership of such groups being “relatively fluid”, allowing for the circulation of a text in a more public and commercial sense than we may previously have considered possible for manuscript verse.[20] Indeed, he notes, “it would be strange if there was no entrepreneurial involvement in the circulation of Nashe’s pornographic ‘Choise’… whose notoriety suggests they were much more widely available than is indicated by the small number of copies that survive” (p. 19). The manuscript circulation, then, in fact allows for and forms part of the satire: the concept of manuscript as opposed to print implies the identification of a specific readership, as part of patronage networks carrying suggestions as to hierarchy and commission. Most importantly, the production and reproduction of the manuscript text is formed through a group of individuals, and occasioned as a direct result of their desire to engage with obscenity and sexual degradation. The identification of the idea (if not the actuality) of a particular group is therefore something on which the satire of the piece relies.

  20. Indeed, Nashe’s claim to be forced into writing such pieces as commissioned works fits to the time of writing: he comments in 1592 that “I have written in all sorts of humours privately, I am perswaded, more than any young man of my age in England”. Nashe’s reference here to writing ‘privately’ is fascinating, referring not to a collection of personal papers, but instead to various light-hearted pieces written for the circle of Lord Strange in the early 1590s, now lost.[21] There is a distinction drawn, then, between public writings, i.e. printed works, and private writings, i.e. manuscript works, but the position of the ‘author’ in relation to these is actually shown to be reversed. The suggestion here, then, is that in the production of manuscript works, ‘privately’, the author is engaged in writing as required by and for representation of an individual or group of individuals, which exists as a marker of social and economic distinction. As Halasz notes, the public sphere is a place in which opinion can be formed, open to citizens, and in which there exists an “economy of texts competing independently of their writers” (p. 53). Taking these comments together, and in light of the satire apparent in the “Choise”, we can see the tension Nashe feels between his public and private writings, in relation to the concept of what it means to be a professional writer in early modern London.

  21. It is noteworthy, then, that in his public, biographical writings he charts his fall into poverty in sexualised terms (“bottome of my purse is turnd downeward”; “conduit of incke will no longer flowe”). In the context of an already highly phallicised textual response, Nashe goes on to compare his position of poverty as enforcing impotence upon him (“let my Plow stand still”). Nashe thus ironically depicts the limitations imposed by poverty and lack of patronage as enforcing externally produced bouts of inactivity, leading him to social ineffectuality. This is also signified here in the enforced adoption of love and erotic genres over his other, presumably more worthy and serious “studies”.

  22. What is particularly relevant here, within the context of the production of his Dildo in the early 1590s, is the use Nashe makes of the pen as metaphor for penis, established through the link of the “Curtizan”. What is more, Nashe describes his activity in this kind of writing as enacting a transaction, or participating in a relationship, akin to that of a prostitute and a paying client. The implications for this writer-courtesan, pen-penis equation are key to a reading of this statement in relation to the idea of “Nashe His Dildo”. Nashe’s construction in this passage of the process of writing as the active use of his pen-penis, links to the ideas of literary transaction that Nashe undertakes in his “Choise”. It is interesting, then, to consider that at a time when he was writing satires against the limiting potential of the patronage system as the only means for supporting professional writers in London, he also releases his manuscript “dildo”, which finishes on a triumphant claim that: “Hence-forth no more will I implore thine ayde,/ Or thee, or men of cowardize upbrayde./ My little dilldo shall suplye their kinde” (ll. 237-9).

  23. Similarly, Nashe’s great rival Gabriel Harvey claims that the marketplace reduces a “great scholler” to the price of his “prostituted devices”.[22] Nashe’s complex representation of himself in his role as private or public writer leads to his confrontation of the ‘writer as prostitute’ idea within a manuscript poem. The Choise’s complicated relationship to systems of commercial writing is therefore both a fundamental part of both its form and content. Where Belleau develops an obscene slant to apparently straight anacreontic verse, in order to draw out culturally-contextualised anxieties around the performative nature of national identity and verse, Nashe responds to the tradition with his own firmly anti-anacreontic rendering of idyllic, love relations, in order to critique patronage systems which see him perform a degradation, ultimately gesturing to the literary and political systems in place under Elizabeth I.

  24. By considering in more detail the way in which Nashe responds to Belleau in his “Choise”, as part of the longer line of impotency poems, we can see how his output is shaped by the context of its production. In particular, Nashe picks up on the use of obscenity for the impotency poem, as an important signifier within the terms of the erotic episode, and for the production of satiric humour. This “poetics of disgust”, as Kuin and Prescott call it, is indeed both part of the production of humour for the story itself, and a wider comment on the public writing of sexual episodes in the erotic/pornographic vein.[23] In particular we can see the relationship between these texts as Nashe mirrors (even reverses) Belleau’s description of the young female body in the sexual episode, to produce his own social satire.

  25. Belleau’s poem gestures to the sexual episodes within Ovid’s Amores, but is most important in the development of the impotency poem for his inclusion of a longer and more obscene episode of raillery. This episode is glimpsed in Amores 3.7, but developed by Belleau to make good use of the militia amoris motif to produce a humorous and ironic image of failed masculinity (both physical and psychological). Ovid (and later Belleau) opens with the idea that even though the object of his affections is one of beauty and willingness, he is unable to engage in the sexual activity which both parties have courted. In terms of structure, Belleau follows Ovid fairly closely: having pondered on the external forces which have subjected him to this position of failure, the speaker turns his rage against the object of failure, his penis.

  26. Interestingly, Belleau punishes his penis with the threat of an excessive consumption of the sexual act, but with a grotesque and aged woman. This is reminiscent of a Dantean image of hell where the individual’s sins are exacted back on him for eternity, and makes good use of the Horatian exempla to develop the idea of copulation with the grotesque female body as punishment. Where Ovid threatens loss of sexual release as a fitting punishment for his penis’s failure, Belleau threatens eternal gain. Is this then a satire on what would come to be seen as a libertine sensibility? Certainly the focus on the man’s excessive sexuality as leading to limitation is something that Nashe picks up in his “Dildo”, but Belleau presents an earlier example of this in the punishment with which he threatens his protagonist.

  27. Nashe’s protagonist would seem to prove this. In his satire on the very “poetics of disgust” itself, Nashe presents his protagonist as a selfishly driven proto-libertine figure, so preoccupied with the acquisition of sexual release that he is unable to perform. It is Nashe’s response to his previous sources that allows him to make this point. Nashe’s approach, to borrow and then reverse representations of the moment of impotence from his sources in Ovid and Belleau, can be seen from the very beginning of the sexual episode in the poem, when he instructs his fingers to:
    First bare hir leggs, then creepe up to hir kneese.
    From thence ascend unto hir mannely thigh.
    (A pox on lingring when I am so nighe)
    Smock climbe a-pace, that I maie see my ioyes (ll. 102-5)
    In this, Tomalin strips away Frances’s clothes from the ground up. This appears to reverse a similar scene in the Amores 1.5, where Ovid presents a titillating view of the male protagonist’s gaze descending the female form:
    What arms and shoulders did I touch and see,
    How apt her bosom to be pressed by me!
    Belly so smooth below the breasts so high,
    And waist so long, and what a fine young thigh.   (“Amores” 1.5)
    With the upward climbing motion, as Tomalin’s fingers undress Francis, in opposition to the downward appreciation of the naked body of Corinna, Tomalin’s objectification of this woman as merely bought body, and particularly genitalia, is emphasised. (Other key inversions underline his process of reversing the sexual episode as imagined in Ovid, such as changing “her fine young thigh” to “her mannely thigh”, for humorous effect). Thus, Nashe presents the sexual episode as a negative and selfishly driven experience.

  28. But Nashe’s key instance of using reversed imagery to signify in his reworking of the impotency poem is his response to Belleau’s description of the female immediately preceding the sexual failure. Belleau describes her as:
    Dessus son large sein les Oeillets et les Roses,
    Vn Testin ferme et rond en Fraise aboutissant,
    Vne Crespe d’or frizé sur un Teint blanchissant,
    Vn petit Pied mignard, bien trait et bien moulé,
    Vne greue, vn Genouil, deux fermes rondes Cuisses,
    De l’amoureux plaisir les plus rares Delices,
    Vn doux embrassement de deux Bras gros et longs,
    Mille tremblans souspirs, mille Baisers mignons, (ll.8-17)

    On her full bosom fragrant pinks and roses,
    A firm round breast pointed with strawberry,
    Curled golden hair contrasting snowy skin,
    A hillock soft with delicate sweet moss,
    With drawn upon its midst a scarlet line,
    Below a belly round and plump and dimpled,
    A pretty little foot, well drawn and shapely,
    A leg, a knee, two firm and rounded thighs,
    Of love’s best pleasure quite the best delight,
    A soft embrace of two arms plump and long,
    A thousand trembling sighs and pretty kisses,– (ll. 9-19)
    Nashe takes this episode and produces an anti-poetic rendering of Belleau’s young female:
    A prettie rysing wombe without a weame,
    That shone as bright as anie silver streame;
    And bare out lyke the bending of an hill,
    At whose decline a fountaine dwelleth still,
    That hath his mouth besett with uglie bryers
    Resembling much a duskie nett of wyres. (ll. 109-114)
    With the similarities in form and structure for the episode there is a simultaneous heightening of both humour and disgust, as the beautiful becomes laughable, if not disturbing, through the parodic use of landscape-body imagery. The jolly heroic couplets of Nashe’s description in fact jar harshly with the content, which builds an image of an enlarged belly with an almost scatological reference to the “fountaine” below, and a vagina dentata-esque “nett of wyres” providing a threatening end-point for the male sexual gaze.

  29. In providing a description presented as an opposition of the typically Anacreontic episode which introduces Belleau’s poem, Nashe is able here to make a harsh comment on the nature of the sexually obsessed protagonist (and through this, the reader who handles this manuscript poem). Where Belleau has the “hillock soft with delicate sweet moss”, Nashe has the hill “besett with uglie bryers”.  Clearly, as part of a pornographic process, whereby intentionally explicit images seek to promote and accommodate sexual arousal, Nashe’s extreme and grotesque translation and inversion of this episode from the French poem denies a pornographic arousal in the same way. Importantly, however, the male character is sexually overcome by the sight and touch of the female, even in the “uglie” terms through which she is focalised in the narrative, and this leads to the moment of impotence.

  30. Nashe in fact constructs an image of grotesque femininity to mirror Belleau’s beautiful young female, but keeps the same outcome for both male protagonists. The humour lies in the fact that even though Tomalin is confronted here with the grotesque, he is so blinded with sexual excess, and driven by personal consumption, he suffers the same fate as the Belleau protagonist, and is overcome with lust at the sight of the figure before him. Nashe is no doubt drawing on earlier English instances of the use of eroticised natural imagery, as with Gascoigne’s Hundredth Sundry Flowres (1573), to comment satirically on images of excessive sexuality in verse, but the decision to include this imagery as part of the impotency episode suggests a broader understanding of work on both sides of the Channel for developing satire in erotic elegy.[24] What is striking about both these poems, and perhaps all impotency poems, is the contrast that exists between the apparent frivolity and humour of the piece, with the darker, nihilistic undertones. Of all the English entries to the impotency poem oeuvre, Nashe is perhaps the most effective at bringing this darkness to the fore.

  31. On another level, Nashe’s choice for representation of the female figure here also mirrors (reverses) contemporary movements in the English literature of the period to idolise the female figure within the terms of an objectified beauty, encouraged by Queen Elizabeth I herself as part of the process by which politics and patronage were shaped.[25] Further, this was part of a literary tradition that spoke more to the competitiveness of writing within a coterie of men than it did to the idealised subject of the female form. Nashe’s dildo can be seen to be, at least indirectly, shaped by knowledge of these endeavours, and the financial and social relationships on which they hinged. His “Dildo” presents a parodic representation of the love relationship as one of inadequate service and recompense, perhaps gesturing to the literary systems in contemporary London, and his position in competition with others for patronage (as predicated on a posturing of sexualised service). As part of that Elizabethan poetic tradition, which enjoyed such a boom over the years of Nashe’s own struggles with a literary career, the equation of effective male service to the Queen, often symbolised through positions of Petrarchan dependence, unites concepts of literary and financial service. That it occurred to Nashe to make use of the grotesque imagery of a sexual female in a position of dominance, for his critique of a male figure made ridiculous and impotent in his repeated attempts to satisfy himself or the other, is perhaps not surprising as placed in juxtaposition to a larger body of poetry circulating in the latter decades of the sixteenth century that idealised the now aging Queen’s beauty for monetary reward.

  32. The opposition Nashe makes here, with the use of the ‘grotesque as beautiful’ device, emphasises the humour of this reverse, and produces a critical reading of the male proto-libertine figure, made impotent by the very excess of sexuality which should give him his definition as sexually proficient. It is this irony that Nashe reveals in his presentation of Tomalin. The content of this manuscript poem, then, written for circulation within a supposedly identifiable group of supposedly male, aristocratic readers, plays upon the notion that there is a market for consumption of pornographic works, and a hunger for the poetics of obscenity, at once commissioned privately and denigrated publically.[26] More importantly, Nashe’s poem suggests this hunger carries within itself its own self-destructive principles, whereby personally directed consumption is never entirely satisfying. Nashe’s poem makes use of a shift in narrative voice to explore this idea of male inadequacy.

  33. As Tomalin finds himself unable to satisfy Francis, even after his recovery, the narrative voice shifts to the female. This is an unusual move, but has its roots in the position that Corinna plays in her reaction to the disappointment in Ovid Amores 3.7 (though reported by the male speaker in that poem). Nashe’s complex narrative structure and use of voice allows him to make developments in this field. His handling of voice and use of irony throughout allows for the critical reading of the male protagonist as sexually excessive and selfishly driven. The complex movements in narrative voice, enacted in the latter parts of the poem, constitute the key element for satirical communication via the externally censuring voice, and most directly relates to the incorporation of the external viewer as positioned within this (in recognition of the interpellated audience as part of a decision to produce and circulate this as a manuscript poem).

  34. As Tomalin enters the brothel he acts as focaliser for the development of the piece, and especially for the initial sexual episode, in which the female is drawn as a collection of body parts grotesquely equated with aspects of landscape. Francis takes over the narrative voice, however, immediately after the episode of male impotence, from line 130. In this section, masculine identifiers are manipulated for comedic effect. The penis moves from “he”, as described by Tomalin (ll. 129-130), into “it” in Francis’s terms (ll. 132- 141), which then is transformed through its re-enlivenment into “him” at l. 142, as the poet-narrator describes the scene: “Not ceasing, till she rais’d it from his swoune.” The impotent penis “it” is transformed to the active penis “he” as part of this process, and marks how intimately the conception of masculine identity is bound to ideas of active male (sexual) service in these literatures.

  35. In lines 143-176, then, the penis replaces Tomalin as “he” in the poet-narrator’s handling of the text. This replacement leads to humour, in that the following phrase “on him hir eyes continually were fixt,/ With hir eye-beames his melting look’s were mixt” (ll. 155-156) makes fun of the potential double meaning to emphasise the female’s sexual appetite, where a more romantic interpretation is made possible. This also then humorously uses the conventions of a Petrarchan mode to reinterpret the sense of “melting looks” to suggest a second episode of male impotence. This means the threat of dissolution is present at every stage, even within the terms of a highly sexual episode. This again suggests the complexity of the text as one in which Nashe explores the significance of the excessively sexual individual, of which the interpellated reader is counted as one; seeking out and gaining pleasure from positions of obscenity, as reflected in the language of the piece. The subtle transfer of address is easily confused by the reader, as there are no visual indicators of a change in voice in the manuscript, which again leads to implicit humour as regards who maintains identifiable authority in the production of meaning.

  36. This final usurpation of the narrative voice by Francis means that the male proto-libertine figure is ultimately eradicated from the narrative of sexual satisfaction, and a position of absolute impotence is enforced through the replacement of the male member with a symbolic representation of such, with her dildo. Finally, Nashe eradicates the interpellated audience of libertine readership, with his adaptation of Virgil’s “sluice”. Nashe’s final appendum “Claudito iam rivos Priape, sat prata biberunt[27], whereby he substitutes “Priapus” for “boys” (pueri), and therefore suggests an acknowledgement of vicarious reader pleasure, through an ironic reinterpretation of Virgil to imply sexual satiation (or over-consumption) by the interpellated male reader.

  37. Nashe, then, uses his sources to construct an extreme instance of excessive sexuality, which is emphasised through the reinterpretation of a grotesque female sexual body. In Belleau this figure is used as a punishment for a failure to act ‘correctly’ with a beautiful young partner. Nashe presents the grotesque body as the original source for pleasure, focalised as she is through the eyes of the male protagonist, and so the satire is thus pitched initially against Tomalin as a figure of sexual excess, but on another level is used to represent the very concept of manuscript audience. That this anti-erotic image of woman is the cause of the premature ejaculation criticises the depravity and unbridled excess of the central figure, as he is unable or unwilling to enter into mutually fulfilling relationships. Within the context of Nashe’s other works that rail against the pressures on a writer’s career, and within the context of a period in London where ideas of providing political service are bound up with representations of sexual service to an aging Queen, it is not perhaps surprising that Nashe’s manuscript poem directly engages with the idea of the writing of obscenity as presenting positions of depravity for the men involved. The humour and satire lie in the irony of this text, produced with an eye to the interpellation of a readership conversant with the erotic elegy genre, and eager to engage in the consumption of a poetics of obscenity as producing sexual release (whilst simultaneously, ironically, confirming positions of impotence).

  38. Both Belleau and Nashe write their pieces with knowledge of the ability of the impotency poem to signify on multiple levels of eroticism, satire and humour, as part of a longer intertextual line of erotic-satiric works. In neither piece does the sexual act or the female figure provide relief: instead, the obscenity and violence provide the humour and release for the protagonist and the interpellated reader. The position of these works in relation to their audience is therefore essential for an interpretation of their meaning. Through comparison of these poems, produced by two writers who were separated by time and geography, yet drawing on the same literary tradition, we discover something of the process and context for poetic production in early modern Europe.

Works Cited


[1] Roger Kuin and Anne Lake Prescott, “The Wrath of Priapus: Rémy Belleau’s ‘Jean qui ne peult’ and its Traditions”, Comparative Literature Studies, 37, no. 1 (2000), p. 13.

[2] For information on other poems in the tradition see an early essay by Richard Quaintance citing some of the key works in the development of the tradition (“French Sources of the Restoration ‘Imperfect Enjoyment’ Poem”, Philological Quarterly, 62, no. 2, (1963): 190-199). Also see John H. O’Neill, “An Unpublished ‘Imperfect Enjoyment’ Poem”, Papers in Language and Literature, 13, (Spring, 1977): 197-202, for his discussion of an addition to this body of verse. Roger Kuin and Anne Lake Prescott (2000) include a deeper reading of some of the lines of influence between French and English impotency poems to the area, as well as the most up-to-date list of poems and sources. This essay contains a translated reprint of the rare Belleau text from which all references in this article are taken. See McKerrow, R. B., ed., The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols., (London: A. H. Bullen, 1905), vol. 3, pp. 397-416 for the text of the ‘Choise of Valentines’ poem.

[3] Peter Davis, “Ovid’s Amores: A Political Reading”. Classical Philology 94.4 (Oct. 1999), p. 436.

[4] For the discussion of attribution and dating see Kuin & Prescott.

[5] Sowerby, p. 141. Belleau was a close friend of Ronsard, whose Pléiade group of poets sought to distance themselves from the ‘frivolous’ Rhetoriquers, aiming for something ‘better and more thought-filled’ for French vernacular poetry. (Hutton, pp. 131-2). In the 1550s Ronsard, the reputed ‘head’ of the Pléiade, enrolled ‘sa brigade au service de la maison de Lorraine’ (Marty-Laveaux, viii), where Belleau spent some years as tutor following his return from the Naples campaign in 1557. His writing career, then, can not be divorced from the political world of mid-century France: Belleau himself participated in a battle during the Italian Wars of 1551-9, and was writing under the patronage of the Guide family during the mid-century French Wars of Religion (1562-98).

[6] Scollen, p. 16.

[7] The binary opposites of otium and negotium, work and leisure, are used to discuss socially acceptable action, and the pressures on those not seen to act for the benefit of society. Some useful studies on Roman poetry as it relates to socio-political issues include Anton Powell’s edited work Roman Poetry and Propaganda in the Age of Augustus, (London: Bristol Classical, 1992). David Kennedy’s The Arts of Love: Five Studies in the Discourse of Roman Love Elegy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) looks at how specifics of the language shed light on a wider socio-political reading of the works.

[8] Belleau’s work pays attention too to the writings of Rabelais and Ronsard, combining an increased obscenity and stark satire with a distinctly recognisable topography. Nashe’s response to this poem with his “choise” engages with the concept of corrupt sexuality as representative of a wider social satire.

[9] La Reconnue (1577) as based on Plautus’ Casina.

[10] Propertius 1.6 is a particularly striking example of a statement of a decision to reject public service in favour of individually directed fides relations with a woman, and one in which the idea of ‘elegy over epic’ is directly confronted. Further on the trope itself can be found in Monica Gale, “Propertius 2.7: Militia Amoris and the Ironies of Elegy”, Journal of Roman Studies, 87, (1997), 77-91. Similarly in Ovid and Amores 1.1 notes that Cupid “steals a foot” from his verse, leaving him only able to participate within the elegy traditions.

[11] Aphra Behn’s response to the rejuvenation of the impotency poem within the context of the Restoration court is to investigate the potential for this idea of recovery of a lost opportunity through discussion of gender, power, and the very act of writing (cf. Lisa M. Zeitz and Peter Thoms, “Power, Gender, and Identity in Aphra Behn’s ‘The Disappointment,’” SEL 37 (1997): 501–16).

[12] Belleau also references to the “Creste Pourprée” in works in his collection La Bergerie (“The Shepherd’s Song”), which was written 1565-72 whilst he was tutor to the Guise family.

[13] Weber, p. 91.

[14] Cottrell, p. 400.

[15] This shows an instance of the influence that French poets had on this tradition as it came through from Latin, via Italian models in Aretino, to the English versions in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In particular, these are works which focus on a particular body part, and produces a poetry that revels in the humour and irony of a literature which makes “the body” filthy. Examples of this, as suggested by Kuin and Prescott, can be found in in Albert-Marie Schmidt, ed., Poètes du XVIe siècle, (Paris: Gallimard, 1953).

[16] Levarie, p. 224.

[17] Piers Penniless, in McKerrow, p. 274.

[18] Harvey, Vol. 2, p. 91. For more on the Harvey-Nashe quarrel, which took place over the years 1593-1596, and referred to writings from the late 1580s and early ‘90s, can be found in Halasz, Marketplace of Print (1997), as it relates to the significance of the printed nature of this quarrel, and Lorna Hutson’s work Thomas Nashe in Context for how this affected Nashe’s later works. For general information on Nashe’s biography and writing career, see Nicholl’s A Cup of News (1984). McPherson’s article ‘Aretino and the Harvey-Nashe Quarrel’ demonstrates how Harvey’s earlier works profess admiration for an ‘aretinesque’ spirit in satire, for which he later criticises Nashe, thus suggesting the poised nature of the later quarrel in relation to its print medium.

[19]  “Have with you to Saffron-Walden”, in Kerrow, III, 30-31.

[20] Love, p. 44-6.

[21]  McKerrow, I, 320.

[22]  Harvey, Letterbook, p. 119, quoted in Halasz, p. 91.

[23] The question of whether the term ‘pornographic’ can be usefully applied to early modern texts has received wide consideration. For some recent discussion of the term and its implications in relation to the Thomas Nashe text please see Ian Moulton, Before Pornography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Other critics who have dealt with this recently include James Grantham Turner, Schooling Sex: Libertine Literature and Erotic Education in Italy, France, and England 1534-1685, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), and a longer book-length analysis of the history of pornography can be found in Lynn Hunt, ed. , The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800, (New York: Zone Books, 1993). For my purposes, in this essay, I will note the development of the impotency poem within the bounds of the erotic elegy tradition, and note the multiple significances that such texts provide.

[24] The relationship between French and English writers of the mid to late sixteenth century has not been fully explored, though there do seem to be some interesting links. Kuin and Prescott note that “Although we make no argument here for Belleau’s “influence” in Renaissance England, his name was not unknown there; indeed, Thomas Churchyard’s Churchyards Challenge (1593) has a depressingly drab verse epistle to a mistress that he identifies as a translation of Belleau, although so far the original, if in fact by Belleau, has eluded us.” (fn. 1, p. 15). This suggests Belleau’s works were known in England by the second half of the sixteenth century. Henri Estienne, friend of Ronsard and Sydney (Gilbert, 1962, p. 415n.), reportedly discovered a manuscript containing 60 Odes of Anacreon in 1549, which he ‘borrowed from an Englishman who discovered them in Italy’ (Levarie, p. 221) Though this carries slight weight of proof, it does suggest that such a ‘sharing’ of manuscripts took place at this time, and that literary friends would communicate across borders in this way. This perhaps gives an indication of the ways in which manuscript verse, especially of the riskier kind, might travel, and permit for the kinds of intertextual borrowings and allusions we can see between the Belleau and Nashe impotency poems.

[25] For more on the way in which patronage shaped government under Queen Elizabeth see Smuts, Court Culture and the origins of a royalist tradition in early Stuart England (1987), and Bindoff, Hurstfield eds. Elizabethan Culture and Society (1961). Susan Frye considers the production of the Queen’s image through art in Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation (1993).

[26] See Arthur F. Marotti, Manuscript, Print and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1995) for more on the development and composition of the manuscript tradition at that time, and Marotti “‘Love is not Love’: Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences and the Social Order”, ELH 49 (1982), 396-428 for more on the development of the sonnet as a part of the processes by which politics and patronage were undertaken by men in the service of Queen Elizabeth.

[27] ‘Priapus, drop the sluice-gates now: the meadows have had enough to drink’. Virgil’s original in Eclogues 3.111 reads pueri (boys) instead of Priapus. ‘Notes’ in Woudhuysen, ed., The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse, (London: Penguin, 2005).



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