28 January 2017

Not Without Mustard (A Quasi-Repost)

[Notes written 28 January 1993]
Hilda Amphlette says,
Certainly his [Shakespeare’s] behaviour betrayed sundry bad lapses, for in November of this year [1594] there was issued a writ of attachment, to the Sheriff of Surrey, in which a certain William Wayte asked for sureties of the peace against William Shakspere, Francis Langley, Dorothy Soer and Ann Lee. A gay foursome!
Langley, the goldsmith, was the propri­etor of Paris Garden on Bankside near Southwark. What the trou­ble was about we do not know, but it was serious enough for Wayte to apply for legal protection.  Shakspere was by this time thir­ty-two years of age, so it was no student’s rag or youthful high spirits. In the document he is referred to as a ‘whittawer’ (a tanner of white leather).” [p. 25, Who Was Shakespeare?]
There is one curious point here. Where does she get the idea that Shakespeare was described in the document as a whittawer? The document gives no information except the names of the people involved and the legal phrases. On p. 31 of Leslie Hotson’s book about his discovery is the answer:
Accordingly in the autumn of 1556 we find him [Gardiner] buying himself into the Company of the Grey Tawyers, the dressers or workers of grey skins and leathers. We remember that John Shakespeare, the poet’s father, was called a glover or white tawyer (whittawer, whittier), a worker in white leathers.”
This comes, then, under the heading of evidence made up out of whole cloth, or maybe just ineptitude on the part of these hypothesizers.

As a mad Ruffian, on a time, being in danger of shipwreck by a tempest, and seeing all other at their vows and prayers, that if it would please God, of his infinite goodness, to deliver them out of that imminent danger, one would abjure this sin where unto he was addicted; an other, make satisfaction for that vio­lence he had committed: he, in a desperate jest, began thus to reconcile his soul to heaven.
O Lord, if it may seem good to thee to deliver me from this fear of untimely death, I vow before thy Throne and all thy star­ry Host, never to eat Haberdine more whilst I live.
Well, so it fell out, that the Sky cleared and the tempest ceased, and this careless wretch, that made such a mockery of prayer, ready to set foot a Land, cried out: not without Mustard, good Lord, not without Mustard: as though it had been the great­est torment in the world, to have eaten Haberdine without Mus­tard. [From Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Divell, p. 171 in McKerrow’s edition, spelling modernized more or less.]

Charlton Ogburn Jr. indicated in his chapter on Greene’s Groats­worth of Wit that bombast didn’t have the meaning in 1592 that it has today—rather, he implied that was the case, with some com­ment to the effect that we might interpret the passage giving bombast its modern meaning, but then bombast meant to pad or fill out. (I don’t have the book currently, so I can’t give an exact quotation.) But bombast did have its modern meaning by that date, at least the noun did. (The verb never has referred to verse, but that doesn’t really mean anything here; Elizabethan writers were nothing if not experimental in their approach to the language.) Consider the following passage, attacking play­wrights, in Nashe’s introduction to Greene’s Menaphon:
But herein I cannot so fully bequeath them to folly, as their idiot Art-masters, that intrude themselves to our ears as the Alchemists of eloquence, who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to out-brave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank verse. [III, 11; spelling modernized]
One might be cautious about all these hypotheses simply by ob­serv­ing the amount of evidence the proponents have to bend, al­ter, or otherwise explain away. On the whole, the more evidence that has to be explained away, the less likely the hypothesis.

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