A Post Stratfordian Shake-speare Blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Posts from — April 2016

Of Good Morrility

I suggested early in this series that Boswell’s referencing Dr. Johnson’s comments on the dual existence of physical truth and moral truth applied to the 18th century treatment of Shakespeare’s authorship. One of the primary movers of Shakespeare as myth was David Garrick. The other primary mover was the village of Stratford-upon-Avon. The moral component of our story is alluded to in the denouements for both High Life Below Stairs and Bon Ton, High Life Above Stairs and that moral component is a primary feature of the George Daniels’ Remarks printed with the 1826 acting copy of the play.  Let’s review these three sources.

Below Stairs:
Lovell. And I intend to make your Robert so, too. Every honest servant should be made happy ; and if persons of rank would act up to their standard, it would be impossible that their servants could ape them ; — but when they affect every thing that is ridiculous, it will be in the power of any low creature to follow their example.

In Below Stairs, we learn that persons of rank have not acted up to their standard, and that they affect everything that is ridiculous, and that is the reason they’ve been aped by their servants.


Above Stairs:
Sir JOHN. • • •• You must meet your lawyers and creditors to-morrow, and be told, what you have always turn’d a deaf ear to, that the dissipation of your fortune and morals must be followed by years of parsimony and repentance — as you are fond of going abroad you may indulge that inclination without haying it in your power to indulge any other.

Lord MINIKIN. The bumkin is no fool, and is damn’d satirical

Sir JOHN. This kind of quarantine for pestilential minds will bring you to your senses, and make you renounce foreign vices and follies, and return with joy to your country and property again— read that, my Lord, and know your fate. {Gives a paper.}

In Above Stairs we learn of Lord Minikin’s dissipated morals and foreign vices.  

In his Remarks attached to the acting copy of Below Stairs in 1826 George Daniel begins.

Had the threat been content to exhibit good examples only, this farce would, in all probability, have never been written—

The author italicizes “good.” The implication is that the farce is occasioned by a specific reality, and not a general one.  My series has already seen a critic on the internet claim that the play is a generalized spoof on behavior. Daniel is letting us know this farce would likely never had been written if specific history were different.

” ‘Tis from high life, high characters are drawn and, we may add, low characters into the bargain ; for what are My Lord Duke’s and Sir Henry’s servants, My Lady Bab’s and My Lady Charlotte’s maids, but assumptions of the airs and affectation, as well as of the titles of their superiors? In deed, ” High Life below Stairs” is, in many respects, a picture of high life above stairs. Since the production of this piece, the wheel has revolved; and we have seen men of rank emulating the dress, the manners, and the language of grooms and stable-boys.

In talking of the excesses of the upper class in aping the lower class, Daniel cites the example (his use of “since” places it as contemporary) of men of rank emulating the dress, manners and language of grooms and stable boys.”  Daniel writing in the early 19th century about stable boys calls to mind the 18th century legend that Shakespeare held horses outside the theater. But the more specific allusion is to Ben Jonson’t The New Inn of 1629. In that play, a nobleman in disguise operates an inn  where “all the world’s a stage.”  The disguised nobleman does not dress the part of an innkeeper. Rather he is dressed in “the horse-boy’s garb.”  Of course, the idea of a nobleman dressed as a stable-boy is ridiculous.  But we have George Daniel saying it happened (he’s hiding the timing, obviously) and we also have Ben Jonson portraying it on stage. Moreoever, we have Rev. Townley telling us that the behavior in question that was aped was “ridiculous.”  Let’s continue with Daniel’s remarks.

Folly, in the abstract, is not over entertaining. A silly, extravagant Lord is, doubtless, a legitimate subject for laughter with those who have rioted at his expense; and plebeian absurdity is vastly comical in its congealment, the kitchen : but let each party step out of his proper sphere; let the lacquey ape the nobleman, and the nobleman the lacquey, and a ludicrous effect is produced. It is in the degree of awkwardness that characterizes each attempt, that the drollery consists. Nobility is but a superficial gilding. If a Lord be distinguished by no other mark of high birth but his title — “his dukedom to a beggarly denier”— that title will hardly serve to shield him from contempt.

Were we inclined to moralize, we might enter into a long and serious discussion on the extravagance, the idleness, and the cupidity of servants in noble families ; and we might, in sober sadness, caution all noble families how they trusted their property in such questionable hands. But then, in justice, we should be compelled to declare, that man is an imitative Being ; that he insensibly imbibes the manners, the tastes; and the sentiments of those above him ; which would infallibly produce a grave and somewhat prolix exhortation on the other side of the question; touching good example, dignified conduct, moral rectitude. But we invade no one’s province. When a dramatic parson once waited upon Garrick, with proposals for a commentary on Shakspeare, David exclaimed, ” Spoil your own bible, sir; but, for heaven’s sake, don’t meddle with ours!” Let every man labour in his vocation — criticising , not sermonising, is our forte. The stage, while it continues to hold the mirror up to nature, is a national benefit, and merits the support of all well-regulated governments. A happy stroke of satire is, generally speaking, a more powerful weapon than a solemn exhortation; and, without admitting to the full extent, that ridicule is the test of truth, it is our decided opinion, that vice is sooner laughed than scolded out of countenance. A bad man may endure reproach, but who shall withstand ridicule? Dr. Akenside. in his ” Pleasures of Imagination,” has very ingeniously argued this point ; and our great moral poet exultingly exclaims ” Yes, I am proud ; I must be proud to see Men not afraid of God, afraid of me : Safe from the bar, the pulpit, and the throne, Yet touch* d and sham’d by ridicule alone.”

Daniel’s “were we inclined to moralize” is followed by him moralizing. Daniel argues for wielding the weapon of satire at “a bad man” The “moral poet” Pope, is quoted. Daniel states the stage merits the “support of all well-regulated governments” perhaps a nod to the implicit semi-censorship of the “Who wrote Shikspur?” joke between stage and print edition.

Daniel quotes that Miss Kitty knows “good morility” in his remarks. Here’s Miss Kitty’s comment in context.

Sir Harry’s Servant. Why, any fool may be born to a title, but only a wise man can make himself honourable.
Miss Kittty. Well said, Sir Harry, that is good morility.

Again, it is the titled man who does not make himself honourable that is the target of this farce.

Daniel quotes Shakespeare’s Richard III, “his dukedom to a beggarly denier,” an accurate description of Vere’s loss of artistic identity to Shaksper.

There are two Shakespeare truths circulating in the 18th and early 19th century. The moral truth, where Shakespeare is stripped of the true author’s dishonor, dissipated morals and foreign vices, leaving only the Stratford myth of genius, only promulgated beginning with the Jubilee in 1769.  The physical truth is the one alluded to in The Stairs farces. And yet, the story remains behind the shadows.  The question “Who wrote Shakespeare” could be asked in print in 1759, but not answered. It could be asked on stage facetiously in 1759, but not answered seriously.  Vere obviously can’t be discussed at all. Lord Minikins, he of the Italianate weavings from Essex is a well disguised allusion as is Townley’s “Oliver Grey.”  But what is being discussed is that nobleman’s apparent immoral behavior.

more anon.

April 23, 2016   No Comments