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Category — The Devil is an Ass

Valley Beneath the Waste

Continuing with Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass (1616).

Mrs Fitzdottrel is speaking. Fitzdottrel is a Vere character. He’s taken on a new groom, Devil, who stands for Shaksper.

Act II,ii

Fitzdottrel’s wife notes that his new groom “is a Spy upon me.”  Here we have yet another example of Shaksper as informant, which we’ve noted earlier in this blog.


Act Iv,iii

Some old Lady keeps a Poet, notes Lady Tail-bush.  The poet must be banished.


Act Iv,iv

Here we learn that gentleman-ushers are ‘discreet.’ They keep the secrets. Cosmetics play a role in the play. Queen Elizabeth was known for the elaborate cosmetics she used to conceal her pock-marked face.  Lady Tail-bush is learning of Spanish cosmetics customs and recipes. Her recipes are ‘dear Secrets.  These secrets are kept by her gentleman-usher.  When Pug/Devil robbed Ambler in the morning, he took his books, pen and ink, new suit, the “Hamlet’s” shoes with roses, and table-books. Table books are note-books. Presumably these were the cosmetics recipes. I think they stand for the plays. Ambler had them, Devil stole them.

devil -IV-4,2
Act, IV,iv

In the beginning of the play, Pug convinces Satan to send him from Hell to London, so he can cause mischief.  Satan warns him that London has become quite corrupt already. Pug/Devil is now realizing that truth, when he observes that comparing London to Hell is like comparing a University to a Grammar-school!.  It’s funny if you know that Shaksper came from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Lady Tail-bush is missing her gentle-man usher, Ambler.  Fitzdottrel offers her his new man Devil.  Lady Tail-bush wants him called De-vile, adding a hyphen and an letter e at the end. Tail-bush, Fitzdottrel and others are assessing De-vile’s abilities for the position of gentleman usher. An Escudero is the Spanish equivalent of a gentleman usher.



Act, Iv, iv

The ‘Catechism’ is the question and answer learning of the gentleman usher’s tasks. “Why do you not speak?  Asks Fitzdottrel. Wittipol notes, his barren head, Mountain like. Now where have we seen that?

“a barren Head, Sir, Mountain-like”

De-vile’s head is barren. He’s stupid. Fitzdottrel notes his “Valley is beneath the Waste.”  I suspect valley and value were pronounced alike then, making a nice pun, His “value is beneath the waist.”  De-vile has sexual utility. We’ve encountered this theme before with Shaksper characters, old Cortezza, a Queen Elizabeth figure, flirting with Mendice in The Gentleman Usher, and Lady Tub confessing of her attraction to Poll-Marten in A Tale of A Tub.

Rambler has noticed in this scene also that Fitzdottrel walks like ‘an old Verger,’ another Vere word. De-vile is “a dull Fellow, Of no Capacity!” again, he’s not too smart.  “Tis Labour Lost” says Tail-bush, a nice Shakespeare allusion there!

We’re not quite finished with The Devil is an Ass.
more anon.

November 15, 2014   No Comments