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     BEN JONSON’S THE SILENT WOMAN

                                                          A friend of the First Folio family

 

 

 

It has been observed that John Daw in The Silent Woman may be a portrait of Sir Francis Bacon, on the basis that he is named as a concealed author. It goes much farther than this, however. TSW was evidently conceived and written, from start to finish, as vehicle for the unmasking Bacon as the author of the works of Shakespeare. The climax of TSW as allegory will come in the gallery scene, when Dauphine, disguised first as La Foole (Shakespeare), is masked; and subsequently, disguised as Jack Dawe (Bacon), sheds this mask. (See below for a detailed treatment).

 

The title should alert us to a possible significance vis-a-vis the First Folio of Shakespeare (FF), even before a word has been read. For the silence of the Goddess figures Cordelia, Hero, and Hippolyta, is utterly central to the philosophy of FF, as the late Ted Hughes was so memorably the first to point out.[1] He misjudged finally, however, in concluding their silence to be a positive virtue, as symbolising the ‘void’ of Oriental religion, or Schopenhauer’s Universal Will, or the quantum world: that first father of all things, final goal of the mystic’s quest, and utterly beyond reach of human reason. This is the world which lies beyond the farthest reaches of the universe, and within its smallest sub-atomic particles.

 

Bacon’s philosophy was rather a practical one, however, devoted as he was to bettering the material condition of mankind. In so far as he was a mystic it was in the distinctively Western sense, as expressed by W.B. Yeats in his Autobiography (1938):

 

Western civilisation, religion and magic, insist on power and therefore on body, and hence these three doctrines – efficient rule – the Incarnation – thaumaturgy. Eastern thoughts answer to these indifference to rule, scorn of the flesh, contemplation of the formless. Western minds who follow the Eastern way become weak and vapoury, because unfit for the work forced on them by Western life.

 

His goal was dominion over the underworld, the world that lies unseen below the apparent surface of things, as is expressed in his philosophical works such as the Novum Organum. In this, he was, as Voltaire acknowledged, the godfather to modern Western science, art, and depth psychology. This dominion is symbolised most powerfully in FF by the total subjugation of Kate Minola – yet another Queen of Hell-Grail Queen of FF - in The Taming of the Shrew.

 

The silences of Cordelia, Hero and Hippolyta, signify therefore that the unseen world is not speaking to the Puritan subject through the pages of the Gnostic written word; or rather, that She is screaming at him to listen, but he has closed his ears. Bacon and his circle – which certainly included Jonson – were obsessed by the Puritan tyranny, and its threatened overthrow of the Western cultural tradition. Both the Puritan and Roman Catholic world-views (the latter error gave birth to the former) deny the unseen world; whereas as the Western philosophy engages it in the truly Gnostic way.

 

The character of Morose is the Puritan figure of TSW, and is cognate in this respect with Hamlet, Lear, Othello, and the rest; while the Silent Woman, whom he is desperate to marry, is cognate with Cordelia and her kind. Dauphine bears the value of the ithyphallos-libido, or ‘I’ principle, which carries always in FF the broader value of the unseen world. True-Wit is the principle of Wit and Wisdom as derived from knowledge of the unseen world (cf. the numerous Fools in FF).

 

Let us now examine the play in detail, to explicate the allegory, and see how we arrive at these and other  allocations.

 

 

ACT I

 

 

First, let us determine the values of Clerimont, the Boy, and True-Wit, as allegory. The first is the most challenging. We recall in FF, and especially in 1-3HVI, that the Roman Catholic Church (Winchester/Beaufort) is continually linked with the ‘I’ principle: the ithyphallos-libido, more broadly the unseen world. For the Catholic Church, in its vicious suppression of the Gnostic tradition, has failed to engage the unseen world as idea – as an intellectual discipline – and therefore has never reached any degree of control of transcendence. The unseen world or underworld – which includes the libido - lies below the surface of apparent phenomena, and is the object of study of the modern artist, scientist, and depth psychologist. Bacon was godfather to them all; for engagement with the unseen world was fundamental to his philosophy:

 

The knowledge of man (hitherto) hath been determined by the view or sight; so that whatsoever is invisible, either in respect of the fineness of the body itself, or the smallness of the parts, or of the subtlety of the motion, is little inquired. And yet these be the things that govern nature principally; and without which you cannot make any true analysis and indication of the proceedings of nature.[2]

 

We have seen in the previous chapters that Jonson’s life was consecrated in no small degree to the celebration and propagation, per medium of the written word, of Bacon’s philosophy. Further, a plethora of “I”’s for ”Ay”’s, - yet more instances of a technique almost ubiquitous in the plays of Shaleseare and Jonson, - will firmly establish Dauphine as representative of the ‘I’ principle; and Clerimont is associated continually with him through TSW; while the ‘Boy’ represents always the libido throughout FF (e.g. in HV).

 

There can be little doubt therefore that Clerimont bears the value of the Roman Catholic Church, his name sharing the ‘cleri-’ root with, for example, the English ‘cleric’, and the Italian clericale, ‘clerical’, clericalismo, ‘clerialism’, and so on. Dauphine (ithyphallos) will later be his companion; while heer it is the Boy (libido), who is also an intimate of the Ladies of the College. Who do they represent, exactly? A first guess might be the Muses; but the number is wrong, four being impossible to derive from nine, the Muses’ number.  Further, Epicoene the Silent Woman will later be made one of their number; yet she undoubtedly represents a quite different Goddess: the Queen of Hell-Grail Queen of the Gnostic tradition. This suggests the true value of the Ladies: as of the many Queens of Hell-Grail Queens of FF, including Joan of Arc, Queen Margaret, Portia, Desdemona, Helen, Helena, Cordelia, Lavinia, and so on. She is an absolutely central personage in Bacon’s cast, as the guardian of the unseen world, the knowledge of which underpins wisdom, The Holy Grail of the hero’s questing.

 

The value of True-Wit is just what the name suggests: the wit and wisdom which flows from knowledge of the unseen world as idea. The former is especially celebrated in the numerous Fools of FF. His admonishment of Clerimont is pointed, and consistent with this: for it largely rests upon the question of Clerimont’s fondness of horse-racing. For we recall that the horse or horse-and-rider represents always in FF the libido in action, as sourced from the famous Socratic metaphor in Plato’s Phaedrus.

 

Clerimont’s song expresses his preference for natural, unadorned women, as opposed to the finely made-up Ladies of the College; and True-Wit puts strongly the contrary viewpoint. For the Roman Catholic is subject, grossly, to the Queen of Hell in her natural state as blind will; whereas the Gnostic adept engages with her as idea, as highly ornamented in the First Folio.

 

Dauphine undoubtedly represents the ithyphallos-libido:

 

True-Wit  Dis-inherit thee! Hee cannot, man. Art not thou not next of blood, and his sister’s sonne?

Dauphine  I, but he will thrust me out of it.

 

Here we have the first indication that Jack Daw may represent Bacon:

 

Clerimont  They say he [Daw] is a very good scholler.

True-Wit  I, and he says it first.

 

That is to say, Bacon (Daw) writes (says) principally (first) of the unseen world (‘I’ for ‘Ay’). Here is a beautiful description of Bacon:

 

Dauphine  Hee… desires that shee would talke, and be free, and commends her silence in verses: which hee reades, and sweares, are the best that ever man made. Then railes at his fortunes, stamps, and mutines, why he is not made a counsellor, and call’d to affaires of state.

 

- Which was exactly Bacon’s position during his long estrangement from public life, due to a well-documented falling out with the Queen. Bacon held up as an ideal the volubility of his sometimes-silent Goddesses Cordelia, Hippolyta, and Hero, meaning as it does that the unseen world is speaking to the reader from the pages of the written word; yet for a great part of the time they are silent (‘commends their silence in verses’).

 

We have seen the character of Sogliardo in Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour to represent Shakespeare himself. He has just purchased a coat of arms, thus acquiring an ersatz nobility, and his motto is ‘Not Without Mustard’ (Shakespeare’s was Non Sans Droict, ‘Not without right’). La Foole boasts also of his ridiculous ancestry; and we suspect that he may also represent Shakespeare. This possibility will become a certainty in light of the action to come.

 

 

ACT II

 

True-Wit’s concerted attempt to disabuse Morose of his desire to wed Epicoene is consistent with their allegorical values: the wit and wisdom derived from knowledge of the unseen world working against the Puritan’s closing of his ears to the song of the underworld as idea.

 

Here again is a beautiful portrayal of Bacon. John Dawe recites  a madrigal of his own composing, whereupon:

 

Dauphine  Very Good.

Clerimont  I, is’t not?

 

That is to say, the world that lies unseen below the surface of things (‘I’ principle) is the final theme of Bacon’s works. Dawe’s lines ‘No noble vertue ever was alone/But two in one’ is highly suggestive, the more so since they are quoted in isolation from the rest of the verse. Dawe’s obloquy against the great Classical authors of the canon is utterly consistent with Bacon’s low estimation of them, considering, for example, that the Greek philosophers were guilty of self-indulgence, and failed to work for the betterment of humanity; while his self-assured contempt for Aristotle, as a recent graduate from Cambridge, is one of the better known vignettes from his adolescence. Yet Dawe does express his enthusiasm for ‘Syntagma Iuris civilis, Corpus Iuris civilis, Corpus Iuris canonici, the King of Spaine’s bible’. This most plausibly refers to Bacon as lawyer; while Spain represents always in FF the underworld.

 

Here again is Bacon to a ‘t’:

 

Dauphine  Why? Would you not live by your verse, sir John?

Clerimont  No, ‘twere pittie he should. A knight live by his verses? He did make ‘hem to that end, I hope.

Dauphine  And yet the noble Sidney lives by his, and the noble family not ashamed.

Clerimont  I, he profest himselfe; but Sir John Daw has more caution: hee’ll not hinder his owne rising i’ the state so much!

 

Dauphine reveals that he stands to gain materially from Morose’s marriage to Epicoene (Puritan’s repression of the underworld will only see it re-irrupt consciousness with a vengeance, by a typical Freudian mechanism). We recall the high value placed on melancholy by the Gnostic revival, as evidenced, for example, by Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I, depicting seated figure in his study, rapt in contemplation, at his feet a bony, half-starved dog. This last is precisely cognate with feeble nags Rosinante in Don Quixote and Bill the Pony in Tolkien, all three representing the underworld as diminished as a threat by the thinker’s engagement with it as idea. Here is this positive melancholy again, Bacon being the ultimate melancholic:

 

Daw  I’ll be very melancholique, I’faith.

[…]

Clerimont  Nay, you must walke alone, if you bee right melancholique, sir John.

 

The ‘nothing’ in True-Wit’s ‘A fellow [Daw] so utterly nothing…’ can only in this context refer to ‘0’, symbol for ‘a cipher’, and commonly used as such in Elizabethan literature: the words ‘zero’ and ‘cipher’ both being derived from the Arabic sifr, ‘empty’.

 

 

ACT III

 

La Foole is planning a banquet at the house of Tom Otter and his wife, for Epicoene, Daw, the Ladies of the College, Dauphine, and Clerimont. Like the gift of money, the banquet bears always in FF (e.g. Romeo and Juliet), the value of the enrichment of a principle or principles (the guests). We have established the principles to which all these guests are yoked, with the exception of the Otters. Tom and his wife represent the very opposite of the Morose-Epicoene marriage (Puritan world-view predicated on denial of underworld): for she is continually haranguing him. The Page represents always in FF the printed page or written word; and so it is here, where True-Wit says of Tom Otter: ‘he] followes her up and downe the house like a page…’.  There is no doubt that the Otters bear here the immense allegoric weight of the Gnostic written word and the Queen of Hell-Grail Queen described therein. The banquet therefore portrays Bacon’s enrichment of all their principles in the pages of  the plays of Shakespeare.

 

The banquet will be in truth the occasion for a portrayal, on the plane of allegory, of the assumption by Will Shakspere of the role of front-man for Bacon. For Jonson will contrive to have Daw appropriate the hosting of the banquet to himself, in shifting it to the house of Morose; where, however, the plotters against the peace of the silence-loving Morose (Dauphine, Clerimont, True-Wit) will then have La Foole step in and take over. It is this episode chez Morose which presents the ruse. Again, this is not a glib or arbitrary allocation, but has its place in a tightly-wrought allegory. One marvels at Jonson’s skill in contriving all this to suit the allegory, while still managing to present an entertaining and dramatically consistent play.

 

Here again is Daw as a portrait of the melancholy Bacon.

 

Mrs. Otter  Here was a very melancholy knight [Dawa]in a ruffe, that demanded my subject for some body, a gentleman, I think.

Clerimont  I, that was he, lady.

Dauphine  What an excellent choice phrase, this lady expresses in!

 

This last comment of Dauphine’s is clearly highly pertinent to Mrs. Otter’s allegoric value, of the Goddess described in the plays of Shakespeare. Epicoene is firmly identified as yet another of the Grail Queens of FF:

 

Dauphine  …shee shall transfer all that labour thether, and bee a principall guest herselfe, sit rank’d with the colledge-Honors, and bee honor’d, and have her health drunke as often, as bare, and as lowd as the best of ‘hem.

 

Jonson emphasises in Clerimont’s words the surreptitiousness of the authorship ruse: ‘But you must carry it privatly, without any noyse, and take no notice by any meanes -’. Mrs. Otter is identified with the unseen world in Clerimont’s ‘I, shee must have argument’. Epicoene now becomes voluble, upon her marriage, to Morose’s dismay (III, iv: unseen world or libido surging in Puritan ego, to torment him); and in the next scene True-Wit also begins to harangue Morose, eventually also to his great annoyance (wit and wisdom following immediately upon the heels of the unseen world irrupting ego). Morose is tormented b the party, at which La Foole serves the meat (Puritan being assailed by the works of Shakespeare). Mrs Otter’s ‘Why I am a collegiate’ confirms her as of the number of Cordelia and her kin.

 

 

ACT IV

 

Epicoene is again identified with the unseen world:

 

True-Wit  I, shee takes any occasion to speake…

 

Here is a specific reference to poetry:

 

True-Wit  I love measure I’ the feet, and number I’ the voice...

 

True-Wit’s volubility reaches a peak in IV, i. He promises Dauphine to fulfil his wish that the ladies of the College should be in love with him ‘afore night’ (ithyphallos-libido or broader unseen world as will, now described as idea in the Gnostic written word).

 

In IV, ii, La Foole drinks from the ‘horse’ cup, in fear of his cousin Mrs. Otter, as Otter abuses his wife in absentia, while True-Wit has ‘slipt aside’. Morose comes down the stairs with a ‘naked weapon’ in his hand. The sword or dagger bears always in FF the value of the ithyphallos-libido; and this is all a portrayal of the erotic excitement of the Puritan vis-a-vis the Gnostic written word – for example, the graphically described seduction scene in Apuleius’ magical masterpiece of psychic transformation The Golden Ass, which plays such a central role in FF; - whereas the libido should, on the contrary, rather be engaged as idea as the reader moves through to the later, crucial chapters. However it is not Apuleius, but the plays of Shakespeare, which are referred to here: and it is the Puritan’s general grossness of response that is in question, - the erotic charms of Fotis in TGA being taken to stand for the broader unseen world described in FF.

 

Here is, on the other hand, a statement of Bacon’s philosophy of the primacy of engagement with unseen world as idea:

 

Mrs. Otter  Alas, mistris Mavis, I was chastising my subiect [Otter], and thought nothing of him.

Daw  Faith, mistris, you must doe so too. Learne to chastise. Mistrs Otter corrects her husband so, hee dares not speake, but under correction.

La Foole  And with his hat off to her: ‘twould doe you good to see.

 

 

Here again is Bacon to a ‘t’; and the unseen world is perceived at the bottom of the Puritan disease:

 

Clerimont  I, it’s melancholy.

[…]

Daw The disease in Greeks is called Mάνια, in Latine, Insania, Furor, vel Ecstasis melancholica, that is, Egressio, when a man ex melancholico, euadit fanaticus.

[…]

Epicoene  I, that is for the disease, servant.

 

We come now to the gallery scene, which will present, as allegory, the unmasking of Bacon as the genius behind the works of Shakespeare. One can only admire the art of Jonson in constructing this complex episode as both dramatically effective and allegorically rich and precise. Here is something odd, and highly significant:

 

True-Wit  Agreed. Perhaps ‘twill bee the better estate. Doe you observe this gallerie? Or rather lobbie, indeed?[3]

 

What could be the point of this quibble? Was it slackness on the part of Jonson, in a time of generally lower standards than our own? (This is a commonly-held yet unwarranted underestimation). Or was there a purpose to it, to serve the allegory. The word ‘lobbie’ can refer the astute reader to only one other usage of it. Hamlet advises the King: ‘…you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby’. We have seen, in my Ugly Dick and the Goddess of Complete Being, this to mean, on the plane of allegory, that it is a psychological process that is being described: ‘up the stairs’ being to the notional ‘down the stairs’ as mind is to body, or idea to will: and so it is here, where the lobby with its two studies into which True-Wit will usher Daw and La Foole, representing the higher mentation of Bacon and Shakespeare, studying at their desks in quest of wit and wisdom.

 

It is significant too that Clerimont Dauphine emerge from behind an arras as the two remain immured. We have seen the figure concealed behind an arras to represent always in FF the Freudian principle (although described centuries some before Freud’s time) of psychic repression of libido; and so it is here, where is portrayed on the plane of allegory the revelation, by the Gnostic enquiring of Bacon and Shakespeare, of the libido and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church at the bottom of everything. (We recall the repeated identification in FF of the Roman Catholic error as the fons et origo of the Puritan world-view).

 

True-Wit has been manufacturing a falling-out between Daw and La Foole; and now he will have them chastise each other, to discharge their mutual ill-feeling, and bring them to appeasement: but it is Dauphine who will do so for them, in a remarkable disguise:

 

True-Wit  There’s a carpet i’ the next roome, put it on, with this scarfe over thy face, and a cushion o’ thy head…

 

Dauphine, in this disguise as La Foole, now gives Daw six kicks. The time comes for Dauphine, as Daw, to tweak the nose of La Foole; but he no longer wears the scarf:

 

True-Wit  …Give me the scarfe, now, thou shalt beat the other bare-fac’d.

 

La Foole’s ‘O, I conceive’ identifies this as a cipher, where ‘O’ bears its customary symbolism in this regard. There can be not the slightest doubt that this portrays, as allegory, the unmasking of Bacon as the genius of the works of Shakespeare.

 

 

ACT V

 

There now begins the great sweep toward the end of the play, which will see the healing of the torment, delivered by the unseen world, of the Puritan subject. Morose finds his correspondence in life in, of course, the Will Shakspere who arrived distraught and shattered in London in 1587, still suffering from the breakdown which had stricken him in Stratford, when the libido had surged into his consciousness upon reading, most likely, the seduction scene in The Golden Ass, to culminate in an act of auto-erotism, after some eight years enthralment by the Puritan world-view, his final mechanism of coping with the libido in negative aspect as mantled by the Roman Catholic puritanism of his upbringing.

 

That this is a true transformation, rather than a return of the Puritan ego to its former state, is indicated by True-Wit’s closing words at the end of an extended speech, which symbolises in its length the new ascendancy of wit and wisdom in the once-stricken ego:

 

True-Wit  Spectators, if you like this comoedie, rise cheerefully, and now Morose is gone in, clap your hands. It may be, that noyse will cure him, at least please him.

 

The final scene will see the enrichment of Dauphine, and corresponding impoverishment of Morose (blasting of Puritan ego by the libido or broader unseen world as described in the Gnostic written word). That the medium is indeed the written word is indicated by the signing by Morose of the document presented by Dauphine. Morose’s handing of it back to Dauphine is an instance of the principle of referral, a common technique in FF: the visible world describe on the page being referred to the invisible which underlies it.

 

Firstly, Daw and La Foole confess to ‘lying’ with Epicoene. Here is another beautiful depiction of Bacon:

 

La Foole  … his [Daw’s] squire, his compasses, his brasse pens, and black-lead, to draw maps of every place, and person, where he comes.

Clerimont  How, maps of persons!

 

That both La Foole and Daw have ‘lain’ with Epicoene (the fertility of the idea of the Silent Woman in their hands) indicates the contribution of Shakspere to the writing of the plays; yet it was Bacon’s idea:

 

La Foole  Sir John had her maidenhead, indeed.

 

Clerimont reads a message from Mavis (one of the Ladies) to Dauphin, written with a pen supplied by Daw. To interpret it, they ‘lack True-Wit, to tell us that’. (Queen of Hell-Grail Queen described in plays written primarily by Bacon, Whom the Roman Catholic Church, bound as it is to the unseen world as blind will, lacks the wit to interpret).

 

True-Wit has Otter and Cutberd in disguise as a Doctor and a Parson assail Morose to distraction with learned Latinate arguments for his divorce from Epicoene. Their message is, on the plane of allegory, the unseen world:

 

Cutberd  I, as error personae.

[…]

Otter I, ante copulam

[…]

Otter  I, but Mr. Doctor…

 

- And so on. This scene portrays the assault by the unseen world described in the Gnostic written word on the as-yet-untransformed Puritan ego, to his great torment, which reaches here a crescendo:

 

Morose  O my heart! Wilt thou breake? This is the worst of all worsts! That hell could have devis’d! marry a whore! And so much noise!

 

This recalls, of course, the ‘Shakespearean moment’, first described by Ted Hughes,[4] when the Puritan figure misperceives, in a ‘double vision’, the loved one as a whore (e.g. Othello’s ‘What sense had I of her stol’n hours of lust?’ (Othello III, iii, 382)). Dauphine offers straight thereupon his solution: so that the phase of healing is presented every briefly here.

 

 

 


 

[1] Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Faber, 1992.

[2] Natural History.

[3] Buhagiar M.J., Ugly Dick and the Goddess of Complete Being, 2003

[4] Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Faber, 1992.

 

 

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