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1 Jests in Early Modern Culture Seminar Leader - Shakespeare ...

1 Jests in Early Modern Culture Seminar Leader - Shakespeare ...

jesting

jesting spirit associated with Antonio and Sebastian when Stephano extracts the Jester Trinculo from the body of Caliban, asking him how he came to be the excrement of such a curious creature (3.1.106-7). And indeed the kind of disruptive homonymic jest heard memorably in Love’s Labor’s Lost, and echoed later in an early scene of The Tempest, is heard rarely in the latter play after the comic purgation of the Jester. While Caliban admittedly is not prone to disruptive jesting, his freedom from the jesting spirit is appropriate; for as G. Wilson Knight and others have shown, Shakespeare works to define in this character the foundation of the human, which includes the capacities for dream, reason, the appreciation of music, and for selfunderstanding. Maya Mathur, ‘“I would all the world might be cozened”: Policing Mirth in The Merry Wives of Windsor’ A staple of classical treatises on rhetoric and medieval exempla, the formal jest acquired a broader cast of characters and gained wider circulation in the Renaissance. In sixteenth-century England, the publication and dissemination of jest books occurred during a period of heightened social mobility. As a result, Tudor jokes often revealed the tensions that arose when divergent groups of people came into contact with one another. These tensions are most apparent in the “rogue literature,” a species of jest book which describes the schemes used by London’s vagrants and beggars to dupe gullible citizens of their wages. Conservative in nature, the rogue pamphlets condemned the poor and unemployed as habitual criminals in order to warn their readers against extending charity to strangers. Like the pamphlets, The Merry Wives of Windsor features the duplicitous vagrant, Sir John Falstaff, who attempts to swindle the housewives, Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, of their husbands’ wealth. But despite its affinity with the rogue tracts, the play reverses the order of duper and duped, so that the knight is ultimately bested at his own game. Merry Wives has consequently been read as signifying the triumph of female chastity and social inclusiveness in the face of a predatory outsider. In contrast, I wish to posit that Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford draw on contemporary jest books and popular pamphlets in order to target the knight for his financial rather than his sexual profligacy. Accordingly, I maintain that, instead of serving as founts of rural virtue, the wives deploy mirth in order to safeguard Windsor’s boundaries against a dangerously-mobile economic intruder. Rory McKeown, ‘Brevity, Wit, and Prosperity: The Reception of Jesting’ A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear Of him that hears it, never in the tongue Of him that makes it. (Love’s Labour’s Lost, 5.2.850-53) Benedick’s suggestion that Beatrice had her “good wit out of The Hundred Merry Tales” (2.1.117-18) is implausible but painful, but not only because of the audience’s sense that the comic center of the play, and her powers of witty improvisation are continually on display” (Munro, 92). Crucially, Beatrice’s wit, with rare exceptions, is formally distinct from the tales and fabliaux of the jest-book; her wit, like Benedick’s, is improvisatory and generated as part of an on-going engagement with her interlocutors, discursive rather than declamatory. 2

In this paper, I use the genre of the jest-book to map out some of the important formal and social conventions of wit in Shakespeare. Formally, Beatrice insists that wit be a mutual exercise, as she complains bitterly that “You always end with jade’s trick” (1.1.138), disrupting the flow of conversation. As to the matter of wit, Benedick insists – both in his slander against Beatrice and in his suggestion that Claudio’s discourse is guarded by “fragments” and “old ends” – that it be the product of the speaker’s mind, rather than conned. In Much Ado About Nothing, the banter between most characters consists principally of brief conversational turns, and conforms to a kind of banter that Jennifer Coates has dubbed “sparky one-at-a-time”: an “interaction … composed of witticisms with loose semantic links and a competitive edge” (Dynel, 245). This dynamic of witty back and forth also shares certain features with what Bakhtin calls “stylization,” and while the analogy is not perfect, it is suggestive. “Sparky one-at-a-time” banter requires that each conversational participant continue the chain of semantic links, picking up what the other participants put down, overtly appropriating their words, and re-fashioning them. In Bakhtin’s terms, stylization is the use of someone else’s discourse for his own purposes, by inserting new semantic intention into a discourse which already has, and which retains, an intention of its own. Such discourse, in keeping with its task, must be perceived as belonging to someone else. (189) As such, stylization minimizes the perlocutionary threat to interlocutors’ face, allowing jesting to fulfill its paradoxical function of emphasizing the social ties between speakers, while asserting the intellectual prowess of one speaker. Significantly, it is Beatrice and Benedick, the two characters most explicitly concerned with maintaining verbal decorum, who most frequently deviate from this pattern. Their frequent longer-than-usual turns, as well as their tendency to deviate further in their invention, marks them out as aggressive conversational partners who show less regard for the face of others. This paper will consider the complex strategies they use both to regulate the speech of others and to seek licence for their own deviations from conversational norms. More specifically, I examine how Beatrice and Benedick seek to corner the market on wit and jesting, maximizing their profit from it, and restricting others’ access to it. Kirk Melnikoff, ‘Godly Leisure and the Merrie Conceited Iests of George Peele Gentleman’ With this essay, I intend to read the 1607 Merrie Conceited Iests of George Peele within the context of early seventeenth-century popular piety. This short, anonymous jestbook has so far been located in what Linda Woodbridge has called the “third phase” of English jestbooks, a “reblossoming” sparked by Greene’s conycatching pamphlets of the early 1590s. It also has been credited as the main source for Thomas Middleton’s 1607 satiric comedy The Puritan, or The Widow Watling Street, its University Wit protagonist repackaged for the stage as the knavish citizen scholar “George Pyeboard.” What has yet to be appreciated, however, are the implications surrounding this anonymous jestbook’s publication history. Surprisingly, the Merrie Conceited Iests (1607) launches an extensive series of religious publications by the London booksellers Francis Faulkner and Henry Bell. Bell, the more prolific financier of the two, specialized in texts by Calvinist writers and preachers. Between 1607 and 1616, he not only 3

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