Rocco Coronato – Carnival Vindicated to Himself? Reappraising “Bakhtinized” Ben Jonson

Carnival Vindicated to Himself? Reappraising "Bakhtinized" Ben Jonson

Rocco Coronato

Published in Connotations Vol. 6.2 (1996/97)

Ben Jonson would probably have chimed in with Molière's rejoinder at accusations of plagiarism: "Je prends mon bien où je le trouve." As a matter of fact, his literary fame has been usually impaired by the panoply of classical sources harnessing his works. Nor can it be denied that the Jonsonian invention often resembles more a translating adaptation of the classics than an autonomous elaboration of native motifs. An undesired result of this reliance on the learned tradition is a reference−spotting habit which prompted even his most benign readers to underline his literary merits, instead of his primary business as a man of theatre. After dubbing him the most learned poet of his age who commonly "borrows with the air of a conqueror," Peter Whalley unwillingly admitted that this display of erudition sometimes "may appear, where we could wish it might not be seen." According to this view, Jonson was so gullible as to fancy that equal honours were due to the translator as to the classics themselves. Whalley's reluctant remark paved the way for more ruthless assessments such as T. S. Eliot's recognition of an ideal, though limited, audience of "historians and antiquaries"—a disturbing reminder, perhaps, of today's painstaking difficulty in staging Jonson's plays.

A logical corollary claims that Jonson's bookish sticking to the learned tradition smacked of his idiosyncratic distaste for the popular canon. In particular, Jonson would not take in due consideration the carnivalesque fondness for the grotesque. Bristol claims, for instance, that "Carnival is less applicable to the works of Jonson" than Shakespeare's, arguing that Jonson suffered from the not so original sin of writing for the Court. This alleged separation from the popular world readily entails Jonson's detachment from a long−lived inheritance where, in Bakhtins words, carnival represents the "second life of the people," the true−to−life conveyance of a subterraneous, grotesque principle overturning the official views of life. One problem with such assumptions is that the post−Bakhtinian vulgata seems to have reduced all forms of popular culture into intermingled filiations of the same carnivalesque principle. All that is popular is carnival, and vice versa. An author's rendition of carnival motifs, then, is gauged only in terms of the Bakhtinian carnival, more than often a mix of medieval sources transplanted into learned Renaissance adaptations such as Rabelais's. This enlarged conception of carnival ends up with confirming a sort of literary prejudice against writers the like of Jonson, abruptly identified as the spokesmen of power.

Despite Bakhtin's, and especially the Bakhtinians' trivialising attidude of universalization, however, carnival can hardly be conceived as a never− changing conception throughout all the ages, as some scholars have pointed out. In Jonson's age carnival is by no means the glorious celebration of grotesque motifs in a urbane setting attested by Medieval sources all over the continent. The most renowned carnivalesque customs such as the Boy Bishop or the Mock Mayor, allegedly depicting an overturning image of conventional power within church and society, had already disappeared during the 16th century. Also the suspension of authority incarnated by the figure of the Lord of Misrule was actually confined to private houses or university colleges, where admittedly no popular elements were at stake. As a matter of fact, the first half of the 17th century saw a widespread reform of popular culture in Europe—the "Triumph of Lent," as Burke quite simply termed it, which weakened the popular corpus of carnival into educated versions for the Courts. This taming process was given a polemical turn by Protestant writers, who came to see continental carnivals as disturbing relics of heathenish—or, more aptly, Romish—customs. English writers did not show too much originality either, as their only extant description of continental carnival is just a translation from an appalled pamphlet by a Calvinist Swiss. Ironically enough, they could not guess that what they saw as sinful evidence of the inner corruption of the Catholic powers, were later to be interpreted as an undermining threat to the establishment that promoted them. Thus, fat Carnival underwent a fast slimming diet in England, being quite soon reduced to the conventional Shrove−tuesday riots acted by the apprentices—again, some antibakhtinian irony must be at work when we notice that the primary targets of these carnivalesque disorders were agents of disorder like brothels and theatres. Finally, when carnival is translated on stage, it undergoes a further process of taming reduction into stock characters. In contemporary works such as Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament and Middleton's Inner−Temple Masque, carnival is metonimically demoted into slap−stick comedy, whose only aim is mastering the ritual Shrove−tuesday riots. One may perhaps begin to question the validity of the dogmatic vision of Jonson as a slavish adapter of tamed carnival situations. Instead of educating carnival motifs for the Court, Jonson could just be reporting the contemporary reform of carnival and point to a different version of the grotesque, by no means reducible to a conservative move away from popular shows.

This essay, urged by the need of a more literal consideration of carnival, seeks to offer a reappraisal of Jonson's use of the learned and popular sources related to carnival. I will pick up three test cases belonging to the different genres in which Jonson tried his hand. In Sejanus the focus is on the textual devices used to abridge the gap between the text and its intended audience, whereas Epicoene stages the Renaissance theme of moral eccentricity in a carnivalized censure of carnival customs, and Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion flouts the conventional Court shows by resorting to carnival motifs. What I would like to suggest is that Jonson's use of intertextuality, resorting to the carnivalesque tradition through a selection and rearrangement of literary sources, ultimately draws upon the learned tradition in order to stage the popular element, aiming at depicting the grotesque, which is removed both from the "taming" version of carnival and the past glories of carnival itself.

Sejanus' Lost Carnival

Historical irony has it that this classical illustration of disillusionment about popular favour could not be conveyed to the people. Discarded by most critics and its first spectators as a byword for failure, Sejanus bears in its printed text the marks of Jonson's bitter riposte to the indictment on stage. His ironic move was to equate the hero with the play, as the 1616 Folio dedication remarks: "the tragedy suffer'd no less violence from our people here, then the subject of it did from the rage of the people of Rome." The two audiences merge into each other, and the play testifies to both of the failed encounters with Rome's populace and the Globe's audience. Ambiguity between the play and its hero found a graphic attire in the text format as well. The 1605 Quarto is exuberantly keyed into a typographical polyphony, where the display of marginal notes nearly blurs the conventional division of the stage text, iconographically hedging the lines by means of learned enclosures. Similarly, thematical enclosures were effected through a shift of focus: the people of Rome does not appear on the stage, and their actions are merely reported by witnesses. Through these textual and thematical devices, the play, itself a result of popular disfavour, pretended to elide the people from its scenario.

The extraordinary richness of the commentary within the Quarto text has also prompted worried questions about the author's actual originality. Any consideration of the play, in fact, must come to grips with Jonson's claim that these entwined texts were designed "to show my integrity in the Story." In this section I have chosen the passage of Sejanus' dismemberment as a topical example of the exploitation of the classics touching upon the carnivalesque tradition. My aim is to prove that, beside the ironic showing off by Jonson, the conflation of sources eventually posits a sort of second, hidden text where, at last, the people is described in action.

Jonson's rationale in selecting the sources of the Sejanus plot is pinpointing the thematic element of a social and metaphorical hierarchy between men. Sejanus' rise and fall is accordingly translated as a continuous struggle between slaves and masters. The obvious social meaning of slavery in Rome is now connotated by reciprocal accusations of moral slavery. Sabinus, a nobleman, scoffs at himself and his fellows, who have stooped to "that proud height, to which ⁄ We did by slavery, not by service, climbe" (Sejanus I.10−11). Silius, another nobleman, owns up to this overturning of roles:

We, that were borne

Free, equall Lords of the triumphed world,
We since became the slaues to one mans lusts; And nowe to many: euery ministring spie
That will accuse, and sweare, is lord of you.


Tiberius himself mutters away his muffled contempt for such "race of men ⁄ Prepar'd for seruitude" (I.52−53). In all these instances Jonson adapts his sources into an overall frame of servility and reversal of social roles, icastically portrayed by the acclamations bestowed on Sejanus, "the now court−god." The favourite is also metaphorically belittled as a "seruing boy" (I.212−15), though the sources attested his descendance from the gentry.

The slave element is functional to a priority in forestaging the characters, each striving to seize the centre of the popular scene. Only Tiberius dares remind Sejanus of his low birth, echoing the rumours greeting his rise:

The state thou hold'st alreadie, is in talke;
Men murmure at thy greatnesse; and the nobles
Sticke not, in publike, to vpbraid thy climbing
Aboue our fathers fauours, or thy scale.


Though still quoting from Tacitus (IV.xl.4−5), Jonson is gradually displacing the focus of the people's fawning and gazing upon from the Emperor to his favourite. After successfully cajoling Tiberius into retiring to Capri, Sejanus rejoices at his full monopoly of the clients' attention: "these, that hate me now, wanting accesse ⁄ To him, will make their enuie none, or lesse." Jonson is probably thinking of the Latin root of the word invidia, coming from in−video, thus underlining the primary visual significance. The sources, however, are rather referring to the absence of Tiberius than to the overwhelming presence of Sejanus at the centre of the stage. This exalted slave craves to be looked upon by the increasing multitude of actual and self−debased slaves, almost evoking a theatrical palimpsest within the text.

The metaphorical enhancement of slavery is enriched by a ritual connotation along the development of the plot. The tragic hero "still goes on, ⁄ And mount" (IV.428−29), playing into the hands of Tiberius who plans to make him "odious ⁄ Vnto the staggering rout," all too ready to "ore−turne all objects in their way" (IV.472). Sabinus is offered him as a cannibalistic sacrifice amidst the conspicuous absence of any witnesses: "The yeare is well begun, and I fall fit, ⁄ To be an offring to SEIANVS" (IV.228−29). The passing reference to the year's beginning, in fact, links up with the ominous prodigies that forebode Sejanus' metaphorical fall by more bathetic, physical collapses. Dio Cassius (LVIII.v.5−6), another source quoted by Jonson, reports the events acted by the followers of Sejanus, namely, "the falling of our bed … burdn'd with the populous weight" (V.52−3), and the fate of some servants who, "declining ⁄ Their way, not able, for the throng, to follow, ⁄ Slip't downe the Gemonies, and brake their necks" (V.59−61). At this point the popular scene peeps out from Jonson's use of the classical tradition. Sabinus had been dragged on the Gemonies too. In the Quarto Jonson appends that passage with a note pointing to the Lectiones Antiquarum by Ludovicus Celius Rhodiginus, where the Gemonies are etymologically described as a "locus gemitus et calamitatum"—a place of wretched sighs, uttered by the prisoners left on the banks of Tiber to be abused by the people's rage. Rhodiginus underlines the inner theatricality of this custom, quoting a similar passage from Cicero's Pro Cluentio:

Gradus illi Aurelii tum novi, quasi pro theatro illi iudicio aedificati videbantur, quos ubi accusator concitatis hominibus complerat, non modo dicendi ab reo, sed ne surgendi quidem potestas erat. (Lectiones Antiquarum X.v, 439−40)

The Gemonies are accounted for as a substitute for the theatre—"pro theatro"—where the people gathering on the steps gaze upon the subject of their rage. But this conventional upheaval of the Roman populace is also tinged by another ritual term of comparison, coming from the gladiatorial games. Rhodiginus browses through a long list of the several kinds of torments inflicted on prisoners and Christian martyrs, emphasising the sacrificial aura of the popular rage. Jonson, thus, assumes a competent, studious reader of the Quarto who will eventually restore the hidden theatrical frame from the learned reference quoted on the margin, classically providing the missing popular scene.

A similar sort of learned retrieval of popular attendance can be detected in the time setting. Both Sabinus' sacrifice and the fall of Sejanus' servants are located by Dio Cassius in the Kalends of January. Along with the Saturnals, these Roman feasts used to be reckoned by seventeenth−century writers as the forerunners of carnivalesque licence. As Meslin notes, slaves were free from their usual bonds of obligation, were given a double share of wine, and even made sacrifices instead of their masters. During these three days masters and servants freely communed and had meals together, and the whole city was caught in a debauched mood of revelry. The events featuring Sejanus' servants take thus place in a proto−carnivalesque setting, when people are free to envisage the next fall of the lord of Rome. The slave imagery is affected by a sacrificial turn. Sejanus, after parading into the Senate as a god attended by "seruile huishers" (V.452), is ushered out as a slave subjected to a ritual overturning:

They, that before like gnats plaid in his beames,
Nor deigne to hold a common seate with him!
Others, that wayted him vnto the Senate,
Now, inhumanely rauish him to prison,
Whom (but this morne) they follow'd as their lord!
Guard through the streets, bound like a fugitiue!
In stead of wreaths, giue fetters; strokes, for stoops:
Blind shame, for honours; and black taunts, for titles!


A last piece of evidence confirms Jonson's skilful selection of the sources in order to suggest a popular audience on the printed page. Also the final description of Sejanus' dismemberment conceals a theatre within the text, linking up with the previous marginal notes. Its source, Claudian's Against Rufinus, looks somehow misplaced from the Sejanus−related canon Jonson has been drawing upon so far. This textual oddity is double−fold, as Jonson does not quote the work in the Quarto marginal notes. But the jaundiced rendition of the dismemberment of this other favourite, whose macabre, relenting details are verbatim translated by Jonson (Sejanus V.811−32; Against Rufinus II.410−17, 427−32, 451−53), enhances the ritual occasion. Claudian compares the victim already rounded up by the soldiers to a beast moving in the arena: "illa pavet strepitus cuneosque erecta theatri ⁄ Respicit et tanti miratur sibila vulgi" (II.398−99). The gladiatorial setting, already pointed at by Rhodiginus, comes back to life when Jonson depicts the multitude flocking to the Gemonies "with that speed, and heate of appetite, ⁄ With which they greedily deuoure the way ⁄ To some great sports, or a new theatre" (Sejanus V.761−63). The apparently unrelated passage from Rhodiginus, thus, sets up a ritual occasion for Sejanus' dismemberment, as the learned tradition finally evokes the people and its carnivalesque expectation of the favourite's fall.

The linking up of the sources stages a theatre of martyrdom, where real and metaphorical slaves attend the ludicrous spectacle of the fall of actual slaves and, eventually, of the exalted slave who aspired to power. The ritual savagery of the gladiatorial games, the munera gladiatoria taking place near the Saturnals as sacrifice for the earth, both informs the description of the dismemberment and provides the missing audience through a page−fold running of learned references. As a sort of surprise for the patient reader, Jonson resorts to the sources to stage a Roman carnival, the niche where Sejanus is attended by the expected type of audience, as if only such spectators could get through the entangled fences of the notes.

Epicoene or the Silent Revels

Role disguise is easily taken as a synonym for carnival at large. Much obvious evidence for that identification is that most carnival shows deploy gender overturnings to question the social allocation of authority. Ingram reports that in Medieval France the New Year's Day was greeted by men disguised as beasts or, alternatively, as women, whereas in Henry the Eighth's kingdom children would still dress up as female pages attending the Boy Bishop. Actual upheavals might imitate this carnivalesque pretext as well. Fitz argues that when in 1531 some disguised men rounded up Anne Bolene, a witness reported that the fact almost went quite unnoticed, "because it was a thing done by women." But the major drawback of a trivialised conception of carnival as sheer transvestism is that it can be propelled until virtually including all references whatsoever to dramatic disguise devices, so that theatre itself becomes an educated version of carnival. In this section I will tailor down transvestism into its symbolic value of moral violation of the Elizabethan hierarchy of society and family, represented by the woman disguised as man, in that she takes over male clothes and authority. By Jonson's use of the sources in Epicoene, breaches of silence and of gender coalesce in a debate over the right place of woman in society, as well as the usefulness and performability of carnivalesque customs.

Jonson's Epicoene intermingles two separate traditions, the rhetorical value of silence and the boy disguised. The ideal wife is supposed to stay always silent, not the less so because even men must conform to the extreme rule of elocution: sometimes silence is eloquence. This tradition of silence was astringently summed up by Libanius in his Sixth Declamation, an overt source for the play's main story, featuring an old, sound−hating husband who discovers to have married a most talkative woman. The reversal of expectations is focussed on the hierarchical breach: a woman acting like "a conduit pipe, that will gush out with more force, when shee opens againe" (Epicoene IV.iv.78−9; Declamatio 19) encroaches on the husband's alleged monopoly of speech, eventually forcing him into abashed silence and unnatural desire of self−consumption.

The tradition of sex disguise, on the other hand, is a Jonsonian modification of the Libanius plot. The central scene of reversal is turned into a gender−related affair, where wrong sex conveys the sense of wrong social roles. The most characteristic move by Jonson is sexually reifying the husband's disillusionment. Among the dispersed sources which might be accounted for this tradition of the disguised boy, critics have usually taken into consideration Plautus's Casina, Machiavelli's Clizia and Aretino's Marescalco. None of these plays, however, seem to offer any evidence of straightforward textual borrowings, except the wedding scene of the Marescalco with the husband claiming impotence and the final surprise. Clizia, on the other hand, is in first place a Renaissance adaptation of Casina, so that one feels at least perplexed at critical underlining of its literary novelties and subsequent dismissing of Plautus's precedence. My proposal is that instead of falling into reference−spotting, we consider these works as literary analogues staging the punishment of one eccentric. The stress ought to be laid not on direct transmission of passages or stage tricks, but rather on the meaning of the festive occasion during which this punishment is carried out.

The three analogues are all staged in a general festive setting. The Prologue to Casina refers to some "ludi," though the comedy, later on, makes clear that the real "ludos festivos" are being played at the expense of the dotard. Clizia takes place during Carnival, whereas the Marescalco seems to belong to the Renaissance genre of carnivalesque jests. Jonson's adaptation plays upon this latent carnivalesque context, as carnival becomes in Epicoene both a general term for festive misrule and an element of contradiction for its followers and detractors alike. The first instance of this Jonsonian translation of carnival occurs in the opening description of Morose. The old man cannot stand the stock characters of London life, such as a Costard−monger, a Smith, "Or any Hammer−man" (Epicoene I.i.149−57), and parades along the streets "with a huge turbant of night−caps on his head, buckled oue' his eares" (I.i.143−45). Adapting a passage from Libanius (Declamatio 4), Jonson temporally qualifies Morose's misanthropy:

He would haue hang'd a Pewterers' prentice once vpon a shroue−tuesdaies riot, for being o' that trade, when the rest were quit. (I.i.157−59)

His antifestivity, hanging upon his hate for carnivalesque shows as the utmost manifestations of popular noise and disorder, is mirrored by his seclusion from the living body of the community:

hee hath chosen a street to lie in, so narrow both ends, that it will not receiue no coaches, nor carts, nor any of these common noises. (I.i.167−69)

The main fault of the eccentric, also topographically identified by his voluntary isolation, is a lack of social cohesion, as misanthropy is conveyed by misophony. Morose's failure in complying with the social demands of London life brings him out of town "euery satterday at ten a clock, or on holy−day−eues" (181−82). The carnival−hater is recompensed with a carnivalesque setting of the sources' harping on the eccentric. But Jonson's comedy, taking place in a festive day (II.iv.110; III.ii.89−90), will also fail to reconcile the eccentric with feasts. Carnival cannot affect society or mend the fissures within its fabric. The whole plot of Epicoene witnesses a similar censure of the possible versions of carnival. One of the characters is a true carnival performer, Mr Otter, once "a great man at the beare−garden in his time," but now only "his wifes subject" (−57). Mrs Otter readily rebukes his husband for the late revival of his former occupation at Court:

You were best baite me with your bull, beare, and horse! Neuer a time, that the courtiers, or collegiates come to the house, that you make it a shroue—tuesday! (III.i.4−7)

Carnival, an old−fashioned taming of wild beasts for the Court, is now just a worn−out device for drunken revelry. It cannot claim back the conventional order within the family.

In Epicoene punishment is performed through a masterly, but unconvinced quotation of carnivalesque customs. If Mr Otter is reviled as a vain drunkard, Morose the carnival−hater is punished through a charivari−like scene of misery, oddly blending the two possible infringements of marriage rules: a young scold married to an old man. But, just as Otter's old−days carnival, this is just a vestige of the past claims of redressing the social wrongs. Morose's charivari is not a spontaneous, popular performance, but rather a play−within−the−play under the direction of Truewit and Clerimont: not a true−to−life Carnival, but a metatheatrical display of stage−directing. The disillusionment about the healing powers of the carnivalesque customs is endorsed by Jonson's staging of the Fourth Act, when Morose, "who lockd himselfe up, i' the top o' the roofe" (IV.i.21−22), is presented another sort of charivari being played now on the carnival performer. Prompted by the Wits, Otter rails at his wife, "an vnlucky thing, a very foresaid beare−wholpe." The charivari stages its exception, as the scold is reinforced in her role, and Mrs Otter, secretly conveyed there by the Wits, beats again her husband.

The result of such a conflation of carnivalesque rituals is the exposure of their alleged power as popular tools of justice. Coupling the learned hint from Libanius with the sudden revival of popular customs, Epicoene is granted a series of receding circles of stage directors, where the Wits guide the actions of Morose, the Otters and the Collegiates, only to know, right at the end, that the silent Dauphine has hidden the best part of the trick. In a sense, this is a confirmation of the old elocutionary rule: silence may eloquently redress the wrongs, best if joined with stage−like disguises. If the literary analogues explicitly staged the disguise in order to underline the carnivalesque punishment of one eccentric, Epicoene reduces all the other characters to eccentrics that are kept off Dauphine's superior craft. Silence and cunning win over the noisy tricks of popular tradition.

Jonson's comedy is, inevitably, a sort of post−mortem recognition of traditional carnival customs. The stress, however, is not on their reform, but on frank failure, as the day of festive mood ends with confirming the opening inverted order between the Otters, as well as the "hermaphroditicall authoritie" detained by the Collegiates. Instead of merely playing upon the classical reversal of gender roles, Jonson adapts Libanius' disparagement into a definite temporal setting where carnival, though still stageable, needs revising and eventually leads to a smarting conclusion both for his detractors and his followers. The festive frame derived from the literary analogues ironically proves that the carnivalesque tradition is ebbing into a noisy, useless progression of stereotyped scenes. It is not who starts or performs the carnival, but who silently attends it, that can bring home the most "wealthy dowrie" (II.v.91).

Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Carnival

Jonson's masques are usually considered the acme of his growing identification with the refined ideals of the Court. A supporting argument is often found in their logical progression from the chaotic exposition of misrule to the orderly display of dances and songs. The comic contents of the inductions and the antimasques, thus, would use a more mundane tradition only to enhance the final sense of the King's order. More generally, the exploitation of classical sources is said to stand for the author's separation from the popular tradition, just as the people, by definition, cannot join the masques' audience. The failures of some masques, however, should already undermine any belief in such straightforward identification between the poet and his choosy audience, and somehow destroy the popular icon of Jonson as the conventional composer of Court. Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1618), a shrewd attempt at blending Rabelais and mythological matters in an intriguing debate over the possible reconciliation between opposite drives, led one of his spectators to indite a quite famous bit of Jonsonian criticism: "Ye poet is growen so dul yt his devise is not worthy ye relating, much lesse ye copiing out. divers think he should returne retourne to his ould trade of bricke laying againe." In this last section I will consider another masque where the learned tradition, so evidently displayed in the note−laden printed text, eventually overlaps with an educated version of carnivalesque motifs into a satire of Court shows.

Jonson's comic inductions show a felicity of inspiration which cannot be simply reduced to the first element of a conventional progression from disorder to order. In particular, the antimasque of Neptune's Triumph stages a grotesque translation of poetry into cookery, casting a dubious light over the final triumph of the kingly rule. Written in late 1623 as a celebration of Prince Charles' homecoming from Spain, the masque was not staged because of "the competition of the French and Spanish ambassadors, which could not be accommodated in presence" (qtd. in Ben Jonson, Works 9: 659). Also the masque evokes a similar sort of accommodation between the two characters of the first part. A tipsy Poet is assailed by a loquacious Cook, the self−appointed master of the revels in the banqueting−hall. Jonson describes the festive occasion as the only chance when the Poet can be employed as "a kind of Christmas Ingine; one, that is vsed, at least once a year, for a trifling instrument, of wit, or so" (34−36). Masque−writing reads like catering "for the palates of the ghestes" in the shrewd translation provided by the Cook:

The Taste is taken with good relishes, the Sight with faire obiects, the Hearing with delicate sounds, the Smelling with softe and plumpe bodies, but the Vnderstanding with all these: for all which you must begin at the kitchin. There, the Art of Poetry was learned, and found out, or no where: and the same day, with the Art of Cookery. (66−72)

This polemical conflation is actually not an autonomous invention, but rather an expansion of a few lines taken from a learned work and fitted into low style. In this case Jonson is adapting a few passages from the Deipnosophists by Athenaeus, especially those dealing with a boisterous cook who, as Jonson explicitly translates, would claim that "a good Poet differs nothing at all from a Master−Cooke. Either Art is the Wisedome of the Mind" (Neptune's Triumph 42−4; Deipnosophists I.7). Jonson stages grotesque motifs not from the popular tradition, but from other books.

The follow−up of this combination strikes a different note of mock−heroic confusion within the hierarchy of the Court revels. A further step down the grotesque tradition gets to the carnivalesque overturning of social roles. After having usurped the sacred realm of poetic invention, the Cook claims to be reverenced like a military chief, as his culinary art translates war machinery into food. The Poet−General

Makes Citadels of curious foule, and fish,
Some he dry−ditches, some motes round with broths;
Mounts marrow−bones; cuts fifty−angled custards;
Reares bulwarke−pies; and, for his outer workes,
He raiseth ramparts of immortall crust;
And teacheth all the tacticks at one dinner:
What rankes, what files, to put his dishes in!
The whole Art Militarie! (91−98)

As Gordon argues, the Cook is an obvious foil for Inigo Jones's mania for fantastical scenery and pageantry. Again, though himself pitted into a personal feud, Jonson chooses to rely on literary sources for this ironic degradation of the Court masque. The Cook's ideal of perfect man derives from a mix of the first chapters of the works by Vitruvius and Puttenham, respectively portraying the architect and the poet as the first civilizers and the highest incarnations of man. Athenaeus provides a similar theme when a cook relates how Sycon, the founder of the culinary art, set up a complete curriculum for the cooks covering all possible fields of human knowledge, from astrology to architecture, from natural science to strategy (IX.378). The Cook, thus, exposes the architect's fondness for stunning scenery. The return of Albion was to be performed through "a floting Ile," sent by Neptune−James I "to waft him thence" (Neptune's Triumph 140−43). The masque would have staged this mythological homecoming with an artistic deployment of the stage machinery designed by Inigo. But the Cook goes on disturbing the conventional frame of the Court masque. If he had been free to provide the whole show, he would have had

… your Ile brought floting in, now,
In a braue broth, and of a sprightly greene,
Iust to the colour of the Sea; and then,
Some twentie Syrens, singing in the kettel,
With an Arion, mounted on the backe
Of a growne Conger, but in such a posture,
As all the world should take him for a Dolphin:
O, `twould ha' made such musick! Ha' you nothing,
But a bare Island? (185−93)

Jonson's boisterous Cook obeys to a self−abusing irony, as Jones's islands were by no means likely to be "bare." His fictional island, however, also evokes the Italian scenery of carnival and wedding feasts, especially Neptune's chariot as described by Natale Conti and Vincenzo Cartari, all too present to Inigo Jones. Thus, although the Cook's alternative show are sneered at by the Poet as mere "Outlandish nothings" (Neptune's Triumph 224), the actual show of the masque is closely related to this scenographic tradition. Apparently, the Poet is entrusted the "serious part" (325), but his main task is composing the comic induction, whereas the second part, the masque proper, is just a didactic accompaniment to the prodigious stage machinery. Jonson's usage of the sources already censures the stylised, impressive scenery of court shows.

The comic induction, moreover, is indebted with a more popular, though strongly learned tradition of carnivalesque contrasts. Again, Jonson uses the sources to get back to the popular scene of the grotesque. The ironical conflation of personas in the Cook reverts the usual order of the masque. The cook−architect should be allowed only to furnish "a metaphoricall dish," an Olla Potrida whose ingredients are living characters taken from the London scene:

Graue Mr. Ambler, Newes−Master of Poules,
Supplies your Capon; and growne Captaine Buz
(His Emissary) vnderwrites for Turky,
A Gentleman of the Forrest presents Pheasant,
And a plump Poulters wife, in Graces street,
Playes Hen with egges i'the belly, or a Coney,
Chose which you will. (292−301)

During the masque the Cook will also serve "a dish of pickled Saylors, fine salt Sea−boyes, shall relish like Anchoues, or Caueare" (518−19), in a clear occurrence of the contrast between meat and fish. But the opening translation of military art into culinary was already redolent of a century−long tradition of mock contentions between the opposite armies of Carnival and Lent. The starting point was Lucian's description of culinary wars. The Medieval and Renaissance carnivalesque tradition enlarged upon this culinary demotion of the chronological succession between the two related periods of the year. As Grinberg and Kinser argue, the contrast became a formal vessel for all the categories of human life, in a chiastic struggle which took on the grotesque features of food. This tradition of opposite parties of cooks respectively resorting to meat and fish may be found at work in all European literature, from the early French Renaissance to the Italian Contrasto del Carnasciale colla Quaresima. Also Taylor's Jack−a−Lent stages such grotesque rendering of the time−bound struggle between a "fat, gross bursten−gutted groom, called Shrove−Tuesday" and the "numberless army" of Lent, heralded by "Sir Laurence Ling" and "Colonel Cod":

it is a wonder to see what munition and artillery the epicures, and cannibal flesh eaters do provide to oppose Lent, and keep him out at the staff's end, as whole barrels of powdered beef blow him up, tubs of pork to pistol and shoot him through with his kindred hunger, famine, and desolation, barricadoes of bacon, as strong and impregnable bulwarks against invasive battery. (Jack−a−Lent 12)

The culinary battle was staged in actual shows as well. In 1506 Giovanni Sabbadino saw a similar struggle in the Piazza Maggiore of Bologna between Shrove−tuesday, "un uomo grasso, tondo e colorito sopra cavallo grasso," and Lent, "a cavallo macro in forma de richissima vechia." Urban carnivals and literary texts thus resorted to the culinary theme as a synonym of temporal progression, and the question is open whether historical precedence must be given to the shows or to the texts. Despite this uncertainty, it is safe to assume that this web of references to the culinary battle are inevitably linked with the carnivalesque contrast.

The Cook's alternative show is thus a quotation of popular carnival. My suggestion is that Jonson was relying on the report of Pantagruel's periplus in Rabelais's Fourth Book. In their voyage to the Oracle of the Bottle, actually quoted by Jonson (Neptune's Triumph 77−79), Pantagruel and his fellows set foot on the island inhabited by the oxymoronic Quaresmeprenant, a carnivalesque monster who "pleure les troys parts du jour," but "ses habillemens sont joyeulx" (Pantagruel XXIX). Quaresmeprenant is engaged in a war with his neighbouring "Andouilles farfeleus," a sort of Lenten sausages. As Panurge argues, "c'est bataille culinaire, et voulez aux cuisiniers vous rallier" (XXXIX). An army of cooks is then enrolled by Pantagruel to bring about the defeat of the giant sausages. Apart from the common derivation from Lucian, some strong evidence for Jonson's thematic borrowing from this episode may be found in the revised sequel of the masque, the 1625 Fortunate Isles. The serious part has almost gone unchanged, whereas the comic induction sees a debate between Iohphiell the spirit and Mere−Foole, a "Melancholique Student" who begs to see the heroes of the past. Iophiell retorts that they are now busy in menial chores. Pythagoras, for instance, "has rashly run himselfe on an imployment, ⁄ Of keeping Asses from a feild of beanes; ⁄ And cannot be staved off" (The Fortunate Isles 256−58). Now, Pantagruel's earliest stop before the island of Quaresmeprenant was in the Island of the dead heroes, the "isle des Macraeons" (XXV) stemming from Lucian's Island of the Blessed (True Story II.17 ff.) which Jonson echoes in the Macaria of the second masque. But, despite the conventional triumph of order in both masques, the conclusion of The Fortunate Isles, with its references to the very sea−deities forming Neptune's train (519−30), oddly twists this order. We are back to the characters envisaged by the Cook, thus testifying to a more general ambiguity within the Court masque. Although the scenery imagined by the Cook is ludicrous, it is still the Cook's job to provide the classical scenery the Court seems to lavish.

Neptune's Triumph and its sequel, thus, do not offer the conventional reconciliation of the ending. The carnivalesque shows of the Cook's antimasques is deprived of its learned origin and takes on a popular vein of grotesque display. Jonson draws on Rabelais's learned adaptation of carnival motifs, but apparently dismisses it as the Cook's "by−workes." At the same time he exposes the grotesque pendant of the architect, whose Italianate alternative carnival has the last say. In conclusion, Jonson's unsatisfaction affects both popular and court carnivals which, just like the islands of Quaresmeprenant and of the Macraeons, are just two following stops along the voyage.

Is King Carnival Dead?

The three points I have been considering are, of course, only the début of a longer periplus through the Jonsonian invention. If we stick to the texts, Jonson seems more generally to loathe the public, rather than the popular element. My impression is that Jonson, for one, resorts to the sources in order to create an alternative text−within−the−text, where the popular element is decoded as the latest occurrence of a moral theory set down by the classics. What I would like to suggest is that studies on Jonson—and on carnival as well—stand in need of a new reconciliation between the pleasure of popularesque, theoretical overturning and the virtue of a fresh−faced approach based on actual literary and historical contexts, somehow deposing the more revolutionary though question−begging assumptions of ferocious hyperbakhtinizing. A different working hypothesis could lie in dismissing simplified binary oppositions between the high and the low, the Court and the people, the learned and the popular, especially when there is some ground to believe that all classes could resort to the same layers of a shared civilization of the grotesque, partly codified into written sources and partly adapted or transplanted into social customs, where each could mutually foster the other in a controversial process of mutual contamination. If this view could be granted some validity, we could also give a different interpretation of the sort of post−Rabelaisian carnival we find in these works, a specimen of revelry deprived of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque and its array of uncrowning and snizenie. Though not dismissing the popular element, Jonson actually seeks the grotesque, which can be made up by popular and learned elements. A direction which ought to be exploited could thus posit a cycle marked by the fall of King Carnival and the return of dethroned Grotesque as a more general principle including the carnivalesque. Within this more benign framework, even Jonsonian carnival may stand, instead of a second life of the people, as a second theatre to be used as another source along the quest for the author's "bien."

Università di Pisa