Reading Update: ‘Nothing Like the Sun’: 157?-1587: Chapters IX-X

‘Woman and Bird in the Moonlight’, by Joan Miro (1949): “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”

Sin, humiliation, population, desolation.

WS, heartbroken after the rebuff from his prostitute-Goddess and panicking at the loss of the Plautus books, sets out to write his own “Englished” version of Plautus’s Menaechmi, taking pains to retain the supposed translative voices of the Quedgeley boys. But disaster strikes when, in the midst of a lesson on why boys portray women in contemporary plays, WS’s “dark excitement” (eg., his repressed homosexual urges) overcome the laws of his superego, and he slips into a lesson about how the ancients saw sex with a woman as merely the means of reproduction, whereas “A sweet and lovely boy was all the desire of [the] bearded men” (62). Indeed, WS’s unconscious urgings even lead him as far as to tell the boys that “There are those who say…that [Jesus Christ] did practice this sort of love with His beloved disciple John.” To be sure, his superego rails at him for this talk:

What was this? Why had he said that? Was it nerves struck to jangling by frustration? Had his inner being revolted against women — white and nagging, black and punching? (62-63)

At least one of the boys is entranced by this blatant talk if homosexuality: Miles, twin brother to Ralph. As it happened, Ralph had a toothache that kept him howling at night, so Miles uses this as an excuse to ask WS — his tutor — to allow him entrance to his bed. We are not told what, if anything, occurs, but after Ralph’s tooth is drawn, “Miles came no more to the bed of WS, but he simpered in his presence like some girl, taunting and teasing” (63). And then disaster strikes:

[O]ne day WS seized him when he came, first and alone, to the lesson-room, but, God forgive him, it was not Miles he seized but Ralph. Ralph screamed worse than for the toothache. His father and mother ran in, both open parent mouths showing breakfast bread chewed but yet unswallowed. There were loud words; there were very nearly blows. WS, though, thrust out the quill-knife in defence. Mistress Quedgeley cried:

“He will murder us. I always knew this would happen. Villains picked up in outlandish parts.”

“Hold thy tongue, woman,” boomed her lord. “For you, sirrah, out of this house instanter. Filth and corruption of the young and innocent. Out.” (64)

WS tries vainly to protest, but is booted from the Quedgeley’s. He grumbles about revenge, briefly falls incahoots with a conman with rigged dice, but eventually returns to Stratford, where he professes returning due to loneliness for his family. (Could even they believe it?)

It’s important to note that during this return journey from the Quedgeley’s, plays and players are on his mind. He has his “pseudo-Plautus” with him (his translation of the Menaechmi), and when he meets a group of players at Evesham, he sees them “with a new eye” (66). And later, as he leaves the players, he muses, “The Inns of Court and the courts of inns; was there not perhaps some decent middle way, where poesy might be shouted at the world like truth itself?” Clearly, his playwrighting craft is coming to form.

[Also worth noting: approaching Temple Grafton, he hears a “devil-raven” croaking “Anne Anne Anne Anne,” and it seems to him a “harbinger” (67). Perhaps this is an indication that Anne will be his death, or at least there when he dies?]

Chapter X finds WS taking up work as a clerk, where he learns that “Words, pretenses, fictions. They ruled” (67). He also discovers the bawdry of Rabelais via his new boss. “‘This is all for your education, young man,” his boss proclaims.

Anne, having grown pregnant again, delivers twins: WS is thrilled that at least one of them is a boy. Following a talk with his Bible-story-thumping brother Gilbert, WS decides to name the children after the initials of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, a notion inspired by the deluge of rain pouring down at the twins’ birth. They have already “S” Susanna; “J” becomes Judith, and the son, “H,” becomes Hamnet — a popular boy’s name in the Midlands of Elizabethan England.

One night, when the overwet weather has resolved to an overhot draught, WS and Anne are sitting naked by an open window, she reading and he contemplating how he is now long past sin. (Has it really been that long since the Quedgeley disaster?) Through the open window, they hear a hullabaloo and look out to see a mob chasing down Old Madge, who formerly prophesied to a younger WS that he should catch a “black woman or a golden man” (15). “Witch! Bring the rain back!” cries one of the mobbing party; but WS observes Anne’s sadistic pleasure at viewing the spectacle:

“Now,” said Anne, panting. “Now at the window.” WS looked at her, sick, incredulous. “Now, now, oh, quickly!” He shrank away from her, into the room’s shadows.

“No!” Here was the witch, here. (74)

She has no pity — with which WS is oversupplied — and this horrifies him. And, not surprisingly, he resolves to leave again, this time with the Queen’s Players, who have just stopped by Stratford on their tour. He will offer them his pseudo-Plautus (clearly a draft of his Comedy of Errors), and if that fails, he will attempt to act. Indeed, he muses, “the time is come for acting, no longer lying passive to wait on destiny to deal” (75).

And so, he looks at Anne, asleep now that the excitement of Madge’s mobbing has passed, and “[s]inking gently to that simulacrum in his skull of the dark world that lay beyond, out, he became Endymion” — that is, the lover of the Moon. Consider the ties here to Sonnet 130: “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun…” He will be alone, with only the Moon as his companion.

At least for now.


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