IN the opening scene of Thomas Middleton’s The Witch (c. 1613–16), the gentleman Almachildes solicits the gentlewoman Amoretta for sex (I.i.77ff.).1 When the maid rejects the gentleman’s advances, he vilifies her as a ‘Puritan’ (84). ‘Amsterdam swallow thee for a Puritan’, he snipes, ‘And Geneva cast thee up again like she that sunk / At Charing Cross and rose again at Queenhithe!’ (84–86). Amoretta’s reply is enigmatic. ‘Ay, these are the holy fruits of the sweet vine’ (87) she quips, and exits. Glossing the gentleman’s references to Amsterdam and Geneva, editors note that both cities were havens for persecuted Puritans.2 Scholars likewise link Almachildes’s list of London sites with an urban legend concerning Edward I’s wife, Queen Eleanor (1241–90), who according to tradition was swallowed by the earth at Charing Cross and cast up at Queenhithe after she lied about murdering the Mayoress of London.3 By comparing Amoretta with Queen Eleanor, Almachildes hints that the maid’s sex-refusal is as disingenuous as a murderess protesting her innocence. Similarly, by linking Eleanor’s legend with the geography of early-modern Puritanism, Almachildes slanders the sex-resistant maid with ‘the usual anti-Puritan accusation of moral hypocrisy’.4 Why then does Amoretta respond to an allegation of Puritanism by comparing herself to ‘the holy fruits of the sweet vine’? Editors gloss the maid’s self-description as a coy travesty of religious orthodoxy5 and an allusion to Almachildes’s drunkenness.6 Still another reference for Amoretta’s riposte lies in an unnoticed biblical source for the pair’s repartee. I argue here that Almachildes’s curse (‘Amsterdam swallow thee for a Puritan / And Geneva cast thee up again’) combines with the maid’s rejoinder (‘Ay, these are the holy fruits of the sweet vine’) to mark the characters’ exchange as Middleton’s multi-line allusion to the biblical Jonah.7 In Jonah, God commands a sea creature to ‘swallow’ the recalcitrant prophet and ‘vomit’ him up again (Jonah 1:17; 2:10).8 As a result of the deity’s intervention, Jonah is effectively transported from Tarshish to Nineveh. In Nineveh, the hero reemerges as a firebrand preacher—inspiring self-debasing piety in the city’s licentious populace (3:1–9). Similarly, in Witch, Almachildes invokes Amsterdam to ‘swallow’ the dismissive Amoretta and Geneva to ‘cast [her] up again’ in order to label the maid a ‘Puritan’—a group known throughout Europe for its public invectives against urban licence. Additionally, in Jonah, when God aborts his plan to destroy Nineveh, the once-evasive prophet flees the city and sulks in the suburbs (3:10–4:5). In response, God shows Jonah a living example of divine mercy by summoning a ‘gourd’—often called a ‘vine’ in biblical exegesis9—to shelter the hero from the heat of the sun (4:6). Just so, in Witch, Amoretta replies to Almachildes’s curse that one city swallow her and another regurgitate her by describing herself as ‘the holy fruits of the sweet vine’. By calling herself ‘holy fruits’ in response to Almachildes’s use of urban folklore, Amoretta recasts the narrative arc of Queen Eleanor’s legend in terms of Jonah’s comparable narrative trajectory. In so doing, the maid not only travesties Jonah’s ‘gourd’ by comparing herself to a scriptural manifestation of divinely-wrought solace; Amoretta also hints that just as in Jonah, God summons a ‘gourd’ to teach the petulant prophet the virtue of ‘compassion’,10 so the maid’s self-description as ‘holy fruits’ coaxes Almachildes to reconsider his censure of her sex-refusal. Amoretta’s biblical allusion also highlights the role of hypocrisy in Almachildes’s curse. While Almachildes calls Amoretta a ‘Puritan’ in order to accuse her of moral hypocrisy, the suitor only censures the maid when he fails to seduce her. By alluding to scripture in response to Almachildes’s imprecation, Amoretta links her suitor’s peevishness with Jonah’s petulance. In so doing, the gentlewoman hints that Almachildes’s charge of Puritanism is a projection of his own hypocrisy, rather than the maid’s pretensions to probity. All in all, by echoing Jonah in Witch, Middleton satirizes men who censure women for rejecting male sexual advances. Footnotes 1 Thomas Middleton, The Witch, ed. Marion O’Connor, in Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (eds), Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (Oxford, 2007). Other editions of Witch cited here include Thomas Middleton, The Witch, in Three Jacobean witchcraft plays, ed. Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge (Manchester, 1986); and Thomas Middleton, The Witch, ed. Elizabeth Schafer (London, 1994). 2 O’Connor, 1131, nn. 84–5; Corbin and Sedge, 221; Schafer, 9, nn. 84–5. 3 Corbin and Sedge, 221; Schafer, 9, nn. 85–6. The legend of Queen Eleanor is described in George Peele’s Edward I (pub. 1593). 4 O’Connor, 1131, nn. 85–6. 5 Corbin and Sedge note that ‘Amoretta is referring ironically to Almachildes’s charge of religious fanaticism’ (Corbin and Sedge, 221, n. 87). Cf. Schafer, 9, n. 87. 6 O’Connor suggests that ‘Amoretta bounces the charge of excessive religiosity back at her challenger’ by drawing attention to Almachildes’s ‘inebriation’ (O’Connor, 1131, n. 87). O’Connor presumably reads the phrase ‘holy fruits of the sweet vine’ as both a parody of religious orthodoxy and a metonym for alcohol. 7 Middleton’s engagement with Jonah predates Witch. ‘Jonas’ is mentioned in Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl (pub. 1611), where the name appears as that of a ship in which Master Gallipot maintains an unspecified investment (Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl, ed. Elizabeth Cook (New York, 2014), III.ii.94). The ship’s name is ironic. In Jonah, both the vessel’s cargo and the prophet himself are thrown overboard in an attempt to allay divine wrath (Jonah 1:5). In RG, Middleton and Dekker use the name ‘Jonas’ as a seriocomic variant of the ill omen that Jonah’s fellow passengers accuse the prophet of being (Jonah 1:10, 15). As in Witch, RG’s allusion to Jonah is coupled with a curse. Mistress Gallipot responds to her husband’s mention of the ‘Jonas’ with a mock-imprecation that Gallipot’s cargo—like Jonah’s cargo and hero—might be ‘swallowed’ by the waves (RG III.ii.95–6). In both plays, the combination of an allusion to Jonah with an imprecation echoes Jonah’s own cantankerousness (see Jonah 3:10–4:5). 8 The Bible: Authorized King James Version, ed. Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett (Oxford, 1997). The text reads: ‘And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land’ (Jonah 2:10; emphasis in original). 9 For an early-modern exegetical account of Jonah that uses the words ‘gourd’ and ‘vine’ interchangeably, see George Abbot, An exposition vpon the prophet Ionah Contained in certain sermons (London, 1600), esp. 581–4. Abbot discusses Jonah’s ‘gourd’/‘vine’—including early Christian interpretations of the trope—in considerable detail. In the section of Witch under discussion, Middleton may in fact allude to Abbot’s life and work. Witch is widely thought to satirize the divorce proceedings and subsequent murder trial involving Frances Howard, the Earl of Essex, Robert Carr, and Sir Thomas Overbury (see A. A. Bromham, ‘The Date of The Witch and the Essex Divorce Case’, N&Q, ccxxv (1980), 149–52; Corbin and Sedge, 14; Margot Heinemann, Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama Under the Early Stuarts (Cambridge, 1980), 107–14; Anne Lancashire, ‘The Witch: Stage Flop or Political Mistake?’, in Kenneth Friedenreich (ed.), ‘Accompaninge the Players’: Essays in Celebration of Thomas Middleton, 1580–1980 (New York, 1983), 161–83; O’Connor, 1125–6; Schafer, xv–xix; and Paul Yachnin, ‘Scandalous Trades: Middleton’s The Witch, the “Populuxe” Market and the Politics of the Theater’, Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, xii (1999), 218–32). Given that Abbot not only wrote a book about Jonah but was a vocal opponent of the Essex divorce, Middleton’s scriptural allusion in Witch may serve as yet another thread in the playwright’s intricate web of allusions to the Essex scandal. 10 The Geneva Bible: A facsimile of the 1599 edition with undated Sternhold & Hopkins Psalms (Ozark, 1990). The Geneva translators gloss Jonah 4:11 (marginal note h) as follows: ‘Thus God mer- | cifully reprooueth | him which would | pitie himfelf, and | this gourd, and yet | would reftraine God | to fhew his compaf- | fion to fo many | thoufand people’. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 2, 2018
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