David Bruce: John Ford’s THE FANCIES, CHASTE AND NOBLE: A Retelling — Act 3, Scene 3

— 3.3 —

Secco and Spadone spoke together in an apartment in the palace.

Secco said, “He is the most splendid fellow, Spadone! So full of verbal and physical leaps! He talks so humorously, doesn’t he? So carelessly! Oh, rich! I swear on my hope of posterity that I could be in love with him.”

Spadone said, “His tongue trolls like a mill-clacker. He roughhouses the lady-sisters about as a tumbling dog does young rabbits. Hey, here! Dab, there!”

A “dab” is a slight blow.

He continued, “Your Madonna — that is, your wife, Morosa — he has a catch at her, too. There’s a trick in the business, or I am a dunce. I say there is a shrewd trick in the business.”

Secco said, “You jump with me to the same conclusion! I smell a trick, too — if I could only tell what it is!”

“Who brought him in?” Spadone said. “Someone would know that.”

“Seignior Troylo brought him in,” Secco said. “I saw the page, Nitido, depart at the door. Some trick still. Bah! My wife! I must and I will have an eye to this business.”

Spadone said, “It’s a plain case of roguery — pandering and roguery — or call me a bull calf.”

A calf is a fool.

He continued, “Fancies, said he? Rather Frenzies. We shall all roar shortly, turn madcaps, lie open to what comes first. I may stand to it, that boy page is a naughty boy page.

“Let me feel your forehead.”

He felt for the cuckold’s invisible horns.

Feeling, he said, “Ha! Oh, hmm, yes, there! There again!

“I’m sorry for you, a handsaw cannot cure you. The horns are monstrous and apparent!”

Secco said, “What! What! What! What! What! What do you feel, Spadone?”

Spadone said, “What! What! What! What! Nothing but velvet tips. You are of the first head still.”

When a buck first gets its horns, they are covered with soft tissue that is known as velvet.

He continued, “Have a good heart, man. A cuckold, although he may be a beast, wears invisible horns; if he did not, we might not be able to distinguish between a city-bull and a country-calf. Villainous boy, still!”

Bulls have horns, while calves do not. Since a cuckold’s horns are invisible, the cuckold is like a calf. In this society, one meaning of the word “calf” is “fool.” The horns of a bull, on the other hand, are visible, and bulls are known for potency. Many jokes are told about a city fella taking advantage of a farmer’s daughter. Because the cuckolds’ horns are invisible, while the city-bulls’ horns are visible, we can distinguish between a city-bull and a country-calf. The horns of city-bulls are erect phalluses, which are visible.

The villainous boy was the page Nitido.

“My razor shall be my weapon,” Secco the barber said. “Yes, my razor shall be my weapon.”

Spadone said, “Why, he’s not come to the honor of a beard yet; he needs no shaving.”

Nitido was still too young to have a beard.

“I will trim him and tram him,” Secco said.

A tram is one of the two upright posts of a gallows. Secco was threatening to cut off Nitido’s arms and one leg. Nitido’s sin was apparently accepting a bribe to let the newcomer in the palace, where he had an opportunity to make Secco a cuckold.

Spadone said, “Nay, she may do well enough for one.”

For one lover.

“For one!” Secco said. “Ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand; do beyond arithmetic!”

The word “do” means “have sex.”

He continued, “Spadone, I speak it with some passion: I am a notorious cuckold.”

It took very little for him to be convinced of that.

“Gross and ridiculous!” Spadone said. “Look. I tell you point-blank that I dare not swear that this same mountebanking newly come foist is at least a procurer in the business, if not a pretender himself; but I think what I think.”

A mountebank is a conman. A foist is a rogue. A pretender is a wooer.

Secco said, “The newcomer, Troylo, Livio, and the page, that hole-creeping page, all put horns on my forehead, sirrah.”

A hole-creeping page is a page who creeps into holes.

Secco continued, “I’ll forgive thee from my heart if you answer this: don’t thou drive a trade, too, in my bottom?”

A bottom is a deep place.

Secco was asking if Spadone was prostituting Morosa.

Spadone deflected the question by pretending that Secco was asking if he, Spadone, was sleeping with his wife: “A likely matter! Alas, I’m metamorphosed, I am.”

Spadone was thought to be a eunuch: That was his metamorphosis.

He continued, “Be patient, or you’ll mar everything.”

They heard laughing coming from another room: “Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Secco said, “Now, now, now, now the game’s rampant — rampant!”

Spadone said, “Leave your wild figaries — whims — and learn to be a meek grotesque, or I’ll observe no longer.”

Secco was a grotesque because of the invisible horns he believed that he was wearing.

The laughter continued: “Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Troylo-Savelli, Castamela, Morosa, and Romanello — who was disguised as Prugnuolo — entered the room. With them were the three Fancies: Floria, Clarella, and Silvia. Castamela may have believed — or known — that others regarded her as soon becoming the fourth Fancy.

Silvia said to the disguised Romanello, “You are extremely busy, Seignior.”

Floria said, “You are courtly, without a fellow.”

Clarella said, “You have a stabbing wit.”

Castamela said, “But are you always, when you press on ladies of mild and easy nature, so much of a satirist, so tart and keen as we do taste you now? It argues a lean brain.”

A lean brain lacks some qualities that others consider important. Castamela was most likely thinking of decorum.

The disguised Romanello said, “Bah to your beauties! You would be fair — truly, you would be monsters. Fair women are such. Monsters are rare to be seen, and so are fair women.”

Troylo-Savelli said, “Bear with him, ladies. Endure what he says.”

“He is a foul-mouthed man,” Morosa said.

Secco whispered to Morosa, “Whore, bitch-fox, treddle! Fa la la la!”

A treddle is a pellet of sheep manure.

“What’s that, my cat-a-mountain?” Morosa asked. “What did you say to me?”

Spadone said to Secco, “Hold her there, boy.”

Secco, Morosa, and Spadone formed one group. The three Fancies, Castamela, Troylo-Savelli, and the disguised Romanello formed another.

Clarella asked the disguised Romanello, “Were you ever in love, fine Seignior?”

The disguised Romanello replied, “Yes, for sport’s sake, but I soon forgot it; he who rides at a gallop is quickly weary. I esteem love as I esteem a man in some huge place; it puzzles reason, distracts the freedom of the soul, renders a wise man a fool, and a fool a wise man in his own imagination, but nowhere else. It makes the effects of pleasure into those of travail; the effects of bitter into those of sweet; the effects of war into those of peace; the effects of thorns into those of roses; the effects of prayers into those of curses; the effects of longings into those of surfeits — and then there is despair, and then a rope.

“Oh, my fine lover!

“Yes, I have loved a score at once.”

In the other group, Spadone said to Secco, “Bah, stallion! As I am a man and no man, the baboon lies, I dare swear, abominably.”

The baboon was Morosa, who apparently had said bad things about Spadone.

Secco said about Morosa’s supposed lying, “Inhumanly.”

He then said to her, “Keep your bow close, vixen.”

A bow forms part of a circle. Secco was telling his wife to keep her circle — vagina — close, aka hidden. In other words: He was telling her to be chaste.

Secco pinched his wife, Morosa.

She said to him, “Curse your fingers, if you are in earnest and not joking! You pinch too hard! Bah! I’ll pare your fingernails because you are pinching me.”

Spadone said to Secco, “She means she will pare your horns; there’s a bob — a cut — for you!”

In the other group, Clarella said to the disguised Romanello, “Spruce Seignior, if a man may love so many, why mayn’t a fair lady have the like privilege of several servants?”

The word “spruce” meant “dapper.” The servants were wooers.

Troylo-Savelli said, “Answer that: The reason holds the same weight.”

In other words: What’s good for the gander — a male goose — is good for the female goose.

In the other group, Morosa said, “Indeed, and so it does, although he would spit his gall out.”

She meant that her bow was close and she was chaste, although her husband was angry at her and spitting out gall in the form of angry words.

Spadone said, “Remember that, Secco.”

In the other group, Silvia asked the disguised Romanello, “Do you struggle for a reply?”

He had not answered Clarella’s question immediately.

The disguised Romanello said, “The learned differ in that point; grand and famous scholars often have argued pro and con, and left the answer doubtful. Volumes have been written on it. If, then, great clerks suspend their resolutions, it is modest for me to silence mine. If great scholars cannot answer the question, then I ought to be quiet.”

“That answer is dull and phlegmatic — it’s sluggish!” Floria said.

Clarella said, “Yet women, surely, in such a case are always more secret than men are.”

“Yes,” Silvia said, “and they talk less.”

The disguised Romanello said, “That is a ‘truth’ much fabled, but never found. You women secret!

“When your dresses blab your vanities?

“You use the color of carnations for your laces? There’s a woman who is a gross babbler!

“Wear tawny — the color brown? Ha! The pretty woman’s heart is wounded.

“Does she wear a knot of willow-ribbons? She’s forsaken.”

The willow is a symbol of unrequited love.

The disguised Romanello’s point was that what women wore revealed their state of mind.

“Another rides the cock-horse — she is high-spirited — and wears green and azure — she kicks and cries ‘wee-hee!’ like an unbroken colt.”

A cock-horse is either a child’s plaything that the child can pretend to ride like a horse, or it is a high-spirited horse.

He continued, “But desperate black puts women in mind of fish-days, days during which no meat is served — when Lent spurs on devotion, there’s a famine.

“Yet love and judgment may help all this pudder — this fuss.

“Where are they? Where are love and judgment? Not in females.”

Floria said, “In all sorts of men, no doubt.”

Silvia said, “Else they were sots to choose —”

Sots are fools.

Silvia probably meant to finish her sentence with something such as “a woman to love.”

Clarella interrupted and finished Silvia’s sentence: “— to swear and flatter, and sometimes lie, for profit.”

The profit could be to get a woman in bed.

The disguised Romanello said, “That is not so, truly: Should love and judgment meet each other, then the old, the foolish, the ugly, and the deformed could never be beloved.”

If love and judgment met in each of us, wouldn’t we all fall in love with someone young rather than with someone old? With someone smart rather than foolish? With someone good-looking rather than ugly? With someone healthy rather than deformed?

The disguised Romanello continued, “For example, look at these two: this madam and this shaver.”

A shaver can be 1) a barber, 2) a swindler, and/or 3) a wag.

The disguised Romanello was referring to the aged female guardian Morosa and her husband Secco, the barber.

Insulted, Morosa said, “I defy thee! Am I old or ugly?”

Secco said, “Tricks, deceits, devices! Now it trolls — wags — about.”

A tongue wags — Secco meant: Now it comes out verbally.

The disguised Romanello said, “Truly let it go, young stripling. Thou have still firm footing, and thou need not fear the cuckold’s livery — horns.

“There’s good reason for it. Take this for comfort. No horned beasts have teeth in either gums, but thou are toothed on both sides, though she fail in having teeth.”

Most people would say that horned beasts such as cows do have teeth in their gums; however, the word “gums” is also used to refer to toothless gums, so the disguised Romanello, a wag whose words don’t always make normal sense, was saying this: “No horned beasts have teeth in either toothless gums.”

The disguised Romanello was also saying that Secco had teeth on both sides: top and bottom. Again, this is not the way we normally use language.

If the disguised Romanello was wrong about “No horned beasts have teeth in either gums” and “thou are toothed on both sides” and perhaps “though she fail in having teeth” (since Morosa insisted that she has teeth, then perhaps he was wrong in saying about Secco that “thou need not fear the cuckold’s livery — horns.”

Morosa said, “My husband is not jealous, sirrah.”

The disguised Romanello said, “That’s his fortune. Women, indeed, are more jealous than men, but men have more cause.”

Spadone said, “There he rubbed your forehead; it was a tough blow.”

Spadone was twisting the disguised Romanello’s words: Earlier, the disguised Romanello had said that Secco did not need to fear horns.

“It smarts,” Secco said.

“A pox on him!” Morosa said about the disguised Romanello. “Let him put his finger into any gums of mine, he shall find I have teeth about me — sound ones!”

Secco said to the disguised Romanello, “You are a scurvy fellow, and I am made a cokes, an ass —”

A “cokes” is a fool.

He continued, “— and this same filthy crone’s a flirt.”

He then recited the refrain of a popular song: “Whoop, do me no harm, good woman.”

Secco exited.

Spadone said, “Now, now he’s in! I must not leave him so.”

Spadone had been trying — and succeeding — in making Secco think that his wife, Morosa, was cuckolding him.

Spadone exited.

Troylo-Savelli asked, “Morosa, what is the meaning of this?”

“I don’t know,” Morosa replied. “He pinched me, and he called me names — very filthy names.”

She then said to the disguised Romanello, “Will you depart from here, sir? I will set you packing.”

She exited.

Clarella said to the disguised Romanello, “You were, indeed, too outspoken, too violent.”

“Here nothing was meant but mirth,” Floria said.

“The gentleman has been a little jocular,” Silvia said.

“He was somewhat bitter against our sex,” Clarella said.

“For which I promise him that he will never prove to be a choice of mine,” Castamela said.

The disguised Romanello asked, “I won’t be your choice?”

“So she protested, Seignior,” Troylo-Savelli said.

Of course, Troylo-Savelli knew who Romanello was, despite his disguise.

The disguised Romanello said, “Indeed!”

Clarella said, “Why, you are moved, sir.”

He was deeply affected by what Castamela had said about him.

Morosa re-entered the room.

Morosa said to the disguised Romanello, “Go away from here! There will enter a more civil companion for fair ladies than such a slovenly person as you.”

The disguised Romanello began, “Beauties —”

Troylo-Savelli interrupted: “Time prevents us from staying. May love and sweet thoughts accompany this presence.”

Troylo-Savelli and the disguised Romanello exited.

Octavio, Secco, and Livio entered the room. Secco was whispering to Octavio.

Octavio said to Secco, “Enough. Slip away, and on your life be secret.”

Secco exited.

Octavio then said to the ladies, “A lovely day, young creatures!

“To you, Floria, and to you, Clarella and Silvia, and to all, I am at your service!”

Seeing Castamela, he asked, “But who is this fair stranger?”

Livio said, “This is Castamela, my sister, noble lord.”

Octavio said to Castamela, “Let my ignorance of who you were plead my neglect of manners, and let this soft touch excuse it.”

He touched her arm and continued, “You’ve enriched this little family, most excellent virgin, with the honor of your company.”

Castamela replied, “I find them worthily graceful, sir.”

Livio thought, Are you so taken with him?

He did not want his sister to be attracted to Octavio, especially in any improper way.

Octavio said, “Here are no public sights nor courtly visitants, which youth and active blood might stray in thought for. The people are few, and the pleasures are simple and rarely to be enjoyed, perhaps, by any not perfectly acquainted with this custom. Aren’t they, lovely one?”

Livio said, “Sir, I dare answer for my sister and give her settled opinion. She has always preferred free conversation among so many of her so-virtuous sex, before the arrogance of solemn promises or the vainer giddiness of popular attendants.”

Suitors would be the ones making those solemn promises.

Castamela thought, Well played, brother!

Music sounded from another room.

Octavio asked, “What is the meaning of this music?”

Morosa answered, “If it pleases your lordship, it is the ladies’ hour for exercise in song and dance.”

Octavio said, “I dare not be the author of truanting the time then, and therefore I will not.”

“Walk on, dear ladies,” Morosa said.

“It is a task of pleasure,” Octavio said.

Livio, who could guess what was coming, whispered to Castamela, “Be now my sister, and withstand a trial bravely.”

Morosa whispered to Castamela, “Remember my instructions, or —”

She exited, followed by Livio, Floria, Clarella, and Silvia.

Castamela attempted to exit, but Octavio stopped her.

Octavio said, “Begging your pardon, you are not of the number, I presume, yet, to be enjoined to hours. You are not yet one of those studying music and dance here.

“If you please, we for a little while may sit as judges of their proficiency; please, grant the favor.”

They could stay in this room and hear the songs the others sang.

Castamela said, “I am, sir, in a place to be commanded, as now the present urges.”

She was his guest.

Octavio said, “There is no compulsion. ‘Compulsion’ would be too hard a word. Where you are sovereign, your yea and nay is law. I have a request to ask of you.”

He was not acting like a sovereign: He was requesting, not demanding. Still, many sovereigns who make “requests” are actually making demands.

Castamela asked, “A request for what, sir?”

“For your love,” Octavio answered.

Castamela said, “Love to whom? I am not so weary of the authority I hold over my own contentment in sleeps and wakings that I’d resign my liberty to any who would control it.”

She was happy being single and having more freedom than she would if she were married.

Octavio said, “I do not intend that. Grant me a request.”

“Of what nature?” Castamela asked.

“To acknowledge me your creature,” Octavio answered.

If he were her creature, he would be subservient to her in some way. He could be a man who loved her and regarded her more highly than he regarded himself.

Castamela said, “Oh, my lord, you are too wise in years, too full of counsel, for my green inexperience.”

Octavio said, “Love, dear maiden, is only desire of beauty, and it is proper for beauty to desire to be beloved.

“I am not free from passion, although the current of a more lively heat runs slowly through me. My heart is gentle; and, believe me, fresh and unsullied girl, thou shall not wish for any good additional thing that may adorn thy excellent qualities to praise them, which bounty can withhold.”

Even bounty — generosity — can withhold some things, but even those things would not be withheld from Castamela.

But perhaps “which bounty can withhold” modified “them,” aka thy excellent qualities.” In that case, “bounty” meant goodness. Castamela’s goodness could lead her to withhold some of her excellent qualities, such as virginity, from Octavio.

The word “withhold” can be ambiguous. The Oxford English Dictionarygives these meanings, among others: 1) “to keep back,” 2) “to keep in bondage,” and 3) “to retain for one’s pleasure or profit.”

Castamela believed that Octavio was offering her his bounty — generosity — in order to keep her in a form of bondage.

Octavio continued, “This academy of silent pleasures is maintained, but only to such a faithful use.”

The academy of silent pleasures was Octavio’s heart.

Castamela said, “You have, perhaps, then, a patent for concealing virgins; otherwise, make plainer your intentions.”

Octavio said, “To be pleasant in practice of some outward senses only. No more.”

He was saying that he wanted to share a Platonic love with her.

She did not believe him.

Castamela said, “No worse you dare not to imagine, where such a profound innocence as mine is outfaces every wickedness your dotage has lulled you in. I scent your cruel ‘mercies.’ Your female agent, your old temptation, your she-devil has been scheming for my misery.”

She meant that Morosa had been attempting to persuade her to become one of Octavio’s Fancies — one of those women with whom Castamela presumed he had been sleeping.

She apologized for her language: “Bear with a language that this place, and none but this, has infected my tongue with.”

She then complained about her brother: “The time will come, too, when he — unhappy man! — whom your advancement has ruined by making him a spaniel to your fortunes, will curse that he enticed me hither: Livio.”

A “spaniel” is a person who fawns on his master the way that a cocker spaniel fawns on its master.

Castamela continued talking about Livio: “I must not call him my brother; this one act has torn him from the ancestry he has sprung from.”

Octavio said, “The offer of a noble courtesy — a courteous invitation — is checked, it seems. You have declined my offer.”

Castamela said, “A courtesy! It is a bondage! You are a great man, vicious, much more vicious because you hold a seeming league with charity. You are of a pestilent nature. You keep hospitality for sensualists in your own sepulcher, even during your lifetime, yet you are dead already.”

Octavio said, “What’s this? Come, be milder.”

Castamela replied, “You chide me soberly. So, then, sir, I tune my voice to other music.”

She then listed some of the advantages he possessed and made some recommendations about some virtuous ways to treat the three Fancies:

“You are an eminent statesman.

“Be like a father to such unfriended virgins as your bounty has drawn into a scandal.

“You are powerful in means.

“You are a bachelor, freed from the jealousies of wants.

“Convert this privacy of maintenance into your own court.

“Let this, as you call it, your academy, have a residence there, and there survey your charity yourself.

“Do this so that when you shall bestow the three Fancies on worthy husbands, with fitting portions, such as you know worthy, you may yield to the present age a model of ‘virtue’ and to posterity a glorious chronicle. There would be a work of piety.”

She was saying that he could eventually marry the three Fancies to good husbands, who could provide for them. That would be an act of virtue that he would be known for.

Then she mentioned what she believed his current conduct would lead to:

“The other course of action is a scorn upon your tombstone; where the reader will but expound that when you lived you pandered your own purse and your fame.”

She was accusing him of another action: sleeping with the three Fancies. This was something that would be known after his death.

Castamela continued, “I am too bold, sir. Some anger and some pity have directed a wandering trouble.”

Octavio said, “Be not known what passages the time has lent.”

Perhaps he meant this: Keep this conversation secret.

Or perhaps he meant this: The actions I have done are not known.

He added, “For once I can bear with you.”

In other words: On this one occasion, I can bear what you have said to me.

Castamela said, “I’ll countenance the hazard of suspicion, and be your guest awhile.”

In other words: I will risk being suspected of being one of your Fancies, and I will remain as your guest for a while.

Octavio said, “Be my guest for a while, but thereafter I don’t know what.”

He called, “Livio!”

Livio and Morosa re-entered the room.

“My lord?” Livio asked.

Castamela said, “Indeed, sir, I cannot part with you yet.”

Was she talking to Livio or to Octavio?

If she were talking to Livio, Morosa would perhaps think that Castamela was remaining virtuous.

If she were talking to Octavio, Morosa would perhaps think that Castamela was not remaining virtuous.

Octavio said, “Well, then, thou shall not, my precious Castamela.”

Did he know to whom Castamela was speaking?

He then said, “Thou have a sister, a perfect sister, Livio.”

Morosa thought, All is nicked here. Good soul, indeed!

Perhaps she meant: Castamela has denied Octavio. She is a good soul, indeed!

The verb “nick” can mean “hit the mark.” Perhaps Morosa meant that everything was going well; after all, Livio’s having a perfect sister is good.

However, the noun “nick” can mean “vulva.” If Octavio’s “arrow” were to hit Castamella’s nick, then Morosa may not consider her to be a good soul.

Telling another person’s thoughts is difficult; one can be mistaken.

Perhaps Morosa thought, All is inked here. “Good” soul, indeed!

In this case, perhaps she meant: Castamela has not denied Octavio. All is marked with black sin. She is a “good” soul, indeed!

However: although the verb “ink” means “stain,” a stain need not be a bad thing. Stained wood can look good. Perhaps, again, Morosa meant that everything was going well.

Livio said, “I’d speak with you soon.”

Castamela replied, “It may be so.”

Octavio said to Castamela, “Come, fair one.”

Livio said to himself, “Oh, I’m cheated!”

He believed that his sister had given in to Octavio and would become his concubine: a fourth Fancy.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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