David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s THE DEVIL IS AN ASS: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 6

— 2.6 —

Wittipol and Manly appeared together at the window of Manly’s chamber, which was opposite the Fitzdottrels’ house. The two buildings were next to each other. Indeed, these two houses were so close together that two people — each leaning out a window in each house — could touch. The window of the Fitzdottrels’ house was for a long gallery of pictures where Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel could walk.

Wittipol intended to talk to Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel.

“This is better luck than I could imagine,” Wittipol said. “This turns out to be thy chamber — I thought that finding a window I could access to get close to the Fitzdottrels’ house would be my greatest trouble!”

Remembering the instructions Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel had given to him through Pug, he said, “This must be the very window and that must be the very room she talked about.”

The room was the gallery in the Fitzdottrels’ house. Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel could look out a window of the room and see — and almost touch — Manly’s window.

“You are right — it is,” Manly said. “I now remember that I have often seen there in the gallery a woman, but I never noticed her much. I certainly never looked at her closely.”

“Where was your soul, friend?” Wittipol asked.

He could not imagine someone’s seeing Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel and not wanting to look at her closely.

Manly replied, “In faith, but now and then awake to those objects.”

Truly, at times he could notice and be greatly affected by the beauty of a woman.

“You claim to,” Wittipol said. “Let me not live if I am not in love more with her intelligence that she showed in giving me her instructions for me to go to this window now than with her bodily form, though I have praised that prettily since I saw her and you today.”

Wittipol then gave Manly a paper, on which was the copy of the lyrics of a song.

He then said, “Read those lyrics. They’ll go with the air — the tune — you love so well. Try them to the note; maybe the music will call her here sooner.”

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel appeared at her window.

Wittipol said to Manly, “By God’s light, she’s here! Sing quickly.”

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel was worried that her instructions to Wittipol to come to the window had not been understood or properly communicated.

She said to herself, “Either Wittipol did not understand Pug, or else Pug was not faithful in the delivery of what I told him to speak. And I am justly paid, I who might have made my profit from his service, but by mistakenly trying to give him secret instructions I have drawn his ill-will upon and done the worse injury to myself.”

Manly sang the lyrics Wittipol had given to him:

See the chariot at hand here of Love, 

Wherein my lady rides! 

Each that draws is a swan or a dove, 

And well the car Love guides. 

As she goes, all hearts do duty 

Unto her beauty; 

And enamoured, do wish, so they might 

But enjoy such a sight, 

That they still were to run by her side, 

Through swords, through seas, whither she would ride.

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel said, “What! Music? Then Wittipol may be there — and there he is, to be sure.”

Hearing the song, Pug entered the scene.

Seeing Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel and Wittipol, he said, “Oh, is that the way it is? Is this here the interview between these two? Have I drawn close to you at last, my cunning lady? The devil is an ass! Fooled off, and beaten! The devil made an instrument, and could not scent it!

“Well, since you’ve shown the malice of a woman to be no less than her true wit and learning, mistress, I’ll try if little Pug has the malignity to pay you back, and so get out of the danger he is in. It is not the pain, but the discredit of it. The devil would not keep a body unbeaten!”

Pug now occupied a human body, but he feared most — more than the actual beating — being mocked in Hell for not being successful at keeping that body from being beaten.

Pug exited to find Fitzdottrel.

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel stepped outside on her balcony.

Wittipol said to Manly, “Away, fall back. She is coming.”

“I’ll leave you, sir,” Manly said. “You will be the master of my chamber. I have business elsewhere.”

He exited.

“Mistress!” Wittipol called.

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel came over to him and said, “You make me paint my cheeks, sir.”

She meant that she was blushing.

“They’re fair colors, lady, and they are natural colors, not artificial cosmetics,” Wittipol said.

They were very close together — within touching distance.

He added, “I did receive some commands from you lately, gentle lady, but they were so coded and wrapped in the delivery that I am afraid I may have misinterpreted them, but still I must make suit to be near your grace.”

“Who is there with you, sir?” Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel asked.

“There is no one but myself,” he said. “It turned out, lady, that this is a dear friend’s lodging, and so good fortune is conspiring with your poor servant’s blessed affections to make his wishes come true.”

“Who was singing?” Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel asked.

“My friend was singing, lady, but he’s gone because I asked him to leave when I saw you approach the window. You need notfear or doubt him if he were here. He is too much a gentleman to reveal your secrets.”

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel said, “Sir, if you judge me by this simple action, and by the outward habit — the way it looks — and appearance of easy conformity with your plan, you may with justice say I am a woman, and a strange woman.”

A strange woman is an immodest woman. Some strange women are prostitutes.

“But when you shall please to bring but that concurrence of my fortune to memory, which today yourself did urge, it may beget some favor like an excuse, though none like reason.”

She meant that if he would remember the words he had spoken to her earlier, he would likely excuse her actions now, even if they seemed out of line with reason.

These are among the words Wittipol had spoken when he was speaking as if he were her:

But sir, you seem a gentleman of virtue no less than of good birth, and one who in every way looks as he were of too good quality to entrap a credulous woman, or betray her.”

Certainly Wittipol’s actions seemed out of line with her description of his looks: He had been trying to convince her to commit adultery.

Responding to the notion that her actions were out of line with reason, Wittipol said, “Reason has no part in your actions, my tuneful, sweet-voiced mistress? Then surely Love has no reason, and Beauty has no reason, and Nature is not violated in both Love and Beauty. You speak at once with all the gentle tongues of Reason, Love, Beauty, and Nature.”

According to Wittipol, it was completely in accordance with Reason that she commit adultery with him — and also completely in accordance with Love, Beauty, and Nature.

He continued, “I thought I had enough removed already that scruple from your breast, and left you all reason, when, through my morning’s perspective, I showed you a man so beyond excuse that he is the cause for why anything is to be done upon him, and nothing that injures him is to be called a misplaced injury.”

In other words, he had used a perspective — a metaphorical microscope — to help her closely examine her husband and realize that he was such a man that any kind of evil could be done to him and no one could say that it was undeserved.

Wittipol continued, “I rather had hope now to show you how Love by his intimate accesses grows more natural, and what was done this morning with such force was but then devised to serve the present.”

He grew more familiar in his courtship and intimate accesses, playing with her breasts, kissing her hands, etc.

These are liberties indeed, and Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel’s husband had definitely let her know earlier that she was not to allow Wittipol to touch her. What’s going on here? Possibly 1) she was sexually attracted to Wittipol, 2) she was rebelling against her husband, 3) she was manipulating Wittipol because she wanted him to do something for her, or 4) some combination of the above.

Wittipol continued, “Since Love has the honor to approach these sister-swelling breasts, and touch this soft and rosy hand, he has the skill to draw their nectar forth with kissing, and could make more wanton leaps from this brave promontory down to this valley” — he moved a hand from a nipple to her vulva — “than the nimble deer could play the hopping sparrow about these nets, and could play the sporting squirrel in these crisped, tightly curled groves” — he was referring to her pubic hair.

Deer can leap, sparrows can hop, squirrels can enjoy entertainment, but Love has its own action that outperforms each of these others.

He continued, “Love can bury himself in every silkworm’s cocoon that is here unraveled.”

In a non-aroused state, the walls of the vagina touch each other. In a sexually aroused state, the clitoris, labia minora, labia majora, and vagina swell as blood rushes to these areas. It is as if the vulva is opening like a flower.

“Love can run into the snare that every hair is.

“Love can cast into a curl to catch a Cupid flying.

“Love can bathe himself in milk and roses here, and dry himself there.

“Love can warm his cold hands to play with this smooth, round, and well-turned chin, as with the billiard ball.

“Love can roll on these lips, the banks of love, and there at once both plant and gather kisses.

“Lady, shall I, with what I have made today here, call all sense to wonder, and all faith to sign the mysteries revealed in your bodily form? And will Love pardon me the blasphemy I uttered when I said a looking-glass could speak this beauty, or that fools had power to judge it?”

He then sang:

Do but look on her eyes! They do light —

All that Love’s world comprises!

Do but look on her hair! It is bright

As Love’s star [Venus] when it rises!

Do but mark [look closely], her forehead’s smoother

Than words that soothe her!

And from her arched brows, such a grace

Sheds itself through the face,

As alone, there triumphs to the life,

All the gain, all the good, of the elements’ strife!

Have you seen but a bright lily grow

Before rude hands have touched it?

Have you marked but the fall of the snow

Before the soil has smutched [smudged] it?

Have you felt the wool of the beaver?

Or swan’s down, ever?

Or have smelt of the bud of the briar?

Or the nard [aromatic ointment] in the fire?

Or have tasted the honeybag of the bee?

Oh, so white! Oh, so soft! Oh, so sweet is she!


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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