David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s THE DEVIL IS AN ASS: A Retelling — Act 4, Scene 3

— 4.3 —

Merecraft and Wittipol, who was dressed as the Spanish lady, walked over to Lady Tailbush.

Merecraft said to Lady Tailbush, “Here is a noble lady, madam, come from your great friends at court to see Your Ladyship and have the honor of your acquaintance.

“Sir, she does us honor,” Lady Tailbush said.

To help preserve his disguise, Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said to Merecraft, “Please, say to Her Ladyship that it is the manner of Spain to embrace only, and never to kiss. She will excuse the custom!”

“Your use of it is law,” Lady Tailbush said. “If it pleases you, sweet madam, take a seat.”

“Yes, madam,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “I have had the favor, through a world of fair reporting about you, to know your virtues, madam, and in that name have desired the happiness of presenting my service to Your Ladyship.”

“Your love, madam — not your service!” Lady Tailbush said. “Otherwise, I cannot accept it.”

“Both my service and my love for you are due, madam, to your great undertakings,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said.

“Great?” Lady Tailbush said. “Truly, madam, they are my friends who think my undertakings to be anything. If I can do my sex any service by my undertakings, I’ve achieved my aims, madam.”

“And they are noble ones, which make a multitude beholden to you, madam,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “The commonwealth of ladies must acknowledge you.”

“Except some who are envious and malicious, madam,” Lady Tailbush said.

“You’re right in that, madam,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “Some of that race I encountered just recently, who, it seems, have worked to find reasons to discredit your business.”

“Who, sweet madam?” Lady Tailbush asked.

“Nay, the parties willnot be worth your pause — they are most ruinous things, madam,that have put off all hope of being recovered to a degree of attractiveness and decency,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said.

“But what are their reasons, madam?” Lady Tailbush said. “I would like to hear what they are.”

“Some, madam, I remember,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “They say that painting — using makeup — quite destroys the face —”

“Oh, that’s an old criticism, madam,” Lady Tailbush said.

“There are new ones, too,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “They say that makeup corrupts the breath. They say that makeup has left so little sweetness in kissing that kissing is now used only for fashion, and shortly will be taken for a punishment. They say that makeup decays the front teeth that should guard the tongue and keep it from saying bad things — because of the use of makeup, the front teeth decay and from the mouth come words that run everlasting riot. And — which is worse — they say that because of makeupsome ladies when they meet cannot be merry and laugh but instead they spit in one another’s faces!”

Manly looked closely at the Spanish lady and began to recognize Wittipol.

Manley thought, I should know this voice, and I should know this face, too.

Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said, “Then they say that makeup is dangerousto all the fallen yet well-disposed mad-dames who are industrious and desire to earn their living with their sweat. For any distemper of heat and motion may displace the colors, and if the paint once runs about their faces, twenty to one, they will appear so ill-favored and ugly that their servants will run away, too, and leave the pleasure imperfect, and the reckoning also unpaid.”

These “mad-dames” were madams and/or prostitutes. When their makeup ran, they looked ugly and lost all their “servants” — their lovers, aka customers, who left and did not pay.

“Pox, these are poets’ reasons!” Lady Eitherside said.

“Some old lady who keeps a poet has devised these scandals,” Lady Tailbush said.

“Truly, we must have the poets banished, madam, as Master Eitherside says,” Lady Eitherside said.

One person who wanted the poets banished was Plato, or so one of his books advocated. In Plato’s Republic, poets were banished for lying about the gods. Poets such as Homer showed the gods to be far from benevolent to human beings. According to Homer’s Iliad, the gods were often petty.

Trains entered and whispered to Merecraft.

“Master Fitzdottrel!” Merecraft said. “And his wife! Where?”

He said to Wittipol (the Spanish lady), “Madam, the Duke of Drowned-land, who will be shortly, has arrived.”

Wittipol (the Spanish lady) asked, “Is this my lord?”

“The same,” Merecraft said.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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