David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s THE DEVIL IS AN ASS: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 8 (Conclusion)

— 5.8 —

Sir Paul Eitherside, Merecraft, Everill, Trains, Fitzdottrel, Lady Eitherside, Lady Tailbush, Pitfall, Ambler, and some attendants had assembled in the courtroom. Fitzdottrel was lying in a bed.

Sir Paul Eitherside, who was the Justice, was wondering about and marveling at the case as the others told him about it.

“This is the most notable conspiracy that I ever heard of,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

Merecraft said, “Sir, they had given Fitzdottrel potions that made him fall in love with the counterfeit lady —”

Everill interrupted, “— right up to the time of the delivery of the deed —”

Merecraft interrupted, “— and then the witchcraft began to appear, for immediately he fell into his fit —”

Everillinterrupted, “— of rage at first, sir, which since has much increased.”

“Good Sir Paul,” Lady Tailbush requested, “see Fitzdottrel, and punish the impostors.”

“That is the reason for why I came here, madam,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

“Let Master Eitherside alone, madam,” Lady Eitherside said. “He knows what to do.”

“Do you hear?” Sir Paul Eithersidesaid. “Call in the constable; I will have him by us. He’s the King’s officer! And let’s have some citizens of credible reputation by us! I’ll discharge my conscience clearly. I’ll perform my duty as according to my conscience.”

“Yes, sir,” Merecraft said.

An attendant exited to carry out Sir Paul Eitherside’s orders.

Merecraft added, “And send for Fitzdottrel’s wife.”

“And for the two sorcerers, by any means necessary!” Everill said.

Another attendant exited.

“I thought one a true lady,” Lady Tailbush said. “I would have sworn he was a lady.”

She said to Lady Eitherside, “So did you, Lady Eitherside! You thought that he was a lady!”

“Yes, I did. I swear by that light, and I wish that I might never stir if I am lying, Lady Tailbush.”

“And I thought that the other one was a civil gentleman,” Lady Tailbush said.

“But, madam, you know what I told Your Ladyship,” Everill said.

Manly had asked Everill to say nice things about him to Lady Tailbush when he was courting her, but instead Everill had said bad things about him.

“I now see the truth of it,” Lady Tailbush said. “I was providing a banquet for them, after I had finished instructing the fellow De-vile, who was the gentleman’s manservant.”

“The fellow De-vile has been found to be a thief, madam,” Merecraft said. “He robbed your usher Master Ambler this morning.”

“What!” Lady Tailbush said.

“I’ll tell you more soon,” Merecraft said.

Fitzdottrelbegan to act as if he were having a fit.

He shouted, “Give me some garlic! Garlic! Garlic! Garlic!”

Garlic is supposed to be good at protecting oneself from demons.

“Listen to the poor gentleman,” Merecraft said. “How he is tormented!”

“My wife is a whore,” Fitzdottrel shouted at Sir Paul Eitherside. “I’ll kiss her no more, and why? Mayn’t thou be a cuckold, as well as I? Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Devils and cuckolds have horns.

Was Sir Paul Eitherside a cuckold? Perhaps. Earlier, when Wittipol was pretending to be the Spanish lady, Lady Eitherside had said, “As I am honest, Tailbush, I think that if nobody should love me but my poor husband, I would just hang myself.”

Trying to understand the words and sounds, Sir Paul Eithersidesaid, “That is the devil who speaks and laughs in him.”

“Do you think so, sir?” Merecraft asked.

“I discharge my conscience,” Sir Paul Eithersidesaid. “On my conscience, I believe that.”

“And isn’t the devil good company?” Fitzdottrel shouted. “Yes, certainly.”

As part of his “possession,” Fitzdottrel was speaking at various times with different voices: that of a man, that of a woman, that of a child. More than one demon can possess a human being.

“How he changes, sir, his voice!” Everill said.

Of course, both Merecraft and Everill were trying to convinceSir Paul Eitherside— the Justice — that Fitzdottrel was bewitched.

Fitzdottrel shouted, “And a cuckold is wherever he puts his head with a vengeance if his horns are forth — the devil’s companion! Look, look, look, else.”

“How he foams at the mouth!” Merecraft said.

“And how his belly swells!” Everill said.

“Oh, me!” Lady Tailbush said. “What’s that there, rising in his belly?”

The swelling resembled that of an erection.

“A strange thing!” Lady Eitherside said. “Hold it down.”

Trains and Pitfall both said, “We cannot, madam.”

“It is too apparent, this!” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “What I am seeing cannot be doubted.”

Wittipol and Manly and Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel entered the room.

“Wittipol!” Fitzdottrel cried. “Wittipol!”

“What is this?” Wittipol asked. “What play have we here?”

He knew immediately that Fitzdottrel was acting.

“What fine new matters?” Manly asked.

The Coxcomb and the Coverlet,” Wittipol said, making up a title for the “play.”

A coxcomb is a fool. People who pretended to be bewitched covered themselves with a coverlet in order to hide their paraphernalia, such as bladders and bellows to make it appear that their belly was swelling.

“Oh, strange impudence!” Merecraft said. “That these should come to face their sin!”

He had been one of the people calling for them to be forced to come.

“And to outface — defy — justice and the Justice,” Everill said. “They are the parties, sir. They are responsible for the witchcraft.”

“Say nothing,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

“Did you notice, sir, upon their coming in, how Fitzdottrel called out ‘Wittipol’?” Merecraft asked.

“And he never saw them come in,” Everill said.

“I promise you that I did notice that,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “Let them play a while.”

He wanted to see what would happen.

Fitzdottrel hummed, “Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! Buzz.”

“It’s a pity — the poor gentleman!” Lady Tailbush said. “How he is tortured!

“For shame, Master Fitzdottrel!” his wife said, going over to him. “What do you mean by counterfeiting being bewitched like this?”

“Oh!” Fitzdottrel said. “Oh! She comes with a needle, and thrusts it in, she pulls out that, and she puts in a pin, and now, and now! I don’t know how and I don’t know where, but she pricks me here, and she pricks me there. Oh! Oh!”

Sir Paul Eitherside said to Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel, “Woman, stop doing that!”

“What, sir?” Wittipol asked.

“A practice that is foul for one so fair,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

Wittipol asked Sir Paul Eitherside, “Do you really believe this playacting?”

Manly also asked Sir Paul Eitherside, “Do you believe in it?”

“Gentlemen, I’ll discharge my conscience,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “This is clearly a conspiracy! A dark and devilish practice! I detest it!”

“The justice surely will prove to be the merrier man!” Wittipol said.

According to Wittipol, Sir Paul Eitherside was funnier and more to be laughed at than Fitzdottrel — Sir Paul was the bigger fool.

“This is very strange, sir,” Wittipol said.

“Don’t confront authority with impudence,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “I tell you, I detest it.”

Gilthead andSledge entered the room.

Sir Paul Eitherside said, “Here comes Sledge — the King’s constable — and with him is a very honorable commoner and my good friend, Master Gilthead. I am glad I can before such witnesses profess my conscience and my detestation of it. Horrible! Most unnatural! Abominable!”

He had misspoken: “I am glad I can before such witnesses profess my conscience and my detestation of it” sounded as if he detested his conscience.

No doubt Wittipol and Manly did.

While the others were paying attention to the new arrivals, Merecraft and Everill advised Fitzdottrel.

Everill whispered to Fitzdottrel, “You do not contort your body enough.”

Merecraft whispered to him, “Wallow! Gnash your teeth!”

Fitzdottrel redoubled his efforts.

“Oh, how he is vexed!” Lady Tailbush said.

“It is very manifest,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

Everill whispered to Merecraft, “Give him more soap to foam with.”

He whispered to Fitzdottrel, “Now lie still.”

Once Fitzdottrel stopped thrashing around in bed, Merecraft was able to secretly slip some soap to him.

Merecraft whispered, “And act a little.”

Fitzdottrel began to mime smoking tobacco.

Lady Tailbush asked Sir Paul Eitherside, who had been interpreting Fitzdottrel’s actions and words, “What is he doing now, sir?”

Sir Paul Eitherside said, “He is showing the taking of tobacco, with which the Devil is so delighted.”

“Hum!” Fitzdottrel shouted.

“And he is calling for hum — strong ale,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “You takers of strong waters and tobacco, look closely at this.”

Fitzdottrel shouted as he clapped his hands, “Yellow! Yellow! Yellow! Yellow!”

“That’s yellow starch,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “The devil’s idol of that color. He ratifies it with clapping of his hands. The proofs are pregnant — they are convincing.”

“How the devil can act!” Gilthead said.

“He is the master of actors, Master Gilthead, and of playwrights, too!” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “You heard him talk in rhyme! I forgot to mention it to you, a while ago.”

Earlier, the play-acting Fitzdottrel had said, “My wife is a whore. I’ll kiss her no more!”

He had also said, “She comes with a needle, and thrusts it in, she pulls out that, and she puts in a pin, and now, and now! I don’t know how and I don’t know where, but she pricks me here, and she pricks me there.”

Fitzdottrel used the finely ground fibers he had put in a walnut shell to create a fireball.

“See, he spits fire,” Lady Tailbush said.

“Oh, no! He plays at figgum,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “The devil is the author of wicked figgum.”

A figgum is a juggler’s trick.

Earlier, Fitzdottrel or Merecraft or Everill had prepared a walnut to enable him to spit fire. The walnut shell had been filled with a flammable substance that would enable him to appear to spit fire. For example, fire-breathers today may use cornstarch or alcohol. They put some in their mouth and then spray it over a small flame, producing a burst of fire.

Apparently, Sir Paul Eitherside had seen Fitzdottrel fill his mouth with the flammable substance in the walnut shell — finely ground sawdust, perhaps? — and then seen him spray it over a lit candle, producing a burst of fire.

Rather than recognizing it as an impostor’s trick, he interpreted it as a juggler’s trick. Since “the devil is the author of wicked figgum,” according to Sir Paul Eitherside, this was more evidence that Fitzdottrel was truly bewitched.

Manly asked Wittipol, “Why don’t you speak to Sir Paul Eitherside?”

Manly thought that perhaps Wittipol could talk sense into him.

Wittipol replied, “If I had all innocence of man to be endangered, and he could save, or ruin it, I’d not breathe a syllable in request to such a fool he makes himself.”

Suppose Humankind was put on trial, and Sir Paul Eitherside was the judge who could save Humankind or have Humankind executed. Further suppose that Sir Paul Eitherside asked Wittipol to speak. Wittipol would say nothing to such a fool as Sir Paul Eitherside was making himself out to be.

Presumably, Wittipol would be OK with whatever decision Sir Paul Eitherside would make. If Humankind were judged innocent and so would survive, that would be OK with Wittipol; after all, good people such as Manly exist. If Humankind were judged guilty and so would be executed, that would be OK with Wittipol; after all, foolish people such as Sir Fitzdottrel and Paul Eitherside exist.

Or, perhaps, Wittipol would not be OK with whatever decision Sir Paul Eitherside would make. If Humankind were judged innocent and so would survive, that would not be OK with Wittipol; after all, foolish people such as Sir Fitzdottrel and Paul Eitherside exist. If Humankind were judged guilty and so would be executed, that would not be OK with Wittipol; after all, good people such as Manly exist.

“Oh, they whisper, whisper, whisper,” Fitzdottrel said about Wittipol and Manly. “We shall have more of devils a score to come to dinner in me the sinner.”

“Alas, poor gentleman!” Lady Eitherside said.

Sir Paul Eitherside said about Wittipol and Manly, “Separate them. Keep them each away from the other.”

Wittipol would not talk to Sir Paul Eitherside, but Manly was willing.

“Are you insane, sir, or what grave foolishness moves you to take the side of so much villainy?” Manly asked Sir Paul Eitherside. “We are not afraid either of law or trial; let us be examined what our objectives were, what the means we had to work by, and the feasibility of those means. Do not make a decision against us before you hear us.”

“I will not hear you,” Sir Paul Eitherside said, “yet I will make a decision based on the circumstances.”

The circumstances included circumstantial evidence.

“Will you do so, sir?” Manly asked.

“Yes, the circumstances are obvious,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

“Not as obvious as your folly!” Manly said.

“I will discharge my conscience, and do all things necessary to the meridian — the highest point — of justice,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

“You do well, sir,” Gilthead said.

“Provide for me three or four dishes of good meat to eat,” Fitzdottrel said. “I’ll feast on them and their tricks; a Justice’s head and brains shall be the first dish I will eat.”

“The devil loves not justice,” Sir Paul Eitherside said. “You may see that from the way the possessed man talks.”

Fitzdottrel added, “Give me a spare rib of my wife, and a whore’s innards! Give me a whole Gilthead.”

Sir Paul Eitherside whispered to Gilthead, “Don’t be troubled, sir; the devil speaks it.”

The devil’s speaking such a thing might very well trouble the person the devil was talking about.

Fitzdottrel shouted, “Yes, wis; knight, shite; Paul, jowl; owl, foul; troll, bowl.”

He pronounced the words in such a way that each pair of words rhymed.

Sir Paul Eitherside said, “This is crambe, another of the devil’s games!”

In the game of crambe, players had to come up with rhymes for a certain word.

Merecraft whispered to Fitzdottrel, “Speak, sir, some Greek, if you can.”

The devil knows many languages; sinners speak many languages.

Merecraft then whispered to Everill, “Isn’t the justice Sir Paul Eitherside a solemn gamester?”

For someone who regarded games as evil, the serious Sir Paul Eitherside certainly knew a lot about them.

“Quiet!” Everill whispered back.

Fitzdottrel said, “Οίμοι κακοδαίμων, Και τρισκακοδαίμωυ, και τετράκις, και πεντά κίς, και δωδεκαικις, και μυριακις.”

Translated: “Alas! alas! I am a lost man. Ah! thrice, four, five, twelve times, or rather ten thousand times unhappy fate!”

Sir Paul Eitherside said, “He curses in Greek, I think.”

Everill whispered to Fitzdottrel, “Use your Spanish that I taught you.”

Fitzdottrel said, “Quebrémos el ojo de burlas.”

Fitzdottrel, who had learned the Spanish poorly, had said, “Let’s break his eye in jest.”

Everill tried to cover up the mistaken Spanish: “What? Your rest? Let’s break his neck in jest, the devil says.”

Fitzdottrel then said in Spanish, “Di grátia, Signòr mio, se havete denári fataméne parte.”

Translated: “If you please, sir, if you have money, give me some of it.”

Merecraft said, “What! Would the devil borrow money?”

Fitzdottrel said in French, “Oui, Oui, monsieur, un pauvre diable! Diabletin!”

Translated: “Yes, yes, sir, a poor devil! A poor little devil!”

“It is the devil speaking, judging by his several languages,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

Carrying Ambler’s possessions,Shackles, the jail keeper of Newgate Prison, entered the room, and asked, “Where’s Sir Paul Eitherside?”

“Here I am,” he said. “What’s the matter?”

“Oh!” Shackles said. “Such an accident has happened at Newgate, sir. A great piece of the prison is torn down! The devil has been there, sir, in the body of the young cutpurse who was hanged this morning, but he was wearing new clothes, sir. Every one of us recognized him. These things were found in his pocket.”

“Those are mine, sir,” Ambler said.

“I think he was committed on your charge, sir, for a new felony,” Shackles said.

“Yes,” Ambler confirmed.

“He’s gone, sir, now,” Shackles said, “and left us the dead body. But he also left, sir, such an infernal stink and steam behind that you cannot see St. Pulchre’s steeple yet. They smell the stink as far as the market town of Ware, as the wind lies by this time, I am sure.”

St. Pulchre’s steeple was the church of St. Sepulchre, which was close to Newgate Prison.

“Is this the truth, friend?” Fitzdottrel asked. “Do you give your word that it is true?”

“Sir, you may see it for yourself, and satisfy yourself that it is true,” Shackles said.

Realizing that Pug — whom he called Devil, and who had told him that he had possessed the body of a cutpurse who was hanged this morning— really was a devil, Fitzdottrel immediately said, “Then it is time to stop counterfeitingthat I am possessed.”

He said to Sir Paul Eitherside, “Sir, I am not bewitched, nor do I have a devil inside me — no more than you do. I defy the devil by telling the truth, I do, and I admit I did abuse you with my counterfeiting.

“These two gentlemen — Merecraft and Everill — put me up to it. I have faith against the devil. These two gentlemen taught me all my tricks. I will tell the truth and shame the fiend. See here, sir, are my bellows, and my false belly, and my mouse that I would have pretended to come out of my mouth, and everything else that I would have pretended to have come out of my mouth!”

Manly said to Sir Paul Eitherside, “Sir, aren’t you ashamed now of your solemn, serious vanity?”

“I will make honorable amends to truth,” Sir Paul Eitherside said.

“And so will I,” Fitzdottrel said. “But these two men — Wittipol and Manly — are still cheaters, and they have my land, as plotters with my wife, who, although she is not a witch, is worse — she is a whore!”

“Sir, you misrepresent her,” Manly said. “She is chaste and virtuous,and we are honest men. I know of no glory aman would hope to acquire by proclaiming his own follies, but you’ll still be an ass, in spite of providence and God’s gifts.”

He then said to Sir Paul Eitherside, “Please go in, sir, and hear the truth, and then judge these men, and make amends for your late rashness, when you shall hear about the pains and care that were taken to save from ruin this fool: his Grace of Drowned-land!”

“My land is drowned indeed,” Fitzdottrel said.

“Be quiet!” Sir Paul Eitherside ordered Fitzdottrel.

Manly added, “And you shall hear how much his modest and too worthy wife has suffered being misunderstood by him; you will blush, first for your own belief in what you thought were her faults, but you will blush more for his actions.

“His land is his, and never, by my friend or by myself, was it meant to be put to any other use except to benefit her — his wife — who has equal right to the land. If any other had worse counsels regarding Fitzdottrel’s land —”

Manly looked at Merecraft and Everill and said, “I know I speak to those who can understand me.”

He then continued, “— let them repent their sins, and be not detected. It is not manly to take joy or pride in human errors; we all do ill things. They do them worst who love them, and dwell there until the plague comes. The few who have the seeds of goodness left will sooner make their way to a true life by shame, than by punishment.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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