Beggary/Buggery and Oedipal Conflict in Thomas Middleton’s The Phoenix 

Patrick J. Cook,
George Washington University

Cook, Patrick J. “Beggary/Buggery and Oedipal Conflict in Thomas Middleton’s The Phoenix". Early Modern Literary Studies 12.2 (September, 2006) 3.1-21<URL:>.


  1. After several years of collaborating on plays that have disappeared, or at least have not come down to us with his name securely attached, Thomas Middleton in 1603 made his first surviving unassisted contribution to the English stage.  Composed in anticipation of King James' arrival in London following the death of Elizabeth, The Phoenix has been generally understood to be a play intended to entertain or instruct the new king.[1] Like the closely contemporary and in many ways closely related Measure for Measure, the play portrays the English court and society under a foreign guise and orders its plot around the uncovering of societal ills by a disguised magistrate.[2]  Following a practice popularized by Jonson in comedy and Marston in tragedy, Middleton locates his action in Italy, in English eyes the homeland of Machiavellian intrigue and sexual perversion.  Framing episodes in the city and countryside are the long opening and closing scenes in the court of Ferrara, chosen probably because it was the site of a bitter and prolonged struggle over succession that had recently come to a notorious end when, in the absence of a legitimate heir, the Este court reverted in 1597 to papal rule.

  2. With very few exceptions, modern students of Middleton have found little to admire in the play, which is generally considered primitive and immature.[3] It is this essay's contention that the prevailing view is mistaken, indeed that The Phoenix inaugurates in a most impressive way the career of a playwright whose life-long accomplishment has only recently been acknowledged and is only beginning to be understood.  The play is immature, I contend, only in the sense that its concerns are primal, the concerns of depth psychology, and it is awkward only in that its ordering principles are not those of the everyday "realism" for which Middleton's later plays have been somewhat confusedly praised, but the oblique and elusive processes of the Renaissance Imaginary.  This is not to say that the play ignores the historically topical. As do Middleton's later plays, it includes precise and detailed attention to contemporary trends and events in politics and society.  But, again as in the later plays, its analysis of English social reality is a psycho-analysis. It is only natural that the accession of a king, the new patriarchal figure who both enables and prohibits, would intensify a nation's collective meditation upon the family romance, and most particularly upon the Oedipus complex, and this may never have been more true than in the seventeenth century, when royal absolutism made its boldest stand. As he begins his career, upon the accession of a king who in Basilikon Doron announced his determination to install from above a patriarchal-absolutist ideology that his cleverer predecessor had studiously avoided enunciating too clearly, Middleton offers an acute analysis of the kingdom, the family, and the self, in all of their complex inter-connections.

  3. The play's responsiveness to a particular historical confluence is evident in its author's first treatment of a prominent profession.  Written for the Children of Paul's and an audience dominated by young men from the Inns of Court studying law, the play offers a trenchant portrait of the legal profession through the attorney Tangle, whose current sum of twenty-nine lawsuits is financed by litigants' payments for "knavish counsel, little to their profit" (1.4.165) that he offers every legal term from "inns and places of most receipt" (161).  Although a participant in the British drama's time-honoured satire of the law and its officers, this first example of the corruption examined by the disguised Phoenix eludes the more obvious stage stereotypes.  He is recognizable as a member of the profession's "lower branch," that expanding population of amateurs, part-timers, and downright crooks who supported what the legal historian C. W. Brooks calls "the awesome increase in the number of lawsuits" during Elizabeth's reign (57).  This group was the object of considerable alarm, most notably following the 1596 appointment of Lord Keeper Thomas Egerton, who called them "caterpillars of the common weal," a phrase echoed in Phoenix's view of Tangle as a "busy caterpillar" (1.4.103).  In addition to being considered non-productive parasites, lawyers and especially the lower branch were, again in Egerton's angry formulation, "Petty Foggers and Vipers of the Common Wealth" who sowed "Dissention between man and man" (C. W. Brooks 139). Onto such views was grafted a class bias aggravated by the upward social mobility of successful pettifoggers, which often came at the expense of the landed aristocracy.  "It was widely viewed," writes Brooks, "that such practitioners were men of base birth and mean education" (136). Even worse, it was commonly believed "that the men most likely to become attorneys were those who had been unsuccessful in their own trades or broken by their own intemperate litigiousness" (Brooks 136).  The authorities' response to the situation, Brooks notes, included a series of bills in Parliament from 1580 through 1629 limiting the number of legal practitioners and a radical move by the new king, who in 1604 prohibited entry into the Inns of Court by anyone below the rank of gentleman by descent.

  4. If Tangle can be accused of parasitism and social disruption, he cannot be accused of success, or at least not the kind of success that stereotypes of money-grubbing lawyers might lead an audience to expect.[4] In his forty-five years as a "term-trotter" Tangle has been "at least sixteen times beggared, and got up again" (1.4.123-24), compulsively repeating the pattern of failure through intemperate litigiousness followed by practice as counsel for other litigants.  This repetition begins to open into the kind of psychoanalysis in which Middleton specializes when Tangle reveals that his current twenty-nine suits are "all not worth forty shillings" (131).  His motivation, surprisingly, is not profit.  When the prince registers his and our astonishment at this deviation from the stereotypical attorney, Tangle explains that "the pleasure of a man is all" (133).  What the prince is discovering, in addition to pervasive corruption, is the pervasive operation of a fully eroticized pleasure principle.  For the legal caterpillars, this principle generates a relentless struggle for domination that the play's punning language--and, no doubt, Middleton's stagecraft--renders sodomitical, an activity that combines the aggressive contentiousness and the wasteful non-productivity assigned to them in contemporary documents.  Although none of the scholarship on the play is willing to say the name, Tangle's "beggaring" puns on "buggering."[5]  In response to his repeatedly being beggared / buggered, Tangle asserts himself in kind.  Finding "sweet pleasure. . . to see that fellow a beggar" (113-15), he has "vex'd and beggared the whole parish with process, subpoenas, and suchlike molestations" (142-43).  Once we notice that Tangle's world is constructed around this form of competition, his speeches reveal themselves so laden with phallic aggression, and so dependent upon the traditional binary above-active / below-passive, that few of the play's teeming Latin legalisms, which surely outnumber those in any other contemporary play, fail to function as double entendres.  Sub-poenas, indeed! 

  5. Middleton adds depth to Tangle's character by creating a mysterious traumatic event in his past.  We first learn of this event when he admits, "I stood not a' th' pillory for nothing in eighty-eight, all the world knows that. Now let me dispatch you sir: I come to you, presenter" (1.4.80-83). Laboring without recognition of the sodomitical subtext, previous scholars have sought a historical model for the character, someone widely known to have been punished in the year of the Armada.  But the sexual connotations of "dispatch" and "come" suggest continuity with his present habit of sex crimes, and "nothing," by the familiar Renaissance equation nothing equals zero equals pudenda, indicates that Tangle is proud to have played the active part.[6]  The homoerotic subtext does not really explain the date of Tangle's overthrow, but it adds overdeterminations that make reference to a time of crisis meaningful.  Although evidence for punishment of sodomites at the pillory does not exist until the later seventeenth century, and although there is no specific evidence of increased enforcement of the Henrician statute making sodomy a capital crime, the Spanish threat brought increased surveillance and stricter enforcement of the laws in general.[7]  There is no reason to assume that there would not have been heightened repression of a sexual practice that, as Lawrence Stone observes, "had become closely associated in official thinking with religious heresy" (309).  It was the Jesuits, after all, who plotted so actively in support of Philip's invasion, and "who came to embody in popular mythology the identification of Popery with homosexuality" (Bray 20).  New evidence, again highly provocative but ultimately elusive, arrives in the following act.  After winning a hilarious sword-fight in which parries and thrusts visually transform Tangle's discussion of legal strategies with Justice Falso into competitive buggery, Tangle recalls being "overthrown in eighty-eight by a tailor" (2.3.254-55).  Perhaps Tangle's victory combines with his long intimacy with Falso to allow him to admit a subordinate position in contradiction to the popular understanding of his scandal.  The pun on tail-er invites further speculation, but not of the sort the passages have previously elicited from scholars.  In any event, the contradiction and carefully limited information of this event tease the audience toward the same type of indirect analysis required by such devices as puns and slips of the tongue.[8]  The Henrician statute was the product of Parliament's "appropriating to its sovereign king the property and authority of the Roman church in England" (Mager 143).  All that is clear about the event of 1588 is that the bodies of Tangle and a tailor he declined or declines to implicate publicly came into conflict with their status as the property of the king.  The rest of the play will add resonance to this scenario, and the closing scene will complete the process of claiming this property left uncompleted at the pillory.

  6. The sodomitical aspect of the justice system extends beyond the corrupt city.  After being robbed in the countryside, Phoenix and his companion Fidelio bring an apprehended highwayman before the local magistrate, Falso, who turns out as well to be the lord of the robbers.  In the city, Tangle's lecherous tangle of associates is not entirely competitive; he panders by providing his own attorney with clients to "dispatch" (1.4.180) and, in return, his attorney "gapes for money" (2.3.210).  In the country such cooperation is more developed, perhaps because its leader has risen from a position of lowly thieving "venery" (3.1.57) to a secure one from which he claims to "take my ease, sit in my chair, look in your faces now, and rob you" (61-63).  "Oh, there is nothing to a thief under covert bar'n!" he exclaims, applying the law placing wives under their husband's protection to his den of male thieves.  Through its series of double entendres, the mock trial of his own servant Furtivo sustains the play's reduction of law to homoerotic competition.  Furtivo identifies himself as "a piece next to the tail, sir--a servingman" (3.1.97) and is accordingly punished with the sentence, "I'll make you lie in my own house" (187).  The result is a kind of buggery of the robbed Phoenix and Fidelio, for as the Niece imprisoned as Falso's ward later reveals, "they boldly look you in the face that robb'd you" (215), with "face" standing here and throughout the play for the anus.[9]  Falso's household specializes in consensual buggery among its members and group predatory sex when outsiders can be victimized.

  7. As is the case throughout the play, homoeroticism for Falso does not preclude interest in women.  It does, however, seem to inflect the form this interest takes.  Falso's attempted seduction of his ward at first appears, to the victim at least, to trangress through what the Niece calls his "incestuous will" (2.3.78).  But Falso is what Thomas Dekker in 1 Honest Whore calls a "back-doord Italian."[10]  The niece seems only gradually to understand the double meaning of Falso's excited response to her valiant declaration, "In this alone most women I'll excel, / I'll rather yield to beggary than to hell" (84-85).  When she later asks the prince if he has heard "the sum of all my wrongs" (3.1.232), their plurality suggests a dawning awareness that her uncle is "bad against nature" (231) in more ways than one.[11]  In the end, when Phoenix charges that Falso "against nature and humanity assays to abuse her body" (5.1.123-24), her equal weighing of "loathed lust or despised beggary" (138) implies full awareness.  But this awareness would have long before dawned on the original audience.  The anal destination of Falso's incestuous desire opens an opportunity for Middleton to exploit the conditions of representation in the boys' theater.  The niece's first entry provokes the visiting Knight's admiring survey of his / her "pretty, fine, slender, straight, delicate-knit body / Oh, how it moves a pleasure through our senses" (1.6.127-29).  Such intense scrutiny can only serve to superimpose upon the Knight's heterosexual desire one actor's implied desire for the other.  The plural "our," and whatever accompanying glance or gesture was used to support it, associates the audience with Falso's preference. In Father Hubbard's Tales, the speaker notes that Blackfriars contains a "nest of boys able to ravish a man" (77).  Here we observe this ravishment enacted.  If, as Bruce Smith argues, the Inns of Court "fostered the homosexual potentiality in male bonding" (72), Middleton again reveals how well he knows his audience.

  8. The third major character caught in the play's tangle of sodomitical competition is the Captain, who first attempts to offer his wife sexually to Proditor and then, in one of Middleton's most outrageous scenes, actually sells her as a piece of property.  His legal involvement in conveyance of property occasions his entanglement, and his entanglement in turn provides insight into connections between sodomy and depth-psychological configurations.  He is driven to dissatisfaction with his married state by a quite astonishing combination of factors.  Marriage to saintly Castiza has quickly produced a strong sense of sexual inadequacy: "You think, as most of your insatiate widows, / That captains can do wonders, when 'las, / The name does often prove the better man" (1.2.87-89). To this dispiriting dysfunction Middleton adds greed and both homosocial and heterosexual appeals when the Captain's "soldiering fellows" remind him of opportunities for piracy, comradery, and easy wenches in every port. Their reminder launches him into an elaborate fantasy about a "rammish" plowman's syphilitic elder son who "sows apace i' th' country; the tailor overtakes him i' th' city" (58-59).  Envy of this fantasy figure leads quickly to resentment toward his own father: "Would my father had held a plow so, and fed upon squeez'd curds and onions, that I might have bath'd in sensuality.  But he was too ruttish to let me thrive under him" (63-65). A profound ambiguity emerges: it is unclear whether the Captain regrets his father's failure to bugger him while he beggared him, or the selfish failure to satisfy him sexually in their incestuous act.  In "A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis" Freud writes of "an obsessional neurosis in which the unresolved conflict between a masculine and a feminine attitude (fear of and desire for castration) was quite plainly expressed" (87). If, on the one hand, the Captain is regretting an unrequited desire for the father, the play is adumbrating that his sexual dysfunction in marriage results from regression to the narcissism of the "feminine attitude," in which he yields to the demand for castration out of desire for the father.[12]  If, on the other hand, he resents the father's imposition of power without pleasure, the play is suggesting that dysfunction has arisen from a fear of castration that has now been re-focused on the female, specifically on a wife whose alleged insatiability echoes the father's rammishness. Either situation would direct libido toward a same-sex object.  And if both are present, the Captain displays an uresolved conflict as insistent as that of Freud's neurotic analysand.  In the Captain Middleton offers a living reminder that, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (20) observes, no "primary or necessary relationship" links male homosexuality and misogyny.  Rather, we are shown possible psychic mechanisms whereby his particular background allows him to take interest only in port-of-call whores and both to equate his wife's sexuality with theirs and to find her repulsive.  Failure to resolve an unsatisfactory oedipal relationship has left him ill-equipped to perform the phallic functions that accompany and symbolize the Law of the Father.  He is destined to become an outlaw without a family and without prospects for success even within the sodomitical realm. 

  9. The complications of gender identity found in the Captain's fantasy continue in the dramatic action.  The homosocial bonding openly staged--"Here's my hand among you; share it equally" (1.2.35)--shades into a woman-hating homoeroticism, first in the suspicion of Phoenix, who declares the marriage salvageable "If he be good, and will abide the touch" (1.1.163), and then in his relationship with Proditor, who in purchasing the reviled object also abuses him sexually.  The relationship is at first pleasureable, and Proditor seems more interested in the man than the woman, though modern texts obscure this fact.  Consider their first staged interchange:
    'Tis good to make much of such a man:
    E'en to my face he plies it hard--I thank him.
    Enter Proditor.
    Cap. What, my worthy lord?
    Prod.                                                       I'll come to you
    In order, Captain. [Kisses Castiza.]
    Cap. Oh, that's in order!
    A kiss is the gamut to pricksong.
    Prod. Let me salute you, Captain.      [Exit Castiza.]
    Cap.                                        My dear
    Esteemed count, I have a life for you.  (1.2.96-103)
    The stage directions whereby Proditor kisses Castiza and Castiza exits originate in the Victorian edition by Alexander Dyce, who apparently could not conceive of an erotic relationship between the men and missed the opportunity Middleton offers for the Captain to abuse his wife by ignoring her in favor of the man who "salutes" him and for whom he would "have a life," allowing the count to "die" orgasmically.  Their subsequent conversation has been similarly bowdlerised.  When Proditor divulges that the prince is travelling with the Captain's stepson, Fidelio, the Captain responds, "then I begin to fear him myself; that fellow will undo him. . . . h'as a whorish conscience" (120-23).  Brooks explains away "to fear him" as "to be apprehensive for his safety."  But in projecting a whorish conscience onto, of all people, Fidelio, the Captain explains both in what sense Fidelio will "undo" the prince and the reason such undoing would make the prince fearsome.[13]  If, seduced by Fidelio, Phoenix should enter into the tangle of sodomitical competition, he would be a formidable opponent indeed, not least because of the double-gendering and repeatable "dying" implicit in his mythological identity, factors that the gender-confused and sexually inadequate Captain might well intuit.  Once Castiza actually leaves the stage, which is not required until line 127, the two men can speak yet more openly, and Proditor's closing line, "Not many months Phoenix shall keep his life" need not be labelled an aside, as modern editions invariably have it, for the Captain would surely appreciate the joke on orgasmic "dying" just as he would understand the dangerous message he has received about the prince.

  10. Proditor's subsequent betrayal of the Captain, which he announces with "I love the pearl thou sold'st, hate thee, the seller. / Go to sea, the end of thee--is lousy" (2.2.231), explains the Captain's otherwise unexplainable descent at this point into an intense neurotic despair.  The put-down of the latter line, which can be read as either phallic or anal and which the Captain repeats verbatim twenty-six lines later, produces a funk that prompts Fidelio, one assumes without knowing that he is continuing the insult, to inquire, "What, drooping?" (267)  The conversation then traces the crisis in the Captain's sexual identity:
    Phoe.  Or asham'd of the sale of thine own wife?
    Cap.  You might count me an ass, then, i'faith.
    Phoe.  If not asham'd of that, what can you be asham'd of, then?
    Cap.  Prithee, ha' done; I am asham'd of nothing.
    Phoe.  [aside] I easily believe that.
    Cap.  This lord sticks in my stomach.
    Phoe. How? Take one of thy feathers down, and fetch him up.
    Fid. I'd make him come.  (268-77)
    Although he rejects being an ass, his already precarious phallic identity is receding.  This is confirmed in "I am ashamed of nothing," which rephrases Proditor's insult and, again through the equation nothing equals zero equals pudenda, reflects the Captain's gender-changing castration.  Phoenix's comic assumption of oral incorporation ignores the change, though Fidelio seems wiser than he admits to being.  As the conversation turns to the Duke and Fidelio, the Captain grows more confused, or at least confusing, projecting his own sex-change onto his son-in-law while he punningly indulges in the parthenogenetic fantasy that so often accompanies misogyny, and that Freud believes frequently accompanies the "feminine attitude" toward the father:
    Cap.  As for the duke, he's abroad by this time, and for Fidelio, he's in labor.
    Phoe.  He in labor?
    Cap.  What call you travelling?  (281-85)
    Beaten by the uncovering pair, he is soon on the ground--"Thou shouldst choose to sink / To keep thy baseness shrouded" (291-92).  Finding himself "a poor unfeathered rover" (330), he will soon exit the play impoverished, exiled, unmanned, degraded as fully as the play's psycho-sexual dynamics can manage.[14] 

  11. The Captain's status as, in Brooks' words, "the first pirate (or privateering) captain of any importance" (115) on the English stage, occasions further Middletonian links between social issues and depth psychology.  Reviewing James' early efforts to curb privateering, which blurred the line between patriotic guerrilla warfare on the seas and lawless profiteering,  Brooks writes:
    Thus, the ambiguity of the Captain's status may well be a reflection of the ambiguity of the privateering captain's status in 1603, when The Phoenix was probably written: he still retained in the popular mind some of the reflected glory of Elizabethan times, of the Drakes and Hawkinses and Raleighs, but was officially no longer approved of (117).
    More is played to in the piracy theme than contemporary concern over peace with Spain and the safety of trade routes.  In 1413 piracy was classified as high treason, subjecting those convicted to the most gruesome of executions.[15]  Moreover, as Jacques Lezra writes in a discussion of Measure for Measure, the closest Shakespearean analog to The Phoenix, "not only were pirates notorious decapitators, themselves under threat of decapitation, but that association itself was oddly a part of the legal ambivalence of their status."  He continues:
    The notion of 'decapitation' and the idea of piracy were already so overdetermined that no 'decapitation' could be alluded to, and no 'pirate' could be brought on stage, without as it were 'striking awry' and threatening with erasure the very laws. . . such props or staged events seemed destine to authorize (275).[16]
    Shakespeare brings the head of the pirate Ragazine onstage as the Duke continues his renewal of the Law.  Middleton's method is, typically, more oblique, relying on his audience's associations to connect the Captain's unmanning and the symbolic form of castration that is decapitation, to make, in other words, the classic Freudian equation of the two.[17]  The pirate's threat to the king's law is thus dual.  On the one hand the pirate captain's authority, often exercised arbitrarily and ruthlessly, competes with the king's, constituting a ship-state independent of the ship of state; at stake is the supreme issue of sovereignty, as was the case in the Henrician sodomy statute.  On the other hand, the ruthless and arbitrary captain serves as an instructive image of the king, deconstructing the nature of royal absolutism and pointing to the oedipal rivalry that underlay the absolutist king's assertive paternalism.[18]

  12. If sodomy represents an unproductive perversion of the law, it also, as we have glimpsed in the Captain's murky depths, represents a continuation of the more basic underlying competition between men, the oedipal rivalry of father and son.  Connecting the subplots surrounding the three major sodomitical figures is the story of the old duke's relation with his son.  The play opens with a complicated act of misrecognition:

    Duke:  My Lords,
    Know that we, far from any natural pride,
    Or touch of temporal sway, have seen our face
    In our grave council's foreheads, where doth stand 
    Our truest glass, made by time's wrinkled hand.
    We know we're old; my days proclaim me so.
    Familiar with the play's bawdy development of "face," we can see that the furrowed brows of the grave council reflect the age written into his literal face, but not the impulses represented by his figurative one. When Phoenix later distinguishes between the "wild nobility" and the "sad council," we understand that the original staging could have already distinguished between the three named speaking nobles and the anonymous group of silent elders.  In other words, the Duke looks upon the latter group, reading his reflected age, but he listens to the former, who embody his own desires.  He publicly worries that by ruling "gently" (1.1.7) he has erred,"for there's as much disease, though not to th' eye, / In too much pity as in tyranny" (9-10), but he acts on the advice of those who in effect have thrived wantonly during the silence of his superego. The result is, by his own perhaps unwitting admission, "a kingdom all in pieces" (1.1.49).

  13. Fortunately, he continues, he has a son worthy to assume the throne.  But, Proditor points out, young Phoenix is untravelled, and in what editors invariably label asides, but which are something less precisely identifiable, the evil counselor announces his own plans for the prince: "Ay, ay, would he were from court!" (19); "O, he should ne'er return again" (25). What is remarkable about the king's response is that he immediately agrees to Proditor's proposal to send the prince abroad, despite the fact that he has just announced his own imminent demise, which should make the the heir's continuing presence imperative.  Although critics are silent on the illogicality, presumably excusing it as the playwright's immature craftsmanship, Phoenix recognizes the problem:
                    I wonder much
    Which of his wild nobility it should be
    (For none of his sad council has a voice in't),
    Should so far travel into his consent,
    To set me over into other kingdoms,
    Upon the stroke and minute of his death? (77-82)
    With the play on "nobility," which adds the implication of an internal quality of the Duke to its primary reference to the evil noblemen of the court, Middleton makes use of an ambiguity continually created in the allegorical plays that have conditioned his audience's response.[19]  The three semi-allegorical nobles, whose names are drawn from Florio's influential Italian dictionary, Proditor ("traitor"), Lussirioso ("lecherous"), and Infesto ("odious"), are at once external exploiters of the duke's laxity and internal aspects of his "wildness," a term that associates regressive erotic indiscipline with the decline in social order under the failing Law. The dream-like splitting of the duke has two implications which are compressed in Fidelio's cryptic answer to Phoenix's question: "My lord, 'tis easier to suspect them all, / Than truly to name one."  In addition to its more obvious meaning, the inseparability of the duke's components, the response points to the fact that it is indeed easier to suspect the three counselors than to name the one Duke they comprise, since naming the father would openly acknowledge oedipal rivalry, a rivalry that the play continually insists upon, but indirectly, through the more usual Freudian devices.  The Duke, for example, barely recovers from a parapraxis announcing his hostility when, after praising his son's studiousness, he proclaims, "I weep that you are my son, / But virtuously I weep, the more for gladness" (34-5).  "Virtuously" unwittingly, etymologically through its Latin root and perhaps as well adding Machiavellian connotations appropriate to the Italian setting, manifests the aggressive masculinity occluded by its innocent meaning.  "The more" mouths the Duke's attempted assertion of greater gladness even as it qualifies what it is intended to assert. 

  14. As scholarship on the play recognizes, the duke's forty-five year reign identifies him with Elizabeth, who died in the forty-fifth year of her reign. What has not been previously emphasized is that this identification underscores the play's divergence from history.  By changing the gender of the reigning monarch, Middleton introduces for our meditation the psychodynamics of the early modern state and the early modern theater.  The oedipal hostility implicit in the son's banishment is countered by Phoenix's decision to "stay at home, and travel" (86-87), a blatantly casuistical formula that avoids overt disobedience, which is notably the only thing he admits to owing the Duke--"What you desire, in me it is obedience: / I do obey in all" (52-53)--and all, apparently, that the Duke requires of his son.  Their relationship, in other words, is centered on the issue of who owns and who obeys the Law. The formula also allows him to begin his reign somewhat prematurely by initiating the surveillance aspect of the scopic regime upon which monarchical power depends.[20]  The urgency and the nature of his quest are compressed in his variation upon the sun image, which would eliminate any nightly interim: "And therefore I hold it a safer stern upon this lucky advantage, since my father is near his setting, and I upon the eastern hill to take my rise, to look into the heart and bowels of this dukedom" (99-100). For an audience finely attuned to the semiotics of the body, Phoenix names two of the four body parts that figured prominently in the public executions used by the state to assert with maximum visual impact its ownership of the subject's body, and most commonly for the offense Proditor embodies.[21]  A third organ, the privy member, is now under contestation, as is its upwardly displaced equivalent, the head. Paradoxically, especially given the regime of torture here invoked, since the ruler's body and the polity's correspond, Phoenix's itinerary will trace as well a kind of self-examination.  "And therefore," Phoenix understands, echoing the self-splitting he sees in his father's counselors' "travel into his consent," "I nothing doubt but to find travel enough within myself, and experience, I fear, too much" (108-9).  What does he fear to uncover both within and without?  Precisely the ineluctable hostility upon which the self is fashioned in the oedipal conflict.  Continuing the kind of topological, inside / outside problematization that will meaningfully complicate Middleton's drama throughout his career, Phoenix on departing the court literally travels toward where the actor playing him already is, arriving at "A Room in an Inn" filled with Inns of Court students.  Here he begins his quest to become the Law by encountering the law before an audience very interested in both upper and lower case versions, in both the grand psycho-sociological, Imaginary image of authority and its multifarious Symbolic codifications.

  15. The maternal vertex of the family triangle is held offstage in the royal plot, only to be introduced in the story of Castiza's marriage to the Captain. And yet, the prince's concerns are never separated definitively from those of his double.  The prince, one should notice, is part of a conceptual "family," serving with Castiza and Fidelio as one of the three Christian virtues, since he is introduced as his people's "hopes" (1.1.14) and is repeatedly associated with the term in the opening and closing scenes.[22] The approaching mother-son dynamic of Fidelio is foreshadowed in symptomatic banter with a groom at the inn:

    Phoe.  Their beasts?
    Groom:  Their wenches, I mean, sir; for your worship knows that those that are under men are beasts.
    Phoe.  How does your mother?
    Groom.  Very well in health, I thank you heartily, sir.
    Phoe. And so is my mare i'faith.  (1.4.9-14)
    Phoenix's reference to the proverbially lustful mare, which Bruce Boehrer in another context cogently calls a traditional "metaphorical placeholder for the wanton woman" (128), suggests that he is not entirely free of the Captain's misogyny.  Nor does the the mare's role as the animal most commonly appearing in Renaissance cases of bestial buggery simplify the audience's evaluation of the introspective prince.[23]  The pun on mare / mere does more than express ambivalence toward a mother who carries the father rather than the son.  Since the horses of Phoenix and Fidelio are earlier in the scene described as geldings (as are the horses of Falso's buggering highwaymen), its change of sex to a mare confirms that this world operates according to the infantile fantasy rules of the Imaginary, where castration is both the threat the father poses and the way a male, for better or for worse, becomes a female.  The "beasts" reference, moreover, will return later in the scene when Phoenix blames Castiza for her wrong choice in the oedipal competition, which instead of remaining localized within the family romance of any individual character moves about through effortless displacement.  Most specifically now it is Fidelio's turn to oppose the father figure, whose marriage to his mother, he declares in language manifesting the play's tendency to internalize exterior action, "knew nothing of my mind, it never flourished / In any part of my affection" (1.1.160-61). Immediately following this declaration, the play's second scene echoes the first when the Captain enters, like the Duke, with three attendants, "soldiering fellows" who, though lacking allegorical names, represent the impulse to disorder in the familial realm, threatening a fragmented household to echo the kingdom in pieces.   After they convince the Captain to abandon Castiza and resume a life of plunder upon the sea, Proditor arrives to connect the two plots, and no doubt to remind us of the legal status of the Captain's piracy. 

  16. Thanks to the researches of Mark Eccles, P. G. Phialas, and John Brooks, it is now well known that Middleton used the Castiza-Captain plot to satirize his own step-father, Thomas Harvey, a self-styled "Captain" whose repeated attempts to acquire the wealth of the playwright's mother, Anne--Middleton's own inheritance--embroiled the family in years of contentious litigation. One of course cannot know how he would characterize the relation between the play's meanings to its author and to its audience.  It is clear, however, that whether or not representation of events from his own family romance proved therapeutic, it certainly energized his writing and stagecraft.  For our purpose the most interesting detail from the court records is Harvey's 1600 testimony that in 1596 Anne, Thomas, and two in-laws spread the false news that "your said Subject was deade beyonde the seas" (Phialas 193).  The autobiographical matrix may in fact explain the conspicuously mysterious use of numbers in the play, a practice to which Middleton will regularly return throughout his career.  No one has ventured to explain the Captain's claim that "it had been better. . . I had lost my credit seven year ago" (2.2.9), or the chronology of Phoenix's diatribe against the disorder of his father's rule:
    So much have the complaints and suits of men, seven, nay, seventeen years neglected, still interposed by coin and great enemies, prevailed with my pity, that I cannot otherwise think but there are infectious dealings in most offices, and foul mysteries throughout all professions.  (1.1.103ff.).
    Seven years is one of the most common periods in both popular and arcane number traditions, but for Middleton it clearly has personal implications as well and will appear throughout his works in association with issues of inheritance. It was in Middleton's seventh year, proverbially a "climacteric" of change, that, following the death of his father a short time before his sixth birthday, Anne Middleton remarried.  In his seventeenth year Middleton came of age as an aspiring author with the completion of his first book, The Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased, the oedipal significance of which is evident in the very title.  At this age he also experienced, or rather if Harvey is to be believed, staged his second, this time unlamented and untrue, death of the father.  The parapraxis "seven, nay, seventeen" symptomatically acknowledges the connection between the two events.  In the above passage, as Phoenix asserts that he has felt "pity" for the sufferings allowed by the ruler whose imminent setting will allow his rise, Middleton is recalling (presumably only to himself, though to and from what part of himself is an issue beyond analysis) watershed moments in his psychological development, both by naming the ages of these moments and, in a "magical" coincidence that may have led to the number play in the first place, by pointing to these years through subtraction of seven and seventeen from 1603, which also is the terminus ad quem for his mother's death.[24] Since the play is, among other things, a communication from its author to his king, it is also interesting that James is being offered a similar numerical relationship to the text.  Seventeen years before the play the historical counterpart of the old Duke, a castrating female like Castiza and a chaste virgin queen, ordered Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.  As Jonathan Goldberg notes, James at the time showed every evidence of agreeing with the Elizabethan establishment's portrayal of his mother's treasonous perfidy.  A decade later his emotional investment was very different.  Seven years before the play, in a complaint about her portrayal in The Faerie Queene, "attempting in 1596 to save the memory of his mother, he wished also to rewrite history and his role in her death" (Goldberg 16).  The diachronic splitting of Middleton's good and bad father, and the synchronic splitting of the play's mother figure, which we shall soon examine, might be seen to combine in the successive splitting of James' mother. 

  17. The scene in which the Captain sells his wife to Proditor allows both Phoenix and Fidelio to embody the ambivalence that always surrounds the oedipal configuration. No less meaningfully strange than the Duke's ordering his son abroad, and no less ignored by the existing criticism, is the fact that Phoenix plays the role of a farmer's son.  His chosen role is truly "uncanny," in the fully Freudian sense of the term, which in his essay on the subject Freud defines as "something which is secretly familiar [heimlich-heimisch], which has undergone repression and then returned from it"  (245).  The emergence on stage of a figure only recently dredged up from the traumatized Captain's unconcious produces momentary disbelief: "Cap.  [aside to Fidelio] A farmer's son, is't true?" (2.2.59).  The Captain is now poised to combine with the degradation of his wife a swindling revenge upon the fantasy person his father prevented him from being.  While he takes the country rube's money, he also indulges in fantasy that reveals the depth of his hostility, and not only toward the son: "some filthy farmer's son--the father's a Jew and the son a gentleman--Faugh!" (77-78).[25]  Like a number of Freud's patients, this neurotic cannot help revealing his association of circumcized Jews with the castrating father.[26] But this is not the scene's only example of oedipal hostility.  With Phoenix seeking to invest in the Captain's privateering venture and Fidelio acting as a scrivener recording the sale of Castiza, the disguised young men assist in the whoring of their mother and the cuckolding of their father.  The prince is limited in his ablity to continue repressing his hostility.  Once Proditor departs, he declares, "I am yet sick of this.  Discover quickly" (262).  But immediately preceding the removal of disguise, the identities of the various parties undergo a significant blurring:
    Phoe.  But what if the duke should hear of this?
    Fid.  Ay, or your son-in-law Fidelio knows of the sale of his mother?
    Cap.  What and they did?  I sell none but mine own.  As for the duke, he's abroad by this time.  (281-85).
    It is not clear if Phoenix, or Fidelio, or both share the Captain's identification of the son as the Duke, but we are surely invited to consider the possiblities. Ambiguity begins with the paralepsis "Ay (phonetically "I") or your son in law Fidelio knows (not "should hear of" but already knows)."  As a device to include all of the possibilities, ambiguity stages the tenuousness of differentiated identities that plagues the oedipal conflict.  Contributing to the polysemic breakdown of difference is "abroad," which can imply foreign travel or its opposite.  The Captain may know that young Duke is abroad in foreign lands, the old Duke abroad in the land, and therefore either the source of order, or its opposite, the facilitator of the family in pieces.  Or the Captain may imply that the young Duke is abroad in the land and therefore in a position to witness the sale.  The latter reading would suggest the Captain's unconscious recognition of Phoenix, a complication of his uncanny recognition of him as a shadowy figure from his fantasized past.  Nor can one write off "abroad" as an anal insult, a wish that Fidelio's undoing might take a different form from what was earlier envisioned, in which case his step-son would imitate the revenge upon the Captain's father that the Captain is enacting by beggaring the farmer's son, with of course the same person victimized by both. 

  18. The identification of the Duke and Captain merely by their functional titles, their badges of the Law, assists the dreamwork fusion of the characters that coexists with their distinct identities in the play's realistic dimension. A different kind of splitting of the mother figure links Castiza to the Jeweller's Wife, who pays lavishly for sex with the Knight, whom she addresses as "my Pleasure."  In contrast to the paternal vertex, where there appears to be no possibility for anything positive, the splitting of the mother is a polarization into the good and bad object in accord with Melanie Klein's theory of object relations.[27]  Contrasted to the heroically chaste Castiza, the Wife is obsessed with her paramour's phallic potential.  We first encounter her awaiting his arrival filled with castration anxiety at the news that he was last seen visiting the barber: "A barber's shop?  Oh, he's a trim knight!  Would he venture his body into a barber's shop when he knows 'tis as dangerous as a piece of Ireland?" (1.5.5-7).  The passage caters to the English habit of demonizing the Irish as castrating barbarians.[28]  But the play of alterity is again more complex, prefiguring Middleton's later experiments.  Yet once more he connects the familial oedipal scenario, inevitably accompanied by castration fantasy, to the state's punishment regime, since for the original audience the Irish reference would inescapably recall the 1601 beheading of Essex following his ill-fated Irish campaign and rebellion, the most spectacular execution of the closing years of Elizabeth's reign.[29] This was an event much on people's minds in 1603, when Essex's great rival, Raleigh, with whom Middleton's captain is tied through a complex web of associations, was tried and convicted for treason.[30] But The Phoenix is more farce than tragedy, and the son who helped sell the "good mother" can sexually encounter the "bad mother" with impunity.  This primal scene, unusual in that the son can both participate and observe, and thereby continue his usurpation of the father, takes place in the "blind parlor" (4.1.207) kept dark by the Jeweller's Wife. Phoenix, however, manages briefly to "snatch in a light," which in addition to allowing him to recognize his partner allows her to make a more complicated (mis?)recognition.  "Now out upon the marmoset!", she exclaims, at once making "a playful reproach (as to a child)" (Brooks ed. 349), boldly proclaiming the instrument of her desire, and identifying the animal on the coat of arms granted Middleton's father in 1568.[31]  Again the personal reference joins the transpersonal to create a scene resonant with interpretive challenges.

  19. Following the encounter in the blind parlour, in which the outing of a marmoset, the giving of a purse and a diamond that is "always in the eye" (4.2.87) of the husband, and reference to quarrelling and riding a "great horse" (72) suggest bawdy stage possibilities that remain undeveloped on the printed page (and that I believe Middleton did not shy away from here or in later plays), the Knight for whom Phoenix substituted, in a kind of parody before-the-fact of the bed-trick in Measure for Measure, escapes imprisonment in "the Hole" (4.3.19) despite charges pressed by his "tailor" (4.3.12).  Recalling the Captain's sexual fantasy involving a father and a tailor, it is worth noting here that Middleton's father, though usually referred to in the scholarship as a bricklayer, was in a 1583 lease called a homophonic "tyler" (Eccles 1957, 518).  The Knight is rescued by a gentleman who, continuing the association of Oedipus with the state's scopic regime, blinds the arresting officer.  Borrowed from one of Robert Greene's coney-catching pamphlets, in which a knave blinds a gentleman in the commission of a robbery, Middleton's device has a gentleman blind the "First Officer," another functionally named representative of the father's Law.[32]  Thus, with farcical obliquity, does the son re-enact the incestuous liaison of Oedipus while the father suffers his fate.[33]  The incident leads directly to the play's closing scene, where the two mother figures are visually separated. Castiza enters (5.1.193) to serve as a visual rebuke to Proditor.  Then the Jeweller's wife enters to be shamed when Phoenix produces the "purse" (225) she believed she gave to the Knight.  Of course, this separation of good and bad mothers does not make us forget that Phoenix has in effect prostituted them both. 

  20. As we might expect from the increasing ease with which Phoenix stumbles into the victor's place in the oedipal struggle, The Phoenix concludes with the son's complete triumph.  As the Duke begins to read his son's letter unveiling Proditor's treason, the presence of an authoritative father upon the chair of state links the scene to the play's opening and to the middle scene of Falso's mock trial from the "great chair" (3.1.48).  If by the second throne scene, in which Falso can claim to "sit in my chair, look in your faces now, and rob you," we have come to understand the play's sexual dynamics of buggery and oedipal conflict, the positioning of disguised Phoenix "in the presence chair" (5.1.73) or, as Brooks suggests in a stage direction, "behind the presence-chair," is provocative, to say the least.  When he advances and drops his dagger, crying "Oh, guilty, guilty!" (73) and "I am the man" (75), he is at once abandoning the possibility of buggering / slaying his father, voluntarily suffering the castration that indicates his acceptance of the father's Law, and declaring victory in the oedipal contest.  Out of this knot of contradictions the scene swiftly proceeds to the son's dominance, as he literally takes over the father's discourse through the device of the letter read from the throne. Following his discovery and his father's spontaneous abdication, the old duke manages but one more line, a pathetically confused and fearful "What's he? a guard!" (269).  Ironic echoes sound repeatedly.  Proditor is punished in a way that returns to the play of buggary and beggary.  Turning away from the sight of Castiza, he is banished "that thy face may stand perpetually / Turn'd so from ours" (197-98).  His prostrate position combines with this turn away to make his exile a form of buggery, reinforcing the meaning of the prince's earlier placement behind the throne, and further reinscribing the opening scene's banishment within the play's sexual discourse.  Proditor's self-comparison to "the serpent on his belly" (168) suggests that the action should be staged emblematically, with Phoenix now standing like St. George over the dragon, an image that has been kept before the audience through constant punning on the gold "angel" coin, easily Jacobean Londoners' most familiar rendering of the scene.[34] The owner of the blind parlor is brought to shame through recognition in a room where she thought her knight "durst not have shown his face" (215).  Falso falls below the position he most dreaded.  "I am a beggar now; worse than an innkeeper" (266), he laments, acknowledging that he will henceforth be impoverished and on the receiving end.  Finally, mad Tangle receives his boldly staged blood-letting purge--one cannot avoid viewing the scene against the background of public executions--from Quieto, who was once, like the Duke's evil counsellors, "wild" (4.1.165) and, like the non-noble characters, a perpetrator of "unnatural crimes" (166) in the practice of law.  With Tangle's quieting and the Duke's dedication to heaven (186) and subsequent lapse into silence, the easy displacements between the levels of plot come to an end.

  21.  The farcically miraculous conclusion offers the pleasure of effortless wish-fulfillment.  When critical discussion of Middleton's plays was largely a matter of separating the effective scenes from the flawed, this crowding of resolutions was read as a sign of the playwright's undeveloped craft. I propose, rather, that we view it as a foregrounding of the play's dreamwork processes, a final reminder that only a dreamer, or a fantasizing absolutist ruler, can have things turn out this way.  Given the play's repeated reference to the coercive power of a state espousing absolutism, I also propose that we read into Tangle's question, "Is't come to a cepi corpus?" (290), a profound unease about what it would take for the state to acquire the power needed to realize such fantasies.  The Phoenix exposes the Law's endless capacity for rebirth and its ever-growing reliance on control of its subjects' bodies.  James as the Phoenix and St. George may flatter the king, but the play's oedipal narratives inexorably shape its audience's response into an unresolvable ambivalence.


[1]  See, for example, the articles by Bawcutt, Dodson, and Williamson, which are representative of the tendency.

[2]  On the vexed question of influence among three disguised ruler plays written in 1603 and 1604, see the introduction to John Brooks' critical edition (70-73).  I use this edition for the text of The Phoenix, the Bullen edition for all other Middleton texts.  The evidence suggests that Middleton's is earlier than or contemporaneous with Marston's The Malcontent, also probably written in 1603, which was followed a year or so later by Measure for Measure.  Brooks is correct to claim that "it is possible that Middleton originated the duke-in-disguise plot" (70).  I believe that it is probable.

[3]  A noteworthy exception to the general disdain for the play is George Rowe's sensitive reading (26-34). For the most part, critics find the satire of the lower orders more successful than the ducal plot; see, for example, Margot Heinemann's remarks (67-72).

[4]  Lust for money is an nearly universal attribute of the stage attorney, along with utter disregard of the truth and obfuscatory rhetoric (which Tangle uses, though with his own bawdily punning style).  Perhaps the best evidence for audience expectations is the miraculous exception, which Tangle will become at the end, and which can be seen in the incorruptible Ariosto of Webster's The Devil's Law Case, the subject of the the following:

Crispiano:  But he is the very miracle of a lawyer,
One that persuades men to peace, and compounds quarrels
Among his neighbors, without going to law.
Sanitonella:  And is he a lawyer?
Crispiano: Yes, and will give counsel
In honest causes gratis; never in his life
Took fee, but he came and spake for't.  (2.1.107-13)

[5]  Theodore Leinwand recognizes the pun's importance in Michaelmas Term, but does not refer to other plays.  Frankie Rubinstein discusses "beggar" as "Whore, sometimes a bugger; arse" (23-4).  Gordon Williams’ dictionary of sexual language does not acknowledge the pun.

[6]  As Stephen Booth glosses line twelve of Shakespeare's twentieth sonnet, "'Nothing' and 'naught' were popular cant terms for 'vulva' (perhaps because of the shape of a zero)" (164).  The two most extensive studies of Shakespeare's bawdy ignore this meaning.  It is true, as Rubinstein claims, that "nothing" can also mean "copulating (pricking)" (172), and my concentration on the play's anal eroticism does not exclude Tangles's recourse to this meaning.  Middleton could even be using this overtone as a parapraxis to be enjoyed retroactively when Tangle later admits to being on the receiving end.  Freud links repetition compulsions to “mutually contradictory” drives that allow the second to “undo” the first (Problem 54); thus for Tangle beggaring / buggering undoes being beggared / buggered. 

[7]  Stone (242) notes the violence inflicted upon pilloried sodomites in the later seventeenth and in the eighteenth centuries.  Reviewing the evidence for lax enforcement under the Tudors, Donald Mager comments, "among the 72,000 executions which Holinshed claims took place during the reign of Henry VIII. none has been proved to have been under this statute, though some may have been."

[8]  Freud's classic discussion of such "parapraxes" is, of course, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.  Simon Shepherd comments perceptively on the period’s somewhat complex portrayal of tailors “both as heterosexually lecherous and (mainly) effeminate” (19).

[9]  Freud considers the face-anus equation in "A Mythological Parallel to a Visual Obsession," which studies a young man who viewed his father's face as a "behind." For a discussion of the equation's place in the rhetoric of the French Revolution, see Claude Gandelman's "Patri-arse."  Again we note Middleton's remarkable combination of boldness and censor-evading obliquity, as the homosexual king is implicitly the patri-arse, the buggered rather than the buggerer. 

[10]  Quoted in Turner 25.  See also Richard Levin's reponse to Turner's note, where he locates related expressions in Michaelmas Term, The Nice Valour, and A Game at Chess

[11]  For the original audience's opinion on the relative seriousness of heterosexual incest and buggery (which, of course, would also be incestuous, though perhaps less seriously so, since it would not produce illegitimate offspring), Laurence Stone's evaluation is pertinent:

[T]he punishments meted out by Church courts in cases of incest in Elizabethan England were surprisingly lenient, and there is reason to think that sodomy and bestiality were more repugnant to popular standards of morality than breaking of the laws of incest, which must have been common in those overcrowded houses where the adolescent children were still at home (309).

[12]  For Freud's definitive discussion of the oedipal "feminine attitude" toward the father, see "The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex."

[13]  Leinwand (58) catches the sexual implications of "undo" in Michaelmas Term.

[14]  The Captain's parallels with the "Wolf Man" discussed in Freud's "An Infantile Neurosis" are quite remarkable.  Freud's patient displayed a long struggle between masculine and feminine attitudes toward the father, obsession with circumcised Jews as castrators, fascination with sheep, and even an extraordinary interest in and deference toward tailors (87n.)!

[15]  For a concise outline of the legal status of piracy and privateering in the period, see Thomson 22-24.

[16]  Lezra notes the role played by Francis Drake in the pirate-decapitation association.  After Drake decapitated a sailor in 1578, during his circumnavigation, Elizabeth attempted to cover up the event and dismiss the suit filed by the victim's brother. "The execution became paradigmatic of such decapitations" (274). I would add that the pirate's association with decapitation elicits oedipal ambivalence.  The castrated figure is unmanned, but because beheading was (outside the pirate realm) a punishment for the aristocracy, it was beyond the reach of the commoners in the audience.  Visiting London in 1599, Thomas Platter found that the descendants of those whose heads adorned London bridge "are accustomed to boast of this, themselves even pointing out to one their ancestors' heads on this same bridge, believing that they will be esteemed the more because their antecedents were of such high descent that they could even covet the crown" (155).

[17]  On beheading as castration, see "The Taboo of Virginity" 207, "A Connection Between a Symbol and a Symptom" 339, and Introductory Lectures 268.

[18]  On the assertive paternalism of James and Jacobean culture, see Goldberg, especially chapter 2.

[19]  Dessen thoroughly covers the play's relation to the allegorical tradition, but he does not observe that this tradition enables Middleton's problematization of the inside / outside, self / other oppositions.

[20]  As Christopher Pye brilliantly demonstrates throughout The Regal Phantasm, Stephen Greenblatt's influential diachronic division between Renaissance governance through the monarch's visibility and the eighteenth-century power structure that "dreams of a panopticon in which the most intimate secrets are open to the view of an invisible authority" (44) vastly oversimplifies a power dynamic that synchronically includes both processes.  Greenblatt, of course, is developing Michel Foucault's version of historical development.  Note also Phoenix's awareness of the bodily hierarchy of lower and higher regions, which is appropriate to an estates play, and in this context is echoed in his portrait of the personified Law in (1.4.193ff.), who is another contested mother figure.  The implied ambivalence in the split is also symptomatic of his oedipal struggle.

[21]  Raleigh, for example, received the following sentence upon his first conviction for treason in 1603: "yow shalbe drawne upon a hurdle through the streetes to the place of execution and ther to be hanged and cut down above, and your body shalbe opened and your privye members cut off, and your hart and bowells pulled out and throwne into the fire before your eyes, then your head to be strecken of from your body, your body shalbe divided into fower quarters, to be disposed at the kinges pleasure."  (quoted in Shirley 317). Raleigh was executed, by simple beheading, in 1618.

[22]  For associations of Phoenix and his actions with "hope," see in addition 1.1.20, 1.1.25, 3.1.224, 4.1.141, 4,2,6, 5.1.2, 5.1.49, 5.1.103, 5.1.344.  Further subtextual linkages between the Captain and Phoenix may occur through their shared nautical imagery.  He visualizes his journey as a sea voyage in 1.1.100. The roving captain would be opposed to the virtue Hope, which is conventionally represented by an anchor.  For the iconography of the three virtues, see Chew 127-33.  The replacement of Charity by Chastity anticipates the more celebrated revision of I Cor. 13.13 in line 215 of Milton's Comus.

[23]  In "Bestial Buggery in A Midsummer Night's Dream," Boehrer tabulates the animal victims from the available court records.  Mares are victimized as many times as all other animals combined.

[24]  Literary play with numbers is often highly overdetermined, as befits the kind of controlled paranoia of its practitioners.  Perhaps also relevant is the fact that the average age of admission to the Inns of Court was seventeen, and that students there served seven years before being introduced by Masters of the Bench into the "mysteries" of their craft.  (Leinwand n. 42).  The little knowledge we possess about Middleton's birth and family history is reviewed by Mark Eccles, who discovered that he was christened at St. Lawrence in London's Old Jewry on April 18, 1570, correcting a traditional birth date of 1560.  Middleton's father died on January 20, 1586.  His mother married Harvey on November 7, 1586, some four months after his return from Raleigh's colony at Roanoke.  "By 1603," Eccles writes (1957, 531), "Middleton was married and his mother was dead." 

[25]  The Jewish insult may be implicated in the play's sexual dimension.  Consider, for example, the movement of Hoard's thoughts from Jew to usury to entering "at the back door of the purchase" in A Trick to Catch the Old One 1.3.16-20.  Richard Levin (340) comments on the bawdy potential of Hebrew pens in A Game at Chess: "If we bear in mind, however, that "pen" was a slang term for penis, and that Hebrew is written 'backwards' (right to left), then we can see here another bawdy joke at the expense of the 'back-door'd Italian."  The usurer, and therefore the Jew, was also conventionally assigned a preference for lucre over family, an idea ripe for oedipal exploitation.  See, for example, the diatribe of Curtilax in The Roaring Girl (3.3.ref?): "As damn'd a usurer as ever was among Jews; if he were sure his father's skin would yield him any money, he would when he dies [flay] it off."  If such associations were available, Falso would be contributing another beggary joke as he finishes his mock-trial of his "piece next to the tail" Furtivo: "If men be Jews, justices must be cruel" (3.1.197).

[26]  Most notably the "Wolf Man" (see note above).  See also the circumcision-castration equation in Moses and Monotheism (e.g. 91-92, 190-94).

[27]  "The good breast--external and internal--becomes the prototype of all helpful and gratifying objects, the bad breast the prototype of all external and internal persecutory objects" (Klein 200).

[28]  On the Celts as castrators in English stereotyping, see for example Christopher Highley's interesting article.

[29]  This allusion to Essex complements the play's other Irish detail, which occurs when Falso asks Furtivo if he steals because his master pays him "with Irish money" (3.1.134).  As Baldwin Maxwell first observed, this refers to another incident in the Irish campaign, when in 1601 England flooded Ireland with debased money.  The orchestration and impact of Essex's execution are ably explicated by Beach Langston.

[30]  Raleigh was Captain of the Guard at the execution of Essex.  Declining to subject his rival to further humiliation, in a dramatic gesture of the type for which he was famous he abandoned his prescribed station near the beheading block and observed the execution from within the Tower armoury.  Unlike Essex, who benefitted from Elizabeth's pity and was spared the traitor's castration, heart-removal, disembowelling, and quartering, Raleigh was specifically condemned in 1603 to the full punishment.  As William Power and Daniel Dodson observe, Proditor would appropriately represent Raleigh to King James. Thomas Harvey's fictional "death" occurred while he was serving with Raleigh in the Roanoke Island colony (Eccles, 1957).  As John Brooks (121) observes, "Their roles in the play are reversed, however: Proditor is the 'chapman' or purchaser, whereas in real life Harvey was chief factor for Raleigh's colony."  This reversal, typical of the dreamwork logic so evident in the play, further ties the various father figures together.

[31]  "When the heralds set down Middleton's arms and descent in 1623, they noted that the crest, 'a marmysett' or ape, had been granted by Sir Gilbert Dethick, Garter, to William Middleton of London, gent, on 23 April 1568" (Eccles 1957, 520).  Brooks is sensitive to the age dynamics of this scene.  He notes that "Phoenix sounds strangely timid here; it is difficult to explain his reactions in this scene--at least until he begins to collect his wits and act the part of the paramour--other than as those of an inexperienced young man at the mercy of a sophisticated older woman" (348).

[32]  On the source of this episode, see Bald 381.  Bald does not note the significance of Middleton's alteration.

[33]  In "The Uncanny" Freud writes: "The self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration--the only punishment that was adequate for him by the lex talionis" (231).  For other Freudian accounts of blindness as castration, see Totem and Taboo 130, "The Economic Problem of Masochism" 162, and An Outline of Psychoanalysis 190.

[34]  Of course the staging could present, or present as meaningfully absent, the lance with which George has pierced the dragon on the gold angel.  Brooks (245) notes that 'an angel seems to have been a customary lawyer's fee."  "Angel" also plays on "ingle," as Frankie Rubinstein notes is the case in Shakespeare. Leinwand (56) finds the pun used in Michaelmas Term 1.2.149.  Phoenix's paean that begins "Thou angel sent amongst us, sober Law" (1.4.193) and contains such phrases as "voiced like a virgin" (as a Paul's Boys actor would be), "where thy virtues sat, thy vices rise" (the opposite of castration), "one villain's fault" (given the rising vice, one assumes s/he has only one), should be seen as a masterpiece of bawdy rather than as the bland assemblage of didactic commonplaces it has been taken to be.

Works Cited

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