Search for Keyword: in: of : Quarto/Octavo Modern Both

The deployment of artificial and natural beards
in the plays of Richard Brome

Eleanor Rycroft
1Since Bruce R. Smith’s observation of the portraits contained in The English Icon that, on the faces of male sitters “the essential sign is the beard”n10830, the growth of critical literature on the significance of early modern facial hair has been expandingn10832. Despite differing emphases on factors such as courtliness, religion, playmaking or portraiture, the general concurrence in these works is that facial hair has been hitherto neglected by theorists of early modern masculinity: moreover, the beard signals manhood during the era, and any deviation from a discourse of adult male beardedness enables critical interpretation of the effects of this on the manliness being represented. While not the only feature to denote masculinity, as demonstrated by Will Fisher’s additional inventory of “, the hair, the tongue, and weapons such as swords or daggers (to name just a few)”n10844, the insistent equation of beards with manliness in the literature and images from the period is conspicuous, as is a lack or surplus of facial hair with male immaturity or hypermasculinity. A potential cause for the marking of masculinity via external signifiers such as the beard and the other social props suggested by Fisher could be the dominance of the Galenic one-sex model of sexual difference: a model which, according to the exemplum of Marie-Germainn10845, minimised genital difference between males and females, thereby rendering socially recognised symbols of gender more crucial to the determination of sex. 2Early modern society and early modern theatre are therefore near-identical arenas for the conferral of gender. Sexual difference during the Renaissance is not necessarily something hidden beneath clothing, but should rather be seen as a performance in which specific properties are displayed and an audience is required to approve of the interplay between costume and behaviour. Playwrights of the era certainly depend upon beardedness and beardlessness to mark and stratify the various classes, ages and nationalities of men (and women) being embodied on an all-male stage. Shakespeare, for instance, writes facial hair into all but five of his plays, and references to beards abound in plays from the Henrician through to the Caroline period, as the fashion for facial hair dominated the expression of English and continental masculinity for over a century. Brome holds particular significance for those considering the dramatisation of facial hair during this time because, of the forty-two separate instances of beard play contained in Alan Dessen and Leslie Thompson’s Dictionary of Stage Directions, eleven are from Brome’s oeuvre.n108463Of course it is not only in stage directions but also in the dialogue that the connection between beardedness and masculinity is materialised by Brome. The early modern fashion for facial hair and the paraphernalia by which a beard may be maintained is apparent in Sir Andrew Mendicant’s admonishment in The Court Beggar that his daughter Charissa’s chosen suitor will, were he to die, have only his “powder glass /His comb and beard-brush” [CB 1.1.speech15] to bequeath her, for instance. And yet, the stage is uniquely able to reveal the mutability of the supposedly immutable sign of the beard, for it is the same malleability of facial hair and the theatrical practice of false beard-wearing that enables an actor to take to the stage as a man of certain social status, that so many early modern disguise plots are founded upon, particularly in the works of Brome. Alteration of character through the donning of prosthetic beards appears in such plays as The Court Beggar [CB 4.3.speech795], The Love-Sick Court [LS 4.2.speech549] and The Demoiselle [DM 1.1.speech83], and it is a behaviour repeatedly linked to social disorder as in the case of Matho in The Love-Sick Court: he is exposed by the rustic who testifies to seeing, “a beard pulled off; and heard that mouth/ (Which is now dumb) open a plot” [LS 4.2.speech582], or when the removal of Anthony’s false beard in The Weeding of Covent Garden results in Nick’s exclamation, “I vow, some disguised villain, and but for doing the state so good service, we would hang him presently without examination” [CG 4.1.speech774]. The fiction of the fixity of facial hair to situate a dramatic or social subject is further exposed by Brome in an exchange between the ne’er-do-wells of The New Academy when Cash compliments Strigood on the indecipherability of his disguise and Strigood explains that he learnt the trick from a Jesuit: And ’twas but easy: shaving of my old
Grey hair and beard off ... I pass
For a brisk youth.
[NA 3.2.speech658]
4In such instances, the dissidence associated with false facial hair within dramatic plots can be conflated with the social disorder generally perceived to be connected with theatre and theatrical performance at that time. An expectation of male beardedness plays into one of the mirror-reversals enacted by Letoy’s actors as a feature of the ‘Anti-London’ in The Antipodes, where an inversion of normative relations between the sexes causes Peregrine to wonder of a man ducked by a crowd of women on account of his scolding: “Is this a man? /I ask not by his beard, but by his tears” [AN 4.1.speech455]. The fact that the sign of masculinity is undermined by its inherent removability and instability, and that the theatre is supremely well-placed to reveal this paradox, is clear from a conversation between Letoy’s company overheard by the audience from “within” the tiring-house: 1This is my beard and hair.
2My lord appointed it for my part.
This is for you; and this is yours, this grey one.
[AN 2.1.speech239-241]
5Through eavesdropping on the actors’ conversation, the audience are also exposed to the groundlessness which underlies male superiority during the early modern era, the revelation that the investment in the beard as a sign is a hoax. The danger of the deployment of false beards in theatrical practice lies in the disclosure of the arbitrary and temporary nature of manhood’s mark, as when Byplay reports that Peregrine has uncovered Letoy and Hughball’s charade:He has got into our tiring-house amongst us,
And ta’en a strict survey of all our properties [...]
Our helmets, shields, and visors, hairs, and beards [...]
[AN 3.1.speech552]
6When Peregrine encounters the ancient schoolboys in a scene which presumably uses the same grey beard mentioned by the players in II.i, he asks Byplay, "Have you no young men scholars, sir, I pray, /When we have beardless doctors?" [AN 2.2.speech385]. This elicits a response, which again undermines the function of the beard as the designator of men’s primacy over women:So, sir, have we; and many reverend teachers,
Grave counsellors at law, perfect statesmen
That never knew use of razor [...]
[AN 2.2.speech387]
7Of course beardless teachers, lawyers and politicians may be part of the preposterousness of the Anti-London represented - inversions which prove the rule - but Peregrine’s initial question might also be seen as a possible instance of metatheatricality. Had the play actually been performed by Beeston’s Boys at the Cockpit Theatre (as Brome had intended when composing it) and not by The Queen’s Majesty’s Servants at Salisbury Court, then the beardless doctor referred to would have been the boy playing Doctor Hughball. Hughball’s response, "He has wip’d my lips", may be proverbial for "He has taken the words out of my mouth", but the association of hairlessness and boys’ lips would nonetheless have been evoked by the precise theatrical context in which the phrase was spoken. If it were spoken by a male child, London and Anti-London would collapse together as attention is called to the fact that all the males being represented on stage, young and old, are being played by beardless boys. Letoy’s fictitious world would not have seemed quite so diametrically opposed to England when the ideology of male superiority unravels due to the fact that its upholder is an artificially bearded boy mimicking masculine authority upon the stage. However one interprets this problematic scene, it seems unlikely that this exchange would have been included by an adult male troupe performing the play.8The play-within-the-play of The Antipodes is significant as Letoy appears to ventriloquise some of Brome’s own attitudes to the dramaturgical conventions within which he is working. Critics such as Glyn Wickham and Robert Weimannn10847 have noted that towards the end of the sixteenth century, theatre was moving from an inherited ‘presentational’ style into a more representational (what we might call a more embodied) mode. Evidence of a traditional dramatic practice of false beard-wearing in Cycle Plays through to University drama looms large in the material found in the REED series throughout the late medieval period. The theatrical shift is satirised by Shakespeare in the rude mechanicals’ rehearsals of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Quince suggests one of the company should come to “disfigure, or to present the person of Moonshine”; and Bottom is more concerned about which beard he should “discharge” the part of Pyramus in than the verisimilitude of his actingn10848. Letoy also directs his company towards more naturalistic performances and away from the cruder performance styles of “the days of Tarlton and Kemp /Before the stage was purged from barbarism” [AN 2.1.speech259] in The Antipodes. That Letoy’s view of the theatre may be shared by Brome is evident from the tension in his plays between the residual tradition of a ‘presentative’ beardedness and a questioning and complex deployment of false-beardedness in his plays. 9At the same time as Brome depends upon the shortcut of false beards for his heavily disguise-laden plots, he is also critical of the residual dramaturgical techniques which linger into the Caroline drama — a contempt which is submerged but nonetheless palpable in lines from The English Moor, which seem to attack dramatic cliché one or both
Might play the tyrants over their poor tenants,
Fall by prodigality into th’ Compters:
And then the dead by pulling off a beard,
After a little chiding and some whining,
Set the living on their legs again.
[EM 5.1.speech920]
10The Brome play most concerned to intervene in this use of beards in theatrical practice and most intricate in its deployment of real and prosthetic facial hair is perhaps The Novella. Among the suitors of Venice’s newest prostitute, Victoria, is the hyper-hairy Hans Swatzenburgh, a heavily-bearded and belligerent Dutchman (corresponding to the production of military men in the drama as particularly hirsute). Fabritio elects to disguise himself as Swatzenburgh in order to test Victoria’s honesty and ensure that she is not swindling his father, Pantaloni. His entrance in 4.2 merely dressed as a Dutchman is enough to convince the Venetians, Piso and Horatio, that he is one, while his servant, Nicolo, says:I swear he was past my reading
Slight, he appears as like the noted Almain
Late come to town, if he but had his beard ---
[EM 4.2.speech591]
11When Fabritio replies, “How like you this for a beard?” [EM 4.2.speech592], he is referring to the suitably hirsute prosthetic beard that he is donning to complete his disguise. And when Borgio, Victoria’s bawd, then enters, he appears to have penetrated the deception straight away, much to Fabritio’s surprise who muses in an aside, “This is a devil! Could he know me else /That ne’er saw him before in this disguise?” [EM 4.2.speech617]. Later, however, he comes to realise that Borgio has actually mistaken him for the real Dutchman, Swatzenburgh. Therefore, almost as soon as Brome opens the question of the effectiveness of stage disguise, he closes it again. For an instant, however, Brome seems to self-reflexively question the efficacy of false beards on the stage. 12The complexities of false and real beardedness form the matter of the play’s climax nevertheless, with Brome placing the onus entirely on the beard as the means of determining male identity in resolving his plot. The same false beards which had been revealed as potentially an inadequate means of concealing identity in the previous act now become a necessary tool for both the audience and characters to decipher who is who. Swatzenburgh turns up in the final scene with a changed appearance, saying to Victoria, “Look well upon me /That in this shift, reducing of my beard /With this supply of money came to try you” [EM 5.1.speech729]. The rest of the company ridicule that this man could be Swatzenburgh, since they believe Swatzenburgh is already in the room (in the person of the disguised Fabritio). When the Dutchman reiterates his claim to his own identity, Borgio rejoins, “Yes, in your tother beard, sir. /Hans Snortanfart, are you not?” [EM 5.1.speech745]. A reliance on the beard as an indicator of selfhood leads Pantaloni then to suppose that Fabritio is the hangman whom he has plotted to associate Victoria with, and thus taint her. He says, “Can this be he? [...] /I saw him ride the wooden-horse, last day/ With less than half this beard. Unbeard him, sirrah” [EM 5.1.speech859]; and in a final twist, Borgio “casts off his peruke and beard” [EM 5.1.speech869] to reveal himself as Victoria’s brother, whom she has failed to recognise until this moment. While there is nothing inherently contradictory in this playing with real and prosthetic beards in the text, Brome requires a great elasticity from his audience to decode the dramatic action: cultural and national identity is located in beards, which are simultaneously shown to be alterable and potentially deceptive in the final sequences. 13Disguise is also the dramatic context governing the use of beards in The City Wit, a play which intertextually engages with Jonson’s The Alchemist where Face, Subtle and Doll (the ‘indenture tripartite’) cozen a series of Londoners. Brome’s debt to Jonson is clear in his direct echo of The Alchemist when the pageboy, Crack, says to the newly-disguised Crasy, “O are you come Sir, in your new shape? Does not that beard fit you handsomely? Thank my acquaintance with the Players” [CW 3.3.speech459]n10849. The City Wit centres on the citizen Crasy’s recovering his fortune after he has been defrauded of his money by creditors who refuse to repay him. The narrative depends on the opposition between assumptions of honesty in chains of credit, and the disruption of those chains by masculine types who have been living on their wits in order to make their way in the world (in this case, the overly thrifty Linsy-Wolsey, a pedant named Sarpego and two courtiers, Ticket and Rufflit). Rufflit beardsn10850 the bankrupt Crasy in the first scene with a public humiliation, which Crasy mockingly reiterates when he has salvaged back his money from the swindlers: “Good faith I pity the poor Citizen, he has not wit; a handsome young fellow, with a pretty beard, and a proper bodied woman to his wife, and cannot bear a brain!” [CW 5.1.speech942]. In Brome’s reworking of Jonson’s play, disguise is therefore harnessed to restore, rather than to disrupt, the social order (though by questionable because illegal means).14The final instance from Brome’s canon to be considered concerns the use of beardlessness to conceal identity. This is found in The English Moor, or the Mock-Marriage, which raises the question: at what age does a male become bearded and therefore become a man? Twenty-two year-old Buzzard suggests that he may be able convincingly to impersonate his master’s son who, although twenty-seven, is a simpleton, unable to grow a beard (implying that perhaps the juvenile members of early modern companies may have played fools such as Quicksand’s son or Sir Andrew Aguecheek). He claims: “And I think if my beard were off, I could be like him” [EM 3.2.speech527]. His statement is quickly acted upon by a coterie of gallants led by Arthur Meanwell, who plan to revenge themselves on Quicksands for marrying Arthur’s love, Millicent, by publicly revealing his illegitimate heir and shaming him; but Buzzard protests at their plan: “My beard, friend, no: My beard’s my honour. Hair is the ornament of honour upon man — or woman” [EM 3.2.speech532]. His phrase invokes the persistent classical tradition, which perceives the beard as the ‘ornament’ of mankind, as expressed by John Bulwer in his seventeenth-century text, Anthropometamorphosis:Some say the Beard was intended for a manly ornament: for, man shews more venerable, especially if by age his hairs be every where fairly superaboundantly circumfused, which Nature usually doth leaving no part unpolished or unlabour’d...n1085115Despite Buzzard’s objections, the gallants get him drunk and shave him in his sleep, although they deny this in the next scene when one of the crew, Vincent, says of Buzzard: “How he has shaped himself, /Cut off his beard” [EM 3.2.speech561]. In Act 5, after the correct matches have been made and cultural mores are restored, Buzzard is returned to Quicksands by Vincent - “All but the beard he wore; for loss of which/ We’ll recompense him” [EM 5.3.speech1090]. The remark suggests that Buzzard was probably involuntarily shaved after all. Not only does the shaving of Buzzard oppose the concept of Renaissance self-fashioning, it also exposes how far male economic and social superiority was located in the beard during the Renaissance, with financial remuneration deemed the only appropriate recourse for Buzzard’s defacement. The very act of having had his beard shaved off means Buzzard cuts a risible male figure; and, when Vincent comments on how Buzzard “has shaped himself, /Cut off his beard, and practised all the postures /To act the changeling bastard” [EM 3.3.speech561], he laughs in the telling. 16Brome’s deployment of real and artificial beards in the Caroline theatre thus engages with both the dramaturgical tradition of prosthetic facial hair and the prevailing discourse which connected manhood to beardedness from the Henrician era until the Civil Warn10852 in inventive, if critical, ways. Despite being one of the main purveyors of bearded disguise in his plays, his texts also display a reluctance unquestioningly to integrate what was increasingly seen by the beginning of the seventeenth century as a crude and outmoded theatrical technique. Yet the usefulness of the staged beard resided not only in the rapidity with which it denoted character and changes to character, but equally significant, for Brome, was the way in which facial hair facilitated cultural comment upon fashion, power, desire, religion, national identity, burgeoning capitalism, relations between and within the sexes, and, ultimately, the social performance of manhood itself.

n10830   Since Bruce R. Smith’s observation of the portraits contained in The English Icon that, on the faces of male sitters “the essential sign is the beard” Smith, B.R., Shakespeare and Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 31. [go to text]

n10832   the growth of critical literature on the significance of early modern facial hair has been expanding For instance, Fisher, W, ‘The Renaissance beard: masculinity in early modern England’, Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), 155-87; Horowitz, E, ‘ New World and the Changing Face of Europe’, Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol.28, No. 4 (1997), 1181-1201; Johnston, M.A, ‘Playing with the beard: Courtly and commercial economies in Richard Edwards’s Damon and Pithias and John Lyly’s Midas’, ELH 72.1 (2005) 79-103; Rycroft, E, ‘Facial hair and the performance of adult masculinity on the early modern English stage’, Locating the Queen’s Men, 1583-1603, eds. Ostovich, H., Schott Syme., H, Griffin, A. (Farnham and London: Ashgate, 2009), 217-228. [go to text]

n10844   weapons such as swords or daggers (to name just a few)” Fisher, W, ‘The Renaissance beard: masculinity in early modern England’, p. 157. [go to text]

n10845   according to the exemplum of Marie-Germain See Laqueur, T, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 126-7. [go to text]

n10846   eleven are from Brome’s oeuvre. For further instances, see Dessen and Thomson’s A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 22-3. [go to text]

n10847   Critics such as Glyn Wickham and Robert Weimann Weimann makes his argument for the “changeful” relations between playing and writing in the Elizabethan theatre in Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice: Playing and Writing in Shakespeare’s Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), while Wickham turns up much historical evidence of false-beardedness from the late medieval period which heightens the connection between social disruption and prosthetic beards. For instance, an injunction from the Mayor and Aldermen of London in 1418 ordered: “that no manere persone, of what astate, degree, or condicioun that evere he be…be so hardy in eny wise to walk by night in any manere mommyng, pleyes, enterludes, or eny other disgisyges with any feynyd berdis, peynted visers, diffourmyd or clourid visages in eny wise” (cited in Wickham, G, Early English Stages 1300-1576, Vol. 1, [London: Routledge, 1980], p. 203). [go to text]

n10848   the part of Pyramus in than the verisimilitude of his acting Shakespeare, W, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. Brooks, H.F for The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1983) III.i.56-7; I.ii.86. Bottom’s multi-coloured range of options, “your straw-colour beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain bearde, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow” (I.ii.86-9) correlates with the picture of extensive beard use painted by the Records of the Early English Drama: for instance, the Trinity College inventory of 1550-1 lists, “iiij gray berdes….ij blake berdes & one almost blake…..iiij yelow berdes…..a white hede of heyre….a rede berde”. See REED: Cambridge (2 Vols), ed. A. H. Nelson, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), Vol. 1, p. 171. [go to text]

n10849   [CW 3.3.speech459] Brome’s critical stance towards prosthetic beards on stage is also one shared by Jonson who berates other playwrights in his Prologue to Every Man in his Humour, for the unlikelihood of presenting, “a child, now swaddled, to proceede/ Man, and then shoot up, in one beard, and weede/ Past threescore years” (Jonson, B, The Workes of Benjamin Jonson, [London:[...]Will. Stansby, 1616], A3r). [go to text]

n10850   Rufflit beards ‘Bearding’ being early modern vernacular for the social or physical conquest of another man, as in Douglas’ boast in Henry IV, Part One that, “No man so potent breathes upon the ground/ But I will beard him.” See Shakespeare, W, King Henry IV, Part One, ed. Humphreys, A.R. for The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1980), IV.ii.11-12. [go to text]

n10851   Some say the Beard was intended for a manly ornament: for, man shews more venerable, especially if by age his hairs be every where fairly superaboundantly circumfused, which Nature usually doth leaving no part unpolished or unlabour’d... J. Bulwer, Anthropometamorphosis, (London: 1650), p. 131. [go to text]

n10852   the prevailing discourse which connected manhood to beardedness from the Henrician era until the Civil War A conflict in which differences of political ideology were interestingly signalled through hair, in that the simplicity of the appearance of the Roundheads provided a notable contrast to the elaborate styling of curled head hair and thin stiletto beard worn by Charles I and his followers. [go to text]

Contact: Richard Brome Online, ISBN 978-0-9557876-1-4.   © Copyright Royal Holloway, University of London, 2010