Printer Friendly

A suggestive source for a scene in The Old Law.

In Act III scene ii of Middleton and Rowley's play The Old Law (1618) the old husband, Lysander, vies with the young courtiers, who come to visit his young wife, Eugenia, in bouts of fencing, dancing, and drinking, and successfully outdoes his rivals, including the despicable Simonides, who is sick with too much drink. Lysander is clearly presented as the wronged man, and the audience seems to be encouraged by the dramatists to approve of his success over the immoral young men, who hope to become Eugenia's husband when he is executed at the age of eighty as a new law requires. However, the scene is actually written in such a way as to provoke a rather more complex response towards Lysander.

His attempts to prove himself still vigorous enough successfully to challenge younger men are also accompanied by an attempt to make himself look youthful by dyeing his hair and beard. The courtiers mock him for this, but Middleton and Rowley do not encourage the audience to view this mockery as entirely inappropriate. Lysander twice looks at himself in a mirror and expresses concern that he cannot quite successfully disguise all his white hairs. His words and actions suggest both vanity and desperation that he cannot make himself younger. He is contrasted to the other old men in the play, Leonides and Creon, who face their impending legal executions with acceptance and resolution. The dyeing of his hair and beard makes Lysander seem undignified and somewhat ridiculous. At the end of the scene he is sharply criticized by his nephew, Cleanthes, who lays particular emphasis on the dyeing of his hair.

No source has been discovered for the Lysander, Eugenia, and Simonides plot. As the text itself explicitly indicates, the situation is the familiar one of January and May,(1) and, as such, quite commonplace in the comedies of the period, but the details of the plot, and this particular scene, would appear to have been the invention of the dramatists rather than being taken from any specific written source. Sources for the main plot involving the attempt of Cleanthes and his wife, Hippolita, to save their aged father from execution, and for the plot of Gnotho, Agatha, and Siren, have been identified.(2) It has also been noted that Middleton and Rowley drew on Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans in the opening scene, where the lawyers' references to the judgements of ancient law-makers are taken from the Lives of Lycurgus and Solon. I have suggested in an earlier note that the name of Eugenia's husband, Lysander, may have been suggested by another of Plutarch's subjects, the fourth-century commander and statesman, whose statue at Delphi, notable for its bushy hair and beard, is described at some length at the beginning of the Life.(3) However, there is nothing in that source that might have suggested the idea of the dyed hair and beard. It may be that this was purely the invention of the dramatists, as they hardly needed the prompting from a source to suggest the common practice of dyeing hair to restore a youthful appearance as a detail in a scene which presents contrasts between youth and age. Nevertheless, the play is set in ancient Greece and is concerned with matters of law and judges, and there is an anecdote in Plutarch which may have been suggestive since it deals with an eminent man who is dismissed by Philip of Macedon from his position as a judge because he colours his hair. The story is related not in the Lives, but in the Apophthegms.

No English translation of the Apophthegms was available at the time when Middleton and Rowley wrote The Old Law, but a translation from the Greek into French by Jaques Amyot had been published in 1615.(4) We have no way of knowing whether Middleton or Rowley would have read either the original Greek or the recent French translation. However, an English translation of this particular anecdote from Plutarch appeared in 1616, just over a year before The Old Law was probably written, in Thomas Tuke's Treatise against Painting and Tincturing of Men and Women: 'King Philip of Macedonie made one of Antipaters friends a Iudge; but understanding that hee vsed to colour the haire of his head and beard, he displaced him, saying, He which would not be true in his haires, was not worthy to bee trusted in an office'.(5) Tuke includes this anecdote in a section on false appearance and deceit, in which he comments, 'Doubtlesse falsehood is in his or her heart, whose face or haire is falsified to deceit'. In the play it is the false face of sorrow which Eugenia puts on to convince Hippolita of her distress at Lysander's impending execution that deceives Cleanthes' wife into revealing that Leonides has been saved from death and so puts them all into the power of Eugenia's malice, but, as I have indicated above, Lysander's 'false hair' is criticized by Cleanthes in III.ii, problematizing audience response towards a character who might have been expected to be purely a focus for sympathy and approval in contrast to Eugenia.

Tuke's little book, though ostensibly about cosmetics as its title suggests, is actually a condemnation of the Essex divorce and the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. Lysander's wife, Eugenia, is a ruthless, calculating woman like Francisca in The Witch (1614-16) and Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling (1622), both of whom may have suggested the notorious Countess of Essex, Frances Howard, and it seems likely that in early 1618, so soon after the murder trials of 1615-16, the portrayal of Eugenia would have been suggestive of her.(6) Elsewhere I argue the case that The Old Law contains quite extensive material suggestive of these recent events.(7) It therefore seems likely that Middleton and Rowley would have known Tuke and that it was Tuke's recent quotation from Plutarch which provided a suggestion for the emphasis on Lysander's hair in Act III scene ii of the play.

A. A. BROMHAM Brunel University College

1 See The Old Law, ed. Catherine M. Shaw (New York and London, 1982), V.i.39-44. George E. Rowe Jr, Thomas Middleton and the New Comedy Tradition (Lincoln and London, 1979), 179.

2 Shaw, xxvii-xxxi.

3 A. A. Bromham, 'The Significance of Names in Middleton and Rowley's The OldLaw', N&Q, ccxxix (1994), 511.

4 Apophthegmes de Plutarque, tr. Jaques Amyot (Paris, 1615). The relevant passage is on pages 34-5. 'II y auoir vne fois donne quelque office de iudicature a vn qui luy estoit recommande par Antipater: mais depuis ayant entendu qu'il se peignoit les cheueux & la barbe, il la luy osta, disant, que celuy qui en ses cheueux estoit faussaire, malaiseement en bon afaire seroit loyal'. North had used Amyot's French translation of the Lives to make his English translation in 1579.

5 Tuke, 15.

6 Margot Heinemann remarks that Francisca 'seems like a first sketch for Beatrice-Joanna', and suggests connection with the divorce and murder scandals in both The Witch and The Changeling in Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama under the Early Smarts (Cambridge, 1980), 111. The point is examined in fuller detail in A. A. Bromham and Zara Bruzzi, 'The Changeling' and the Years of Crisis 1619-1624: A Hieroglyph of Britain (London and New York, 1990), 18-35.

7 'The Old Law and the New Favourite' (forthcoming).
COPYRIGHT 1996 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bromham, A.A.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Jun 1, 1996
Previous Article:Jonson's response to Lipsius on the happy life.
Next Article:An echo of Hymenaei in The Changeling.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters