Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Armes of the Tobachonists, 1630

I've never been to Amsterdam, but for some reason this is exactly how I imagine it.

Anyway, apparently tobacco, aka the "heathen weed," suffered a bit of a backlash in the 17th century. It was all well and good when Francis Drake brought it to England in 1573, for sure. Drake even got Sir Walter Raleigh hooked in 1585. In 1586 Tobacco arrived in English Society. That July, some of the Virginia colonists returned to England and disembarked at Plymouth smoking tobacco from pipes, which caused a sensation. William Camden (1551-1623) a contemporary witness, reported that "These men who were thus brought back were the first that I know of that brought into England that Indian plant which they call Tabacca and Nicotia, or Tobacco." [source].

A few years later, the Puritans decided that maybe it could get you high and was a devilish practice, what with all that smoke and burning embers and looking cool. This pamphleteer seems to have gotten carried away about the effects of smoking. This may in fact be the worst anti-smoking ad ever, because I have never wanted to smoke so much until this very moment. Although I will admit that the baby scrotum is a bit off putting.

Who knew surrealism was around in 1630? Now we all do. I hereby submit this image to David Lynch (or Luis Buñuel, if he weren't dead, or maybe Aronofsky) as the basis for a new trippy drug movie about a post-apocalyptic future in which everyone can buy psychotropic cigarettes that make you see shit like this. Although baby scrotums might be too much even for David Lynch. I imagine this scene would be scored by the Nat King Cole song "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which sounds nice enough to enhance the terrifying nature of the visuals (a la Roy Orbison's "Candy Colored Clown" from Blue Velvet.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

An exact description of Prince Ruperts Malignant She-Monkey, 1643

I've been researching for this one for a while, because Prince Rupert of the Rhine is maybe my favorite Cavalier ever. Nephew of Charles I, Rupert fought as a general in the English Civil War, and after his banishment was a buccaneer pirate in the Caribbean. During the war, Parliamentarian propagandists published numerous pamphlets about him . He was called "Prince Robber" and "the Mad Cavalier" because of his bravery and cruelty in battle. He was also famous for his Satanic familiars, the most famous being a white poodle named "Boy" (last year, Cassidy did a genius lolmanuscript from a publication about Boy's death at the Battle of Marston Moor, check it out here.)

His other familiar was a "malignant she-monkey," who had magical powers and was able to transform into any shape to spy on the enemy. The Roundheads really loved discussing Rupert's "effeminacy" and sexual deviancy as well, and this pamphlet makes not so subtle hints about Rupert's special "relationship" with his monkey, who gets ridiculously sexualized as a type of courtesan who "tempts the prince by her lascivious gestures." To their credit though, he apparently did dress it up in little skirts and coats and made it ride on Boy's back. I'm still not sure why she's committing hara-kiri in the picture because the original pamphlet is pretty difficult to to read. I guess anthropomorphized monkeys can commit ritualistic suicide to end the pain of living without their master, but in real life she probably just would have throw her own feces at people. The moral of this story: we all need to line up some Satanic familiars asap.

For further reading, check out this awesome looking book, published in 2007: Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer Century.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Renaissance Typography Is Awesome Sometimes

The "Descending" or "Long S" is ubiquitous in Renaissance publications; a holdover from Carolingian minuscule handwriting and black letter print. Usually, it just makes reading original texts a bit more difficult, but on rare occasions, when you least expect it, the EEBO Gods will give you a spectacular typographical gift. Therefore, I give you examples of the "long s" paired with variations of the totally innocent word "suck." The results -- outstanding.

I, for one, can't wait to "fuck the abundance of the seas." Can you? And even though it was common to begin words starting with "s" like this well into the 17th century, you know that the typesetters had to have known what they were doing. (Try as I might, I couldn't find the line about the "sucking babe" that began my obsession with the long s, but I remember it made me laugh out loud. In a library. As I was looking at EEBO. It was awesome and depressing all at the same time. At that moment, I came up with this hilarious and soon to be popular insult: "SUCK YOU! WITH A LONG 'S'!" (Man, I'm funny.) I'll leave you with an awesome Shakespearian example:

Whoa, Friar Laurence, slow down! You're a man of the cloth, for Christ's sake!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The School of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defense, 1617

These two gentlemen don't seem to realize that you fight with the pointy ends. I guess that's why swordfighting manuals were in such high demand in the Renaissance. At least the dudes in the illustration for Middleton and Rowley's A Faire Quarrell had their rapiers crossed. And honestly, who's fighting with giant broadswords in 1617? That shit was sooo 15th century.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nugae Venales, Or Complasent Companion, 1675

The full title of this publication is "Nugae Venales, Or Complasent Companion: Being new jests domestic and foreign, bulls, rhodomontados, pleasant novels, and miscellanies." Basically, it's a bit of light reading for Puritans, and books like these were full of little stories, folk tales, and occasionally bawdy jokes. The Nugae Venales is a jest book (nugae=jokes, venales=for sale), which is a subgenre of this literary trend. Although I'm not sure what dismemberment has to do with jests, I've tried to recontextualize it for a modern audience.

This is my new favorite book. There are some absolutely amazing "jests" contained in here (that's right, real Renaissance lolz!!!1!). Take this zinger: "A gentleman whose name was Church sitting in a chimney-corner drinking a pot of ale asked the question, whether any of the company ever saw a chimney in a church. No (said one) But now I see a Church in a chimney-corner." HAHAHA! There's actually a whole series of jests featuring Mr. Church, and trust me, they're all this sidesplitting. There's another jest that riffs on Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, where a man has to tell his wife what play is playing, and who's-on-first-esque hilarity ensues. I can't wait to be invited to a dinner party, because I'm going to dazzle everyone with my 17th century topical humor.

If you're interested in such things, check out Jules Paul Seigel's "Puritan Light Reading." The New England Quarterly. 37. 2 (Jun. 1964): 185-199. It just goes to show you that although I lol on some of these publications, the actual Renaissance lolz blow me right out of the water. I mean, a church in a chimney! Can you imagine?

The Lamentable Burning of the Citty of Corke, 1622

Where's Jesus when you need him? The townspeople must not be praying and/or lamenting hard enough. Anyway, I liked this pamphlet because the city of Cork apparently had some bad mojo in the 1620s. A year earlier a bunch of Starlings all flew in and committed some kind of mass suicide (there's a ballad on that, too). Then lightning strikes and the city goes up in flames. I blame the Catholics...17th century disasters like this can usually be traced back to them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The art of distillation, 1664

Methamphetamine is, I think, the most unglamorous drug around. I was in rural northern Florida over Christmas, and we thought we stumbled across an old campfire, but there were all these burnt cans of lighter fluid and glass jars and parts of a rusted grill scattered around, and we realized that it was probably a place where someone was cooking meth. (I watch Breaking Bad. I know what goes on.) It's a real problem in shitty, middle-of-nowhere places. And did you ever see those awful Montana Meth Project ads? They scared me straight! But until I came across this publication, euphemistically titled "The art of distillation, or, A treatise of the choicest spagyrical preparations, experiments, and curiosities," I never knew it was a problem in Restoration England.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Chancellor's Resolution, 1689

I'm really glad I will never have Cholera. It's like the worst disease you can get, for sure. I really liked the images in this ballad, but I can't make out the text at all. I imagine that it's standard stuff about the Chancellor coming to terms with his mortality. And I love that image of death...he sort of has an uncomfortable expression on his face (skull?) that spoke to me. It's like he's trying to be positive about the whole business, but he can't quite pull it off.