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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Purses
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0141  Tuesday, 20 January 2004

[1]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Jan 2004 09:04:15 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0130 Purses

[2]     From:   Kris McDermott <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Jan 2004 11:23:16 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0130  Purses


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Jan 2004 09:04:15 -0600
Subject: 15.0130 Purses
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0130 Purses

 >If anyone wants to follow up the purse outside the Shakespeare canon, I
 >include below the entry from our *Dictionary of Stage Directions in
 >English Drama, 1580-1642* (1999). The list, of course, is not complete
 >but does represent the purses cited in the s.d.s found in our database
 >of over 500 plays.
 >
 >Alan Dessen
 >
 >purse:  widely used (seventy examples) in a variety of actions; most
 >common is to give/deliver a purse (Three Lords of London, H4v; Quarto
 >Richard III, F4v, [3.2.106]; Sir John Oldcastle, 2697 8; King Leir,
 >1327; 2 Edward IV, 174; Malcontent, 3.3.78; Ram Alley, D1v; Devil's
 >Charter, E4r; Two Noble Kinsmen, M3r, 5.4.35; Wife for a Month, 44; Four
 >Plays in One, 321; Fatal Contract, E2r; City Match, 237; Launching of
 >the Mary, 906, 2628), but figures also offer (Sir John Oldcastle, 197),
 >shake (Royal King, 47; Princess, A4r), pull out (Mad Lover, 67; Bashful
 >Lover, 3.3.188), throw/cast/fling (Folio Richard III, 1910, 3.2.106;
 >Death of Huntingdon, 411; King Leir, 1018; 2 Edward IV, 123, 169; Lady's
 >Trial, 1253; Brennoralt, 2.4.89; Just Italian, 265; Wits, 128), enter
 >with purses (Wise Woman of Hogsdon, 286; Lovers' Progress, 85, 95;
 >Bashful Lover, 5.1.0; Launching of the Mary, 1257 8; Sparagus Garden,
 >214); see also Captain Thomas Stukeley, 1268; King Leir, 1350, 1521; Old
 >Fortunatus, 3.1.356; Woman Is a Weathercock, 4.3.2; Honest Man's
 >Fortune, 204; Guardian, 2.2.0; City Wit, 295; Jovial Crew, 381; Soddered
 >Citizen, 2198 9; several plays display the theft of a purse (Dutch
 >Courtesan, 5.3.16; Bartholomew Fair, 2.6.58; Honest Lawyer, B3v);
 >actions include "Throws meal in his face, takes his purse" (Hengist,
 >5.1.319), "Hold a purse ready" (Custom of the Country, 331/455), "shows
 >his purse boastingly" (Bartholomew Fair, 3.5.36, 115, 137); along with
 >the sword, scepter, and mace the purse can be part of a royal
 >procession: "Sussex bearing the crown, Howard bearing the Scepter, the
 >Constable the Mace, Tame the purse, Shandoyse the sword" (1 If You Know
 >Not Me, 239, also 195, 244); see also Downfall of Huntingdon, 42, 59 60;
 >Sir Thomas Wyatt, 1.2.40; Henry VIII, 1337, 2.4.0; atypical is "Unpurses
 >the gold" (Atheist's Tragedy, 5.1.21).

Many thanks to those who proved that my idle obsession about purses was
not only more interesting than I had imagined, but more than a mere "how
long is a piece of string" or "how many children had Lady Macbeth" sort
of question"-with all due respect (which is a lot) to Tom Larque.

David Cohen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kris McDermott <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Jan 2004 11:23:16 EST
Subject: 15.0130  Purses
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0130  Purses

I think the purse-identity analogy is very interesting, though, as David
Cohen points out, not a simple formula.  In the case of Othello,
however, we can't forget that Iago's use of the purse-image is almost
invariably sexual as well as financial. He's goading Othello and
Roderigo into anxiety over their virility with all the talk of
purses/male genitalia that need augmenting or protecting.  "Put money in
thy purse" is an obvious exhortation to Roderigo to get some cojones and
make another attempt at Desdemona.  Iago's the one that mocks Cassio's
high-minded lament over his "reputation" as overly abstract, and then
translates it (for Othello's benefit) into a purse-related metaphor.
Iago, as a vice figure, always speaks contrarily, so when he admonishes
Othello that a purse (sexual ownership of one's wife) is only "trash"
(compared to one's good name) he's really manipulating him into thinking
it's the most valuable thing he has, and the worst possible thing to
have stolen from him.  Of course, at the end of the play, Othello does,
in a sense, regain his virility (Desdemona is proved to be chaste after
all, and he still manages to penetrate himself in the Roman style,
mastering his own destiny through suicide), while what he loses is his
name ("that's he that was Othello").  There's Shylock, too, whose
ducats, daughter, and stones are all conflated (Solario and Solanio joke
about it explicitly).  Allen Dessen mentions Bartholomew Fair as another
example, and the reading of Cokes' loss of his purse as a sign of sexual
incompetence is a very common one -- in fact, Jonson uses the
gold/virility metaphor more frequently than Shakespeare.  Sir Andrew
Aguecheek, too, becomes more impotent as Sir Toby drains his purse
(although I don't think the term is foregrounded in Twelfth Night).
Surely someone in gender studies has elaborated on this topic?

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

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