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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
Sir Edward Dyer's 'Jest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0706  Tuesday, 16 March 2004

From:           John Peachman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 2004 22:34:13 +1100
Subject:        Sir Edward Dyer's 'Jest'

I'm hoping someone can help with something that has been annoying me for
a long time. In Gabriel Harvey's Marginalia there is the following:

"The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus, & Adonis:
but his Lucrece, & his tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, haue it
in them, to please the wiser sort"

This has been quoted frequently, usually in the context of arguments
about the dating of Hamlet, but what follows immediately after is often
ignored:

"Or such poets: or better: or none.

                     Vilia miretur vulgus:mihi flavus Apollo
                      Pocula Castaliae plena ministret aquae.

quoth Sir Edward Dier, betwene iest, & earnest."

My question is - what's this all about? Specifically, what's Sir Edward
Dyer 's 'jest'?

The quote "Vilia miretur etc" obviously refers to the epigraph to
Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, but as quoted by Harvey it is slightly
different: it says "Castaliae" rather than "Castalia" and "aquae" rather
than "aqua". I'm no Latin scholar - what changes in meaning does this
produce? My little pocket Latin dictionary says "aquae" means "medicinal
waters or spa". Is there some bawdy joke here about baths and sexually
transmitted disease (possibly connected with Sonnets 153 and 154)?

And what does "Or such poets: or better: or none" mean? I have a
sneaking feeling that it's connected with Joseph Hall's Virgidemiarum
where he satirises a poet he calls 'Labeo' with these lines :

For shame write better Labeo, or write none,
Or better write, or Labeo write alone.

I can't find anything else that seems to relate to "Or such poets: or
better: or none", and there's an argument that Hall's 'Labeo' refers to
Shakespeare, which would put it in context. But even then I still
wouldn't understand what's being said here. I repeat - what's the
'jest'? Can any SHAKSPERian enlighten me?

Thanks,
John Peachman

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