The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.184 Wednesday, 11 May 2016
Date: May 10, 2016 at 1:08:58 PM EDT
Subject: Bertram’s Velvet Patch
Here is a problem that continues to puzzle me and has resurfaced in recent conversations. My long ago “solution” in 1986 has convinced no one (and I will not trot it out again here), but I would like to hear what others have to say.
The exchange below between Lavatch and Lafew is found near the end of 4.5 in Folio All’s Well.
Clo O Madam, yonders my Lord your sonne with
a patch of veluet on's face, whether there bee a scar vn-
der't or no, the Veluet knowes, but 'tis a goodly patch
of Veluet, his left cheeke is a cheeke of two pile and a
halfe, but his right cheeke is worne bare.
Laf A scarre nobly got,
Or a noble scarre, is a good liu'rie of honor,
So belike is that.
Clo But it is your carbinado'd face.
The playwright (or playwrights if one accepts the Maguire-Smith argument for Middleton’s hand in the play) seems to be preparing the playgoer for something soon to be seen and provides in advance three different ways to evaluate that image. Most obvious is Lafew’s inference that the velvet patch worn by “the young noble soldier” (line 97 in Arden 2) covers “a noble scar” or “a good livery of honor,” a worthy emblem of heroic deeds (the kind of scar one associates with Coriolanus). In contrast, Lavatch’s cynical reference to “your carbonadoed face” suggests that under the patch lurks a scar of less worthy origins, an incision “made to relieve syphilitic chancres” (G. K. Hunter’s Arden gloss). The third possibility is supplied in the clown’s comment: “Whether there be a scar under’t or no, the velvet knows, but ‘tis a goodly patch of velvet.” Bertram’s left cheek, like his right, may be bare of any scar at all.
Here then is the puzzle. No further mention of patch or scar is to be found in the Folio. Given that silence, critics and editors rarely comment upon the patch’s presence or possible function in the final scene; directors either ignore the problem completely or cut the Gordian knot by eliminating Lavatch’s lines in 4.5 or provide some token resolution (in the l977 Stratford Festival Canada production, Nicholas Pennell had a tiny black spot the size of a “beauty mark”).
There are at least three options (and perhaps more that I am missing). 1) The exchange in 4.5 may be an “unrevised first thought,” residue from a Plan A that has been superseded by a Plan B (equivalent to Innogen aka Mrs. Leonato in two early stage directions in Quarto Much Ado). 2) The patch should be visible in 5.3 (perhaps large enough to be an echo of Parolles’ blindfold) but with no resolution of the three options. 3) Some stage business involving the patch though not specified in the Folio (and such s.d.s are often missing in both printed texts and MSS – my mantra is “the norm is silence”) should follow – though that option takes us into the inventive and iffy world of conjecture.
What do you think?