The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1888  Friday, 6 October 2000.

From:           Don Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 05 Oct 2000 09:37:24 -0500
Subject: 11.1869 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1869 Re: Fops

The discussion of foppery needs a little clarification, I believe. From
the outset there seems to have been several different ideas talked about
at once. For instance, one view of fops makes them merely dandies, men
who dress lavishly and exhibit refined manners. Another, which I based
my initial remarks on, sees them as effeminate and mincing, after the
fashion of the "popinjay" described by Hotspur

. . . a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress'd,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap'd
Show'd like a stubble-land at harvest-home;
. . . perfumed like a milliner;
. . . shin[ing] so brisk and smell[ing] so sweet
And talk[ing] so like a waiting-gentlewoman

The key phrases here are "perfumed like a milliner" and "talking like a
waiting gentlewoman"  I also had in mind Osric, characterized by Hamlet
as a "waterfly" and Horatio as a "lapwing," and talking a Frenchified
jargon, as well as Sir Fopling Flutter and others from the Restoration,
all of whom seemed to me to invite presentation as effeminate, rather
than merely over-dressed. I would prefer to save the word fop for such
as these, and use dandy to refer to men who are merely fashion-plates,
but that obviously suits my vision of the issue.

But two other questions immediately arise: the relationship of this
effeminacy to homosexuality and to gender stereotyping. Now it may be
that the comic quality of the fop derives from anti-homosexual
attitudes, but I suspect not. I think it comes from the general
absurdity commonly found in anyone who violates public expectations (in
a non-threatening way). Men who have feminine mannerisms appear silly
and thus become appropriate objects of contemptuous humor - as is the
invariable case in Restoration comedy as well as these two instances in

What they do in bed and with whom does not, it seems to me, have
anything to do with this case. I don't see anything specifically
anti-homosexual in the presentation of either the popinjay or Osric, and
don't recall any from Restoration comedy. So the fact that we in this
era may still associate effeminate mannerisms with homosexuality, and
thus with an array of prejudices, can (I think) be regarded as
irrelevant to Shakespeare's fop-comedy.

The question of sexism (that is, whether exaggerated effeminacy in a man
is contemptible and thus comic because women are regarded with contempt)
is more problematic, and whether it is a can of worms or Pandora's box
that gets opened by it, I leave to others to decide. I am inclined to
assume that it is the inappropriateness that makes fops funny.

But speaking anthropologically, don't all human cultures have learned,
and thus arbitrary, behaviors that differentiate males and females, so
that whatever the behavior might be it can be violated for some effect?


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