The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2144  Monday, 10 September 2001

From:           Stevie Gamble <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 8 Sep 2001 20:29:45 +0100
Subject: 12.2125 Re: Winters Tale
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2125 Re: Winters Tale

Clifford Stetner wrote:

> > The Autolycus joke is that Auto could have wandered in off the streets
> > outside the theatre, as Stevie Gamble points out at great length.
> > Making him into a Green Man figure or a fertility deity isn't a joke,
> > it's a nonsense.

> I didn't make him into a green man.  I only suggested that the
> Shakespeare was discoursing on the nature of rural seasonal festivals
> and that the character of Autolycus given his appearance and many verbal
> puns and some of his apparently nonsensical comic dialogue indicate his
> role as, in part, I repeat, in part, a kind of visiting deity.

I think it would be helpful, at least to the rest of us, if you would
refrain from misrepresenting your own statements. Actually, what you
said was:

>>>Autolycus is identified in part as a fertility god because
>>>among his wares are "pins and poking sticks of steel, what maidens lack
>>>from head to heel..."

And that was it; hence my responses to you. I haven't the foggiest idea
where 'visiting deity' comes from, and the material you are now trying
to pray in aid is as spurious as your first assertion.

> Forman in his diary does not say he looked like he came in off the
> street, but that he looked like "col-pixi," a kind of mischievous
> fairy.  Rather than a green man, I see him as a kind of walking maypole,
> hung with colored ribbons, which every authority I've read on the
> subject acknowledges as originally a phallic symbol indicating the
> original function of at least some seasonal festivals as fertility and
> mating rituals.

The difficulty with this is that you haven't actually read any
authorities; you are rehashing stuff long ago discredited whilst
announcing that you are too busy to read the research. The first
evidence of a maypole in the British Isles is in a Welsh poem of the
mid-fourteenth century by Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd, set at Llanidloes,
in central Wales; it describes the use of a tall birch tree for the
pole, around which festivity took place.  It seems likely that the
maypole was a medieval invention, spreading from some areas in
continental Europe into parts of Britain, and there is no historical
basis for the claim that it, with or without, ribbons, represented the
phallus, Hobbes and Freud notwithstanding, and no sign that the people
who used the maypoles thought that they were phallic.  Given those facts
your assertions are totally unfounded.

> Forty or four hundred, dubious or not, you seem to acknowledge the
> origin of the Green Knight (written Greene Gome ie Man) as lying in the
> ancient green man tradition.

What ancient green man tradition? The late Kathleen Basford, in her
book, _The Green Man_, published in 1978 (recently reprinted) demolished
the claim that the foliate heads (Green Man is a 20th century
nomenclature) to be found in medieval churches are symbols of spring and
rebirth derived from ancient fertility cults, and concluded that they
were representations of lost souls or wicked spirits within Christian
theology.  Her book was swiftly followed in 1979 by Roy Judge's work on
Jack in the Green, in which he showed that the foliage-covered figure
who danced in May Day Processions was not, pace Frazer et al, a
fertility symbol of ancient origins but first appeared in the late 18th
century.  The second Edition of _The Jack-in-the-Green: A May Day
Custom_ , published last year, includes a fascinating review of how the
interpretations that suggest that the figure is related to ancient pagan
belief in a "spirit of vegetation" stemmed from Frazer's The Golden
Bough, when Frazer had no evidence for this connection, and traces the
effect of Frazer's leap through the 1940s when it became widely accepted
that the Jack-in-the-Green was intimately related with the Green Man,
foliate heads on roof bosses in church architecture, Robin Hood, and the
King of the May, and that all of those figures could be traced to
ancient pagan fertility rituals. Wrongly.

>It may or may not have its origins in the
> green Osiris, but given the fact that all pagan religions heavily
> emphasized fertility of earth, man and beast, I don't see why this point
> should be doubted.

But given that there isn't such a fact  your point not so much doubted
as entirely untenable.

> The myth of Venus and Adonis is one of the oldest in Western culture.

Actually, describing it as 'the myth' in the singular is inaccurate;
there are many variants, some of which contradict each other, and only
the Venus who took over from Aphrodite had anything to do with Adonis.
As for the age, it's impossible to accurately date them.

> The myth is usually interpreted as a fertility myth,

Which myth?

> as the upshot is
> that Adonis must spend winter with Persephone under ground and summer
> with Venus making him a symbol of the fertility of the earth.

There are a number of upshots in the various myths, some of which don't
involve Persephone, and being a symbol of the fertility of the earth is
not the same as being a fertility deity.

>Robert  Graves claims that his rites were orgiastic and that he is based on
> god Tammuz.

Unfortunately, Robert Graves' claims on matters of pagan religion have
been shown to be deeply dubious, and relying on them simply reinforces
the impression that you are unacquainted with the scholarship on these

>The rites of both of both Venus and Adonis throughout
> pre-Christian Europe (etc.) were purely fertility religions.

No and twice no. By the first century BC, when Cicero, Varro, Virgil and
Livy were investigating the origins of their own religion, Venus was a
compound figure incorporating inter alia, a very old Roman spirit of
vegetation, an Etruscan deity of flowers and trees, and the Greek patron
of romantic and sexual love, Aphrodite, which possibly explains why her
name is a neuter noun...  Had you bothered to acquaint yourself with the
vast multiplicity of deities recognised in Rome and its provinces you
would have been aware of that; instead you make sweeping generalisations
wholly unfounded on fact.

> Shakespeare treats the characters as though he knows the story and what
> it is about.  It's possible that he was not aware of the mythological
> and ritualistic allusions of Ovid's poem.  However, taken together with
> my other non sequiturs, it seems to qualify at least as evidence that he
> understood them.  Evidence is not proof and was not offered as such.

Shakespeare wrote a poem in which Venus, your alleged fertility deity,
was unable to get Adonis, your alleged fertility deity, to make love to
her, despite strenuous and lengthy efforts on her part. I don't think
that you have quite got the hang of what being a fertility deity is all

> So far what I've said has been called ignorance, idiocy, hilarity and
> ineptness. I don't know how I merited such superlative language. I know
> I've never used it myself on this list.
>Statements like "I can't make
> sense of this so it's idiocy" strike me as merely substituting insulting
> language for actual refutation and I'm growing weary of it and of this
> discussion.

Thus speaks the person who, a couple of posts ago, asserted that only
people approved by him should be allowed to take part in productions of
Shakespeare, or shows based on Shakespeare, has consistently declined to
do any of the research reading necessary on the grounds that

a. he is too busy and

b. he knows it all already,

and has misrepresented both his own, and other people's, statements.

I'm pretty weary of that...

Stevie Gamble

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