Tuesday, February 06, 2018

passionate in the 1590s

The passionate shepherd Silvius (Russ Stimmel) woos Phoebe (Raymonde Moyon)

[Image source: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt3k4034vw/?docId=kt3k4034vw&layout=printable-details . A still from the Mountain Play Association's 1920 production of As You Like It . Since 1913 they've produced one play a year at the outdoor amphitheatre on Mt Tamalpais (Marin County, California).]

These days, it's become an advertising cliché: such a cliché, indeed, that the big boys (why are they boys?) have long since relinquished it to smaller commercial outfits:

We are passionate about great coffee / customer service / inexpensive home insurance / our luxury doughnuts / gambler satisfaction / ....

In short, a pathetic attempt to present a corporate as a bunch of happy mates who only live to serve you; and besides are afflicted by deep moral integrity and impersonal desire to create a world in which their marvellous product is available to all, instead of inferior brands.

[Generally this would come under OED passionate adj. and n. 3a, "ardently enthusiastic"]


Passion is one of the "big words" in English, a word with a complicated and culturally important history.

What I'm curious about is some things about it in the 1590s-1600s. I'll list some materials first, then try to pull a few thoughts together at the end.


'Poor forlorn Proteus, passionate Proteus,
To the sweet Julia:'  (Two Gentlemen of Verona I.2) (1591 ish)

Titus Andronicus III.2 (1593 ish)
 (Titus.) Marcus, unknit that sorrow-wreathen knot:
Thy niece and I, poor creatures, want our hands,
And cannot passionate our tenfold grief
With folded arms.

"The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" (poem by Marlowe, written before 1593, published 1599 with this title, but an incomplete text, in The Passionate Pilgrim (see below) ; a better text was published in England's Helicon (1600)).

Sonnet 20 (1592?)
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;

(nb, the only occurrence of the word in Shakespeare's  Sonnets)

Marie Magdalen's Love: a Solemne Passion of the Sovles Love, by Nicholas Breton (1595)
Two works published together; perhaps only the second (a devotional poem) is Breton's, the first being a Catholic work while all evidence is that Breton was a strong Anglican.

Francis Meres, in Palladis Tamia  (1598), names Breton as one of those "most passionate among us to bewail and bemoan the perplexities of love..."

As You Like It II.4 (1599)

Rosalind. Jove, Jove! this shepherd's passion
Is much upon my fashion.

Henry V (1599) II.2

Free from gross passion or of mirth or anger,

The Passionate Pilgrim (unauthorized anthology published by Jaggard in 1599 and ascribed to "W. Shakespeare", though only five of the twenty poems are his)

Hamlet  (1600) II.2
(Hamlet). We'll have a speech straight. Come, give us a
taste of your quality. Come, a passionate speech.  

(Hamlet). ...What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?

III.2  (S.D.) The Queen returns, finds the King dead, and makes
passionate action.

(Player King). What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures with themselves destroy.

"A Doleful Passion", "A Testament Upon the Passion", "An Extreme Passion", titles of poems in Nicholas Breton's Melancholike Humours (1600)

 "A Solemn Fancy", from the same collection, ends:

And Death shall only tell
My froward fortune's fashion,
That nearest unto hell
Was found the Lover's passion.

"A Solemn Conceit", from the same collection, has these lines:

Is there pleasure in Love's passion?
Why then is it so unpleasing?
Heart and spirit both diseasing,
Where the wits are out of fashion.

"An Unhappy, Solemn, Jesting Curse", from the same collection, has these lines, exemplifying Breton's incessant punning on "patience" and "passions":

To thee, that cast, or will not, bend thy will
   To use thy gifts, all gracious in their nature;
To Patience' good, and not to Passion's ill,
   And mayst, and wilt not be, a blessed creature.

Ben Jonson's prefatory poem to Melancholike Humours , in praise of Breton's work, begins:

Thou that wouldst finde the habit of true passion,
And see a minde attir'd in perfect straines ....

[It's not relevant to this note, but I noticed that Breton's "An Epitaph Upon Poet Spenser" includes the line "Farewell, Art of Poetry...". Had Breton seen Spenser's lost discourse, mentioned in the Harvey Letters, on The English Poet?]

"The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage" (1604)
This famous poem is still sometimes attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh (though it cannot have been written, as was once thought, while awaiting execution in 1618).

The Passionate Shepheard, or The Shepheares Love: set downe in Passions to his Shepherdesse Aglaia (Nicholas Breton, 1604)
It included such poems as "A Solemne Long Enduring Passion" (some of which appears in Paul Keegan's Penguin Anthology).


It's not exactly a matter of changes in meaning, since all the main meanings (strong or immoderate emotion, fury, love, sexual longing, ardent enthusiasm, zeal) already existed in 1590 and probably long before. 

In general, we are talking about a mental transport. There is consensus that passion may refer to a  wide range of different emotions (as the Player King says, "the violence of either grief or joy").

[What didn't yet exist, seemingly, was "passion"  as euphemism for sexual activity and excitement (e.g. those tabloid  "nights of passion", "passion-wagon", etc).]

It's evident from the above  (Marlowe, Jaggard, "Raleigh" and above all Breton) that "passion" was popular in poem-titles.  "Passion" or "passionate" in titles acted as a kind of advertising (hmm, that theme again). Violent displays of feeling draw an audience, like sex and violence in movies.

But Shakespeare, in a classic instance of show-not-tell, pretty much barred the word "passion" from within the text of his passionate poems. Passion, he realized, does not tend to name itself. Indeed lack of self-awareness is one of the main features that unites all its different meanings.

In Shakespeare's plays, on the other hand, "passion" makes frequent appearances. Nearly always, it refers to someone else's passion. One character, that is, comments on another's outburst. Often with a sense of reproof --- don't be so impassioned, listen to reason.  (Passion and reason tend to be opposed.)  Few characters refer to passion in relation to themselves.

One who does is Hamlet, frustrated at his inability to muster the kind of passion needed to sweep to his revenge, when he sees that the player can put it on at will. Hamlet begins to perceive passion as something performed, an outward show. Many of the usages above include the idea of a "display of passion".  And as the Titus quote shows, sometimes the uppermost meaning is a physical display. Titus asks Marcus, who has a full complement of limbs, to perform the anguished gestures of passion on behalf of his lopped brother and niece. Such gestures, I suppose, as the Player Queen (in Hamlet) performs during the dumb-show.
Still, that emphasis on physical gesture was perhaps specially marked in the theatre, where the externalizing of emotion is an essential convention of the dramatic form:  inner emotions are invisible to the audience, so Shakespeare's characters are apt to be highly rhetorical and histrionic, they don't hide their feelings. And this is not just practicality, it's -- as we said above -- exactly what audiences want to see.

So "my passion" in Shakespeare's Sonnet 20 might refer to the Sonnets as a whole and mean, not just Shakespeare's love but a display of love, a dramatic performance, a literary form...

Breton, with a knack for turning words like "passion" and "solemne" into commodities, didn't share the reserve of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Raleigh when it came to referring to "passion" within the text of his poems. He does so frequently, exploiting the tempting rhyme with "fashion", sundry alliterative chains and the potential pun with "patience". In consequence, Breton's poems, though fresh, jolly and diverting, are more about passion than immersed in it (pace Francis Meres).

The same can be said of his religious poems, of which Eva March Tappan in her valuable 1898 introduction to Breton commented: "At the thought of death Southwell gazes with rapturous longing into the heaven that opens before him; Gascoigne, with his overflowing vitality, flinches and fears; Breton leisurely sentimentalizes. Breton knows nothing of the rhapsodies of the mystic, nothing of the spiritual conflicts of Saint Augustine, nothing of the higher selfishness of Thomas à Kempis; but he is a simple, true-hearted, conscientious man, who means to do his best,  and is sincerely sorry when he fails."

Breton's pastoral poems are his best-known these days, but he was mainly a religious writer. Raleigh's poem is religious, too. (Jaggard's anthology sounds religious, but it isn't.) Though passion in Shakespeare's usage tends to be contrasted with reason, other writers felt that passion was appropriate to a religious poem.
Some of this might be down to the influence of religious language, e.g. "The Passion of Christ", where the word translates late Latin passio, meaning "suffering".  This is what Breton means in his titles "The Countess of Penbrook's Passion" and  "A Testament Upon the Passion", but the latter poem is placed right in the midst of other poems that are concerned with passion in its secular senses.  The religious meaning of "passion" is not the meaning in the title "The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage" nor in Breton's title "A Solemn Passion of the Soul's Love". (I suppose "passion" in this context basically means an effusion of devotional feeling.)


Given the paucity of information about Nicholas Breton online (or texts of his poems), I found this extract from the DNB useful: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Breton,_Nicholas_(DNB00)

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