He uses his folly like a stalking-horse

From Shakespeare’s As You Like It (5.4.104-05):

He uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the
presentation of that he shoots his wit.

I had a vague sense of stalking-horse from its still-extant extended use in bankruptcy settlements – the stalking horse offer being one designed as a sort of reserve on the assets up for auction, a means of guaranteeing a minimum value they will go for. There’s also apparently another still-extant sense – closer to the original – used in business and politics, an explanation of which can be read here.

But the original use and definition is much more picturesque. It’s also unwieldy so here’s the OED’s refinement first:

1. A horse trained to allow a fowler to conceal himself behind it or under its coverings in order to get within easy range of the game without alarming it. Hence, a portable screen of canvas or other light material, made in the figure of a horse (or sometimes of other animals), similarly used for concealment in pursuing game.

More fun is Gervase Markham’s from his 1621 treatise Hungers Preuention: or The Whole Art of Fowling By Water and Land (online here but requiring some textual restoration as read):

Now forasmuch as these shelters or couerts are after a way then found, and that Fowle doe many times lye so farre remoued within the water, that vnlesse a man doe goe into it where no shelter at all is, more then a man bringeth with him, he cannot possibly compasse a shoote; so that of necessity a man must haue some moouing shaddow or shelter to walke by him; In this case there is nothing better then the stalking Horse, which is any old Iade trayned vp for that vse, which being stript naked and hauing nothing but a string without the neather chappe, of two or three yards longe, will gently and as you giue ocation to vrge him, walke vp and downe in the water which way you will haue him; flodding and eating vpon the grasse or other stuffe that growes there-in; and then being hardy & stoute without taking any affright at the report of the Peice, you shall shelter your selfe and your Peice behind his fore shoulder, bending your body downe low by his side, and keeping his body still full betweene you and the Fowle; Then haueing (as was before shewed) chosen your marke, you shall take your leuell from before the fore part of the Horse, shooting as it were betweene the Horses knees and the water, which is more safe and further then taking the leuell vnder the Horses belly, and much lesser to be perceaued; the shoulder of the Horse covering the body of the man, and the Horse’s legges shaddowing the legges of the man also: and as thus you stalke vpon the greate blanke waters, so you may stalk also along the bankes of Brookes in great Riuers, by little and little winning the Fowle to as neare a station as can be desired, and thus you may doe also vpon the firme ground, whether it be on moor, Heath, or other rotten earth, or else up the tylthe where greene Corne groweth; or generally, in any other haunt where Fowle are accustomably vsde to feede or abide.

Now forasmuch as these Stalking horse, or Horses to stalke withall, are not euer in readinesse, and at the best aske a good expence of time to bee brought to their best perfection: as also, in that euery poore man or other which taketh delight in this exercise, is either not master of a Horse, or if hee had one yet wanteth fit meanes to keepe him: and yet neuerthelesse this practise of Fowling must or should bee the greatest part of his mantenance. In this case he may take any pieces of oulde Canuasse, and hauing made it in the shape or proportion of a Horse with the head bending downeward, as if hee grased, and stoping it with dry Strawe, Mosse, Flocks, or any other light matter, let it be painted as neere the colour of a Horse as you can deuise; of which the Browne is the best, and in the midst let it be fixt to a Staffe with a picke of Iron in it to sticke downe in the ground at your pleasure, and stand fast whilest you chuse your marke, as also to turne and winde any way you please, either for your aduantage of the winde, or for the better taking of your leuell, and it must be made so portable that you may beare it easily with one hand, mooving and wagging it in such wise that it may seeme to mooue and graze as it goeth; nether must this in any wise exceed the ordinary stature or proportion of a common Horse, for to bee too low or little will not couer the man, and to be two big and huge will be both monstrous & troublesome, and giue affright to the Fowle, therefore the meane in this is the best measure, and only worth the obseruation.

This sort of thing lends itself to illustrations. Here’s the stuffed canvass stalking-horse from Markham’s text:

From Nicholas Cox’s 1686 The Gentleman’s Recreation (where he also makes mention of a stalking-cow, a search for which produced this modern equivalent):

One I can’t identify the origin of but Wikipedia dates as 1875:

It’s easy to see how the term shifts into the figurative uses given by the OED (A person whose agency or participation in a proceeding is made use of to prevent its real design from being suspected and An underhand means or expedient for making an attack or attaining some sinister object; usually, a pretext put forward for this purpose). In drama alone we see the above lines from Shakespeare in 1599. Then John Marston in The Malcontent (4.3.126) in 1603:

Yea, provident: beware an hypocrite;
A churchman once corrupted, O, avoid!
A fellow that makes religion his stalking-horse,
He breeds a plague: thou shalt poison him.

And John Webster in The White Devil (3.1.34-38) in 1612:

Oh, my unfortunate sister!
I would my dagger’s point had cleft her heart
When she first saw Bracciano. You, ’tis said,
Were made his engine and his stalking-horse
To undo my sister

If thou hadst not so much wit, I could find in my heart to marry thee

From John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (4.2), reminiscent of Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado and, as there, the only genuine relationship in the play.

Tysefew. But do you hear, lady?—you proud ape, you! What was the jest you brake of me even now?

Crispinella. Nothing. I only said you were all mettle;—that you had a brazen face, a leaden brain, and a copper beard.

Tysefew. Quicksilver,—thou little more than a dwarf, and something less than a woman.

Crispinella. A wisp! a wisp! a wisp!—will you go to the banquet?

Tysefew. By the Lord, I think thou wilt marry shortly too; thou growest somewhat foolish already.   

Crispinella. O, i’faith, ’tis a fair thing to be married, and a necessary. To hear this word must! If our husbands be proud, we must bear his contempt; if noisome, we must bear with the goat under his armholes; if a fool, we must bear his bable; and, which is worse, if a loose liver, we must live upon unwholesome reversions; where, on the contrary side, our husbands—because they may, and we must—care not for us. Things hoped with fear, and got with strugglings, are men’s high pleasures, when duty palls and flats their appetite.   

Tysefew. What a tart monkey is this! By heaven! if thou hadst not so much wit, I could find in my heart to marry thee. Faith, bear with me for all this!

Crispinella. Bear with thee? I wonder how thy mother could bear thee ten months in her belly, when I cannot endure thee two hours in mine eye.

Tysefew. Alas, for your sweet soul! By the Lord, you are grown a proud, scurvy, apish, idle, disdainful, scoffing—God’s foot! because you have read Euphues and his England, Palmerin de Oliva, and the Legend of Lies!

Crispinella. Why, i’faith, yet, servant, you of all others should bear with my known unmalicious humours: I have always in my heart given you your due respect. And Heaven may be sworn, I have privately given fair speech of you, and protested——

Tysefew. Nay, look you; for my own part, if I have not as religiously vow’d my heart to you,—been drunk to your health, swallowed flap-dragons, ate glasses, drunk urine, stabb’d arms, and done all the offices of protested gallantry for your sake; and yet you tell me I have a brazen face, a leaden brain, and a copper beard! Come, yet, and it please you.  

Crispinella. No, no;—you do not love me.

Tysefew. By —— but I do now; and whosoever dares say that I do not love you, nay, honour you, and if you would vouchsafe to marry——

Crispinella. Nay, as for that, think on’t as you will, but God’s my record,—and my sister knows I have taken drink and slept upon’t,—that if ever I marry, it shall be you; and I will marry, and yet I hope I do not say it shall be you neither.  

Tysefew. By Heaven, I shall be as soon weary of health as of your enjoying!—Will you cast a smooth cheek upon me?

Crispinella. I cannot tell. I have no crump’d shoulders, my back needs no mantle, and yet marriage is honourable. Do you think ye shall prove a cuckold?

Tysefew. No, by the Lord, not I!   

Crispinella. Why, I thank you, i’faith. Heigho! I slept on my back this morning, and dreamt the strangest dreams. Good Lord! How things will come to pass! Will you go to the banquet?

Tysefew. If you will be mine, you shall be your own:—my purse, my body, my heart, is yours,—only be silent in my house, modest at my table, and wanton in my bed;—and the Empress of Europe cannot content, and shall not be contented, better.   

Crispinella. Can any kind heart speak more discreetly affectionately? My father’s consent; and as for mine——

Tysefew. Then thus, and thus, so Hymen should begin; Sometimes a falling out proves falling in.

The Dutch Courtesan

A couple of exchanges from John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (from 1.2 and 3.1). I think the language is lively enough to stand without context or notes but there is an old edition available online that has a few pointers (here).

Surprisingly, there is also a complete filming of a 2013 University of York production available on Youtube (embedded below). I always prefer period-original productions but this one’s pretty delightful, especially given that there’s little to no chance of ever seeing another performance.

Cocledemoy. Hang toasts! I rail at thee, my worshipful organ-bellows that fills the pipes, my fine rattling fleamy cough o’ the lungs, and cold with a pox? I rail at thee? what, my right precious pandress, supportress of barber-surgeons, and enhanceress of lotium and diet-drink? I rail at thee, necessary damnation? I’ll make an oration, I, in praise of thy most courtly in-fashion and most pleasureable function, I.

Mary Faugh. Ay, prithee do, I love to hear myself praised, as well as any old lady, I.

Cocledemoy. List then:—a bawd; first for her profession or vocation, it is most worshipful of all the twelve companies; for, as that trade is most honourable that sells the best commodities—as the draper is more worshipful than the pointmaker, the silkman more worshipful than the draper, and the goldsmith more honourable than both, little Mary, so the bawd above all: her shop has the best ware; for where these sell but cloth, satins, and jewels, she sells divine virtues, as virginity, modesty, and such rare gems; and those not like a petty chapman, by retail, but like a great merchant, by wholesale; wa, ha, ho! And who are her customers? Not base corn-cutters or sowgelders, but most rare wealthy knights, and most rare bountiful lords, are her customers. Again, whereas no trade or vocation profiteth but by the loss and displeasure of another—as the merchant thrives not but by the licentiousness of giddy and unsettled youth; the lawyer, but by the vexation of his client; the physician, but by the maladies of his patient—only my smooth-gumm’d bawd lives by others’ pleasure, and only grows rich by others’ rising. O merciful gain, O righteous in-come! So much for her vocation, trade, and life. As for their death, how can it be bad, since their wickedness is always before their eyes, and a death’s head most commonly on their middle-finger? To conclude, ’tis most certain they must needs both live well and die well, since most commonly they live in Clerkenwell, and die in Bride-well. Dixi, Mary.

Crispinella. Pish! sister Beatrice, prithee read no more; my stomach o’ late stands against kissing extremely.

Beatrice. Why, good Crispinella?

Crispinella. By the faith and trust I bear to my face, ’tis grown one of the most unsavoury ceremonies: body o’ beauty! ’tis one of the most unpleasing injurious customs to ladies: any fellow that has but one nose on his face, and standing collar and skirts also lined with taffety sarcenet, must salute us on the lips as familiarly—Soft skins save us! there was a stub-bearded John-a-Stile with a ployden’s face saluted me last day and struck his bristles through my lips; I ha’ spent ten shillings in pomatum since to skin them again. Marry, if a nobleman or a knight with one lock visit us, though his unclean goose-turd-green teeth ha’ the palsy, his nostrils smell worse than a putrified marrowbone, and his loose beard drops into our bosom, yet we must kiss him with a cursy, a curse! for my part, I had as lieve they would break wind in my lips.

For comparison between the text and the stage, the first passage above starts at 11:00 and the second at 1:01 (both with minor vocab modifications for audience benefit).

As’t please the Thracian Boreas to blow, so turns our ayerie conscience, to, and fro.

The opening of John Marston’s second satire in his The Scourge of Villanie, titled ‘Difficile est Satyram non scribere‘ (Hard is it not to write Satire).  The title is a famous tag from Juvenal’s first Satire (line 30) and, as there, carries the double sense of ‘hard to stop myself’ and ‘hard to talk of matters without it becoming, by their nature, a satire’.  

There’s apparently a new edition of all Marston’s works in preparation by a team headed out of the University of Leeds but I’m stuck with an unannotated facsimile of the 1599 first edition (that is also available online here).  I modernized a bit of spelling for the second iteration below and glossed a bit of vocab.  This is a misleadingly clear sampling of his style.

I cannot hold, I cannot, I, indure
To view a big womb’d foggie clowde immure
The radiant tresses of the quickning sun:
Let Custards* quake, my rage must freely run.
Preach not the Stoickes patience to me;
I hate no man, but mens impietie.
My soul is vext, what power will’th desist?
Or dares to stop a sharpe fangd Satyrist?
Who’le coole my rage? Who’le stay my itching fist,
But I will plague and torture whom I list.
If that the three-fold walls of Babilon
Should hedge my tongue, yet I should raile upon
This fustie* world, that now dare put in ure*
To make JEHOVA but a coverture
To shade ranck filth, loose conscience is free,
From all conscience, what els hath libertie?

As’t please the Thracian Boreas to blow,
So turns our ayerie conscience, to, and fro.

I cannot hold, I cannot, I, endure
To view a big-womb’d foggie clowde immure
The radiant tresses of the quickening sun:
Let Custards* quake, my rage must freely run.
Preach not the Stoic’s patience to me;
I hate no man, but men’s impietie.
My soul is vex’d, what power will it desist?
Or dares to stop a sharp fanged Satirist?
Who’ll cool my rage? Who’ll stay my itching fist,
But I will plague and torture whom I list.
If that the three-fold walls of Babylon
Should hedge my tongue, yet I should rail upon
This fusty* world, that now dare put in ure*
To make JEHOVA but a coverture
To shade rank filth, loose conscience is free,
From all conscience, what else hath liberty?

As’t please the Thracian Boreas to blow,
So turns our airy conscience, to, and fro.

4 – Custard – fearful or cowardly person
13 – fustie – stale, having lost freshness … showing signs of age/neglect
13 – ‘put in ure’ – into use or practice

I must have liberty withal, as large a charter as the wind, to blow on whom I please

A part of a speech of Jacques in As You Like It (2.7):

I must have liberty
Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please; for so fools have;
And they that are most galled with my folly,
They most must laugh. And why, sir, must they so?
The ‘why’ is plain as way to parish church:
He that a fool doth very wisely hit
Doth very foolishly, although he smart,
Not to seem senseless of the bob: if not,
The wise man’s folly is anatomized
Even by the squandering glances of the fool.
Invest me in my motley; give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.

Because the syntax grows squishy around the middle, here’s the Arden gloss on He that…: He who is wounded by the fool’s well-aimed blow behaves very stupidly if he does not pretend – even while he is smarting under the wound – that the shaft has missed its mark.

There’s a possible echo of this image in a near-contemporary play I happen also to be reading, John Marston’s The Malcontent (1.3):

See, here he come. Now shall you hear the extremity of a malcontent: he is as free as air; he blows over every man.