Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Elizabethan Paint Jobs

 I've long been fascinated by the horrible things late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century Englishwomen of means did to their faces, in order to conform to a standard of beauty that was largely prescribed by literature. What standard? Eyes like suns or stars, skin like snow (except for the cheeks, wherein red and white roses were to be mingled), lips like cherries, teeth like polished alabaster. (Somehow that reminds me of George Washington.) Many people know Shakespeare's famous poetic critique of this (when you think about it) bizarre visual ideal, Sonnet 130, which begins, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," and includes the line "coral is far more red than her lips' red." Not so many folks are familiar with the kind of poetry Will was reacting to, so here's a sample, from his contemporary Thomas Campion: "There is a garden in her face / Where roses and white lilies grow; / A heav'nly paradise is that place / Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow." Now, let's stop right there.  The woman may have a fungal skin disease, and on top of that, the fruits in her face are flowing, like, maybe, applesauce. Yet there's more. "Those cherries [the lips] fairly do enclose / Of orient pearl a double row [her choppers] / Which when her lovely laughter shows, / They look like rose-buds fill'd with snow."
     This is hardly grammatical. Campion clearly stuck the word "They" in the last line