Thursday, 10 November 2011

Friar Bacon

To be more specific, Friar Bacon and Friar Bacon Bungay (1589). The brass head, in particular, interests me: that proto-robot, and the concomitant notion that this head will somehow 'surround albion with mighty walls of bronze'. Here, at the end of the play, and after the magic head has been broken, Bacon dismisses his servant, Miles, from his service:
Villain, if thou hadst call'd to Bacon then,
If thou hadst watch'd, and wak'd the sleepy friar,
The Brazen Head had utter'd aphorisms,
And England had been circled round with brass.
But proud Asmenoth, ruler of the north,
And Demogorgon, master of the fates,
Grudge that a mortal man should work so much.
Hell trembled at my deep commanding spells,
Fiends frown'd to see a man their overmatch;
Bacon might boast more than a man might boast!
But now the braves of Bacon have an end,
Europe's conceit of Bacon hath an end,
His seven years' practice sorteth to ill end--
And, villain, sith my glory hath an end,
I will appoint thee to some fatal end.
Villain, avoid! Get thee from Bacon's sight!
Vagrant, go roam and range about the world,
And perish as a vagabond on earth!
Brass: the metallic defensor. 'Asmenoth' has puzzled commentators.  There's a demon called 'Asmath' in Shakespeare's 2 Henry VI 1:4:24; although editors sometimes correct this to 'Asnath', to make it an anagram of 'Satan'/'Sathanas'; perhaps both relate to 'Asmodeus the evil spirit' in Tobit 3:8-17. This latter seems likely, except that 'Ashmodeus' (in Tobit as elsewhere) is specifically a demon of lust. Some vaguely sexual connotations may be at work here; but surely in a purely alchemical-coded sense: two demons, one standing for zinc, another for copper, 'mating' together to produce the magical, prophylactic 'brass'.  We could go a little further down this alley, and see the celebrated prophetic speech at the play's end as engendered, via strange copulation, in this manner:
Why, Bacon,
What strange event shall happen to this land;
Or what shall grow from Edward and his queen?
Which is to say: 'what will be the result of this uncanny 'knowledge', both carnal and alchemic?'
I find by deep prescience of mine art,
Which once I temper'd in my secret cell,
[anachronistically, this has picked up additional resonance; for as we know now, sex produces a fertilised 'cell' that then grows into a future human body]
That here where Brute did build his Troynovant,
From forth the royal garden of a king
Shall flourish out so rich and fair a bud,
Whose brightness shall deface proud Phoebus' flower,
And over-shadow Albion with her leaves.
Till then Mars shall be master of the field,
But then the stormy threats of wars shall cease--
The horse shall stamp as careless of the pike,
Drums shall be turn'd to timbrels of delight;
With wealthy favours plenty shall enrich
The strand that gladded wandering Brute to see,
And peace from heaven shall harbour in those leaves
That gorgeous beautify this matchless flower.
Apollo's heliotropion then shall stoop,
And Venus' hyacinth shall vail her top;
Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay
Juno shall shut her gilliflowers up,
And Pallas' bay shall 'bash her brightest green;
Ceres' carnation, in consort with those,
Shall stoop and wonder at Diana's rose.
This prophecy is mystical.
But, glorious commanders of Europa's love,
That make fair England like that wealthy isle
Circled with Gihon and swift Euphrates,
In royalizing Henry's Albion
With presence of your princely mightiness--
Let 's march: the tables all are spread,
And viands, such as England's wealth affords,
Are ready set to furnish out the boards.
You shall have welcome, mighty potentates!
It rests to furnish up this royal feast,
Only your hearts be frolic; for time
Craves that we taste of naught but jouissance.
Thus glories England over all the west.

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