— 1.1 —
In the year 1610, Face and Subtle were in the midst of an argument in a room in Lovewit’s house. Subtle was arguing that he deserved a bigger share of the profits, and Face was strenuously objecting. Face, who had a notable beard, was wearing a Captain’s uniform, and he had drawn his sword. Subtle was carrying a vial of liquid. A worried Doll Common was also in the room.
Face threatened, “Believe it, I will.”
Subtle responded, “Do your worst. I fart at you.”
He turned around, bent over, and farted.
Doll, worried that passersby would hear the argument, said, “Have you lost your wits? Why, gentlemen! For the love of —”
Ignoring Doll, Face said to Subtle, “Sirrah, I’ll strip you —”
He was using “Sirrah” as an insult. It was a term used by a person of high social rank to address a man of low social rank.
Subtle said, “So you can do what? Lick the figs sticking out of my —”
Face interrupted before Subtle could end his question with the word “ass.” Figs are hemorrhoids.
Face said, “Rogue, rogue, I want you to get out and stop all of your cons.”
Doll said, “No. Look, Sovereign. Look, General. Are you madmen?”
Wanting the two men to stop quarreling, she had given them high and mighty titles.
Subtle said to Face, “Oh, let the wild sheep loose.”
“Mutton” is a slang word for a prostitute. Face had grabbed hold of Doll, who was standing in between the two men in an attempt to keep them from physically fighting. “Wild” means “licentious.”
Subtle continued talking to Face, “I’ll gum your silks with good strong water, if you come near me.”
The silks were fancy clothing, and the strong water was the acid in the vial that Subtle was carrying. He was threatening to throw acid on Face’s clothing and ruin it.
Doll said, “Will you have the neighbors hear you? Will you ruin everything? Do you want everyone to know what we are up to?
“Listen! I hear somebody.”
Face began, “Sirrah —”
Subtle interrupted, “I shall mar all that the tailor has made, if you approach me.”
A tailor-made man is quite different from a self-made man. The clothing of a tailor-made man is worth more than the man wearing the clothing.
Face said, “You most notorious whelp — you pup! You insolent slave! Do you dare to do that?”
“Yes, indeed. Indeed, yes.”
Face said, “Why, who do you think I am, my mongrel! Don’t you know who I am?”
“I’ll tell you who you are,” Subtle said, “since you yourself don’t know who you are.”
Face said, “Speak lower, rogue. Don’t yell.” He did not like what he was hearing.
Subtle said, “Yes, you were once (the time is not long past) the good, honest, plain, livery-three-pound-thrum, who kept your master’s house here in the Blackfriars district during the vacations — the periods of time when the law courts are not active, and fashionable people leave London.”
He was calling Face a lowly and low-paid servant. Livery is the distinctive clothing a servant wears. Three pounds was Face’s annual salary. Thrum is poor-quality cloth — which Face’s livery was made of.
Face said, “Must you be so loud?” He did not like what he was hearing.
Subtle said, “Since then, by my means, you have been transformed into a suburb-Captain.”
Subtle had gotten a Captain’s uniform for Face to assist him in playing his part in the cons they were attempting to pull off. Face, of course, could not pass as a Captain in the army, but in the suburbs — the disreputable places outside the city — he could very well pass as a Captain.
Face said, “By your means, Doctor Dog!”
Alchemists would combine sulphur (thought of as male) and quicksilver (thought of as female). The combining was sometimes referred to as the copulation of dog and bitch.
Subtle said, “Within man’s memory, I have done all this I speak of.”
“Within man’s memory” means “You ought not to have forgotten this.”
Face said, “Why, I ask you: Have I been countenanced by you, or you by me?”
The word “countenance” is a verb meaning “support,” but Face was also punning on its meaning as a noun meaning “face.” Both Face and Subtle had helped each other to put on false “faces” that would help them to con people. Both were helping the other to put on a front.
Face added, “Do but recollect, sir, where I first met you.”
“I do not hear well,” Subtle said. He did not like what he was hearing.
Possibly, Face was trying to keep his voice low in an attempt to keep anyone outside the house from hearing the argument. (People came to the house and waited outside until they were admitted.) But if Subtle had previously been convicted of crimes, his ears could have been cut off and the loss of the shells of his ears could interfere with his hearing whispers. Subtle could possibly be wearing a headpiece that would hide his mutilation.
“Not when you hear what I have to say, I think,” Face said. “But I shall remind you, sir, of where I first met you — at Pie Corner, taking your meal of steam in from cooks’ stalls.”
Pie Corner is near Smithfield. It gets its name from the Magpie Inn, but many shops there sold meat pies. Subtle then had no money to buy food, so he was dining on the smell of the food.
Face continued, “In Pie Corner, as you were the father of hunger, you walked piteously, suffering from constipation. You had no money to buy food, and the result was that your body produced nothing that would relieve constipation. Your nose was long and thin and pinched with hunger — or syphilis — as if it were a shoehorn. Your complexion was sallow and unhealthy, and on your face were black and melancholic marks, blackheads that looked like the smuts left by grains of gunpowder on the faces of people practicing their aim with firearms on the targets in the Artillery Garden.”
Subtle said sarcastically, “I wish you could raise your voice a little.” He did not like what he was hearing.
Face continued, “Your clothing consisted of several rags pinned together that you had raked and picked from dunghills before daybreak. You wore moldy slippers on your feet because of the chilblains on your heels. You wore a hat of cheap wool and your cloak was threadbare and was scarcely long enough to cover the meager buns that you call your buttocks —”
“Sir!” an outraged Subtle objected.
Face said, “When all your alchemy and your algebra, and your minerals, plants, and animals, your conjuring, your cheating, and your dozen of trades could not relieve the corpse you call your body with as much underwear as would give you enough tinder to start a fire” — scraps of linen were used to start fires — “I gave you countenance. I gave you support, and I gave you enough credit to get your coal, your stills for distilling liquids, your vials, and your materials. I built you an oven for your alchemy. I drew in customers for you. I advanced all your black arts. I lent you, in addition, a house to pull your cons in —”
“It is your master’s house!” Subtle said.
“And there you have studied the more thriving skill of bawdry since,” Face said. “You have made my house a brothel.”
“Yes, I have been a pimp in your master’s house,” Subtle said. “I have done that in a house where you and the rats live. Don’t pretend not to know about the rats.
“I know you were a man who would keep the pantry always locked, and keep the scraps of leftover food that ought to have been given to the poor. I know that you would keep the leftover beer that ought to have been given to the poor and instead sell it to the aqua-vita men who would distill it and sell the result as better liquid than it was. By pulling such cons, and by making Christmas tips by providing gambling chips for post-and-pair card games, you made yourself a ‘pretty’ stock of money, some twenty marks or approximately thirteen pounds sterling. This made you wealthy enough to converse with the cobwebs that are here in this house since your master’s wife’s death has broken up the house.”
“You might talk softlier, rascal,” Face said. He did not like what he was hearing.
“No, you dung beetle,” Subtle said. “I’ll use my voice to thunder you into pieces. I will teach you how to beware to enrage a Fury again, a Fury who carries a tempest in his hand and voice.”
A Fury is an avenging spirit that rises from Hell to take vengeance on criminals such as people who murder their parent. The tempest in Subtle’s hand was the acid in the vial.
“The place has made you valiant,” Face said.
He meant the place — position, and place to live — that he, Face, had given Subtle.
“No, your clothes,” Subtle replied. He meant that Face’s undeserved Captain’s uniform had made him, Subtle, valiant. He was facing a spurious, not a real, Captain, and so he was not afraid.
Face can be forgiven if he thought that Subtle was referring to the good-quality clothing that Face had provided for him.
Face had talked about the way that he had supported and helped Subtle, but Subtle had then begun talking about the way that he had supported and helped Face.
According to Subtle, he had transformed Face — for example, from a lowly servant to a high-ranking Captain. This transformation was similar to the transformation wrought in alchemy, which was thought to be able to produce a philosopher’s stone that would transform base metals such as iron and lead into valuable metals such as silver and gold.
Subtle said, “I have taken you, vermin, out of dung. You were so poor, so wretched, that no living thing would keep you company except a spider or worse. I have raised you from brooms, and dust, and watering pots. I have sublimed you, and exalted you, and fixed you in the third region, which is called our state of grace. I have wrought you to spirit, to quintessence, by taking pains that would twice have won me the philosopher’s work. I have worked so hard at bettering you that if I had applied that work to alchemy, I could have created two philosopher’s stones.”
Subtle was using many alchemical terms. According to Subtle, he had metaphorically vaporized (sublimed) Face, concentrated (exalted) him, and stabilized (fixed) his volatility. All of this results in a state of purification. By doing so, he had brought Face to the third region, which is the highest and purest of the three regions of air. According to alchemy, when matter is heated and purified, the result is spirit — essence, which rises into the air. Quintessence is a fifth essence. The first four essences are the four elements — earth, air, fire, and water — which, according to alchemy, make up all material things. Quintessence is incorruptible and pure and is able to transform the first four essences into a harmonious whole. Quintessence is the purest form and is what alchemists think celestial bodies are made of.
Subtle believed that he had raised Face from a humble servant to a man who was on the verge of becoming rich through successful cons.
Subtle continued, “I taught you how to speak properly and how to dress fashionably. I made you fit for more than fellowships in taverns and common eating places.
“I taught you the rules for how to properly swear oaths and the rules for how to properly quarrel. I taught you the rules for how to cheat at horseraces, cockfights, card games, games of dice, and whatever other gallant tinctures that exist.”
In alchemy, a tincture can make a substance seem golden. Subtle was saying that he had taught Face how to appear to be more than a common servant.
Subtle said, “I made you a second in my own great art. I have taught you the tricks of alchemy.
“And this is what I have for thanks!
“Do you rebel now? Do you fly out in the projection! Would you be gone now?”
To fly out is to explode. The projection is the final stage of the production of the philosopher’s stone. If the projection is unsuccessful, the result is an explosion that would destroy the alchemist’s laboratory.
Subtle was saying that he had been working hard to turn Face into a philosopher’s stone that would create a lot of silver and gold, but if Face chose to rebel now the result would be a failure of all their efforts. In other words, very soon they would make a lot of money from their cons, but if Face chose to rebel now the result would be the loss of all the money they could have made.
Doll said, “Gentlemen, what do you mean to accomplish by arguing? Will you mar all? Will you ruin everything?”
The two men continued to argue.
Subtle said to Face, “Slave, you had no name, no reputation, no nothing —”
Doll said, “Will you ruin yourselves with civil war?”
Subtle continued, “You would never have been known, past equi clibanum, the heat of horse dung, underground, in cellars, or in an ale house darker than that of Deaf John’s. You would have been lost to all Mankind, except laundresses and tapsters, had I not come and raised you up.”
Again, Subtle was using alchemical language. “Equi clibanum” is Latin for “Horses’ Oven.” Horse dung produces heat as a result of decomposition. This mild heat was used in the earliest stages of trying to produce the philosopher’s stone. Subtle was saying that Face was previously in the lowest parts of society, but that he, Subtle, had taught him how to rise to much higher parts of society.
Doll said to Subtle, “Do you know who hears you, Sovereign?”
Doll was hearing Subtle. Although she knew and had known Subtle, she was still a prostitute. She had not risen in society.
Face began to say to Subtle, “Sirrah —”
Doll interrupted and said to Face, “No, General, I thought you were civil.”
She still wanted the two men to stop quarreling and not use the word “Sirrah.”
Face ignored Doll and said to Subtle, “I shall turn desperate, if you speak so loud.”
A desperate man can be a violently angry man.
Subtle said, “Go hang yourself! I don’t care if you grow desperate and out of desperation hang yourself.”
A desperate man can be a suicidal man.
Face said, “Hang yourself, collier.”
A collier is a dealer in coal and charcoal. They often had dirty faces and a reputation for cheating customers by giving incorrect weights for coal purchased. As an alchemist, Subtle used lots of coal and sometimes had a sooty face.
Face continued, “And you can go hang all your pots and pans. In a picture, I will hang you since you have angered me —”
The picture would be a publicly posted notice to alert the general public that Subtle is a con man. It would have Subtle’s picture on it.
Doll said, “Oh, this will overthrow and ruin all our work.”
Face said to Subtle, “I will write a bill and post it publicly at Saint Paul’s Cathedral. In it, I will tell everyone that you are a pimp. I will reveal all your tricks of cheating.
“I will tell how you hollow out a piece of coal, fill it with silver shavings, plug the hole with a piece of wax, burn the coal, and then show your sucker the silver in the pan — the supposed result of your alchemy.
“I will tell how you pretend to find things by using a witching device made of a sieve and scissors.
“I will tell how you use your imagination to make up horoscopes and tables of the houses — divisions — of the zodiac.
“I will tell how you use your imagination to look for the shadows — the ‘spirits’ — that appear in a crystal ball.
“I will tell all of these things in a large bill with the words written in red ink and with a woodcut of your face, which is worse than the hideous mask worn by the highwayman Gamaliel Ratsey while he committed his robberies.”
According to a pamphlet titled “Ratseis Ghost,” Gamaliel Ratsey once paid some actors to perform for him. The next day he robbed the actors of the money he had paid them.
“Are you of sound mind?” Doll asked. “Are you still in your right senses, masters, or have you lost your minds?”
Face continued, “I will create a book, one that barely covers your many, many cons, but which will still prove to be a true philosopher’s stone to printers. So many people will buy such a scandalous book that it will be very, very profitable.”
Subtle said, “Go away, you trencher-rascal! You are good for nothing except to eat other people’s food!”
A trencher is a wooden plate.
Face said, “Get out, you dog-doctor! Get out, you quack! You are the vomit of all prisons —”
Doll asked, “Will you be your own destructions, gentlemen?”
Face continued, “— always spewed out as a result of eating more than your share of the scraps of food provided for the prisoners!”
Subtle said, “Cheater!”
Face said, “Bawd!”
Doll said, “Oh! We are ruined. We are lost! Have you no more regard for your reputations? Where’s your judgment? By God’s light, have yet some concern about me, who am of your republic —”
Doll made a part of the group of swindlers along with Subtle and Face, and so she was a part of their republic. In addition, the Latin respublica means “common thing.” In this society, one meaning of “thing” was genitals. As a prostitute who had sexual relations with members of the general public, Doll had a public thing. In fact, you could say that she worked in public relations. Both Subtle and Face may have slept with Doll.
Face said, “Take away this bitch! I’ll bring you, rogue, to court on account of the statute against sorcery, passed into law in tricesimo tertio — the thirty-third year — of the reign of King Henry VIII.”
In 1604, under King James I, the statute against sorcery was passed again.
Face continued, “Yes, and perhaps I’ll bring your neck within a noose, for laundering gold and barbing it.”
Gold coins were laundered by being washed in acid, which would remove some of the gold, which would be recovered and sold later. Barbing gold coins meant shaving off some of the edges of the coins. Both laundering and barbing — barbering — gold coins were punishable by death or by having one’s ears cut off.
Doll snatched Face’s sword and said, “You’ll bring your head within a cockscomb, will you?”
Many professional Fools wore hats that looked like a cockscomb — the comb, aka crest, of a rooster. Doll meant that Face was behaving like a fool.
Doll knocked Subtle’s vial out of his hand and said, “And you, sir, with your menstrue — gather it up.”
A menstrue is a strong solvent.
Doll said, “Damn, you abominable pair of stinkards, leave off your barking and become one team again, or by the light that shines, I’ll cut your throats. I’ll not be made a prey for the Marshal, for never a snarling dog-bolt of you both.”
As a prostitute, Doll wanted to stay away from the Marshal, who would punish prostitutes by whipping them.
A dog-bolt is a blunt arrow. Doll was saying that the two men were doing a lot of barking but no biting.
Doll continued, “Have you two been swindling all this while, and swindling all the world, and shall it now be said that you’ve made the most ‘courteous’ decision to swindle yourselves?”
She said to Face, “You will accuse him! You will bring him into the court on account of the statue against sorcery! Who shall believe your words? You are a whoreson, upstart, apocryphal — fake — Captain, whom not a Puritan in Blackfriers will trust so much as for a feather.”
Feathers were used for personal adornments. Surprisingly, Puritan shopkeepers in the Blackfriers area sold feathers.
Doll said to Subtle, “And you, too, you will argue your case for a bigger share of the profits — ha! You will insult Face and me, and you will claim a primacy in the division of profits! You want the biggest portion! You must be chief! As if only you had the powder to project with!”
The powder was pulverized philosopher’s stone that was sprinkled on the base metal that was to be transformed into silver or gold. This was part of the alchemical procedure called projection. Doll meant, As if only you were pulling this con!
She continued, “As if the work were not begun out of equality! As if the venture and the risk were not tripartite? As if all things were not in common! As if we three were not equal partners and no one has priority!”
She paused and then said to both men, “By God’s death! You perpetual curs, make up and become a team together. Cozen kindly, and heartily, and lovingly, as you should, and don’t lose the beginning of a term.”
“To cozen” means “to cheat” and “to deceive” and “to con.” Doll wanted the two men to cheat other men; she also wanted them to be on as good terms as if they were closely related cousins.
The beginning of the term was the beginning of one of the periods of the years when the law courts were in session. During those periods, London was filled with people and with opportunities for swindlers.
Doll continued, “If you don’t make up and become friends, I shall grow factious, too, and take my own part, and quit you. I will form a faction of one, leave you two, and strike out on my own.”
Face said, “It is his fault; he always moans, and he makes a fuss about the pains he is suffering and is taking, and he says that the heavy lifting of all our cons lies upon him.”
Subtle said, “Why, so it does.”
Doll replied, “How does it? Don’t Face and I do our parts?”
Subtle said, “Yes, but they are not equal to mine.”
Doll said, “Why, if your part exceeds our parts today, I hope that ours may, tomorrow, match it.”
Subtle said, “Yes, they may.”
Doll said, “May, murmuring mastiff! Yes, and they do. Death on me!”
By “Death on me!” Doll may have meant that she would be happy to be responsible for Subtle’s death and even to be hung for causing that death.
She grabbed Subtle by the throat and said to Face, “Help me throttle him.”
Subtle cried, “Dorothy! Mistress Dorothy! By God’s precious blood, I’ll do anything. What do you want?”
Doll said, “I’m doing this because of your fermentation and cibation —”
These were two of the stages of creating the philosopher’s stone. Cibation is the process of adding new materials while heating the mixture that was supposed to result in the philosopher’s stone, something necessary because of evaporation.
Doll was saying that Subtle’s brain had been fermenting with ideas to add more of the profits of the group cons to his pile of profits than were due to him.
Subtle said, “I’m not guilty of that, I swear by Heaven —”
Doll interrupted, “— and by your Sol and Luna.”
Sol, aka Sun, is an alchemical term for gold, and Luna, aka Moon, is an alchemical term for silver.
Subtle was silent.
Doll said to Face, “Help me strangle him.”
Subtle said, “If I were guilty of that, I wish that I would be hanged! I’ll behave. I’ll conform myself to your wishes.”
“Will you, sir?” Doll said. “Do so then, and quickly. Swear.”
Subtle asked, “What should I swear?”
Doll replied, “To leave your faction of one, sir, and labor kindly in the common work. Become a member of a team of three equal partners again.”
Subtle said, “Let me not breathe if I meant anything besides that. I used those speeches only as a spur to him.”
Doll said to Face, “I hope we need no spurs, sir. Do we?”
Face said, “By God’s eyelid, we’ll have a competition today to see who shall shark — swindle — best.”
“Agreed,” Subtle said.
Doll said, “Yes, and work together in a close and friendly fashion.”
Subtle said, “By God’s light, the knot among us shall grow all the stronger as a result of this quarrel, as far as I’m concerned.”
Subtle and Face shook hands.
Doll said, “Why, so it ought to be, my good baboons! Shall we go make a group of sober, scurvy, puritanical neighbors, who scarcely have smiled twice since James I became King, a feast of laughter? They will be happy to laugh at our follies.”
King James I had made some decisions that made Puritans unhappy. In 1603 at the Hampton Court Conference, he had rejected Puritan requests for ecclesiastical reforms. However, Puritans wanted people to know the Bible without intermediaries, and King James had commissioned the translation of the Bible that became known as the King James Version. The translation began in 1604 and was completed in 1611.
Doll continued, “These rascals would run themselves out of breath in order to come and to see me ride in a cart, or to see you two thrust your heads into a hole and have your ears cropped as rent for the time you spend in the pillory.”
Whores such as Doll could be shamed by being stripped to the waist and whipped as they walked behind a cart. Or whores could be made to ride in a cart to the place of punishment where they would be publicly whipped.
The alchemist Edward Kelley (1555-1597), an assistant of the astrologer Dr. John Dee, was punished for coining, aka forging, by being put in a pillory and having his ears cut off. Afterwards, he always wore a cap that hid his mutilation.
Doll continued, “Shall we be a feast of laughter for such people? No. Let’s agree that we shall not.
“My noble Sovereign and my worthy General, let’s agree that we hope Don Provost may provide a feast of laughter while wearing his old velvet jacket and stained scarves for a very long time before we contribute a new crewel garter to his most worsted worship the hangman.”
“Don” is an undeserved title for a Provost like “Sovereign” and “General” are when applied to Subtle and Face. Criminals convicted of serious crimes would ride in a cart to the place where they would be hung.
Doll was saying that it would be much better to be publicly whipped and provide laughter to onlookers than it would be to be hanged. Of course, she and the others were hoping to avoid being whipped.
The man who hanged criminals was entitled to the clothing of the people he hanged. The word “crewel” meant “worsted,” which is a kind of fabric. Doll also was punning on the word “cruel” when she said “crewel garter” — a cruel “garter” is a hangman’s rope and noose.
“Worsted” also meant “defeated” or “baffled.” Doll and her associates were hoping to continue to defeat the hangman by continuing to be not hanged by him.
The two men appreciated the jokes.
Subtle said, “Royal Doll! Spoken like Claridiana, and yourself.”
Claridiana is a character in the romance Mirror of Princely Deeds and Knighthood (1578). She was a daughter of Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, and she inherited Penthesilea’s armor. As a female Knight, she encroached upon social roles usually performed only by men.
By forcibly making Subtle agree to play his part in the cons without demanding a greater share of the profits, Doll Common had encroached upon a social role usually performed only by men.
Face said, “For which at supper, you shall sit in triumph, and not be styled Doll Common, but Doll Proper, Doll Singular. Whoever draws the longest straw, this night, shall win you as his Doll Particular.”
Face was saying that he and Subtle would draw straws to see who would sleep with Doll Common that night.
A bell rang.
“Who’s that?” Subtle said. “Someone is ringing. Go to the window, Doll, and see who it is.”
Doll went to the window.
Subtle said, “Pray to Heaven, Face, that your master does not trouble us for this quarter. We don’t want him to show up unexpectedly.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Face said. “As long as someone dies each week from the plague, he won’t even think about returning to London. Besides, he’s busy at his hop yards now; I have received a letter from him. If he does decide to return, he’ll send me orders to air out the house in advance, and you shall have sufficient time to leave it. Even if we have to break up within a fortnight, it doesn’t matter. We’ll have plenty of time.”
A fortnight is two weeks. “Fortnight” is short for “fourteen nights.”
Subtle asked, “Who is it, Doll?”
Doll Common replied, “A fine young quodling.”
A quodling is an unripe apple. A raw youth was at the door.
Face said, “Oh, he’s a lawyer’s clerk. I lighted on him last night, in Holborn, at the Dagger Inn. He wants to have — I told you about him — a familiar spirit to help him gamble on horse races and pick the horse that wins. He also wants the familiar spirit to help him win at cups and ball.”
Familiar spirits often take the form of an animal or fly; they assist witches or other people.
Cups and ball is a scam in which the con man has three cups and one ball, and the sucker has to guess under which cup the ball is. Actually, the ball is secreted in the con man’s hand and so the sucker will lose except for the times, which are infrequent, when the con man wants the sucker to win. (It’s not good business to have the suckers always lose.)
Doll Common said, “Oh, let him in.”
“Wait,” Subtle said. “Who shall con him?”
Face said, “Get your alchemist’s robes on. I will pretend that I am just leaving and meet him at the door.”
Doll Common asked, “And what shall I do?”
“Not be seen,” Face said. “Leave!”
Doll Common exited.
Face said to Subtle, “Seem to be very reserved. Seem reluctant to take his money.”
“Agreed,” Subtle said.
He exited to put on his robes.
Face said loudly so that the young man outside would hear, “God be with you, sir. Please let him know that I was here. His name is Dapper. I would gladly have stayed, but —”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved