«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
What Lescarbot’s text ultimately stages, then, is not the equality of distinct peoples, but rather the assimilation of the native peoples into French society.
In Morton’s Mayday revels the role played by the Native Americans is not so much one of an “Other” to be assimilated as of a people whose customs are already in harmony with those of the English. While the natives participate happily in his drinking, dancing, singing, and general merrymaking, however, the Puritans vehemently object to Morton’s indulgence in what he calls an “old English custom” (132), one whose revival had been actively encouraged by James I, Charles I, and Archbishop Laud. Perhaps the best indication of Puritan antipathy for this practice can be found in a passage from Wood’s New England Prospect that transforms the “inhuman homicides” of the “cannibal” Mohawks into a devilish pastiche of Mayday, in which they “fatten up” a “neighbor” and “br[ing that person] forth each day to be new painted, piped unto, and hemmed-in with a ring of bare-skinned morris dancers, who presented their antics before him. In a word, when they sported enough about this walking Maypole, a rough-hewn satyr cutteth a gobbit of flesh from his brawny arm, eating it in his view” (76). Where Wood’s text defamiliarizes English Mayday customs, though, Morton’s defamiliarizes the Puritans themselves, mocking their Old Testament vocabulary by having them call his Maypole “the Calf of Horeb” (134), and thereby casting them, symbolically, as Jews rather than Englishmen.64 Morton also belittles the Puritans for their inability to interpret the enigmatical poem, “Rise, Oedipus,” which he nails to the Maypole in the midst of the revels, an inability which reveals their distinctly unenglish intellectual poverty.
In their vocal objections to Morton’s performance, as recorded in Morton’s account of his Mayday revels, the Puritans play the role of antimasquers, threatening the social order that he is attempting to establish.65 Morton thus notes that after the revels the Puritans “sought occasion … to overthrow his undertakings and destroy his plantation quite and See Nicholas McDowell’s excellent article “The stigmatizing of Puritans as Jews in Jacobean England” for an enlightening analysis of several possible sources for Morton’s rhetoric here, including Ben Jonson’s plays and Francis Bacon’s political speeches. Particularly noteworthy is McDowell’s observation that this rhetoric was linked to the Puritan resistance to King James’ Book of Sports, which, among other things, encouraged the erection of Maypoles as part of the celebration of Mayday.
The Oxford English Dictionary aptly and succinctly defines an antimasque as a “grotesque interlude between the acts of a masque, to which it served as a foil.” clean” (136). What this resistance demonstrates, however, is that the Puritans actually did understand the message behind Morton’s poem, as well as behind the antlers which he nailed to the top of his maypole. They knew that he meant to cuckold them, to husband the land out from under them, and thus they acted to preempt Morton by jailing him and razing his maypole to the ground in an act of symbolic emasculation. In this fashion the antimasquers take control of the masque, averting the political and social union between “Old” and “New” English that was its intended end.
The remainder of the third book of the New English Canaan consists of Morton’s attempts to reverse the symbolic defeat that he suffered at the hands of the Puritans, reworking these events in a masque-like agglomeration of history, allegory, poetry, and polemic that offers a characteristically Jacobean blend of Biblical and Classical allusions.
In this endeavor Morton resorts to ever more baroque symbolism, fabricating a truly Protean set of transformations in his recounting of the destruction of the maypole and its aftermath. The maypole first becomes, in the poem entitled “Bacchanal Triumph,” a “prodigeous birth” that the Puritans perceive as “a hiddeous monster [with] a forked tail” (146): the Hydra. The Puritans are then transformed into “Squires of low degree” (146), and set forth on a mission to “give to Hidraes head the fall” (147). They are successful, of course, and the Hydra, being captured, is “bound [and] conveyd by Stix unto the godds” (148). This last detail establishes a symbolic identification of the Hydra—and, by extension, the maypole itself—with Morton: it having been felled, so is he, and the two of them are sent back across the “Styx”—that is, to England.
Having thus portrayed his defeat in classical heroic terms, Morton then stages his symbolic resurrection in a similar fashion, generating an identification between the maypole, the boat which took Morton to England, and the Trojan Horse, all of which, as William Scheick has observed, are made of wood. This symbolic transformation of the maypole into the Trojan Horse serves as the pivot to yet another motif, which plays upon Morton’s use of gendered imagery: the tomb become womb. If the maypole serves as a priapic assertion of Morton’s “masculine virtue”—which, as we shall see, is a vital aspect of his campaign to cast himself as the ideal Englishman—and the tale of the Hydra as his symbolic death, then Morton’s trip back to England—on a ship called, appropriately enough, the Jonas—becomes an opportunity to be reborn. The Trojan Horse contained the troops who ultimately defeated Troy with a surprise attack, and what Morton suggests, in the final chapters of New English Canaan, is that he too will spring from the belly of the horse, which is also the belly of the biblical whale, to defeat the Puritans.
This last transformation of the ship from horse to whale enables Morton to cast himself as Jonah, and thus turn the Puritans’ own paradigm of religious typology against them.
Morton underlines this in his recounting of the troubled voyage he and his fellows aboard ship made back to England, when he states several times that “it was the great mercy of God that they had not all perished” (186, 187), suggesting the omnipresent threat of death. But, like Jonah, Morton emerges from the whale’s belly, and thus what was a
tomb becomes a womb:
Mine hoost of Ma-re Mount [that is, Morton] (after hee had bin in the Whales belly) was set a shore to see if hee would now play Ionas, so metamorphosed with a longe voyage, that hee looked like Lazarus in the painted cloath. But mine Host (after due consideration of the premises) thought it fitter for him to play Ionas in this kinde, then for the Separatists [that is, the Puritans] to play Ionas in that kinde as they doe. … And now mine Host, being merrily disposed, haveing past many perillous adventures in that desperat Whales belly, beganne in a posture like Ionas and cryed Repent you cruell Separatists repent, there are as yet but 40.
days if Iove vouchsafe to thunder, Charter and the Kingdome of the Separatists will fall a sunder. Repent, you cruell Schismaticks repent.
(187-188) Seen in the light of these complex transformations, Daniel Shea’s conclusion that “[w]hat Morton’s text represents is the attempt to write New England as masque” makes sense.
Morton attempted to use his book “to effect the magical end and essence of the form, a metamorphosis that by its very nature could exclude the Separatists, make them exiles in their own kingdom, and forbid them entry into Canaan” (58): by becoming Jonah he could bring the vengeance of God down upon the Puritans’ heads. And, at least symbolically, this strategy worked. Jove, ultimately, did thunder: in 1637, shortly after the publication of New English Canaan, the quo warranto Morton had prosecuted on behalf of Laud and the Council for New England was ruled valid, and Charles recalled the Massachusetts Bay charter to England.
The problem remains, however, that neither Morton nor the King himself were able to actualize what they had symbolically represented, and thus failed to achieve the union of real and ideal that is the aim of both the masque as a literary genre and the law as a tool for social regulation. Internal political and religious strife in England prevented the quo warranto ruling from being carried out, and so the Puritans retained their charter and their control of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. Because Morton had identified himself with a political order whose effective power had been radically reduced, the potential for his own performance was limited as well. The confiscation of the initial, London imprint of New English Canaan by English civil authorities, evidence of which has been recently discovered by Paul Sternberg, is emblematic of this reduced capacity to effect real political change.
Comparing the wild transformations and reversals of Morton’s text with the balance and order of Lescarbot’s “Théâtre de Neptune” suggests not only the latter’s more stable social and political position but his greater confidence of ultimate success. In Lescarbot’s text the only element even approximating an antimasque is a speech made in Gascon by one of Neptune’s tritons, who playfully suggests that Neptune is too busy chasing after girls to be able to keep his promise always to protect French ships on the sea. That he speaks in Gascon and not French is suggestive, given Lescarbot’s concern for linguistic purity; he stands for all the sub-national ethnic groups—Gascons, Basques, Languedociens, and so on—that Lescarbot holds to be a threat to the national political order. Of course, Henri IV’s own Béarnaise origins complicate this iconography, though his ultimate acceptance of Catholicism and his role in the reunification and pacification of France offer an example of how assimilation can help to produce civil order.66 Moreover, the “challenge” the Gascon Triton represents to the ordered union of the Old As Bernard Moleux discusses in his “Béarnais and Gascon today: language behavior and perception,” differentiating in any systematic way between the various dialects (Béarnais, Gascon, etc.) of Southern France that are collectively referred to by linguists as “Occitan” is an enterprise fraught with political and epistemological complications. Moleux shows that where academically-trained philologists are apt to note that Occitan, taken as whole, is both distinct and substantial enough to constitute a language, speakers of these various dialects tend to reject the idea of a shared Occitan language, and will even refuse to speak it with their children and grandchildren who have learned the language in an academic setting. Given his overwhelming desire for political and social unity, it is hardly a challenge to imagine whom Lescarbot would side with in this debate.
French and “New French” is barely even that, since the speech is more humorous than serious, and does not prevent the performance from ending in its ritual communal feast.
In terms of his metropolitan audience, Lescarbot’s relationship to Henri IV and, later, Louis XIII certainly put him on a much more stable footing than did Morton’s with Charles. Similarly, Lescarbot’s relationship with his immediate patrons was much stronger than Morton’s with Archbishop Laud and Sir Gorges, since both de Monts and Poutrincourt were present in the Port Royal colony to appreciate his efforts on their behalf. The support of Laud and Gorges for Morton was partial at best, extending only in so far as their interests coincided. Even the publication history of the New English Canaan itself suggests this, for, if the patronage of Laud and Gorges, not to mention Charles, had extended beyond their use of Morton to prosecute the quo warranto against the Puritans, then the first print run might well have been restored to him.
Patronage alone, however, was not enough to fully secure the results Lescarbot desired either, since Henri IV ultimately gave in to the protests of merchants from Holland and, in 1607, revoked the monopoly that he had granted to de Monts in 1603. This removed the all-important financial basis upon which Port Royal and other colonies were to be based; fishing and fur-trading could be more profitably carried out without the establishment of permanent planter colonies, which would only serve as a drain on their profits. Where Morton’s New English Canaan lays bare the challenge to his authority but cannot contain it, Lescarbot’s “Théâtre de Neptune” underestimates the threat represented by oppositional forces within his own society rather than neutralizing them. The fate of these two theatrical productions—marginal both in the location of their performance and in their generic status—thereby ably demonstrates the complex power struggles that Butler suggests are at play behind (between? beyond?) the scenes of a performance designed to reinforce the monarch’s authority.
The difficulties that Morton and Lescarbot faced in their attempts to regulate the colonization of the Americas not only confirm for us how divided these nascent nationempires were, especially when it came to the hotly contested problem of how to respond to the “discovery” of the New World, but also remind us that there are serious limits to the power of language and literature to bring about material changes in the world. These limits are particularly evident in the New World, where, as Stephen Greenblatt has noted, “[w]ords … seem always to be trailing after events that pursue a terrible logic quite other than the fragile meanings that they construct” (Marvelous Possessions 63). As a literary scholar, however, I must insist with Greenblatt that the “contemptuous dismissal of th[is] discourse” is as flawed a response to these writings as the belief in “linguistic omnipotence” (63, 62). The “fate” of these texts, after all, lies not only in their immediate effect—or lack thereof—but in their reception over the long term as well.