«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
Where Orgel sees an opposition between power and authority, Geertz completely collapses the two through a process of radical abstraction, “depict[ing] a society whose true life is governed by ideas, expressed in symbols, enacted in rituals” (Kuper 117).
Culture, for Geertz, means not only the total identification of power and authority, but a dematerialization of knowledge that tends to neglect the material processes through which the transfer of knowledge and the production of meaning impact human behavior.
While I think Kuper’s criticism borders on misprision at times in its unforgiving interpretation of Geertz’s work, I am struck by the way that even such an astute scholar as Stephen Greenblatt can, under the sway of Geertz’s thought, be led to reduce “culture” to a series of symbolic “‘control mechanisms’” in the same breath as he denigrates an “anthropological interpretation [that] address[es] itself … to the mechanics of customs and institutions” (Greenblatt Renaissance 3, citing Geertz 44). Orgel’s account of Charles’ troubles reminds us, though, of the dangers of separating semantics from mechanics in order to elevate the former to a superior position, and thereby reducing power to a question of (purely) symbolic authority.
Maintaining, with Orgel, such a partial distinction between authority, as the symbolic expression of behavioral standards, and power, as the ability to realize (or, as Orgel puts it, “enforce”) that symbolic authority, is vital to a proper understanding of the performances and writings of Lescarbot and Morton. This is particularly true because they lived at a moment when the traditional authorities of church and state were being widely and hotly contested, complicating any attempt to directly translate symbolic authority into political power. Understanding this helps to clarify the significance of Mullaney’s conception of the “rehearsal of cultures”: the ritual performances he analyzes offer a mechanism for translating authority into power by instantiating a set of coherent and predictable behaviors in a given community as a basis for a greater political order.
What Lescarbot and Morton are up to, to return to terms I have already employed, is mobilizing the translatio studii in service of a translatio imperii. In order to carry out this singularly Baconian enterprise, however, they have to turn to the rather unbaconian means of public theater, adapting the rituals of their own society to a radically new context. This adaptation serves in particular to “refuse[r] … à l’Indien [i.e., Native American] toute dissemblance religieuse et/ou politique” (Gosman 42), 57 symbolically assimilating the Native American societies they encountered and thereby establishing their (and their respective nations’) authority to colonize the Americas.
“to refuse to the Indian all dissemblance religious and/or political” (translation mine) Thankfully for both authors, the period in which they lived produced a variety of dramatic genres that partook in what David Bevington and Peter Holbrook have characterized as “the Renaissance theatricalization of power” (9). Lescarbot could thus find in France numerous examples of réceptions, entrées royales, and other pageantries upon which to base his “Théâtre de Neptune,” the production that he wrote and performed to mark the return of Poutrincourt to the Port Royal colony in November of
1606. Meanwhile, Morton, as a member of the Inns of Chancery, likely attended, if he did not play a part in, many of the extravagant revels and other entertainments of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period, which would have given him ample material for his carefully orchestrated revels of Mayday, 1627.
Chief amongst the theatrical genres these authors had recourse to was, of course, the masque, which lends itself, as Martin Butler has noted, to “the coalescence of the political and the aesthetic” (21). The critical tradition has led us to conceive of the masque as bringing about the containment of disorder within a carefully choreographed hierarchical world with the monarch firmly in control—a conception which fits well with the intended ends of Morton’s and Lescarbot’s own theatrical productions. And yet many recent critics have, like Butler, challenged us to push this analysis still further by reading the politics of the masque not as simply “co-terminous with [its] aesthetic closures” but rather as “interventions within a material history” (22), insisting, as do Bevington and Holbrook, that “the court masque needs to be viewed as a diverse expression of conflicting arenas of interest within the court culture, rather than as primarily a symbolic ceremony vital to the reproduction of monarchal power” (8). There is much in Lescarbot’s and Morton’s works to reward those who are up to this challenge since, while their purpose is to maintain an identity that is entirely conventional, the texts that they produced are not.
Their performances are a feature of Morton and Lescarbot’s ethnographic strategy that not only sets them apart from their contemporaries in England and France, but also grounds their work in the ethnographic practice of the time, since, as Mullaney affirms, the distinction between modern ethnography and early modern ethnography is that the latter is “geared not toward the interpretation of strange cultures but toward their consummate performance” (69). What Lescarbot and Morton carry out in the more literary portions of their texts, however, is not simply a consummate performance of strange cultures, but a consuming performance, one which domesticates the strangeness of these cultures, assimilating them into the nation that is colonizing them, at the same time as it estranges those, like the English Puritans, whose place of birth ought to guarantee their identity.
Morton’s and Lescarbot’s performances were not necessarily unconventional in their deployment of different generic characteristics. Morton’s Mayday revels incorporate the jumble of features typical of the masque—poetry, singing, dancing—within the narrative frame of his New English Canaan. Meanwhile, Lescarbot’s “Théâtre de Neptune” blends features of the entrée royale with those of the réception: a representative of the king pauses on the threshold of a “city,” he is received by representatives of all the major categories of local inhabitants, and is finally invited into the “city” for a celebration and a feast (see V. E. Graham 185 and Mullaney 66), though there is no mock battle, nor is there a progression through the “city” as such. The major difference between these works and their models, however, is that their immediate audience was not the royals and nobles before whom (and by whom) such pieces would have been staged in Europe.
While there were several French nobles present for Lescarbot’s “Théâtre de Neptune,” the immediate audience for both performances was the Native Americans whom Lescarbot and Morton were so eager to incorporate into their national empires.
As such, these theatrical presentations offer their Native American audiences a glimpse into the rituals and values of English and French society. Interestingly, allusions to Classical mythology play a major part in both sets of festivities. Morton, for example, highlights the intellectual playfulness and deep literary knowledge that he holds to be characteristic of the English nobility through his recital of enigmatic poetry peppered with references to Proteus, the Hydra, Scylla, and Charybdis. Lescarbot, for his part, uses references to Neptune, Jupiter, and Pluto to emphasize a coherent and divinely sanctioned geo-political order in which the French and their King have earned the approbation of Neptune and, therefore, the right (as Neptune says at the beginning of the piece) to “établir ici [en Amérique] un Royaume François, | Et y faire garder mes statuts et mes loix” (3.474).58 By portraying the obedience of Neptune’s Tritons and repeatedly referring to role of the French King, Henri IV, in spreading “gouvernement” and “loix” (3.477, 3.476), “to establish here [in America] a French Kingdom, | and to maintain my statutes and laws there” (translation mine) Lescarbot further promulgates a sense that obedience to this government and these laws is a means to “tout ce que nous desirons” (3.477), as one of his characters puts it.59 The greatness of Neptune and Henri is, in Lescarbot’s work, strongly linked with their “courage” and “renom” (3.475), which, as the first of Neptune’s Tritons points out, it is the responsibility of their subjects to announce to the world-at-large. Thus, in his poem “Au Roy,” Lescarbot asks Neptune to give him “des vers | Propres à resonner la gloire | Du plus grand Roy … | Cornant son renom jusqu’au pole” (3.465).60 This appeal to the renowned Neptune on behalf of Henri IV makes clear that one of the primary aims of Lescarbot and Morton’s allusions is to link the as yet uncertain fate of their colonies to the more established renown of their respective monarchs, and the renown of those monarchs, in turn, to the thoroughly established renown of these Classical figures.
Morton and Lescarbot further link political authority to generosity, with Lescarbot referencing the “clemence” of Henri IV (3.466) and closing the “Théâtre” with a gustatory cornucopia straight out of Rabelais’ Gargantua, including “rotisseurs, depensiers, cuisiniers, | Marmitons, patissiers, fricasseurs, [et] taverniers” (3.479).61 Elsewhere in his Histoire, Lescarbot refers to the Ordre du Bon Temps, a pseudoChivalric supper club made up of the French and Native American nobility. Each member of the club would, by turns, hunt for meat to provide for the dinner of the others, while the wine that the colonists had brought from France was served for all to share.
“all that we desire” “verses fit to resound the glory of the greatest King … announcing his renown clear to the poles” “roasters, provisioners, cooks, busboys, pastry chefs, fry cooks, and barkeeps” This “order” thus simultaneously established reciprocal bonds between the elite members of each group and served to reinforce their elite status. Lescarbot also uses his discussion of the club to emphasize the abundance and quality of game in New France, going so far as to suggest that the fare prepared for these feasts is superior to that available on the renowned Parisian rue aux Ours, the center of a burgeoning metropolitan restaurant trade fueled, in part, by its proximity to the bankers on rue Quincampoix (2.4.568-569).
Morton, meanwhile, points repeatedly to the surfeit of food and drink, or “good cheare” he made available to his native guests during his Mayday revels (132ff.). He likewise draws attention to his rank-based distribution of alcoholic beverages, noting that he only offered spirits to “Sachem[s] and Winnaytue[s]”—that is, chiefs and nobles (54). While the general values thus modeled in Morton and Lescarbot’s performances—courage, wit, and generosity—seem to lack the precision they would require to serve as the basis for a coherent collective identity, in their performance they take on nuances that establish both the external (nation-based) and internal (rank- and gender-based) boundaries of these socio-political bodies.
In addition to using their performances to model European identities, Morton and Lescarbot both incorporate important roles for aboriginals into their performances, even though these roles remain marginal in the accounts they give of them. Lescarbot’s piece is particularly revealing in this regard, since the roles of the “savages” who welcome Poutrincourt were actually played by Frenchmen dressed up in “savage” garb. They appear, in canoes, in front of Poutrincourt’s ship to offer presents of moose or deer meat, of beaver pelts, and of “matachiaz”—an aboriginal word usually rendered in English as wampum, which Lescarbot glosses as “echarpes, et brasselets” (10).62 Or, at least, the first three “savages” offer presents, while the fourth has nothing to offer Poutrincourt
except this speech:
“Scar[ves] and bracelets” (24) “Sagamos, pardon me, | If before you, here, I stand, | Present, in this company, | With no present in my hand. | Fortune is not always kind | Her good hunters cheering! | For this reason I must find | Another field—I’m fearing. | For, through many useless days | I invoked frail Fortune, | Her wooden swords I toss away | To follow after Neptune. | Let Dian hold in sylvan shade | Those she would caress, in truth, | My regrets will never fade | That I lost my lusty youth | And her clumsy cattle chased | Over hills and near-by plain; | Many a hundred trails I traced | And always found my hopes were vain. | Now, I am about to try | My luck upon this rocky coast. | Perchance upon the shore will lie | Something for your cook to roast. | And now, monseigneur, if you see | Within the locker of your sloop | Some caraconas, give to me | And I will share it with my troop” (25-26).
This passage gives a clear demonstration of how carefully Lescarbot incorporates aboriginal elements and words into what is essentially a European text. First we have the “matachiaz,” which operated as a kind of symbolic currency in Native American society, then we have Poutrincourt addressed as “Sagamos”—not only in the passage I have cited but seven times throughout the brief text—and finally we have the word “caraconas,” which Lescarbot glosses here simply as “bread.” This word, however, had an added significance, since the aboriginal request for bread from the French had developed into a ritual in the years preceding Lescarbot’s arrival in Port Royal; Lescarbot himself witnessed such an exchange at Canso (the southwesternmost tip of present-day Cape Breton Island) on his trip from France. Through the evocation of this new ritual prior to an actual feast in which actual aboriginals took part, the speech of the final “savage” encapsulates the unequal reciprocity that characterizes the piece: he willingly trades the pursuit of game for the pursuit of fish, altering his practices in deference to Poutrincourt’s authority, which is cemented by this Frenchman’s generosity in sharing with the natives a foodstuff they could not themselves produce, and possibly even suggesting that, one day, these peoples will cultivate the earth itself to produce the wheat needed for this bread.