Friday, November 26, 2010

By hippopotamus across the Irish sea: Francis Kynaston's 'Leoline and Sydanis'

My tutor back at college was C. F. Williamson, and he has come back into my mind this week, for I recall that Colin wrote his doctoral thesis on Sir Francis Kynaston, whose Leoline and Sydanis, a romance of the amorous adventures of princes (1642) I have been reading at odd moments.

This rather pleasingly silly verse romance was published by Kynaston in the year he died: he half apologises that “being old and stricken in yeares, [he] doth write of love and such idle devices; he entring into his second, and worst childhood may of course be excused.”

What is it like? In the first place, it’s like a daft Caroline theatre romance cast in verse: princes in love, worries about honour and reputation, magic by a ligatory point to make the male prince incapable of sex on his wedding night, nocturnal consultations with druids, girls dressed as page boys, a masque (described at length by someone who had clearly seen them performed), a bed trick, a very creaky dea ex machine.

As a piece of verse writing, it is in places so indebted to Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’ as to suggest an older writer’s affectionate tribute to the poet he had enjoyed most. The manner of narrative is Spenserian, a Spenser without the allegory, but the characters travel from place to place, and spend a lot of time in ‘Erinland’. Kynaston describes his poeticized Ireland with every sign of having read up on the early Irish in commentators like Spenser (?) and Campion.

It is what 19th century critics would have called a ‘rather warm’ work, with an enthusiastic account of sex, and of sexual impairment miraculously lifted. The narrative leaps into bed with its protagonists, and describes the action. Prince Leoline, his manhood restored after a piece of malificium versus hanc has been lifted, comes nine times aloft on Sydanis, who has bed-tricked her way there. The detail slips over from a satyr in Spenser: something only to be expected in a satyr perhaps looks a little indecorous in the Prince. Nine times is hardly easy nonchalance, is it?

Another nostalgia, alongside that for Elizabethan authors and the desire for former potency, is for Queen Elizabeth herself, whose ‘pacification’ of ‘Erinland’ is brought in as a prophecy: an Irish princess, Mellefant, is all set to marry the British Leoline and be in at the start of Tudor ancestry. She tells her new British suitor that:

it is foretold in prophesies,
Who writ on barkes of trees, a mayden Queene
Hereafter Erinland shall civilize,
And quite suppresse those Salvage rites have beene
Amongst us, as they never had beene seene:
This Queene must of the Brittish bloud descend,
Whose fame unto the worlds poles shall extend...

But Kynaston has to drop this: the match simply cannot go ahead, for the Prince has so resoundingly consummated his previously frustrated marriage to the bed-tricking Princess Sydanis, that he is already married beyond alteration.

Another thing impedes Leoline’s Irish match. At the end of his memorable night with the woman he thinks is Mellefant, he gives her a light-emitting ring, which Sydanis rather thoughtlessly (has she not read this kind of plot?) hands on to her Irish rival. Leoline has seen the ring on Mellefant’s finger, and they are both keen to marry. However, they mistime their request to her father, mistime it in a way that is obviously important to Kynaston:

But their designe they brought to no effect,
Being commenc't in an unlucky houre,
No planet being in his course direct,
And Saturne who his children doth devour
From his Northeast darke Adamantine tower
Beheld the waining Moone and retrograde,
A time unfit for such affaires had made.

They should have made election of a day
Was fortunate, and fit to speake with Kings,
When the Kings planet, Sol's propitious ray,
Who great affaires to a wisht period brings,
And is predominant in all such things;
When Iupiter aspecting with the Trine,
His daughter Venus did benignly shine.

This was the cause proceeding from above,
Which Clerks do call inevitable fate
That was the hindrance of these Princes love,
And made them in their Suit unfortunate…

Poor astrology lets them down. I have never read a verse narrative so insistent upon the role of the planets and the stars. The two are chidden for not having made ‘election’ of a fortunate day. This is astrology urged without hesitation. (I think of Samuel Jeake, who will claim in his diaries not to have made elections of fortunate days when he sets off from Rye on his business ventures. He clearly did make elections, but obviously thought it proper to disavow having done so, even in a private diary.) The ODNB life of Kynaston says that at the academy, the Musaeum Minervae, which he founded at his Covent Garden house, ‘sons of peers and gentlemen’ were to learn, among many other things “law, antiquities, coins and medals, husbandry, anatomy, physiology and ‘physic’, astronomy…” – ‘astronomy’ clearly meant ‘astrology’, if this poem is any index to the priorities of its author.

But here’s some sample passages. Leoline’s wedding night debacle:

… woe is me: the damned hellish spite
Was first discern'd upon the wedding night.

But though the Prince enjoy'd all sweets of sence,
Her rosie lips, which with sweet dew did melt,
And suckt her breath, sweet as their quintessence,
Which like to Aromaticke Incense smelt,
Though he her dainty virgin beauties felt,
Embracing of soft Ivory and warme snow,
Arriv'd at her Hesperides below:

Though Venus in Loves wars hath domination,
Sworne enemy to every Maidenhead,
And Soveraigne of the acts of generation,
Whose skirmishes are fought in the field bed,
Although her sonne a troupe of Cupids led;
Yet thus much had the dismall charme effected,
As Venus standard might not be erected.

Leoline’s apologies are probably the best eloquence ever assigned to a man in such a trying situation:

… you still shall finde,
There is no want of love in me, no more
Than want of beauty in your heavenly minde,
Which I religiously shall still adore:
And though I as a husband lov'd before,
I'le turn Platonick lover, and admire
Your vertues height, to which none can aspire.

With sighes, and such like words, these Princes spent
The wearisome and tedious night away;
Prince Leoline by this his complement,
T'excuse his want of Manhood did assay…

Pretty though this is, it isn’t good enough for the disconcerted Sydanis, who tells her nurse as soon as possible. The nurse is horrified that things have gone wrong. Kynaston explains that back in those days, a full display of the wedding sheets was expected:

… the ancient Brittons then did use,
When any Bridegroome did a maiden wed,
A custome they received from the Jews,
To bring some linnens of the Bridall bed,
To witnesse she had lost her maiden head,
Without which testimony there was none
Beleev'd to be a Virgin, although one.

They are unable to decide what to do. No crisis occurs until the second encounter between the two. The nurse has rushed off to the local druid for a potion to aid potency. But Leoline is a dismal flop again, and his blushing bride doesn’t feel that she can say exactly what kind of remedy she has to hand, but rather more decorously suggests that they commit suicide (and she has just the thing). The prince is too preoccupied to listen properly, but gulps it down anyway because he is in need of a stiff one, and promptly falls down apparently dead. The druid had a long-held grudge against his father, and supplied a potion that’s the very opposite of a pick you up:

‘Here is a drink, which if you please to tast
And drink to me, your pledge shall be my last.’

Prince Leoline with sighs and sorrow dry,
Onely to quench his thirst with it did thinke:
But having drunke it, he immediatly,
(Such was the force of the enchanted drinke)
As one starke dead into his bed did sinke…

So begins their long separation. Here’s the multiple climax of the bed trick, which occurs over in Ireland. By this point, Leoline has found the drowned body of the jealous French courtier who had enchanted him, and retrieved from the corpse his own wedding favour, a ‘point’ which had been tied in the ligatory knot. With this restitution, the charm breaks, and Leoline is full of vim. He thinks he’s in bed with the Irish princess. Sydanis sets all this up (though she is referred to here under the alias she chooses as page boy, Amanthis). When she takes the other woman’s place, she finds Leoline a very different man, disconcertingly so:

… in her smocke and a furr'd-mantle hies
To Leolines bed-chamber, where in sted
Of Mellefant , she goes to him to bed.

No sooner did they touch each others skin,
And she was in his fragrant bosom lay'd,
But that the prince loves on-set did begin,
And in his wars the valiant Champion play'd:
What faint resistance a young silly mayd
Could make, unto his force, did quickly yeeld;
Some bloud was lost, although he won the field.

For no hot French-man, nor high Tuscan bloud,
Whose panting veines do swell with lively heat,
In Venus breach more stoutly ever stood,
Or on her drum did more alarums beat,
But Cupid at the last sounds a retreat:
Amanthis at his mercy now doth ly,
Thinking what kinde of death she was to dy.

But she must now endure no other death,
For standing mute, but either must be prest,
Or smothering kisses so should stop her breath,
As that Loves flames enclos'd within her brest,
Should burne the more, the more they were supprest,
And so she as Loves Martyr should expire,
Or Phoenix -like, consume in her owne fire.

These pleasant kinde of deaths Amanthis oft
And willingly did suffer e're 'twas day,
Nine times the lusty Prince did come aloft …

This must have been rather raunchy for the tastes of 1642. Kynaston was writing to please himself, and recollecting The Faerie Queene, where it is a satyr who can perform like this (to the horror of Malbecco):

At night, when all they went to sleepe, he vewd,
Whereas his lovely wife emongst them lay,
Embraced of a Satyre rough and rude,
Who all the night did minde his joyous play:
Nine times he heard him come aloft ere day…

Kynaston has to work hard to round off his narrative. Sydanis has told so many lies that she finds she can’t proceed without hitting new problems. In a last desperate throw, she appears as a fairy at Leoline’s bedside, and explains that she, a fairy who looks just like Sydanis, spent the night with him, not the Irish princess. He must haste back to England. By other contrivances, Kynaston gets his characters back there, for a magical denouement assisted by both the goddess Cynthia and the druid. It’s all a mess, his relief at reaching the end is obvious.

As for those hippopotami, Sydanis is sent over to 'Erinland' by the druid, who summons up 'Amphitrite the great queen of seas' to do the ferrying: 'her robes were of Sea green / Her coach four Hippopotomi did draw'.

Altogether, a strange piece of work, full of magic, astrology – and sex. (I did mention all the sex, didn’t I?)


Jennifer said...

I'll stop lurking long enough to say that you had me at "rather pleasingly silly verse romance." This one's going on my to-read list!

DrRoy said...

I hope you enjoy it! I think Kynaston gets his heroine (and himself) into a deep narrative hole (after all her fibs). He really has to improvise in desperate fashion - alongside her - to resolve the narrative. Bad planning, or maybe a product of putting the narrative content of a play into a quasi-Spenserian poem. But there's all sorts of fun en route.

Jennifer said...

Generally, when I read these little-known, little-studied plays, I find them fascinating--more so, in some ways, than the plays that are often considered closer to the model of perfection.

I'll let you know what I think when I've had a chance to read it (probably on winter break--grading and publishing deadlines are prohibitive right now).