Criticism, Spring 1996 v38 n2 p239(41)

The pleasures of restraint: the mean of coyness in Cavalier poetry. Scodel, Joshua.

Abstract: Seventeenth century Cavalier poets reworked Christian philosophy about sexual temperance by changing celibacy from a spiritual state to a state of heightened eroticism through coyness and tantalization. The regulation of sexual desire as erotic was used by poets, such as Ben Jonson and John Suckling. However, a contemporary woman poet, Katherine Philips, reworked Cavalier celibacy into the ultimate female independence through spirituality from both male sexual desire and even male socioreligious conflict.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1996 Wayne State University Press

Up through the middle ages, Christian attitudes toward sexuality combined an ascetic repugnance toward sinful carnality with a Christianized version of the pagan ethical focus on moderating bodily pleasures. The former celebrated celibacy as the purest state; the latter fostered restrained, temperate sexuality between married couples. With the Protestant Reformation, celibacy was unseated as an ideal and the promotion of moderate conjugal love intensified.(1) Like the medieval Scholastics, late sixteenth-century English Protestants often invoked Aristotle's conception of temperance, the mean with respect to bodily appetites, to define proper conjugal sexuality. Temperate sexual relations between married partners were the mean between a sin-producing abstinence and sinful fornication. In his Domesticall Duties, for example, William Gouge argues that proper sexual relations between husband and wife--what he and his fellow clergymen, following Saint Paul, call "due benevolence"--prevent spouses from falling into the "defect" of abstinence, which increases desire and promotes sinful onanism, and lustful "excess," which debilitates body and soul.(2) While celebrating conjugal affection, ministers warned against excessive desires and feelings. They distinguished between temperate love and lust, which the Jacobean minister Alexander Niccholes notes had "no meane, no bound." Lust could not provide a solid basis for a lifelong conjugal relationship, for it was not only excessive but also transient: the fire of intense passion soon turned cold.(3)

Yet while Protestant didactic writings sought to control conjugal sexuality and affect, some contemporaneous Cavalier poets sought, playfully and sometimes outrageously, to expand the boundaries of permissible sexual and emotional practice. Adapting and greatly expanding upon motifs in Roman erotic poetry, these poets wittily identify an erotic mean not with temperance but rather with a mistress's tantalizing coyness or a man's tantalized desire. By means of this subversive application of the mean, love poets transform the ethical regulation of pleasure into a hedonistic technique for the increase of pleasure.(4) They celebrate as a mean the exquisite blending of the contrary extremes of pleasure and pain, hope and fear. While moralists advised spouses to discipline desires and emotions within the marriage bond, some seventeenth-century love poets promoted intense and oscillating emotions between lovers lest boredom cut all affective ties.

Imagining illicit pleasures, these poets take pleasure in twisting normative discourse against itself. By manipulating the traditional moral restrictions associated with the mean to maximize pleasure, poets explore the role of inhibitions in producing as well as regulating pleasure. Such love poetry thus reveals the emergence of a subject defined by his sense of freedom vis-a-vis traditional cultural codes, his conception of sexual norms as conventions to be playfully transformed for the intensification rather than containment of pleasure. This "libertine" revolt has a strong aesthetic dimension, furthermore, for poets emphasize the pleasures of the act of writing and reading at the expense of literature's didactic functions.

The freedom and pleasure of such poetry was, of course, the preserve of men. Poets imagined the female objects of their desire as means to increase their own joys as desiring, heterosexual males. They played with, but ultimately supported, the early modern gender hierarchy. Early modern marriage was an unequal partnership: the man was expected to rule his wife.(5) The ideal of conjugal moderation sustained this gender hierarchy. It was a commonplace of classical and Renaissance thought that women, the less rational and more emotional of the two genders, had a dangerous tendency to run to emotional extremes. It was therefore up to men, by "moderate" exercise of authority, to ensure that moderation prevailed.(6) The Elizabethan Homily on Matrimony, read in every church in the land, calls upon each husband to be "the leader and author of love, in cherishing and increasing concord with moderation, and not tyranny.... For the woman is a weak creature."(7) The Elizabethan prelate Edwin Sandys notes that because virtue inheres in golden "mediocrity," a husband should forgive "many faults" of his mate to maintain marital concord but must not be so doting as to "nourish foolishness." An early seventeenth-century minister, Samuel Hieron, argues similarly that the husband should keep a "meane" by loving his wife without "too much uxoriousness."(8) Some "libertine" poets, by contrast, decline the role of authoritative male moderation. Instead, they celebrate subversive female agency, reveling in titillating behavior that in fact conforms to negative stereotypes of the "extreme" female but which they positively value for posing an exciting challenge to the male. The freedom of the women imagined in such poems is, however, carefully and continually circumscribed as an enticement to the reassertion of male mastery.

The hedonistic mean, with its subversions of early modern conjugal ideals, can neither be reduced to a symptom of, nor be dissociated from, sociopolitical developments. Early modern sexual attitudes and practices develop in complicated interaction with other ideological formations. A brief survey of the poets I examine suggests the complex relations between erotic compositions and general ideological positions. Ben Jonson treats the hedonistic mean as the ideology outsiders, those who flout society's moral codes and thus fail to fulfill the poet's social responsibilities and to earn the gratitude of society's rulers. Erotic license is associated with social irresponsibility in general. Yet Jonson also indulges in poetry's subversive potential, displaying his mastery of the illicit form of poetry that he ostensibly rejects. By contrast, Sons of Ben such as Thomas Randolph and William Cartwright unequivocally embrace the hedonistic mean as a pagan flight from the strictures of Protestant ethics and as an assertion of the poet's freedom from dominant moral postures. For them the mean articulates primarily a fantasy of escape from prevailing social norms.

Writing during the 1630s, Sir John Suckling wittily adapts the new form of mean to praise foreplay without consummation. He identifies his position not with individual fantasy but rather with courtly refinement and insouciance. He invokes the mean of coyness to assert the courtier's superiority to common people and to benighted, mainstream Protestant marriage ideology. Yet while his use of the mean participates in the cultural conflict between the court and its enemies, Suckling wages a battle on two fronts by also mocking the cult of "Platonic love" associated with Henrietta Maria at the Caroline court. In the late 1640s, a poet at the court-in-exile of Henrietta Maria, Abraham Cowley, follows Suckling in associating non-fruition with the mean of coyness but uses the mean nostalgically, to celebrate a court culture defeated in civil war.

Robert Herrick's Hesperides (1648) is also a nostalgic work, depicting a world of pleasure, part fantasy and part rural retreat, apart from--and in contestation with--the victorious Puritans' world. But Herrick provides a more comprehensive alternative to contemporary norms by applying the mean of coyness to new domains. He suggests a broad continuity between the pleasures offered by a coy mistress and a chaste wife by essentially reducing all female modesty to a strategy for enhancing her worth as an object of male desire. A professed Jonsonian, but endowed with a moral temper very different from his master's, Herrick applies the hedonistic mean indifferently to mistresses, brides, and wives, suggesting that laws of desire are more powerful than the distinctions central to early modern moral discourse concerning women. By use of the rhetoric of the mean, he collapses the distinction between Protestant calls for conjugal temperance and classical calls for strategic coyness. Herrick further valorizes the mean of coyness by foregrounding its aesthetic dimension, associating the ideal woman's sexual tactics with the accomplished poet's textual strategies, both of whom use coyness to satisfy but not satiate.

Yet the mean of coyness does not go wholly unchallenged within Cavalier poetic tradition. Writing during the 1650s, Katherine Philips self-consciously transforms the rhetoric of the Cavaliers in order to idealize a virgin whose decorous moderation is not subservient to men's pleasures. Philips, whose husband worked for the Interregnum government but whose social circle was largely composed of Royalist sympathizers, celebrates a female subject whose "equall mind" remains steadfast whatever the vagaries of both historical change and male desire.


Jonson's Poetaster (1601), which contains the first major English articulation of what I call the mean of coyness, contrasts the poet's mouthpiece, the ethical satirist Horace, with licentious erotic poets, their beloveds, and their hangers-on.(9) Jonson presents a party of Roman elegiac love poets, their lady loves, and groupies at which the pseudo-poet Crispinus and the musician Hermogenes each sing a stanza of Hermogenes' song describing the perfect mistress:

If I freely may discover, What would please me in

my lover: I would have her fair, and witty,

Savouring more of court, than city; A little proud,

but full of pity: Light, and humorous in her

toying. Oft building hopes, and soone

destroying, Long, but sweet in the enjoying,

Neither too easy, nor too hard: All extremes I

would have barred.

She should be allowed her passions,

So they were but used as fashions;

Sometimes froward, and then frowning,

Sometimes sickish, and then swooning,

Every fit, with change, still crowning.

Purely jealous, I would have her,

Then only constant when I crave her.

'Tis a virtue should not save her.

Thus, nor her delicates would cloy me,

Neither her peevishness annoy me.(10)

The final couplet of each stanza underscores the ideal of the mean: Hermogenes' beloved avoids the "extremes" of too "easy" granting or too "hard" refusal of favors. Her virtuous "mediocrity" is tailored, however, to her lover's desires. The ideal wife of much early modern moralizing is associated with an even tenor that avoids the supposedly all-too-feminine penchant for "toying" in its most general sense of trifling as well as in its specifically erotic sense of flirting (s.v. "toy," OED 1, 2): thus an early seventeenth-century poem describes the ideal wife as "Not toying, fond, nor yet unkinde."(11) Hermogenes, by contrast, defines the mean in terms of a constantly changing "toying." Many of the features of the traditional misogynist depiction of female extremism--peevishness, deceitfulness, moodiness, triviality--are reconceived as spurs to the male lover. Hermogenes begins by emphasizing his freedom, which he states as a conditional ("If I freely may discover ...") but treats as a fact, and the song as a whole expresses his freedom to reject the traditional male function of controlling female weakness. He emphasizes, however, his ultimate control over the titillating freedom of the woman, who will be "allowed" a circumscribed liberty but cannot in the end be "save[d]" from his embrace.

As is appropriate in a play set in ancient Rome, Hermogenes bases his songs on Roman models. He revives for England a Latin tradition of licentious adaptations of the mean. The final couplets of each stanza echo Martial's two-couplet epigram 1.57, which invokes the mean to authorize the poet's sexual preferences: "Do you ask, Flaccus, what sort of girl I would want or not want? / I dislike one who's too easy, and one who's too hard./ The mean [medium] between the two we approve: / I don't want what torments me, nor do I seek what cloys."(12) Jonson's classically-trained readers would have recognized the debt not only to Martial, who expresses similar preferences for a coy love partner in various epigrams (4.38, 4.42, 4.71, 4.81), but also to Ovidian love poetry, one of Martial's major models in his erotic epigrams. Hermogenes' wish that his mistress be "Sometimes froward, and then frowning, / Sometimes sickish, and then swooning" recalls Ovid's desire for a beloved who will "sometimes speak blandishments, sometimes quarrel" (Amores, 9b.45). Hermogenes' celebration of a woman's "toying"--"Oft building hopes, and soon destroying"--recalls Ovid's advice to women for attaining, retaining, and increasing a lover's sexual desire in Ars amatoria: Ovid notes that "an occasional repulse should be mixed with your merry sports" (3.583) and that a woman should first let her lover hope he is her sole partner and then cause him to doubt (3.595-96). Like Martial after him, Ovid associates such sexual tactics with the mean by recommending that a mistress "who wishes to incite her pursuer's desires must avoid the extremes of being too yielding or too obstinate: "Neither promise yourself easily to him who entreats you, nor yet deny what he asks too stubbornly, / Cause him to hope and fear together" (3.475-76).

Ovid's and Martial's adoptions of the venerable concept of the mean to erotic sport are playful and self-consciously naughty. Martial's rhetorical shift between verbs in the plural and singular plays with the conceptual gap between the mean as a norm "we" all "approve" ("probamus," line 3) and its more dubious application to his own personal erotic preferences, signaled by four verbs in the first-person (lines 1-2, 4). Both Ovid and Martial parody the Roman tendency to apply the mean mechanically as a guideline for every aspect of human behavior. Such uses of the mean attenuated its specifically ethical significance and rendered more plausible its application to an ars erotica--to sexual activity conceived of as a hedonistic practice with its own precise rules and protocols. Aristotle himself authorized the tendency to invoke the mean as a general principle of behavioral decorum when he applied it to the proper conduct of relaxing conversation (Nicomachean Ethics 4.8). Arguing that we must avoid not only moral turpitude but also minor breaches of decorum, Cicero's De officiis goes far beyond Aristotle in invoking the mean ("mediocritas") to describe--in bathetic detail--the qualities and manners of the supposed pinnacle of humanity, the Roman gentleman. Cicero argues that a man's physical appearance, deportment, and dress must be neither too "soft" ("molle") nor too "hard" ("durum"), neither "effeminate" ("effeminatum") nor "boorish" ("rusticum"), and that one must walk neither too fast nor too slow (1.35-36, 1.40). Thus when Martial applies the mean to describe a beloved's ideal appearance--a boy neither too sleek nor too slovenly, neither too masculine nor too effeminate (2.36), a mistress neither too fat nor too thin (11.100)--he is wittily extending the Ciceronian vision to a new, erotic context. Similarly, in their celebrations of coy mistresses, both Ovid and Martial cheekily extend the mean, applied by Cicero to paragons of Roman manliness, to erotically enticing women. Such women must have a decorum all their own, the erotic poets imply, one consonant with women's stereotypical character-- emotional moodiness and willfulness.

Just as Ovid and Martial play with contemporaneous Roman norms, so Jonson has his Hermogenes twist and parody the early modern tendency to apply the mean to all aspects of everyday life. Cicero's applications of the mean to manners was very much alive among the educated elite of early modern England, for whom De officiis was a central text. Frequently reprinted both in Latin and in English translation, taught in humanist grammar schools and at the universities, De officiis was often treated by English humanists as the most authoritative classical guide to proper behavior, surpassing even the Nicomachean Ethics because of its philosophical accessibility and practicality as a rules-oriented handbook.(13) Both the Italian and native English courtesy books popular in early modern England, which testify to a massive attempt to define and regulate proper behavior, follow Cicero in using the mean to codify "gentle" manners.(14) Baldesar Castiglione's influential Book of the Courtier, translated into English in 1561, invokes the mean as a norm applicable to all aspects of courtly deportment, including appropriate clothes, jokes, and dance movements.(15) Giovanni della Casa's Galateo, translated in 1576, warns against walking or talking too quickly or slowly, discoursing too much or little, and smelling too "sweete" or "sowre"; Stefano Guazzo's The Civile Conversation, translated in 1581-86, cautions against overly stiff or "too busie" gestures and against speaking too much or little, too quickly or slowly, too loudly or softly, too carefully or carelessly.(16) Among English works, Sir Thomas Elyot's Book named the Governor (1534) claims gentlemen should "do neither too much nor too little, too soon nor too late, too swiftly nor slowly, but in due ... measure"; the anonymous Institucion of a Gentleman (1568) cites Cicero against clothes too elegant or too "rude"; and John Ferne's The Blazon of Gentrie (1536) advises "measure" in the gentleman's appetites and attire.(17)

Unlike Ovid and Martial, however, Jonson does not himself espouse a parodic travesty of contemporary mores. He undercuts the Ovidian-Martialesque feminine ideal by ascribing it to Hermogenes. Jonson's musician is based on the Tigellius Hermogenes described in Horace's Satire 1.3, a poem which advocates the mean and presents this figure as a negative example of foolish oscillation from one extreme to another, now singing with a loud, now with a low voice, now running, now moving deathly slow, now talking of grand things, now of trivial (1-19).(18) Jonson's Hermogenes wishes for a narcissistic phantasm to mirror his own inconstancy: the mistress who is "Sometimes froward, and then frowning, / Sometimes sickish, and then swooning, / Every fit, with change, still crowning" is a feminine version of the extreme Hermogenes himself.

Thus Jonson suggests that Hermogenes, who cannot conceive of a true mean because of his own extremism, travesties the ideal. Yet in one sense his desired mistress is ironically Hermogenes' superior. The imagined mistress's ability to change quickly and thus avoid cloying or frustrating is precisely what Hermogenes lacks in his relations with others. While the mistress would be a master of the opportune, Hermogenes is inept. Horace introduces his portrait of Tigellius Hermogenes by noting that he is like all singers: "if asked to sing . . . they are never so inclined; / if unasked they never leave off' (Satire 1.3.2-3). True to character, Jonson's Hermogenes first refuses to sing his love ditty and then refuses to stop. One of the partygoers, Julia, the daughter of Augustus whom Jonson follows tradition in portraying as Ovid's dissolute lover, echoes Horace's judgment. She puns on "mean" as both way and proper middle way in order to underscore the singer's socially inept deviation from the very mean he proposes to cherish: " 'Tis the common disease of all your musicians, that they know no mean, to be entreated, either to begin or end."(19) Hermogenes is presumably as inept a lover as he is a singer, and his imagined affair with an ideal mistress would presumably be dashed on the principle that any such interaction must be a duet.

Poetaster dramatizes contrasting poetic world-views and their aesthetic, ethical, and political implications. Jonson's contrast between the frivolous elegiac poets and the serious, didactic poets Horace and Virgil adapts the commonplace Renaissance contrast between heterosexual love and male friendship; while the love poets and their hangers-on pursue the favors of mistresses real and imagined, the true Augustan poets earn the respect and support of their patron and friend Augustus. Just as Hermogenes' ideal mistress mirrors his false understanding of the mean, so Horace's and Virgil's ideal patron Augustus reflects their true appreciation of the ideal. Augustus embodies the mean by avoiding the extremes of bad rulers, who "by their excess / Of cold in virtue, and cross heat in vice / Thunder, and tempest, on . . . learned heads." Instead of coyly building and destroying hopes like Hermogenes' desired mistress, Caesar embraces the true mean of liberality, rewarding a writer such as Horace on his merits and condemning those who provide gifts either in a profligate or stingy fashion: "Hands that part with gifts, / Or will restrain their use, without desert; / Or with a misery [i.e., a miserliness]. . . / Work as they had no soul to govern them."(20)

Caesar's beneficent treatment of Jonson's mouthpiece Horace embodies the generous patronage that Jonson desired from Queen Elizabeth and her court. Jonson presents himself in his "Prologue" (17-24) as one worthy of such beneficence because of his adherence to the mean. He avoids both "arrogance" and "base dejection," finding "a mean 'twixt both. / Which with a constant firmness he pursues, / As one, that knows the strength of his own muse."(21) Unlike the "toying" Hermogenes, Jonson associates his mean with a manly "firmness" and "strength." The properly bestowed gifts of a monarch and her courtiers, not the passing fancies of a coy wench, are the reward sought by a serious poet like Jonson.

Jonson also clearly prides himself, however, on mastering Ovid's and Martial's erotic poetry, bringing their works up-to-date and adding a lyric lilt to their epigrammatic wit. Jonson hints, furthermore, that there is really no absolute opposition between the moral Horatian tradition, on the one hand, and the licentious Ovidian tradition, on the other. Jonson's inclusion of Hermogenes Tigellius in his play would remind his classically-educated audience of Horace's notoriously obscene Satire 1.2, which begins with an attack on Tigellius as an extremist but then adapts the mean in a risque fashion to advise would-be philanderers to have sex with freedwomen rather than with the "extremes" of common whores or Roman matrons. Horace adapts the mean to Epicurean/Cynic notions that one should seek pleasure and avoid pain: freedwomen cause less pain than whores or matrons (47-48). Horace mocks the "sorrow, passion, and the burden of care" of those who pursue "fleeing" objects of desire instead of finding sexual satisfaction the easy way--with women who embody the mean by being accessible but not too common (105-11). While in his satire Horace disagrees with poets like Ovid and Martial on whether an easy object is desirable or not, the poets agree in using the mean to celebrate a sensuality shorn of highminded moralizing. Jonson's oblique allusion to Satire 2 suggests that a Horatian poet need not wholly eschew a playful, erotic poetics.

Jonson's implicit depreciation of Hermogenes' Martialesque song is complicated, furthermore, by Jonson's identification of his own poetic stance in Poetaster not only with Horace but also with Martial. Jonson frames his play with an epigraph and a final line from the Roman epigrammatist.(22) Martial himself combines Horatian moralizing and Ovidian eroticism; many of his epigrams are stylistically and tonally indebted to the Horatian sermo while others are, as we have seen, in an Ovidian erotic vein.(23) Jonson's identification with Martial thus underscores the instability of his own moral-aesthetic allegiances. Jonson simultaneously revives, expands, and denigrates the Roman erotic tradition's mean of coyness.


Various Sons of Ben espouse the hedonistic mean without framing it with Jonson's moral disclaimers. At the time of his death in 1635, Randolph was considered Jonson's major heir. Randolph was thoroughly imbued with the Aristotelianism of the social elite: his comedy The Muses' Looking Glass, first performed in 1630, dramatizes the virtuous means and their respective vicious extremes as expounded by "great Aristotle."(24) Yet Randolph's erotic verse rejects Aristotelian ethics for Ovidian poetics. In one love lyric Randolph notes that he has "not Aristotle read alone" but is "in Ovid a proficient too"; he proceeds to request a mistress who is "coy, / Not easily wonne, though to be wonne in time; / That from her nicenesse I may store my rhime."(25) Coyness sparks not only erotic but also poetic interest; the male poetic subject finds himself and his self-expression in temporarily thwarted desire.

Randolph translated an epigram by Ausonius, a late Latin, early Christian poet popular in the Renaissance, which follows Ovid and Martial in adapting the ethical tradition's praise of the mean to a wish for erotic stimulation. Published posthumously in 1638, Randolph's epigram renders each of the Latin poet's elegiac couplets with two iambic tetrameter couplets:

Shee which would not I would choose:

Shee which would I would refuse. Venus

could my mind but tame; But not satisfie

the same.

Inticements offer'd I despise,

And deny'd I slightly prize.

I would neither glut my mind,

Nor yet too much torment find.

Twice girt Diana cloth not take mee,

Nor Venus naked joyfull make mee.

The first no pleasure hath to joy mee,

And the last enough to cloy mee.

But a crafty wench I'de have

That can sell the art I crave.

And joyne at once in me these two

I will, and yet I will not doe.(26)

The speaker moves rather awkwardly from the simple paradox of seeking a mistress who will deny him and thus whet his appetite all the more (1-4) to seeking a mistress who will avoid the extremes of naked availability and overdressed inaccessibility--what the original Latin calls "moderate sex" ("mediae veneris")--and thus provide him with a mean of pleasure between the glut of satisfaction and the torment of deprivation. Randolph was probably attracted to Ausonius' poem because, besides the Martial epigram imitated by his master Jonson, it was the only extant classical epigram to adapt the mean to increasing erotic pleasure. The Ausonius epigram provided rare classical authority for flouting traditional cultural norms.

Ausonius' epigram no doubt especially appealed to Randolph for the way it uses but subverts a conventional method of categorizing women. In early Christian through early modern writings, the notion that women were by nature subject to extremes infected even "encomia" of women, so that their virtues were often paradoxically seen as proofs of their extremism: women could be either saints or sinners, goddesses or devils; what they could never or only rarely attain, according to their critics, was the middle ground of normal, rational (i.e., male) humanity.(27) Ausonius asks for a woman who avoids two extremes that dominate early modern binary categorizing of women: the extremes of male-disdaining virgin and shameless whore. The protagonist of Robert Greene's Never too Late (1590) complains that women are "either too scrupulous with Daphne to contemne all, or too voluptuous with Venus to desire all"; an Elizabethan lyric complains that woman are either "so imperious no man may endure them, / Or so kind-hearted any may procure them."(28) Ausonius imagines a mistress who escapes this supposedly general feminine condition.

The ideal mistress "sells" her "art" both literally and figuratively: she is a courtesan or prostitute--as Randolph's translation of Ausonius's "femina" by "wench" suggests--but she is also a "crafty" woman who knows how to make the male "pay" in the sense of struggle to attain her. Ausonius here follows Ovid's economic understanding of female value and male desire. In a poem arguing that forbidden things bring greater pleasure, Ovid claims that a woman's "price" ("pretium") is increased by difficulties in attaining her (Amores 3.4.29-31). Randolph's translation intensifies the Ausonian epigram's focus on the male as desirer and the female as desired object. In his final couplet Ausonius wishes for a clever mistress who "delights because she joins, (as they say) I wish to and I don't." Ausonius's phrase "I wish to and I don't" could refer either to the mistress's or to the speaker's desires (or both); Randolph restricts its effect to the male speaker: "And joyne at once in me these two / I will, and yet I will not do." Randolph imagines a woman who will preserve the poet's erotic interest by making him simultaneously wish to attain and defer consummation. The mistress's "art" of coyness thus will arouse in him an arousing combination of opposed sensations.

By associating the woman's avoidance of the "extremes" of acceptance and rejection with the male's contradictory sensations, Ausonius plays with the notion, common in both ancient and Renaissance thought, that the mean simultaneously avoids and combines opposite extremes.(29) In another epigram, entitled in Joseph Scaliger's Renaissance edition of Ausonius "An Exhortation to Moderation" ("Exortatio ad modestiam"), the Latin poet celebrates the moderation of King Agathocles of Sicily as a combination of extremes. In order to remind himself of his humble origins amidst his regal prosperity, Agathocles dined with ornate cups and rustic dishes, thus "mixing wealth and poverty together."(30) The seventeenth-century writer Owen Feltham, who translated the poem in one of his essays, reveals the perceived connection between combining and avoiding extremes by linking Ausonius's epigram with a Roman emperor's moderation in "neither too much . . . remember[ing], nor altogether . . . forget[ing] high position."(31) While in the Agathocles epigram Ausonius exploits the ethical resonances of the mean as a mixing of opposites, in the erotic epigram translated by Randolph he deploys the same notion as a formal pattern susceptible to witty manipulation.

Despite the epigram's male point of view, the emphasis on the woman's intelligence and its effects on the speaker reveals a (circumscribed) appreciation of the female's independent agency. Indeed elsewhere Randolph imagines a woman's coyness as a genuine though perforce temporary exercise of her freedom. His play Amyntas (1638) dramatizes a woman's attempt to both avoid and combine extremes as a response to the unsatisfactory nature of marital relations. Though courted by two men, Damon and Alexis, Laurinda avoids choice until the end of the play by claiming to love "neither" and "either." To her servant's puzzled exclamation--"Either, and yet not both, both best, yet neither; / Why doe you torture those with equall Racks / That both vow service to you?"--Laurinda responds that she has perceived the "feares, / Jarres, discontents, suspicions, jealousies" that scar marriage and has consequently decided to "temper" her affection and bear herself "equal" to both suitors. Within the fiction of the play, the disharmonies of marriage stem from a magical curse, and the drama concludes with the curse lifted, Laurinda's acceptance of Alexis as her husband, and Damon happily wedded to another. Yet despite the necromantic romance plot, the play hints that Laurinda's "temperate" strategy of deferring choice is a legitimate response to the realistic situation of a woman's being unhappy with--and in--an early modern marriage. Laurinda at one point exclaims, "See what 'tis to live a maid! / Now two at once doe serve us and adore, / Shee that weds one, serves him, serv'd her before."(32) Woman's power resides solely in this liminal period, the moment when she can say both yes and no and thus have "two at once." Once she is wed she must serve her husband. Randolph's play presents eventual submission as inevitable: he does not--cannot--reconcile the woman's desire for freedom with a patriarchal marriage system. Instead his play represents a woman's temporary freedom from constraint.

The Ausonian translation similarly presents an alternative to contemporaneous marriage practices, albeit one that treats female freedom solely as an instrument of male pleasure. A "crafty wench" is more erotically appealing than a wife precisely because the former's titillating form of freedom kindles and preserves the male's desire for conquest.


Other writers assign to the mean of coyness that Randolph posits as a liberating alternative to early modern marriage relations a role in the "official" libidinal economy: they treat it as a necessary stage in a maiden's journey to the altar. Alan Macfarlane notes the protracted nature of English courtship and the relative freedom of the participants: various kinds of physical intimacy were permitted in order that the partners get to know each other (since a happy marriage depended upon mutual consent and physical compatibility), but ideally consummation was delayed until the wedding night. Thus, as Macfarlane puts it, "the difficulty was to have sufficient nearness without over-exposure."(33) A woman being courted was expected to protect her chastity without wholly alienating her suitor(s): while "nearness" depended upon (active) male persistence, avoidance of over-exposure was up to the (passive) female. A song in William Corkine's The Second Book of Ayres (1612) provides a poetic epitome of this cultural paradigm: a lover declares that he can accept a "little coynesse" from his beloved, which "doth but blow mens fires," as long as she does not refuse to marry him in the end.(33)

Yet however necessary coyness was for pleasure, poets sometimes treated a maiden's behavior as a potentially dangerous threat to male prerogative. They gave advice concerning a maiden's proper attitude toward lovers designed to constrict the freedom of the woman who, like Laurinda in Randolph's play, is pursued by, but not yet subservient to, men. Poets sought to reassert the gender hierarchy by outlining the proper mean of coyness for a maid, a mode of behavior designed simultaneously to preserve females from sinful fornication and make them fully responsive to male needs and desires. While in marriage the husband has the authority to control his wife for her own well-being, the maid must be controlled by being made to feel responsible for her suitors--despite the fact that she does not have any true, socially sanctioned power over them.

Such guidelines for maidens adapt and moralize both the exciting coyness of the erotic tradition's ideal mistress and the etiquette prescribed for Italian Renaissance court ladies, who were supposed to be simultaneously affable, thus endearing themselves to men, and modest, thus keeping men at bay. Castiglione, who did so much to popularize the mean as a norm for courtly deportment, offered guidance to court ladies as well as male courtiers. Ladies are warned (to quote Thomas Hoby's Elizabethan translation) that they should be "esteemed no less chaste . . . than pleasant. . . and therefore must keepe a certeine meane verie hard, and (in a maner) dirived of contrary matters."(35) Ann Rosalind Jones, who treats this passage as an epitome of the Italian courtly ethics, contrasts that tradition's focus on the proper behavior of courtly, public women with the English Protestant focus on the behavior of wives in bourgeois households.(36) Yet English writers express such "Italian" preoccupations when they focus on maidens, who have not yet been domesticated as wives and thus have some of the independence of the court lady. In Francis Quarles's popular verse adaptation of a tale in Philip Sidney's Arcadia, Argalus and Parthenia (1629), the maiden Parthenia's virtuously balanced behavior toward men provides a model for all virgins who would preserve both their virtue and potential suitors' affections:

Merry, yet modest; witty, and yet wise;

Not apt to toy, and yet not too too nice;

Quick, but not rash; Courteous, and yet not common;

Not too familiar, and yet scorning no man.(37)

In Fair Virtue (1622), George Wither explicitly judges the maiden responsible for the well-being of her suitors as well as her own: he praises the "Coy one" who will prove "true . . . being won," but he also advises the virtuous maid to avoid being either "too precise" or "o'erkind" to suitors, for she must keep her suitors from both presumptuous audacity and suicidal despair. Wye Saltonstall's poem "A Maide" (1633) similarly argues that maids must "avoyd each rash extreame" and "draw forth the golden meane" by being neither "coy to quench all Lovers fires" nor "so kind" as to enflame "mens unchast desires." They must "cherish chest hopes, make unchast despaire." A maiden should not "surrender" that which "doth so sweeten expectation," i.e., her virginity, until her marriage, at which time she must with "blushes . . . unwilling yeeld, / And weakely striving lose at last the field."(38)

Some male writers recognized--at least intermittently--the unjust difficulties they imposed upon women who were supposed to enact a perfect mean by being both chaste and "kind." Fulke Greville, for example, has his beloved Caelica complain that men want a blend of contradictory behavior from women and are prone to damn women whatever they do precisely because men are themselves riven by paradoxes:

Men are false . . .

Humble, and yet full of pride;

Earnest, not to be denyed;

Now us, for not loving, blaming,

Now us, for too much, defaming.(39)

Greville suggests that what might be praised as a female's virtuous moderation could easily be redescribed from a captious perspective as the extremes of coldness or doting fondness. Following Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (2.8.1-3), classical and Renaissance moralists often lament that the proximity of virtuous means like courage to vicious extremes like rashness makes it difficult to discern the difference between a virtue and its neighboring vices; following Aristotle's Rhetoric (1.9.28-29), classical and Renaissance rhetoricians often celebrate a sophisticated speaker's consequent ability to denigrate virtues as vices and exalt vices as virtues for tactical advantage.(40) Ovid exhibits the power of such male rhetoric to idealize or debase woman: in Ars amatoria, he recommends that the lover misidentify his beloved's physical shortcomings as attractions by "conceal[ing] a flaw with its nearness to a virtue" (2:662, Loeb translation modified); in Remedia amoris, he reverses his advice, counselling the lover who would free himself of passion to convert his mistress's physical and behavioral charms into shortcomings, calling a mistress "pert" for not being "simple" or calling her "simple" for being "honest" (323-30).

By both attacking and celebrating a woman's coyness, Jonson's poetic disciple Cartwright reveals--and delights in--how much the evaluation of a woman's behavior as virtuously moderate or viciously extreme depends upon male whim and rhetoric. The first verse paragraph of his "On a Gentlewomans Silk-hood" condemns as vicious extremism a woman's covering her face with an enticing veil (9-12, 15-22):

Tell me who taught you to give so much light As

may entice, not satisfie the Sight, Betraying what

may cause us to admire, And kindle only, but not

quench desire?


. . . O then

May we not think there's Treason against Men?

Whiles thus you only do expose the Lips,

'Tis but a fair and wantonner Eclipse.

Mean't how you will, At once to shew, and hide,

At best is but the Modesty of Pride;

Either Unveil you then, or veil quite o'r,

Beauty deserves not so much; Foulness more.(41)

Cartwright attacks the woman's veil as a wily device that is either excessive (as a half-covering of beauty) or deficient (as a half-covering of ugliness). The initial depiction of the veiled lady recalls not the Roman erotic tradition's playful celebration of female coyness but rather Renaissance moralists' didactic condemnations of coy temptresses. In Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, evil Armida's coy mixture of exhibitionism and concealment--"Her breasts half hid, and half . . . laid to show," to quote Edward Fairfax's 1600 translation--inspires the soldiers' lust for what is "unseen." In Spenser's Faerie Queene, the wanton women in the Bower of Bliss similarly hide enough flesh to make the male gaze more "desirous" (II.xii.66.9).(42)

Far from conceding the sinful power of the veiled femme fatale, however, Cartwright blithely affirms the overriding power of male fantasy and desire by explicitly denying that the woman's motives are relevant ("Mean't how you will"). Since male fancy renders the woman a coy temptress, fancy can equally well declare the woman a modest maiden. In the second verse paragraph, the poet announces his change of viewpoint by announcing "My Fancy's now all hallow'd, and I find / Pure Vestals in my Thoughts, Priests in my Mind / (27-28)." While the first paragraph condemned the woman's veil as extreme, the third and final paragraph exalts the veil as the "Blest Mean" of a virtuous virgin (51-60):

Methinks the first Age comes again, and we

See a Retrivall of Simplicity;

Thus looks the Country Virgin, whose brown hue

Hoods her, and makes her shew even veil'd as you.

Blest Mean, that Checks our Hopes, and spurs our Fear,

Whiles all doth not lye hid, nor all appear:

O fear ye no Assaults from Bolder men;

When they assaile be this your Armour then.

A Silken Helmet may defend those Parts,

Where softer Kisses are the only Darts.(43)

The final paragraph is as much a male fantasy--a "Methinks"--as the first. The poem self-consciously testifies not to any truth about the lady but rather to the poet's rhetorical power either to debase or exalt, to declare the lady viciously extreme or decorously moderate as male mood dictates. It thus foregrounds the judging male as the (whimsical) arbiter of female behavior. The ending indeed half-reveals the poet's praise as itself a coy maneuver: while the poet claims that the veil prevents "Bolder men" from brutalizing a beautiful but decorously covered maiden, the concluding image of "softer Kisses" as the "only Darts" of love underscores ergs's tender attractions and allows the poet to court the enticingly chaste woman.


Suckling invokes the mean of coyness not only to assert men's freedom and power at the expense of women but also to assert courtiers' superiority to common people. In his most distinctive poems, Suckling mocks both mainstream Protestant marriage ideology and the cult of "Platonic love" popular at the Caroline court. Caroline Neoplatonism, associated with Henrietta Maria and largely derived from the salon culture of Henrietta's youth in Paris, celebrated both the non-physical love between courtly friends of opposite sexes and the chaste love of married partners like Henrietta and Charles. Dissociating itself in both cases from "mere" bodily pleasures, it idealized court ladies as the ethereal embodiments of spiritual ideals.(44) While Suckling borrows from the Platonic cult its pretensions to aristocratic superiority, he rebels against the "effeminizing" values of the court, substituting a cynical, manly hedonism that debases rather than idealizes women.

Suckling writes several poems in praise of coyness. Using the economic model of Ovid and Ausonius, Suckling's "To his Rival" (II) recommends that a mistress deny what lovers "crave," and "such a rate / Set on each trifle, that a kisse / Shall come to be the utmost blisse" (14-16); thus she can preserve, in a provocative mean state, men's amorous fires, which would die if they "either flame too high" or "cannot flame" at all (7-8). Switching to a military model that suggests his desire to find male glory in the erotic realm, Suckling recommends in "Upon A.M." that the addressee be coy because "The Fort resign'd with ease, men Cowards prove / And lazie grow" / (3-4).(45)

His play Aglaura (1638) mocks courtly "Platonism" and its idealization of noble women. Attacking a "Platonic" lady's contempt for bodily gratification, a cynical courtier argues that the true erotic feast is "there, where the wise people of the world / Did place the vertues, i'th'middle--Madam." The analogy between the genitalia and the Aristotelian mean crudely suggests that "Platonic" asceticism is excessive in its attempt to escape the body. The play further suggests that courtly Platonism is motivated by the same concerns as the mean of coyness expounded by Suckling and other Sons of Ben: the need to avoid satiety and boredom in venereal sport. A "Platonic" lady argues against consummation of love on the hedonistic ground that "feares, and joyes, / Hopes, and desires, mixt with despaires, and doubts, / Doe make the sport in love." One of the play's cynical courtiers reduces this "new religion in love" to a mere "tricke to inhance the price of kisses." The "Platonic" ladies differ from the cynics only in one respect, that the former believe that only by extending coyness indefinitely can desire be maintained. In short they fear, the same cynic suggests, that "they should not satisfie" the desires they have coyly nurtured.(46) Just as Cartwright guesses that the veiled woman might be hiding her ugliness, so this courtier treats Platonism as a female trick to make men imagine women more desirable than they are.

Suckling's two most distinctive poems, both entitled "Against fruition," similarly insist upon the common hedonistic basis of the mean of coyness and fashionable, courtly "Platonic" love by playfully using the rhetoric of moderation to advise against consummating a relationship with a woman. Here are the two opening and closing stanzas of "Against Fruition" (I) (1-12,19-30):

Stay here fond youth and ask no more, be wise, Knowing too

much long since lost Paradise; The vertuous joyes thou hast,

thou would'st should still Last in their pride; and would's" not

take it ill If rudely from sweet dreams (and for a toy) Th'wert

wak't? he wakes himself that does enjoy.

Fruition adds no new wealth, but destroys, And

while it pleases much the palate, cloyes; Who

thinks he shall be happyer for that, As reasonably

might hope he should grow fat By eating to a

Surfet: this once past, What relishes? even kisses

loose their tast.

Women enjoy'd (what s'ere before th'ave been) Are

like Romances read, or sights once seen: Fruition's

dull, and spoils the Play much more Than if one read

or knew the plot before; 'Tis expectation makes a

blessing dear: It were not heaven, if we knew what it


And as in Prospects we are there pleas'd most

Where something keeps the eye from being lost,

And leaves us room to guesse, so here restraint

Holds up delight, that with excesse would faint.

They who know all the wealth they have, are poor,

Hee's onely rich that cannot tell his store.(47)

Suckling was not the first English poet to advise against erotic consummation. Jonson's translation of a fragment ascribed to Petronius, published posthumously in Underwoods in 1640, glorifies perpetual foreplay rather than consummation, which is rejected with disgust as the filthy pleasure of lustful beasts.(48) As early as 1600, a Jacobean song identifies erotic fulfillment with excess: "Disdaine me still, that I may ever love / ... Love surfets with reward."(49) Suckling's poem expands upon this theme, identifying non-consummation with the mean by choosing the resonant words "too much," a "Surfet," and "excesse." He argues that the wise lover will refrain from an excess of carnal knowledge that paradoxically will only render erotic life deficient by delimiting it. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet proclaims "They are but beggars that can count their worth, / But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum the sum of half my wealth" (; in Antony and Cleopatra, Antony proclaims that "There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned" (I.i.15). Suckling wittily turns Shakespearean lovers' hyperbolic declarations of excess into recommendations for "moderate" anti-fruition. Identifying carnal knowledge with the knowledge of good and evil that caused the fall, Suckling supports his case by drawing upon the Renaissance cult of docta ignorantia or reamed ignorance, suggesting that it is the wise lover who stifles his desire for camel knowledge out of an enlightened respect for true erotic delight. By comparing non-fruition to unread romances, unknown plays, and artful landscapes, he further undergirds his claims with a hedonistic aesthetic.

Given the physiological and psychological unpleasantness of perpetually unfulfilled arousal as well as other poems by Suckling declaring sexual satisfaction the only reasonable goal of heterosexual relations,(50) one cannot of course take this celebration of erotic frustration at face value. Playing with his fellow Cavaliers' rediscovery of the hedonistic mean, Suckling delights in taking their arguments one sophistic step further, praising as the true mean what his contemporaries and predecessors in erotic literature normally treated as a painful extreme. There is a psychologically authentic aspect of the poem, however: the contempt for women and their bodies as the disappointing embodiment of tedious "excess" and the concomitant sense that male fantasy is always superior to female reality. Suckling's diction

suggests a male anxiety that in making love to a woman he will lose himself ("the eye [I?] . . . being lost") and his manhood as embodied in his erect phallus ("restraint / Holds up delight, that with excesse would faint"). Thus he reveals the strong misogynistic impulse behind his demystification of "Platonic" love as hedonistic strategy.

While providing a hedonistic reduction of what he considers the posturing of courtly "Platonism," Suckling associates his technique of anti-fruition with aristocratic superiority. In Aglaura, female advocates of "Platonic love" contrast their sophistication with the crudity of lower-class lovers:

Will you then place the happinesse, but there,

Where the dull plow-man and the plow-mans horse

Can finde it out? Shall soules refin'd, not know

How to preserve alive a noble flame?(51)

In the middle stanza of "Against Fruition" (I), the poet adapts this argument to his own purposes:

Urge not 'tis necessary, alas! we know

The homeliest thing which mankind does is so;

The World is of a vast extent we see,

And must be peopled; Children then must be;

So must bread too; but since there are enough

Born to the drudgery, what need we plough?


Classical authors use the agricultural metaphor for sex to evoke contempt for sexual love: in Sophocles's Antigone, Creon mocks his son Haemon's love for Antigone by noting that if she dies Haemon can still plough other fields (569); in his depiction of sex as a disgusting madness in De rerum natura, Lucretius describes love making as "sowing the woman's field" (4.1107). Instilling a particular class resonance to the metaphor, Suckling plays with the commonplace Platonic hierarchy of body and soul and the identification of the lower classes with brutes in order to argue for a new form of aristocratic superiority.(52) The recognition of limits becomes their willful creation, as bored gentlemen seek ways of enlivening the chase. Sophistication replaces the tempering of desire as the ideal.

Suckling died in exile at the opening of the Civil Wars after having attempted to rally troops against Parliament; his anti-fruition poems were published posthumously in 1646. Cowley, another Royalist, published his collection of love poems The Mistresse in 1647, while he served the court-in-exile of Henrietta Maria as a diplomat and spy. Following Suckling, in his own poem "Against Fruition" Cowley identifies moderation with a hedonistic refusal of consummation. "Too much riches"--fruition--will destroy love; even amorous "Hopes" will create a "surfeit" unless they are tempered by "Fears."(53) Instead of linking anti-fruition to aristocratic superiority like Suckling, however, Cowley associates anti-fruition more specifically with the royal cause that had been routed in the first English civil war of 1642-46. Representing his mistress as a queen who must rule him properly, Cowley links sexual dalliance short of consummation to the royal mean between tyranny and indulgence that many self-consciously moderate royalists celebrated as the ideal regime (7-10)

Thou'rt Queen of all that sees thee; and as such

Must neither Tyrannize, nor yield too much;

Such freedoms give as may admit Command,

But keep the Forts and Magazines in shine hand.

Cowley's notion that a queen should confer "freedoms" that do not abrogate her "Command" resembles the political message in his friend William Davenant's poetic epistle "To the Queen." Written sometime late in 1640 or early in 1641 with the alienation between Parliament and the King growing, Davenant obliquely criticizes Charles's exercise of the prerogative by complimenting his wife's supposed moderation. He suggests that queens can moderate kings' "extreame obdurateness" and praises Henrietta for realizing that moderation in the exercise of monarchical prerogative actually supports rather than undermines royal power:

When you have wrought it [the prerogative] to a yieldingness

That shews it fine but makes it not weigh less.

Accurst are those Court-Sophisters who say

When Princes yield, Subjects no more obey.(54)

Some ten years later, Cowley encodes his own continuing allegiance to this moderate royalist position in his anti-fruition poem. Yet in the light of recent history, Cowley shifts the emphasis from the commendation of a monarch's gracious yielding to a ruefully realistic admonition concerning a monarch's prudent preservation of military force. Giving newly topical resonance to Suckling's military analogy of the "Fort resign'd," Cowley reveals how royalist moderation perforce changes its nature with the stresses and polarizations of war.

Cowley's poem is ostensibly much more respectful of female power than Suckling's anti-fruition poems. Yet Cowley's comparison of mistress and monarch perforce demeans the actual queen he serves by diminution, and Cowley implicitly denigrates his true female sovereign by suggesting that his erotic queen should be a more skillful tactician than Henrietta Maria. Celebrating the mean of nonfruition, Cowley simultaneously laments and demeans through trivialization the monarchical cause.


With the military defeat of Charles I, praise of the hedonistic mean often represented a Cavalier (and cavalier) rejection of the Parliamentary-Puritan regime. Alexander Brome, for example, wrote many Cavalier poems celebrating wine, women, and song as a response to the Puritan victory. His "Advice to Caelia" modified the traditional carpe diem argument against refusal with a complementary argument against giving in too easily, urging a decorous avoidance of extremes:

Then while thou'rt fair and young, be kind but wise,

Doat not, nor proudly use denying;

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

There is a knack to find loves treasures;

Too young, too old, too nice, too free, too slow, destroys your


In his Hesperides (1648), Herrick challenges the victorious Puritans' world by invoking the mean of coyness in a manner more comprehensive than other Cavalier poets could imagine.(56) Treating the pleasures offered by a coy mistress and by a chaste wife as the same, Herrick obscures the distinction between Protestant celebrations of conjugal temperance and Ovidian and Cavalier calls for a mean of strategic coyness. Herrick further extends the mean of coyness by exploring the links between the erotic pleasure derived from female reserve and other pleasures dependent on restraint, ranging from eating and drinking to the experience of poetry itself.

In a poem entitled "What kind of Mistresse he would have," Herrick suggests his disdain for distinctions among different sorts of women by imagining a mistress who provocatively combines the licit devotion of a wife and the illicit sexuality of a whore:

Be the Mistresse of my choice,

Cleane in manners, cleere in voice:

Be she witty, more then wise;

Pure enough, though not Precise:

Be she strewing in her dresse,

Like a civil Wildernesse;

That the curious may detect

Order in a sweet neglect:

Be she rowling in her eye,

Tempting all the passers by:

And each Ringlet of her haire,

An Enchantment, or a Snare,

For to catch the Lookers on;

But her self held fast by none.

Let her Lucrece all day be,

Thais in the night, to me.

Be she such, as neither will

Famish me, over-fill.


Herrick's last four lines offer two formulations concerning the mixture of order and disorder embodied in the perfect erotic partner. Lucretia, the wife who committed suicide after being violated, is the extreme example of the chaste wife; Thais, a Greek courtesan famous for her many lovers,(58) the extreme version of the refined prostitute. The combination of a daytime Lucretia and nightime Thais imagines the mistress's alternating between two extremes, the daylight, public role and the nighttime, private one. Herrick borrows his penultimate couplet from the final couplet of a Martial epigram, in which the Roman poet, attacking his mistress for her cold behavior, wishes for her at least to be a pleasing whore for him at night: "If austerity please you, you may be Lucretia all through the day: Lais I wish for at night" (11.104.21-22). There is a significant difference in attitude, however, between Herrick's and Martial's poems: rather than simply conceding that his mistress may be a daytime Lucretia, as does Martial, Herrick desires it. While Martial wishes for a sexually responsive woman without worrying about her relations to others, Herrick desires an oxymoron, a prostitute who is yet, like an early modern wife, his exclusive property. Herrick thus celebrates the target of so much Renaissance misogynistic abuse, female inconsistency--on the condition that he alone can control it.

Female inconsistency provokes--and licenses--the poet's own shifting moods. Herrick's emphasis upon his mistress's seductive frustration of daytime observers suggests his desire not only for personal property but also to experience the daytime observer's frustration as a tantalizing prelude to consummation. Herrick often describes women as spectacle, himself as spectator: in his most famous celebration of female beauty, "Delight in Disorder," Herrick praises a woman wholly in terms of her effect on him as a spectator: he "see[s] a wilde civility" that "bewitch[es]" him more than "Art / . . . too precise in every part" (H-83, 12-14). In his fantasy of the perfect mistress, the opposition between other observers of the daytime woman and the poet of nightly enjoyments partially breaks down, for if she is held fast by none daily, the none includes the poet himself--at least for half the time.

Herrick's title "What kind of Mistresse he would have" recalls the title given in the Renaissance to Ausonius's epigram on the ideal mistress, "Qualem velit amicam," and Herrick follows Ausonius in associating the erotic mean with a provocative combination of opposite extremes of sensation. Herrick's oscillation between the extremes of frustrated voyeur and exclusive possessor motivates the appearance of the mean in the final couplet. Though the connection between the two final couplets is not explicit, their juxtaposition suggests that the woman's combination of the extremes of courtesan and chaste wife, of licentiousness and provocative reserve, allows the poet to experience the contradictory emotions that produce a mean of sexual pleasure between satiety and frustration.

Throughout his poetry Herrick recommends an erotic mean that sharpens pleasure by means of frustration.(59) Love--which Herrick characteristically reduces to sexual relations--is an "extreame" (H-1120, 5) that tends toward a sickening excess:

Love is a sirrup; and who er'e we see

Sick and surcharg'd with this sa[t]ietie:

Shall by this pleasing trespasse quickly prove,

Ther's loathsomnesse e'en in the sweeets of love


Erotic pleasures must therefore be tempered by pains to preclude satiety, as the distich "Another on Love" suggests: "Love's of it self, too sweet; the best of all / Is, when loves hony has a dash of gall" (H-1084). In both Scriptural and classical proverbial lore, honey symbolizes the moral dangers of unrestraint (Proverbs 25:16, 25:27, 27:7; Greek Anthology 16:16), and Herrick's "The Hony-combe" (H-909) echoes Scripture to warn against "excess" (3). Herrick's gnomic distich on love, by contrast, uses the common Renaissance figure of honey as sexual pleasure in order to support a hedonistic dictum about erotic joys.(60)

Herrick's marriage poems further erode the boundary between the licit and illicit. Classical and Renaissance epithalamia traditionally describe the bride's combination of desire, which testifies to her virtuous love and consent, and bashfulness, which reveals her chastity.(61) Epithalamia also conventionally depict the bride's virtuous resistance as the (unintended) spur to the husband's increased pleasure, which makes the consummation of marriage sound uncomfortably close to a rape.(62) Herrick, however, collapses these topoi--the one concerned with the bride's morality, the other concerned with the bridegroom's pleasure--by imagining a bride who adheres to a decorous measure because it will stimulate the bridegroom's pleasure. Like Ovid, Martial, and Ausonius to their mistresses, he urges that a bride be strategically coy but not too coy. In one poem he commends a bride's "bashfull willingnesse," which combines a "heart consenting" and a "will repenting," because "a measure / Of that Passion sweetens Pleasure" ("An Epithalamie," H-149A, 74-80); in another he warns a bride that "Coyness takes us to a measure; / But o'racted deeds the pleasure" ("The delaying Bride," H-850, 5-6); in yet another he uses the Ovidian economic model of sexual pleasure by praising the bride for the "bashfull jealousies" whereby she sets a "price" on herself but warning that "though you slow- / ly go, yet, howsoever, go" ("A Nuptiall Song," H-283, 51-60).

Herrick's reference to the bride's "price" reveals the problem with this understanding of the "economics" of marriage: if the bride sets a "price" on herself by being coy, how can she maintain her value once she is an obedient wife? Epithalamia celebrate a unique, unrepeatable event, the loss of the woman's virginity. (Like many epithalamia writers, Herrick does not assume the man's virginity.) Though epithalamia often express the hope that the couple will long maintain their conjugal pleasures, the male pleasure in overcoming the virgin bride's resistance raises a problem: will not the bride's submission to her husband and her loss of the fear that causes her to resist lead to his becoming bored? Alone among major epithalamia writers, Herrick explicitly addresses this problem. In "Connubii Flores" (H-633), a chorus of old men advises moderation during the connubial rites:

Go to your banquet then, but use delight,

So as to rise still with an appetite.

Love is a thing most nice; and must be fed

To such a height; but never surfeited.

What is beyond the mean is ever ill:

'Tis best to feed Love; but not over-fill;

Go then discreetly to the Bed of pleasure;

And this remember, Vertue keepes the measure.


Herrick once more disburdens the traditional call for conjugal temperance of ethical weight by collapsing it with purely hedonistic imperatives. The old men advise the couple to adhere to the ethical mean with appropriately sententious maxims, but moderation is here advised to avoid precluding future sensual pleasures. The old men's joint address to husband and wife masks a characteristic asymmetry: the puns on the male erection ("rise still," "fed / To such a height") reveal Herrick's focus on the preservation of the male's pleasure, with the bride figured as the (strategically coy) provider of enduring pleasure.

Herrick's use of a chorus of old men to advise the couple regarding the preservation of sexual delight through moderation seems intentionally comic. It certainly underscores the poet's subversive blurring of traditional ethical considerations with hedonistic motives. In Elizabethan literature, old men's advice to young men traditionally combine calls for moderation with stern warnings against sexual pleasure. In John Lyly's Euphues (1578), for example, the old man Euboulos who advises the young Euphues to be "merrye . . . with modestie" warns against "luste" and lascivious "Syrens."(63) In Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), a dying father advises his sons to keep the "most safe, middle way" ("medium tutissimum") and "above all" to "beware of love, for it is far more perilous than pleasant."(64) Herrick's old men, by contrast, wish youth to prolong--rather than avoid--erotic pleasure. In several lyrics, Herrick portrays himself as the elderly would-be lover of the Anacreonic tradition, comically or pathetically seeking erotic "sport" despite his loss of physical vitality (H-43, H-527, H-852). The epithalamium's avuncular counselors issue the poet's own wistful advice that youth preserve as long as possible love's fleeting pleasures, and expressions of wise moderation become a vicarious means of reimagining a young man's joys.

Herrick's most startling move in his marriage poetry is to imagine the male's truest conjugal pleasure as the continuing deflowering of the bride. In "Julia's Churching, or Purification," the poet claims that

She who keeps chastly to her husbands side

Is not for one, but every night his Bride:

And stealing still with love, and feare to Bed,

Brings him not one, but many a Maiden-head

(H-898, 13-16)

Heather Dubrow has discussed passages like this one in terms of Herrick's fears and ambivalence concerning the loss of virginity, which he associates with transience and mutability.(65) The ambivalence regarding virginity is undeniable, and it is no accident that Herrick described himself as a virginal "Maid" (H-235). Dubrow does not take into account, however, Herrick's evident pleasure in imagining himself in the virile husband's role. Like all of Herrick's other strategic deployments of moderation, the fantasy of continually being able to deflower one's wife takes the sting, the boredom, out of fulfillment. According to a classical and Renaissance misogynist commonplace, a wife provided but two pleasant moments, the night she is deflowered and the day she dies: on the wedding night alone, to quote a sixteenth-century text, "The Bride is fresh and new, and all new things are pleasaunt."(66) Herrick imagines the wife as an everrenewable bride, so that the husband has the satisfaction of being ever to receive "many" rather than merely "one" "Maidenhead."

Once more the increase of pleasure is not mutual, for it is the man's pleasure that is at stake. Indeed the woman's fear is itself a spur to the man's pleasure. Herrick has transformed a standard feature of Protestant marriage ideology: the call for obedient wives not only to love but also to fear in the sense of revere their authoritative husbands.(67) By localizing the wife's fear within the couple's nightly lovemaking, Herrick reductively equates the wife's fear-as-reverence to a virgin's sexual fear of penetration. The chaste wife's enduring fear allows the husband to feel some of the transgressive charm of an illicit act within the most licit form of sexuality.

In "A Country life: To his Brother, Master Thomas Herrick" (H-106), Herrick similarly celebrates the joys of restrained conjugal sexuality. Praising his brother's retired moderation in various aspects of daily life, the poet commends his brother for "cool[ing]" his appetites (26) and adhering to the mean of liberality, knowing how much to "spend" and "spare" and thus avoid "extreame[s]" (129-132). Near the end of the poem Herrick connects virtuous moderation to erotic satisfaction when he advises that his brother's conjugal pleasures also be regulated by the mean:

Thus let thy Rurall Sanctuary be

Elizium to thy wife and thee;

There to disport your selves with golden measure:

For seldome use commends the pleasure.


Moderation or the "golden measure" (139) is not only more virtuous but also more pleasurable than excess because sexual restraint increases the pleasure of erotic fulfillment. The final line applies to sex the same hedonistic argument for temperance that Herrick applies earlier in the poem to eating when praising his brother's moderation with respect to food: "Hunger makes coorse meats, delicates" (110).

Herrick's two gnomic utterances concerning moderation--"Hunger makes coorse meats delicates" and "For seldome use commends the pleasure"--diverge from Aristotelian understandings of the mean but derive from a strong hedonistic current within classical and Renaissance thought. Xenophon claims that Socrates "ate just sufficient food to make eating a pleasure, and he was so ready for his food that he found appetite the best sauce; and any kind of drink he found pleasant, because he drank only when he was thirsty" (Memorabilia, 1.3.5).(68) Socrates's understanding of temperance as providing the most pleasure is central to the two major, competing Hellenistic schools of ethics, Epicureanism and Stoicism. Epicurus claims that bread and water "confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips" (Diogenes Laertius 10.130-31); in Cicero's De finibus, a Stoic approvingly cites Socrates's claim that "the best sauce for food is hunger and the best flavouring for drink thirst" (2.28.90); and Seneca claims hunger will make even bad bread "delicate" (Epistuale ad Lucilium 123.2). Erasmus popularized this form of temperate hedonism in the Renaissance. In the Adagia, Erasmus associates the Socratic dictum that "hunger is the best sauce" with the Juvenalian claim (here given in Richard Taverner's translation) that "seldom use of pleasures maketh the same the more pleasaunt" (Satire 11.208). In his colloquy Epicureus, Erasmus cites these two classical dicta in support of his own brand of Christian hedonism.(69) Quoting the same two classical maxims as Erasmus, Herrick provides a similarly hedonistic understanding of moderation.

Herrick's recommendation that his brother practice "seldome use" in his conjugal sexual relations contradicts, however, his earlier celebration of his sister-in-law's chaste but nightly yielding of herself to her husband: "But still thy wife, by chest intentions led, / Gives thee each night a Maidenhead" (41-42). As in "Julia's Churching," Herrick suggests that a wife's chastity provides the husband, over and over again, with the excitement of the wedding night's deflowering of a reluctant maiden. The contradictory celebration of the wife's chaste but nightly offering of herself and of "seldome use" suggests their equivalence in terms of the poet's hedonic calculus; both are conceived of simply as strategies for increasing the husband's pleasure.

Herrick's poems on the ideal mistress and wife intertwine sexual and aesthetic values, and Herrick's recommended strategies for increasing and prolonging erotic pleasure parallel his poetic strategies for increasing and prolonging the reader's aesthetic pleasure by avoiding both frustration and satiety. Critics have discussed generic variety as a structural principle in Herrick's Hesperides,(70) but they have not explored the way this variety reflects Herrick's conception of both sexual and textual pleasure as a hedonistic mean. Renaissance writers categorized epigrams into "mel" ("honey"), on the one hand, and various contrasting qualities of "fel" ("gall"), "acetum" ("vinegar"), and "sal" ("salt").(71) When Herrick claims "loves hony" should have "a dash of gall" (H-1084), his use of traditional literary terms hints that his book's mixing of sweet lyrics and bitter or salty satiric and comic epigrams parallels the necessary mixture of indulgence and restraint in love.(72)

Just as Herrick's conception of a mean of erotic pleasure derives from ancient love poetry, so his conception of a mean of aesthetic pleasure based on variety derives from ancient rhetorical and symposiastic lore, discourses more open to the valorization of pleasure than was ethical theory. In his Rhetoric, which often propounds popular Greek views more amenable to a hedonistic ethics than the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle notes that change is pleasant because perpetual sameness is an unpleasant "excess" (hyperbole) (1.11.20). Plutarch (to quote Philemon Holland's Jacobean translation) similarly notes that "varietie" is itself "very pleasing" and argues that the competent symposiarch (the leader of a drinking party) mixes the playful and the serious "with measure" in order to prevent the excess of one quality or the other.(73) Such associations of variety and moderation informed both literary theory and practice. In De oratore 3.98-102, Cicero notes that excessive pleasure causes satiety and that poems and speeches must therefore not be sweet without "relief or check or variety." While in Poetaster Jonson sharply distinguished the decorous relations between poets and rulers from the relations between lovers and coy mistresses, Martial treats such relations as similar. Martial's preface to Book 8 of his epigrams notes that he will "diversify" his book, mixing serious praise of Domitian with "pleasantry" in order to avoid "wearying" the emperor with unmodulated celebration. Thus the poet will avoid satiating the emperor just as he asks a mistress, through coyness, to avoid wearying him. Martial's contemporary Pliny the Younger, notes in his letters his (lost) poetry's variety of subject matter and style and associates such variety with the avoidance of unpleasant extremes: "In literature, as in life, I think it a becoming sign of humanity to mingle grave and gay, lest the one becomes too austere and the other indelicate" (Epistulae, 8.21.1). Like these classical writers, Herrick seeks to follow nature and avoid excess by mingling the grave and gay-in epigrammatic literature as in erotic life.


While Herrick provides the most wide-ranging version of the Cavalier mean of coyness, one of his female contemporaries provides the most trenchant rejection of Cavalier sexual values. Using Cavalier motifs against the Cavaliers, Katherine Philips invokes the mean to proclaim the validity of a woman's life independent of men's desires. Her poem "The Virgin," published posthumously in 1667 but probably written in the 1650s, idealizes a virgin whose moderation is not subservient to men:

The things that make a Virgin please,

She that seeks, will find them these;

A Beauty, not to Art in debt,

Rather agreeable than great;

An Eye, wherein at once do meet,

The beams of kindness, and of wit;

An undissembled Innocence,

Apt nor to give, nor take offense:

A Conversation, at once, free

From Passion, and from Subtlety;

A Face that's modest, yet serene,

A sober, and yet lively Meen,

The vertue which does her adorn,

By honour guarded, not by scorn;

With such wise lowliness indu'd,

As never can be mean, or rude;

That prudent negligence enrich [sic],

And Time's her silence and her speech;

Whose equal mind, does alwaies move,

Neither a foe, nor a slave to Love;

And whose Religion's strong and plain,

Not superstitious, nor prophane.(74)

Philips' description of the qualities that "make a Virgin please" recalls the tradition that begins with the Jonsonian Hermogenes' Martial-inspired description of "What would please me in my lover." Yet Philips sharply deviates from her masculine predecessors by neglecting to identify precisely to whom the ideal virgin is pleasing. Philips thus suggests that the ideal virgin is pleasing to all people-including herself. Though the focus on the virgin's moderation regarding love ("Neither a foe, nor slave to Love") recalls earlier poetic celebrations of the virgin's temperate behavior toward potential male suitors, Philips declares her own love for other women so often in her poems that the gender of the ideal virgin's audience is indeterminate.(75) Such indeterminacy frees the virgin from her normal status in seventeenth-century English male poetry as a mere bride-to-be. Ideal virginity is a perfect, complete state in itself, rather than a way station to union with and dependence upon a man.

Philips further emphasizes the virgin's freedom as a moral agent by applying to her attitudes towards love a Stoic language of self-sufficiency normally used of men. Her "equall mind" in matters of love recalls the Stoic ideal of the man who preserves his inner freedom and equanimity whatever his external circumstances. Horace claims that one can find contentment in any situation if one has an "equal mind" ("animus . . . aequus," Epistle 1.11.30; cf. Epistle 1.18.112); Seneca frequently praises the wise man's "aequus animus" in the face of adverse fortune;(76) echoing these Roman authors, Jonson praises the "equal mind" of Robert Carr, earl of Salisbury, who supposedly contents himself with his own good deeds rather than depending upon the often erroneous "public voice" of fame (Epigram 63. 6-8).(77)

Philips gives her ideal virgin not only a Stoic but also a deeply Christian subjectivity that preserves her ultimate independence of body and soul. The final couplet's praise of the virgin's "Religion," which is neither "superstitious" nor "prophane," evokes the traditional conception of true religion, first expounded by Plutarch and widely accepted in early modern England, as a mean between superstition and atheism or unbelief.(78) The concluding couplet raises the virgin's concern for moderation from the merely social realm of manners to a transcendent realm of devotion in order to suggest that the virgin's ultimate approbative audience is neither male nor female human beings but God. One might compare an early, unpublished poem by Philips that praises the virgin's life for allowing women spiritual access to God unhindered by earthly duties to men: "No Blustering husbands to create yr fears..../ Few worldly crosses to distract yr prayers."(79) Philips, herself married to a husband working for the Interregnum government but with a social circle that was heavily Royalist, uses a formulation of the mean of true religion vague enough to be accepted by English Protestants across the spectrum and thus effectively removes the ideal virgin's views from the raging conflict amongst the various religious factions in Interregnum England. The virgin is thus "protected" from the vagaries of both seventeenth-century socioreligious conflict and male desire.

Philips further distances her views from Cavalier celebrations of coy women by echoing a very different kind of poem equally beloved by the Cavaliers, Martial's famous epigram celebrating the happy, contented life of the man of retirement (10.47), which was translated and imitated in the seventeenth century by Jonson and several of the Sons of Ben (including Randolph, Cowley, Mildmay Fane, and Charles Cotton). Philips's first couplet--"The things that make a Virgin please, / She that seeks, will find them these"--signals her debt by recalling the opening couplet of Martial's poem ("Vitam quae faciant beatiorem... / haec sunt"), especially as rendered in the first line of Jonson's translation ("The things that make the happier life, are these"). Both the accretive structure and emphasis upon moderation in Philips's poem further recall Martial's epigram, as this extract from Jonson's translation suggests (2-10):

Substance got with ease,

Not laboured for, but left thee by thy sire;


A quiet mind; free powers; and body sound;

A wise simplicity [prudens simplicitas]; friends alike-stated;

Thy table without art, and easy-rated;

Thy night not drunken, but from cares laid waste;

No sour, or sullen bed-mate, yet a chaste.(80)

The "wise lowliness" and moderation of Philips's virgin recall the "wise simplicity" and moderation of Martial's happy man. By evoking Martial's portrait of an independent and morally responsible male rather than his sketches of coyly seductive objects of male desire, Philips combats the gender hierarchy assumed by Martial and his Cavalier imitators. Philips's modifications of Martial's vision of true happiness further combats the patriarchal values of the Roman poet and his English imitators. While Martial's epigram celebrates patrilineal descent, the material estate passed from father to son, Philips's poem celebrates a moral estate that the virgin obtains in and for herself. While Martial includes as one of the contented man's possessions a wife who pleases him with a moderation that reduces her to a "bedmate" neither too cold nor wanton, Philips's virgin pleases all with a moderation that preserves her integrity as a moral agent.

Late seventeenth-century male "libertine" poets closely follow the Cavaliers' celebration of the mean of female coyness--with a stale repetitiveness, indeed, that belies the poets' alleged desire to escape satiety.(81) Philips's poem, by contrast, provides an original and defiant counter-statement, all the stronger for its Roman classicism, to the Cavalier erotic tradition inspired by Roman poetry and inaugurated by the Jonsonian Hermogenes' song.


(1.) On early Christian views regarding sexuality, see Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). For the development of the ideal of temperance within marriage from the Greeks to the Reformation, see James A. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). On the early modern English ideal of moderate sexual activity within marriage, see Richard L. Greaves, Society and Religion in Elizabethan England (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), 223-28; Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English Family, 1450-1700 (London: Longman, 1984), 103; and Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (New York: Harper, 1977), 498-501.

(2.) The Workes of William Gouge (London, 1627), 130. Cf. Robert Cleaver, A Godlie form of Householde Government (1598), 158, 163-64.

(3.) Alexander Niccholes, A Discourse of Marriage and Wiving (London, 1620), 7. Roland M. Frye cites many such warnings against transient lust in "The Teachings of Classical Puritanism on Conjugal Love," Studies in the Renaissance 2 (1955): 156-58. An Elizabethan ballad enunciates the widelyheld view that that love's endurance depended on moderation: "Love that is too hot and strong / Burneth soon to waste: / Still, I would not have thee cold, / Not too backward, nor too bold. / .... / Constant love is moderate ever, / And it will through life persever" ("Love me Little, Love me long," in Norman Ault, ed., Elizabethan Lyrics [New York: Capricorn Books, 1949], 61).

(4.) In Michel Foucault's terms, the poets transfer the concept of the mean from the domain of scientia sexualis to that of ars erotica; see The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1978), 53-73. Foucault himself notes that the two domains are complexly interrelated in Western culture despite their evident opposition (7073). Recent critics have explored the interest of seventeenth-century poets in coyness as a stimulus to male desire and pleasure; see Gerald Hammond, Fleeting Things: English Poets and Poems, 1616-1660 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), 302-305; William Kerrigan and Gordon Braden, The Idea of the Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1989), especially 183-89 and 200-206. These studies do not explore, however, poetic applications of the mean to the psychology of desire.

(5.) Houlbrooke, 96-102.

(6.) Publius Syrus's proverbs, studied in Elizabethan grammar schools, contain the famous adage, "A woman either loves, or hates, there is no third thing" ("Aut amat aut odit mulier: nihil est tertium"). Thomas Nashe cites the proverb in The Anatomie of Absurditie (1589); see The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, rev. F. P. Wilson, 5 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), 1:15; for Shakespearean variants, see Hamlet III.ii. 162-3, and Charles G. Smith, Shakespeare's Proverb Lore (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1963), 131. For other Renaissance assertions of women's emotional extremism, see Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. Sir Thomas Hoby (1561; reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1967), 239; George Pettie, A Petite Pallace of Pettie His Pleasure (1576), ed. Herbert Hartman (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), 37-38; John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond, 3 vols. (Oxford; Clarendon, 1902), 1:253; and Joseph Swetnam, The Araignment of . . . Women (London, 1622), 18. Leonard Wright explicitly associates women's extremism with their dangerous disobedience: "Most women by nature are saide to be . . . all in extreames without meane, either loving dearely or hating deadly: desirous rather to rule than to be ruled" (A Display of Dutie . . . [London, 1589], 36). The male's authoritative moderation was thus essential.

(7.) Cited and discussed in Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1983), 43-44. In a seventeenth-century manuscript poem, a man resolves to curb his future wife's emotional extremes: "If shee sleepe I'le raise her upp, / if proude I'le take her downe, / for womans humors they are such, / they either want or have to[o] muche" ("I cannot call my mistress fayre," in Seventeenth Century Songs and Lyrics, ed. John P. Cutts [Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1959], 167).

(8.) The Sermons of Edwin Sandys, ed. John Ayre, The Parker Society (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1842), 318; Samuel Hieron, Marriage-Blessing in The Sermons of Master Samuell Hieron (London, 1635), 470.

(9.) For an excellent discussions of Jonson's self-presentation in Poetaster, see Richard Helgerson, Self-Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton, and the Literary System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 111-16.

(10.) Jonson, Poetaster, II.ii.163-72, 179-88 in The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson, 4 vole., ed. G. A. Wilkes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), 2:148 49.

(11.) Patrick Hannay, "A Happy Husband . . . Together with a Wives Behaviour after Marriage," 2d ed. (1622) in The Poetical Works of Patrick Hannay (1622; reprint, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968), 168.

(12.) Martial, Epigrams, 1.57, Loeb trans. modified. All translations of classical works are, unless otherwise specified, from the Loeb Classical Library.

(13.) On the popularity of De officiis among English humanists and its place in the English educational curriculum, see the editor's introduction to Nicholas Grimald, trans., Marcus Tullius Ciceroes Thre Bokes of Duties (1556), ed. Gerald O'Gorman (Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1990), 13-15. Thomas Elyot recommends that a student first read the first two books of the Nicomachean Ethics and then proceed to De officiis (The Book named the Governor, ed. S. E. Lehmberg [London: Dent, 1962], 39). Nicholas Grimald claims that Cicero's treatise surpasses Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics because of its "lightsomnesse, and eloquent handeling" (Grimald, 45-46). Philip Sidney informs his brother that Nicomachean Ethics is philosophically supreme but "dark," while De officiis is perhaps "not equal" to Aristotle but is (presumably in terms of applicability) "for you and myself, beyond any" (Sir Philip Sidney: Oxford Authors, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989], 288).

(14.) On courtesy books and the early modern regulation of behavior, see Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: The Development of Manners, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Urizen Books, 1978), on the courtesy book in Renaissance England, see Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). Neither study examines the pervasive Ciceronian influence upon these works.

(15.) On Castiglione's diverse applications of the mean, see Albert D. Menut, "Castiglione and the Nicomachean Ethics," PMLA 58 (1943): 320-321, and J. R. Woodhouse, Baldesar Castiglione: A Reassessment of the Courtier (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978), 44-45, 72-73, 98-102. Neither of these studies notes that the primary source for Castiglione's understanding of the mean is Cicero rather than Aristotle.

(16.) Giovanni della Casa, Galatueo, trans. Robert Peterson (London, 1576), 89-90, 94, 108; Stefano Guazzo, The Civile Conversation, trans. George Pettie and Batholomew Young, 2 vols. (1581-86; reprint, London: Constable, 1925), 1:101, 130, 133, 135, 151, 214, 231.

(17.) Elyot, 80-8; The Institucion of a Gentleman (London, 1568; reprint, London, 1839), 90; John Ferne, The Blazon of Gentrie (London, 1586), 113. For later examples, see The Political Works of James I, intro. Charles Howard McIlwain (New York: Russell & Russell, 1965), 45-47; Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentleman (London, 1630), 356.

(18.) Modern scholars generally believe that the butt of Horace's Satire 3 is Tigellius the elder rather than the younger musician, Tigellius Hermogenes, satirized elsewhere in Horace's Satires; see Alain Baudot, Musiciens romaine de l'antiquite (Montreal: Les presses de l'universite de Montreal, 1973), 73-77. The ancient scholiasts and their Renaissance heirs, however, conflated the two figures, so Jonson undoubtedly did the same; see Porphyrion's note in F. Plessis et P. Lejay, eds., Oeuvres d'Horace: Satires (Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1911), 38, n. 3.

(19.) Jonson, Poetaster, II.ii.201-202 in Complete Plays, 1:149. The extremism of musicians might have been an early modern stereotype. An Elizabethan writer compares women's extremism to that of musicians "who being intreated, will scant sing . . . but undesired, straine to sing" (Wright, 36). Hermogenes the musician is as "womanish" in his extremism as the woman he desires.

(20.) Jonson, Poetaster, V.i.50-52, V.i. 61-64 in Complete Plays, 2:199. While Jonson recalls Horace's depiction of Augustus as a ruler who showed good judgment in bestowing gifts upon worthy poets (Epistle 2.1.245-8) the Jonsonian emphasis upon avoiding the two extremes of not giving to the meritorious or giving to the undeserving recalls classical philosophic discussions of liberality as a mean: see Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics IV.i; Cicero, De officiis 2.15.54-2.16.64; and Seneca, De beneficiis 1.15.3, 2. 15.3-2.16.2.

(21.) Jonson, Complete Plays, 1:127.

(22.) Ibid., 121.

(23.) On the links Jonson would have recognized between Horatian poetry and Martial's epigrams, see Wesley Trimpi, Ben Jonson's Poems: A Study of the Plain Style (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1962),16-19.

(24.) The Poetical and Dramatic Works of Thomas Randolph, ed. W. Carew Hazlitt (London, 1875),194.

(25.) Randolph, "A Complaint against Cupid. . . ," 132-33, 150-52 in The Poems and Amyntas of Thomas Randolph, ed. John Jay Parry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917), 82.

(26.) Randolph, "Ausonii Epigram 38," in Randolph, ed. Parry, 144. In line 14 I have emended "act," the reading of the posthumous 1638 edition of Randolph's poems retained by all subsequent editions, to "art." Randolph's translation is very faithful to Ausonius's poem, which has "art" ("artem") in the equivalent line, "art" makes far better poetic sense, and the misprint is easy. Randolph's numbering of the poem follows Joseph Scaliger's edition which renders the epigram thus: "Hanc volo, quae non vult. Illam, quae vult, ego nolo. / Vincere vult animos, non satiare Venus. / Oblatas sperno illecebras, detrecto negatas: / Nec satiare animum, nec cruciare volo. / Nec bis cincta Diana placet, nec nude Cythere. / Illa voluptahs nil habet, haec nimium. / Callida sed mediae Veneris mihi venditet artem / Femina: quae iugat, quod volo nolo vocet" (Ausonius, Opera, ed. Joseph Scaliger and Elia Vineto [Geneva, 1588], 11).

(27.) On the paradoxically extreme nature of female virtue in Renaissance thought, which can be traced back to the Church fathers, see Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 7, 16, 97 n. 7 and 100 n. 66; and Howard Bloch's discussion of the Christian treatment of woman as "perpetual overdetermination--either too rich or too poor, too beautiful or not beautiful enough, too rational or out of her senses" in Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991), 65-95 (citation on p. 90). Claiming that all women deviate from the "golden mean" into "extremes," the late Cavalier poet Charles Cotton's "The Joys of a Marriage" alleges that every woman is "either Saint or Devil" (Poems of Charles Cotton, 1630-1687 ed. John Bereford [London: Richard CoLden-Sanderson, 1923], 319). Wives who die for their husbands can be simultaneously praised for their devotion and condemned for their extremism: see, e.g., Castiglione, 239, and Pettie, 38. Edmund Tilney has a female defender of women stoutly defend their having "no meane in love" in his dialogue A Brief and Pleasant Discourse (London, 1568), D7r; the author himself seems to view women's "extreme" devotion to men with patronizing approval.

(28.) Robert Greene, The Life and Complete Works, ed. A. B. Grosart, 15 vols. (London: Huth Library, 1881-6), 8:127; "Are women fair and are they sweet?" in More Lyrics from the Song-Books of the Elizabethan Age, ed. A. H. Bullen (London, 1888), 5.

(29.) See Brendan O'Hehir, "Balanced Opposites in the Poetry of Pope, and the Historical Evolution of the Concept" (Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1959); and Joshua Scodel, "`Mediocrities' and `Extremities': Francis Bacon and the Aristotelian Mean," in Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature, ed. David Quint et al. (Binghamton, N.Y.: SUNY Binghamton Press, 1992), 104-105.

(30.) Ausonius, Opera, 3, trans. mine.

(31.) Owen Fel[l]tham, Resolves, Divine, Moral, and Political, ed. James Cumming (London, 1820), 155.

(32.) Randolph, ed. Parry, 240-41, 285 (Amyntas I.i.44 80, III.i.58-60).

(33.) Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300-1840 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 294-98 (quotation on p. 298); cf. John R. Gillis, For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 30-31.

(34.) Lyrics from English Airs, 1596-1622, ed. Edward Doughtie (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), 396.

(35.) Castiglione, 217.

(36.) Ann Rosalind Jones, "Nets and Bridles: Early Modern Conduct Books and Sixteenth-Century Women's Lyrics," in The Ideology of Conduct: Essays in Literature and the History of Sexuality, ed. Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse (New York and London: Methuen, 1987), 44-46 and 52-63.

(37.) Francis Quarles, Argalus and Parthenia, ed. David Freeman (Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1986), 53.

(38.) George Wither, Fair Virtue, or The Mistresse of Philarete, 2467 68, 36013652, in The Poetry of George Wither, ed. Frank Sidgwick, 2 vols. (London: A. H. Bullen, 1902), 2:94, 132-34; Wye Saltonstall, "A Maide," in Picturae Loquentes (1631, 1635; reprint, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1946), 9, 15. For later advice along the same lines, see Cotton's "Old Tityrus to Eugenia," in Cotton, 114-46.

(39.) Fulke Greville, "Caelica: Sonnet LXXV," 11. 154-58 in Poems and Dramas of Fulke Greville, First Lord Brooke, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, 2 vols. (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1939), 1:125.

(40.) For a careful discussion of Roman and English Renaissance writers' treatment of the proximity of virtuous means and vicious extremes, see Quentin Skinner, "Moral Ambiguity and the Renaissance Art of Eloquence," Essays in Criticism 44 (1994): 267-92. Skinner notes that moralists decried but rhetoricians neutrally described or celebrated the possibilities of confusion; he does not note that both attitudes are traceable back to Aristotle.

(41.) The Plays and Poems of William Cartwright, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1951), 483.

(42.) Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, trans. Edward Fairfax, intro. John Charles Nelson (1600; reprint, New York: Putnam, 1963), 69 (canto 4, stanzas 31-32); Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (London: Longmans, 1977), 293.

(43.) Cartwright, 483-84.

(44.) Erica Veevers provides the most detailed discussion of Caroline Neoplatonism in Images of Love and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Cf. Kevin Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 64-68; and Lawrence Venuti, Our Halcyon Dayes: English Prerevolutionary Texts and Postmodern Culture (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 220-60.

(45.) The Works of Sir lohn Suckling, vol. 1: The Non-Dramatic Works, ed. Thomas Clayton (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 42, 27.

(46.) The Works of Sir John Suckling, vol. 2: The Plays, ed. L. A. Beaurline (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 47, 56 (Aglaura I.v.8-10 49-50, II.ii.24-29, 35).

(47.) Suckling, 1:37-38.

(48.) Jonson, "Fragmentum Petron. Arbitr. The Same Translated," in Ben Jonson, The Complete Poems, ed. George Parfitt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), 251.

(49.) "Disdaine me still, that I may ever love," in John Dowland, A Pilgrimes Solace (London, 1603), I, in Doughtie, 402.

(50.) See, for example, "I pray thee spare me, gentle boy . . . ," in Suckling, 51-52.

(51.) Suckling, 2:47 (Aglaura I.v.16-19).

(52.) Cf. the Platonic Theander of Davenant's The Platonic Lovers, who describes consummation as "coarse and homely drudgeries" necessary only to generate those who "fill up armies, villages, / And city shops" (II.i, in The Dramatic Works of Sir William D'Avenant, ed. J. Maidment and W. H. Logan, 5 vols. [Edinburgh, 1872-4], 2:43).

(53.) Abraham Cowley, "Against Fruition," 16, 29-30, in The Collected Works of Abraham Cowley, volume 2, part 1 (The Mistress), ed. Thomas O. Calhoun et al. (Newark: University of Delaware Press), 58-59.

(54.) Sir William Davenant, "To the Queen," 19, 39-42 in Davenant, The Shorter Poems, and Songs from the Plays and Masques (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 139-40; cf. Sharpe, 98-100.

(55.) Alexander Brome, "Advice to Caelia," 35-36, in his Poems, ed. Roman R. Dubinski, 2 vols. (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1982), 1:109.

(56.) Paul R. Jenkins provides an excellent close reading of Herrick's treatment of moderation and the mean in "Rethinking what Moderation Means to Robert Herrick," ELH 39 (1972): 49-65. Jenkins is misleading, however, regarding literary and cultural history: his contrast between Herrick's "modern" concern with a "sensational psychology" (63) and ancient ethical views of moderation neglects Herrick's Roman models, and Jenkins does not sufficiently contextualize Herrick's "modern" position within seventeenthcentury erotic discourses.

(57.) All citations and the numbering of the poems are from The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, ed. J. Max Patrick (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963).

(58.) See Propertius, Elegy 2.6.4.

(59.) See Jenkins, 59.

(60.) Eric Partridge provides several examples of Shakespeare's use of "honey" as the "sweets of sexual pleasure" in Shakespeare's Bawdy (New York: Dutton, 1960), 100, 128 (s.v., "delight," s.v., "honey").

(61.) The fifteenth-century poet Giovanni Pontano describes the bride as one who simultaneously both "fears and desires" in Carmen nuptiale tibicinem alloquitur (cited in Forster, The Icy Fire: Five Studies in European Petrarchism [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969], 109). Forster ascribes the taste for antitheses concerning the bride's emotion to the combination of two different cultural tropes--the Petrarchan lady, chaste and hardhearted, and the necessity of surrender in a marriage poem (114-15). Classical epithalamia traditionally dwell, however, on female modesty as well as the necessary surrender of virginal bride; see, e.g., Claudian's description of the bride's "pudor" in Fescennina 4.3.

(62.) See, e.g., Claudian's address to the bridegroom concerning the bride's refusals: "The difficult struggle increases the joy; the desire for that which flies us is the most inflamed" (Fescennina 4, 11-12, Loeb trans. modified).

(63.) Lyly 1:189-90.

(64.) Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde, or Euphues' Golden Legacy, ed. Edward Chauncey Baldwin (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1910), 3-4.

(65.) Heather Dubrow, A Happier Eden: The Politics of Marriage in the Stuart Epithalamion (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 239-42.

(66.) Pierre Bouaistuau, Theatrum Mundi, trans. J. Alday (London, 1566?), 136, cited in Chilton Latham Powell, English Domestic Relations, 1487-1653 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1917), 153. Cf. Cartwright's epigram "Women," based on Greek Anthology 11.381, which claims women offer only two "good Houres," when they are in their "Nuptial! or . . . Winding Sheet" (Cartwright, 471).

(67.) For citations of the recommendations by the Protestant ministers William Ames, William Gouge, and Nathaniel Hardy that wives show what Ames calls "conjugall feare," see John Halkett, Milton and the Idea of Matrimony: A Study of the Divorce Tracts and Paradise Lost (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1970), 86-87.

(68.) On the "moderate hedonism" of Xenophon's Socrates, see J. C. B. Gosling and C. C. W. Taylor, The Greeks on Pleasure (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 37-40.

(69.) Desiderius Erasmus, Opera Omnia, ed. Jean Le Clerc, 11 vols. (Leiden, 1703-1706), 2:634; Proverbs or Adages, trans. Richard Taverner (1569; reprint, Gainesville, Florida: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1956), 23r; Colloquia, ed. L-E. Halkin, F. Bierlaire, and R. Hoven (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1972), 731.

(70.) Ann Baynes Coiro, Robert Herrick's Hesperides and the Epigram Book Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 2-113; and Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 197-98, 229-30.

(71.) Rosalie Colie, Shakespeare's Living Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 80-96.

(72.) Coiro notes but does not pursue the implications of this sexual-textual parallel (46 47).

(73.) Plutarch, The Philosophie, commonlie called, The Morals, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1603), 650-51.

(74.) Catherine Cole Mambretti, ed., A Critical Edition of the Poetry of Katherine Philips (Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Chicago, 1979), 297-98.

(75.) For recent discussions of Philips's poetry of same-sex love, see Celia A. Easton, "Excusing the Breach of Nature's Laws: The Discourse of Denial and Disguise in Katherine Philips' Friendship Poetry," Restoration 14 (1990): 1-14; Dorothy Mermin, "Women Becoming Poets: Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, Anne Finch," ELH 57 (1990): 342-44; and Arlene Stiebel, "Subversive Sexuality: Masking the Erotic in Poems by Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn," in Renaissance Discourses of Desire, ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1993), 223-36.

(76.) See, e.g., Seneca, Epistulae morales 9.5, 55.10, 66.36, 71.12, 73.14, 76.4, 23, 98.10, 99.22.

(77.) Jonson, Complete Poems, 53.

(78.) On the conception of true religion as a mean, see Scodel, "'Mediocrities' and `Extremities,'" 120-21. Phillips's terms for the opposed extremes may be compared to Joseph Hall's character sketches of "The Superstitious" and "The Profane man" in Characters of Virtues and Vices (1608); see The Works of Joseph Hall, vol. 6, ed. Peter Hall (Oxford, 1837), 107-108.

(79.) Katherine Philips, "A marryd state affords but little Ease," in Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth- Century Verse, ed. Germaine Greer et al. (London: Virago, 1988), 189.

(80.) Jonson, Complete Poems, 254. On seventeenth-century English translations and imitations of this poem, see Maren Sofie-Rosvig, The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphoses of a Classical Ideal, 1600-1700, 2 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1954), 1:82-83.

(81.) For examples, see The Book of Restoration Verse, ed. William Stanley Braithwaite (New York, 1910), 638-39, 648. One late seventeenth-century poet does manage to adapt the Cavalier mean in original fashion: in Paradise Lost, John Milton's portrait of unfallen Eve gives a new moral seriousness to the mean of coyness by placing it within the context of Scriptural and Protestant marriage ideology; see Joshua Scodel, "Paradise Lost and Classical Ideals of Pleasurable Restraint," Comparative Literature (forthcoming).