Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
An Arcadian Wit-Combat
By Robert Greene (15581592)
From Menaphon (The Resorts of the Shepherds)
AT the hour appointed, Menaphon [the shepherd of King Democles of Arcadia], Carmela [his sister], and Samela [a shipwrecked widow from Cyprus], came [to a gathering of shepherds and shepherdesses] when all the rest were ready making merry. As soon as word was brought, that Menaphon came with his new mistress, all the company began to murmur, and every man to prepare his eye for so miraculous an object; but Pesana, a herdsmans daughter of the same parish, that long had loved Menaphon, and he had filled her brows with frowns, her eyes with fury, and her heart with grief: yet coveting in so open an assembly, as well as she could, to hide a pad in the straw, she expected as others did the arrival of her new corrival,1 who at that instant came with Menaphon into the house. No sooner was she entered the parlour, but her eyes gave such a shine, and her face such a brightness, that they stood gazing on this goddess; and she unacquainted, seeing herself among so many unknown swains, dyed her cheeks with such a vermilion blush, that the country maids themselves fell in love with this fair nymph, and could not blame Menaphon for being over the shoes with such a beautiful creature. Doron jogged Melicertus on the elbow, and so awaked him out of a dream; for he was deeply drowned in the contemplation of her excellency, sending out volleys of sighs in remembrance of his old love, as thus he sate meditating of her favour, how much she resembled her that death had deprived him of: well, her welcome was great of all the company, and for that she was a stranger, they graced her to make her the mistress of the feast. Menaphon, seeing Samela thus honoured, conceived no small content in the advancing of his mistress, being passing jocund and pleasant with the rest of the company, insomuch that every one perceived how the poor swain fed upon the dignities of his mistress graces. Pesana noting this, began to lower, and Carmela winking upon her fellows, answered her frowns with a smile, which doubled her grief; for womens pains are more pinching if they be girded with a frump,2 than if they be galled with a mischief. Whiles thus there was banding bandying of such looks, as every one imported as much as an impreso,3 Samela, willing to see the fashion of these country young-frowes, cast her eyes abroad, and in viewing every face, at last her eyes glanced on the looks of Melicertus; whose countenance resembled so unto her dead lord, that as a woman astonished she stood staring on his face, but, ashamed to gaze upon a stranger, she made restraint of her looks, and so taking her eye from one particular object, she sent it abroad to make general survey of their country demeanours. But amidst all this gazing, he that had seen poor Menaphon, how, infected with a jealous fury, he stared each man in the face, fearing their eyes should feed or surfeit on his mistress beauty; if they glanced, he thought straight they would be rivals in his loves; if they flatly looked, then they were deeply snared in affection; if they once smiled on her, they had received some glance from Samela that made them so malapert; if she laughed, she liked; and at that he began to frown: thus sate poor Menaphon, all dinner-while, pained with a thousand jealous passions, keeping his teeth guarders of his stomach, and his eyes watchful of his loves. But Melicertus, half-impatient of his new conceived thoughts, determined to try how the damsel was brought up, and whether she was as wise as beautiful; he therefore began to break silence thus;
The orgies which the Bacchanals kept in Thessaly, the feasts which the melancholy Saturnists founded in Danuby, were never so quatted4 with silence, but in their festival days they did frolic amongst themselves with many pleasant parleys: were it not a shame, then, that we of Arcadia, famous for the beauty of our nymphs, and the amorous roundelays of our shepherds, should disgrace Pans holiday with such melancholy dumps. Courteous country swains, shake off this sobriety; and, seeing we have in our company damsels both beautiful and wise, let us entertain them with prattle, to try our wits, and tire our time. To this they all agreed with a plaudit. Then quoth Melicertus: By your leave since I was first in motion, I will be first in question, and therefore, new-come shepherdess, first to you! At this Samela blushed, and he began thus:
Fair damsel, when Nereus chatted with Juno, he had pardon, in that his prattle came more to pleasure the goddess than to ratify his own presumption. If I, mistress, be overbold, forgive me; I question not to offend, but to set time free from tediousness. Then, gentle shepherdess, tell me: if you should be transformed, from the anger of the gods, into some shape, what creature would you reason to be in form? Samela, blushing that she was the first that was boarded, yet gathered up her crumbs, and desirous to shew her pregnant wit (as the wisest women be ever tickled with self love) made him this answer:
Gentle shepherd, it fits not strangers to be nice, nor maidens too coy, lest the one feel the weight of a scoff, the other the fall of a frump; pithy questions are minds whetstones, and by discoursing in jest, many doubts are deciphered in earnest: therefore you have forestalled me in craving pardon, when you have no need to feel any grant of pardon. Therefore, thus to your question: Daphne, I remember, was turned to a bay-tree, Niobe to a flint, Lampetia and her sisters to flowers, and sundry virgins to sundry shapes according to their merits; but if my wish might serve for a metamorphosis, I would be turned into a sheep. A sheep, and why so, mistress? I reason thus, quoth Samela, my supposition should be simple,5 my life quiet, my food the pleasant plains of Arcadia and the wealthy riches of Flora, my drink the cool streams that flow from the concave promontory of this continent; my air should be clear, my walks spacious, my thoughts at ease; and can there none, shepherd, be my better premisses to conclude my reply, than these? But have you no other allegations to confirm your resolution? Yes sir, quoth she, and far greater. Then, the law of our first motion, quoth he, commands you to repeat them. Far be it, answered Samela, that I should not do of free will anything that this pleasant company commands; therefore, thus: were I a sheep, I should be guarded from the folds with jolly swains, such as was Lunas love on the hills of Latmos; their pipes sounding like the melody of Mercury, when he lulled asleep Argus: but more, when the damsels tracing along the plains, should with their eyes like suns bright beams, draw on looks to gaze on such sparkling planets: then, weary with food, should I lie and look on their beauties, as on the spotted wealth of the richest firmament; I should listen to their sweet lays, more sweet than the sea-borne sirens: thus, feeding on the delicacy of their features, I should like the Tyrian heifer fall in love with Agenors darling. Ay, but, quoth Melicertus, those fair-faced damsels oft draw forth the kindest sheep to the shambles. And what of that, sir, answered Samela, would not a sheep, so long fed with beauty, die for love? If he die, quoth Pesana, it is more kindness in beasts than constancy in men: for they die for love, when larks die with leeks.