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Shakespeare Studies, 2000

The Language of Framing.

Rayna Kalas

AT THE END OF JOHN LYLY'S 1580 prose narrative, Euphues and His England, there is an epistolary exchange containing Euphues' Glass for Europe, a description of England addressed to the ladies of Italy. Protesting that he could not possibly do justice to the glory of Elizabeth, Lyly says that the Glass is a frame rather than a painting: "I hope, that though it be not requisite that any should paynt their Prince in England, that can-not sufficiently perfect hir, yet it shall not be thought rashness or rudeness for Euphues, to frame a table for Elizabeth, though he presume not to paynt hir."(1)

Lyly fabricates a classical authority for his frame. The putative source is Pliny, who in a passing reference, notes Alexander's public edict proscribing all depictions of him except those made by specific named artists.(2) But Lyly embellishes the anecdote with a fictive account of Parrhasius, and his frame.

 When Alexander had commanded none should paint him but Appelles, none 
should carve him but Lysippus, none engrave him but Pirgotales, Parrhasius
framed a Table squared everye way twoo hundred foote, which in the borders
he trimmed with fresh colours, and limmed with fine golde, leaving all the
other roume with-out knotte or lyne, which table he presented to Alexander
who no less mervailing at the bignes, than at the barenes, demaunded to
what ende he gave him a frame without a face, being so naked, and with-out
fashion being so great. Parrhasius answered him, "Let it be lawful for
Parhasius, O Alexander, to shew a Table wherein he would paint Alexander,
if it were not unlawfull, and for others to square Timber, though Lysippus
carve it, and for all to cast brasse though Pirgotales engrave it."
Alexander perceiving the good minde of Parrhasius, pardoned his boldnesse,
and preferred his arte: yet enquyring why hee framed the Table so bygge,
hee answered, that hee thought that frame to bee but little enough for his
Picture, when the whole worlde was too little for his personne, saying that
Alexander must as well be praysed, as paynted, and that all hys victories
and vertues, were not for to bee drawne in the Compasse of a Sygnette, but
in a fielde.

This aunswer Alexander both lyked & rewarded, insomuch that it was
lawful ever after for Parrhasius both to praise that noble king and to
paint him.(3)
What Parrhasius presents to Alexander is not the ornamental quadrilateral of a modern frame, but a prepared wooden panel: he "framed a Table" of immense proportions "without knotte or lyne" decorated only at the borders and otherwise left blank. He does not presume to paint the table, only to craft it. Following a brief exchange, Alexander, "perceiving the good minde of Parrhasius, pardoned his boldness, and preferred his arte." Alexander, seeming to reward the painter as much for his craftiness as for his craft, grants him dispensation both to praise and to paint. If Parrhasius gains through his cunning the right to practice the "arte" of praise, his frame is also a reminder that praise is an arte or misterie which, like any other, involves the manipulation of matter. The crafting of this gigantic frame is more like squaring timber than carving it, more like casting brass than engraving it. Drawing the anecdote to a close, Lyly applies the example of Parrhassius to yet another list of artisans whose work is "but begun for others to ende," and includes among them Euphues himself. Implicitly acknowledging the hierarchy of trades that privileges intellectual over manual arts, Lyly nonetheless compares Euphues's framing of praise to artisanal labor: "hee that whetteth the tooles is not to bee misliked, though hee can-not carve the Image."(4)

Lyly's anecdote, with its customary guise of humility, is easily read as a bid for the preferment of his own art, especially since Elizabeth was another sovereign who sought to mandate the production of her image.(5) What I wish to stress, though, is that Lyly seeks to authorize his prose through the device of a material frame. By using the frame to epitomize verbal craft, Lyly links the figurative language of praise to the mechanical arts. Lyly's invention of a blank king-sized frame as the metaphor for his prose exemplifies the material nature of language in the second half of the sixteenth century, when framing was related to questions of craft rather than aesthetics and was identified not with the visual but with the verbal.

In the sixteenth century, the word frame did not have as its primary sense, as it does today, the alienable quadrilateral ornament surrounding a painting. For one thing, as Lyly's text indicates, before oil painting on canvas became the norm, frames were prepared together with the background panel. So when frame was used in the context of painting--and until the end of the century its use was far rarer than "table" or "border"--it referred to a different kind of structure than what we call a frame today. The word was more likely to refer to the internal design or structure of a thing, the skeleton of a barn, for example, or the admixture of a potion. More frequently, frame was used as verb, and as such, it palpably evoked the thing in its making. Though frame was rarely used in the context of visual images, it was used throughout the poetic treatises of the late sixteenth century to describe the organization of language: Samuel Daniel's A Defence of Ryme, for example, says that "All verse is but a frame of wordes."(6) Frame conveys the sense that language is ordered by abstract principles, but the word names that order only as it is materially manifest in speech and writing. Like the practitioners of any misterie, rhetoricians were concerned to show that their arte was adapted to the materials with which they worked.

As Lyly's text attests, in the sixteenth century, before framing was associated with the adornment of a consummate aesthetic object, framing was about predicating the way a thing is to be wrought. The poetic tracts are concerned to define poetry as a material substance so that the framing of poetry is a craft practice just like the framing of any other material object. Thomas Lodge, writing here about classical poets, says that poems should be framed as potions: "what so they [poets] wrot, it was to this purpose, in the way of pleasure to draw men to wisedome: for, seeing the world in those daies was vnperfect, yt was necessary that they like good Phisitions should so frame their potions that they might be applicable to the quesie stomaks of their werish patients" [emphasis added].(7) The object, whether it be a poem or a potion, is framed with its practical end in sight; its making is determined by the matter to which it is "appliable." Framing is not an a priori scheme, but forethought that is bound to the telos, or purpose, of a thing: framing is dictated by the object toward which it is directed.

Human industry is most esteemed when it shows not the ingenuity of the craftsman per se, but aptness to an order already present in the materials at hand. Because divine order is manifest in all of created nature and because the tools of any trade are adapted to the materials worked upon, tradesmen labor according to a divine order. As Thomas Wilson explains in his 1560 Arte of Rhetorique: "By an order we devise, we learne, and we frame our doings to good purpose: the carpenter hath his square, his rule and his plummet, the tailor his meet yard and his measure, the mason his former and his plaine, and every one accordyng to his callyng frameth thynges thereafter."(8) We "frame our doings to good purpose" because physical nature directs us to that purpose.

Rogert Ascham addresses the crafting of language in similar terms in The Schoolmaster. The various discourses of poet, historian, philosopher, and orator, he writes, "differ one from another in choice of words, in framing of sentences, in handling of argumentes, and use of right forme, figure, and number, proper and fit for every matter."(9) If, as Wilson says, "every one accordyng to his callyng frameth thynges [language] thereafter," where the arts of language are concerned, discourse and genre comprise the "order" by which the poets and orators "devise" and "frame" their "doings to good purpose." Genre may be a more abstract tool than a "plummet" or a "plaine," but the text emphasizes that the materials of language are made "fit for every matter" through "framing" and "handling." Given its root, the word handling, even when it does not expressly signify manual labor, evokes a kind of making that is scaled to mortal hands. William Webbe commends Virgil's framing of verse because it is quite literally handled by the poet: "first you may marke how Virgill always fitteth his matter in hande with wordes agreeable unto the same affection which he expresseth: as in his Tragicall exclamations, what patheticall speeches he frameth."(10) Virgil frames speeches "agreeable unto the same affection" as tragedy by fitting the "matter in hande with wordes."

The priority that is granted to the framing or handling of language coincides with the priority of rhetoric in English vernacular logics, though that coincidence has been elided by the tendency to understand rhetoric in terms of style rather than craft.(11) The relation of rhetoric to logic tends to be characterized in aesthetic terms as a distinction between style and substance: between ornamental flourish and the sublime idea. I propose that that there is also evidence, in sixteenth-century theories of language, to see rhetoric as the worldly artifice or material crafting of a natural and enduring logical ideal. In his Rule of Reason, Thomas Wilson follows Agricola and the scholastic tradition in dividing logic into inventio and judicium, the two principles of classical dialectic, or the logic of opinion. However, Wilson inverts the conventional order, placing judicium, which concerns the arranging of words into propositions and syllogisms and thus is more like rhetoric, before inventio, which, in the tradition of Aristotle and Cicero, is about the searching out of topics. "The first parte standeth in framing of thynges aptly together, knitting woordes for the purpose accordingly & in Latin is called Iudicium. The seconde parte consisteth in finding out matter, and searching stuffe agreable to the cause and in Latin is called Inventio." Wilson draws attention to his inversion of these principles and offers the following explanation:

 And now some wil saie that I should first speake of the finding out of an 
argument, before I should teache the waye how to frame an argument. Truthe
it is that naturally we finde a reason or we beginne to fathom (fashion)
the same. And yet notwistanding, it is more mete that the ordering of an
argument should be first handeled: forasmuche as is that no more profit a
man to find out his argument, except he first know how to order the same
and to shape it accordingly (which he doth not yet perfectly know) then
stones or Timber shal profite the Mason or Carpenter, which knoweth how to
work upon the same. A reason is easier found than fashioned for every manne
can geve a reason naturally and without arte but how to fashion and frame
the same, according to the art, none can do at all, except that they be
Wilson acknowledges that argument always begins with finding a reason, but says that "an argument should be first handled" as a mason or a carpenter handles stones or timber in order to learn "how to fashion and frame the same, according to the art." In essence, Wilson foregrounds craft and rhetoric in his logic. Ralph Lever's Arte of Reason, rightly termed, Witcraft, teaching the perfect way to argue and dispute also suggests extent to which, before dialectic was streamlined with scientific logic under the rubric of method, English vernacular logic was strongly identified with both craft and rhetoric.(13) Lever's text, thought to have been written in the 1550s though it was published in 1573, is one of the earliest English vernacular logics.(14) In his Witcraft, Lever replaces classical terminology with invented English words like "saywhat" and "shewsay." As he explains in the "Forespeache," "Wee have also framed unto ourselves a language, whereby we do expresse by voyce or writing, all devises that wee conceyve in our mynde: and doo by this means let men look into our heartes and see what wee thinke." The English have "framed unto" themselves a particular language that conditions the "devices" of the "mynde" and through that native tongue the thoughts of the population are best known. In English, as Lever's subtitle evinces, wit is literally crafted. English lends itself to being crafted because it shares with the other Germanic languages a peculiar capacity for forming compound words out of single and double syllable word combinations. Lever's vocabulary exemplifies both the "speciall grace" and the craftedness of the English tongue: "As for the devising of newe termes, and composing of wordes, our tonge hath a speciall grace, wherein it excelleth many other, and is comparable with the best. The cause is, for that the most parte of Englishe wordes are shorte, and stande on one sillable a piece. So that two or three of them are ofte times fitly joined into one."(15) This conception that language is "joined" is not a peculiarity of Lever's invented lexicon: Patricia Parker has demonstrated that the mechanics of joining--and the "rude mechanicals" generally--were central to vernacular discourses on logic and rhetoric in the sixteenth century.(16) When Lever explains that "Witcraft is a cunning to frame and to answere a reason," he is describing a material as much as an ideal practice.

In Lyly's anecdote, Parrhasius simultaneously presents Alexander with a crafted object and an occasion for "enquyring." Insofar as Alexander questions Parrhasius about his curious object, the crafted frame provokes a kind of logical or dialectical exchange; the frame and the dialogue together constitute proof of Parrhasius's ability to praise. In the sixteenth century, the liberal arts--reconfigured under the influence of humanism to include not only rhetoric, logic, and the other liberal arts inherited from the medieval scholasticism, but also those developed out of the interest in classical texts such as poetry and history--would have been classed above the mechanical arts, yet Parrhasius wins rights to practice those arts through the imbrication of logic and craft.(17) Lyly's device of the frame conjoins the liberal and mechanical arts in a manner that does not abide by a strict hierarchical division of trades that esteems intellectual arts over manual ones. Nor does Lyly's frame abide by the division of nature from artifice that, as Patricia Parker has pointed out, was a correlative of that hierarchy.(18) Parrhasius crafts an object that seems entirely artificial since it is all apparatus and no mimesis--"a frame with-out a face"--yet holds the promise of being most like the nature of things: in this frame, Alexander's "victories and vertues" can be drawn not "in the Compass of a Sygnette, but in a fielde." Lyly's frame, and framing in general, reveals that the particular materiality of language in the late sixteenth century was a hybrid of natural and mechanical orders.


(1.) John Lyly, The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond, vol. 2, Euphues and His England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 204.

(2.) "The same monarch [Alexander], too, by public edict, declared that no one should paint his portrait but Apelles, and that no one should make a marble statue of him except Pyrgoteles, or a bronze one except Lysippus." Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. and ed. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley (London: George Bell, 1890), 7:38, 184.

(3.) Lyly, The Complete Works, 204.

(4.) Ibid., 205.

(5.) In 1563, a Proclamation approving strict control of her image was drafted, though it was not issued; the Privy Council did not order the censorship of Elizabeth's image until 1596. David Howarth, Images of Rule: Art and Politics in the English Renaissance 1485-1649 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), 102.

(6.) Samuel Daniel, A Defence of Ryme (1603) in Elizabethan Critical Essays, ed. G. Gregory Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1904), 1:359.

(7.) Thomas Lodge, Defence of Poetry (1579), in Elizabethan Critical Essays, 1:66.

(8.) Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique (1560), facsimile reprint of the 1585 edition, ed. G. H. Mair (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1909), 157.

(9.) Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster (1570), ed. Lawrence B. Ryan (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1967), 138.

(10.) William Webbe, A Discourse of English Poetrie (1586), in Elizabethan Critical Essays, vol. 1,256. Poesy is often characterized as a balance between industry and magnanimity. So although Webbe commends Virgil for framing speeches by fitting the "matter in hande with wordes," George Chapman, in his A Defence of Homer criticizes Virgil for not being magnanimous enough in his framing of the Aeneid: "where Virgill hath had no more plentifull and liberall a wit than to frame twelve imperfect bookes of the troubles and trauailes of Aeneas, Homer hath of as little subject finisht eight & fortie perfect" (Elizabethan Critical Essays, 1:299). Chapman's remark reveals that framing connotes making rather than completion since he uses the verb "frame" in contrast to "finisht." In any even, it should be noted that Webbe may be playing on the classical characterization of logic as a closed fist and rhetoric an open hand.

(11.) Though he himself was carefully to note the strength of logic and dialectic in English scholasticism, Kristeller's general statements about the supremacy of rhetoric in Renaissance humanism have been influential. For instance, he borrows from the fine arts one of the "important reasons" for defending a rhetoric-centered, humanist Renaissance. "The concept of style as it has been so successfully applied by historians of art [the author notes Panofsky] might be more widely applied in other fields of intellectual history and might thus enable us to recognize the significant changes brought about by the Renaissance, without obliging us to despise the Middle Ages or to minimize the debt of the Renaissance to the medieval tradition." Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic and Humanist Strains (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), 93. Brian Vickers has argued that the privileging of rhetoric depends on a division of logic from eloquence, and from rhetoric, which is not entirely applicable to the sixteenth century: "If we were to regard elocutio as mere ornament then its rise to dominance in the sixteenth century would be inexplicable, unforgivable almost." In Defence of Rhetoric (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 283. On the relationship between logic and rhetoric in the English Renaissance, see Wilbur Samuel Howell, Logic and Rhetoric in England 1500-1700 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956).

(12.) Thomas Wilson, Rule of Reason conteinyng the arte of logique (London, 1551), B1r-B2r.

(13.) This streamlining of logic under the general term, method, has been identified with Ramus and his follows since Walter J. Ong's Ramus, Method and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958).

(14.) On the date of composition of Lever's Witcraft, see Howell, Logic and Rhetoric, 57-63.

(15.) Ralph Lever, The Arte of Reason (1573), facsimile reprint in English Linguistics 1500-1800, ed. R. C. Alston (Menston, Eng.: Scolar Press, Ltd., 1972), no. 323.

(16.) Patricia Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 83-115.

(17.) According to Ong, by the end of later middle ages, most of the arts faculty in European universities were logicians rather than theologians. And by the end of the sixteenth century, logic--which had once capped the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and the logic insofar as it was taught last among the three and was considered a preparative for the more advanced study of the quadrivium--had effectively been shifted to the quadrivium. Not only had logic become the basis for the more advanced study of the quadrivium, the quadrivium itself, Ong argues, was more a quadrivium in word than in deed. University education was not limited to geometry, astronomy, music, and arithmetic, but included "arts" such as history and poetry. "The seven liberal arts nowhere appeared as the real and complete framework of instruction." Rather, Ong writes, "It will be noted here how far the trivium-quadrivium framework has disintegrated, for dialectic or logic has migrated from the trivium to be associated with `physics' and the rest of `philosophy' which constituted the reality existing where the quadrivium was dutifully assigned to be." Ong, Ramus, Method and the Decay of Dialogue, 138-39.

(18.) Parker notes that while the "mechanical" or "artifactual" are often positioned against the "spontaneous or natural," the former are often identified with matter: "In the vertical hierarchy of the mind as separated, or "singuled," from matter and the material ... the mechanical also designated not only the practical as opposed to the contemplative but more generally an association with the material." Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins, 85.

RAYNA KALAS is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently completing a thesis entitled "Frames, Glass, and the Technology of Poetic Invention."