For Beauty and Make-Up in the Modernist era of Flaubert and Baudelaire please turn to page
What really is the notion of beauty? Is it a sunset, a face a bird or a sentiment? Beauty is defined as “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.).”[i] Our human need for beauty is inexhaustible according to Elaine Scarry. We must have beauty in our lives.[ii] Perhaps the desire for beauty is an instinct like hunger or fatigue as in Freud’s Id. All told, beauty can be an illusion, especially on stage. Illusion is a lack of correspondence between the visual and the physical; what appears to be is not the case. Quite often audience members cannot tell the difference between “real” beauty and what is an illusion from stage. As John Keats tells us “beauty is truth.” If truth is beauty then we can think of make up as somehow deceptive because it is not truth and therefore unattractive. Not so. I believe that beauty resulting from make-up is real. Gender, beauty and illusion are formed by self-ornamentation that can be changed at will. We are all human but with makeup men and women are magnified and become a radiant force. Make-up is empowering and transformative. With makeup, women have the power to create a theatrical presence of fantasy. The presentation of make-up on a face reveals the illusion of beauty and re-affirms femininity. Like a watercolor painting of Monet, make-up is a vibrant mosaic; it falls under the category of Arnold’s Sweetness and Light. Make-up does not hide as much as it creates, enhances and expresses beauty.
From the film version of Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangeureuses when Madame Merteuil is taking off her make-up, to Sally Potter’s film Orlando based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, make-up has always played a dramatic role. Yet misunderstandings have permeated a woman’s appearance. Wearing face make-up on stage and off can be a tool of seduction, yet in the Renaissance era rouge had a stigma of deception. The effect of make-up can be compared to wearing a mask. Mikhail Bakhtin described this theory in his book, Rabelais and His World: Carnival and Grotesque. There is a carnivalesque quality to wearing make-up.[iii] Wearing make-up is a way to express one’s inner life free from inhibitions and social judgment.
In contrast, a commonly held belief among Renaissance thinkers was that any form of artifice was deceptive and that those who used it were unethical. In their view, the moral standing of women using make-up to enhance their appearance was questionable. For Renaissance writers such as Castiglione, Ben Jonson and even Shakespeare, the line of demarcation between what they saw as natural and artificial beauty signified a borderline between good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice. Who is to say that make-up is deceptive? Castiglione’s assertion was to imagine the ugliness of applying make-up to a statue. Make-up would corrupt the ‘true’ beauty of a woman as though we were putting lipstick on a statue. How has the role of make up from the Renaissance stage to modernity evolved over time?
In the 16th century, playwright and poet Ben Jonson believed that make-up “adulterated” a woman’s face, and corrupted the natural purity of the female form. As a result, in 1609, Jonson portrayed the female characters of Epicoene: The Silent Woman as worthy of parody and distrust for wearing make-up. Ben Jonson’s play Epicoene: The Silent Woman plays a joke on a cantankerous man who falls in love with a demure ‘silent woman’ who turns out to be a boy. Epicoene is a beautiful illusion of an actual woman. If beauty is an illusion, as Baudelaire suggests, and illusion is deception, and deception is dishonest, and to be dishonest is wrong, we are then in a position to establish a link between aesthetics and ethics. The branch of philosophy dealing with this concept is called axiology, defined in the Random House Dictionary as the “philosophical study of value.” Axiology studies two kinds of values: ethics and aesthetics. Ethics investigates the concepts of right and good in individual and social conduct. Aesthetics studies the concepts of beauty and harmony. Many Renaissance writers felt that make-up, an aesthetic choice, was unethical and deceptive. However, make-up and morality are not directly linked. Make-up or face paint is the cause of satire in Ben Jonson’s Epicoene: The Silent Woman, contempt in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “changeability” in Twelfth Night and ultimately empowerment in the 20th century.
The exact opposite to the message that wearing make-up is deceptive, can be found in the European philosophy of the 19th and 20th century. Hence the two contrasting eras are suitable to illustrate the evolution of women on stage and in literature. Modernism is characterized by a break with past traditions; it refers to writers and philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose ideas influenced the 21st century. As Charles Baudelaire said “A woman is well within her rights in elevating herself to the task of fostering a magic and super-natural aura about her appearance.”[iv] The writings of Gustave Flaubert and Charles Baudelaire reflect their appreciation of make-up and cosmetics. An exegesis of 16th and 20th century philosophy on make-up will raise awareness of women, beauty, gender, and appearances. Make-up has the power to create gender and the ability to transform perceptions like magic.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Viola/Cesario
Make-up helps the audience construct the image of gender for the viewer. The illusion of make-up can be explored through Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the environment of Illyria, where everything is a construct of our own perception. Shakespearian scholar John Ford calls Illyria “a volatile space of opalescent changeability”[v] much like the female face of Viola. The ever-changing town of Illyria, from Olivia’s castle to Sebastian’s shipwrecked beach, mirrors the changeability of Viola/Cesario’s gender. The dichotomy of space-as-face is felicitous for Illyria, the quintessence of illusion. According to Ford, the play is the “illusion [of Viola] and yet another illusion [Sebastian][vi]” in much the same way we put on make-up to look like a more beautiful twin of ourselves, in masculine or feminine form. Gender becomes a costume that Viola/Cesario can put on or take off with make-up. However, after a mastectomy, women are encouraged to wear lipstick to feel more confident and feminine. According to Elaine Scarry, “beauty prompts a copy of itself” making us seek out and reproduce a copy of beauty for ourselves.[vii] Viewers see a beautiful person and want to copy him/her. DaVinci painted the Mona Lisa to copy himself. Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando is modernist example of how beauty can be male or female depending on the clothing, creating a copy of itself. Orlando is beautiful as a man and as a woman. Actors on stage can create their own Viola/Cesario alter ego, thus reinforcing the illusion of external beauty and of gender. Unlike earlier Renaissance plays, make-up was not considered deceptive in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Gender reversals displayed an elusive taboo that was compelling for the 16th century viewer.
Ophelia’s Changeability in Hamlet and Jonson’s Lady Haughty
If make-up displayed the opalescence of the male and female gender in Twelfth Night, it became a symbol of illusion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, through Ophelia. In Denmark, “painted faces are transitory illusions” according to Albert Braunmuller.[viii] These ephemeral facial pictures change with age and experience. Hamlet accuses Ophelia of deception, mocking her for not wearing the natural face that God gave her, but substituting it with a new painted face. “I have heard of your paintings well enough. God hath given you one face and you make yourself another!” (3.1.148). This face paint was thought to be a symbol of falsehood and immorality for Hamlet and the audience. Ophelia’s chamber is removed from “the gaze of those she would deceive” (Braunmuller 203). Ophelia’s use of rouge connects to Ford’s “opalescent changeability” engendering female stereotypes, that women’s appearances are beautiful and dangerous like the sirens in The Odyssey and thus not to be trusted.
Ophelia is not ever changing like the beautiful but deadly Circe. Make-up is a form of empowerment for her. Ophelia points to what Renaissance scholar Jean Howard calls “self-fashioning” (Howard, New Historicism in Renaissance Studies).[ix] Dr. Howard views women’s “painting” as an exercise of power. She sees the use of cosmetics as “self-fashioning” that defies patriarchal authority. In other words, women can control and regulate the amount they use. They are in charge of their beauty. Howard cites how women desire beauty for themselves to possess. Dr. Howard is correct. Adding to this, make-up application is a public act, creating a truthful picture of inner strength and resourcefulness. Applying make-up is something women can do far away from the male gaze of surveillance. In Hamlet, Ophelia fixes her face paint to look attractive for Hamlet.
If women are hence ‘trivial’ and vain because of cosmetics, they are susceptible to becoming a caricature. Renaissance parody of women and satire can be dangerously amusing and entertaining while sending a troubling message to the audience: women are trivial and preoccupied with beauty. According to Jean Howard, “People learned how to act by what they saw on stage, at the theater.”[x] If Jonson’s characters mock women and make-up in Epicoene, then the audience will scorn women’s paint in real life. “The public theater provided a popular institution site through which imaginary relations to the real were represented”[xi] (Howard, from Shakespeare Reproduced). If the images on stage are derogatory, playgoers will take their cue and act accordingly. If a woman creates her beauty through make-up in 2010, the viewer is more likely to notice her talent than her rouge. If playwrights create social perceptions, Jonson’s witty and caustic language leaves an impression on the audience.
The erroneous stereotype from the medieval era is that a woman who applies make-up on stage and offstage is not enhancing but corrupting herself. Women who do not wear make-up are often considered more honest and pure than those who do. Nonetheless, face painting is a source of humor and ridicule for the melancholy Hamlet. Hamlet tells Horatio: “Go to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that” (Hamlet 5.1).[xii][xiii] Hamlet cynically instructs Horatio to make Ophelia “laugh at” the use of make-up one inch thick. However, in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra wears her “tires and mantles” as an illustration of her power and feminine wiles. Cleopatra has an enormous ability to seduce Antony by celebrating her own female form as Baudelaire reinforces. She is adorning her own body much the same way Botticelli adorned his cherubic women with garlands. As Baudelaire asserts: “She must [first] adorn herself to be adorned"(Baudelaire, 10)[xiv] much like a dancer or an actress on stage.
Female Caricatures: A Disdain for Make-Up in Epicoene: The Silent Woman
Like Hamlet to Ophelia, the female characters in Jonson’s Epicoene are so parodied that they resemble caricatures or puppets to entertain the audience. With her “pots, bottles, jars, brushes and tweezers,” (4.2) The Lady Haughty is an exaggerated female parody with her very name (Lady Haughty) and myriad of cosmetics. Lady Haughty bears a similarity to a female impersonator, Princess de Bormes in Cocteau’s Thomas L’Imposteur and a theatrical mask in Commedia dell’Arte. However make up and masks and can lower inhibitions and lead to unbridled behavior that is often repressed. Female caricature can be an unbridled mask. Taboo behavior exhibited at a carnival becomes acceptable with a mask on. According to Bakhtin, only at a carnival hiding behind a mask can we show our true selves. Bakhtin introduced this theory under the auspices of “literature of parody”[xv] which Epicoene would aptly fall into. The parody continues through the mention of oil.
Birdlime as Oiled Face in Epicoene
Jonson’s The Lady Haughty with her “oil’d face” from make-up is not visually pleasing. Truewit compares Lady Haughty’s make-up to sticky birdlime, a viscous, oily and adhesive substance used to trap birds. The message is that make-up, like birdlime, traps men. Men may see beauty, but are unaware of her capacity for cruelty. Jonson’s Truewit declares: “Yes sir: She lies in a month of a new face, all oil and birdlime” (Epicoene 2.2). In Epicoene, the Page tells Clerimont that: “she kisses me with her oil'd face” (1.1). Oil has a “slick” negative connotation associated with women: Jonson’s Clerimont tells Dauphine: “and him she wipes her oil'd lips upon, like a sponge” (2.1). In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago tells Desdemona “My invention comes from my pate as birdlime does from frieze” (Othello 2.1.126). Birdlime, pate and frieze all signify duplicity and animalistic lust. Truewit and Iago share a bias towards women and feel that this “oil” is a contaminating element in their quest for the ideal woman.
Woman as Creature
Truewit and Otter’s contempt for make-up leads the characters to dehumanize and compartmentalize another female character named Mrs. Otter in Epicoene. Jonson’s character Mr. Otter compares his wife to a German clock. “She takes herself asunder still when she goes to bed, into some twenty boxes; and about next day noon is put together again, like a great German clock.” This comment portrays women as inhuman, like an inanimate object reflecting Jonson’s paradoxical views on women. She is constructed like a machine, without a heart. Make-up is innocuous not dehumanizing. To Mr. Otter, his wife is a fabrication, inauthentic, inhuman, and ultimately worthy of parody. Otter bemoans: “A most vile face! And yet she spends me forty pound a year in mercury and hogs-bones. All her teeth were made in the Black-Friars” therefore she is artificial with false teeth. “Both her eyebrows in the Strand, and her hair in Silver-street. Every part of the town owns a piece of her” (4.1) just like a doll or a piece of “hog bone” and thus she is not human. Furthermore Renaissance and Restoration satire of female cosmetics catalyzes a link between women and mythical creatures, or woman-as-creature. Shakespeare’s medieval imagery was evoked through the use of gorgons, as well as centaurs. In Greek mythology, a gorgon is a monstrous feminine creature whose appearance would turn anyone who laid eyes upon her to stone. A gorgon may also be compared to the ghastly image of Grendel’s mother in the heroic epic Beowulf. This woman-as-creature image aptly sets the stage for Ben Jonson’s satire. Aside from a parody, what is the real image of a truly beautiful woman in Epicoene?
Jonson’s lyrical poem: Still to be Neat: “Give me a look give me a Face”
Being formally dressed and then letting her hair down without make-up is real beauty to Jonson. The Lady Haughty “adulterates” the art of her natural face with cosmetics, implying that a woman’s face is meant to be a natural art. When Jonson’s Boy sings about the “adulteries of art” he is saying that make-up has contaminated or “adulterated” the purity of the natural female face. The Boy sings Still to be Neat: “Still to be neat, still to be dressed, As you were going to a feast; Still to be powder'd, still perfum'd; Lady, it is to be presumed, Give me a look, give me a face, That makes simplicity a grace; Robes loosely flowing, hair as free: Such sweet neglect more taketh me, Then all the adulteries of art; They strike mine eyes, but not my heart”(1.1). Her beauty is striking but false so it does not penetrate his heart. Why does this woman who uses cosmetics “strike his eye and not his heart”? Clerimont thinks that a woman who wears make-up is clandestine and false. She is visually pleasing but emotionally undesirable. Hence he does not feel love for her. According to Machiavelli, we see beauty but we don’t feel it, just as Truewit saw her beauty but did not feel it. “And men in general judge by their eyes than their hands; for everyone can see but few can feel”[xvi] according to Machiavelli.
Here we see that beauty is external whereas in the modernist era beauty is conceptual and takes a more expansive view of ones inner life. When the man asks the woman in the poem to “give me a look, give me a face” is she flirting, linking her beauty to her sensual behavior, or is beauty ones external physical attributes? Here her beauty is both physical and behavioral. One imagines how powerful ‘a look’ is or when someone gives you a ‘face’ of seduction. She is “still to be neat” or well dressed and clean despite the devastating effects of the Plague in Central Europe, hence she is still “neat” in this era. According to Renaissance historian Drew-Bear: “Make-up symbolizes corruption and exhibits moral degeneration.”[xvii] Make-up was an indication of falsehood and prostitution here that the audience could ‘read’ on her face. Red lips and dark eye shadow appeared frivolous, black face paint in Othello signified the anti-Christ. Thus the audience internalizes a subconscious negative message about women and make-up, especially because they use it in private.
Jonson evokes the notion that women have surreptitious tendencies in applying their make-up on alone. The Lady Haughty in Epicoene does her cosmetic work behind closed doors in private. Jonson compares women to guilders (lone craftsmen), who work alone at night in secret. Truewit, the Elizabethan ‘every man’ in Epicoene preaches that: “A lady should, indeed, study her face, when we think she sleeps; nor, when the doors are shut, should men be enquiring. Throughout the ages, for a woman to allow a man or another woman to witness the application of make-up is highly intimate, and similar to getting undressed. “Is it for us to see their perukes [wigs] put on, their false teeth, their complexion, their eyebrows, and their nails? You see guilders will not work, but enclosed” (Truewit 1.1). Make-up is a secret act to Truewit.
Otter mentions how important it is for his wife to be finished with her make-up application before speaking to her. “There's no man can be admitted till she be ready, now-a-days, till she has been painted, and perfumed, wash'd, and scoured'” (1.2). In other words, Clerimont is saying that she takes too long to get ready. This sounds like a conversation in 2010. Later Truewit agrees and adds: “No more should [we] approach [our] mistresses, but when they are complete and finish'd” (1.1). What doe the act of getting ready entail and then imply for women? Women prepare themselves to look as beautiful as they can because we live in a visual culture and people are stimulated by visual images.
Jonson’s female character’s who “vary every hour” is reminiscent of Ford’s changeability in women, when she lets her hair down, and when she puts it up. The main character of Ben Jonson’s Epicoene is named Truewit (implying that he is witty yet always speaks the truth about women). According to Truewit: “[A woman] may vary every hour; take often counsel of her glass, and choose the many things that seem foul in the doing, (such as applying make-up) do please (the viewer) when done” (1.2).[xviii] Even though make-up application is a ‘foul’ act according to Truewit, a woman looks lovely afterwards. The “volatile space” (aka. her face) can change easily and lethally, transforming anytime, leading to one’s doom, like Grendel. Yet Truewit makes an ethical judgment call on a personal aesthetic choice, the application of make-up. Cosmetics and ethics are not directly linked. Jonson’s message is that the illusion a woman creates is deceptive. Deception is clearly a negative concept. Yet somehow she is forgiven if she appears beautiful and demure, not if she is wearing exaggerated lips and eyes that distort her beauty. Many women enjoy wearing make-up just as male actors enjoyed constructing-the-female on stage in Shakespeare’s era. Jonson exaggerated women’s use of paint in a wildly comedic way. Yet was the audience laughing then and was it humorous in the modernist era?
Laughing at our selves can be empowering, if we can laugh it away, and not take offense. Women see the humor and the misogyny in female parody. We are free to laugh or reject a joke. The satire of women and make-up in Jonson’s Epicoene is humorous in its delivery, despite the misogynist implications. When Otter debases his wife Mrs. Otter to Truewit: “All her teeth were made at the Black-Friars” (2.3) we can confidently laugh it off. If adult male actors wore exaggerated make-up, the audience may find it amusing and satirical.
The act of a man wearing women’s clothing and doing a female parody, mimicking her voice and behavior, is humorous in itself. According to Drew-Bear: “Make-up symbolizes corruption and exhibits moral degeneration.”[xix] Make-up was an indication of falsehood and prostitution here that the audience could ‘read’ on her face. Red lips and dark eye shadow appeared frivolous, black face paint in Othello signified the anti-Christ. Thus the audience internalizes a subconscious message about a woman’s image and make-up.
A Woman’s Appearance
Mrs. Otter’s physical appearance is more important than her identity and self worth in the play. Truewit believes that the importance of her appearance supersedes everything else, even her very safety. Truewit tells Clerimont “Let your powder, your comb and your mirror be your dearest acquaintance. Take more care for the ornament of your head, than the safety of your person” (4.1). Truewit: “Women ought to repair the losses time and years have made in their features, with dressings. And an intelligent woman, if she know by herself the least defect, will be most curious to hide it: and it becomes her. If she has an ill foot, let her wear her gown the longer, and her shoe the thinner. If a sour breath, always talk at her distance. If she have rugged teeth, let her offer the less at laughter, especially if she laugh wide and open” [xx].
Truewit’s message is that if she is very smart she will channel her intelligence into her looks. Many women believe that their value is in their appearance. However the use of make-up enhances ones appearance, especially on stage. However, if she thinks too much about her appearance she is considered trivial and vain. Contrary to the stereotype, make-up does not lead to trivial thoughts. Make-up can represent a form of positive self-regard and acknowledgement.
According to Susan Sontag, “women are seen as superficial and trivial, concerned with surface beauty rather than with deeper qualities of character. Women are viewed as beautiful objects, valued for how they look rather than for who and what they are.” [xxi] According to Drew-Bear, “Shakespeare disliked the use of rouge”[xxii] on his actors. Face painting is mentioned satirically in both Shakespeare and Jonson. Where did this contempt for make-up stem? Did medieval philosophy generate this notion that make-up is deceptive?
The Italian Renaissance - The Roots of Satire for Women and Make-Up
The answer may be found in the anachronistic yet potent Renaissance philosophy of Baldassare Castiglione and Leone Battista Alberti, their fear of the unknown and of being deceived. Since Greek and Roman antiquity, beauty has been equated with simplicity and nakedness while make-up has been equated with deceiving the audience, hence the notion of make-up as deception began. In Renaissance Italy, male and female authors have spoken out against make-up, declaring that it hides the truth and natural beauty of a woman. The notion that women use make-up to deceive men is found in The Book of the Courtier (1528) by Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian Renaissance philosopher.[xxiii] Castiglione believed that a marble statue of a woman was the most pure and beautiful form she could take. A naked marble face was the feminine ideal, which was to be chaste and silent. Castiglione idealized a child-like woman, in her most vulnerable state, when she is naked. Jonson’s character Truewit and Castiglione both prefer for a woman to be statue-like and silent. In Jonson’s Epicoene: The Silent Woman we hear Truewit comparing Mistress Otter to a painted statue. Truewit: “The city's statues, Love and Charity were ‘rude’ stone, [after] they were painted and burnish'd” (Truewit 1.1.122) as in women are ‘rude’ stone after make-up. London’s statues were ‘painted and burnished’ like a woman’s face with rouge.
Truewit emphasizes the before and after of make-up application on a woman’s face, and how make-up can spark “transitory illusions.” Exaggerated make-up opens the door to satire and female parody. Castiglione reflected the Machiavellian, Renaissance construct he was living in, where women were judged and valued mostly by their appearance. Why did Castiglione dislike make-up on women yet love paintings, which are essentially copies of a real image? They are both “artificial” copies of the real thing.
This implies that copies are acceptable in art but not on a woman’s face. A painting is not meant to deceive the viewer or be immoral. Or is it? Italian Renaissance architect and painter Leone Alberti wrote that make-up distorts truth and beauty (Alberti, On Painting)[xxiv] as Romantic poet John Keats expresses.”[xxv] Like Castiglione, Alberti painted an image of the ideal woman as the living embodiment of a statue: naked, austere, almost frozen in time, and chaste.
The ancient Minoan Crete female relics of goddess worshipping societies from ancient pre-western civilizations such as Catal Hayuk stand in sharp contrast to the strict requirements imposed on Italian Renaissance women, according to Riane Eisler in her book The Chalice and the Blade[xxvi]. In contrast to Alberti, French medieval writer Christine de Pizan, wrote The Book of the City of Ladies, (1405) as a response to the rigid patriarchy of Italian medieval thought. However she advised young virgins to be humble, quiet and demure. Saint Rose of Lima was believed to have rubbed glass on her face because she was so beautiful and wanted to humble herself in the eyes of God. She would never think of wearing make-up, especially the color red to signify the devil and prostitution. Yet philosophically and ethically, why was make-up so deceptive to Renaissance thinkers?
The viewpoint that make-up is deceptive leads us to another line of inquiry. Are all creators of illusion deceivers, assuming that illusion is inherently deceptive? This would indicate that painters are deceptive. And if so, are all creators of illusion unethical? Who or what creates beauty? Initially, Nature or God is to blame for this deception. Renaissance thinkers have no objection to natural beauty. What then is the meaning of natural? Something natural comes from nature or that which we are born with. What if Nature or God were to imbue a disfigured woman with beauty just if he had just created it at the dawn of creation. This then would be natural beauty. Renaissance thinkers would not think of scorning the woman who had received such a benefit. Yet, what if a human being capable of revamping the woman in the same way exercised this ability. What then would the Renaissance thinker say? Castiglione being Catholic, and a man of God, he would accept only those renovations of female facades emanating from God. Maybe this is at the heart of the Renaissance mindset. The ethical link between beauty and ethics resides in the link between beauty and the one or One who creates it. Is it permissible only for God to tamper with appearances? As such we create illusions that (since He created them) are designated as realities. Anything not created by God would be worthy of satire.
Satire or Humiliation? The Joke of Jonson’s Epicoene
Jonson used embarrassment and satire as principle forms of entertainment in Epicoene. The denouement of Epicoene centers on a practical joke and subsequent humiliation of old Master Morose, a supercilious man who demands that his wife be mute and silent and without a hint of make-up. According to Jeremy Lopez in his book Theatrical Convention in Early Modern Drama “There are moments of humiliation, that were theatrical pleasures in early modern drama. Jonson was preoccupied with physical metaphors.” [xxvii] The use of humiliation through female parody and make-up was a reliable source of humor and widely used in the Renaissance theatre. A silent woman is the ideal woman for Morose. He grows to love “the silent woman” because she is beautiful and quiet, and thus mysterious and slightly out of reach. The joke is that she turns out to be a boy in disguise. Jonson satirizes The Lady Haughty yet humiliates Master Morose, in his unrealistic quest for the perfect woman. Master Morose’s perfect woman is not a woman at all. The miserly Morose is matched up with his perfect ‘lady’ thanks to Truewit and others, whom he believes to be his “friends.” However the joke appears to be on men’s high demands for perfection in women and the degree to which women go to meet that demand. Jonson mocks both genders. Hence contrary to the notion that Jonson’s play is patriarchal, Epicoene illustrates an unbiased subjectivity of both men and women. If both gender wear excessive make-up, parody will ensue. Often, there are social repercussions that reflect the society’s religious beliefs.
There is no embarrassment of wild and free behavior described in Bakhtin’s book on Rabelais and carnival culture. Any bodily function was met with out embarrassment or humiliation during a carnival. At carnival time, the unique setting and environment causes individuals to feel more alive and free spirited, at which point they cease to be themselves. Wearing a mask and make-up, an individual explores an inner persona and is revitalized. At this point there springs a heightened insight into one’s sensual, physical and bodily humanity. Yet why did men wear make-up in Elizabethan England?
Men and Make-Up in Elizabethan England
From Epicoene to Othello, if male and female characters in early modern theater are wearing make-up, we almost have an expectation that they will do wrong. In xenophobic Elizabethan England, black face make-up was perceived as representing the devil and expressed in the writing of Thomas Nash in his book A Medicine to Make the Devil Fair, written in 1593. [xxviii] The connection between make-up, animals, and the devil extends to men as well. Face painting also led to accepted stereotypes in men who painted their faces to look like a Moor from Africa or Morocco. “Shakespeare exploited the Moors darkened figure for a variety of theatrical purposes.”[xxix]
Black make-up on men was also an immoral signal. Moors who were usually from Morocco and Algeria were often portrayed as cruel and lascivious in medieval drama. Hence we see Othello killing his wife in a rage of jealousy. “Blackness is not simply something to be looked at but something to be acted out” according to Vaughan-Mason. The early roots of discrimination may be found here. Hamlet tells Ophelia at the performance of the murder of Gonzago: “Nay then, let the devil wear black” (Hamlet, 3.2) In the 1920’s, black face make-up has an entirely different connotation, as being African American. Harlem Renaissance poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote a poem called “We Wear the Mask.” Dunbar must wear a metaphoric mask to hide the humiliation of 1920’s discrimination and segregation laws. There is a parallel in Dunbar’s poem with masks worn in Italian Comedia dell’arte. Comedia dell’arte masks also represented moors. Empowerment through “face painting” evolved in the 19th and 20th century with Madame Bovary, written by Gustave Flaubert in 1856.
The Role of Make-Up in 20th Century Modernity
If make-up was a sign of deceit in the Renaissance era, it became a dazzling sign of female strength in the modernist era. The literary notion of modernity in the 20th century, or a breaking of past tradition, is especially beneficial when applied to women and make-up. In removing boundaries for a woman’s self expression, Flaubert dethroned medieval and Renaissance ideology, thus igniting the theme of increased female acceptance in literature and theater. To modernists such as Virginia Woolf or Flaubert, a woman does not have to rely on the physical features she was born with; she can wear make-up with confidence. According to Baudelaire, the make-up a woman wears is her very beauty.
Satirizing women for wearing make-up reflects a limited way of thinking, in only judging her appearance and not exploring her talent, intelligence or strength. Madame Bovary could never be the ideal beauty of Antiquity. Instead of possessing a smooth, stone-like exterior, she has a wrinkled hat and smeared lipstick from her romantic interludes. Emma’s beauty is constructed by her dress, her makeup, and the way she acts. Hence we see a link to Baudelaire’s recognition of a woman’s right to apply make-up and Howard’s self-fashioning make-up as a tool of autonomy and independence.
Her constructed illusion of beauty is well received by her gentlemen callers. Emma’s beauty is more conceptual than the physical beauty of the Renaissance. Her beauty is found in her passionate desire for love and pleasure. Emma’s inner life and ardent heights of passion and despair corset her beauty. Emma’s beauty is her humanness. We all want great love in our lives and to be loved in return. Her human nature is our human nature.
As we have seen, make-up caused Hamlet to mock Ophelia and Jonson created female parody yet Flaubert valued Emma’s sensual desire. Only a man in the turn of the century could be financially independent, travel alone and have secret love affairs. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is autonomous in her lifestyle; she will not be subordinated by the social mores of the time. She asserts her behavior to the maximum social parameters of her era. Thus Emma catapults herself outside of her prescribed gender role in 19th century France. This makes Emma beautiful. She breaks the traditional female role of domestic subordination.
As a result, Emma is proud of her Otherness, with rouge and perfume. The modernity in Emma is that she can joyously experiment with colors, scents, and rouge, and still be portrayed as a beautiful woman by Flaubert. Her husband Charles reveres her; he would never think of satirizing her. If Hamlet mocked Ophelia for wearing make-up and Jonson created female parody and caricature, Flaubert valued Emma’s humanness and desire to be beautiful.
Like Flaubert, 19th century French symbolist and gothic poet Charles Baudelaire is an innovator of beauty through artifice. His essay The Painter of Modern Life, or Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne, written in 1863, unmasked Renaissance satire and female parody of make-up to reveal the vast ability women have to fascinate their viewer through artifice and make-up. Unlike Castiglione and Jonson, Baudelaire was in favor of artificiality. He not only accepted but embraced a woman’s sacred “paint” and self-fashioning. Baudelaire asserts: “She must adorn herself to be adorned."[xxx] Baudelaire's modernist philosophy towards women illustrates an appreciation for make-up because of its ability to construct the female identity. He accepted and embraced a woman’s sacred “paint” and self-fashioning.
In "The Painter of Modern Life" the ideal woman is someone who can create her own image of beauty through the use of- make-up. The idealized woman of Baudelaire advocates using make-up to reinforce autonomy and female idolatry. We see this idealization of women in Baudelaire’s collection of poems called The Flowers of Evil or “Les Fleurs du Mal.”
This is the exact opposite perspective to Castiglione and Jonson’s feelings about “face-painting.” To Baudelaire, a woman is "awe inspiring, incommunicable like a God, she is a divinity, an idol”(5). Such an iconoclastic view sets Baudelaire apart. Here is the first line of his poem La Beauté: “Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de Pierre”[xxxi]. The translation of this sentence about a woman is: I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone.” Baudelaire creates a super natural aura around women. A woman is “magic” like an actress on stage that “fascinates” us. Baudelaire’s ideal woman is a sensual fantasy, not a super natural and evil temptation like Circe or Calypso in The Odyssey.
In The Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire demonstrates his reverence and fascination with women who are able to use their body and sensuality as tools of seduction much like Cleopatra used her make-up and jewelry to entice those around her. Are these methods of seduction similar to a mask that Bakhtin discusses in his book on carnival culture and Rabelais? Indeed masks and make-up foment liberated behavior, which eases repression and helps women become more assertive. With lipstick she feels more polished and ready to act on stage or off.
Baudelaire's feminine ideal is one of increased autonomy as she curls her hair and wears fake eyelashes. She can control and regulate the display of her gender with the use of cosmetics. A fascinating woman can choose the degree to which she will externalize being a lady in public. As we have seen, she can “view face painting as an exercise of power” (Howard), channeling her femininity into an iconic image, much like we see on billboards or in film. In the very purchasing of make-up, a woman is showing her independence by going out alone to buy it, without patriarchal approval. This connects to Jonson’s comment that make-up is applied covertly by female ‘guilders’ who work alone at night.
This is rare personal time a woman can devote to herself. To modernists, a woman can wear make-up with confidence. Baudelaire’s ideal woman, in wearing make-up, creates mystery and fantasy to be seen as fantastical. Thus the modernist vision of beauty becomes apparent: it is artifice, the extent to which she can create, with the proper tools, the image, the illusion, the notion that she is beautiful.
Elaine Scarry – We Demand Beauty
Contempt for make-up and masks is forgiven if a woman is radiant. As Harvard professor Elaine Scarry tells us, “We, the viewing public, love beauty, we demand it, but only if it is real, genuine natural beauty, like a flower or a bird.”[xxxii] The Renaissance viewpoint was to demand natural and pure beauty without make-up. However, unlike Scarry’s assertion suggests, ‘real beauty’ is not ‘natural’ beauty. The audience may find Juliet radiant not knowing that she is a young boy. Women demand beauty in themselves and men expect it. Scarry mentions Emmanuel Kant who said: “Our desire for beauty is inexhaustible, that any other pleasure we can get exhausted by -- too much food, etc. and yet the one thing we can't get tired of is beauty” (Quotation by E. Kant from Scarry On Beauty). Seeking it out is part of our genealogical instinct to propagate the species. Moreover, the illusion of beauty is still beauty. This implies that male characters, in Jonson’s Epicoene, who satirize make-up and feel that women wear too much, will be just as happy if they see the illusion of beauty. Many of Shakespeare’s male characters loved Cleopatra, believing she was a natural beauty, indifferent to the fact that she lined her eyes with charcoal, dyed her hair and wore rouge or red lipstick.
Truewit loved a beautiful woman in his poem “Still to be Neat” yet would rather not know that she is wearing make-up and a mask. Contrary to Jonson’s “adultery of art” the artifice created by make-up is beautiful not deceptive. With red lipstick, a woman's lips are more appealing; a woman's purple eyes lend exoticism. Hence a beautiful woman with the aesthetic attribute of make-up is “super-natural” almost like a goddess. Her aesthetics are her own personal ethics.
The connotations of make-up and cosmetics have transformed from being the basis for female satire in Ben Jonson’s Epicoene, contempt in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello, gender changeability in Twelfth Night, female empowerment in Antony and Cleopatra, and later celebrated in Baudelaire, Flaubert and Bahktin. From the historical groundwork of Castiglione and Alberti, the literary views on make-up are an ever-changing phenomenon. Jonson set the stage for a scathingly witty discussion on female cosmetics.
The innovation of make-up enhances beauty through the display, the illusion, and the assertion of femininity. Castiglione and Jonson reflected the Machiavellian, almost puritanical Renaissance construct they were living in. The modernist view of Baudelaire and Flaubert is more conducive to embracing the female form and allowing women’s self-expression. This ornamentation of the body celebrates women’s beauty as Baudelaire and Flaubert explored. The presentation of make-up on a face radiates one’s positive self-image. Like Shakespeare’s Viola/Cesario, make-up gives women the freedom to be whoever they want to be. The transitory illusion is a transcendent version of our true self. Society will take a more expansive view of the ‘feminine ideal,’ taking into account diverse cultures and religions. Mocking women for make-up reflects a limited mode of thought and a medieval fear of the beautiful siren that will trick and engulf men with one look.
To modernists, beauty is not only the act of ‘painting’ but also how women act. Beauty is not just a look or a face, as Jonson writes, it is a concept. For example: Madame Bovary’s courage, Orlando’s honesty, Viola’s passion, Desdemona’s intelligence, Langston Hughes feelings about being African American. Our behavioral “beauty” is just as important as our face make-up. Baudelaire’s view is reinforced today in the theater.
In the future, beauty will hopefully be judged not only by make-up, but how we “fashion” ourselves. If “she must adorn herself to be adored" (Baudelaire), like Cleopatra, women cherishing their behavior, character and unique beauty, are acts of self-adoration that will never wash away like make-up. Make-up celebrates the self for both men and women; it constructs and informs gender.
[ii] Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just: The Tanner Lectures on Human Value. Delivered at Yale University.
(March 25 and 26, 1998)
[iii] Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World. Indiana University Press. First Midland Book Edition 1984.
[iv] Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life, 1863 from Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature trans. P.E. Charvet (Viking 1972).
[v] Ford, John. “Changeable Taffeta: Re-Dressing the Bears in Twelfth Night” from Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage edited by Paul Menzer (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP Staunton, Virginia 2006).
[vi] Ford, John. “Changeable Taffeta: Re-Dressing the Bears in Twelfth Night” from Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage edited by Paul Menzer (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP Staunton, Virginia 2006)
[vii] Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just: The Tanner Lectures on Human Value. Delivered at Yale University. (March 25 and 26, 1998).
[viii] Braunmuller, Albert “A Joke and Crux in Hamlet Q2” from Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage edited by Paul Menzer (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP Staunton, Virginia 2006).
[ix] Howard, Jean New Historicism in Renaissance Studies, English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986) and Howard, Jean Shakespeare Reproduced, “Renaissance Anti theatricality and the Politics of Gender in Merchant of Venice” Routledge Library Editions, New York. 1987
[x] Howard, Jean Shakespeare Reproduced
[xii] Shakespeare, William: Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Twelfth Night. (Folger Shakespeare Library Series 1999).
[xiv] Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life, 1863 from Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature trans. P.E. Charvet (Viking 1972).
[xv]Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World. Indiana University Press. First Midland Book Edition 1984.
[xvi] Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Qualities of the Prince, written in 1532
[xvii] Drew-Bear, Annette Painted Faces on the Renaissance Stage: The Moral Significance of Face-Painting Conventions (Bucknell UP, 1994).
[xviii] Jonson, Ben Epicoene: The Silent Woman edited by Roger Holdsworth (New Mermaids, 1979).
[xix] Drew-Bear, Annette Painted Faces on the Renaissance Stage: The Moral Significance of Face-Painting Conventions (Bucknell UP, 1994).
[xx] Jonson, Ben Epicoene: The Silent Woman. Act 4 Scene 1. Edited by Roger Holdsworth (New Mermaids, 1979).
[xxi] Sontag, Susan “A Woman’s Beauty: Power Source or Put Down?”
[xxii] Drew-Bear, Annette Painted Faces on the Renaissance Stage: The Moral Significance of Face-Painting Conventions (Bucknell UP, 1994).
[xxiii] Castiglione, Baldassare, The Book of the Courtier from Sir Thomas Hobbes (1561) as edited by Walter Raleigh (David Nutt, London, 1900).
[xxiv] Spenser, John Richard, Leoni Batista Alberti: On Painting edited in 1956 (Alibris, 2008)
[xxv] Keats, John Ode on a Grecian Urn 1821.
[xxvi] Eisler, Riane The Chalice and the Blade. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1987.
[xxvii] Lopez, Jeremy Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama. Page 202.
[xxviii] Nash, Thomas “A Medicine to Make the Devil Fair” (taken from Annette Drew-Bear).
[xxix] Vaughan, Virginia Mason, “Blacking Up at the Black Friars Theater” from Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage edited by Paul Menzer (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP Staunton, Virginia 2006). Page 124.
[xxx] Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life, 1863 from Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature trans. P.E. Charvet (Viking 1972).
[xxxi] Baudelaire, Charles. “La Beauté” from Le Fleurs du Mal. Translated by William Aggeler,
(Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954).
[xxxii] Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just from The Tanner Lectures on Human Value.