“Runne through [t]he[i]r vaynes”: Phantasies of Desire in Barnabe Barnes’ Parthenophil and Parthenophe’s Sonnet 63 and Sestine 5

by senseshaper

A few years ago, Gordon Braden introduced me to the peculiar sonnet from Barnabe Barnes’ Parthenophil and Parthenophe. At that time, I remember finding the pairing of Jove’s “golden shower” with the speaker’s desire to become the urine of his beloved both hilarious and intriguing. I wondered whether this was the first instance in English history where the term “golden shower” was used and if the valences I read into the poem were historically accurate.

Barnes’ Sonnet 63 reads as follows:

Jove for Europaes love tooke shape of Bull,
And for Calisto playde Dianaes parte
And in a golden shower, he filled full
The lappe of Danae with coelestiall arte.
Would I were chang’d but to my mistresse gloves,
That those white lovely fingers I might hide,
That I might kisse those hands, which mine hart loves
Or else that cheane of pearle, her neckes vaine pride,
Made proude with her neckes vaines, that I might folde
About that lovely necke, and her pappes tickle,
Or her to compasse like a belt of golde,
Or that sweet wine which downe her throate doth trickle,
To kisse her lippes, and lye next at her hart,
Runne through her vaynes, and passe by pleasures part. (Barnes 43).

Returning to it now, however, after studying early modern representations of the external and internal senses, I rediscover a poem that bears meaning beyond my previous laughter. I still do not know if the poem constitutes the first reference to watersports, and, sophomorically, it still makes me laugh, but Barnes’ poem also reveals a culturally contingent understanding of the body. Attending to that model of the body additionally reveals the extent to which Barnes exceeds the colonization of the female body found in the typical early modern blazon. While his speaker goes on a descriptive tour of his beloved’s external body, what he craves is to penetrate that body. The desire for penetration, here, exceeds the boundaries of sexual penetration, as Parthenophil imaginatively penetrates and invades her entire body.

Sanctioning his desire for otherwise debasing transformations, Pathenophil begins with a list of gods willing to transform in pursuit of their desires. Notably, his first reference to Jove’s becoming a bull implies a threat of or a desire to rape. The Jove and Europa myth detail Jove’s abduction of and non-consenual sexual encounter with Europa while he was in the shape of a bull. The theme of transformation in pursuit of sexual violence continues in his second reference to the Callisto myth. Jove, lusting after one of Diana’s nymphs, took Diana’s form to seduce Callisto. Once he has her in his arms, he reveals himself and rapes her. His third reference, takes a slightly different frame as he refers to Danaë. Imprisoned by her father in a tower for fear that her child will kill him, Jove comes to her in the form of a shower of gold. While Jove is not the offending male figure in this myth, the father’s actions again reveals and conceals the threatening nature of Parthenophil’s desire.

Danae impregnated by Jove in the form of a "golden shower"

Danae impregnated by Jove in the form of a “golden shower”

From the first two classical references that imply the threat of sexual violence, Parthenophil turns towards the metamorphoses he desires to get closer to Parthenophe. Rather than engage in the typical blazon, systematically dismantling his beloved’s integrity by splitting her into parts, the speaker proceeds to imagine himself as a variety of objects connected to her body. He begins with her gloves, then her pearl necklace, and then her belt. Each object, as magnified through his description, serves to surround and envelop her body. The gloves wholly conceal the hand, the necklace folds around her neck, the belt encompasses her waist.

While on one hand imagining his control over her external body, his imagined metamorphoses also carry the suggestion of his own feminization. He becomes the one penetrated, as he becomes the glove, the necklace and the belt. In each imagined scenario, he becomes filled with her body. The would be penetrator becomes the penetrated; the subject becomes a series of imagined objects. As his imagined objects become containers for her body, his beloved becomes the phallus to his glove. Whereas Petrarch fetishized Laura’s glove, which symbolically and metonymically represents her vagina, the speaker of Barnes’ poem desires to become a glove, to become the vagina filled by his beloved. Like Jove who metamorphosed into Diana for Callisto, Parthenophil seems willing to adopt a type of gender-bending to attain the object of his desire. The gender-bending dynamic does, however, meet its limit in the full description of her pearl necklace. As the necklace, the speaker hopes to “tickle” Parthenope’s breasts, moving from an object that folds around her neck to actively touching her.

Barnes ends the sonnet with Pathenophil imagining his expulsion from her body. He, becomes excremental in order to access places otherwise denied. Instead of a scene of penetration, the sonnet ends with an expulsion. He, in effect, becomes another form of golden shower. Thomas Nashe, like unlike my own initial reaction to Barnes’ sonnet, mocked Barnes’ overwrought metaphor. In his dialogue Have with you to Saffron-walden, an unnamed responder mentions this poem while discussing Barnes, saying, “In one place of his Parthenophill and Perthenope, wishing no other thing of Heaven, but that hee might bee transformed to the Wine his Mistres drinks, and so passe through her” (Nashe Q2 verso). In response, Bentivole, one of the interlocutors, quips, “Therein hee was verie ill advisde, for so the next time his Mistres made water, he was in danger to be cast out of her favour.”

While certainly amusing, the dynamics of his move at the conclusion of this sonnet give us pause. Parthenophil finishes his thought experiment by expelling him from her body, but only after he has imaginatively explored her entire body from the inside, fully filling her with his presence. The parallel with the Danaë reference earlier metamorphoses him not only into excrement but also into a god. Although he leaves the beloved’s lap rather than falling into it, his taking this form of “golden shower” renders him an excremental deity.

The end of the sonnet cycles back towards the violence suggested in the first quatrain. Moving back from the penetrated objects in the previous, Parthenophil imagines himself as the wine she drinks. It is this move that alters the series of metaphors from attention to the external form of his beloved to her bodily interior. As wine, the speaker imagines entering her mouth and penetrating her throat, but this is where the metaphor becomes even more interesting. As a liquid his beloved drinks, the fantasy of penetration is taken to an extreme. He fantasies that this will allow him to lie near her heart and run through her veins. With the first half of the last line, Parthenope imagines a complete penetration of Parthenophil’s body, insinuating himself into her vital spirits and, therefore, becoming dispersed throughout her entire body.

As Nashe’s mockery shows, the metaphor might be overwrought, but Nashe also plays on an interesting pun that reveals an additional layer to the dynamic in Barnes’ poem. The responder says that Parthenophil wants to “passe through” his mistress. While Bentivole turns this towards the metamorphosis into piss, the quip also reveals that the central conceit involves fully infiltrating and penetrating Parthenophe. I will return to this thread below, but first want to turn my attention towards the culminating poem of Barnes’ Parthenophil and Parthenophe.

Title page of Barnabe Barnes' Parthenophil and Parthenophe

Title page of Barnabe Barnes’ Parthenophil and Parthenophe

The sequence ends with the equally peculiar “Sestine 5” in which Parthenophil employs the assistance of Hecate to achieve his desires. While unclear whether this poem reveals a narrative event or if it is supposed to be taken as an imagined event, the poem’s real or imagined event unleashes a sexual violence. Driven to the depths of despair and love-melancholy for Parthenophe, Parthenophil turns to the dark arts to summon her naked where he rapes her.

Then, first with lockes disheveled, and bare,
Straite guirded, in a chearefull calmie night :
Having a fier made of greene Cypresse woode,
And with male frankincense on alter kindled
I call on threefould Hecate with teares,
And here (with loude voice) invocate the furies :
For their assistance, to me with their furies :
Whilst snowye steedes in coach bright Phoebe bare.
Ay me Parthenophe smiles at my teares,
I neither take my rest by day, or night :
Her cruell loves in me such heate have kindled.
Hence goate and bring her to me raging woode :
Hecate tell which way she comes through the woode.
This wine aboute this aulter, to the furies
I sprinkle, whiles the Cypresse bowes be kindled,
This brimstone earth within her bowelles bare,
And this blew incense sacred to the night.
This hand (perforce) from this bay his braunche teares.
So be she brought which pittied not my teares.
And as it burneth with the Cypresse woode
So burne she with desier by day and night.
You goddes of vengeance, and avenge-full furies
Revenge, to whom I bende on my knees bare.
Hence goate, and bring her with loves outrage kindled.
Hecate make signes if she with love come kindled.
Thinke on my Passions Hec’ate, and my teares :
This Rosemariene (whose braunche she cheefely bare
And loved best) I cut both barke and woode,
Broke with this brasen Axe, and, in loves furies
I treade on it, rejoicing in this night :
And saying, let her feele such woundes this night.
About this alter, and rich incense kindled
This lace and Vervine to loves bitter furies
I binde, and strewe, and with sadde sighes and teares
About I beare her Image raging woode.
Hence goate and bring her from her bedding bare :
Hecate reveale if she like passions bare.
I knitte three true lovers knottes (this is loves night)
Of three discolour’d silkes, to make her woode,
But she scornes Venus till her loves be kindled,
And till she finde the greefe of sighes and teares :
Sweet Queene of loves for mine unpittied furies,
A like torment her with such scaulding furies :
And this turtle (when the losse she bare
Of her deare make) in her kinde did shed teares,
And mourning did seeke him all day, and night :
Let such lament in her for me be kindled,
And mourne she still, till she runne raging woode :
Hence goate and bring her to me raging woode
These letter’s, and these verses to the furies
(Which she did write) all in this flame be kindled :
Me (with these papers) in vayne hope she bare
That she to day would turne mine hopelesse night,
These as I rent, and burne, so furie teares.
Her hardned hart, which pittied not my teares.
The winde shaked trees make murmure in the woode,
The waters roare at this thrise sacred night,
The windes come whisking shrill to note her furies :
Trees, woodes, and windes, a part in my plaintes bare,
And knew my woes, now joy to see her kindled :
See whence she comes with loves enrag’d and kindled !
The pitchy cloudes (in droppes) send downe there teares,
Owles scritche, Dogges barke to see her carried bare
Wolves yowle, and cry : Bulles bellow through the wood,
Ravens croape, now, now, I feele loves fiercest furies :
See’st’e thou that blacke goate, brought this silent night
Through emptie cloudes by’th daughters of the night ?
See how on him she sittes, with love rage kindled,
Hether perforce brought with avenge-full furies ?
Now I waxe drousie, now cease all my teares,
Whilst I take rest and slumber neare this woode :
Ah me ! Parthenophe naked and bare,
Come blessed goate, that my sweet Lady bare :
Where hast thou beene (Parthenophe) this night ?
What could ? sleepe by this fier of Cypresse woode
Which I much longing for thy sake have kindled,
Weepe not, come loves and wipe away her teares :
At length yet, wilt thou take away my furies ?
Ay me, embrace me, see those ouglye furies.
Come to my bed, least they behold thee bare
And beare thee hence the[y] will not pittie teares,
And these still dwell in everlasting night :
Ah loves, sweet love, sweet fiers for us hath kindled.
But not inflam’d, with franckinsense, or woode,
The furies, they shall hence into the woode,
Whiles Cupid shall make calmer his hot furies,
And stand appeased at our fier’s kindled.
Joyne joyne (Parthenophe) thy selfe unbare,
None can perceive us in the silent night,
Now will I cease from sighes, lamentes, and teares,
And cease (Parthenophe) sweet cease thy teares :
Beare golden Apples thornes in every woode,
Joyne heavens, for we conjoyne this heavenly night :
Let Alder trees beare Apricockes (dye furies)
And Thistles Peares, which prickles lately bare.
Now both in one with equall flame be kindled :
Dye magicke bowes, now dye, which late were kindled :
Here is mine heaven : loves droppe insteede of teares.
It joynes, it joynes, ah both embracing bare :
Let Nettles bring forth Roses in each woode,
Last ever verdant woodes : hence former furies.
O dye, live, joye : what ? last continuall night,
Sleepe Phoebus still with Thetis : rule still night.
I melt in love, loves marrow-flame is kindled :
Here will I be consum’d in loves sweet furies.
I melt, I melt, watche Cupid my love-teares :
If these be furies, oh let me be woode !
If all the fierie element I bare
Tis now acquitted : cease your former teares,
For as she once with rage my bodie kindled,
So in hers am I buried this night. (Barnes 143-146).

The turn towards sexual violence and threats of violence in the first quatrain of Barnes’ Sonnet 63 return in this final poem with a vengeance. Violently breaking from the Petrarchan conventions that served as the model for many of the poems in the sequence, Barnes’ Parthenophil metamorphoses from unrequited lover into a demon summoning rapist.

Externalizing the uncontrollable internal forces of passions and love-melancholy, the power Parhthenophil exerts over Pathenophe’s body here enacts a wish-fulfillment but also displaces his own feelings of powerlessness in the presence of her into an imagined scenario where her presence lies under his complete control. The uncontrolled and uncontrollable passions and thoughts within himself are given an imaginary solution whereby the external world acts at his command.

The fantasy of control on display in Barnes’ concluding poem reverses the processes internal to the speaking subject throughout the sequence. Love, it was thought, entered through the senses and, often, through the eyes. The beloved enters the body of the lover through the external senses, typically through vision. The sensible forms enter through the external senses and impress themselves upon the spirits of the mind and the internal senses. With love-melancholy, the attention to this mental object increases its power, and the species or phantasm can have a special control over the body.

The example I just sketched includes an intromissive theory of vision, but similar effects were offered in extrmissive accounts. As I will discuss in a later post, love beams, in particular, were one example of extramission theory that seems to survive popularly into the seventeenth century. In theories of extramissive love-beams, the eyes shoot forth beams that include the visual spirit that is a form of or is infused with the beloved’s blood. As such, those beams, when they enter through the eyes of the lover, insinuate, or, perhaps, insanguate, themselves in the lover’s own spirits, blood, and body.

While the private Phantasy shaped such objects, it should not be forgotten that those objects and forms constitute a type of penetrating, invading, and usurping force. While the fantastic image within the lover might be shaped, perverted and reconstructed though the private fantasy, the object-subject separation partially collapses in such explanations of love’s effects.

The seemingly uncontrollable internal forces and the uncontrollable world which, internally, the speaker is unable to control through his will become the occasion for an externalized fantasy of an all-powerful will in which the world conforms to his will. Subject to her power over him in his state of unrequited love, Parthenophil turns to a fantasy of immense power over her and the world. In the sonnet immediately preceding the culminating “Sestine 5,” Parthenophil claims that Parthenophe’s hard-heart and lack of pity unleashes “ten thousand furies” in his mind which “chaung[e] the tenour of [his] lovely dittie” (Sonnet 105, line 12). He turns from poetry that he hoped would affect Parthenophe’s heart and mind, to “enchaunting sawes, and magicke spell” (13). Rather than persuade her “hard indurate hart” through verse, he will use the dark arts to “compell.” His control over her, however, only extends as far as her body, her will resisting. In this scenario, the world, significantly apart from her will, becomes an extension of his own will; the unruly passions within him become controlled through his agency.

Woodcut of a woman riding a goat from Guazzo's Compendium Maleficarum (1608)

Woodcut of a woman riding a goat from Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum (1608)

Through psychoanalytical lenses, we can understand the conclusion of Barnes’ sequence as wish-fulfillment where fantasies of control step in to counteract the speaker’s feelings of powerlessness and impotence. If we take into account contemporary beliefs about the body, of sense perception, and of love, however, we can see precisely how this drama unfolds in a culturally contingent way.

For those Lacanian minded, one might consider the ways in which Petrarchan conventions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries present the power of the fantasy in feelings of love. As Zizek constantly reminds us, love and sex are imprecated in narcissism, and sex is merely masturbation with a partner present. As Zizek puts it in The Parallax View, “in a strictly symmetrical way, ‘real sex’ has the structure of masturbation with a real partner–in effect, I use the flesh-and-blood partner as a masturbatory prop for enacting my fantasies … sex always-already was ‘virtual,’ with flesh-and-blood persons used as masturbatory props for dwelling in our fantasies” (191). The fantastic surplus drives desire, since sexual attraction is driven by the fantastical construction of the object.

Such insights remain valid when investigating early modern love lyric, but one should also acknowledge that the separation of the external world and the world of objects does not remain entirely distinct from the objects of the mind quite as radically. While the phantasms are shaped through the sensitive soul and by the private Phantasy, they also retain some relationship to and with their external originals in a way that modern optical theories and theorists foreclose. The Phantasy certainly shaped those objects, but the theories of the senses as popularly expressed also granted those mental objects a real quasi-material connection to their external originals.

As I mentioned earlier, some pre- to early modern theories of love and love-beams challenge our contemporary notions of a subject with closed off borders and boundaries, of a subject removed from and isolated from the world. In the systems of perception I have been mapping, there is more emphasis on the porousness and permeability of a perceiver. The beloved, despite the shaping power of the Phantasy, exerted a force on and power over the lover. Whether it the form, the species, or the blood, the material body of the beloved enters and becomes part of the lover’s body and mind.

While such theories expose the permeability of the sensory system and a perceiver, many also, like Helkiah Crooke in his Microcosmographia, recommend the policing of the borders of the body. While such arguments reveal that those theories also presumed a somewhat stable self that needed protection from the external world, the sensory apparatus needed to be rigorously patrolled and protected even more given the quasi-material interactions that were thought to occur in the sensory system.

The shocking and unsettling violence at the conclusion of Barnes’ sequence certainly breaks with Petrarchan conventions, but it also reveals the sexual violence often sublimated within the Petrarchan conventions themselves. The concluding poem also brings the imagined violence of his earlier sonnet into relief. In his fantasy of becoming Parthenophe’s “golden shower,” the violence of the culminating “Sestine 5” is already apparent in that earlier poem.

In that earlier poem, Parthenophil wants to “runne through her veins,” implying, as I argued previously, that he would fully penetrate her body by insinuating himself in her blood and possibly her spirits. He wishes to fill her, penetrating her entire body and filling her with his presence. This violent act resembles the violence of the concluding poem. It also, however, resembles the represented violence inherent in theories of love and love-beams. Just as he imagines running through her veins and spirits in the form of digested wine, her form “runs” through his veins and spirits as the object of his obsession.

I do not mean to suggest that the affecting potential of a beloved upon a lover directly parallels the violence of rape, but I do think, at the level of natural philosophical theorizing, such a similarity can be drawn. The power and agency attributed not only to human but also to objects in and of the world show the interrelation and interconnection of the world and perceiver. As such, when we encounter moments that resemble the mle gaze in early modern literature and culture, we should be aware that the pre- and early modern gaze is not a one sided affair, and that power is not solidified on the behalf of the male gazer. Instead, the gaze becomes a play of agency between the looker and the looked at. The looked at maintains an influence over the gazer on a psychophysiological level.

The material effects generated within a perceiver and the objects’ ability to interface with the material world, the spiritual world and the soul has led me to call the faculties, spirits, and objects of the sensitive soul and mind paramaterial, and the agency conferred upon a beloved extends in many respects to the world of objects at large. Just as the external beloved could shape the interior of a perceiver both materially and spiritually, objects too, especially religious objects threatened to shape a devotees’ mind and body.

Barnes, Barnabe. The Poems of Barnabe Barnes. Ed. Alexander B. Grosart. Manchester: Charles Simms, 1875.

Nashe, Thomas. Have with you to Saffron-walden. London: John Danter, 1596.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

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