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The evidence which an editor brings to bear on a text but which derives from a dictionary or from his own technical knowledge of a subject occupies a middle ground between those kinds we describe as 'external' and 'internal'. Where a text is entirely straightforward, self-explanatory, no 'external' proficiency is required. Where, however, its vocabulary is arcane, we are sometimes required to bring a meaning (or meanings) to the text and examine whether it may be allowed to reside there. Occasionally this process of interaction may produce rather dramatic results: the imported meaning may not merely demand to be accommodated, it may even demonstrate to us that the surroundings themselves need to be changed to accommodate it. Such is the case on three occasions in the extended astrological passage in Act II, sc. iv of John Fletcher's The Bloody Brother. It can be demonstrated that the text has never been printed correctly, and the demonstration relies at least as much upon evidence which is strictly internal as upon knowledge brought to the text from a dictionary. It is, however, only when the importations have been made that one sees precisely where the internal evidence lies—and, indeed, how plentiful that internal evidence is.


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Editorial and critical treatment of the play has hitherto kept the astrological scene at arm's length. One could be forgiven for having no suspicion at all that the passage was tightly organised and almost entirely respectable, astrologically speaking. It is certainly fiercely technical at first sight, so much so that at one time it was thought that only Ben Jonson could have had the learning to write it, and at another has been dismissed as merely 'bandying back and forth almost every abstruse term in the astrological dictionary'.[1]

Examined on its own terms, however, the passage appears very differently. The author's ingenuity may, perhaps, be regarded as dramatically misplaced, since it is impossible to imagine that an audience could have kept pace with him; but it is one thing to regard the passage as close to impenetrable, and very much another to assume from its opaqueness that it must be random nonsense. Indeed, even in its overall contour the passage is astrologically sound, following in their due order exactly those procedures that an astrologer would adopt in reading a horoscope. And it is also internally consistent in a manner which it would have been impossible for the author to achieve without a very secure knowledge of his subject.

At one point, for instance, Mars is said to be in 'the selfe same house' as the sun, 'But another signe' (lines 196-197)—a contention that can be verified fully, but only by reference back to lines 165-166 ('the Sunne and Mercury, Mars with the Dragons taile, [in] the third house') and forward to lines 213-214 ('Mars being | . . . in Capricorne'). Such, indeed, are the controls that the passage exerts upon itself that one is able to reconstruct in broad detail the diagram the author must have used to guide his invention.

He locates all seven Ptolemaic planets in specific houses, and he specifies further (and independently) which signs of the zodiac four of the planets occupy; then he proceeds to detail (again independently) the angular relationships ('aspects') that three of them have to each other.[2] The opportunities for


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error and inconsistency in detailing this complex configuration are obviously legion, and yet when properly understood the text can be seen to achieve its aim with some elegance.

It has been established that the quartos of the play were set from different manuscripts.[3] Of the two, Cyrus Hoy remarks: 'the authoritative text of the play is, clearly, that of the second quarto' (p. 57). It does, indeed, exhibit a number of superior readings in the astrological passage, but there are three instances where even this text must give way to what may be concluded from a proper understanding of the scene.

There is an unavoidable element of technicality involved in explaining why this is so, but fortunately it can be kept within manageable bounds.

When the 'cheating Rogues' begin their analysis they start, as an astrologer should, by examining the positions of the planets within the astrological houses, i.e. their position in relation to the heavens as visible at the time of the birth. (Houses 7 to 12 lie above the horizon and houses 1 to 6 lie below it; the 1st and most important house, the ascendant, begins at the eastern horizon.) Having found that the sun, Mercury and Mars are in the third house, Jupiter in the twelfth, and Venus in the second, they continue (in Q1):

Saturne in the Fifth,
Luna i'th Seventh, and much of Scorpio,
Then Mars his Gaudium, rising in th'ascendent,
And joyn'd with Libra too . . . (lines 170-173)
For this Q2 exhibits:
Saturne i'th fift,
Luna ith' seaventh, and much of Scorpio,
That Mars his gaudium rising in the ascendant,
That joint with Libra too . . .
I take it that readers of both Q1 and Q2 would assume that 'much of Scorpio' was in the seventh house with the moon; and that readers of Q2 would consider 'That Mars . . .' and 'That joint . . .' to be epideictic, representing the character's jabbing at the chart. On the surface both texts appear to make sense syntactically, and the meaning of 'gaudium' might therefore be thought not particularly material.

To one who knows what the word does mean, however, and to one who sees how it applies in the context, the lines bear a very different complexion. As is well known, each sign of the zodiac was traditionally allotted to a particular planet as its 'house', or 'mansion'. And for those planets (all except the


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sun and the moon) which had two signs each, one sign was thought to be preferred, more particularly rejoiced in. This was its gaudium. And it so happens that the gaudium of Mars was Scorpio. If, then, one reads the lines with this minor technicality in mind, one immediately detects a serious anomaly. Since the ascendant (the first house) and the seventh house are diametrically opposite each other, it is impossible that 'much of Scorpio' could be in the seventh house with the moon and that Scorpio (as Mars' gaudium) could at the same time be 'rising in the ascendant'.

At this point in the development of the scene, then, a reader alert (or alerted) to the anomaly might set it down as an error, either conscious or unconscious. If conscious, then designed for detection and intended to point up the rogues' ignorance; if unconscious, then an indication that the author may have overreached himself by dabbling in astrology. Before the end of the scene, however, the reader will find good internal evidence for impugning the text, not the author, since the scene later refers to Venus as being 'in her exilium, which is Scorpio | And Mars his gaudium' (lines 217-218). The scene, then, shows us that the author knows Scorpio to be the gaudium of Mars, which suggests that the present passage may well be corrupt. In fact our hint lies in the reading of Q2. Its 'That Mars . . .' need only be emended to 'That's Mars . . .' and one is able to read as follows:

. . . and much of Scorpio,
That's Mars his gaudium, rising in th'ascendant . . .
This emendation cures the anomaly and is supported by a wealth of internal evidence. At first sight, we recall, it appeared that Luna and Scorpio were in the seventh house. But the moon is shortly to be described as being not in Scorpio, but 'in Aries in the seaventh house' (line 187), and Libra (Scorpio's immediate neighbour) is never said to be anywhere but in the first house, and therefore diametrically opposite the seventh. And since, moreover, it is the tail-end of Libra that defines the first house (line 163), it will follow of course that 'much of Scorpio' should be occupying the remainder of that house. In short, the whole thrust of the passage points to an emendation. Indeed, the choice is either to accept a simple correction that concedes to the author that he knew his subject; or else to persist in upholding an anomaly which would only begin to make sense if we supposed it was designed for detection. And who will say the author's audience was so proficient that it could detect this (supposed) anomaly on the run? Particularly since the anomaly is so oblique that it has never been detected before in the published commentary on the play.

The second line that requires correction is in the immediate continuation. The syntax here is extremely flexible, permitting a number of grammatical groupings; but a close inspection of the sense of the lines rapidly closes down the options. In Q1 we find:

And Juniu Cœli, Mars his exaltation
In the seventh house . . . (lines 174-175)


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In Q2 we find:
And Imum Cœli, Mars his exultation
Ith' seaventh house . . .
Once again it is firstly the sense which two terms have independently of the text and secondly their function within the lines that defines the problem. Q1's 'Juniu' is a non-existent word, created by the misreading of minims. 'Imum Cœli', on the other hand, is the common astrological term for the fourth house (just as 'medium cœli' is the common name for the tenth). A planet's 'exaltation', though, is a particular degree in the zodiac (in the case of Mars it is 28 degrees of Capricorn)—it can never be one of the astrological houses, and for this reason 'Imum' and 'exultation (properly 'exaltation') should not be used in apposition here. As they stand, therefore, the lines are nonsense: 'the fourth house, the exaltation of Mars, [is] in the seventh house' represents a blatant contradiction in terms. And since no other syntactical grouping yields any better sense here, we must turn, instead, to the contextual function of the lines.

At this point in the scene the astrologer is in the process of establishing Mars as 'Lord of the Geniture' (line 177; Q1). This technical process involves determining where among the houses (particularly the primary ones, numbers one, four, seven, and ten) Mars exerts his influence. The process may sound formidable, but the structural pattern in the verse is entirely straightforward. Lines 171-172 locate Mars' gaudium (special mansion) in the first house, and line 175 locates Aries, his other mansion, in the seventh house. These two observations thus specify Mars' relation to two of the primary houses (the 'Cardines' as the play calls them), and they are quite explicit. Between these two observations lies another, intermediate, observation; and from the very fact that the first observation relates to the first cardin (the first house) and that the third observation relates to the third cardin (the seventh house), we could guess that the intermediate second observation should relate to the second cardin, the fourth house (or 'imum cœli'). To make it do so, we need only take the 'Imum' of Q2 and emend it to 'In imo',[4] and the passage makes perfect good sense:

. . . Mars his gaudium rising in the ascendant,
. . . . . . .
And in Imo Cœli, Mars his exaltation,
I'th seaventh house, Aries . . . (lines 172, 174-175)
With Mars and his 'dignities' occupying three of the four cardins in this way it is no wonder that he is constituted 'Lord of the Geniture'.[5]


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There is one final point where flexibility of syntax, apparent good sense, and the complications of the subject have led to an entrenched corruption. When the rogues come to examine the planetary aspects they see that

. . . Mars out of the selfe same house,
(But another signe) here by a platique aspect
Looks at the hilage, with a quartile ruling
The house where the sunne is . . . (lines 196-199)
then they refer shortly afterwards to
. . . this same quartile aspect to the Lady of life,
Here [in] the seaventh . . . (lines 201-202)
Cold on the page this may well appear (like the rest) to be high-flying nonsense. But even a reader entirely at sea and hanging valiantly on to the syntax as a life-line will recognise that the text as it stands states unambiguously that there is 'a quartile [aspect] ruling | The house where the sunne is'. Safe on land, he would regain his bearings and deduce that this house is the third house (lines 165-166). But he would then have time to establish, too, that the sense suggested by the syntax is distinctly awkward for two reasons: in the first place, only planets may rule houses—aspects (quartile or otherwise) never can; and in the second, even if it were possible for a quartile aspect to rule 'The house where the sunne is' (the third house) it could not possibly also be 'this same quartile aspect' which observed the moon 'Here [in] the seaventh'.[6]

Once again the technical sense of just one word points the way out of the difficulty. What is the 'hilage' (hyleg)? It is that point of the horoscope which leads to determining the length of the native's life—as the text itself indicates (to those with eyes to see it), when it picks up 'the hilage' by 'the Lady of life'. The connection between the technical term and its gloss is even advertised, one can now see, by the reference to 'this same quartile aspect'. Indeed, once we understand his terminology, we can see that the author is trying hard to make us follow the rationality of his scheme. And the relocation of a single comma will clear up all the difficulties. We should read as follows: Mars

Looks at the hilage with a quartile, ruling
The house where the sunne is . . .


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. . . this same quartile aspect to the Lady of life,
Here [in] the seaventh promises some danger . . .[7]
(198-199, 201-202)
By this simple expedient we again concede to the author control of his subject. The rest of the scene does support the combination that Mars looks at the hilege with a quartile aspect and that he rules the third house; the received text, on the other hand, points merely to wayward nonsense and authorial incompetence.

It would be rash to pretend that this astrological outburst is not extremely difficult. But on the other hand, when once we understand how its uncorrupted and undisputed sections work, we may be impressed both by how many clues they contain to the unravelling of the rest, and by the economy with which the author deploys the same pieces of astrological detail in different ways. Mars' aspect to the hyleg, for instance, is first (line 197) described as 'platique' (not yet exact); within a few lines, however, the author has 'the Hyley | . . . by direction come | To a quartile opposition of the place | Where Mars is . . .' (lines 207-210). Now 'direction' is an astrological process whereby future positions are notionally projected on from present ones; here, then, the 'platic' aspect becomes 'partile' (or exact) by the process of 'direction'— but its point of application is also neatly reversed, so that the 'Hyley' now looks at Mars. Such deftness is a mark of the author's proficiency in his arcane subject.

In restoring good sense to the scene we are obliged to bring our understanding of an arcane language to the text, but thereafter the text itself offers checks and correlatives from all sides to confirm our understanding. Paradoxically, it is only when the passage is properly understood that we can see that in fact the author offers us a great deal of assistance and that his scheme locks together in a most satisfying way. Even more importantly though, the interconnectedness inherent in astrological constructs that have a 'rational' base provides us on three occasions with a means of restoring his intentions to the text with some degree of confidence.