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The musical instrument familiar to us as the cittern is a member of the lute family. This pear-shaped, shallow-bodied instrument enjoyed great favour during the sixteenth century, particularly among amateurs who "must at all times have formed the majority of cittern players."[6] There are several reasons for the instrument's popularity: the wire strings (plucked by a plectrum) stayed in tune much longer than the cat-gut strings of the sibling lute; the right-hand playing technique was easy to learn; and the instrument was relatively inexpensive. Perhaps for these reasons, the cittern quickly became a standard item in barbers' shops, where it was provided for the pre-tonsorial enjoyment of waiting customers (a Renaissance equivalent of magazines or newspapers).

The presence of citterns in barbers' shops is widely referred to by Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists, so much so that the association can be considered part of the stock dramatic parlance of the period. In Jonson's The Staple of News Pennyboy Junior recounts how his "barber Tom, . . . one Christmas, . . . got into a masque at Court, by his wit, / And the good means


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of his cittern, holding up thus / For one o' the music."[7] In Lyly's Midas (3.2.35) Motto, the barber, reminds his man that he has taught him several skills of the trade, including "the tuning of a cittern" ("tune" has the dual meaning "play" and "put in tune"; see OED tune 3a).[8] Oliver the weaver, in Middleton's The Mayor of Queenborough, tells how he helped a poor barber who, it seems, was forced to pawn his cittern: "I gave that barber a fustian-suit, and twice redeemed his cittern: he may remember me."[9] In Jonson's Epicoene Morose chooses his silent [sic] bride on the advice of Cutbeard the barber. When his bride proves talkative, Morose exclaims "That cursed barber! . . . I have married his cittern, that's common to all men."[10] The equation of silence with chastity and speech with promiscuity was a Renaissance commonplace; Morose's cittern analogy subtly links his wife's noise- making capacity with her presumed general availability. Dekker and Middleton similarly suggest sexual availability in 2 Honest Whore when Matheo denounces Bellafront as a whore, "A Barbers Citterne for euery Seruingman to play vpon."[11]

The above references show that cittern playing in barbers' shops was a firmly entrenched custom.[12] But what relevance do citterns have in the context of Petruccio's criticism of sartorial slashing? It is here that the engravings on citterns are of relevance.

Besides being known for its presence in barbers' shops, the cittern was


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renowned for its exaggerated decorative carvings, usually of heads or gargoyle-like figures, situated on the instrument's neck at the top of the peg-box. It is these carvings which, I suggest, Petruccio has in mind when he condemns Katherine's dress for the elaborate slashing and pinking on the sleeves: "Here's snip and nip and cut and slish and slash, / Like to a [cittern] in a barber's shop."

The cittern differs from the lute in being a carved instrument made from one piece of wood -- a skilled, but also a practical method of creation in days of unstable glue, damp interior storage conditions, and plentiful trees. (The less hardy lute is a constructed instrument.)[13] Although the precise development of the English cittern is unclear,[14] there is no doubt that, in terms of decoration, in England and on the continent, from medieval times onward, the instrument was characterised by "a crude figure-head on its narrow end."[15] So standard was it that books of cittern music included carvings of gargoyles, animals, and clowns in their illustrations of fretting: see the illustration, reproduced from Thomas Robinson, New Citharen Lessons (London, 1609),sigs H4v and I1r.

The earliest recorded dramatic reference to a cittern-head comes from Shakespeare. In Love's Labour's Lost Holofernes (as Judas Maccabaeus) is interrupted and taunted by the on- stage audience:


I will not be put out of countenance.


Because thou hast no face.


What is this?


A cittern-head.


The head of a bodkin.


A death's face in a ring.


The face of an old Roman coin, scarce seen. (5.2.602-608)

When Clara beats Bobadilla in Fletcher's Love's Cure, "Cittern-head" is included in her terms of abuse.[16] Ford twice uses cittern-head as an insult. In The Fancies Secco, the barber, is denounced as "a cittern-headed gewgaw,"[17] and when Cuculus in The Lover's Melancholy hopes to be a "head-piece" in


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the Chronicles, Rhetias retorts that his head-piece shall be "Of woodcock without brains i't. Barbers shall wear thee on their citterns."[18] Marston talks of fools as "brainless cittern-heads" in The Scourge of Villainy,[19] while an extended discussion of citterns and their heads in Massinger's The Old Law concludes with a derogatory equation of cittern-heads with fools. Gnotho, having asked if the tavern boasts music, is answered in the affirmative: "here


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are sweet wire-drawers in the house" (the reference to wires clearly identifies the instruments as citterns or gitterns). A conversation begins concerning the similarities between cittern playing and wine drawing (for example, both require pegs). But, says the butler, "the heads of your instruments differ; yours are hogs-heads, theirs cittern and gittern-heads." The bailiff concludes the discussion with "All wooden heads; there they meet again."[20] It is clear that English Renaissance dramatists did not intend comparison to a cittern or a cittern-head to be flattering. All the above references occur in sequences of abuse. Petruccio's sartorial railing is, I believe, part of the traditional derogatory association. And given other Renaissance dramatists' regular specification of the carved cittern head as the area of ridicule, Petruccio's insult is surely the comparison of the tailor's elaborate pinking with the cittern's grotesque wooden carvings.