1. Henry Bellamy’s Iphis is dedicated to Dr. William Juxon, President of St. John’s College, Oxon. from December 1621 to January 1632. Bellamy (born in 1604) matriculated from that college in November 1621, was admitted to the B. A. in April 1625, received the M. A. in 1629, and the B. D. in 1637 (I do not know if he remained in residence after 1629). NOTE 1 It is a mythological play based on Ovid, and has a companion-piece in another play written by a member of St. John’s, Joseph Crowther’s Cephalus et Procris, also prefaced by a dedication to Juxon. In it, Crowther excuses his play’s faults because of academica infantia, and writes in such language that Nugel concluded (p. 17) “if we trust the dedication, the play was a set task, expected to manifest Juxon’s obliging patronage of such productions.” The same circumstances may have governed the writing of Iphis. Faced with the need to scare up scripts for dramatic productions in his college, Juxon may have had a habit of imposing the task of writing them on his B. A. students as an educational exercise. Certainly, the occasionally awkward language in which Iphis is written, sometimes stilted, murky, and occasionally difficult to understand in detail, does nothing to discourage the impression that it may be the work of an undergraduate. No record of its production exists, but in his dedicatory epistle Bellamy writes Accipias benigno fronte, et quem non dedignatus fuisti audire, inspicere quaeso aliquantulum digneris [“I pray that you will in some measure condescend to cast an eye on that which you did not disdain to hear”], and the most likely interpretation of audire is “attend as a member of the audience.”
2. In his Introduction (p. 5) Nugel describes it as:
…a five-act comedy modelled chiefly on Terence — as is evident in the expository monologues in Acts I and III, the structural consistency, the nature of the dialogue — and on the Renaissance comoedia erudita, as its sententiousness implies.
One cannot help remarking the wrongheadedness of this interpretation. In the last analysis, I suppose, Iphis may be a comedy, if any play with a happy ending must be identified as such. But in many ways it is not “modelled chiefly on Terence,” but rather (astonishingly, for a comedy) most of the visible imitatio is of Senecan tragedy. This is certainly true of the play’s language. Most academic comedies were composed in prose, written out in lines as if they were in verse so as to reproduce the physical look of Plautus and Terence. Iphis is written in iambic senarii. Most academic comedies are loaded with many tags appropriated from Plautus and Terence, and in language otherwise contrived resemble that of Roman comedy (including archaisms such as subjunctives like siem, passive infinitives ending in -ier, interrogatives like vidistin’, old spellings like vorto, and so forth). Iphis has no such language, and very few echoes of Plautus and Terence. What one finds instead are verbal borrowings from Seneca, and other serious poets such as Ovid, Vergil, Horace, and a sustained attempt to imitate the poetic and rhetorical style of Senecan tragedies. And this verbal imitation of Seneca has a visual counterpart: in the manner of a tragedy, all of the play’s action is set before Lygdus’ house, the multi-house “set” characteristic of comedy is not used.
3. At least some of the characters in the play are also conceived along tragic rather than comic lines. Certainly this is true of Telethusa, who suffers and schemes with genuine intensity, and of her husband Lygdus, driven by his murderously irrational idée fixe. The ranting rhetoric assigned to Lygdus and to Nisus is that of Seneca and of Seneca-imitating tragic characters from the academic stage (Lygdus has far more in common with Oeneus in William Gager’s Meleager than with any character from an English comedy, academic or vernacular). The play’s pathos and doomful atmospherics are genuine, not burlesque. Its divine epiphanies are meant to be taken quite seriously (the especially reverent treatment given Isis possibly has to do with the fact that she lends her name to a local Oxford river), and the gods are treated with no subversive disrespect. Quite in the Senecan manner, the play is loaded with references to Fortune and her habit of capriciously interfering in human affairs. The play’s minor characters (a Tutor, who might just as well have been labeled a pedagogue, a Nurse, and a Messenger) are stock tragic figures. Sacrifices, performed onstage and off, are frequent in Senecan drama. And, most crucial for assessing the play’s genre, nothing in the play is calculated to be funny or to elicit laughter from the audience.
4. So we are light-years away from the world of Plautus and Terence, as well as the world of standard academic comedies. Until the final scenes of Act V a member of the original audience watching Iphis would have been hard put to ascertain that he was seeing a comedy (the only significant clues to the contrary would be the consideration that Lygdus is a commoner, not a king, and the absence of a Chorus). In Acts I and II the action has the potential to veer into genuine tragedy, and even after Telethusa conceives the idea of disguising the infant Iphis as a boy, the audience could not be sure whether this was catastrophe averted or catastrophe merely postponed. Renaissance theatergoers had a taste for tragicomedy, for which Plautus’ Amphitruo supplied a satisfying classical precedent. NOTE 2 But if Iphis is to be classified as a tragicomedy, it leans remarkably to the tragic side in terms both of form and content. Indeed, one cannot be quite sure whether the classical precedent he had in mind was Amphitruo or the tragedies of Euripides that ended happily (Ion, Iphigeneia in Tauris, Helen). The fact that the happy ending is brought about by a divine epiphany possibly points to the latter. So if one classifies Iphis as a comedy at all, one does so with considerable hesitation.
5. Iphis is based on an episode in the ninth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (666 - 797), and in many ways follows Ovid’s version faithfully. Bellamy, however, has introduced some important modifications. The character Nisus is his own invention, as are all the complications that arise out of his wooing of Ianthe. Then too, the centerpiece of Ovid’s story is a lengthy monologue by Iphis (726 - 763) in which she exclaims over her predicament, feeling horror and remorse for her lesbian love for Ianthe, going so far as to compare herself to another sexual monstrosity Crete has produced, Pasiphae (735 - 40). In Iphis this speech is compressed into a mere four and a half lines (803ff.), and Iphis’ psychological reaction to her lesbianism is merely to remark on her uniqueness and to predict that the gods have some strange fate in store for her. An abortive love-scene between her and Ianthe (IV.vi) is interrupted by the intrusion of Nisus, so Iphis is given no further occasion to express her feelings. Other than that, we are only given a description (slightly salacious, given the circumstances) of their love-play (632ff.), which contains no hint that Iphis is unsatisfied with the situation. Rather, in the play the horror and loathing about the monstrosity of the supposedly male Iphis’ feminine traits is expressed by Lygdus (548ff.), and Telestes registers similar indignation at 683f., exclaiming with unwitting accuracy that it is wrong for “a girl to be married to a girl.” Telethusa herself is shocked into exclaiming that Iphis’ love is more monstrous than Pasiphae’s (807ff.). Once Iphis is revealed to be a woman, the exclamation about the monstrosity of her lesbianism (1097ff.) is spoken by Nisus. It seems pyschologically interesting that this negative attitude towards Iphis’ orientation is the closest thing the play has to offer as an explanation of why Juno feels it necessary to describe him as a sinner at the end of the play (1111ff.), because he wishes to mock the marriage of Iphis and Ianthe by revealing that Iphis is a woman (1096ff.). Juno is the patroness of marriage, and since Nisus’ sole ambition is to marry Ianthe, one would imagine she would be the last divinity to regard his homophobia, if such it be, as unwholesome. But, in any event, it is noteworthy that in the play, unlike in Ovid, other characters spend more time deploring Iphis’ situation than she herself does.
6. Some of Ovid’s other characterizations are altered. When his Ligdus informs Telethusa that the child she is about to bear must be killed, if female, both he and she weep at the sadness of the situation (IX.680). In the interest of recasting Lygdus’ character along the lines of a monomaniac from a tragedy, in Iphis only Telethusa has such a pathetic reaction. In Ovid, Telethusa devises the “pious deception” of passing off Iphis as a boy to spare her life. Bellamy elaborates on this to make her a chronic schemer, hatching schemes to forestall the marriage of Nisus and Ianthe, so that Iphis (despite her gender) may possess Ianthe. And, although the goddess Isis plays an important role in Ovid, Bellamy is not content with this, and brings in Juno and Hymenaeus as well.
7. One of the infelicities of Bellamy’s style is that he is a great one for overworking words. One such word, appropriately, is the adjective vagus. The play is vague in its genre, and its thematic subject is vagueness, ambiguity and deception in gender. The setting of the play is Crete, and we are repeatedly reminded that Crete is the birthplace of monstrosities, and that “all Cretans are liars.” The titillating theme of lesbianism is already present in Ovid, and Bellamy amplifies it by inventing a scene (IV.iv) in which Nisus begins to play a love-scene with Iphis under the impression that she is Ianthe dressed in man’s clothing. When he recognizes that he has just kissed Iphis, whom he thinks to be a man, he recoils in disgust. Then, when Telethusa (who wants him to marry Iphis rather than Ianthe) persists in praising Iphis desirability, quite accurately praising her womanly endowments (779ff.), Nisus reacts with indignation as if he is being mocked, and he may also imagine Telethusa is seeking to lure him into a homosexual relationship. So Nisus is hurt and baffled by Iphis’ ambiguous sexuality, and delivers himself of a soliloquy on the subject in IV.vii. Bellamy exploits the themes of transvestitism and gender ambiguity in ways unexplored by Ovid.
8. Mistaken identity can always be made to seem funny, even if Bellamy does not exploit the comic possibilities inherent in this situation. Nevertheless, there are a couple of comedies which contain similar themes, and I would like to suggest that Bellamy got the idea of embellishing Ovid’s tale from at least one of them. The first is the anonymous comedy Laelia performed at Queen’s College, Cantab., in 1595, a Latin translation of Charles Estienne’s Les Abusez of 1543, itself based on the 1531 Italian comedy Gl’ Ingannati. In this play Laelia runs away from a convent and disguises herself as a boy so that she can serve Flaminius, who has scorned her love, as a page and be with him. A complication arises when Isabella falls in love with the disguised Laelia, who, against her better judgement, allows herself to be lured into a love-scene with Isabella (II.v). Here similar issues of transvestitism and homosexuality arise. It would seem that Bellamy read and learned from Laelia. In a letter, Mr. Brandon Centerwall informs me that the handwriting of the ms. of Iphis is a more formal version of the same hand that executed the first 260 lines ofLaeliaand some other Cambridge plays. The ms. in question is owned by the Lambeth Palace Library and it plausibly got there because William Juxon went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury after the Restoration, which tends to show that this ms. originated at St. John’s College.
9. But the possibility that Bellamy was familiar with a second play on the same subject cannot be discounted. It is often thought that Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is based on Gl’ Ingannati, or one of the later adaptations it spawned, such as Laelia, and in introducing that play I have shown that the themes of confused sexual identify and homoeroticism provoked by Viola’s transvestitism that Shakespeare is supposed to have introduced were in fact already present in Gl’ Ingannati and were reproduced in Laelia and the other plays it spawned. There is a distinct undertone of homoeroticism in the strange power of attraction that the disguised Lelia exerts over Flaminio, no less than in the attraction of the disguised Viola for Orsino, and the lesbianism implied in the Viola - Olivia relationship is fully prefigured in the “Fabio” - Isabella relationship, particularly visible in the love scene between the two (II.v). In Iphis the mutual erotic attachment of Iphis and Ianthe distinctly resembles the Lelia - Isabella and Viola - Olivia relationships. This may be said to be part of the donnée of Ovid’s story. But Bellamy’s addition of a brief and abortive erotic encounter between Iphis and Nisus momentarily reproduces something of the Lelia - Flaminio and Viola - Orsino relationships. It appears unlikely that Bellamy derived the idea of developing Ovid’s episode along these lines from Laelia. The possibility that he got it from Shakespeare seems much more worthy of consideration. Then too, my Scottish friend Jamie Reid Baxter suggests that Bellamy was possibly familiar with the Scottish Ingannati / Abusez-derived court comedy Philotus, in which direct mention is made of Iphis, printed (without any attribution of authorship) at Edinburgh in 1603. NOTE 3
10. Iphis is uniquely preserved by Bodleian Library ms. Lat. Misc. e.17, executed in a very neat hand and prefaced by a dedication to William Juxon. It is obviously a presentation copy, but contains a number of transcriptional errors (as does Bellamy’s contribution to the Laelia manuscript). The play has never been edited, but a photographic reproduction of the manuscript has been published, with an Introduction by Nugel.
NOTE 1 Henry Bellamy, Iphis (?acted 1621 - 1633), Joseph Crowther, Cephalus et Procris (acted 1626 - 28), Prepared with an Introduction by Bernfried Nugel) (Renaissance Latin Drama in England series I.10, Hildesheim - New York, 1982); pp. 5 - 16 of Nugel’s Introduction are relevant.
NOTE 2 For Renaissance tragicomedy (often justified by the Amphitruo ) cf. Marvin T. Herrick, Tragicomedy; its origin and development in Italy, France, and England (Urbana, 1955).
NOTE 3 For this play, cf. Jamie Reid Baxter, “Rich and rollicking or flat and unfocussed: Barnabe Riche's Phylotus contrasted with the Scottish Philotus,” in N. MacMillan and K. Stirling (edd.) Odd Alliances: Scottish Studies in European Contexts (University of Glasgow Postgraduate School of Scottish Studies No. 1, Glasgow 1999), 11 - 24 and “Philotus: the transmission of a delectable treatise,” in T. van Heijnsbergen and N. Royan (edd.), Literature, Letters and the Canonical in Early Modern Scotland (East Linton, 2002), 52 - 68. This play was reprinted by the Bannantyne Club with an introduction by John Whitefoord MacKenzie (Edinburgh, 1835), and can be read here.