47. North’s Marginalia, “Slaunderous Tongues,” & Lightly Weighing Words in “Arden of Faversham”

In this very same chapter of The Dial that North marked in the table of contents and used for other passages in Arden of Faversham (see posts 43-6) — and on this same page (149r) examined earlier –directly beneath the emphasized passage on “the fear of the Gods…and the speech of men,” North underlines the following: “For women do more hurt with their tongues than the enemies do with their swords” (see below):

Importantly, this same idea of tongues as weapons also occurs elsewhere in North’s Dial, in which, once again, North underlines part of the passage and writes in the margin: Pittacus: of the tonge (i.e., Pittacus, on the subject of the tongue):

And therefore said Pittacus the philosopher, that a man’s tongue is made like the iron point of a lance, but yet that it was more dangerous than that … I know not that man … but thinks it less hurt the bloody sword should pierce his flesh than that he should be touched in honour with the venomous point of the serpentine tongue. … if as … [with] laws prohibiting for to wear or carry weapon they had like laws also to punish detractive and wicked tongues

(441-441v)

This comparison of tongues with weapons was not uncommon in Elizabethan literature and also appears in Arden of Feversham:

  • Dial: if as … [with] laws prohibiting for to wear or carry weapon they had like laws also to punish detractive and wicked tongues (441v)
  • Arden: That carry a muscado in their tongue/ And scarce a hurting weapon in their hand  9.20-21).

Another passage in The Dial also emphasizes the commonness of “slanderous tongues:”

in working virtuous deeds shall not want slanderous tongues Octavian by his words declared himself to be a wise man, and of a noble heart, and lightly to weigh both the murmurings of the people and also the vanities of their words. (~74)

The title character of Arden of Feversham also addresses “slanderous tongues” in the same language:

Arden:Who lives that is not touched with slanderous tongues? …
And I will lie at London all this term
To let them see how light I weigh their words(1.345, 358-59)

Here is a table comparing both:

North’s DialArden of Feversham
  [you] shall not want slanderous tongues
and lightly to weigh their words
~74v, 116-17
touched with serpentine tongue… if as they have…laws prohibiting for to wear or carry weapon they had like laws also to punish detractive and wicked tongues
–441- 441v
Who lives that is not touched with slanderous tongues?… To let them see how light I weigh their words
–1.345, 359  

That carry a muscado in their tongue  
And scarce a hurting weapon in their hand  
–9.20-21  
touched…with…serpentine tongue;
slanderous tongues;
lightly to weigh their words;
carry-weapon-tongue
touched with slanderous tongues;
slanderous tongues;
light I weigh their words;
carry-weapon-tongue

Shared spelling also makes the match compelling: an EEBO search for works that include both relevant groupings—slanderous tongues and light,* weigh, their words—yields only North’s Dial.[3] Arden does not appear because of two slips by EEBO: the digitized reading of the 1592 quarto mistakenly substitutes staunderous for slaunderous—and the EEBO search does not recognize the quarto’s wey as weigh. This latter quarto spelling of wey was indeed authorial as we also find the same spelling in scene 8: “Whose dowry would have weyed down all thy wealth” (Sig. C4v; 8.89), and these are the only appearances of weigh(ed) in the tragedy. Interestingly, wey(ed) is also an early Northern spelling, appearing 12 times in The Dial (1568),including in similar contexts as Arden: wey words (131v); money weyed (128v)and treasure weyd (3rd book, 47). North does not use the spelling wey in the corresponding passage on slander but opts for the similar waye. He also uses the spelling slaunderous:

The Dial (1568): wey the sentences more then the wordes (130v)

The Dial (1568): slaunderous tongues lightly to waye their words (56)

Arden quarto: slaunderous tongues light I wey their words (Sig. B3) In other words, the Arden passage uses Northern spellings in a typically Northern comment. Moreover, the playwright did not borrow the wey spelling from North’s passage on “slaunderous tongues”; instead, wey was a common spelling of North’s, as shown in other parts of The Dial.


[1] If you search of EEBO-Proquest “{slanderous tongues}” AND light* PRE/20 weigh PRE/20 “{their words}”, the result is only The Dial.

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