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The Masks of Cupid and Death Judith Dundas ? The repetition of the same syllable in the Latin words amor and mors could, in the Renaissance, seem to confirm with lightning speed an essential relationship between these two apparent opposites, love and death. Amor, in short, contains mors.] But whatever language was used in poems and the poetic drama of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, "love" often called for its opposite, "death." One fable in particular epitomized and dramatized the truth of this relationship. In a widely influential version , Alciati turned the story of the interchange of the arrows of Love and Death into an emblem.2 If its moral is somewhat ambiguous , or at least subject to a variety of possible interpretations, it captured in graphic terms a topos to which both masque and drama were drawn, whether as central theme or as metaphor. But the variations on the theme also provide an instructive instance of the generic difference between masque and drama. The fable seems to offer an explanation for at least two phenomena —the one, a literary fashion; the other, a historical fact. Certainly the popularity of the fable coincides with the Petrarchan propensity to treat love as a sickness unto death. At the same time, according to early commentators, the fable reflects the actual experience of sudden death brought to young people by the epidemics of plague that swept Western Europe in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.3 The fable thus seems to provide a mythologized explanation for either imaginary or real tragic events; it does so, however, in a somewhat humorous form. Geffrey Whitney actually labels his emblem on the subject "Jocosum."* This playfulness also enters into Renaissance drama and masque whenever love and death are personified. Recognizing this feature of love, Plutarch, in his essay "Of Love," notes: "True it is that Poets seeme to write the most part of that which they deliver as touching this god of Love, by way of merriment, and they sing of him as it were in a maske."5 As we shall see, 38 Judith Dundas39 the same applies to personifications of death. But let us consider a briefer English version than Whitney's or Alciati's emblem. Henry Peacham both recounts the story and makes a plea to Nature to restore the arrows that rightly belong to each deity (fig. 1 ): DEATH meeting once, with CUPID in an Inne, Where roome was scant, togeither both they lay. Both wcarie, (for they roving both had bcene,) Now on the morrow when they should away, CUPID Death's quiver at his back had throwne. And DEATH tooke CUPIDS, thinking it his owne. By this o're-sight, it shortly came to passe, That young men died, who readie were to wed: And age did revell with his bonny-lasse. Composing girlonds for his hoarie head: Invert not Nature, oh ye Power twaine. Give CUPID'S dartcs, and DEATH take thine againe." The simple narrative is treated as an inversion of nature's law that young people should fall in love and old people should die. Here the Petrarchan note is not sounded; rather, it is the plague 1. "De Morte et Cupidine." Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna (London, 1612), p. 172. Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. 40The Masks of Cupid and Death that implicitly forms the background against which this travesty occurs. No moral is to be derived, except perhaps that everyone should be ready to face death because it is so unpredictable, so much the tool of Fortune. The complaint that nature has, by Fortune, been violated is voiced by Shakespeare's Venus in his Venus and Adonis: "If he be dead—O no, it cannot be. Seeing his beauty, thou shouldst strike at it: O yes, it may, thou hast no eyes to see. But hatefuly at randon dost thou hit. Thy mark is feeble age. but thy false dart Mistakes that aim. and cleaves an infant's heart. "Love's golden arrow at him should have fled. And not Death's ebon dart to strike him dead." (II. 937-42, 947^18)' The parallel between the two deities, seemingly so...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 38-60
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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