Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Anonymous
Editor: Hardin Aasand
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God's Handiwork in Wonders

3. God's Handiwork in Wonders

Autolycus's skill in generating gulls for his thievery is predicated on his ability to sing and to sell broadshet ballads that are Shakespeare's equivalent of a tabloid: lurid titles and promises of spectacular tales. "Littered under Mercury," Autolycus shares in the eloquence that he uses to promote his own mischievous enterprise, the selling of stolen "sheets," ribbons, linens, and other merchandize acquired through robbery and chicanery. The kind of tales that Autolycus offers incorporates the act of childbirth, in this instance the birthing of monstrous deformities. In his dialogue with Mopsa and Dorcsa, Autolycus offers a "doleful" ballad of how a "usurer's wife was brought to bed of twenty money-bags at a burden, and how she longed to eat adders' heads and toads carbonadod." Autolycus's claims of a truthful origin for the ballad echoes Leontes's own concern with his own fear of bastardized origins for his own offspring.

The genre of "monstrous-birth" ballads is typified in the excerpt provided below from the 1615 God's Handiwork in Wonders, Miraculously Shown upon Two Women, Lately Delivered of Two Monsters." The provocative titles that Autolycus sells have their historical correlative in the tales that tell of the deformities that God bestows on nature's "chek" to instill modesty and "check our vicious condition," ironic qualities in the hands of Autolycus, who uses these very lurid tales to promote his own moral deformity.

Gods Hand-work in wonders.London, 1615. [London. STC 1067]

1Another strange wonder at Arnheim, a towne in Gelderlandthe 23. Of Januarie. 1615.

This ugly and feareful monster was born the 23 of of January in the yeare of our Saviour Jesus Christ, a Thousand Six Hundred and Fifteen, an ensample to us of the great wrath of GOD, because of our manifold and great sins, which nowadays in every place doth bear sway, as cursing, swearing, blaspheming of GOD, whoredome, drunkenness, and the like, the which is truly to be lamented. And every man may let this feareful monster or token of God be unto him a looking glass, whereby to amend his life, and repent; for this birth was very wonderful and scene of many credible persons that do witness hereunto, and hath been openly declared and published throughout the whole town of Arnheim, and chanced as hereafter followeth.

A citizen's wife in the said town, a comely woman (whose name for certain causes I let pass) being great with child, and looked every day, her husband (being one that had almost spent all his goods amongst whores and theves) did not leave the same, but without any regard of his wife or her time so near, followed his naughty accustomed use. For he was rather amongst other naughty company than in his house or by his wife, which did not a little grieve his wife, who often rebuked him, both with good and bad words. All would not help, it made him to be more earnest against her and to use her so much the worse, the which grieved her very sore. She being now great with child (as aforesaid), upon a time her husband accompanied himself again with his companions and whores, yea in an open house, he both drunk, danced and leapt, both night and day, and thus used all manner of filthy concupiscience with them.

This came to his wife's ear, whereupon the having intelligence thereof, was in great chase, ran thither in a fury, told him his own, and rebuked him for it, and said he should something regard her great belly and tarry at home, and leave the company of those wicked women, for she had but small goodness at his hands, and hath scarce to eat or drink at home. Her husband, little regarding her words, was in a raging anger, and would have beat his wife. The company which were in the said house would not suffer him, and said, he should bethink himself better, be more wiser, and not deal in such sort with his wife, seeing she was great with child, and looked every day to be brought a bed. Her husband in his great anger and unadvisedly made answer: she may bear the devil of hell. His wife on the other side being sore vexed, answered therefore, "I would I might bear a devil, so should I once be rid of this woe & misery, wherewithal thou dost so vex me, for thou wilt by no means leave the whore-hunting but be always in their company, both drunken and half mad, the which I woeful woman must both hear and see."

Thus in her anger she returned him again, and shortly the time came, as soon as the neighbor's midwife were come, she began for very great pains to cry out fearfully, and not long after was brought abed of this wonderful monster, with so fearful proportioned limbs, the which as soon as the woman was delivered thereof, it ran underneath the bed. The proportion of his body and limbs was as hereafter followeth, and was seen of many persons, both men and women, which witness the same openly:

5First, this child being a monster was over his whole body very rough with hair, and all black, except his belly which was like a swan.

Secondly, the two feet upon the which it did stand were like to a peacock's feet.

Thirdly, his eyes were to behold, fearful, for they shined like fire, and were very great.

Fourthly, he had a mouth like unto a stork or crane, altogether black and very fearful to behold.

Fifthly, it had a tail like unto an deer.

10Sixthly, it had two horns upon his head, which hung over him.

Seventhly, it had instead of hands and fingers, claws like unto a fowl.

In sum it was not found in any point like to a Christian body, but was very fearful and horrible to behold.

After that it had now (with great trembling and fear been seen of many men in the town, and every man astonished thereat, in the end they smothered it betwixt two beds and so killed it.

My brother in Christ, and reader hereof, let not this which is here declared seem a fable unto thee, for this and the like wonders, many have been heard of here and there, as monsters by sea, signs in the air, both of men and cattle.

15By this we do perceive and mark that the Lord's coming is at hand, and that shortly hereupon will follow the judgement day, wheras we must not only give account of our sins but also of all vain works, words, and deeds. For nowadays the common sort of people are holy bent to wicked company, whereas is cursing, swearing, eating, drinking, breaking of wedlock, and whoredome, like as was this aforesaid man of Arnheim. Good people amend your sinful lives, and call to God for grace.

Also this may be a looking glass unto every wedded woman, whereby to refrain casting out of such unadvised words, like as did this aforesaid wife her time of delivery being so near, but rather to have patience, by pacifying her wrath, and commit all matters to almighty GOD that he may amend all that, which in her husband is amiss, also to pray for him, that it will please God to turn his heart, that he may acknowledge his sins and so amend his sinful life. The almighty GOD, wonderful in his creations, grant us all his grace, that we may amend our wicked lives, confess his power, and have everlasting life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.