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(Im)perfect Friendship and the Metaphor of Grafting in Shakespeare.

L'Amitié (im)parfaite et la métaphore de la greffe chez Shakespeare
Stella Achilleos

Résumés

Employée par des auteurs comme Michel de Montaigne et Étienne de La Boétie dans leurs descriptions de l'amitié idéale, la métaphore de la greffe offre l'une des images les plus puissantes et les plus répandues de l'amitié parfaite dans le discours de la première modernité (amicitia perfecta). Apparentée au topos, inspiré quant à lui de la tradition classique, des deux âmes qui "se mêlent et se confondent l'une en l'autre" (Montaigne, "De l'Amitié") dans deux corps différents, cette métaphore d'horticulture signifie la fusion absolue des amis parfaits, leur affinité et ressemblance profondes, dans un discours qui met aussi l'accent sur la signification de la vérité et l'énonciation de celle-ci (parrhesia) comme caractéristiques définitoires de cette forme idéale de lien. Cependant, les manuels d'horticulture de la période moderne révèlent aussi une attitude ambivalente vis à vis de la pratique de la greffe qui est vue, d'un côté, comme une opportunité d'améliorer et de parfaire, mais aussi, de l'autre, comme pouvant déboucher sur l'adultération et la pollution lorsque le jardinier impose son pouvoir potentiellement destructeur à la nature. Comme le suggère cet article, l'utilisation par Shakespeare de la métaphore de la greffe dans le domaine de l'amitié manifeste cette ambivalence, impliquant de manière insistante la fragilité de l'idéal d'amicitia perfecta. À divers endroits de ses pièces, l'idée d'amitié parfaite est évoquée pour être contredite par la trahison et la traîtrise, en particulier lorsqu'elle est confrontée à des relations socialement inégales. Les pièces de Shakespeare nous offrent de nombreux exemples d'amis qui fonctionnent comme des greffons imparfaits et qui parasitent la branche sur laquelle ils ont été greffés. L'œuvre de Shakespeare dénonce ainsi l'union des amis par la greffe comme un possible locus de pollution dangereuse, de violence et de domination.

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  • 1 Recent work on grafting in early modern literature includes: Rebecca Bushnell, Green Desire: Imagin (...)

1Grafting (that is, the practice of conjoining different plants by inserting a scion of one plant into the stock of another) unavoidably yields a series of questions concerning the ideas of “purity” and “perfection” as well as “defilement” and “pollution”. Such questions were often raised in a wide range of texts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: not only in horticultural manuals that engaged with the idea of grafting on the literal level, but also in various other texts (from essays and treatises to poems and plays) that used grafting as a metaphor for different types of social and political relations. Indeed, as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, the horticultural metaphor of grafting was used by various authors in the early modern period as a means of figuring a diverse range of social and political bonds and posing different kinds of questions concerning human difference, especially as these may relate to the categories of gender, sexuality, social rank, and race.1

2In the early modern discourse of ideal friendship (amicitia perfecta), the metaphor of grafting provided one of the most powerful and tenacious figures as it was frequently used to signify the absolute fusion of perfect friends, their affinity, agreement and like-mindedness. For authors like Michel de Montaigne and Étienne de La Boétie – both of whom appropriated the language of grafting in their treatments of friendship – this ideal form of bonding was also marked by the element of truth and the telling thereof (what their classical predecessors described with the term parrhesia), as perfect friends were thought to figuratively graft each other with pure honesty and virtue.

  • 2 Laurie Shannon, Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts, Chicago and Londo (...)
  • 3 All references to Shakespeare’s works are from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed., (...)

3Focusing especially on Montaigne and La Boétie, I will here be examining how the language of grafting was appropriated within the early modern discourse of ideal friendship, and, then, I will be turning my attention to the ways in which Shakespeare also employed this language in his treatment of the figure of the friend. As Laurie Shannon has shown in her incisive study of early modern friendship, Shakespeare used the language of grafting within the discourse of perfect friendship, as a means of figuring such ideal forms of bonding as that between a king and a trustful counsellor.2 Shannon’s discussion concentrates on The Winter’s Tale where King Leontes refers to his follower Camillo as “A servant grafted in my serious trust” (1.2.248),3 but examples may also be found in such texts as All’s Well That Ends Well where the King of France praises his deceased friend, Bertram’s father, for how “his plausive words / He scattered not in ears, but grafted them / To grow there and to bear” (1.2.53-55). As I will be suggesting, in appropriating the language of ideal friendship within the context of such socially unequal relationships as that between king and counsellor, Shakespeare interrogates the limits of amicitia perfecta, ultimately pointing to the actual fragility of the idea. Frequently evoked but regrettably thwarted in many cases by betrayal and falsehood, the concept of perfect friendship in Shakespeare’s plays insistently poses the possibility of friends functioning as imperfect grafts that essentially parasitize on the stocks they have been grafted onto. Echoing the kind of ambivalence often expressed about grafting in early modern horticultural manuals – where grafting is described not only as an opportunity for improvement and perfection, but also as a practice that opens up the possibility of adulteration and debasement – Shakespearean plays, as I will be arguing, thus expose the grafted union of friendship as a possible site of dangerous pollution, as well as violence and domination.

Grafting and the Discourse of Ideal Friendship

  • 4 Cited from Michel de Montaigne, The Essayes or Morall, Politike and Millitarie Discourses, trans. J (...)
  • 5 Vin Nardizzi points out that Montaigne’s description of ideal friendship also echoes the language o (...)
  • 6 M. de Montaigne, op. cit., p. 94. The trope of “one soul in two bodies”, here credited by Montaigne (...)
  • 7 See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Horace Rackham, Loeb Classical Library 73, Cambridge, MA, (...)
  • 8 Robert Stretter, “Cicero on Stage: Damon and Pithias and the Fate of Classical Friendship in Englis (...)

4In a well-known extract from his highly influential essay on friendship (De l’amitié) – first published in French in 1580 and in an English translation by John Florio in 1603 – Michel de Montaigne describes perfect friendship as a composite figure in which friends “entermixe and confound themselves one in the other, with so universall a commixture, that they weare out, and can no more finde the seame that hath conjoyned them together”.4 This figuration of friendship as a perfectly seamless type of fusion in many ways echoes the discourse of grafting.5 Like a perfect graft, the souls of those who share this ideal kind of friendship are said to be so inseparably joined that they function as a single entity. As Montaigne has it, true friends “can neither lend or give ought to each other”, their “mutuall agreement, being no other then one soule in two bodies”.6 The figure essentially refashions the trope of the ideal friend as “another self” – “ἄλλος αὐτός” as mentioned by Aristotle, to whom the idea has often been credited, in The Nicomachean Ethics, or “alter idem” in Cicero’s words in his essay De Amicitia7 – that was central in the discourse of friendship not only in classical antiquity but also in numerous discussions of the subject in the Renaissance that re-appropriated this classical idea, thus giving shape to what Robert Stretter has aptly called “a highly theorized tradition of ideal friendship stretching from Aristotle to Montaigne”.8

  • 9 For a discussion of these poems, see Robert D. Cottrell, “An Introduction to La Boétie’s Three Lati (...)

5But while Montaigne’s formulation of the figure of friendship only echoes the trope of grafting, more explicit reference to this trope may be found in the writings of Étienne de La Boétie whose celebrated friendship with Montaigne (cut short by La Boétie’s premature death in 1563) is commemorated by the latter as a rare model of amicitia perfecta in De l’amitié. La Boétie himself addressed the theme of friendship in three Latin verse epistles he dedicated to Montaigne (the first one addressed jointly to him and Jean de Belot and the other two solely to Montaigne).9 The third poem – titled, like the second one, “Ad Michaelem Montanum” (in English, “To Michel de Montaigne”) – refers directly to the friendship between the two men, celebrating it as an exemplary type of bonding that has grown to perfection despite its short timespan:

  • 10 Boétie’s poems are hereafter cited from Étienne de La Boétie, Poemata, ed. James S. Hirstein, trans (...)

Most prudent men, who are generally rather skeptical,
Do not put much faith in friendship unless it has been tested by time,
And unless chance has subjected it to the various harsh experience of life.
But in our case, even though we have been friends for only a little more than a year,
Our friendship has already reached a rare degree of perfection. (l. 1-5)10

  • 11 James S. Hirstein, “La Boétie’s Neo-Latin Satire,” Montaigne Studies, 3.1, Sept. 1991, pp. 48-67, h (...)

La Boétie then employs the metaphor of grafting to refer to the close affinity between himself and his friend, possibly having drawn inspiration, as James S. Hirstein suggests, from Seneca’s comparison between friendship and grafting in Epistulae:11

Grafted, the cherry tree refuses to bear an apple, and the pear tree plums.
By nature they are incompatible,
And no amount of time or care can overcome their resistance to each other.
The same unfruitful cutting, grafted onto a tree of its own kind, adapts quickly,
Obeying nature’s secret laws; soon
The swelling nodes of the scion and the stock meet; with a mutual desire to be fruitful
They nurture the new growth; the alien branch flourishes,
For the trunk supplies it with nourishing sap in abundance.
The branch strove to adapt to its new home; willingly it
Changed its name into that of the tree to which it had been grafted.
So it is with souls. Time cannot separate
Those who are joined; nor can skill alone bring about such a union. (l. 12-23)

  • 12 See, especially, L. Shannon, op. cit.
  • 13 Aristotle, op. cit., p. 483 (Book VIII. viii. 5).

6As a number of studies in recent years have shown, the element of compatibility between friends that is here highlighted by La Boétie was described as an important attribute of ideal friendship in classical as well as Renaissance treatments of the subject, with authors insisting on the significance of likeness between friends.12 Aristotle – whose discussion in The Nicomachean Ethics, as suggested earlier on, in many ways gave shape (even if through Cicero’s mediation) to the tradition of ideal friendship – notes that perfect union between friends may best be attained when those involved are equal and alike, for “amity consists in equality and similarity, especially the similarity of those who are alike in virtue; for being true to themselves, these also remain true to one another, and neither request nor render services that are morally degrading”.13

  • 14 Some of the implications of La Boétie’s employment of the metaphor of grafting here are discussed b (...)
  • 15 Thomas Hill, The Profitable Art of Gardening, now the third time set forth …, London, Henry Bynnema (...)
  • 16 Gervase Markham, The English Husbandman, London, T. S. for John Browne, 1613, p. 47. For a discussi (...)

7The description La Boétie provides in the above-quoted extract refers to a “natural” kind of compatibility that resembles the likeness between similar types of trees: unlike dissimilar types of ones (for instance, as in the example provided in the text, cherry trees and apple trees), these may more easily be grafted onto each other and the new growth is more likely to thrive.14 This arborial metaphor strongly evokes the descriptions offered in many horticultural guidebooks of the period on how to graft trees. In certain cases, authors of how-to gardening manuals express a drive for novelty, referring to the indiscriminate matching of dissimilar trees as an opportunity to produce curiosities. But most often, this prescriptive literature draws attention to the significance of grafting similar trees as a good practice that is more likely to produce a flourishing and long-lasting graft. An example of such advice may be found in Thomas Hill’s The Profitable Arte of Gardening, a popular how-to manual that ran through a number of editions in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In the third edition that includes a treatise on grafting, Hill notes that while all types of trees, including “wild trees of nature”, may be grafted, success is “especially” likely if one grafts “those trees which be of like nature, therefore it is better so to graffe”. As he further observes (one presumes with reference to trees that are too incompatible), “certaine trees be not so good, nor will prosper so well in the end”.15 Further examples may be found in such texts as Gervase Markham’s The English Husbandman (1613) that provides a list of trees that may most successfully be grafted onto each other. The list most commonly includes trees that belong to the same family: “you shall graft”, as he says, “Apples upon Apples, as the Pippin upon the great Costard, the Peare-maine upon the Jenetting, and the Apple-John or black Jennet upon the Pomewater or Crab-tree”.16

8Echoing this type of descriptions, La Boétie’s employment of the grafting metaphor to depict his friendship with Montaigne significantly points to the close affinity between the discourse of ideal friendship and the language of grafting. Another example that testifies to the centrality of the arborial metaphor in the early modern figuration of friendship is provided in Henry Peacham’s book of emblems, Minerva Britanna or A garden of heroical devises (1612). Here, in an emblem titled “Vicinorum amicitia”, perfect friendship is portrayed in the image of two trees that are by nature so fully compatible that their branches are drawn toward each other, thereby becoming inseparably intertwined (fig. 1).

Figure 1:

Figure 1:

Henry Peacham, “Vicinorum amicitia”, in Minerva Britanna or A garden of heroical devises, London, W. Dight, 1612, p. 41.

Reproduced courtesy of The Newberry Library, Chicago.

9As we read in the verse that accompanies the emblem:

  • 17 Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna or A garden of heroical devises, London, W. Dight, 1612, p. 41. In (...)

Such frendly league, by nature is they say;
Betwixt the Mirtle, and the Pomegranate tree,
Who, if not planted over-farre away,
They seeke each others mutuall amitie:
By open signes of Frendship, till at last,
They one another have with armes embrac’t. (l. 1-6)17

  • 18 The model in Peacham’s representation suggests a more “natural” type of fusion that eliminates the (...)

No doubt, there are some important differences between the paradigm provided here and that of grafting.18 But, as in the grafting of similar trees, Peacham’s arborial representation suggests the inseparable union of different types that are nevertheless naturally attracted to each other. This, according to the text, should be the model upon which “neighbours should unite / Themselves together, in all frendly love” (l. 7-8).

  • 19 Francis Bacon, The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, ed. Michael Kiernan, The Oxford Francis (...)
  • 20 Ibid., p. 81.
  • 21 Ibid., p. 85.
  • 22 For a discussion of the friend-as-counsellor in Bacon’s essays, see Stella Achilleos, “Friendship a (...)

10At the same time, Peacham’s depiction of the opulent pomegranate tree, full with fruits, points to another important commonplace metaphor in the discourse of ideal friendship: like trees, true friendship is said to bear fruits. This figure, found in many early modern discussions of friendship, finds full expression in Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Frendship”. In this essay, Bacon analyzes the benefits of having a true and faithful friend, making reference to these benefits as the “Fruit[s] of Frendship”. These include the benefit of having someone to do all those things “which a Man cannot doe Himselfe”, thereby functioning as an extension of one’s own self, both before and after death. Building on the fruit metaphor, Bacon refers to this as a benefit “which is like the Pomgranat, full of many kernels”.19 But besides this, the “fruits of friendship” also include the important benefit of having someone trustful to open one’s heart to and to share one’s thoughts, problems, and preoccupations: “no Receipt openeth the Heart, but a true Frend; to whom you may impart Griefes, Joyes, Feares, Hopes, Suspicions, Counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the Heart, to oppresse it, in a kind of Civill Shrift or Confession”.20 This “fruit” is “Healthfull and Soveraigne for the Understanding” as it helps to clear the mind and put thoughts into good order. However, this process cannot be complete unless the friend responds to this communication by providing sound and faithful advice. Like the act of communicating one’s thoughts, the reception of faithful counsel is invested by Bacon with medicinal value – it is “the best Preservative to keep the Minde in Health”.21 Indeed, for Bacon, the role of the friend is identified with that of the counsellor:22 a true friend is he who provides honest advice and speaks the truth, even when his words are not pleasant to his friend.

  • 23 The text also refers to Belot along similar lines as someone “endowed with the loyalty and honesty (...)
  • 24 R. D. Cottrell, op. cit., p. 7.

11Of course, it is not only Bacon who emphasized the strong connection between true friendship and honest counsel: this was a recurrent point in many treatises on friendship from the classical to the early modern periods as those who wrote on the subject often drew attention to the significance of the role of the friend as a good and honest counsellor. La Boétie, for instance, highlights this element in his three Latin verses to Montaigne. The first one, “Ad Belotium et Montanum” (in English, “To Belot and Montaigne”), starts with the poet praising Montaigne as “the most impartial judge of my character” (l. 1),23 but in the other two poems it is La Boétie himself who assumes the role of the judge or counsellor who undertakes to advise his friend on how he should best lead a virtuous life rather than a life of profligate ease and pleasure. As Robert D. Cottrell notes, the picture we get in the second poem is that of Montaigne as “a young man of promise who, despite his admirable qualities […], is so driven by a hunger for pleasure that he risks frittering away his life in debauchery”.24 At the beginning of the poem, La Boétie, who was three years older than Montaigne but still relatively young, suggests that his role as a counsellor may be incompatible with his age:

To you, who in your father’s footsteps are struggling
To climb the arduous paths to virtue, Shall I, who am burning with youth
and who would look Ridiculous as a preceptor, give counsel
and advice? (l. 1-4)

After all, the figure of the counsellor is conventionally expected to be that of an older man as old age and the experience that comes with it give greater weight and authority to advice:

  • 25 E. de La Boétie, op. cit., p. 21.

Counsel from an efficacious tongue carries weight
With impetuous youths, provided that old age with grey-haired
Authority and solemn wrinkles
Gives it credibility.
But my own youthfulness, more suitable for learning than for teaching,
And the vigor of my early manhood prevent me
From giving untimely advice
And dissuade me from posing as an immature counselor. (l. 9-16).
25

  • 26 R. D. Cottrell, op. cit., p. 11.
  • 27 E. de La Boétie, op. cit., p. 27.
  • 28 Ibid., p. 29.

12Nevertheless, the role of the counsellor is precisely the one he assumes in this poem, warning his friend against the pitfall of hedonism by retelling the classical fable of Hercules’s choice between Virtue and Vice (credited to Xenophon). Likewise, in the third poem La Boétie warns the “pleasure-prone young Montaigne”26 against the path of debauchery (pointing out, for instance, how the virtuous choice of marriage is far more preferable than remaining single and pursuing married women or frequenting brothels). The goal of this counselling – and ultimately of La Boétie’s indirect critique of his friend – is the pursuit of virtue, “the greatest charm / of friendship” (l. 24-25), that is here presented as an indispensable ingredient in the formation of the friendship between the two men: “You, Montaigne, have been bound to me once and for all / By natural instinct and a love of virtue” (l. 23-24).27 This project of moral improvement through friendship and good counsel is tellingly expressed through a horticultural metaphor, for as Socrates is reported to have said, “The wheat is sprouting in abundance, but the weeds which choke it / are springing up in even greater abundance” (l. 53-54), and “Therefore great effort must be made to mold vigorous minds / Early in life, and no expense should be spared in cultivating them” (l. 55-56).28 So, La Boétie duly calls upon his friend to “listen to the few words [he has] to say” (l. 80), even if he is aware of how upsetting his advice may be. In this respect, very much like trees as living organisms that must be properly nurtured so as to grow and thrive, friendship is presented as an organic type of relationship that is constantly regenerated through the practice of good counsel whereby one friend instils, or, to recall the grafting metaphor employed at the beginning of this poem to describe the perfect friendship between the two friends, grafts virtue onto the other.

Friendship and Grafting in Shakespeare

  • 29 F. Bacon, op. cit., p. 81.

13Montaigne’s and La Boétie’s descriptions of the ideal (or, perhaps, idealized) friendship they shared provided an important model that marked the development of the tradition of amicitia perfecta in the early modern period; a tradition in which, as I have shown, grafting figured both the absolute fusion between perfectly compatible friends as well as the growth of perfect friendship through the practices of good counsel. Yet, while these two authors’ portrayals of ideal friendship concentrated more on the interpersonal nature of the bond, various other authors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries chose to draw greater attention to the political implications of friendship and its significance for the figure of the sovereign. For instance, in “Of Frendship”, Bacon highlights the importance of friendship for kings and rulers, who “purchase it, many times, at the hazard of their owne Safety, and Greatnesse”.29 Within this context, Bacon’s emphasis on the role of the friend as counsellor acquires a distinctly political set of connotations, as his discussion – here, as well as in his essay “Of Counsell” – points to the benefits of good counsel for kings, while suggesting the dangers of false friendship, flattery and dishonesty. The question of friendship and honest counsel was also an important point of consideration, one notes, in early modern advice-books aimed at kings and princes, such as Sir Thomas Elyot’s The Book Named the Governor (1531).

14Shakespeare’s plays too are often preoccupied with the political, rather than merely interpersonal, dimensions of friendship, as a number of them dramatize relationships between kings or persons of power and authority and friends / counsellors. Appropriating the terms of the tradition of ideal friendship I described above (a tradition that gave such great emphasis to the elements of equality and similarity) within the context of such relationships, the dramatist explores the limits and tensions of amicitia perfecta when that is put to the test of socially unequal bonds – ultimately, as I would like to suggest, exposing the idea of perfect friendship as a fragile and unstable fiction.

15No doubt, there are cases in Shakespeare’s plays where the language of perfect friendship – and, more specifically for my purposes here, the rhetoric and metaphor of grafting – is used to describe ideal kinds of relationships between kings and friends / counsellors that abide by the image of friendship as a perfect graft, thereby defying the element of social inequality between the characters involved. A telling example may be found in All’s Well That Ends Well where the King of France mourns for the loss of his friend, Count of Roussillon. The occasion for this is the arrival in the Parisian court of the Count’s son, Bertram, the current Count of Roussillon. Noticing the resemblance between father and son – “Youth, thou bear’st thy father’s face” (1.2.19) – the King expresses the wish that the young man may have also inherited his father’s moral attributes: “Thy father’s moral parts / Mayst thou inherit too. Welcome to Paris” (1.2.21-22). This praise of Bertram’s father through the King’s welcoming words to his son is followed by a long speech in which the King nostalgically reminisces on the friendship he shared with this man – a friendship that dates back to the time when they were both young and when the King himself (now plighted by old age and illness) still enjoyed physical vigor:

I would I had that corporal soundness now
As when thy father and myself in friendship
First tried our soldiership. He did look far
Into the service of the time, and was
Discipled of the bravest […]. (1.2.24-28)

Forged through the common pursuit of military affairs, the friendship described here in many ways evokes the classically-inspired tradition of ideal of friendship examined above, especially as the King commemorates not only his friend’s bravery but also many other of his virtues. Besides having the humility to treat his social inferiors in a courteous and respectful manner, Bertram’s father – unlike those “young lords” (1.2.33) the King sees around him at the time – is also described as someone who, even while young, knew how to use his wit in an affable way, without being offensive: “So like a courtier, contempt nor bitterness / Were in his pride or sharpness […]” (1.2.36-37).

  • 30 For a well-known discussion of the concept, see Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearso (...)

16This reference to the balanced sharpness of the friend’s tongue that may criticize and rebuke without yet expressing any bitterness or contempt is further qualified by the King’s reference to his friend’s honor that “Clock to itself–knew the true minute when / Exception bid him speak, and at this time / His tongue obeyed his hand” (1.2.39-41). This description gains special currency within the context of the socially unequal type of friendship described here: that between a King and an aristocratic friend, who nevertheless remains socially inferior to the sovereign. Thus, in this speech the King appears to be mourning not simply for the loss of a man who provided the model of a perfect courtier and who “Might be a copy to these younger times” (1.2.46), but more specifically for the loss of the perfect kingly counsellor: a man who knew when to speak so as not to offend his kingly friend – use of the term “Exception” in line 40 quoted above strongly evokes this context – but, on the other hand, did not spare his friend from criticism and used sharpness when required, practising what classical sources defined as parrhesia. As studies of this classical concept remind us, parrhesia (the speaking of truth) gained its meaning within the context of socially unequal relationships, especially within the context of the relationship between rulers and subjects, and therefore came to signify the utterance of truth in the face of authority.30 Time and again, early modern treatises that concentrate on the significance of true friendship within the context of socially unequal relationships make reference to this classical concept as one of the defining and most important attributes that a good friend / counsellor should possess – with an example found again in Bacon’s discussion of the subject in his essay “Of Frendship”. It is precisely this attribute that is commemorated by the King in All’s Well That Ends Well when he makes reference to the incisive yet mild sharpness of his friend’s tongue. And it is precisely the existence of this sharpness that would give meaning to and establish the Count’s words (including his praise of the King) as truthful, distinguishing such discourse from the language of mere flatterers who might simply want to ingratiate themselves with the sovereign.

  • 31 In a note to this line in his Arden Shakespeare edition of the play, G. K. Hunter explains the word (...)
  • 32 Ibid.
  • 33 For a discussion of the metaphor of grafting in religious language, see for instance, E. Ellerbeck, (...)

17Evoking the tenacious link so often drawn in the rhetoric of friendship between perfect friendship and grafting, the King aptly employs the metaphor of grafting to describe the words spoken to him by his good friend / counsellor. “His plausive words”, the King recalls, “He scattered not in ears, but grafted them / To grow there and to bear” (1.2.53-55).31 Here, the good friend / counsellor is likened to an adroit gardener who does not plant indiscriminately but applies his skill to careful grafting so as to make sure that the tree produced will grow and be productive. Shakespeare’s punning use of the word “ear” (that may carry the meaning both of a hearing organ as well as a cereal-plant seed-box, or that part of the cereal plant that contains the flowers, and thereby the fruit, grains, or kernels) aptly fits in this arborial metaphor. Essentially, what this metaphor suggests is a discursive type of grafting, whereby the friend / gardener carefully plants words and ideas in his friend’s mind. In the notes he provides to the above-quoted lines from All’s Well That Ends Well in his Arden Shakespeare edition of the play, G. K. Hunter, quotes (after Knight) a similar example from The Book of Common Prayer that uses the metaphor of grafting to describe such a discursive type of infusion: “Grant, we beseech thee […] that the words which we have heard this day with our outward ears may […] be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living”.32 Recent literature on the metaphor of grafting in early modern literature reminds us that this was a figure frequently employed in Christian rhetoric with reference to the believer’s relationship to God: the believer is often said to be grafted in Christ, a process that in practice would take place through the teaching of Christian sacred texts and the planting of God’s word in the believer’s ears, mind, and heart.33 But the Count’s grafting of his words into his friend’s ears in All’s Well That Ends Well is also closely akin to the type of process described in La Boétie’s Latin verses to Montaigne, where the grafted figure of perfect friendship grows and flourishes through the discourses of good counsel.

18Indeed, in Shakespeare’s play, the Count’s words (in this instance, his meditation on old age and the futility of living past the time when one is useful to society) appear to have been so well engrafted in the King’s mind, that he fondly repeats them as a legacy of his friend’s wisdom and an example for him to follow:

[…] ‘Let me not live’, quoth he,
‘After my flame lacks oil, to be the snuff
Of younger spirits, whose apprehensive senses
All but new things disdain, whose judgments are
Mere fathers of their garments, whose constancies
Expire before their fashions.’ This he wished.
I after him do after him wish too,
Since I nor wax nor honey can bring home,
I quickly were dissolvèd from my hive
To give some labourers room. (1.2.58-68)

  • 34 For a reading that makes reference to the King as Bertram’s “adoptive ‘father’”, see Jonathan Hall, (...)
  • 35 F. Bacon, op. cit., p. 86.

19The lasting influence of the Count’s discourse in the King’s mind points to the fruitful outcome of the former’s careful grafting of words in his friend’s ears – thereby also testifying to the perfect grafting or union between the two friends whose friendship strongly evokes the terms of amicitia perfecta. The perfect fusion of the two friends is signified not only by the King’s repetition and appropriation as his own of the Count’s words – an act that suggests how the Count somehow continues to live, even after his death, through the body of the friend –, but also through the King’s calling of Bertram to him after the death of his father. Assuming what one might see as the role of the adoptive father for Bertram,34 the King thereby acts as the extension of his friend after death – “My son’s no dearer” (1.2.76), as he tells the young man. This is reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s discussion in his essay “Of Frendship” of the third fruit of friendship that includes all those tasks that death renders one unable to fulfill, including “The Bestowing of a Child”: as Bacon explains, “If a Man have a true Frend, he may rest almost secure, that the Care of those Things, will continue after Him”. Through the fulfillment of such tasks by the friend, “a Man hath as it were two Lives in his desires” and comes to enjoy a certain type of corporeal redoubling of his own self, a prosthetic life as one might call it, that significantly extends the trope of the friend as “another self”.35 A visual representation of this idea may be found in George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (1635), in an emblem that carries the motto “concordia insuperabilis”. As the text that accompanies the illustration suggests:

  • 36 George Wither, “Where many Forces joyned are”, in A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne, Lo (...)

He, that hath many Faculties, or Friends,
To keepe him safe (or to acquire his ends)
And, fits them so; and, keeps them so together,
That, still, as readily, they ayd each other,
As if so many Hands, they had been made;
And, in one-body, usefull being had:
That man, by their Assistance, may, at length,
Attaine to an unconquerable strength; (l. 11-18)36

The illustration provided here by Wither is one that strongly evokes the idea of grafting as “Faculties” and “Friends” are portrayed as multiple pairs of arms – each carrying a weapon signifying the services it provides – that look as though they have been inserted (like scions) into the body of the crowned figure presented here (fig. 2).

Figure 2:

Figure 2:

George Wither, “Where many Forces joyned are”, in A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne, London, A. Mathewes, 1634-35, p. 179.

Reproduced courtesy of The Newberry Library, Chicago.

While this properly provides an emblem of the “unconquerable strength” of sovereign power, in All’s Well That Ends Well, we have a certain reversal of the figure as it is the King himself who offers his services to his deceased friend, extending as it were his life by assuming the role of the adoptive father to his son Bertram.

  • 37 V. Nardizzi, “Shakespeare’s Penknife”, p. 95.
  • 38 Ibid., p. 97. The Greek verb graphein provides a possible origin of the English “to graft”. For ano (...)

20But, in addition to this, the King also serves to extend the life of his friend through the act of commemoration. Like Montaigne, whose essay on friendship is in many ways a commemoration of La Boétie and the perfect friendship that tied them together, the King’s words figuratively give life to his now deceased friend by serving as a memorial of his virtues. Perhaps more clearly for Montaigne than for the King (whose memorialization of his friend is oral rather than written), the act of textual commemoration symbolically provides a type of grafting that produces and sustains the friendship discursively. Vin Nardizzi points to the fascinating links between grafting and writing that are suggested by the material conditions shared by the two practices: scribes in the early modern period employed penknives to work on the paper, very much like gardeners employed sharp knives in the act of grafting. Scribes used the penknife – that was often cited in gardening advice-manuals of the period as a kind of knife especially suitable for grafting – “to even out the page, to keep their place in the text from which they copied, to scrape away a mistake on the page, and, perhaps most importantly, to prepare the tip of a quill”.37 As Nardizzi further notes, the link between the two practices is also marked in such texts as Shakespeare’s sonnets by the fact that the word “graft” puns on the Greek verb for writing (graphein).38 But even if oral, the King’s words in All’s Well That Ends Well symbolically graft or write his friend’s epitaph in a way that similarly produces the friendship discursively while giving life to the memory of the friend: as Bertram notes, “So in approof lives not his epitaph / As in your royal speech” (1.2.50-51). This redoubling effect with which the act of grafting / graphein or commemoration is invested is also marked by how the process revives the King himself: as he tells Bertram, “It much repairs me / To talk of your good father” (1.2.30-31).

  • 39 L. Shannon, op. cit., p. 204.

21Using the metaphor of grafting in such a polyvalent manner, this example from All’s Well That Ends Well depicts an ideal – if not idealized – picture of a perfect friendship between a King and his counsellor-friend. However, other examples from Shakespeare’s plays where the metaphor of grafting is used to define the relationship between Kings and friends / counsellors point more to the possible failure of the ideal rather than its success. In The Winter’s Tale, for instance, where King Leontes refers to Camillo as “A servant grafted in my serious trust” (1.2.248), the reference is made within the context of the King’s raging tirade of accusations against his follower whom he suspects of betrayal. As Laurie Shannon aptly remarks, “Camillo’s situation uneasily inhabits the two categories of private friend and political servant” and “Shakespeare carefully contrives to show the dangers of this blurring for the old counselor”.39

22Concentrating on the trust he showed to Camillo as his faithful confidante, King Leontes’s description of his relationship with his counsellor evokes the depictions of perfect friendship found in many of the texts cited earlier in this essay. As in Bacon’s discussion of the fruits of friendship, Camillo has been the friend whom Leontes trusted so much as to open his heart to and confide his innermost thoughts and secrets:

[…] I have trusted thee, Camillo,
With all the near’st things to my heart, as well
My chamber-counsels, wherein, priest-like, thou
Hast cleansed my bosom, I from thee departed
Thy penitent reformed. (1.2.237-241)

23But, as Leontes suggests, “[…] we have been / Deceived in thy integrity, deceived / In that which seems so” (1.2.241-243). The betrayal Camillo is being accused of here comes down to his failure to inform the King of his wife’s presumed marital infidelity: “Ha’ not you seen, Camillo” (1.2.269), Leontes furiously asks, “My wife is slippery?” (1.2.275). For Leontes, this failure on his trusted counsellor’s part is a clear sign that he lacks honesty and has thereby been remiss in his role:

To bide upon’t: thou art not honest; or
If thou inclin’st that way, thou art a coward,
Which hoxes honesty behind, restraining
From course required. Or else thou must be counted
A servant grafted in my serious trust,
And therein negligent, or else a fool
That seest a game played home, the rich stake drawn,
And tak’st it all for jest. (1.2.244-251)

  • 40 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.
  • 41 R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 148.

24While casting Camillo as a misgraft, Leontes imagines that he has figuratively suffered a different type of grafting, that of cuckoldry – with the “cuckold’s horn” (1.2.271) Leontes refers to now having grown on his head like a scion inserted in a stock. In this instance, the process involves in Leontes’s mind the failure of yet another important friendship that is also described at the beginning of the play as an example of amicitia perfecta: that between himself and the King of Bohemia, Polixenes, who is now thought by Leontes to have had an affair with his wife Hermione. The link between grafting and cuckoldry that is persistently drawn in a number of early modern texts points to the more negative connotations of the metaphor of grafting that figures the process in terms of a violent and undesired type of growth – reminding us, as Miranda Wilson points out, that “grafting involves three parties (at a minimum)”.40 As Rebecca Bushnell also notes, “when it came to matters of sex and reproduction” the implications of the metaphor of grafting “were almost always unpleasant, associated with bastards and cuckoldry”.41 Tellingly, in his insane imagination, Leontes sees the child Hermione is carrying as a bastard, the new graft produced by the illegitimate affair between Hermione and Polixenes and by Leontes’s figurative grafting as a cuckold.

  • 42 Aristotle, op. cit., p. 482-483 (Book VIII. viii. 5).

25Of course, Leontes’s accusations against Camillo are completely unjust and ungrounded as Queen Hermione was never unfaithful and her husband’s suspicions against her are merely a product of his extreme and insane jealousy. Ironically, while being accused of being a false or misgrafted counsellor, Camillo provides all the signs of being a true friend to his royal master, including that of parrhesia – in a manner that evokes the example of Kent in King Lear (another disobedient, yet faithful, friend / counsellor), who does not hesitate to speak the truth to Lear even though the latter warns him to “Come not between the dragon and his wrath!” (1.1.122). Despite the torrent of verbal abuse he receives from the frantic Leontes and the apparently dangerous situation in which he has been placed, Camillo does not hesitate to give honest advice to his King – “Good my lord, be cur’d / Of this diseased opinion, and betimes, / For ’tis most dangerous […]” (1.2.298-300) – but also to adamantly deny to confirm that Leontes’s suspicions against his wife are true with an insistent and firm “No, no, my lord” (1.2.301). The order Camillo subsequently receives from Leontes to poison Polixenes falls within the category of services that Aristotle refers to as “morally degrading” (“φαύλων”) and excludes from the realm of perfect friendship.42 Thus, Camillo’s decision to not follow these orders, but rather to warn Polixenes of his former-friend’s intentions and flee with him to Bohemia, does not constitute a betrayal of their friendship on his part. Surely, as a subject, Camillo disobeys his King (again, in a fashion that evokes Kent’s loyal disobedience of Lear or, in another example from The Winter’s Tale, Paulina’s disloyal loyalty), but as a friend he does not ultimately betray him as it is Camillo’s acts of disobedience that protect not only himself and Polixenes but also Leontes from the potentially devastating consequences of the latter’s irrational behavior. It is precisely those acts that further enable Leontes to reconcile himself with the two men, giving him the chance to regenerate his friendship with them, at the end of the play. If anything, it is Leontes himself who appears to have caused the misgraft, both in his relationship with Polixenes and with Camillo, thereby proving to be unsuitable stock material for the growth of perfect friendship.

26However, Leontes’s use of the metaphor of grafting in his tirade against Camillo significantly points to the actual fragility of the trope of perfect friendship. The double possibility of perfection and failure is notably suggested by the ambivalent attitudes found in early modern texts toward grafting. Many saw it as an opportunity for improvement and perfection but others as a practice that led to debasement and pollution. In Shakespeare, the locus classicus for this discussion may be found in The Winter’s Tale and, more specifically, in the famous exchange between Polixenes and Perdita during the sheep-shearing festivities in Act 4 Scene 4 – which Polixenes joins in disguise so as to spy on his son Florizel, after having received information that he has fallen in love with the supposedly low-born Perdita. Here Polixenes and Perdita enter a debate on the practice of horticultural cross-breeding. Perdita, who distributes flowers to guests, refers to “the fairest flowers o’ th’ season / [...] carnations and streaked gillyvors, / Which some call nature’s bastards” (4.4.81-83), and expresses her rejection of this hybrid type of flowers on the grounds that their selective production involves a certain kind of art that presumes the power of nature and thereby violates natural processes. “Of that kind / Our rustic garden’s barren, and I care not / To get slips of them” (4.4.83-85), as she says, “For I have heard it said / There is an art which in their piedness shares / With great creating nature” (4.4.86-88). The response provided by Polixenes suggests that far from violating or polluting nature, this type of selective breeding is natural as it employs the materials provided by nature itself: “Yet nature is made better by no mean / But nature makes that mean. So over that art / Which you say adds to nature is an art / That nature makes” (4.4.89-92). For Polixenes, this process of selective cross-breeding is not only natural, but also one that carries the capacity to change and improve nature. The example he provides, evoking the language of early modern horticultural manuals, is that of grafting: “we marry”, as he explains to Perdita, “A gentler scion to the wildest stock, / And make conceive a bark of baser kind / By bud of nobler race” (4.4.92-95). As Polixenes paradoxically concludes – in a statement that practically collapses the distinction between “art” and “nature” – this practice is not simply “an art / Which does mend nature–change it rather; but / The art itself is nature” (4.4.95-97).

  • 43 L. Shannon, op. cit., p. 216.
  • 44 R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 138.
  • 45 Simon C. Estok, Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading Ecophobia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 (...)
  • 46 Ibid.
  • 47 In her discussion of this scene, Rebecca Bushnell suggests that “Polixenes is being disingenuous he (...)

27As Laurie Shannon has observed, Polixenes’s use of this example echoes those earlier moments in the text where arborial language is used as a figure for social relations: “the ‘rooting’ and ‘branching’ friendship” shared by Polixenes and Leontes before their fall-out and “Camillo’s being ‘a grafted servant’” to Leontes.43 Similar use of horticultural language is made in the sheep-shearing festival scene that, as Rebecca Bushnell notes, “explicitly invokes social categories and the interlaced world of people and plants” as in distributing flowers to the guests Perdita “matches plants to the status of the recipients”.44 But as has also been noted by scholars, one can hardly fail to notice how the conversation between Polixenes and Perdita “smacks heavily of allegory”,45 pointing to the perceived mismatch between Florizel and Perdita: Polixenes’s description of a marriage between “A gentler scion” and a “wildest stock” metaphorically alludes to the socially incongruous alliance between the young prince and the lowly maid that Perdita is supposed to be. Polixenes’s use of such markers of social rank as “baser” and “nobler” to describe the different parts involved in grafting further contributes to the metaphorical reading of the exchange: likewise, Perdita’s employment of “bastards” (a term commonly used for a person born of illegitimate sexual relations) to refer to the products of plant inter-mixing. As Simon C. Estok aptly notes, “if there is any initial doubt about whom the gentler scion or the wildest stock might refer to, it is dispelled a moment later by Perdita when she talks about Florizel breeding by her (4.4.103)”.46 In this light, Polixenes’s defense of the practice of grafting during his conversation with Perdita is imbued with irony as the purpose of his visit to the sheep-shearing feast is to split the couple asunder, breaking the noble branch away from the base stock.47

  • 48 For a discussion of the debate between art and nature in the play (that concentrates especially on (...)
  • 49 R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 148.
  • 50 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.
  • 51 Ibid.

28Yet, going beyond its immediate relevance in this scene as an allegory for the supposed mismatch between the two youths, the discussion between Polixenes and Perdita in The Winter’s Tale takes part in a much larger early modern debate on the relation between nature and art that expressed the period’s considerable ambivalence concerning such practices as grafting.48 This “ambivalence about meddling in nature” finds expression, as Rebecca Bushnell and other scholars have noted, in a number of early modern horticultural manuals.49 Many of these how-to advice books praised the potentially beneficial possibilities of grafting that might be used to enhance the qualities of plants and produce new varieties of fruits. Thereby, as I also mentioned earlier in this essay, they often provided detailed guidelines on how to graft with success so as to produce a strong and long-lasting new plant. However, at the same time, many of these manuals warned against the potentially detrimental effects of grafting that opened up the possibility for endless experimentation. Citing an example from Leonard Mascall’s greatly popular gardening manual, A Booke of The Arte and Maner, Howe to Plant and Graffe (1572), Miranda Wilson suggests how “the transformations enabled by grafting could be seen as innovative in the worst sense–an art capable of producing grief as well as pleasure”.50 Mascall’s book makes reference not only to the way in which grafting could enable gardeners to speed up or delay the process of fruit-production in comparison to non-grafted trees, but also to the possibility of producing altogether new types of fruits with little resemblance (in their appearance or taste) to those produced by “natural trees”. “While gratifying for the palate”, Wilson notes, “such permutations open up the possibility that the graft will introduce a taint or create a monstrous fruit either detrimental or unprofitable to those who nurture it”.51

  • 52 Ibid., p. 105.
  • 53 See Wilson’s insightful discussion of this example. Ibid., p. 103-105.

29Drawing attention to this ambivalence about grafting in gardening manuals, Wilson’s discussion points to a number of instances in which the negative connotations of this practice – “its tendency to evoke both beneficial mutuality and polluting violation” – are employed in Shakespeare’s works.52 A telling example may be found in The Rape of Lucrece, where Lucrece, thinking that she may have become pregnant as a result of her rape by Tarquin, apostrophizes her absent husband Collatine: “This bastard graft shall never come to growth. / He shall not boast, who did thy stock pollute, / That thou are doting father of his fruit” (1062-1064). Figuring as it does the act as well as the possible outcome of rape, Lucrece’s use of the metaphor of grafting here significantly points to the process as a source of impurity and defilement, though Lucrece is clearly concerned not only about the defilement of her own body but about the broader implications of that event. Her rape by Tarquin and the product thereof – the child Lucrece imagines she is carrying that is tellingly marked as a “bastard graft” – constitute a defilement of her husband’s family tree, while figuratively grafting his own forehead with the cuckold’s horn.53

30This is not the only instance in Shakespeare’s works where grafting is used as a metaphor for the debasement of one’s stock or family tree by illegitimate heirs. Another example may be found in Richard III where Buckingham, in a speech intended to stir up opinion against the deceased King Edward IV, points to the defilement of the royal family tree by Edward’s sons whom he presents as illegitimate. Addressing Richard, who feigns to be unwilling to govern, Buckingham professes to rebuke him for having left “The lineal glory of your royal house, / To the corruption of a blemished stock” (3.7.121-122). The country, Buckingham further comments, “doth want her proper limbs: / Her face defaced with scars of infamy, / Her royal stock graft with ignoble plants” (3.7.125-127). In other instances (that recall the class dimension evoked in the discussion on cross-breeding between Polixenes and Perdita in The Winter’s Tale), the metaphor of grafting is used with reference to the debasement of an upper-class or royal family tree due to the bonding between a member of the nobility or royalty respectively and someone of lower social rank. This is precisely the figure employed in All’s Well That Ends Well by Helen who – having asked the King to promise to allow her to choose whatever husband she likes as repayment for the cure she claims she can offer him – assures the King that she will not attempt to graft herself into the royal family by choosing his own son, showing awareness of how that act and the offspring thereof would be seen as a contamination of the royal family tree:

Exempted be from me the arrogance
To choose from forth the royal blood of France,
My low and humble name to propagate
With any branch or image of thy state. (2.1.195-198)

Here, royal children are seen as side shoots of the royal family tree that should not be debased by being grafted with scions of a lower social origin.

  • 54 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.
  • 55 G. Markham, op. cit., p. 55. In her discussion, Miranda Wilson cites another similar example from J (...)
  • 56 G. Markham, op. cit., p 55.
  • 57 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 108 and 111.

31While these examples from Richard III and All’s Well That Ends Well significantly point to the negative connotations grafting was invested with as a metaphor suggesting defilement and pollution, its employment in The Rape of Lucrece registers yet another important element that contributes to the negative implications of the figure: namely, violence. As Miranda Wilson aptly remarks, the apparent violence associated with grafting is suggested not only by its employment in The Rape of Lucrece as a figure for the brutality of rape, but also in the language and imagery used to describe the act of grafting in early modern how-to gardening manuals.54 Often drawing attention to the significance of choosing sharp knives, these advice books further provide detailed guidelines on how to cut the stock tree so as to insert the chosen shoot into it. For instance, in The English Husbandman, Gervase Markham refers to the “very sharpe knife” that must be used to “slit the barke, two slits at least, two inches long a piece, and about halfe an inch or more distance betweene the two slits: then make another slit cross-wise over-thwart, from long slit to long slit”.55 The outcome of this activity is an incision in the shape of the capital letter “H” on the stock tree that is visually portrayed in a relevant woodcut offered in the manual.56 Importantly, besides suggesting the violence associated with the act of grafting, such examples also point insistently to the agency of the gardener who methodically applies his skill and knowledge (in addition to his muscular strength) so as to incise and graft the stock tree in what practically amounts to a manipulation of nature. To quote Wilson again, “unlike traditional plant reproduction, […], the graft only occurs through the actions of human hands, human desires”, and “the grafter’s necessary involvement in the act of reproduction provides yet another level of ambivalence for writers” that is testified by the tenacious employment of grafting as a metaphor for cuckoldry in the literature of the period.57

  • 58 See Plutarch, “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend”, in Moralia, vol. 1, trans. Frank Cole Babbit (...)

32All these negative connotations in many ways destabilize the suitability of grafting as an apt metaphor for the concept of perfect friendship. Seen in this light, grafting points rather to the actual fragility of this ideal and Shakespeare’s plays properly express this ambivalence by using the trope in instances where perfect friendship is evoked only to be frustrated and betrayed. Indeed, Shakespeare’s treatment of friendship suggests that far from always agreeing with the ideal (or idealized) description of the friend-as-counsellor provided by the King in his encomium of his dead friend in All’s Well That Ends Well, friendship is often fraught with tensions or betrayed by false friends who distort truth and give bad counsel. Early modern treatises on friendship often draw attention to this danger, looking back to the locus classicus of this discussion in Plutarch’s essay on “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend” in the Moralia. Castiglione’s treatment of flattery and false friendship in The Courtyer (1528) and Sir Thomas Elyot’s chapter on “The election of friends and the diversity of flatterers” in The Book Named the Governor (1531) – both of which Shakespeare was likely to have been familiar with considering their large cultural impact – are both indebted to this essay by Plutarch, which first became broadly available through a Latin translation by Erasmus that appeared in The Education of a Christian Prince in 1516. Plutarch’s text, which also became widely available in English with the publication of Philemon Holland’s translation in 1603, draws attention to the danger of false friendship – a danger that, as the author points out, is always greater for those in power, whose friendship is often sought by mere parasites who only wish to serve their own interests – and provides detailed advice on how to distinguish between a true friend and a mere flatterer. As becomes clear from Plutarch’s discussion, the task of discriminating between the two may be extremely difficult, especially in those cases where the flatterer is skillful enough to manipulate the “language of friendship” and to employ its distinguishing mark, “frankness of speech” (parrhesia), as a means of presenting himself as a true friend.58

  • 59 For a discussion that concentrates on the betrayal of friendship in Shakespeare’s plays, see Tom Ma (...)
  • 60 For a discussion of Plutarch’s essay in relation to Shakespeare’s Othello, see Robert C. Evans, “Fl (...)
  • 61 Nardizzi compares this “non-procreative” bonding between Hal and Falstaff to the marital union proj (...)

33Shakespeare’s plays abound with cases of such false friends, with a well-known example found in the character of Iago in Othello59 – Shakespeare’s portrayal of Iago and the devious methods with which he manipulates the titular character notably appear to draw on Plutarch’s discussion of friendship in “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend”.60 Another example may be found in All’s Well That Ends Well, in the character of Parolles, “A very tainted fellow, and full of wickedness” (3.2.89) as remarked by the Countess, Bertram’s mother, who considers her son’s friendship with this man as a source of corruption: “My son corrupts a well-derivèd nature / With his inducement” (3.2.90-91). A more direct reference to friendship as a contaminating type of grafting is offered in 1 Henry IV where the King rebukes his son, prince Hal, for those “barren pleasures” and “rude society / As thou art matched withal and grafted to” (3.2.14-15). While this may be read more broadly with reference to prince Hal’s inappropriate social mixing with the lower classes in the taverns he has been frequenting, it refers more specifically to his relationship with Falstaff, who is repeatedly described in the text in terms of disease (both physical and metaphorical). Vin Nardizzi argues that Shakespeare’s use of this figure with reference to Falstaff and prince Hal registers the element of sodomy in the relationship between the two. Drawing on Alan Bray’s influential discussion, Nardizzi further explains that “sodomy could name a disruptive intimacy shared between men of unequal rank in which sex, it if occurred at all, proves non-procreative”.61 Indeed, going beyond any sexual implications the idea of sodomy might carry, the grafting of Hal and Falstaff points more broadly to the friendship between the two characters which proves to be false as well as sterile and counter-productive. While the King’s reference to this friendship in terms of grafting primarily reflects his perception of how damaging it is for his son’s political prospects, Falstaff also proves a misgrafted friend not only because of his compulsive lying, but more importantly, because of his betrayal of Hal during the battle and his cynical use of the position he has been given as an opportunity for private profiteering: “I pressed me none but such toasts and butter, / with hearts in their bellies no bigger than pins’ heads, / and they have bought out their services” (4.2.21-23).

  • 62 This is reminiscent of the prank played against Falstaff by prince Hal and Poins in 1 Henry IV that (...)
  • 63 Erin Ellerbeck notes that “the idea that a delicate scion could be better cultivated by being attac (...)
  • 64 T. MacFaul, op. cit., p. 173. As MacFaul suggests, Parolles’s employment of his skills in language (...)

34A similar type of betrayal of friendship is comically staged in All’s Well That Ends Well in the ambush set up for Parolles by the two French lords who warn Bertram of his friend’s lack of loyalty and good faith.62 As the second lord comments, having boastfully taken up the challenge to retrieve Bertram’s drum from the battlefield, he will rather “return with / an invention, and clap upon you two or three probable / lies” (3.6.97-99). Indeed, Parolles does not only prove reluctant to carry out this task but is completely unmasked when, ambushed by the two lords who are disguised as enemy soldiers, he readily betrays the Florentine cause by revealing sensitive information and with an equal readiness defames his friend Bertram as “a foolish idle boy” (4.3.220), who is “dangerous and lascivious” (4.3.225). As the second lord points out sarcastically to Bertram: “This is your devoted friend” (4.3.240). The metaphor of misgrafted friendship is as appropriate in Parolles’s case as it is in Falstaff’s. Both characters prove to be false friends whose ingratiation with men of a higher social status is miserably betrayed and exposed as being turned toward the fulfillment of self-serving interests. Ironically, despite its emphasis on compatibility, the discourse of grafting suggests a certain power asymmetry that is ominously fitting for such kinds of socially unequal relationships: while gardeners would be prompted to graft similar types of trees, rootstocks would commonly be chosen for their strength that might sustain the weaker scions in the process of grafting.63 Figuratively grafting themselves into their more powerful friends, such characters as Falstaff and Parolles then function as parasites that ultimately contaminate their host-rootstock. Common between the two is their attempt to use language to their own ends – Parolles’s “attempt to be a man of words” is signified, as Tom MacFaul notes, by his very name.64 This element evokes the link between grafting and graphein as both characters try to script their own roles within the framework of their respective friendships.

35In this light, the process of grafting / graphein friendship is invested with the negative overtones of falsehood and deception. However, the most sinister implications of this linked pair of figures are nowhere more powerfully suggested than in Iago’s devious manipulation of the language of friendship in Othello. Iago provides Plutarch’s false friend par excellence, who manages to make use of the language of friendship so skillfully that he convinces his victim, Othello, of his supposedly honest intentions and establishes himself in the role of the faithful counsellor. His figurative grafting of himself to Othello – a process that involves the scripting both of his own role as a faithful friend and of Othello as a victim-cuckold and murderer of his wife Desdemona – cannot but evoke the most violent connotations of the horticultural practice. The metaphor of grafting is revealingly employed by Iago in his speech to Roderigo where he presents the body as a garden and volition as a gardener who can cultivate the garden as he wishes, either making it thrive with industry or idly wasting its potential with neglect:

Virtue? a fig! ’Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. (1.3.319-326)

  • 65 Erin Ellerbeck refers to some of the positive implications of the metaphor of grafting as self-cont (...)

As this speech further suggests, with the employment of reason the gardener can find a proper balance against the passions and thereby regulate the body / garden so as to make it yield. On this basis, Iago refers rather contemptuously to Roderigo’s “love”, his intemperate passion for Desdemona, as a “sect or scion” that a good gardener should be able to properly control and manipulate through grafting65 – a metaphor that Iago subsequently twists to his advantage when he exhorts Roderigo to cuckold Othello, figuratively grafting his head with horns (“It thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a / pleasure, me a sport” – 1.3.367-368):

If the beam of our lives had not one scale of reason to peise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal strings, our unbitted lusts; whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion. (1.3.326-332)

  • 66 Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern England, Cambridge, Cambridge Univers (...)

As Mary Floyd-Wilson remarks, this speech “voices [Iago’s] subscription to neo-Stoic self-discipline”, expressing his “fantasy of willful self-control”, even if he “would never be mistaken for a model of temperance” himself.66

36Indeed, Iago’s own actions throughout the play are largely driven by passion. In prompting Roderigo to assume the role of the grafter / cuckold-maker, he ironically reveals the lack of reason behind his own actions, the motive for which is firmly fixed, as he admits, in his heart, the seat of passion: “My cause is hearted, thine hath no less / reason” (1.365-366). Yet, despite his passion-driven motives, Iago in fact manages to exhibit an amazing level of self-control in his masterful manipulation of the language of friendship with which he manages to deceive and ultimately destroy Othello. His mastery is best testified in his devious and deceptive use in his conversations with Othello of the element which, according to Plutarch, constitutes the utmost mark of friendship, “freedom of speech”, or parrhesia. To evoke the terms of his speech to Roderigo, Iago proves to be a skillful gardener who manages to control himself so as to feign friendship convincingly. As already mentioned, his grafting / graphein does not only include the writing of his own role as the honest friend / counsellor; it also involves the scripting of roles for others, as he directs the actions of the characters he grafts himself onto as friend / counsellor (a list that includes not only Othello but also Roderigo and Cassio). In this respect, Iago, worse than a mere parasite, comes to occupy a double position: that of the grafter (who manipulates others with great skill), as well as that of the graft that contaminates the stock onto which it is joined to the very root, leading it to demise. In this example, the figurative grafting of friendship does not only suggest falsehood and deception but also the desire to control, manipulate, pollute, and ultimately destroy.

  • 67 As Nardizzi further points out here, this “suggest[s] (once again) the anachronism of these categor (...)

37All these negative implications of grafting clearly destabilize its use as a metaphor for perfect friendship. Shakespeare’s use of this ambivalence in many ways points to the fragility and instability of the idea of perfect friendship itself which, as his plays so often suggest, may be evoked only to be frustrated by the figure of the false friend, who figuratively grafts himself onto the other through falsehood and deception. This contamination of perfect friendship is nowhere more forcefully suggested than in the figure of the false friend / counsellor in his double capacity as both the graft and the grafter who tries to impose his own desires through control and manipulation. On the basis of this image, friendship provides a site of violence and defilement rather than mutual growth and improvement. As a concluding note, it is worth considering how this analysis allows for a fascinating reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, where the speaker repeatedly uses the metaphor of grafting, especially with reference to the way in which poetry will eternalize the beauty of the young man addressed in the texts: to quote from Sonnet 15, “all in war with time for love of you, / As he takes from you, I engraft you new” (lines 13-14). Pointing to the link apparently drawn here between grafting and the act of writing or graphing, Vin Nardizzi suggests how the metaphor proposes a “seedless” kind of generation as an apt substitute for procreative reproduction, thereby “establish[ing] continuity between hetero- and homoerotic models of generation” and “highlighting the non-distinction between what we would typically call ‘hetero-sexuality’ and ‘homosexuality’”.67 But, going beyond this point, the figure cannot but suggest the desire to control and manipulate the friend (both his person as well as his memory) through language and the act of writing. Here, as in so many of Shakespeare’s plays, far from being perfect or pure, the grafting of friendship is very much about power and dominance.

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Notes

1 Recent work on grafting in early modern literature includes: Rebecca Bushnell, Green Desire: Imagining Early Modern English Gardens, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003; Vin Nardizzi, “Shakespeare’s Penknife: Grafting and Seedless Generation in the Procreation Sonnets”, Renaissance and Reformation, 32.1, 2009, p. 83-106; Vin Nardizzi, “Grafted to Falstaff and Compounded with Catherine: Mingling Hal in the Second Tetralogy”, Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze, ed. Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-Bray, and Will Stockton, Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2009, p. 149-169; Miranda Wilson, “Bastard Grafts, Crafted Fruits: Shakespeare’s Planted Families”, in The Indistinct Human in Renaissance Literature, ed. Jean Feerick and Vin Nardizzi, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 113-117; Erin Ellerbeck, “‘A Bett’ring of Nature’: Grafting and Embryonic Development in The Duchess of Malfi”, in J. Feerick and V. Nardizzi (eds.), op. cit., p. 85-99; Jean E. Feerick, “The Imperial Graft: Horticulture, Hybridity, and the Art of Mingling Races in in Henry V and Cymbeline”, in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment: Gender, Sexuality, and Race, ed. Valerie Traub, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 211-227.

2 Laurie Shannon, Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

3 All references to Shakespeare’s works are from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd ed., ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, William Montgomery, and Stanley Wells, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2005.

4 Cited from Michel de Montaigne, The Essayes or Morall, Politike and Millitarie Discourses, trans. John Florio, London, Valentine Simmes for Edward Blount, 1603, p. 92.

5 Vin Nardizzi points out that Montaigne’s description of ideal friendship also echoes the language of joinery or woodworking, a craft that very much like grafting involves the matching and fitting of different parts so as to produce a new object. See V. Nardizzi, “Grafted to Falstaff”, p. 158.

6 M. de Montaigne, op. cit., p. 94. The trope of “one soul in two bodies”, here credited by Montaigne to Aristotle, offered one of the most prevalent motifs in the early modern discourse of friendship. For a discussion that concentrates on this idea in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature, see Laurens J. Mills’ now dated but still invaluable book, One Soul in Bodies Twain: Friendship in Tudor Literature and Stuart Drama, Bloomington, Principia Press, 1937.

7 See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Horace Rackham, Loeb Classical Library 73, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1934, p. 534-535 (Book IX. iv. 5); Cicero, De Senectute, De Amicitia, De Divinatione, trans. William Armistead Falconer, Loeb Classical Library 154, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1923, p. 108-211, here p. 127.

8 Robert Stretter, “Cicero on Stage: Damon and Pithias and the Fate of Classical Friendship in English Renaissance Drama”, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 47.4, 2005, p. 345-365, here p. 345.

9 For a discussion of these poems, see Robert D. Cottrell, “An Introduction to La Boétie’s Three Latin Poems Dedicated to Montaigne”, Montaigne Studies, 3.1, Sept. 1991, p. 3-14.

10 Boétie’s poems are hereafter cited from Étienne de La Boétie, Poemata, ed. James S. Hirstein, trans. Robert D. Cottrell, Montaigne Studies, 3.1, Sept. 1991, p. 15-47, here p. 27.

11 James S. Hirstein, “La Boétie’s Neo-Latin Satire,” Montaigne Studies, 3.1, Sept. 1991, pp. 48-67, here p. 52.

12 See, especially, L. Shannon, op. cit.

13 Aristotle, op. cit., p. 483 (Book VIII. viii. 5).

14 Some of the implications of La Boétie’s employment of the metaphor of grafting here are discussed by Katherine Kong who notes that “while decidedly physical”, the trope “is also noticeably non-procreative”. As Kong suggests, while this is “useful for avoiding connotations of heterosexual coupling, it does not exclude associations with another kind of non-procreative coupling: that of same-sex sex”, and this points to “a fundamental difficulty” as in an environment averse to sexual relations of same-sex, one would have to demonstrate how this type of relationship is non-sexual. See Katherine Kong, Lettering the Self in Medieval and Early Modern France, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2010, p. 203. On the connections between the metaphor of grafting and homosexual desire, see also V. Nardizzi’s essay on Shakespeare’s sonnets, “Shakespeare’s Penknife”, p. 98.

15 Thomas Hill, The Profitable Art of Gardening, now the third time set forth …, London, Henry Bynneman, 1579, p. 89-90.

16 Gervase Markham, The English Husbandman, London, T. S. for John Browne, 1613, p. 47. For a discussion of this and other examples that highlight the significance of affinity between trees chosen for grafting, see V. Nardizzi, “Grafted to Falstaff”, p. 155-156.

17 Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna or A garden of heroical devises, London, W. Dight, 1612, p. 41. In her discussion of this emblem, the title of which may be translated in English as “the friendship of neighbors”, Laurie Shannon suggests that Peacham’s visual representation of amity focuses on the meaning often applied to the term in the early modern period as fellowship between nations. See L. Shannon, op. cit., p. 188-189. However, the emblem applies equally well to amity in terms of inter-personal relations.

18 The model in Peacham’s representation suggests a more “natural” type of fusion that eliminates the mediation or intervention of the grafter and attributes agency directly to the two members involved in the union. However, on the other hand, the fusion achieved through this process does not appear to be as complete as in grafting, as both of the trees here retain their own roots, barks, and branches – whereas, with the method of grafting, the two members are made to grow together, in a single body, and to produce something new that partakes of both.

19 Francis Bacon, The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, ed. Michael Kiernan, The Oxford Francis Bacon, 25, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985, rpt. 2006, p. 86.

20 Ibid., p. 81.

21 Ibid., p. 85.

22 For a discussion of the friend-as-counsellor in Bacon’s essays, see Stella Achilleos, “Friendship and Good Counsel: The Discourses of Friendship and Parrhesia in Francis Bacon’s The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall”, in Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse, ed. Albrecht Classen and Marilyn Sandidge, Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture, 6, Berlin/New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2010, p. 643-674.

23 The text also refers to Belot along similar lines as someone “endowed with the loyalty and honesty of the ancients” (2). See, E. de La Boétie, op. cit., p. 17.

24 R. D. Cottrell, op. cit., p. 7.

25 E. de La Boétie, op. cit., p. 21.

26 R. D. Cottrell, op. cit., p. 11.

27 E. de La Boétie, op. cit., p. 27.

28 Ibid., p. 29.

29 F. Bacon, op. cit., p. 81.

30 For a well-known discussion of the concept, see Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2001.

31 In a note to this line in his Arden Shakespeare edition of the play, G. K. Hunter explains the word “plausive” as meaning “fit to be applauded”. The adjective thereby expresses the King’s positive estimation or admiration of his friend’s speech. See, William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, ed. G. K. Hunter, Arden Shakespeare Third Series, London, New Delhi, New York, and Sydney, Bloomsbury, 1959, rpt. 2013, p. 19.

32 Ibid.

33 For a discussion of the metaphor of grafting in religious language, see for instance, E. Ellerbeck, op. cit, p. 88.

34 For a reading that makes reference to the King as Bertram’s “adoptive ‘father’”, see Jonathan Hall, Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-State, Madison, NJ, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, London, Associated University Press, 1995, p. 138.

35 F. Bacon, op. cit., p. 86.

36 George Wither, “Where many Forces joyned are”, in A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne, London, A. Mathewes, 1634-35, p. 179 (italics as in the original). For a discussion of this emblem, see also L. Shannon, op. cit., p. 37.

37 V. Nardizzi, “Shakespeare’s Penknife”, p. 95.

38 Ibid., p. 97. The Greek verb graphein provides a possible origin of the English “to graft”. For another work that highlights the links between grafting and graphein, see Matthew Gumpert, Grafting Helen: The Abduction of the Classical Past, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2001, esp. p. xiii-xiv.

39 L. Shannon, op. cit., p. 204.

40 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.

41 R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 148.

42 Aristotle, op. cit., p. 482-483 (Book VIII. viii. 5).

43 L. Shannon, op. cit., p. 216.

44 R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 138.

45 Simon C. Estok, Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading Ecophobia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 97.

46 Ibid.

47 In her discussion of this scene, Rebecca Bushnell suggests that “Polixenes is being disingenuous here”, employing his defense of grafting as a trick to “draw Perdita out”. See R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 149.

48 For a discussion of the debate between art and nature in the play (that concentrates especially on the question of gender and authority), see Jennifer Munroe, “It’s all about the gillyvors: Engendering Art and Nature in The Winter’s Tale”, in Ecocritical Shakespeare, ed. Lynne Bruckner and Dan Brayton, Farnham and Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2011, p. 139-154.

49 R. Bushnell, op. cit., p. 148.

50 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid., p. 105.

53 See Wilson’s insightful discussion of this example. Ibid., p. 103-105.

54 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.

55 G. Markham, op. cit., p. 55. In her discussion, Miranda Wilson cites another similar example from John Fitzherbert’s The Booke of Husbandrie: Divided Into Foure Seuerall Bookes (1598). See M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 111.

56 G. Markham, op. cit., p 55.

57 M. Wilson, op. cit., p. 108 and 111.

58 See Plutarch, “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend”, in Moralia, vol. 1, trans. Frank Cole Babbitt, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2005, p. 261-395, esp. p. 277-278 and 317-331.

59 For a discussion that concentrates on the betrayal of friendship in Shakespeare’s plays, see Tom MacFaul, Male Friendship in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 169-195.

60 For a discussion of Plutarch’s essay in relation to Shakespeare’s Othello, see Robert C. Evans, “Flattery in Shakespeare’s Othello: The Relevance of Plutarch and Sir Thomas Elyot”, Comparative Drama, 35.1, 2001, p. 1-41. Also, Stella Achilleos, “Shakespeare’s Othello and Plutarch’s ‘How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend’,” in The Routledge Research Companion to Shakespeare and Classical Literature, ed. Sean Keilen and Nick Moschovakis, London and New York, Routledge, 2017, p. 271-272.

61 Nardizzi compares this “non-procreative” bonding between Hal and Falstaff to the marital union projected at the end of the second tetralogy between the former and the French princess Catherine, in which case the language of grafting is used to connote conjugal procreation. As he comments, despite the fact that horticultural manuals of the period prescribed the choice of similar plants for grafting, “figures of grafting in these plays make strange bedfellows of sodomy and marital procreation because each proceeds by the admixture of variously dissimilar persons”. See V. Nardizzi, “Grafted to Falstaff”, p. 151.

62 This is reminiscent of the prank played against Falstaff by prince Hal and Poins in 1 Henry IV that similarly unmasks the former’s lies.

63 Erin Ellerbeck notes that “the idea that a delicate scion could be better cultivated by being attached to a robust stock had been a well-known tenet of grafting since the time of Theophrastus”. Ellerbeck, op. cit., p. 92.

64 T. MacFaul, op. cit., p. 173. As MacFaul suggests, Parolles’s employment of his skills in language has a compensatory kind of role as it enables him to forge for himself a social identity above his actual social standing, thereby making up for his lack of wealth and social status.

65 Erin Ellerbeck refers to some of the positive implications of the metaphor of grafting as self-control in her discussion of The Duchess of Malfi. As she suggests, in this play the Duchess’s employment of this metaphor with reference to her pregnancy points to her as “a kind of self-fashioner” who takes “control over her reproductive behavior–it shows that she chooses to transgress standard, familial rules of reproduction, marrying and procreating without her brothers’ permission”. See Ellerbeck, op. cit, p. 86 and 91.

66 Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern England, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 143. For another work that analyzes Iago’s speech side by side with Descartes’s The Passions of the Soul, see James Kuzner, Shakespeare as a Way of Life: Skeptical Practice and the Politics of Weakness, New York, Fordham University Press, 2016, p. 54-55.

67 As Nardizzi further points out here, this “suggest[s] (once again) the anachronism of these categories in Shakespeare’s England”. V. Nardizzi, “Shakespeare’s Penknife”, p. 98.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1:
Légende Henry Peacham, “Vicinorum amicitia”, in Minerva Britanna or A garden of heroical devises, London, W. Dight, 1612, p. 41.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1915/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 124k
Titre Figure 2:
Légende George Wither, “Where many Forces joyned are”, in A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne, London, A. Mathewes, 1634-35, p. 179.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1915/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 114k
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Stella Achilleos, « (Im)perfect Friendship and the Metaphor of Grafting in Shakespeare. », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 33 | 2018, mis en ligne le 09 septembre 2018, consulté le 15 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/1915 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1915

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Auteur

Stella Achilleos

University of Cyprus

Stella Achilleos is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Studies at the Department of English Studies, University of Cyprus. She has published numerous articles in her areas of research interest, which currently concentrate on the discourses and practices of friendship in early modern literature and culture, early modern literature and political theory (especially theories of sovereignty), early modern utopias, and the literature of the English Revolution.

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