Nearly everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous dorm room and man-cave wall hanging that is popularly known as “Dogs Playing Poker.” This series of sixteen predominantly card-playing canines, cigar advertisements from the early twentieth century, reveal a fascination with anthropomorphized animals, especially when they are engaged in illicit activity or otherwise questionable behavior.
This corporate art kitsch classic remains a staple of predominantly bourgeoisie male aesthetics, but just last week, while combing through early modern ballads for my weekly #WoodcutWednesday Tweets, I came across a seventeenth century woodcut that might just give C. M. Coolidge’s most famous “Dogs Playing Poker” painting, “A Friend in Need,” a run for its money.
One of the woodcuts included on the broadside printing of the ballad “The Industrious Smith” (1633-1652?) by Humphrey Crouch1, might not include a dog, but it does include a drunken goat and a pipe-smoking horse, which, in my opinion, beats a bunch of card playing dogs any day.
The original here is not nearly as sharp as this example of early modern animal badassery deserves, so I worked to clean up the image and produced the following:
In the fashion of my earlier post, The Meme Menagerie,2 I would like to introduce you to the cast of characters in what I am calling “Riotous Early Modern Wynebibbing Beasts” (though I’m also simultaneously dubbing it with a popular name, “Early Modern Party Animals”). It strikes me that this wanton crew perfectly captures various bar-types that have a seemingly long history.
There are period classifications of drunkards, but “Riotous Wynebibbing Beasts” (aka “Early Modern Party Animals”) exceeds them. The early seventeenth-century physician Thomas Wright, for example, compares drunken men to madmen, and determines similar different types in drunks and the mad. In his The Passions of the Minde in Generall (1604), Wright notes,
Superfluitie of meat, causeth dulnesse of mind; but superfluitie of drinke, bereaveth men of wit: for so I have seene in some hospitals of mad men, sundry differences of madness, so I have found not unlike humours of drunkennesse; for some are merry mad, some melancholy mad, some furious, others fainting: so in drunkennesse, some you shall have merry drunke, others dead drunke, others raging, others casting. (Wright 130)
The same categories Wright mentions can be found in the bar and pub crowds today, but I have also identified all four types, the raging drunk, the merry drunk, and the casting drunk (which, incidentally, also works for the dead drunk in this image), in “The Industrious Smith” ballad woodcut along with several other familiar types.
The Raging Drunk
1. Belligerent Bertram: The Pugilant Panthera [Lion?]
No one should mess with this hulk of a drunken brute. Seriously, though. What the hell is he supposed to be? Lion is my best guess, but feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments. Even if we cannot determine his species, we all know his type. Bertram is the guy who is quick to anger and even quicker to pummel other drinkers after a cup too many. He also, apparently, invented the “Donkey punch.” (See a GIF-enactment of the early modern donkey punch below.)
The Casting Drunk and The Dead Drunk
2. Vomiting Valentine: The Sloshed Swine
So, this guy was the life of the party roughly three hours ago, doing shots with the barmaids, and taking people outside to smoke a joint or three in his coach. Now, the poor fellow wallows in his own vomit, and is in danger of being arrested for drunk and disorderly.
The Merry Drunk
3. Tippling Tyler: The Guzzling Goat
Goats and monkeys! Well, no monkeys in this woodcut, but still. Just take a moment to take him in. He’s probably the functional alcoholic in this bunch of rag-tag ruffians.
While I wasn’t aware of the meme prior to writing this post, he should fit nicely in the image repertoire of drunk goat images. You’re welcome, internet.
While Wright never mentions the following types of drunkards, we are all familiar with the following types if we’ve spent any time in a pub or bar.
4. Cowardly Carl: The Assailed Ass
He’s the typical victim of someone like Belligerent Bertrand. Saying something innocuous like, “Hey, man, I like your shoes,” has resulted in a pummeling by drinking-cup.
He is also, incidentally, the first victim of a donkey punch.
5. Salacious Sidney: The Venereal Vulture
Sid never says much at the bar, but he always has his eye out for the ladies. While this might have worked for Sid back in the day, he’s now the creepy guy silently staring at everyone, hoping for some last-call carrion.
He might also be an undercover or spy. You never know with this guy.
And then there is the serving girl at the Animal Tavern,
6. Fanny Flaggon: The Bored Barmaid
While these other jackasses (some of them literal jackasses) get into fights, vomit on themselves, or creepily check her out all night without saying more than “another, please,” Fanny fills the pots in hopes of a sizable tip.
It is at this point that she realizes this band of ne’er-do-wells will never tip her properly, and, to top it off, she now needs to spend an hour after closing time cleaning up Val’s vomit.
But let’s return to the band of drunks, for one last guy who does not who does not fall under Wright’s taxonomy of drunks:
7. Philosophical Pete: The Pipe Smoking Horse
While Belligerent Bertram pummels Carl over innocuous questions, Philosophical Pete gave no fucks. Too cool for even an alliterative title or a place in Wright’s taxonomy of drunks, the closest Pete comes to belligerence is when someone brings Nietzsche or Zizek into a bar debate or brings up religion. He loves drunken religious debates almost as much as he loves pub trivia. In today’s world, he would most likely also be a redditor.
He may also be the most interesting equine in the world.
For a drunken animal, Philosophical Pete looks like he isn’t affected by the “spirit clouding” effects of alcohol drinking and tobacco smoking railed against by moralists or physicians. Of course, he is probably just a pseudo-intellectual, and has a blog that he intended to fill with digital essays but just ends up spending time posting ridiculous nonsense.
Part II: Where I Try to Make This Ridiculous Post Mean Something
One would not expect to find such a woodcut included on the broadside ballad pithily titled “The Industrious Smith” and detailing the tumultuous fallout following a laborer’s decision to open an Ale-house with his wife. While the smith works his other jobs, his wife runs their home-brewed alehouse, but the situation quickly degenerates as the smith returns from work to find the unintended consequences of their new business venture. Initially, he comes home to find his house invaded by riotous sorts, finds his serving wench trading pots for kisses, and later finds her in bed with a patron in his own bed. Even as the smith’s situation worsens, each instance ends with the ballad’s refrain,
But quoth the good wife, sweet hart do not rayl,
These things must be if we sell Ale.
While the ballad’s focus is on these disastrous consequences of the smith’s decision to sell ale, at no point are drinking animals even mentioned.
The woodcut of drinking animals was most likely originally used in a very different context. Like the cheaply printed and mass produced “Dogs Playing Poker” Brown & Bigelow calendars and other advertisements, early modern ballads were ephemeral by design. Of the hundreds of thousands of the speculated number of printed ballads, very few survive, and it was not until the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth that any attempt to collect and preserve but many have been lost to posterity. Ballad printers could chose a somewhat suitable cut to attach to any particular new ballad as a way to encourage sales.
The audience of the early modern ballad was broadly popular, as their cheap costs made them accessible to many segments of literate society. In William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Autolycus, whose “traffic is sheets” (IV.iii. 23), counts ballads among his list of wares, baubles, and other “unconsidered trifles” (IV.iii. 25-26), and uses the scurrilous subject matter of those ballads to attract customers like the rustic Clown and the shepherdess Mopsa and Dorcas. As the simple shepherdess, Mopsa, tells her doltish lover, the Clown, “I love a ballad in print” (IV.iv. 251), and encourages him to buy a copy for her. She not only takes everything in print as true, but also finds herself attracted to the ballads which include the unusual, the unbelievable, and the scandalous. Amongst the “unconsidered trifles” in Atolycus’ “sheets” are ballads concerning a woman who birthed twenty money-bags, a woman-turned-fish for not having sex with her lover, and a “merry” tale of two women being dismissed by the same man. Shakespeare, of course, is having a go at the stereotypical ballad-buyer, who purchases the bad verse of hacks from hucksters. The nobly born Florizel informs us that his lover, he play’s uknown-to-herself-royalty-in-shepherdess-drag heroine, Perdita, “prizes not such trifles as these” (IV.iv. 343). Shakespeare implies that the scandalous ballads are beneath the interest of those with noble blood–even if they are unaware of their own nobility like Perdita. The implicit point, according to Shakespeare, is that we should leave ballads to the ballad-mongers and the base-born.
Like those who dismiss a popular commercial product like Coolidge’s “A Friend in Need” as bourgeoisie tripe and declare that it is not “real” art, Shakespeare separates low- to middle-brow art from the “real” art of poets like himself. Odd in a play that will end with an unbelievable and striking scene in which a state comes alive.
It was not, however, just the titillating details of the ballads’ doggerel verse that attracted customers, customers also appear to have been attracted by the woodcuts, like those on “The Industrious Smith” that beautified their “sheets.” “The Industrious Smith” contains not one but two woodcuts, and the first seems to have a more direct relationship with the ballad itself.
Even this first image, while seemingly more related to the subject matter of this particular ballad seems somewhat disconnected from the lyrics of “The Industrious Smith.” The woman, seemingly with an empty cup finds a man willing to fill it for her. Even if, as I mentioned before, the woodcuts might have been re-purposed from other printed material and might only tangentially relate to the subject matter of the ballad, the woodcuts served as pretty decoration to promote consumption. Like the paintings that the cigar company commissioned to sell calendars and other products including but not limited to the advertised cigars, these ballad sheets were designed to go old-school viral. As to the second woodcut, even before the age of cat YouTube videos, they tapped into the marketability of animals, especially anthropomorphized ones. While I have found no real evidence that this particular ballad succeeded in that goal, I hope this post will help it recirculate.
Not only were the ballads products to be sold, but also, like twentieth century advertizers, the ballad printers used illustrations to make their sheets more attractive and vendible. While the “Riotous Early Modern Wynebibbing Beasts” (aka “Early Modern Party Animals”) does not really match the subject matter directly, the shocking woodcut serves to encourage sales of the ballad. It should be noted that ballad printers typically reused woodcut blocks from other printed ballads or from other printed books of the period. I have not yet found the same woodcut in another context, but I do assume that this cut was used elsewhere in a very different context.3 While Mopsa, Dorcus, and the Clown never mention woodcuts on the ballads they ultimately purchase from Atolycus, the visual representations served to make the sheets more appealing, but they might not ave much to do with the ballad sharing the same broadside. I imagine that showy and sensational woodcuts are precisely the type of adornment that ballad-buyers like The Winter’s Tale rustics would find themselves drawn to even if they have little relationship with the context or the ballad’s content.
At the same time, the woodcut is somewhat fitting despite the lack of drunken animals in the text of the ballad itself when one considers how moralists depict the dangers of drink. Alcohol and drinking, it was thought could turn men into animals and subdue a human’s greatest faculty, reason. In many accounts since Aristotle, it was reason that separated human from non-human animals. By shutting down the capacity to reason, a drunken man was not unlike a “brute beast.” Philip Stubbes, for example, unleashes his usual vitriol against drunks in his Anatomie of Abuses (1583) as follows:
And a man once drunk with wine or strong drink, rather resembleth a brute beaste, then a christian man: for doo not his eies begin to stare & to be red, fiery & blered, blubbering foorth seas of teares? dooth he not frothe & fome at the mouth like a bore? dooth not his tung faulter & stammer in his mouth? dooth not his hed seeme as heuie as a milstone, he not being able to bear it vp? Are not his wits & spirits as it were drowned? Is not his vnderstanding altogher decayed? doo not his hands & all his body quiver & shake as it were with a quotidian feuer? Besides these, it casteth him into adropsie or pluresie nothing so soon, it infeebleth the sinewes, it weakneth ye natural strength, it corrupteth the blood, it dissolueth ye whole man at ye length, and finally maketh him forgetful of him self altogither, so that what be dooth being drunk he remembreth not being sober. The Drunkard in his drunkennes killeth his freend, reuileth his louer, discloseth secrets and regardeth no man: he either expelleth all feare of god out of his minde, all looue of his friends & kinsfolkes, all remembrance of honestie, ciuilitie & humanitie: so that I will not feare to call drunkerds beasts, and no men, and much wursse then beasts, for beasts neuer excéed in such kind of excesse, or superfluitie, but alway modum adhibent appetitum, they measure their appetites by the rule of necessitie, which would God wee would doo. (Sig. I.iii. verso).
The woodcut of “The Industrious Smith” applies this comparison literally for comedic effect, metamorphosing all but the poor barmaid into an animal. The drink turned men into beasts, for moralists like Stubbes, but, for the author of “The Industrious Smith,” those who agreed to sell Ale also risked their economic and domestic situations and standings–the other drunkards themselves appear to escape consequences and face no real moral condemnation for their actions.
The situation of the smith, however, is quite different. Not only do the beastly drunks of “The Industrious Smith” go after the smith’s hired serving wench, he later discovers that the riotous men drinking his ale also, Salacious Sidney-like, have their sights set on his wife. He first finds her “kindly sitting on a mans knee.” From this conclusion of the first part, things only go downhill for the hard-working smith. In the second part, the smith confronts a bunch of riotous sailors who drunkenly brawl, and it is this instance that is illustrated with the woodcut. No doubt lifted from a very different context, the drunken sailors of the ballad become riotous animals in the accompanying woodcut. And while its inclusion might make some sense in terms of the moralization of drinking found in contemporary sources, its inclusion also creates a disjunction between the world of the ballad and the material ballad. Whereas the woodcut gives the impression that the vices of boozers are to be its subject matter, the ballad tends not to moralize upon the drinkers themselves, but upon the smith who establishes his own Ale-house.
Stubbes, too, addresses those who share or sell as well as consume alcohol. First citing Habakkuk in a verse that probably comes as bad news for religious frat boys,
The Prophet Habacuck, soundeth a most dreadfull alarme, not only to all Drunkards, but also to all that make them drunken saying: wo be to him that geueth his Neighbour drinke, till he be drunke, that thou mayst see his privities. (Sig. I.v. recto).
But Scripture’s condemnation of those who provide alcohol extends beyond just those sharing it to get a glimpse of someone else’s junk, and he continues,
Salomon saith, wyne maketh a Man to be scornfull, and strong drinke maketh a Man vnquiet, who so taketh pleasure in it, shall not be wise. In an other place, kéep not companie with wynebibbers, and riotous Persons, for such as be Drunkards shal come to beggerie. (Sig. I.v. recto).
While not mentioning alcohol merchants, Stubbes’ warning that those who associate with “wynebibbers, and riotous Persons” will come to beggary is precisely the outcome of the smith’s business venture. It is this, rather than the dangers of the drink that stand at the center of “The Industrious Smith,” and the major concern both for the smith and for the speaker seems to be the fact that he rarely gets paid for the ale he sells. The turn of the ballad occurs when he discovers a “fellow” who has not paid for his drink, but this man refuses to pay him, saying instead he will pay the smith’s wife. It is at this point that the refrain varies to
Alas, who could blame him if now he do rayl,
These things should not be though they sold Ale.
It is the question of payment that produces the break from the wife’s typical response. In the subsequent stanza, the smith returns home he finds this man paying for his drink by sleeping with his wife. And at this point the ballad returns to its typical refrain. The other difficulties the smith encounters are overshadowed by the fact that he loses money in the endeavor. Even his own cuckolding seems not to be a major cause of alarm. It is only the unprofitability of the enterprise with which the ballad’s refrain takes issue.
In this way, and despite all of its scurrility and apparent transgression, “The Industrious Smith,” has a conservative bent, though it may have a different point of emphasis than someone like Stubbes might emphasize. The moral of the ballad is that ale-selling as well as ale-drinking causes social, familial, and economic decay. The industrious smith, we are told to believe, would have benefited from his hard work, had he not gotten into the ale business. Instead of a house full of riotous animal-like drunks, empty coffers, and an unchaste wife, he would have had an ordered house had he stuck to his craft. It was when he ventured into unknown economic territory that the smith figuratively and literally falls into shit.
The literal and metaphorical low point for the smith comes after he discovers his wife swapping sex for debts when he takes to the drink himself. He begins to drink with his guests, and, while drunk, falls through the rotted floorboards in his house and into the privy. The physical house itself suffers from his decision to sell ale just as it had metaphorically with the chastity of his wife. The smith is the only character who suffers for his tippling within the world of the ballad, but his fall results from the domestic decay his risky business venture engendered. The sale of ale has led to the metaphorical and literal rotting away of his house’s foundations.
While seemingly delighting and reveling in the world of the Ale-house, we find a heavy-handed moralizing tale. The ballad ends with his evicting his wife and closing his shop since his experiment in the ale trade has left him a cuckold and impoverished, and taking up a trade to pay off the debts incurred while ale-selling. Not only is the subject of the ballad a common laborer, but it also contains a middle to merchant class ideological message, discouraging the selling of alcohol.
It is here that we can begin to see another similarity between “The Industrious Smith” and its woodcut when compared to C.M. Coolidge’s “A Friend in Need.” Whereas we see, in “Dogs Playing Poker,” a middle-class aesthetic, we find that this seventeenth-century ballad concerns the problems of a merchant class. “The Industrious Smith,” like “Dogs Playing Poker,” embodies a particular aesthetic and set of concerns of a historically contingent yet similar middle-class. The merchant-class sensibilities and even moralization of the ballad resemble the middle-class sensibilities that result in the popularity of something like “Dogs Playing Poker.” And, no matter what their subversive potential, they are products to be consumed; products for, by, and about the concerns of the want-to-be merchant class.
Whereas Shakespeare mocks the ballad-buying doltish hordes in The Winter’s Tale, ballads like “The Industrious Smith” disengage from the ruling-class focus often found in “elite” literature. Similar to developments in prose fiction in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, we see, in a ballad like Crouch’s, a focus on the concerns and affairs of a less than elite segment of society. In Shakespeare’s play, the focus remains fixed on the return of the proper social order and ruling classthrough Perdita’s discovery of her noble blood, for which the other shepherds function as the comedic windo dressing. In works like “The Industrious Smith,” the focus remains squarely, for better or worse and how ever misrepresented, on the problems and concerns of the laboring class with merchant class aspirations.
Despite this shift in focus away from the ruling-class, the morality embedded in “The Industrious Smith” discourages class-climbing by condemning its laborer for his aspirations, and, in this way, also becomes a mouthpiece for ruling-class conservative ideology. Stay where you are, the ballad insists. Class-climbing leads to domestic decay and ultimately in wallowing in shit.
Additionally, under the guise of a form that appears to transgress, to mock the elite culture that produces and encourages “real art” (whether that be in terms of more serious verse in the sixteenth or seventeenth century or in terms of “elitist” art that the kitsch “Dogs Playing Poker” both resembles and satirizes), we find a message of conspicuous consumption. In the case of “The Industrious Smith,” we are allowed to enter the seamy world of the Ale-houses where people drink for free and ale-serving wives cuckold their husbands, but the message is clear, to avoid moral, domestic, and economic destruction we must abandon the vice of the drink. For the author of the ballad, not only are the drinkers at risk, but so too are the vendors. The ballad encourages a merchant or middle-class work ethic by concealing its ideology within the wrapping of a scandalous and scurrilous tale of drinking, riot, excess, and adultery through its laborer main character while simultaneously offering itself as a product of conspicuous consumption.
With that said, “The Industrious Smith” does not neatly contain the subversive potential of the form. While the woodcut reveals the dangers of alcohol in a way similar to the morally condemning Philip Stubbes by representing the way alcohol threatens to subdue reason and render the human animal into a beast, it also contains its own absurd pleasures that challenge the ballad’s simple morality. While transformed into animals, these riotous beasts render the dry moralization of someone like Philip Stubbes hilarious and absurd by literalizing the transformation, and also serve, like the licentious details the ballad exposes in the world of the early modern tavern, to offer their own pleasures. In one respect, the image itself visually represents the mental world of the madman or the drunk, liberating its viewer from the pedestrian reality based world through its anthropomorphized monstrosity.
In another way, the sheer absurdity of the literalized transformations undercuts the force of heavy handed moralists like Stubbes. Even the vomiting swine appears less repulsive in non-human animal form than it might in human form. While this carnivalesque, transgressive nature might be sublimated into the moralism of the ballad itself, or, more broadly, as a product to encourage conspicuous consumption, we pseudo-intellectual Philosophical Petes can remove the image from its original context and revel in its singular grotesque pleasures like a drunken pig, wallowing in its own vomit.
Part III: Where I pull an Atolycus
Will you buy any tape,
Or lace for your cape,
My dainty duck, my dear-a?
Any silk, any thread,
Any toys for your head,
Of the new’st and fin’st, fin’st wear-a?
Come to the peddlar,
Money’s a meddler,
That doth utter all men’s ware-a. (IV.iv. 302-310).
While it might reveal my own bourgeoisie leanings, I fully intend to purchase a copy of this woodcut to hang in my future man-cave. For a Philosophical Pete like me, it offers just enough of an elitist pseudo-intellectualism to allow me to justify its hanging. Long live the pseudo-intellectual boozers! So, just as the cigar makers of the twentieth century and the ballad printers of the seventeenth century used images to attract them to buy their products, I am going to use this image to attract you to my Zazzle store. It’s crass and petite bourgeoisie, just like my current subject matter.
Think of it as a way to vote on what I should call this woodcut. Should it be “Riotous Early Modern Wynebibbing Beasts” or “Early Modern Party Animals.” Then again, you could probably just voice your vote in the comments or by contacting me on Twitter like a rational and sensible human being.
Early Modern Party Animals- Wynebibber- Distressed Tshirt by senseshaper
Create your own custom t-shirts online at zazzle.com
Or how about just the Smoking Horse?
Early Modern Party Animals- Smoking Horse- Men’s T-shirts by senseshaper
See more Smokning horse T-Shirts
Or maybe just the woodcut?
Early Modern Party Animals- Men’s- Only Woodcut Shirt by senseshaper
Make your own tee shirt at Zazzle.
Or maybe just a bag for your wine?
You can see other styles and items in the Zazzle Store soon. Consume! Enjoy!
Shakespeare, William, and Stephen Greenblatt. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. W. W. Norton, Incorporated, 1997.
Society, Ballad. The Roxburghe-Ballads. Tayler, 1871. Print.
Stubbes, Phillip. The Anatomie of Abuses. Jones, 1583. Print.
Wright, Thomas. The Passions of the Minde in Generall. London : Valentine Simmes [and Adam Islip] for Walter Burre [and Thomas Thorpe], 1604.
- One can find a facsimile copy of the broadside at the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA) with the woodcut and the full text of the ballad here. (back)
- I’m still sad that while that post attracted a lot of hits, I’ve yet to see someone actually meme them out. One can hope. (back)
- I will add an update when I find the same woodcut in another context (back)