• Part I: “Envious people be the greateste mortherers of the worlde & gretest theves”: Othello III.iii. 160-166 and Richard Pynson’s 1506 The Kalender of Shepherdes. A Possible New Source for Othello.

“He that filches from me my good name”: Envy, the Kalender of Shepherds, and the “iii Edgyd sworde” of Iago’s Tongue. A Possible New Source for Othello.

Part I: “Envious people be the greateste mortherers of the worlde & gretest theves”: Othello III.iii. 160-166 and Richard Pynson’s 1506 The Kalender of Shepherdes

In Shakespeare’s Proverbial Language, R. W. Dent identifies Iago’s lines in III. iii.,

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed (III.iii. 160–166),

as a variation on the proverb that “a good name is more valuable than gold” (Dent 180), a commonplace deriving from biblical instructions on “good names” found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 22:1 instructs that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches,” and Ecclesiastes 7:1 declares “A good name is better than precious ointment.” These two verses served as the foundation for the construction of more elaborate later commonplaces.

As early as 1931, Hardin Craig argued that the instruction on “good names” was a “moralistic commonplace” (Craig 625). While the lines are almost certainly a moralistic commonplace derived from Scripture, some scholars offer sources for Iago’s lines about “good names.” Amongst the chief contenders for those attributing Iago’s lines to a source are Pierre La Primaudaye’s The French Academie and Thomas Wilson’s The Arte of Rhetorique. Craig dismisses such attributions in his essay exploring the problems and complications of attributing sources when the line in question is a commonplace, but he does develop the most comprehensive account of such attempts and positions Iago’s instruction on good names within a larger cultural context. Nevertheless, to this list of possible yet problematic sources, I would like to add a third contender for consideration, the 1506 Richard Pynson translation and edition of the widely popular French miscellany The Kalender of Shepherdes. While I ultimately agree that identifying a single source for Iago’s reiteration of a moralistic commonplace might be impossible, I do believe by adding it to the list of possibilities and by comparing the similarities among the main contenders and to Othello, we can understand something about the way in which early moderns represented envy, good names, and envy’s effect upon them.

The title page woodcut from the Powell 1556 edition of The Kaldender of Shepardes

The title page woodcut from the Powell 1556 edition of The Kaldender of Shepardes

Craig’s main target of criticism are scholars at the time who claimed Thomas Wilson’s The Arte of Rhetorique as the source of Iago’s lines on good names. In his description of the rhetorical device of “Amplification,” Wilson notes that

The places of Logique helpe ofte for Amplification. As, where men have a wronge opinion, and thynke theft a greater faulte than slaunder, one myght prove the contrarye as well by circumstaunces as by argumentes. And first, he might shewe that slaunder is thefte, and that everye slaunderer is a thief. For as well the slaunderer as the thiefe doe take away an other mannes possession against the owners will. After that he might shewe that a slaunderer is worse than anye thiefe, because a good name is better than all the goodes in the worlde: and that the losse of money maye be recovered, but the losse of a mannes good name cannot be called backe againe, and a thefe maye restore that agayne which he hath taken awaye, but a slaunderer cannot geve a man his good name againe, which he hath taken from him. Agayne, he that stealeth goodes or cattell, robbes only but one man, but an evill tongued man infecteth all their mindes: unto whose eares this reporte shall come. (Wilson 68v).

Here, we see a reflection of Iago’s lines from III.iii.. The slanderer supposedly steals a “possession” of another like a thief, and the passage goes on to note that, unlike the thief’s stolen property, the slanderer cannot return a stolen good name. Lacking from Wilson, as Craig also notes, is the further move that the slanderer does not gain anything from his theft, and Craig uses this fact to discount attributing Wilson as the source of Iago’s lines. Further troubling the attribution waters, Wilson draws not only from commonplaces about good names in general, but also from Juan Louis Vives’s De Conscribendis Epistolis (1531) in particular.1

To further discount claims that argue for The Arte of Rhetorique as the source of Iago’s lines, Craig offers a more compelling alternative in Pierre La Primaudaye’s The French Academie. Craig claims The French Academie is the “only [text] in which this particular example is used” (Craig 625) in relation to envy,

Of this wild plant of envie, backbiting is a branch, which delighteth and feedeth it selfe with slandering and lying, whereupon good men commonly receive great plagues, when they over-lightly give credit to backbiters … For seeing good name and credite is more pretious than any treasure, a man hath no lesse injurie offered him when his good name is taken away, than when he is spoiled of substance. (La Primaudaye 460).

Primaudaye’s passage on the value of a good names comes in close proximity to another passage in The French Academie explaining that slander and backbiting do not profit the envious, “this malignity is a delight & pleasure taken in another mans harme, although we receive no profit thereby” (La Primaudaye 458). Craig considers the two in conjunction as presenting “all three of the ideas in the Shakespearean passage, namely, that good name is a treasure, that to be slandered is to be robbed, and that slander is without profit to the slanderer” (Craig 625), but discounts La Primaudaye as the source of Iago’s lines, citing it to evidence its proverbial nature and deny previous attributions to Thomas Wilson’s The Arte of Rhetorique.

While Craig does identify portions of The French Academie that resemble Iago’s later lines and that link slander to envy, he fails to notice a similar passage found in the earlier Rycharde Pynson 1506 edition of The Kalender of Shepherdes. After its initial publication in French by Guy Marchant in 1491, and its substantial expansion in 1493, The Kalendrier des Bergiers became an international phenomenon, and the nineteen English editions of The Kalender from the first “corrupt” edition of 1503 to 1631 testify to its popularity.2

Defying notions of a stable text, every edition of The Kalender contains variations, and is primarily composed of and constitutes a collection of commonplaces and proverbs. The “corrupt” 1503 Paris edition, translated by an unknown author into a Scottish dialect, contains numerous errors and mistranslations, but was seemingly popular enough to serve as the basis for the 1506 Richard Pynson edition. There are indications that the translator of the Pynson edition did not return to the French originals, and, instead, worked from the 1503 Paris edition in an attempt to make it more readable. Two years after Pynson’s edition, Wynkn de Worde’s 1508 edition returned to the French texts to develop a new translation, as did subsequent editions. The translation, attributed to Richard Copland, became the standard translation from that point forward. As such, the Pynson edition contains many more variations and constitutes a much freer translation of the Kalender of Shepherds than other editions.

Lazarus encounters envy and the hellish punishments for the envious.

Lazarus encounters envy and the hellish punishments for the envious.

One such variation in the 1506 Pynson edition’s description of the punishments for the envious, might have a relationship to Iago’s lines. The multiple variations on this proverb on “good names” may ultimately reveal that Shakespeare’s articulation itself was, as Craig argues, a moralistic commonplace, but, like The French Academie, The Kalender of Shepherdes specifically links the proverb to the envious tongues of slanderers and backbiters like Iago’s in its description of the pains of sinners in hell. In the section describing the punishment for the envious, The Kalender says,

also the envious people be the greateste mortherers of the worlde & gretest theves for they robe and kyll bothe body and soule fyrste they robe man as thus in takynge awaye his gode name for by cause gode name is better than rychesse therefore they be theves to take awaye that that they can nat gyve agayne if a thefe stele a mannys gode yet it may be possybyll to be restoryed of it agayne, but the gode name may never be restoryde. Also they be murtherers for they kyll themselfe bothe body and soule without the greate marcy of god & repentaunce. (Kalender of Shepherdes sig. F4v)

The Pynson Kalender of Shepherdes describes the envious as “murderers” as well as “thieves” but also meditates, like the later Wilson and Iago, on how much worse the theft of “gode name[s]” are than the theft of worldly goods. As with Wilson’s much later The Arte of Rhetorique, the Pynson edition of the Kalender does lack the final meditation on how the thief-like slanderer does not even profit from his theft.

This version and elaboration upon the commonplace on “good names” only appears in the Pynson edition of The Kalender of Shepherdes.3 It also diverges from the French originals by having no corollary in the Kalendrier et compost des bergiers.4 With some minor variations, nearly every subsequent edition of The Kalender does not mention good names, instead including an alternate passage about those who wish to “profit” by slander and backbiting. As the 1556 Powell edition has it,

The envyous folke seketh theyr welthe in the adversitie of other, as when of the harme of other they seke the good in rejoysynge them, but with this they be not yet satysfyed, but of a newe they byn tourmented, for they have not such joye without displeasaunce and affliction at theyr harte, whereby they be tourmented. For he that seketh his welthe in the adversitie of an other, is lyke to hym that seketh the fyre in the bottome of a water, or that loketh for woll on an urchyns backe, the which thynges be but all follyes and abusions. (Kalendar of Shepardes sig.E6r).

The earlier 1503 Paris edition puts it similarly5even using its peculiar Scottish dialect and spelling:

Part of the description of Hell's punishment of the envious from the 1503 Paris edition of The Kalendayr of Shyppars.

Part of the description of Hell’s punishment of the envious from the 1503 Paris edition of The Kalendayr of Shyppars.

(The Kalendayr of the Shyppars sig. E2v)

All of the later editions I have looked at all lack the passage about “good names” and instead include a similar, if not identical, translation as the Powell edition I cited previously. In these passages, we once again see, as in The French Academie and in Othello, the emphasis on the unprofitability of slander. While these lines about the unprofitability of envy do not appear in the same edition as the lines that resemble Iago’s in III.iii., nearly all of the elements contained in Iago’s speech can be found between the Pynson and the other English editions.6 Because of this, the 1506 Pynson Kalender does not contain all of the elements of Iago’s lines, and despite Craig’s warning against attributing sources to commonplaces and proverbs, I do think there is enough evidence to consider it a possibility.7

What intrigues me about this possibility is that, if one could identify the Pynson passage as being the source of Iago’s discussion of good names, Shakespeare would be playing a particularly interesting intertexual game. This passage, lifted from a description of the punishments for the sin of envy, would then be placed in the mouth of the envious Iago. As we are all aware, Iago begins to “infect” the Moor with his “poison” in this very scene, which will ultimately succeed in “ensnar[ing Othello’s] soul and body” (V.ii. 308). To instruct Othello to safeguard the possession of his “good name,” Iago would speak through words that relate to Iago’s own sin and the very practice of slander which he is beginning to engage.

As I have said, this passage in the Pynson edition occurs in the section of The Kalender describing Hell’s punishment of the envious. The section provides an unusual framing narrative in which Lazarus, returned from the dead, describes the horrors he witnessed in Hell before Christ raised him.8 Often referred to as the “Vision of Lazarus,” Lazarus describes a horrifying journey through the punishments Hell meets out for those guilty of the seven deadly sins. The condensed “Vision of Lazarus” found in various editions of The Kalender follow Lazarus through Hell, describing each torture he witnessed with both a verbal and pictorial depiction. Lazarus first describes “wheles … full of hokes and crampes of yron” upon which “were hangyd and tormentyd proude men and women” (Kalender of Shepherdes F4r). Second, Lazarus “sawe a flode of frosone yce in the whiche envyous men & women were poungyd unto the navyll & than sodenly came a colde wynde ryght great that blewe and dyd depe downe all the envyous men & women into the colde water that nothynge was sene of them” (F4r). Third, he describes “a cave foule and stynkynge where Irefull men and women be smyten throughe with swordes” (F5r). Fourth, Lazarus comes upon “an horybyll darke hole in hell” where serpents “byte and stynge … the slowthefull,” gnawing their bodies to the heart (F5r). Fifth, he describes “cawderons” full of boiling metals and oil “in whiche was depyde covetes men and wemen” (F6r). Sixth, he “sawe in a vale a fare fowle and stynkynge” meal of “todys & other venymous wormes” fed to “glotones” (G1r). Lastly, Lazarus encounters a “depe welles ful of fyre and brimstone” for the “lecherous” (G1v). While The Kalenders pull the order and the woodcuts of the Vision of Lazarus from the earlier Ars Moriendi, the descriptions of each punishment radically condense and adapt the material sound in their earlier source.

The Kalenders, though more condensed in their descriptions of Hell’s punishments, offer more moralization on each sin than their Ars Moriendi counterparts. Whereas the Ars Moriendi provides richer descriptions of the pains experienced by the damned, The Kalendar provides a brief snapshot of those torments and goes on to describe each sin much more thoroughly than those earlier models. It is in this expansion of describing envy that gave Pynson’s translator the flexibility for further variation. Viewing the intertextual relationships opened up by considering The Kalender alongside Shakespeare’s Othello, however, does make me wonder if the Vision of Lazarus stands behind Othello’s lines after he has killed Desdemona,

Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight.
Blow me about the winds, roast me in sulphur,
Wash me in the steep-down gulfs of liquid fire! (V.ii.284-287).

While possibly referencing the torments of the damned offered by Dante’s Inferno, viewing these lines in relationship to the Ars Moriendi and The Kalender’s depiction of infernal torments leads to some interesting insights. It s not unreasonable to suppose that the incredibly horrific depictions of hellish torments found in these prose traditions influence and merge with Dante’s vision of hell in the English imagination. At the same time, the number of popular versions of the Vision of Lazarus between the many English editions of The Kalender and in English translations of texts in the tradition of the Ars Moriendi, suggest their descriptions of Hell might play just as important a role in imagining infernal torment.

For Dante, being blown about the winds is the punishment meted out to lustful souls, being whipped by devils might refer to the fate of seducers. For an Othello continually fearful about human sexuality, the thought that he will be punished for lust and lechery makes sense, and, this too, appears in the relationship to The Kalender’s punishments for the lustful. Viewed in relation to The Kalender, however, being “blow[n] … about the winds” might have another valence. The Vision of Lazarus’ envious are perpetually blown down by winds as they attempt to free themselves from the icy water in which they become submerged.

But surely Iago is the figure of envy while Othello is the figure of jealousy, right? While I will not go into early modern representations of envy and jealousy in detail in this post, I do want to note what I find the most interesting aspect of viewing the intertextual potential of viewing Shakespeare’s Othello alongside The Kalender of Shepherds. In another section, The Kalender presents two trees, a Tree of Vice and a Tree of Virtue, describing the various branches of each type of virtue and vice. Among the branches of envy, The Kalender includes “beleve over sone” under the “vi. braunche of envy,” “Suspeccyone” (Kalender of Shepherdes sig. D5r). While some authors stress the distinction between jealousy and envy, here, heeding slander offered by an envious tongue is itself a form of envy.

The sixth branch of envy as found in Richard Pynson's 1506 edition of The Kalender of Shepeherds

The sixth branch of envy as found in Richard Pynson’s 1506 edition of The Kalender of Shepeherds

For Othello, who listens to and eventually believes Iago’s slanderous tongue, his believing too readily or too soon might reveal his own infection of envy. While Iago embodies nearly every form of envy The Kalender lists as the branches of envy, the sixth branch most resembles Othello’s jealous suspicion of his wife. Becoming a great “murderer” along with the great “thief” Iago, the two resemble the two forms of envy described by nearly every edition of The Kalender. The 1506 Pynson edition concludes the Vision of Lazarus’ description of envy by saying,

…They be mortherers for they kyll them selfe bothe body and soule without the greate marcy of god & repentaunce. The envyous mannys tonge may be lekenyde to a iii. edgyd sworde that hurteth & cottys iii. wayes. The fy[r]the he hurteth and woundeth his owne soule seconde he that a tellythe the tale to. The iii. is he that a tellythe the tale by. (Kalender of Shepherdes sig. F5r).

The three nodes of envy’s circuit infect and injure each triangulated point. As with the branches of envy, the person who listens and believes the lies told by an envious tongue are implicated in the process, implying or manifesting that they too are infected with envy.

In William Shakespeare’s Othello, we see several triangulated systems of slander and envy, one of which ends with a literal murder. Iago, the envious “demi-devil” that “ensnare[s Othello’s] body and soul” (V.ii.307-8), uses his triple edged sword against the good names of Cassio and Desdemona, stealing, at least temporarily, their good names with the end result of trying to murder the one and succeeding with the other. The cycle of envy, like the cycle of slander, works through triangulation, where each circuit in the chain becomes damaged. The infectious and deadly plague spreads through the air carrying language, “hurting and cutting,” infecting and polluting, and murdering and maiming good names, bodies, and souls.

As this type of attribution of sources is no longer in fashion within scholarly discourses, no one, to my knowledge, has ever offered this as a possible source of Iago’s lines in Othello III.iii., but I do want to note that Craig was incorrect to assert that La Primaudaye’s was the only source in which this commonplace is used in relation to envy. The Pynson Kalender pre-dates both of the other possibilities, and, while it does not include the passage on the unprofitability of slander, it, like the French Academie, does directly link the commonplace to the sin of envy and, unlike the French Academie, mentions “good names” directly.

In and of itself, such a find might not mean much, and might only serve to further argue that Shakespeare’s lines on “good names” were merely a well established commonplace, but in the next section I explore how looking at these possible “sources” in conjunction might shed light on early modern understandings of envy and their relationship with Shakespeare’s Othello. It also builds an intertextual bridge between Othello and the Kalender of Shepherds and locates Shakespeare’s play within a field of discourses on envy, and, by triangulating the three possible influences on Iago’s lines, we can explore the similarities among their representations of slander, envy, and “good names.”



Craig, Hardin. “Shakespeare and Wilson’s ‘Arte of Rhetorique,’ an Inquiry into the Criteria for Determining Sources.” Studies in Philology 28.4 (1931): 618–630. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2013.

Dent, Robert William. Shakespeare’s Proverbial Language: An Index. University of California Press, 1981.

Driver, Martha W. “When Is a Miscellany Not Miscellaneous? Making Sense of the ‘Kalender of Shepherds’.” The Yearbook of English Studies 33 (2003): 199. CrossRef. Web. 7 May 2013.

Heinrich Oskar Sommer, Charles Praetorius. The Kalender of Shepherdes: The Edition of Paris 1503 in Photographic … K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & co.,ltd., 1892. Internet Archive. Web. 4 May 2013.

Kalendar of Shepardes. Here Begynneth the Kalender of Shepardes. Newely Augmented and Corrected. Anr. ed. London: [W. Powell], 1556.

Kalender of Shepherdes. Her[e Be]gy[n]neth the Kalender of Shepherdes. [London] : Impryntyd at London in Flete strete at the sygne of the George by Rycharde Pynson …, M.CCCCC.and.vi. [1506], 1506. Early English Books Online.

La Primaudaye, Pierre de. The French Academie. Trans. T.B. Imprinted at London : By Edmund Bollifant for G. Bishop and Ralph Newbery, 1586.

Shakespeare, William, and Stephen Greenblatt. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. Norton, 1997. Print.

The Kalendayr of the Shyppars. Prentyt i[n] parys: by Antoine Verard, 1503.

Wilson, Thomas. The Arte of Rhetorique, for the Vse of All Suche as Are Studious of Eloquence, Sette Forth in English, by Thomas Wilson. [London: Richardus Graftonus, typographus regius excudebat], 1553.


  1. Craig additionally details that Wilson’s The Arte of Rhetorique “apparently borrowed the idea. And condensed and adapted” a passage from Juan Louis Vives’s De Conscribendis Epistolis (1531), which says,
    Sapientis est famae suae longe diligentius, quam opibus suis, non minvus vero diligenter quam vitae consulare. Minus siquidem damni, & incommode accipit, qui pecuniam, aut etiam amissa sarciri potest, fama semel amissa, in integrum resituitur nunquam. Et vita quidem corpris, quum certos a natura terminus acceperit, in longum tempus extendi nequit…. Quod si homines iis rebus maxime timere videmus, quae cum sint preciossimae, facillime tamen perduntur, ac difficillime restituitur: sapiens existimandus non est, qui famae, que neque restitui potest semel smissa, & qua nihil habet homo preciosius, non multo diligentius consulendum putat quam pecuniae, aut etiam vitae. Potest etiam tribus dumtaxat, aut quattuor partibus confici collection: si vel confirmatio, vel expolitio, vel utraque omittitur. (qtd. In Craig 624).  (back)
  2. For further details about the versions and popularity of The Kalender, see Driver’s “When a Miscellany is not a Miscellany.” For a detailed history of the various permutations and lines of transmission of English translations of The Kalendar, see Oskar Sommers’ wonderful forewards to The Kalender of Shepherdes: The Edition of Paris 1503 in PhotographicFacsimile which contains editions of the Paris 1503 and the 1506 Pynson. You can find the full book at Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=tDQMAAAAYAAJ&oe=UTF-8) or at the Internet Archive (http://archive.org/details/kalendershepher00praegoog).  (back)
  3. Though I have not yet had a chance to look at the two Wynkyn de Worde editions (STC 22409 and 22411), I am fairly certain their translations are very similar to the Robert Copeland translations found in other editions. What I desperately want to check, however, is the second Pynson edition of [1517?] (STC 22409.7) to see if this translation is unique to the 1506.  (back)
  4. I have yet to check other editions, but the 1506 French edition does not include a similar line, and the Copland English translation that returned to the French originals and became the most standard English translation in later editions does not include the reference to “good names” either.  (back)
  5. The 1503 Paris edition, sometimes (questionably) attributed to Andrew Barclay, does contain a very different translation of what the Powell translation renders “loketh for woll on an urchyns back.” As best I can tell, the 1503 Paris edition says “rayssyns aboue the thornys.”  (back)
  6. I do hope to check out the later Pynson (STC 22409.7) to see if his later edition of the Kalender includes the line on “good names” in the future, but have not yet been able to do so. It is possible, that with the seeming popularity of the subsequent translation, that Pynson might have changed this section by either removing the lines about “good names” or replacing them with the line about the unprofitability of slander, but my hope is that he kept his original and added the second. If anyone has access to a copy of the STC 22409.7, I would love to hear from you, and please contact me.  (back)
  7. In this post, I only sketch out a few of these possibilities, but intend to flesh them out further in later additions to this series.  (back)
  8. Drawing from the separate L’art de Bien Viure et de Bien Mourir (Ars Moriendi) from 1492, the 1503 The Kalendayr incorporated the Ars Moriendi’s description of Hell, and soon became a standard addition to almost all editions, in both French and English, of The Kalender of Shepherds.  (back)
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