Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 281-282, with notes on p. 348 (on Richard Stanyhurst's translation of Vergil's Aeneid
Thanks largely to Nashe's attack, Stanyhurst has come to be regarded as
a kind of literary-historical bad joke. The Cambridge History of English Literature solemnly asked whether we can plausibly "Imagine Dido Queen of
Carthage asking in fury 'Shall a stranger give me the slampam?'" and a more
recent guide is characteristically dismissive in suggesting that Stanyhurst
"insisted on not being mistaken for an ignoramus" but that his translation
"proves, in unconscious burlesque, how bad neo-classical theory was."12 The
indecorum of high classical matter being rendered through low verbal coinages is what provokes the derision. Thus the Cambridge History again: "he
surpassed in a fantastic eccentricity the vainest of his contemporaries. Never
was there a stranger mixture of pedantry and slang than is to be found in
his work."13 Wait a minute, though: is not the juxtaposition of high and low,
of kings and clowns, of soaring poetry and earthy vernacular, one of the
qualities that we so value in the plays of one William Shakespeare? Do we
not praise the Stratford grammar school lad to the rafters for the living
sound of his lines and the astonishing array of his verbal coinages? Stanyhurst gives us: Chuff chaff, clush clash, crack-rack crashing, hob lob, hurly
burly, huf puff, kym kam, muff maff, pell mell, pit pat, rags jags, swish swash,
tag rag, tara-tan-tara, thwick thwack, trush trash, wig wag, yolp yalp.
Again, do we not consider the art of creating compound adjectives as
one of the marks of all true poets since Homer and the ancient Greek tragedians? Stanyhurst delights in: "Herd-flock," "Frith-cops," "Blustrous huzzing
with clush clash buzzing, with drooming clattered humming," "It brayeth in
snorting," "The push and poke of lance," "Deep minced, far chopped," "Rapfully frapping," "With belling screech cry she roareth." One almost hears
Tony Harrison's acclaimed translation of Aeschylus's Oresteia. Or even the
sheer zany word-adoring inventiveness of another Irishman in exile on the
continent: could Richard Stanyhurst be not so much a joke as a pioneer?
Was he the Elizabethan James Joyce?14
In the Oxford English Dictionary, Stanyhurst is credited with the invention
of a rich array of more than one hundred and fifty words, including Bepowdered, Breakvow, Carousing, Disjoincted, Distracted, Flailing, Flounce,
Frolic, Gadding, Gutter, Hoblobs, Hoodwink, Makesport, Mopsy, Pertlike,
Plashy, Rake, Sea-froth, Smocktoy, Spumy, Unhoused, Wanton (as a verb),
and Whizling. OED also gives him nearly two hundred nonce-words, among
them Bedgle, Bepurpled, Blastbob, Breedsleep, Crabknob, Garbroils, Gyreful, Hedgebrat, Pack-paunch, Plashbreach, Racebrood, Snarnoise, Sportbreeder, Uddered, Upvomited, and Windblast. Many of his coinages failed to
make it into the Oxford English Dictionary at all: Bughag, Birthsoil, Foresnaffled, Hailknob, Hell-swarm, Hotlove, Lustilad, Nightfog, Rapesnatched,
Seabelch, and about seventy more. And on about fifty occasions, his usage
of a word predates the OED's earliest citation. In the following instances,
Shakespeare is cited as the earliest usage but the credit should really go to
Stanyhurst: Baggage, Beldam, Eyeball, Huddle, Post-haste, Quillet.
12. Charles Whibley, "Translators," in The Cambridge History of English
Literature, ed. A.W. Ward and A.R. Waller (Cambridge University Press,
1919), 4. 18; J.W. Saunders, A Biographical Dictionary of Renaissance Poets
and Dramatists, 1520-1650 (Harvester, 1983), p. 155.
13. Whibley, "Translators," 4.17.
14. There is a good account of the Irishness of Stanyhurst's language in
Patricia Palmer, The Severed Head and the Grafted Tongue: Literature, Translation and Violence in Early Modern Ireland (Cambridge University Press,
2014), pp. 125–32.
A caveat: if Bate means to say that tara-tan-tara is one of Stanyhurst's verbal coinages, then he is mistaken. The word occurs in Ennius, Annals
451 Skutsch (tr. E.H. Warmington):
And the trumpet in terrible tones taratantara blared.
at tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit.