Still To Be Neat Ben Jonson 1609

The song "Still to Be Neat" was heard in BEN JoNSoN's play Epicoene. When the play's character Clerimont requests the song, which he supposedly wrote, it is in order to stress the theme of feminine artifice. Cleri-mont makes the request because of his impatience with another character, Lady Haughty, a woman known for heavy makeup. The speaker begins by addressing the lady, "Still to be neat, still to be dressed / As you were going to a feast," implying that she need not always appear to be on her way to a celebration. He would obviously prefer her in less formal attire, without her makeup. The repetition that recurs in line 3, "Still to be powdered, still perfumed," is typical of lyrics and reinforces the continuing state of adornment of the lady's person. The message to her at the conclusion of the first of two stanzas is that while what is beneath the art has yet to be discovered, those gazing at the lady presume "All is not sweet, all is not sound." The fact that she requires so much makeup signals she hides something unpleasant. The lyrics imply that such subterfuge suggests a flawed character beneath a possibly flawed face.

In the second stanza the speaker expresses his desire that the lady "Give me a look, give me a face / That makes simplicity a grace." In other words he would like to peek behind her mask to observe her in her simple natural state. In addition he wants her dress also to be marked by "sweet neglect," with her hair hanging free and her robes flowing, rather than caught up, as by belts and ties for false support. His final pronouncement is that such lack of artifice

Than all the adulteries of art.

They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

By using the term adultery to mean an act of falsehood or a ruination of a state of innocence, Jonson connects the artifice involved with cosmetics to sexual infidelity. If one is not true to one's self, expressing a true identity, she cannot be true to others. Finally, while makeup and fancy hairstyles may initially attract the male gaze, ultimately they will not win his affection.

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Responses

  • aaron
    How do the rhythms of johnson's lines help to reinforce meaningsstill to ben poem?
    5 months ago

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