Transmigration of Dexter to Dragonfly
Dexter's Contexture ~ The Array of Threads that Weave
the Fabric of this Vision ~ Homespun by the Darning Need
le

Home ~ Whiffler



Official Whiffler

Interesting indeed, that Lord Timothy Dexter promoted himself for the office of Official Whiffler for Inauguration Sunday's Banner Procession on June 24, 2001 during the weekend celebration to mark Newburyport's 150th year as a City form of government. Referenced below in the Shakespearean play Henry V, the term "whiffler" --- as described in Elizabethan glossaries and Webster's Dictionary --- is the title for an officer who clears the way for a procession. To give his Lordship a bit of "Light," to follow is the inspiration for the august role:

Shakespeare wrote Henry V in 1599 immediately after the completion of Henry IV, Part Two. Henry V is named for Prince Hal, the "madcap" Prince of Wales from the two Henry IV plays. Like Lord Dexter, Prince Hal is a lovable character, and the more one learns about him, the more endearing he becomes. "Hal," sometimes called "Young Harry," has what one might call a good soul. By comparison, Henry IV is admirable but emotionally remote and distant, dominating and forceful. Further, there are similarities regarding Shakespeare's approach to these two characters and how local historians negotiate biographies of Lord Timothy Dexter and his more patrician contemporaries.

In Henry V, Act IV, scene VIII ---- set after a victorious battle with the French, with British soldiers Gower, Williams and Fluellen. The latter exclaims to Williams: "There is more good toward your peradventure (archaic for potential, perhaps, possibly, chance) than is in your knowledge to dream of."

They challenge the ownership of a glove, the clue to an earlier betrayal of the King. Willaims asks Fluellen if he knows this globe and he responds, "Know the glove! I know the glove is glove."1 As the events unfold, Williams is accused of treason for an earlier physical encounter with the King (then in cognito), but Williams successfully defends himself. Vindicated, King Henry V (the former Prince Hal) commands that Williams' glove be filled with crowns and that he wear it in honor. He is given twelve pence, which he declines, but it is pressed upon him, if not to mend his shoes, but in good will --- and as a good luck charm.

They plan a victory march into the City. The Chorus opens Act V of Henry V, and in verse, proclaims:

Vouchsafe to those that have not read the story,
That I may prompt them: and of such as have,
I humbly pray them to admit the excuse
Of time, of numbers and due course of things,
Which cannot in their huge and proper life
Be here presented. Now we bear the king
Toward Calais: grant him there; there seen,
Heave him away upon your winged thoughts
Athwart the sea. Behold, the English beach
Pales in the flood with men, with wives and boys,
Whose shouts and claps out-voice the deep mouth'd sea,
Which like a mighty whiffler 'fore the king
Seems to prepare his way: so let him land,
And solemnly see him set on to London.
So swift a pace hath thought that even now
You may imagine him upon Blackheath;
Where that his lords desire him to have borne
His bruised helmet and his bended sword
Before him through the city: he forbids it,
Being free from vainness and self-glorious pride;
Giving full trophy, signal and ostent
Quite from himself to God. But now behold,
In the quick forge and working-house of thought,
How London doth pour out her citizens!
The mayor and all his brethren in best sort,
Like to the senators of the antique Rome,
With the plebeians swarming at their heels,
Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in:
As, by a lower but loving likelihood,
Were now the general of our gracious empress,
As in good time he may, from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit,
To welcome him! much more, and much more cause,
Did they this Harry. Now in London place him;
As yet the lamentation of the French
Invites the King of England's stay at home;
The emperor's coming in behalf of France,
To order peace between them; and omit
All the occurrences, whatever chanced,
Till Harry's back-return again to France:
There must we bring him; and myself have play'd
The interim, by remembering you 'tis past.
Then brook abridgment, and your eyes advance,
After your thoughts, straight back again to France.


To follow is a portion of the above passage to be recited by "The Official Whiffler's Chorus" upon arriving at City Hall after Inaugural Sunday's Banner Day! Procession. (After the ceremony on City Hall's steps to mark the Sesquicentennial, the procession was to then flow down Green Street past the location of the "Sign of the Glove" to Market Landing for a performance of 19th Century music by a multi-generational string ensemble formed for the celebration.) The essence distilled thusly:

Vouchsafe to those that have not read the story,
That I may prompt them: and of such as have,
I humbly pray them to admit the excuse
Of time, of numbers and due course of things,
Which cannot in their huge and proper life
Be here presented … there seen,
Heave … away upon your winged thoughts
Athwart the sea. Behold, the beach
Pales in the flood with men, with wives and boys,
Whose shouts and claps out-voice the deep mouth'd sea,
Which like a mighty whiffler 'fore the king
Seems to prepare (the) way …

… But now behold,
In the quick forge and working-house of thought,
How (the City) doth pour out her citizens!
The mayor and all (her) brethren in best sort,
… myself have play'd
The interim, by remembering you 'tis past …


1 Know the glove! I know the glove is glove! The Knowing Ones know that Dexter's leather dresser and glover shop was identified by a wooden sign with raised carvings in the shape of a glove.2 Thus newsprint advertisements directed patrons to Dexter's shop at "The Sign of the Glove across from Somerby's Landing." Once located on the southeasterly corner of Merrimac and Green Streets, the Dexter dwelling house and basement shop no longer stand and that certain lot of land is now the landscaped corner of the Green Street parking lot.

2 In the Old World, signage with visual identification was necessary for an illiterate population. These emblems remained the tradition in both the Old and New World, even as the society became more educated --- or "larned" as Dexter would say. For example, in the The Newburyport Herald issue dated January 31, 1806 one finds an advertisement for Akin's engraving of Lord Timothy Dexter directing patrons to the "Bookstore of Thomas and Whipple at the sign of Johnson's Head in Market Square." Two generations before then, "the mind-travelling Reader" would be directed to the London "shop of John Bellamie at the three Golden Lyons in Corne-hill, neere the Royall Exchange" to procure a copy of William Wood's 1634 publication of "New England's Prospect."

Interestingly, the traditional red-and-white striped barber's pole is a remnant of an era when the profession also practiced tooth extraction and performed minor surgery and other medical procedures. The origin of the barber pole appears to be associated with the service of bloodletting. The original wooden pole had a brass basin at the top, representing the vessel which received the blood. The pole itself represents the staff which the patient held onto during the procedure, and the red and white stripes symbolize the blood-stained and clean bandages. Not all shop icons were hung, however. For example, tobacconists displayed carved and painted statues of Native Americans in full regalia to tout their wares.

Today limners still produce quality wooden signs with Old World charm and craftsmanship. On the other end of the spectrum, replicas are mass-produced using manmade materials. Of course, private collectors and museum curators covet original specimens whenever they surface on the antique market. For a most fascinating experience, visit Hammond Castle in Gloucester to stroll the museum's collection of authentic shop facades reassembled as an Old World streetscape.


Back to top

The Knowing Ones welcome communication ~ LordTim@comcast.net

Site Design by Bright iDear   Copyright © 2002-2009 All Rights Reserved
Website:
http://www.brightidear.com  Email: Bright-iDear@comcast.net