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1594 __ « The Famous History of Friar Bacon » — or How Friar Bacon made a Brazen Head speak, by which he would have walled England about with brass. »''' — Speaking heads
Anonymous 16th-century tract (ca 1558-1592)
Comment : The making of speaking heads has been rumoured and written of at intervals for centuries. One of the earliest English stories of a speaking head is “The Famous History of Friar Bacon” (of 1637 ?), which tells how the famed magician Friar Bacon assists the aid of a Friar Bungay to construct a speaking head of brass that will tell him how England might be walled all round with brass. The mechanism is complete, but it has no breath and therefore no speech: « in the inward parts thereof there was all things (like as is in a naturall mans head): this being done: they were as farre from perfection of the worke as they were before, for they knew not how to give those parts that they had made motion, without which it was impossible that it should speake ». In order to animate the head, they summon a devil, whom they constrain to reveal to them « with a continuall fume of the six hotest Simples it should have motion, and in one month space speake ». (Steven Connor.)The Famous Historie of Fryer Bacon is a tale that formed the basis for the play Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, by Robert Greene. The play itself was first performed in 1594. The tale he used was much older. The original text of the comedy is in Minor Elizabethan Drama.The Pre-Shakespearean Comedies edited by Ashley Thorndike for Everyman's Library. There is no mention of the source, the date or the author of the text that Mr. Thorndike included in this volume.The earliest of Greene's plays is perhaps The Comical History of Alphonsus, King of Aragon, printed in 1599, which mentions "mighty Tamburlaine," and seems clearly modeled on Marlowe's conqueror play. Besides The Honorable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Greene's other known plays are The History of Orlando Furioso, drawn from Aristo; The Scottish History of James the Fourth, with a plot of a novella type; and A Looking-Glass for London and England, written with Thomas Lodge, which pictures the wickedness of Nineveh as a warning to London. All of these plays were printed in 1594 or later, apparently from playhouse manuscripts, and give evidence of more or less corruption or even mutilation. It is probable that Greene wrote other plays. Of the several ascribed to him by different scholars, George a Greene perhaps has the best claim to be considered. The first record of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is Henslowe's note of a performance of it as an old play in 1592. Like Alphonsus, the play is supposed to have been written in emulation of Marlowe, and is usually assigned to about 1589 as a rival to Doctor Faustus. If, however, as some scholars suggest, the proper date of Marlowe's play is 1592, then the relationship between the two must be reversed. Except for similar treatment of the marvelous powers of magicians, common in such stories, there is little kinship between the two plays. Greene drew his plot from The Famous History of Friar Bacon, a tale first known in the form of a chapbook, himself adding the romantic story of Margaret from a very slight hint of the romance. The text is apparently corrupt in several passages, and one or more whole scenes may have been omitted as a result of stage adaptation. In 1594 Henslowe has a second record of performance of the play, and it was entered in the Stationers' Register and printed in that year. (Compiled from various sources)
French comment : Robert Greene écrit "Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay", une pièce probablement inspirée du "Faust" de Marlowe et dérivée du pamphlet en prose "The Famous History of Friar Bacon". Elle raconte l'histoire fantastique de Friar Bacon et de son adjoint Bungay. (Compiled from various sources)
Original excerpt : « FRIAR BACON, reading one day of the many conquests of England, began thinking to himself how he might keep it from being conquered again, and so make himself famous to all posterity. This, after great study, he found could be best done in one way; which was to make a head of brass. And if he could make this head speak, and hear it when it spoke, then he might be able to wall all England about with brass. To this purpose he got one Friar Bungey to assist him, who was a great scholar and a magician, but not to be compared to Friar Bacon. These two, with great study and pains, so framed a head of brass, that in the inward parts of it there was everything just like that inside a natural man's head. This being done, they were as far from perfection of the work as they were before. For they didn't know how to give those parts that they had made motion, without which it was impossible for it to speak. Many books they read, but still could not find any clue for what they sought. At last, they decided to raise a spirit, and to learn from him that which they could not discover by their own studies. To do this they made everything ready and went one evening to a wood nearby, and after many ceremonies, they spoke the words 223 of conjuration; which the Devil obeyed straight away, and appeared to them, asking what they wanted. "Know," said Friar Bacon, "that we have made an artificial head of brass, which we would have speak. To do this, we have raised you. And being raised, we will keep you here, unless you tell us the way and manner of how to make this head speak." The Devil told him that he had not that power by himself. "Beginner of lies!" said Friar Bacon, "I know that you are dissembling, and therefore tell it to us quickly, or else we will bind you here to remain during our pleasures." At these threats the Devil consented to do it, and told them, that with a continual fume of the six hottest potions the head of brass should have motion, and in one month's space it would speak. The time of the month or day he knew not. Also he told them, that if they did not hear it before it had done speaking, all their labour should be lost. They, being satisfied, freed the spirit to depart. Then these two learned friars went home again, and prepared the simples, and made the fume. And with continual watching, they tended it, waiting for the time when this brazen head would speak. Thus they watched for three weeks without any rest, so that they were so weary and sleepy that they could no longer refrain from rest. Then Friar Bacon called his man Miles, and told him that it was not unknown to him what pains Friar Bungey and himself had taken for three weeks. All that they had done only to make and to hear the Brazen-head speak, which if they did not, then had they lost all their labour, and all England would have a great loss. Therefore he entreated Miles, asking if he would watch while they slept, and call them if the head spoke. "Fear not, good master," said Miles, "I will not sleep, but listen and watch over the head, and if it does chance to speak, I will call you. Therefore, I pray, both of you take your rests and leave me alone to watch this head." After Friar Bacon had instructed him in this great duty a second time, Friar Bungey and he went to sleep. And Miles alone watched the brazen head. Miles, to keep himself from sleeping, got a tambourine and pipe, and being merrily disposed, sung this song to a northern tune of : 'DO YOU NOT COME FROM NEWCASTLE?' [...] With his own music and such songs as these he spent his time, and kept from sleeping. Later, after making some noise of its own, the head spoke these two words, "TIME IS." Miles, hearing it speak no more, thought his master would be angry if he woke him for that. Therefore he let them both sleep and began to mock the head in this manner: "You brazen-faced head, has my master taken all these pains with you, and now you repay him with two words: TIME IS? Had he watched with a lawyer as long as he has watched with you, he would have given him more and better words than you have so far. If you can't speak no more than that, they shall sleep till doom's day.... TIME IS! . . . I know Time is, and that you shall hear, Goodman Brazen-face : TO THE TUNE OF 'DAINTY, COME YOU TO ME.’ [...] "Do you tell us, copper-nose, when TIME IS?" he continued. "I hope we scholars know our times: when to drink drunk, when to kiss our hostess, when to go on her score, and when to pay it,.. . . that time comes seldom." After half an hour had passed, the head did speak again, two words, which were these, "TIME WAS." Miles respected these words as little as he did the former, and would not wake them. But still he scoffed at the brazen head, that it had learned no better words when he had such a tutor as his master. And, in scorn of it, he sang this song: TO THE TUNE OF 'A RICH MERCHANT-MAN.' [...] "TIME WAS!" he jeered. "I know that, brazen-face, without your telling. I know Time was, and I know what things there was when Time was. And if you speak no wiser, no master shall be wakened by me." Thus Miles talked and sung till another half-hour was gone. Then the brazen head spoke again.these words, "TIME IS PAST." After this, it fell down and presently followed a terrible noise, with strange flashes of fire, so that Miles was half dead with fear. At this noise the two Friars awakened and wondered to see the whole room so full of smoke. But when that vanished they could see the brazen head broken and lying on the ground. At this sight they grieved, and called Miles to learn 226 how this had come about. Miles, half dead with fear, said that it fell down by itself, and that with the noise and fire that followed he was almost frightened out of his wits. Friar Bacon asked him,"Did he not speak?" "Yes," quoth Miles, "it spoke, but to no purpose. I'll have a parrot speak better in the time that you have been teaching this brazen head." "Out on thee, villain!' said Friar Bacon; "you have undone us both! Had you but called us when it did speak, all England would have been walled round about with brass, to its glory and our eternal fame. What were the words it spoke?" "Very few," said Miles, "and those were none of the wisest that I have heard either. First he said, 'TIME IS.’” "Had you called us then,' said Friar Bacon, 'we would have been made forever!" "Then," said Miles, "half an hour after, it spoke again and said, 'TIME WAS.'" "And would you not call us then?" said Bungey. "Alas," said Miles, "I thought he would have told me some long tale, and then I proposed to call you. Then half an hour after he cried, 'TIME IS PAST', and made such a noise that he woke you himself, I think." At this Friar Bacon was in such a rage that he would have beaten his man, but he was restrained by Bungey; but nevertheless, for his punishment, he, with his art, struck him dumb for one whole month's space. Thus the great work of these learned friars was overthrown, to their great grief, by this simple fellow. »
Source : Greene, Robert (1594), “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay”, ed. by Daniel Seltzer, Regents Renaissance Drama. Series, Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1963..
Source : Connor, Steven (2004), “Incidents of the Breath: In Pneumatic and Electric Ventriloquisms”, A lecture given in the series 'Artificial Others: Lectures on Ventriloquism and Automata' at the Ruskin School of Art and Drawing, Oxford, February 17 2004.
Source : Baskervill, Charles Read (1934), "Elizabethan and Stuart Plays", New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1934. pp. 247-248.
Source : Williams, Deanne (2007), "Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and the rhetoric of temporality." In Gordon McMullan and David Matthews, eds. Reading the Medieval in Early Modern England. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 53-4.
Source : Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith (1973), eds. “The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama”, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, pp. 69-72; see also pp. 56-68.
Source : Weld, John S. (1975), “Meaning in Comedy: Studies in Elizabethan Romantic Comedy”, Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, pp. 136-53.
Urls : http://www.bbk.ac.uk/english/skc/incidents/ (last visited ) http://penelope.uchicago.edu/bacon/baconhistory.html (last visited ) http://www.elfinspell.com/Bacon.html (last visited ) http://www.archive.org/stream/histoiredesmario00magnuoft/histoiredesmario00magnuoft_djvu.txt (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RmfH4nxmH4 (last visited )

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