My dear dear lord,
The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation—that away,
Men are but gilded loam, or painted clay.
A jewel in a ten-times barr'd-up chest
Is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.

Richard The Second Act 1, scene 1, 176–181

"Reputation" in the sense of one's good name dates only from the mid-Sixteenth century, and "spotless reputation" seems to originate here. Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is in a high passion because Henry Bolingbroke (Bullingbrook), the future Henry IV, has accused him of treason, and the mere accusation sullies his reputation. King Richard calls for moderation and patience, but Mowbray demurs with this much-admired speech, which sums up one line of contemporary thought on the worth and dignity of Man. Without good name, Mowbray insists, a man is merely "gilded loam or painted clay," what Beatrice would call in Much Ado about Nothing "valiant dust" [see p. 168]. Without public honor, a man's inner virtues are like a jewel locked with ten bolts in an obscure chest. In the Renaissance, denigrating a man's name was occasion for a duel, and a duel soon ensues after Mowbray's fine speech. His sentiments are echoed both sincerely and parodically many times over in Shakespeare, for example by Iago [see WHO STEALS MY PURSE STEALS TRASH].

Themes: reputation

Speakers: Mowbray