A spotless reputation
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.
"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].