Joseph Addison

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Can you provide a brief summary of Addison's "Party Patches"?

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Joseph Addison wrote an article, "Party Patches," in the satirical newspaper he and Sir Richard Steele published called The Spectator (meant to "delight and instruct"). It is important to note that during that era, people would wear a small mole-like "patch" attached to one side of the face or the other: a fashion statement or an adornment that could cover a scar.

Beginning in the late sixteenth century, fashionable men and women imitated this natural mark by sticking black beauty patches on their faces.

They have been called beauty marks for women (such as Marilyn Monroe) on whom the mole occurred naturally.

In this article, Addison reports that on a recent visit to the opera, he noticed a definite division between the women, a separation announced by the location of their "patches."

...I found they were patched differently; the faces, on one hand, being spotted on the right side of the forehead, and those upon the other on the left...and...their patches were placed in those different situations as party signals to distinguish friends from foes.

So in an opera box on one side of the stage were seated women of the same group, patches all placed similarly on their faces. In a box on the other side of the stage was another group of women with their patches on the other side of their faces. These two groups represented differing political parties, based, we can assume, on the political opinions of men they admired or their husbands. 

In the middle boxes were women who wore their patches without method or reason, placing them wherever they chose. These women were the "undecided" group that had not aligned themselves with either side: the Whigs or the Tories.

There is some quiet humor in this satirical piece. Addison notes one woman who has a natural mole that has actually confused many people by its placement:

...Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead; which...has occasioned many mistakes, and given an handle to her enemies to misrepresent her face, as though it had revolted from the Whig interest.

It is amusing that a woman clearly known for her support of the Whig party has a mole that has grown on the Tory side of her forehead—but Addison then further personifies the mole, as if it had a mind of its own.

In this article, Addison tries to redirect these women, letting them know that they should be above (or superior) to such behavior. And in trying to change their minds, he refers to women of the past they should endeavor to emulate.

When the Romans and Sabines were at war, and just upon the point of giving battle, the women, who were allied to both of them interposed with so many tears and entreaties that they prevented the mutual slaughter which threatened both parties, and united them together in a firm and lasting peace.

Addison points out that their actions joined two opposing sides and prevented many deaths. Though their political leanings are not those that would bring harm, Addison uses this kind of flattery to appeal to the women's sense of decorum and power: for they have the wherewithal that can improve the state of affairs in Britain. And while their behavior hardly seems noble in the battle of the patches, Addison appeals to their desire to be noble:

I would recommend this noble example to our British ladies...

He closes the article suggesting that the women do only what is appropriate to their gender.

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