"Deaf As A Door"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Nicholas Breton, from an ancient Essex family, was long believed to have been born in 1555 until modern scholars found a document setting his age at 64 in 1609. Since much of his work was published at Oxford, his wealthy father may have sent him there to study. In his writing, he was influenced by his stepfather, George Gascoigne, from whom he copied his out-of-date verse technique and poetic diction. His Wil of Wits, Wits Will, or Wils Wit, chuse you whether was first published in 1580 or 1582, but all copies have been lost, and the earliest surviving edition is 1599. Breton was not as fortunate as some of his contemporaries in choice of patrons; so much of his writing, largely pious tracts, has disappeared. The Wil of Wits contains five discourses: 1. A Pretie and Wittie Discourse between Wit and Will; 2. The Authors Dreame; 3. The Scholler and the Souldiour; 4. The Miseries of Mauillia; 5. The Praise of Vertuous Ladies. In all of them, Breton's fondness for proverbs is apparent. Discourse 4, "The Miseries of Mauillia, the most unfortunate Ladie that ever lived," is divided into five miseries. She begins her suffering when not yet five years old by seeing both her parents stabbed by "bloudie fellowes" pillaging her city. At the child's cries, a poor laundress picks her up, and is rewarded with freedom, since the child pleads for her to one of the captains. However, in the second Miserie Mauillia is kept to sew and clean for him until he decides to send her to a new home, only to have her and her escort attacked by robbers. This time a boy rescues her, and she helps him without bettering her own lot. The author, on the first page, provides a brief biography of poor Mauillia.

A sweet young soule, in time of tender yeeres,
In souldiours hands, eskapéd killing neere:
And growing on, did run through many breers,
As in the booke, do plainly follow heere.
Long wandering, in a world of miseries:
Loathing her life, she lamentably dies.
Her miseries, in number are but five.
Yet in those five, five thousand haps of hate:
Which she endurde. whiles that she was alive,
And dide at last, in miserable state:
What need more words, the rest here followes on:
For mourning minds, to sit and muze upon.
The final miserie finds the melancholy narrator in possession of some money, and courted for her wealth, for herself, and for her love. She describes the least attractive suitor, not only (as we say) "deaf as a post," but "an elderly foole who having lately buried his olde Jone, would now fain play the young gentleman." Of him she says:
. . . the foole will be kissing, and the stubble of his olde shaven beard new come up so pricks mee and tickles my lippes, that I am ready to scratch them after every kisse: but yet his nose is so great that hee hath much a do to kisse kindly; besides, hee hath a stinking breath and a hollow eye.
Further, I feare by his complexion, hee hath bene a traveller in some lowe countreys. where hee hath been infected with some unholesome ayre: I gesse it the more by his speaking in the nose, and never a good tooth in his head. Hee is as deafe as a doore; I must tell him a tale in his eare, that all the town must be privie to, or else hee cannot heare mee.