Physical Deformity in the Elizabethan Age

Richard Rainolde, The Foundacion of Rhetorike (London: Ihon Kingston, 1563):

Although he was deformed and ill shaped, yet Nature wrought in hym soche vertue, that he was in minde moste beautifull: and seing that the giftes of the body, are not equall in dignitie, with the vertue of the mynde, then in that Esope chiefly excelled, hauyng the moste excellente vertue of the minde. (“The praise of the aucthour”)

This kyng Richard was small of stature, deformed, and ill shaped, his shoulders beared not equalitie, a pulyng face, yet of countenaunce and looke cruell, malicious, deceiptfull, bityng and chawing his nether lippe: of minde vnquiet, pregnaunt of witte, quicke and liuely, a worde and a blowe, wilie, deceiptfull, proude, arrogant in life and cogitacion bloodie. (“A narracion historicall”)

George Tuberville, “Of a Maruellous Deformed Man,” in Epitaphes, Epigrams, Songs and Sonets (London: Henry Denham, 1567):

To drawe the minde in Table to the sight
Is hard: to paint the lims is counted light:
But now in thée these two are nothing so,
For Nature splayes thy minde to open show.
We sée by proofe of thy vnthriftie déedes,
The couert kinde from whence this filth procéedes.
But who can paint those shapelesse lims of thine,
When eche to vewe thy Carcasse doth repine? (85)

Thomas Blague, A Schole of Wise Conceytes (London: Henrie Binneman, 1569):

Many Trées grewe togyther in one grounde, tall, streight, and withoute   knottes, amongst whom there was one trée low, crooked and knotty, whome for his  deformitie the other mocked. It hap|ned that the lord of the soyle wold buylde an house, for whiche he commaunded all those trées to bee cutte downe, saue that which for his shortnesse and mishapyng, woulde disfigure the house: when the o|ther were he wed downe, the euill fauou|red trée sayd thus with himselfe: Of thée Nature wil I no longer complayn, that I am mishapen, seing that such fayre trées are always in daunger.
  Mor. Lette no man bée gréeued in that beautie hurteth many. (31. “Offayre Trees, and Deformed”)

In the assemblie of birds, the Eagle sayde that he would choose the yong ones of o|ther   birds to serue in his court: and when euery one stroue to preferre his owne, the Owle sayd: I pray thee (O Quéene) receiue myne, which in beautie passe all the reste: why (quod the Egle) what beauty are thy sonnes of? The Owle aunswered: Of the same that I my selfe am: Then all the birds laughed excéedingly.
  Mor. No child is so deformed, which to his parents seemeth not faire. (320. “Of the Owle”)

Edmund Elviden, “Of Natures Works,” in The Closet of Counsells (London: Thomas Colwell, 1569):

No witte is able to douise to make the matter straight:  
Which nature with deformednes and crokednes doth frayght. (66)

Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (London: Iohn Daye, 1570):

Is he, that is apte by goodnes of witte, and appliable by readines of will, to learning, hauing all other qualities of the minde and partes of the bodie, that must an other day serue learning, not trobled, mangled, and halfed, but sounde, whole, full, & hable to do their office: as, a tong, not stamering, or ouer hardlie drawing forth wordes, but plaine, and redie to deliuer the meaning of the minde: a voice, not softe, weake, piping, womannishe, but audible, stronge, and man|like: a countenance, not werishe and crabbed, but faire and cumlie: a personage, not wretched and  deformed, but taule and goodlie: for surelie, a cumlie countenance, with a goodlie stature, geueth credit to learning, and authoritie to the person: otherwise commonlie, either open contempte, or priuie disfauour doth hurte, or hinder, both person and learning. And, euen as a faire stone requireth to be sette in the finest gold, with the best workmanshyp, or else it leseth moch of the Grace and price, euen so, excellencye in learning, and namely Diuinitie, ioyned with a cumlie personage, is a meruelous Iewell in the world. And how can a cumlie bodie be better employed, than to serue the fairest exercise of Goddes greatest gifte, and that is learning. But commonlie, the fairest bodies, ar bestowed on the foulest purposes…. For, if a father haue foure sonnes, thrée faire and well formed both mynde and bodie, the fourth, wretched, lame, and deformed, his choice shalbe, to put the worst to learning, as one good enoughe to becum a scholer. (7-8)

John Bale, The Image of Both Churches (London: Thomas East, 1570):

As concerninge thys citye in the regeneration or Sabboth to come, all will be golde, precious stone, and pearle. Theyr glorye wyll bée perfect, their knowledge whole, and theyr iudge|ment in the spirite full. All wyll be there square, euen, and right, nothinge shalbe croked, rough, and frowarde. All wil be newe and precious, no maner of deformitie appearing in ye creaturs. (116)

Thomas Hill, The Contemplation of Mankinde (London: Henry Denham for William Seres, 1571):

The learned Aristotle in his booke of gouernement, willeth that comely men be chosen in office and made Magistrates, and not mishapen and  deformed. In another place he admonisheth men to beware of those persons, which are marked by nature, according to the common opinion of men: an euill fauoured and crabbed countenance, doth euermore yeelde vntoward condicions. For by the a|greement of all writers, the countenance is euermore a bewrayer of the minde, and Martiall in his twelfth booke describeth by these signes and notes, his pieuish Zoilus and wicked backbyter, in two proper verses.

Crine niger, ruber ore, breuis pede, lumine laesus, Rem magnam praestas Zoile, si bonus es.
These englished, are thus much in effect.
Thy heares are black, thy fete be short,
purblinde to, vvith bearde readde,
A good deede do (the Prouerbe sayth)
and then cut of thy headde.
The Greeke Poet Agadius, des|cribed also a certaine lymping or halting person in this sort,
Which may thus be translated.
Why doste thou limpe and halt,
thy minde is lame I see,
These outvvard signes are tokens plain
of secrete yll in thee. (“The Epistle”)

The Phisiognomer Cocles vttereth of experi|ence knowne, ye he sildom saw any person, being crooke backed, which were of a good nature: but that these hauing the like bearing out, or bunche on the shoulders, were rather trayterous, and verie wicked in their actions. And such (sayth the Phisiognomer) were knowne in his time, to be the founders of all wicked deceites, yea wylie vnder myners and gropers of the people, and had a deepe retching wyt, and wylie fetches, in wicked actions. So that it seemeth impossible after na|ture, that such  deformed persons shoulde possesse in them laudable actions: for as much as the spi|rite connexed in such an habitude, doth yeelde a retrograde forme and propertie: which (sayth the the Phisiognomer) is knowne for the more part to be Melancholike. For which cause, a man ought carefully to beware and take héede, of fel|lowshipping or kéeping company with such infor|tunate persons, for the aboue sayde reason, and worke of nature. For these (sayth the Phisiog|nomer) are the lyke to be eschewed, as a man of skill would refuse and shunne the company of a person lacking any principall member of the bo|dye. And the like Aristotle (in secretis secretorum) vttereth, that a man ought diligently to be|ware, and take héede of an infortunate person, lacking any speciall member, as he woulde of his proper animie daungerous.

The prouerbe like warneth vs to beware, of the creatures marked: & in an other place, of the persons marked in anye member, that a man trust not them. The reason is, for that the spirites like insue vnto the forme of the body, so that out of an euill shaped bodie, can no lawdable actions procéede or be caused, as afore vttered: and this of him vttered Phisiognomically. (160-61)

Roger Baynes, The Praise of Solitarinesse (London: Francis Coldocke and Henry Bynneman, 1577):

For as diuers & sundry times we may sée, a great and mightie personage take his be|ginning from base and lowe parentage, so may we also as ofte behold a stout and valiaunt mind shrowded vnder a body, both weake, deformed, & vnhealthful: And therfore, since nature can daily make proofe vnto vs, that a noble & vertuous minde may possible lie hid vnder each kind of forme, the deformitie of the body ought not to embase yt estimation of ye mind, but the beautie of the mind ought rather to adorne the feature of the body. (10)

Raphael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: Henry Bynneman and Henry Denham, 1577):

Edmund Earle of Lancaster, by some authors surnamed Crouchback, though (as other affirme) vntruly, that this  Edmunde was the elder brother, but bicause he was a deformed person, therfore his yonger brother Edward was preferred to the kingdom, whiche was deuised of purpose to conuey a right to K. Henry the fourth, which fetched the descent from the said Edmund, and by force vsurped & helde the crowne, (1.783)

This Hugh Lacie was a man right diligent in his businesse,and carefull, and as he was an expert warriour, so yet was he not verie fortunate in iourneys nowe and then which he made vpon the enimyes. He was of vysage browne, blacke eyed and hollowe, flat nosed, with his cheeke on the right syde disfigured, by reason hee had beene [ 50] burnt by chaunce in his youth, short necked, his bodie hearie, but strong sinewed. And to conclude, of stature small, and of shape deformed. (2.40)

The Courte of Ciuill Courtesie, trans. S.R. (London: Richard Jhones, 1577):

The seconde sorte that may not be mocked or scoffed at, bee aged persons, and sutch as ve deformed, for want either of bewtie, fauour, or o|ther blemishes in their shape, stature or limmes: because none of these thinges bee faults of their owne makyng, neither lieth it in their power to amende them. So as wee ought rather to bee mooued thereby to thanke the maker of vs all, for dealyng so mutch better with vs, then with them, then to scorne or depraue them for that they cannot helpe. And if withall wee will con|syder, that the  deformities of the mynde, bee so mutche fowler then those of the body, as the soule is of more value, and ought to bee more v|niforme: it wilbee a good meane to make the outward defects of others, very small in respect of our owne, which cannot, but bee greater and many moe, and consequently, rather to escuse them, then despise them. (12-13)

“Against One Very Deformed,” in Flowers of Epigrammes, ed. Timothy Kendall (London: Ihon Shepperd, 1577):

To paint the minde tis counted hard,
the corps to paint tis light:
But now in thee so foule deformd,
it falles contrarie quight.
For nature thine doth plaine bewraie,
the manners of thy mynde:
And therefore how thy mynde is bent,
but easie tis to finde.
But now thy foule misshapen limmes,
how may they painted be?
And portraid out? when euery man
doth loth to looke on thee. (65) 

Walter Darell, A Short Discourse of the Life of Seruingmen (London: Ralphe Newberrie, 1578):

They be much to be blamed, that reproue men those blemishes they haue in their person, eyther in woords, as Master Forese da Rabatta did, laughing at the countenaunce of Master Giotta: or in deeds, as many doe, counterfeting those that stutter, haulte, or be crookte shoulderd. And likewyse, they that scoffe at any man, that is deformed, ill shapen, leane, litle, or a dwarfe, at much to be blamed for it: or, that make a gybing and iesting at such follyes as an|other man speaketh, or the woordes that escape him by chaunce: and with all, haue a sporte and a pleasure to make a man blush: all these spitefull behauiours and fashions, worthely deserue to be hated, and make them that vse them, vnworthy to beare the name of an honest gentleman. (63)

Albeit, it be a hard matter, to shewe precisely, Bewtie, what maner of thing it is: yet yt you may haue so~e marke, to know her by: you must vnderstand, yt Where iointly & seuerally, euery parte & the whole hath his due proportion and measure, there is Bevvtie. And that thing may iustly be called fayer, in vvhich the saide proportion and measure is found. And by that I did once learne of a wise & a lear|ned man: Bewtie he said, would consist but of one, at the moste. And Deformitie contrarywise, measured her selfe, by Many. (102)

John Lyly, Eupues: The Anatomy of Wyt (London: Gabriell Cawood, 1578):

Certes by how much the more the mynde is to be preferred before the body, by so much the more the graces of the one are to be preferred before the gifts of the other, which if it be so, that the contemplation of the inwarde qualitie ought to be respected more, then the view of the outward beautie, then doubtlesse women eyther doe or should loue those best whose vertue is best, not measuring the deformed man with the reformed mynde. (11)

John Lyly, Euphues and his England (London: Gabriell Cawood, 1580):

My youngest though no pearle to hang at ones eare, yet so precious she is to a well disposed mind, that grace séemeth almost to disdaine Nature. She is deformed in body, flowe of speach, crabbed in countenaunce, and al|most in all parts crooked: but in behauiour so honest, in prayer so deuout, so precise in all hir dealings, that I neuer heard hir speake any thing that either concerned not good instruction, or Godly myrth. (30)

George Whetstone, The English Myrror (London: I. Windet for G. Seton, 1586):

Our renowned Quéene Elizabeth when ye archtraitor & desperat Athiest Parry, came wt a full determination to haue slain her maiesty with his dagger, & had place & oportunity as he wished (teste se ipso) ye maiesty of her countenance, made him to lose his resolu|tion. Of ye contrary part, ye deformity of countenance, hath disgraced ye kingly qualities of a number: & for example of late yeares king Ferdinando of Spaine, a prince both discret & wise, yet of shape & countenance vgly &  deformed, this king vpon a festiual day, accompaning ye sacrament at Barcellona, at vares a Spanyard stroke him such a sound blow vppon the necke, with a short sword, as had it not béene for a great chaine of golde, he had beheaded him. The Spaniard was taken: and to learne if he had any confederates, he was put vnto the tor|ture: but for all the torment they coulde lay vppon him, hee would confesse no otherwise, but that the Phisnomie and euil grace of the king, mooued him mortally to hate him. (206-07)

William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester, The Lord Marques Idlenes (London: Arnold Hatfield, 1586):

The faire and well proportioned man is therfore nothing the more vertuous: he that is deformed and euill shapen, is nothing therfore the more vicious. (60)

William Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI (1590-91), in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

[Glou.]  Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb;
And for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,
To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub,
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size,
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam.
And am I then a man to be belov’d?
O monstrous fault, to harbor such a thought!
Then since this earth affords no joy to me
But to command, to check, to o’erbear such
As are of better person than myself,
I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,
And whiles I live, t’ account this world but hell,
Until my misshap’d trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown. (3.2.153-71) 

Richard Farrant, The Warres of Cyrus King of Persia (London: Edward Allde for William Blackwal, 1594):

[Pan.] Loue and deformitie cannot agree. (D2)

Philip Sidney, An Apologie for Poetrie (London: James Roberts for Henry Olney, 1595):

Delight hath a ioy in it, either permanent, or present. Laughter, hath onely a scornful tickling. For example, we are rauished with delight to see a faire woman, and yet are far from being moued to laughter. Wee laugh at deformed creatures, wherein certainely we cannot delight.

Michael Drayton, “King Iohn to Matilda,” in Englands Heroicall Epistles (London: Iames Roberts for N. Ling, 1597):

Doest thou not thinke our Ancestors were wise,
That these religious Cells did first deuise?
As Hospitalls were for the sore and sick,
These for the crook'd, the hault, the stigmatick,
Least that theyr seede mark'd with  deformitie,
Should be a blemish to posteritie. (11)

John Marston, “Inamorato Curio,” in The Scourge of Villanie (London: James Roberts, 1598):

I am not saplesse, old, or rumatick,
No Hipponax mishapen stigmatick,

Samuel Daniel, The Poeticall Essayes (London: P. Short for Simon Waterson, 1599):

Red fiery dragons in the aire doe flie,
And burning Meteors, poynted-streaming lights,
Bright starres in midst of day appeare in skie,
Prodigious monsters, gastly fearefull sights:
Straunge Ghosts, and apparitions terrific,
The wofull mother her owne birth affrights,
Seeing a wrong deformed infant borne
Grieues in her paines, deceiu'd in shame doth morn. (1.115)

William Cornwallis, “Of Behauiour,” in Essayes (London: S. Stafford and R. Read] for Edmund Mattes, 1601):

Let his Beauties be neuer so excellent, if not assisted by Behauiour, they turne all to Disgraces, & his whitenesse dooth nothing but make his spottes more visible. Contrarily, I haue seene deformed Bodyes, and ill fauoured Countenances, highly in mens estimations, and dearely beloued, being accompa|nied with a handsome, and discreet gouernment.

Thomas Heywood, How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife from a Bad (London: T. Creede for Mathew Lawe, 1602):

[Splay] If he that loues thee be deform'd and rich,
Accept his loue, gold hides deformitie.
Gold can make limping Vulcan walke vpright,
Make squint eyes looke strait, a crabd face looke smooth,
Guilds Copernoses, makes them looke like gold.
Fils ages wrinkles vp and makes a face
As old as Nestors, looke as yong as Cupids.