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II/ “Of Yealowes and their Mingling”

Pink Stockings, Yellow Stockings: the Use of Pink-Yellow in Marston and Shakespeare



Jeune contemporain de Shakespeare, John Marston (c. 1576-1634) écrivit des pièces qui, à l’instar de The Malcontent (c. 1604), sont encore jouées. Néanmoins, sa comédie satirique What You Will, publiée en 1606, n’en fait pas partie. Son style fragmentaire, émaillé d’allusions satiriques, est largement hermétique aux yeux du public du XXIe siècle, ce qui fait que cette pièce est d’abord et avant tout un objet d’étude universitaire qui suscite l’attention des spécialistes grâce à ses liens avec Twelfth Night, or What You Will, de William Shakespeare. Outre le fait que les deux pièces auraient été composées en 1601-1602, nombre de similarités ont été mises en évidence, tant au niveau du titre que de l’intrigue, mais le recourt à des jarretières colorées (roses chez Marston, jaunes chez Shakespeare) dans les deux comédies n’a pas été étudié jusqu’à présent. Or, l’usage que fait Marston de la couleur rose dans les pièces qui nous sont parvenues peut être assimilé à quelque improbable incident chromatique car, avant le milieu du XVIIe siècle, on constate que les autres dramaturges ne l’utilisent jamais.
Dès lors, comment expliquer l’émergence précoce du « rose » chez Marston ? Cet article montre qu’une attention toute particulière portée à la fois aux dates de composition des pièces de Marston et de Shakespeare et au détail apparemment trivial des jarretières roses ou jaunes peut nous aider à interpréter le sens du mot « rose » au début du XVIIe siècle et à expliquer son apparition dans l’Angleterre de la Renaissance. Cette étude nous conduira en outre à mieux comprendre les rapports qu’entretenaient les deux dramaturges à une période marquée par la « Guerre des Théâtres », c’est-à-dire par la forte rivalité qui existait alors entre théâtres publics et théâtres privés.

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  • 1 A read-performance of the play by professional actors, although enjoyable, indicated that What You (...)

1Michel Pastoureau, in The Colours of our Memories, remarks on “the distance that may separate a real colour from what it is called” (97). This question of distance and naming is certainly true for pink – or, what I call for clarity, ‘pink the colour’. Over four hundred years have passed since the publication of John Marston’s What You Will – a play that has had a difficult relationship with scholars of the early modern period over the years. Marston’s Victorian editor A.H. Bullen, writing on the satires, felt that Marston “deliberately adopted an uncouth and monstrous style of phraseology [with] allusions […] frequently quite unintelligible to modern readers [and where] even the wits of his contemporaries must have been sorely exercised” (Bullen xviii). For George Geckle, What You Will was “perhaps Marston’s most least inspired [play]” – one that would have left him “long forgotten […] had his career ended with it” (Geckle 93, 105).1

  • 2 All OED citations are from the Oxford English Dictionary Online, Web: 23 Februa (...)
  • 3 The phrase is from Twelfth Night, or What You Will, when Viola-Cesario comments that Olivia’s facia (...)

2However, a character’s “pinke collour silk stockings” perform an important role of sorts for the Oxford English Dictionary (henceforth OED) in providing the first citation for “pink-colour” in its adjectival sense, “being of the colour pink […] intermediate between red and white” – an entry that cites What You Will’s publication date of 1607 (“pink”, n5 and adj.2, B.II.2.a).2 Today, pink mainly connotes a range of hues that are “truly blent” from lightest shell pink to nearly scarlet.3 But for Shakespeare, writing in 1597, this was not the case, as this article will show. Seminal works on chromatics, such as Pastoureau’s Blue: The History of a Colour (2001) and Bruce R. Smith’s The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture (2009) each have the advantage of working with a sole colour term that was already established in their period of study. We can be confident that when Shakespeare observed the colour of a leaf, he was thinking the same word – green – that we think of today: but when he heard ‘pink’ he would have thought of many things other than colour. Smith highlights a moment for green when pre-Descartes mind and body enjoyed a seamless duality, where green was “not a thing [but] a relationship […] part noun, part adjective, part adverb, part verb” and where thinking in colour was “a whole-body experience” (1; 3).

  • 4 I have omitted using the ‘obsolete’ obelisk † to show that my cited meanings were current in their (...)

3Was the word “pink” a ‘relationship’ and a “whole-body experience” in the time of Marston and Shakespeare? Of the word’s multiple meanings (see OED, headword “pink”), those of most relevance to the period of study were: (c. 1464-5) a type of yellowish-green paint, also known as pink-yellow (n.1); (c. 1471) a small boat (n.2.a); (c. 1478) a small fish (n.3.1); (c. 1486) the action – “to pink” – to ornament the surface of cloth or leather with a small eyelet shaped hole (v.1.I.1.); (c. 1512) “a pink” – the eyelet hole made by this ornamentation (n.4); (c. 1544) eyes being small and narrow, half-closed, and peering (v.2.1.a) and (c. 1587) of a person or animal peering, blinking, winking (b); (c. 1519) being pink-eyed, or having small, half shut, or squinting eyes (adj. 1); (c. 1566) a flower belonging to the Pink family (n.5.A.I.1.a) and, extending from this meaning, (c. 1597) the epitome of an abstract quality such as courtesy (II.3.a).4 On the question of etymology, “pink” as boat, fish, and eye, all may have Dutch connections; however, for the rest of my examples (paint, cloth-cutting technique, and flower), roots remain uncertain. Common to all meanings at this time, however, is the idea of being small (boat, fish, eyelet, flower, etc).

4Shakespeare uses “pink” four times in his works: in The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1590-1591) to describe a pair of shoes that are un-pinked (undecorated) in the heel (4.1.119); in Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595) for wordplay over Pink the flower and courtesy (2.1.54-55); in Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1606) where reference to Bacchus (the God of wine) with “pink eyen” embellishes a drunken scene and mirrors, perhaps, the squinting eyes of inebriated revellers (2.7.110-11); and in All Is True (Henry VIII), written with John Fletcher (c. 1613), to describe a “pinked porringer”, i.e. a hat decorated with pinks, worn by a haberdasher’s wife (5.2.35-38). None of these references refer to ‘pink the colour’ because this colour term is not generally used as an adjective until at least the middle of the 17th century and, as a sole colour term, must wait for the Restoration of 1660. Marston’s use of “pinke collour” in 1601-1602 interrupts a straightforward chronological journey for ‘pink the colour’.

5In this article, I firstly consider some of the ways in which early modern “pink” was described before ‘pink the colour’; then use pink/yellow stockings as a new angle for approaching the personal and dramatic relationship between Marston and Shakespeare during Theatre Wars, and finally consider whether Marston truly meant ‘pink the colour’ at this time. I conclude by thinking about why this hue does not receive wholesale acceptance until the mid-17th century and beyond.

1. Early modern pink before ‘pink the colour’

6Scholars writing on the early modern period often use ‘pink’ as if there were no distance between now and then. For example, in describing a painting from 1590, Bruce Smith notes “two female figures [who] despite their difference in social station, wear gowns of a similar cut (the noblewoman’s is blue, the citizen’s wife’s is pink), and they hold hands” (Smith 53, Plate 6). This anachronistic approach is useful because the 21st-century reader can immediately picture the desired image, a blend of red and white, and time is compressed. However, in so doing, the attempt is missed to think of the word from an early modern perspective. If contemporary observers of this painting could not say ‘a pink gown’, then, what could they say to describe a colour that is an admixture of red and white?

  • 5 For this woodcut, see Gerard 1597, vol 1, “The Second Booke of the Historie of Plants”, 472.

7Shakespeare shows an interest in this (as yet) uncharted colour in sonnet 99: here, in a moment of chastising nature for stealing beauty from the speaker’s beloved (lines 9-10), a red rose blushes for shame, a white rose blushes for despair, and a third “nor red, nor white” takes hue from both (Booth 87). This is surely the birth of ‘pink the colour’ in the sonnet. It is of note, I feel, that such a “birth” occurs in a moment of transition at the Volta – a turn that is ambiguous per se due to Shakespeare’s poem, uniquely, having fifteen lines instead of the usual fourteen expected for the sonnet form: “pink”, here, is causing a stir even in its infancy. The sonnets’ uncertain dating means that they could have been written around 1597 at the time John Gerard published his Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, a work common to many households, and one that demonstrates how ‘pink the colour’ is described before its time. One way is through a family of flowers called Pinks that included the gillyflower and the carnation. Non-standardised spelling at this time means that Gerard can write “Pinkes” (with a final “e”), yet names his chapter dedicated to them “Of Pinks [modern spelling], or wilde Gilloflowers” (vol. I, “The Second Booke of the Historie of Plants”, Chapter 173: 472-73). Ironically, “Pinks” are not necessarily ‘pink the colour’ and come in shades of purple, red, white, blue, and sky-blue. Gerard describes many flowers as “tending to whiteness”, a phrase that always suggests a colour in transition, a darker hue becoming paler, and vice versa. In order to picture ‘pink the colour’ for his readers, he deploys “blush” and “carnation”. For example, the blush rose has flowers “of a white colour, dasht ouer with a light wash of carnation which maketh that colour, which we call a blush colour” (vol. II, “The Third Booke of the Historie of Plants”, 1085). Syntax suggests that we work backwards, here: blush colour is white, with a wash of carnation. Gerard can assume that his readers know carnation. But, what is it? Most of the woodcuts in the Herball remain uncoloured, but of the few that are, the Carnation’s jagged-edged petals (ones that resemble ripped flesh) are painted a dark pinky-red.5 Blush colour needs just a little of this – a wash – that would seem to mimic the transition of a real blush, one that charts the movement of the blood from the body’s depth to its surface and leaves a mere physiological trace of emotion.

  • 6 For the dates of early modern fashion colours, see Linthicum, Index.

8An alliance between botany and the body, then, can help to picture the pink hues of blush and carnation. So, too, can the world of early modern textiles. Marie Channing Linthicum mined early modern dramatic texts, particularly Marston’s, for her Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (1936). Carnation is a fashion shade dating from around 1524 that, as for Gerard’s flower, resembles the hue of raw flesh (37); Marston uses blush colour, fashionable from 1590, for a character’s suit in What You Will that I will address shortly.6 Despite drawing heavily on What You Will for her examples, Linthicum omits to mention “pinke collour” stockings of silk, an oversight that would be understandable in a work of a breadth as yet to be matched. Yet this lacuna is fortuitous in reminding us that ‘pink the colour’ was yet to be established.

  • 7 The replica is in The Djanogly Gallery (Britain 1500-1760), Room 56, V&A, Cromwell Road, London.
  • 8 The letter and its accompanying report are the property of V&A Furniture Department Archive. With t (...)

9For Gerard and Linthicum, carnation is the colour of flesh and might be imagined as a deep pink, tending to red. Is ‘carnation’, then, an early modern equivalent for ‘pink the colour’? This idea finds corroboration in a replica of The Great Bed of Ware that is currently on display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The real bed was a contemporary tourist attraction that, as the V&A tells us, “dates back to at least 1596, when a traveller recorded it in an inn at Ware in Hertfordshire, 22 miles north of London.”7 Famously mentioned in Twelfth Night or What You Will, the bed provides one of Shakespeare’s rare contemporary references within early modern material culture. Reference to it occurs when Sir Andrew Aguecheek, facing an imminent dual with Sebastian, is urged to write to his rival by Sir Toby Belch, using hyperbolic language with “as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper, / although the sheet were big enough for the bed of / Ware […]” (3.2.44-46). However, it is the quilt covering the replica bed that is of interest to my enquiry. In 1999, Dr Charles Kightly, charged with overseeing the sourcing of materials for the replica, urged that cloths and colours be correspondent to the earlier period wherever possible, and recommended “carnation” threads for the quilt’s weaving.8 The placard next to the replica informs twenty-first century visitors that its quilt is “woven with pink (warp) and green (weft) threads”; but Kightly’s note on “carnation” is a reminder that although we think ‘pink’, an early modern weaver would have thought ‘carnation’.

10In describing blush colour as white with a wash of carnation, Gerard is trying to describe in botanical terms a sheen that mimics a human blush – a colour that, on the face, is in transition. This would be difficult to capture in Linthicum’s equivalent blush colour of fashion unless the fabric were made of shot silk, creating an opal effect of the type suggested by Feste for a doublet of changeable taffeta that will reflect Orsino’s changeable moods in Twelfth Night (2.4.72-3). That the colours of nature and the colours of cloth are seldom successfully equivalent is addressed in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), Shakespeare’s final play written with John Fletcher. Emilia, in the garden and observing the beauty of flowers, asks if her maid can “work [embroider] such flowers in silk” and concedes that they will go inside to “see how close art can come near their colours”: Emilia knows that the closest art can achieve is to ‘”come near” to nature’s beauty (2.2.127; 149-150). In descriptive terms, ‘blush colour’ and ‘carnation’ might “come near” to our ‘pink the colour’: it is time to consider Marston’s use of “pinke collour” for stockings in What You Will – a play similar to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will that also features stockings, albeit yellow ones.

2. Marston’s pink and Shakespeare’s yellow

11What You Will is undeniably challenging. It is composed of fragmentary scenes that seldom form a coherent whole and yet this fractured style could arguably render the play as proto-modernist. It will be helpful here to summarise the plot: Jacomo is in love with Celia, a new widow, newly engaged to Laverdure, a young French knight/gallant. Celia’s brothers, Randolfo and Adrian, disapprove of this hasty liaison and attempt to thwart the couple’s marriage plans by faking the return of Albano (Celia’s “drowned” merchant-husband) in the guise of Francisco Soranza, a perfumer who bears a striking resemblance to Albano particularly when dressed like him. Meanwhile, the real Albano returns to reclaim his former status and his wife. Numerous subplots include the gulling of Simplicius Faber, a small-witted gallant who owns a blush-colour suit that I will return to shortly. In the midst of the action, at act 3, a small and arguably trivial scene sees a group of pages (each of whom serves a particular gallant) escape their duties and air their grievances about life in servitude. Encouraged by their leader, Bydet, each page holds court: but Noose, a boy whose name suggests being under the collar, has the most to say. He is page to an ordinary gallant – a gallant above an apple/pippin squire (a pimp) but below a court gallant, a position to which he aspires. Noose paints an unflattering verbal portrait of his gallant:

  • 9 Line-numbering is my own.

He eates well and right slouenly, and when the dice
fauor him goes in good cloathes, and scowers his pinke colour
silk stockings: when he hath any mony he beares his crownes, when
he hath none I carry his purse, he cheates well, sweares better,
but swaggers in a wantons Chamber admirably, hee loues his
boy and the rump of a cram’d Capon, and this summer hath a
passing thrifty humor to bottle ale: as contemptuous as Lucifer,
as arrogant as ignorance can make him, as libidinous as Priapus,
hee keepes mee as his adamant to draw mettell after to his
lodging, I curle his perriwig, painte his cheekes, perfume his
breath, I am his froterer or rubber in a Hot-house, the prop of
his lies, the bearer of his fals dice, and yet for all this like the
Persian Louse that eates byting, and byting eates, so I say si-
thing and sithing say my end is to paste vp a Si quis my Masters
fortunes are forc’d to cashere me and so six to one I fall to be a
Pippin squire. Hic finis priami, this is the end of pick pockets.
(Marston 1607, E4v, 3.1.9-24)9

12The extract’s sparse punctuation creates a mood of urgency that enhances Noose’s eagerness to reveal his master’s foibles while opportunity allows. It is notable that “pinke collour” ends the line in this original publication; we focus on this dyad for a moment as if separate from the “silk stockings” that begin the following line. In turn, the stockings then take centre stage as the only fashion-item mentioned in Noose’s tirade – a sole reference that throws into relief the prestige and value of stockings at this time, particularly those knitted in silk rather than wool. In their work on stage properties, Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda write that “[t]he pawn value of a pair of silk stockings was enough to pay for 72 visits to the theatre” (182). This expense might explain why Noose’s gallant must re-wash one pair rather than purchase new ones. However, his plan to have them “scoured” when funds allow does not square with the delicacy of their fabric, particularly when the brutal laundry methods of the time are taken into account (Levey 10).

13Marston refers to a tougher fabric, i.e. “perpetuana”, in act 5, when the troupe of pages, led again by Bydet, gull Simplicius Faber – a dull-witted would-be gallant – into thinking that he has the chance of a fruitful liaison with “Mistress Perpetuana” who, they say, has a rich but (usefully) foolish husband. Before he can meet his muse, however, Simplicius must please the lady’s fool (Bydet, disguised) by handing over his possessions – dagger, feather, hat, purse, and sword – items that matter little to him because he imagines that “the first thing her / bounty shal fetch is my blush colour Satten Sute from pawn” (G4r, 23-34). The brutal gulling of Faber (troped by hard-wearing “perpetuana”) occurs when the lady is revealed to be Faber’s own page, in disguise. But Marston’s “blush colour” suit is interesting, here. Marston could have used “pinke collour” – having already introduced it for the stockings in act 3. It could be that the idea of a blush, and hence its colour, reinforces the awkwardness of Faber’s dilemma. But perhaps Marston wanted his stockings to be uniquely “pinke collour” to distinguish them from a pair of stockings in a rival play.

14In Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Malvolio is gulled into believing that a woman loves him, in this case, his Mistress, Olivia. His arrogant and pedantic manner induces Maria (Olivia’s maid) to produce a letter that bears a striking resemblance to Olivia’s own handwriting, in which Malvolio is urged to enact that which Olivia hates. Indeed, he should smile and don a pair of yellow stockings secured by uncomfortable bindings around the calves – ones that result in his stoical claim: “This does make some / obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering, but what of that?” (3.4.19-21) The noose-like trussing of his legs brings to mind Marston’s little Noose and his constricted life as a gallant’s drudge. The use of stockings by both playwrights could be mere coincidence. But can the painting world provide an extra clue to their choice? Michel Pastoureau sees chromatic study as “a multidisciplinary field of observation [where] certain domains turn out to be more fruitful than others, in particular those of dyes, fabrics and clothing”, rather than paints (2012, 170-71). However, a detour into early modern pigments offers another dimension to the story of pink/yellow.

  • 10 This research led a new entry for “pink” (n.1), predating the word to 1464-1465.

15Laura Wright’s work on “pink” in Middle English notes the request for “j lagena de pynke yelow” or “one gallon of yellow paint” in a list of materials required for a royal visit to London in the mid-15th century. For Wright, “[t]he word pink, up until the 17th century, meant ‘yellow’”, and “[she is] not aware of any satisfactory account as to why it changed its meaning” (Wright, 57-59; 62).10 It is notable that in the course of translating “pynke yelow” as yellow paint, the word “pynke” disappears from the equation. The words “up until the seventeenth century” permit temporal ambiguity here: if referring to the turn of the 16th into the 17th centuries – the cusp years – then this is exactly the time when Shakespeare and Marston appear to have been using yellow and pink, respectively, in 1601-1602. Are pink and yellow, conceptually at least, interchangeable?

  • 11 As a colour, ceruse was white, formed by “black white lead carbonate”. See Delamare and Guineau 23.
  • 12 Massicot or “masticote” was “a lead tin oxide with the bright yellow colour of orpiment, but chemic (...)

16In the botanic world, noted earlier, Gerard’s Pinks came in a range of hues – blush colour, blue, purple, red, and white. Similarly for early modern pigments, Philip Ball notes ‘pink’ as one “of diverse provenance [and] often of an indisputably yellow hue’: there were “green pinks, brown pinks and rose pinks” (Ball, 157-58). Could ‘pink’ be a catalyst of some sort? In his treatise The Art of Drawing (1606), Henry Peacham’s “Of Yealowes and their mingling” (sub-section “Pinke yealow”) advises that budding artists “grind your Pinke, if you will haue it sad [dark] coloured, with saffron; if light, with Ceruse” (58-59). Syntax, here, provides us with a bit of a red herring for “pinke”, suggesting that the “pinke”, per se, is the substance to be ground.11 Is the “pinke” a hard, rock-like material perhaps? The authors of Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory note that a painter’s kit would require “a grinding stone of crystal, serpentine, jasper, or hard porphyry”; the artist must know “how to grind lake […] how to mix pink with massicot and ceruse so as to make a light green” (Jones and Stallybrass 42).12

  • 13 “Bice” is blue, sometimes green or tending to green. See Hilliard 35.

17These instructions, including “pink” (with modern spelling) are quoted from Nicholas Hilliard’s earlier instructions on painting, circa 1598. Might the key to ‘pink the colour’ be found, here? Hilliard reveals that the limner would indeed put powder ‘in a mussel shell, mix it with water and Gum Arabic as a binder, and spread it round the side of the shell for use, soft grinding the powder afresh if this were necessary’: but, disappointingly, his “pink” is merely one of a group including verditer, sap-green, and litmus, that are considered “naught for limning”; “pink”, then, is indeed a colour but not as we know it: it is “a yellow lake [red], tending to green, often used mixed with bice to from a deep green” (Hilliard 32, 12, 37).13 This gets us no closer in understanding why, in 1601, Marston might write “pinke” for a hue of blended red and white, while Shakespeare is writing “yellow”. Could it be something to do with the so-called Theatre Wars?

3. Playwrights on the cusp: the choice of pink or yellow

  • 14 To my knowledge, I am the first critic to note the use of pink and yellow stockings in this way.
  • 15 For a good account of Mannigham, see Keir Elam, ed. Twelfth Night, Arden 3, 3-4.

18The plots of What You Will and Twelfth Night, or What You Will have many similarities: both involve shipwreck, mistaken identity, misplaced love, the plight of the overreacher, and the deployment of the phrase ‘what you will’ to varying degree. Both deploy coloured stockings at the midpoint of the action (act 3) whose owners seek preferment: Marston’s ordinary gallant hopes to be a court gallant; Shakespeare’s steward, Malvolio, desires marriage with Olivia, his mistress.14 For Matthew Steggle, What You Will is “a play whose reputation is so damaged by its link with the War of the Theatres that it has been almost completely bypassed by Marston criticism” (45). If this is the case, then we can thank the “Wars” for reminding us of Marston’s work. But, what were the “Wars”? In Shakespeare & the Poets’ War, James P. Bednarz succinctly defines “a series of interrelated plays written between 1599 and 1601 [that reflected] an intense and often acrimonious debate concerning the practice of dramatic representation” (2). Might such “dramatic representation” include stockings of pink and stockings of yellow? For this to be so, Marston’s work must be chronologically aligned with Shakespeare’s. After years of scholarly debate on dating, Charles Cathcart (a more recent Marston critic) can state with confidence that “all scholars agree [What You Will] was written some six years before its appearance in 1607” (45). This places Marston’s play at 1601 but he could of course have been writing in 1600. Shakespeare’s play has the advantage of a recorded performance. Scholars concur that a diary entry from the young lawyer John Manningham corroborates a performance of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will in 1601-1602.15 No such record for Marston’s play exists. As Cathcart explains:

There is no allusion to any staging of the play on its title page or elsewhere; indeed, no record exists of any contemporary performance of What You Will. And (unless there should have been a publication now lost to us) there was no printed text to turn to [but it is possible that What You Will] was played in the period before its printing […] (49-50)

19Critics usually agree that Shakespeare must have come first. For George Geckle, plot similarities suggest Marston had ‘more than Shakespeare’s subtitle in mind when he wrote What You Will’ (Geckle, 1980, 93). Bednarz saw Marston “clicking at [Shakespeare’s] heels”: while conceding the younger playwright’s artistic merit, he suggests that Marston “pilfered Shakespeare’s subtitle for his own comedy” (158, 167). But it is equally possible that Marston came first and that Shakespeare followed him. Or, perhaps, they wrote at the same time. If pink and yellow can be considered together at the turn of the century, might this have a bearing on their choices of stockings, and of colours? We might first consider some of their possible reasons for choosing “pinke collour” and yellow.

20If “pinke” is a new colour for Marston, then why might he use it? Symbolism can only be speculative. A modern view of ‘pink the colour’ can be helpful, here. In Pink: The Exposed Color, Barbara Nemitz finds that

Pink addresses our senses in more ways that other colors. Our eyes blend white (the color of brightness and light) with dominant red (which radiates warmth and vitality), and elicits the sense of touch (the human skin, the organ responsible for physical feeling), the sense of closeness, the sense of taste (sweetness and fruitiness), and the sense of smell (the fragrance of blossoms) (27).

21This reading of ‘pink’ does not seem applicable for the gambling, messy eater, of Noose’s account. In a less common meaning from around 1602, ‘pink’ could refer to a beauty, a well-dressed person, or a dandy (OED A.n5.II.4.4). If we presume that this type of “pinke” is available to Marston in 1601, then it would certainly add a touch of irony that a man who aspires to be a court gallant should cling on to his sole pair of “pinke collour silk stockings” that can only be washed when winnings allow. Or, perhaps an association of royalty lies behind Marston’s chromatic choice?

  • 16 Eglantine and sweetbriar both have pink flowers.

22He may be the first dramatist to use “pinke collour” but he is not the first to use it, per se. In her seminal work transcribing inventories from 1600, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, Janet Arnold, the late clothes historian, recorded two entries for “pink collour”: both were mantles, one “with a traine of pale pincke coloured networke” and one “of pincke Colour net striped with silver or Copper” (257-58). Unless these are misprints for the cloth-cutting term of “pinking”, mentioned in my introduction, these entries show the presence of ‘pink the colour’ the year before Marston is writing What You Will. It may, too, confirm our ‘pink’ as the Queen’s colour. Juliet Dusinberre suggests as much in her editing of Shakespeare’s As You Like It where she notes eglantine or sweetbriar as the Queen’s third colour, augmenting the austerity of her usual black and white (105).16 Where might Marston have heard of Elizabeth and ‘pink’? It is possible that the Middle Temple crowd of courtiers, lawyers, spectators, and fellow playwrights, may have had inside information on courtly life, at a time when hearing a play was as important as seeing a play. Marston says so in his Induction to What You Will, when Atticus asks “what stuff must clothe our ears: what’s the play’s name?’ (84-85). In a similar vein, the likelihood of “boisterous fellow students” at a contemporary performance of Twelfth Night have been proffered as accounting for John Manningham’s mistaking Olivia for a widow (rather than a grieving sister) in his diary note on seeing the play, as Paul Edmonson notes (2). A noisy environment might cause confusion and mishearing: but it could also provide fertile ground for a new buzzword. An audience might find it funny that Noose’s ordinary gallant wears “pinke”, a colour that highlights the man’s yearning for a regal status beyond his reach.

23Shakespeare had the advantage of yellow being an established colour term in 1601-1602. He does not need to tell his audience that Malvolio wears ‘yellow colour’ stockings: ‘yellow stockings’ suffice. Many theories have been advanced over the years for Shakespeare’s choice of yellow: in an early account, Linthicum offered yellow as a colour of the court, as a signifier of youth, as a sign of jealousy, and/or to codify Puritanism (1927, 87). Olivia’s distaste may anticipate the fact that yellow continues to be one of the least loved colours since opinion polls began in around 1880 (Pastoureau 2012, 146). But it is still puzzling that Olivia should detest yellow to the extent that she does, and enough for Maria to know that she can truly humiliate Malvolio by gulling him into wearing it. Pastoureau reminds us that yellow was pure, unlike green, that, for early moderns, was seen as “no longer a base colour but a secondary one, a mixed color, the product of blue and yellow” in a similar way to pink’s being an amalgam of red and white (Pastoureau 2014, 137).

  • 17 Today, size or distemper (known colloquially as pink) is used when preparing walls for painting: it (...)
  • 18 Laura Wright suspects that pink was a name for liquid yellow. I am grateful for our discussions on (...)

24Might a contemporary understanding of the alliance of pink-yellow add something new to the mix? As the liquid element of “one gallon of pink-yellow” suggests, “pinke” could have been known as a cheaper ingredient used to increase the volume of yellow.17 In such a reading, Malvolio’s stockings may imply cheapness, which would be an affront to Olivia’s noble status. The notion of increased liquid might even hint at the volume of Olivia’s “great pees”, noted when Malvolio peruses the intricacies of her (Maria’s) handwriting and observes: “These be her very c’s, her u’s, and her t’s, and thus makes she her great P’s” (2.5.85-87). The idea of ‘pink-yellow’ provides a new portal of understanding for lines that continue to baffle modern audiences but that might have provided an in-joke for contemporary spectators.18 In a similar fashion, the “pinke” element in Noose’s gallant’s silk stockings may have suggested them as cheap, in sympathy with their master’s behaviour.

25The idea of pink-yellow being synonymous allows us to consider that, despite being in the backwash of a time of theatrical acrimony, it was also a time of sharing. Plagiarism did not yet exist, and imitation was flattery. Katherine Duncan-Jones, in Shakespeare: An Ungentle Life, finds that “both men wrote comedies called What You Will” with “the shared title” reflecting the Middle Temple atmosphere where “students learned to sharpen their wits through disputation” – here, then, the title is “shared”, as Duncan-Jones portrays a young John Marston who “proclaims his own leading membership of that fan club of bright young men who idolize ‘sweet Master Shakespeare’ [thereby offering] a glimpse of the parallel, yet connected, lives led by the two writers during these turn-of-the-century years” (165-66).

26Finally in this article, I would like to play devil’s advocate for a moment and proffer the idea that Marston’s “pinke” might be a colour of errors. Did he mean “pinked” stockings that are coloured, that is, ones that are decorated with ornamentation (pinks) and of an unspecified colour. This would be the more common understanding of pink on the cusp of the 16th-17th centuries. For Cathcart finds, “[e]ditors usually consider that the printed plays of 1602 to 1606 have reasonably tidy texts and frequently detect signs of authorial proof reading”; however, “evidence for What You Will’s revision is considerable” (46; 55). Inconsistencies in the play mean that our Noose may, or may not, resurface in the final act as the present (yet speechless) Nous or Nows. It is rather pleasing to think of Noose let loose once more at the end of the play, free to cause havoc with the other pages in the gulling of a gallant. It is generally thought that Marston’s manuscript for What You Will is little changed (Woodhead iv). In which case, the “pinke collour” that he writes in 1601 is still there in 1607. Marston’s “pinke” is supported, too, when it is remembered that he was a young man in his twenties when writing this play. With Italian ancestry in his blood, he may well have been interested in fashion, as attested in the presence of clothing in his plays. His interest in a new colour term may be corroborated by his apparent keenness to bring new words to the English vernacular, as seen in W. Reavley Gair’s observing of a drop in “verbal invention” and the coining of only “six new words” in What You Will, a critique that reveals a contemporary expectation for Marston to augment the language (141). Yet, it does seem strange that only a year earlier, for Antonio and Mellida (1600), Marston refers to an item of clothing that is pinked, coloured, and scoured. This occurs in Flavia’s comment:

  • 19 In Bullen, Works, p. 40.

[…] in / ancient times were not those satin hose? In good faith, now they are new dyed, pink’d, and scoured, they show as well as they were new.

27One year later, Marston writes of ‘pinke collour silk stockings’ that their owner hopes to ‘scower’. Has Marston progressed from a cloth cutting term to a colour in just twelve months? Is he merely recycling words in a different order? Does wordplay on old-fashioned trousers that are now newly dyed and pinked, anticipate that colour as “pinke”?

Conclusion: pink, interrupted

  • 20 See Suckling’s, Brennoralt in Fragmenta Aurea, XIr, [p. 177], line 27, as counted from the top of t (...)
  • 21 This is the subject of future work beyond the scope of this article and my thesis.

28If John Marston is the first playwright to use ‘pink the colour’ in its adjectival sense then the question remains as to why this usage is not appropriated by other contemporary playwrights until nearly the Restoration when, for example, reference can be made to a girl in “a pink colour taffaty [taffeta] petticoat” in Sir John Suckling’s Brennoralt A Tragedy (c. 1658).20 It is of note perhaps that this play was probably written during the Interregnum and the closure of the theatres. Marston’s What You Will (written in 1601) lay unpublished until 1607. Both plays – ones that feature ‘pink the colour’ – share a liminal sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. By 1660 and beyond, ‘pink’ is the sole colour term that we know today. It could be that there were simply too many ‘pinks’ for Shakespeare and his contemporaries to deal with at this time, such as the variety of meanings for the word mentioned detailed in my introduction. By the Restoration, ‘pink’ is still used in its earlier senses but there is perhaps more room for pink as a sole colour term and, even, more need for it: for example, this is era when women are allowed to act on the stage for the first time.21 Work on early modern colour will always be work in progress due to the elusive nature of available evidence. No supporting evidence is needed for Malvolio’s yellow stockings: they are a verbal motif that is translated into a visual image that colour one of the most famous and popular scenes in the Shakespearean canon. However, we never see Noose’s gallant and his stockings are merely described as “pinke collour”; it is ironic perhaps that if the play were performed today, the props department would still have no need for “pinke collour silk stockings”.

29For Charles Cathcart, “[t]he quest to clarify the murky provenance of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean texts is difficult; it is valuable; and it requires circumspection” but, he adds, “it also holds out a rich promise of illuminating the interrelationship of texts at a significant and intriguing point in English literary history” (13). The provenance of a colour within an early modern text certainly requires circumspection but it is hoped that a study of pink-yellow has illuminated something of the relationship, both chromatic and personal, between Shakespeare and Marston that has to date been unexplored. Michel Pastoureau’s quotation that began my enquiry provides a fitting way to end it: for ‘pink the colour’, “the distance that […] separate[s] a real colour from what it is called” (2014, 97) is labyrinthine. For Shakespeare, ‘pink’ was many things but not a colour: for us, pink is mainly a colour and little else, with pinking (the cloth cutting term) confined both to the borders of cloth and to the coterie of the sewing room. Scholars of Shakespeare are often asked if he wrote the plays, and are prepared to answer with the defence that there is more evidence that he did, than that he did not. Similarly, the relationship of the word ‘pink’ to early modern culture would suggest that a colour is unlikely. But until evidence appears to the contrary, it seems right and gracious to grant John Marston with the first use of ‘pink the colour’ in extant early modern drama.

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Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d: The Inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes prepared in July 1600, Leeds: Maney, 1988. Print.

Ball, Philip. Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour, London: Viking, 2001. Print.

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1 A read-performance of the play by professional actors, although enjoyable, indicated that What You Will would need to be radically adapted for the tastes of 21st century audiences. With grateful thanks to Emma Bown, Callum Coates, Julian Eardley Amy Finegan, Will Harrison-Wallace, Peter Kenny, Sonya Raymond, Matt Steinberg, Joan Walker, for a read-through of What You Will at The Actors Centre’s Studios, Tristan Bates Theatre, London, 2012.

2 All OED citations are from the Oxford English Dictionary Online, Web: 23 February 2015.

3 The phrase is from Twelfth Night, or What You Will, when Viola-Cesario comments that Olivia’s facial colouring is “truly blent, whose red and white / Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on” (1.5.228-29). This and all other quotations from Shakespeare are from The Complete Works, eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.

4 I have omitted using the ‘obsolete’ obelisk † to show that my cited meanings were current in their own historical moment.

5 For this woodcut, see Gerard 1597, vol 1, “The Second Booke of the Historie of Plants”, 472.

6 For the dates of early modern fashion colours, see Linthicum, Index.

7 The replica is in The Djanogly Gallery (Britain 1500-1760), Room 56, V&A, Cromwell Road, London.

8 The letter and its accompanying report are the property of V&A Furniture Department Archive. With thanks to staff in the Department of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion for their assistance during my visit.

9 Line-numbering is my own.

10 This research led a new entry for “pink” (n.1), predating the word to 1464-1465.

11 As a colour, ceruse was white, formed by “black white lead carbonate”. See Delamare and Guineau 23.

12 Massicot or “masticote” was “a lead tin oxide with the bright yellow colour of orpiment, but chemically neutral with regard to other pigments”. See Delamare and Guineu 58.

13 “Bice” is blue, sometimes green or tending to green. See Hilliard 35.

14 To my knowledge, I am the first critic to note the use of pink and yellow stockings in this way.

15 For a good account of Mannigham, see Keir Elam, ed. Twelfth Night, Arden 3, 3-4.

16 Eglantine and sweetbriar both have pink flowers.

17 Today, size or distemper (known colloquially as pink) is used when preparing walls for painting: it acts a wash or undercoat to make the expensive topcoat more durable.

18 Laura Wright suspects that pink was a name for liquid yellow. I am grateful for our discussions on this subject.

19 In Bullen, Works, p. 40.

20 See Suckling’s, Brennoralt in Fragmenta Aurea, XIr, [p. 177], line 27, as counted from the top of the page.

21 This is the subject of future work beyond the scope of this article and my thesis.

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Anita BUTLER, « Pink Stockings, Yellow Stockings: the Use of Pink-Yellow in Marston and Shakespeare », E-rea [En ligne], 12.2 | 2015, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2015, consulté le 24 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.4435

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King’s College London
Anita Butler recently completed her AHRC funded PhD, “The Shakespearean Blush: Body, Colour and Emotion within the Material and Cultural Contexts of Early Modern Drama” at King’s College London, under the supervision of Professor Gordon McMullan. This article is an adaptation of the 4th chapter of her PhD., “Nor red nor white: towards early modern pink”. Anita Butler is keen to situate future work within the emerging field of cognitive science and performance.

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