Light of love

Light of love

In Brief

In his Shakespeare talk, which is studded with countless phrases from the bard's works, Stephen uses a term for a sexually unfaithful woman from Much Ado about Nothing: "light-of-love." He uses the phrase again in Circe, where it also shows up in Bloom's mouth.

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The OED traces "light of love" to early appearances that declare it a cousin of the Elizabethan use of "light" to mean "sexually inconstant." In Euphues (1579) John Lyly uses it as an adjectival phrase: "Ah wretched wench, canst thou be so lyght of love, as to chaunge with every winde?" In Thomas Proctor's A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions (1578)  it is a noun denoting loose love: "The fickle are blamed: their lightilove shamed." Later uses cited in the OED show that it could also be a name for the loose women themselves, as in John Fletcher's The Chances (1618): "Sure he has encountered / Some light-o-love or other."

The phrase also became the title of an Elizabethan dance tune. (It was a "turkeylony," a form possibly derived from the tordiglione, a type of Italian galliard.) In the scene of Much Ado about Nothing in which Hero prepares for her wedding and Beatrice frets over her newfound love for Benedick, while Margaret needles both of them with sexual innuendo, this popular tune figures in the dialogue:

        Hero. Why, how now? Do you speak in the sick tune?
        Beatrice. I am out of all other tune, methinks.
        Margaret. Clap's into "Light a' love": that goes without a burden. Do
    you sing it, and I'll dance it.
        Beatrice. Ye light a' love with your heels! then if your husband have
    stables enough, you'll see he shall lack no barns.
        Margaret. O illegitimate construction! I scorn that with my heels.

A "burden" was the bass line in a song, and the word acknowledges the heaviness of Beatrice's love-longing, but it also echoes "the weight of a man" from several lines earlier. "Light . . . with your heels" evokes "light-heeled," another idiom for unchastity. "Barns" extends the theme of "stables," but also puns on "bairns" or children. "Illegitimate" refers not only to faulty logic but also to the fruits of promiscuity. The lush word play in these lines suggests that the lyrics of this tune (now lost?) must have set lustful thoughts racing through Elizabethan minds.

In Scylla and Charybdis Stephen imagines every sexually adventurous "light-of-love" in London keeping a copy of Venus and Adonis in her bedroom. In Circe he thinks of Shakespeare, Socrates, and Aristotle each dominated by his "light of love." In the same chapter Bloom strangely addresses the constable who is about to arrest him as both a Mason and an inconstant lover: "No, no, worshipful master, light of love. Mistaken identity."

JH 2018
Hess Burgler as Hero, Lara Mielcarek as Beatrice, Juliana Blischak as Margaret, and Katie Zarecki as Ursula in a 2015 Ohio Shakespeare Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing. Source:
William Chappell's 1859 transcription of a page from William Ballet's Lute Book (late 16th or early 17th c., held in the library of Trinity College, Dublin) showing the lute part  for "Light of Love." Source: