Ben Jonson’s The Gypsies Metamorphosed: Gypsies’ Transgressive Identities as a Political Metonym of Subversiveness

도인환 /In-Hwan Doh

2018, vol.28, no.1, pp. 77-106

Ben Jonson’s masque, The Gypsies Metamorphosed, derived wildly successful responses from the courtly audience in 1621 by presenting various medleys of transgressive exoticism of gypsies: their tawny faces striped with colourful streaks, their offbeat dances accompanying their gibberish canting songs, their mysterious chiromancy combined with their dazzling legerdemain, and their protean capability to shift into kaleidoscopic identities. These exoticisms were largely constructed by the author’s fantasies projected into alien gypsies to give his audience transgressive pleasure, not to give truthful accounts of gypsies. Yet the repeated projection of these fantasies played a crucial role in bringing forth the so-called gypsyism in early modern Europe. In this respect, gypsyism is an accumulated discursive investment to fill the vacancy left by alien gypsies’ distinctive otherness. In the history of Orientalism, gypsies’ nomadic alterity has served as a psychological agency to cause ordinary settlers to make paradoxical investments: glamourization versus stigmatization. This essay argues that the stigmatizing aspect of gypsyism functions as a subversive political metonym that mirrors ontological voidness of James I’s proclamation to unite England with Scotland and tricky political maneuverings of Buckingham in the Jacobean court. Contrary to the negative implications of the gypsian subtext of Jonson’s masque, however, the glamourizing aspect of gypsies’ nomadism can be positively deployed as revolutionary potentials to decentralize our fixed conception of established beings and to activate our repressed desire for transformative becomings.