Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 August 2022
Celebrated as one of the foundational stylistic achievements of early modernity, plain talk is characterized primarily in terms of what it is not: not conspicuous, not decorated, not Latinate, not complicated. Plain talk is the most unmarked style imaginable. Scholars have generally consulted written works like Bacon’s essays for examples of this paradoxically styleless style, but this chapter turns to drama because drama stages the effects that the plain style has – or was hoped to have – on others. In city comedies like Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid at Cheapside, and John Marston’s Dutch Courtesan, plain talk projects a speaker who is, or seems to be, in public exactly as they are in private. But there is also a palpable anxiety that swirls around dramatic depictions of plain talk. It is a style that gains its full meaning and force from its relation to other styles. But it is also the result of plain talk’s distinguishing lack of distinguishing features. Brimming beneath any iteration of this unmarked style is the dread that it will go unremarked, lost in the anonymity of public life.