Him is a play in three acts that combines elements of vaudeville,
the circus, and expressionism. The play was first produced at
Playhouse in New York in 1928. (Cummings himself wrote the "*WARNING*" that appears at
the top of the playbill.) With 71 parts, actors
often doubled or tripled or quadrupled roles. (The actor who plaed the Doctor
also palyed eight roles in Act II, including Mussolini and the Barker. Here
is a cast list, as drawn up by Allison Carruth.)
The idea of a dream play may have been suggested to Cummings by the Provincetown
Playhouse's production of Strindberg's The
Dream Play, which EEC characterized as having a "luminous
existence" (Miscellany 144). Strindberg's play is more
dream-like than Cummings' Him and contains no circus
or vaudeville scenes, but it does feature two minor characters named
"He" and "She," a character named "The Poet," and a central female
character (Indra's daughter) who observes all the scenes and participates
in many of them. The Dream Play premiered January
20th, 1926 and was directed by the same James Light who directed
Him (see Deutsch and Hanau 141-42, 158-62, and 285-287).
Him may also have benefited from the examples of John Dos
Passos' play The
Garbage Man (1926) and John Howard Lawson's Processional
(1925). The drawing at the left appeared on the cover of the
first edition and illustrates the passage in Act I, scene two when
Him explains that being an artist is like performing a high-wire act
in the clouds. (For EEC's discussion of this scene, see nonlecture five.)
For an interpretation of some autobiographical aspects of Him,
see Linda Wagner-Martin's "Cummings'
Him—and Me" [Spring New Series 1 (1992):
28-36]. Large portions
of Him appeared in The Dial of
August 1927, pp. 101-127. [Act I, scene ii, Act II, scene vi, and
Act III, scenes i, v, vi (in part), and vii.]
In his notes to the play, Cummings writes that Him "is a combination of
Weirds—before the curtain-picture, with their backs to audience)
sense(Him & Me—the revolving room
symbol(Act II entire)
I,i (3 / 3) [and I, iii (17 / 16)] The prophetic nonsense spoken by the three Figures (known as "Weirds") is in some ways modeled on the speeches of the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It's Toasted = Slogan on packets of Lucky Strike brand cigarettes. The word hippopotamus means “river horse” in Greek—in contrast to the hippocampus (seahorse) at the end of Act I.
I.i. (4 / 4) Mr. Anybody --Him's first nom de plume name
may remind the reader of Odysseus' famous pseudonym, "Nobody"
or "No Man" (Homer, Odyssey 9.366). See also the
medieval morality play, Everyman.
de la Poussière = "Marquis
of Dust" [French].
Miss Stop, Miss Look and Miss Listen = "Stop, Look, and Listen" was a warning sign on railway platforms. (See note to page 9.) In Act II, scene iii, people stop, look, and listen to hear a soap box orator's spiel selling patent medicine (39-45 / 33-38). The Three Weirds are again called Miss Stop, Miss Look, and Miss Listen on page 132/114. Irving Berlin's song "Stop! Look! Listen!" (1915) may also be relevant. Here's the first refrain:
Look! Listen to a friend's advice
Better look before you leap
Or you'll be in water deep
For God's sake don't get married, don't give up your name
Then he'll stop, look, listen to his friend's advice
But he'll go out and marry just the same
I.ii. (9 / 8) married a Holeproof. "Holeproof"
= brand name
I.ii. (9 / 9) I don’t see the engine = "I don’t see the train coming."
(9-10 / 9) a definite hunch . . . hunchback =
Me "starts" at the word "hunch" because she is worried that she might be
pregnant (see note to pages 21-24 / 19-22). She covers up her fears
by talking about a "hunchback" as "good luck" (10 / 9). But when she says
she'd like to read the play that Him is writing, she makes the Freudian slip
of asking, Have you got it in your hump? (when she means to say "pocket").
The stage directions at the beginning of Act III, scene vi describe the Doctor
as disguised as a hunchback Barker (132 / 114). Then the third Weird,
Miss Listen, says his name is Nascitur, which would mean: "his name
is being born, arises, originates, begins, is produced, springs forth,
proceeds, grows, is found." [Latin].
(10 / 10) My God, have I a hump?--Him's response
to Me's "hump" remark and his subsequent suggestion to "let the mirror decide
the question" may indicate that he understands the implication that Me might
(11 / 10) A little embonpoint = a small swelling or plumpness. In French, the phrase en bon point means "in good point" or "in good form." Cummings probably borrowed the word from the "Wandering Rocks" chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, in which Leopold Bloom stops by a book stall and reads a few lines from a mildly pornographic novel called Sweets of Sin about a woman's "heaving embonpoint," or curvy bosom. In Him, embonpoint refers to the pregnancy imagery of "hump" and "hunch." Him says that he is working on his own little hump or hunch, but he fears that may be producing only a kind of mental masturbation. (The master at his imaginary prep school is named "Bates.")
(11 / 11) zygote = "a diploid cell resulting from the fusion of two haploid gametes; a fertilized ovum."
(12 / 11) fourdimensional ideas: see Cummings'
painting Fourth Dimensional Abstraction. See also note (140 / 122).
(12-13 / 11-12) In his i: six nonlectures (81), Cummings comments on this "artist-as-acrobat" scene. EEC reads this scene on in his first Caedmon recording, now out of print. This LP was re-released in 2007 in CD format under the name The Essential E. E. Cummings, but it, too, is no longer in print.
(15 / 14) sabe usted quién soy = “do you know what it is?” [Spanish].
(19 / 17) casazza = according to Cummings' notes, "a madeup word(burlesk)."
I.iv. (20 / 18) Keyring Comedies
and Keyhole Farces = a play on the popular silent movies
called Keystone Comedies. (Also a play on the phrase
(20 / 19) gimme a chord professor = instruction given by a vaudeville or burlesque performer to the piano player or conductor, who was often called "professor." See the end of Act II, scene xiii (74 / 65).
longlost nombril = navel [French]. (See omphalos above and on page 121 / 105.)
(22 / 20) I've got the machine who's got the god?—a play on the theatrical expression deus ex machina, the "god from the machine" [Latin]. A god or godlike character appears at the end of the play to assign rewards and punishments and to tie up all loose ends.
(22 / 20) Ars longa vita brevis. The Est--? = "Ars longa vita brevis est" = "Art is long, life is short" [Latin]. The Est = The Is [Latin].
(23 / 21) armies of unalterable law = a quote
from the last line of T. S. Eliot's "Cousin Nancy":
"Upon the glazen shelves kept watch / Matthew and Waldo, guardians
of the faith, / The army of unalterable law." [The phrase Matthew
and Waldo refers to Matthew Arnold (1822-88) and Ralph
Waldo Emerson (1803-82).]
(23 / 21) Morgen. = [Good] morning [German].
(23 / 21) Professor Roland Thaxter Neighbor of the youthful E.
E. Cummings in Cambridge, Massachusetts (see Kennedy, Dreams 22).
(21-24 / 19-22) The dialogue on these pages may be clarified
by the following interpretation from Cummings' notes:
1)a man & woman(H & M)are living together H is an artist--
i.e. a person incapable
of compromise,fighting an un-world [x-ed out: in the name of Beauty.] She loves him. He idealizes
her. b has shut me from the truth
a)her fear of pregnancy (p 21)—he removes it by pretending to be on the point of
committing suicide(p 23)whereupon,in terror,she menstruates(24)
[Houghton Library, Harvard
University: MS Am 1892.6 (52)]
(24 / 22) King C. Y. Didn’t Gillette Meknow— A guy named King C. Gillette founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company and appeared in its newspaper advertisements. Him's line is a pun: "King see, why didn’t you let me know?"(29 / 27) The planes overlap sometimes —Cummings says in his notes that this is a quote from the painter Paul Cézanne. In one of Cummings' favorite books, Willard Huntington Wright’s Modern Painting (1915), Wright quotes Cézanne as saying: "I see the planes criss-crossing and overlapping, and sometimes the lines seem to fall" (146).
"POISONED! -- as They Chatted Merrily at Their Work
Painting the Luminous Numbers on Watches, the Radium Accumulated in
Their Bodies, and
Without Warning Began to Bombard and Destroy Teeth, Jaws and Finger Bones. Marking
Fifty Young Factory Girls for Painful, Lingering,
But Inevitable Death"
The drawing appeared on p. 11 of the Hearst Sunday supplement American Weekly, February 28, 1926 (Clark xiv). See also Kate Moore's recent book concentrating on the lives of the women themselves: The Radium Girls.
II.iv. (45-49 / 38-42) Will and Bill, two partners
in business. This scene parodies Eugene O'Neill's play
The Great God Brown (1925) in which some characters wear
masks symbolic of their public faces or selves. One character (Bill
Brown) assumes the identity of another (his deceased rival, Dion Anthony)
by donning his mask. EEC's character Him may be indebted to that of
Anthony, a failed artist who does not proceed. When Brown
asks Cybel, an Earth-mother / prostitute figure, why Anthony is so
attractive to women, she responds, "He's alive!" (340).
II.iv. (48-49 / 41) Masks and ghosts . .
. Larva, pupa and . . . imago —According to C. G. Jung's
Psychological Types (1923), a book which Cummings owned
and heavily annotated,
With the primitive [human]
. . . the imago, the psychic reverberation of the sense-impression,
is so strong and so avowedly sensuous in hue and texture that,
when it appears reproduced, i.e., as a spontaneous
memory-image it sometimes even has the quality of an hallucination.
Thus when the memory-image of his dead mother suddenly reappears
to a primitive, it is as if it were her ghost he sees and hears. (Jung, Types 42).
II.iv. (49 / 41) Life is a cribhouse = "Life is a cabin or hovel." See also in the next scene Cummings' version of the “Ballad of Frankie and Johnny” (51-56/47-52), in which the cribhouse, or the cheap, run-down brothel where Frankie lives, is contrasted with the parlourhouse, the much more upscale establishment where Johnny visits Frankie's rival. Cummings may also be referring to Arthur Hugh Clough's Amours de Voyage, Canto I: "Come, let us go; though withal a voice whisper, 'The world that we live in, / Whithersoever we turn, still is the same narrow crib'." (lines 5-6).
|II.v. (49-54 / 42-46) Frankie
Sloan wrote to James Light, the director of the play: "Him is about as thrilling an evening's entertainment as I have ever experienced. I liked it thoroughly—I don't claim to understand it—I do not believe that a work of art can be, nor need be, understood, even by its maker. It seemed to me to be a glimpse inside the cranium of an artist-poet" ("Stagestruck").
John Sloan, The Frankie and Johnny scene from Him, 1928
Sloan's comments on understanding the play echo Cummings' "WARNING," printed in the program:
"Relax and give the play a chance to strut its stuff—relax,
stop wondering what it is all 'about'—like many strange and familiar
things, Life included, this Play isn't 'about,' it simply is.
. . . Don't try to enjoy it, let it try to enjoy you. DON'T TRY TO
UNDERSTAND IT, LET IT TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOU" (quoted in Kennedy 295).
II.v. (54 / 47) John Rutter = John
S. Sumner (1876-1971), "executive secretary of the
New York Society
for the Suppression of Vice" (Daniels 81). See note
to "the season 'tis,my lovely
lambs" (CP 265).
II.vi (63 / 54-55) eels . . . mice—see Act I, scene ii (7) and Act II, scene v (57 / 49).
II.viii. (65-74 / 57-65) The Old Howard's conception of a luxurious Roman villa . . . The Old Howard Theatre was a burlesque house in Scollay Square, Boston. Long since demolished by "illustrious punks of Progress" (CP 438), Scollay Square and the Old Howard were for years "famous for supplementing the curricula of Harvard students" (Park). See also the web page "History of Scollay Square."
EEC wrote to Charles Norman about this scene:
(2) a favorite fascist slogan in the "onorevole BENITO'S" early days was sempre avanti Savoia i.e. forever onward(& upward with)the house of Savoy.
(3) Him Act II Scene 8 is thus built on a pun--SAVOY equals (a)Italian royalty,temporarily rescued from soidisant socialism by Mussolini;& (z)the unbelievably hideous incomparably obscene & excruciatingly funny Female(pour ainsi dire)Impersonator Bert S.
(4) that's why the fairies have lightningrods. It's also why Him talking with Me on page 73 ,describes these "Ecce Homos" as "the only lineal descendants of the ancient and honourable house of Savoy."
(5) But,in my experience,enthusiastic advocates of any form of totalitarianism are inclined to be nothing-if-not-queer,mentally if not otherwise(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana,the Virgil of EIMI,is a good illustration of the otherwise). (quoted in Norman 220-21)
(68 / 59) If Winter
Comes = best-selling novel
by A. S. M. Hutchinson (Little, Brown, 1921). The book "describes
the unhappy marriage and divorce of Mark Sabre and the suicide of Effie
Bright, a single mother" (Fahy, Staging 78).
(70 / 61) "hands locked behind
. ." — Napoleon as described by Robert
Browning in his poem "Incident
of the French Camp."
(71 / 62) To S. M. Il Re! = "To His Majesty the King!"
[Vittorio Emanuele II, King of
(73 / 64) Ecce Homos— "Ecce Homo" is an inscription often found on crucifixes and crucifixion scenes. It means "Behold the man" [Latin].
(74 / 65) Congressman Mann who freed the slaves --"U. S. Rep. J. R. Mann gave his name to the White Slavery Act of 1910, popularly known as the Mann Act. It decreed fines and imprisonment for persons transporting 'any woman or girl' across state lines for the purpose of prostitution or 'any other immoral purpose'" (Gerber 177-178).
(90 / 78) Mademoiselle d’Autrefois =
formerly, once [French].
(91 / 78) Ahsh
E. M. spells "H – I – M" as the letters are pronounced in
(96 / 83) Eheu fugaces—refers to Horace,
Odes, II.14: "Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
/ labuntur anni nec pietas moram / rugis et instanti senectae
/ adferet indomitaeque morti": "Ah, Postumus, Postumus, how fleeting
/ the swift years—prayer cannot delay / the furrows of imminent old-age
/ nor hold off unconquerable death.” (Also quoted or parodied in
CP 234, CP 492, and CP 986.)
III.ii (99 / 85) Happiness in every box = advertising
slogan for United Retail Candy Stores. Before opening their first New York
store in May 1920, United Candy posted mysterious advertisements around town
featuring this slogan (Fahy, Staging
62 and " "
75). See also Orline Foster, "There's
'Happiness in Every Box'."
III.ii (99 / 85) Happiness in every box = advertising slogan for United Retail Candy Stores. Before opening their first New York store in May 1920, United Candy posted mysterious advertisements around town featuring this slogan (Fahy, Staging 62 and "Ambiguous
75). See also Orline Foster, "There's
'Happiness in Every Box'."
(100 / 86) Belasco
Au Père Tranquille, circa 1931
(100 / 86) Donny mwah un omb = "Give me a shadow
[ombre] or man [homme]."
(109 / 94) The headwaiter's speeches may be translated
as follows: "A dozen for each of you?" "And to follow, a good
rumsteak--a chateau--a veal sauté?" "And then--a little
bit of cheese--a dessert?" "We only have champagne, msieur."
(110 / 95) carrying . . . a cabbage
—since the restaurant, Au
Père Tranquille, was located next to Les Halles,
formerly a very large outdoor produce market, it makes perfect
sense for Him to be carrying a cabbage he has just purchased.
Him (To Waiter): Trois whis-ky et une assiette. = "Three whiskies and a plate."
Waiter: Une assiette msieur—comment—? Une assiette anglaise? = "A plate, monsieur—what—? A cold buffet?"
Him: Une assiette nature, pour le choux. = "A clean empty plate for the cabbage."
(115 / 99) shall we dance the I Touch? = "shall we make love?"
III.vi. The Barker in this
scene speaks with a demotic New York accent. Here are some equivalents
for Cummings' phonetic rendering of his speech: tuh
= to; duh = the; dis = this; nut = not; uv = of; uh
= a; ur = or; un = and / on; us = as; ut = at; dut =
that; were = where; toity = thirty. (133
/ 115) clawt = cloth; poisun's = person's;
oit's = earth’s. (135 / 118) swollud
= swallowed; indigenes = indigenous. (136 / 118) refois = refers; unpunkshooruble = unpuncturable.
(139 / 120) duh fort uv Chooleye = the fourth of July.
(140 / 121) inkois = incurs; (140 / 122) skoit = skirt [woman]; lonjuhray = lingerie;
eminun = eminent. (142 / 123) det
= death; ak Y.essed = acquiesced; Awt
= Art. (143 / 124) bade = bathe; (143 / 125) presinks = precincts; predetoimine =
predetermined; nutn = nothing
(132 / 114) his name is Nascitur = his name is
"being born, arises, originates, begins, is produced, springs
forth, proceeds, grows, is found." [Latin]. Cf. "yonder deadfromtheneckup graduate
of a" (CP 232). The person whose name is Nascitur
is the Barker, a.k.a., the Doctor, who touts the Freaks. His "birth"
name Nascitur, along with the description of him in the stage directions
as a hunchback (132 / 114), indicates that he will in some way give
birth to the Freaks. (See the notes to pages 9-11.) The Barker's role as
midwife is quite contradictory to his role in the Frankie and Johnny
scene, where the Doctor plays the censor John Rutter. But see Act
II, scene ix, where the Gentleman (also played by the Doctor) has
"Just. Been. Born." (85/75) and Act
Table of Freaks in Him:
9 Foot Giant
Queen of Serpents
600 Lb. Woman
A. I. Dolon
Mme. S. Petite
creep, crawl (serpent)
treachery, image (eidolon)
bad / good
1 (132 / 115)
3 (135 / 117)
5 (138 / 120)
7 (140 / 122)
9 (143 / 124)
8 (141 / 123)
6 (139 / 121)
4 (136 / 118)
2 (133 / 116)
|Act II, i||II, ii||II, iii||II, iv||II, v||II, vi||II, vii||II, viii||II, ix|
(135 / 117) Herpo = "to creep, to crawl, move slowly" [Greek].
(135-136 / 118) Frank Mac Dermot —Cummings' first wife Elaine Orr
married Frank Mac Dermot after divorcing EEC in 1924. (See
Kennedy 254-55.) He is presented here as a great white hunter
who captures a sleeping serpent—perhaps Elaine or Me.
D.S.C. = "Distinguished Service Cross," the second-highest U. S. Army decoration, first awarded in WWI. Since Mac Dermot was Irish, he could not have been awarded this medal. S.O.L. = "shit out of luck."
(136-137 / 118-119) Kakos = "Bad, shitty,
evil" [Greek]. Kalos "beautiful, fair, serving a good
purpose, good, morally beautiful, right, good, noble" [Greek].
(137 / 119) Barun Munchchowsun = Karl Friedrich von Münchhausen (1720–1797), a German baron who served in the Russian military. After returning to
(139 / 120) An-tie-hippo-fagic
= "anti-hippophagic" = a society against the eating of horseflesh.
See Act I, scene i (3) and Act I, scene v (31/28).
(139 / 121) knee plus ultry = ne plus ultra = the highest point [Latin, “no more beyond”].
(140 / 121) Eat Un Grow Tin = "Eat and Grow Thin," Cummings’ spoof on a popular self-help book by Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich?(140 / 122) pulcrytood dut makes uh billiard ball look like uh cookie—a reference to the leveling metaphors of science. See "kind)" (CP 464) in which the scientist-lecturer compares the universe to a "Cookie" and a "Biscuit." See also "pity this busy monster,manunkind," (CP 554).
(141 / 122) decalcomaniuh = decalcomania, "the art or process of transferring pictures or designs from specially prepared paper to wood, metal, glass, etc." A decal.
A. I. Dolon = "dolos" = "bait, cunning contrivance, craft, cunning, treachery, wiliness" [Greek]. Cummings notes that the name could also be construed as an "eidolon=shape,image" [Greek]. The most recent edition reads "E. I. Dolon" (123). Cummings may also refer to Walt Whitman's poem, "Eidólons," in which the images represent "the universes, / Purport and end, ever the permanent life of life" (8). The Tattooed Man, too, presents "permanent" images--he's a tricky artist.
Muddur Mucree = "Mother
Machree" (1910), Irish-American song with lyrics by Rida
Johnson Young and music by Chauncey Olcott and Ernest R. Ball.
Here's the chorus:
A silent film named Mother Machree was begun in 1926,
released in 1927, then re-released with a synchronized sound
reel in 1928.
(131 / 113; 143 / 124) Princess Anankay = Anagke = "necessity,
constraint, force, natural want or desire" [Greek].
(143 / 124) Cakewalk = "a traditional African-American form of music and dance."
EEC Notes page
People, Places, and Publications page
Bibliography / Works Cited page
Spring home page