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"Edified by the margent": dramaturgical evidence in Jonson's Masgues The study of Renaissance drama is plagued by a lack of specific evidence on particular matters. There is always just enough to argue about, never enough to be sure of. M y concern here is with evidence for conscious dramaturgy. W e readily ascribe to the dramatists deliberate intent in scenic structure, change of pace and the like, and no doubt we are sometimes right. But they almost never tell us what they are doing, since contemporary criticism, as Jonson's Timber, deals in general terms. Here I wish to discuss some rare, and necessarily rather niggling, examples in which Jonson does reveal, almost casually, how his mind was working. They are to be found in the notes to the masques, above all the Masque of Queenes (1609). I am not primarily concerned with the visual aspects, which, by their nature, are well documented and sometimes illustrated. It is necessary first to insist that, despite some later hard words to Inigo Jones, the full range of Jonson's imagination was engaged in the masques. There is an impressive and extended passage in the Entertainment offered to James at his Coronation in 1603 (HS, 90-1) which testifies how carefully he had considered the innate relationship between detail and general design. There is even evidence (HS, 283) to show that he sometimes checked the accuracy of costume detail. Some passages from Hymenaei (1606) are written with a particular warmth, a full and soaring eloquence seldom heard elsewhere. The piece was received with "rapture" because it "was of power to surprize with delight, and steale away the spectators from themselues" (HS, 229). Among these pasans I select one in honour of his dancers, whose task "was so excellently performed, as it seemed to take away that Spirit from the Inuention, which the Inuention gave to it: and left it doubtfull, whether the Formes flow'd more perfectly from the Authors braine, or their feete" (HS, 220-1). I know of no passage which comes so close to the famous tribute to creative perfection with which Yeats ends "Among School Children": O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance? The Masque of Queenes is unique in the fullness and elaboration of its annotations. This is because Prince Henry, who liked the piece, requested Jonson to provide a copy naming the "particular authorities" on whom he had drawn. In the epistle Jonson grumbled that this meant a lot of hard work since he had written out of the fullness of his memory but obliged with a holograph manuscript, now in the British Museum, which is the basis of Herford and Simpson's text. The notes mainly supply, by citation or quotation, Jonson's sources, especially for his knowledge of witchcraft, which is derived from classical authors or else from contemporaries like Agrippa or Paracelsus. But here and there he turns aside briefly to less scholarly topics, and it is with these remarks that I shall mainly deal. Most 164 S. Musgrove come from the marginalia, though a few are embedded in the text itself. First, some minor matters of technique. We find, for instance, a specific instruction for the use of music, "to giue the Masquers time of descending" from an upper level (HS, 306), and a note elsewhere (HS, 103) suggests optimistically that one knotty line is "to be helped by emphasis''. But in the Masque of Queenes many of the details mentioned are closely related to the general design. The theme was to be "A Celebration of honorable, & true Fame bred out of Vertue" (HS, 282). Jonson gives due credit to the Queen, who well understood the importance of "variety" in such spectacles, and therefore "commanded" him to devise something to precede the main masque by way of a "foyle, or false- Masque". He accordingly hit upon the notion of twelve hags, or witches, "sustayning the persons of Ignorance, Suspicion, Credulity, &c. the opposites to good Fame". W e might have worked this out for ourselves, but i t is pleasant to have i t thus set down. Further, this witch-show is not to be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 163-172
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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