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THE DEVIL IS AN Ass.] This Comedy was acted in 1616, by the King's Servants, at Blackfriars, but not put to the press till many years afterwards, when it appeared in the folio of 1631. The Editor of the Biographia Dramatica, who had but to open this volume to ascertain the true date, chooses rather to copy Langbaine, who is of no authority in this respect, and assign it to a later period. There is, indeed, another edition in folio, 1641, but it is of no authority, or even value, being full of errors.
In noticing the date of Bartholomew Fair, I had occasion to observe that Jonson appeared to concern himself little, if at all, with the printing of the plays in the present collection; and the Devil is an Ass, as well as the Staple of News, furnishes no slight proof
In the folio, 1616, which the author certainly revised, he is altogether sparing of his marginal directions, while the dramas just mentioned abound in them. They are, however, of the most trite and trifling nature; they tell nothing that is not told in action, and generally in the same words, and are, upon the whole, such a worthless incumbrance on the page, that the reader will thank me for discarding them altogether. They bear no trace of the poet's hand.
This comedy was revived immediately after the Restoration, and, as Downes informs us, “much to the satisfaction of the town." It originally appeared with this motto, from Horace:
Ficta voluptatis causâ, sint proxima veris.
HE DEVIL IS AN Ass : that is, to-day,
grace Our matter, with allowing us no place. Though you presume Satan, a subtle thing, And may
have heard he's worn in a thumb-ring ;
1 The Devil is an Ass.] This is said by the prologue pointing to the title of the play, which, as was then the custom, was painted in large letters, and placed in some conspicuous part of the stage. The remainder of the prologue alludes to a practice common at that period to all the theatres, namely, that of crowding the stage with stools for the accommodation of the spectators, who were thus admitted into the court, “yea, even to the very throne of King Cambyses."
worn in a thumb-ring.) Nothing was more common, as we learn from Lilly, than to carry about familiar spirits, shut up in rings, watches, sword-hilts, and other articles of dress. Lest the reader should be in pain for the close confinement of the demon in the text, it may be proper to mention that the thumb-rings of Jonson's days were set with jewels of an extraordinary size. Frequent mention of them occurs in our old dramatists : from which, however, we might be led to conclude, that they were more affected by magistrates and grave citizens, than necromancers. The fashion of wearing these weighty ornaments was prevalent in Addison's time. “ It is common (he says) for a stale virgin to set up a shop in a place where she is not known, where the large thumb-ring, supposed to be given her by her husband, quickly recommends
Do not on these presumptions force us act
3 or were Muscovy glass.] “About the river Dwyna, towards the North Sea, there groweth a soft rocke, which they call Slude; this they cut into pieces, and so tear it into thin flakes, which naturally it is apt for, and so use it for glasse lanthorns, and such like.” Fletcher's Russe Commonwealth. 1591. This is Jonson's Muscovy glass.
4 The Devil of Edmonton.] This pleasant old comedy had been several years on the stage when this was written, being incidentally noticed as a popular piece in 1604. It is absurdly attributed to Shakspeare by Kirkman, and there wanted nothing perhaps but the knowledge of this sneer at it by Jonson (see vol. iv. p. 348), to induce the commentators to print it among his works. One of them, indeed, observes that it is unworthy of our great poet; but it ill becomes any of those who burthened his reputation with such trash as Pericles and Titus Andronicus, to raise scruples about the present play.
Oldys ascribes the Merry Devil of Edmonton to Drayton ; but it bears no resemblance to any of his published works; and if Lingua be the production of (Tony) Antony Brewer, he also must be relieved from the charge of writing it, notwithstanding the initials T. B. in the title-page.