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THE MASQUE, &c.] This is the title of the folio, 1616. That of the 4to. 1609, runs thus: The Masque of Queens, celebrated from the House of Fame : by the most absolute in all State and Titles, Anne, Queen of Great Britain, &c.

Et memorem famam, quæ bene gessit, habet." The 4to. is addressed to prince Henry, who was dead when the folio edition appeared, which accounts, perhaps, for the omission of the dedication. It is as follows: To the glory of our own, and grief of other nations, my lord

HENRY, prince of Great Britain, &c.


“When it hath been my happiness (as would it were more frequent) but to see your face, and, as passing by, to consider you; I have with as much joy, as I am now far from flattery in professing it, called to mind that doctrine of some great inquisitors in Nature, who hold every royal and heroic form to partake and draw much to it of the heavenly virtue. For, whether it be that a divine soul, being to come into a body, first chooseth a palace for itself; or, being come, doth make it so; or that Nature be ambitious to have her work equal ; I know not : but what is lawful for me to understand and speak, that I dare; which is, that both your virtue and your form did deserve your fortune. The one claimed that you should be born a prince, the other makes that you do become it. And when Necessity (excellent lord) the mother of the Fates, hath so provided, that your form should not more insinuate you to the eyes of men, than your virtue to their minds: it comes near a wonder to think how sweetly that habit flows in you, and with so hourly testimonies, which to all posterity might hold the dignity of examples. Amongst the rest, your favour to letters, and these gentler studies, that go under the title of Humanity, is not the least honour of your wreath. For, if once the worthy professors of these learnings shall come (as heretofore they were) to be the core of princes, the crowns their sovereigns wear will not more adorn their temples ; nor their stamps live longer in their medals, than in such subjects' labours. Poetry, my lord, is not born with every man, nor every day: and in her general right, it is now my minute to thank your Highness, who not only do honour her with your care, but are curious to examine her with your eye, and enquire into her beauties and strengths. Where though it hath proved a work of some difficulty to me, to retrieve the particular authorities (according to your gracious command, and a desire born out of judgment) to those things, which I writ out of fullness and memory of my former readings : yet, now I have overcome it, the reward that



meets me is double to one act : which is, that thereby your excellent understanding will not only justify me to your own knowledge, but decline the stiffness of other's original ignorance, already armed to censure. For which singular bounty, if my fate (most excellent Prince, and only delicacy of mankind) shall reserve me to the age of your actions, whether in the camp or the council-chamber, that I may write, at nights, the deeds of your days; I will then labour to bring forth some work as worthy of your fame, as my ambition therein is of your pardon. “By the most true admirer of your Highness's virtues, “And most hearty celebrater of them,


The production of this Masque has subjected Jonson to a world of unmerited obloquy from the commentators. It was written, it seems, “ on account of the success of Shakspeare's Witches, which alarmed the jealousy of a man, who fancied himself his rival, or rather his superior." And this is repeated through a thousand mouths. Not to observe, that if Jonson was moved by any such passion, it must be by Middleton's Witches, not Shakspeare's, (for the latter is but a copyist himself, in this case,) how does it appear that Macbeth was prior in date to the Masque of Queens ?. O, says Mr. Davies, “Mr. Malone has with much probability fixed the first representation of Macbeth to the year 1606.” And he immediately proceeds to reason upon it, “as a certainty.”

It is worth while to turn to this master-proof. "In July, 1606, (Mr. Malone says,) the king of Denmark came to England, and on the third of August was installed a knight of the Garter. “There is nothing (says Drummond of Hawthornden) to be heard at Court but sounding of trumpets, hautboys, music, revelling, and comedies. Perhaps during this visit, Macbeth was first exhibited.” This is the whole; and this it is that “ fixes the first appearance of Macbeth to the year 1606 !” The king of Denmark was in this country about three weeks; a considerable part of the time he spent at Theobalds, where Jonson was employed to entertain him ; he was, besides, present at one Masque, and the rest of his time was occupied in moving about, and what Drummond calls, music and revelling. In four consecutive letters, he details the various amusements of this prince, without the most distant hint of his being present at the exhibition of any play whatever. At any rate, Macbeth is no “comedie ;” and, in fact, what Drummond calls so, are the “Entertainments, Masques, and Revels," (all appropriate terms,) which are known to have been provided for him. What amusement could an English tragedy afford to a person who understood not a word of the language ?


I have said thus much merely to shew the fallacy of Mr. Malone's argument, and the readiness with which all improbabilities are swallowed when they conduce to the grateful purpose of maligning Jonson. For, in truth, it signifies nothing to the question, at which period either piece was produced, or which of them had the priority in point of date; since the characters are totally and radically distinct, and do not bear either in conduct or language the slightest token of affinity. What is decisive on the subject is, the remarkable care which Jonson himself takes to disclaim all idea of copying any preceding dramatist. He tells prince Henry that he described his witches “out of fullness and memory of his former readings, which he has retrieved and set down at his desire ;” and he informs the queen that “he was CAREFUL TO DECLINE, not only from others, but from his own steps, in this kind.” Not one syllable of this has ever been noticed before ; the commentators prefer darkness to light, and so they can rail at “old Ben," make their wantonness their ignorance.

But when spleen and malice have done their worst, the magical part of the Masque of Queens will still remain a proof of high poetic powers, of a vigorous and fertile imagination, and of deep and extensive learning, managed with surprising ease, and applied to the purposes of the scene with equal grace and dexterity.

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T increasing now to the third time of

my being used in these services to her
majesty's personal presentations, with
the ladies whom she pleaseth to honour;

it was my first and special regard, to see that the nobility of the invention should be answerable to the dignity of their persons. For which reason I chose the argument to be, A celebration of honourable and true Fame, bred out of Virtue : observing that rule of the best artist," to suffer no object of delight to pass without his mixture of profit and example.

And because her majesty (best knowing that a principal part of life, in these spectacles, lay in their variety) had commanded me to think on some dance, or shew, that might precede hers, and have the place of a foil, or false masque; I was careful to decline, not only from others, but mine own steps in that kind, since the last year, I had an anti-masque of boys; and therefore now devised, that twelve women, in the habit of hags, or witches, sustaining the persons of Ignorance, Suspicion, Credulity, &c., the opposites to good Fame, should fill that part; not as a masque, but a spectacle of strangeness, producing multiplicity of gesture, and not unaptly sorting with the current, and whole fall of the device.

Hor. in Art. Poetic.
In the masque at my lord Haddington's wedding.

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