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The Queen's Masques.
THE FIRST, OF
PERSONATED AT THE COURT AT WHITEHALL, ON THE TWELFTH-
Salve festa dies, meliorque revertere semper.-OVID.
THE MASQUE OF BLACKNESS.] This and the Masque of Beauty which follows it were published in 4to with this title, "The characters of two royal Masques. The one of Blacknesse, the other of Beautie, personated by the most magnificent of Queens, Anne, Queen of Great Britain, &c. with her honourable Ladyes, 1605 and 1608, at Whitehall: [and invented by Ben Jonson-Ovid. Salve festa dies, meliorq. revertere semper. Imprinted at London for Thomas Thorp, and are to be sold at the signe of the Tigers head in Paules Church-yard.]
Great preparations were made for this masque, which was performed with unusual magnificence. Among Winwood's State Papers, there is a letter to that minister from Mr. Chamberlaine, of which the following passage is an extract: "Here is great provision of masks and revells against the marriage of Sir Philip Herbert and the Lady Susan Vere, which is to be celebrated on St. John's day; the Queen hath likewise a great mask in hand against Twelfth-tide, for which there was 3000l. delivered a month ago."-Dec. 18, 1604, vol. ii. p. 41.
Sir Thomas Edmonds also thus writes to the great Earl of Shrewsbury, Dec, 5, 1604: "Our corte is preparing to solempnize the Christmas with a gallant maske, which doth cost the Exchequer 3000l. Sir Phi. Harberte's marriage will also produce an other maske among the noblemen and gentlemen."-Lodge's Illustrations, vol. iii. p. 250.
It should be added that this was the first entertainment given by the Queen, that her brother, the Duke of Holstein, was present at it, and that the day was a day of peculiar state, several Knights of the Bath having been installed, and the King's second son (the unfortunate Charles) created Duke of York.
The Garrick copy of this masque, now in the British Museum, was the presentation copy of Jonson to the Queen (James's wife), and has this inscription in the poet's own writing:
[Mr. Collier has printed for the Shakspeare Society, 1849, a version of this masque from an original MS. in the British Museum, not in the poet's autograph, but revised by him, and characteristically authenticated under his own hand
The Masque of Blackness.
The honour and splendour of these Spectacles was such in the performance as, could those hours have lasted, this of mine now had been a most unprofitable work. But when it is the fate even of the greatest and most absolute births to need and borrow a life of posterity, little had been done to the study of magnificence in these, if presently with the rage of the people, who (as a part of greatness) are privileged by custom to deface their carcases, the spirits had also perished. In duty therefore to that Majesty who gave them their authority and grace, and, no less than the most royal of predecessors, deserves eminent celebration for these solemnities, I add this later hand to redeem them as well from ignorance as envy, two common evils, the one of censure, the other of oblivion.
Pliny, Solinus,† Ptolemy, and of late Leos the African, remember unto us a river in Æthiopia, famous by the name of Niger; of which the people were called Nigritæ, now Negroes; and are the blackest nation of the world. This river taketh spring out of a certain lake eastward; and after a long race falleth into the western ocean.1 Hence (because it was her majesty's will to have them blackmoors at first) the invention was derived by me, and presented thus:
First, for the scene, was drawn a landtschap (landscape) consisting of small
* Nat. Hist. l. 5, c. 8.
Lib. 4, C. 5. Some take it to be the same with Nilus, which is by Lucan called Melas, signifying Niger. Howsoever Pliny in the place above noted, hath this: Nigri fluvio eadem natura, que Nilo, calamum, papyrum, et easdem gignit animantes. See Solin. above mentioned.
The form of these tritons, with their trumpets, you may read lively described in Ov. Met. lib. 1. Caruleum Tritona vocat, &c.; and in Virg. Eneid. 1. 10. Hunc vehit immanis triton, et sequent.
** Lucian in PHTOP. Adao. presents Nilus so, Equo fluviatili insidentem. And Statius Neptune, in Theb.
The ancients induced Oceanus always with a bull's head: propter vim ventorum, à quibus
woods, and here and there a void place filled with huntings; which falling, an artificial sea was seen to shoot forth, as if it flowed to the land, raised with waves which seemed to move, and in some places the billow to break, as imitating that orderly disorder which is common nature. In front of this sea were placed six tritons, ¶ in moving and sprightly actions, their upper parts human, save that their hairs were blue, as partaking of the sea-colour: their desinent parts fish, mounted above their heads, and all varied in disposition. From their backs were borne out certain light pieces of taffata, as if carried by the wind, and their_music made out of wreathed shells. Behind these a pair of sea-maids, for song, were as conspicuously seated; between which two great sea-horses, as big as the life, put forth themselves; the one mounting aloft, and writhing his head from the other, which seemed to sink forwards; so intended for variation, and that the figure behind might come off better:** upon their backs Oceanus and Niger were advanced.
Oceanus presented in a human form, the colour of his flesh blue; and shadowed with a robe of sea-green; his head grey, and horned, tt as he is described by the ancients: his beard of the like mixed colour: he was gyrlanded with alga, or sea-grass; and in his hand a trident.
incitatur, et impellitur: vel quia tauris similem fremitum emittat; vel quia tanquam taurus furibundus, in littora feratur. Euripid. in Orest. Ωκέανος όν ταυρόκρανος ἀγκαλαις dioσwv, rvrdeî xova. And rivers sometimes were so called. Look Virg. de Tiberi et Eridano. Georg. 4, Eneid. 8. Hor. Car. lib. 4, ode 14, and Euripid. in Ione.
1 And falleth into the Western Ocean.] We now know that the Niger runs towards the east. Had the adventurous discoverer of this important geographical fact happily lived to return from his second expedition, we should probably have also learned whether the Niger loses itself in the sands, is swallowed up in some vast inland lake, or constitutes, as some think, the chief branch or feeder of the Nile.
Niger, in form and colour of an Æthiop; his hair and rare beard curled, shadowed with a blue and bright mantle: his front, neck, and wrists adorned with pearl, and crowned with an artificial wreath of cane and paper-rush.
These induced the masquers, which were twelve nymphs, negroes, and the daughters of Niger; attended by so many of the Oceaniæ, which were their light-bearers. The masquers were placed in a great concave shell, like mother of pearl, curiously made to move on those waters and rise with the billow; the top thereof was stuck with a cheveron of lights, which indented to the proportion of the shell, strook a glorious beam upon them as they were seated one above another: so that they were all seen, but in an extravagant order.2
On sides of the shell did swim six huge sea-monsters, varied in their shapes and dispositions, bearing on their backs the twelve torch-bearers, who were planted there in several graces; so as the backs of some were seen; some in purfle, or side; others in face; and all having their lights burning out of whelks or murex-shells.
The attire of masquers was alike in all, without difference: the colours azure and silver; but returned on the top with a scroll and antique dressing of feathers, and jewels interlaced with ropes of pearl. And for the front, ear, neck, and wrists, the ornament was of the most choice and orient pearl; best setting off from the black.
For the light-bearers, sea-green, waved
* The daughters of Oceanus and Tethys. See Hesiod. in Theogon. Orph. in Hym. and Virgil in Georg.
† All rivers are said to be the sons of the Ocean: for, as the ancients thought, out of the vapours exhaled by the heat of the sun, rivers and fountains were begotten. And both by Orph. in Hym. and Homer, II. §. Oceanus is celebrated tanquam pater, et origo diis, et rebus, quia nihil sine humectatione nascitur, aut putrescit.
1 Which were their light-bearers.] It will not be amiss to observe here once for all, that every masquer was invariably attended by his torchbearer, who preceded his entrance and exit, and sided him (though at a distance) while in action. 2 The prose descriptions of Jonson are singularly bold and beautiful. I do not, however, notice the paragraph on this account, but solely to show with what facility an ill-natured critic may throw an air of ridicule on things of this nature. In giving an account of this splendid exhibition to Winwood, Sir Dudley Carleton
about the skirts with gold and silver; their hair loose and flowing, gyrlanded with seagrass, and that stuck with branches of coral.
These thus presented, the scene behind seemed a vast sea, and united with this that flowed forth from the termination, or horizon of which (being the level of the state, which was placed in the upper end of the hall) was drawn by the lines of prospective, the whole work shooting downwards from the eye; which decorum made it more conspicuous, and caught the eye afar off with a wandering beauty: to which was added an obscure and cloudy nightpiece, that made the whole set off. So much for the bodily part, which was of Master Ynigo Jones his design and act.
By this one of the tritons, with the two sea-maids, began to sing to the others' loud music, their voices being a tenor and two trebles.
Sound, sound aloud
The welcome of the orient flood,
Fair Niger,† son to great Oceanus,
With all his beauteous race:
Ocea. Be silent, now the ceremony's done, And, Niger, say how comes it, lovely son,
says: "At night we had the Queen's Maske in the Banqueting-House: there was a great engine at the lower end of the room, which had motion, and in it were the images of sea-horses, with other terrible fishes, which were ridden by Moors: the indecorum was, that there was all fish and no water."-There was assuredly as much of one as the other; but this it is to be witty. Sir Dudley proceeds: "At the further end there was a great shell in form of a skallop, wherein were four seats: on the lowest sat the Queen with iny Lady Bedford; on the rest were placed the Ladies Suffolk, Darby, Rich, Effingham, Ann Herbert, Susan Herbert, Elizabeth Howard, Walsingham, and Bevill. Their appearance was rich, but too light and courtezan-like for such great ones. Instead of vizzards, their faces and arms up to the elbows were painted black, but it became them nothing so well as their own red and white," &c.Winwood's Memorials, vol. ii. p. 44. Dudley would make no indifferent newspaper critic for the present times. The plot required the actors to appear as Moors, and he finds out
that they would look better if they kept their natural colour! It is to be hoped that some handsome Othello will take the hint. Spanish and Venetian Ambassadors," our letterwriter adds, "were both present, and sate by the King in state," to the great annoyance of the French Ambassador, who vowed in a pet, "that the whole court was Spanish."
There wants not enough in nature to authorize this part of our fiction, in separating Niger from the Ocean (beside the fable of Alpheus, and that to which Virgil alludes of Arethusa, in his zo Eclog.
Signs of his fervent'st love; and thereby shows
That in their black the perfect'st beauty
Since the fixt colour of their curled hair, Which is the highest grace of dames most fair,
No cares, no age can change; or there display
The fearful tincture of abhorred gray; Since death herself (herself being pale and blue)
Can never alter their most faithful hue;
And more, how near divinity they be,
Have, with such envy of their graces, sung
About the globe, the Æthiops were as fair As other dames; now black with black despair:
And in respect of their complexions changed,
Are eachwhere since for luckless creatures ranged ;§
Which when my daughters heard (as women
Most jealous of their beauties), fear and
Possessed them whole; yea, and believing them, ||
They wept such ceaseless tears into my stream,
That it hath thus far overflowed his shore To seek them patience: who have since, e'ermore
Sic tibi, cum fluctus subter labêre Sicanos, Doris amara suam non intermisceat undam.) Examples of Nilus, Jordan, and others, whereof see Nican. lib. 1, de flumin. and Plut. in vita Syllæ, even of this our river (as some think) by the name of Melas.
Read Diod. Sicul. lib. 3. It is a conjecture of the old ethnics, that they which dwell under the south were the first begotten of the earth. Notissima fabula, Ovid. Met. lib. 2. Alluding to that of Juvenal, Satyr. 5. Et per mediam nolis occurrere noctem. The poets.
As the sun riseth,* charged his burning So called of Neptune's son, who ruleth throne
With volleys of revilings; 'cause he shone On their scorched cheeks with such intemperate fires,
And other dames made queens of all desires.
To frustrate which strange error, oft I sought,
(Tho' most in vain, against a settled thought As women's are) till they confirmed at length
By miracle, what I with so much strength Of argument resisted; else they feigned: For in the lake where their first spring they gained,
As they sat cooling their soft limbs one night, Appeared a face all circumfused with light; (And sure they saw't, for Æthiops† never dream)
Wherein they might decipher through the
Their bloods, doth never rise or set,
Who forms all beauty with his sight.
In search of this, have we three princedoms past
That speak out Tania in their accents last;
Instruct and aid me, great Oceanus,
Ocea. This land, that lifts into the tem-
His snowy cliff, is Albiong the fair;
* A custom of the Ethiops, notable in Herod. and Diod. Sic. See Plin. Nat. Hist. lib. 5, cap. 8. † Plin. ib. Consult with Tacitus, in vita Agric. and the Paneg. ad Constant.
§ Orpheus, in his Argonaut. calls it Aevкâtov χέρσον.
Alluding to the right of styling princes after the name of their princedoms: so is he still Albion and Neptune's son that governs. As also his being dear to Neptune in being so embraced by him.
The Athiopians worshipped the moon by
For whose dear guard myself four thousand year
Since old Deucalion's days have walked the round
About his empire, proud to see him crowned Above my waves.—
At this the Moon was discovered in the upper part of the house, triumphant in a silver throne, made in figure of a pyramis. Her garments white and silver, the dressing of her head antique, and crowned with a luminary, or sphere of light: which striking on the clouds, and heightened with silver, reflected as natural clouds do by the splendour of the moon. The heaven about her was vaulted with blue silk, and set with stars of silver, which had in them their several lights burning. The sudden sight of which made Niger to interrupt Oceanus with this present passion.
O see, our silver star! Whose pure auspicious light greets us thus