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HE DEVIL IS AN ASS: that is, to-day,
Yet, grandees, would you were not come to
Our matter, with allowing us no place.
Though you presume Satan, a subtle thing,
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."
2 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
Will ne'er admit our Vice, because of yours.
That yourselves make? when you will thrust and spurn,
That you might look our scenes through as they pass.
her to some wealthy neighbour, who takes a liking to the jolly
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.
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.
Öldys 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.
'Twill be but justice that your censure tarry,
Till you give some: and when six times you have seen't, If this play do not like, the Devil is in't.
If this play do not like, &c.] i. e. please. The quibble in the text had already furnished Decker with a title for his play of Belphegor.
SATAN, the great devil.
FABIAN FITZDOTTREL, a squire of Norfolk.
MEERCRAFT, the projector.
EVERILL, his champion.
WITTIPOL, a young gallant.
EUSTACE MANLY, his friend.
ENGINE, a broker.
TRAINS, the projector's man.
Sir PAUL EITHERSIDE, a lawyer, and justice.
SHACKLES, keeper of Newgate.
Mrs. FRANCES FITZDOTTrel.
Lady TAILBUSH, the lady projectress.
PITFALL, her woman.
Serjeants, Officers, Servants, Underkeepers, &c.
WOH, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh!
To earth! and why to earth, thou foolish spirit?
What wouldst thou do on earth?
Pug. For that, great chief,
As time shall work. I do but ask my month
6 This first scene must be laid "e'en where the reader pleases." Satan and Pug, probably, make their entrance on the stage from a trap-door, (some rude representation, perhaps, of Hell-mouth), and the dialogue may be supposed to take place in their journey from the infernal regions. For these, and a thousand other incongruities, the absolute poverty and nakedness of the old stage furnished a ready apology.
7 Hoh, hoh, &c.] "The devil," Whalley says, in the old Mysteries and Moralities, "generally came roaring upon the stage with a cry of Ho, ho, ho!" This, with a great deal more, which he has taken from the commentators on Shakspeare, is all out of place here. It is not the roar of terror; but the boisterous expression of sarcastic merriment at the absurd petition of Pug, with which Satan makes his first appearance.