Part 1 out of 6
Amy E Zelmer
BEN JONSON'S PLAYS.
THE greatest of English dramatists except Shakespeare, the first
literary dictator and poet-laureate, a writer of verse, prose,
satire, and criticism who most potently of all the men of his time
affected the subsequent course of English letters: such was Ben
Jonson, and as such his strong personality assumes an interest to
us almost unparalleled, at least in his age.
Ben Jonson came of the stock that was centuries after to give to
the world Thomas Carlyle; for Jonson's grandfather was of
Annandale, over the Solway, whence he migrated to England.
Jonson's father lost his estate under Queen Mary, "having been cast
into prison and forfeited." He entered the church, but died a
month before his illustrious son was born, leaving his widow and
child in poverty. Jonson's birthplace was Westminster, and the
time of his birth early in 1573. He was thus nearly ten years
Shakespeare's junior, and less well off, if a trifle better born.
But Jonson did not profit even by this slight advantage. His
mother married beneath her, a wright or bricklayer, and Jonson was
for a time apprenticed to the trade. As a youth he attracted the
attention of the famous antiquary, William Camden, then usher at
Westminster School, and there the poet laid the solid foundations
of his classical learning. Jonson always held Camden in
veneration, acknowledging that to him he owed,
"All that I am in arts, all that I know;"
and dedicating his first dramatic success, "Every Man in His
Humour," to him. It is doubtful whether Jonson ever went to either
university, though Fuller says that he was "statutably admitted
into St. John's College, Cambridge." He tells us that he took no
degree, but was later "Master of Arts in both the universities, by
their favour, not his study." When a mere youth Jonson enlisted as
a soldier, trailing his pike in Flanders in the protracted wars of
William the Silent against the Spanish. Jonson was a large and
raw-boned lad; he became by his own account in time exceedingly
bulky. In chat with his friend William Drummond of Hawthornden,
Jonson told how "in his service in the Low Countries he had, in the
face of both the camps, killed an enemy, and taken opima spolia
from him;" and how "since his coming to England, being appealed to
the fields, he had killed his adversary which had hurt him in the
arm and whose sword was ten inches longer than his." Jonson's
reach may have made up for the lack of his sword; certainly his
prowess lost nothing in the telling. Obviously Jonson was brave,
combative, and not averse to talking of himself and his doings.
In 1592, Jonson returned from abroad penniless. Soon after he
married, almost as early and quite as imprudently as Shakespeare.
He told Drummond curtly that "his wife was a shrew, yet honest";
for some years he lived apart from her in the household of Lord
Albany. Yet two touching epitaphs among Jonson's "Epigrams," "On
my first daughter," and "On my first son," attest the warmth of the
poet's family affections. The daughter died in infancy, the son of
the plague; another son grew up to manhood little credit to his
father whom he survived. We know nothing beyond this of Jonson's
How soon Jonson drifted into what we now call grandly "the
theatrical profession" we do not know. In 1593, Marlowe made his
tragic exit from life, and Greene, Shakespeare's other rival on the
popular stage, had preceded Marlowe in an equally miserable death
the year before. Shakespeare already had the running to himself.
Jonson appears first in the employment of Philip Henslowe, the
exploiter of several troupes of players, manager, and father-in-law
of the famous actor, Edward Alleyn. From entries in "Henslowe's
Diary," a species of theatrical account book which has been handed
down to us, we know that Jonson was connected with the Admiral's
men; for he borrowed 4 pounds of Henslowe, July 28, 1597, paying
back 3s. 9d. on the same day on account of his "share" (in what is
not altogether clear); while later, on December 3, of the same
year, Henslowe advanced 20s. to him "upon a book which he showed
the plot unto the company which he promised to deliver unto the
company at Christmas next." In the next August Jonson was in
collaboration with Chettle and Porter in a play called "Hot Anger
Soon Cold." All this points to an association with Henslowe of
some duration, as no mere tyro would be thus paid in advance upon
mere promise. From allusions in Dekker's play, "Satiromastix," it
appears that Jonson, like Shakespeare, began life as an actor, and
that he "ambled in a leather pitch by a play-wagon" taking at one
time the part of Hieronimo in Kyd's famous play, "The Spanish
Tragedy." By the beginning of 1598, Jonson, though still in needy
circumstances, had begun to receive recognition. Francis Meres --
well known for his "Comparative Discourse of our English Poets with
the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets," printed in 1598, and for his
mention therein of a dozen plays of Shakespeare by title -- accords
to Ben Jonson a place as one of "our best in tragedy," a matter of
some surprise, as no known tragedy of Jonson from so early a date
has come down to us. That Jonson was at work on tragedy, however,
is proved by the entries in Henslowe of at least three tragedies,
now lost, in which he had a hand. These are "Page of Plymouth,"
"King Robert II. of Scotland," and "Richard Crookback." But all of
these came later, on his return to Henslowe, and range from August
1599 to June 1602.
Returning to the autumn of 1598, an event now happened to sever for
a time Jonson's relations with Henslowe. In a letter to Alleyn,
dated September 26 of that year, Henslowe writes: "I have lost one
of my company that hurteth me greatly; that is Gabriel [Spencer],
for he is slain in Hogsden fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson,
bricklayer." The last word is perhaps Henslowe's thrust at Jonson
in his displeasure rather than a designation of his actual
continuance at his trade up to this time. It is fair to Jonson to
remark however, that his adversary appears to have been a notorious
fire-eater who had shortly before killed one Feeke in a similar
squabble. Duelling was a frequent occurrence of the time among
gentlemen and the nobility; it was an impudent breach of the peace
on the part of a player. This duel is the one which Jonson
described years after to Drummond, and for it Jonson was duly
arraigned at Old Bailey, tried, and convicted. He was sent to
prison and such goods and chattels as he had "were forfeited." It
is a thought to give one pause that, but for the ancient law
permitting convicted felons to plead, as it was called, the benefit
of clergy, Jonson might have been hanged for this deed. The
circumstance that the poet could read and write saved him; and he
received only a brand of the letter "T," for Tyburn, on his left
thumb. While in jail Jonson became a Roman Catholic; but he
returned to the faith of the Church of England a dozen years later.
On his release, in disgrace with Henslowe and his former
associates, Jonson offered his services as a playwright to
Henslowe's rivals, the Lord Chamberlain's company, in which
Shakespeare was a prominent shareholder. A tradition of long
standing, though not susceptible of proof in a court of law,
narrates that Jonson had submitted the manuscript of "Every Man in
His Humour" to the Chamberlain's men and had received from the
company a refusal; that Shakespeare called him back, read the play
himself, and at once accepted it. Whether this story is true or
not, certain it is that "Every Man in His Humour" was accepted by
Shakespeare's company and acted for the first time in 1598, with
Shakespeare taking a part. The evidence of this is contained in
the list of actors prefixed to the comedy in the folio of Jonson's
works, 1616. But it is a mistake to infer, because Shakespeare's
name stands first in the list of actors and the elder Kno'well
first in the dramatis personae, that Shakespeare took that
particular part. The order of a list of Elizabethan players was
generally that of their importance or priority as shareholders in
the company and seldom if ever corresponded to the list of
"Every Man in His Humour" was an immediate success, and with it
Jonson's reputation as one of the leading dramatists of his time
was established once and for all. This could have been by no means
Jonson's earliest comedy, and we have just learned that he was
already reputed one of "our best in tragedy." Indeed, one of
Jonson's extant comedies, "The Case is Altered," but one never
claimed by him or published as his, must certainly have preceded
"Every Man in His Humour" on the stage. The former play may be
described as a comedy modelled on the Latin plays of Plautus. (It
combines, in fact, situations derived from the "Captivi" and the
"Aulularia" of that dramatist). But the pretty story of the
beggar-maiden, Rachel, and her suitors, Jonson found, not among the
classics, but in the ideals of romantic love which Shakespeare had
already popularised on the stage. Jonson never again produced so
fresh and lovable a feminine personage as Rachel, although in other
respects "The Case is Altered" is not a conspicuous play, and, save
for the satirising of Antony Munday in the person of Antonio
Balladino and Gabriel Harvey as well, is perhaps the least
characteristic of the comedies of Jonson.
"Every Man in His Humour," probably first acted late in the summer
of 1598 and at the Curtain, is commonly regarded as an epoch-making
play; and this view is not unjustified. As to plot, it tells
little more than how an intercepted letter enabled a father to
follow his supposedly studious son to London, and there observe his
life with the gallants of the time. The real quality of this
comedy is in its personages and in the theory upon which they are
conceived. Ben Jonson had theories about poetry and the drama, and
he was neither chary in talking of them nor in experimenting with
them in his plays. This makes Jonson, like Dryden in his time, and
Wordsworth much later, an author to reckon with; particularly when
we remember that many of Jonson's notions came for a time
definitely to prevail and to modify the whole trend of English
poetry. First of all Jonson was a classicist, that is, he believed
in restraint and precedent in art in opposition to the prevalent
ungoverned and irresponsible Renaissance spirit. Jonson believed
that there was a professional way of doing things which might be
reached by a study of the best examples, and he found these
examples for the most part among the ancients. To confine our
attention to the drama, Jonson objected to the amateurishness and
haphazard nature of many contemporary plays, and set himself to do
something different; and the first and most striking thing that he
evolved was his conception and practice of the comedy of humours.
As Jonson has been much misrepresented in this matter, let us quote
his own words as to "humour." A humour, according to Jonson, was a
bias of disposition, a warp, so to speak, in character by which
"Some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way."
But continuing, Jonson is careful to add:
"But that a rook by wearing a pied feather,
The cable hat-band, or the three-piled ruff,
A yard of shoe-tie, or the Switzers knot
On his French garters, should affect a humour!
O, it is more than most ridiculous."
Jonson's comedy of humours, in a word, conceived of stage
personages on the basis of a ruling trait or passion (a notable
simplification of actual life be it observed in passing); and,
placing these typified traits in juxtaposition in their conflict
and contrast, struck the spark of comedy. Downright, as his name
indicates, is "a plain squire"; Bobadill's humour is that of the
braggart who is incidentally, and with delightfully comic effect, a
coward; Brainworm's humour is the finding out of things to the end
of fooling everybody: of course he is fooled in the end himself.
But it was not Jonson's theories alone that made the success of
"Every Man in His Humour." The play is admirably written and each
character is vividly conceived, and with a firm touch based on
observation of the men of the London of the day. Jonson was
neither in this, his first great comedy (nor in any other play that
he wrote), a supine classicist, urging that English drama return to
a slavish adherence to classical conditions. He says as to the
laws of the old comedy (meaning by "laws," such matters as the
unities of time and place and the use of chorus): "I see not then,
but we should enjoy the same licence, or free power to illustrate
and heighten our invention as they [the ancients] did; and not be
tied to those strict and regular forms which the niceness of a few,
who are nothing but form, would thrust upon us." "Every Man in His
Humour" is written in prose, a novel practice which Jonson had of
his predecessor in comedy, John Lyly. Even the word "humour" seems
to have been employed in the Jonsonian sense by Chapman before
Jonson's use of it. Indeed, the comedy of humours itself is only a
heightened variety of the comedy of manners which represents life,
viewed at a satirical angle, and is the oldest and most persistent
species of comedy in the language. None the less, Jonson's comedy
merited its immediate success and marked out a definite course in
which comedy long continued to run. To mention only Shakespeare's
Falstaff and his rout, Bardolph, Pistol, Dame Quickly, and the
rest, whether in "Henry IV." or in "The Merry Wives of Windsor,"
all are conceived in the spirit of humours. So are the captains,
Welsh, Scotch, and Irish of "Henry V.," and Malvolio especially
later; though Shakespeare never employed the method of humours for
an important personage. It was not Jonson's fault that many of his
successors did precisely the thing that he had reprobated, that is,
degrade "the humour: into an oddity of speech, an eccentricity of
manner, of dress, or cut of beard. There was an anonymous play
called "Every Woman in Her Humour." Chapman wrote "A Humourous
Day's Mirth," Day, "Humour Out of Breath," Fletcher later, "The
Humourous Lieutenant," and Jonson, besides "Every Man Out of His
Humour," returned to the title in closing the cycle of his comedies
in "The Magnetic Lady or Humours Reconciled."
With the performance of "Every Man Out of His Humour" in 1599, by
Shakespeare's company once more at the Globe, we turn a new page in
Jonson's career. Despite his many real virtues, if there is one
feature more than any other that distinguishes Jonson, it is his
arrogance; and to this may be added his self-righteousness,
especially under criticism or satire. "Every Man Out of His
Humour" is the first of three "comical satires" which Jonson
contributed to what Dekker called the poetomachia or war of the
theatres as recent critics have named it. This play as a fabric of
plot is a very slight affair; but as a satirical picture of the
manners of the time, proceeding by means of vivid caricature,
couched in witty and brilliant dialogue and sustained by that
righteous indignation which must lie at the heart of all true
satire -- as a realisation, in short, of the classical ideal of
comedy -- there had been nothing like Jonson's comedy since the
days of Aristophanes. "Every Man in His Humour," like the two
plays that follow it, contains two kinds of attack, the critical or
generally satiric, levelled at abuses and corruptions in the
abstract; and the personal, in which specific application is made
of all this in the lampooning of poets and others, Jonson's
contemporaries. The method of personal attack by actual caricature
of a person on the stage is almost as old as the drama.
Aristophanes so lampooned Euripides in "The Acharnians" and
Socrates in "The Clouds," to mention no other examples; and in
English drama this kind of thing is alluded to again and again.
What Jonson really did, was to raise the dramatic lampoon to an
art, and make out of a casual burlesque and bit of mimicry a
dramatic satire of literary pretensions and permanency. With the
arrogant attitude mentioned above and his uncommon eloquence in
scorn, vituperation, and invective, it is no wonder that Jonson
soon involved himself in literary and even personal quarrels with
his fellow-authors. The circumstances of the origin of this
'poetomachia' are far from clear, and those who have written on the
topic, except of late, have not helped to make them clearer. The
origin of the "war" has been referred to satirical references,
apparently to Jonson, contained in "The Scourge of Villainy," a
satire in regular form after the manner of the ancients by John
Marston, a fellow playwright, subsequent friend and collaborator of
Jonson's. On the other hand, epigrams of Jonson have been
discovered (49, 68, and 100) variously charging "playwright"
(reasonably identified with Marston) with scurrility, cowardice,
and plagiarism; though the dates of the epigrams cannot be
ascertained with certainty. Jonson's own statement of the matter
to Drummond runs: "He had many quarrels with Marston, beat him,
and took his pistol from him, wrote his "Poetaster" on him; the
beginning[s] of them were that Marston represented him on the
[footnote] *The best account of this whole subject is to be found
in the edition of "Poetaster" and "Satiromastrix" by J. H. Penniman
in "Belles Lettres Series" shortly to appear. See also his earlier
work, "The War of the Theatres," 1892, and the excellent
contributions to the subject by H. C. Hart in "Notes and Queries,"
and in his edition of Jonson, 1906.
Here at least we are on certain ground; and the principals of the
quarrel are known. "Histriomastix," a play revised by Marston in
1598, has been regarded as the one in which Jonson was thus
"represented on the stage"; although the personage in question,
Chrisogonus, a poet, satirist, and translator, poor but proud, and
contemptuous of the common herd, seems rather a complimentary
portrait of Jonson than a caricature. As to the personages
actually ridiculed in "Every Man Out of His Humour," Carlo Buffone
was formerly thought certainly to be Marston, as he was described
as "a public, scurrilous, and profane jester," and elsewhere as the
grand scourge or second untruss [that is, satirist], of the time"
(Joseph Hall being by his own boast the first, and Marston's work
being entitled "The Scourge of Villainy"). Apparently we must now
prefer for Carlo a notorious character named Charles Chester, of
whom gossipy and inaccurate Aubrey relates that he was "a bold
impertinent fellow...a perpetual talker and made a noise like a
drum in a room. So one time at a tavern Sir Walter Raleigh beats
him and seals up his mouth (that is his upper and nether beard)
with hard wax. From him Ben Jonson takes his Carlo Buffone
['i.e.', jester] in "Every Man in His Humour" ['sic']." Is it
conceivable that after all Jonson was ridiculing Marston, and that
the point of the satire consisted in an intentional confusion of
"the grand scourge or second untruss" with "the scurrilous and
We have digressed into detail in this particular case to exemplify
the difficulties of criticism in its attempts to identify the
allusions in these forgotten quarrels. We are on sounder ground of
fact in recording other manifestations of Jonson's enmity. In "The
Case is Altered" there is clear ridicule in the character Antonio
Balladino of Anthony Munday, pageant-poet of the city, translator
of romances and playwright as well. In "Every Man in His Humour"
there is certainly a caricature of Samuel Daniel, accepted poet of
the court, sonneteer, and companion of men of fashion. These men
held recognised positions to which Jonson felt his talents better
entitled him; they were hence to him his natural enemies. It seems
almost certain that he pursued both in the personages of his satire
through "Every Man Out of His Humour," and "Cynthia's Revels,"
Daniel under the characters Fastidious Brisk and Hedon, Munday as
Puntarvolo and Amorphus; but in these last we venture on quagmire
once more. Jonson's literary rivalry of Daniel is traceable again
and again, in the entertainments that welcomed King James on his
way to London, in the masques at court, and in the pastoral drama.
As to Jonson's personal ambitions with respect to these two men, it
is notable that he became, not pageant-poet, but chronologer to the
City of London; and that, on the accession of the new king, he came
soon to triumph over Daniel as the accepted entertainer of royalty.
"Cynthia's Revels," the second "comical satire," was acted in 1600,
and, as a play, is even more lengthy, elaborate, and impossible
than "Every Man Out of His Humour." Here personal satire seems to
have absorbed everything, and while much of the caricature is
admirable, especially in the detail of witty and trenchantly
satirical dialogue, the central idea of a fountain of self-love is
not very well carried out, and the persons revert at times to
abstractions, the action to allegory. It adds to our wonder that
this difficult drama should have been acted by the Children of
Queen Elizabeth's Chapel, among them Nathaniel Field with whom
Jonson read Horace and Martial, and whom he taught later how to
make plays. Another of these precocious little actors was
Salathiel Pavy, who died before he was thirteen, already famed for
taking the parts of old men. Him Jonson immortalised in one of the
sweetest of his epitaphs. An interesting sidelight is this on the
character of this redoubtable and rugged satirist, that he should
thus have befriended and tenderly remembered these little
theatrical waifs, some of whom (as we know) had been literally
kidnapped to be pressed into the service of the theatre and whipped
to the conning of their difficult parts. To the caricature of
Daniel and Munday in "Cynthia's Revels" must be added Anaides
(impudence), here assuredly Marston, and Asotus (the prodigal),
interpreted as Lodge or, more perilously, Raleigh. Crites, like
Asper-Macilente in "Every Man Out of His Humour," is Jonson's
self-complaisant portrait of himself, the just, wholly admirable,
and judicious scholar, holding his head high above the pack of the
yelping curs of envy and detraction, but careless of their puny
attacks on his perfections with only too mindful a neglect.
The third and last of the "comical satires" is "Poetaster," acted,
once more, by the Children of the Chapel in 1601, and Jonson's only
avowed contribution to the fray. According to the author's own
account, this play was written in fifteen weeks on a report that
his enemies had entrusted to Dekker the preparation of
"Satiromastix, the Untrussing of the Humorous Poet," a dramatic
attack upon himself. In this attempt to forestall his enemies
Jonson succeeded, and "Poetaster" was an immediate and deserved
success. While hardly more closely knit in structure than its
earlier companion pieces, "Poetaster" is planned to lead up to the
ludicrous final scene in which, after a device borrowed from the
"Lexiphanes" of Lucian, the offending poetaster, Marston-Crispinus,
is made to throw up the difficult words with which he had
overburdened his stomach as well as overlarded his vocabulary. In
the end Crispinus with his fellow, Dekker-Demetrius, is bound over
to keep the peace and never thenceforward "malign, traduce, or
detract the person or writings of Quintus Horatius Flaccus [Jonson]
or any other eminent man transcending you in merit." One of the
most diverting personages in Jonson's comedy is Captain Tucca.
"His peculiarity" has been well described by Ward as "a buoyant
blackguardism which recovers itself instantaneously from the most
complete exposure, and a picturesqueness of speech like that of a
walking dictionary of slang."
It was this character, Captain Tucca, that Dekker hit upon in his
reply, "Satiromastix," and he amplified him, turning his abusive
vocabulary back upon Jonson and adding "an immodesty to his
dialogue that did not enter into Jonson's conception." It has been
held, altogether plausibly, that when Dekker was engaged
professionally, so to speak, to write a dramatic reply to Jonson,
he was at work on a species of chronicle history, dealing with the
story of Walter Terill in the reign of William Rufus. This he
hurriedly adapted to include the satirical characters suggested by
"Poetaster," and fashioned to convey the satire of his reply. The
absurdity of placing Horace in the court of a Norman king is the
result. But Dekker's play is not without its palpable hits at the
arrogance, the literary pride, and self-righteousness of
Jonson-Horace, whose "ningle" or pal, the absurd Asinius Bubo, has
recently been shown to figure forth, in all likelihood, Jonson's
friend, the poet Drayton. Slight and hastily adapted as is
"Satiromastix," especially in a comparison with the better wrought
and more significant satire of "Poetaster," the town awarded the
palm to Dekker, not to Jonson; and Jonson gave over in consequence
his practice of "comical satire." Though Jonson was cited to
appear before the Lord Chief Justice to answer certain charges to
the effect that he had attacked lawyers and soldiers in
"Poetaster," nothing came of this complaint. It may be suspected
that much of this furious clatter and give-and-take was pure
playing to the gallery. The town was agog with the strife, and on
no less an authority than Shakespeare ("Hamlet," ii. 2), we learn
that the children's company (acting the plays of Jonson) did "so
berattle the common stages...that many, wearing rapiers, are afraid
of goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither."
Several other plays have been thought to bear a greater or less
part in the war of the theatres. Among them the most important is
a college play, entitled "The Return from Parnassus," dating
1601-02. In it a much-quoted passage makes Burbage, as a
character, declare: "Why here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them
all down; aye and Ben Jonson, too. O that Ben Jonson is a
pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill,
but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him
bewray his credit." Was Shakespeare then concerned in this war of
the stages? And what could have been the nature of this "purge"?
Among several suggestions, "Troilus and Cressida" has been thought
by some to be the play in which Shakespeare thus "put down" his
friend, Jonson. A wiser interpretation finds the "purge" in
"Satiromastix," which, though not written by Shakespeare, was
staged by his company, and therefore with his approval and under
his direction as one of the leaders of that company.
The last years of the reign of Elizabeth thus saw Jonson recognised
as a dramatist second only to Shakespeare, and not second even to
him as a dramatic satirist. But Jonson now turned his talents to
new fields. Plays on subjects derived from classical story and
myth had held the stage from the beginning of the drama, so that
Shakespeare was making no new departure when he wrote his "Julius
Caesar" about 1600. Therefore when Jonson staged "Sejanus," three
years later and with Shakespeare's company once more, he was only
following in the elder dramatist's footsteps. But Jonson's idea of
a play on classical history, on the one hand, and Shakespeare's and
the elder popular dramatists, on the other, were very different.
Heywood some years before had put five straggling plays on the
stage in quick succession, all derived from stories in Ovid and
dramatised with little taste or discrimination. Shakespeare had a
finer conception of form, but even he was contented to take all his
ancient history from North's translation of Plutarch and dramatise
his subject without further inquiry. Jonson was a scholar and a
classical antiquarian. He reprobated this slipshod amateurishness,
and wrote his "Sejanus" like a scholar, reading Tacitus, Suetonius,
and other authorities, to be certain of his facts, his setting, and
his atmosphere, and somewhat pedantically noting his authorities in
the margin when he came to print. "Sejanus" is a tragedy of
genuine dramatic power in which is told with discriminating taste
the story of the haughty favourite of Tiberius with his tragical
overthrow. Our drama presents no truer nor more painstaking
representation of ancient Roman life than may be found in Jonson's
"Sejanus" and "Catiline his Conspiracy," which followed in 1611. A
passage in the address of the former play to the reader, in which
Jonson refers to a collaboration in an earlier version, has led to
the surmise that Shakespeare may have been that "worthier pen."
There is no evidence to determine the matter.
In 1605, we find Jonson in active collaboration with Chapman and
Marston in the admirable comedy of London life entitled "Eastward
Hoe." In the previous year, Marston had dedicated his
"Malcontent," in terms of fervid admiration, to Jonson; so that the
wounds of the war of the theatres must have been long since healed.
Between Jonson and Chapman there was the kinship of similar
scholarly ideals. The two continued friends throughout life.
"Eastward Hoe" achieved the extraordinary popularity represented in
a demand for three issues in one year. But this was not due
entirely to the merits of the play. In its earliest version a
passage which an irritable courtier conceived to be derogatory to
his nation, the Scots, sent both Chapman and Jonson to jail; but
the matter was soon patched up, for by this time Jonson had
influence at court.
With the accession of King James, Jonson began his long and
successful career as a writer of masques. He wrote more masques
than all his competitors together, and they are of an extraordinary
variety and poetic excellence. Jonson did not invent the masque;
for such premeditated devices to set and frame, so to speak, a
court ball had been known and practised in varying degrees of
elaboration long before his time. But Jonson gave dramatic value
to the masque, especially in his invention of the antimasque, a
comedy or farcical element of relief, entrusted to professional
players or dancers. He enhanced, as well, the beauty and dignity
of those portions of the masque in which noble lords and ladies
took their parts to create, by their gorgeous costumes and artistic
grouping and evolutions, a sumptuous show. On the mechanical and
scenic side Jonson had an inventive and ingenious partner in Inigo
Jones, the royal architect, who more than any one man raised the
standard of stage representation in the England of his day. Jonson
continued active in the service of the court in the writing of
masques and other entertainments far into the reign of King
Charles; but, towards the end, a quarrel with Jones embittered his
life, and the two testy old men appear to have become not only a
constant irritation to each other, but intolerable bores at court.
In "Hymenaei," "The Masque of Queens," "Love Freed from Ignorance,"
"Lovers made Men," "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," and many more
will be found Jonson's aptitude, his taste, his poetry and
inventiveness in these by-forms of the drama; while in "The Masque
of Christmas," and "The Gipsies Metamorphosed" especially, is
discoverable that power of broad comedy which, at court as well as
in the city, was not the least element of Jonson's contemporary
But Jonson had by no means given up the popular stage when he
turned to the amusement of King James. In 1605 "Volpone" was
produced, "The Silent Woman" in 1609, "The Alchemist" in the
following year. These comedies, with "Bartholomew Fair," 1614,
represent Jonson at his height, and for constructive cleverness,
character successfully conceived in the manner of caricature, wit
and brilliancy of dialogue, they stand alone in English drama.
"Volpone, or the Fox," is, in a sense, a transition play from the
dramatic satires of the war of the theatres to the purer comedy
represented in the plays named above. Its subject is a struggle of
wit applied to chicanery; for among its dramatis personae, from
the villainous Fox himself, his rascally servant Mosca, Voltore
(the vulture), Corbaccio and Corvino (the big and the little
raven), to Sir Politic Would-be and the rest, there is scarcely a
virtuous character in the play. Question has been raised as to
whether a story so forbidding can be considered a comedy, for,
although the plot ends in the discomfiture and imprisonment of the
most vicious, it involves no mortal catastrophe. But Jonson was on
sound historical ground, for "Volpone" is conceived far more
logically on the lines of the ancients' theory of comedy than was
ever the romantic drama of Shakespeare, however repulsive we may
find a philosophy of life that facilely divides the world into the
rogues and their dupes, and, identifying brains with roguery and
innocence with folly, admires the former while inconsistently
"The Silent Woman" is a gigantic farce of the most ingenious
construction. The whole comedy hinges on a huge joke, played by a
heartless nephew on his misanthropic uncle, who is induced to take
to himself a wife, young, fair, and warranted silent, but who, in
the end, turns out neither silent nor a woman at all. In "The
Alchemist," again, we have the utmost cleverness in construction,
the whole fabric building climax on climax, witty, ingenious, and
so plausibly presented that we forget its departures from the
possibilities of life. In "The Alchemist" Jonson represented, none
the less to the life, certain sharpers of the metropolis, revelling
in their shrewdness and rascality and in the variety of the
stupidity and wickedness of their victims. We may object to the
fact that the only person in the play possessed of a scruple of
honesty is discomfited, and that the greatest scoundrel of all is
approved in the end and rewarded. The comedy is so admirably
written and contrived, the personages stand out with such lifelike
distinctness in their several kinds, and the whole is animated with
such verve and resourcefulness that "The Alchemist" is a new marvel
every time it is read. Lastly of this group comes the tremendous
comedy, "Bartholomew Fair," less clear cut, less definite, and less
structurally worthy of praise than its three predecessors, but full
of the keenest and cleverest of satire and inventive to a degree
beyond any English comedy save some other of Jonson's own. It is
in "Bartholomew Fair" that we are presented to the immortal
caricature of the Puritan, Zeal-in-the-Land Busy, and the
Littlewits that group about him, and it is in this extraordinary
comedy that the humour of Jonson, always open to this danger,
loosens into the Rabelaisian mode that so delighted King James in
"The Gipsies Metamorphosed." Another comedy of less merit is "The
Devil is an Ass," acted in 1616. It was the failure of this play
that caused Jonson to give over writing for the public stage for a
period of nearly ten years.
"Volpone" was laid as to scene in Venice. Whether because of the
success of "Eastward Hoe" or for other reasons, the other three
comedies declare in the words of the prologue to "The Alchemist":
"Our scene is London, 'cause we would make known
No country's mirth is better than our own."
Indeed Jonson went further when he came to revise his plays for
collected publication in his folio of 1616, he transferred the
scene of "Every Man in His Humour" from Florence to London also,
converting Signior Lorenzo di Pazzi to Old Kno'well, Prospero to
Master Welborn, and Hesperida to Dame Kitely "dwelling i' the Old
In his comedies of London life, despite his trend towards
caricature, Jonson has shown himself a genuine realist, drawing
from the life about him with an experience and insight rare in any
generation. A happy comparison has been suggested between Ben
Jonson and Charles Dickens. Both were men of the people, lowly
born and hardly bred. Each knew the London of his time as few men
knew it; and each represented it intimately and in elaborate
detail. Both men were at heart moralists, seeking the truth by the
exaggerated methods of humour and caricature; perverse, even
wrong-headed at times, but possessed of a true pathos and largeness
of heart, and when all has been said -- though the Elizabethan ran
to satire, the Victorian to sentimentality -- leaving the world
better for the art that they practised in it.
In 1616, the year of the death of Shakespeare, Jonson collected his
plays, his poetry, and his masques for publication in a collective
edition. This was an unusual thing at the time and had been
attempted by no dramatist before Jonson. This volume published, in
a carefully revised text, all the plays thus far mentioned,
excepting "The Case is Altered," which Jonson did not acknowledge,
"Bartholomew Fair," and "The Devil is an Ass," which was written
too late. It included likewise a book of some hundred and thirty
odd "Epigrams," in which form of brief and pungent writing Jonson
was an acknowledged master; "The Forest," a smaller collection of
lyric and occasional verse and some ten "Masques" and
"Entertainments." In this same year Jonson was made poet laureate
with a pension of one hundred marks a year. This, with his fees
and returns from several noblemen, and the small earnings of his
plays must have formed the bulk of his income. The poet appears to
have done certain literary hack-work for others, as, for example,
parts of the Punic Wars contributed to Raleigh's "History of the
World." We know from a story, little to the credit of either, that
Jonson accompanied Raleigh's son abroad in the capacity of a tutor.
In 1618 Jonson was granted the reversion of the office of Master of
the Revels, a post for which he was peculiarly fitted; but he did
not live to enjoy its perquisites. Jonson was honoured with
degrees by both universities, though when and under what
circumstances is not known. It has been said that he narrowly
escaped the honour of knighthood, which the satirists of the day
averred King James was wont to lavish with an indiscriminate hand.
Worse men were made knights in his day than worthy Ben Jonson.
From 1616 to the close of the reign of King James, Jonson produced
nothing for the stage. But he "prosecuted" what he calls "his
wonted studies" with such assiduity that he became in reality, as
by report, one of the most learned men of his time. Jonson's
theory of authorship involved a wide acquaintance with books and
"an ability," as he put it, "to convert the substance or riches of
another poet to his own use." Accordingly Jonson read not only the
Greek and Latin classics down to the lesser writers, but he
acquainted himself especially with the Latin writings of his
learned contemporaries, their prose as well as their poetry, their
antiquities and curious lore as well as their more solid learning.
Though a poor man, Jonson was an indefatigable collector of books.
He told Drummond that "the Earl of Pembroke sent him 20 pounds every
first day of the new year to buy new books." Unhappily, in 1623,
his library was destroyed by fire, an accident serio-comically
described in his witty poem, "An Execration upon Vulcan." Yet even
now a book turns up from time to time in which is inscribed, in
fair large Italian lettering, the name, Ben Jonson. With respect
to Jonson's use of his material, Dryden said memorably of him:
"[He] was not only a professed imitator of Horace, but a learned
plagiary of all the others; you track him everywhere in their
snow....But he has done his robberies so openly that one sees he
fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a
monarch, and what would be theft in other poets is only victory in
him." And yet it is but fair to say that Jonson prided himself,
and justly, on his originality. In "Catiline," he not only uses
Sallust's account of the conspiracy, but he models some of the
speeches of Cicero on the Roman orator's actual words. In
"Poetaster," he lifts a whole satire out of Horace and dramatises
it effectively for his purposes. The sophist Libanius suggests the
situation of "The Silent Woman"; a Latin comedy of Giordano Bruno,
"Il Candelaio," the relation of the dupes and the sharpers in "The
Alchemist," the "Mostellaria" of Plautus, its admirable opening
scene. But Jonson commonly bettered his sources, and putting the
stamp of his sovereignty on whatever bullion he borrowed made it
thenceforward to all time current and his own.
The lyric and especially the occasional poetry of Jonson has a
peculiar merit. His theory demanded design and the perfection of
literary finish. He was furthest from the rhapsodist and the
careless singer of an idle day; and he believed that Apollo could
only be worthily served in singing robes and laurel crowned. And
yet many of Jonson's lyrics will live as long as the language. Who
does not know "Queen and huntress, chaste and fair." "Drink to me
only with thine eyes," or "Still to be neat, still to be dressed"?
Beautiful in form, deft and graceful in expression, with not a word
too much or one that bears not its part in the total effect, there
is yet about the lyrics of Jonson a certain stiffness and
formality, a suspicion that they were not quite spontaneous and
unbidden, but that they were carved, so to speak, with
disproportionate labour by a potent man of letters whose habitual
thought is on greater things. It is for these reasons that Jonson
is even better in the epigram and in occasional verse where
rhetorical finish and pointed wit less interfere with the
spontaneity and emotion which we usually associate with lyrical
poetry. There are no such epitaphs as Ben Jonson's, witness the
charming ones on his own children, on Salathiel Pavy, the
child-actor, and many more; and this even though the rigid law of
mine and thine must now restore to William Browne of Tavistock the
famous lines beginning: "Underneath this sable hearse." Jonson is
unsurpassed, too, in the difficult poetry of compliment, seldom
falling into fulsome praise and disproportionate similitude, yet
showing again and again a generous appreciation of worth in others,
a discriminating taste and a generous personal regard. There was
no man in England of his rank so well known and universally beloved
as Ben Jonson. The list of his friends, of those to whom he had
written verses, and those who had written verses to him, includes
the name of every man of prominence in the England of King James.
And the tone of many of these productions discloses an affectionate
familiarity that speaks for the amiable personality and sound worth
of the laureate. In 1619, growing unwieldy through inactivity,
Jonson hit upon the heroic remedy of a journey afoot to Scotland.
On his way thither and back he was hospitably received at the
houses of many friends and by those to whom his friends had
recommended him. When he arrived in Edinburgh, the burgesses met
to grant him the freedom of the city, and Drummond, foremost of
Scottish poets, was proud to entertain him for weeks as his guest
at Hawthornden. Some of the noblest of Jonson's poems were
inspired by friendship. Such is the fine "Ode to the memory of Sir
Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Moryson," and that admirable piece of
critical insight and filial affection, prefixed to the first
Shakespeare folio, "To the memory of my beloved master, William
Shakespeare, and what he hath left us," to mention only these. Nor
can the earlier "Epode," beginning "Not to know vice at all," be
matched in stately gravity and gnomic wisdom in its own wise and
But if Jonson had deserted the stage after the publication of his
folio and up to the end of the reign of King James, he was far from
inactive; for year after year his inexhaustible inventiveness
continued to contribute to the masquing and entertainment at court.
In "The Golden Age Restored," Pallas turns the Iron Age with
its attendant evils into statues which sink out of sight; in
"Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," Atlas figures represented as an
old man, his shoulders covered with snow, and Comus, "the god of
cheer or the belly," is one of the characters, a circumstance which
an imaginative boy of ten, named John Milton, was not to forget.
"Pan's Anniversary," late in the reign of James, proclaimed that
Jonson had not yet forgotten how to write exquisite lyrics, and
"The Gipsies Metamorphosed" displayed the old drollery and broad
humorous stroke still unimpaired and unmatchable. These, too, and
the earlier years of Charles were the days of the Apollo Room of
the Devil Tavern where Jonson presided, the absolute monarch of
English literary Bohemia. We hear of a room blazoned about with
Jonson's own judicious "Leges Convivales" in letters of gold, of a
company made up of the choicest spirits of the time, devotedly
attached to their veteran dictator, his reminiscences, opinions,
affections, and enmities. And we hear, too, of valorous potations;
but in the words of Herrick addressed to his master, Jonson, at the
Devil Tavern, as at the Dog, the Triple Tun, and at the Mermaid,
"We such clusters had
As made us nobly wild, not mad,
And yet each verse of thine
Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine."
But the patronage of the court failed in the days of King Charles,
though Jonson was not without royal favours; and the old poet
returned to the stage, producing, between 1625 and 1633, "The
Staple of News," "The New Inn," "The Magnetic Lady," and "The Tale
of a Tub," the last doubtless revised from a much earlier comedy.
None of these plays met with any marked success, although the
scathing generalisation of Dryden that designated them "Jonson's
dotages" is unfair to their genuine merits. Thus the idea of an
office for the gathering, proper dressing, and promulgation of news
(wild flight of the fancy in its time) was an excellent subject for
satire on the existing absurdities among newsmongers; although
as much can hardly be said for "The Magnetic Lady," who, in her
bounty, draws to her personages of differing humours to reconcile
them in the end according to the alternative title, or "Humours
Reconciled." These last plays of the old dramatist revert to
caricature and the hard lines of allegory; the moralist is more
than ever present, the satire degenerates into personal lampoon,
especially of his sometime friend, Inigo Jones, who appears
unworthily to have used his influence at court against the
broken-down old poet. And now disease claimed Jonson, and he was
bedridden for months. He had succeeded Middleton in 1628 as
Chronologer to the City of London, but lost the post for not
fulfilling its duties. King Charles befriended him, and even
commissioned him to write still for the entertainment of the court;
and he was not without the sustaining hand of noble patrons and
devoted friends among the younger poets who were proud to be
"sealed of the tribe of Ben."
Jonson died, August 6, 1637, and a second folio of his works, which
he had been some time gathering, was printed in 1640, bearing in
its various parts dates ranging from 1630 to 1642. It included all
the plays mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs, excepting "The
Case is Altered;" the masques, some fifteen, that date between 1617
and 1630; another collection of lyrics and occasional poetry called
"Underwoods, including some further entertainments; a translation
of "Horace's Art of Poetry" (also published in a vicesimo quarto in
1640), and certain fragments and ingatherings which the poet would
hardly have included himself. These last comprise the fragment
(less than seventy lines) of a tragedy called "Mortimer his Fall,"
and three acts of a pastoral drama of much beauty and poetic
spirit, "The Sad Shepherd." There is also the exceedingly
interesting "English Grammar" "made by Ben Jonson for the benefit
of all strangers out of his observation of the English language now
spoken and in use," in Latin and English; and "Timber, or
Discoveries" "made upon men and matter as they have flowed out of
his daily reading, or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of
the times." The "Discoveries," as it is usually called, is a
commonplace book such as many literary men have kept, in which
their reading was chronicled, passages that took their fancy
translated or transcribed, and their passing opinions noted. Many
passages of Jonson's "Discoveries" are literal translations from the
authors he chanced to be reading, with the reference, noted or not,
as the accident of the moment prescribed. At times he follows the
line of Macchiavelli's argument as to the nature and conduct of
princes; at others he clarifies his own conception of poetry and
poets by recourse to Aristotle. He finds a choice paragraph on
eloquence in Seneca the elder and applies it to his own
recollection of Bacon's power as an orator; and another on facile
and ready genius, and translates it, adapting it to his
recollection of his fellow-playwright, Shakespeare. To call such
passages -- which Jonson never intended for publication --
plagiarism, is to obscure the significance of words. To disparage
his memory by citing them is a preposterous use of scholarship.
Jonson's prose, both in his dramas, in the descriptive comments of
his masques, and in the "Discoveries," is characterised by clarity
and vigorous directness, nor is it wanting in a fine sense of form
or in the subtler graces of diction.
When Jonson died there was a project for a handsome monument to his
memory. But the Civil War was at hand, and the project failed. A
memorial, not insufficient, was carved on the stone covering his
grave in one of the aisles of Westminster Abbey:
"O rare Ben Jonson."
FELIX E. SCHELLING.
The following is a complete list of his published works: --
Every Man in his Humour, 4to, 1601;
The Case is Altered, 4to, 1609;
Every Man out of his Humour, 4to, 1600;
Cynthia's Revels, 4to, 1601;
Poetaster, 4to, 1602;
Sejanus, 4to, 1605;
Eastward Ho (with Chapman and Marston), 4to, 1605;
Volpone, 4to, 1607;
Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, 4to, 1609 (?), fol., 1616;
The Alchemist, 4to, 1612;
Catiline, his Conspiracy, 4to, 1611;
Bartholomew Fayre, 4to, 1614 (?), fol., 1631;
The Divell is an Asse, fol., 1631;
The Staple of Newes, fol., 1631;
The New Sun, 8vo, 1631, fol., 1692;
The Magnetic Lady, or Humours Reconcild, fol., 1640;
A Tale of a Tub, fol., 1640;
The Sad Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood, fol., 1641;
Mortimer his Fall (fragment), fol., 1640.
To Jonson have also been attributed additions to Kyd's Jeronymo,
and collaboration in The Widow with Fletcher and Middleton, and
in the Bloody Brother with Fletcher.
Epigrams, The Forrest, Underwoods, published in fols., 1616, 1640;
Selections: Execration against Vulcan, and Epigrams, 1640;
G. Hor. Flaccus his art of Poetry, Englished by Ben Jonson, 1640;
Leges Convivialis, fol., 1692.
Other minor poems first appeared in Gifford's edition of Works.
Timber, or Discoveries made upon Men and Matter, fol., 1641;
The English Grammar, made by Ben Jonson for the benefit of
Strangers, fol., 1640.
Masques and Entertainments were published in the early folios.
Fol., 1616, volume. 2, 1640 (1631-41);
fol., 1692, 1716-19, 1729;
edited by P. Whalley, 7 volumes., 1756;
by Gifford (with Memoir), 9 volumes., 1816, 1846;
re-edited by F. Cunningham, 3 volumes., 1871;
in 9 volumes., 1875;
by Barry Cornwall (with Memoir), 1838;
by B. Nicholson (Mermaid Series), with Introduction by
C. H. Herford, 1893, etc.;
Nine Plays, 1904;
ed. H. C. Hart (Standard Library), 1906, etc;
Plays and Poems, with Introduction by H. Morley (Universal
Plays (7) and Poems (Newnes), 1905;
Poems, with Memoir by H. Bennett (Carlton Classics), 1907;
Masques and Entertainments, ed. by H. Morley, 1890.
J. A. Symonds, with Biographical and Critical Essay,
(Canterbury Poets), 1886;
Grosart, Brave Translunary Things, 1895;
Arber, Jonson Anthology, 1901;
Underwoods, Cambridge University Press, 1905;
Lyrics (Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher), the Chap Books,
No. 4, 1906;
Songs (from Plays, Masques, etc.), with earliest known
setting, Eragny Press, 1906.
See Memoirs affixed to Works;
J. A. Symonds (English Worthies), 1886;
Notes of Ben Jonson Conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden;
Shakespeare Society, 1842;
ed. with Introduction and Notes by P. Sidney, 1906;
Swinburne, A Study of Ben Jonson, 1889.
BEN JONSON'S PLAYS
TO THE LADY MOST DESERVING HER NAME AND BLOOD:
LADY MARY WROTH.
In the age of sacrifices, the truth of religion was not in the
greatness and fat of the offerings, but in the devotion and zeal
of the sacrificers: else what could a handle of gums have done
in the sight of a hecatomb? or how might I appear at this altar,
except with those affections that no less love the light and
witness, than they have the conscience of your virtue? If what
I offer bear an acceptable odour, and hold the first strength,
it is your value of it, which remembers where, when, and to whom
it was kindled. Otherwise, as the times are, there comes rarely
forth that thing so full of authority or example, but by
assiduity and custom grows less, and loses. This, yet, safe in
your judgment (which is a Sidney's) is forbidden to speak more,
lest it talk or look like one of the ambitious faces of the time,
who, the more they paint, are the less themselves.
Your ladyship's true honourer,
TO THE READER.
If thou beest more, thou art an understander, and then I trust
thee. If thou art one that takest up, and but a pretender,
beware of what hands thou receivest thy commodity; for thou wert
never more fair in the way to be cozened, than in this age, in
poetry, especially in plays: wherein, now the concupiscence of
dances and of antics so reigneth, as to run away from nature,
and be afraid of her, is the only point of art that tickles the
spectators. But how out of purpose, and place, do I name art?
When the professors are grown so obstinate contemners of it, and
presumers on their own naturals, as they are deriders of all
diligence that way, and, by simple mocking at the terms, when
they understand not the things, think to get off wittily with
their ignorance. Nay, they are esteemed the more learned, and
sufficient for this, by the many, through their excellent vice
of judgment. For they commend writers, as they do fencers or
wrestlers; who if they come in robustuously, and put for it with
a great deal of violence, are received for the braver fellows:
when many times their own rudeness is the cause of their
disgrace, and a little touch of their adversary gives all that
boisterous force the foil. I deny not, but that these men, who
always seek to do more than enough, may some time happen on some
thing that is good, and great; but very seldom; and when it
comes it doth not recompense the rest of their ill. It sticks
out, perhaps, and is more eminent, because all is sordid and
vile about it: as lights are more discerned in a thick darkness,
than a faint shadow. I speak not this, out of a hope to do good
to any man against his will; for I know, if it were put to the
question of theirs and mine, the worse would find more
suffrages: because the most favour common errors. But I give
thee this warning, that there is a great difference between
those, that, to gain the opinion of copy, utter all they can,
however unfitly; and those that use election and a mean. For it
is only the disease of the unskilful, to think rude things
greater than polished; or scattered more numerous than composed.
SUBTLE, the Alchemist.
FACE, the Housekeeper.
DOL COMMON, their Colleague.
DAPPER, a Lawyer's Clerk.
DRUGGER, a Tobacco Man.
LOVEWIT, Master of the House.
SIR EPICURE MAMMON, a Knight.
PERTINAX SURLY, a Gamester.
TRIBULATION WHOLESOME, a Pastor of Amsterdam.
ANANIAS, a Deacon there.
KASTRIL, the angry Boy.
DAME PLIANT, his Sister, a Widow.
Officers, Attendants, etc.
SCENE, -- LONDON.
T he sickness hot, a master quit, for fear,
H is house in town, and left one servant there;
E ase him corrupted, and gave means to know
A Cheater, and his punk; who now brought low,
L eaving their narrow practice, were become
C ozeners at large; and only wanting some
H ouse to set up, with him they here contract,
E ach for a share, and all begin to act.
M uch company they draw, and much abuse,
I n casting figures, telling fortunes, news,
S elling of flies, flat bawdry with the stone,
T ill it, and they, and all in fume are gone.
Fortune, that favours fools, these two short hours,
We wish away, both for your sakes and ours,
Judging spectators; and desire, in place,
To the author justice, to ourselves but grace.
Our scene is London, 'cause we would make known,
No country's mirth is better than our own:
No clime breeds better matter for your whore,
Bawd, squire, impostor, many persons more,
Whose manners, now call'd humours, feed the stage;
And which have still been subject for the rage
Or spleen of comic writers. Though this pen
Did never aim to grieve, but better men;
Howe'er the age he lives in doth endure
The vices that she breeds, above their cure.
But when the wholesome remedies are sweet,
And in their working gain and profit meet,
He hopes to find no spirit so much diseased,
But will with such fair correctives be pleased:
For here he doth not fear who can apply.
If there be any that will sit so nigh
Unto the stream, to look what it doth run,
They shall find things, they'd think or wish were done;
They are so natural follies, but so shewn,
As even the doers may see, and yet not own.
ACT 1. SCENE 1.1.
A ROOM IN LOVEWIT'S HOUSE.
ENTER FACE, IN A CAPTAIN'S UNIFORM, WITH HIS SWORD DRAWN, AND
SUBTLE WITH A VIAL, QUARRELLING, AND FOLLOWED BY DOL COMMON.
FACE. Believe 't, I will.
SUB. Thy worst. I fart at thee.
DOL. Have you your wits? why, gentlemen! for love --
FACE. Sirrah, I'll strip you --
SUB. What to do? lick figs
Out at my --
FACE. Rogue, rogue! -- out of all your sleights.
DOL. Nay, look ye, sovereign, general, are you madmen?
SUB. O, let the wild sheep loose. I'll gum your silks
With good strong water, an you come.
DOL. Will you have
The neighbours hear you? will you betray all?
Hark! I hear somebody.
FACE. Sirrah --
SUB. I shall mar
All that the tailor has made, if you approach.
FACE. You most notorious whelp, you insolent slave,
Dare you do this?
SUB. Yes, faith; yes, faith.
FACE. Why, who
Am I, my mungrel? who am I?
SUB. I'll tell you.,
Since you know not yourself.
FACE. Speak lower, rogue.
SUB. Yes, you were once (time's not long past) the good,
Honest, plain, livery-three-pound-thrum, that kept
Your master's worship's house here in the Friars,
For the vacations --
FACE. Will you be so loud?
SUB. Since, by my means, translated suburb-captain.
FACE. By your means, doctor dog!
SUB. Within man's memory,
All this I speak of.
FACE. Why, I pray you, have I
Been countenanced by you, or you by me?
Do but collect, sir, where I met you first.
SUB. I do not hear well.
FACE. Not of this, I think it.
But I shall put you in mind, sir; -- at Pie-corner,
Taking your meal of steam in, from cooks' stalls,
Where, like the father of hunger, you did walk
Piteously costive, with your pinch'd-horn-nose,
And your complexion of the Roman wash,
Stuck full of black and melancholic worms,
Like powder corns shot at the artillery-yard.
SUB. I wish you could advance your voice a little.
FACE. When you went pinn'd up in the several rags
You had raked and pick'd from dunghills, before day;
Your feet in mouldy slippers, for your kibes;
A felt of rug, and a thin threaden cloke,
That scarce would cover your no buttocks --
SUB. So, sir!
FACE. When all your alchemy, and your algebra,
Your minerals, vegetals, and animals,
Your conjuring, cozening, and your dozen of trades,
Could not relieve your corps with so much linen
Would make you tinder, but to see a fire;
I gave you countenance, credit for your coals,
Your stills, your glasses, your materials;
Built you a furnace, drew you customers,
Advanced all your black arts; lent you, beside,
A house to practise in --
SUB. Your master's house!
FACE. Where you have studied the more thriving skill
Of bawdry since.
SUB. Yes, in your master's house.
You and the rats here kept possession.
Make it not strange. I know you were one could keep
The buttery-hatch still lock'd, and save the chippings,
Sell the dole beer to aqua-vitae men,
The which, together with your Christmas vails
At post-and-pair, your letting out of counters,
Made you a pretty stock, some twenty marks,
And gave you credit to converse with cobwebs,
Here, since your mistress' death hath broke up house.
FACE. You might talk softlier, rascal.
SUB. No, you scarab,
I'll thunder you in pieces: I will teach you
How to beware to tempt a Fury again,
That carries tempest in his hand and voice.
FACE. The place has made you valiant.
SUB. No, your clothes. --
Thou vermin, have I ta'en thee out of dung,
So poor, so wretched, when no living thing
Would keep thee company, but a spider, or worse?
Rais'd thee from brooms, and dust, and watering-pots,
Sublimed thee, and exalted thee, and fix'd thee
In the third region, call'd our state of grace?
Wrought thee to spirit, to quintessence, with pains
Would twice have won me the philosopher's work?
Put thee in words and fashion, made thee fit
For more than ordinary fellowships?
Giv'n thee thy oaths, thy quarrelling dimensions,
Thy rules to cheat at horse-race, cock-pit, cards,
Dice, or whatever gallant tincture else?
Made thee a second in mine own great art?
And have I this for thanks! Do you rebel,
Do you fly out in the projection?
Would you be gone now?
DOL. Gentlemen, what mean you?
Will you mar all?
SUB. Slave, thou hadst had no name --
DOL. Will you undo yourselves with civil war?
SUB. Never been known, past equi clibanum,
The heat of horse-dung, under ground, in cellars,
Or an ale-house darker than deaf John's; been lost
To all mankind, but laundresses and tapsters,
Had not I been.
DOL. Do you know who hears you, sovereign?
FACE. Sirrah --
DOL. Nay, general, I thought you were civil.
FACE. I shall turn desperate, if you grow thus loud.
SUB. And hang thyself, I care not.
FACE. Hang thee, collier,
And all thy pots, and pans, in picture, I will,
Since thou hast moved me --
DOL. O, this will o'erthrow all.
FACE. Write thee up bawd in Paul's, have all thy tricks
Of cozening with a hollow cole, dust, scrapings,
Searching for things lost, with a sieve and sheers,
Erecting figures in your rows of houses,
And taking in of shadows with a glass,
Told in red letters; and a face cut for thee,
Worse than Gamaliel Ratsey's.
DOL. Are you sound?
Have you your senses, masters?
FACE. I will have
A book, but barely reckoning thy impostures,
Shall prove a true philosopher's stone to printers.
SUB. Away, you trencher-rascal!
FACE. Out, you dog-leech!
The vomit of all prisons --
DOL. Will you be
Your own destructions, gentlemen?
FACE. Still spew'd out
For lying too heavy on the basket.
DOL. O me!
We are ruin'd, lost! have you no more regard
To your reputations? where's your judgment? 'slight,
Have yet some care of me, of your republic --
FACE. Away, this brach! I'll bring thee, rogue, within
The statute of sorcery, tricesimo tertio
Of Harry the Eighth: ay, and perhaps thy neck
Within a noose, for laundring gold and barbing it.
DOL [SNATCHES FACE'S SWORD]. You'll bring your head within
a cockscomb, will you?
And you, sir, with your menstrue --
[DASHES SUBTLE'S VIAL OUT OF HIS HAND.]
Gather it up. --
'Sdeath, you abominable pair of stinkards,
Leave off your barking, and grow one again,
Or, by the light that shines, I'll cut your throats.
I'll not be made a prey unto the marshal,
For ne'er a snarling dog-bolt of you both.
Have you together cozen'd all this while,
And all the world, and shall it now be said,
You've made most courteous shift to cozen yourselves?
You will accuse him! you will "bring him in
Within the statute!" Who shall take your word?
A whoreson, upstart, apocryphal captain,
Whom not a Puritan in Blackfriars will trust
So much as for a feather:
and you, too,
Will give the cause, forsooth! you will insult,
And claim a primacy in the divisions!
You must be chief! as if you only had
The powder to project with, and the work
Were not begun out of equality?
The venture tripartite? all things in common?
Without priority? 'Sdeath! you perpetual curs,
Fall to your couples again, and cozen kindly,
And heartily, and lovingly, as you should,
And lose not the beginning of a term,
Or, by this hand, I shall grow factious too,
And take my part, and quit you.
FACE. 'Tis his fault;
He ever murmurs, and objects his pains,
And says, the weight of all lies upon him.
SUB. Why, so it does.
DOL. How does it? do not we
Sustain our parts?
SUB. Yes, but they are not equal.
DOL. Why, if your part exceed to-day, I hope
Ours may, to-morrow match it.
SUB. Ay, they MAY.
DOL. May, murmuring mastiff! ay, and do. Death on me!
Help me to throttle him.
[SEIZES SUB. BY THE THROAT.]
SUB. Dorothy! mistress Dorothy!
'Ods precious, I'll do any thing. What do you mean?
DOL. Because o' your fermentation and cibation?
SUB. Not I, by heaven --
DOL. Your Sol and Luna
-- help me.
SUB. Would I were hang'd then? I'll conform myself.
DOL. Will you, sir? do so then, and quickly: swear.
SUB. What should I swear?
DOL. To leave your faction, sir,
And labour kindly in the common work.
SUB. Let me not breathe if I meant aught beside.
I only used those speeches as a spur
DOL. I hope we need no spurs, sir. Do we?
FACE. 'Slid, prove to-day, who shall shark best.
DOL. Yes, and work close and friendly.
SUB. 'Slight, the knot
Shall grow the stronger for this breach, with me.
[THEY SHAKE HANDS.]
DOL. Why, so, my good baboons! Shall we go make
A sort of sober, scurvy, precise neighbours,
That scarce have smiled twice since the king came in,
A feast of laughter at our follies? Rascals,
Would run themselves from breath, to see me ride,
Or you t' have but a hole to thrust your heads in,
For which you should pay ear-rent? No, agree.
And may don Provost ride a feasting long,
In his old velvet jerkin and stain'd scarfs,
My noble sovereign, and worthy general,
Ere we contribute a new crewel garter
To his most worsted worship.
SUB. Royal Dol!
Spoken like Claridiana, and thyself.
FACE. For which at supper, thou shalt sit in triumph,
And not be styled Dol Common, but Dol Proper,
Dol Singular: the longest cut at night,
Shall draw thee for his Doll Particular.
[BELL RINGS WITHOUT.]
SUB. Who's that? one rings. To the window, Dol:
-- pray heaven,
The master do not trouble us this quarter.
FACE. O, fear not him. While there dies one a week
O' the plague, he's safe, from thinking toward London.
Beside, he's busy at his hop-yards now;
I had a letter from him. If he do,
He'll send such word, for airing of the house,
As you shall have sufficient time to quit it:
Though we break up a fortnight, 'tis no matter.
SUB. Who is it, Dol?
DOL. A fine young quodling.
My lawyer's clerk, I lighted on last night,
In Holborn, at the Dagger. He would have
(I told you of him) a familiar,
To rifle with at horses, and win cups.
DOL. O, let him in.
SUB. Stay. Who shall do't?
FACE. Get you
Your robes on: I will meet him as going out.
DOL. And what shall I do?
FACE. Not be seen; away!
Seem you very reserv'd.
FACE [ALOUD AND RETIRING]. God be wi' you, sir,
I pray you let him know that I was here:
His name is Dapper. I would gladly have staid, but --
DAP [WITHIN]. Captain, I am here.
FACE. Who's that? -- He's come, I think, doctor.
Good faith, sir, I was going away.
DAP. In truth
I am very sorry, captain.
FACE. But I thought
Sure I should meet you.
DAP. Ay, I am very glad.
I had a scurvy writ or two to make,
And I had lent my watch last night to one
That dines to-day at the sheriff's, and so was robb'd
Of my past-time.
[RE-ENTER SUBTLE IN HIS VELVET CAP AND GOWN.]
Is this the cunning-man?
FACE. This is his worship.
DAP. Is he a doctor?
DAP. And have you broke with him, captain?
DAP. And how?
FACE. Faith, he does make the matter, sir, so dainty
I know not what to say.
DAP. Not so, good captain.
FACE. Would I were fairly rid of it, believe me.
DAP. Nay, now you grieve me, sir. Why should you wish so?
I dare assure you, I'll not be ungrateful.
FACE. I cannot think you will, sir. But the law
Is such a thing -- and then he says, Read's matter
Falling so lately.
DAP. Read! he was an ass,
And dealt, sir, with a fool.
FACE. It was a clerk, sir.
DAP. A clerk!
FACE. Nay, hear me, sir. You know the law
Better, I think --
DAP. I should, sir, and the danger:
You know, I shewed the statute to you.
FACE. You did so.
DAP. And will I tell then! By this hand of flesh,
Would it might never write good court-hand more,
If I discover. What do you think of me,
That I am a chiaus?
FACE. What's that?
DAP. The Turk was here.
As one would say, do you think I am a Turk?
FACE. I'll tell the doctor so.
DAP. Do, good sweet captain.
FACE. Come, noble doctor, pray thee let's prevail;
This is the gentleman, and he is no chiaus.
SUB. Captain, I have return'd you all my answer.
I would do much, sir, for your love -- But this
I neither may, nor can.
FACE. Tut, do not say so.
You deal now with a noble fellow, doctor,
One that will thank you richly; and he is no chiaus:
Let that, sir, move you.
SUB. Pray you, forbear --
FACE. He has
Four angels here.
SUB. You do me wrong, good sir.
FACE. Doctor, wherein? to tempt you with these spirits?
SUB. To tempt my art and love, sir, to my peril.
Fore heaven, I scarce can think you are my friend,
That so would draw me to apparent danger.
FACE. I draw you! a horse draw you, and a halter,
You, and your flies together --
DAP. Nay, good captain.
FACE. That know no difference of men.
SUB. Good words, sir.
FACE. Good deeds, sir, doctor dogs-meat. 'Slight, I bring you
No cheating Clim o' the Cloughs or Claribels,
That look as big as five-and-fifty, and flush;
And spit out secrets like hot custard --
FACE. Nor any melancholic under-scribe,
Shall tell the vicar; but a special gentle,
That is the heir to forty marks a year,
Consorts with the small poets of the time,
Is the sole hope of his old grandmother;
That knows the law, and writes you six fair hands,
Is a fine clerk, and has his cyphering perfect.
Will take his oath o' the Greek Testament,
If need be, in his pocket; and can court
His mistress out of Ovid.
DAP. Nay, dear captain --
FACE. Did you not tell me so?
DAP. Yes; but I'd have you
Use master doctor with some more respect.
FACE. Hang him, proud stag, with his broad velvet head! --
But for your sake, I'd choak, ere I would change
An article of breath with such a puckfist:
Come, let's be gone.
SUB. Pray you let me speak with you.
DAP. His worship calls you, captain.
FACE. I am sorry
I e'er embark'd myself in such a business.
DAP. Nay, good sir; he did call you.
FACE. Will he take then?
SUB. First, hear me --
FACE. Not a syllable, 'less you take.
SUB. Pray you, sir --
FACE. Upon no terms but an assumpsit.
SUB. Your humour must be law.
[HE TAKES THE FOUR ANGELS.]
FACE. Why now, sir, talk.
Now I dare hear you with mine honour. Speak.
So may this gentleman too.
SUB. Why, sir --
[OFFERING TO WHISPER FACE.]
FACE. No whispering.
SUB. Fore heaven, you do not apprehend the loss
You do yourself in this.
FACE. Wherein? for what?
SUB. Marry, to be so importunate for one,
That, when he has it, will undo you all:
He'll win up all the money in the town.
SUB. Yes, and blow up gamester after gamester,
As they do crackers in a puppet-play.
If I do give him a familiar,
Give you him all you play for; never set him:
For he will have it.
FACE. You are mistaken, doctor.
Why he does ask one but for cups and horses,
A rifling fly; none of your great familiars.
DAP. Yes, captain, I would have it for all games.
SUB. I told you so.
FACE [TAKING DAP. ASIDE]. 'Slight, that is a new business!
I understood you, a tame bird, to fly
Twice in a term, or so, on Friday nights,
When you had left the office, for a nag
Of forty or fifty shillings.
DAP. Ay, 'tis true, sir;
But I do think now I shall leave the law,
And therefore --
FACE. Why, this changes quite the case.
Do you think that I dare move him?
DAP. If you please, sir;
All's one to him, I see.
FACE. What! for that money?
I cannot with my conscience; nor should you
Make the request, methinks.
DAP. No, sir, I mean
To add consideration.
FACE. Why then, sir,
I'll try. --
[GOES TO SUBTLE.]
Say that it were for all games, doctor.
SUB. I say then, not a mouth shall eat for him
At any ordinary, but on the score,
That is a gaming mouth, conceive me.
SUB. He'll draw you all the treasure of the realm,
If it be set him.
FACE. Speak you this from art?
SUB. Ay, sir, and reason too, the ground of art.
He is of the only best complexion,
The queen of Fairy loves.
FACE. What! is he?
He'll overhear you. Sir, should she but see him --
SUB. Do not you tell him.
FACE. Will he win at cards too?
SUB. The spirits of dead Holland, living Isaac,
You'd swear, were in him; such a vigorous luck
As cannot be resisted. 'Slight, he'll put
Six of your gallants to a cloke, indeed.
FACE. A strange success, that some man shall be born to.
SUB. He hears you, man --
DAP. Sir, I'll not be ingrateful.
FACE. Faith, I have confidence in his good nature:
You hear, he says he will not be ingrateful.
SUB. Why, as you please; my venture follows yours.
FACE. Troth, do it, doctor; think him trusty, and make him.
He may make us both happy in an hour;
Win some five thousand pound, and send us two on't.
DAP. Believe it, and I will, sir.
FACE. And you shall, sir.
[TAKES HIM ASIDE.]
You have heard all?
DAP. No, what was't? Nothing, I, sir.
DAP. A little, sir.
FACE. Well, a rare star
Reign'd at your birth.
DAP. At mine, sir! No.
FACE. The doctor
Swears that you are --
SUB. Nay, captain, you'll tell all now.
FACE. Allied to the queen of Fairy.
DAP. Who! that I am?
Believe it, no such matter --
FACE. Yes, and that
You were born with a cawl on your head.
DAP. Who says so?
You know it well enough, though you dissemble it.
DAP. I'fac, I do not; you are mistaken.
Swear by your fac, and in a thing so known
Unto the doctor? How shall we, sir, trust you
In the other matter? can we ever think,
When you have won five or six thousand pound,
You'll send us shares in't, by this rate?
DAP. By Jove, sir,
I'll win ten thousand pound, and send you half.
I'fac's no oath.
SUB. No, no, he did but jest.
FACE. Go to. Go thank the doctor: he's your friend,
To take it so.
DAP. I thank his worship.
DAP. Must I?
FACE. Must you! 'slight,
What else is thanks? will you be trivial? -- Doctor,
[DAPPER GIVES HIM THE MONEY.]
When must he come for his familiar?
DAP. Shall I not have it with me?
SUB. O, good sir!
There must a world of ceremonies pass;
You must be bath'd and fumigated first:
Besides the queen of Fairy does not rise
Till it be noon.
FACE. Not, if she danced, to-night.
SUB. And she must bless it.
FACE. Did you never see
Her royal grace yet?
FACE. Your aunt of Fairy?
SUB. Not since she kist him in the cradle, captain;
I can resolve you that.
FACE. Well, see her grace,
Whate'er it cost you, for a thing that I know.
It will be somewhat hard to compass; but
However, see her. You are made, believe it,
If you can see her. Her grace is a lone woman,
And very rich; and if she take a fancy,
She will do strange things. See her, at any hand.
'Slid, she may hap to leave you all she has:
It is the doctor's fear.
DAP. How will't be done, then?
FACE. Let me alone, take you no thought. Do you
But say to me, captain, I'll see her grace.
DAP. "Captain, I'll see her grace."
SUB. Who's there?
[ASIDE TO FACE.]
-- Conduct him forth by the back way. --
Sir, against one o'clock prepare yourself;
Till when you must be fasting; only take
Three drops of vinegar in at your nose,
Two at your mouth, and one at either ear;
Then bathe your fingers' ends and wash your eyes,
To sharpen your five senses, and cry "hum"
Thrice, and then "buz" as often; and then come.
FACE. Can you remember this?
DAP. I warrant you.
FACE. Well then, away. It is but your bestowing
Some twenty nobles 'mong her grace's servants,
And put on a clean shirt: you do not know
What grace her grace may do you in clean linen.
[EXEUNT FACE AND DAPPER.]
SUB [WITHIN]. Come in! Good wives, I pray you forbear me now;
Troth I can do you no good till afternoon --
[RE-ENTERS, FOLLOWED BY DRUGGER.]
What is your name, say you? Abel Drugger?
DRUG. Yes, sir.
SUB. A seller of tobacco?
DRUG. Yes, sir.
Free of the grocers?
DRUG. Ay, an't please you.
SUB. Well --
Your business, Abel?
DRUG. This, an't please your worship;
I am a young beginner, and am building
Of a new shop, an't like your worship, just
At corner of a street: -- Here is the plot on't --
And I would know by art, sir, of your worship,
Which way I should make my door, by necromancy,
And where my shelves; and which should be for boxes,
And which for pots. I would be glad to thrive, sir:
And I was wish'd to your worship by a gentleman,
One captain Face, that says you know men's planets,
And their good angels, and their bad.
SUB. I do,
If I do see them --
FACE. What! my honest Abel?
Though art well met here.
DRUG. Troth, sir, I was speaking,
Just as your worship came here, of your worship:
I pray you speak for me to master doctor.
FACE. He shall do any thing. -- Doctor, do you hear?
This is my friend, Abel, an honest fellow;
He lets me have good tobacco, and he does not
Sophisticate it with sack-lees or oil,
Nor washes it in muscadel and grains,
Nor buries it in gravel, under ground,
Wrapp'd up in greasy leather, or piss'd clouts:
But keeps it in fine lily pots, that, open'd,
Smell like conserve of roses, or French beans.
He has his maple block, his silver tongs,
Winchester pipes, and fire of Juniper:
A neat, spruce, honest fellow, and no goldsmith.
SUB. He is a fortunate fellow, that I am sure on.
FACE. Already, sir, have you found it? Lo thee, Abel!
SUB. And in right way toward riches --
SUB. This summer
He will be of the clothing of his company,
And next spring call'd to the scarlet; spend what he can.
FACE. What, and so little beard?
SUB. Sir, you must think,
He may have a receipt to make hair come:
But he'll be wise, preserve his youth, and fine for't;
His fortune looks for him another way.
FACE. 'Slid, doctor, how canst thou know this so soon?
I am amused at that!
SUB. By a rule, captain,
In metoposcopy, which I do work by;
A certain star in the forehead, which you see not.
Your chestnut or your olive-colour'd face
Does never fail: and your long ear doth promise.
I knew't by certain spots, too, in his teeth,
And on the nail of his mercurial finger.
FACE. Which finger's that?
SUB. His little finger. Look.
You were born upon a Wednesday?
DRUG. Yes, indeed, sir.
SUB. The thumb, in chiromancy, we give Venus;
The fore-finger, to Jove; the midst, to Saturn;
The ring, to Sol; the least, to Mercury,
Who was the lord, sir, of his horoscope,
His house of life being Libra; which fore-shew'd,
He should be a merchant, and should trade with balance.
FACE. Why, this is strange! Is it not, honest Nab?
SUB. There is a ship now, coming from Ormus,
That shall yield him such a commodity
[POINTING TO THE PLAN.]
-- This is the west, and this the south?
DRUG. Yes, sir.
SUB. And those are your two sides?
DRUG. Ay, sir.
SUB. Make me your door, then, south; your broad side, west:
And on the east side of your shop, aloft,
Write Mathlai, Tarmiel, and Baraborat;
Upon the north part, Rael, Velel, Thiel.
They are the names of those mercurial spirits,
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