Court Masques: Jacobean and Caroline Entertainments, 1605-1640

By David Lindley | Go to book overview

BEN JONSON


The Masque of Blackness

The Queen's Masques: the first Of Blackness

Personated at the Court at Whitehall, on the Twelfth Night, 1605.

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 5 these,˚ if presently with the rage of the people, who, as a part of
greatness, are privileged by custom to deface their carcasses,˚ 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 10 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 Leo the African,˚ remember
unto us a river in Ethiopia famous by the name of Niger,˚ of which
the people were called Nigritae, now Negroes, and are the blackest 15 nation of the world. This river taketh spring out of a certain lake,˚
eastward, and after a long race, falleth into the western ocean. Hence
(because it was her Majesty's will to have them blackamoors at first)
the invention was derived by me, and presented thus.


First, for the scene, was drawn a Landtschap˚ consisting of small woods, 20 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 in nature. In front of this
sea were placed six tritons,˚ in morning and sprightly "actions; their upper 25 parts human, save that their hairs were blue, as partaking of the
sea-colour; their desinent parts fish, mounted above their heads, and all

-1-

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