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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

XIII. Masque and Pastoral

§ 7. Development of the Presenter

If January, 1612, be the date of Love Restored, it is important for the student of the masque. Jonson innovated again on previous practice. The masque proper is preceded not by an antimasque, but by a scene of excellent comedy. The scene is the development in a new style of the part of the presenter, and still gives to that character the larger part of the dialogue, which is in prose. Just as the satyr of the first entertainment was the germ of the antimasque of Oberon so the prose of Pan and his dialogue with Mercury in the second entertainment may have prompted this scene. The king and court being ready, Masquerado enters to declare that there can be no masque, “the rogue play-boy, that acts Cupid, is got so hoarse, your majesty cannot hear him half the breadth of your chair.” But Plutus, “as Cupid,” here interrupts, ordering Masquerado off. “What makes this light, feathered vanity here? Away, impertinent folly! Infect not this assembly.” Plutus objects to the expense of the masque: “I tell thee I will have no more masquing; I will not buy a false and fleeting delight so dear: the merry madness of one hour shall not cost me the repentance of an age.” But, here, Plutus is interrupted in his turn by Robin Goodfellow, who is aghast at the news of there not being any masque. He declares,

  • I am the honest plain country spirit, and harmless; Robin Goodfellow, he that sweeps the hearth and the house clean, riddles for the country maids, and does all their other drudgery, while they are at hot-cockles: one that has discoursed with your court spirits ere now; but was fain to-night to run a thousand hazards to arrive at this place: never poor goblin was so put to his shifts to get in to see nothing.
  • Plutus will not listen: “Your rude good-fellowship must seek some other sphere for your admitty.” Robin’s answer is a triumph of comic description. It puts before us all the crush and crowding, all the tricks and pretences, which were a part of the fierce competition to get a place at these great court masques. Robin has been hit over the head by the porter, and shoved off a ladder by one of the guards; then he tried “the carpenters’ way,” but “the wooden rogues let a huge trap-door fall on my head.” He thought of getting in in a trunk, “but that I would not imitate so catholic a coxcomb as Coryat.” So he tried disguises. “I was an engineer and belonged to the motions”; then, “an old tire-woman”; then, “a musician—marry, I could not shew mine instrument and that bred a discord”; then,
  • a feather-maker of Blackfriars,… but they all made as light of me, as of my feathers; and wondered how I could be a Puritan, being of so vain a vocation; I answered, We are all masquers sometimes.
  • At last, “with my broom and my candles,” he was himself, “and came on confidently, giving out I was a part of the Device.” This admirable speech exhibits Jonson’s comic power in its most genial and, therefore, most delightful vein. When Plutus goes on protesting against the expense of masques as “superfluous excesses,” Masquerado and Robin detect him for an impostor—“Plutus, the god of money, who has stolen Love’s ensigns.” At this point, the real Cupid enters in his chariot “guarded with the Masquers, in number ten,” who, says Cupid, were “the spirits of courts and flower of men.” But, here again, the masque, as it has come down to us, is quenched by its antimasque. That antimasque, quite frankly, is a dramatic scene, although the long harangue of Robin Goodfellow may be called only a modification of the presenter’s oration, and the colloquy is suggested rather by what was customary at an entertainment than by the new idea of the antimasque.

    In Jonson’s remaining masques, there are many similar scenes, and they are all admirable. But their right to a place in the masque may be called in question. They represent the intrusion of drama into masque, and it may be contended that Jonson never succeeds in evolving a type of masque which really absorbs them. The plays of Aristophanes afford an example on the grandest scale of the kind of artistic product that is aimed at, and Jonson, in the scene we have criticised and in other places in his masques, is Aristophanic in his combination of robust naturalism with imaginative fancy. Another consideration must be kept in mind. The masquers themselves were always the highest notables of the land, and, therefore, of course, amateurs in everything but dancing. The nobleman could dance exquisitely, but he might not act. This fact, of itself, prevented the development in a dramatic direction of the real masque. But the presenters and the allegoric personages who explained the masque were, usually, professionals, and the antimasque, when it came, was performed very largely by professionals. This is why the development of the antimasque in a dramatic direction was easy, and why the real coherence of masque and antimasque when the dramatic element intruded was impossible.

    The development of the Jonsonian masque is now complete, although we have not yet considered half his work. Broadly speaking, there are two types of Jonsonian masque: the masque proper, in which the antimasque is a foil to the masque; and the masque improper, in which the antimasque is a dramatic scene. But the masque proper may be said to include two species; that in which the antimasque is an antic-masque, and that in which it is a true foil or opposite of the masque.

    The date 1612, which we have now reached, offers a suitable occasion for considering shortly the work of certain other masque writers, since Jonson wrote no masque for the January and February of 1613.