The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 6, 2016

August 6, 1637

We may have forgotten that Ben Jonson (June 11, 1572 to August 6, 1637), the author of The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fayre: A Comedy (1614) was, in his lifetime, considered a  greater dramatist than Shakespeare. We have certainly forgotten the dramatic form called a "masque." A brief note then, precedes our glimpse of cats and women in the imagination of Stuart England.  Masques were a kind of theater with dancing and music, meant to amuse and flatter royalty. We quote from one of several Ben Jonson wrote: The Masque of Queens, (1609). The beginning of this masque, the source of our quoting, is meant to highlight the glittering beauty, by a reversal of the coming attractions.

[The scene opens, with a woman holding]
.... in her hand a torch made of a dead mans arm, lighted, girded with a snake. To whom they all did reverence, and she spake, uttering, by way of question, the end wherefore they earned...

Dame. Well done, my Hags! 
And come we fraught with spite, 
To overthrow the glory of this night? 
Holds our great purpose?

Hag. Yes.

Dame. But wants there none 
Of our just number?

Hags. Call us one by one,
And then our dame shall see.

Dame. First, then advance,
My drowsy servant, stupid Ignorance,
Known by thy scaly vesture; and bring on
Thy fearful sister, wild Suspicion,

As she names them they come forward. 
Whose eyes do never sleep; let her knit hands
With quick Credulity, that next her stands,
Who hath but one ear, and that always ope;

Two-faced Falsehood follow in the rope;
And lead on Murmur, with the cheeks deep hung;
She, Malice, whetting of her forked tongue;
And Malice, Impudence, whose forehead's lost;

Let Impudence lead Slander on, to boast
Her oblique look; and to her subtle side,
Thou, black-mouth'd Execration, stand applied;
Draw to thee Bitterness, whose pores sweat gall;

She, flame-ey'd Rage; Rage, Mischief.

Hags. Here we are all...

Dame. Join now our hearts, we faithful opposites
To Fame and Glory. Let not these bright nights
Of honour blaze, thus to offend our eyes;
Shew ourselves truly envious, and let rise
Our wonted rages : do what may beseem

Such names, and natures; Virtue else will deem
Our powers decreas'd, and think us banish'd earth,
No less than heaven. All her antique birth,
As Justice, Faith, she will restore; and, bold

Upon our sloth, retrieve her Age of gold.
We must not let our native manners, thus,
Corrupt with ease. Ill lives not, but in us.
I hate to see these fruits of a soft peace,

And curse the piety gives it such increase.

Let us disturb it then, and blast the light;
Mix hell with heaven, and make nature fight
Within herself; loose the whole hinge of things;
And cause the ends run back into their springs.

Hags. What our Dame bids us do,
We are ready for.

Dame. Then fall to. 
But first relate me,' what you have sought, 
Where you have been, and what you have brought.

1 Hag. I have been all day, looking after 
A raven, feeding upon a quarter;
And, soon, as she turn'd her beak to the south, 
I snatch'd this morsel out of her mouth.

2 Hag. I have been gathering wolves hairs, 
The mad dog's foam, and the adder's ears; 
The spurging of a dead-man's eyes,
And all since the evening star did rise.

3 Hag. I last night lay all alone
On the ground, to hear the mandrake groan; 
And pluck'd him up, though he grew full low; 
And, as I had done, the cock did crow.

4 Hag. And I have been choosing out this scull, 
From charnel houses, that were full;
From private grots, and public pits;
And frighted a sexton out of his wits.

5 Hag. Under a cradle I did creep,
By day; and when the child was asleep,
At night, I suck'd the breath; and rose,
And pluck'd the nodding nurse by the nose.

6 Hag. I had a dagger: what did I with that? 
Kill'd an infant to have his fat.
A piper it got, at a church-ale,
I bade him again blow wind in the tail.

7 Hag. A murderer, yonder, was hung in chains, 
The sun and the wind had shrunk his veins;
I bit off a sinew; I clipp'd his hair,
I brought off his rags that danced in the air.

8 Hag. The screech-owl's eggs, and the feathers black,
The blood of the frog, and the bone in his back,
I have been getting; and made of his skin
A purset, to keep sir Cranion in.

9 Hag. And I have been plucking, plants among, 
Hemlock, henbane, adder's-tongue, 
Night-shade, moon-wort, libbard's-bane;
And twice, by the dogs, was like to be ta'en.

10 Hag. I, from the jaws of a gardener's bitch, 
Did snatch these bones, and then leap'd the ditch:
Yet went I back to the house again,
Kill'd the black cat, and here's the brain.

11 Hag. I went to the toad breeds under the wall,
I charm'd him out, and he came at my call;
I scratch'd out the eyes of the owl before,
I tore the bat's wing: what would you have more?

Dame. Yes, I have brought, to help our vows, 

Horned poppy, cypress boughs,
The fig-tree wild that grows on tombs,
And juice that from the larch-tree comes,
The basilisk's blood, and the viper's skin: 

And now our orgies let us begin.

What we read above is the foil to the main fun, the beauty and dancing of often aristocratic ladies, whose glamour is meant to shine especially bright against the backdrop we quote above. Music was an important part of this theater but that does not survive.

There is a wealth of detail about the items mentioned above, and the curious may consult my source: The Works of Ben Jonson: With Notes Critical and Explanatory, and a Biographical Memoir, Volume 7, by William Gifford, for much intriguing annotation.  This section of the Masque, anyway, is rather fresher than the zombie stuff one sees nowadays.

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