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Christmas His Masque: Textual Essay

Martin Butler

Christmas His Masque was first printed in the masques section of the second folio (F2) , where it occupies sigs. B1-4r (numbered 1-7). The fact that no gathering A was used suggests that the printer, John Dawson Junior, expected Christmas to be the first text in a volume that began with the masques, and left A spare for a general title-page and preliminaries. As the first of the masques, B1r is modestly decorated: the title is generously set and there is a factotum initial for the opening word of dialogue, but there is no collective title-page for the masques as a section, and the effect of the section beginning is rather spoiled by the wrong-fount ‘Q’ that appears in the word ‘MASQUE’ in the second line, and the damaged ‘H’ (lacking its lower right serif) in ‘CHRISTMAS’. The factotum, which shows Salome receiving the head of John the Baptist on a charger, was used in three other books printed by Dawson around this time: R. Ward’s Animadversions of War (1639; sigs. E6 and F6); volume 3 of G. Saulnier’s The Love and Arms of the Greek Princes (1639; sig. 2E2); and Threnoikos: The House of Mourning (1640; sig. A2). H&S (9.103-4 ) note that in 1634 this factotum was owned by John Haviland, but Haviland died in 1638, at which point it must have passed to Dawson (McKenzie, 1972 ).

F2 presents the fullest text of Christmas, being the only source for the description of the masquers, 22-53. However, two short speeches are missing (95-7), and there are other small omissions and errors that need correcting from the manuscripts. From the fullness and descriptiveness of the stage directions, it seems probable that the text derives from a literary transcript, based on Jonson’s performance text but introducing improvements into it, perhaps made for post-performance distribution. The directions cannot correspond exactly to the text as staged, for they are contradictory about whether the verses were sung by the whole company or by Christmas alone; this suggests that at some point they were worked over by a copyist. If so, the scribe in question might have been Ralph Crane, who in 1618 prepared the Chatsworth manuscript of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue. Some of the characteristic features of Crane’s hand are present. There is a marked preference for question marks over exclamation marks; a very high recurrence of commas and of capitalized words (other than for names and the beginnings of sentences); and a tendency towards excessive hyphenation, not only for names but in words and phrases such as ‘paire-Royall’ (37), ‘his-rule’ (162), ‘Twelfe-night’ (194), and ‘Hinch-boyes’ (226-7) (for the basis of these comparisons, see the statistical analyses in Howard-Hill, 1972b, and Honigmann, 1996 ). Against this, the text lacks Crane’s strong preference for semicolons over colons, nor does it have his frequent use of parentheses, though it does have two examples of a distinctive Craneism, a single word in parentheses, ‘forsooth’ at 242 and ‘sir’ at 257. The case for F2 deriving from a Crane transcript, then, seems reasonably strong, even if in such a short sample it is not possible to mount a full-scale complete statistical comparison. If this attribution is correct, the putative manuscript lying behind F2 is chronologically the earliest example that we know about of a theatre text copied by Crane.

Forty-two copies of F2 have been collated for this edition (see list at end of this analysis). Two corrections were made during the printing:

B1v (2) state 1 state 2
25 carrring carrying

state 1: all copies except 16, 41, 42

state 2: 16, 41, 42

B2r (3) state 1 state 2

B2r (3) state 1 state 2

state 1: 5, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 42

state 2: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 17, 20, 22, 28, 29, 30, 34, 38, 41

Parts of Christmas His Masque appear in five manuscripts. Of these, the most important is Folger MS J.a.1 (JnB 563 in Peter Beal’s list), a dramatic and poetical miscellany consisting of eighteen separate items dating from c.1610-20, bound into a single volume in the eighteenth century and now disbound into separate fascicles (for details, see R.H. Bowers, 1959). The masque, titled ‘Christmas his / Showe’ and endorsed by a different hand as ‘Mock-maske. / The Christmas shewe / before the Kinge. 1615’, originally occupied fols. 168-74 of the manuscript. This comprises seven leaves, of which 169-70, 171-2, and 173-4 are conjugates; the title leaf was originally folded around 169-70 and its blank half has been cut away, leaving a stub between 170 and 171. The pages are ruled at the top and sides; speech headings are placed in the upper box on 169r and 170r, and a correction is written into the left margin on 170v. The text is written in a neat secretary hand, occupying between 18 and 25 lines to a page. It is written with some care: blank spaces between the ends of prose lines and the right-hand margin are sometimes filled in small dashes, and capitals frequently decorated with small flourishes. One distinctive feature is the presence of a decorative grave accent over the letter ‘à’ when used as an indefinite article: this has implications for the editor, as it could easily be confused with an elision.

Bland (2004), 396n. proposes that the title-page endorsement and some corrections to the text (such as a change from ‘woot’ to ‘wote’ on 172v) are in Jonson’s hand. However, Henry Woudhuysen (private communication) points out that the sample (forty letters and four numbers) is too small for certainty, and the only distinctive letter (k) differs from Jonson’s hand. The spellings, as far as one can tell, are non-Jonsonian. This hand writes ‘shewe’ as a noun, but in the Masque of Queens holograph, Jonson writes ‘shew’ three times, once as a noun and twice as a verb; Queens has ‘masque’ three times, rather than ‘maske’; and ‘king’ twice, rather than ‘kinge’. The fact that the wrong date is given on the title-page also suggests that the hand is unlikely to be Jonson’s.

The Folger manuscript provides a full transcript of the speeches, but although carefully presented, it is not recognizably a text for reading. It lacks the description of the masquers, and its abbreviated speech-headings in the dialogue at 64-74 and 118-38 do not adequately identify the names of the speakers for anyone without access to the missing prose. Additionally, the speech headings throughout refer to Venus simply as ‘Woman’ or ‘Wom.’. Possibly this text represents the masque as it was sent to the players and was transcribed from Jonson’s foul papers; H&S note the survival of Jonsonian spellings in ‘praesent’ (117) and ‘praesenteth’ (164).

F2 and the manuscript differ from one another on nearly fifty readings. The most important difference is the appearance in JnB 563 of two speeches completely absent from F2 in the dialogue between Christmas and Venus. They are printed in this edition at 95-7, though in the manuscript they occur three lines earlier; they have been moved because they interrupt the flow of the dialogue and appear to be out of place. Percy Simpson suggested that this passage was accidentally omitted from the folio (H&S, 7.433 ), but Greg (1942) speculated that it was either a first draft of 99-101, cancelled in the folio, or supplementary dialogue that had been added later but inserted into the fair copy in the wrong place. This last explanation seems the likeliest: the lines could have been written in at the side of Jonson’s manuscript, but without a clear indication of where they were to be added, so allowing them to be misplaced by the copyist. Other signs of F2’s provenance are two passages which preserve readings that look like authorial first thoughts, revised in the final version (20 and 127), while a third passage (222) printed in F2 but missing from JnB 563 is perhaps an addition made for the performance (unless it was omitted from JnB 563 on grounds of indecency). Elsewhere, the balance of authority between F2 and JnB 563 is pretty even. Seven of F2’s compositorial misreadings, mostly very obvious, can be corrected from the manuscript at 102, 117, 120-1, 122, 139, 215 and 231. Conversely, F2 corrects the manuscript in six places (16, 93, 189, 204, 240 and 257). In other respects the two texts are very close, the remaining disagreements being over contractions or minor verbal forms.

The first three sections of Christmas’s song (55-62, 76-84,139-212), extrapolated from the masque and combined into a single continuous ballad, circulated extensively as an independent text. Copies survive in four manuscript miscellanies from the first half of the seventeenth century:

(JnB 564) British Library, London, Harleian MS 4955. This is the ‘Newcastle’ manuscript which contains transcripts of many of Jonson’s poems and entertainments, particularly those associated with the family of William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle. The song, untitled, occupies fols. 46-7; the lines are written out as if they were fourteeners, and are grouped into eleven stanzas of four lines each. The scribe was John Rolleston, later steward at the Cavendish family home at Welbeck. For discussion of the whole manuscript, see the Textual Essays to the Poems and the Welbeck Entertainment.

(JnB 565) Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Rawlinson Poetry 160. This is a poetical miscellany possibly compiled in the 1630s. The text, headed ‘BEN / IOHNSONS / Maske before the / Kinge’, occupies fols. 173-4. The quatrains are grouped in pairs, to make eleven eight-line stanzas: they are numbered in sequence, but a mistake on fol. 173v, subsequently corrected by the scribe, puts the numbering of stanzas 6-10 awry. The scribe additionally placed numbers in the margin from 1-10 against the descriptions of Christmas’s ten children.

(JnB 566) Huntington Library, California, MS HM 198. This is a large poetical miscellany at one time in the Huth Collection, bound in two volumes and consisting of 354 leaves. It begins with a series of separates from the 1590s, but the bulk of the collection consists of poems by Donne, Jonson, Corbett, Beaumont, Herrick, Carew, Randolph, and others. The song from Christmas occupies pp. 60-1, written out as eleven eight-line verses, numbered in sequence.

(JnB 566.5) Beinecke Library, New Haven, MS Osborne b 197. This is a miscellany and commonplace book compiled by Tobias Alston, c. 1639. It contains poems by Donne, Carew, Herrick, Drayton, Wither, Harington, and others; the Herrick group is particularly significant, as it includes poems unpublished in the poet’s lifetime, which probably came to Alston through his half-brother Edward, who was a contemporary of Herrick’s at Cambridge. The text of Christmas’s song occupies pp. 132-4, written in eight-line stanzas, and with Christmas’s children numbered 1-10 in the margin.

These manuscripts divide into two groups: a closely related set comprising the Bodleian, Huntington, and Beinecke manuscripts, and the Newcastle manuscript, which differs significantly from these three. Although there are many incidental variations between the Bodleian, Huntington, and Beinecke manuscripts, they have much in common, particularly a series of distinctive readings which suggest descent from a single original (see especially the collation to 61, 62, 76, 82, 144, 146, 149, 157, 167, 173, 174, 181, 188, 203, 205, 210). These manuscripts present the most ‘readerly’ version of the ballad: not only has it been extracted from the masque, it shows signs editorial adjustment to make it suitable for independent consumption. Some of its details are tidied up, notably the phrase ‘Hum drum, sauce for a coney’ (149), which is supplemented in the miscellanies by repetition of the words ‘Hum drum’, regularizing a short line that F2 and the Folger manuscript abbreviate. In performance the truncation of the line could have helped the dramatic character of Christmas’s song, but it had no function when the ballad became free standing. Other small smoothings of the sense occur at 62, 76, 167, 173 and 210.

There are four points at which the readings in the miscellanies diverge from F2 with the agreement of the Folger manuscript: 151, 162, 163 and 194. The first of these is an indifferent variant, but in the other three cases the reading in all of the manuscripts is obviously superior to F2, and the commonality between the miscellanies and the Folger manuscript suggests that at these points F2 must be in error (and the Cambridge text is corrected accordingly). A further sign of relationship between the miscellanies and the Folger manuscript is the numbering of Christmas’s children, which happens in the Bodleian and Beinecke versions as well as Folger.

The text which stands apart is the Newcastle manuscript. This is an extremely inaccurate transcription, which makes many blunders that reduce several passages to nonsense. However, in the readings which differentiate it from the Bodleian, Huntington, and Beinecke manuscripts, Newcastle tends to align with F2 and Folger, suggesting that it has not been separately edited and ultimately derives from a version of the pre-performance text. This assumption is intensified by some of its substantive variants, which seem to preserve evidence of authorial revision. At 199, where all the other texts have ‘Littleworth’, Newcastle reads ‘Alworth’: this looks more like an authorial change of mind than a scribal slip. At 194, Newcastle has ‘this night’ for ‘Twelfth Night’, perhaps reflecting authorial changes in anticipation of different possible performance dates. And at 173-6, Newcastle reads:

but who is this, o’ my daughter sis, forbear with her to dally

on payne of your life, shee’s an honest cooks wife, & comes out of Scaldinge Ally

This is more metrically regular than all the other texts, in which the name ‘Mince Pie’ has been added after ‘sis’, an insertion that unsettles the metre of the lines. In F2 and Folger (but not Huntington, Osborn, and Rawlinson) the metre is corrected by changing ‘forbear with her to dally’ to ‘with her do not dally’. H&S suggested (7.434) that Jonson decided to rewrite the line for performance, an idea which is plausible given that this is the only verse in the Newcastle manuscript which fails to identify the character being described by name. In revising the text for performance, Jonson may have realized that although Mince Pie had visual attributes identifying her, it was still necessary to tell the spectators who she was. If this is correct, then Newcastle – despite its manifold inaccuracies – preserves an early version of the ballad (though not that which, in the event, was spoken at court); and the more ‘literary’ versions reproduce an intermediate state, in which the name ‘Mince Pie’ has been added but without the rest of the line being corrected. H&S further suggest that a fourth variant in Newcastle, ‘all the yeare’ for ‘all two theare’ at 56, is an authorial change, but it is in fact a scribal emendation made currente calamo, the proper reading being written over the original as an obvious correction.

These relationships are summarized in the following stemma, in which ά, β, and δ are used for Jonson’s successive versions of the text, and λ and φ denote the intermediate scribal transcripts from which the manuscripts of the ballad derive:

Illustration 1.

Illustration 1.


It will be seen that the text of the ballad as it circulated independently derives from a state between Jonson’s first draft and the version as eventually performed, and that F2 and Folger represent Jonson’s ‘final thoughts’ as enshrined in performance. This edition takes the most complete version, F2, as the copy-text. F2 is corrected from the Folger manuscript where the Folger readings are manifestly superior, but F2 is followed in the matter of contractions and accidentals. On the four occasions in Christmas’s song where Folger differs from F2 and has the support of the other manuscripts, the manuscripts’ readings have been preferred.

Outside the collected editions, Christmas His Masque has been edited in The Progresses, Processions and Magnificent Festivities of James I, ed. John Nichols (1828) ; Ben Jonson: Masques and Entertainments, ed. Henry Morley (1890) ; Ben Jonson: The Complete Masques, ed. Stephen Orgel (1969) ; and in Court Masques, ed. David Lindley (1995) . An abbreviated version, based on H&S and Morley, was printed in Laurence Whistler’s The Masque of Christmas: Dramatic Joys of the Festival Old and New (1947), and an adaptation for amateur performance is in the anthology On the Playbill in Old London, ed. Lynette Feasey (1948)

For this edition the following copies of F2 have been collated:

1. Boston Public Library, **G.3811.8 (Sir Lister Holte copy)

2. Brotherton Library, Leeds, Brotherton Collection Fol 1640 JON

3. Brotherton Library, Leeds, Brotherton Collection Lt q JON

4. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754, copy 1

5. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754, copy 2

6. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754, copy 3

7. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754, copy 4

8. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754, copy 5

9. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754, copy 6

10. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754a, copy 1

11. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., 14754a, copy 2

12. Huntington Library, San Marino, California: 62101-v.2

13. Huntington Library, San Marino, California: 62103

14. Huntington Library, San Marino, California: 495468 (Schlatter-Shaver copy)

15. Huntington Library, San Marino, California: 600688

16. Huntington Library, San Marino, California: 606598

17. Houghton Library, Harvard University, fSTC 14751 v.2 (Norton Perkins copy)

18. Houghton Library, Harvard University, HEW 6.10.10. v.2 (Widener copy)

19. Library of Congress, Washington D.C., PR2600 1616a copy 2 [a copy of F2, notwithstanding the call number]

20. Library of Congress, Washington D.C., PR2600 1640 copy 2

21. Library of Congress, Washington D.C., PR2600 1640 copy 3

22. New York Public Library, *KC 1640

23. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Vet.A2 d. 73

24. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Gibson 520

25. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Don. d. 66

26. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Douce I.303

27. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Gibson 518

28. University of Pennsylvania, Folio STC 14754 (Furness-Schelling copy)

29. University of Pennsylvania, Folio STC 14754 (RBC copy)

30. University of Pennsylvania, PR2600 C40 v.2 (Edwin Forrest copy)

31. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Pforz. 560

32. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Pr 2600

1640 vol. 1, copy 1, Stark 5433

33. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Pr 2600

1640 vol. 2, copy 2, Woodward-Ruth 1

34. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Wh J738


35. Clark Library, Los Angeles, *F PR2600 1640c

36. Beinecke Library, Yale University: J738+B640 copy 1 (C. W. Bradley copy)

37. Beinecke Library, Yale University: J738+B640 copy 2

38. Beinecke Library, Yale University: J738+B640B (Morris Tyler copy)

39. Beinecke Library, Yale University: 1977+424 (John Milton Boardman copy)

40. Beinecke Library, Yale University: 1978+47 (Norman Holmes Peason copy)

41. David Gants, personal copy

42. Martin Butler, personal copy

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