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The Masque of Queens: Textual Essay

David Lindley

There are two principal textual witnesses for The Masque of Queens. The first is the holograph manuscript, British Library, Royal MS 18 A 45 (JnB 685) which Gabriel Heaton describes:

[Jonson] wrote the manuscript on the high quality Venetian paper that he used for many presentations around this time and left such extensive margins that although it is a folio gathered in single sheets each leaf has been so extensively cropped (from a page area of 255×180mm to one of 210×170mm) that it looks like a quarto. The remaining page has wide margins and overall Jonson seems to have used little more than a third of the original page. The writing space was constructed with great care; he scored the page to guide the left and right margins and to space the main text against the marginalia, he also pricked the page to provide guidance for line-spacing. All this work was done on the rectos and the show-through was used to guide the layout on the verso. (Heaton, 46 ).

It is likely that the manuscript was cropped by the eighteenth-century binder. It occupies twenty leaves.

The second witness is the quarto, printed by Nicholas Okes for Richard Bonion and Henry Walley, and entered in the Stationers’ Register very promptly after the masque’s performance, on 22 February 1609. The entry reads:

Richard Bonion Henry Walley

Entred for their Copy under thandes of master Segar and Th’wardens a booke called, The maske of Queenes Celebrated, done by Beniamin Iohnson         vjd

Eight copies of the quarto survive:

  1. British Library: C.28.g.5
  2. British Library: G.11211
  3. Bodleian Library, Oxford: Mal. 221 (3)
  4. Victorian and Albert Museum, Dyce 5356: D.25.A.90
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC: STC 14778
  6. Houghton Library, Harvard: STC 14778
  7. Huntington Library, San Marino: 62067
  8. University of Texas, Austin: Pforz 551

Greg (1939-59, 1.000) noted that in all surviving copies the title page, originally printed on A2, had been cancelled, and replaced with a new title printed on F2: ‘in some copies [F2] seems to have been originally folded round the back into its new position’. It is for this reason that A1 does not survive in most copies – it was probably removed at the same time that the cancel title page was inserted. H&S thought that the change had been caused by an error on A1, but Peter Blayney (1982, 293) argues that there may have been an issue of copyright arising from Bonion and Walley’s ownership of the text. Later the same year, Okes was to print The Case is Altered for Bartholomew Sutton and William Barrenger, in defiance of a prior SR entry licensing the play to Bonion and Walley. Blayney speculates that, if the situation with Queens was at all similar, the cancelled title-page may originally have carried the name of another publisher.

The collation of the quarto is: A1 blank (missing in all but 6 and 7); A2 title-page cancelled (no survivors); F2 title page, the verso blank; A3r-v the dedication to Prince Henry; A4r-F1v the text. B3 is misprinted A3. Collation of the seven surviving copies reveals only minor corrections on three formes, B outer and inner and D inner:

B3 state 1 state 2
r-t Of Queenes Of Queenes.

state 1: copies 1, 8

state 2: the rest

B4 state 1 state 2
20 Euening starre Euening starre

state 1: copy 6

state 2: the rest

Drv state 1 state 2
r-t The Masque. The Masque
r-t Of Queenes Of Queenes.

state 1: copy 1

state 2: the rest

The quarto is carefully printed, with very few errors. Jonson probably oversaw its preparation with some attentiveness.

Which of these to adopt as the copy-text is, then, the question. Herford and Simpson chose to reprint the manuscript verbatim, arguing that ‘the opportunity of printing a complete work of Jonson’s exactly as he wrote it is unique’ (7.289). This veneration of the holograph makes much less sense in a modernized text, interesting though the details of the accidentals of spelling and punctuation preserved in the manuscript undoubtedly are (see below). More than that, the statement that this is the work ‘exactly as he wrote it’ is in important respects misguided. As the comparison between the pre-performance manuscript of Blackness with the published quarto reveals, the texts of the masques are inherently mobile. As Jonson prepared a masque for publication, converting the present tense of stage directions into the past tense of report, and adding the copious marginalia, he was engaged in creating a different kind of text, and there is plenty of evidence that in that act of recomposition he felt perfectly able to modify the original performance script. It is important, then, to attempt to establish which is the latest version that Jonson produced, a task which is by no means straightforward.

Jonson must have copied the presentation manuscript from some kind of original, itself a version of the performance script he had originally given to his colleagues and to the performers. It is almost inconceivable that he could have achieved the complex visual interrelationship of text and marginalia without some intervening draft(s). One would wish, in an ideal world, that some trace survived of the way in which Jonson assembled his notes and then transformed them into the polished versions that he offered to the Prince, and must have supplied to the printers. In the absence of such evidence, however, imagination supplies alternative possibilities:

1. Jonson prepared his notes separately, and then assembled the composite text in the form of the presentation manuscript. Before despatching it to its princely recipient he produced a further copy directly from it in which he introduced corrections and variations.

2. He prepared and despatched the presentation manuscript, and then returned to his script and notes to assemble a fresh copy for the printer.

3. Between notes and presentation copy Jonson put together a draft of the composite of text and marginalia, from which he transcribed the presentation copy and from which either he or a scribe prepared that for the printer.

In the latter two scenarios there is no linear progression from draft, through presentation manuscript, to the printer’s copy. In both hypotheses the two surviving states are independent of one another, and it is entirely possible that Jonson could have introduced variants into each without any cross-reference between them.

The first question that needs to be asked, then, is one of priority: is there any absolutely clear evidence that the copy for the printer was produced after that for presentation to the prince? The manuscript, though carefully written, nonetheless has a number of interlined corrections, a marginal addition to note 21, and, most significantly, a mix-up in the numbering of the marginalia from notes 5 -18, which only becomes correct once Jonson starts to use numerical, rather than alphabetical footnote indicators at the first of the Hags’ incantations, note 19. Jonson realised his mistake quite early on, and tried to correct the error by renumbering note 6 from ‘d’ to ‘e’, but failing to realise that the mistake actually lay in the previous note, numbered ‘c’, not ‘e’. He then continued without making further changes. It is an easy mistake to make – as those will realize whose memories are long enough to recall a time before automatic numbering of footnotes by word-processors. The fact that the sequence is right in the printed copy suggests that correction was introduced after the completion of the presentation manuscript. It is not, however, entirely unambiguous evidence: this is the kind of error that might have become apparent only during the actual printing of the quarto, and have been picked up and corrected by the printers themselves.

Turning to substantive variations, the evidence for priority still remains somewhat ambiguous. At line 331 the quarto’s ‘dark and envious witchcraft’ seems a stronger formulation than the manuscript’s ‘poor . . .’; one might, however, argue that the manuscript’s epithet reveals an interestingly more contemptuous evaluation of the witches than the quarto. As Simpson notes, the phrase ‘even from a virgin’ (490) in the quarto is a more felicitous rendering of the quotation from Catullus than the manuscript’s ‘from a virgin’; but, of course, the word might simply have been omitted through eye-skip in the transcription of the manuscript. It is paralleled by a reverse example, where at 432 the manuscript reads ‘yet is it my part to justify them all virtuous’, while the quarto omits the final word. One might well prefer the manuscript reading, and argue that its absence in the quarto might simply be a case of Jonson or the printer omitting a word accidentally. On the other hand, however, Jonson could have felt that the addition of ‘vertuous’ was pleonastic, or inappropriately specific, since he is defending his choice of queens as heroic rather than merely virtuous, and have chosen to omit it in a conscious act of revision. The arguments either way are equally strong.

The same might be said for two places where the quarto text is clearly more accurate. At 388, the manuscript ‘her’ is evidently wrong, and the quarto’s ‘them’ right; so too, in marginal note 6 the quarto reference to Porta is correct in the quarto, incorrect in the manuscript. These examples, however, can be set against marginal note 21, where the manuscript correctly refers to Remigius, 1.14, where the quarto gives 1.4, and the fact that the quarto text omits marginal note 48 entirely, though supplying a superscript reference to it. Variations of this kind are explicable as having been introduced either in the act of transcription or of printing – and the same can be said of some of the variations in the Latin quotations in the marginalia, where both witnesses have errors. As one might expect, the manuscript is more often accurate than the printed text – for which the extra layer of transmission in the quarto is sufficient explanation (see, for example, note 7, solet/solent, note 20, siccae/sicca, 24 vivo/vive). But Jonson himself was capable of transcription error – as in note 9 susequebatur for subsequebatur.

The most obvious variation between the witnesses comes at 568-71, a characteristic Jonsonian side-swipe at the limited intellectual capacity of those who criticise his learning, which is found only in the quarto. The simplest assumption is that this was added after the manuscript was completed, and is a clear indication of revision, but it is equally possible that Jonson chose to omit these comments in a version presented to the Prince, whose judicious love of learning he had praised in his dedication, including them specifically for the general audience of the printed book.

In the case of other substantive variations there is no obvious reason to give priority to one version over the other. Consider, for example:

Quarto JnB 685
320 instruments had made one blast instruments had giuen one blast
322 such a any such
323 in the top in the vpper part
438 named mentioned

These seem precisely the kind of variation that Jonson could have introduced by happenstance as he made two separate transcriptions from the ur-manuscript, and the same could be said of almost all the minor variants between the two texts, where a preposition, pronoun or conjunction appears in one version and not the other. In none of these cases is it clear that the variations are a mark of conscious revision.

The nature of the conundrum is illustrated by the way in which at line 437 the plural pronouns ‘Wee’ and ‘our’ in the manuscript are transformed into the first person ‘I’ and ‘my’ in the quarto. One might want to see this as being consistent with the way in which Jonson makes exactly the same change between manuscript and printed text in the case of Blackness, 222 – but in marginal note 46 the change goes in the opposite direction, with the manuscript’s ‘I’ becoming quarto’s ‘we’.

Nonetheless there are some few variants where the quarto might seem to represent an improvement on the manuscript. The phrase ‘therewith displeased’ (485) is a clearer explanation of Berenice’s father’s conduct than the manuscript’s ‘taking it to heart’ (as well as avoiding a grammatical ambiguity in the second ‘it’, as Simpson suggests). In line 15, the quarto’s ‘His majesty then being set’ perhaps reads more smoothly than the manuscript’s ‘First, then, his Majestie being set’, and the addition, at 411-12, to the manuscript’s ‘spake this’ of ‘following speech’ seems more elegant.

In short, there are few unambiguous clues as to which of these two witnesses has priority or is to be preferred as copy-text. On balance, however, the fact that the quarto includes significant material not present in the manuscript, the admittedly subjective sense that in some few of the substantive variants the quarto offers marginally preferable readings, and the correction of footnote numbering, suggest that Jonson did introduce some at least of these variants after the completion of the presentation manuscript. Furthermore, there is the important consideration that the quarto represents the text as Jonson presented it to the wider readership. Taken together, they persuade me to adopt it as the copy-text. Only in places where the manuscript offers correct Latin are its readings adopted, on the grounds that quarto’s errors can most probably be attributed to the printer.

In the light of this evidence, however, I do not think that hypothesis 1 above is sustainable; the nature of the variations between the two texts implies strongly two separate versions deriving from a common original. There remains, however, one further question – the precise nature of the copy underlying the quarto text. It is possible that Jonson copied out a second holograph manuscript, or else introduced variations in a marked-up copy of his original ur-manuscript – but equally possible that a scribal transcript was made to serve as copy. In the textual commentary on Blackness I have suggested that one possible clue as to the nature of that copy might be the survival into the printed text of characteristic Jonsonian spellings exhibited in the presentation manuscript of Queens. The manuscript not only gives us a clear sense of Jonson’s habits of heavy (some might say fussily pedantic) punctuation, and of his fondness for classical spellings of words like ‘aequall’, ‘fruict’ and so on, but also of his overwhelming preference for medial ‘ey’, ‘ay’, ‘oy’ spellings, rather than ‘ei’, ‘ai’ and ‘oi’, the subject of two valuable articles by James Bracken (1987a, 1987b). Percy Simpson, in his discussion (273), comments on the fact that the quarto does not reproduce many of Jonson’s classical spellings. We do find ‘praecede’ (8), ‘praeposterous’ (314), ‘Aethiopia’ (364, 502) and ‘Aegypt’ (362), but the classical spellings are removed from all the derivatives of ‘equal’ (epistle, 10; masque, 499, 500, 528), from ‘fruits’ (120), ‘fruitfully’ (589), ‘prescribed’ (25), ‘president’ (500), ‘preface’ (438), ‘presented’ (note 32) (though Jonson himself uses this form in the manuscript at 16 and 431) and ‘presentation’ (432). Apart from the one instance at 362, ‘Egypt’ otherwise appears in this, rather than classical form.

Even more striking is the absence in the printed text of Jonson’s characteristic ‘y’ spellings. His most distinctive usage, ‘theyr’ for ‘their’, appears nowhere in the printed text; his universal preference for ‘hayre’ appears only once out of six times (362), for ‘sodayne’, only once out of four (313). Elsewhere, though ‘y’ forms do turn up from time to time, the preferred form is very much ‘i’. It would need a great deal more statistical work, and comparative analysis of different printers’ and compositors’ habits than has yet been done (or might even be possible), to establish what variation there is in Jonson’s printed texts in the percentages of ‘y’ spellings, and how far they might be used to test for holograph copy underlying a printed text. Different printers or compositors might well have varied in the degree to which they systematically removed Jonsonian spellings. Nonetheless, compared with Haddington, the masque in which the highest number of ‘y’ spellings, allied to classical preferences, is to be found, the printed text of Queens seems, in both, to be distinctly more sparing. This might mean that the copy was scribal, rather than authorial. If this were to be the case, then it increases the likelihood of hypothesis 3 above. It would seem inherently unlikely that Jonson himself, after the labour of transcribing the presentation copy, would go to the effort of producing a further clean transcript of the ur-manuscript, only to give it to a scribe to produce yet another version. The presence of this layer of scribal activity might also help to explain some of the variants between manuscript and quarto, especially the increased level of inaccuracy in the Latin.

Before turning to the folio, one further witness needs briefly to be discussed. Ferrabosco’s setting of ‘When all the ages of the earth’ was printed in his Ayres of 1609, and survives also in a manuscript copy, JnB 687. There are no variants in the manuscript, which was almost certainly copied from the printed edition. There are, however, three variants in both of them from the quarto:

Ayres quarto
615 If When
617 and when that and that, when
620 they all all they

Composers are always capable of varying the texts they are given, and it possible that Ferrabosco made changes specifically in preparing his song for publication. It is equally possible that a song may preserve the form actually heard at the first performance, later sophisticated by Jonson in preparing the post-performance text. Here, however, the first variant muddies the sense of Jonson’s lyric, which opposes the time of his historical queens with the present time of Queen Anne, and makes the point by the repetition of ‘when’ in first and third lines. So too the second variant weakens the clarity of the quarto’s syntax, and the third, though less significant, is a tamer version which loses the metrical emphasis on ‘they’. In short, if this did represent an earlier Jonson text, it is inferior to the quarto version. This does not, of course, mean that it was not the version heard at court.

The final textual witness is the 1616 folio. It was reprinted from the quarto text, and has no independent authority. In its printing of the text of the masque itself it is, actually, very accurate, introducing only one error, at line 315. The marginalia, however, are a different matter. Especially in the printing of the Latin, errors abound; they are listed in the collation. In defence of the printers one might remark that reading the very small type-face of the marginalia cannot have been easy. Simpson, who asserted that the folio’s ‘Latin is disgraceful’, called it a ‘bad reprint’ of the quarto. This may be a classicist’s censorious overstatement, but it is absolutely clear that there can have been no serious attempt at proof reading, and that Jonson cannot have overseen its printing.

In the folio, Queens occupies 4K5-4M2v, pages 945-64. In quires K-L only two formes received stop-press correction:

4L2:5 (o) state 1 state 2 state 3
4L2 28 mouths [in line] mouths [displaced up] ---
29 ſupplicio [in line] ſupplicio [displaced up] ---
4L5v 42m AEne id AEneid * AEneid
4L2:5 (i) state 1 state 2
4L5 15m grammarian , grammarian,

From 4M onwards, however, the text falls into the portion of the folio where an error in printing sufficient sheets demanded that pages be reset or reimposed. (See Barriers, Textual Essay, for a full discussion). Of this last part of the text, as Donovan (1987) has shown, all, except 4M2 and the bottom half of 4M2v, was completely reset. The variants thus created are, of course, of no textual interest whatsoever, merely correcting a very few obvious errors, but adding many more, as the printers presumably worked hastily. For the sake of completeness, however, they are tabulated below.

4M1:6 (o)
State 1 State2
4M1 961 1 à á
2 queene Queene
2m Beronic. Beronis.
5 habit habite
7 beautie beauty
10 ſhee . . . ſolemnely . . . author She . . . ſolemnly . . . Author
11 preſident . . . rayſe Preſident . . . raiſe
12 equalitie . . . queene [both] equality . . . Queene [both]
13 deitie deitie>
18m Hiſt. lib. | 6. cap. hiſt. lib. 6 | cap.
19 doth doeth
21 [swash ‘M’]aximi Maximi
22 She | gouern’d appellatae. | She
23 [swash ‘M’]eroe Meroe>
26 anglia . . . compre-| hended Anglia . . . com-| prehended
27 [swash ‘N’]orfoke . . . ſhee Norfolke . . . ſhe
28 te-| ſtimony teſti-| mony
30 Britoneſſe Britoneſſe>
35 ſtorie . . . & gDion ſtory . . . and gDion
36 libertie liberty
37 Countrie . . . later Countrey . . . latter
38 deſcription . . . orta | ſtirpe deſciption . . . ſtirpe | Regia
39 bellum | omne ad- | miniſtrauit
40 animas . . . after-| wards animus . . . afterwards, | Foemina
41 waigh | the the | more
42 Romanes, | and and | enemies
45 chaſt . . . Palmyrenes chaſte . . . Palmerynes
4M 2:5(i)
4M2v 964 8 immediately immediatcly
13 Muſique [swash ‘M’]uſique
14 voyce . . . Maieſties | ſeruant Mr voice . . . ſer- | uant M.
22 Queene [swash ‘Q’]ueene
23 numerous | compoſition com- | poſition
24 and ho- | nouring & honouring | the
25 Prince, Charles, | Duke of ~∧~∧ . . . of Yorke. | Wherein
26 the | motions ſo | euen
27 Mathe- | maticians Pro- | portion
28 Author | was Mr. Tho. M. Tho. Giles. | After
29 Corrantoes. | And dance, | no
30 with | which their | Chariots
31 ſtage, | had the | Houſe
32 Song; | whoſe former) | were
34 worke . . . excellent | friend work . . . Ferrabosco |
4M 1:6(i)
4M1v 962 7 ſhe [both] . . . alwayes ſhee [both] . . . alwaies
8 ſpirit, ~;
13 She Shee
16 languages, ~∧
22 tyranny tyrannie
26 Amazons [swash ‘A’]mazons
27m [swash ‘J’]n In
28 ci- | uis Polyptopienſis | ciuis
31 dignitie . . . ſcope | of dignity . . . the | inuention
32 you a- | gaine might | but
33 any | teſtimony teſtimony of | others
34 praiſe. | Shee plac’d | aboue
35 ceremony, & . . . prince- | ly cermonie, and . . . againſt | the
36 witneſſe . . . Bel- | anna . . . honour witnes . . . honor | hers
37 attribute | of . . . me mee, | in
38 Maieſtie . . . or fi- | gure [swash ‘M’]a-| ieſtie
39 with | a this | age
40 but | help’d graci- | ous
42 heeere heere

Distribution of Variants

4L 2:5 (o)

State 1: 14, 21, 26, 27, 36, 38, 44, 46, 48

State 2: 1, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 29, 30, 31, 35, 37, 39, 40, 41, 45

State 3: the rest

4L 2:5 (i)

State 1: the rest

State 2: 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 26, 27, 30, 31, 34, 35, 41, 44, 45, 46, 48

4M 1:6 (o)

State 1: the rest

State 2: 4, 5, 10, 14, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38, 42, 44, 45, 46, 48

4M 2:5 (i)

State 1: the rest

State 2: 4, 5, 10, 14, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38, 42, 44, 45, 46, 48

4M 1:6 (i)

State 1: the rest

State 2: 4, 5, 10, 14, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38, 42, 44, 45, 46, 48


1. Huntington Library, 62100

2. Huntington Library, 62101

3. Huntington Library, 62104

4. Huntington Library, 62105

5. Huntington Library, 495467 (Ford Copy ‘A’)

6. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751, Copy 1

7. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751, Copy 2

8. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751, Copy 3

9. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751, Copy 4

10. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751, Copy 5

11. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751, Copy 6

12. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751.2, copy 1

13. Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 14751.2, copy 2

14. Library of Congress, Yorke W.4.4

15. Gants Personal Copy, Fenton bookplate

16. Gants Personal Copy, Everard Home bookplate

17. British Library, G. 11630 (Grenville copy)

18. Boston Public Library, XfG .3811 .5

19. Boston University, YPR 2600 .C16

20. Wellesley College, qx - English Poetry

21. Bodleian Library, Douce I. 302

22. Huntington Library, 499968

23. Huntington Library, 499967

24. Huntington Library, 499971

25. Huntington Library, 606199

26. Huntington Library, 606202

27. Huntington Library, 606200

28. Huntington Library, 606574

29. Huntington Library, 606576

30. Huntington Library, 606599

31. Huntington Library, 606579

32. Huntington Library, 606582

33. Huntington Library, 606583

34. Brown University, Providence, PR 2600 - 1616

35. Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Lewis PR2600 1616

36. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616a

37. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616ab

38. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616ad

39. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616af

40. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616ah

41. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616ak

42. University of Texas, Austin, Ah/ J738/ +B616am

43. University of Texas, Austin, AH/ J738/ +B616an

44. University of Texas, Austin, Wh/ J738/ +B616a

45. University of Texas, Austin, Pforz. 559

46. University of Texas, Austin, Woodward-Ruth 181

47. University of Texas, Austin, Stark 6431

48. University of Virginia, E 1616 .J64

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