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The Masque of Queens: Textual Essay

David Lindley

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.

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