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The Entertainment at Britain's Burse: Textual Essay

James Knowles

Jonson’s Entertainment at Britain’s Burse survives among the State Papers Domestic in the National Archives (SP14/44/62*, fols 144-147: JnB 574.5). It comes from the archive of Sir Edward Conway (1564-1631), later Viscount Conway, secretary of state to James I and Charles I. It was customary for secretaries of state to retain their own archives on leaving office, and Conway’s papers ended up in his family’s main English home at Ragley, Warwickshire, where they were recovered in a decayed state by Horace Walpole in 1758 and eventually passed to the then State Paper Office in 1857 (Beal, 1980-93, 1.1, 247-8; Knowles, 1999b, 118). The distribution of this family’s papers is complex: some remain in Northern Ireland, others at the Warwickshire Record Office, with the bulk at the National Archives and volumes of ‘literary’ materials at the British Library. The history of the collection is also multi-layered, as the 2nd Earl of Conway was also a major collector of poetry separates and a significant bibliophile. The removal of much of the contextual evidence about the development and structure of the collection, combined with the involvement of at least two generations in literary collection, create formidable problems in understanding the relationships and networks embedded within the archive (for a useful corrective, see Starza-Smith, 2012, 164).

The precise connection of Conway and Jonson is hard to establish, as Conway was at the time serving as Deputy Governor at Brill in the Netherlands and was largely resident there, although some portion of his library was moved to Warwickshire after 1610 (National Archives, SP14/57/114B). Conway owned several Jonson items including (perhaps) two copies of Sejanus (Knowles, 1999b, 124). His main political connections were, however, with Robert Cecil and with the Vere family. More marginally (and unsurprisingly) he was linked to Prince Henry’s circle, probably in a military capacity: he was involved in Prince Henry’s Barriers in 1610 (Knowles, 1999b, 125 and 129, 39n.). Conway is a classic instance of a cultural agent or broker in this period, precisely the function he served for Prince Henry in contacting the Dutch painter Michiel Jansz Miereveld in 1611 (Knowles, 1999, 125; Hearn, 1996, 203-4). Given his later collections, which included dramatic works by Jonson and Middleton, the Burse manuscript may have been acquired for his own use, perhaps as political intelligence and news- gathering (another facet of his collection), but it is also possible that he was acting as an agent or go-between for others. If so, the identity of who sent the material to him, its destination, and any planned uses of that text are unknown (Knowles, 1999b, 122).

This has bearing on the text of the Entertainment, as the nature of the copy is debated. In 1999 I argued that the text was a private transcript, that is, a copy of poetry or drama produced as political or cultural intelligence, rather than a theatrical document (Knowles, 1999b, 122). The key problem here is how we might ascertain comparator texts. The taxonomy of dramatic manuscripts produced for the public stage is complex enough, but in the case of masque and entertainment manuscripts, the variation is notable. It is quite likely, given the overlap of personnel between the masque-making and playing communities, that parallel systems were employed in producing texts, but (in contrast to many masque writers) Jonson also regarded his occasional texts as poems, and often created different textual versions, even recreations, of the event through manuscript and print. He was also capable of using masque manuscripts, manuscript material added to printed copies, and masque publication as part of his complex self-presentation as ‘Poet’. It would appear that Jonson’s sophisticated deployments of manuscript included the circulation of versions that differed from the version as staged and were even, potentially, at odds with the patron’s intentions (see Theobalds, Textual Essay; Knowles, 2010).

Recent scholarship on the nature of theatrical manuscripts and on the variability of the concept of an authorial (and other) presentation volume has complicated and broadened both concepts. JnB 574.5 belongs to neither. Jonson’s copies of masque materials are offered in carefully written, subscribed versions, frequently stamped with statements of authorship, and often on high-cost Italian papers. JnB 574.5 differs from these in its paper, in the spacing and layout of the text, and in offering neither a full post-performance re-imagining (as in The Masque of Queens MS), nor a shorter extract offered to a patron, perhaps for further correction (as in the Two Kings MS). Instead, it offers theatrical material transmuted into information: speech headings, stage directions, and any descriptive materials are missing, and instead of which we have the bare bones of the ideas.

The Physical Nature of the Copy

As described in Knowles (1999b), JnB 574.5, comprises two pairs of conjugate leaves measuring 304 x 240mm (the measurement is approximate due to paper loss), and was a letter packet sent to Conway with fols. 146-7 as inner leaves and fols. 144-5 as outer leaves. If there ever was a covering letter – which seems unlikely given that the subscription is on the MS itself – it has been lost, and the address does not tell us where Conway was resident (Brill, Ragley, London, or other).

The paper is a pot paper, (close to, but not matching, Heawood 3577-638). The leaves were not quired into a small booklet: and, while the text was produced sequentially, it was also distributed in such a way as to suggest that the copy was created for transmission by letter, with the later leaves (fols. 146-7) tucked into the conjugate sheet 144-5 or placed on top of it. Crucially, the bottom half of fol. 145 is left blank, which, when combined with fol. 145v, the outer leaf of the packet, protects the text on the inner sheets, with the exception of a small section at the top of fol. 145.

This epistolary context aligns JnB 574.5 with other letter enclosures, such as the copy of The Entertainment at Harefield (1602) sent to the Newdigates of Arbury (Warwickshire County Record Office, CR 136/B2455, two folded sheets: see Heaton, 2010, 109), rather than the more professional copies, which sometimes circulated to accompany the event, and which tend to employ small quired booklets (such as The Entertainment at Ashby,1607, Huntington Library MS, EL34 B 9, in stamped gold vellum binding and ties, or the unbound copy of Middleton’s 1622 Barkham Entertainment, National Archives, SP14/129). ). The content of epistolary copies often depends on the interests of the recipient, as in Conway’s MS of The Entertainment at Harefield, which selected the verse rather than the prose sections (Heaton, 2010, 112). Omissions and gaps are not uncommon: the Ashby Entertainment (EL34 B 9) has a space marked out for an illustration of the triumphal arch that greeted the Dowager Countess as she arrived at Ashby (fol. 2v).

In the case of Britain’s Burse, the work is clearly not that of professional scribes, and while the copying process starts carefully enough, the text is copied in several hands (which may belong to one or more individuals) and undergoes a marked deterioration in the later parts, notably on fol. 146. It lacks essential stage directions and speech-headings (for instance, 203, 223), and suffers from uneven line-spacing and other signs of carelessness. Most significantly, in the central segment of the entertainment, the SHs at 141 and 142 are buried in the text as ‘Boy’ and ‘Mas:’: while the only indication of separate speeches is a single slash before ‘Boy’, perhaps in imitation of the double slash at the foot of fol. 144 marking the end of the Key- Keeper’s speech. Although this section seems, at least superficially, to be the most disorganized, appearing in the rather untidy Hand C (137-56; see below), it is worth noting that this section manifests very few errors, managing difficult words like ‘catoptrics’ (146) and ‘parabolical’ (148), with very few currente calamo corrections, and with only one visible error: ‘a kernell’ (142), which looks like eye-skip towards the ‘lean face cut out of a cherrystone’ (134). The fluency of this section and the lack of corrections may suggest that whoever was the writer here was a copyist and not a composer, unless we are dealing with a writer of great facility. Even in this section the relatively ‘clean’ state of the text contrasts with dramatic drafts, such as Thomas Heywood’s manuscript of The Captives (BL MS Egerton 1994; fol. 70v is reproduced in Ioppollo, 2008, 115).

The evidence that JnB 574.5 is a copy rather than an authorial draft is strongest in the section copied by Hand A (1-125). This provides centred speech headings (‘The Key Keeper’, ‘Shop-Boy’, and ‘The Master’) as well as a ‘catchword’ at the foot of 144v, suggesting some degree of imitation of print presentation. Indeed, with the sole exception of a sentence that does not quite make sense (10-11), this section 1-125 is notably error- free, bar slips of transposition and transcription, and the replacement of minuscules with majuscules at 12 and 15 which points towards a careful, revising reader. These admittedly slight pieces of evidence suggest that the manuscript copies an original, possibly for presentation:, and although it might not match the beauty of Jonson’s royal presentation copies of Blackness and Queens, it still falls within the wide parameters of ‘presentation copy’ (see Knowles, 1992, 145-6; the very untidy presentation MS of Sir Arthur Gorges’ The Olympian Catastrophe, Huntington Library, MS EL 1130, offers a fine instance). Jonson’s own presentation copies manifest considerable variation, as is shown by the comparison between the holograph poem to Somerset tipped into a copy of the 1640 Works (BL C.28.m.11) with the Lowell MS of the Cecilia Bulstrode epitaph (Letter 11), both reproduced in the textual materials for CWBJ Online..

There are four hands in the manuscript, created by an unknown number of individuals (Knowles 1999b, 119-22). Three of the four hands run on from each other, although they do not necessarily share common, identifying features. Hand A copies 1-125 (with a break at 117), Hand B copies 125-137 and 156-242, and Hand C scribes 137-56. Hand D provides the subscription, and the heading ‘Song’ at the top of fol. 147 (202) (see the manuscript images in CWBJ Online).

Hand A resembles Jonson’s small hands in some of his presentation manuscripts, but several forms do not match his usual letter forms, such as the secretary ‘a’ with right hook, or the flat-topped ‘g’ (Knowles, 1999b, 122; Ioppollo, 2008, 165). Interestingly, too, although Hand A bears a general resemblance to Jonson’s italic, it shows none of the customary Jonsonian diacriticals. Thus, in an entertainment that abounds in Jonsonian turns of phrase and employs a learned vocabulary for comic effect, the representation of these on the page does not always follow Jonsonian forms. JnB 574.5 uses the abbreviation ‘’hem’ throughout, but in Hand A there is only one use of Jonsonian classicised spelling (‘praeoccupy’, 32) and no diacriticals or markedly Jonsonian punctuation.

Hands B and C remain unidentified, and cannot be linked with either of the known copyists, Nathan Field or Richard Brome (if he was Jonson’s ‘man’ referred to in the documentation), for neither of whom we have handwriting evidence. The identity of the ‘anoth[er]’ copyist mentioned in the Hatfield bills (Masque Archive, Burse, 2) cannot be ascertained. The most intriguing feature of the manuscript is the way the hands change mid-sentence as seen on fol. 146. I noted in 1999 that this rapid change of hands is puzzling, but in re-editing the text for the present edition, I am struck again by the similarity of forms between B and C, especially the ‘B’ (SH 142; fol. 146) and Bucephalus (237; fol.147) and tentatively suggest (again) that this may be one and not two individuals.

Any discussion of the hands in this manuscript must bear in mind the possibility that Jonson’s hand varied considerably. In 1999 Mark Bland made an important observation about the degree to which the neat quasi-calligraphic hands, seen especially in the Queens manuscript, had dominated scholarly approaches to Jonson’s handwriting (1999, 163-4, 171). Bland argues that Jonson’s near-calligraphic script was one amongst a number of hands that the author might have deployed, and made a strong case for greater variation in them. He points to Jonson’s role in disseminating other writers, notably Donne, and, employing the evidence of shared paper-stock between some of Jonson’s holographs and the Herbert of Cherbury MS of Biathanatos (Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS e Musaeo 131), revisits the question of whether the neat italic employed in that manuscript, which had puzzled Percy Simpson, might be that of Ben Jonson’s. On the basis of the holograph Bland identified a letter to Cotton (Letters 1), which he redates to 1603, and a number of book inscriptions and annotations, Bland argues that in the first decade of the seventeenth century Jonson also used a ‘strongly cursive hand’, citing the Lowell manuscript (Letter 11) as ‘a fine example of Jonson’s typical hand in 1609’ (Bland, 1999, 164, 174).

This question of the ways in which occasion and textual genre might influence handwriting has significant ramifications. Bland comments that utilising the Masque of Queens manuscript as the ‘test’ risks comparing ‘apples with oranges’, due to its exceptional quality (Bland, 1999, 171, 174). The three examples he places together, Letters 1, 11 and the annotations on a copy of Selden’s De Diis Syris (1617) in the Folger Shakespeare Library are, indeed, apples and oranges, for while the Lowell manuscript and the Cotton letter share features – also found in the Cecil letter in the State Papers dated 1605 (Letter 9) – the annotation in the Selden volume differs markedly. It illustrates the problems of using annotations as a source of handwriting evidence as, unlike a signed inscription or dedication, there is little evidence that the annotating hand is necessarily that of the owner; books may be annotated by various individuals over time.

In the same article Dr Bland comments that although JnB 574.5 does not share the paper which he had traced in many Jonson manuscripts, and especially in the 1609 presentation copies, it was ‘partly written in Jonson’s hand’ (Bland, 1999, 156). A similar claim was made by Dr Grace Ioppolo in 2006, who argues that Hand A is comparable to Jonson’s ‘less than formal’ dedication in a copy of Sejanus, His Fall. This large-paper copy, now in the Huntington Library, California (RB60659), contains a fluent italic dedication to ‘my perfect friend’ Francis Crane, which employs Jonson’s long, flowing descenders, and exaggeratedly large capitals (T, F, C, I, A). Given Jonson’s paper-consciousness, his awareness of the symbolic value of particular paper stocks, it seems that this is another case of comparing apples and oranges, in this instance setting a distinctive gift-volume against the much simpler presentation copy of JnB 574.5. Moreover, there are no obvious points of comparison in the Sejanus inscription with Hand A (A, p, y are especially different). Most strikingly, the formation of the ‘th’ ligature in ‘this’ and ‘the’ differs. In Hand A ‘th’ is formed by a descender, often without cross-bar, which then turns right and into the upstroke of the ‘h’; the Crane dedication displays the typically Jonsonian ligature whereby the upstroke curves round to the left of the down-stroke, crossing the down-stroke, sometimes to produce a clear loop, sometimes (as here) not. In the Lowell manuscript, regarded by Bland as ‘typical’ of Jonson’s hand in 1609, of the 24 ‘th’ ligatures, some 18 are looped, and six are not. Very interestingly, whereas in verse the ratio of looped to unlooped ligatures is only 5:4, in the prose letter that figure rises to 3:1. In Hand A, in prose, where we might expect to see looped initial ‘th’ ligatures, there are none. This suggests that the evidence for Hand A being Jonson, while superficially appealing, is far from conclusive.

Questions of Interpretation

If it is important to consider the physical information from the text closely and with some scepticism, it is also important to consider the difference between the internal evidence of palaeography and the external evidence of the documents surrounding a text – although these, too, as we shall see, are subject to interpretation.

The Entertainment at Britain’s Burse shows all the signs of Cecil’s close engagement with entertainments staged for his guests’ amusement and for his own and his family’s self-presentation. From the 1606 Two Kings, where Sir John Harington strongly suggests Cecil at least plotted the lost ‘Masque of Solomon and Sheba’, through The Entertainment at Theobalds, where there is evidence of both interpolation of material and correction of the verse by someone within Cecil’s household, to this occasion, it is clear that Cecil controlled many of the details of his household productions. Such interventions are not entirely unexpected, given his early role in writing entertainment texts (in ‘The Hermit’s Speech’, 1591, and ‘The Hermit’s Oration’, 1594: see Heaton, 2010, 172-3), although they are surprising, as Cecil was, in effect, the administrative head of the Jacobean state.

The Burse entertainment displays all the features of a Cecil household text, including the use of a wide range of contacts (such as Sir Walter Cope), and of professional staff with considerable literary experience of their own. Sir Thomas Wilson, Cecil’s man of affairs, was a literary translator with deep experience of Italian culture, and he had previously devised, and possibly written the verses for, the tree with golden leaves that formed part of Two Kings in 1606. In the case of Burse, his long letter written on 31 March 1609 provides much information about the performance (Masque Archive, Burse, 10). It does not, however, correspond in many key details to the text in the manuscript, notably in its possible use of commedia masks and the transformation between false and true goods, although there is nothing to prevent considerable revision having occurred before the performance. If the Entertainment was supposed to have a binary structure opposing false and true wares, then it is not apparent in the extant text, where the transformation occurs at the moment when the Master’s speech moves rapidly from Memnon and the Dodona bell to the magical statue (198-200). It may be that a more gradualist movement, from false to true wonder as the song closes (219-22), was intended.

The other key document concerns the copying of the text by Jonson’s man, Field, and another. Ioppolo (2006), 167 argues that these were Jonson’s collaborators and that ‘wryt[ing]’ in the Hatfield bills means ‘composing’. Jonson was paid £13 6s 8d for Burse as ‘the Poett’. This was, certainly less than he earned in 1608 from Cecil for the Entertainment at Salisbury House (£20), although it is the same fee he received for writing Two Kings in 1606 (Masque Archive, Two Kings, 1; Hatfield MS, Cecil Papers, 119, fol. 162). Clearly, rates for such work varied, as in 1607 Jonson was paid £20 for ‘making songs’ and ‘directions to others’ by the Merchant Taylors’ Company, but only £12 for the ‘device’ and ‘speeches for the children’ at the mayoral inauguration in 1604. In the case of Burse, it seems likely that he was less involved in the direction or in the business of collecting the rarities, and that much of the oversight was completed by members of the Cecil entourage. The ‘writing’ done by the three men (Field, possibly Brome, and another) was most likely to be comparable with the 15s ‘Jonson’s man’ received for ‘writing out copies’ for the Merchant Taylors in 1607, although the professional scrivener received £1 10s for ‘writing verses in faire Capital letters’ (Masque Archive, Two Kings, 1). In the summary accounts on 16 April, ‘Jonson’s man’ and ‘another’ received 10s, presumably for this copying. Of course, on one level, all entertainment texts are collaborative, with interventions always being likely from the patron, the household, and other performers, especially the musicians, but nothing in the documentary evidence suggests that Jonson was not the sole author of this text, even if he was constrained by the involvement of Cecil and Wilson.

In summary, there are aspects of this entertainment, its commissioning process, and its transmission that remain unresolved. The most significant question concerns the handwriting which, while appearing similar to Jonson’s small italic hands, still cannot be shown to be his with any degree of certainty. Graphs, ligatures, and the paper evidence do not support that assertion. Yet the logic of a text, at least initially, prepared for presentation in a Jonsonian print-related manner does tend towards suggesting this might be Jonson’s hand, or the hand of one of his household copying his style. Indeed, given our lack of comparator samples in Richard Brome’s hand, with our knowledge of his closeness to Jonson, and the ways in which handwriting and scribal practices are transmitted, the possibility of a ‘house’ style and hand should not be underestimated.

Textual Transmission

The copy in JnB 574.5 shows several instances of miscopying and some instances of changes of mind (even mid-letter) and deletions. As noted above, the central portion with the brief interjection by the Shop-Boy (141-2) lacks key features to clarify the speakers and action. The version now printed here differs from that in the original 1999 publication and the editor is grateful to Professor Henry Woudhuysen (pers. comm.) for his advice on these lines and on Ryence of Gales (157).

Scribal changes are listed below:
1-125] copied by Hand A
5 Nay] see Print Edition collation
5 good] good<e> JnB 574.5
6 ‘Amen’] Amen./ JnB 574.5
12 in’t,] deletion above comma
12 East] Easte changed from easte JnB 574.5
13 no ague] see Print Edition collation
15 inn . . . tavern] Inne . . . Tauerne (altered from inne . . . tauerne) JnB 574.5
17 doublet] doublet<t> JnB 574.5
20 an] see Print Edition collation
26 laughter upon] see Print Edition collation
32 despite] see Print Edition collation
32 o’the] the apostrophe looks like superscript ‘n’ in form but is, in fact, two strokes, a lighter first stroke replaced by a heavier right-angled stroke
36 be] see Print Edition collation
44, 45, 48, 82, 92, 182 ’em] ’hem JnB 574.5 (see also 227)
46 will] <w> will JnB 574.5
46 all] overwritten JnB 574.5 (correction from an?)
51 qualities] see Print Edition collation
56 Flowers] see Print Edition collation
63 parcel] see Print Edition collation
69 cockleshells] see Print Edition collation (the final characters of ‘cockle’ are lost due to water damage; it probably originally read ‘cockle=’ the double dash marking continuation)
71 porcelain] see Print Edition collation (the final letters are lost due to water damage)
82 amber] Amber, <deletion> JnB 574.5
95 you] interlined JnB 574.5, caret suppressed
83 an excellent] excellent is used as the catchword on fol. 144v
101 thousand] see Print Edition collation
106 bird] <B>Birde JnB 574.5
111 see,] comma deleted, final character looks like an ‘x’, but is more likely a deleted stroke, perhaps a comma
117 feathers] see Print Edition collation (final character lost due to water damage)
117 wing . . . the] rest of MS fol. 145 blank; fol. 145v is the outer leaf of the letter packet subscribed For Sir Edward / Conwey Knight (Hand D)
124 hath] see Print Edition collation
125 spoil in the] Hand B takes over from in the to your in your epicure in 137
126 dissolved] after the double ‘s’ a small apostrophe-like ‘l’ has been interlined
129 refraction] refraction/ JnB 574.5 (possibly intended as a comma)
130 rainbow] Reynebow JnB 574.5 (the medial ‘y’ is obscured by a blot; it is possible that there may have been an attempt at alteration, perhaps from ‘g’ to ‘y’ as two different final flourishes are visible to left and right in the line below)
137 your epicure] Hand C takes over until end of fol. 146 (sleeues)
140 cut] possibly started as ‘l’, overwritten with ‘c’ (‘l’ in ‘long tail’ has same curved top to the pen-stroke)
140 face] face./ JnB 574.5
142 half] see Print Edition collation
144 carracts] see Print Edition collation (the final letter is lost due to the damaged edge of the page; the reading could possibly be ‘carrackters’ but the small degree of loss perhaps suggests only one letter = carract/s)
145 here] see Print Edition collation
145 glass] glasse JnB 574.5 (only the ligature to the final character is visible, the ‘e’ lost due to damage)
154 Arthur] see Print Edition collation
156 sleeves] Hand B copies until 242
158-9] see Print Edition collation
166 Calais] cales JnB 574.5 (final letter altered, possibly an attempt at deletion)
166 beard] see Print Edition collation
167 slops] slope JnB 574.5 (the second character has been altered, and a small deletion can be seen below the line; the change may have been from ‘sh’ to ‘sl’. The initial reading may have been ‘shape’, altered to ‘slope’, meaning ‘slops’, but with the final ‘s’ overlooked in the alteration)
167 was] see Print Edition collation
188 of] of of MS (clearly eyeslip as the first ‘of’ is tucked into the fold of the paper)
202 Song] inserted by Hand D
214 make] see Print Edition collation
227 ’em] see Print Edition collation (possibly reads hem)
242 prayer . . . will be] prayer / ever . . . wilbe./ JnB 574.5

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