Your browser is not supported. This might affect how the content is displayed.

Mercury Vindicated: Textual Essay

Martin Butler

Mercury Vindicated from the Alchemists at Court was printed in the 1616 folio , on sigs. 4P4v-4Q1r, pp. 1004-9, between The Irish Masque and The Golden Age Restored. For reasons of space saving (see the Textual Essay to Gold. Age), the text does not begin on a new page, but follows on from The Irish Masque, the last sixteen lines of which occupy the top half of 4P4v, followed by a rule. The consequent arrangement of the header, compressed into three lines, leaves a doubt about Jonson’s intentions for the title:

Gentlemen the Kings Seruants.

It is unclear whether this means ‘the alchemists at court’, or whether ‘AT COVRT’ implies an underlying formula such as ‘in a masque at court’ (as occurs in Love Restored, for example); and if the latter reading is correct, then either the phrase ‘in a masque’ could have been omitted, or the words ‘AT COVRT BY’ might have been placed on the second line so as to preserve the symmetrical arrangement of the header. Since the masque depicts the alchemists as secretly active in Whitehall’s hidden corners, the probability is that ‘AT COVRT’ is part of the title, though it is impossible to be absolutely certain.

The masque is generally well printed and needs little emendation. It seems likely that the printer’s copy was an authorial manuscript. Jonson’s characteristic elision ‘’hem’ appears seven times, and at 186 the phrase ‘she is’, which disrupts the metre, probably had an elision, ‘she’is’, which was not carried over into the printed text. Jonson’s spelling ‘Tyrannes’ occurs at 31, and possibly ‘caducaeus’ (88, 92) is Jonsonian (though ‘caduceus’ appears in Poetaster and Cynthia). There are also some inconsistencies in the stage directions, which alternate between past and present tense; this is just the kind of error that an author might have left in his papers, and which a scribe would probably have tidied up. The only crux comes with the penultimate song, where some incorrect lineation (175-6), one excessively long line (182), and a missing rhyme suggest that the transmission may be faulty. The Oxford editors conjecture that 182 should have been divided after ‘chang’d’, and that some text has dropped out of 183 which would have supplied a rhyme; they speculate that we should read, ‘Moue, moue againe, <in order rang’d> | In formes as heretofore’. But the song is coherent as it stands, and no emendation is necessary.

There are two stop-press variants in Mercury Vindicated, related alterations that occur in close proximity on 4P5v (1006):

state 1 state 2
9 a thing nothing
10 toy, a any

state 1: all copies except 4, 5, 10, 21, 28, 29, 32, 38, 40

state 2: copies 4, 5, 10, 21, 28, 29, 32, 38, 40

The interpretation of these apparently simple readings is quite complex. Since state 1 gives the correct reading, the Oxford editors assumed that it was the final state, but in fact the erroneous state came second, even though it introduced gross errors that garbled the text. This was caused by a printing-house error, which can be understood if we consider it in relation to the other changes that occurred across the whole quire 4P. Differences in the headlines in various copies of 4P show that it was printed in two sequences, the sheets 4P3.4 (outer), 4P2.5 and 4P1.6 (outer) being imposed a second time with new skeletons. In the reimposed sheets, the rules have been reset, but to the casual eye the clearest sign of change lies in the running titles, where the capital M in ‘Masques’ oscillates between swash and italic:

4P3.4 (o) first imposition second imposition
4P3 [swash] [italic]
4P4v [swash] [italic]
4P2.5 (i)
4P2v [italic] [swash]
4P5 [italic] [swash]
4P2.5 (o)
4P2 [swash] [italic]
4P5v [swash] [italic]
4P1.6 (o)
4P1 [italic] [swash]
4P6v [italic] [swash]

Similar variations in the headlines can also be observed in 4N-4O, which also had to be reimposed. What seems to have happened is that during the printing-off of 4P, a counting error was discovered which indicated that the numerical quantities of sheets 4M-4P were going to be insufficient, so the printers had to return to the earlier quires in order to remedy the deficiency. In 4M, 4N, and 4O this necessitated some resetting, but 4P’s pages were still undistributed, and Stansby simply reimposed the standing type inside different skeletons. In this context, the two proximate errors in 4P5v can most probably be put down to careless handling of standing type by the printers: a block of type at the left of lines 9-10 dropped out and had to be replaced, but this was done by guesswork and without reference to the copy. The correct sequence of the variant headlines was established by Donovan (1987) , who analyses their full history in exhaustive detail.

The final page of the masque, 4Q1, also has some small variants in the headlines. These were the consequence of alterations elsewhere in gathering 4Q that had to be made when a large error was discovered in the text of The Golden Age Restored, which occupies 4Q1v-4. They are discussed in the Textual Analysis of Gold. Age: this part of the text of Mercury Vindicated is unaffected.

Outside the collected editions, Mercury Vindicated has also appeared 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: Complete Masques, ed. Stephen Orgel (1969) ; Ben Jonson: Selected Masques, ed. Stephen Orgel (1970) ; Ben Jonson’s Plays and Masques (Norton Critical Edition), ed. Robert M. Adams (1979) , second edition ed. Richard Harp (2001) ; Three by Ben Jonson, ed. Jonathan Price (1980) ; Jacobean and Caroline Masques, vol. 2, ed. Richard Dutton (1987) ; and Mercury Vindicated: A Masque at Whitehall, gen. ed. Stephen Orgel (1999) – this last being coursework produced by students at Stanford University under Orgel’s supervision.

The following copies of F1 have been collated for this edition:
1. Boston Public Library
2. Elizabethan Club, Yale University, Eliz + 13
3. Huntington Library, 62100
4. Huntington Library, 62101 (Hoe copy)
5. Huntington Library, 62104 (Chew copy)
6. Huntington Library, 62105
7. Huntington Library, 495467 (Schlatter-Schaver copy)
8. Huntington Library, 499969 (Penniman copy)
9. Huntington Library, 499967 (J. Barham copy)
10. Huntington Library, 606199
11. Huntington Library, 600687 (Francis Bacon copy)
12. Houghton Library, Harvard University, fSTC 14751 v.1 (Norton Parker copy)
13. Houghton Library, Harvard University, HEW 6.10.10 v.1 (Widener copy)
14. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Lowell 1479.1 (Amy Lowell copy)
15. Houghton Library, Harvard University, STC 15752(A) (G.H. Fiske copy)
16. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 499968
17. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 499971
18. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606202
19. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606574
20. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606575
21. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606600
22. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606576
23. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606577
24. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606578
25. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606579
26. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606596
27. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606580
28. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606581
29. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606582
30. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606583
31. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606585
32. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606586
33. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606587
34. Riddell Collection, Huntington Library, 606599
35. Beinecke Library, Yale University, Ih J738+B616 copy 1
36. Beinecke Library, Yale University, Ih J738+B616 copy 2 (W. L. Phelps copy)
37. Beinecke Library, Yale University, Ih J738+B616 copy 3 (E. E. Baker copy)
38. Beinecke Library, Yale University, Ih J738+B616 copy 4
39. Beinecke Library, Yale University, 1978+50 (N. H. Pearson copy)
40. Beinecke Library, Yale University, 1978+15 (R. B. De Beavoir copy)
41. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Douce I.202

Login to CEWBJ