Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Maid's Tragedy: A Postscript

One last notable thing about The Maid's Tragedy is the inclusion of a fully-dressed marriage masque in the first act. It has room for lots of special effects, and mythological/allegorical figures like Night and Neptune and Eolus reciting tedious bombast, and is just as wretched as any other court masque you could name, though mercifully short and far easier to get through than most of Jonson’s self-important nonsense. It holds no intrinsic interest for the modern reader—doesn’t even resonate with the plot of the rest of the play, which would have been cool—but one imagines it would have been a real treat for the original audience, in a world where the masque was considered the pinnacle of high art, and invitations were an object of fierce wrangling. What redeems this indulgence—slightly—is that the play also contains the perfect dismissal of the whole masque form, offered by a nobleman as they’re preparing for the show:



Lysippus:
Strato, thou hast some skill in Poetry. What thinkst thou of a masque? Will it be well?

Strato:
As well as masque can be.

Lysippus:
As masque can be?

Strato:
Yes, they must commend their King, and speak in praise of the assembly, bless the bride and bridegroom, in person of some God; they are tied to rules of flattery.


Damn straight: conventional and obsequious. And Ben Jonson knew that perfectly well, whatever he told himself to get through the night.

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