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The Masque of Blacknesse.

Ben Jonson. 

Masque of Blacknesse | Masque of Beauty

Note: this Renascence Editions text was transcribed by Risa S. Bear, May 2001, from the 1608 quarto (STC number 14761). Where the page is illegible in the source text, the Cambridge edition of 1941 has been consulted.  Any errors that have crept into the transcription are the fault of the present publisher. The text is in the public domain. Content unique to this presentation is copyright © 2001 the editor and The University of Oregon. For nonprofit and educational uses only. Send comments and corrections to the Publisher.

Two royall Masques.
The one of BLACKNESSE,
The other of BEAVTIE. 
By the most magnificent of Queenes
Queene of great Britaine, &c.

With her honorable Ladyes,

1605. and 1608.

at White-Hall:


Inuented by B E N: I O N S O N.

Ouid. —Salue festa dies, meliorque reuertere semper.
Imprinted at London for Thomas Thorp, and are to 
be sold at the signes of the Tigers head 
in Paules Church-yard.


Q V E E N E S 
M A S Q V E S.

The first, of Blacknesse: personated at the 
Court, at W H I T E-H A L L, on the 
Twelu'th night.

THe honor; and splendor of these Spectacles was such in the performance, as could those houres haue lasted, this of mine, now; had beene a most vnprofitable worke. But (when it is the fate, euen of the greatest, and most absolute births, to need, and borrow a life of posterity) little had beene done to the study of magnificence in these; if presently with the rage of the people, who (as a part of greatnesse) are priuiledged by Custome, to deface their carkasses, the spirits had also perished. In dutie, therefore, to that Maiestie, who gaue them their authoritie, and grace; and, no lesse then the most royall of predecessors, deserues eminent celebration for these solemnities: I adde this later hand, to redeeme them as well from ignorance, as enuie, two common euills, the one of Censure, the other of Obliuion.
Natu. Hist. l. 5 cap. 8. 
Poly. hist. cap. 40. & 43. 
Lib 4. cap. 5. 
Descrip. Afric.
e  Some take it to be the same with Nilus, which is by Lucan called Melas, signifying Niger. Howsoeuer, Plinie, in the place aboue noted, hath this: Nigri fluuio eadem natura, quæ Nilo, calamum, papyrum, & easdem gignit animantes. See Solin. aboue mentioned.

f  The forme of these Tritons, with their trumpets, you may read liuely describ'd, in Ouid. Metamor. l. 1. Cæruleum Tritona vocat, &c. and in Virgil. Æneid. l. 10. Hunc vehit immanis Triton & sequent.

Lucian. in PHTOP. Greek textpresents Nilus so. Equo fluuiatili insidentem. And Statius Neptune, in Theb.
h  The ancients induc'd Oceanus alwayes with a Bulls head: propter vim ventorum, à quibus incitatur, & impellitur: vel quia Tauris similem fremitum emittat, vel quia tanquam Taurus furibundus, in littora feratur, Euripid. in Oreste. Greek text
And riuers somtimes were so called. Looke Virg. de Tiberi,& Eridano. Geor. 4. Æneid. 8. Hor. Car. l. 4. Ode. 14. and Eurip. in Ione.

i  The daughters of Oceanus and Tethys. See Hesiod. in Theogon. Orphe. in Hym. and Virgil. in Georg.

  a P L I N I E, b S O L I N V S, c P T O L E M A E E, and of late L E O d the African, remember vnto vs a riuer in Æthiopia, famous by the name of Niger; of which the people were called Negritœ, now Negro's: and are the blackest nation of the world. This e riuer taketh spring out of a certaine Lake, east-ward; & after a long race, falleth into the westerne Ocean. Hence (because it was her Maiesties will, to haue them Black-mores at first) the inuention was deriued by me, & presented thus.
  First, for the Scene, was drawne a Landtschape, consisting of small woods, and here and there a voide place filld with huntings; which falling, an artificiall Sea was seene to shoote forth, as if it flowed to the land, raised with waues, which seemed to moue, and in some places the billow to breake, as imitating that orderly disorder, which is common in nature. In front of this Sea were placed sixe f Tritons, in mouing, and sprightly actions, their vpper parts humane, saue that their haires were blue, as partaking of the Sea-colour: their desinent parts, fishe, mounted aboue their heads, and all varied in disposition. From their backs were borne out certaine light pieces of Taffata, as if carried by the winde, and their Musique made out of wreathed shells. Behinde these, a paire of Sea-Maides, for song, were as conspicuously seated; betweene which, two great Sea-horses (as bigge as the life) put forth themselues; the one mounting aloft, & writhing his head from the other, which seemed to sinck forwards; so intended for variation, & that the Figure behind, might come of[f] better: g vpon their backs, OCEANVS & NIGER were aduanced. 
  OCEANVS, presented in a humane forme; the colour of his flesh, blew; and shadowed with a robe of Sea-greene; his head grey; & h horned; as he is described by the Antients: his beard of the like mixt colour: hee was gyrlonded with Alga, or Sea-grasse; and in his hand a Trident.
  NIGER, in forme and colour of an Æthiope; his haire, and rare beard curled, shadowed with a blue, and bright mantle: his front, neck, and wrists adorned with Pearle, and crowned, with an artificiall wreathe of Cane, and Paper-rush.
  These induced the Masquers, which were twelue Nymphs, Negro's; and the daughters of NIGER; attended by so many of the i OCEANAE, which were their Light-bearers.
  The Masquers were placed in a great concaue shell, like mother of Pearle, curiously made to moue on those waters, and rise with the billow; the top thereof was stuck with a cheu'ro[n] of lights, which, indented to the proportion of the shell, strooke a glorious beame vpon them, as they were seated, one aboue another: so that they were all seene, but in an extravagant order.
  On sides of the shell, did swim sixe huge Sea-monsters, varied in their shapes, and dispositions, bearing on their backs the twelue Torch bearers; who were planted there in seuerall graces; so as the backs of some were seene; some in purfle, or side; others in face; & all hauing their lights burning out of Whelks, or Murex shels. 
  The attire of the Masquers was alike, in all, without difference: the colours, Azure, and Siluer; [their hayre thicke, and curled vpright in tresses, lyke Pyramids,] but returned on the top with a scrole and antique dressing of Feathers, and Iewels interlaced with ropes of Pearle. And, for the front, eare, neck, and wrists, the ornament was of the most choise and orient Pearle; best setting of[f] from the black.
  For the Light bearers, Sea-greene, waued about the skirts with gold and siluer; [th]eir hayre loose, and flowing, gyrlanded with Sea-grasse, and that stuck with branches of Corall.
  These thus presented, the Scene behind, seemed a vast Sea (and vnited with this that flowed forth) from the termination, or horizon of which (being the leuell of the State, which was placed in the vpper end of the Hall) was drawne, by the lines of Prospectiue, the whole worke shooting downe-wards, from the eye; which decorum made it more conspicuous, and caught the eye a farre of[f] with a wandring beauty. To which was added an obscure and cloudy night-piece, that made the whole set of[f]. So much for the bodily part. Which was of master Y N I G O  I O N E S his designe, and act.
  By this, one of the Tritons, with the two Sea-Maides, began to sing to the others lowd Musique, their voyces being a tenor, and two trebles.

S O N G. 


Ound, sound aloud
The welcome of the orient Floud,
Into the West;
k  All riuers are said to be the sons of the Ocean: for, as the Ancients thought, out of the vapours, exhaled by the heat of the Sunne,riuers, and fountaines were begotten.
And both by Orph. in Hymn. & Homer Iliad § Oceanus is celebrated tanquam pater, & origo, dijs, & rebus, quia nihil sine humectatione nascitur, aut putrescit.

l  There wants not inough, in nature, to authorize this part of our fiction, in separating Niger, from the Ocean, (beside the fable of Alpheus, and that, to which Virgil alludes of Arethusa in his 10. Eclog.  Sic tibi, cum fluctus subterlabere Sicanos, Doris amara suam non intermisceat vndam) examples of Nilus, Iordan, and others, whereof see Nican. lib. 1. de flumin. & Plut. in vita Syllæ, euen of this our riuer (as some thinke) by the name of Melas.

Fayre, N I G E R, k sonne to great O C E A N V S,
Now honord, thus,
With all his beauteous race:
Who, though but blacke in face,
Yet, are they bright,
And full of life, and light.
To proue that Beauty best,
Which not the colour, but the feature
Assures vnto the creature.

O C E A N V S. 


E silent, now the Ceremonies done,
And N I G E R, say, how comes it, louely Sonne, 
That thou, the Æ T H I O P E S Riuer, so farre East,
Art seene to fall into the'extreamest West
Of me, the King of flouds, O C E A N V S,
And, in mine Empires heart, salute me thus?
My ceaselesse current, now, amazed stands!
To see thy labor, through so many lands, 
l Mixe thy fresh billow, with my brackish streame;
And, in thy sweetnesse, stretch thy diademe,
To these farre distant, and vn-equall'd skies
This squared Circle of cœlestiall bodies.

N I G E R.

Diuine O C E A N V S, tis not strange at all,
That (since the immortall soules of creatures mortal,
Mixe with their bodies, yet reserue for euer
A powre of seperation) I should seuer
My fresh streames, from thy brackish (like things fixed)
Though, with thy powerfull saltnes, thus far mixed.
"Vertue, though chain'd to earth, will still liue free;
"And Hell it selfe must yeeld to industry.

O C E A N V S. 


Vt, what's the end of thy Herculean labors,
Extended to these calme, and blessed shores?



O do a kind, and carefull Fathers part,
In satisfying euery pensiue heart
Of these my Daughters, my most loued birth:
m  Read Diod. Sicul. lib. 3. It is a coniecture of the old Ethnicks, that they, which dwell vnder the South,were the first begotten of the earth.

Who though they were the m first form'd Dames of earth,
And in whose sparckling, and refulgent eyes,
The glorious Sunne did still delight to rise;
Though he (the best Iudge, and most formall cause
Of all Dames beauties) in their firm hiewes, drawes
Signes of his feruent'st Loue; and thereby shewes
That, in their black, the perfectst beauty growes;
Since the fix't colour of their curled haire,
(Which is the highest grace of dames most faire)
No cares, no age can change; or there display
The fearefull tincture of abhorred Gray;
Since Death hir selfe (hir selfe being pale & blue)
Can neuer alter their most faith-full hew;
All which are arguments, to proue, how far
Their beauties conquer, in great Beauties warre;
And more, how neere Diuinity they be,
That stand from passion, or decay so free.
Yet, since the fabulous voices of some few
Poore brain-sicke men, stil'd Poets, here with you,
Haue, with such enuy of their graces, sung
The painted Beauties, other Empires sprung;
Letting their loose, and winged fictions fly
To infect all clymates, yea our purity;
Notissima fabula. Ouid. Met. lib. 2.

o  Alluding to that of Iuuenal, Satir. 5. Et cui per mediam nolis occurrere noctem.
p The Poets.

q  A custome of the Aethiopes, notable in Herod. and Diod. Sic. See Plinie. Nat. Hist. lib. 5. cap. 8.

As of one n P H A E T O N, that fir'd the world,
And, that, before his heedles flames were hurld
About the Globe, the Æthiopes were as faire,
As other Dames; now blacke, with blacke dispaire:
And in respect of their complections chang'd,
Are each where, since, forolucklesse creatures rang'd.
Which, when my Daughters heard, (as women are
Most iealous of their beauties) feare, and care
Possess'd them whole; yea, and beleeuing p them,
They wept such ceaseles teares, into my streame,
That it hath, thus far, ouerflow'd his shore
To seeke them patience: who haue since, ere more
As the Sunne riseth,q charg'd his burning throne
With volleys of reuilings; 'cause he shone
On their scorch'd cheekes, with such intemperate fires,
And other Dames, made Queenes of all desires.
To frustrate which strange error, oft, I sought,
(Though most in vaine, against a setled thought
As women are) till they confirm'd at length
By miracle, what I, with so much strength
Of argument resisted; els they fain'd:
For in the Lake, where their first spring they gain'd,
As they sate, cooling their soft Limmes, one night,
Appear'd a Face, all circumfus'd with light;
(And sure they saw't, for Æthiopes r neuer dreame)
Wherein they might decipher through the streame,
These words.

That they a Land must forthwith seeke,
Whose termination (of the Greeke)
Sounds T A N I A; where bright Sol, that heat
r Plin. ibid.

 s Consult with Tacitus, in vita Agric.and the Paneg. ad Constant.

Their blouds, doth neuer s rise, or set,
But in his Iourney passeth by,
And leaues that Clymat of the sky,
To comfort of a greater Light,
Who formes all beauty, with his sight.

In search of this, haue we three Princedomes past,
That speake out Tania, in their accents last;
Blacke Mauritania, first; and secondly,
Swarth Lusitania; next, we did descry
Rich Aquitania; and, yet, cannot find
The place vnto these longing Nymphes design'd.
Instruct, and ayde me, great O C E A N V S,
What land is this, that now appeares to vs?


This Land, that lifts into the temperate ayre
t  Orpheus in his Argonaut. calls it Greek text
u  Alluding to the rite of stiling princes, after the name of their princedomes: so is he still Albion, and Neptunes sonne that gouernes. As also his being deare to Neptune, in being so imbrac'd by him.

His snowy cliffe, is t Albion the faire;
So call'd of u Neptunes son, who ruleth here:
For whose deare guard, my selfe, (foure thousand yeere,
Since old Deucalion's daies) haue walk'd the round
About his empire, proud, to see him crown'd
Aboue my waues.

  At this, the Moone was discouered in the vpper part of the house, triumphant in a Siluer throne, made in figure of a Pyramis. Her garments White, and Siluer, the dressing of her head antique; & crown'd with a Luminarie, or Sphære of light: which striking on the clouds, and heightened with Siluer, reflected as naturall clouds doe by the splendour of the Moone. The heauen, about her, was vaulted with blew silke, and set with Starres of Siluer which had in them their seuerall lights burning. The suddaine sight of which, made NIGER to interrupt O C E A N V S, with this present passion.

N I G E R.

                                   —O see, our siluer Starre!
Whose pure, auspicious light greetes vs, thus farre!
The Aethiopians worshipd the Moone, by that surname. See Stepha. Greek text in voceGreek text and his reasons.

Great Æthiopia, Goddesse of our shore,
Since, with particular worshippe we adore
Thy generall brightnesse, let particular grace
Shyne on my zealous Daughters: Shew the place,
Which, long, their longings vrg'd their eyes to see.
Beautifie them, which long haue Deified thee.

Æ T H I O P I A.


I G E R, be glad: Resume thy natiue cheare.
Thy Daughters labors haue their period here,
And so thy errors. I was that bright Face
Reflected by the Lake, in which thy Race
Read mysticke lines; (which skill P I T H A G O R A S
First taught to men, by a reuerberate glasse)
This blessed Isle doth with that T A N I A end,
Which there they saw inscrib'd, and shall extend
Wish'd satisfaction to their best desires.
B R I T A N I A, which the triple world admires,
This Isle hath now recouered for her name;
Where raigne those Beauties, that with so much fame
The sacred M V S E S Sonnes haue honored,
And from bright H E S P E R V S to E O V S spred.
With that great name B R I T A N I A, this blest Isle
Hath wonne her ancient dignitie, and stile,
A World, diuided from the world: and tri'd
The abstract of it, in his generall pride.
For were the world, with all his wealth, a Ring,
BRITANIA (whose new name makes all tongues sing)
Might be a Diamant worthy to inchase it,
Rul'd by a SVNNE, that to this height doth grace it:
Whose Beames shine day, and night, and are of force
To blanch an Æ T H I O P E, and reuiue a Cor's.
His light scientiall is, and (past mere nature)
Can salue the rude defects of euery creature.
      Call forth thy honor'd Daughters, then;
      And let them, 'fore the Brittaine men,
      Indent the Land, with those pure traces
      They flow with, in their natiue graces.
      Inuite them, boldly, to the shore,
      Their Beauties shalbe scorch'd no more:
      This Sunne is temperate, and refines
      All things, on which his radiance shines.

Here the Tritons sounded, & they daunced on shore, euery couple (as they aduanced) seuerally presenting their Fans: in one of which were inscribed their mixt Names, in the other a mute Hieroglyphick, expressing their mixed quallities. Which manner of Symbole I rather chose, then Imprese, as well for strangenesse, as relishing of antiquity, and more applying to that originall doctrine of sculpture, which the Ægyptians are said, first, to haue brought from the Æthiopians.
Did. Sicul. Herod.


The Names. The Symboles.
The Queene.
Co: of Bedford.
1. {E V P H O R I S.
    {A G L A I A.
1.{A golden Tree, la-
   {den with fruict.
La: Herbert.
Co: of Derby
2. {D I A P H A N E.
    {E V C A M P S E.
2. {The figure Icosae-
    {dron of crystall.
La: Rich.
Co: of Suffolke.
3. {O C Y T E.
    {K A T H A R E.
3. {A payre of naked 
    {feet, in a Riuer.
La: Beuill.
La: Effingham.
4. {N O T I S.
    {P S Y C H R O T E.
4. {The Salaman-
    {der simple.
La: El. Howard.
La: Sus: Vere.
5. {G L Y C Y T E.
    {M A L A C I A.
5. {A clowd full of
    {raine, dropping.
La: Wroth.
La: Walsingham
6. {B A R Y T E.
    {P E R I P H E R E.
6. {An vrne[,] spheared
    {with wine.

The names of the O C E A N I A E were.
Hesiod in Theog.
D O R I S. C Y D I P P E. B E R O E. I A N T H E.
P E T R A E A. G L A V C E. A C A S T E. L Y C O R I S.
O C Y R H O E. T Y C H E. C L Y T I A. P L E X A V R E.

Their owne single Daunce ended, as they were about to make choice of their Men: One, from the Sea, was heard to call 'hem with this charme, sung by a tenor voyce.

S O N G.


Ome away, come away,
We grow iealous of your stay:
If you do not stop your eare,
We shall haue more cause to feare
Syrens of the land, then they
To doubt the Syrens of the Sea.

Here they daunc'd with their men, seuerall measures, and corranto's. All which ended, they were againe accited to sea, with a Song of two Trebles, whose cadences were iterated by a double Eccho, from seuerall parts of the Land.

S O N G.


Aughters of the subtle Flood,
Doe not let Earth longer intertayne you;
    1. Ecch. { Let Earth longer intertaine you.
      2. Ecch. { Longer intertaine you.

  'Tis to them, inough of good,
That you giue this little hope, to gaine you.
    1. Ecch. { Giue this little hope, to gaine you.
      2. Ecch. Little hope, to gaine you.

  If they loue,
      You shall quickly see;
  For when to flight you mooue,
They'll follow you, the more you flee.
     1. Ecch. { Follow you, the more you flee[.]
        2. Ecch. The more you flee.

    If not, impute it to each others matter;
   They are but Earth, & what you vow'd was Water.
1. Ecch: but earth,

  2. Ecch: earth

    1. Ecch. And what you vow'd
was Water.
    2. Ecch. You vow'd was

A E T H I O P I A.

Nough, bright Nymphes, the night growes old,
And we are grieu'd, we can not hold
You longer light: But comfort take.
Your Father, onely, to the Lake
Shall make returne: Your selues, with feasts,
Must here remayne the Ocean's guests.
Nor shall this vayle, the Sunne hath cast
Aboue your bloud, more Summers last.
For which, you shall obserue these rites.
Thirteene times thrise, on thirteene nights,
(So often as I fill my Sphære
With glorious light, throughout the yeere)
You shall (when all things els do sleepe
Saue your chast thoughts) with reuerence, steepe
Your bodies in that purer brine,
And wholesome dew, call'd Ros-marine:
Then with that soft, and gentler fome,
Of which, the Ocean, yet, yeelds some,
Whereof bright V E N V S, Beauties Queene,
Is sayd to haue begotten beene,
You shall your gentler limmes ore-laue,
And for your paines, perfection haue.
So that this night, the yeare gone round,
You doe againe salute this ground;
And, in the beames of yond' bright Sunne,
Your faces dry, and all is done.

At which, in a Daunce they returned to the Sea, where they tooke their Shell; and, with this full Song, went out.



Ow Dian, with her burning face,
        Declines apace:
    By which our Waters know
    To ebbe, that late did flow.
Back Seas, back Nymphes; but, with a forward grace,
    Keepe, still, your reuerence to the place:
And shout with ioy of fauor, you haue wonne,
    In sight of Albion, Neptunes Sonne.

So ended the first Masque, which (beside the singular grace of Musicke and Daunces) had that successe in the nobilitie of performance; as nothing needes to the illustration, but the memory by whome it was personated.

Continue on to the Masque of Beauty, which was published in the same quarto.

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