Inventing 'living emblems': emblem tradition in the masques of Ben Jonson, 1605-1618

Craig, Jennifer J. (2009) Inventing 'living emblems': emblem tradition in the masques of Ben Jonson, 1605-1618. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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While it is widely held that Ben Jonson uses emblem tradition in the development of imagery in his court masques and entertainments, how or why Jonson employs this genre of word-image combinations is rarely addressed. This thesis offers an explanation for what is often assumed in studies of Jonson’s masques and entertainments. Rather than identifying particularly emblematic scenes or characters and analysing their construction, however, this investigation of the emblematic in Jonson begins with analysis of his theory of masque creation. The evidence he leaves in the introductions to masque publications and his notes in Discoveries (1641) points to a conscious decision to incorporate not emblems themselves but an emblematic method in his new literary masque form, especially between 1605 and 1618.

Once Jonson’s familiarity with emblematic methods is realized, what is considered ‘emblematic’ in his imagery can be reassessed. The reason why Jonson’s masques appear to retain emblematic qualities but contain few true emblems can thus be explained. In order to explicate Jonson’s use of emblem tradition in his creation of masque imagery, this thesis is divided into three parts. The first part outlines Jonson’s theory of masque writing within three contexts. It initially looks at how Jonson’s literary methods compare to contemporary emblem and symbol theories, and thus works out a methodology for analysing the emblematic in his masques. Then, it considers the awareness of emblems in the early modern British court, both in material and intellectual culture. In so doing, these two sections on emblems in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century British culture highlight the prevalence of the emblematic mindset in Jonson and his aristocratic audience. This argues for the relevance of Jonson’s emblematic development of imagery for performances in the Stuart court.

The second and third parts of this thesis then turn to the masques and entertainments themselves. Part II looks at how Jonson uses emblematic techniques to design characters. Recognizing Jonson’s different approaches to abstract personifications and mythological figures, it is split into two sections. The first section looks at key personifications in The Masque of Beautie (1608) and The Masque of Queenes (1609). It considers how Jonson changes the characters Januarius and Fama bona from personifications in Ripa’s Iconologia to emblematically-rendered figures. The second section then analyses Jonson’s reinvention of stock characters Cupid and Hercules. Discussion covers Cupid’s appearance in many of Jonson’s entertainments, and then concentrates on his appearance with Anteros in A Challenge at Tilt (1613) and Loves Welcome at Bolsover (1634). Hercules’ pointedly emblematic role in Pleasure reconcild to Vertue (1618) finally crowns study of Jonson’s characters.

Part III extends investigation into Jonson’s development of themes and arguments in the masques. By identifying Jonson’s processes in the expression of certain themes, this part gives a full picture of Jonson’s use of emblematic techniques and material. The first section realizes their use in the moulding of Platonic themes of love into celebration of King and State. The second section then scrutinizes the invention of the Masques of Blacknesse (1605) and Beautie, Love Freed (1611), and The Golden Age Restor’d (1615). This is followed by analysis of the changes Jonson makes to emblematic constructions between Pleasure reconcild and its rewrite For the Honour of Wales (1618). The alterations highlight Jonson’s reliance on emblematic interpretation of his entertainments. At the same time, it marks his decision to subvert his techniques after 1618 in order to cater to court tastes following the failure of Pleasure reconcild. A conclusion to this thesis is thus derived from the comparison, which illustrates Jonson’s methods up to 1618.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available once any embargo periods have expired.
Keywords: Ben Jonson, masques, entertainments, emblems, emblem tradition, emblems in drama, hieroglyphs, symbolism, Stuart court, Jacobean court culture, early modern drama
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Cummings, Prof. Robert M.
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Miss Jennifer J. Craig
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-1307
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2010
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2023 10:14
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.1307

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