Entertainment at Salisbury House

Ben Jonson (1608)

Historical Records


Twelve documents (11 bills, accounts, and receipts at Hatfield House and 1 at Chatsworth House) record the expenses related to the entertainment at Salisbury House. Payments include £20 each to Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and “Alyn” (either Edward Alleyn or John Allen), £10 to a juggler, and £6 to a group of musicians led by John Coprario (who may have composed the music). Other payees include "Dolfine," "Danyell," "The talle man," "the littell fellow," "the Blac fellow," and "the 2 boyes that playd fancy & Barahon." The accounts also refer extensively to the materials used to make the costumes and the props, including a rock that was illuminated by wax lights from behind through translucent glass, "2 long Scarffes for the Flying Boye," and "2 glasses for the Coniurers vse." For complete transcriptions of the records, see The Masque Archive.


A single sketch by Inigo Jones preserved at Chatsworth House can be linked to this entertainment. (The verso side contains "The Account of Inigo Jones for the workes don att my Lord Tressraers 1608.") The sketch depicts a classical arch and rocks as well as a mysterious line of writing: "termes heccate Connono Grupo de Serpente supra li spali" ("a term of Hecate with a group of serpents above the shoulders") (Knowles, "Entertainment"). For facsimiles, see Orgel and Strong 1.122–23, and Knowles, "Entertainment."

Extant Fragment?

Ian Donaldson (240) suggests that the entertainment began with a poem, included among Jonson's Epigrams, addressed to Sir Robert Cecil upon the occasion of his accession to Lord Treasurer:

TO THE SAME [i.e. Robert, Earl of Salisbury]
Vpon the accession of the Treasurer-ship
to him.
Not glad, like those that haue new hopes, or sutes,
    With thy new place, bring I these early fruits
Of loue, and what the golden age did hold
    A treasure, art: contemn'd in th'age of gold.
Nor glad as those, that old dependents bee,
    To see thy fathers rites new laid on thee.
Nor glad for fashion. Nor to shew a fit
    Of flatterie to thy titles. Nor of wit.
But I am glad to see that time suruiue,
    Where merit is not sepulcher'd aliue.
Where good mens vertues them to honors bring,
    And not to dangers. When so wiſe a king
Contends t'haue worth enioy, from his regard,
    As her owne conscience, still, the same reward.
These (noblest CECIL) labour'd in my thought,
    Wherein what wonder see thy name hath wrought?
That whil'st I meant but thine to gratulate,
    I'have sung the greater fortunes of our state. (Jonson, pp. 785–86.)

The earliest extant text of this poem appears in the 1616 Workes of Benjamin Jonson, although a now-lost edition of Jonson's Epigrams may have been published as early as 1612 (Lyons).

Theatrical Provenance

Performed in the library of Salisbury House on 6 May 1608, hosted by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury to celebrate his appointment as Lord Treasurer (McMillin 156; Donaldson 240). The audience included King James and Queen Anne.

Probable Genre(s)

Royal Entertainment (Schoenbaum).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known. (Information welcome.)

References to the Play

None known. (Information welcome.)

Critical Commentary

McMillin summarizes the historical documents at Hatfield relating to four Jonsonian entertainments from 1606 to 1609, discussing the actors named, the rates of pay to Jones and Jonson, and the staging and costumes. McMillin suggests that "for the poet and the designer, high cash rewards and growing fame were probably the chief benefits of the entertainments; and the absence of the 1608 and 1609 pieces from Jonson's Folio indicates the extent of his concern for their literary posterity" (166).

Knowles ("Cecilian") examines Jonson's masques for the Cecils, including The Entertainment at Britain's Burse, An Entertainment of the King and Queen at Theobalds and the Salisbury House show. Knowles demonstrates Cecil's interest in architecture and calls these masques Jonson's architectural masques. According to Knowles, Jonson likely removed the Entertainment at Salisbury House and The Entertainment at Britain's Burse from the folio to accentuate his royal service (and not service to the Cecils) and to promote his writing of the masques rather than the design work (192).

Ioppolo compares the rates of pay with other Jonsonian masques. She points out that Jonson may have acted in the masque too, as he and Jones were paid as "rewards to the actors and devisors of the showe" (59).

Donaldson, noting Jonson's later remark to Drummond that "Salisbury never cared for any man longer nor he could make use of him," suggests that the tensions that arose from Cecil's "lack of generosity as a patron" might account for Jonson's decision to exclude the "Entertainment at Salisbury House" and the Royal Entertainment at Britain's Burse from the 1616 Folio.

Knowles ("Entertainment") notes the "considerable technology" on display in the entertainment while the inclusion of Fancy, a conjurer, a character named Barahon (potentially related to the Spanish or Portuguese for "confusion") and the use of "Chyny Taffaty" (China taffeta) "suggest a magical or exotic theme, perhaps even with satyrs or devils as accompaniments." Since the expense records for the entertainment also list extensive payments made for ornamenting the library itself as well as the acquisition of new books, Knowles suggests that the library setting may have been significant to the entertainment, which may have incorporated the books themselves. Noting the potential exotic or colonial themes in the entertainment expenses and the decoration of the library, Knowles suggests: "Perhaps the conjuration offered the audience a magical scene of colonial or pastoral nature which could then be contrasted with the true knowledge and hard reality of Cecil’s enterprises and government symbolised by the 'antiquity and solid learnings' of his library."

Wiggins notes that the book-related payments may not necessarily have been a part of the show, since the account refers to expenses for "adorning the lybrary against the kings cominge thether." He also notes that "juggler" and "conjurer" may refer to the same character: "the two words could signify the same type of mountebank" (Catalogue #1587).

For What It's Worth

Gabriel Heaton discusses the patronage relationship between Cecil and Jonson in Writing and Reading Royal Entertainments: From George Gascoigne to Ben Jonson (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010).

Knowles writes: "The classical arch design […], alongside other temporary arch designs that may date from 1608–9, provides evidence of the first use of architecture in masque settings" ("Entertainment"). Might the central image of an arch in Jonson's "show in the library" have evoked the classical archways that often adorned the title-pages of early modern printed books?

Works Cited

Britland, Karen, Martin Butler, Katharine Craik and Maria Dongu. The Masque Archive. In The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014.
Donaldson, Ian. Ben Jonson: A Life. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.
Ioppolo, Grace. Dramatists and Their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Jonson, Ben. The Workes of Beniamin Jonson. London, 1616.
Knowles, James. "'To raise a house of better frame': Jonson's Cecilian Entertainments. Patronage, Culture and Power: The Early Cecils. Ed. Pauline Croft. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2002. 181–98.
Knowles, James. "The Entertainment at Salisbury House, lost work." The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014.
Lyons, Tara L. "New Evidence for Ben Jonson’s Epigrammes (ca. 1612) in Bodleian Library Records." PBSA 114 (2020): 343–64
McMillin, Scott. "Jonson's Early Entertainments: New Information from Hatfield House." Renaissance Drama 1 (1968): 155–66.
Orgel, Stephen and Roy Strong. Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court. 2 vols. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1973.
Schoenbaum, S. Annals of English Drama 975–1700: A Second Supplement to the Revised Edition. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1970.

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