Masque of Cupids

Thomas Middleton (1614)

N.B. This work is identified in scholarship both as The Masque of Cupids and The Masque of Cupid. The present entry prefers the plural form: see Critical Commentary below.

Historical Records

Repertories of the Court of Aldermen

Repertory 31, pt. 2 (4 November 1613 – 28 October 1614).

31 December 1613.

[in margin:]
Touching the triumphs at merchant: Hall

Item at this Court a lettre directed to the Lord Maior, from Sr Thomas Vavasor, Knight Marshall, intymating that the Kinges Maty himself wth all his Court purpose to supp wth his Lordshipp on Tuesday night next And forasmuch as Mr Recorder did also informe the like Therefore it was put to voyces whether the expence should be defrayed out of the Lord Maiors particular purse or out of the generalI stock of the Citty And by most voyces it was agreed and so ordered and decreed by this Court that the whole expence of the supper wth the solempnitie thereof should be disbursed by Mr Chamberlen and this order to be his warrant And it is further ordered by this Court that Sr William Craven and Sr John Swinnerton Knightes and Aldermen Mr Alderman Elwes Mr Alderman Cokayn Mr Alderman Smythes and Mr Alderman Prescott shall this afternoone meete together in the Councell Chamber or the Guildhall and advise and Consider how and in what manner the entertaynement shalbe given and what solempnities sportes and tryvimphes shalbe prepared for the great honor of the feast and to give speedy direccion for the effecting thereof And Mr Recorder and the two sheriffes are appointed and intreated by this Court to invite the Earle of Somersett and his lady and the rest of the Lordes and ladyes and others of the Kinges Court to that supper And Mr Robert Smyth and Mr Hamlett Clarke are appointed Stewardes for the feast; and [blank span] Sotherne and [blank span] Landsdale to be the Caters and Richard Jenney and Marshall are Comaunded to attend the Committees for the speedier dispat[c]h of this busines And lastly because the Lord Maiors house is not held spatious enough to receave so great a trayne as is exspected will attend the King Therefore it is agreed and so ordered that the Marchauntailors hall shalbe prepared and made ready against that night for this solempnitie."
(Corporation of London Record Office: COL/CA/01/01/035, f. 235r-v; Repertories, Reel 23; cf. Nichols 2.731; cited Sharpe 2.61; McGee and Meagher 25.)

18 January 1614.

[in margin:]
Mr Middelton

Item it is ordered by this Court that Thomas Middelton gent shalbe forthwith allowed vpon his bill of particulers such Recompence and chardges as the Committees lately appointed for the ordering of the late solempnities at Marchauntailors hall shall thinck meete for all his disbursementes and paynes taken by him and others in the last mask of Cupides and other shewes lately made at the aforesaid hall by the said Mr Middelton./
(Corporation of London Record Office: COL/CA/01/01/035, f. 239v; Repertories, Reel 23; cf. Nichols 2.732; Dyce 1.xix-xx; Jones-Davies and Hoenselaars, "Canon and Chronology," 377-78.)

25 January 1614.

[in margin:]
viC lxxili iiijs iijd

Item it is ordered by this Court that Mr Chamberlen shalbe allowed vpon his bill of Accomptes the some of viC lxxili iiijs iijd by him disbursed as by particulers did appeare to the Court for the late entertaynment at Marchauntailores hall of the right honorable the Earle of Somersett and his lady and others of the Lordes and ladyes of his Mates Court.
(Corporation of London Record Office: COL/CA/01/01/035, f. 243v; Repertories, Reel 23; cited Sharpe 2.61; McGee and Meagher 25.)

Correspondence of John Chamberlain

To Sir Dudley Carleton. 5 January 1614.

The Lord Mayor was sent to by the King to entertain this new maried couple with theyre frends and followers, but he making an excuse that his house was too litle to receve them, yt was not accepted, but word sent backe that he might commaund the biggest hall in the towne: wherupon calling a counsaile yt was resolved to do yt at the charge of the citie in the Marchant-taylers hall upon fowre dayes warning, and thether they went yesternight about sixe a clocke, thorough Cheapside all by torchlight, accompanied by the father and mother of the bride, and all the Lords and Ladies about the court. The men were well mounted and richly arrayed making a goodly shew, the women all in coaches. I do not heare yet how all things passed there for I have not ben abrode, only I understand that after supper they had a play and a maske and after that a banket. The bride had a goodly new rich coach, which could not be furnished with fowre horses to theyre mind, so that Sir Rafe Winwod was moved on Sonday night to lend his, (those that you may remember he had here fowre or five yeares ago and are now as fayre or fayrer then ever they were). He made aunswer that yt was not for such a Lady to use any thing borrowed and therfore the next morning presented them to the great Lord, who made some difficultie at first to receve them of guift, but only as lent for this solemnitie of going through the citie but in the end tooke them in very goode part.
(The National Archives: SP 14/76/2, f. 1Bv; qtd. McClure 1.499.)

Correspondence of Giovanni Battista Gabaleone

8 January 1614. (18 January n.s.)

    On Tuesday the mayor gave supper to the married couple and to two hundred of the principal lords and ladies of the court, having had orders from the king to treat the wedded pair as they would his own person. The mayor's lodging is as far from the court as it is from Turin to the 'Madonna di Campagna.' The wedded couple left their lodging at five in the afternoon accompanied by a hundred knights, all lords, earls and barons, dressed most superbly, on horseback, ranked two by two. The horses had saddles and trappings all in embroidered stuff, and saddlecloths that were all enriched. Every knight had a single groom with a torch in his hand walking at his side. At the end of the troop was the carriage with the wedded couple, followed by twenty others full of high-ranking ladies, likewise dressed with great pomp. And so, in their ranks, they rode Spanish-style through the whole length of the city. There the people had gathered, making a wonderful sight because of the great quantity of lights they had with them at windows and in the streets.
    Once arrived at his lodging, they were received by the mayor; then a short while later they sat at table, with the mayor in the first place, according to custom, for he would not allow himself to be preceded by anyone but the king. After supper very lovely plays were performed.
(Archivo di Stato, Turin, Lettere ministri: Gran Bretagna, mazzo 1; trans. Orrell 81-82; cited McGee and Meagher 25. For a nineteenth-century transcription of the letter, see British Library, Additional MS 32023B, ff. 167r-8r.)

Howes's Expansion of Stow's Annals

The Annales, or Generall Chronicle of England (London, 1615).

… vpon Tewsday the 4. of January, the Bride, & Bridegroome, being accompanied wt the duke of Leno[x], the Lord priuie Seale, the lord Chamberlayne, the earles of Worcester, Pembroke, Mountgomery, & others, and with many honorable Barons, knights, & gentlemen of qualitie, came to marchant-taylers hall, where the Lord Maior, & Aldermenne, of London, in their Scarlet robes, entertayned them with hearty welcome, & feasted them wt all magnificence: at their first entrance into ye hall, they were receiued with ingenious speeches, and pleasant melody, at this princely feast all the meate was serued to the Table, by choyse cittizens of comeliest personage, in their gownes of rich Foynes, selected out of the .12. honorable companies: after supper, & being risen from the Table, these noble guests were entertayned with a Wassaile, 2. seuerall pleasant maskes, & a play, & with other pleasant dances all which being ended, then ye Bride, & Bridegroome, wt all ye rest, were inuited to a princely banquet, & about 3. a clock in the morning they returned to white hall…
(Howes, p. 928; cited Dyce xxi.)

Theatrical Provenance

Performed 4 January 1614 at the Merchant Taylors' Hall as part of the elaborate celebrations surrounding the wedding of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, to Frances Howard (recently divorced from Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex). The couple was married on 26 December 1613, whereupon they were fêted with Thomas Campion's Somerset Masque; the next day, they saw the first part of Ben Jonson's Challenge at Tilt, which was concluded on 1 January 1614; in the interim, Jonson's Irish Masque was performed on 29 December, and then again on 3 January. (Later, on Twelfth Night, The Masque of Flowers, organized and financed by Sir Francis Bacon, was performed by "the gentlemen of Gray's Inn.") Middleton's Masque of Cupids was apparently the result of a last-minute request by the King to the Lord Mayor on 31 December and was staged at the City's expense. Middleton had recently written a short pageant for the completion of the New River on 29 September and even more recently had been hired by the Company of Grocers to oversee and write the Lord Mayor's show The Triumphs of Truth, performed at great expense on 29 October 1613, making him a natural choice to organize the Somerset wedding solemnities. The evening's festivities, which also included a play and other entertainment, were attended by the newlyweds, the Earl and Countess of Suffolk (parents of the bride), the Duke of Lennox, the Earls of Northampton, Worcester, Pembroke, Montgomery, and many others. (Despite the preparations made by the city fathers, neither Howes nor Chamberlain mentions the King and Queen in attendance.)

Probable Genre(s)

Mask (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The little love-god Cupid was frequently a character in masques: in the Middleton canon alone, he makes appearances in the masques in Timon of Athens (1605/6), More Dissemblers Besides Women (1614), and The Nice Valour (1622). His presence in specifically nuptial entertainments seems to have become something of a cliché: in Fletcher's The Elder Brother (?1625), the task of preparing a wedding masque is dismissed as simply a "A Cupid and a fiddle, and the thing's done" (Jones-Davies and Hoenselaars 1030).

The presence of more than one Cupid (as suggested by the Repertory's description of the masque) could be explained in different ways. Two Cupids, one ersatz and one echt, appeared in Jonson's Love Restored, performed on 6 January 1612 at Whitehall. Even more relevant given its close proximity to Middleton's masque is Jonson's A Challenge at Tilt, another installment in the celebrations surrounding the Somerset wedding. Jonson's Challenge featured a pair of rival Cupids, drawing on the neoplatonic tradition of the brothers Eros and Anteros, who are eventually reconciled by Hymen (Jones-Davies and Hoenselaars 1030-31; Lindley, Challenge, 228). The Cupids' challenge was issued on 26 December 1613, and the tilt itself took place on 1 January, a day after the King's command to the Lord Mayor. Of course the plural "Cupids" might indicate more than a pair, as proliferating hosts of putti are often described in poetry (e.g. the "ten thousand Cupids" in Marlowe and Nashe's Dido) and several cupids may well have appeared in Middleton's masque (Jones-Davies and Hoenselaars 1031): in Middleton's Women Beware Women, for example, Livia's pages perform as "Cupids" during the concluding masque, shooting poisoned arrows at Hippolito as part of the play's tragic denouement.

For the possibility that two songs from the masque survive, see Critical Commentary below.

References to the Play

None known. See Critical Commentary below.

Critical Commentary


The only extant reference to the content of Middleton's masque appears in the Repertories of the Court of Aldermen (Repertory 31, pt. 2, f. 239v). The entry was variously interpreted by early scholars: Nichols transcribed the title as the "Mask of Cupids" (2.732) while Dyce gave "Mask of Cupid" (1.xx). Accordingly, subsequent scholarship has been divided in naming the masque: Fleay, for example, followed Nichols's pluralized reading (BCED, 2.97), while Dyce's singular reading has been followed by Chambers (e.g. 4.129) and Harbage.

For the Oxford Middleton, editors M.T. Jones-Davies and Ton Hoenselaars provided a facsimile reproduction of the original entry, along with the opinion of James R. Sewell, City Archivist for the Corporation of London Records Office, that the contentious word is in fact plural, although whether it ends in an es brevigraph or an unusual s graph is ambiguous ("Canon and Chronology," 377-78).

Extant Fragments?

In 1994, John Jowett argued that the song "Cupid is Venus' only joy," which appeared in the printed text of Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (publ. 1630), may have originally been written for The Masque of Cupids. Following John P. Cutt's suggestion that the song was interpolated into Chaste Maid (where it seems to follow unnaturally after the stage direction "Musicke and Welch Song"), Jowett proposed that Middleton adapted and expanded an earlier song for a revival of the play. The inclusion of a two-stanza version of "Cupid is Venus' only joy" in two early music manuscripts—British Library Additional MS 29481 (f. 6v) and New York Public Library, Drexel MS 4175, item 24 (as well as item 56, a one-stanza version)—suggests the possibility that a distinct variant of the song enjoyed an independent circulation, perhaps originating in The Masque of Cupids, whose eponymous subject matches the content of the song. Jowett also argues that the one-stanza version of the song that appears in the 1657 quarto of More Dissemblers Besides Women suggests that Middleton may have written this play shortly after The Masque of Cupids, incorporating the song from his recent masque, perhaps even intending a specific allusion thereto. (See also Jowett, ed., "More Dissemblers", 1.4.89-99n.)

For the Oxford Middleton, Jowett included edited texts of both "Cupid is Venus' only joy" and another song, "Cupid is an idle toy." The latter appears in two musical manuscripts (Bodleian MS Mus.b.1, f. 21, and New York Public Library, Drexel MS 4257, item 32), in both cases following verses that appear separately in Middleton's The Witch. The plausibly Middletonian provenance of this MS material—combined with the fact that it would fit poorly into the dramatic context of The Witch (O'Connor 2.1.138n)—suggests that it was written by the playwright on a separate occasion, possibly for The Masque of Cupids, as suggested by Raphael Seligmann (Jowett, "Masque of Cupids" 630).

For the texts of both songs, see For What It's Worth below.

For What It's Worth

Song Texts

Reproduced here are texts for the two songs that John Jowett has proposed were originally written by Middleton for the Masque of Cupids. Collated and annotated texts can be found in the Oxford Middleton.

A Chast Mayd in Cheape-Side (London, 1630)

CVPID is VENVS onely Ioy,
But he is a wanton Boy,
A verie verie wanton Boy,
He shoots at Ladyes naked Brests,
He is the cause of most Mens Crests,
I meane vpon the Forehead,
Inuisible but horrid,
'Twas he first taught vpon the way,
To keepe a Ladyes Lips in play.

Why should not
VENVS chide her Sonne,
For the prankes that he hath done,
The wanton prankes that he hath done?
He shoots his Firie Darts so thicke,
They hurt poore Ladyes to the quicke,
Ah me, with cruell wounding,
His Darts are so confounding,
That life and sence would soone decay,
But that he keepes their Lips in play.

(sig. Hr-v; third stanza omitted.)

Bodleian MS Mus.b.1

Cupid is an Idle toy
never was there such a boy
yf there were, let any show
or his quiver or his Bow
or a wound by him they gott
or a broaken Arrow shott
Mony Mony makes us bough
there is no other Cupid now.

Whilst ye wo(r)ld continued good,
people lovd for flesh, and bloud
Men about them bore the dart
that would catch a womans hart
wemen likewise great, and small
with a pretty thinge they call
Cunny Cunny wun the Men
And this was all the Cupid then.

(f. 21; qtd. Cutts 159.)

Works Cited

Cutts, John P. "Seventeenth-Century Lyrics. Oxford, Bodleian, Ms. Mus. b. 1." Musica Disciplina 10 (1956): 142–209.
Dyce, Alexander. The Works of Thomas Middleton, Now First Collected. 5 vols. London, 1840.
Howes, Edmund. The Annales, or Generall Chronicle of England, begun first by maister Iohn Stow, and after him continued and augmented…. London, 1615. STC 23338.
Jones-Davies, M.T., and Ton Hoenselaars. "Masque of Cupids." Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. Ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 1027-33.
Jones-Davies, M.T., and Ton Hoenselaars. "Works Included in this Edition: Canon and Chronology: Masque of Cupids." Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works. Ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 377-78.
Jowett, John. "Middleton's Song of Cupid." Notes and Queries 41 (1994): 66-70.
Jowett, John. "Masque of Cupids." Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works. Ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 630-31.
Knowles, James. "Crack Kisses Not Staves: Sexual Politics and Court Masques in 1613–1614." The Crisis of 1614 and The Addled Parliament. Eds. Steven Clucas and Rosalind Davies. Aldershot, 2003. 143-60.
Lindley, David, ed. A Challenge at Tilt. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson. Gen ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson. 7 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012. 4.227-38.
Lindley, David. The Trials of Frances Howard: Fact and Fiction at the Court of King James. London: Routledge, 1993.
McGee, C.E., and John C. Meagher. "Preliminary Checklist of Tudor and Stuart Entertainments: 1614–1625." Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 30 (1988): 17–128.
Middleton, Thomas. A Chast Mayd in Cheape-Side. London, 1630. STC 17877.
Nichols, John. The Progresses, Processions, and Magnificent Festivities, of King James the First. 4 vols. London, 1828.
Orrell, John. "The London Court Stage in the Savoy Correspondence, 1613–1675." Theatre Research International 4 (1979): 79–94.
The Repertories of the Court of Aldermen, 1495–1835. Part 2: The Repertories, 1599-1649. Reels 19-40. The Making of Modern London: Series One. Microfilm. Sussex: Harvester Press Microform Publications, 1986.
Sharpe, R.B. London and the Kingdom. 3 vols. London, 1894.

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