Ben Jonson, The Irish Masque at Court, by Gentlemen the King's Servants

[Click on image to enlarge] Like The Masque of Blackness (NAEL 8, 1.1327), The Irish Masque at Court was written by Ben Jonson for a special performance before King James I and his court. Performed on December 29, 1613 (and again five days later), the masque features a troop of comical Irish footmen who have made the journey to London to celebrate the marriage of James's favorite Robert, Earl of Somerset, to Lady Frances Howard. Although these Irishmen are loyal subjects of the king, not rebels, Jonson mercilessly mocks their accents, manners, and education.

The Irish Masque at Court indicates a clear shift in the way the Irish were imagined in the early seventeenth century. In the Elizabethan period, when much of Ireland was in semi-permanent revolt against English rule, the English tended to imagine the Irish as incorrigible rebels. Now, under James I, the island was temporarily at peace, and English control seemed secure. Jonson thus imagines the Irish not as rebels, but as half-civilized buffoons. England's mission in Ireland is no longer to subdue the inhabitants by military means, but to lead them to "civility" (which for Jonson means, effectively, to make them English).

While the Anglicized Irish gentleman whose speech concludes the masque speaks perfect English, the four Irish footmen speak with heavy accents. In Jonson's caricature of the Irish accent, which is neither consistent nor accurate, "S" becomes "SH," "TH" becomes "T," "WH" becomes "PH," "W" becomes "V," and "J" becomes "Y."


The king being set in expectation, out ran a fellow attired like a citizen; after him, three or four footmen.

Dennis. Donnell. Dermock. Patrick.

DENNIS. For Chreesh's sake, phair ish te king? Phich ish he, an't be? Show me te shweet faish, quickly. By Got, o' my conshence, tish ish he! Ant tou be King Yamish, my name is Dennish. I sherve ty mayesty's own cashtermonger, >> note 1 be me trote; and cry peepsh and pomwatersh >> note 2 i' ty mayesty's shervice, 'tis five year now. Ant, tou vilt not trush me now, call up ty clerk o' ty kitchen. He, ant be, shall give hish wort, upon hish book, ish true.

DONNELL. Ish it te fashion to beat te imbasheters here? Ant knock 'hem o' te heads, phit to phoit stick?

DERMOCK. And make ter meshage run out at ter mouthsh, before te shpeak vit te King?

DENNIS. Peash, Dermock, here ish te king.

DERMOCK. Phair ish te king?

DONNELL. Phich ish te king?

DENNIS. Tat ish te king.

DERMOCK. Ish tat te king? Got blesh him.

[The Irishmen then enter argument over which of them is to speak. Finally, Patrick volunteers.]

PATRICK. If nobody vill shpeak, I vill shpeak. Pleash ty shweet faish, we come from Ireland.

DERMOCK. We be Irish men, an't pleash tee.

DONNELL. Ty good shubshects of Ireland, and pleash ty mayesty.

DENNIS. Of Connaught, Leinster, Ulster, Munster. I mine own shelf vash born in te English Pale, and pleash ty mayesty. >> note 3

PATRICK. Sacrament o' Chreesh, tell ty tale tyshelf, and be all tree.

[They next explain that they have escorted a dozen gentlemen from Ireland to perform a dance in honor of the wedding of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, and Lady Frances Howard.]

DONNELL. Tey be honesht men.

PATRICK. And good men, tine own shubshects.

DERMOCK. Tou hasht very good shubshects in Ireland.

DENNIS. A great good many, o' great good shubshects.

DONNELL. Tat love ty mayesty heartily.

DENNIS. And vil run trough fire and vater for tee, over te bog, and te bannock, >> note 4 be te graish o' Got, and graish o' king.

DERMOCK. By Got, tey vil fight for tee, King Yamish, and for my mistresh tere.

DENNIS. And my little mayshter.

DERMOCK. An te vfrow, ty daughter, that is in Tuchland. >> note 5

DONNELL. Tey vill spend ter heart in ter belly for tee, as vell as ter legs in ter heelsh.

DERMOCK. By Creesh, tey vill shpend all teir cowsh for tee.

DENNIS. Pretee make mush on tem.

PATRICK. Pretee, sweet faish, do.

DONNELL. Be not angry vit te honesh men, for te few rebelsh, and knavesh.

PATRICK. Nor believe no tales, good King Yamish.

DERMOCK. For, by Got, tey love tee in Ireland.

DONNELL. Pray tee, bid hem velcome, and Got make hem rish for tee.

DERMOCK. Tey vill make temshelves honesht.

DENNIS. Tou hasht not a hundred tousand sush men, by my trote!

PATRICK. No, nor forty, by my hand!

DONNELL. By Justish Dillon's hant, not twenty.

DERMOCK. By my Lord Deputy'sh hant, not ten, in all ty Great Britain. Shall I call hem to tee?

DONNELL. Tey shit like poor men I' the porsh yonder.

PATRICK. Shtay , te peep ish come! Hark, hark.

DERMOCK. Let ush dansh ten. Dansh, Dennis.

DENNIS. By Creesh sa' me, I ha' forgot.

DONNELL. A little till our mayshtersh be ready.

Here the footmen had a dance, being six men and six boys, to the bagpipe and other rude music, after which they had a song, and then they cried:
Peash. Peash. Now room for our mayshters. Room for our mayshters.
Then the gentlemen dance forth a dance in their Irish mantles, >> note 6 to a solemn music of harps; which done, the footmen fell to speak again, till they were interrupted by a civil gentleman of the nation, who brings in a bard. >> note 7

DERRICKE. How like tou tish, Yamish? And tey had fine cloyshes now, and liveries, like tine own men, and bee.

DONNELL. But te rugs make tem shrug a little.

DERMOCK. Tey have shit a great phoyle i' te cold, ant be.

DONNELL. Isht not pity to cloysh be drowned, now?

PATRICK. Pretee shee anoter dansh, and be not veary.

GENTLEMAN. He may be of your rudeness. Hold your tongues,
And let your coarser manners seek some place
Fit for their wildness. This is none, begone.
Advance, immortal bard, come up and view
The gladding face of that great king, in whom
So many prophecies of thine are knit.
This is that James of which long since thou sung'st
Should end your country's most unnatural broils;
And if her ear, then deafened with the drum,
Would stoop but to the music of his peace,
She need not with the spheres change harmony.
This is the man thou promised should redeem,
If she would love his counsels as his laws,
Her head from servitude, her feet from fall,
Her fame from barbarism, her state from want,
And in her all the fruits of blessing plant. >> note 8
Sing then some charm, made from his present looks,
That may assure thy former prophesies,
And firm the hopes of these obedient spirits
Whose love no less than duty hath called forth
Their willing powers; who, if they had much more,
Would do their all, and think they could not move
Enough to honor that which he doth love.

Here the bard sings to two harps.


Bow both your heads at once and hearts;
      Obedience doth not well in parts.
It is but standing in his eye,
      You'll feel yourselves changed, by and by.
Few live that know how quick a spring
      Works in the presence of a king.
'Tis done by this, your slough let fall,
      And come forth new-born creatures all.

In this song the masquers let fall their mantles, and discover their masquing apparel. Then dance forth.

After the dance the bard sings this.


So breaks the sun earth's rugged chains
      Wherein rude winter bound her veins,
So grows both stream and source of price
      That lately fettered were with ice,
So naked trees get crisped heads,
      And colored coats, the roughest meads,
And all get vigor, youth, and sprite,
      That are but looked on by his light.

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