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Essay on Love’s Triumph through Callipolis by Ben Jonson After an arguably successful career as a playwright, Ben Jonson also had much success with his masques, a one time spectacle performed usually for and with a noble court. These masques usually lasted longer than a play and utilized more props and stagecraft. Part of the magic of the masque spectacles were the elaborate costumes and sometimes actual masks the performers wore. This aspect of the masque was essential in order to differ itself from the play form because the wearing of masks and elaborate costumes signified that the performance was intended to be unrealistic and/or an exaggeration. Another aspect that differentiates the masque from the play was the persons involved. Plays used companies of actors such as the Kings Men and Children of the Queen’s Revels and an audience watched the performance from a distance, whereas the masque (loosely) required all attendees to be a part of the performance, including the royal party who attended. Which leads to another way these two performances differ; plays were performed throughout the year and were attended by paying viewers but masques were a one night affair for a very exclusive audience, usually performed during the Christmas season or as a request for a special occasion and there was no cost to attend. However, according to James Loxley’s book Ben Jonson, the masque form that started with great success and acceptance during the reign of King James I were put off temporarily during the reign of King Charles I (32-34). Love’s Triumph through Callipolis is significant because it was the first play put on for King Charles I. King James I, King Charles I father, was in reign when Jonson first introduced the masque form and he enjoyed them very much. However, when King James I died and his son took over, the very young King Charles I suspended annual masque performances during the Christmas season because “his new bride, Henrietta Maria of France, was too young and inexperienced to take over the role of the previous queen, Anne of Denmark, who had been the prime mover in the production of the masques” as suggested by the editors of Theatre and Government Under the Early Stuarts. It was seen as an act of maturity when King Charles I reinstated the performance of masques. I would assume it was also financially beneficial as well as an ego booster for Jonson at this time. During his career as a playwright, Jonson both had successful plays, as well as those that were considered disappointments. Jonson had just revived his career with Volpone or The Fox, a satirical and comedic play following the flop of Sejanus, a dramatic play. With the new form of the masque and the antimasque in his latter years, Loxley suggests that Jonson’s popularity increased (28), though Jonson continued to showcase his knowledge of the classics. As with many of the works by Ben Jonson, the masque Love’s Triumph through Callipolis uses many Roman and Greek mythological deities. He started off this performance with an antimasque then continues with the masque which includes Roman mythological gods Neptune, his wife Amphitrite, their son Euphemus, Jupiter, his wife Juno who are waiting upon the arrival of their daughter Venus. Also briefly included are Hymen, the Roman god of marriage ceremonies and Genius the Roman god of divine nature found in every aspect of life. The city in which the masque takes place is Callipolis, a city known for its beauty and virtue and often referred to as platonic. This performance starts off with an antimasque where twelve tainted and carnal lovers have pierced through the city of Callipolis. When the antimasque has finished and the masque begins, the Roman sea gods are speaking of a new Love about to take over the city. They sing about how she will be created and what is to be expected of her. Then the Roman gods on land, Jupiter and Juno are also talking about the arrival of their daughter, Venus. The masque ends with Venus descending from the skies and announcing, better yet, singing of her arrival and making an allusion to the greatness they expect from the current king and queen. After reading this one time through for pure enjoyment, I had a hard time understanding what was going on. Once I refreshed my memory by looking up the Roman gods, the masque made more sense to me on the second reading. I was pleasantly surprised when I made the connection to the painting The Birth of Venus by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) which happens to be my favorite painting of all time. I believe the significance of the title and the allusion to the painting is very similar to what was going on at the time of this masque. As I mentioned previously, King Charles I had suspended masque performances, amongst many other political changes, and when he decided to allow these performances to start again, Jonson used this as motivation for the masque. I see King Charles I as the “tainted lovers” that penetrated through the city, and I believe Jonson felt that literature, maybe more specifically his work, was Venus and it made its way back in to the royal court.
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