Notes and Queries, Dec 1994 v41 n4 p512(3)

'A silenc'st bricke-layer': an allusion to Ben Jonson in Thomas Middleton's 'Masque.' Limon, Jerzy.

Abstract: Thomas Middleton's 'The Inner Temple Masque' is the fIrst known work to link Ben Jonson with that group of poets and playwrights calling themselves 'the Tribe of Ben.' In it he allusively likens them to the apprentices who make riot on Shrove Tuesday, attacking brothels and theaters. His reference to 'silenc'st Bricklayers' appears to mean Jonson himself, once an apprentice brick-layer. The masque was commissioned in 1619, the first year in some time that Jonson had not gotten the lucrative assignment, hence 'silenced.'

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1994 Oxford University Press

IN Thomas Middleton's The Inner Temple Masque we find a curious passage which hitherto has not been explained; nor, as a matter of fact, has it attracted any critical attention. Moreover, the passage, quoted below, is not mentioned in any works on allusions to Ben Jonson.(1) Since it contains what seems to be an obvious allusion to Jonson, it is worth closer attention. The passage appears when Doctor Almanac accuses Shrove-Tuesday of various sins:

Stand forth Shrovetuesday, one'a silenc'st Bricke-Layers, Tis in your charge to pull downe Bawdyhouses, To set your Tribe [italics mine] aworke, cause spoyle in Shorditch,

And make Dangerous Leake there, deface Turnbul, And tickle Codpiece Rowe, ruine the Cockpit, the Poore Players ne're thriud in't, a my Co[n]science some Queane pist vpon the first Bricke.(2)

C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson in their wellknown edition of Ben Jonson's works(3) acknowledge the fact that Ben Jonson mentioned both Day and Middleton as `base fellows'.(4) At the same time, however, the editors admit that to their knowledge `there is no record of any personal relations between him [i.e. Middleton] and Jonson'.(5) One might also raise the question why Day and Middleton are mentioned together: was there any personal relation between the two?(6)

In the quoted passage the words that draw our attention are `your Tribe' and `silenc'st BrickLayer'. It is generally known that the group of contemporary poets and playwrights who considered Ben Jonson its master was nicknamed `the Tribe of Ben'; and we also know that Jonson's father was a bricklayer and Ben himself was an apprentice in the trade.(7) The question remains, of course, why Middleton's bricklayer is `silenced'. The anwer is quite simple if we assume that Ben Jonson is here referred to: Jonson wrote masques for every Christmas season between 1614 and 1618, but was absent from the 1618/19 season because of his journey to Scotland. Instead, Thomas Middleton was ordered to write a masque and could therefore refer to his rival as `silenced'. Ben Jonson may have been `silenced' for one or two seasons, but not for good, and he wrote every masque from 1621 to 1625. Since writing masques was a very lucrative job, there was, undoubtedly, rivalry among poets for assignments, and it seems very likely that Middleton took part in it, and in 1619 was convinced of his permanent victory. This turned out to be wishful thinking, for Middleton's masque was not a great success. William Drummond wrote to Ben Jonson on the subject:

I have heard from Court that the late Mask was not so approved of the King as in former times, and that your Absence was regreted: Such Applause hath true Worth, even of those who otherwise are not for it.(8)

In the quoted passage one of the masque characters, Shrove-Tuesday, is called the `silenced bricklayer' and is held to blame for riotous behaviour; for he and his tribe (i.e. apprentices) `cause spoyle in Shorditch,/ And make Dangerous Leake there, deface Turnbul,/ And tickle Codpiece Rowe, [and] ruine the Cockpit'. This is one of many allusions to the strange custom of attacking brothels and theatres on Shrove Tuesday. Turnbull (more correctly Turnmill Street), Shoreditch, and Codpiece Row were notorious as places of ill-repute, and the Cockpit was the playhouse that apprentices attacked on Shrove Tuesday 1616. Similarly, `Leake' in the quoted passage seems to allude to Mrs Leak who kept a bawdy-house in Shoreditch which was attacked in 1612. Thomas Dekker refers to both events in The Owles Almanacke (1618):

Shrove-tuesday falls on that day, on which the. Prentices pluck'd downe the cock-pit, and on which they did alwaies vse to rifle Madam Leakes house at the upper end of Shoreditch.(9)

Jonson himself makes references to Shrove Tuesday riots: in Bartholomew Fair `prentices' who pull down `the bawdy houses' upon Shrove-Tuesday (V.i.11-12) are mentioned; and in his Time Vindicated we find the following lines:

... These are fit freedomes For lawless Prentices, on a Shrove tuesday, When they compell the Time to serve their riot: For drunken Wakes, and strutting Beare-baytings, That savour only of their owne abuses.(10)

Thus it seems in his masque, Middleton creates a parallel between the tribe of Ben and the will apprentices of London, a doubtfull compliment, to say the least. This would account for Jonson's describing him as a `base' fellow. Moreover, there seems to be a further allusion to Middleton in Jonson's Discoveries:

Others there are, that have no composition at all; but a kind of tuneing, and riming fall, in what they write. It runs and slides, and onely makes a sound. Womens-Poets they are call'd: as you have womens-Taylors.

They write a verse, as smooth, as soft, as creame; In which there is no torrent, nor scarce streame.

You may sound these wits, and find the depth of them, with your middle finger. They are Creame-bowle, or but puddle deepe.(11)

This may in fact allude to Middleton's masque for it was described by the author himself as'an entertainment for many worthy ladies'. At any rate, Middleton's Masque of Heroes seems to include an allusion to both Ben Jonson and his `tribe', being in fact the first known text in which these two are joined together.

(1) It is not, for instance, mentioned in G. E. Bentley, `Seventeenth-Century Allusions to Ben Jonson', The Huntington Library Quarterly, v (1941-1), 65-113; nor in Jesse Franklin Bradley, The Jonson Allusion-Book (New Haven, London. Oxford, 1922). (2) Thomas Middleton, The Inner Temple Masque, or Masque of Heroes.(London, 1619), p. B3[.sup.v]. (3) Ben Jonson. ed. C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson (Oxford. 1925). (4) In his Conversations with Drummond, op. cit., i.137. (5) Ben Jonson, i.60 n. 168. (6) The only literary relation between the two that comes to my mind is the fact that both Day and Middleton had some dealings, with the Shirley brothers; consequently, in 1607 Day published a play entitled The Travailes of the Three English Brothers. Sir Thomas - Sir Anthony - Sir Robert Shirley and Middleton wrote a pamphlet on Sir Robert Shirley's visit to Poland, published in 1609. (7) Leslie Hotson discovered an entry on a Coram Rege Roll in Queen's Bench which describes Jonson as `Citizen and Bricklayer of London'. Thomas Fuller wrote of Jonson in 1662 that `When a lettle child he lived in Harts-horn-lane near Charing-cross, where his mother married a Bricklayer for her Second husband'. Evidence has been found that Jonson was a freeman of the Bricklayers Company from the 1590s on. (8) Letter reproduced by Herford and Simpson, i.204-5, who date it 17 January 1619. (9) The Owles Almanacke. Prognosticating many strange accidents which shall happen to this Kingdome of Great Britaine this yeere, 1618 (London, 1618), 8. (10) Quoted from Herford and Simpson, vii.663, lines 253-7. (11) Quoted from Herford and Simpson, viii.585.