Ben Jonson – “The Masque of Blackness” (ctd.)

The face in the lake tells the daughters of Niger to go to a country whose name ends with “-tania” and where the sun does not shine so much so it won’t burn their skins anymore. That’s not much help, taking into account that many latinized country names end with “-tania”. So they travelled through Mauritania, Lusitania (Portugal) and Aquitania, and still still they can’t find this country. But what is this land they now see? Oceanus explains it is Albion, ruled by Neptune’s sun (i.e. James VI and I). Then with a lot of F/X the Moon appears. She explains it was her face the daughters of Niger saw in that lake. They indeed arrived at the country of their destination, called Britannia (the name revived by James to describe his country, uniting England, Wales and Scotland) and ruled by the sun king whose rays have the power to make an Ethiop white and raise a corpse. So I guess Louis XIV was not the first one to call himself the Sun King. Then the Moon invites the daughter of Niger to dance on the British shore, promising them that their beauty will be no more scorched by the sun rays but rather refined by it. The ladies who played Niger’s daughters all had fans, one with their names and the other with a picture portraying their quality because, as Jonson explains, it would be more “Egyptian” in character. The list of the dancing ladies is the female “Who’s Who” of the Jacobean Court: the Queen, Lady Mary Wroth, Lady Lucy Bedford (Donne’s patron), Lady Penelope Rich (Sidney’s “Stella”) and many others. The name of the actresses performing the parts of the Oceanidae are not listed, so I guess they were simply hired professional dancers.


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