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Alchemists, puritans and projectors in the plays of Ben Jonson

This chapter, best read in conjunction with Chapters 2 and 3, seeks to trace the now established stereotype of the puritan and the emergent one of the projector through Ben Jonson’s plays. The aim is to emphasise the role of the theatre in propagating such stereotypes, in ways which were comic, i.e. designed to entertain, and thus to make a profit; but which also had a decidedly political edge, and potential social and cultural punch to them. The chapter establishes the roots of projecting, and thus of the stereotype of the projector, in certain structural tensions and contradictions in the late Elizabethan and early Stuart states. It then uses the ambiguous feelings of Ben Jonson towards his status as a creature of the court, a popular dramatist and a poet with a serious moral purpose to illustrate wider ambiguities in how stereotypes could be used both to strengthen the status quo, by deriding and marginalising perceived threats and abuses, and (in the right, or perhaps we should say wrong, circumstances) to actively delegitimate, and thus destabilise, the status quo. The concluding section reflects on how such literary interventions shaped subsequent political and economic processes running up to the Civil Wars.

Let us start with a definition of terms.1 A ‘projector’ was someone with a scheme for intervention in the social or economic life of the nation, purportedly to benefit the commonwealth. The scheme, or project, nearly always involved the delegation of the prerogative powers of the Crown to an individual or group who would then use those powers to regulate or control some aspect of national life with a view to enhancing economic activities, or maintaining order, and thus the general prosperity and well-being of England in general, and the revenues of the Crown in particular. Nearly always involved was the pursuit of private profit by the projectors and courtiers for the achievement of the public good.2 We can see this principle in operation throughout late Elizabethan and particularly early Stuart government. It was not just about the patents and monopolies that caused so much discontent and controversy in the 1590s, as discussed in Koji Yamamoto’s Chapter 3. This mechanism took on a greater prominence under the early Stuarts despite the hopes of reform that greeted the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603.3 Even religious conformity was to be enforced through the same method: delegating royal power to enterprising servants of the Crown.

This chapter revisits Ben Jonson’s plays within this broader chronology of post-Reformation England. We will examine three plays – The alchemist, Bartholomew Fair and The devil is an ass – all written and performed under James between 1610 and 1616.4 They were all what have come to be known as ‘city comedies’, a genre which Jonson had done much to produce and refine. As such, they all staged a fallen world defined by commerce, greed and hypocrisy, a world in which a series of fools, buffoons, thieves, alchemists, puritans and projectors combine to swindle and outwit one another in search of money, status, food and sex.5

It is of course well known that Jonson’s city comedies satirised alchemists, puritans and projectors.6 We suggest we can gain fresh insights if we situate Jonson’s characters in the longer-term politics of stereotyping from the late sixteenth century onwards. Building on Chapters 2 and 3, the first section of this chapter thus provides a broader set of contexts for revisiting these comedies: we show that projects for economic and fiscal improvement drew so heavily on the language of reformation for the public good, and religious policies (and oppositions to them) had such visible economic implications, that the economic and religious realms displayed striking similarities. To develop this perspective, we consider writings of the puritan Thomas Scott, in which we find him siding with godly reformation against court corruptions and nefarious projects. Jonson’s comedies make sense precisely against these backdrops.

The remaining sections demonstrate that Jonson’s comedies featuring the alchemist, the puritan and the projector can be read as wonderfully perceptive commentaries on the precarious symbiosis between private ambitions and public purposes – a volatile union that exercised monarchs, parliament men, Privy Councillors and Catholic polemicists alike, and had affected the religious, political and economic life of the nation at least since the 1570s. Jonson’s comic energy was poured into showing how godly puritans (like Scott) could look like alchemists or projectors greedily pursuing money and status, and how the farcical get-rich-quick schemes of the projector resembled the fakery of puritan exorcisms. Laughing at these characters served to collapse any meaningful distinctions between puritans and projectors. In getting laughs in this way, Jonson was seeking not merely to turn an honest penny, but also to set himself apart from the corruption and popularity upon which his plays relied for much of their appeal. Thus contextualised, Jonson’s plays reveal the remarkable creativity with which his characters engaged with some of the most fundamental tensions in post-Reformation church and state.7 In so doing, his plays simultaneously offered comic relief from, and thereby diminished, the profound threat that both puritans and projectors posed to the status quo. His comedies thus promoted what Tim Harris in Chapter 1 of this volume has called anxiety displacement.

In the concluding section of this chapter, we assess broader repercussions of Jonson’s drama for the early Stuart period. Ever since L. C. Knights, scholars have sought to combine literary analysis with political, religious and economic history; Jonson’s plays have always played a prominent part in such studies.8 The direction of analysis has tended to move from the sociopolitical, economic or religious context towards explication of the dramatic text, and from the dramatic text thus explicated to the contemporary social reality. We want to enrich this body of literature by highlighting the transformative agency of the theatre. The point here is not that the theatre simply ‘invented’ such stereotypes – Chapters 2 and 3 have laid such assumptions to rest.9 Rather, we analyse how the popular stage fed off, refined and then recirculated a range of existing tropes and stereotypes and thus shaped social and political reality. We show just how literary interventions and their afterlives had a profound impact on the subsequent political and economic processes in the run-up to the Civil Wars. Those effects could be complex and even contradictory. The stereotype of the projector and the monopolist fed into dialectical processes, diffusing anxieties and legitimating the status quo, while also serving as flashpoints for anger, agitation and political escalation.

James I and projects for reforming religion, economy and finance

A departure point for our analysis is provided by the striking similarities between fiscal and religious policies, both of which were central to the post-Reformation English state. The figures we encounter below, such as Robert Cecil, Henry Spiller, William Cockayne, Arthur Ingram and Giles Mompesson, were variously involved in controversial religious and fiscal schemes, and Jonson was acquainted with some of these men. Reviewing the history of their exploits lays the groundwork for understanding Jonson’s plays and the stereotypes he developed. Doing so will also prepare us for the discussion of Thomas Scott’s puritan critique of projectors in the next section.

Let us start with the example of the farm of the Great Customs, a scheme initiated in 1604 by Lord Treasurer Robert Cecil to enhance or maximise royal revenue under James I. The Crown was devoid of a properly paid and structured bureaucracy, and of the financial means to acquire one, in order to collect the customs revenues that formed one of the most important sources of royal revenue. Accordingly, abuse and under-reporting were rife and the Crown, in desperate financial straits already, was forced to watch very large sums of potential revenue leech away. Cecil’s scheme involved leasing the right to collect the customs to a cartel of merchants who, having bid competitively for the privilege, would then proceed to collect the customs themselves. The promoter’s profit would be constituted by the difference between the amount they had paid the Crown and what they managed to collect. Being merchants, they would understand the technicalities of trade and accounting and be all too aware of the ways in which (other) merchants sought to avoid paying the full extent of what they owed.

The system would not work properly unless the bidding process for awarding the contract was rigorously conducted. This did not happen. Robert Cecil was in the midst of building Hatfield House, that ultimate prodigy house, which placed him under financial pressure. There were only limited numbers of merchants rich enough to undertake the task of collecting customs duties across different ports. As Lord Treasurer, Cecil accordingly proceeded to award the contract to some of his largest creditors. Later, the control of Cecil’s merchants was challenged (unsuccessfully) by the Earl of Northampton, who, hot in pursuit of royal service, wanted to replace Cecil’s merchants with some of his own.10 Here is a classic instance of the recruitment of private interest seemingly for the achievement of a public good.

We can find the same principles and problems unfolding within the enforcement of religious uniformity and the suppression of religious dissent, in this instance that of Catholics.11 Here the key issue was how best to administer the recusancy laws and, in particular, how best to collect the fines that flowed therefrom directly into the coffers of the Crown. This problem provoked debates within the state and among its actual or wannabe agents. On one hand, there were those claiming that compounding for recusancy fines was the better bet. This involved exchequer officials approaching leading recusants and negotiating in effect a fee or fixed charge, which if paid regularly into the exchequer, would guarantee that the payer would no longer be subjected to the recusancy statutes. In a situation where the Crown was not actively ‘persecuting’, that is to say, not aggressively pursuing, imprisoning and intermittently executing Catholic priests, rich recusant families could purchase what was in effect a form of de facto toleration, or at least the right to exercise their religion within the privacy of their own households or estates. This method of enforcement would maximise the Crown’s revenue, since a draconian application of the laws would merely drive many Catholics into at least outward conformity and thus prevent the Crown from collecting any fines from such people at all. This was in effect to delegate the regal power to suspend a statute to various agents of the Crown and, again, just as with the farm of the customs, the system depended on the negotiation of a just or proper price from each of the Catholics who were prepared to compound. Yet the chief advocate and agent for this method was Sir Henry Spiller, himself a crypto-Catholic. So there was a real danger of bribery undermining revenue collection.

Against this camp was another school of opinion demanding Catholics be squeezed to the full extent of the law. That way revenue would be maximised and the practice of Catholicism properly punished and disincentivised. Those who advocated this course often enjoyed special commissions under the Crown to seek out and mulct Catholics, powers which, as their critics within the administration and their Catholic victims both claimed, they roundly abused, running something like a protection racket and profiting personally from the sequestration of Catholic estates and the collection of fines. Here, then, was a classic instance of rival groups, each seeking to deploy and profit from the powers of the Crown, both claiming that their methods best served the interests of the commonweal (including here both the revenues of the Crown and the preservation of true religion). These competing groups also claimed that the practices of their rivals represented a form of corruption, that is to say the arbitrary use of public power for the corrupt pursuit of private profit.

Things began to spin out of control with the collapse of the Great Contract in 1610. This contract had been designed to grant an annual sum of £200,000 to the king in exchange for his feudal privileges and the power to impose new fiscal impositions. Despite Cecil’s effort to promote it, the Contract was rejected by both James and Parliament. Then came the fiasco of the Addled Parliament in 1614. Far from aiding the parlous state of the royal finances, this Parliament was dissolved after only three weeks in a paroxysm of complaint about impositions and corrupt (Scottish) courtiers. By this time, James’s court was also engulfed in a series of sex scandals. The most spectacular of these was the Essex divorce and the Overbury murder in 1613,12 which were followed by lesser scandals like that involving Sir Thomas Lake and his wife and the eventual fall of the Earl of Suffolk. The latter had its gendered, sexualised, aspects, since a central feature of the case against Suffolk was the involvement of his wife in some of the most outrageous instances of greed and graft.13 Amidst these court scandals mired with greed and sex was the swarm of projectors, promising to raise money by using the prerogative powers of the monarchy without having to rely on Parliament. There are myriad examples of such schemes littering the state papers, which still await their historian.14

Perhaps the best-known scheme of this period is the Cockayne project that took off in 1614, two years before the first performance of The devil is an ass. It was promoted by William Cockayne, a Lord Mayor of London, who persuaded James to give him the monopoly for England’s main export trade: that of woollen cloth. The English cloth hitherto exported had been unfinished. Cockayne’s plan was to dye and finish the cloth in England before it was shipped to the Continent and sold there at a higher price. This, he claimed, would employ the poor, stimulate the economy and greatly increase the Crown’s customs revenues. However, the Dutch refused to cooperate, and it emerged that local textile workers lacked the expertise to actually finish the cloth. The cloth trade soon collapsed, causing a depression in the cloth-working areas of East Anglia from which they took decades to recover. Control of the trade was rapidly returned to the Merchant Venturers. As for Cockayne, he died in 1626 in possession of multiple country houses; leaving a rent roll of some £12,000 a year to his son, he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, complete with a funeral sermon by John Donne.15

Not all ‘projectors’ operated at such distinguished social levels. Just below Cockayne, we might place Sir Arthur Ingram. Ingram bounced around between a money-lending business in London and his position as comptroller of the London Customs House. In 1615, he leased the Yorkshire alum business from the Crown and helped to manage the personal finances of the notoriously corrupt Earl of Suffolk. The 1630s found Ingram, an eager agent and ally of Thomas Wentworth who was the Lord President of the Council of the North, up to his neck in the composition for and collection of recusancy fines. By such means, and with the support of such powerful friends at court as Cecil, Northampton, Suffolk and later Wentworth, Ingram amassed a large, landed estate worth £6,000 a year and undertook an ambitious building programme at York and Temple Newsam.16

Ingram had an unsavoury enough reputation, but for a genuine bottom-feeder we must turn to Sir Giles Mompesson. One of Mompesson’s most notorious ventures was his patent for the licensing of inns. The consumption of alcohol carried with it more than predictable concerns about drunkenness and disorder. In times of dearth, official efforts to control the grain supply often banged up against the demands of the brewing trade. While campaigns against tippling and the drive to regulate alehouses might carry with them a whiff of a ‘puritan reformation of manners’, they were also an expression of the more widespread concern (certainly not peculiar to puritans) to maintain order and protect the commonweal. The regulation and licensing of alehouses and inns usually fell to local justices of the peace. But in 1617 Mompesson gained a patent to license inns. He was given free rein to charge more or less what he liked provided four-fifths of the proceeds went to the exchequer. Mompesson proceeded to run something of a protection racket, charging exorbitant fees, reopening inns suppressed for riotous behaviour for the appropriate fee and entrapping various innkeepers and others for minor infractions of the rules. One of his agents was later accused of having persuaded an alehouse keeper to let him stay the night at his establishment, only the next morning to fine him for keeping an inn, not an alehouse. Mompesson thus became the poster child for court-centred corruption and, having been investigated by the Parliament of 1624, was driven into exile. His stay abroad did not last long. He was back in England by the 1630s, when he was at the centre of riots in the Forest of Dean, protesting at the enclosure of the royal forests there. At some point in the 1630s he came up with a scheme under which the branch of every tree in the royal forests would have the royal coat of arms stamped on it, the better to be able to prosecute people for making off with the king’s timber. Mompesson, of course, was to have the patent for collecting the consequent fines.17

That might seem beyond parody, but projectors like Mompesson were on the rise after the collapse of the Addled Parliament in 1614. The collapse of the Parliament also led to heightened interest in an Anglo-Spanish match (a proposed marriage between James’s son Prince Charles and Maria Anna of Spain), since it brought the prospect of fresh funds in the form of the dowry.18 That interest was redoubled by the Bohemian crisis of 1618, when James’s response to the onset of religious war in Europe was to double down on negotiations with Spain. The court thus became tainted also with popery and crypto-popery, with the Spanish ambassador Gondomar taking on the mantle of sinister Catholic evil counsellor when he replaced the Earl of Northampton after the latter died in 1614.

The ‘puritan’ critique and the critique of puritanism

By the end of the 1610s, then, James’s court had been subject to a series of overlapping discourses of corruption centred on sex, greed and popery. Hence proceeded the nightmare vision conjured in Thomas Scott’s infamous tract Vox populi of 1620.19 This tract was a fictionalised account of a meeting of the Spanish council of state with Gondomar returning from England. Understanding Scott’s uncompromising depictions of the 1610s at this point enables us to make better sense of a complex and contradictory position taken by Jonson early on.

In Vox populi, Scott used an imagined Spanish perspective to depict an English court full of self-seeking courtiers, papists, crypto-papists and various sorts of projectors, all seeking to bend the royal will to their own ends. According to Scott, such men used personal influence, flattery and graft to work their evil way up the court, abusing the prerogative powers of the Crown to the detriment of true religion and the rights, liberties and property of the subject. Fearing Parliamentary scrutiny of their nefarious designs, these men sought to persuade James that he both could and should rule through his prerogative, raising money through various schemes and projects rather than meeting his people in a Parliament. In fact, with the exception of the brief Addled Parliament in 1614, there had been no Parliament since 1610. Andrew Thrush has quite aptly termed the decade 1611–20, ‘the personal rule of James I’.20 On Scott’s account, the absence of Parliament inevitably led to astronomical levels of corruption and popish and foreign influence, which blinded the king to the real nature of what was happening to his subjects and what was really at stake in the current conjuncture in Europe. For Scott, Parliament was an institution that had a permanent and necessary place in the working of monarchical government.21

The figure of the ‘projector’ played a prominent role in this argument. In 1620, Scott had preached an assize sermon at Norwich called The projector, teaching a direct sure and ready way to restore the decays of the church and state both in honour and revenue. There he conjured the figure of the projector, defined as those who ‘propound some admirable project, how to raise great sums of money filling the exchequer, and those mountains aloft without draining the country bogs’. If Scott were such a projector, he had no doubt that he would be ‘welcome to court and my message and person entertained with favour’. But Scott was precisely not that sort of projector; he was pushing an altogether different sort of project, one that would save both church and state. This was a war against sin to be waged by the minister and the magistrate using the established means and modes of doing justice, which were now reanimated by the political virtue and godly zeal of both governors and governed.22 Scott conjured a world in which ‘every man dares buy and sell, without fear of cozening, … dares plant and plough and sow and reap and grow honestly rich’. This would be a blessed state of affairs, which Scott contrasted with England’s current fallen condition.23

Whether or not Thomas Scott was a ‘classical republican’, he was indubitably a puritan.24 In his tracts he put a good deal of time and energy into constructing himself as a moderate, but if we judge him by what he did as well as by what he said, Scott might be thought to have been something of a radical: a conviction Presbyterian with a relatively uncompromising vision of what a properly reformed commonwealth would look like. Either way, however we categorise him, he was driven into exile in the Netherlands for writing Vox populi. There he kept up a stream of commentary in a series of printed tracts until 1624. He was assassinated in 1626 by a deranged soldier who, even under torture, refused to admit that he had been suborned by the Jesuits.

The traditional whig accounts of James’s reign followed the basic pattern laid down by Scott. These accounts describe James’s court as a corrupt form of prerogative rule, saddled with an absolutist ideology and a profusion of corrupt courtiers and favourites. Over against that court was set a puritan opposition of precisely the sort conjured by Scott: an opposition in favour of parliaments and against all sorts of monopolies, patents, projects and projectors, and organised around a bluff, hot, Protestant ideology, favourable to the puritan godly and viscerally hostile to ‘popery’ in all its forms. On this view there was a simple, binary opposition between the figures of ‘the projector’ and the ‘puritan’. The former epitomised court corruption and prerogative rule, the pursuit of private interests over public good and the ‘privacy’ of the court over the public service of the commonwealth, which could only be achieved by the virtuous action of ‘public men’, both in the conduct of local government and in Parliament. The ensuing patriot ideal, while often animated by a classical language of political virtue, was also equated with puritan godliness, with the commonweal being conflated with a vigorously Protestant, indeed, puritan, vision of true religion. Integral to that vision was an open-ended process of moral and spiritual reformation, with popery characterised as the master sin from which church and state must be protected, both at home and abroad.25

The impression of clarity disappears as soon as we take a closer look at how opposing labels like ‘puritan’ and ‘projector’ were actually put to use. As Johann Somerville has pointed out, if the language of political virtue and the commonweal was a mark of ‘civic republicanism’ and indeed of ‘opposition’ to the early Stuart regime, then James I himself must count as a ‘republican’ and a leading ‘oppositionist’, since James had serial recourse to precisely that language in legitimating his own rule. So too did a variety of projectors, whose whole pitch was based on the ways in which their projects would materially, and sometimes morally, benefit the commonweal. Those claims were open to contest of course, but it was rarely obvious which side was in the ‘right’. The notorious Westminster soap monopoly active during the 1630s was justified as a means to achieve ‘the reformation of abuses in making soap’.26 The great trading companies – the Merchant Venturers and the East India Company amongst others – were all, in some sense, projects. They were monopolies reliant on the delegated prerogative powers of the Crown to manage trade, create profit and (purportedly) benefit both Crown and commonweal. Indeed, as Rupali Mishra and others have observed, the origins of English imperial political economy arguably lie in debates about the benefits and harms caused by such trading monopolies.27

Much the same sort of ambiguity surrounds the figure of the puritan. Always the heroes of their own story, in their own eyes the puritans were champions of true religion and therefore of the commonwealth, against popery, irreligion, ignorance, atheism and corruption, in both high and low places. It was enemies of the puritans in the state and particularly in the church who were pursuing their own private interests. In turn, bishops and their conformist hangers-on convinced the monarch that there was a puritan threat to order and monarchical authority and then told him (or her) that they were the best defence against the said threat. Seen from the puritan perspective, this was how bishops and their associates defended ill-gotten offices, wealth and power. These Anglican bishops were also hypocrites, telling the puritans that they too promoted further reformation although their hands were tied by the magistrate, a gesture displayed while (puritans alleged) they worked with the authorities to take down the godly.

But from at least the 1570s, and with increasing pace and intensity from the 1590s, there emerged an anti-puritan counter-discourse which reversed these claims, tainting the puritans with popularity and accusing them of pursuing their private interests against legitimate authority, canons and public determinations of the church.28 In this view, puritans referred all to Scripture and then reduced the authority of Scripture to their own private opinion of what Scripture meant. They similarly used an appeal to the integrity of their consciences and the offence of their followers to legitimate all sorts of disobedience to the authority of both prince and bishop. By preaching divisive versions of the central doctrine of predestination, such puritans in effect divided the Christian community between the godly and the profane, and tended to equate the community of the godly (i.e. themselves) with the true church. Authority used to check their excesses became in their eyes a form of tyranny, indeed even of popish tyranny, wielded by the bishops, who, on some (Presbyterian and separatist) views of the matter, were themselves holders of an inherently Antichristian office. This rendered puritanism a form of rebellion waiting to happen. On this hyper-conformist view of the matter, it was the puritans (rather than those supporting the establishment) who were guilty of the true status- and wealth-grab as, through institutions and practices like the stipendiary lecture and the conventicle, they continually flattered and appealed to their lay supporters, thereby mobilising their support against the rightful rulers of church and state.

On this view, again, hypocrisy served as the defining characteristic of the puritans. The pursuit of the most overt and basic of private interests and drives – those centred on money, food, sex and wealth – were hidden or legitimated by the puritans’ entirely false claims to an extreme piety and superhuman levels of godliness.29 By the 1590s, these characteristics had coalesced into a stereotype which was established through a number of media – popular libels, cheap print, conformist propaganda and theatrical performance. As one person’s corrupt project was another’s improvement scheme, so one man’s godly professor was someone else’s Pharisaical hypocrite and sectary.

Ben Jonson on alchemists and puritans

Ben Jonson lived in the midst of the intensely contested and liminal cultural, political and social space defined by the figures of the projector and the puritan. As the leading author and dramaturge of the court masque under James I, Jonson was connected to, and heavily identified with, the court. Indeed, Jonson had what turned out to be the very considerable misfortune to have written a masque celebrating the ill-fated marriage in 1606 of Robert Devereux and Frances Howard. (Frances later played her part in the death of Thomas Overbury in 1613, which led to an intense court scandal and trial between 1615 and 1616.) Jonson also provided verses for an entertainment for Alderman Cockayne, whose project for exporting finished cloth was falling apart as Jonson was writing The devil is an ass (first staged in 1616). In that year, Cockayne dedicated a (now lost) play to James I, in which cloth dressers and others ‘spake such language as Ben Jonson put in their mouths’.30 On his way to Scotland in 1618, Jonson would be welcomed by the projector Sir Arthur Ingram in York and ride in a coach with him to meet the Archbishop of York.31

As John Creaser has pointed out, however, Jonson was much more than a creature of the court patronage. His friendship network included such outspoken critics of royal policy as Sir Edwin Sandys and John Hoskins.32 Jonson was also up to his neck in the thoroughly commercial and popular world of the London stage and more than aware of the close connections between the commercial theatre and the hucksterish world of commerce, as well as the desperate search for an audience or a market to be achieved by pandering to popular taste and the follies of the people. These were precisely the characteristics of which the critics of the theatre (both puritan and non-puritan) accused the stage, and of which many anti-puritans, like Jonson himself, accused the puritans.

Implicated in both the court and the popular stage, Jonson as a poet also aspired to stay above them. As a number of critics have observed, this was neither a comfortable, nor even an entirely coherent, position. In this section and the next, we will show how Jonson used the figures of the alchemist, the puritan and the projector to negotiate this position in an attempt to establish an independent, corruption-free vantage point, above the polarities of contemporary debate and beyond the competing cries for popular attention and court patronage – a vantage point from which he could deliver his purging drafts of comic truth and commentary to both popular and elite audiences.

Much of the comic and dramatic energy humming through Jonson’s city comedies is derived from the way in which Jonson guys, mimics and parodies various styles of iterative, even incantatory, speech, in the process rendering the key terms and turns of speech of his target groups both meaningless and, by the end, self-evidently absurd. Alchemy was the ultimate example of this sort of exalted secret language – a closed linguistic system or argot whose meaning was known only to adepts, but which could be used to mystify, impress and therefore gull susceptible, credulous or greedy outsiders.

Alchemists were also in many ways the first projectors. Certainly, the origins of the term had a distinct alchemical flavour: ‘the project was a promise of alchemy like transformation, turning untapped resources (such as human ingenuity, dormant legislation or idle labour) into wealth, a process fuelled by another transmutation of private desires into public benefits’.33 As the seminal researches of Glyn Parry have shown, the alchemist and magus John Dee had a remarkably sustained and not unsuccessful career as a sort of expert or projector under Elizabeth.34 In the early Stuart period Cornelis Drebbel, the alchemist who invented both a perpetual motion machine and, as he claimed, the first submarine, represented almost an ideal type of the projector, full of schemes, constantly promoting his own reputation, looking for patrons both royal and merely rich.35

Jonson spends large swathes of The alchemist lovingly reconstructing and parodying the argot of the alchemist whom, in the characters of Face and Subtle, he presents as the ultimate con man. Here is Subtle instructing the hapless Abel Drugger on how best to lay out his shop to maximise his business:

Make me your door, then, south; your broad side west;

And on the east side of your shop, aloft,

Write Mathlai, Tarmiel and Barborat;

Upon the north part Rael, Velel, Thiel.

They are the names of the mercurial spirits

That do fright flies from boxes. (1:3, 63–8)

Here he is again, instructing Face on the next stage of their projection:

Infuse vinegar

To draw his volatile substance and his tincture,

And let the water in glass E be filtered

And put into the gripe’s egg. Lute him well

And leave him closed in balneo.

All of which elicits from the watching Surly the slighting comment ‘what a brave language here is! Next to canting!’ (2:3, 37–42). It is, Surly observes later in the same scene, ‘a pretty kind of game/Somewhat like the tricks o’the cards, to cheat a man/With charming’. He continues:

What else are all your terms,

Whereon no one ’o your writers ’grees with other?

Of your elixir, your lac virginis,

Your stone, your med’cine, and your chrysosperm,

… Your sun, your moon, your firmament, your adrop[.] (2:3, 180–90)

The mimicry of modes of speech plays just as central a role in Jonson’s unmasking of the godly as an essentially hypocritical crew of chancers and con men (and women). Here, in the same play, is Ananias the deacon denouncing the would-be gallant Kastril: ‘they are profane, lewd superstitious idolatrous breeches ... avoid Satan! Thou are not of the light. That ruff of pride about thy neck betrays thee ... Thou look’st like Antichrist in that lewd hat’ (4:7, 48–55). Here, in Bartholomew Fair, is Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in a more reflective, casuistical mode. The pregnant Win-the-fight has a longing to eat pig, and Dame Purecraft has turned to Busy to resolve this particular ‘case of conscience’ in such a way as to gratify that urge. At first, he demurs.

The disease of longing, it is a disease, a carnal disease, or appetite, incident to women; and as it is carnal, and incident, it is natural, very natural. Now pig, it is a meat, and a meat that is nourishing, and may be longed for, and so consequently eaten; it may be eaten; and very exceedingly well eaten. But in the Fair, and as a Barthol’mew-pig, it cannot be eaten, for the very calling of it a Barthol’mew-pig, and to eat it so, is a spice of idolatry, and you make the Fair no better than one of the high places. (1:6, 39–45)

Pressed by Dame Purecraft to think again, Busy then reverses himself.

Surely, it may be otherwise, but it is subject to construction – subject – and hath a face of offence with the weak, a great face, a foul face, but that face may have a veil put over it, and be shadowed, as it were; it may be eaten, and in the Fair, I take it, in a booth, the tents of the wicked. The place is not much, not very much. We may be religious in the face of the profane, so it be eaten with a reformed mouth, with sobriety and humbleness, not gorged with gluttony and greediness – there’s the fear, for should she go there taking pride in the place, or delight in the unclean dressing, to feed the vanity of the eye or the lust of the palate, it were not well, it were not fit, it were abominable, and not good. (1:6, 55–64)

Then to avoid the sin of idolatry, which he clearly takes to be a sin of the eye, rather than of the heart, Busy proceeds to lead his flock through the fair towards the pig using only ‘the famelic sense’, in other words following their noses, looking neither to the right nor to the left. Peter Lake has argued elsewhere that this was not a dissection of puritan hypocrisy in general, but in fact followed very closely the casuistical logic of the puritan case in favour of conformity to ceremonies which they took to be offensive and even, under the wrong circumstances, unlawfully idolatrous. What we have here, therefore, is not merely a knock-about depiction of puritan hypocrisy, but a far more close-grained critique of attitudes and practices central to the puritan project.36

But this was not the only mode of puritan discourse that Jonson guyed in and ridiculed through the figure of Busy. In a more vituperative mood, Busy denounces the gingerbread stall as ‘an idolatrous grove’, maintaining that he will not be silenced by the complaints of the stall owner that he is disrupting trade (3:6, 77). Busy insists that his denunciations were no less than ‘a sanctified noise. I will make a most loud and most strong noise, till I have daunted the profane enemy’ (3:6, 83–4). Confronting the puppet Dionysius in a debate about the lawfulness of the stage, Busy proclaims ‘[t]hou art the seat of the beast, O Smithfield, and I will leave thee. Idolatry peepeth out of every side of thee’ (3:6, 35–36). ‘The place is Smithfield, or the field of smiths, the grove of hobby-horses and trinkets. The wares are the wares of devils. And the whole fair is the shop of Satan’ (3:2, 32–4).

This is as close as we are likely to get to what a certain style of puritan spiritual ejaculation, a mode of extempore prayer and preaching, actually sounded like.37 But be that as it may, this certainly is Jonson’s rendition of puritan-speak, the mode of speech and self-presentation that marked the godly off from their contemporaries, and through which puritans, both clerical and lay, sought to ensnare their victims or, as they put it, to ‘edify’ both their flocks and one another. In putting the language of puritan preachers into the mouth of the plebeian blowhard and fraud Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, a baker from Banbury – a notoriously puritan town, whose preacher, William Whately (aka the ‘roaring boy of Banbury’) was known for his stentorian, denunciatory mode in the pulpit – Jonson was assimilating the mainstream puritanism of such famous town preachers and puritan bosses as Whately in Banbury, John White in Dorchester or Samuel Ward in Ipswich, with a strand of decidedly unrespectable, indeed plebeian, lay activism and hucksterism.38

While we have unpacked the telltale terminology and timbre of puritan discourse, the excellent editorial notes provided by Peter Holland and Bill Sherman for The alchemist assure us that Jonson was just as scrupulous in mimicking the alchemist’s distinctive patter.39 In one scene in The alchemist, as though to establish the equivalences between the two modes of speech and their (intended) obfuscatory, indeed delusory, effects on the unwary, Jonson brings the languages of alchemy and of puritanism together in an exchange between Subtle and Ananias the deacon. Having told Face to ‘take away the recipient,/And rectify your menstrue from the phlegma/Then pour it o’er the Sol in the cucurbit,/And let ’em macerate together’, Subtle turns to Ananias and asks, ‘who are you?’ When the reply comes, ‘a faithful brother’, Subtle asks ‘What’s that/A lullianist? A Ripley? Filius artis?/Can you sublime and calcify? Calcine?/ … Or what is homogene or heterogene?’ Ananias responds that this is all Greek to him, and that since Greek was a heathen language (‘all’s heathen but the Hebrew’) he wants nothing to do with it (2:5, 1–17). Subtle responds in kind, later delivering a blistering tirade to both Ananias and the pastor, Tribulation Wholesome, in which he details all of the signature hypocrisies and corruptions of the puritans: ‘your holy vizard to win widows/To give you legacies, or make zealous wives/To rob their husbands for the common cause’. He turns next to the exquisite hypocrisy of puritan casuistry – the ‘scrupulous bones’ ‘cast before your hungry [because fasting] hearers’, ‘as whether a Christian may hawk or hunt … Or have the idol starch about their linen’. Thence he proceeds to the puritans’ seditious ways with their governors in church and state; their propensity

to libel ’gainst the prelate

And shorten so your ears against the hearing

Of the next wire-drawn grace. Nor, of necessity,

Rail against the plays to please the alderman

Whose daily custard you devour. Nor lie

With zealous rage, until you are hoarse. (3:2, 69–91)

Despite Surly’s diatribes and their own scruples, not to mention Subtle’s anti-puritan rant, the brethren persist in seeking the alchemist’s services because their drive to turn base metal into gold and establish ‘the discipline’ outweighs all other considerations. This is an hypocrisy that Jonson stages both through Tribulation’s persistent efforts to get the over-zealous Ananias to just shut up, and Ananias’s elaborate casuistical effort to prove that, under the right circumstances, coining was perfectly legal.

Jonson on the projector (and the puritan)

Now, there are no puritans in The devil is an ass, and while a form of magic is used at the outset to establish both the cupidity and gullibility of the central protagonist Fitzdottrel, who enters seeking the service of a magician to conjure the devil in order to discover hidden treasure, the main source of performative linguistic fraudulence in this play is neither an alchemist nor a devil, but rather the projector Merecraft. The play’s central scam involves a plan for fen drainage, or as Merecraft calls it, ‘the thing ...for the recovery of drowned land,/Whereof the Crown’s to have his moiety/If it be owner; else the Crown and owners/To share the moiety, and the recoverers/T’enjoy the tother moiety for their charge’. The scheme was to run, Merecraft claims, ‘throughout England’ and would realise ‘eighteen millions’ (2:1, 45–51); more than enough, he explains, to buy Fitzdottrel a dukedom. After a brief discussion as to which title would be most appropriate, they settle, appropriately enough, upon the Duke of Drowned-lands (2:4, 15–23).40

Merecraft abounds with projects. He enters the action pulling one and then another out of a bag he carries with him, like so many rabbits out of a hat. It later appears he is engaged with Lady Tailbush

on a project for the fact and venting

Of a new kind of fucus – paint, for ladies –

To serve the kingdom, wherein she herself

Hath travailed specially, by way of service

Unto her sex, and hopes to get the monopoly

As the reward for her invention. (3:4, 49–54)

The fraudulence and absurdity of the project is underscored when Tailbush herself is completely taken in as Wittipol, posing in drag as ‘the Spanish lady’, sells her a ludicrous description of her own cosmetic concoction, ‘th’avagada/And argentata of Queen Isabella’, made up, he assures her, in a litany of absurdity and obscurity worthy of The alchemist, of

your alum scagliola, or Pol di pedra,

And zuccerino; turpentine of Abezo,

Washed in nine waters make

The admirable varnish for the face,

Gives the right lustre; but two drops rubbed on

With a piece of scarlet makes a lady of sixty

Look at sixteen. (4:4, 27–39).

It is worth remarking here that the intense ridicule of the vogue for things Spanish and the fetishisation of Spanish-sounding terms and commodities that the figure of the Spanish lady allows, is almost certainly referencing and ridiculing trends set off around the court by the prospect of a Spanish match, a topic which was back on the political agenda in 1616 and, of course, was to remain there until the early 1620s. Once again – except for the anti-puritanism – we find Jonson addressing, in comic terms and modes, much of the polemical terrain occupied, only a few years later, in all earnestness, but also with more than a touch of satiric, fictionalised sprezzatura, by Thomas Scott.

Merecraft also has a scheme to establish what he calls an ‘office of dependency’. This is ‘a place/Of my projection too, sir, and hath met/Much opposition; but the state, now, sees/That great necessity of it, as after all/Their writing and speaking against duels,/They have erected it’. This was a court to which recourse was to be had to settle quarrels amongst gentlemen, without recourse to duelling. ‘They shall refer now hither for their process;/And such as trespass ’gainst the rule of court/Are to be fined’ (3:3, 62–74). But perhaps the two most perfectly formed of the projects contained in the play concern a toothpick monopoly and a project for ‘the laudable use of forks’. As Merecraft explains to Lady Tailbush, he meant to offer the former to ‘your ladyship on the perfecting of the patent’. It was a scheme

for serving the whole state with toothpicks.

Somewhat an intricate business to discourse, but

I show how much the subject is abused,

First, in that one commodity. Then what disease

And putrefactions in the gums are bred

By those are made of adult’rate and false wood!

My plot for reformation of these follows:

To have all toothpicks brought unto an office

There sealed, and such as counterfeit ’em, mulcted.

And last, for venting ’em, to have a book

Printed to teach their use, which every child

Shall have throughout the kingdom that can read

And learn to pick his teeth by. (4:2, 38–51)

As for the latter, it was a project for ‘the laudable use of forks,/Brought into custom here, as they are in Italy’. The aim here was ‘th’ sparing o’napkins’, ‘for ’twill be/A mighty saver of linen through the kingdom’ and thus a means ‘to spare washing’, as well as a stimulus to industry in the manufacturing of forks. ‘That should have made your bellows go at the forge, as his at the furnace’, he tells Gilthead, who was to have had ‘the making of all those/Of gold and silver for the better personages’, while his mate Sledge was to have made ‘those of steel for the common sort’. Merecraft brags that he has already ‘dealt with the linen-drapers on my private,/By cause I feared they were the likeliest ever/To stir against, to cross it’, and has already ‘procured the signet for it’ (5:4, 18–31).

We have here the typical language of the projector that had troubled England at least since the 1570s: the claims to pursue reformation in the market sphere for the common good and the interests of the subject, while raking in money both for the projectors themselves and for the Crown. Here, too, are the difficulties inherent in persuading the relevant authorities to give their assent and the need to buy off or suppress the various interest groups likely to be hurt by the scheme. And here, too, is the full gamut of types of project: for economic improvement – fen drainage; for the fostering of new products – the fucus and the fork patents; for the regulation of trade – the toothpick patent; and finally, for social regulation – the office of dependences. What we are seeing here, we argue, is more than topical commentary. As Yamamoto’s Chapter 3 has shown, the Crown’s chronic dependence on patents and the similar delegation of prerogative power provided inspirations for Elizabethan history plays to chronicle profound suffering and even a civil war. By staging Merecraft and Tailbush among others, by contrast Jonson transformed the same set of issues, through judicious exaggeration and accentuation, into satire, as the established figure of the puritan was joined on stage by the emergent one of the projector.

While The devil is an ass does not feature a puritan, there is an exorcism, a practice indelibly associated with the puritan godly. That spoof possession by the devil picks up the founding conceit of the play, which involves a junior devil Pug, who is determined to go to London to wreak havoc. Satan tells him he has no chance, such are the sophisticated levels of iniquity achieved by the current denizens of the city. Pug insists, is allowed his opportunity and thereupon is humiliated at the hands of the Londoners. The conceit reaches its apogee when Pug proffers his help to Merecraft and Fitzdottrel as they attempt to stage their fake possession and exorcism. This is intended to get them off the hook of the failed scam that has left them at the mercy of their intended victims. The claim is that Fitzdottrel has been given potions to enamour him of the Spanish lady, who, it turns out, is neither Spanish nor a lady, but his enemy Wittipol in disguise.

Now, as a real devil, Pug ought to know how to stage a possession, and accordingly he offers to

so advance

The business that you have in hand of witchcraft

And your possession, as myself were in you;

Teach you such tricks, to make your belly swell

And your eyes turn, to foam, to stare, to gnash

Your teeth together, and to beat yourself,

Laugh loud, and feign six voices[.] (5:5, 22–28)

However, his performance in the role of ‘devil’ has been so pathetic that the conspirators refuse his offer and hand him over to the constable to be hanged at Newgate, from which ignominious fate he is only rescued by the intervention of Satan himself (5:6).

Merecraft and Fitzdottrel then proceed to stage the possession in terms taken, not from the devil, but rather directly from the puritans. Or, to be more exact, from the practice of the notorious puritan exorcist John Darrell, whose activities in the 1590s had attracted the hostile attentions of Bishop Richard Bancroft, his attack dog Samuel Harsnett and the High Commission. Darrell had been imprisoned and removed from the ministry, and exorcism puritan-style had been, if not altogether suppressed, then certainly driven underground. Harsnett’s case against Darrell was that his exorcisms were simple frauds, and Harsnett wrote an elaborate account of them as precisely that, a species of illusion, or legerdemain.41 The issue was current in 1616 because of a recent case in Leicestershire when, on the accusation of one John Smith, a boy of 13, some nine women had been executed as witches, only for James I, visiting Leicestershire the following month, to unmask the boy as a fraud and thus save six more women from the hangman.42 Thus Merecraft assured Fitzdottrel that ‘’tis no hard thing t’outdo the devil in;/A boy o’thirteen years old made him an ass/But t’other day’ (5:5, 49–51).

Exorcism was, then, a practice of markedly and widely known puritan provenance, a point the play drives home in a passage directed by Merecraft to Fitzdottrel, as he instructs him how best to carry off the effects of possession.

It is the easiest thing, sir, to be done.

As plain as fizzling; roll but wi’ your eyes,

And foam at th’mouth. A little castle-soap

Will do’t, to rub your lips; and then a nutshell,

With tow and touchwood in it to spit fire.

Did you n’er read, sir, little Darrel’s tricks,

With the boy o’Burton, and the seven of Lancashire,

Sommers at Nottingham? All these do teach it.

And we’ll give out, sir, that your wife has bewitched you. (5:3, 1–9)

It is worth noting here, that in this passage Jonson cuts out the middleman, not using Harsnett’s unmasking of puritan fraud so much as the puritans’ accounts of their own practice, in the case of Darrell’s dealings with Thomas Darling, William Somers and the seven possessed children in the Starkey household in Lancashire. Clearly, for Jonson, what the puritans proffered as first-hand accounts of real possessions and exorcisms could serve as an instruction manual in how to reproduce what had always been simple sleights of hand. In order to work these effects, there was no need to consult or enlist the devil, at least not when the puritans were at hand.

There ensues a scene in which, at the prompting of Merecraft and his accomplice Everill – ‘you do not tumble enough’, ‘[w]allow, gnash!’, ‘give him more soap to foam with’, ‘act a little’, ‘speak, sir, some Greek if you can’, ‘your Spanish that I taught you’ – Fitzdottrel acts out many of what were the commonly recognised, as it were Darrell-based, characteristics of the possessed person (5:8, 67, 67–9, 111, 115). He writhes, rants, foams at the mouth, his belly appears to swell. He claims that his wife, who has just entered the room, is tormenting him with pins and needles, and indulges in demonic-sounding gibberish – ‘Yes, wis, knight, shite, Paul, jowl, owl, foul, troll, bowl’ – in languages (Greek, Spanish and French) – that he is not supposed to understand (5:8, 109). This farrago of nonsense is brought to a close by the news, delivered by Shackles the keeper of Newgate to the otherwise entirely credulous justice Eitherside, that the real devil, i.e. Pug, has just been transported back to hell, leaving behind him only a foul smell and the body of the cutpurse, executed that very morning, which he has spent the day inhabiting. At that, Fitzdottrel comes clean and the play comes to a (very) rapid close.

The play thus ends with a series of discoveries – of the multiple projects and frauds of Merecraft, of the extreme folly and corruption of Fitzdottrel, and of a sham exorcism designed to cover all of that in the form of a classically puritan scam. Here is puritanism reduced from a free-standing form of hypocritical humbug, of both self- and other-directed deception and as such a real threat to order in church and state, to the status of an empty form, a mere script, to be appropriated by the real villains of the piece, in this case the projector (Merecraft) and his allies and (willing) victims (Fitzdottrel and Everill).

Theatre, pulpit and popularity

For the historian one of the great delights of Jonson’s plays is the effort he puts into locating the action of his plays, and indeed his own metatheatrical interactions with the audiences of those plays, into a series of dense social, topographical, cultural and (albeit at one remove) political contexts. It is almost as if the first part of the work of contextualisation has been done for us. All we have to do is to recuperate and reanimate the contexts within which, and the perspectives from which, Jonson wanted his audiences to view his plays.

In the plays discussed above, Jonson was using actual or emergent stereotypes – here mainly the puritan, the projector and the alchemist/magician – to construct for himself a space of independent judgement; a space from which he could issue a stream of Olympian, but also broadly comic, commentary on the follies and corruptions to be found in the court, in the theatre and in the city – all arenas in which he was, in fact, a very active participant. If we take the polarities set up by the works of Thomas Scott, or indeed by the subsequent ‘whig’ accounts of the period that so closely mirrored Scott’s works, then it becomes obvious that Jonson was seeking to rise above the emergent political tensions of the period by equating the puritan and the projector as risible threats to the status quo. No doubt the late Kevin Sharpe would have used Jonson’s propensities in this regard to reject any interpretations of the period that rest upon the polarities and tensions being staged and, as he hoped, transcended by Jonson.43 However, the very considerable efforts that Jonson put into refusing those polarities are anything but evidence that they did not exist. Rather, the extent of those efforts shows the strength of the polarising forces, the sometimes almost binary choices that Jonson was here trying to refuse. In doing so, he was decisively not seeking some sort of via media, some version of moderation as the golden mean. On the contrary, he was seeking to achieve an independence that was not defined by his position between various extremes but rather above the various vacuous and delusory pitches, the corrupt and ludicrous humours and impulses that, at least for Jonson, were coming to constitute the contemporary political, social, moral and religious scenes in the country, the city and the court. The sheer acuity of his moral judgement enabled him to see through all this and the force of his wit enabled him to unmask it.

Now, we do not have to assume that Thomas Scott gave his 1620 assize sermon the ironic title of ‘the projector’ because he had seen plays by Jonson, or indeed by anyone else. Scott was responding to the identifiable social and political phenomenon in the contemporary world with identifiable roots in the structures and limitations of the late Elizabethan and early Stuart states and the needs and opportunities provided by the English economy of the day. That is to say, there were people commonly called ‘puritan’, or some variant or synonym of the word, who defined themselves as the godly, or some cognate term, against the ungodly, one of whose defining characteristics was their propensity to call the soi-disant godly ‘puritans’, or some such pejorative name. Similarly, there were people pushing various projects of precisely the sort, and in precisely the terms, being guyed by Jonson. In short, we can no longer suggest the stereotypes were made up or simply ‘invented’ by the theatre.

But that, however, is not to deny that the commercial theatre had an increasingly important role to play in developing, disseminating and deepening the social reach and relevance of such stereotypes. In part, this was because many playwrights, Jonson par excellence, were remarkably sharp-eyed observers of the contemporary scene, dividing up the world into ins and outs, good and bad, heroes and villains, legitimating certain positions and claims while delegitimating others.

The underlying commercial drive for popularity is worth emphasising. Jonson’s plays were particularly funny and controversial, and thus likely to attract popular audiences, precisely because those audiences could recognise central elements drawn from their immediate social experience and environment dynamically interacting in front of them. Playing with, and in the process developing and disseminating, a variety of stereotypes and a set of expectations around them, enabled Jonson to engage and retain the interest of the audience, and hence to make money from the plays, both as performances, and (sometimes) later as printed texts.

This point is perhaps best clarified by comparing the plays again with the pamphlets of Thomas Scott. As a pamphleteer, Scott mobilised and played with a number of contemporary stereotypes, including anti-popery. He played also with the anti-puritan stereotype by establishing the character of the puritan itself as a boo-word used by sinister elements to place moderate Protestants like him beyond the pale. Scott’s works were also replete with the figures of the evil counsellor, the corrupt courtier, the duplicitous foreigner. None of these were strangers to the popular stage, but in his pamphlets, unlike the vast majority of the plays, they were deployed to make very particular political and ideological points. Since his pamphleteering activities drove him into exile, and even there put him at very considerable personal and political risk, it seems safe to conclude that Scott’s motivations were political rather than commercial. But, given the highly contested views of contemporaries on the subject of ‘popularity’, his political motives only rendered his efforts to reach as wide an audience as possible differently illegitimate and, if anything, even more threatening.44

Precisely because Scott’s political project turned on the popular appeal of his pamphlets, Scott can be found using some of the same literary devices and highly theatrical forms to achieve his aims. Hence the mixed generic forms that his pamphlets took. His first, most notorious exercise in the pamphleteer’s art, Vox populi, was written complete with dialogue and stage directions. Just how readily this could be turned into drama is shown by Thomas Middleton’s A game at chess, which draws heavily on Scott’s tract. (This was a rare example of a clear political programme being promoted explicitly by a play.)45 Later works by Scott and others writing in the same mode involved the recall of Raleigh’s or of the Earl of Essex’s ghosts, a debate held in heaven between the Tudors about the wisdom of current Stuart foreign policy and a variety of dialogues. Scott’s News from Parnassus imagines a series of tableaux in which various princes from the present and recent past – the Spanish monarch Philip II, the Duke of Guises, the Duke of Alva among them – arrive at Parnassus and are there unmasked and punished before Apollo for their many crimes and deceits. Many of these texts came accompanied with vividly realised woodcuts and engravings. Although they shared many central characteristics with those genres, Scott’s tracts were thus anything but bog-standard exercises in theological polemic or moral exhortation. Rather, they were highly wrought literary texts, designed to get and keep the attention of a mixed audience.46

For Jonson, the cash nexus and the need to get and keep a popular audience were a source of continual embarrassment which his plays address at a number of levels: satirising, indeed ridiculing, the critical capacities of the audience; asserting the independence of the author from the opinions of the vulgar, even as he asks for their favour; denying the very considerable contemporary resonance and reference of the plays while, in virtually the same breath, inviting his audience to make precisely such connections.47 This was how Jonson put himself in direct competition with the puritan pulpit, which also claimed to be purging the contemporary social and political orders from sin and abuse. On the face of it, as ordained and beneficed ministers of the national church, puritan preachers had a far stronger claim to moral independence and spiritual authority than the thoroughly venal and commercialised denizens of the public theatre. In thus unmasking the godly as the hypocrites and con men that he claimed them to be, Jonson was attempting to outdo in the competition – explicitly so in the debate about the propriety of theatrical performance between the puppet Dionysius and the absurd figure of Busy, but implicitly throughout all his portrayals of the godly. And here Subtle’s jibe in The alchemist (quoted above) about the puritans railing ‘against the plays to please the alderman/Whose daily custard you devour’ takes on renewed significance and satiric edge. On this view, therefore, the theatre was just one more populist ‘project’. In its assault on puritanism, just as in the godly’s assault on the theatre, each side was seeking to do down its most immediate rival for moral authority and ‘popular’ attention. Here is another indication that religious, political, economic and literary impulses were closely interwoven in ways that call for further investigation.48

Conclusion: Jonson and the early Stuart politics of stereotyping

To return, finally, to the topic of stereotypes and stereotyping, in the plays we have been discussing we find a certain sort of reportage, of parody, satire and ridicule, based on very close observation of immediately contemporary ways of being and speaking. This parodic or satirical reportage morphs into character-based stereotypes – that is to say, into memorable personae with relatively stable congeries of characteristics, of modes of speech and performance, which would be instantly recognisable to any contemporary observer or participant in the contemporary political or social scenes, based in either the court or the city. What we are watching, we submit, is the generation and circulation of stereotypes taking place, as it were, before our very eyes.

We can now begin to bring together discussions in this chapter and Chapter 3, and examine the broader politics of stereotyping during the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. In both periods, we find what were identifiably the same phenomena being evoked, characterised and described through dramatic texts. The prerogative powers of the Crown were being delegated for ostensibly beneficent public purposes, only to be systematically abused for the pursuit of private ends. Those involved were not always private individuals, but sometimes were officers or instruments of the Crown, indeed in many cases ‘magistrates’ of one form or another. In the extreme scenario portrayed in the anonymous play Thomas of Woodstock (written during the 1590s), the main protagonists were the evil councillors led by King Richard II himself. As shown in Chapter 3, these Elizabethan history plays explored ensuing chaos without drawing on the projector stereotype; that stereotype had not yet coalesced when these plays were written. By contrast, in the texts examined here the analysis proceeded through just such a stereotype.

What functions did the emergent stereotype of the projector fulfil? What difference did the fully formed figure of the projector make? Asking these questions, we can finally bring together the findings presented thus far to make sense of a dialectical process of stereotyping at large, a process in which name-calling lent itself to the preservation of status quo, as well as to the escalation of criticism and stereotyping.

In the Commons’ debates about monopolies in 1601, we already find an ardent search for evildoers, efforts for which the projector stereotype would soon provide a sharper focus. Monopolists and patentees had been causing grievances under Elizabeth (as discussed in Yamamoto’s Chapter 3), but Elizabeth was known to be notoriously jealous of her prerogative, by which grants were issued to them. If alarmed and alienated by Parliamentary proceedings, the queen was likely to respond by vetoing proposed legislation, leaving the subject without redress and the parliament men engaged in a confrontation with a now enraged queen.

This was why the parliament men reserved their barbs mostly for the intermediaries, the middlemen, the holders of the patents and their agents, and the deleterious effects of these people’s abusive activities on the localities and interests that the Commons took themselves to be representing. Queen Elizabeth’s response, which culminated in her ‘Golden Speech’, was first to express shock and horror at these abuses (which, she claimed, had only just now come to her attention) and then to remove the offending patents and monopolies. In so doing, she was asserting rather than restricting, still less abandoning, her prerogative powers. This allowed the whole exchange to be glossed as an example of the queen’s benign use of royal powers, the legitimacy of which everyone accepted, in response to her subjects’ just grievances that had been brought to her attention by the diligence and pertinacity of her loyal parliament men. The episode of 1601 did not lead to a knock-down-drag-out fight between Crown and Commons, an unprecedented dispute about the nature and extent of the prerogative.49 Instead, it ended as a textbook example of a righteous sovereign restoring order, as did Corvinus in Promos and Cassandra (printed 1578) discussed in Chapter 3. Notice that the nightmare scenario had already been imagined and staged: the precarious system had been stress-tested in Thomas of Woodstock to the point of dissolution by the machinations and depredations of King Richard II’s evil counsellors, before being finally driven into a ditch by Richard himself. Of course, Woodstock tactfully ended well before the events that eventually deposed the king, but anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the history could draw their own conclusions. And anyway, soon enough there was Shakespeare’s Richard II to fill in the gaps.50

The figure of the projector developed by Jonson streamlined and further enabled such precarious balancing acts. It did so by personifying and concentrating the structural tensions and abusive propensities at play here in the person of an emergent type. Thus the character of the projector emerged as a specialised subset of the evil counsellor, someone whose private ends and corrupt actions provided the polar opposite, even the defining other, of the properly public purposes of the Crown, the aggrieved subject and, when it was sitting, of Parliament itself.

Thomas Scott’s writing is important once again as it highlighted the role of Parliament in the resulting politics of stereotyping. In his account, courts naturally attracted the most ambitious, self-serving and unscrupulous of persons unless they were held in check by Parliament. Since the very nature of royal power and of court life prevented the monarch from knowing first-hand the actual conditions under which his subjects lived, the resulting accretion of corruptions was taken as a structurally inevitable feature of personal monarchy. Earlier, plays like Thomas Heywood’s First and Second Parts of King Edward IV (printed 1599) and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (performed 1604, printed 1624) had addressed this underlying problem by featuring princes going underground or on a walk-about, where, in disguise, they were brought up against the true condition of their subjects.51 Thus enlightened, when they cast off their disguise the rulers in question were able to redress their subjects’ grievances and visit condign justice upon their oppressors with renewed insight and acuity. Whereas these plays staged processes of redress and reform through the essentially folkloric trope of the ruler passing disguised among his people, Scott envisaged this process being achieved through the institutional means of Parliament. For, by regularly calling Parliament, the monarch could gain a uniquely accurate picture of the condition of his realm and adjust his policies accordingly, restraining the corrupt propensities of the court and eradicating corruptions where necessary. The figure of the projector played a crucial role here, as the ultimate embodiment for many of the structural tensions, and consequently ‘corrupt’ practices inherent in the workings of the late Elizabethan and early Stuart church and state, court and economy.

Parliamentary scrutiny, and the deployment of the projector stereotype for discovering the abuse, is exemplified in its proceedings of 1621 against Sir Giles Mompesson. The parliament men denounced a number of culprits. Mompesson ‘amongst others was a principal projector’.52 The denunciation also spread outside Parliament, as in an engraving produced in 1621 for the popular market (see Figure 4.1). The image is a triptych, above which runs the banner headline ‘A description of Giles Mompesson late knight, censured by the parliament’. In the first frame we see Mompesson, armed with his privy seal, extorting a poor female alehouse keeper. The caption above his head explains ‘for greedy gain he thrust the weak to wall,/And thereby got himself the devil and all’. In the middle frame he is shown fleeing from the serjeant-at-arms into whose custody ‘the parliament’ has committed him, with a small devil fluttering over his left shoulder to encourage him on his way. In the final frame, now transformed into ‘lame Giles’, he is on crutches, hobbling into exile, with the caption reading in part ‘those monopolies cursed be with shame,/Which have my reputation thus made lame/My honour, which hath turned to other styles,/From Sir Mompesson to poor lame Giles’.

Underneath the images, a series of other captions spells out the political moral. ‘All you which monopolies seek for gains,/And fair pretences turn to other strains’ were warned to ‘example take by Giles Mompesson’s fall’. ‘See that you undertake/None other things but such as make/A benefit to commonwealth and king./Which will you wealth and honour bring.’ ‘For why you know our faithful king is bent/To give his faithful subjects all content ... By rendering justice unto great and small,/The small ones trip, the great ones down right fall./O what more needs a loyal subject crave/Than mercy, love and justice choice to have.’ Thus, far from calling the legitimacy of the royal regime into question, Mompesson, presented in this print as the ultimate monopolist and projector, served as a vindication of the benignity of James’s rule and of the corrective role of Parliament.53 We are a long way here from the world of Thomas of Woodstock, or indeed of the Catholic polemics against the Elizabethan regime discussed in Yamamoto’s Chapter 3.

The engraving thus epitomised the political hopes that animated the reforming efforts of the first half of the 1620s. As is well known, the 1621 Parliament impeached Sir Francis Bacon; the next one, of 1624, led to the downfall of Lionel Cranfield and passed the statute against monopolies. Viewed from the perspective of Thomas Scott, after years of dysfunction it must have seemed that the system was at long last working as it was supposed to, with the king, having turned his back on the Spanish match, working with Parliament to purge the realm of evil counsellors and corrupt courtiers, before turning against the popish and Spanish enemies.

That, of course, was not how things turned out. Even in the case of monopolies, a combination of loopholes in the law and the financial exigencies of the personal rule ensured that monopolies came back like gangbusters in the 1630s. If presented with the bare descriptions, it is hard to tell Jonson’s parody of the toothpick or fork patents apart from Mompesson’s genuine scheme (mentioned above) for stamping all the trees in the royal forests with the royal coat of arms. Likewise, there is an almost sinister resemblance between Merecraft’s ‘office of dependences’ and the court of chivalry that was actually revived under Charles I’s personal rule.54

That the figure of the projector had been rendered almost proverbial and faintly ridiculous by the comedies of Jonson and others ensured that this now well-established stereotype figured not merely in critiques of the regime’s policies but also in legitimations of the Caroline peace. James Shirley’s masque of 1634, The triumph of peace, featured in the brief antimasque a series of entirely ludicrous projectors, begging for patents to promote absurd schemes like a hollow horse bridle designed to so cool the horse that it never got tired. Rather than serious threats either to the commonweal or to the rights of the subject, projectors and their projects were presented as absurd phantasms easily dispelled by the sagacity of the king and the virtue of his lawyers and courtiers.55 Here is a clear case of anxiety displacement being achieved at the expense of trivialising the entire situation.

It would be wrong, however, to suppose that projecting was treated by all as a source of anxiety that required deflating. It was possible to embrace projecting as a career. So did William Drake, a son of the famous navigator and pirate Sir Francis Drake. In his copious commonplace books, Drake noted his ideas about how to develop ‘projects’ – how to ‘much stretch and inlarge my owne conceite and invention for matters of profit’. Meeting people, seeking advice, was important. So too was reading: ‘[d]iscourse much with able men … then to let my Imagination worke upon what I have discourse[d] of[,] then let my reading add strength and confirmation to both’.56 Drake in fact noted ‘Ben Johnson his Fox [Volpone] reade and let fancy worke and Enlarge upon Reading’.57 Volpone (printed 1607) was another play that featured projects for defrauding others. More research is needed on the mental world of projectors, and in particular on Drake as the projector in the making.58 But even this anecdotal evidence suggests that we cannot describe Jonsonian satire simply as a moral caution against projecting. Rather, we have to ask in what ways Jonson’s and others’ writings may have provided lessons and inspirations about how to become a better projector, while setting aside the structural problems of post-Reformation governance that the projector embodied.

This helps us understand why, despite the heated attacks in Parliament and elsewhere on projectors, the moral high ground of the public good and of reformation remained available to all kinds of individual. Accordingly, during the 1630s even more monopolies and projects, ranging from the soap monopoly to fen drainage, were imposed upon subjects under the banner of reforming abuses and pursuing the common good, with shades of the Duke of Drowned-lands coming to life. Indeed, the soap monopoly was rigorously enforced and opposing soap-boilers thrown into jail by the Attorney General William Noy, just at the time he was helping stage The triumph of peace. Two soap-boilers died while in prison.59

With the calling of the Short and Long Parliaments in the early 1640s, public discontents burst into serious political agitation, a rush of printed pamphlets and ultimately of Parliamentary action. In this context, the stereotype of the projector ceased to be the joke figure guyed in Jonson’s The devil is an ass or pushed to the fringes of Shirley’s masque. It rather became the organising image of a real assault upon the policies and practices of the Crown.

In a striking song printed late in 1640, monopolists and projectors were excoriated, and the Scots were in effect thanked for invading the country and thus enabling Parliament to bring these malefactors to justice – here associated with the papists, the bishops and ‘Spain and the strumpet of Babylon’:

You jolly projectors, why hang you the head?

Promoters, informers, what? are you all dead?

Or will you beyond-sea frolick and play,

With Sir Giles Monpoison, who led you the way?

... O how high were they flown in their floorishing hope

With their patents for pins, tobacco and soap

False dye and false cards, besides the great fyne

They yearly received for enhaunting of wyne.

The tide is now turn’d, let us drink th’other pot,

And merrily sing; gramercie good Scot.60

While the Mompesson print (see Figure 4.1) had been a commodity, the equivalent of a commemorative mug, marking the triumph of royal justice and virtue and the Parliamentary way, now the figure of Mompesson, deliberately misspelt in the print version of the song as ‘Monpoison’, has returned to link the unfinished business of the 1620s with the crisis of the early 1640s. As treasonous in content as it was jocular in tone, this libellous ballad combined the satirical bite of The devil is an ass and The triumph of peace with the awareness of injustice and palpable tension captured by Thomas of Woodstock and the Catholic tracts of the 1590s. Now the familiar figure of the projector is being enlisted to call the legitimacy of the regime, in this case of the personal rule of Charles I, into radical question. Parliament is again presented as a legitimate channel for popular protest and resistance:

The parliament saith we shall see better times

Then let us not fa[i]nt as men without hope.

An halter for traitours an hemp for the Pope.

Let Spaine and the strumpet of Babylon plot

Yet shall we be safe; gra-mercie good Scot.61

Here the optimism at the opening of the Long Parliament echoes that of the early 1620s.

But just like the Mompesson engraving, this ballad was a commodity as well as a piece of propaganda. There could scarcely be a better example of the liminal, intensely ambiguous nature and role of the stereotype. The stereotype Jonson helped develop became a heuristic tool for discovering and denouncing corruptions, while elsewhere displacing anxiety and providing a buttress for the status quo. It could drive popular oppositional passions and critique, all the while putting bums on seats in the theatre and selling engravings, woodcuts and pamphlets by the score.


1 Recurring references to plays are given within the main text in parentheses.
2 Vera Keller and Ted McCormick, ‘Towards a history of projects’, Early Science and Medicine, 21 (2016), 423–44; Koji Yamamoto, Taming capitalism before its triumph: public service, distrust and ‘projecting’ in early modern England (Oxford, 2018), pp. 1–9, 53–60.
3 R. C. Munden, ‘James I and the “growth of mutual distrust”: king, Commons and reform, 1603–1604’, in Kevin Sharpe (ed.), Faction and parliament: essays on early Stuart history (Oxford, 1978), pp. 43–72. See also important forthcoming work by Nicholas Tyacke on a reforming petition presented to James I, at his accession, by a group of puritans.
4 Ben Jonson, The alchemist (1610), ed. Peter Holland and William Sherman, in David Bevington, Martin Butler and Ian Donaldson (eds), The Cambridge edition of the works of Ben Jonson (7 vols, Cambridge, 2012), vol. 3 (1606–11), pp. 541–710; Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair (1614), ed. John Creaser, in Works of Jonson, vol. 4 (1611–16), pp. 253–428; Ben Jonson, The devil is an ass (1616), ed. Anthony Parr, in Works of Jonson, vol. 4, pp. 465–609.
5 The pioneering work on the city comedy as a genre is Brian Gibbons, Jacobean city comedy: a study of satiric plays by Jonson, Marston and Middleton, 2nd edn (London, 1980).
6 Landmark studies include Leah S. Marcus, The politics of mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the defense of old holiday pastimes (Chicago, 1986); David Riggs, Ben Jonson, a life (Cambridge, MA, 1989); Julie Sanders, Ben Jonson’s theatrical republics (Basingstoke, 1998). Important contextual works are collected in Julie Sanders (ed.), Ben Jonson in context (Cambridge, 2010). More recent studies have gone in different directions, but there are fascinating works exploring local histories and communities in and around London. See, for example, Adam Zucker, The places of wit in early modern English comedy (Cambridge, 2011); Kelly J. Stage, Producing early modern London: a comedy of urban space, 1598–1616 (Lincoln, NE, 2018).
7 Few works that we know have approached Jonson’s characters in this way.
8 From a vast and distinguished literature, see, for instance, L. C. Knights, Drama and society in the age of Jonson (London, 1937); Marcus, Politics of mirth; Lorna Hutson, ‘The displacement of the market in Jacobean city comedy’, London Journal, 14 (1989), 3–16; Douglas Bruster, Drama and the market in the age of Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1992); Jonathan Haynes, The social relations of Jonson’s theater (Cambridge, 1992); Lars Engle, Shakespearean pragmatism: market of his time (Chicago, 1993); Jean E. Howard, The stage and social struggle in early modern England (London, 1994); Theodore B. Leinwand, Theatre, finance and society in early modern England (Cambridge, 1999); Heather Easterling, Parsing the city: Jonson, Middleton, Dekker, and city comedy’s London as language (New York, 2007); David Baker, On demand: writing for the market in early modern England (Stanford, CA, 2010).
9 Cf. Patrick Collinson, ‘Ecclesiastical vitriol: religious satire in the 1590s and the invention of puritanism’, in John Guy (ed.), The reign of Elizabeth I: court and culture in the last decade (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 150–70; see also Patrick Collinson, ‘The theatre constructs puritanism’, in David L. Smith, Richard Strier and David Bevington (eds), The theatrical city: culture, theatre and politics in London, 1576–1649 (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 157–69.
10 Lawrence Stone, ‘The fruits of office: the case of Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, 1596–1612’, in F. J. Fisher (ed.), Essays in the economic and social history of Tudor and Stuart England, in honour of R. H. Tawney (Cambridge, 1961), pp. 89–116; Linda Levy Peck, ‘Problems in Jacobean administration: was Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, a reformer?’, Historical Journal, 19 (1976), 831–58.
11 This and the next paragraphs draw on Michael C. Questier, ‘Sir Henry Spiller, recusancy and the efficiency of the Jacobean Exchequer’, Historical Research, 66 (1993), 251–66; Thomas Cogswell, ‘Destroyed for doing my duty: Thomas Felton and the penal laws under Elizabeth and James I’, in Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake (eds), Religious politics in post-Reformation England: essays in honour of Nicholas Tyacke (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 177–92.
12 On this see Alastair Bellany, The politics of court scandal in early modern England: news culture and the Overbury affair, 1603–1660 (Cambridge, 2002).
13 See Roger Lockyer, ‘Lake, Sir Thomas (bap. 1561–1630)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), hereafter ODNB, (accessed 7 July 2021); Pauline Croft, ‘Howard, Thomas, first Earl of Suffolk (1561–1626)’, ODNB, (accessed 7 July 2021).
14 For overviews, see Linda Levy Peck, Court patronage and corruption in early Stuart England (London, 1990); John Cramsie, Kingship and crown finance under James VI and I, 1603–1625 (Woodbridge, 2002). There has been no systematic study of monopolies or, indeed, of projecting under Elizabeth I and the early Stuarts. One exception is G. D. Duncan, ‘Monopolies under Elizabeth I, 1558–1585’, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 1976. Both of these topics have been too readily discussed, and to some extent dismissed, under the problematic heading ‘corruption’. For an overview, see also Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, pp. 26–103, 141–6.
15 On the Cockayne project see Astrid Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s project and the cloth trade: the commercial policy of England in its main aspects, 1603–1625 (Copenhagen, 1927). See also the discussion in Menna Prestwich, Cranfield: politics and profits under the early Stuarts: the career of Lionel Cranfield Earl of Middlesex (Oxford, 1966), pp. 164–70.
16 For Ingram see Anthony Upton, Sir Arthur Ingram, c. 1565–1642: a study of the origins of an English landed family (Oxford, 1961) and Simon Healey, ‘Ingram, Sir Arthur (before 1571–1642)’, ODNB, (accessed 7 July 2021).
17 For Mompesson see Sidney Lee, ‘Mompesson, Sir Giles (1583/4–1651x63)’, rev. Sean Kelsey (2008), ODNB, (accessed 7 July 2021), and Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, pp. 99–102. We owe the story of the project concerning the royal forests to a seminar paper by John Nichols at what was then the Hurstfield seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in the late 1970s.
18 Prestwich, Cranfield, pp. 160, 178.
19 Thomas Scott, Vox populi ([London?], 1620).
20 Andrew Thrush, ‘The personal rule of James I, 1611–1620’, in Thomas Cogswell, Richard Cust and Peter Lake (eds), Politics, religion and popularity in early Stuart Britain (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 84–102; Andrew Thrush, ‘The French marriage and the origins of the 1614 Parliament’ in Stephen Clucas and Rosalind Davies (eds), The crisis of 1614 and the Addled Parliament: literary and historical perspectives (Aldershot, 2002), pp. 25–35.
21 On Scott see Peter Lake, ‘Constitutional consensus and puritan opposition in the 1620s: Thomas Scott and the Spanish match’, Historical Journal, 25 (1982), 805–25.
22 With his usual tact, Scott chose Phineas, and ‘his zeal for the execution of justice’, as his model justice of the peace (Phineas had pinned Zimri to the floor with his javelin for openly sleeping with a Midianite woman in the midst of the Israelite camp, thus calling down the judgement of God upon his people). The implications for the projected match between Prince Charles and a Spanish Catholic princess need hardly be mentioned.
23 Thomas Scott, The projector, teaching a direct sure and ready way to restore the decays of the church and state both in honour and revenue (London [Holland], 1623), various (quotations, pp. 18, 15, 10).
24 For a discussion of Scott as a civic republican, rather than a puritan, see Markku Peltonen, Classical humanism and republicanism in English political thought, 1570–1640 (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 5.
25 See Peltonen, Classical humanism and republicanism. See also Richard Cust and Peter Lake, ‘Sir Richard Grosvenor and the rhetoric of magistracy’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 54 (1981), 40–53; Richard Cust, ‘The “public man” in late Tudor and early Stuart England’, in Peter Lake and Steven C. A. Pincus (eds), The politics of the public sphere in early modern England: public persons and popular spirits (Manchester, 2007), pp. 116–43; Richard Cust, ‘“Patriots” and “popular spirits”: narratives of conflict in early Stuart politics’, in Nicholas Tyacke (ed.), The English Revolution, 1590–1720: politics, religion and communities (Manchester, 2007), pp. 43–61.
26 Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, pp. 70–3, 91–4 (quotation, p. 91).
27 Rupali Mishra, A business of state: commerce, politics, and the birth of the East India Company (Cambridge, MA, 2018).
28 This and the next paragraphs draw on Peter Lake, Anglicans and puritans? Presbyterianism and English conformist thought from Hooker to Laud (London, 1987), various but esp. pp. 101–44; Peter Lake, ‘Conformist clericalism? Richard Bancroft’s analysis of the socio-economic roots of Presbyterianism’, in W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood (eds), The church and wealth, studies in church history, 24 (Oxford, 1987), pp. 219–29; Peter Lake, ‘Anti-puritanism: the structure of a prejudice’ in Fincham and Lake (eds), Religious politics in post-Reformation England, 80–97; Peter Lake with Michael Questier, The Antichrist’s lewd hat: Protestants, papists and players in post-Reformation England (New Haven, CT, 2002), section 4. See also Peter Lake, ‘Anti-puritanism as political discourse: the Laudian critique of puritan “popularity”’, in Cesare Cuttica and Markku Peltonen (eds), Democracy and anti-democracy in early modern England, 1603–1689 (Leiden, 2019), pp. 152–73.
29 For a sustained exercise in anti-puritan stereotyping from the 1630s, penned by that Ben Jonson wannabe Peter Hausted, see Peter Lake and Isaac Stephens, Scandal and religious identity in early Stuart England: a Northamptonshire maid’s tragedy (Woodbridge, 2015), ch. 2.
30 Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, p. 86; Anthony Parr, ‘Introduction’, The devil is an ass, in Works of Jonson, vol. 4, pp. 467–76, at p. 470.
31 James Loxley, Anna Groundwater and Julie Sanders (eds), Ben Jonson’s walk to Scotland: an annotated edition of the ‘Foot Voyage’ (Cambridge, 2015), p. 67.
32 John Creaser, ‘Introduction’, Bartholomew Fair, in Works of Jonson, vol. 4, 255–68, at p. 262.
33 Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, p. 5.
34 Glyn Parry, The arch-conjuror of England: John Dee (London and New Haven, CT, 2011).
35 Vera Keller, ‘Cornelis Drebbel (1572–1633): fame and the making of modernity’, PhD thesis, Princeton University, 2008.
36 Lake with Questier, The Antichrist’s lewd hat, ch. 14, esp. pp. 586–7.
37 Lake with Questier, The Antichrist’s lewd hat, pp. 602–4.
38 For details of the careers of Whately, Ward and White, see Jacqueline Eales, ‘Whately, William (1583–1639)’, ODNB, (accessed 10 July 2021); Margo Todd, ‘Ward, Samuel (1572–1643)’, ODNB, (accessed 7 July 2021); Rory T. Cornish, ‘White, John (1575–1648)’, ODNB, (accessed 7 July 2021). See also John Creaser, ‘Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and Bancroft’s Dangerous positions’, Review of English Studies, 57 (2006), 176–84.
39 For example, see Jonson, The alchemist (1610), in Works of Jonson, vol. 3, pp. 606–10.
40 The best account of fen drainage both as project and improvement scheme is now Eric H. Ash, The drainage of the fens: projectors, popular politics, and state building in early modern England (Baltimore, MD, 2017).
41 By far the best account of the Darrell business is Marion Gibson, Possession, puritanism and print: Darrell, Harsnett, Shakespeare and the Elizabethan exorcism controversy (London, 2006). Now see Brendan C. Walsh, The English exorcist: John Darrell and the shaping of early modern English Protestant demonology (Abingdon, 2020). Many of the relevant texts are reprinted in Philip C. Almond, Demonic possession and exorcism in early modern England: contemporary texts and their cultural contexts (Cambridge, 2004). On Harsnett see F. W. Brownlow, Shakespeare, Harsnett and the devils of Denham (Cranbury, NJ, 1993).
42 Marcus, Politics of mirth, p. 91.
43 Sharpe made suggestions of that sort about Jonson, and in his first book made precisely such a point by highlighting the friendship networks and political connections of Sir Robert Cotton, which by the way included Jonson himself. See Kevin Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton, 1586–1631: history and politics in early modern England (Oxford, 1979).
44 On the difficulties surrounding the notion of popularity see Peter Lake, ‘Puritanism (monarchical) republicanism and monarchy, or John Whitgift, antipuritanism and the “invention” of popularity’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 40 (2010), 463–95; Peter Lake, ‘From revisionist to royalist history; or, was Charles I the first Whig historian’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 78 (2015), 657–81; Lake, ‘Anti-puritanism as political discourse’; Richard Cust, ‘Charles I and popularity’ in Cogswell, Cust and Lake (eds), Politics, religion and popularity in early Stuart Britain, pp. 235–58; Cust, ‘“Patriots” and “popular spirits”’.
45 See Margot Heinemann, Puritanism and theatre: Thomas Middleton and opposition drama under the early Stuarts (Cambridge, 1980); Thomas Middleton, A game at chess, ed. T. H. Howard-Hill, The Revels Plays (Manchester, 1993) and T. H. Howard-Hill, Middleton’s ‘Vulgar Pasquin’: essays on A game at chess (Delaware, 1995), but see also Thomas Cogswell, ‘Thomas Middleton and the court, 1624: A game at chess in context’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 47 (1984), 273–88.
46 See Robert Earl of Essex his ghost, according to the title page, ‘printed in paradise, 1624’, but included in Thomas Scott, The workes of the most famous and reverend divine Mr. Thomas Scot (Utrecht, 1624). For the ghost of Raleigh see Thomas Gainsford’s tract Vox spiritus. The debate amongst the Tudors takes place in Vox coeli, or news from heaven, ‘printed in Elysium, 1624’, and likewise included in Scott’s 1624 Works. For the dialogue form, see A tongue combat lately happening between two English soldiers in a tilt boat of Gravesend, the one going to serve the king of Spain, the other to serve the States-general of the United Provinces. According to the title page this tract was ‘printed in London’ and was also included in the 1624 Works. News from Parnassus. The political touchstone taken from mount Parnassus, whereon the governments of the greatest monarchies of the world are touched was ‘printed at Helicon, 1622’, but again included in the 1624 Works. There is an important study to be written about the use of visual media, woodcuts and more sophisticated engravings, in the propaganda wars waged in the early 1620s around the Spanish match, the threat of popery and monopolists, and the proper role of Parliament in the polity. For useful preliminary remarks see Alexandra Walsham, ‘“The fatall vesper”: providentialism and anti-popery in late Jacobean London’, Past & Present, 144 (1994), 36–87; Alexandra Walsham, Providence in early modern England (Oxford, 1999), pp. 256–64.
47 See Lake with Questier, The Antichrist’s lewd hat, ch. 10.
48 In addition to Lake’s and Yamamoto’s Chapters 2, 3 and 4 in this volume, see also Lake with Questier, The Antichrist’s lewd hat, chs 11–14, which explores related points at greater length.
49 See David Harris Sacks, ‘The countervailing of benefits: monopoly, liberty and benevolence in Elizabethan England’ in Dale Hoak (ed.), Tudor political culture (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 272–91.
50 On Shakespeare’s Richard II, see Peter Lake, How Shakespeare put politics on the stage: power and succession in the history plays (London and New Haven, CT, 2016), chs 10 and 11.
51 See Chapter 3, p. 102 above, and Kevin A. Quarmby, The disguised ruler in Shakespeare and his contemporaries (Farnham, 2012). Cf. Anne Barton, ‘The king disguised: Shakespeare’s Henry V and the comical history’, in Joseph G. Price (ed.), The triple bond: plays, mainly Shakespearean, in performance (University Park, PA, 1975), pp. 92–117. Also on Measure for Measure, see Lake with Questier, The Antichrist’s lewd hat, ch. 15. In that play, the Duke goes into hiding to evaluate the project of puritan rule (which is personified by his ‘precise’ deputy, Angelo) by viewing the effects of Angelo’s newly aggressive ‘reformation of manners’ upon the moral and political condition of the kingdom.
52 Wallace Notestein, Frances Helen Relf and Hartley Simpson (eds), Commons debates 1621 (7 vols, New Haven, CT, 1935), vol. 2, p. 180 (see also vol. 6, p. 40).
53 The engraving refers to ‘monopolies’ and does not use the term ‘projector’ explicitly. But the identification was clear. When Mompesson came back to England and started enclosing parts of the Forest of Dean in 1631, it was reported that the ‘foresters grieved with this attempt of his … whom they termed to be an odious projector’. See Historical Manuscript Commission, Manuscripts of the Earl Cowper, K.G., preserved at Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire (3 vols, London, 1888–89), vol. 1, pp. 429–30.
54 Richard Cust, Charles I and the aristocracy, 1625–1641 (Cambridge, 2013), ch. 3.
55 James Shirley, Triumph of peace (1634), pp. 7–8. On this and the following paragraphs, see also Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, pp. 94–7. Our account builds on Martin Bulter, The Stuart court masque and political culture (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 298–310.
56 University College London, Special Collection, Ogden MS 7/7, fol. 165. We thank Noah Millstone for the suggestion to read Drake’s manuscripts.
57 Ogden MS 7/7, fol. 161. Elsewhere, Drake excerpted aphoristic statements from Jonson’s Sejanus (printed 1605). See András Kiséry, Hamlet’s moment: drama and political knowledge in early modern England (Oxford, 2016), pp. 208–9.
58 On Drake, see Kevin Sharpe, Reading revolutions: the politics of reading in early modern England (New Haven, CT, 2000). On projects in Volpone, see Vera Keller and Ted McCormick, ‘Towards a history of projects’, Early Science and Medicine, 21 (2016), 423–44, pp. 431–2.
59 Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English affairs (1682), p. 20; A short and trve relation concerning the soap-busines (1641), p. 10.
60 National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 33.1.1 [Denmilne], vol. 13, no. 69, A new carrell for Christmasse made and sung at Londone [n.d., 1640?].
61 A new carrell for Christmasse. For both the printed and manuscript texts of this ballad, see also Yamamoto, Taming capitalism, pp. 99–101; Noah Millstone, Manuscript circulation and the invention of politics in early Stuart England (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 303–4.
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