Jonson—"The Sad Shepherd"
A LTHOUGH Ben Jonson's days ended sadly, although his later plays showed failing powers, he left behind him unfinished a Masque called The Sad Shepherd which is perhaps more beautiful and more full of music than anything he ever wrote. For Ben's charm did not lie in the music of his words but in the strength of his drawing of character. As another poet has said of him, "Ben as a rule—a rule which is proved by the exception—was one of the singers who could not sing; though, like Dryden, he could intone most admirably."
The Sad Shepherd is a tale of Robin Hood. Here once more we find an old story being used again, for we have already heard of Robin Hood in the ballads. Robin Hood makes a great fest to all the shepherds and shepherdesses round about. All are glad to come, save one Æglamon, the Sad Shepherd, whose love, Earine, has, he believes, been drowned. But later in the play we learn that Earine is not dead, but that a wicked witch, Mother Maudlin, has enchanted her, and shut her up in a tree. She had done this in order to force Earine to give up Æglamon, her true lover, and marry her own wretched son Lorel.
When the play begins, Æglamon passes over the stage mourning for his lost love.
Robin Hood has left Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Little John, and all his merry men to hunt the deer and make ready the feast. And Tuck says:
So some make ready the bower, the tables and the seats, while Maid Marian, Little John and others set out to hunt. Presently they return successful, having killed a fine stag. Robin, too, comes home, and after loving greetings, listens to the tale of the hunt. Then Marian tells how, when the huntsmen cut up the stag, they threw the bone called the raven's bone to one that sat and croaked for it.
Mother Maudlin was a wretched old witch, and Scathlock says he is
yet more sure that the raven was she, because in her own form he
has just seen her broiling the raven's bone by the fire, sitting
Such is their love for each other. They are "The turtles of the wood," "The billing pair." No one is more astonished than Robin Hood, as he cries:
But Maid Marian only scolds the more, and at last goes away leaving the others in sad bewilderment. Of course this was not Maid Marian at all, but Mother Maudlin, the old witch, who had taken her form in order to make mischief.
Meanwhile the real Maid Marian discovers that the venison has been sent away to Mother Maudlin's. With tears in her eyes she declares that she gave no such orders, and Scathlock is sent to bring it back.
When Mother Maudlin comes to thank Maid Marian for her present, she is told that no such present was ever intended, and so she in anger curses the cook, casting spells upon him:
Soon Friar Tuck comes in. "Hear you how," he says,
He is bewitched, that is certain. And certain too it is that Mother Maudlin has done it. So Robin and his men set out to hunt for her, while Friar Tuck and Much the Miller's son stay to look after the dinner in the poor cook's stead. Robin soon meets Mother Maudlin who has again taken the form of Maid Marian. But this time Robin suspects her. He seizes the witch by her enchanted belt. It breaks, and she comes back to her own shape, and Robin goes off, leaving her cursing.
Mother Maudlin then calls for
wails Mother Maudlin. But
MAUDLIN. What rocks about me?
MAUDLIN. Lucky, my loved Goblin!"
And here the play breaks off suddenly, for Jonson died and left it so. It was finished by another writer later on, but with none of Jonson's skill, and reading the continuation we feel that all the interest is gone. However, you will be glad to know that everything comes right. The good people get happily married and all the bad people become good, even the wicked old witch, Mother Maudlin.