One-Act Plays
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a play in one-act

by Ben Jonson

The following one-act play was originally published in 1616 and is now in the public domain. It may be performed without royalties.

[A high, steep, red cliff, advancing itself into the clouds. Suddenly, with a solemn music, a bright sky breaking forth, there is discovered first two doves, then two swans, with silver gears, drawing forth a triumphant chariot, in which VENUS sits, crowned with her star, and beneath her the three GRACES or Charities, Aglaia, Thalia, Euphrosyne, all attired according to their antique figures. These from their chariot alight on the top of the cliff, and, descending by certain abrupt and winding passages, Venus having left her star only flaming in her seat, comes to earth, the Graces throwing girlonds all the way.]

VENUS: It is no common cause, ye will conceive,
My lovely Graces, makes your goddess leave
Her state in heaven, tonight to visit earth.
Love late is fled away, my eldest birth,
Cupid, whom I did joy to call my son;
And, whom long absent, Venus is undone.
Spy, if you can, his footsteps on this green,
For here, as I am told, he late hath been,
With divers of his brethren, lending light
From their best flames to gild a glorious night,
Which I not grudge at, being done for her
Whose honors to mine own I still prefer.
But he not yet returning, I am in fear
Some gentle Grace or innocent Beauty here
Be taken with him, or he hath surprised
A second Psyche, and lives here disguised.
Find ye no tract of his strayed feet?

1 GRACE: Not I.

2 GRACE: Nor I.

3 GRACE: Nor I.

VENUS: Stay, nymphs, we then will try
A nearer way. Look all these ladies' eyes,
And see if there he not concealéd lies,
Or in their bosoms twixt their swelling breasts
(The wag affects to make himself such nests).
Perchance he hath got some simple heart to hide
His subtle shape in. I will have him cried,
And all his virtues told, that, when they know
What sprite he is, she soon may let him go,
That guards him now, and think herself right blessed
To be so timely rid of such a guest.
Begin, soft Graces, and proclaim reward
To her that brings him in. Speak to be heard.

1 GRACE: Beauties, have ye seen this toy,
Calléd Love, a little boy,
Almost naked, wanton, blind,
Cruel now, and then as kind?
If he be amongst ye, say.
He is Venus' runaway.

2 GRACE: She that will but now discover
Where the wingéd wag doth hover,
Shall tonight receive a kiss,
How or where herself would wish;
But who brings him to his mother,
Shall have that kiss, and another.

3 GRACE: H' hath of marks about him plenty;
You shall know him among twenty.
All his body is a fire,
And his breath a flame entire,
That being shot, like lightning, in,
Wounds the heart, but not the skin.

1 GRACE: At his sight, the sun hath turned;
Neptune in the waters burned;
Hell hath felt a greater heat;
Jove himself forsook his seat.
From the center to the sky
Are his trophies rearéd high.

2 GRACE: Wings he hath, which though ye clip,
He will leap from lip to lip,
Over liver, lights, and heart,
But not stay in any part;
And, if chance his arrow misses,
He will shoot himself with kisses.

3 GRACE: He doth bear a golden bow,
And a quiver, hanging low,
Full of arrows that outbrave
Dian's shafts, where, if he have
Any head more sharp than other,
With that first he strikes his mother.

1 GRACE: Still the fairest are his fuel.
When his days are to be cruel,
Lovers' hearts are all his food,
And his baths their warmest blood.
Naught but wounds his hand doth season,
And he hates none like to Reason.

2 GRACE: Trust him not; his words, though sweet,
Seldom with his heart do meet.
All his practice is deceit,
Every gift it is a bait,
Not a kiss but poison bears,
And most treason in his tears.

3 GRACE: Idle minutes are his reign;
Then the straggler makes his gain
By presenting maids with toys,
And would have ye think hem joys;
'Tis the ambition of the elf
To have all childish as himself.

1 GRACE: If by these ye please to know him,
Beauties, be not nice, but show him.

2 GRACE: Though ye had a will to hide him,
Now, we hope, ye'll not abide him--

3 GRACE: Since ye hear his falser play,
And that he is Venus' runaway.[At this, from behind the trophies, CUPID discovers himself and comes forth armed, attended with twelve BOYS, most anticly attired, that represent the Sports and pretty Lightnesses that accompany Love, under the titles of Joci and Risus, and are said to wait on VENUS, as she is Prefect of Marriage.]
CUPID: Come, my little jocund Sports,
Come away; the time now sorts
With your pastime. This same night
Is Cupid's day. Advance your light.
With your revel fill the room,
That our triumphs be not dumb.[Wherewith they fall into a subtle, capricious dance, to as odd a music, each of them bearing two torches, and nodding with their antic faces, with other variety of ridiculous gestures, which give much occasion of mirth and delight to the spectators. The dance ends and CUPID comes forward.]
CUPID: Well done, antics! Now my bow
And my quiver bear to show
That these Beauties here may know
By what arms this feat was done,
That hath so much honor won
Unto Venus and her son.[His mother apprehends him and, circling him in with the GRACES, begins to demand.]
VENUS: What feat, what honor is it that you boast,
My little straggler? I had given you lost,
With all your games here.

CUPID: Mother?

VENUS: Yes, sir, she.
What might your glorious cause of triumph be?
Ha' you shot Minerva or the Thespian dames?
Heat aged Ops again with youthful flames?
Or have you made the colder Moon to visit
Once more a sheepcote? Say, what conquest is it
Can make you hope such a renown to win?
Is there a second Hercules brought to spin?
Or, for some new disguise, leaves Jove his thunder?

CUPID: Nor that, nor those, and yet no less a wonder--
Which to tell, I may not stay.
[He slips away from her.]

[HYMEN, the God of Marriage, enters.]

CUPID: Hymen's presence bids away;
'Tis already at his night;
He can give you farther light.
You, my Sports, may here abide
Till I call to light the bride.

HYMEN: Venus, is this a time to quit your car?
To stoop to earth, to leave alone your star,
Without your influence, and, on such a night,
Which should be crowned with your most cheering sight,
As you were ignorant of what were done
By Cupid's hand, your all-triumphing son?
Look on this state, and, if you yet not know
What crown there shines, whose scepter here doth grow,
Think on thy loved Æneas; and what name
Maro, the golden trumpet of his fame,
Gave him, read thou in this: a prince that draws
By example more than others do by laws,
That is so just to his great act and thought,
To do, not what kings may, but what kings ought;
Who, out of piety, unto peace is vowed,
To spare his subjects, yet to quell the proud,
And dares esteem it the first fortitude
To have his passions, foes at home, subdued;
That was reserved, until the Parcæ spun
Their whitest wool and then his thread begun,
Which thread, when treason would have burst, a soul
(Today renowned and added to my roll)
Opposed; and, by that act, to his name did bring
The honor to be saver of his king--
This king, whose worth, if gods for virtue love,
Should Venus with the same affections move
As her Æneas, and no less endear
Her love to his safety than when she did cheer,
After a tempest, long-afflicted Troy,
Upon the Lybian shore, and brought them joy.

VENUS: I love, and know his virtues, and do boast
Mine own renown when I renown him most.
My Cupid's absence I forgive and praise,
That me to such a present grace could raise.
His champion shall hereafter be my care.
But speak his bride, and what her virtues are.

HYMEN: She is a noble virgin, styled the Maid
Of the Red Cliff, and hath her dowry weighed
No less in virtue, blood, and form than gold;
Thence, where my pillar's reared (you may behold)
Filled with Love's trophies, doth she take her name.
Those pillars did uxorious Vulcan frame
Against this day; and underneath that hill
He and his Cyclops are forging still
Some strange and curious piece t' adorn the night,
And give these gracéd nuptials greater light.[Here VULCAN presents himself, as overhearing HYMEN, attired in a cossack girt to him, with bare arms, his hair and beard rough, his hat of blue and ending in a cone, in his hand a hammer and tongs, as coming from the forge.]
VULCAN: Which I have done--the best of all my life--
And have my end, if it but please my wife,
And she commend it, to the labored worth.
Cleave solid rock, and bring the wonder forth![At this, with loud, full music, the cliff parts in the midst and discovers an illustrious concave, filled with an ample and glistering light, in which an artificial sphere is made of silver, eighteen feet in diameter, that turns perpetually; the coluri are heightened with gold; so are the arctic and antarctic circles, the tropics, the equinoctial, the meridian and horizon; only the zodiac was of pure gold, in which the Masquers, under the characters of the twelve signs, are placed, answering them in number, whose offices, with the whole frame, as it turns, VULCAN comes forward to describe.]
VULCAN: It is a sphere I have formed round and even,
In due proportion to the sphere of heaven,
With all his lines and circles that compose
The perfect'st form, and aptly do disclose
The heaven of marriage (which I title it),
Within whose zodiac I have made to sit,
In order of the signs, twelve sacred powers
That are presiding at all nuptial hours:
1. The first in Aries' place, respecteth pride
Of youth and beauty, graces in the bride.
2. In Taurus, he loves strength and manliness,
The virtues which the bridegroom should possess.
3. In Gemini, that noble power is shown,
That twins their hearts, and doth of two make one.
4. In Cancer, he that bids the wife give way
With backward yielding to her husband's sway.
5. In Leo, he that doth instill the heat
Into the man, which from the following seat
6. Is tempered so as he that looks from thence
Sees yet they keep a Virgin innocence.
7. In Libra's room, rules he that doth supply
All happy beds with sweet equality.
8. The Scorpion's place he fills, that makes the jars,
And stings in wedlock little strifes and wars,
9. Which he in th' Archer's throne doth soon remove
By making with his shafts new wounds of love.
10. And those the follower with more heat inspires,
As in the Goat the sun renews his fires.
11. In wet Aquarius' stead, reigns he that showers
Fertility upon the genial bowers.
12. Last, in the Firshes' place, sits he doth say,
"In married joys all should be dumb as they."
And this hath Vulcan for his Venus done,
To grace the chaster triumph of her son.

VENUS: And for this gift will I to heaven return,
And vow forever that my lamp shall burn
With pure and chastest fire, or never shine
But when it mixeth with thy sphere and mine.[Here VENUS returns to her chariot with the GRACES, while VULCAN, calling out the Priests of Hymen, who are the musicians, is interrupted by PYRACMON (one o fthe Cyclopes).]
VULCAN: Sing then, ye priests.

PYRACMON: Stay, Vulcan, shall not these
Come forth and dance?

VULCAN: Yes, my Pyracmon, please
The eyes of these spectators with our art.

PYRACMON: Come here, then, Brontes; bear a Cyclop's part,
And Steropes; both with your sledges stand,
And strike a time unto them as they land,
And as they forwards come, still guide their paces
In musical and sweet proportioned graces,
While I upon the work and frame attend,
And Hymen's priests forth, at their seasons, send
To chaunt their hymns, and make this square admire
Our great artificer, the god of fire.[Here the Musicians, attired in yellow, with wreaths of marjoram, and veils like Hymen's priests, sing the first staff of the following epithalamion, which, because it is sung in pieces between the dances, shows to be so many several songs, but is made to read an entire poem. After the song, they come forth (descending in an oblique motion) from the zodiac, and dance their first dance; then, music interposed (but varied with voices, only keeping the same chorus), they dance their second dance. So after, their third and fourth dances, which are all full of elegancy and curious device.]
Up, youths and virgins, up, and praise
The god whose nights outshine his days--
Hymen, whose hallowed rites
Could never boast of brighter lights;
Whose bands pass liberty.
Two of your troop, that with the morn were free,
Are now waged to his war.
And what they are,
If you'll perfection see,
Yourselves must be.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wished star!

What joy or honors can compare
With holy nuptials, when they are
Made out of equal parts
Of years, of states, of hands, of hearts,
When, in the happy choice,
The spouse and spouséd have the foremost voice?
Such, glad of Hymen's war,
Live what they are,
And long perfection see;
And such ours be.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wishéd star!

The solemn state of this one night
Were fit to last an age's light;
But there are rites behind
Have less of state, but more of kind:
Love's wealthy crop of kisses,
And fruitful harvest of his mother's blisses.
Sound then to Hymen's war--
That what these are,
Who will perfection see,
May haste to be.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wishéd star!

Love's commonwealth consists of toys;
His council are those antic boys,
Games, Laughter, Sports, Delights,
That triumph with him on these nights,
To whom we must give way,
For now their reign begins, and lasts till day.
They sweeten Hymen's war,
And, in that jar,
Make all that married be,
Perfection see.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wishéd star!

Why stays the bridegroom to invade
Her that would be a matron made?
Good night, whilst yet we may
Good night, to you a virgin, say;
Tomorrow rise the same
Your mother is, and use a nobler name.
Speed well in Hymen's war
That what you are,
By your perfection we
And all may see.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wishéd star!

Tonight is Venus' vigil kept.
This night no bridegroom ever slept;
And, if the fair bride do,
The married say, 'tis his fault too.
Wake then, and let your lights
Wake too; for they'll tell nothing of your nights
But that in Hymen's war
You perfect are.
And such perfection we
Do pray should be.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wishéd star!

That ere the rosy-fingered morn
Behold nine moons, there may be born
A babe, t' uphold the fame
Of Radcliffe's blood and Ramsey's name,
That may, in his great seed,
Wear the long honors of his father's deed.
Such fruits of Hymen's war
Most perfect are;
And all perfection we
Wish you should see.
Shine, Hesperus, shine forth, thou wishéd star!

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