The Entertainment at Althorp
The Entertainment at Althorp, or The Althorp Entertainment, is an early Jacobean era literary work, written by Ben Jonson. It is also known by the alternative title The Satyr. The work marked a major development in Jonson's career, as the first of many entertainments and masques that he would write for the Stuart Court.
The entertainment was designed to welcome the members of the new royal family to England during their progress from Edinburgh to London. It was performed on 25 June 1603, before the new queen consort, Anne of Denmark, and her son Prince Henry, at Althorp, the Northamptonshire estate of the Spencer family. (The then-head of the family, Sir Robert Spencer, was created 1st Baron Spencer of Wormleighton less than a month later, on 21 July 1603.) The main speaker in the entertainment is a satyr, yielding the alternative title, and the cast includes fairies and elves — a blending of figures from both classical and native English folklore that Jonson would employ in future works as well (see, for example, The Fortunate Isles and Their Union of 1625). The new queen is personified as Queen Mab.
Under its full and fulsome title, A Particular Entertainment of the Queen and Prince their Highness at Althorp, the work was entered into the Stationers' Register on 19 March 1604, and was published later that year in a quarto that also included Jonson's The Coronation Triumph. The quarto was printed by Valentine Simmes for the bookseller Edward Blount. The entertainment was reprinted in the first folio collection of Jonson's works in 1616, and was thereafter included in the collected works.
Jonson's attempt to win royal favor during the previous reign had not succeeded: his play Cynthia's Revels was poorly received when acted at Court in 1601, and he gained no preferment from Queen Elizabeth. Jonson fared much better in the new reign: he wrote several entertainments in the early Jacobean era, and in 1605 his first Court masque, The Masque of Blackness, was staged at Whitehall Palace. From then till Chloridia in 1631, Jonson was the most regularly employed masque writer for the Stuarts. He produced a major segment of his total literary output for their court, and received a large share of his income from those works.
- E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923; Vol. 3, p. 391.