The Vision of Delight

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The Vision of Delight was a Jacobean era masque written by Ben Jonson. It was most likely performed on Twelfth Night, 6 January 1617 in the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, and repeated on 19 January that year.[1]

The Vision of Delight was first published in the second folio collection of Jonson's works in 1641.


The scholarly consensus favors the view that the masque was designed by Inigo Jones,[2] though no firm historical evidence necessitates this conclusion, and data on the masque's design elements are not extant.

The masque's music, composed by Nicholas Lanier, has unfortunately not survived, except for a setting for the final song.


The masque's first performance was attended by the Native Americans Pocahontas and Tomocomo, two months before Pocahontas's untimely death.[3][4]


The masque was connected with George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, the favorite of King James I. The Vision of Delight was performed on the day Villiers received his title as Earl (later Duke) of Buckingham. Buckingham had sponsored Jonson's masque The Gypsies Metamorphosed (1621); he had also danced in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1618).

The show[edit]

The Vision of Delight has been regarded as almost a prototypical or quintessential example of the masque; it features the mythological figures and personifications of abstractions that are standard for the form. The work opens with personifications of Delight, Harmony, Grace, Love, Laughter, Revel, Sport, and Wonder; they are later joined by the ancient Greek deities Zephyrus and Aurora. Jonson's verse, heralding the coming of Spring, is lush and vibrant; the nineteenth-century critic and editor William Gifford called the masque "one of the most beautiful of Jonson's little pieces, light, airy, harmonious, and poetical in no common degree. It stands without parallel among performances of this kind...."[5] Two anti-masques feature comical figures of "pantaloons" and "phantasms," followed by the more serious portion of the work in which the aristocratic masquers descend from a Bower of Spring to dance their dances. The effect is one of "glowing idealism."[6]

One passage in Jonson's text has been cited by critics as influencing John Milton's poem Il Penseroso.[7]


Despite its evanescent surface appearance (one commentator has called the work "a masque about masques"),[8] Jonson's text is not without intellectual weight; Jonson based his masque on traditional dream theory, relying most likely on the Commentarii in Somnium Scipionis, Macrobius's study of the Dream of Scipio by Cicero. Jonson treats the audience of the performance as an assemblage of dreamers, and through his masque illustrates Macrobius's categories of dreams.[9]


  1. ^ Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds., The New Intellectuals: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1977; pp. 79, 86-7.
  2. ^ Leah Sinanoglou Marcus, The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1986; p. 74.
  3. ^ Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2000; p. 199.
  4. ^ James P. P. Horn, A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America, New York, Basic Books, 2005; p. 227.
  5. ^ William Gifford, ed., The Works of Ben Jonson, Vol. 7; London, Bickers and Son, 1875; p. 282.
  6. ^ Marcus, p. 104.
  7. ^ Wiltshire Stanton Austin, The Lives of the Poets-Laureate, London, Richard Bentley, 1853; p. 96.
  8. ^ Mary Chan, Music in the Theatre of Ben Jonson. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1980; p. 276.
  9. ^ Logan and Smith, p. 79.