Jonson's Gossips and the Stuart Family Drama


  • Kristen McDermott Central Michigan University



During the year 1608-9, Ben Jonson composed two major works, The Masque of Queens and Epicoene. Both works share a striking character type: the 'gossip' or tattling woman whose appearance is intimately connected to folkloric birth and marriage rituals. By offering the gossip as a parodic female type, while offering only androgynous statues as its opposite, Jonson's court masque participates in James's paternal metaphors of statecraft and personal rule, asserting that the benevolent gaze of the father-king lawfully penetrates even the traditionally privileged female space of the birthing-chamber. In the satiric Epicoene, the figure of the gossip comments more pointedly on the disruptive nature of social discourse unmediated by the moralizing context of the nuclear family. The translation of the gossip from a figure associated in Queens with threatening female sexuality into the androgynous figure of Epicoene implies Jonson's alliance with, and perhaps his effort to augment, James's 'nourish-father' metaphor of kingship at the moment it was beginning to lose currency.