“A Virginia Maske”
In The Staple of News, Ben Jonson’s character, Peni-boy Canter, refers to “the historian” Captain John Smith for his information about “Pokahontas.” Smith was the early Virginia colonist who produced the most copious texts about the colony, including the Generall Historie of Virginia, New England and the Sommer Islands, divided into six books. He is particularly noted for his “ethnographic” material about the Powhatan Indians, material that, as the epilogue will show, remains authoritative to this day. In his masque, Jonson designed his displays of “New World” feathered creatures, the Volatees, to please and flatter the court; this chapter will show that following his lead, Smith also displayed singing and dancing Indians in his texts to promote his own interests with the Virginia Company and the court. Just as Jonson looked to Smith’s texts for information about Virginia, Smith used Jonson’s printed masques to understand the desires of the court, an audience Smith clearly wanted to reach. In this chapter, I look closely at a specific incident of “singing and dancing” Indians in Smith’s text. The 1623 broadside prospectus for Captain John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia advertises that in book III one can read “how Pokahontas entertained him with a maske.” In the 1624 Generall Historie, Smith rewrote an account of a Powhatan Indian women’s dance, which had originally appeared in print in 1612, as a formal “Virginia Maske.” Seven years after Ben Jonson published his masques in his 1616 folio The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, Smith’s prospectus invited the English reading public to witness in print a “Maske” by the “salvage” inhabitants of the newly explored and settled territory of Virginia.
KeywordsIndian Woman Title Page Romantic Love Colonial Authority Colonial Transformation
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