Music in the English Courtly Masque, 1604-1640

By Peter Walls | Go to book overview

1
Texts, Scores, and Musicians

Speculative and Practical Music in the Masque

The fingers of the Powres aboue, do tune
The harmony of this Peace . . .
(Cymbeline v. v. 466-7)

The soothsayer's comment on the final reconciliation in Cymbeline comes after the descent of Jupiter in the vision scene; like so many of the climactic moments in Shakespeare's late plays, it is shaped by the court masque. This is not simply a matter of borrowing clearly recognizable elements from masque devices, but a way of using these features to allude to the ethos of the masque -- an assertion that just, benevolent, and cohesive human government participates in a much larger order. The image of such government as divinely inspired music permeates masque texts in the Jacobean and Caroline period -- and it endows the music heard in those entertainments with an immediate and vital significance.

In Samuel Daniel's Vision of the Twelve Goddesses (the first full masque of James I's reign), Iris describes Britain as 'the Land of ciuil Musick and of rest' (l. 259). The phrase, associating music with order in society, indicates succinctly the symbolic importance music assumed in the Stuart masque. Jonson often uses a similar form of expression; in The Irish Masque a Bard is told:

This is that IAMES of which long since thou sung'st,
Should end our countreyes most vnnaturall broyles;
And if her eare, then deafned with the drum,
Would stoupe but to the musique of his peace,
Shee need not with the spheares change harmony. (ll. 156-60)

'The music of his peace' is a key phrase -- and it comes at the climax and turning-point of the sentence. The same phrase reappears in two later masques. The herald in News from the New World proclaims to the king that the masquers move 'to the musicke of your peace' (l. 314). In Pan's Anniversary all the bravest spirits of Arcadia discuss what rites would befit 'the Musique of his peace' (l. 68). The idea is returned to later in the masque when a shepherd encourages the masquers to dance:

-7-

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