Music in the English Courtly Masque, 1604-1640

By Peter Walls | Go to book overview
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Epilogue

Charles I left London in March 1642. Six months later a satirical pamphlet described the changed atmosphere at Whitehall. Amongst the manifestations of courtly extravagance and pretension which it exposed, the masque featured prominently. The kind of imagery which suffused masque texts was put to the service of irony:

. . . Majesty had wont to sit inthron'd within those glorious Walls, darting their splendour with more awfull brightnesse then the great Luminaries in the Firmament. And with the same life and vigour Cherishing the hearts of their admiring followers, And creating to those Favourites on whom their beames of grace reflected, names of honour, and estates to maititaine it till the Worlds end . . .

In the Cockpit and Revelling Roomes, where at a Play or Masque the darkest night was converted to the brightest Day that ever shin'd, by the luster of Torches, the sparkling of rich Jewells and the variety of those incomparable and excellent Faces, from whence the other [sic] derived their brightnesse, Comparative whereunto to paralell [sic] the refulgencie of their bright-shining splendor, Now you may goe in without a Ticket, or the danger of a broken-pate, you may enter at the Kings side, walke round about the Theaters, view the Pullies, the Engines, conveyances, or contrivances of every several Scaene And not an Usher o' th' Revells, or Engineere to envy or finde fault with your discovery, although they receive no gratuitle for the sight of them.1

The envy and resentment that the élite had aroused is palpable. In what is yet another variant on the 'insubstantial pageant' theme, this pamphlet reminds us that the civil war determined that the fully developed court masque was to be a short-lived genre.

Two dramatists prominent in the writing of Caroline masques did not, however, entirely give up on the stage. For both William Davenant and James Shirley the masque seemed a way around Puritan restrictions. There were two reasons for this. First, the masque's allegorical tradition meant that it could be represented as morally improving rather than -- as the Parliamentary ordinance

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1
A Deep Sigh Breathed Through the Lodgings at white-Hall, Deploring the Absence of the Court, and the Miseries of the Pallace (Wing D812); 'Printed for N. V. and J. B. 1642' sigs. A2 and [A3v]. The British Library copy (in the Thomasson Tract collection) has a handwritten date 'Octob: 4th'. The existence of this fascinating pamphlet, in which a satirical description of court life is mixed with regret at its passing, was first noted by G. Thorn-Drury, "'Whitehall in 1642'", RES 1 ( 1925), 462.

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