Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England

Article excerpt

Sarah Carpenter and Meg Twycross, Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England, Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002). 418 pp.; 32 plates, 14 figures. ISBN 0-7546-0230-3. £47.50.

In Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early Tudor England, Sarah Carpenter and Meg Twycross have succeeded in drawing together a wealth of information from the ongoing RHED project and other sources, to compile what is - for students and enthusiasts of English drama, literature, history, and anthropology - an indispensable work on masks and masking practices in medieval and early modern England. Following a general discussion of the types and theoretical effects of differing social, ritual, and dramatic masking practices, the work provides a wide range of examples of early masking in Europe: from a discussion of the Anglo-Saxon grima, the Roman Saturnalia and the early Kalends festivals, early cross-dressing and animal costumes, the Feast of Fools, the continental Carnival, the northern European Schembartlauf, and northwestern European (and English) mumming, to other possible influential folk traditions involving the use of masks, costumes and/or make-up. Numerous specific and enlightening examples are offered, but the greater part of the work avoids whole-scale analysis.

The second part of the work focuses on late-medieval courtly masking, looking at the theatrical spectacle of tournaments, courtly disguisings (with some discussion of the morality play of Widom), courtly mumming, the sixteenth-century advent of 'amorous masking', and finishing with a look at examples of the same from Shakespeare's plays. As many of these types of masking activities reflect a non-verbal tradition, this part relies heavily on evidence from contemporary visual art, surviving masks and costumes, and the Court Revels accounts. Again, extended analysis of these masking practices is delayed in favour of a wide and lucid array of particular examples and eyewitness accounts.

The work achieves its finest moments in the third part with a fully realized discussion of theatrical masking. …

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