Court Masques: Jacobean and Caroline Entertainments, 1605-1640

By David Lindley | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THE masques included in this selection run from Jonson Masque of Blackness ( 1605), the second masque performed after the accession of James I, to Davenant Salmacida Spolia ( 1640), the last court performance before the country slid into the Civil War. They not only span the period of the early Smart monarchy, but also encapsulate virtually the whole history of the developed court masque in England. The form grew out of earlier entertainments, mummings, and disguisings, but as it was defined in Jonson's early masques, it centred on the arrival of aristocratic masquers, elaborately costumed, to perform their specially choreographed dances. After 1609 their entry was customarily preceded by an antimasque (also known as the 'antemasque' or 'antic masque'), performed by professional actors, and serving, as Jonson said, as a 'foil' to the main masque. In the later Caroline period these antimasques were much extended, though the basic pattern of comic or disruptive figures overthrown or contained by the final arrival of courtly aristocrats remained constant. At the end of the dramatic entertainment the world of the masque was dissolved, as the masquers took out partners from the audience to dance with them in the revels.

Masques were major political events, often inordinately costly, where the court displayed itself not only to itself, but also to foreign ambassadors and diplomats who eagerly sought invitation (and frequently caused problems in quarrels over precedence, or because of the refusal of an ambassador from one country to appear with another).

Theatre historians have long recognized the significance of the masque in the history of the aesthetics and mechanics of the stage. Inigo Jones, who was involved from the first to the last of these entertainments, and exercised an increasingly dominant role in their production, introduced perspective, illusionist setting to the English theatre, and developed ever-more ingenious stage machinery throughout his career. In the earlier masques scenes were changed by the machina versatilis or 'turning machine', but in later masques sophisticated series of flats slid in on shutters or dropped from flying galleries made complex scene changes possible. (See Fig. 11.) Musicologists, too, have charted in the masque the development of a

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