Court Masques: Jacobean and Caroline Entertainments, 1605-1640

By David Lindley | Go to book overview

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The court masque has commanded rather different kinds of interest during this century. After the surveys of the genre in the earlier part of the century, post-war critics focused chiefly on the handling of formal structure, and on detailed study of the iconology deployed in the texts. In the last fifteen years or so it has been the politics of the masque and its implication in the world of the court that has commanded interest. The student approaching the court masque for the first time would do well to start with Orgel Jonsonian Masque, or Martin Butler compact introduction in the Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, or my 'Introduction' to The Court Masque. After that it very much depends on where the student's interests lie.

If in the stagecraft, then Orgel and Strong Inigo Jones is an essential point of departure, with John Peacock's articles (destined for publication in book form in the near future); if in the music, then Sabol provides the texts, but only Mary Chan's rather bland book offers a full-length study of the function of music in the masques. Students of dance have even less to work with--surely an area that would repay further research.

Though iconographic study has rather gone out of fashion, proper understanding of the handling of classical myth is an essential underpinning for any political analysis. D. J. Gordon's seminal essays are required reading, and Richard Peterson's more recent article on Pleasure Reconciled is an excellent example of such analysis.

The advent of New Historicism and Cultural Materialism has led to a rethinking of the relationships between literature and history. Strangely, perhaps, despite the (rather obscurely expressed) work of Jonathan Goldberg, most of the interesting recent books on the masque have operated from rather older historical principles. Whether in the slightly strained, but often stimulating, exegeses of Leah Marcus, or in the readings of Caroline masques by Altieri, Sharpe, Veevers, and Butler, much effort has gone into the precise elucidation of historical contexts for individual masques. Where these critics disagree, of course, is in their view of the history of the period--so a 'revisionist' like Sharpe slugs it out with a 'materialist' like Venuti. It all makes for vigorous debate, so that criticism of the masque is perhaps livelier now than at any time in the past.

Comprehensive bibliographies of masque criticism are to be found in David M. Bergeron (ed.), Twentieth Century Criticism of English Masques, Pageants and Entertainments 1558-1642 ( San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1972) and Lindley, The Court Masque. The list which follows, therefore, concentrates on more recent work, and is divided into major general studies of the

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