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lucid air. It is not to be wondered that a monumental splendour and sublimity distinguishes what still survives of Attic tragedy and comedy. It is not to be wondered that the works of our Elizabethan playwrights should be incomplete and fragmentary, grandiose by accident, perfect only in portions, imposing in their mass and multitude more than in single masterpieces. The marvel rather is that on such a theatre as that of London, Shakspere should have risen like a sun, to give light to the heavens of modern poetry. The marvel is that round him should be gathered such a constellation-planets of Marlowe's, Jonson's, Webster's, Fletcher's magnitude, each ruling his own luminous house of fame. In the history of literature, the Elizabethan Drama is indeed a paradox and problem. Nothing so great and noble has emerged elsewhere from such dishonour. Those who seek to harmonise this paradox, to solve this problem, find their answer in the fact that England's spirit, at that epoch, penetrated and possessed the stage. The fact itself is scarcely explicable. Yet the fact remains. At some decisive moments of world-history, art, probably without the artist's consciousness, gives self-expression to a nation. One of these moments was the age of Elizabeth and James. One of these elect nations was England. The art whereby we English found expression, was the Drama.



1. Definition of the Masque-Its Courtly Character-Its Partial Influence

over the Regular Drama.—II. Its Italian Origin.-III, Masques at
Rome in 1474-At Ferrara in 1502—Morris Dances-At Urbino in
1513—Triumphal Cars.-IV. Florentine Trionfi—Machinery and
Engines—The Marriage Festivals of Florence in 1565-Play and
Masques of Cupid and Psyche-The Masque of Dreams-Marriage
Festival of Bianca Capello in 1579.–V. Reception of Henri III. at
Venice in 1574-His Passage from Murano to San Niccolò on Lido.
-VI. The Masque transported to England—At the Court of
Henry VIII. and Elizabeth-Development in the Reign of James I.--
Specific Character of the English Masque—The Share of Poetry in its
Success.-VII. Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones-Italian and English
Artists --The Cost of Masques.-VIII. Prose Descriptions of Masques

- Jonson's Libretti–His Quarrels with Jones-Architect versus Poet
IX. Royal Performers—Professionals in the Anti-Masque.—X. Variety
of Jonson's Masques—Their Names—Their Subjects—Their Lyric
Poetry.-XI. Feeling for Pastoral Beauty-Pan's Anniversary.-
XII. The Masque of Beauty-Prince Henry's Barriers-Masque of
Oberon.—XIII. Royal and Noble Actors—Lady Arabella Stuart-
Prince Henry-Duke Charles, The Earl and Countess of Essex-
Tragic Irony and Pathos of the Masques at Court.-XIV. Effect of
Masques upon the Drama-Use of them by Shakspere and Fletcher
-By Marston and Tourneur— Their great Popularity-Milton's
Partiality for Masques—The ‘Arcades' and 'Comus.'

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The Masque in England was a dramatic species, occupying a middle place between a Pageant and a Play. It combined dancing and music with lyric poetry and declamation, in a spectacle characterised by magnificence of presentation. It made but little demand on histrionic talent. The persons who performed a Masque had only to be noble in appearance, richly dressed, and dignified in movement. The real authors and actors were the poet, who planned the motive; the mechanist, who prepared the architectural surroundings, shifted the scenes, and devised the complicated engines requisite for bringing cars upon the stage or lowering a goddess from the heavens; the scene-painter; the milliner; the leader of the band ; the teacher of the ballet. In the hands of these collaborating artists, the performers were little more than animated puppets. They played their parts sufficiently, provided their costumes were splendid and their carriage stately. Therefore the Masque became a favourite amusement with wealthy amateurs and courtiers aiming at effect. Since it implied a large expenditure on costly dresses, jewels, gilding, candlelights, and music, it was an indulgence which only the rich could afford. For its proper performance, a whole regiment of various craftsmen, each excellent in his degree and faculty, had to be employed. We are thus prepared to understand why the Masque was emphatically a branch of Court parade, in which royal personages and the queens of fashion trod the daïs of Greenwich or Whitehall in gala dress on festival occasions. The principal actors posed upon this private stage as Olympian deities or Personifications of the Virtues, surrounded by a crowd of ballet-dancers, singers, lutists, and buffoons. All the elements of scenic pomp—the Pageant, the Triumph, the Morris-dance, the Tournament, the Pastoral, the Allegorical Procession—were pressed into the service of this medley. And to make a perfect Masque after the English fashion, accomplished actors



from the open stage and musicians had to lend their aid, who played the comic parts and sang the lyrics written for them by a poet capable of mastering and controlling the spirit of a hybrid so peculiar.

On public theatres there was but little scope for Masques. Yet the species influenced our dramatic style in many important points. Shows which mimicked Masques at Court were often introduced into the regular drama, both as motives in the plot, and also for spectacular effect. To what an extent they imposed upon imagination, appears in the language of the poets. Marston uses this striking simile in one of his tragic plays :

Night, like a Masque, is entered heaven's great hall

With thousand torches ushering her way. Milton, in his · Ode on the Nativity,' describes the descent of Peace to earth, in a stanza which paints a common episode of such performances :

But he, her fears to cease,

Sent down the meek-eyed Peace ;
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding

Down through the turning sphere,

His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing ;

And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes an universal peace through sea and land.


The Masque came to England from Italy. In the first historical mention made of it, Hall writes: On the Day of Epiphany at night, the king with eleven other were disguised after the manner of Italy, called a Mask, a thing not seen before in England. The date was 1512-13. The king was Henry VIII. Up to this time we read in the Court records of pageants, morices, disguisings, interludes, plays, revels. The Masque was recognised as a new thing, combining and absorbing other previous State-shows. After the same date, the terms of ‘maskelyn' and 'masculers' occur in ‘Records of the Revels,' pointing clearly to ‘Maschera' and 'Mascherati, possibly pronounced in dialect by the Italian servants of the king. Thus there is no doubt at all about the Italian origin of the Masque. Marlowe puts these lines into the mouth of Gaveston, when that favourite looks forward to his life at Court:

I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,
Musicians, that with touching of a string
May draw the pliant king which way I please :
Music and poetry is his delight ;
Therefore I 'll have Italian masks by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows;
And in the day, when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad ;
My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat-feet dance the antic hay.

The point is so clear, and at the same time so important for the comprehension of the subject, that a digression on the Triumphs and Ballets of the Italians may be allowed to serve as introduction to Ben Jonson, Chapman, Fletcher, Beaumont, and Milton.

! Compare the Florentine Mandragola for Mandragora.

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