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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.
MASQUES AT COURT.
1. Definition of the Masque-Its Courtly Character-Its Partial Influence
over the Regular Drama.—II. Its Italian Origin.-III, Masques at
- Jonson's Libretti–His Quarrels with Jones-Architect versus Poet
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
DEFINITION OF THE MASQUE.
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 ;
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
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,
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.