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The Court Masque

Martin Butler

Of the dozen or so poets who wrote masques for early Stuart Whitehall, Jonson had the longest, most varied, and most innovative career. Although he was not asked to provide the Stuart court’s first Twelfth Night masque – that opportunity went to Samuel Daniel, whose The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses was danced by Queen Anne in January 1604 – Jonson was commissioned to write The Masque of Blackness the following winter, and thereafter it was he who, year on year and almost without intermission, scripted the major entertainment for each successive Jacobean Christmas. During the remaining two decades of James’s reign, he wrote a further twenty Christmas masques, an annual output of festival texts unmatched by any other poet. Only in 1607, when Campion’s Lord Hay’s Masque was the main celebration, and 1613 and 1619, when Jonson was absent from London, did the Whitehall season pass without his providing a large-scale entertainment. In the next reign, financial shortages led to a gap in the sequence of Christmas festivals, but it was Jonson who scripted the first two major masques danced by Charles and Henrietta Maria in winter 1630–1. He also wrote speeches for two combats at the barriers (1606, 1610) – these were neo-chivalric exercises performed on foot by aristocratic combatants showing their skill at push of pike – and for an equestrian tilt staged to celebrate the Earl of Somerset’s wedding (1614). Further commissions came from aristocratic patrons who needed to mount private festivals in honour of royal guests. Jonson wrote the earliest entertainment of the reign to survive as a text, a welcome for Queen Anne and Prince Henry to Sir Robert Spencer’s house in Northamptonshire in June 1603. There followed five entertainments given to James by the Earl of Salisbury at his various properties around London (1604–9), Lord Hay’s masque for the French ambassador (1617), and provincial shows by the Marquis of Buckingham (1621) and Earl of Newcastle (1633–4). A London christening entertainment was also written for Newcastle’s family (1620). Although less prestigious than the grand masques, such aristocratic festivities were notable additions to the court’s calendar. Further ceremonial commissions came from the city, the most important of which were the speeches that Jonson wrote for the welcome when James took symbolic possession of his capital in March 1604. Jonson prepared the Lord Mayor’s pageant in 1604 and wrote shows offered to the King by the Merchant Taylors’ company (1607) and the Merchant Adventurers (1616); material for a civic welcome following Charles’s accession in 1625 was commissioned but never presented. All in all, the range and variety of Jonson’s contribution to Stuart festival were unrivalled.

The court’s tradition of seasonal masquing and revelry stretched well back into the Middle Ages. Notable early examples were the ludi featuring masked dancers wearing animal heads by which Edward III was entertained at Christmas 1347, and the famous Christmas game of 1377, when 130 vizarded men visited Richard II and danced and played at dice with him. In the sixteenth century, such activities were increasingly elaborated and formalized, not least because of the examples set by courtly forms current across the Channel. The term ‘maske’ was first used by the historian Edward Hall to describe the revel on Twelfth Night 1512, when Henry VIII and eleven gentlemen arrived at court in disguise ‘after the manner of Italie’. They encountered the ladies, ‘daunced and commoned together, as the fashion of the Maske is’, then ‘took their leave and departed’ (Hall, 1809, 526). Henrician revel was remarkable for its scenic pageantry, as it introduced floats or triumphal cars similar to those that were already common in Italian and Burgundian festivity. At different times in the 1510s dancers made their entries mounted on arbours, castles, gardens, hills, and ships. Henry also instituted the post of Master of Revels, who was responsible for coordinating court entertainment and supplying costumes, stages, and lights, and whose office was central to theatre administration down to 1642. Comparable levels of masquing were not maintained by Henry’s successors, who were more financially cautious and did not participate in disguisings themselves. Under Elizabeth, the typical Christmas entertainments were plays provided by visiting companies of professional actors. However, the Elizabethan court continued to see masques, ‘antics’, and ‘feats of activity’ frequently, if occasionally, and court plays often benefited from the availability of scenery and mechanical effects. The Elizabethan Revels Office had extensive experience in emblematic or decorative scene-painting and the manufacture of special props (Astington, 1999, 125–45).

The accession of James Stuart in 1603 was a watershed for court culture, for under James the expectation quickly developed that winter should be a time of lavish festivity. The festival season ran from Christmas to Shrovetide, and each winter saw at least one masque, and usually more, besides the customary round of plays, banquets, and gambling. The favoured day of celebration was Twelfth Night, which was always the culmination of Christmas revelry, but masques might also be staged on New Year’s Day, Candlemas (the feast of the Purification, 2 February), and Shrove Tuesday. Frequently other ceremonials were timed to coincide with the season, bulking out the festivities paid for by the crown. The marriages of Sir Philip Herbert (1604), the Earl of Essex (1606), and the Earl of Somerset (1613) took place during Christmas, and special masques or tilts were arranged for them, those for Somerset being particularly extensive. Prince Charles was created a duke on the same day that The Masque of Blackness was danced, and the King’s favourite, George Villiers, was made an earl immediately before The Vision of Delight (1617). No less significant was the fact that these performances were personally led by members of the royal family or their principal servants. King James never danced after leaving Scotland, but Queen Anne appeared in six masques between 1604 and 1611, including four of Jonson’s. It has recently been argued that she was the main force behind early Jacobean masquing (see Barroll, 2001; McManus, 2002). In fact, she was far from being the sole patron of court festivity, though it is true that her masques were high-profile events and drew attention to the prestige of her household and her status as Whitehall’s most important woman. In 1610 Prince Henry acquired his own household, servants, and budget, and he commissioned three festivals from Jonson before his untimely death in 1612. Prince Charles’s first appearance as principal masquer was in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1618), and thereafter he was the main performer in all the later Jacobean masques, though the favourite, Buckingham, with his compelling beauty and athletic dancing, must have seemed almost as much the centre of these occasions as the prince. After Charles inherited the throne, much theatrical activity at court was promoted by the new Queen, Henrietta Maria. In the 1630s masques were usually staged in pairs, a masque by the King at Christmas being answered by the Queen’s festival at Shrovetide.

The new mode of masquing was shockingly expensive. Unlike Elizabeth’s relatively modest entertainments, Stuart masques were always elaborate spectacles, and typically involved sumptuous scenic display and glittering costumes, as well as music provided by consorts of lutes, viols, and wind instruments, and actors and singers to perform the written text. Every performance used a sizeable company of professional artists. For Love Freed (1611), the musicians consisted of twenty-four lutenists (twelve of whom sang dressed as priests), fourteen violins, thirteen oboes and sackbuts, and fifteen other instrumentalists – all at a total cost of £90 (see Masque Archive, Love Freed, 4). Alphonso Ferrabosco was paid £20 for composing the songs, and Thomas Lupo and Robert Johnson had £5 each for making musical arrangements. Two dancing masters, Nicolas Confesse and Jacques Bochan, received £70 in total for teaching the dances, and twelve dancers and five performers of the speaking parts had £22 between them. As for Inigo Jones, who designed the set, and Ben Jonson, they each received £40 (which seems to have been Jonson’s standard reward for writing a masque throughout the whole period). Beyond this there was the expense of building and painting the set, which would have required a big investment of time and labour for craftsmen from the Office of Works. Most extravagant of all were the silks and other rich tissues worn by the masquers. At this time fabrics were disproportionately expensive luxury goods, so that the real costs of the performances were often carried on the masquers’ backs, the wealth embodied in their garments far exceeding the outlay lavished on other parts of the event. Three masquing suits for Pleasure Reconciled cost £249, and two for Neptune’s Triumph (1624) cost £171. The silkman’s bill for The Masque of Queens (1609) was £1,984. Queens must have been an exceptionally expensive occasion, for masque budgets were customarily limited to around £2,000, which was what Blackness and Prince Henry’s Barriers (1610) each cost the crown. In later years, although the masques became more elaborate, their costs were held down. For example, £400 was set aside for News from the New World (1621), while Charles spent £600 on Love’s Triumph and Henrietta Maria paid £800 for Chloridia (1631). Savings were probably made by requiring the masquers to buy their own costumes. Certainly one advantage to the crown of having marriage masques danced at Whitehall was that the family and friends always paid the bills.

Late in 1604, the Privy Counsellors, mindful of the £2,000 that The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses had cost, debated the outlay planned for The Masque of Blackness, but though anxious about the cost, they advised James that if he wanted such entertainments he must be prepared to pay adequately for them. To cancel the masque for economy’s sake would be ‘neither safe nor honourable … The saving of £4,000 would be more pernicious than the expense of ten times the value’ (HMC 9 [Salisbury MSS], 16.388). It was part of the ethos of court festival that vast sums of money should be seen to be squandered on a single night’s entertainment, as such casual disregard for cost spoke to the magnificence and power of the new dynasty. Masques were part of a larger round of symbolism by which the monarchy legitimated itself, the week by week parade of feasts and public dining, receptions, investitures, welcomes and dismissals of ambassadors, weddings, promulgations of treaties, Garter nights, New Year’s gift-giving, touching for the King’s Evil, and so forth that constituted the ceremonial face of Stuart sovereignty. The competition amongst the masque audiences for access to the performances and, once inside, for good places to sit, testifies to their usefulness for binding the monarch and his political elites into affinity. But masquing was also part of the international iconography of kingship, the visual language by which Britain asserted itself as a force to be reckoned with in Europe. By imitating ceremonial forms that were current across the Continent, these festivals recruited art to the service of power, advertising the court’s cultural capital and the dignity and civility of the new British state. With their classical themes demonstrating the absorption of the past into the present, and their technological accomplishments asserting the prince’s authority over nature, they made London an equal to Madrid, Florence, and Paris, and the Stuarts a dynasty to rival Habsburg, Medici, and Bourbon. As is shown by the interminable squabbling over invitations between the foreign diplomats resident in London, Stuart festival became an arena where international politics went on by other means, and where the niceties of precedence were obsessively scrutinized for coded signals about the honour or disregard done to other nations. Masques allowed the Stuarts to be seen as confident, modernizing, and ambitious monarchs, whose cultural and intellectual accomplishments bespoke their wisdom, aspiration, and command.

One mark of James’s ambition was his decision to improve Whitehall’s ceremonial resources by replacing the wooden Banqueting House he had inherited, erected in three weeks in 1581 and located by the main palace entrance, between the sermon court to the east and the tiltyard and public highway to the west. The Masque of Blackness and Hymenaei were danced here, but John Stow said it was ‘rotten [and] slight builded’ (Bentley, 1943–68, 6.255). The new structure was begun in 1606 and finished in time for The Masque of Beauty in 1608. A surviving plan by John Smythson shows a large rectangular room measuring 120 feet by 53 feet, with seven bay windows, and pillars indicating galleries on three sides. For masques, a stage and machinery would be erected at the open end to the south, and boxes and scaffolds were placed between the pillars. The whole effect is described in the eyewitness account of Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue left by Orazio Busino, almoner to the Venetian embassy (Masque Archive, Pleasure Rec., 19). But this hall was destroyed by fire in 1619, and James immediately commissioned a new and grander replacement from Inigo Jones, erected on the same site at a cost of about £15,000. Jones’s building, which still survives at Westminster today, was a revolutionary structure. A lofty and harmonious double cube, 110 feet long by 55 feet in depth and height, and with no intrusive internal arcading, it was the first major neoclassical building in England. It marked a complete break with the vernacular architecture of Tudor Whitehall, and stood as a monument to the modernizing ambitions of the Stuarts. The inaugural event was Jonson’s Masque of Augurs on Twelfth Night 1622, and masques continued to be staged here until 1635, when the new Rubens ceiling was installed and a purpose-built masquing house was erected to prevent the pictures being damaged by candle-smoke. Of course, both Banqueting Houses were used for far more than masques: they were the centrepieces of Whitehall’s ceremonial life, and the seats, stages, and scenery were only ever temporary fit-ups. When the Banqueting House was unavailable for masques, as happened with News from the New World (1620) and Pan’s Anniversary (1621), the early Tudor Great Hall was used, though this was narrower and impeded by a screen passage at the south end. A plan survives of it readied for the performance of a play with scenes in 1635 (Orgel & Strong, 2.638–9).

In preparing these rooms for performances, the Office of Works would erect stepped scaffolds for seats on three sides, and position an elevated chair of state opposite stage centre for the king. The King’s physical centrality reflected his rank in the social hierarchy, and the need for him to be seen as well as to see. Audience accommodation was inevitably limited by the space. Busino thought there were 600 ladies at Pleasure Reconciled, which suggests a total audience of around 1,200, though this estimate sounds generous, as the room’s capacity would be lessened by the insertion of a stage and scenery, often separated from the spectators by a frame or proscenium arch (the earliest evidence for a proscenium comes in the Haddington Masque, 1608). The stages were surprisingly shallow, given the complexity of their machinery. The plan for William Davenant’s Salmacida Spolia (1640) shows a stage 31 feet deep, and a Jones sketch for scenery, possibly for Pan’s Anniversary, has a set that looks even tighter (Orgel & Strong, 1.325). But every stage had steps leading down to the auditorium, and it seems clear that much of the action took place in the middle of the floor, on the large central area covered with green baize that was left clear for formal and social dancing. Although Francis Bacon said masques should ‘have some motions upon the scene itself before their coming down, for it draws the eye strangely, and makes it with great pleasure to desire to see that it cannot perfectly discern’ (Essays, ed. Vickers, 88), the dances were the centrepiece of the festival, and occupied the greatest part of its time: the stage direction repeated from text to text is that ‘the masquers descend’. That separation between performer and spectator, fiction and reality, which is so central to more recent theatre, did not obtain in the masques. The key structural effect, attesting to the form’s roots in masquerades and disguisings, was always that the masquers should invade the social space of the hall and dance with some of the audience. The hall set-up reflected the circumstance that the line separating masquer from spectator was ultimately permeable.

Much the most impressive part of the occasion was the scenery, which was far more elaborate than anything that could be mounted in the professional playhouses. For the first time in the English theatre these scenes created an illusion of real place, as opposed to the dispersed or emblematic settings that were current hitherto (and which survived into early masques such as Blackness and Hymenaei, 1606). Here the crucial innovation was the adoption of single-point perspective – first decisively apparent in the sets for Prince Henry’s Barriers (1610) – and the ordering of the stage space into a visual hierarchy of near and far, above and below, centre and periphery. Modern critics have emphasized the link between single-point perspective and the dominance of the royal view. The King’s position opposite the vanishing point of the stage picture reinforced the visual aesthetic, and the perspective subliminally asserted the authority of his gaze. He alone had perfect sight of the event, while the further away one sat, the more inferior the view. But the scenery was also impressive because it changed, so that one seemingly substantial setting appeared to melt into another. As Jonson described the disappearance of the witches in The Masque of Queens (1609), ‘In the heat of their dance, on the sudden, was heard a sound of loud music, as if many instruments had made one blast; with which not only the hags themselves but the hell into which they ran quite vanished, and the whole face of the scene altered, scarce suffering the memory of such a thing’ (319–20). Such sudden and instantaneous transformation, performed not behind curtains or in darkness but in full view, expressed the magic of monarchy and its seemingly effortless ability to banish subversion and enforce its will. The devices that created these effects were the two systems for changing scenes, the machina versatilis or turning machine, and the scena ductilis, or tractable scene. The turning machine was a double-sided set that revolved on a central axis and could be reversed to disclose a dramatic new perspective. The globes in Hymenaei and Haddington, and the House of Fame in Queens, are devices of this kind. The scena ductilis was more elegant: a system of sliding flats ranged behind one another in parallel grooves, it allowed whole settings to be changed, and for the changes to be repeated several times. Jonson’s directions for Oberon (1611) describe how the scene of rocks ‘opened’ to disclose a palace, and then the palace ‘opened’ to reveal the masquers. Although vastly elaborated by the time of the spectacular masques of the 1630s, these systems remained the basic grammar of scenic staging throughout the period.

Scenic staging was amplified by other characteristic machinery. Action above the stage, by figures set in the ‘heavens’ or in moving clouds, was a great favourite and occurred with increasing complexity. John Pory was impressed by the eight ladies who descended from the clouds in Hymenaei, ‘not after the stale downright perpendicular fashion, like a bucket into a well, but came gently sloping down’ (Masque Archive, Hym., 1). A fly-gallery was first used for Chloridia, which in the post-Jonsonian masques would make even more wonderful aerial ballets possible. In Chloridia, the front curtain was for the first time drawn upwards, and at the end a hill rose up with five figures upon it, one of whom then flew up to heaven; the effect was all the more awesome as the stage out of which the hill came was at most six or seven feet high. In Blackness the seascape with waves in motion was probably created by moving cloths, or by the painted boards and levers illustrated in Nicola Sabbatini’s theatrical treatise Practica di fabricar scene e machine ne’ teatri (1638: see Nicoll, 1937, 59). The masquers arrived in a floating shell, and this appears in the Works accounts as a stage forty-foot square on wheels (Masque Archive, Blackness, 4). Sets and costumes were always brightly decorated to make the most of visual resources. Lighting came from wax candles, increased by reflectors and dimmed by shields: the performance of Townshend’s Albion’s Triumph (1632) consumed seven dozen torches, sixteen dozen ‘branches [candelabra] of good wax’ and two hundred ‘sizes’ [small round candles] (Orgel & Strong, 2.464). A prized effect was made by ‘diaphanal glasses’, bottles filled with coloured liquid which, when lit from behind, projected an intense light that made them glow like precious stones. The House of Fame in Queens was embossed with luminous emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, and the Theobalds Entertainment (1607) presented a throne stuck about with sparkling gems. Equally admired was the ‘fountain’ or ‘mine’ of light, a dazzling concave of focused illumination used for moments of sudden revelation (as in The Golden Age Restored or Pan’s Anniversary), and sometimes combined with effects of motion, such as the whirling ‘region of fire’ that crowned the set in Hymenaei (195), or the ‘shifting’ colours in Oberon (Masque Archive, Electronic Edition, Oberon, 3). A brilliant light could be made by placing burning camphor in water, as recommended in Sebastiano Serlio’s 1545 treatise Architettura (which discusses the construction of stages in its section on perspective). The candles would be further refracted by silvered paint on the sets, sequins and metalled fabrics in the costumes, and by the spectators’ jewellery, so that the whole room glittered. Bacon wrote, ‘Let the scenes abound with light, specially coloured and varied … and oes, or spangs, as they are of no great cost, so they are of most glory’ (Essays, 88).

As the treatises by Serlio and Sabbatini show, such theatrical techniques were well known to European architects. The Office of Works had many craftsmen who could readily produce scenes or machines, such as the King’s master carpenter, William Portington, who created the set for The Masque of Beauty (1608) and perhaps did the same for Mercury Vindicated (1615). Sometimes foreign specialists were employed: since the 1613–14 season was mounted by the Florentine Constantino de’ Servi, he may have devised props for A Challenge at Tilt and The Irish Masque. But the aesthetic development of the masque is unthinkable without Inigo Jones (1573–1652), who was the man most frequently commissioned to design costumes and scenery (see Illustration 3). Nearly five hundred of his sketches for masques by Jonson, Townshend, Carew, and Davenant survive in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth. Jones began his career executing architectural work for aristocrats such as the Earl of Salisbury, and his earliest masque designs were undertaken in a freelance capacity. His first theatrical commissions were The Masque of Blackness in January 1605 and the co-design of a temporary theatre to entertain the court at Christ Church, Oxford, in August – for which ‘Mr Jones, a great traveller’, was paid £50 (Orrell, 1985, 24). In 1610 he was appointed Surveyor to Prince Henry, and in 1615 became Surveyor of the King’s Works, after which he was ex officio responsible for mounting all court masques. His surviving designs are all working sketches, intended either as specimens for patrons to approve or as archetypes from which the craftsmen could build: they preserve many changes, false starts, and unresolved possibilities. The costume designs sometimes offer the masquers alternative versions between which to choose, and add written notes on colours and fabrics. The sets are often squared in pencil, to ensure the accuracy of their proportions or for scaling up into full-size constructions. Sometimes there are scribbled diagrams trying out the groupings of performers on stage, and often the sketches include ideas that were not fully worked through, making it difficult to be sure whether they were executed as drawn, or indeed built at all. Occasional discrepancies between Jonson’s descriptions and Jones’s plans suggest that at times even the poet knew only the general outline of the scenes (for examples, see Blackness, 3.229–3 and Time Vindicated, 5.611–12).

Jones was profoundly steeped in the visual language of European festival, and under his direction Whitehall’s theatre came to rival the great political celebrations of the continental courts. He visited Italy twice, and France and Denmark at least once, and was well versed in Cesare Vecellio’s costume books (the source of the exotic dresses for Blackness), Jacques Callot’s engravings of commedia dell’arte figures (used as models for the antimasque characters in Love’s Triumph), and the printed records of Florentine festival sets mounted by Bernardo Buontalenti and Alfonso and Giulio Parigi. Often Jones’s designs directly imitated continental originals, while reworking and transforming them magisterially. Florentine models were plundered for the sets of Queens and Chloridia; French festival styles reappear in the fairy palace discovered in Oberon; the set for The Vision of Delight was worked up from Serlio’s prototypical tragic and comic scenes. Moreover, as John Peacock has shown, Jones’s designs alluded constantly to the whole repertoire of contemporary visual arts, and to the recovery of classical architecture and statuary through which a modern imperial style was effected. The set of Prince Henry’s Barriers presented a bricolage of ancient Roman buildings; engravings of classical sculpture by Giovanni Tempesta and Marcantonio Raimondi became costume sources for Oberon and Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue; and the new term landtschape – which Jonson used to describe the scene for Blackness, 16n. – testifies to the impact on Jones of Dutch landscape painting. Jones’s designs, both in masques and in work beyond the Banqueting House, ‘actively mediated the Renaissance tradition’ (Peacock, 1995, 30), inculcating continental styles and educating his audience in new ways of seeing. More generally, Jones was acutely sensitized to neoplatonic theories of harmonic proportion, derived from Vitruvius by way of Alberti and Palladio, which understood the beauty of an image or building to depend on exact mathematical relationships between parts and whole. The calculus of ratios, pattern, and structure was a principle that informed all Renaissance ideas of art and architecture. Jones’s architectural aesthetic connected the harmonies of the masque with the underlying concords of the universe.

Inigo Jones, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Inigo Jones, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London. © National Portrait Gallery, London


Despite collaborating with Jones for twenty-five years, Jonson’s relationship with him was less than happy. In 1619 he told Drummond that ‘when he wanted words to express the greatest villain in the world, he would call him an Inigo’ (Informations, 368–9), and the two fell out catastrophically in 1631, apparently because Jones was offended that in the printed text of Love’s Triumph Jonson was named ahead of him as one of the two ‘inventors’. In the coruscating lampoon ‘An Expostulation with Inigo Jones’, Jonson ridiculed the designs for Chloridia, and complained that Jones wanted to assert total control of the occasion: ‘he now is come / To be the music-master, fabler, too. / He is, or would be, main Dominus Do- / All i’the work!’ This complaint was rich, coming from a poet who had claimed that a masque’s words were its defining component: in the preface to Hymenaei, Jonson said the scenes were a masque’s body, something merely transitory and sensual, whereas the poetry was its soul, that part of the event that truly lasted. But this was more than merely personal rivalry, for the issue at stake was the question of who had ultimate intellectual responsibility for the complex artefact that a masque was. ‘Invention’ was a technical term from rhetoric, and referred to the finding of a subject, the fable or fiction which was the ground or point of departure for all a text’s other aspects – and on this point, the composite, interdisciplinary nature of a masque made it peculiarly prone to demarcation disputes. In the Hymenaei preface, Jonson advanced his own claim to be the principal maker of ‘high and hearty inventions’ (20n.); the opposite is asserted on the title-page of George Chapman’s The Memorable Masque (1613), which was ‘invented and fashioned’ by Jones but merely ‘supplied, applied, digested, and written’ by the poet. In fact, contrary to what is often claimed, Jonson was not averse to crediting Jones. In The Masque of Augurs he said ‘the invention was divided betwixt Master Jones and me’ (374–5), and he used the phrase ‘we, the inventors’ in Love’s Triumph (5); he also seems to have yoked himself with Jones on the title-page of the putative lost quarto of Pan’s Anniversary (see Pan’s Ann., Textual Essay). But the Vitruvian idea of the architect as a master artist, who for the sake of his calling makes himself an expert in all other kinds of knowledge, was at odds with the necessary collegiality of masque production, and by belittling Jones’s professional skills as ‘Painting and carpentry’ (‘Expostulation’, 50) Jonson had called his artistic credentials into question. Jones had his revenge in the designs for Albion’s Triumph and Tempe Restored (1632), which showed figures representing Theory, Practice, Knowledge, and Invention – an anatomy of the architect’s art (see Gordon, 1975, 77–101) – and Jonson replied by lampooning Jones as Coronel Vitruvius in Love’s Welcome at Bolsover (1633). But by this time, Jones had elbowed Jonson out of court festival, ensuring that after Chloridia he never wrote another Whitehall masque.

Unsurprisingly, poetry, costumes, and scenery have engrossed most attention in masque criticism, yet in many ways the music was the most crucial component of all, for without it there could never be any masquing. Dancing was the raison d’être of masques, and the other arts were simply the setting within which the main activity took place. By far the greatest portion of the evening was occupied with dances, and this was where the masquers themselves shone. Words and songs were delivered by professional performers, but in the dances the courtiers displayed their own accomplishments. Moreover, the structure of the evening was dictated not by the scenery or fable but by the sequence of dances and songs. The opening section, prior to the masquers’ appearance, was always devoted to dances and shows designed as a foil to the glorious show to follow. The antimasques (or antemasques) were deliberately inelegant, and involved ungainly or grotesque dances that displayed by their impropriety the superiority of the aristocratic masquers. The music for these dances was often vulgar. Several masque texts refer to ‘wild’ or ‘rude’ music, which typically meant drums and winds, and sometimes uncouth instruments were used, such as rattles (Queens), cymbals (Pleasure Reconciled), and bagpipes (The Irish Masque). Any songs in the antimasque were also usually popular in character. But with the arrival of the main masquers the mood changed, for they would perform a succession of stately and formal dances (or ‘measures’) accompanied by viols. These were uniquely choreographed for each occasion and would have been practised for weeks. Often they were highly intricate and symbolic: the dancers created shifting geometrical patterns or ‘figures’ and sometimes used special devices, such as the chains of letters that spelled out names in Hymenaei and Robert White’s Cupid’s Banishment (1617). The measures were punctuated by formal songs, performed to consorts of lutes, which gave the masquers opportunities to rest. Finally, the masquers took out individual members of the audience and an unscripted sequence of social dances followed, known as the ‘revels’. The revels used common dance steps such as galliards and corantos, and might last for several hours, until such time as energy and enthusiasm were exhausted. In later masques, the evening was usually rounded off with an aubade or parting song.

Masque performances were showcases for the court’s musical establishment. They drew on Whitehall’s unrivalled resources of instrumentalists and singers, and responded creatively to avant garde musical developments from the Continent. The first Italianate recitative in England was heard in The Vision of Delight and Lovers Made Men, and the style of the songs gradually shifted from solo or polyphonic ayres – represented by the eleven masque songs printed in Alphonso Ferrabosco’s Ayres (1609) and the masque-related tunes in Campion’s Two Books of Ayres (1613?) – towards extended declamatory monodies or dialogues of an incipiently operatic kind. Sometimes, as with The Golden Age Restored, a possibility exists that the whole masque might have been through-composed (Walls, 1996, 90). However, no one musician had overall responsibility for any masque, for in each the music was assembled from contributions by a group of composers. Generally, the vocal and dance music would be provided from different sources, though the labour could be spread widely and divided minutely. In Queens (625, 317–18), Jonson credited Ferrabosco with the songs, and identified Thomas Giles as the ‘author’ of the formal dances and Jerome Herne as ‘maker’ of the witches’ dance (which seems to mean composer rather than choreographer). A similar division is outlined for the Haddington Masque; for James Shirley’s The Triumph of Peace (1634) no fewer than five composers supplied the music. Moreover, masque finances sometimes make a distinction between ‘making’ and ‘setting’ the music, that is, between inventing the tunes and devising their instrumental arrangements: the Love Freed accounts quoted above paid Robert Johnson and Thomas Lupo for ‘setting’. Inevitably this means it is very hard to reconstruct the music for any one masque, for if the songs and dances survive at all, they are preserved piecemeal and by chance rather than design. Music for several dozen songs exists, and scores of dance tunes, but frequently the identification of tunes with particular masques, and the interpretation of the arrangements in which they would have been performed, is a matter of scholarly conjecture. The introductory essay to the Music Archive discusses this crucial question, and considers other details bearing on music performance in the masques.

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