Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pastyme With Good Companye: Masques

No that the holiday season is over (sadly) I will continue my article series "Pastyme with Good Companye." Today I will write about one of the most entertaining pastymes: Masques.

Example of costume designs from a masque.
Masques began as simple performances by masked dancers. Originally, the masked dancers would appear at an event (such as a wedding) or at a Nobleman's home. They would dance and play music, inviting spectators to join in. At the end of the dance, their masks would be removed and the dancers' identities revealed.

Early in his reign, the playful King would participate in smaller masques, such as the time he and a few of his groomsmen "surprised" Queen Katherine of Aragon, dressed as Robin Hood and his band of merry men, inviting the Queen and her ladies to dance. Of course, as any good wife, Katherine was pleasantly shocked to find that the man she had been dancing with was her husband once his mask was removed.

Though these small masques offered quick diversions from the humdrum of court life, most masques were turned into large, and expensive, productions.

Sketch of a masque performance.
One such production was the performance of Chateau Vert, in 1522. During the performance, a large castle is occupied by vices (each vice is represented by a woman of the court). These vices are holding all good virtues prisoner (likewise, played by a woman of the court). A band of men (also representing virtues) attack the castle (symbolically with fruits and rose petals). They take the castle and rescue the lady virtues. In celebration, the victors perform a dance for the spectators. It is thought by some historians that this particular masque introduced Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who performed as Honesty and Perseverance.

Below is a clip of this masque from The Tudors:

By Elizabeth I's reign, the masque often emphasized Elizabeth's relationship with her people. One such masque was performed over the course of two weeks for the Queen! A small masque even appears in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Masques continued on through the Stuart era, performed even through the reign of Charles II. However, the tradition eventually died out and are rarely written or performed today. Probably the closest thing we would have to a masque in our time would be a ballet. Pin It

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