BLTC Press Titles


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The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois


Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley


Masques and entertainments

by Ben Jonson

Excerpt:

INTRODUCTION.

^■i\/T ASQUES are said to have been unknown in England before 1512-13, when they were first added to the luxuries of the English Court by King Henry VIII. as a new fashion out of ItalyN, Edward Hall, the chronicler, reports, that in that year, " on the day of the Epiphany, at night, the king with eleven other were disguised after the manner of Italy, called a Mask, a thing not seen afore in England. They were apparelled in garments long and broad, wrought all with gold, with visors and caps of gold; and after the banquet done these Masquers came in with six gentlemen disguised in silk, bearing staff-torches, and desired the ladies to dance. Some were content, and some that knew the fashion of it refused, because it was a thing not commonly seen. And after they danced and communed together, as the fashion of the Masks is, they took their leave and departed; and so did the Queen and all the ladies," The novelty was not in the disguising, but in the fact that the persons disguised were the King and gentlemen of his Court, who opened a masqued ball.

Disguisings and ingenious machinery had already been introduced at the Court of young Henry the Eighth, for in the first Christmas he kept, 1510, the disguisings cost .£584, 19.?. yd., and in the next Christmas, 15 n, there was a costly pageant that may be placed in the direct line of the ancestry of decorations described in this volume of Ben Jonson's Masques. * Against the Twelfth Day, or the day of the Epiphany, at night," says Hall, "before the banquet in the Hall at Richmond, was a pageant devised like a Mountain, glistering by night as though it had been all of gold and set with stones; on the top of the which mountain was a tree of gold, the branches and boughs frysed with gold, spreading on every side over the mountain with roses and pomegranates: the which mountain was with vices brought up towards the King, and out of the same came a lady apparelled in cloth of gold, and the children of honour, called the henchmen, which were freshly disguised and danced a morris before the King, and that done re-entered the mountain: and then was the wassail or banquet brought in, and so brake up Christmas." Here the dancing was not by the King and his nobles, but by their henchmen or pages. At the same festival the minstrels also danced in disguises, but the King and his lords entered the Hall in a car upon wheels, which was pulled to pieces by the people in rough scramble for its finery. The King desired his nobles, after dancing, to tear the gold letters from their dresses and throw them to the crowd; but the crowd broke in and stripped the King "to his hosen and doublet, and all his companions in likewise."

The King's guard had to interfere. This closing scramble for a largess from the decorations was a part of the old custom, arising, like it, from the Carnival; and when Henry the Eighth and his nobles entered the room at Christmas 1511, in a fine decorated car, and danced with the ladies, they had gone very far in the direction of the masque of 1512-13, which first brought the word " masque" into use by the side of the old word " disguising." The disguisings were furnished with costly dresses, often with addition of machinery, but they were presented by the children of the chapel and other players of interludes. In design, the following interlude, described by Hall as part of the pomp of Henry the Eighth's Court in May 1527,—set forth in a costly banqueting house designed and built for the occasion,—differs no otherwise from the general conception of a masque in James the First's reign than in being acted for amusement of the company by children of the chapel. " There entered eight of the King's chapel with a song, and brought with them one richly apparelled; and in likewise at the other side entered eight other of the said chapel, bringing with them another person likewise apparelled. These two persons played a dialogue, the effect whereof was, whether Riches were better than Love, and when they could not agree upon a conclusion, each called in three knights all armed. Three of them would have entered the gate of the arch in the middle of the chamber, and the other three resisted; and suddenly, between the six knights, out of the arch fell down a bar all gilt, at the which bar the six knights fought a fair battle, and then they were departed, and so went out of the place. Then came in an Old Man with a silver beard, and he concluded that Love and Riches both be necessary for Princes; that is to say, by Love to be obeyed and served, and with Riches to reward his lovers and friends; and with this conclusion the dialogue ended."


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