Masque: Definition, Examples & Meaning

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      In the 16th and early 17th century Europe, the Masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment. It was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio. A public version of the masque was the pageant. A masque involved music and dancing, singing and acting, within an elaborate stage design, in which the architectural framing and costumes might be designed by a renowned architect, to present a deferential allegory flattering to the patron. Professional actors and musicians were hired for the speaking and singing parts. Often, the masquers who did not speak or sing were courtiers: the English Queen Anne of Denmark frequently danced with her ladies in masques between 1603 and 1611, and Henry VIII and Charles I of England performed in the masques at their courts.

      In the tradition of masque, Louis XIV of France danced in ballets at Versailles with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully. William Shakespeare wrote a masque-like interlude in The Tempest, understood by modern scholars to have been heavily influenced by the masque texts of Ben Jonson and the stagecraft of Inigo ones. There is also a masque sequence in his Romeo and Juliet and Henry VIII. John Milton’s Comus (with music by Henry Lawes) is described as a masque, though it is generally reckoned a pastoral play.

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