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Reading MasquesThe English Masque and Public Culture in the Seventeenth Century$

Lauren Shohet

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199295890

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199295890.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Reading Masques

Lauren Shohet (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues for an inclusive study of masque events, masque receivers, and reception theory. It examines not only audiences present at court performances, but also the commercial print accounts of private masques and intertextual glimpses of one subgenre of entertainment within another that create a complex nexus of elite and quasi‐public culture. Drawing examples from Jonson's Golden Age Restored, Davenant's Britannia Triumphans, the court pastoral Florimène (designed by Jones), and Shakespeare's Tempest, this chapter develops an understanding of “publicity” as fluidly constituted in dialectical relationship to different articulations of exclusion, interest, and edict. Whereas contemporary masque criticism usually takes producers' intentions as its purview, this chapter argues for also addressing gaps between intention and effect by examining various ways in which court audiences responded to masques outside any purposefully scripted set of meanings, and for extending investigation beyond the social, geographic, hermeneutic, and temporal boundaries of court audiences.

Keywords:   masque, public culture, reception theory, William Davenant, Britannia Triumphans, Ben Jonson, Florimène, Inigo Jones, William Shakespeare, The Tempest

The greatest cryme that I find was that he did not bethink himselfe what interpretation there might be made of his writing.1

(William Prynne's lawyer)

When guests of King Charles I of England settled in for post‐prandial entertainment on 7 January 1638, they were met by the first masque presented at court in three years. The masque, Britannia Triumphans, opened with “a curtain flying up [to] discover…the first scene[,] wherein were English houses of the old and newer forms intermixed with trees, and afar off a prospect of the city of London and the river Thames; which, being a principal part, might be taken for all Great Britain.”2 Guests may have found this harmonious scene of elegant architecture, picturesque trees, and conveniently distant cityscape more halcyon than unstaged scenes at Whitehall, Westminster, and London in the winter of 1637–8. Recent months had been contentious. Ship Money levies were creating tensions between the Crown and the people, the William Prynne prosecution was intensifying Reformist critiques of the court, the long‐negotiated peace treaty with France remained unresolved, and crowds were rioting in Edinburgh. Nonetheless, with familiar panegyric logic, the Twelfth Night masque of 1638 depicts how


Britanocles, the glory of the western world, hath by his wisdom, valour, and piety…reduced the land…to a real knowledge of all good arts and sciences [, which]…Fame…hath already spread…abroad [and]…should now at home…[so] that…the large yet still increasing number of the good and loyal may mutually admire and rejoice in our happiness. (lines 19–31)

Celebrating the monarch's wisdom and virtue through the “mutual” “rejoicing” of King and subject, this device undertakes court masques' characteristic fêting of royalist order. Antimasque disorder prances, then is banished as the golden “Palace of Fame” opens to reveal Britanocles in the person of King Charles: “Britanocles the great and good appears, | His person fills our eyes, his name our ears, | His virtue every drooping spirit cheers!” (lines 549–51).

These features of Britannia Triumphans show why Stuart masques often have been taken to function as propaganda for the British version of ancien régime.3 Masques, the rhetorically slight but visually and aurally spectacular dramas that framed hours of festive dancing at the English courts of James I and Charles I, were major social occasions for the elite audiences who participated in them. Performed by the most important nobles of the land, crafted by the finest poets, artists, and musicians, choreographed by the greatest dancing masters, masques offered occasions for “a society not so much aspiring after as joyfully contemplating its own well‐being.”4 Accordingly, the court masque from James's accession in 1603 to the outbreak of civil war in the 1640s has attracted analysis from both literary critics and historians of the period. Because masques stage the court's idealized picture of itself, they offer rich evidence about royalist programs. With New Histori (p.3) cism's intense focus in the 1980s and 1990s on how aesthetics and politics underwrite one another, the court masque became a synecdoche of Stuart culture for many studies of seventeenth‐century English literature: a fascinating emblem of ways that art and statecraft articulate and maintain one another's conditions of possibility.5 This New Historicist work extended earlier studies on how masque texts proclaim monarchal power to multi‐dimensional examinations of how masques dynamically script everyone present, willy‐nilly, into not merely celebrating but indeed enacting royalist order: as stage blocking arranges all eyes around the monarch; as choreography shapes masquers' movements into harmonious figures presided over by the King; as, in the present example of Britannia Triumphans, the musical setting does indeed “fill our ears” with the name “Britanocles” as a five‐part chorus carols it to us, perforce


EXAMPLE 1. William Lawes, “Britannocles the great and good appears,” Britannia Triumphans (1638)

(p.4) “cheering” all “drooping spirits” when the music modulates from A minor to A major upon the word “cheers.”6 (See Example 1.)

In a yet more recent revisionist turn, scholars have begun exploring the masque as less monolithically royalist.7 Instead, some recent work emphasizes the masque as a venue for political conversation among the nobility: as a “discursive system through which, in coded terms varied by the place of performance and the performers, the political elites debated current political issues.”8 This shift has revealed myriad new angles on masques and their functions in Stuart culture. Our sense of the range of patrons and interests served by masques has been increased by recent work illuminating masques' contributions to programs of self‐presentation by different members of royal families, by different diplomatic investments, for different cultural projects.9 Unchanged, however, is the critical focus on what patrons and producers sought to accomplish when they staged masques. Revisionist work on the masque remains largely bounded by notions of intentionality and transmission more limited than the understanding of these issues we bring to other genres.

This book looks at court masques from a different perspective. It emphasizes issues of reception rather than production. Reading Masques redirects us from questions about what King James, Ben Jonson, Queen Anna, Viscount Doncaster, or any other masque patrons or producers (p.5) might want from masques, to questions about what audiences and readers can take from them. Considering the print masque especially, but also other representations of masques in different forms (including newsletters, public plays, ballads, and translations), this study enlarges the range of interpretative experiences the genre accommodates. This expands both the corpus we investigate and the ways we consider it. The courtly boundary was significantly permeable, and receivers of court masques could “read” a given piece as much in relation to extra‐courtly masques, civic festivals, or non‐dramatic experience as in relation to a subgroup of court entertainments. Even the most elite court masques were discussed, and their scripts were circulated, well beyond the court. Therefore, this study argues that we also must attend to the literal “reading” of masques, since, in print, these texts reached a wide circle of readers. It also argues that our understanding of what happens when readers encounter those texts, or audiences encounter their performances, should be as capacious as those of their early modern receivers. Reading Masques directs our attention beyond an elite courtly audience to the much broader population that read masque scripts, discussed accounts of their performances, and viewed events outside the court that intertextually evoked courtly dramas. At the same time that courtly masques performed assertions by and for privileged participants, court masques also offered a way for wide audiences to learn and consider what was happening at court. Although Caroline masque indubitably was a form of propaganda, part of Whitehall's “impressive array of means by which [the Crown]…could influence and, indeed, actually shape popular perceptions of [royal] policies,” such courtly efforts to contain popular debate also implicitly concede the importance of public opinion.10 This book searches out traces of the plural perceptions surrounding masques and their contexts, both in their initial iterations and when subsequent eras read, remember, and recycle them. My interest in this book is less to definitively demonstrate the genealogies that constitute one kind of literary history than to more broadly raise questions about the nature and uses of literary history: one that locates meaning in use and adaptation. (p.6)

Polycentric location: Britannia Triumphans (1638) in London

Opportunities to glimpse masques' wider interpretative communities, and to ponder how these might inflect masques' meaning, emerge even in examining canonical masques of the courtly corpus—once we suspend assumptions about masques' delimiting elitism to instead consider evidence for their wider significance. For instance, while the fourth scene of the present example Britannia Triumphans does include the royalist “Palace of Fame”—which houses the King it calls the “treasure of our sight” (line 515)—the masque opens with a middle‐distance view of London's St Paul's Cathedral in the center of the perspectival proscenium. Surviving designs show this location featured prominently


FIGURE 1. Inigo Jones, “English Houses with London and the Thames afarr off ” for Britannia Triumphans (1638). Orgel and Strong, no. 334. Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Photograph: Photographic Survey, Courtauld Institute of Art.

(p.7) on the back shutter of the set.11 (See Figure 1.) On the one hand, the sequence of designer Inigo Jones's six backdrops allows for quite conventionally absolutist, court‐centered parsing: this first London scene is succeeded by—and potentially belongs among—the disorder of “a Horrid Hell” and a “Giant's Castle.” Later, Britanocles' heroic‐mythic Palace of Fame locates the monarch's power to reorder the disorderly in an Ideal realm beyond time; finally, after a return to the London scene, King Charles's mythic and terrestrial realms fuse in the maritime scene of a “Haven with a Citadel,” a marvel of peace and prosperity.

On the other hand, the location of St Paul's in the center backdrop of Britannia Triumphans offers a provocative figure for non‐absolutist ways that masques enter into public discourse, and for ways they are subject to more unruly interpretation than we have recognized. For St Paul's is a richly heterogeneous sign in early modern England. It is not only a seat of the Laudian church and an admired architectural anchor of Caroline London (likely the associations Jones would have wished us to perceive), but also a prime location for the uncontrolled dissemination of information, a site where the unemployed congregate to seek work, a venue to solicit prostitutes, a place to buy books: a “thoroughfare and meeting place.”12 A 1620s observer called St Paul's “the great Exchange of all Discourse” and remarked that “[there is] no business whatsoever but is here stirring.”13

From one perspective, Britannia Triumphans' London backdrop emphasizes and links the two pre‐eminent architectural works of the King's Surveyor (seating spectators at a Jones‐designed court masque, with the Jones‐designed west portico of the cathedral before their eyes, emphasizing Jones as the designer of all they contemplate).14 It serves moreover as what Orgel and Strong call a “symbol…of [the] High Church Laudian reform” that incrementally affirmed links between absolutist models of Church and State throughout the 1630s. But St Paul's also marks the unruly proliferation associated with urban culture. (p.8) One valence of the cathedral in the 1630s may well be High Laudian ceremonialism, but, as the Privy Council lamented in 1632, such assertions of mastery were not always even audible to those they ostensibly controlled: “children use [the cathedral, for play]…till darke night…hence cometh principally that inordinate noyse, which many tymes suffereth not the preacher to be heard in the Quyre.”15

Such unruly semantic proliferation characterizes masques as much as their havens with citadels do. When we previously have acknowledged masques' multivocality, this has been in service of decoding individual masques' “local” meanings. This emphasis on “localism” in masque studies revealed many aspects invisible to interpretations that had focused on transcendent humanist symbolism.16 But to more fully understand the masque, we must complement the positivist contextualizing offered by “local reading” with consideration of the unpredictable (and sometimes positivistically unrecoverable) venue of reception. We need to move beyond what masque producers may have intended of their masques to also include what receivers can make of them. As Roger Chartier reminds us, even in politically constrained societies, “principles of coherence [are] far from being brutally dictated.” Rather, readers (and audiences) draw upon a “complex of skills, conventions, and perceptions that ma[k]e up the resources and the constraints by means of which they apprehend.”17 The script of Britannia Triumphans may relegate its city characters to a “horrid hell,” but nonetheless it stages figures like “a ballad singer [and] his companion with their auditory” participating in the masque (line 241). (See Figure 2.) (p.9)


FIGURE 2. Inigo Jones, design for a ballad singer, for Britannia Triumphans (1638). Orgel and Strong, no. 350. Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Photograph: Photographic Survey, Courtauld Institute of Art.

(p.10) This is not the only balladeer we will find upon the masque stage as we examine the varieties of representational practice and especially interpretative possibilities that augment elitist moments in masques. We also shall see that masques, in turn, can surface in ballads. Recovering the “complex” of interpretative resources Chartier invokes—hearing the range of conversations, including the ballads, that masques can sponsor—requires an inclusive model of both masque events and masque receivers. To examine the masque in its full historical context, we must consider not only audiences present at court performances, but also commercial print accounts of private masques, intertextual glimpses of one subgenre of entertainment within another, and exchanges among more and less private forms of the masque. Reframing our consideration in this way reveals masques working in a diffuse and complex nexus of elite and quasi‐public culture. Acknowledging the richness of this context advances our understanding not only of the masque, but also of the political and cultural categories that Stuart drama refracts and enacts. Such a practice can draw together the scrupulous contextual research we already are practicing with a perhaps less verifiable, but in the end equally important, notion of reception as a locus—a place situated in history, but not completely or reductively determined by history—where meanings are made.

Publicity and popularity: The Golden Age Restored (1616)

Just what constitutes “publicity,” “public culture,” or a “public sphere” is a matter of considerable debate, unlikely to be fully resolved.18 Defining (p.11) the public sphere crisply invariably provokes rebuttal, either by a local counterexample that finds publicity flourishing before the claim should allow (Tudor alehouses anticipating Georgian coffeehouses as sites of discussions of public affairs among persons acting in private capacities, relatively uninflected by the status), or by a broader debunking of an idealization underlying the initial definition (hierarchies of ethnicity, gender, religion, and property obviating the claimed existence of the enfranchised private individual at the moment under examination). And in seventeenth‐century England, confusingly, moments that appear most democratic—such as the declaration of Commonwealth—can be underwritten by coercion, as indicated by historians who argue that the execution of Charles I was undertaken by a rather small and temporary collusion of powerful interests.19 Conversely, moments that appear most retrograde—the Restoration—can actually testify to the efficacy of public opinion in promoting change.20

Rather than essaying yet further refinements in precisely what counts as a public sphere and where we might find it, the present study understands “publicity” to be fluidly constituted in dialectical relationship to different articulations of exclusion, interest, and edict. The central involvement of the Inns of Court in seventeenth‐century masquing exemplifies this fluidity. As seats of the legal profession, the Inns constitute both a formative site for emergent rationalized public policy and a theatrical venue for masques, including major events involving royalty. To a lesser extent, the guildhalls and universities are in analogous situations, acting on the one hand as sponsors of commercial or civic‐humanist interventions that conduce to public culture, serving on the other as guardians of traditions—including specifically theatrical ones. The 1616 court masque The Golden Age Restored, scripted by Jonson, encapsulates the shifting and interdependent relationships of legal and monarchal authority that, I suggest, offer a more helpful way (p.12) to think about the constitution of emergent publicity than more fixed definitions can manage. This masque's governing deity, Astraea, lauds King James's power in conventional terms that underline its scope and its divine derivation: “Jove is present here, | I feel the Godhead…| [His] power is every where.”21 At the same time (as analyzed by Martin Butler and David Lindley, and discussed below in Chapter 4) the masque's performance during the murder trial of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, makes its representation of a corrupt Age of Iron yielding through natural developments to the Age of Gold equally a celebration of, or at least an acquiescence to, the due process of law.22 In this masque, the Iron Age that “distinctly registers the concatenation of crimes of which Somerset stood accused” “change[s], and perish[es], scarcely knowing, how” (lines 69–70).23 This dissolution of vice occurs absent direct action by “Jove,” just as Chief Justice Edward Coke's concurrent address to parliament articulated his hopes that the criminal investigation and legal proceedings would be allowed to unfold absent kingly intervention on behalf of his erstwhile favorite. The final words of the masque—the words that turn over the rest of the evening to the “Galliards and Coranto's” that initiate the quite different corporeal regimes of social dancing—claims of the court that

  • This, this, and onely such as this,
  • The bright Astraea's region is
  • Where she would pray to live,
  • And in the midd'st of so much gold,
  • Unbought with grace or feare unsold,
  • The law to mortals give. (lines 234–9)

The authority over mortals deriving from Astraea's “law,” and the power deriving from the court that this stanza emphatically declares the sole locus of the order that sponsors law (“this, this, and onely such as this”), here seem constructed both in relationship to one another and in competition. (p.13)

Defining publicity as a fluid set of dialectical relationships produces a model that overlaps with “popularity”—another contested term.24 “Popularity” can, after all, index wide exposure and interest while guaranteeing nothing about the political impact of popular participation. Because the present study is interested precisely in what cannot be fixed about relationships among representation, interpretation, and action, Mary Ellen Lamb's notion that we can analyze the “popular”—which we might also extend to the “public”—as a “simulacrum existing in early modern imaginaries” seems particularly useful.25 Accordingly, the present study takes as “public” moments that conduce toward shared conversation of private individuals, fostering (if not always fully realizing) rational evaluation, that are positioned to elicit responsive action. The potential overlay of “popular” and “public” may actually prove salutary insofar as it reminds us that a single phenomenon, such as a crowd of people attending a progress, may have very different effects depending upon subtle differences in how those people understand and act upon their experience: appreciating the display, evaluating its logic, or both. Any persuasive genealogy of the public sphere needs to accommodate these kinds of subtleties, positioned to trace developments that are always uneven and partial. Joad Raymond writes that “We have a pressing need for a map of the tireless and busy web of literary and political culture that negotiates between (and ultimately coordinates) local and national contexts, images and practice, communicative environments and meanings, ideas and rhetoric.”26 While this book does not argue that understanding the seventeenth‐century masque unlocks all aspects of public culture in seventeenth‐century England, it does suggest myriad reasons why the masque enables investigation of just these interchanges. Masques exemplify relationships between image and practice, between modes of signification and interpretation. As developed (p.14) throughout this book, they also thematize these relationships in ways that expose their underpinnings for public consideration.

Shared private reading: Florimène (1635)

Whatever differences abound among proposals for ways to think about the public sphere, Jürgen Habermas's foundational theorizing has proven especially robust in its emphasis on shared private reading as a central basis for developments in rational public conversation. And, in seventeenth‐century England, masques were indeed read. Masques often were printed, frequently in inexpensive quartos, and often reprinted. Others survive in manuscript. Furthermore, calibrating our notion of what constitutes a masque “text” to early modern understandings of masques, which can include song, dance, or “social text” (the list of participants or information about which attendees were honored with the first dance invitations) in addition to its poetry, reveals yet more masque “publication” in the sense of “making public”. Print masques' circulation indicates their participation in the emergent modes of reading that produce early public culture in Britain.27 Habermas describes the prehistory of a “public sphere of letters” (which, for Habermas, pre‐dates any political public sphere by serving as the “training ground for a critical public reflection”) as beginning in “a certain continuity with the publicity involved in the representation enacted at the prince's court…[where] the bourgeois avant‐garde…learned the art of critical‐rational public debate through its contact with the ‘elegant world’ .”28 Without claiming that a full‐fledged public sphere flourished in seventeenth‐century England, we still can recognize that material practices of masque reception provide a rich context for exploring early forms of public culture in the nodes of interchange (courtly, civic, and textual) the masque (p.15) inhabits. The court produced masques, but a larger public consumed them—in certain modes of performance, in print, and in public conversation.

The different media that masques traverse inflect their cultural and aesthetic functions. The 1635 text of the pastoral drama Florimène exemplifies this mediation. The play itself was a French‐language production sponsored by Queen Henrietta Maria, at court. Neither the French text of the pastoral nor any English translation was printed at this time. But a summary of the event was published, licensed on 14 December 1635.29 This digest, The Argument of the Pastorall of Florimene, with the Discription of the Scoenes and Intermedii, renders the text formally similar to many print masques, offering a series of scenes, prominent description of scenery and costume, and descriptions of the songs and dances that, masque‐like, conclude its segments. Act III, for instance, concludes with:

The third Intermedium.

The Scoene is turned into fields of Corne, meddowes with Hay‐cockes, and shady woods, shewing a prospect of Summer.

Ceres enters

Representing summer, and sings, after her enters five reapers, having sickles in the one hand, and ripe corne in the other: they dance and then go forth.30

With its dialogue compressed to near‐allegorical description, the digested text of Florimène puts this drama into the emergent print public sphere in a text formally analogous to such masque texts as the 1634 Shrovetide Coelum Britannicum (scripted by Carew) or the Shrovetide 1635 Temple of Love (scripted by Davenant).

In its courtly performance, the pastoral Florimène differed more substantially from contemporary court masques like the Temple of Love. Florimène included more extensive passages of dialogue than (p.16) masques offer; the revels were less prominent. And it was in French. In print, by contrast, as it meets its reader on the page, Florimène circulates in a guise holding more in common with contemporary masques. Indeed, it shares a publisher—Walkley—with the court masques of its era, and hence probably bookshop space. The significance of Florimène's instantiation as a near‐masque in print is more than aesthetic. Given the argument about public knowledge developed throughout this book, and particularly the suggestions developed in Chapter 4 about the political information that the reading public could glean from masques, Florimène's generic profile has political implications as well. Insofar as Florimène encodes assertions of the Queen's religious, social, and self‐fashioning projects (just as other 1630s court masques enscene assertions and negotiations of their own), its Argument offers these assertions to the book‐buying public. And, as I argue throughout this book, the readers who receive these assertions, in a form associated with the masque, are given political news that they are positioned to interpret and use.31


Throughout this study, it is my contention that to understand the scope of the masque, we must consider reception and interpretation as much as production and intention. When studying the past, exploring reception—the experience of watching a performance or of reading a script—poses methodological challenges. Masques' effects cannot be reduced to their producers' desires; instead, as Hans Robert Jauss notes, the historicity of any artwork “lies not only in its representational or expressive function but also in its influence.”32 Moreover, “influence,” as Jauss understands it, is nuanced, unpredictable, and hence not fully recoverable: “In the triangle of author, work, and public the last is no passive part, no chain of mere reactions, but rather itself an energy formative of (p.17) history.”33 Demonstrating the inadequacy of intention alone as an interpretative framework for the masque, evidence long has been available that the courtly community did not necessarily react to a given masque‐in‐performance the way its producers intended.34 Likewise, the bibliographical evidence that many masques circulated widely in print is not new.35 But this long‐available information has not led masque criticism to reframe some basic suppositions about the genre, or to take up questions of reading, of readability, of who received court masques and how they understood them. The focus in previous criticism on masques' producers has illuminated the terms in which Stuart nobility and the artists of their era defined themselves and their agendas. But, absent some account of how audiences (and readers) respond to these articulations, even studies primarily interested in the courtly epicenter cannot explain how masques would increase a monarch's power beyond the immediate courtly circle. We must not only study the power of representation, that is, but also consider how representations spread through cultures, and how their transmission can transform them.

The present project seeks to take forward the study of aesthetics' relationships to authority by opening up more sites and modes where we can investigate their many connections. This study also addresses gaps between intention and effect by examining various ways in which court audiences responded to masques outside any purposefully scripted set of (p.18) meanings. It explores the reading and circulation of masques outside the Stuart court, and undertakes readings framed by interpretative principles unbounded by producers' interests. This analysis of multiplicity and ambiguity in how audiences responded to masques contributes to the project of re‐evaluating models of power at the Jacobean court ongoing in political history.36 In arguing that we should think about masques in terms of relationships between dramatic performance and the print record, this book participates in a larger discussion ongoing in theater history.37 Proposing that records of masques serve as an important component in the widely (if unofficially) circulating documents of early modern political information, this book also takes up sociologists' and historians' questions about early “news.”38 But the present study is above all a literary project. It does not set out to recover the statistically significant data about reading practices that a historian studying early modern reading might seek out. Rather, this book focuses on suggestive early modern accounts of encounters with masques that illuminate what seventeenth‐century sensibilities could make of masque experiences, and on inscriptions of readability within masques themselves.

Thus, “reception” for this project also encompasses “receivability”: the ways masque texts accommodate and indeed anticipate multiplicity (p.19) of interpretation. The potential for significant interpretative diversity arises from generic overlays: between masque performance and masque reading, among theatrical experiences bearing upon the masque, and between masques and various forms of political information. But generative ambiguity also arises from masque language itself—as well as in masques' images, sounds, and spatial structures. This book takes as “literary,” or more broadly “aesthetic,” the project of opening out meaning, of attending to moments where texts accommodate varieties of interpretation. These invitations are not issued by purposeful authors alone (although that may be one source). But they also come from form, genre, and language. As old‐fashioned formalist criticism might put it, meaning is generated in relations of the parts of a text to the whole. As genre studies show us, further meanings arise from the ways that a given text relates to others in its genre. As deconstruction illustrates, meanings multiply further in the interplay of signs, independent of prediction or volition. In all these ways, texts accrue nuance, creating readable moments. It must immediately be emphasized that this understanding of the literary by no means opposes literary to historical analysis.39 Filling in historical context to the best of our abilities furthers literary analysis, as it illuminates a text's words on both denotative and connotative levels. To locate, let alone take up, invitations to interpretation we must understand not only what a script's words mean, but also what occasional inflections they contain. The occasional is only one framework for defining the terms of a masque historically; other constructs (p.20) like genre and allusion demand similar work, operating as they do in history. (Seventeenth‐century epic is not nineteenth‐century epic, nor is a seventeenth‐century Ovid the same as Ovid in the fifteenth century.40) This book embraces historical contextualization as an utterly necessary component of interpreting masques. However, this study also seeks to distinguish between context and meaning. Masques only become fully legible in relation to their contexts, but this does not mean that reading a masque's context suffices for reading the masque. Fully reading masques requires acknowledging both the masque's occasional debts and its surpassing mere occasion.41

In constructing an adequate semiotic model for the masque, one that allows us to read masques richly without entirely unmooring them from their dramatic and contextual underpinnings, we could do worse than consider the model of masque reading implied in seventeenth‐century books that collect a masque together with the scriptor's poems, such as Carew's Poems with a Mask (Coelum Britannicum) or Daniel's Certain Small Works (which included the Vision of the Twelve Goddesses). Offering poems and masques conjoined in a single volume implies some continuity in the ways they are read—whether because buyers are assumed to desire the different texts for similar use, or because the parallels in format and layout produce similar modes of reading (at the very least on the level of somatic experience). These early modern collections do not, however, offer masque speeches without context. Rather, seventeenth‐century printed masques include stage directions and/or prefatory descriptions of spectacle together with their poetry. Even Mr Milton's Poems with a mask before the Earl of Bridgwater, which gives relatively little description of the spectacle, provides social context (“before the Earl of Bridgwater”) in its title. These early modern anthologies offer context—history—in service of even the most “literary” modes of printing masque texts. (p.21)

This book insists that to read “literarily” is to read historically. First, as we can see in records of courtiers puzzling over masques, seventeenth‐century receivers by no means took textual meaning to be invariant. As J. R. Mulryne rightly remarks, political or “occasional” readings themselves “invite…a multiplicity of perspectives, not all of which may be capable of reconciliation, and not all of which may be judged in keeping with the masque‐writers' ‘intention’ .”42 Insofar as this book essays a history, it seeks out provocative traces of that perspectival multiplicity, both in responses to performance and in parodies, ballads, and representations of reading within masques. Second, it suggests that acknowledging receivability, teasing out places that masques invite interpretation (on both page and stage), itself constitutes an historicized practice. Practicing reading ourselves, upon the same texts to which seventeenth‐century readers responded, puts these texts into history, both ours and theirs. David Lindley trenchantly remarks masque scholarship's elision of receivers, noting that “it is frequently a limitation of even the most sophisticated of masque criticism that it assumes that those who watched were necessarily taken over by, or in simple agreement with, the position a masque took up.”43 Suspending this assumption allows us to read masques in ways that acknowledge the dynamic activity of interpretation.

The humanist and civic readers of masques are our interpretative forebears; we owe many of our own habits of reading to them. It therefore behooves us to grant early modern readers the self‐awareness and sophistication we grant ourselves. When we ponder the fact that court masques were “read” (both literally and figuratively) by the same courtiers we take to be subtle and skeptical readers of poetry, or when we realize that masque texts and accounts were perused by the same gossiping and opinionated Londoners who exchanged clandestine (p.22) copies of parliamentary debates, or pamphlets debating (however fancifully) the political implications of Prince Charles's intention to marry the Spanish Infanta, the notion that masque producers successfully dictate audience response seems highly implausible.44 Rereading masques— rethinking this seventeenth‐century genre by focusing on receivability—illuminates both Stuart masques and early modern reading.

Public “court” masques: The Tempest

Public dramas that include masques offer a venue for broad audiences to imagine court masques. One masque widely viewed on a public stage was Prospero's wedding masque of Ceres in Shakespeare's Tempest.45 This masque displays emphatic disjunction between intention and effect. As presented to the audiences of 1611, the masque clearly exceeds the controlling grasp of patron and producer—particularly fascinating because we know that The Tempest was performed for King James.46 In The Tempest, the poet‐king introduces the masque by admonishing his audience, “No tongue. All eyes. Be silent” (IV. i. 59).47 Prospero shares a notion of masques enchanting their awestruck spectators with King (p.23) James, Ben Jonson, and Foucauldian New Historicist critics. Prospero envisions a masque that functions as a dramatic “vehicle for disseminating court ideology.”48 But, Prospero's injunction notwithstanding, Ferdinand is not “all eyes.” When Ferdinand compliments the invention, Prospero responds courteously, then instructs him, “Sweet now, silence” (IV. i. 124). Prospero's need to repeat the injunction two lines later (“Hush, and be mute” (IV. i. 126) ) indicates that his audience is not following directions. Indeed, most productions depict Ferdinand and Miranda whispering and caressing one another throughout the masque, a staging that takes its cue from Prospero's need to remind Ferdinand of the latter's promises of good behavior. Prospero first instructs Ferdinand to “sit then and talk with [Miranda]” (IV. i. 32), then shortly thereafter breaks into their conversation to expostulate, “do not give dalliance | Too much the rein…|…be more abstemious” (IV. i. 51–3)—implying to many directors that Ferdinand and Miranda's commerce continually threatens to get out of hand. As a masque auditor, Ferdinand is more tongue and hand—more active response, more independent volition, more divided attention—than “all eye.”

If masque receivers here do not behave as their ruler would have them, Prospero also shows that masque producers themselves do not enjoy effective potency. Whatever Prospero's aims, The Tempest reveals that his absolutist fantasies of “the mysterious powers of kingship” to radiate authority through emblematic display must negotiate with rather different realities of audience reception.49 During the masque of Ceres, Prospero “starts suddenly and speaks” (IV. i, s.d.) as he abruptly remembers the Caliban plot he needs to manage simultaneously with his theatrical endeavors. Prospero's self‐recollection interrupts the masque, making it less an emblem of seamless absolutism than one strenuously maintained strategy among many competing tasks. Relatedly, when Prospero urgently reminds Ferdinand, “Hush, and be mute, | Or else our spell is marred” (IV. i. 126–7), Prospero concedes that producing the audience response he desires requires perpetual interven (p.24) tion. Far from asserting the artistic/political autonomy of masque producers, Prospero here acknowledges that the masque experience depends upon appropriate audience response: “or else our spell is marred.”

The Tempest is not alone in dramatically representing masque spectators who are less than spellbound. Just as Ferdinand exploits the masque Prospero stages to pursue fulfillment beyond the dramatic, Middleton's Revenger's Tragedy depicts a spectator using the masque occasion opportunistically. Antonio reports that, upon the masque occasion of “last revelling night” (I. iv. 26), the Duchess's youngest son raped Antonio's wife at a masque, “…harried her amidst a throng of panders | That live upon damnation of both kinds, | And fed the ravenous vulture of his lust” (I. iv. 42–4).50 In addition to these dramatic examples, there is ample non‐dramatic evidence that masque audiences frequently did not react to masques in the way their patrons and producers intended. As Mulryne notes, “the practical circumstances of performance—mishap and unreadiness, ill‐grace on the part of the principal spectator, squabbling ambassadors and ill‐behaved courtiers—point to something other than hours and minutes of elite fantasising.”51 Contemporary accounts show that at least some courtly masquing occasions were nothing less than chaotic. Sir Dudley Carleton wrote of the Twelfth Night 1605 Masque of Blackness that “The confusion in getting in was so great that some ladies lie by it and complain of the fury of the white staffs [the court marshals]. In the passages through the galleries they were shut up in several heaps betwixt doors and there stayed till all was ended.”52 Ben Jonson himself, with Sir John Roe, was (p.25) ejected from a masque (the 1604 Vision of the Twelve Goddesses), apparently for unruly behavior.53 Furthermore, it frequently was remarked that masque dialogue was inaudible in the crush of rowdy spectators.54 For all kinds of reasons—contingent or designed, hermeneutic or logistical—masque receivers do not always hear what masque producers project.

Against instrumental masque criticism

The greater investment in masque absolutism among literary critics than, generally, among historians owes much to the masque's central position in the development of New Historicist literary analysis, perhaps particularly as practiced in the United States. The masque's involvement in performing power made it a natural favorite for New Historicist enquiry, offering “works of art in which spectacle most emphatically became a tool of state…symptomatic of the ineluctable magnetism by which kingly absolutism pulled its age's representational forms into its own orbit.”55 But these central studies—and work that continues to be undertaken in the same vein—account better for complexity of function in ideology than complexity of function in art. Although these important New Historicist critics characteristically read texts carefully and deeply, the notion of art serving multiple competing functions is not one that New Historicism accommodates very well.

In recent years, criticism of the Jacobean court masque has reconsidered ideas about the relationship between masques and royal power that were dominant in earlier analyses. This expanded the functions art was understood to perform by making the masque available as a tool for different courtly positions to wield. Rather than taking the masque to serve the King's interests alone, current research—drawing on revision (p.26) ist arguments about Jacobean politics—also explores how masques represent divided interests and factional jockeying at James's court.56 An important series of articles in the 1990s by Martin Butler reads masques as documents of political debate, and in the 1998 anthology Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, Leeds Barroll, Tom Bishop, Stephen Orgel, and others analyze Jacobean masques as tools of courtly negotiation as well as royalist celebration.57 Since then, masque scholarship has continued to expand the aspects of masquing it considers, to include Barbara Ravelhofer's work on dance, lighting, and costuming; Clare McManus's on ways that masquing provided theatrical opportunities for women; Karen Britland's on Queen Henrietta Maria's pursuit of complex multinational projects; and James Knowles's on the variety of non‐courtly interests advanced through masque projects.58 What remains largely unchanged by this shift in critical practice is the underlying notion of the masque as a way to use language and performance to intercede in a reality external to the text. This work does not significantly recast the model of the masque as a usable instrument, or as a form essentially confined to the elite.59 This revisionist work shares with (p.27) more traditional masque criticism a view of the masque as a tool that patrons and/or producers wield to advance their interests.

We seldom take other genres of language or performance to signify in quite so straightforward a way. Our view of Stuart court masque can be greatly enriched if we treat masques more as we treat other complex representational forms: as more ambiguous, more supple, and more profoundly interpretable than a notion of text as instrument allows. Rather than King James and/or Prince Henry, pacifism and/or militarism, criticism and/or compliment, perhaps masques—like other linguistic forms—offer a full range of meanings, meanings not necessarily under their producers' control. David Scott Kastan rightly remarks that pageantry “pretends that it is solely the monarch presenting herself immediately to an unspecified and undifferentiated…populace and denies the heavily mediated forms of representation that mark the display—indeed denies them as representation at all.”60 The performance of this pretense does not mean that we cannot analyze it as pretense, or that it was not recognizable as such to its primary audience. We grant the language of lyric poetry or dramatic comedy the potential for ambiguity, and take a certain unpredictability of response as axiomatic. When we deny masques their status as representation, and deny the heterogeneity of their receivers, we obscure the wide range of roles masques can play in culture and in literary history.

Both as historical documents and as rich aesthetic artifacts, masques are worthy of entertaining the interpretative questions we are more accustomed to asking of other genres. This book attempts to show the fruitfulness of entertaining in a single forum both factual and interpretative questions about reading—questions that usually are treated by different disciplines, different scholars, different studies. The complexity of reading demands multiple kinds of examination. The evanescence of evidence about past readers—since reading, at least as much as (p.28) masquing, really is a nonce practice—prevents consistent verification of how people actually constructed meaning from given texts, even if that were the project we wished to pursue. This book suggests reasons to move beyond the verifiable in any case: while positivist recovery constitutes one worthy undertaking, reading masques requires other strategies as well. We do not limit our discussions of what an elegy or epic or romance means to what we recover in recorded historical responses. In these other genres, although we appropriately embrace opportunities to explore the responses of individual historical readers when these are available, we do not claim this as the only useful way to analyze what texts mean. Nor do we believe that when we find responses by particular readers we have exhausted the possible or useful interpretations of how a text might work. (Consider Pepys's rather flat accounts of his reading.) Neither, I suggest, should we limit opportunities to explore the full aesthetic and cultural operations of masques. Both the nature of the masque and the nature of reading itself ask us to pursue multiple lines of enquiry in order to examine the full complexity of how masques function: in their historical moment and in the traditions they inherit, transform, and further transmit.

If the persistent currency of the instrumental model of the masque indicates that Stuart court masque perhaps enjoys all too good a fit with ideological criticism—that is, Foucauldian ideological criticism and revisionist political readings alike have enabled trenchant analysis, but also circumscribed the questions that can be posed—this critical predilection for instrumentality also proves consonant with the investments of the court masque's most prolific scriptor, Ben Jonson. Studies of masques by other writers, including Townshend, Middleton, and Shirley, have begun to expand our sense of extra‐Jonsonian ways to imagine the masque's operations (an effort in which Reading Masques participates), but Jonson continues to loom disproportionately large in received understandings of the genre as a whole.61 The lag between the view prevalent in today's cutting‐edge masque studies and the view (p.29) of the genre operating in many classrooms and more generalist venues is more than a simple delay. Rather, the continuing sway of oversimplified understandings of authority and art in the masque symptomatically reveals the appeal of aspects of New Historicism that we are reluctant to cede: the importance it grants to aesthetic production, its purchase on individual early modern projects of self‐fashioning, and the relevance it thereby accords literary studies. But this book suggests why a less instrumental view of the masque might actually better capture the authority of literary forms, by revealing their dynamic participation in negotiating the terms of history.

Just as masque studies with otherwise distinct agendas share a tendency to treat language and performance as tools that can be wielded by identifiable interests, a similarly instrumental notion undergirds the complementary strand of masque criticism that explores how the publication of masques produces a Jonsonian model of poetic authority modeled on Jacobean absolutism. We have taken Jonson's publication of masque scripts to effect a “mutual heightening of the prestige of maker…and monarch” as the pages of the folios display the poet's twin roles as fashioner of absolutist myth and interpreter of mysteries for a readerly audience.62 Although authority appears more dialectical in arguments that show how printed masque texts elevate the poet as well as the patron (or even, perhaps, at the latter's expense), critics tracing paradigms of authorship share with historians of absolutist aesthetics a model that takes text to serve some form of authority.63 (p.30) Jonson's desire to control reception, as much as his anomalously uniting his dramatic with his poetic writing in his 1616 Works, positions him as an early seeker of “authorial” status in terms that anticipate models more fully established by early eighteenth‐century copyright law and late eighteenth‐century ideas about individual creative genius.64 Scholarly interest in Jonson's opinions about policy demonstrates his success in setting terms of debate. But, however much Jonson might have wished that his role as masque scriptor made him into a humanist councilor figure, we have little evidence that the opinions of a commoner playwright at James's court, even one granted a royal salary, would carry much weight.65 And, although printing masques theoretically might allow for more play of authorial commentary on topical issues, it is more likely that contemporary audiences read this kind of script for encodings of what elite masquers thought about policy—after all, their opinions mattered—than for an artisan‐scriptor's views.

Moreover, masque declamation occupied only a small portion of an evening's festivities. Most of the time was spent dancing. Dance was the medium that the masque community understood as primary, particularly in terms of the “social text” arising from the casting of masquers in the formal masque, and their subsequent choices of dance partners for the revels; Barroll remarks that “the true ‘structure’ of…court spectacle…was constituted by the identity of the participants.”66 Even in the scripted part of the entertainment, dance surpassed text according to the Neoplatonic philosophical underpinnings of court masques that took (p.31) well‐regulated patterns of intricately moving bodies to mirror the social order, and beyond that the harmonious dance of the cosmos. The rehearsal time and funds disbursed for learning dances and costuming participants occupied masquers themselves far more than the texts.67 Even for those masques in which Jonson as the scriptor and Inigo Jones as the designer were paid more than any other individual contributor, the combined financial outlay for song makers, song setters, choreographers, dancing masters, and musicians far outweighed script and setting combined.68 Jonson's famous quarrel with Inigo Jones about the primacy of “pencil versus pen” (script versus production) has the strategically brilliant effect of begging the truly significant question of much wider‐scale collaboration—not only among different forms of art, but also among creators (whether sponsors or scriptors) and receivers (whether performers or audiences).

Reception once more: Britannia Triumphans (1638) at sea

Reading Masques skeptically reverses the priority of producer and receiver. Focusing on reception captures the “both/and” experience of literary and dramatic encounter that can be obscured by producers' hopes. Reading or watching, one assents and demurs; one accedes to mutually incompatible assertions; one dances to the music and wryly watches one's self scripted into unlikely scenarios. Above, we saw how the urban scenes of Britannia Triumphans accommodated multiple interpreta (p.32) tions; here, we turn to its naval backdrops, which likewise enable overlayered, logically incompatible responses. This masque's emphasis on naval might and maritime glory constitutes a prominently monarch‐centered element—this in the winter of 1638, when Ship Money was at its most contentious. When spectators entered the masquing hall, they were presented with the ornamental arch that would frame ensuing scenes. This “ornament” contained a tableau of “Naval Victory” (“a woman…with one hand holding the rudder of a ship” (lines 39–40) ) and “Right Government” (“a man bearing a scepter with a hand and an eye in the palm, and in the other hand a book…his foot treading on the head of a serpent” (lines 43–7) ) presiding over bound captives, in niches whose pillars subtend “a large frieze with a sea triumph of naked children…and young tritons…and other maritime fancies” (lines 50–2). Over the course of the masque, the succession of scenes that fill in this proscenium frame closes with a “haven with a citadel” “whence the sea‐nymph Galatea came waving forth[,] riding on the back of a dolphin…to the midst of the sea” (lines 595–602). Once there, she lauds Britanocles specifically as a naval ruler—“So well Britanocles o'er seas doth reign | Reducing what was wild before, | That fairest sea Nymphs leave the troubled Maine, | And haste to visit him on shore” (lines 605–8). After one brief syncopation that emphasizes the approving adverb “well” by holding it over the downbeat, her song sets this first stanza in a bluntly orderly four‐square rhythm that reinforces the solidity of Britanocles' “reign” “on shore.”69 (See Example 2.) Notably, this final scene of the haven with a citadel, framed by the iconographic Right Government and Naval Victory, remains in its audience's view during the hours of social dancing that follow Galatea's exit, occupying more time than the rest of the masque: “After this some ships were discerned sailing afar off several ways, and in the end a great fleet was discovered, which passing by with a side wind tacked about, and with a prosperous gale entered into the haven. This continued to entertain the sight whilst the dancing lasted” (lines 622–5).

Not only does Britannia Triumphans emphasize that Charles is a grand ruler with a powerful navy, it also grants the greatest amount of stage time, and the most stunningly spectacular special (p.33)


EXAMPLE 2. William Lawes, “So well Britannocles o'er seas doth raigne,” Britannia Triumphans (1638)

effects, to the “great fleet” that moors in the masque hall while the court dances. It is hard to miss that amassing such a “great fleet” was precisely the goal of the controversial Ship Money levies. In one line of interpretation, then, the masque's conjuring of a marvelous fleet to adorn courtly revelry offers the theatrical magic of making royal desires manifest—just as absolutist theory seeks to do. This angle of analysis would draw upon Fame's song to Britanocles in the “Palace of Fame” of scene iv:
  • What to thy power is hard or strange?
  • Since not alone confined unto the land;
  • Thy sceptre to a trident change!
  • And straight unruly seas thou canst command! (lines 523–6)

The wonderful ships that Britanocles “can command” in the masque hall meld with the power of the new ships Charles willed for the navy in the winter of 1637–8. Theatrical wonders of the masque hall and military wonders of the navy—as well as political wonders of extracting funds from unwilling providers—figure one another. Of course, this also can be a bit of a joke. Everyone in the room knows precisely “what to [Charles's] power is hard or strange”: actually collecting Ship Money. And the invisible labor that makes those ships tack about so magically in the Banqueting House can contrast with balefully impressed sailors as (p.34) much as it can subsume them. In either case, the London cityscape of the masque's first and fifth scenes notably precedes the commanded seas of the sixth. While making London the precursor to the idealized scenic endpoint can on the one hand reduce the city's significance to mere intermediate materiality, soon to be transcended by royal perfection, this enscenement also offers quite a different interpretation of the relationship between monarch and city when it presents—twice!—the financial source, the literal precondition, of that “great fleet” as the view from a street in London, and the Great Britain for which it “might be taken” (line 62). In this way, we can read the masque performance not only to assert monarchal potency, but also to display political relationships as interdependent negotiations (here, among monarch, gentry, and City).

Accordingly, Davenant's verbal description of the masque's opening scene invokes a diverse set of cultural markers for what constitutes the Kingdom: “English houses of the old and newer forms,” “trees,” “the City of London,” “the river of Thames” (lines 59–62). The picture of the Kingdom here notably features suburban and urban London, not a throne. Furthermore, the description emphasizes the polity's plurality when it mixes traditional English architecture, newer (and more international) urban style, botany, geography, and the heteroglossia of “the City of London” itself. Indeed, to press the point, we might note that Davenant's suggestion that readers take London and the Thames as synecdoche (“which, being a principal part, might be taken for all Great Britain” (lines 61–2) ) offers an explicit semiotic counterpart to the absolutist synecdoche that the King is the state (an alternative articulated in the claim that “Britanocles…hath…reduced the land…to a real knowledge of all good arts and sciences” (lines 19–23, emphasis added) ). This multivocality is cognate with revisionist historians' insights that we have misunderstood Stuart assertions of absolutism more generally to name a practice when they actually negotiate a theory.70 Relatedly, I would suggest that we often misunderstand aristocratic pre‐eminence, and also historical allegory, as the semiotic endpoints of the masque, when in fact masques can represent multiple models of authority in conversation. This conversation proves of great urgency for (p.35) understanding both drama and politics, as well as their relationship, in Stuart England.


Chapter 1 outlines the scope of this conversation by situating the court masque within a range of possible encounters between masques and receivers. It considers especially the reception experiences made possible by masques' instantiations in different forms of performance and text. Chapter 2 examines information about publication history, provenance, and material uses of masque texts to begin establishing how these circulated. This begins the work of exploring who literally read these texts. However, I shall argue throughout this book that the active and unpredictable nature of reading means that knowing who encountered masques does not critically delimit or definitively establish how to read them. Hence, Chapter 2 also considers the strategies and modes of reading that are visible in the various ways the seventeenth century practiced the masque. Chapter 3 complements Chapter 2's bibliographic investigation with more figurative “reading” of two court masques of the 1610s. Chapters 4 and 5 investigate the positions of the masque in emergent public culture. Chapter 4 explores intersections of genre between masques and news: how masques were read as news, how news items were read as masques, and how relationships between these forms foster the emergence of “public opinion” as a political force. Chapter 5 explores masques' involvement in projects that articulate emergent aspects of public culture: consensus politics, rationalized knowledge, and usable public drama.

Masques have, after all, an afterlife: they come to us in print. But we need not only mourn this as the lamentable loss of presence. Although this project critiques some forms of historicist practice, it is itself deeply invested in a historicism that lets us see the masque in history, instead of taking the masque as history. The masque as history—New Historicism—flattens masques, making them mere aesthetic windows onto the events of a dissociable “real” world. When we encounter masques in history, by contrast, we acknowledge the historical possibilities and circumstances that shape the supple and ambiguous experiences of seeing or reading a masque. When we acknowledge the richness of (p.36) reading, we can encounter masques in history, which lets us encounter them as masques: as aesthetic forms in dynamic relationship with historical forms. Attending closely to textual openness yields new insights on the work masques can do and the ways masques can mean. But it also reveals that masques are not fully open to power—or to us. They are rich and interpretable. Indeed, they are also uninterpretable; and that is why they matter.


(1) Huntington Library, HM 80, “Documents relating to the prosecution of William Prynne,” 1633, 7v.

(2) Davenant, Britannia Triumphans, OS ii. 660–703, lines 59–62. Hereafter cited parenthetically by line number.

(3) See for instance Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975); Graham Parry, The Golden Age Restor'd: The Theatre of the Stuart Court, 1603–1642 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981). Although the view of masque as straightforward propaganda is no longer current among all masque critics, it has proven surprisingly durable: see as a distinguished 1997 example Graham Parry, “Entertainments at Court,” in John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (eds.), A New History of Early English Drama (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 195–212.

(4) Jonas Barish, Ben Jonson and the Language of Prose Comedy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), 244.

(5) Influential studies of the era include Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and their Contemporaries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), and Parry, Golden Age. Malcolm Smuts's nuanced 1987 study of court culture overlaps with these projects. See R. M. Smuts, Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987).

(6) Trois Masques, 215.

(7) Kevin Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); the masque essays in J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (eds.), Theatre and Government under the Early Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); David Bevington and Peter Holbrook (eds.), The Politics of the Stuart Court Masque (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Timothy Raylor, The Essex House Masque of 1621: Viscount Doncaster and the Jacobean Masque (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2000); and the masque essays in Clare McManus (ed.), Women and Culture at the Courts of the Stuart Queens (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003).

(8) James Knowles, “The ‘Running Masque’ Recovered: A Masque for the Marquess of Buckingham (c.1619–20),” English Manuscript Studies, 8 (2000), 79–135, 79.

(9) See for instance Karen Britland, Drama at the Courts of Queen Henrietta Maria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Clare McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage: Anna of Denmark and Female Masquing in the Stuart Court (1590–1619) (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); James Knowles, “Jonson's Entertainment at Britain's Burse,” in Martin Butler (ed.), Re‐Presenting Ben Jonson: Text, History, Performance (New York: St Martins, 1999), 114–51.

(10) Thomas Cogswell, “The Politics of Propaganda: Charles I and the People in the 1620s,” Journal of British Studies, 29 (July 1990), 187–215, 200.

(11) OS ii. 668–9.

(12) David J. Crankshaw, “Community, City and Nation, 1540–1714,” in Derek Keene, Arthur Burns, and Andrew Saint (eds.), St Paul's: The Cathedral Church of London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 45–70, 53.

(13) Quoted ibid.

(14) As remarked in OS ii. 668.

(15) Quoted in Crankshaw, “Community,” 57.

(16) For influential examples interpreting how a masque's tropes encode topical debate, see for instance Martin Butler and David Lindley, “Restoring Astraea: Jonson's Masque for the Fall of Somerset,” ELH 61/4 (Winter 1994), 807–27; Leah Marcus, “City Metal and Country Mettle: The Occasion of Jonson's Golden Age Restored ,” in David Bergeron (ed.), Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theater (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1985), 26–47; and Lawrence Venuti, “The Politics of Allusion: The Gentry and Shirley's The Triumph of Peace,” English Literary Renaissance, 16/1 (Winter 1986), 182–205. For an exemplary instance of interpreting masques' figures as transhistorical symbols, the practice that local reading aimed to supplement or supplant, see The Renaissance Imagination: Essays and Lectures by D. J. Gordon, ed. Stephen Orgel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,1975).

(17) Roger Chartier, Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 4.

(18) See especially Craig Calhoun (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992); Joan Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988); Robert Wuthnow, Communities of Discourse: Ideology and Social Structure in the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and European Socialism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989); Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge (eds.), Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, trans. Peter Labanyi et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); Peter Lake and Steven Pincus (eds.), Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).

(19) See Conrad Russell, Unrevolutionary England 1603–1642 (London: Hambledon, 1990); Thomas Cogswell, The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

(20) Kevin Sharpe, Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth‐Century Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Laura Lunger Knoppers, Historicizing Milton: Spectacle, Power, and Poetry in Restoration England (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1994).

(21) The Golden Age Restored, Ben Jonson, vii. 420–9, lines 230–2. Hereafter cited parenthetically by line number.

(22) Butler and Lindley, “Restoring Astraea.”

(23) Ibid. 816.

(24) See Thomas Cogswell, Richard Cust, and Peter Lake (eds.), Politics, Religion, and Popularity in Early Modern England: Essays in Honour of Conrad Russell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); John Walters, Crowds and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006).

(25) Mary Ellen Lamb, The Popular Culture of Shakespeare, Spenser, and Jonson (New York: Routledge, 2006), 2.

(26) Joad Raymond, “Describing Popularity in Early Modern England,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 67/1 (2004), 101–29, 27.

(27) The masque, then, might serve functions comparable to religious polemic for David Zaret (“Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres in Seventeenth‐Century England,” in Calhoun (ed.), Habermas), 212–35, or scientific discourse for Adrian Johns in The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

(28) Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989), 29.

(29) Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert, ed. J. Q. Adams (New York: Blom, 1917), 41.

(30) The Argument of the Pastorall of Florimène, with the Discription of the Scoenes and Intermedii (London: Walkley, 1635), 10. This text is reproduced, together with the antimasques Orgel argues to be associated with it, and scenery designs by Inigo Jones, in OS ii. 630–59. The antimasques are not included in the same print version as the masque proper, although they survive in manuscript, and have been discussed by Stephen Orgel in “Florimène and the Ante‐Masques,” Renaissance Drama, 4 (1971), 135–53.

(31) On Queen Henrietta Maria's uses of masquing, see Britland, Drama, especially chapter 8, and, on The Temple of Love, Erica Veevers, Images of Love and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Cf. Sharpe on Charles's uses of Coelum Britannicum in Criticism and Compliment.

(32) Jauss, Toward an Aesthetics of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 15.

(33) Ibid. 19.

(34) On the simplest level, this evidence ranges from reports of audience bewilderment at the perspective stage to a masque's failure to delight its spectators. For example, John Chamberlain wrote of the 1613 Somerset Masque that “I heare litle or no commendation of the maske made by the Lords that night, either for devise or dauncing” (Letter to Alice Carleton, 30 December 1613; Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman Egbert McClure, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939), i. 496) and that Hymen's Triumph “was solemne and dull” (Letter to Dudley Carleton, 10 February 1614; Chamberlain Letters, i. 507).

(35) Much of this data can be found in W. W. Greg, A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration, 4 vols. (London: Bibliographical Society, 1939–59). This is augmented by C. E. McGee and John Meagher's series of entertainment catalogues: “Preliminary Checklist of Tudor and Stuart Entertainments: 1603–1613,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 27 (1984), 47–126; “Preliminary Checklist of Tudor and Stuart Entertainments: 1613–1625,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 30 (1988), 17–127; “Preliminary Checklist of Tudor and Stuart Entertainments, 1634–1642,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 38 (1999), 23–85.

(36) See J. P. Sommerville, Politics and Ideology in England, 1603–1640 (London: Longman, 1986); Linda Levy Peck, Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990); the essays in Kevin Sharpe and Peter Lake (eds.), Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993); Peck (ed.), The Mental World of the Jacobean Court (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Richard Cust and Ann Hughes (eds.), Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics, 1603–1642 (London: Longman, 1989).

(37) Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Julie Stone Peters, Theatre of the Book 1480–1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Robert Weimann, Author's Pen and Actor's Voice: Playing and Writing in Shakespeare's Theatre, ed. Helen Higbee and William West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Elaine Aston and George Savona, Theatre as Sign‐System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance (London: Routledge, 1991); Janette Dillon, “Is There a Performance in This Text?,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 45/1 (Spring 1994), 74–86; Fredrick Kiefer, Writing on the Renaissance Stage: Written Words, Printed Pages, Metaphoric Books (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1996); and Robert Knapp, Shakespeare: The Theater and the Book (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

(38) Sabrina Baron and Brendan Dooley (eds.), The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 2001); David Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early‐Modern England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

(39) Jerzy Limon, The Masque of Stuart Culture (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1990), opposes historicized to multivalent readings, equating readings that “see the masque in its immediate political context” with the belief that “a literary work has one invariant meaning” (7). I wish to propose that these methodologies can work together. A 1955 article by Dolora Cunningham on “The Jonsonian Masque as a Literary Form” (ELH 22/2 (June 1955), 108–24) defines the “literary” in terms of “decorum, hierarchical unity, and ethical purpose,” following Renaissance understandings of Aristotelian tragedy (124). In a series of articles in the 1980s, Leah Marcus illuminated the complexities of ways that masques can relate to their occasions. Marcus explores masques' “potential for complexity of statement…[not] fixed and predictable entities…[Masques] sparkle with tension and nuance and…take on a life of their own, anchored in their occasion and in certain principles of decorum, but free to expand beyond those givens into a new and independent statement about the relation of history to symbol.” “Masquing Occasions and Masque Structure,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 24 (1981), 7–16, 12–13. Marcus's own practice unfolds in the richness of occasional readings themselves; the present project takes up her wider invitation.

(40) Gregory Machacek, “Allusion,” PMLA 122/2 (March 2007), 522–36. For remarks specifically on Jonson and previous studies of Jonsonian allusion, see Robert C. Evans, “Jonsonian Allusions,” in Butler (ed.), Re‐Presenting, 233–48.

(41) See Martin Butler on how Jonson's printed masques “privileged the masques' ideas at the expense of their occasions; nonetheless, all his masque quartos make statements about the dates of performance.” Butler, “The Riddle of Jonson's Chronology Revisited,” The Library, 7th ser. 4/1 (March 2003), 49–63, 51.

(42) Mulryne, “Introduction,” in Mulryne and Shewring (eds.), Theatre and Government, 1–28, 15.

(43) David Lindley, The Trials of Frances Howard: Fact and Fiction at the Court of King James (London: Routledge, 1993), 19. See also Mulryne's exemplary local cross‐reading of Salisbury's speech to parliament on 11 June 1610 with the masques surrounding Henry's investiture, as well as the larger question Mulryne draws from this: “How far would the potential ironies, of disclosure and suppression, of benevolence and tyranny, of god‐like privilege and mortal anxiety, consort together in the elite audience's mind to modify the political meanings of the current masque?” “Introduction,” in Mulryne and Shewring (eds.), Theatre and Government, 15.

(44) While many masque critics acknowledge edgier audience response, other recent discussions cast receivers more passively: for instance Skiles Howard, The Politics of Courtly Dancing in Early Modern England (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998) and Douglas Lanier, “Fertile Visions: Jacobean Revels and the Erotics of Occasion,” Studies in English Literature, 39/2 (Spring 1999), 327–56. In a recent article on Lord Mayor's shows, A. A. Bromham offers a shrewd analysis of the 1613 Triumphs of Truth in the context of expressing perhaps unwarranted surprise at that show's multivocality. Bromham writes that since these pageants undertake solidifying “social cohesion, civic duty, and community consciousness…they were…hardly likely to be controversial.” Bromham, “Thomas Middleton's The Triumphs of Truth: City Politics in 1613,” Seventeenth Century, 10/1 (Spring 1995), 1–25, 1.

(45) David Bevington suggests we understand this masque‐within‐a‐play as an opportunity for a more general population to participate in the great cycle of wedding masques surrounding the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine. The Tempest was performed at this time; some critics have argued that we should take the play as a whole to engage this topical event. See Bevington, “The Tempest and the Jacobean Court Masque,” in Bevington and Holbrook (eds.) Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, 218–43.

(46) The first recorded performance was at court, before the King, in 1611; it was performed again at court in the winter of 1612–13.

(47) All citations to The Tempest from The Norton Shakespeare, ed. S. Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 1997).

(48) Leonard Tennenhouse, Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare's Genres (New York: Methuen, 1986), 39. Analogously, Stephen Greenblatt explains, “form itself, as a primary expression of Renaissance power, helps to contain…radical doubts.” Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 65.

(49) Parry, “Entertainments at Court,” 200.

(50) Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Court critics who consistently link masque and fornication claim that chaotic masque evenings are more than a dramatic trope. Lucy Hutchinson, for example, opines that “To keep the people in their deplorable security, till vengeance overtook them, they were entertained with masks, stage plays, and other sorts of ruder sports. Then began murder, incest, adultery, drunkenness, swearing, fornication, and all sorts of ribaldry, to be no concealed but countenanced vices.” Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, ed. Julius Hutchinson (London: Bell, 1906), 78.

(51) Mulryne, “Introduction,” 11.

(52) Letter to Chamberlain, 7 January 1605. Dudley Carleton to John Chamberlain, 1603–1624: Jacobean Letters, ed. with introduction by Maurice Lee (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972), 68.

(53) See “Conversations with Drummond,” 155–6. Ben Jonson, i. 223–5.

(54) Graham Parry notes that “Today, in the empty Banqueting House, it is hard to project a speech more than ten paces without blurring,” which he suggests indicates that dialogue in a full hall frequently would be inaudible; moreover, “several masque descriptions note that singers went up close to the chair of state so that the king could hear the words.” “The Politics of the Jacobean Masque,” in Mulryne and Shewring (eds.), Theatre and Government, 87–117, 114.

(55) Butler, “Courtly Negotiations,” in Bevington and Holbrook (eds.), Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, 20–40, 21.

(56) Leeds Barroll's and Barbara Lewalski's work on Queen Anna's self‐assertion through masque production made it impossible to equate masque practice with King James's autonomous authority. Lewalski, “Anne of Denmark and the Subversions of Masquing,” Criticism, 35/3 (Summer 1993), 341–55; Barroll, “The Court of the First Stuart Queen,” in Peck (ed.), Mental World 191–208; and Barroll, “Inventing the Stuart Masque,” in Bevington and Holbrook (eds.), Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, 121–43.

(57) Martin Butler, “ ‘We are one mans all’: Jonson's The Gipsies Metamorphosed ,” Yearbook of English Studies, 21 (1991), 253–73; “Jonson's News from the New World, the ‘Running Masque,’ and the Season of 1619–20,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, 6 (1993), 153–78; “Ben Jonson's Pan's Anniversary and the Politics of Early Stuart Pastoral,” English Literary Renaissance, 22/3 (Fall 1992), 369–404; and Butler and Lindley, “Restoring Astraea.”

(58) Barbara Ravelhofer, The Early Stuart Masque: Dance, Costume, and Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage; Britland, Drama; Knowles, “Britain's Burse.” Particularly interesting for the present study of how the extent of masquing shapes the genre are Knowles's remarks on the effects of the texts for Jonson's Cecil‐sponsored entertainments having been omitted from the Jonson canon, obscuring the “relation between civic and aristocratic entertainments” (114). This counteracts earlier views assuming more rigid opposition between City and aristocratic interests: David Riggs calls the festivities that open the New Exchange “something quite anomalous: a royal entertainment in praise of trade.” Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 157.

(59) Knowles's interest in wider “masquing culture” is an exception. The “Running Masque” essay in which he makes a claim about intertextuality between court masques and larger “masquing culture” is still elite in focus, but suggests a wider context for future study; similarly, Knowles's “Spectacle of the Realm: Civic Consciousness, Rhetoric and Ritual in Early Modern London” (in Mulryne and Shewring (eds.), Theatre and Government, 157–89) does not focus on civic reception of court masques per se, but importantly outlines relationships among kinds of civic entertainments.

(60) Kastan, “ ‘Shewes of Honour and Gladnes’: Dissonance and Display in Mary and Philip's Entry into London,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 33 (1994), 1–14, 3.

(61) Susan Wiseman astutely remarks how considering “canonical and courtly texts” has “produced readings which tend to see the text as always at the service of the king, and conceptualise the early modern subject as unable to think outside models of power produced by monarchist discourse.” Wiseman, Drama and Politics in the English Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 15. Also see Britland's comments on Townshend, in Drama, 69.

(62) Loewenstein, “Printing and the ‘Multitudinous Presse’: The Contentious Texts of Jonson's Masques,” in Jennifer Brady and W. H. Herendeen (eds.), Ben Jonson's 1616 Folio (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1991), 168–91, 170. For trenchant remarks on how the Herford and Simpson standard edition of Jonson's works has shaped our sense of “Jonson,” see Martin Butler, “Introduction: from Workes to Texts,” in Butler (ed.), Re‐Presenting, 1–19.

(63) Richard C. Newton, for example, remarks that Jonson's publication of masque texts “define[s] them as his with an assurance new in literary life.” “Jonson and the (Re‐) Invention of the Book,” in Claude Summers and Ted‐Larry Pebworth (eds.), Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982), 31–55, 45. On Jonsonian publication, see also Loewenstein, “Printing”; Loewenstein, “The Script in the Marketplace,” in Stephen Greenblatt (ed.), Representing the English Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 265–78; and Loewenstein, Responsive Readings: Versions of Echo in Pastoral, Epic, and the Jonsonian Masque (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Timothy Murray, Theatrical Legitimation: Allegories of Genius in Seventeenth‐Century England and France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); and Evelyn Tribble, Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in Early Modern England (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1993).

(64) See Loewenstein, Ben Jonson and Possessive Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Murray, Allegories; and Douglas Brooks, From Playhouse to Printing House: Drama and Authorship in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

(65) This puts some pressure on readings like Butler's analysis of Pan's Anniversary as “a Jonsonian intervention in the increasingly fraught politics arising from the European crisis of 1619–1621.” (“Pan's Anniversary”, 370). Barroll comments on this “authorial” distortion of granting pundit status to the Jonsonian scriptor; of the fraught atmosphere surrounding the 1616 Golden Age Restored, Barroll writes that “one can hardly imagine that the masque's tone of stern disapproval…unilaterally originated with the citizen artisan Ben Jonson.” Barroll, Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 149.

(66) Barroll, Anna, 83.

(67) Chamberlain remarks the time that masquers spend together in preparation: “Here is much practising against the maske on Twelfth Night and many meetings at noblemens houses in the afternoones” (Chamberlain Letters, ii. 538), and the rehearsal time spent together may account for the impact sponsors hoped to effect by including masquers of opposing factions, nationalities, or political views, as when Anna invited both Essex and Howard partisans to dance in the Masque of Blackness (1605), or James pointedly brought together Scottish and English nobles in Hymenaei (1606), or Charles included both monarchal critics and apologists in Salmacida Spolia (1640). On the casting of Blackness, see Barroll, Anna; on Salmacida Spolia, see Butler, “Politics and the Masque: Salmacida Spolia,” in Thomas Healy and Jonathan Sawday (eds.), Literature and the English Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 59–74.

(68) Peter Walls, Music in the English Courtly Masque, 1604–1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

(69) Trois Masques, 226.

(70) Glenn Burgess, Absolute Monarchy and the Stuart Constitution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).