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From Revels to Revelation: Shakespeare and the Mask

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

Shakespeare’s late plays are often rightly said to be influenced by masque. The context for such influence is the sumptuous Jacobean masque, a series of performances particularly encouraged by Queen Anne from 1604, in which Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, usually took the speaking parts. This kind of masque is associated with the literary, classically inspired and often arcane writing of Ben Jonson and others, with the development of the scenic stage, the proscenium arch and perspective staging under the direction of Inigo Jones, and with the famous quarrel between Jonson and Jones as to whether poetry or picture should be considered the true ‘soul’ of masque. Its influence on Shakespeare is also often linked to the King’s Men’s move to the Blackfriars in 1609, an indoor theatre which may have encouraged a different approach to stage spectacle, though the late plays continued to be performed at the outdoor Globe as well as the newly acquired Blackfriars. To date, however, Tudor mask has been the poor relation both in Shakespeare studies and in studies of court theatre more widely. The distinction in spelling (mask versus masque) signals a widespread concern to mark a boundary between the two forms, implicitly suggesting that the later form is different, perhaps more grown-up, more sophisticated, more literary and certainly more worthy of critical attention, than its primitive forebear, despite the fact that the later form remains strongly indebted to the earlier. Yet the influence of Tudor mask on Shakespeare’s Elizabethan plays cannot be denied, though it has traditionally been only grudgingly admitted, as in John Dover Wilson’s expressed discomfort with the mask of Hymen in As You Like It: ‘There is no dramatic necessity for this masque-business.’

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 58 - 71
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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