The form of Tudor entertainment called the Masque was popular with
the rich Tudor Upper classes. Masques were accompanied with music and dance at the
beginning and end of the performances and during the interludes.
The dances which accompanied
the masques had unusual names such as the 'Tinternell', 'Maske of
Queens', 'The Earl of Essex's Measure', Lord Zouch's Maske and the 'Turkeylony'
- many of these titles reflected the names of the rich Tudor patrons who employed Tudor dramatists,
composers to produce new masque productions. Tudor
Masques were performed at various festivals, celebrations
such as Christmas, weddings and other revels. The Masques of
the Renaissance fused music, dance, poetry and drama into
one splendid entertainment.
A Masque was a lavish, dramatic
entertainment often spoken in verse, usually performed by
masked, disguised players representing mythological or
allegorical figures. The disguised players in the
Tudor masques were usually members of the Tudor
History of Tudor Masques
- the Mummers Plays
The history of the
Tudor masque dated back to the ancient custom and ritual of 'Mumming'
which were performed by 'Mummers'. The first mummers performed mimes,
plays without words re-enacting old stories, legends and myths
particularly those about Saint George. All Mummers were
disguised with vizards or masks and referred to as 'Guisers'. The
important element of disguise was passed on to the Masques of the
Tudor period. Over the years
dialogue was added to the mummer's plays - they became a forerunner of
the theatre and the masque. The element of disguise continued and the identities of the
Mummers were concealed. When dialogue was added to the plays of the
Mummers they also disguised their voices to conceal their identities.
The Mummers introduced additional elements to the plays which became
increasingly entertaining with the addition of jokes, jests, songs and
The Staging and Scenery of Tudor Masques
Great attention was
paid to the indoor sets and scenery used for Tudor Masques.
Expensive items of furniture and paintings were borrowed to embellish
the scenery, sets and stage areas. The 'props' and accessories were even
more fantastic and included items such as gilded chariots and fountains.
Scenery was designed for temples and the facades of castles and new devices
were developed to produce thunder & lightening effects. Tudor
masques were also performed outdoors during the summer months.
Themes of Tudor Masques
The traditional masque theme was highly romantic
reflecting the rules of chivalry and courtly love. These
themes emphasised the strength of men and the vulnerability
of women. Tudor Masques also promoted the notion of marriage
and men protecting their women. These blatant themes of male
authority dominated the stories of the Tudor masques.
Dramatists, Musicians and Composers of Tudor Masques
Poets and Dramatists were employed to write the words and verses of the
masques. These included Sir Edmund Spenser, Francis Beaumont (1584 -
1616), John Fletcher (1579 - 1625),
Thomas Middleton (1580 - 1627) and Ben Jonson. Famous
composers such as William Byrd (1543-1623), Thomas Campion
(1567-1620) and John Mundy (1550-1630) were also responsible for
creating Tudor masques. But the most famous and important of all the
Tudor dramatists was none other than William Shakespeare. The
fantastic themes of the masques were included in many of the plays of
William Shakespeare such The Tempest, Romeo
and Juliet and Much Ado about Nothing.
Costumes worn in Tudor Masques
costumes were fantastic and lavish and no expense was spared in terms of
costume design, fabrics and materials which were used to make the masque
Tudor masque costumes were opulent and fantastic and unlike the
costumes of the Tudor theatre many Tudor Masque costumes
reflected the style, costume and fashion of the masque subject. Costumes representing Greek Gods and Goddesses, fairies and mythical creatures were
designed. Wigs and elaborate make-up were
used to add to the effect of the costume and the masks provided the integral
element of disguise. To
provide a contrast to the fashionable white make-up which was used by
Tudor women, especially Queen Elizabeth, an unusual black make-up was applied to the face -
providing the only exception to the wearing of a mask.
Women and Tudor Masques
A great deal of attention
is paid the the fact that the poor Lower Class women were not allowed to perform on
the Tudor stage as it would have been considered to be lewd and
highly immoral. This was not so in relation to the Tudor masque. The appearance of
noble women in court masques was seen as quite appropriate. The first recorded appearance of Anne Boleyn at
the Tudor Court was on March 1, 1522 when she took part in a masque! Perhaps
the element of disguise allowed for the participation of Tudor
noblewomen in masques - vizards or masks were always
worn by the performers. But the more probable explanation was that these
wealthy and bored women of the court wanted to be included in such an exciting
diversion as a Tudor masque. The masque provided them with the opportunity to
design and wear
fantastic and opulent costumes! The Tudor masque also provided them with
opportunity to show-off their dancing and singing skills! All members of
the Tudor court, both men and women, could take part 'disguising' themselves in
these lavish and exotic spectacles. It is
therefore no real surprise that women of the Tudor court were
allowed to perform in masques!
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