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, musicians and 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 court.
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 dance.
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
Leading Tudor 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
Tudor masque 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 costumes. The 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 the 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!
Each section of this Tudors website addresses all topics and provides interesting facts and information about Masque. The Sitemap provides full details of all of the information and facts provided about the fascinating subject of the Tudors!