Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 2. Its early history

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

XIII. Masque and Pastoral

§ 2. Its early history

But, before we touch upon the relation of Spenser’s art to the masque, we must attempt to summarise the history of masque and pageant before his time. The masque, like the drama, runs back into remote antiquity, and we must make an effort to conceive of masque as it was practised in England during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, if we are to understand clearly what a masque was, and what modifications it underwent while, in Ben Jonson’s hands, it was the main amusement of the English court and nobility. Out of numberous accounts of masques that have come down to us, we may take two as typical of the kind of entertainments which, by their combination, finally produced the true masque. For the first, we will go back to the fourteenth century.

Edward III died on 2 January, 1377. On the second of February following, being Candlemas day, “the Commons of London made great sporte and solemnity” in honour of his successor, prince Richard, who was lodged with his mother and the leading nobles of the realm at the palace in the royal manor of Kennington, which had been a favourite residence of the Black prince. “At night and in the night,” a cavalcade of 130 men “disguizedly aparailed and well mounted on horsebacke to goe on mumming,” rode “from Newgate through Cheape” over London Bridge to Kennington. They went “with great noyse of minstralsye, trumpets, cornets and shawmes, and great plenty of waxe torches lighted.” First came 48 esquires, two and two, “in cotes and clokes of red say or sendall, and their faces covered with vizards well and handsomely made”; next followed 48 knights, “well arrayed after the same maner”; then a single figure, “as he had bene an emperor”; then another single figure, “as a pope”; after him, 24 “arayed like Cardinals”; and, last, 8 or 10 “with black vizardes like devils, nothing amiable, seeming like legates.” On reaching the palace, all alighted and entered the hall, into which presently came the prince, his mother and the leading nobles, whom “the said mummers saluted”; the mummers then proceeded to play with a pair of prepared dice with the prince and other gentry for valuable gifts. When the gifts had all been won, “the prince and the lordes danced on the one side and the mummers on the other a great while,” and then drank took their leave and departed to London.