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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

§ 8. Campion’s Masques

The death of prince Henry in November, 1612, plunged the nation into great grief. Nevertheless, in three months’ time, it welcomed, as an excuse for throwing off its gloom, the marriage of the princess Elizabeth to the elector Palatine. The festivities on this occasion were of an unparalleled magnificence and cost. It was arranged that, on the evening of the wedding, being Sunday, 14 February, the courtiers should present the first masque, known since as The Lords’ Masque, and written by Thomas Campion, and that, on the two following evenings, the inns of court should present masques. So exhausted were the king and court generally by the elaborate proceedings, that the third masque had to be put off till the 20th of the month. The second masque—The Masque of the Middle Temple and Lyncolnes Inn—was written by George Chapman, and the third—The Masque of Grayes Inne and the Inner-Temple—by Francis Beaumont. Jonson said to Drummond that “next himself only Fletcher and Chapman could make a masque.” Probably, he had Beaumont’s masque in his mind, as we have no record of a masque by Fletcher. But Campion, rather than either Chapman or Beaumont, deserves the next place—longo intervallo—to Jonson. The Lords’ Masque has an antimasque of “Frantics.” These are such characters as the lover, the self-lover, the melancholic man, the schoolman overcome with fantasy, the over-watched usurer, with others that made an absolute medley of madness. These “Lunatics” danced “a mad measure fitted to a loud fantastic tune,” after which the music changed to a solemn air, which drove out the “Frantics.” Prometheus displays eight stars shining and dancing—a kind of second antimasque of stars. “The stars moved in an exceeding strange and delightful manner, and I suppose few have ever seen more neat artifice than Master Inigo Jones shewed in contriving their motion.” Campion’s own songs, which accompany the scenic effects, have that special charm of melody and natural grace which make his lyrics more than any other man’s typically Elizabethan. The stars, vanishing, become the eight masquers, “in their habits, which were infinitely rich, befitting states.” To accompany these knights, sixteen pages, “like fiery spirits,” break from the earth with torches, and “The Torchbearers’ Dance” follows, making the second antimasque. When the time came for the masquers to take partners from the audience, “first of all the princely bridegroom and bride were drawn into these solemn revels.” The revels are interrupted by a second “set-piece” of elaborate splendour, from which a “high vast obelisk dedicate to Fame” is drawn out by Sybilla, who, in choice Latin verse, prophesies prosperity to the wedded pair.

It will be seen, from this imperfect summary of a masque remarkable for its elaboration, that Campion depends more upon Inigo Jones than does Jonson. Jonson instinctively feels for some situation which he must explain and which has in it a logical development involving some slight dramatic interest; Campion merely adorns the stage carpenter’s ingenuities with beautiful songs and poetic recitative. Nevertheless, Campion’s songs are very charming, and his masque has a poetic beauty in its conceptions as sweet and splendid as any of Jonson’s. But it does not join to poetic beauty his moral impressiveness; melody and beauty are the ingredients of Campion’s magic. We may add that Campion’s account of his work is written in prose of which the ease and charm are not less remarkable than are the vigour and exactitude of that of Jonson’s notes; while, in his references to his fellow-workers, Campion reveals himself a s a man of a generous personality, eager to praise his friends. His three masques and single entertainment survive, as they deserve; they are all of them remarkable for the melody of their lyrics and the beauty of their conception. He would stand beside Jonson as a masque writer if he had written as many masques.