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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

§ 9. Chapman and Beaumont as Masque-writers

Chapman’s masque is in pleasant contrast to Campion’s. It is full of semi-dramatic matter and of quaint, picturesque, fantastic detail quite different from the purely beautiful detail of the first masque. It is interesting, also, because the cavalcade or procession from the rendezvous in Chancery lane to Whitehall was a special attraction of the show, and is carefully described by Chapman. The masque is very topical. It is founded, mainly, upon the current interest in the attempt to colonise Virginia, the chief masquers being Indian princes, while their attendant Phoebades, or Virginian priests of the sun, form a second antimasque. The first antimasque satirises the globe-trotting propensities of Englishmen. The main items of the cavalcade were, first, “a mock masque of Baboons horsed with asses and dwarf palfreys, with yellow foot cloths, casting cockle-de-moys about in courtesy by way of largesse”; then, in a car, the twelve Phoebades, “chief musicians of our kingdom”; then, the twelve chief masquers riding in Indian habits, as Virginian princes; and, finally, another car driven by Capriccio with Honor and Plutus on the top, and their attendants Eunomia and Phemis beneath them. Capriccio, who has a pair of bellows on his head, describes himself as a “man of wit”; he is a parallel figure to Jonson’s Fencer in Pan’s Anniversarie or to his Christmas in The Masque of Christmas, where a single character takes the part of a presenter. When the hall is finally reached, he has a lively opening dialogue with Plutus, who replies to his contemptuous invective:

  • Sinful? and damnable? What, a Puritan? Those bellows you wear on your head shew with what matter your brain is puffed up, Sir; a religion-forger I see you are and presume of inspiration from these bellows; with which ye study to blow up the settled government of kingdoms.
  • Chapman spells “antemasque” with an e and speaks of his prose dialogue as a “low induction”; his baboons’ dance, he tells us, was “anticke and delightful.” His conception of the antimasque, therefore, makes it rather like the farce in a modern theatre. It is to be noted, also, that his torchbearers have a dance—they descended and “performed another antemasque dancing with torches lighted at both ends.” Chapman’s work, obviously, is influenced by Jonson; but he has not grasped the principles of balance and composition which his master employs. It is delightful, however, to find him in his explanatory narrative echoing exactly Jonson’s arrogant note. He inserts a page “to answer certain insolent objections made against the length of my speeches and narrations,” in which he shews himself the true mate of Ben, the only other Elizabethan who matches his pride in his poetic craft.

    Beaumont’s masque is a worthy third to the first two. The Inner Temple and Gray’s inn made Winchester house, on the south bank of the river, their rendezvous, and their procession was by water. Unfortunately, Beaumont does not describe this with the fulness with which Chapman describes the cavalcade by land of the previous night; but we know, from other sources, that it was very elaborate. The gentleman-masquers “were placed by themselves in the King’s royal barge, with the rich furniture of state, and adorned with a great number of lights, placed in such order as might make the best show.” They were “led by two Admirals,” and a multitude of barges and galleys attended upon them, “with all variety of land music and several peals of ordnance.” The king and the prince and the newly married couple watched the landing at Whitehall; but the hall of the palace was found to be too small for the performance. This is the reason Beaumont gives for the postponement till Saturday. We learn, however, from a private letter, that the king’s fatigue was the real cause of the delay:

  • Sir Francis Bacon ventured to entreat his Majesty that by this disgrace (i.e. the postponement) he would, as it were, bury them quick: and I hear the king should answer, that they must bury him quick, for he could last no longer.
  • But the masquers were reconciled to the delay by getting permission to use the banqueting house instead of the hall on Saturday.

    Beaumont’s masque is remarkable for the high quality of its blank verse, which has in it a hint of Miltonic music, and for the beauty of the lyrics, which, however, are few and short. The words of the masque are quite subordinate to the elaborate music, dances and scenic effects. Beaumont is at pains to point out that his antimasque is “not of one kind or livery (because that had been so much in use heretofore) but as it were in consort like to broken music.” This innovation tended further to disintegrate the masque and break it up into a variety entertainment. For the second antimasque, Iris, “in token that the match shall likewise be blessed with the love of the common people,” calls to Flora to bring in “a May dance or rural dance, consisting likewise not of any suited persons,” but of a pedant, May lord, May lady; servingman, chambermaid; a country clown, country wench; a he-baboon, shebaboon; a he-fool, she-fool; these rush in, dance their measure and as rudely depart. “The music was extremely well fitted,” says Beaumont; “but the perpetual laughter and applause was above the music.” The king was so pleased that he called for the second antimasque again at the end, and also, for the first, “but one of the statues by that time was undressed.”