masque (or mask or maske).
An aristocratic ceremonial entertainment in the 17th cent., consisting of a combination of poetry, vocal and instr. mus., dancing, acting, costume, pageantry, and scenic decoration, applied to the representation of allegorical and mythological subjects. It was much cultivated in It., from which country Eng. seems to have learnt it, then carrying it to a very high pitch of artistic elaboration. It developed from the intermedii
and from mystery plays
. In Elizabethan times, among the authors employed was Ben Jonson, a supreme master of the Eng. masque; he sometimes enjoyed the collab. of Inigo Jones
as designer of the decorations and machinery. Among composers of masque mus. were Campion
, and the younger Ferrabosco
. From a literary point of view the most famous masque is Milton's Comus
(1634); for this the mus. was supplied by Henry Lawes
, but the finest masques of this period had music by his brother William. Masques continued under the Puritan régime of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, some being arr., by authority, for entertainment of distinguished foreign visitors. After the Restoration, masque episodes were popular in plays, and music for them was composed by John Blow, Pelham Humfrey, Louis Grabu, and Henry Purcell. A late example is Arne's Alfred
(1740), written for perf. in the Prince of Wales
's garden: from it comes the song Rule, Britannia!
In the 20th cent. Vaughan Williams described his ballet Job
as a ‘masque for dancing’, to indicate that 19th-cent. type of choreog. would not be appropriate. Lambert's Summer's Last Will and Testament
is described as a masque.