Masque Structure

The Antemasque or Antimasque

The antimasque was formalised by Ben Jonson for his “The Masque of Queens” in 1609. In the Jacobean era it was usual to have between one and three antimasques, but in the Caroline period there could be up to twenty. This was where the text of a masque was performed by professionals through dance, acrobatics and theatre. They were often playing grotesque caricatures or impersonating animals. Rude songs might feature here. There would be dance as well as speaking in this section of the masque; dances usually involved mime and were chaotic, although no actual choreography exists for this section of the masque. The music normally matched the confusion of the dance. This segment of the masque represented the chaos and disorder of a society without the King to act as a shining light; either through farcical characters in the Jacobean era or political satire in the Caroline period. Prior to the beginning of the masque proper (main masque) there may have been a section with torchbearers, to light the room up, or some country dancing to allow for an easier scene change (often performed by children).

From the French balet (an inspiration for the masque style) in 1617, La délivrance de Renaud. The figures are wearing animal masques.

Did you know?

It can be written both as antemasque (the segment which comes before the main masque) or the antimasque (as in the section being in opposition to the main masque).

The Main Masque or Masque Proper

Page or fiery spirit in Thomas Campion's Lord's Masque, 1613. The Victoria and Albert Museum Collections.

The main masque may well have started with loud music, for the change of scene, and poetry would describe the setting for main masque. There might be several songs in this section, these would be less bawdy than those in the antimasque. Then there would be the entry dance of the masquers and all of them would be wearing masks (these could be both the men and ladies of the court, sometimes both but more often one or the other). There are no records of any choreography in this section either, again we have the music for some masques and we have descriptions from contemporaries. These masquers represented the coming of order, and particularly reverenced the royal family, who might be dancing or watching. They were given the credit for shining light and bringing order to society.

Did you know?
All of the masquers in this section would have been nobles or courtiers. They would be dressed in spectacular costume and dance in front of the King.

The Measures or the Revels

This section was when the audience might take to the dance floor. They would dance measures (normally the Pavan or possibly the Almain) or they might have improvisatorial style dances, danced perhaps in a more competitive way. These included the Galliard. The Coranto and Branles were also popular. The Duke of Buckingham was well-known for taking the floor to perform a galliard. This would be done alone, and the dancer might be given a certain number of bars (of music) to show off their skills. This section was often ended by a song and then, with the audience returned to their seats, the masquers would exit the stage.

Discover more about these dances here… or learn how to do them yourself with my dance tutorial

Woodcut of people daning the Galliard from the 16th Century Orchésographie by Thomas Arbeau
Woodcut of a couple dancing a galliard.

After “The Revels” there would  often be a banquet of sweetmeats and wine

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