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The Early Stuart Masque: Dance, Costume, and Music.

The Early Stuart Masque: Dance, Costume, and Music. By Barbara Ravelhofer. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 61 [pounds sterling]. 2006. xvi + 317 pp. isbn: 978-0-19-928659-1.

A bland title for a lively, well-documented study. The ambitious task Barbara Ravelhofer undertakes is to illuminate the performative aspects of early Stuart masques, especially dance, despite the paucity of direct evidence. The strength derives from Ravelhofer's carefully weighed judgements on the relevance of the evidence. For example, having given a clear account of the 'Old Measures' of Tudor dancing, she acknowledges the much looser meaning of the word 'measure' in many later records; references to recognized dances may be to a general style, or to the music rather than to specific choreography. This scrupulous method pays off because of the width and depth of her research, including much continental material, supplemented by consultation with practitioners. Experience of the pleasure of dancing perhaps influences Ravelhofer in rejecting postFoucauldian ideas of the restraining impulse behind choreography at the Stuart court; she emphasizes the enjoyment of well-executed dance, however hierarchical, and indicates how performance tests boundaries and transcends prescriptive instructions.

Stepping her way through dance forms that may have been used for antimasques, for royal and aristocratic main masquers, and for social dances used in the revels that followed, she emphasizes the strong influence of Queen Anne and Queen Henrietta Maria, the latter importing French styles of dance to enhance native traditions. Discussing costume, she draws on Henrietta Maria's household accounts, demonstrating a complex industry of preparation, maintenance and storage. She identifies 'discreet cost-saving, which interfered as little as possible with the ostentation of luxury in performance' (p. 156). Some garments might be recycled, but the Queen stipulated that masque costumes she had used were exclusively royal and should not be subsequently 'prostituted upon any Mercenary stage' (p. 165).

There are case studies of two Jonsonian masques (The Masque of Queens and Oberon), one Carolingean (Coelum Britannium), and a record of an English wedding masque devised by Robert Bargrave, 'Levant Merchant' in Constantinople in 1650. She shows how evidence of dancing, with its accompanying music, and of colourful costume, topped off with mask or make-up and enhanced by lighting, can present a more vivid, albeit blurred, image of the theatrical impact and cultural significance of the early Stuart masque than either Inigo Jones's designs, which were intended as working drawings for scene painters and costume makers, or textual records intended, particularly in Ben Jonson's case, to celebrate the printed word as much as the event it commemorated.

Framing her study with an account by a foreign visitor of a Stuart masque and with the masque devised in Turkey, Ravelhofer creates a Verfremdungseffekt in which we reevaluate how dimly-lit moving figures, obscure texts, arcane symbolism, creaking scenery, and backstage interference combine to create multimedia pieces, uniquely reflecting the sometimes glorious, sometimes tottering, state of the early Stuarts.

Occasionally, Ravelhofer's enthusiasm for contextual exploration leads her into eccentricity, as when she explores the relevance of the ambigram to Inigo Jones's experiments with perspective (p. 96). Once, her scholarship leads her to condemn as 'amateur and historically uninformed' (p. 7) a modern adaptation of historical dance (in the film Elizabeth) in which the dance consultant, drawing freely on authentic sources to realize the director's interpretation, actually showed an unpedantic theatrical professionalism that perhaps had its roots in the Stuart masque.

Ravelhofer claims her work as 'a tribute to early studies by Allardyce Nicoll, Enid Welfor and Lily Campbell' (p. 268). It is a worthy tribute, restoring emphasis to the 'living spectacle' (p. 269) of the early Stuart masque through robust evaluation of a dazzling array of familiar and unfamiliar material.

Diana Devlin

Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London
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Author:Devlin, Diana
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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