The Essex House Masque of 1621: Viscount Doncaster and the Jacobean Masque.
(Medieval and Renaissance Literary Studies.) Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2000. xx + 24 illus + 204 pp. $58. ISBN: 0-8207-0310-9.
The masque, it has often been observed, is at once the most high-profile and the most ephemeral of theatrical entertainments. Presented as a response to, or indeed as a part of, important political and diplomatic events, masques dazzled their audiences with elaborate visual splendor, choice music and poetry, and high-flown rhetoric; yet once the moment had come and gone, much of what had made the masque such a grand occasion passed forever into oblivion. Although a number of masque authors sought to preserve their texts through publication, the testimony of other sources -- administrative documents, scraps of music, the observations of contemporary witnesses, and the remarkable sketches and drawings of Inigo Jones -- give tantalizing witness to the many gaps in our knowledge of this highly significant but frustratingly elusive genre.
For the student of Stuart court theater, then, the discovery of a new masque is an exciting event, both for its addition of a fresh piece to the puzzle of early seventeenth-century political and theatrical history and for the sheer enjoyment of savoring yet another richly resonant amalgam of myth, philosophy, encomium, and scenic grandeur. Timothy Raylor's unearthing of such a masque among the Portland Papers at the University of Nottingham Library -- and his convincing identification of it as the masque performed under the aegis of Viscount Doncaster (formerly Lord Hay) at Essex House on January 8, 1621, before James I and the French Ambassador Extraordinary -- is particularly significant. The "Essex House Masque" was, to all intents and purposes, a court masque (as distinguished from a "private" masque) and appears, moreover, to have played an important role in the political events of the day, as well as in ongoing debates over the purpose and function of the masque form itself.
It is, no doubt, tremendous fun to come across a text of such importance and to assign it convincingly to its proper spot in the canon. But Raylor has done much more. In several articles published in 1997 and 1998, he announced his find, provided a semi-diplomatic transcription of the text, and explored pertinent questions about authorship, performers, etc. Since that initial flurry of activity, however, he has continued to turn the masque over and over in his hands, not only coming up with more to say about the work, but in some cases revising his earlier conclusions (e.g. 174 n.6, 175 n.5). The volume under review here shows the fruits of that continued labor, and is a testament both to the value of an ongoing process of evaluation and to Raylor's impressive and wide-ranging command of his subject.
Attractively presented and intelligently illustrated, The Essex House Masque of 1621 is both an edition and a study. Rather than repeat his already-published diplomatic transcription, Raylor presents a lightly-edited version of the text that (while the line numbers regrettably do not match those of his earlier version) is at the same time scholarly and conducive to reading. This is supplemented with brief discussions of the identification of the work, the manuscript itself, and Raylor's editorial procedure, and with well-researched explanatory notes. Of particular interest is an examination of the curious punctuation system employed in the manuscript, which was intended to facilitate the oral delivery of the text. The second part of the book consists of four chapters, exploring the masque's political and artistic context, analyzing the work itself, surveying the production requirements, and speculating as to the identities of the masque's designer and author (Inigo Jones and George Chapman are put forward as candidates).
There is much to praise here. Raylor demonstrates his far-reaching expertise at every step of the way, with only his treatment of the European diplomatic situation in 1621 seeming a bit unsophisticated in its reliance on S.R. Gardiner's grand nineteenth-century narrative. He is thorough, and admirably cautious in presenting his conclusions, particularly where educated guesswork is a major factor. The writing is clear and informative, occasionally witty, and never dull; although this is a book aimed largely at specialists, Raylor is at pains to make every aspect of this interdisciplinary study accessible to all potential readers. Occasionally, we might note, this brings unintended consequences: the text is at times unnecessarily repetitive, with a particularly egregious example of the dangers of cut-and-paste technology appearing on pages 68-69 and 113.
Given Raylor's impressive command of his materials, there are a few points on which he is unaccountably silent. Is there, for example, a line missing from the manuscript between the edition's lines 99 and 100? The rhyme scheme is uniquely disrupted here, and although Raylor's note explicating the reference seems to lay doubt aside, some lingering incongruities remain in the ensuing text. Similarly, the imperfect scansion of line 115 would seem to betray a missing word -- a not unlikely prospect in this particularly error-prone section of the manuscript. I would suggest the emendation "Returning Earth her one. who may [in] this.. .", which, as an added benefit, would produce a reading far simpler than the tortured interpretation given in Raylor's accompanying note. A brief section speculating about the music for the masque might also have been in order, if only to follow Peter Walls in warning against placing too much (if any) stock in surviving dance tunes with titles like "The Lord Hays his Masque," "The Lo rd Hayes his first Masque," and "Essex Anticke Masque" (in British Library, Add. MS 10444). Why Walls's important 1996 book (Music in the English Courtly Masque) does not appear in Raylor's bibliography is a mystery. In addition, it would have been interesting to hear Raylor's thoughts on why the masque's song texts, the delivery of which would have been governed by their (presumably lost) musical settings, appear in the manuscript with the same punctuation system used to guide the application of pauses and emphases in the spoken passages.
On the whole, however, this is an excellent book, important in its implications for our understanding of the Stuart masque and valuable in its distillation of and expansion upon Raylor's earlier articles announcing his discovery. While many questions about this masque remain to be answered, scholars of early Stuart history and culture owe Timothy Raylor a debt of gratitude not only for uncovering this lost text but for analyzing and exploring it with the tremendous care such a work warrants.
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|Author:||WALKLING, ANDREW R.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2001|
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