- Masques and like devices in Chapman's plays: towards The Memorable Maske
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 2, December 1991
- pp. 31-43
- View Citation
Masques and like devices in Chapman's plays: towards The Memorable Maske George Chapman's skill as a masque-maker has been largely ignored, even though Jonson in conversation with Drummond of Hawthornden maintained that 'next himself only Fletcher and Chapman could make a Mask'.1 Jonson's claim is perplexing because only one masque by Chapman is known: The Memorable Maske of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn,2 performed 15 February 1613, as one of the splendid and sumptuous festivities celebrating the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, Elector Palatine. With this one masque Chapman indeed shows himself to be a master of the form, having made a work justifiably described as 'memorable'. Yet, singular as that work is, it would be wrong to regard The Maske as without precedent. It may have been Chapman's one and only Court masque; but he did have over a decade of inventing inset masques. It is the contention of this essay that Chapman's achievement in The Memorable Maske should not be looked at in isolation but should, rather, be assessed in the context of his broader efforts to explore the potentialities of the masque in drama, always allowing that the primacy of dramatic purpose as well as practical considerations of the theatre necessarily restricted the scope of the inset masque as compared with that of independent masques written for court festivities.3 The Memorable Maske was the culmination to an evening of grand entertainment which began with a great procession of masquers, torch-bearers, decorated horses, triumphal cars, attendants and various gentlemen and others, that made its way from Chancery Lane, along the Strand, to the Tilt-yard at Westminster where, after ostentatious parade for the onlookers, the performers made their way inside where in the Hall Inigo Jones had 'Inuented and fashioned, with the ground, and speciall structure of the whole worke' (title-page) an extraordinary set which wasfittingfor the poetic conception 'Supplied, Aplied, Digested, and written By Geo: Chapman' (title-page). By 1613 the main features of the Jacobean court masque had been established, largely by Jonson's example and precept: induction, anti-masque, masque, revels (which involved taking out to dance members of the audience) and 1 Ben Jonson, ed. C.H.Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols., Oxford, 1925-52, 1, p. 133. 2 Chapman references, with the exception of those to Sir Giles Goosecap and The Tragedy of Byron, are to The Plays of George Chapman: the Comedies, gen. ed. Allan Holaday, Urbana, IL, 1970. 3 Inga-Stina Ewbank, '"These pretty devices": A Study of Masques in Plays', in A Book of Masques: in honour ofAllardyce Nicoll, Cambridge, 1967; rpt 1980, p. 409. 32 W. Dean epilogue.4 Perhaps Jonson's most distinctive contribution was the invention of a purposeful and countervailent relationship between the anti-masque and the masque which allowed for variety and contrast in spectacle and meaning while offering a principle of displacement such as that from 'the opposites of glory' to 'virtuous fame' .5 However, for Jonson there was also something more required before a work was properly a masque: it had to evidence inner truths or 'remou'd mysteries',6 which were expressed as much through symbol as through poetic nanation. Chapman's work meets the strictest theoretical criteria of the masque as determined by Jonson, yet goes beyond them. Like Campion and Beaumont who also wrote masques for the Wedding festivities Chapman complicated the form by the introduction of a second anti-masque and a second revels, thereby securing greater complexity of effect, yet, paradoxically, a more elegant simplicity of form7 by means of which the audience, or at least those in Chapman's opinion capable of understanding, could be led into the realm of concealed truths where Love and Beauty were no longer potential but in act. But not all masques had such high ambitions. The history of the Elizabethan masque and of related masquerades makes it clear that jest as weU as earnest was often sufficienttojustify a masque. And this is so with Chapman's earliest known excursion into writing an inset masque, 'the rarest deuice' (V.i.25) in An Humorous...