logo

http://northernrenaissance.org | ISSN: 1759-3085

Creative Commons License

Published under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License.

You are free to share, copy and transmit this work under the following conditions:

‘The Masque of the Olympic Knights’, St Andrews, 11 February 2017 | posted June 26, 2017

Rachel Horrocks (University of St Andrews)

[1] On 11 February 2017 the University of St Andrews hosted a reconstruction of Francis Beaumont’s 1613 court masque, The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn. Funded by the Historical Dance Society, the reconstruction followed a weekend of early dance workshops led by scholar-practitioner Dr Anne Daye, and was attended by students and dance enthusiasts from St Andrews, Dundee, and Inverness.

Promotional poster, The Masque of the Olympic Knights

[2] For the event, the masque was renamed The Masque of the Olympic Knights and billed as a public showcase. The cast consisted of almost 40 dancers, musicians, singers, and actors, and the showcase was attended by 50 members of the university and community. The performance featured three rehearsed dances (choreographed by Daye), 20 pieces of early music involving a dozen musicians and two singers (arranged and conducted by Dr Jane Pettegree), and a cut version of the dialogue (directed by myself). To give audience members a sense of the original scenery and costumes, we projected a series of Inigo Jones’ original sketches from early masques on a screen at the back of the stage.[1]

[3] The project was intended to augment my doctoral research into the evolution of the antimasque form. Much of the research into the antimasque, and the masque as a whole, consists of analysis of the masque as a literary text, or of locating the masque within its historical context. These historical and textual approaches are valuable.[2] However, the fact that the masque was primarily a physical performance—bodies moving in time and space—has largely gone unstudied.[3] I am particularly interested in the relationship between masque and antimasque onstage, and much of my research consists of using texts and eyewitness accounts to imaginatively reconstruct performances. This approach allows me to discover patterns which are not immediately evident from the text, such as the prevalence of circles and crescents in Hymenaei (1606), or the continuous on-stage presence of the comic cupids in The Masque of Beauty (1608). By studying these patterns of movement, we gain a greater understanding of the physical interactions and divergences of the masque and antimasque.

[4] The Masque of the Olympic Knights was a large-scale, practical outworking of this reconstructive method, allowing us to explore the patterns of movements that emerge onstage. During rehearsals, several elements immediately became clear. Firstly, Beaumont’s masque is imbued with a terrific energy: Mercury and Iris enter chasing each other, the second antimasque dashes in and out, and the main masque is composed of the virile Olympic Knights. Secondly, as can be expected for a marriage masque, the performance consistently drives toward male-female pairings.[4] Mercury and Iris’ squabble represents the eventual reconciliation of Juno and Jove, while both antimasques attempt to split into couples, yet in each case the odd number of dancers makes pairing impossible. It is not until the arrival of the Olympic Knights, and their advance to invite the ladies of the court to dance, that the equal pairings are finally achieved. As Daye emphasized during rehearsals, through both the antimasque and the main masque, The Masque of the Olympic Knights celebrates energy and fecundity.

Antimasque of Naiads and Hyades

[5] One element I was particularly intrigued to see in performance was the Revels, the section at the conclusion of the main masque where the masquers “take out” the audience to dance. This segment would often last for hours, including both group dances and opportunities for couples to demonstrate their prowess. For our purposes, we chose two simple group dances, so that the spectators would easily be able to learn the steps, and not be embarrassed by dancing in front of a group. In Pettegree’s introduction to the evening, she informed audience members that there would be an opportunity for participation, and all our publicity also mentioned the interactive nature of the masque. Thus, those who did not wish to participate simply sat further back. The invitation to dance, then, proceeded far more smoothly than I anticipated, as everyone sitting within easy reach of the dance floor was eager to join in. With around twenty masque dancers, we managed to “take out” just under half the audience, which nicely filled our dancing space (as can be seen in Image 3). The Revels are often written about as the fulfillment of the harmony wrought by the early masque, which was certainly the case in our experience.

[6] As a dramatic performance, The Masque of the Olympic Knights was a greater success than we dared anticipate. Our workshop participants, who, for the most part, had no experience with early dance, learnt and remembered the steps with impressive accuracy. The live music imbued the performance with energy, and the songs were emotionally moving. The dialogue, although challenging, revealed an unexpected psychological depth to the characters and held the performance together as a single dramatic entity.[5] Most importantly, both audience and participants genuinely enjoyed the experience. While it was a workshop, rather than a polished performance, respondents to our follow-up survey consistently described the event as both informative and enjoyable. The Masque of the Olympic Knights was designed as an academic project to inform my doctoral research into historical performance, yet ultimately proved that the court masque is still a viable form of entertainment for a modern audience.

Revels

[7] The Masque of the Olympic Knights was generously supported by the Historical Dance Society (see https://historicaldance.org.uk/events), the University of St Andrews Music Centre, and the School of English. Choreography was provided by Anne Daye, the music was arranged and conducted by Jane Pettegree, and the dialogue was directed by Rachel Horrocks. For more information you can go to http://olympicknightsmasque.blogspot.co.uk/

NOTES

[1] Unfortunately, no images from The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn survive.

[2] I am especially indebted to Stephen Orgel, Martin Butler, James Knowles, and David Bevington, among others.

[3] Barbara Ravelhofer notably adopts a performance-based approach in The Early Stuart Masque (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006).

[4] The masque was originally performed in 1613 to celebrate the wedding of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick, the Elector Palatine.

[5] Both the actress portraying Iris and I (playing Mercury) found the dialogue more difficult to memorise than other early modern drama.

No comments yet