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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: December ::
Re: Masques
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 904.  Monday, 6 December 1993.
 
From:           James McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
Date:           Monday, 06 Dec 1993 03:12:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        masques--thanks
 
To all who responded so smartly to my fuzzy query on masques: thank you.  To
Stephen Orgel, especially, thanks, and no insult taken, I hope.  I want to say
just a "few" whining words in my defense, however.
 
I got the idea about unambiguity from your emphasis on the mirror function of
the masque: the masque presents the monarch's image back to them.  As I read
more closely, I begin to find Jonson's words in the "Epistle to Master John
Selden" to be crucial: "I have...praised some names too much, But 'twas with
purpose to have made them such" (20-22).  Sure, the masques aren't flattery,
but just where is the line between teaching by praise and simply flattering?
How is it not flattery to praise virtues that don't exist?
 
Yet, I think you're right (in my extra-humble opinion) that this was not, for
Jonson, flattery.  The ambiguity of praise undercut with satire, which I
expected to see, isn't there in _Hymenaei_ or _Queens_, the ones I'm looking at
now.  The ambiguity I do find, though, develops later, as the antimasque
swells to engulf the masque.  In _Queens_, we still have a careful opposition,
but in _Neptune's Triumph_, for example, the story of the Cook and the Poet
takes up 2/3 of the text, the element of the masque that Jonson values so
highly.  It just doesn't look to me as though we're still getting a solid
reestablishment of divine authority, no matter what the gods say.  What then is
Jonson saying that James is saying to himself?  Is the masque simply being
artfully transmuted into drama while maintaining the trappings of masque?
 
Lastly, in the snippets I've seen of contemporary opinions of masques, viewers
seem to find the educating-by-praise argument a little thin, and to take the
masques as expensive shows.  Yet the masques go on.  Does this mean that those
who chose to record their thoughts were in the minority?  That non-royals'
opinions didn't count?  That faith in the system was assumed and not recorded
with criticism?
 
I guess what I'm doing is coming the long way round to realizing that Jonson is
a deeply royalist thinker, in the sense that the desire to improve and
preserve the monarchy overcame his rebellious side.  Somehow praising the high
and powerful with the intent to improve them forms the difference between
praise and flattery.  This doesn't leave much space for other viewers, although
the gap between James's expectations and Jonson's product seems a fruitful area
of investigation.
 
Sorry about the Tillyard bit.  I regretted it even as the e-mail delivery
stations blipped across my screen.  But, the moving cursor having writ, moves
on, nor all your piety nor wit...
 
James McKenna
U of Cincinnati
mckennji@ucbeh.bitnet
 

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