Amy Elizabeth Jensen and Dr. Megan Sanborn Jones, Theatre and Media Arts
The English courtly masque was an elaborate theatrical form of poetry, dance, music, and scenery that flourished under the reign of the Stuarts, James (1603–1625) and Charles I (1625– 1649). The masque’s spectacle, both highly theatrical and financially extravagant, reflected the magnificence of the king and the ideals of the court. Courtiers and royalty took part on stage as well as in the audience. The masques were also self-reflective; attention moved between the audience and the performers as each watched the other. As masque writer Ben Jonson wrote, masques were “the mirrors of man’s life.” Through the masque’s unique relationship with the court audience, the typical boundaries of theatre (stage and audience, performer and spectator) were broken: all space was a stage; all people in attendance were performers.
Masque criticism has focused primarily on power structures inherent to masques. In my research, I found that the dynamic nature of the masque in performance has largely been ignored. This project was designed to focus on the performance of the masque through a masque production entitled “‘Time Vindicated: Looking Behind the Masque,” which took place on December 6, 2001 in BYU’s Nelke Experimental Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center.
My approach to the show, as the director and dramaturg, was to use the masque to highlight issues of self-reflection and reflection through performance. I chose to set the masque in the 1600s, thereby keeping the production primarily historical rather than to modernize the text and risk making the production facile. Instead, I sought to evoke the period based on solid research, using production elements to both create the setting of the masque and translate aspects of the masque. For instance, music, costumes, lighting, and scenery emphasized the two separate portions of the masque: the antic antimasque dialogue and the stately masque dances. The production physically translated on stage the issues of reflection and selfreflection. Prior to the performance, a theatre history professor introduced the masque and defined reflection and selfreflection. The printed program included a brief study guide discussing the masque and these issues. The script, which I crafted from original masques by Ben Jonson, retained the structure and language of masques as well as themes pertinent to reflection and self-reflection. It also included the participation of audience members. Courtiers hailed and identified audience members as significant figures of the 1600s, seated the audience, gossiped about the production, and commented throughout the production on what was being viewed. The King spoke to actors and dancers, and to audience members as well; the Queen performed in two masque dances. And, in the end, dancers brought audience members down to the stage to perform in one last dance.
The reflection of the masque was rendered physically by bringing in mirrors which reflected the audience on stage. Allusions were made to the court in the texts of the antimasques, a foil to the masque that preceded the masque dances. Self-reflection was manifested as actors joined audience members, and as the courtiers in the audience spoke throughout the production.
The entire process included hundreds of hours of research, auditions, rehearsals, and production meetings to discuss costuming, staging, and lighting. The cast included actors, dancers, musicians, and courtiers, 27 performers in all. It was a process that included a significant amount of adaptation, making the most of the available resources of time, money, and space.
The results of the show were very positive as related in the feedback sessions following the production. The audience enjoyed the self-reflective nature of the masque; several members commented on how involved they felt in the production that surrounded them. Audience members also responded saying that although they felt included in the production and recognized themes of reflection in it, because it was primarily historical they did not relate to, or feel reflected in several aspects of the masque. Therefore, the issue of reflection was not fully explored, as audiences responded to this idea only on a theoretical level. This difference led several audience members to discuss the ways in which they related the phenomenon of the masque to contemporary culture.
Following the performance, I completed the written portion of this project in which I discussed the production and related ways in which masque criticism can significantly contribute to literary and theatre criticism through addressing elements highlighted by masque productions. Both this portion and the production constitute my Honors capstone project.
This project allowed me to combine the use of my analytical and creative skills in a way that no other project has. The demands of enacting and portraying issues that I researched were difficult to fulfill. Ultimately, it was a rewarding experience; my abilities as a scholar an as an artist were pushed to new levels of creativity, criticism, and communication through performance. The support of O.R.C.A. and the Honors department enabled this communication to occur and for my production to be a success. I was able to communicate my research and ideas with audience members in a way that engaged them visually, orally, and intellectually. Through this research and creative work, I have engaged in scholarship and creative work in ways that I hope to continue throughout my life.