Masque Influence on the Dramaturgy of Beaumont and Fletcher
- Critic: Suzanne Gossett
- Source: Modern Philology, Vol. 69, No. 1, August, 1971, pp. 199–208
[In the essay below, Gossett examines how the tradition of court masques influenced the tragicomedies of Beaumont and Fletcher.]
The masque has recently received new critical attention. Books on the subject have appeared, important masques have been reprinted, and the 1968 volume of Renaissance Drama dealt exclusively with this form. The relation of the masque to the Jacobean drama still needs reexamination, however, with emphasis not merely on mechanical connections--who borrowed an antimasque from whom--but on the stylistic influence of the masque on the new tone of drama in the Jacobean period. From this viewpoint the contribution of Beaumont and Fletcher is central, particularly since they developed and popularized the other characteristic Jacobean form, tragicomedy.
Both masque and tragicomedy existed in England before the reign of James I, but they changed noticeably around 1605-8. For the sixth of January 1604/5 Ben Jonson produced The Masque of Blackness, the first of his series of great Jacobean masques. Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster soon followed.
The simultaneous emergence of these two extravagant forms was not accidental. Both are romantic, even antirealistic. Laurels go to the poet who manipulates the situation most spectacularly, not, as in realistic drama, to the one who best conceals his controlling hand. Furthermore, the leading authors of Jacobean masques and tragicomedies knew each other's work. Beaumont and Fletcher were "sons of Ben," and in 1608 the King's Men may have hired both Jonson and the collaborators to write for the Blackfriars theater.
Under these conditions the Jacobean masque did not remain isolated at court, performed once or twice and forgotten. Increasingly it penetrated the plays of the time. But as the masque grew from a single entry of disguised visitors to a spectacular dramatic performance, the process of adaptation became more complex. The masque in The Tempest sufficiently indicates that a dramatist introducing Juno and Ceres, Nymphs and Sicklemen, faces a different problem from one introducing Romeo and some friends to dance. In one case the entry is an episode in a continuing drama; in the other, it is a complete shift of style and genre within the framework of a play.
Beaumont and Fletcher are usually thought to have worked masques into their plays in order to please their audience, and certainly, from their earliest works to The Fair Maid of the Inn, Fletcher's last play, specific connections to current court productions can be traced. The select audience in the private theater thus basked in reflected glory, feeling that they were in touch with spectacular, aristocratic entertainment. But--and this was long ignored or denied--there was also aesthetic logic to the collaborators' use of masques. Beaumont and Fletcher's chief contribution to Jacobean drama was their continued experimentation with the tragicomic form. As early as the preface "To the Reader" of The Faithful Shepherdess, Fletcher attempted to define tragicomedy, and, no matter what the inadequacies of his definition, it demonstrated a self-conscious awareness of innovation. As Beaumont and Fletcher slowly explored the possibilities of tragicomedy, they must have been struck by its similarities to the much-discussed masque.
In the typical Jacobean masque a set of masquers suffers harm, imprisonment, or enhancement by an evil force. When some higher power, usually a god or the King, overcomes this force, the masquers make their appearance. This pattern is already found in The Masque of Blackness (1604/5) and The Masque of Beauty (1607/8). In the first the masquers, to lose their black color, must find the right country, whose name ends in "Tania," where there is a "greater Light"; in the second the masquers cannot be seen until, with the aid of the moon, "Nights black charmes are flowne" and "the Scene discouer'd" (Jonson, 7:186). Late masques follow the same pattern. In Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly (1611) the Sphinx imprisons the masquers; in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1619) Hercules vanquishes Comus and the pigmies before the masquers can appear. The masquers are always romanticized figures like gods, goddesses, or knights.
This pattern is to some extent the pattern of comedy, for the audience at once understand that the virtuous force, the King or his substitute, will prove stronger than the evil. Northrop Frye [in The Anatomy of Criticism, 1957] describes masque as a subdivision of comedy:
The total mythos of comedy, only a small part of which is ordinarily presented, has regularly what in music is called a ternary form ... the hero's society is a Saturnalia, a reversal of social standards which recalls a golden age in the past before the main action of the play begins. ... Thus we have a stable and harmonious order disrupted by folly, obsession, forgetfulness, "pride and prejudice," or events not understood by the characters themselves, and then restored .... The Jacobean masque, with the antimasque in the middle, gives a highly conventionalized or "abstract" version of it.
In certain of the more solemn masques, however, the genre, insofar as masque has a genre explicable in dramatic terms, seems to be tragicomedy. The actors are always of high rank, as they must be in tragicomedy. In both forms the main characters usually come from a romantic, distant place. The danger, which may seem slight to us, is serious by implication, since only the intervention of a god or king can overcome it. A central problem of all tragicomedy is raising this danger to a level sufficient to distinguish the play from comedy; in masques this is often done by treating the danger as moral or psychological. In both masque and Fletcherian tragicomedy a disproportion exists between the difficulty and the effort required to overcome it. In masques the King appears and a great enchantress vanishes, or the mere mention of Nature and her true creations banishes alchemy and its imperfect creations; in tragicomedy someone repents and a seemingly insoluble dilemma collapses. The laws of necessity are no longer the laws of cause and effect.
Frye does not anatomize tragicomedy as a separate mythos, but he does comment that in some masques, as "we move further away from comedy, the conflict becomes increasingly serious, and the antimasque figures less ridiculous and more sinister." While the masque was a subtype of romantic tragicomedy before the antimasque became prominent, the growing use of antimasque figures at Whitehall provided further opportunities for the dramatists at Blackfriars. Since writers of tragicomedy sought to create what Miss Doran calls "the mixture ... of tragic and comic episodes, and of feelings appropriate to these," those feelings which did not ultimately figure in the tragicomic synthesis could usefully be attached to antimasque figures [Madelaine Doran, Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama, 1964]. Dangerous human propensities--disruptive social, moral, or psychological forces--were embodied, given force, and then transcended. The effect, escape from potential danger or tragedy, recalls modern psychological methods for dealing with such forces in the individual. Furthermore, the antimasque figures were inherently ambiguous. They represented dangerous forces, beastliness or false nature, but did so in a reassuringly comic manner. Yet the pattern of danger and escape was already basic to the masque before the antimasque became prominent, so that even when antimasque figures began to resemble types from city comedy, the general implications of masque for tragicomedy remained.
The masques in Beaumont and Fletcher's plays helped overcome another difficulty of tragicomedy: destroying conventional comic and tragic expectations. The concealed denouement is often considered the central and distinguishing characteristic of Beaumont and Fletcher's tragicomedy. The audience should have no idea how or whether the dilemma will be solved. Normally a play creates a set of tragic or comic expectations, but in tragicomedy both must be kept in uneasy balance. Beaumont and Fletcher abjured any helpful reference to the way things really happen, while their technique of surprise inhibited them from furnishing the audience decisive information unknown to the characters (as in Measure for Measure). They found another way to destroy comic or tragic expectations by shifting the entire play into a mode formal enough to be free of conventional logic. Their dramas are organized formally, as Mizener has illustrated, and within this formal organization constant shifts from the familiar to the fantastic disorient the audience [Arthur Mizener, "The High Design of A King and No King," Modern Philology 38, 1940].
Masques throughout the Beaumont and Fletcher canon create these shifts from real to unreal, remind us of the factitious nature of the performance, and destroy conventional comic or tragic expectations. A full masque was not essential for achieving these results, and in practice masques introduced into plays had to be abbreviated. A masque in a drama could not lead to one or two hours of reveling with the ladies, and its author could not hope for elaborate scenery or complex machinery. What remained, then, was a short, spectacular entertainment, normally including some music, dancing, and the entry of fabulous or exotic characters.
The abbreviation of the masque impelled by theatrical circumstances might suggest that isolated masque elements could occasionally be as effective as "full" masques. Thorndike, who did not differentiate masques from masque elements, counted "distinct masque elements occurring in eighteen of their plays" [A. H. Thorndike, The Influence of Beaumont and Fletcher on Shakespere, 1901]. These masque elements, isolated bits of the masque requiring less preparation than a full masque, help fashion the abrupt changes of mood and meaning in a Beaumont and Fletcher tragicomedy. They may appear alone or together with a full masque; in either case, such elements permit a particularly continuous and flexible penetration of the masque into the drama. Repeated shifts to the more formal style serve as reminders of the article of the play, constantly pulling the audience back from the brink of serious involvement. In this way masques and masque elements can resolve a critical difficulty of tragicomedy, and Beaumont and Fletcher exploit them with increasing frequency throughout their careers.
Three of Beaumont and Fletcher's best plays illustrate the uses of the masque just described. The masque in The Maid's Tragedy recalls specific productions of Ben Jonson; it also complicates the issue of whether the play is a tragedy. In Philaster suggestions of a masque act as a pivot in what becomes a standard method, turning the play toward a tragicomic conclusion. The Mad Lover contains an antimasque and masque elements; various parts of a conventional masque, distributed throughout the play, establish its tone. All three plays indicate that the masque was not intended merely to flatter an audience.
The Maid's Tragedy begins with a wedding masque, a "detailed reproduction of court entertainments" [David Laird, "The Inserted Masque in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama," 1955]. Beaumont and Fletcher borrow much of the material for this sea masque with its presiding moon goddess, hostile, personified Night, and final compliment to the greater sun, from Jonson's celebrated masques of Beauty and Blackness. But the masque in The Maid's Tragedy has a specific dramatic function, and details from Jonson are subordinated to the needs of the whole. Though the resemblances adequately indicate an awareness of masque successes of the time, the aesthetic implications of the masque for the drama remain the primary concern of the authors. The affinity between masque and tragicomedy is peculiarly apparent in this tragedy.
Many critics have noted how little difference there is between this tragedy and Beaumont and Fletcher's tragicomedies. For example, Miss Ellis-Fermor writes: "The plays which conform to Fletcher's definition of tragicomedy ... are not essentially different in respect of mood, characterization or style from those, like The Maid's Tragedy ... which, by reason they do not `want deaths,' are classed as tragedies" [Una Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama, 4th ed., 1964]. Ashley Thorndike created a list of archetypal Beaumont and Fletcher characters, and The Maid's Tragedy contains the faithful friend, the poltroon, the self-sacrificing maiden, the lily-livered hero, and the evil woman, all typical of their tragicomedy. The play, then, is a tragedy leaning toward the tragicomic not in its conclusion but in its conduct.
The relation of the masque to the rest of The Maid's Tragedy has been repeatedly noted. Reyher, who praised the masque as "une des chefs-d'oeuvre du genre," thought nevertheless that "il ne se rattache que de tr�s loin � l'action" [Paul Reyher, Les masques anglais, 1909]. Opinion has gradually changed. Miss Bradbrook remarks that the "`sudden storm' rising on the marriage night, is not entirely irrelevant" and finds a "felt fusion" between the masque and the play [M. C. Bradbrook, Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy, 1960]. Clifford Leech takes the escape of Boreas as a bad omen for the marriage being celebrated [The John Fletcher Plays, 1962]. Most recently Inga-Stina Ewbank has commented that the masque has "a peculiar, strongly ironical, bearing on the action of the play." She concentrates on the sharp contrast between the masque and the wedding night manqu� which immediately follows. "In The Maid's Tragedy, then, the authors have seized on the assumptions of the traditional marriage masque--prenuptial chastity, bridal bliss and royal integrity--and contrasted them with a corrupt reality ["`These Pretty Devices': A Study of Masques in Plays," in A Book of Masques in Honour of Allardyce Nicoll, 1967]. This sort of analysis can be taken further; themes and figures of the opening masque reverberate throughout The Maid's Tragedy.
The masque opens as Night rises in mists, saying:
Our raign is come; for in the raging Sea
The Sun is drown'd, and with him fell the day.
The crucial actions of the play take place in Night's reign; all the movement of the plot is summarized in the change from Amintor's wedding night with Evadne to the night when Evadne murders the King her lover in his bed. Night defies and hates the sun and closes the masque by wishing to see "another wild-fire in his Axletree" (I, i). Cynthia then points out "a greater light, a greater Majestie" (I, i). This, like much of the commentary the masque provides, is ironic; the King-sun is full of the wild fire of lust.
The masque is curiously inappropriate to a wedding. The titular goddess is Cynthia, cold and moonlike. She too reminds us of what the night brings and will bring to the characters:
Gaz'd on unto my setting from my rise
Almost of none, but of unquiet eyes.
Lovers, though expected to remain awake, are not usually called unquiet, and Evadne the next morning says ambiguously that she has had ill rest.
Neptune looses the winds, but unfortunately Boreas escapes and is not yet recaptured as the masque ends. Neptune is not afraid:
Let him alone, I'le take him up at sea;
He will not long be thence.
Yet Eolus soon comes to tell him that Boreas has
rais'd a storm; go and applie
Thy trident, else I prophesie, ere day
Many a tall ship will be cast away.
This angry and unleashed force may prove more dangerous than its would-be controllers assume. Should we not see the application, it is stated for us in act IV as Melantius accosts his sister Evadne and describes the danger to anyone who would encourage her daring while he is alive:
by my just Sword, h'ad safer
Bestride a Billow when the angry North
Plows up the Sea.
Melantius is the force unreckoned by the King, the cold north wind blowing on this wedding arrangement.
The three songs in the masque are ostensibly in accord with the marriage celebration, yet each represents an ironic comment on a major character. The first song tells the day not to steal night away:
Till the rites of love are ended,
And the lusty Bridegroom say,
Welcome light of all befriended.
Amintor's rites of love are nonexistent. The second song celebrates the blushes and coy denials of the bride in Spenserian terms. The irony is patent. Finally, the third song urges:
Bring in the Virgins every one
That grieve to lie alone:
That they may kiss while they may say, a maid.
This anticipates the scene immediately following, in which Aspatia and Dula, the two virgins, express their reactions to the marriage. Dula, openly grieving to lie alone, is rebuked by the "maid," Evadne, and Aspatia expresses her grief by kissing not Evadne but Amintor, who consequently feels "her grief shoot suddenly through all my veins" (II, i).
The songs are ironic, while most of the masque action is anticipatory. The tone is decidedly threatening: in addition to the storm there is Night's curse, a "wild-fire in his Axletree; / And all false drencht" (I, i), only slightly alleviated by Cynthia's final compliment to the King. This compliment has been evaluated for us in the first dialogue, where Strato the poet says the masque will be "as well as Mask can be. ... Yes, they must commend their King, and speak in praise of the Assembly, bless the Bride and Bridegroom, in person of some God; th'are tyed to rules of flattery" (I, i). Strato's comment makes us dubious, even cynical, before the masque begins.
The entire play is introduced against a ritual setting. The court wedding, patronized by the monarch, celebrated with a masque, was standard at the courts of Elizabeth and James. As the play continues, actions become less and less ritualistic, and presupposed normal conditions disappear. The King is the first to forego a ritual action:
We will not see you laid, good night Amintor,
We'l ease you of that tedious ceremony.
Aspatia's willow song is a ritual of the abandoned lover, but when she promises to search for "some yet unpractis'd way to grieve and die" (II, i), she suggests a real passion. Most important, the central ritual, Amintor's wedding night, is destroyed. Even before he knows why, or quite believes that Evadne denies him, he says:
This story (that will make succeeding youth
Neglect thy Ceremonies) from all ears.
The destruction of this ritual, he fears, will destroy all future order in the world. Thus, in addition to commenting specifically on the action, the masque by its very formality establishes a background contrast to the increasingly frenzied play.
By 1611, then, Beaumont and Fletcher's methods of working with a masque encompassed complex commentary on the play and continual reverberation. Partly because The Maid's Tragedy starts with a masque we are unable to tell from the tone whether it will prove a tragedy or a tragicomedy. The gods seem to have things in control, just as Neptune, the king figure, expects to capture Boreas. All is formal and ritual; the press of evil need not lead the action to an inevitably tragic conclusion. We are deceived in terms of death and destruction, but not radically wrong in terms of mood. Moreover, the play opens at one remove, with the stage audience standing between us and the masque. Thus in content and in form the masque inhibits tragic involvement and is largely responsible for the classification of this play with Philaster and other tragicomedies. Whether Beaumont and Fletcher originally intended this effect, they understood how to use it profitably thereafter.
In The Maid's Tragedy a formal masque, more appropriate to the tone of tragicomedy, obscures ultimate tragedy. In Philaster the tragicomic outcome is enhanced by an enormously suggestive masquelike moment, suggestive because it shows the young dramatists' awareness of their own technique and implies that the Jacobean audience were expected to catch brief hints of masque out of their usual context.
The crucial point of the play occurs at the beginning of the fifth act. Though Arethusa the princess, Bellario the page, and Philaster the dispossessed heir are reconciled, the latter two are prisoners and can expect nothing but death. Arethusa has convinced the King to assign the captives to her, and there is some expectation of a turn in events, much obscured by a pathetic prison scene. Finally the King bids the prisoners brought forth:
Enter Phil. Are. and Bell. in a Robe and Garland.
King. How now, what Mask is this?
Bell. Right Royal Sir, I should
Sing you an Epithalamium of these lovers,
But having lost my best ayres with my fortunes,
And wanting a celestial Harp to strike
This blessed union on; thus in glad story
I give you all. These two fair Cedar-branches,
The noblest of the Mountain, where they grew
Straightest and tallest, under whose still shades
The worthier beasts have made their layers, and
Till never pleas'd fortune shot up shrubs,
Base under brambles to divorce these branches;
And for a while they did so, and did raign
Over the Mountain, and choakt up his beauty
With Brakes, rude Thornes and Thistles, till thy Sun
Scorcht them even to the roots, and dried them
And now a gentle gale hath blown again
That made these branches meet, and twine together,
Never to be divided: The god that sings
His holy numbers over marriage beds,
Hath knit their noble hearts, and here they stand
Your Children mighty King, and I have done.
King. How, how?
Are. Sir, if you love it in plain truth,
For there is no Masking in't; This Gentleman
The prisoner that you gave me is become
My keeper, and through all the bitter throws
Your jealousies and his ill fate have wrought him,
Thus nobly hath he strangled [sic], and at length
Arriv'd here my dear Husband.
King. Your dear Husband! call in
The Captain of the Cittadel; There you shall keep
Your wedding. I'le provide a Mask shall make
Your Hymen turn his Saffron into a sullen Coat,
And sing sad Requiems to your departing souls:
Bloud shall put out your Torches, and instead
Of gaudy flowers about your wanton necks,
An Ax shall hang like a prodigious Meteor
Ready to crop your loves sweets.
This little scene provides one of the most interesting examples of the technique of using aspects of a masque to shift a play from tragedy to tragicomedy. It is based on the assumption that the audience would be fully aware of masques, aware of their basic ingredients and of their appropriateness to weddings. Only with such a background can the counterpoint irony of the passage be appreciated. As soon as he sees the three young people, the King's question alerts us to these implications. Bellario may have been dressed as Hymen, as the passage suggests, but the evidence is insufficient. The first quarto does not mention the robe at all, merely the "Boy, with a garland of flowers on's head." However, his speech is the "presenter's" speech with which most brief masques begin, and the allegorical nature of it, abstracting the general situation from Arethusa's and Philaster's predicaments, emphasizes the division between this section and the straightforward dramatic action of the rest of the play. Though the two protagonists are not treated as gods, they become allegorical figures, representatives of their positions in life and society, as members of the English royal family became symbols of themselves when they took part in masques (e.g., Prince Henry's role in Jonson's Masque of Oberon). Of course the comparison of the King to the sun was a standard masque formula.
Though Arethusa, afraid of further irritating her father by this extensive make-believe, reasserts the reality with "there is no Masking in't," it is the King who concludes the scene with the reelaboration of each masque element. He attempts to deny the presence of a masque and, by implication, the possibility of a tragicomic conclusion to the lovers' trials. He enumerates each element: the conventional nuptial occasion for the masque, with Hymen as chief actor, the epithalamium which he desires to transform into a requiem, the ever-present torches, the flowers. The last lines, "An Ax shall hang like a prodigious Meteor / Ready to crop your loves sweets," replace the references in wedding masques to the love rites to follow. Hymenaei (1606), which contains all of these elements, ends with an epithalamium which contains references to the "fayre and gentle strife / Which louers call their life." The entire scene is viewed in perspective, with a backdrop of the conventional giving poignant irony to the situation of the royal lovers.
In this early experimental play Beaumont and Fletcher establish the procedures which govern their exploitation of the masque in conjunction with tragicomedy. Masque elements occur at the play's moment of greatest tension. The three young people assert that they are indeed presenting a wedding masque; the King tries to deny it and to reimpose the tragic sequence of events. He is not successful. As he orders the masquers removed, messengers announce that Prince Pharamond has been captured by the citizens. The city mutinies, the court rallies to Philaster, and the King must first beg Philaster to quiet the rebels and then accept him as son and heir. The intervening scene of the citizens with Pharamond is comic, anticipating Fletcher's later use of comic characters as a contrast to solemn masquers. The masque thus becomes a watershed in the play; the action stops and turns upon itself. Style and tempo shift, and the audience lose the deep involvement of the pathetic fourth act. This shift ensures the triumph of tragicomedy.
The two early plays adumbrate most of the significant effects of masques on Beaumont and Fletcher's dramaturgy. Only the antimasque was not yet fully operative. In The Mad Lover, one of Fletcher's most successful later tragicomedies, masque and antimasque both enter completely into the play, until it is difficult to separate play and masque. The masque resembles Jonson's Lovers Made Men, which appeared a month later. This reversal of normal indebtedness suggests that Fletcher had become so adept at creating masque material for his plays that Jonson was not above borrowing from him.
The play concerns the warrior Memmon, who falls so in love with the princess Calis on first sight that he agrees to her teasing suggestion that he send her his heart as a proof of love. At once he begins to contemplate the other world, instructing his lieutenant Chilax to die and meet him in Elysium two days later. As he tries to convince himself that the joys of love are as great or greater after death, Memmon attacks the flesh and yearns for
That, that the soul affects, and cannot purchase
While she is loaden with our flesh.
He is, however, increasingly mad and beastlike, resembling "a Dog / Run mad o'th' tooth-ache" (II, i). Stremon, one of his soldiers, arranges a show in the hope of curing Memmon. The idea is taken from his mad ravings:
h'as divers times
Been calling upon Orpheus to appear
And shew the joyes: now I will be that Orpheus,
And as I play and sing, like beasts and trees
I wou'd have you shap't and enter.
Act IV opens as Memmon begins to face the possibility that Calis may not love him in the other world either. Orpheus enters announcing that he has come not the joys but "the plagues of love to show." As Eumenes says, "This Song / Was rarely form'd to fit him" (IV, i). Memmon is threatened with plagues in Hell if he dies with his love unreturned. When he doubts that his passage to Elysium could be denied after his sacrifice, Charon arrives to corroborate Orpheus, singing that "'tis too foul a sin. He must not come aboard" (IV, i). Orpheus then presents a "masque" of beasts, and explains that each one died of a foolish love: "This Ape with daily hugging of a glove, / Forgot to eat and died" (IV, i).
The beasts are basic antimasque figures. Here they represent Memmon's beastlike inner state. In fact, they represent the beast-like state of most of the lovers in the play. Syphax, who also falls in love with the princess, is scorned by his sister: "Fye beast" (II, i). Chilax's wanton love for Venus's priestess leads him into a scrape in which he finally appears disguised as a woman in the oracle's box. These transformations are epitomized in the antimasque.
The presentation by Stremon ends simply enough with the adjuration "O love no more, O love no more" (IV, i). In the fifth act a spectacle of true love occurs which is, effectively, the masque or formal show corresponding to the antimasque. The princess Calis, who has fallen in love with Memmon's brother, goes to the temple and sings a prayer to Venus. Meanwhile Chilax and the priestess, caught unprepared, decide to send Chilax to impersonate the oracle. After their hurried conversation Calis speaks, or perhaps even sings, her second supplication, "O Divine Star of Heaven" which is in the same rhythm as her first. As Chilax begins "I have heard thy prayers," there is thunder and music, "the temple shakes and totters," and Venus descends (V, i). The unforeseen appearance of a real goddess had occurred previously in plays as well as in masques. But the presence of a masque earlier in the play, and the balance created between the disorder of beasts and the order of goddesses, makes the provenance more likely to be the masque. We find ourselves in an almost indefinable position vis-�-vis the reality of the play. Orpheus was Stremon, but this appears to be Venus; the unreal is as real as the real. This effect prepares us to see all difficulties removed, to have the tragicomic experience forced upon us. Laws of expectation are no longer operative. We rest in a state of pleasurable, formal anticipation, waiting to see how Calis, as Venus promised, will be pleased with the dead.
Like Philaster, The Mad Lover pivots on the masque moments, though now there are several of them. There is no dance or transformation scene in the literal masque sense, yet all the characters are transformed after Venus's appearance. The dead Polybius lives; the mad Memmon is once again the glorious warrior; the "princess" Chilax married is retransformed into Chloe his whore. The movement of the play thus approximates the movement of a masque with its transformation scene after the intervention of a god.
Act V, which substitutes for the masque, depends noticeably upon song and rhymed, clearly metered poetry. After Calis's song and prayer Venus speaks in the same tetrameter. Memmon meets Chilax disguised in the priestess's robes, takes him for a slain warrior, and demands a song of his death. Memmon's friends reply with a battle song intended to show him what he must once again become, in a retransformation.
The masque and masquelike elements of The Mad Lover repeat the action of the play and elaborate it. They are not necessary to the plot. Even Venus merely prophesies, does not act. Nevertheless, the masque does more than please the audience. The play moves between formal episodes which qualify its tone, clarify its themes, and point out its contrasts. The movement and structure are perfectly controlled, so that those who did not just enjoy watching the ape wave his tail could see in the beasts and in Venus simple but visually effective symbols of the main theme.
Thus, in all three of these plays by Beaumont and Fletcher, artistic logic united masque with tragicomedy. Eventually Fletcher's plays began to follow a formula, but he deserves credit for its creation. The influence of the court masque on Beaumont and Fletcher was deep. By its inherently tragicomic nature and its abrupt romanticizing of a situation threatening to become simply tragic or comic, the masque proved a major asset in the search for the difficult balance which creates tragicomedy. This tragicomedy, in turn, became more and more masquelike. Once the relationship is seen as aesthetically sound and not merely fortuitous, we can better understand why Beaumont and Fletcher, now often slighted, were so highly esteemed in their own time.
Suzanne Gossett, "Masque Influence on the Dramaturgy of Beaumont and Fletcher," in Modern Philology, Vol. 69, No. 1, August, 1971, pp. 199-208.
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