A lady in masque costume. Oliver. Victoria and Albert Museum.

As a courtly spectacle, the masque was a wonderful chance to show off. The principal parts were acted by members of the nobility: costumes could show how little they cared for expense; masquers could expose more flesh than was usually considered decent; and the fact that a mask was worn allowed the protection of anonymity for flirtation. Henry VIII was able to court Anne Boleyn under the guise of a mask--though one suspects that no-one was deceived.

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