Penthiselia: a design for a masque by Inigo Jones. From Shakespeare's England.

One year after Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, his younger contemporary Ben Jonson teamed up with Inigo Jones and two composers* to create a masque to celebrate the New Year--1611.

Robert Johnson, who also wrote the original music for the songs in The Tempest, wrote the music for the dances, and Alfonso Ferrabosco (Junior) wrote the music for Jonson's songs. Ferrabosco was music tutor to the young Prince Charles--later to become king after his elder brother's death, and ultimately to lose his head in the Civil War.

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The masque was designed to be a showcase for the dancing talents of the young Prince Henry, heir to the throne, a young man growing in confidence and political power even at the age of sixteen.

Like all masques, it was an elaborate celebration of the ideal dignity and vitality of the monarchy. After the antimasque, Prince Henry entered with other courtiers and danced a series of "measures" both stately and athletic. Like so much else in the Renaissance, dance combined the practical with the symbolic--the important business of wooing and showing off was idealized by seeing the dance as an expression of the orderly and stately movement of the cosmos. Sometimes the masques turned out to be less than orderly, however.

Footnotes

  1. Composer for stage and court

    Robert Johnson, who also wrote the original music for the songs in The Tempest, wrote the music for the dances, and Alfonso Ferrabosco (Junior) wrote the music for Jonson's songs. Ferrabosco was music tutor to the young Prince Charles--later to become king after his elder brother's death, and ultimately to lose his head in the Civil War.