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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The masque in Shakespeare Shaw, Catherine Maud


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the dramatic function of the Court Masque in the plays of William Shakespeare and to determine how the integration of the masque, either in whole or in part, enhanced his plays both structurally and thematically. The first chapter traces the development of the Court Masque from its introduction into the court as a recognizable form in 1512 to the highly elaborate productions of the Jacobean and Caroline periods. The emphasis is on the interrelationship between the masque and poetic drama and the use within the drama of certain qualities which had become associated with the masque. In the succeeding chapters, Shakespeare’s plays are grouped according to what appears to be the most obvious function of the masque. This grouping is in no way categorical as the function which the masque fulfills is often two or three-fold. In Henry VIII, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merchant of Venice, the masque provides a cover for romantic intrigue and thus advances the plot. In addition to this an irony is established through the juxtaposition of the event and the conditions under which it takes place. Love’s Labour’s Lost, Timon of Athens and Much Ado About Nothing illustrate masque associations with frivolity and affectation which reflect the unreal poses of the main characters. In these plays the denouement hinges upon the discovery of reality. Chapter IV deals with those plays which not only contain masque sequences but also reveal something of an over-all masque quality, plays in which the action moves through fleeting masque-like scenes to final order and harmony. The antimasque, though appearing in some plays previously mentioned, is examined in a separate chapter and its function and effectiveness assessed. The thesis reveals that while increased elaboration of masque production provided Shakespeare with possibilities for more theatrical effects in the public theatre and led to a greater use of stage spectacle in the later plays, never is the masque used merely for stage effect even when this was the fashion followed by many other dramatists. The masque is integrated into the plot and its qualities adapted to reinforce the theme. Of the many influences, both contemporary and traditional, which stimulated Shakespeare’s imagination, the masque was an important one. The masterful assimilation of the Court Masque contributes to the vitality and universality of the dramas and are a tribute to their author's genius and complete eclecticism.

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