A Caroline Masque in Cardboard

This week, I am lecturing on eco-critical readings of various Stuart masques, with an emphasis on ideas of Britain and the particular position of Wales. As the students come to this without a broader introduction to the masques, I was wondering how to make their extravagant detail and inventive richness more graspable. I decided to make a scale model of some of the designs. Three days later, I was still engrossed and this is the result. Whether it quite captures the lavishness of the masque is arguable, given my humble materials and at times, comic effects. However, it does refer quite closely to Inigo Jones’ existing designs of the 1634 masque, Coelum Brittanicum, written by Thomas Carew and performed at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, before Charles I. In it, Jove has been so impressed by Charles’ just and moral rule that he is striving to imitate it and has banished all the naughty constellations from the heavens. The masque shows a process of finding reputable new stars, with the brightest inevitably representing the fame of Charles I and his Queen Henrietta Maria, though not without a slightly incongruous satirical tone from the character of Momus, who may or may not be critiquing Charles, but certainly has a laugh at Jove’s expense.

These little videos show my theatre in action.

Video I. The stage dimensions are based on the scale referred to in Orgel and Strong, Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court, Vol. 2, p. 580. All the authentic details come from this wonderful resource. The Proscenium arch is based on the sketch on p. 581 and the engraving by Zuccaro on the opposite page, which seems to have been Jones’ source. The colours of the curtain are not authentic (it was light blue with yellow panels). It rises to show ruins based on the design on p.584. The backdrop is not authentic – it’s a landscape by Rubens, so the period is right, but even Charles didn’t run to an original Rubens for a stage setting. The music is actually from another masque that year. The descending figure is Mercury in his Chariot! The stage direction reads: ‘…to a loud music, Mercury descends; on the upper part of his chariot stands a cock in the action of crowing; his habit was a coat of flame-colour girt to him, and a white mantle trimmed with gold and silver; upon his head a wreath with small falls of white feathers, a caduceus in his hand and wings at his heels.’ This small figure was a last minute find by my daughter and is perhaps not entirely authentic.

Video 2.

Video 2 opens with the shutter based on p.566 showing Atlas holding up the world. Though Atlas may have been ‘a cut-out scene of relieve’ (Orgel and Strong p.588) he is part of the shutter here. The cut out holes should represent constellations but mine got a bit random. It pulls up to fulfil (?) the stage direction ‘Atlas and the sphere vanisheth, and a new scene appears of mountains, whose eminent height exceed the clouds which passed beneath them; the lower parts were wild and woody.’ I think at this point, picts should come from the doors under the stage and dance a martial dance, too (though where they enter from is not confirmed). This mountain scene is not based on any existing design. The backdrop is another Rubens painting. The post that sticks up is part of an effect, as you will see!

Video 3.

Video 3 should continue on from the previous one, after the Picts’ dance. It demonstrates the stage description: ‘…there began to arise out of the earth the top of a hill, which by little and little grew to be a huge mountain that covered all the scene; the underpart of this was wild and craggy, and above somewhat more pleasant and flourishing; about the middle part of this mountain were seated with three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, all richly attired in regal habits appropriated to the several nations…’ As you can see, I really captured the likely awe and grandeur of this moment…

Video 4

Video 4 returns us to something a little closer to Jones. The wings of this garden scene are based on the design reproduced in Orgel and Strong pp.586-7,with the backdrop actually based on Jones’ source, Antonia Tempesta, Un Giardino, as this allowed the backdrop to be wider than the arch (given that I was painting into photocopies). This represents ‘a delicious garden with several walks and parterras set round with low trees, and on the sides against these walks were fountains and grots, and in the furthest part a palace from whence went high walks upon arches, and above them open terraces planted with cyprus trees, and all this together was composed of such ornaments as might express a princely villa.’ The masquers dance the revels after a song which brings Charles as ‘Prince Arthur or St George’, to the Queen. The revels over, the masque then concludes with a spectacular effect: ‘there appears coming forth from one of the sides, as moving by a gentle wind, a great cloud, which arriving at the middle of the heaven stayeth; this was of several colours, and so great that it covered the whole scene.’ Jones’ cloud was probably operated by pulleys, but the hinge mechanism on a tiny easel was irresistible. In the masque, this cloud then breaks into three, an effect I could not emulate, with Religion, Truth and Wisdom sitting in each part. Various other stars appear, as does the figure of eternity on a globe. I have not tried to include figures, although there is a tiny one (not in proportion) glued to the top of the cloud. However, the description concludes, ‘in the lower part of the scene was seen afar off the prospect of Windsor Castle’. The backdrop revealed does indeed show Windsor Castle, though in a painting from a slightly later date.

There you are! I loved making these, and could happily do nothing else for the rest of the term. It would be nice to create some figures for it, as the crowds and costumes must have been such a big part of the effect. I had no time for that, and there are some details that could be tidied up, but it gives me a lot of pleasure as it is.

Anything that is remotely authentic is owed to the work of Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong, Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court, Vol 2, 1972, University of California Press and to the Music World website, which provided William Lawes and Simon Ives music for James Shirley’s The Triumph of Peace, 1634. Camera: Ally Hodge.