chapter  2
41 Pages

Youthful “recreational” theatrics, 1668–75

In certain respects, The Queen’s Masque is a work that straddles the somewhat ill-defined boundary between the non-(or perhaps in some cases semi-) dramatic court balls already discussed and the much more explicitly theatrical plays and masques to be treated here. Of course, its ambiguous status is attributable in part to the lack of a surviving playtext and the resulting uncertainty about what the work actually looked like in performance. But whether or not it can properly be labeled “dramatic,” The Queen’s Masque has another important quality in common with its more strictly terpsichorean cousins, namely, that it featured adult performers. This characteristic, and the distinction it reveals between court balls and the more explicitly dramatic works we will now proceed to investigate, is significant. The balls were largely participatory entertainments, in which even the monarch and his immediate relations could be performers, as the undoubtedly inadequate accounting given in Table 1.1 demonstrates. Even balls such as those of 2 February 1665 and 15 February 1686 that appear to have been costumed and choreographed, and in which courtiers danced for, rather than with, the monarch, were intended to showcase the talents of those already fully integrated into the court society, who thus possessed some modicum of power or influence within that society. As can be seen from a cursory glance at Tables 1.1 and 1.3, nearly every performer whose identity is known to us was at least seventeen years old, and while most appear to have been in their twenties and early thirties,1 a few (for example Prince Rupert, dancing on the queen’s birthday in 1666) were considerably older than that. The very few exceptions to this trend are themselves noteworthy, in that they involve individuals who gained particular distinction as both dancers and actors on the court stage. James, Duke of Monmouth (Charles II’s

1 In the case of the somewhat exceptional (because apparently costumed and choreographed) “fine Mask at Court” of February 1665, two of the three male performers identified by Pepys, “Lord Aron” (i.e. Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Arran) and “Monsieur Blanfort” (i.e. Louis de Duras, Marquis de Blanquefort, later 2nd Earl of Feversham) were in their early-to-mid-twenties at the time of the performance, as was Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, who at age twenty-four was already the king’s chief mistress and had borne four of the six children she was to conceive by him. (The fifth, George Fitzroy, later Earl and Duke of Northumberland, was born on 28 December 1665, and thus must have been conceived within two months of the performance.)

eldest and favorite illegitimate son) and his Duchess Anne, suo jure Countess of Buccleuch, are first recorded as dancing on 31 December 1662, when the duke was just thirteen and the duchess still only eleven. Throughout the 1660s, they remained the youngest (identified) dancers at several court balls, but also among those most commended for their skill,2 and while the duchess’s dancing career was prematurely cut short in May 1668, when she was seventeen, by a hip dislocation that rendered her permanently lame,3 her husband, at the age of 25, appeared prominently (dancing, but not acting) in Calisto in 1675. Another youthful dancer was Princess Mary, eldest daughter of James, Duke of York, whose appearance (fifteen years old and newly married to William of Orange) at the queen’s birthday ball in November 1677 followed not only her starring acting role in Calisto two and a half years earlier as well as an appearance in The Faithful Shepherdess five years before that (when she had not yet turned eight), but indeed many years of rigorous training in music and dancing.4 As early as 2 April 1669, when Mary was still only six, Samuel Pepys saw her, “a little child in hanging sleeves, dance most finely, so as almost to ravish me, her airs were so good.”5