The Renaissance court masque, traditionally an entertainment of music, dancing, pageantry, and spectacular scenic effects, was transformed by Ben Jonson into a serious mode of literary expression. By using its peculiar viability as a forum for his dramatic imagination, Jonson resolved and transcended the satiric vision that was in many ways the substance of Jonsonian drama. He instructed as well as applauded his courtly audience and, with the aid of the great theatrical designer Inigo Jones, brought unity to the diverse elements of the masque, infusing them with a moral and poetic life. This modernized version of Jonson’s masques is the most carefully edited and annotated text available; it is also the first one-volume edition to be published. It includes the faithful reprinting of Jonson’s own glosses and notes, translated and annotated, as well as explanatory notes which offer the most detailed critical commentary ever undertaken. In the Introduction, itself and important essay about the Renaissance stage, Mr. Orgel discusses Jonson’s development of the masque in relation to Inigo Jones’ development of the illusionistic stage.
Mr. Orgel is associate professor of English at the University of California in Berkeley.