Masque and Commedia dell’Arte

Well it was Christmas Day Chez Moncur.

We had feasted, talked, skyped those we should skype, phoned others and by mid evening we were heading for that Christmas day slump provoked by a combination of turkey, ham, champagne and mince pies.

We thought we might watch a movie, but ended up up watching a BBC Scotland documentary on Prince Henry Frederick Stuart instead.

In the middle of the program, there’s a discussion of the the Masque of Oberon by Thomas Dekker.

Thomas Dekker, was of course mates with Ben Jonson, and may have written some scenes for Shakespeare, however the thing that struck me about the Masque of Oberon was that it sounded a little like some of the passages from Ae Satyre of the Thrie Estatis, and a lot like some Commedia dell’Arte works of the period.

It also bought to mind my post of a couple of years ago about Mary Queen of Scots and Darnley’s death. In it I suggested that really the shenanigans at Hollyrood was really a burlesque performance influenced by Commedia dell’Arte and other robust Scottish theatrical traditions, and so perhaps, just perhaps in the Masque of Oberon, we see this Scots tradition inserting itself into English Jacobean theatre.

This area seems to be under researched – research into Shakespeare and his contemporaries dominate English research into theatre history.

The only authoritative source I could find for the history of Scottish early modern theatre was Robb Lawson’s 1917 Story of the Scots Stage (fortunately digitised and readily available online) which looks as if it will repay reading.

As always there may be other more recent work, but if there is, it’s locked away behind a paywall …



About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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