23 September 2023

The Glory of Chastity (1)

 In the first half of the seventeenth century, a dramatic art form became important among the English elite and its intelligentsia. It was known as the 'Court Masque'; these performances were staged in a specially designed and highly sophisticated theatre in Whitehall. In the prime seats, on the lines of vision which offered the perfect perspectives, were the King and Queen. Much of the acting was done by the nobility. Sets; clothing; music, everything was of the best. The texts were embodiments of verbal sensuality. 

For much of this period, the mastermind was the arch-intellectual of the decades, Inigo Jones.

But the ideology offered was of chaste, marital, love. Immorality was reprobated. The Royal Couple, examples to the entire the entire community of conjugal fidelity and mutual , exclusive passion, were in every way and every sense, central.

Perhaps the climactic Masque was to be Caelum Britannicum in 1634. The text was by Thomas Carew ... except that I rather share the view that it was a bit above him. The section round about line 300 is an advanced example of what the Romans had liked to admire as doctrina. It looks to me as though the real author might have been the mighty Jones himself. However that may be, the theme is that Heaven must be purified of the the sexual immorality which it expresses through all those constellations which derive from Ovidian tales of divine sexual liaisons. 

"Not, as of old, to whisper amorous talesof wanton love into the glowing ear of some choice beauty" ... Jupiter's 'loose strumpets'. "The Lawgiver in his own person observes his decrees so punctually; who, besides, to eternize the memory of that great example of matrimonial union which he derives from hence, hath on his bedroom door and ceiling , fretted with stars, in capital letters engraven the inscription of CARLOMARIA."

But there has to be a cultural counterpoint to st off all this virtue: the figure Momus. And Momus, even in this context of strongly asserted virtue, has no problems about bawdy humour of the most explicitly 'smutty' kind. Queen Henrietta Maria, apparently, had no inhibitions about enjoying such humour as this elaboration of the Greek mythology involving, Hebe, goddess of Youth: "Hebe through the lubricity of the pavement tumbling over the halfpace, presented the emblem of the forked tree [mandrake], and discovered to the tanned Ethiops the snowy cliffs of Calabria with the grotto of Puteolum" [a reference, I presume, to the crypta Neapolitana].

To be concluded.


Arthur Gallagher said...

Revelation 14 on the glory of chastity:

And I beheld: and lo a Lamb stood upon mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty-four thousand, having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters and as the voice of great thunder. And the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers, harping on their harps. 3And they sung as it were a new canticle, before the throne and before the four living creatures and the ancients: and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand who were purchased from the earth. 4These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. 5And in their mouth there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.

Percy said...

Though we nowadays refer to her as Queen Henrietta Maria, I believe she was more officially known as Queen Mary during the reign. Hence that Carlomaria. And thus both Charles I and Charles II had consorts known as Queen Mary.

Jhayes said...

In this paper, Inigo Jones is credited as collaborator and set designer in the presentation of the masques, but Ben Jonson is credited as the author of the texts

“In 1605, Jonson began to write masques for the entertainment of the court. The earliest of his masques, The Satyr was given at Althorpe, and Jonson seems to have been appointed Court Poet shortly after. The masques displayed his erudition, wit, and versatility and contained some of his best lyric poetry. Masque of Blacknesse (1605) was the first in a series of collaborations with Inigo Jones, noted English architect and set designer. This collaboration produced masques such as The Masque of Owles, Masque of Beauty (1608), and Masque of Queens (1609), which were performed in Inigo Jones' elaborate and exotic settings. These masques ascertained Jonson's standing as foremost writer of masques in the Jacobean era. The collaboration with Jones was finally destroyed by intense personal rivalry”