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The notion of Restoration court masque may seem alien to those familiar either with the `classical' English masques of the early 17th century or the much-studied drama and music of the public theatres in London after 1660. Indeed, it is no surprise that so little is known about this unusual and rather ephemeral genre. The list of known court masques--encomiastic allegorical entertainments featuring courtly performers and blending theatre, music, and dancing--in the Restoration is a short one, containing no more than a few scattered and diverse items. Even if we include the French pastoral ballets de cour composed for Charles II and one or two other dramatic works that may have a court provenance, we are left with a very small body of material, and little room to identify and analyse a `typical' Restoration court masque. Even so, our understanding of both the structure and the politics of the Restoration court can be appreciably enhanced by examining one of these works in detail and attempting to draw larger conclusions about the place of the masque in Restoration court culture.
The most logical choice for this kind of scrutiny is the 1675 masque Calisto: Or, The Chaste Nimph, written by the young playwright John Crowne with music by Nicholas Staggins, Master of the King's Musick and leader of Charles II's band of 24 violins.(1) The work featured a number of young ladies and gentlemen of the court, chief among them the Princesses Mary (illus.4) and Anne, both future queens of England, as well as singers, dancers and two large bands of musicians. Calisto was a major production, in many ways rivalling the most elaborate masques sponsored by Charles's father and grandfather in the early decades of the century. Indeed, Crowne's own description of the work as `an Entertainment so much honoured and adorned, followed at innumerable Rehearsals and all the Representations by throngs of Persons of the greatest Quality, and designed for the Pleasures and Divertisements of Their Majesties, and Royal Highnesses, and accordingly very often Graced with Their Presences'(2) hardly begins to detail the sumptuous and extravagant production to which the court and many members of the public were treated in the early months of 1675. What makes the work most valuable for our purposes, however, is the enormous amount of surviving primary materials relating to it. Many of these consist of documents relating to Calisto's production, most of which can be found among the Lord Chamberlain's papers in the Public Record Office, London,(3) but some contemporary comment also survives, along with references in other literary sources, a few fragments of music, and possibly even a painting or two of leading actresses in costume.
With such a plethora of evidence, it is only natural that Calisto has received a fair amount of scholarly attention. Eleanore Boswell's classic 1932 study The Restoration court stage is in large part devoted to an exhaustive examination of the masque: besides discussing the libretto, the actors, the musicians and dancers, the physical preparations made in the Hall Theatre at Whitehall Palace, and the finances, Boswell includes a lengthy appendix detailing the materials and labour for many of the costumes made for the production.(4) Nevertheless, despite the intensive nature of Boswell's study and more recent contributions of Peter Holman and others,(5) it is now possible to add further to our knowledge of the production circumstances of Calisto.
Even without the vast body of documentary evidence that has come down to us, there can be little question that Calisto was a major undertaking, and that it effectively dominated court life for as much as six months in 1674 and 1675. In his preface to the printed playbook for the masque, Crowne asserted that `it was not performed, till some Months after the time first decreed, but that hapned from the discretion of those on whom the Dancing and Musical parts depended, who found it required time to do any thing in Perfection; but I not knowing it would be so deferred, finished my Part within ... scarce a Month'.(6) Crowne must have written his original text in the early autumn of 1674, since by 27 September the first batch of costumes had already been ordered,(7) and as early as the 22nd of that month, Margaret Blagge, a former maid of honour to the queen who had reluctantly accepted the role of Diana, lamented to her friend John Evelyn that `the Play gos-on mightily, which I hoped never would have proceeded farther'.(8)
In the event Blagge's discomfiture was only just beginning. Originally planned as a Christmastide masque, to be performed on either New Year's Day or Epiphany,(9) Calisto was subsequently postponed to Shrove Tuesday, perhaps for the reasons cited by Crowne in his preface. Rehearsals seem to have proceeded on a regular basis throughout the winter: an order of 28 November for lights and heat in the Hall Theatre notes that `The practiseing wilbe on saterday Nights Tuseday Nights & Thursday Nights and if at any other tymes, Notice shalbe giuen by a Gentleman Vsher.'(10) John Evelyn himself seems to have attended rehearsals on two Tuesdays in December. In his diary for the 15th he reported:
Saw a Comedie at night, at Court, acted by the Ladys onely, viz: The Lady Mary & Ann, his R: hignesses two Daughters, & my deare friend, Mrs. Blagg, who having the principal part, perform'd it to admiration: They were all covered with Jewels:(11)
And on the 22nd:
was at the repetition of the Pastoral, on which occasion my friend Mrs. Blagg, had about her neere 20000 pounds worth of Jewells, of which one she lost, borrowed of the Countesse of Suffolck, worth about 80 pounds, which the Duke [of York] made good; & indeede the presse of people was so grease, that it was a wonder she lost no more[.](12)
Evelyn's account for the 15th and his use of the term `comedy' suggest that only the spoken parts of the masque, i.e. the five main acts featuring the young ladies of the court, were performed on that occasion, and not the musical prologue and five intermedes sung by the `professionals', accompanied by musicians and dancers.(13) Yet many of the costumes, including those for the singers and dancers in the prologue and intermedes, as well as Blagge's own richly appointed habit, were ordered to be delivered to the Yeoman of the Revels on that date (see table 3 below). Moreover, a bill for expenses records that on Sunday 20 December one Jon Wilton paid 14S 6d for `a collation for those of the musick at [y.sup.e] Fleese tavern', which points to the presence of musicians (unnecessary for the spoken acts) at the December rehearsals of the masque.(14) The `repetitions' of the 15th and 22nd appear to have been well attended; in recounting the story of Margaret Blagge's lost jewel, Evelyn concludes that `as probably, it had teen taken from her, as she was often inviron'd, with that infinite Crowde, which `tis impossible to avoid upon Such Occasions'.(15) On another `such occasion' (2 February, a Tuesday), both the king and the Duke of York attended a rehearsal after their Privy Council meeting; the sources also note that one or both of the princesses had been ill, perhaps an additional reason for the production's postponement.(16) Thus, despite John Evelyn's frustratingly single-minded fascination with Margaret Blagge, we may gather that at least some of the rehearsals for the masque were important, semi-public events.
[TABULAR DATA 3 OMITTED]
With the date of the masque's rescheduled premiere finally at hand, the official `newsletters' sent out from court loudly trumpeted the arrival of this spectacular entertainment. On Monday 15 February a letter sent to Sir Richard Bulstrode (the king's agent in Brussels) announced that:
To-morrow the great mask at Court is to be publickly acted in all its bravery and pompe, the like of [wh.sup.ch] was never yett scene, all the greatest persons of quality about Court having [p.sup.ts] in it.(17)
The following day a similar letter received by Sir Richard Newdigate declared:
This day the great Maske at court is publiquly acted [wh.sup.ch] is intended to exceed all other of that nature, the 2 young Princesses, the Duke of Munmouth & all [y.sup.e] principall persons of quallity [ab.sup.t] [y.sup.e] Court haveing parts in it[.](18)
Later, on Tuesday 23 February another letter received by Newdigate reported:
Last night [y.sup.e] Mask at Court was publiquly acted in [y.sup.e] presence of their Maties, [R:.sup.ll] [H.sup.sess] & [y.sup.e] whole Court & will be once more acted before his Maties [sic] goes to New Market [.](19)
Taken together, these notices have commonly been accepted as evidence that Calisto was first performed on Shrove Tuesday and then presented again the following Monday, 22 February. Yet this is not the case. The sources, while technically correct, are highly misleading: the Newdigate fetter's `this day ... is ... acted', like the Bulstrode letter's `To-morrow ... is to be ... acted', functions as a future tense, and is not sufficient proof of an actual performance on the date in question. In fact the much-heralded Shrove Tuesday performance never took place, and the masque was not finally premiered until the 2nd. A report of the Venetian ambassador, Girolamo Alberti, written on Friday 26 February, and until now unnoticed by commentators on Calisto, provides the following additional information about the production:
To celebrate the carnival it was intended to perform a comedy and ballet, in which the actors were the duke of York's daughters, the duke of Monmouth and gentlemen of the Court. But as they could not get ready in time, the performance took place in Lent. The foreign ministers were invited, but Rovigni, who is called envoy but has credentials as ambassador, would not appear in the place assigned to him. The Danish envoy also would not come, to avoid giving precedence to the one from Sweden. Those present were the Dutch ambassador, the Swedish envoy and myself, the Flanders envoys absenting themselves.(20)
Despite the misunderstandings surrounding the exact dating of Calisto, the oft-quoted newsletter extracts are helpful in demonstrating one thing: the production seems to have been expected to go ahead even as late as the day of the planned first performance. Precisely what Alberti meant by the phrase `they could not get ready in time' may never be known, but we may surmise that it must have been a major hitch to cause the last-minute postponement of so important an entertainment.(21)
It is not possible to identify accurately every subsequent performance of the masque; however, we do know, both from Crowne's own statement and from a number of other documents, that after its initial run in February and March Calisto was revived in April in an updated form. In his preface to the 1675 playbook Crowne writes that the version that ultimately appeared in print was `finished and learnt between the second and third Representation', after some 20 or 30 rehearsals and performances of the original version,(22) and he obligingly provides a key to deciphering which portions of the printed text were retained from the earlier recension.(23) As the tailors' bills show, several new costumes and props were made, in part to accommodate changes in the cast (to be discussed below).(24) And, in a letter whose date no longer survives, the long-suffering Margaret Blagge wrote to Mrs Evelyn that `the play will now be a great [illegible] the alterations are many, the ladys not disposed to act som of them, My Lady Mordaunt's grandmother being dead fatly and the lady is to keep her chamber till the person aforesaid is interred'.(25) Lady Mary Mordaunt played the important role of Psecas; her grandmother, Mary, Countess of Thomond, was buried on 13 April, and must have died only a few days before.(26) It is unlikely that any performance took place on the 13th or 14th, since a number of the new costumes were not ready until 23 April.(27) In any case, the Lord Steward's accounts contain an entry for `Proporcons for the Masque at Court the 28th of Aprill 167',(28) a likely sign of a performance on that date.
With the initial series of performances in February and March, we find more evidence of Calisto's prominence in London society. The diarist Edward Dering reported having attended on 22 February (what we now know to have been the premiere) with his friend and patron the Lord Keeper Heneage Finch;(29) William Mountague, in a letter of Thursday, 4 March, informed his correspondent that `My wife is now somewhat better, but ever since Friday hath been very sick with a St. Anthony's fire breaking out upon her catching cold at the …