In his well-known defence of the art of the Stuart masque in Hymenaei Ben Jonson, its principal practitioner and prime apologist, firmly distinguished between the things ‘objected to sense’, and those ‘subjected to understanding’. By the first he meant the scenery, dance, costume and music; by the latter his own verbal inventions, which went beyond the ‘present occasion’ to ‘lay hold on more removed mysteries’. Where the first disappeared with the performance, Jonson’s words could be preserved in print, and loaded with annotation to ensure that the judicious reader fully understood the scholarly effort that had gone into their composition. By contrast Bocan, one of the most famous French violinists and choreographers of the period, who contributed to at least three Stuart masques, had no ‘language’ in which his choreography could be preserved, and, apparently, could himself neither read nor write music, so that his dance tunes were entirely produced ‘by ear’, written down (if at all) and orchestrated by others. It is not perhaps surprising, then, that scholars and critics have focussed first on the texts, and then, occasionally, on the surviving musical traces. Yet in the moment of performance it was the ingenuity of the choreographer, the skill of the dancers, and the display of the jewels and costumes that most impressed themselves upon spectators and defined the success or failure of a masque as many eye-witness accounts testify.
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