Masque of Amazons, A

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Anon. (1579)
NB. This title has also been associated with 'A Masque of Knights'; see Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues below.

Historical Records

'A Maske of Amazons' is listed in the Revels accounts of 1578/9 as one of the masques performed 'before her maiestie the ffrench Imbassadour being presente the sonday night after Twelfdaie [11 January] whereof one was' (Feuillerat, 286-7):

A Maske of Amasones in all Armore compleate parcell gilte gilded
within this office with Counterfett Murryons silvered oner and parcell
guylte (besides their head peecs belonging to their Armoure) and A
crefcte on the toppe of every .6. of them having longe heare hanging
downe behind them, their kirtles were of Crymson cloth of gold being
indented at the skirte and Laied with silver Lace and frindge with
pendaunts of golde Tassells gold knobbes and set on with Broches of
golde plated vppon the skirte with plates of silver lawne with tassells
of gold Laid vnder belowe in steed of pettdcots with white silver rich
tincle fringed with golde fringe Buskins of oringe cullor velvet Antick
ffawcheons and shields with A devise painted theron and Iavelinges
in their handes one with A speach to the Quenes maiestie delivering A
Table with writings vnto her highnes comyng in with musitions playing on
Cornettes apparrelled in longe white taffeta sarcenett garments torche
bearers with the troocheman wearing longe gownes of white taffeta with
sleaves of the same and vppon them had longe crymson taffeta gownes
without sleaves Indented at the skirte and frindged Laced and tasselled
with silver, and gold tucked vpp with the girding almoste to the knee
bowes in their hand^s and quivers of Arrowes at their girdles head peeces
of gold Lawne and woemens heare wrethed verie faire and after the Ama-
sons had dawnced with Lord^s in her majesties presence in came.

There is a parallel listing for a masque of Knights that was part of a double masque in which the Amazons battle with the knights and overcome them:

An other Maske of knightes all likewise in Armoure compleate parcell
guilte also guilte within this office with like counterfett Murryons vppon
their head*s silvered and parcell guylte with plomes of ffeathers in the
toppes of every of them, with bases of Rich gold Tyncell frindged with
gold frindge garded with riche purple silver Tyncell Lardge Bawdrick^s
about their neckes of black gold Tyncell having truncheons in their handes
guylte and guylded sheild^s with A posey written on every of them their
showes of gold Lawne tyncell and commyng in with one before them, with
A speach vnto her highnes and delivering A table written their torch
bearers being Rutters apparrelled in greene satten Ierkines panned Laid with
silver Laice and drawne owte with Tincell sarcenet their hose being verie
Longe paned of rased velvet ground ycalowe and rasing greene likewise
Laid with silver Lace and drawne owte with tincell sarcenett, their hattes
of crymson silk and sylver throwmed and wreythed bandars with ffeathers
the Amasons and the Knights after the Knightes had dawnced A while
with Ladies before her matestie did then in her maiesties presence fight at

Included in the margin to the left of this entry:

Maskes shewen
before her maies-
tie the ffrench Im-
bassadour being
presente the son-
day night after
Twelfdaie where-
of one was. (Feuillerat, 286-7)

In the following pages in Feuillerat, the Revels Office provides a "summa of all the wages due within this office as well for workmanship and attendauncis done there in and vppon thaffaires therof for Christmas Neweyeares tide and Twelftyde." This summa included costs for the "Maskes shewen before her maiestie the Imbassadowr being there on sondaie nyght the xj th of Ianuary. 1578 (289). More references to workmanship and costs for the double masque is given in great detail, including a "dozen of guylte Belles for the Amazons" on page 290 and continue through to page 292. Abundant more references to the masque continue on pages 294 through 301. A memorandum and warrant for delivery concerning such items as gold and silk for the masque are recorded on pages 313-15).

Payments were recorded in the Declared Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber (220b) to Simon Bowyer and 10 assistants to make ready appareling 'for Ambassadors and players'. According to the records, the preparations took 4 days in January of 1579 (Collections, VI, 90).

A 1 April 1578--31 March 1579 entry in the Declared Accounts of the Office of Works (E351/3213) reads as follows (bold for emphasis):

Thomas Fowler, Comptroller and acting Paymaster. There were
plays at Richmond at Christmas by Warwick's, Sussex's, and Leicester's men,
and by the Children of the Chapel and Paul's; on 11 Jan. there was a masque
of Amazons and Knights, followed by barriers, for Alençon's agent, M. de
Simier. (Collections, X, 8).

There were payouts for these Richmond entertainments

for settinge vp degrees & skaffoldes, makinge pticōns & barryers for playes,
Tradidies and Revells there (Collections, X, 9).

Theatrical Provenance

English Court at Richmond.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

There were many references to Amazons in early to mid-Elizabethan culture. Histories from antiquity that included encounters with this fierce but intriguing land of woman warriors were frequently translated into English. The tales of the labours of Hercules and the conquests and rule of Theseus and, depending on the myth, their challenges and conquests involving Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, would have been well known to Elizabethan court audiences.

The stories of conquests, either by or of Amazon warrior queens who eschewed marriage (and male heirs), also pointed to Queen Elizabeth, who was in attendance and who, according to Revels Office records (see 'Historical Records' above), was addressed directly at the beginning of the event. This masque was staged when Elizabeth was being courted by Francis, Duke of Anjou (there is more speculation on the historical backdrop of this masque in the 'For What It's Worth' below).

The Amazon Masque appears to have been one side of a double masque, performed simultaneously with 'A Masque of Knights' (which is listed as a separate play here in LPD but redirected to this page). The medievalization of the Amazon myth, that is the coupling of ancient Amazons and Greek warriors with heroic medieval knights, implies Chaucerian influence (via Boccaccio). In Chaucer's 'The Knight's Tale,' Theseus and Ypolita, epic warriors from antiquity, find themselves drawn into the post-Boethian, high medieval world of knightly challenges, courtly love, and tragic romance. It is in Chaucer and Lydgate (both reprinted throughout the 16th century) that Theseus becomes 'Duke' of Athens.

An immediate, accessible, and popular rendering of the Amazon history was the story of the Amazons in the Second Tome of William Painter's Palace of Pleasure (1567). Amazons would remain in the popular imagination, of course, well beyond this event, appearing in such popular Englished editions as Thomas North's Plutarch (1579), and in the fourth of the Ten Tragedies of Seneca (1581). When Shakespeare set A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Athens of Theseus and Hippolyta, he was using characters that had been well known for a long time to court and public audiences from a variety of popular print sources.

References to the Play

In a letter dated 15 January 1579, Bernadino de Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador in London, writes to Gabriel de Zayas about a series of state issues and international intrigues. Mendoza mentions in passing a recent grand ball at court during which there was 'an entertainment in imitation of a tournament, between six ladies and a like number of gentlemen, who surrendered to them' (see 'Simancas: January 1579', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain). Collaborated with evidence from the Revels Office that there were indeed six actors for both groups of masquers and given the reference to Simier in the same letter, this was a direct reference to A Masque of Amazons and A Masque of Knights.

Critical Commentary

The play was performed for the French ambassador. Sibley notes that the resident French ambassador was Mauvissiere, but also points to Feuillerat's belief (n287, 4) that the reference was to Simier, the Duke of Alençon's envoy (Sibley 183).

Chambers is more straightforward, holding that this double masque was in fact staged 'for the entertainment of the French ambassador, M. de Simier,' who had come as an envoy concerning Alençon's marriage to Elizabeth (1.166). That the masque was attended by Simier is the consensus opinion (Wiggins, sn 657).

The double masque involved the Amazons arriving at court to dance with the lords, followed by the knights, who danced with the ladies. The Amazons and the knights then stage a fight at barriers. The knights surrender (Wiggins, 657). The Revels Office records for this event are quite detailed and are enlightening to students of the elaborate staging, props, and costumes (in this case, gilded costumes) of court masques and also those interested in the details of how the Office of the Revels organized such an event (see Wiggins's detailed description of how the drama was staged, sn 657).

For What It's Worth

The following points may be of more significance to historians of the Elizabethan crown than to historians of lost plays, and indeed they may have been noticed already, but this masque event, the 'Masque of the Amazons' and the 'Masque of the Knights', happened during a critical time, one during which history may have been changed completely.

For years Elizabeth and Leicester (Dudley) had danced about a potential engagement, one discouraged by Elizabeth’s ministers. By 1578, what was done was done, and Elizabeth had offers from other potential suitors, at that specific time the Duke of Anjou.

In September of 1578, Simier, Anjou’s envoy, revealed to the Queen that Leicester had secretly married Lettice Knollys without the Queen’s permission and Leicester became persona non grata (Loades, 210). It may be of significance (or of no significance at all) that Leicester’s Men performed 'Greek Maid, A' at Richmond seven days in advance of this double masque of Amazons and knights.

A marriage to Anjou at that time was probably still a real possibility, as Simier’s assumed presence indicates. Although Anjou was seemingly rejected in November of 1578, nothing had quite yet been resolved publicly about a potential marriage (Loades, 213).

This Masque seems to mark more than a pleasant diversion. The symbolism of a female queen, for years obstinate to marriage, coupled with the popular lore of the obstinate and fierce Amazonians and presumably their queens also, was too present to regard this masque, plotless though it may seem, as just a pleasant diversion.

Moving to dramatic history proper, it should be added that John Jowett connects this court masque with the masque scene in Timon of Athens, specifically the possible emblematic motifs suggested by the stage directions in Timon (13). The Masque's connection with A Midsummer Night's Dream is obvious, and leads one to yearn for more information about how Shakespeare connected a marital theme with an Amazon queen in a venue which may have been attended by the same queen well over a decade later. The answer to this question may lie in the records of the Office of the Revels.

Works Cited

Jowett, John. 'Introduction' to Timon of Athens. ed. John Jowett (Oxford: OUP, 2004). Print.
Loades, David. Elizabeth I. (London: Hambledon and London, 2003). Print.
Painter, William. The Second Tome of the Palace of Pleasure. (London: Nicholas England, 1567). EEBO-TCP (text only). STC (2nd ed.), 19124.
Sibley, Gertrude Marian. The Lost Plays and Masques: 1500-1642 (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1933). Internet Archive.
'Simancas: January 1579', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 2, 1568-1579, ed. Martin A S Hume (London, 1894), pp. 626-642. British History Online [accessed 30 September 2016].

Site created and maintained by Thomas Dabbs, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo; updated 28 March 2017.