Masque of Amazons, or The Ladies' Masque

(The Amazonian’s Masque)

Anon. (1618)

Historical Records

The cancelled performance

30 Dec 1617:

‘The Maske at my lord Hays to haue beene of faier ladies, is putt of, [deletion] wherein shold haue beene my lady Hays her selfe, her sister my lady Sydney, ms Barbara Sydney, Sir Ro: & Sir Harry Riches ladyes, & others very faier, as ms Isabella rich, to the number of twelue, my lady Vdall, my lady Caue, my lady May &c: The Maske at Court not yett.’
(Sir Gerard Herbert to Sir Dudley Carleton, The National Archives [TNA], SP 14/94, f. 152; cf. C.S.P., Dom., James I [1611-18], p.505; cited in Bentley V.1288).

2 Jan 1617/18:

‘The Qu: hath caused ye La: maske to be put of wch my Ld Hay should have made at ye robes last night.’
(Nathanael Brent [to Sir Dudley Carleton], TNA, SP 14/95, f. 6; cited in Bentley V.1288)

3 Jan 1617/18:

‘The Muscovie ambassadors shalbe feasted at court to morow, and on Twelfth Night is the Princes maske [Jonson’s Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue]. There was a maske of nine Ladies in hand at theyre owne cost wherof the principall was the Lady Haye as Quene of the Amazons accompanied by her sister the Lady Dorothie, Sir Robert and Sir Harry Riches Ladies, Mistris Isabella Rich, Mistris West the Lord Delawares daughter, Mistris Barbara Sidney, Sir Humfrie Mayes Lady, and the Lady Cave daughter to Sir Harbert Crofts: they had taken great paines in continuall practising, and were almost perfet and all theyre implements provided, but whatsoever the cause was, neither the Quene nor King did like or allow of yt and so all is dasht.’
(John Camberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton, The Letters of John Chamberlain, ii. 125-6; cited in Bentley V.1288-89).

Add. MS. 10444

As is evident from the Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum (iii.174), the manuscript volume then named Add. MS. 10444 includes music for “The Amazons Masque” (see also Bentley V.1289).

Theatrical Provenance

Prepared for Court (Harbage). Bentley notes that “[a]pparently this masque of the court ladies was never performed, the author is unknown, and the text is lost,” and adds that “[a]ccording to Nathanael Brent, it was prepared for production on New Year’s Day, 1618, but apparently it was never given” (Bentley V.1289).

Probable Genre(s)

Masque (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Unknown. Lady Hay was apparently to play the Queen of the Amazons.

References to the Play

Only the ‘Historical Records’ above.

Critical Commentary

Hazlitt (127), misled by the entry (in Add. MS. 10444) for three tunes from the masque, thought the masque itself was in three parts:

The Ladies’ Masque: The Masque of Ladies, in three parts, conducted by Lady Hay.

Cutts (197) thought that entry for “The Amazonians Masque” found in Add. MS. 10444 did not correspond to the lost entertainment at all:

Since there is only one dance here and not the usual series of three, I am of the opinion that it is the Masque of Amazons introduced into Shakespeare’s ‘Timon of Athens’.
Music. Re-enter CUPID, with a masque of ladies as Amazons, with lutes in their hands, dancing and playing. (Act I, 2.)
This may possibly be the result of the transference of an antimasque to the Blackfriars stage.

Following the MS, he listed “The Amazonians Masque” separately to “The Ladyes Masque” and did not draw any connection between them. In his discussion of “The Ladyes Masque”, Cutts dismisses W. J. Lawrence’s suggestion that the three tunes belonged to either Jonson’s Chloridia (1631) or Davenant's The Temple of Love (1635), noting that it is in fact Daniel’s masque, The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses (1604) and Jonson’s Masque of Queenes (1669) which feature women as the masquers: “Lawrence is too much influenced by the spurious ‘marginalia’. No ascription is safe here” (191).

Wiggins (1850) notes firmly that '[t]here are no grounds for identifying this masque with the draft of a play (2414) by Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, entitled The Amazon, which was discovered at Powis Castle in 2009, and which evidently dates from at least a decade later".

For What It's Worth

A masque called “The Amazons’ Maske” was acted at Court before Elizabeth I and the French Ambassador in the winter of 1578-79 (Halliwell 18). See the detailed description in Cunningham’s Revels Accounts, p125.

Felix Pryor, from the Book Department of British auction house Bonhams, has recently appraised the value of a hitherto unknown manuscript which bears the title, The Amazon, and which Pryor claims is The Amazons Masque. The manuscript, which was kept in a folder of “old poems” in a trunk in Powis Castle, Wales, is said to be in the hand of Lord Edward Herbert. Pryor attributes the masque’s cancellation to its convoluted script, which features numerous crossing outs and rewritten lines: "The play was, in several places, so heavily redrafted and worked over that it was sometimes heavy going." It reportedly opens with two Amazon women discussing divorce:

Yf they did require divorse:
They might enjoy it, wthout mor remorse
of doinge ill, than gamesters that give ore
When they are losers…

However, a more sceptical response has been published in a posting on the Shaksper Listserv, in which Will Sharpe related his discussion with Martin Wiggins about the Powis Castle manuscript:

[t]he principal objections regard dating and identification of literary type: there's no evidence that it was written as a royal entertainment, and, contrary to what I surmised, it's a play, not a masque, which is what it's being touted as to inculcate the idea that it was a royal entertainment.

The second point of contention is the date they give, 1618 (New Year's Day performance). Again, there's no evidence for this, and it is far more likely to date from the late 1630s/early 1640s as part of a glut of fairly awful closet drama by ageing Cavaliers on the theme of masque-like mythical fantasy. It seems like it was written only for Herbert's private amusement, and not for the court.

The manuscript was auctioned on November 10, 2009, and fetched £84,000. For further information see the Lot Details at Bonhams, and:

The Guardian
Shaksper: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference

Works Cited

Cutts, John P. “Jacobean Masque and Stage Music.” Music and Letters 35.3 (1954): 185-200. Print.
Cunningham, Peter (ed.). Revels at Court: Being Extracts from the Revels Accounts of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James I. London, 1853. Print. Internet Archive
Halliwell, James O. A Dictionary of Old English Plays, Existing Either in Print or in Manuscript, from the Earliest Times to the Close of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1860. Print. Internet Archive
Hazlitt, William Carew (ed.). A Manual for the Collector and Amateur of Old English Plays. London 1892. Print. Internet Archive
Hughes-Hughes, Augustus. Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum. Vol. 3. London, 1909. Print. Internet Archive
Sharpe, Will. “SHK 20.0543 New Jacobean Play.” Online posting. 30 October 2009. SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference. Web. Shaksper

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated Misha Teramura, 28 July 2015.