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Elements of the Masque in The Tempest Essay

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The Tempest was written when masques were becoming exceedingly popular in England, and were often performed at weddings to honor marriages. The Tempest is heavily influenced by elements of the masque, and can be performed with the same purposes as one, although it is far too rich to be classified simply into that genre of plays.

            In masques the use of spectacle was extensive. The Tempest reflects this in many ways. The very first scene, Act I scene i, is that of a ship in action, and requires elaborate special effects to convey a sense of realism. The banquet scene in Act III scene iii requires a "quaint device" to make it vanish, and also makes extensive use of costume, dance and music, as the spirits enter in the form of shapeless creatures and Ariel is the form of a harpy. The masque within the play in Act IV requires elaborate costumes for the goddesses and, ideally, machinery for Juno to descend as deus ex machina with. It also involves great amounts of song and dance. The entire play makes extensive use of music, with Ariel's songs and Prospero's charms as well as the "sweet airs" of the island itself. Being non-human, Caliban, Ariel and the spirits require elaborate costume to make them appear so, and the court party members are decked in their finest court apparel, having just been at Claribel's wedding, so that Miranda is taken aback by the "brave new world / That hath such creatures in't" on seeing them.

            The elements of pastoral comedy in The Tempest are also linked to those of the masque. A natural man, Caliban, exists. So do a pair of noble young lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, who are brought together in the pastoral setting of an island, unaffected by the corruptive influenc...


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... a degree of the purity which is destroyed by civilization, but otherwise, we are little inclined to admire him.

            The struggle of Prospero to assert his reason over his passion, planning for the future rather than succumbing to his temptations for revenge, are also against the idea of the masque. Prospero, as the central character, has little to do with the elements of the masque at all, as the main concern of the plot is his education of the people on the island and his own education as a result of this.

            Thus, it would be impossible to claim that The Tempest is a masque, but possible to claim it has much to owe the masque. It is a masque to the limited extent that it contains most of the elements of the masque, but this is transcended by the fact that it contains much more that is not, making it a better and more profound play.

 


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