The masquerade played a large part in the ideas and themes of England during the eighteenth century. Its popularity spanned most of the century, bringing together people of all classes, from the highest nobleman to the lowest commoner.
Masquerades were a firmly established part of city life in England by the 1720's. Most masquerades were held in buildings especially designed for them, such as the Haymarket, the Soho, or the Pantheon. During the early part of the century, masquerades held at the Haymarket, the most popular location for these events, drew in up to a thousand masqueraders weekly. Later in the century, public masquerades in celebration of special events drew in thousands of people. The popularity of the masquerade is clearly apparent from the appearance of newspaper columns devoted to describing particularly elegant masquerades. Other masquerade literature that circulated through the cities included pamphlets denouncing the masquerade as scenes of promiscuity and impropriety" (3). Such civil and religious censure caused the popularity of the masquerade to fluctuate during the century, but the phenomenon did not wane until the l 780's.
The origin of the masquerade in England is a subject that many scholars have speculated on. When masquerades first appeared, they were called signs of"diabolical foreign influence, imported corruption" (5) The idea for the masquerade may indeed have come from foreign parts. The eighteenth century was a time when many young people traveled abroad as part of their education. Undoubtedly, the excitement of masquerades held in Italy, Spain and France were something these traveling youths wanted to recreate once they came home. Foreign ambassado...
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...iction writers exploited the masquerade's association with sexual license. Examples of this can be found in Defoe's Roxana and Fielding's Tom Jones. The masquerade became a setting in literature where the most outrageous things could happen, as often was the case in real life.
Regardless of the origins, regardless of the propriety? the existence of the masquerade as a part of popular urban culture in the eighteenth century cannot be denied. The masquerade was a much needed outlet for the people of this time who constantly had to keep their behavior within the strict confines of what was socially acceptable. By putting one mask on, the masqueraders were able to take a more fundamental mask off.
Castle, Terry. Masquerade and Civilization:.The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1996.
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