Masque in English Literature – Meaning & Characteristics


Masque refers to a new genre that arose in theatre and drama during the Renaissance period. Although it originated in Italy, it rose to its heights in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Europe, particularly England. 

Characteristics of the Masque: 

Target Audience:

Masques were performed for and before royalty and nobility and hence were a public form of art. Thus, the production, set, and costumes were very elaborate and lavish. 

New Genre:

Being a new genre, it added new features to traditional drama– it was an amalgamation of music, dance, singing, and acting in a pantomime. 


Masques were again allegorical in nature and had a story to them. They were also often in praise of the ruling and elite class. Sometimes, the nobility and monarchy even participated– such as in dances– which added to their prestige and popularity. 

Masque Major Poets List and Their Important Works:

Ben Jonson:

Ben Jonson is one of the earliest and most famous of those who wrote masques. His most prominent masque is “The Masque of Blackness”. Other famous masques of his include “Hymnaei”, “Hue and Cry after Cupid”, and “The Masque of Queens”.

Inigo Jones:

Inigo Jones was yet another figure who worked closely with Ben Jonson in the production of masques. His most famous work is his work on Ben Jonson’s “The Masque of Beauty”. 

William Shakespeare:

Shakespeare also incorporated the masque form in several of his plays. Some of the notable ones are “A Midsummer Night’s Dreama”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “The Tempest”.


Masques were thus an important phase in the history of English literature. Through this arose a new branch of drama and theatre that widened the spectrum of the literary landscape.