'Pictures with light and motion': Spatializing the narratives of the English court masque

Ross Parry, University of Leicester

From 'successions' to 'restoration', from the 'rise' of the gentry and the 'fall' of the aristocracy, to the 'high roads' and 'low roads' of civil war, the language and content of early modern England's history has always been pervaded by the linearity an d teleology of narrative. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that study of its court culture, likewise, has been articulated with a similar narratory cadence - especially when the manifestations of that culture were cast in narratage. For instance, the English court masque, festival of the political and intellectual elite, was built upon a strong narrative, both in its formal sequence of actions and transformations, as well as its narratory techniques - including the king postured as author(ity). T he narrativity of the masques (historiographically at least) is then compounded by the fact that our only conduit to them comes in the form of the organizers' commemorative publications of the libretto.

And yet, when approached as a space (rather than a progression of time) and as a peopled event (rather than a textual imprint) the single, sequential voice of the masque is atomized into a cacophony of inter-relating, juxtaposing narratives. When we turn our head within the space of the masque (unlike when we cast our eye along the lines of its text) we are, instead, confronted with a horizon of new possible narratives.

Working from the ideas of Henri Lefebvre's discourse on politicized space, this paper will introduce a novel approach to the history of early Stuart court culture. This approach draws upon the advances in modern computer modelling techniques to construct the interior of the early Stuart masquing hall, and, consequently, access another narrativity of the English court masque. In particular, by working from contemporary accounts of the Royal Works, along with extant sketches for scenery designs, the multip le narratives of at play during the performance of one masque (The Vision of Delight) in 1617 will be mapped and discussed. As well as showing what this work can contribute to the historiography of early modern England, this paper will suggest that, far from subverting narrativity, the neoteric approaches offered by new digital media, in fact, allow for the construction and comparison of more (rather than less) historical narratives.

The leading designer of the court masques called the events 'Pictures with light and motion'. By using new technology to approach the events as such again (as they were originally intended and staged), we can - in terms of our debates on historical narra tive - contest the monolithic, polyvocalise the single voice, relativise the linear and problematise the teleological. We can, in short, provide another language of narrativity for early modern England's history.