ISC The Tempest : Masque and the purpose of masque in the Tempest



    Question : what do you understand about “Masque”? Give an account of masque with reference to the Act IV, scene 1 of  ” The Tempest”. 


   Question : What is “Masque”? How is it carried out in           “The Tempest”

Answer:   A ” masque ” refers to an independent drama, during the Elizabethan times, mainly consisting of music, song, dance, splendid costuming and stage spectacle.

      Its plot is slight and chiefly designed to entertain and to glorify the king. It was taken as an opportunity to praise the king or monarch, a celebration of his presence and of his authority. 

      Another objective of the masque was  to  recapturing the past. The performance of a masque traditionally took place on festive occasions and at marriage celebrations.

       Main features of a masque were – 

  • The masque was written in rhymed verse.
  • The objective of masque was to celebrate marriage in high society.
  • The subject of masque was generally allegorical and mythical. 
  • The characters were generally gods and goddesses of ancient mythology.
  •  The duration of a masque was shorter than that of a regular drama. 

         The Masque in “The Tempest” 

         The masque in the play is arranged by Prospero, who summons the goddesses,  to entertain Ferdinand and Miranda at their engagement ceremony in Act IV. Thus, it is termed as betrothal masque.

          The masque starts with the appearance of Iris, the goddess of rainbow and the messenger of Juno.

       Iris makes a long speech and summons Ceres, the goddess: of agriculture and fertility.

       Ceres is glad to know that Venus and her son  Cupid will not be there, for she has avoided their company since her daughter’s abduction.

      Juno, the wife of Jupiter, joins Ceres and informs her that she has been summoned to bless the couple who have been  engaged to each other and are likely to be married soon.

      Then, Juno showers her blessings on the couple and wishes them a long life, riches, honour, many children, happiness in married life and long continuance and increase of these blessings.

     Ceres bless the couple with the plentiful produce of the earth, barns and granaries always full, vines laden with grapes, spring immediately following autumn etc.

       Iris, then gathers a large number of nymphs who join the reapers and perform a splendid dance.

       Then, Prospero suddenly orders to end the spectacle of dance and song. 

    Ferdinand wants to know if the entertainment provided to them was by the supernatural spirits.

     Prospero replies in the positive and remarks that just as the show is a mere illusion so “the cloud – capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples”   the earth itself are illusion and will melt away, leaving no trace behind and that life itself is a dream and  “is rounded off with a sleep”.

       During the masque, the two lovers – Ferdinand and Miranda hear from the goddesses Iris, Ceres and Juno. They demonstrate prospero’s  magic because he calls forth their images to bless the couple.

     The masque promotes the element of magic and mystery in a less dreadful way than we have seen it.

    We learn that magic can be used to entertain and bless as well as for violence.

                                          Purpose of Masque     

        Question : What is the purpose of Masque in Act IV in  “The Tempest”?

    Answer : ” The Tempest ” is a play about honour and loyalty. Prospero tries to lead Ferdinand to fall in love with his daughter , but then he also tries to impress  upon him the fact that an oath of love is a serious thing.

       Prospero is allowing his daughter Miranda to marry the king’s son, Ferdinand despite the king’s role in his banishment. He wants to impress upon Ferdinand the value of his daughter’s hand and the marriage promise.

   During the masque, the two lovers – Ferdinand and Miranda hear from the goddesses Iris, Ceres and Juno. They demonstrate Prospero’s magic because he calls forth their images to bless the couple. 

      Prospero has magical power through which he has acquired control over the supernatural spirits and gets all his tasks done with the help of the spirits. The whole play is dominated by supernatural machinery. Now the masque arranged by Prospero involves goddesses and nymphs. 

       The masque not only provide entertainment but it also serves a dramatic purpose. The love – episode involving Ferdinand and Miranda has been made real and natural by the addition of the masque in the play.  The masque also helps in furthering the development of this love – episode. It reach its climax when Ferdinand’s  father Alonso showers his blessings on the young lovers.

      Thus, the masque is a significant part of the structure of the play. It provides the essential comic relief. It helps build up a romantic atmosphere, essential in a dramatic romance like “The Tempest”.

Also see The Use of Supernatural

The use of Dramatic Irony

The meaning of True Freedom for Ariel.

Character sketch of – Prospero , ArielCaliban, Miranda, FerdinandAlonso, Antonio, GonzaloSabastian, Stephano, Trinculo

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