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Shakespeare's World
Entertainment and Masques

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Entertainment and Masques

Shakespeare for Kids

C. Walter Hodges. Bird's eye view of the Globe. Drawing, ca. 1973.

Two forms of entertainment that were very popular in Shakespeare's London were court masques and going to see plays.


In some ways, masques and plays were very similar. Both involved costumes, scenery, and acting. However, there were some important differences. Plays were usually performed publicly in theaters and could be seen by anyone who paid. Masques were performed at court or in a palace in front of a smaller, private audience.


In court masques, performers were often disguised, and sometimes included members of the royal family! Queen Elizabeth I's father, Henry VIII, enjoyed masques and there are records of him dressing up and joining the performers. People also used masques to entertain and impress Queen Elizabeth. Although she as an excellent dancer, she did not act in the masques. However, she might dance with the performers afterwards - unlike actors in plays, masquers could speak with or dance with the audience.


Shakespeare did not write any masques, although they were very popular in his lifetime and some of his rival playwrights did. Scholars think that two of Shakespeare's plays could have been influence by masques: A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest.


If you didn't like plays or masques, you could go see a bear or bullbaiting. The bear or bull had to fight against a pack of dogs. This was a bloody sport and sometimes people bet on the matches, which were often held next to theaters. By Shakespeare's time, bears were extinct in England and had to be imported, so most of the fights were done with bulls.



"King Henry 8th" from Park's Shakspearean Twelfth-Night Characters. Hand-colored print, ca. 1830

"Queen Anna Boleyn" from Park's Shakspearean Twelfth-Night Characters. Hand-colored print, ca. 1830

Did you know?

Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I's mother, often danced in court masques. Anne and her sister Mary both attracted the attention of King Henry VIII and he later married Anne.

How To

Create Your Own Court Masque


Dance Music

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