Many longing eyes: Embedded masques and social voyeurism on the Jacobean stage

John R Ziegler, Fordham University


As London moved into the seventeenth century, explosions in population and wealth increased mobility and plunged the boundaries of status into turmoil. At the same time, court masques crossed their own boundaries and made their debut on the commercial stage. My project argues that the theatrical innovation of including masques within plays arose as a reaction to upheavals in the early modern English socio-economic landscape. Embedded masques or masques within plays exploited an audience desire to witness elite bodies, dress, and behavior in theatrical spaces. They commodified and sold a voyeuristic look at the masque and the masquing hall, access to which was normally restricted to the elite. While actual masques were always simultaneously private because restricted and public because involved with state matters and consequential persons, masques within plays most often highlighted their restricted nature in order to enhance their desirability. Despite this strategy for making masques attractive, plays with masques simultaneously vacillated between valorizing and criticizing the same elite practices that they are sold to audiences. My project joins several current critical conversations in early modern studies and studies of consumer culture. It engages with the work of Paul Yachnin on the "populuxe" or popular versions of deluxe goods; Amanda Bailey on fashion, class, and desire; and Lauren Shohet on masque reception. Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau's discussions of space ground my intervention in these intersecting strands of scholarship. The space that an individual occupied placed him or her within a socio-economic hierarchy. Access to a highly restricted and regulated space like that of a masque thus constituted a mark of social distinction. The stage could therefore position masquing space as a focal point of desire for spectators, especially those with thoughts of emulation or social advancement. Versions of masques appear in approximately ninety early modern plays, but scholarship has done little to account for their socio-economic causes and effects. "Many Longing Eyes" addresses this lack.

Subject Area

Theater|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Ziegler, John R, "Many longing eyes: Embedded masques and social voyeurism on the Jacobean stage" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3512361.