‘Soveraigne Receipts’ and the Politics of Beauty in The Queens Closet Opened
University of New Brunswick
Edith Snook. "‘Soveraigne Receipts’ and the Politics of Beauty in The Queens Closet Opened." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 15 (August, 2007) 7.1-19 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-15/snooksov.htm>.
Indeed, with the exception of Ben Jonson’s Chloridia (the Queen’s Shrovetide masque of 1631), in which Henrietta Maria takes the role of Chloris, goddess of the flowers, all of the masques in which Henrietta performed and for which we have surviving records saw her play a character for whom beauty was crucial. In Tempe Restored (Aurelian Townsend’s Shrovetide masque of 1632), the queen plays Divine Beauty. Accompanied by her ladies, fourteen stars of a happy constellation, she dissolves Circe’s sensual enchantments and demonstrates the superiority of the rational to the concupiscent. ‘Corporal beauty,’ Townsend concludes, ‘consisting in symmetry, colour, and certain expressable graces, shining in the Queen’s majesty, may draw us to the contemplation of the beauty of the soul, unto which it hath analogy’ (lines 361-364). The Temple of Love (the queen’s Shrovetide masque of 1635 prepared by Inigo Jones and William Davenant) has the queen playing Indamora, Queen of Narsinga, and her ladies, the lesser lights. Their beauty will reestablish the Temple of Chaste Love, which has been controlled by magicians who used it to intemperate ends; her arrival, prefaced by the advent of Orpheus, impresses poets: ‘each princess in her train hath all/That wise enamoured poets beauty call!’ (lines 421-22). Davenant’s Luminalia, performed first on Shrove Tuesday in 1638, has the queen performing as beauty and light to dispel sleep and night and, with the king, ‘making this happy island a pattern to all nations’ (line 37). Dedicated to the ladies of Luminalia, Francis Lenton‘s Great Britaines Beauties, or The Female Glory Epitomized (1638) is a collection of enconmiastic, anagramatical, and acrostic poems praising the queen and the masquers with the language of beauty; their beauty connects the ladies, like deities, to timelessness, noblity, virtue, truth, blessedness, and a chaste but erotic power that brings them influence over husbands, poets, and the observers of the masque. Finally, in Salmacida Spolia—the last of the Stuart masques, the King and Queen’s Twelfth Night Maque of 1639/40—the queen plays herself, dressed in Amazonian habits. As she descends, the song asks: ‘All those who can her virtue doubt,/Her mind will in her face advise.’ Beauty is evidence of her virtue and the source of her power: ‘Why stand you still, and at these beauties gaze,/As if you were afraid,/Or they were made/Much more for wonder than delight?’ (lines 433-36).The Queen is the figure around whom conspicuous Catholic ritual revolved at court, and through the masques the classical austerity and discipline associated with the King are softened and enlightened by joining with the complementary qualities of beauty and light shining in the Queen … [Charles was] restoring the arts to the English Church as well as to the country, and his deepest wish was that Anglicanism should be a religion in which Truth and Beauty were one. The action and images of these masques seem to reflect such an ideal, uniting English moral reform with ‘divine’ beauty, and creating an image, in the union of the King and Queen, of a new and resplendent ‘British’ heaven’ (175, 179).