Masque, a species of dramatic entertainment, comprehending scenic effects and dancing. It was much cultivated in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, and reached its highest perfection in England in the reign of James I. Originating in the pageant-, shows, and religious processions of the middle ages, the actors in which wore masks, and in the early miracle and moral plays, it gradually became a recognized form of the spoken drama, and the only one in which females, generally ladies of rank, took part. In the reign of James I. Ben Jonson and the leading dramatic authors, with the exception of Shakespeare, wrote masques for the court. Milton's "Comus" and "Arcades" are exquisite specimens. The genius of Inigo Jones was for several years employed exclusively upon the decorations and elaborate machinery of the court masques, and Henry Lawes furnished the music for several of them. The queens of James I. and Charles I., with the chief nobil-itv of the court, participated in these entertainments, the preparation of which frequently occupied many months, and cost immense sums.
With the death of Ben Jonson, who may be regarded as the chief writer of masques, the taste for them died away.