Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Feudal Pageantry And Danced Disguisings

( Originally Published 1935 )



Though the Church bore little love for the theater, and none for dancing, nevertheless a lovable theater had grown from under cathedral shadows, and dances were a part of it, nourished more from dramatic expression in folk• games, peasant dances, and Provencal music than from liturgy. Though we may have been able to discover many individual elements in mediaeval dancing which are still useful to us, they have been only as a distinct, separate source. There is a complex tradition present, but no form which combines to frame it and transform it into a shape in which we can recognize dance-drama or ballet. After all is said, the Mass is the great medieval dramatic work, and the semi-religious theater of the people, putting religious features to its uses, borrowing and embroidering on May-games and fertility rites, would never evolve one work which can still be performed with anything but antiquarian pleasure. But in the end of the Middle Ages, wholly outside the Church, there were forms which would be far more influential on subsequent developments in the dance than Mass or miracle play. These were ceremonials inherent in the structure of feudalism itself.

Feudalism was a fighting organism. In all tribal communities, coming-ofage ceremonies, marking the arrival of a young man's strength to aid his tribe, were elaborate and important. Feudalism built up a remarkable body of visible formula relating to the facts of knighthood and the philosophy of chivalry. The eighth century wars against the Saracen demonstrated the need for a large, mobile body of horse troops. The badge of a member of the military class was a strong war-horse, cavallus or cheval: hence chevalier and chivalry. By the twelfth century, knighthood was an order, in general the property of the nobility, but nevertheless an order into which no one, be he prince, count or petty baron, could be born. He must be admitted into it, after training and careful preparation. The ceremonies of investiture, of `dubbing' (adoubement) in their elaboration took on religious and dedicatory significance. In these ceremonies, costume, color, music, even dancing had their place.

The colleges for admittance into chivalry were in the everyday atmosphere of any feudal castle or court. A well-born child, from constant attendance on his elders, would absorb from boyhood into adolescence an orderly education in moral and physical discipline which would prepare him to be a knight, passing from one grade of servitude up into another, until ultimately he could bear his own sword. As a page, he entered service at about the age of eight, acting as constant personal aide both of his master and his mistress. He waited at table, held spare dogs or hawks for the hunt, amused his lady in her garden, cared for his lord in camp. Merely by constant association with the castle personnel, monks, serving-women, squires and serfs, he picked up a rugged education in religion, the arts and crafts of love, war, the chase and even perhaps a.little book-reading, or the playing of a stringed instrument. When he was past fifteen he became automatically a squire, though there were only minor differences in his manner of living. Perhaps now he not only waited at table, but carved and served the dishes. He helped to clear the great hall for dancing or minstrelsy, and joined in the entertainment as well. He spent more and more time at athletic sport and military exercise. He swam, ran, leaped, learned to bear the weight of armor standing and riding, tilted at the quintain and used the broadsword. Soon he became a shield-bearer, an actual aide-de-camp, helping his lord to horse, succoring him if unhorsed, guarding his pennon in tournament and battle, and practically, by deeds, inuring himself to the hard life he would ultimately follow. Finally the time came for his actual admittance into the order of Knighthood. Sometimes, as a conspicuous mark of trust or merit, he would be dubbed on the battlefield, before or after the fight. His lord or general, uttering a formula of initiation, struck him, kneeling, three times with the flat of his sword and bade him rise. But at home, under less pressing conditions, the rites were less simple.

Although in Feudal Europe the ceremony was surrounded by a deliberate and sophisticated gravity, consciously elaborated from generations of accreted form and symbolism, there is no part of the induction which differs largely from initiation ceremonies of native Africans, Australians or American Indians of our North and Southwest.

On the evening before the rite itself, the candidate submitted himself to the care of two esquires. These might be friends of an older age or his affectionate teachers in this post of honor, not unlike the best man at a wedding. Under the direction of these two guards a barber-surgeon shaved the youth, and clipped his hair. Then they led him to his room where a bath had been pre-pared, hung with linens and tapestry, during which he was formally advised as to the precepts of the chivalric order. Then they poured some of the bath-water over his shoulders, signed his left shoulder with the cross, and retired. He was then escorted from his bath to a barely set-out bed, where he stayed till he was dry, whereupon he was clad in a white shirt and a coarse russet monkish habit. Then his two elder preceptors returned and led him to the chapel, the younger esquires, not yet his age, going before them. In the chapel he was left alone to pray the whole night through, with perhaps a very few companions to watch his arms at the altar. He commended himself to God, the Blessed Virgin, and his own lady, hoping he might become a true knight. At dawn the chaplain confessed him, and he went to Mass, offering a taper and a coin stuck to it,—the candle to the glory of God, the money to him who should make him knight. After this he went back to bed where he stayed, until roused by friends and minstrels. They dressed him in special clothes, and then mounted horses to ride to the ceremonial hall. His future squire rode bareheaded before him, bearing his sword by its point, in its scabbard; his spurs hanging from its hilt. When everything was ready and all the people gathered together, the prince or lord who was to bestow knighthood, came into the hall. He heard the candidacy proposed, had the lad's spurs strapped on by his groomsman, fixed the sword himself and then, the boy kneeling, struck him on the neck or back, saying, "Be thou a good knight." Rising, he kissed him and every one went into the chapel to the sound of music, where the new chevalier dedicated his ungirded sword to the church. As he came out into the sunlight, the master-cook was waiting with a carving knife, and claimed the gilt spurs as his fee. He said to the young man who once had pilfered his pantry: "If you do aught against your vows, I'll hack the spurs from your heels."

The actual girding of the sword, the gift of the defensive and offensive weapon, was the climax of the rite, and the blow was the formal finish. At first we find in the twelfth century the blow as a resounding fisty thwack on the bare neck, which must be borne unflinchingly, a blow symbolically received and not returned. By the time of Elizabeth, the accolade was but a bare tap on the velvet shoulder.

Dancing was a part of the chivalric amenities. Dancing in pairs was not widely popular, however, until about the beginning of the fifteenth century. The earlier dances were round, with perhaps one knight leading a lady in either hand, and stepping around the room in measures not unlike the polonaise, with an alternate marked beat, to their own vocal or stringed accompaniment.

The posturing must have been extremely gradual and gentle, for Heinrich der Teichner, who died in 1375, says that during some dances it was possible to balance a full glass of wine on the head and not spill a drop. Two centuries later, Montaigne, who arranged a ball in the Italian town of Lucca, offered prizes for dancing to both the ladies and to their partners. He writes that there was a lady who danced with a full bowl of water on her head, and did not spill a drop. Such tricks are known, merely from daily work-habits among contemporary Egyptians, Moroccans and other Africans. But as court dance, the lady must have had practice, and had watched the peasants balance oil-jars on their heads.

There were boisterous dances as well where the dancers even limped in time, as well as hopped and skipped. In the Hoppelvogel, bird-hops, the Firlefanz, fiddle-faddle, and Krummen Reihen (crooked rows), the German ladies shrieked, while their cavaliers yelled back. There were also such panto-mimic dances as described in the Ruodlieb of the first half of the eleventh century, when a young man parodied the flight of a falcon, his lady the pursued swallow. Early German Gothic dancing was habitually performed in rows or circles. When the personal physical contact of dancing in pairs came in, there was the same sort of scandal which rocked Europe at the entrance of the waltz six hundred years later. The town council of Ulm at once prohibited the public performance of paired dances. Then the noblemen in the free cities of the Holy Roman Empire, built themselves private ballrooms. The first of which we have record is Frankfort-am-Main in 1350. The knight, Leo von Rozmital, was asked to a great party by the nuns of the towns of Neuss. "They knew all the best dances," he wrote, "and I may say that I have never seen so many beautiful women in a convent."

In the famous Mittlealterliche Hausbuch, an enchanting folio of pen-drawings of German medieval social life, made around 148o, the fifth planet Venus exercises a benign influence on children born under her. Verses say, They shall be cheerful here on earth, sometimes rich and sometimes poor, dancing, kissing, roving,—they have fair bodies and pretty mouths: Tanezen, helfen Kussen and Rawmen, it leip ist schon, ein hubschen munt.

In passing we might consider another holy German lady who danced. She was a mystic sister, Mechtild of Magdeburg. She died in a Cistercian cloister in 1277, leaving records of her experience of divine love, called `The Flowing Light of God.' In it, the Soul, clad in a shift of humility, covers it with the white robe of chastity and repairs to the forest. Here nightingales chant oneness with God. She tries to follow in a holy dance, or less symbolically, she strives to imitate the deeds of the prophets, the Virgin's chaste meekness, the virtues of Christ, and His pious Saints. Then the Youth comes, saying: "Maiden, thou hast danced holily, even as my Saints."

Soul: I cannot dance unless thou leadest. If thou wouldst have me spring aloft, sing thou: and I will spring,-into love, and from love to knowledge, and from knowledge to ecstasy, above all human sense.

Youth: Maiden, thy dance of praise is well performed. Since now thou art tired, thou shalt have thy will with the Virgin's Son. Come to the brown shades at Midday, to the couch of love, and there shalt thou cool thyself with him.

Soul: (to her guardians, the senses): I am tired with the dance; leave me, for I must go where I may cool myself.

A popular function intimately connected with chivalry, and which will ordain much of the form of entry in the French Renaissance ballet de tour, is the tournament. This form of elaborate mock-combat derived its name, many of its participants thought, from the Ludus Troix, the Troy-game, which we knew in Rome as an equestrian Pyrrhic. The derivation is probably false. More likely it comes simply from the French tourner, referring either to the rapid turning of the horses, or the turning of the quintain-dummy, a practice exercise. At first perhaps a real trial of arms, to the very death, the tournament developed through various stages into a ritualized show of competitive skill, until by the middle of the fifteenth century its chief attraction was luxurious pageantry. Tournaments are supposed to have been held in the eastern Roman Empire, under the Emperor Emanuel Comminus at the siege of Constantinople; under the first German Henry, who died in 936; in Norman France before the conquest of England.

These dangerous games, in time, forced the codification of certain laws to prevent unnecessary injury to knights-at-arms, as well as to crowds of people who thronged the jousting-places. Around 1292, a `Statute of Arms for Tournaments,' decided "At the request of the earls and barons and of the knighthood of England," that pointed swords, sharp daggers, clubs and studded maces were prohibited. Only delegated squires, bearing their lord's arms were to raise up an unhorsed knight. Any non-delegated squire who performed this act was to lose his arms and horse and be jailed for three years. Disputes were to be settled by a court of honor, with a jury of earls and princes.

Oyez; Oyez (ouir: hear). Be it known, lords, knights and esquires, Ladies and Gentlewomen; you are hereby acquainted, that a superb achievement at arms, and a grand and noble tournament will be held in the parade of Norrais, King at Arms!

Thus runs a formula for announcement, and here are the regulations:

The two barons on whose parts the tournament is undertaken, shall be at their pavilions two days before the commencement of the sports, when each of them shall cause his arms to be attached to his pavilion, and set up his banner in the front of his parade; and all those who wish to be admitted as combatants on either side, must in like manner set up their arms and banners before the parades allotted to them. Upon the evening of the same day they shall show themselves in their stations, and expose their helmets to view of the windows of their pavilions; and then they may depart to make merry, dance and live well.' On the morrow the champions shall be at their parades by the hour of ten in the morning, to await the commands of the lord of the parade, and the governor, who are the speakers of the tournament; at this meeting the prizes of honor shall be determined.

The King-at-Arms, or the umpire, stands in the middle of the field. The minstrels, or heralds of the two contenders, emblazoned with their masters' coats-of-arms, sound an overture. In Greece, there were sacred heralds for the Eleusinian mysteries, and trumpeters at the public games who announced names of competitors and victors, as well as heralds at law-courts and in the theaters. After the shock of arms, the cheering, the bearing-away and the proclamation of the victor, there was banqueting, and afterwards, dancing.

The elaborate courtesies paid to women at the tournaments by the respective opponents, scarves tied around armored elbows, the roses in helmet visors are well known. The adoration of women in the Middle Ages, starting simply enough in the mutual attraction of the sexes, underwent a fantastic and mystical progress. In Provence originated a sort of amorous tournament, the Court of Love, which spread in various forms up into the North, particularly into Burgundy. In one sense, the Courts of Love were an amplification of the poetic form of the tenzon, that embryonic opera-drama-dance, shared alike by Hebrews, Arabs and Troubadours. Guillaume de Poitiers said, "If you propose to me a game of love, I am not so foolish but that I shall choose the best side of the trial," and in a contention between two troubadours Giraut says: "I shall conquer you, provided that the Court is loyal and honest. I send my tenzon to Pierrefeu, where the beautiful lady holds a court of in-formation." And Peyronet replies, "I choose as my court of judgment the honorable castle of Signe."

The Courts of Love arbitrated over various highly dialectical arguments on the nature of passion, deciding between competing troubadours whether to champion an individual lady, all the ladies of a district or merely an abstract debatable question. The judges were noble dames, wives or widows of feudal lords, who were accustomed to the neat points involved by long familiarity with troubadour verse. There were some thirty-one absolute laws in the code of Love which constituted a basis of reference, for decision; as example:

1. Marriage (alone) cannot be pleaded as an excuse for refusing to love.

2. No one can really love two people at the same time.

3. If one of two lovers dies, love must be foresworn for two years by the survivor, and

4. Nothing prevents one lady being loved by two gentlemen, or one gentleman by two ladies.

On the 29th of April, 1174, the Countess of Champagne presided over a Court of Love on the following case: "Can real love exist between married people?" It was decided that it could not. At the end of a sitting of the court the winning poet was crowned and the day's sport ended in a banquet and ball. just as in the more sanguinary tourneys, gradually the interest centered more and more on the spectacle, less and less on the bloodshed, so we shall find the form and debates of the Courts of Love reappearing in the libretti of Italian and French opera and ballet, and in English pageants and masques.

The Court of Love, like the Dance of Death, seems to have been the source of far more literary and pictorial works than in actual observances indicated by their titles. The original, of which the `Romaunt of the Rose' is a translation by Chaucer, is a case in point. Nevertheless, in both cases, the literature reflects on an independent actuality. Fantasy alone prompted neither. An antique French poem, mentioned by W. A. Neilson, includes a very vivid description of allegorical action within an architectural frame, so clear in fact that it could be transferred to tapestry or ballroom merely with the aid of weavers, musicians or dancers.

In Florence et Blancheflor or Le Jugement d'Amour, a fantastic dwelling is indicated, even more fanciful than Ovid's palace of Apollo. The Latin poet was extremely influential through all these manifestations.

The walls are not of stone, but of roses and other flowers, and the grounds are fenced in with Cupid's bows. No `vilain' can pass the gates: all must bear the seal of love. On arriving, the damsels dismount under a pine, and two birds come down from the trees and lead them to the palace. When the God of Love sees them he leaps from his bed, salutes them courteously, and, taking them by the hand, seats them beside himself and asks their needs. Blancheflor states the case, and the King (he was a god a moment before) assembles his barons to decide the question. When the court, which consists of birds (cf. Aristophanes), has assembled, the King lays the question before them. The side of the knight is taken by Sire Esperviers, Sire Faucons, and the Gais (Jay); that of the clerk, by Dame Kalandre, Dame Aloe, and the Rossignox. The jay thinks the clerk's business is to pray for souls, and the knight's to love ladies. The nightingale offers to fight in support of the clerk's claim, and the parrot accepts the challenge. After a fight in which the armor consists of rose-petal helmets and the like, the nightingale wins, and the parrot yields up his sword, confessing that the clerk is valiant, and more courteous than any other.

However, the influence of the literary Courts of Love did create a type of entertainment leading towards dance-drama. In 1474, King Rene of Anjou instituted the Ieux de la Fete-Dieu at Aix in Provence, to replace the extreme licentiousness of the Feast of Fools, which he had been forced to suppress, a kind of ambulant spectacle. On the Monday of Pentecost, the people met after Mass to elect a Prince d'Amour, an Abbe de la Jeunesse, and a Roi de la Bazoche. The games themselves were farces taken from scripture: `The great game of Devil's, in which red and black demons baited Herod, the visit of Sheba to Solomon, and so on; but it is important for us to understand here, that however much these might seem to be like the earlier plays, there was no dialogue, only dumb-show, pantomiming and dancing.

The tournament was really a public spectacle and became a show of very definitely conscious and contrived character, to impress the people, or display the wealth of their lords. The pageant, although similar, only occasionally or incidentally involved the element of a dramatized contest.

Pageant is connected with the Latin pango, and signified something compacted together, or else from pagina, a plank, applied to wood-staging in the early miracle plays. In our time it has taken on a rather special use, limited to narrative spectacles arranged for special historic commemoration. But there is a contemporary survival very much like the medieval pageant. In various American cities on New Year's Day, on Thanksgiving Day, or in the South, where Catholic traditions are strong, in Lent, there are great parades with decorated cars, or floats, sometimes in a related series, sometimes merely independent advertisements for various commercial houses. In the French and English miracle plays, the small individual stationary settings for Herod's house or the gates of Hell were sometimes known as `pageants.' With the rise of trade guilds, the various artisans and tradesman's companies contrived representations, like allegorical plays. But instead of being set in one place, to be seen one after the other, the living-pictures were put on wagons, anti to. the accompaniment of dancers, singers, and costumed drovers, were dragged through towns. All the influences from church symbolism, folk-beliefs, spectacular tournaments and the individual devices of minstrel and juggler were present in these ambulant spectacles. The pageant cars themselves were elaborate affairs, battlemented perhaps, with towers teeming with three or four of a Saracen army, while the Christian host of half a dozen made threatening gestures up at the paynim.

These processions were used by the Church on Saints' Days as votive parades, the various guilds offering up portable miracles. In time, certain parts of the bible-story would seem to take on a particular appropriateness to one guild or another. Each company had a patron saint and their martyrdoms were full of picturesque material. But we are interested only in pageants which formed part of the entrances of Rulers into their towns, or on their visits to friendly capitals for marriages, coronations or embassies. The earlier examples speak merely of a `riding' forth, a cavalcade, headed by the mayor and his corporation, who, appareled in their Sunday best, gold chains of office around their sabled shoulders, ride out to the gates of their town, and ceremoniously escort the visitor back into the town-hall for a welcoming banquet. Often, subjects would accompany the chevaliers, leading a more or less arranged carole to the place where loyal speeches were exchanged and presents of gold ewers and platters were given, before decorated balconies or on raised and flower-hung platforms.

The first recorded London pageant, with `devices and marvels,' was held in 1236 to celebrate the marriage of Henry the Third to Eleanor of Provence. Though this is only a date and no description remains, the subsequent chronicling of European pageantry is crowded with splendors. In 1377 at the crowning of Richard the Second, a great castle was erected at Cheapside. On its four turrets, white damsels scattered gilt leaves onto the King's head and dropped gilded coins on him and his horse, offering wine from the pipes of a fountain secreted in the structure. When Henry the Fifth returned from his great victory at Agincourt in 1415, Cheapside Cross was covered again, by a palace, painted to be white marble, green and red jasper, out of whose door swarmed a bevy of virgins, who with dance, tambourine and songs of `Nowell, Nowell,' reminded the populace of David's return-after his triumph over Goliath. The cry `Noel, Noel,' was also raised by the French as a shout of loyalty, as opposed to the `Vive Bourgogne!' (Long live Burgundy). The Noel was also a Christmas dancing-song, much favored among the peasantry, and fused with the Carole.

In 1432 was held a lovely dumb-show in London at the return from his coronation of Henry VI and his French wife Catherine, as King and Queen of France and England. At the foot of London Bridge was a pagina of two antelopes supporting the arms of Lilies and Lions. On the bridge itself reared a superb `fabric,' framing Nature, Grace, and Fortune, who dowered the passing royalty with gifts. To the right were the seven celestial virtues, who, signifying the bounty of the Holy Ghost, released seven white doves. To the left, seven terrestrial virgins offered the regalia. Then the entire choir of fourteen, clapping their hands, and breaking into tripudia (dance), sang welcome hymns. The term pageant, appeared first in connection with this show, which fifty years later was in universal use. It was perhaps borrowed from the allegorical dramas. The actual structure of the pageants themselves, precursors of the set scenery for Renaissance ballet, arose naturally out of the special adornments which hid the familiar architecture of city gates or bridges. As the tradition of the pageants strengthened they drew on to them-selves, as do all forms of expression, elements from the people. Morris-dancers would ride out with the processions. The church provided Virgins and Vices; literature, both popular and classical, contributed Minerva and Mary, Star of the Sea, to ornament the same portal of an early sixteenth century French welcome. Such foreign curiosities as the Courts of Love inspired ladies disguised as the Amorous Qualities who scattered a conqueror's path with rose-leaves, or crowned him king of Love as well as King of France.

Dramatization by no means stopped in the streets. The paraders would naturally terminate their welcome with food, and it was merely an extension of compliments to continue pageantry into the cuisine. One of the earliest modern amateur theatricals occurred at Treviso in Italy in 1214. A made castle was defended by two hundred beautifully dressed society ladies. They hurled violets, roses and lilies of the valley, but were overpowered by fruit, small cakes, spiced tarts and flagons of perfume by storming chevaliers. The surrender was solemnized by a banquet and dance.

It has been seriously proposed that opera-ballet arose from table-decoration. Surely the curiosities and fantasy of the feasting boards contributed much to it. In Burgundy there was an elaborate ceremony at the entrance of the roasted peacock, its feathers preserved by the miracles of a culinary taxidermists. The fowl was borne in on a golden. tray, with a whole cortege of ladies and pages, to the sound of drums and horns. The roast was set before the guest of honor, who must swear an oath upon its breast. This voeu du paon, or peacock-vow, enjoined its carver to enter on some special exploit. The skilful carving of the bird was in itself a drama. The table-appointments at the Burgundian Court under Duke Philip the Good reached an apogee of ingenuity. The ornaments were of such grandeur that the guests could hardly discover where the food left off and the entertainment began. Banquets were used sometimes to initiate a new crusade, a military alliance or merely to rejoice in the birth of an heir. In one monstrous pastry, an orchestra of twenty-eight musicians was concealed; a sixty-foot whale from whose hinged jaws tritons and sirens issued to dance a quadrille, swam in on wheels.

A very important festivity occurred in 1377 when the Commons of the City of London paid a complimentary visit to King Richard the Second. The first English masking of which we have record, it combines features of mumming and disguising, both important elements in the form of ballet.

In the fifteenth century courtiers were entertained by sophisticated Morisco dancing in combination with a form of play called Momerie or mummery, another example of the chivalric prettification of a folk-custom growing out of remote ritualistic origins. It consisted usually of a company of maskers who came into their friends' and neighbors' houses to play a dice-game called 'Mumchance: The word `mummer' may have some connection with the onomatopoetic mumble, mutter, mute, to murmur indistinctly, or to keep still when questioned; but it is more likely, without going deeply into its vastly elaborate etymology, that it refers to-the German mumme or face-mask.* The Greek word mommo means mask. The phenomenon of disguising, the essence of which is to have a masked visage, had, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance a very special significance. To us it may merely mean `dressing-up,' but in the days of tournaments, a fully armed knight could be known only by his shield. Many, for personal reasons, like the disinherited knight in `Ivanhoe,' masked their escutcheons, and contested unknown to the spectators. It was usually a formal compliment for two opponents to raise the vizards of their helmets that they might get a look at each other. Tipping our hats to ladies today is a survival of this custom. In Feudal Europe it' was often a convenience and even a necessity to travel incognito, so when masquers entered a hall in fantastic disguise, although the aim of their visit ,was, in all probability, a good-humored courtesy, there was the almost unconsciously felt atmosphere of mystery and even danger which still makes masked balls exciting. Romeo and his friend, in disguise, could penetrate into a hostile house. In their masks they were made wholly welcome. Bare-faced they were enemies. In Carnival time, a remnant of the Saturnalia, and linked to the Feast of Fools, whole towns would mask, and liberties taken on these occasions were counted outside the reckoning of the rest of the calendar.

Disguising' as such is related to mumming, but here not the face alone but the whole body is masked. The source of disguising among primitive peoples is pure magic. Tribesmen clothe themselves in leaves of a green tree, or in skins of slain strong animals: The beast's head is skinned and worn on his head, a living mask. In sophisticated societies the magic may be lost, but it somehow unconsciously lingers as a good-luck charm. Myth and literature supply the dresses for the disguise. Before the year 1330, at Norman tournaments, the nine worthies of Christendom, as well as Amor, god of Love, had made their entrance. Twenty years before that, at Stepney in England, there was a mystic Rex de Vertbois, King of the Greenwood, which at once suggests a link with the village `jacks i' the green.' Masquerading was by no means limited to the aristocracy; by 1334 there were laws in London forbidding the citizens at Christmas time to go about the streets with a false face or visor. Entertainments at festal times of the year spontaneously or at least unconsciously, or traditionally, suggested themselves. Groups of friends : would form a related and disguised company. Perhaps knowledge of their arrival would precede them, and though surprise was simulated, they would be greeted by hot food and drink after their songs and dancing. The masquers, often borrowing the characters from the Morris, would tread a measure, and then invite their hosts or spectators to join. Just as there was a vague boundary between food and the scenery in which it was set, so here merges distinctions between dance, dancers and disguisers. The popular folk-dances of the people would be brought into the court ballroom by peasant maskers, to whom carnival gave license; or often the lords and ladies would parody the peasantry.

This transitional period of the late Middle Ages is extremely important to us because of incipient trends soon to emerge. Church, folk and minstrel, in a tangle of cross-current and similar expression, pour forth a great fountain of creative exuberance, which under the alchemy of an imminent Renaissance, will receive the ultimate channels by which we acknowledge them today. Any idea that the Middle Ages were some gray or brownish time, languishing in an historic limbo for the verdant sprouts of the Italian spring to revive Antiquity, has of course passed away. The Middle Ages themselves were very much a Renaissance. Both Charles the Great and Otto the First considered themselves revivers of the Western Roman Empire, not founders of a new one, but direct successors of the Cxsars. The Middle Ages saw a rebirth of early Roman ideas of the related Empires. Instead of Imperium Romanum, feudal loyalties knit the fabric close, perhaps not so close as the centralized administration of the highly organized imperial order, but nevertheless, sufficiently in contact with its parts to spread evenly, notions of knighthood and doctrines of the Church, while it gave to all western Europe artificed forms of masked entertainments, no longer loud tourneys at arms, rude morality plays or rustic mock-fights, which cradled opera, tragedy and ballet for Italy, England, France and Russia.

One Masque, which in ornament and inventions is but a minor example of medixval mummery, has nevertheless, because of an accident, a peculiarly vivid atmosphere. Subsequently famous in miniature, tapestry and verse, frequently attributed to other people and other places, it has always appealed to imaginations like Poe's, Scott's and Hoffman's, and indeed holds the essence of Gothic Masquerade. This was the masque of the Wildmen of the Forest, or Wodehouses, or Bal des Ardents, the Burner's Ball. Green-men, wildmen, moors, foresters, leafy-devils were very frequent characters in court Moriscos. In 1393, a young knight married one of the French Queen's gentlewomen and the feast was made at court. A Norman squire, says Froissart,

advised to make some pastime.... He devised six coats made of linen cloth covered with pitch, and thereon flax like hair, and had them ready in a chamber: the king put on one of them.. . and the squire himself had on the sixth: and when they were thus arrayed in these said coats and sewed fast in them, they seemed like wodehouses full of hair from top of the head to the sole of the foot.... (The king commanded all the varlets holding torches to stand by the walls, and all the dancers to avoid contact with the wild men, but) ... Soon after the Duke of Orleans entered into the hall, accompanied with four knights and six torches, and knew nothing of the King's commandment for the torches nor of the mummery that was coming thither, but thought to behold the dancing and began himself to dance. Therewith the king, with the five others, came in: They were so disguised in flax that no man knew them: five of them were fastened one to another; the king was loose and went before to lead the devise. When they entered into the hall every man took so great heed to them that they forgot the torches. The king departed from his company and went to the ladies to sport with them as youth required, and so passed by the Queen and came to the Duchess of Berry, who took and held him by the arm to know who he was, but the king would not show his name. Then the duchess said: `Ye shall not escape me till I know your name.' In the mean season great mischief fell on the other, and by reason of the Duke of Orleans: howbeit, it was by ignorance and against his will, for if he had considered before the mischief fell, he would not have done as he did for all the good in the world: but he was so desirous to know what personages the five were that danced, he put one of his torches that his servants held so near that the heat of the fire entered into the flax (wherein if fire take there is no remedy) and suddenly was on a bright flame, and so each of them set fire on other. The pitch was so fastened to the linen cloth and their shirts so dry and fine and so joining to their flesh that they began to burn and to cry for help. None durst come near them; they that did, burnt their hands by reason of the pitch. One of them, called Nantouillet, advised him how the buttery was thereby; he fled thither and cast himself into a vessel full of water, wherein they rinsed pots which saved him, or else he had been dead as the others were, yet he was sore hurt with the fire.... A piteous noise there was in the hall. The Duchess of Berry delivered the king from that peril, for she did cast over him the train of her gown and covered him from the fire ... the bastard of Foix, who was all on a fire, cried ever with a loud voice: Save the king, save the king!' Thus was the king saved: it was happy for him that he went from his company, for else he had been dead without remedy. This great mischief fell thus about midnight in the hall of Saint Pol in Paris, where there was two burnt to death in the place, and other two, the bastard of Foix and the earl of Joigny, borne to their lodgings and died within two days after in great misery and pain. Thus the feast of this marriage brake up in heaviness; howbeit, there was no remedy; the fault was only in the Duke of Orleans, and yet he thought none evil when he put down the torch.

Here was a masque of death, indeed. A marriage of young aristocrats, graced by the royal presence, full of wedding excitement; the usual apprehension that nothing would go amiss in the arrangements of the day or its entertainment. Then the entrance of mummers; a delicious chill of mysterious fright at their appearance; their rude shagginess under the flickering braziers. And then; wild-fire, which at first must almost have seemed another trick, a new conceit; the shrieks, smashed pots in the pantry, the shattered wedding-night. On February 7, 1570, at a masquerade which took place at the Castle of Waldenburg, Count Georg and Count Eberhard von Hohenlohe, similarly disguised as wild-men in tow-shirts, were accidentally lit by a torch and burned to death.

We have seen how foundations have been laid for scenery, and, by inference, for future costume, verse, and music which would once again join in a dance-drama. But as for dancing itself, very little has been said. It is almost impossible to discuss the dances without the aid of a musical instrument, or quotation, and even then we can hardly be sure of the sounds since the notation with which we are confronted is so complex, and admits of so many interpretive variations. But nevertheless, let us examine, at least in passing, the work of an Italian dancing-master which is typical of several early Renaissance technical treatises, and which has the advantage for our easier comprehension of the masterly scientific and scholarly treatment of Dr. Otto Kinkeldey of Cornell.

Nothing is known of the life of Guglielmo Ebreo, or as we know him, William the Jew of Pesaro. He seems to have been born before 1440. Lorenzo the Magnificent was born in 1448, and was famous for the composition of his dances. The complex and extremely refined figuration of the upper classes wholly separate from country-dances, were defined for the Italians by such men as the poet of Piacenza called Antonio Cornazano who lived, roughly, from 1431 to the end of the century. A certain Domenechino, from Piacenza and Ferrara, seems to have been the master of both our William and Cornazano. He taught dancing to the house of Sforza. Several flattering references in contemporary verses prove that the Jew was highly considered in his profession. Like that of most of his colleagues his work commences with a theoretical section, defining the dance, describing steps and movements. In places it is extremely obscure, but it is one of the first known examples of choreographic technique of which the modern world has any record, and hence is a monument from which descends the brilliant pedagogy of con-temporary ballet. William was not indicating dances for the stage or for professional dancers, but for courtly balls, held by amateurs. Nevertheless, these people were on show, not only before their partners but in the contrived entertainments, masquings, moriscoes and disguisings of which court life was replete. His precision strives for elegance, the elegance tends toward a conventionalization which once given a raised and localized stage becomes immediately theatrical. However, the dancing-place of William's pupils was at best a polished stone or wooden floor in ballrooms of the early Renaissance.

Dancing is an action, showing outwardly the spiritual movements which must agree with those measures and perfect concords of harmony which, through our hearing and with earthly joy, descend into one intellect, there to produce sweet movements which, being thus imprisoned, as it were, in defiance of nature, endeavor to escape and reveal themselves through movement. Which movement of this sweetness and melody, shown outwardly (when we dance) with our person, proves itself to be united and in accord with the singing and with that harmony which proceeds from the sweet and harmonious song or from the measured sound we are listening to.

Of music he makes a distinction between the instrumental accompaniment of strings and horns, and the dance-song, which we know from Provence.

The art of dancing is for generous hearts that love it, and for gentle spirits that have a heaven-sent inclination for it rather than an accidental disposition, a most amiable matter, entirely different from and mortally inimical to the vicious and artless common people who frequently, with corrupt spirits and depraved minds, turn it from a liberal art and virtuous science, into a vile adulterous affair, and who more often in their dishonest concupiscence under the guise of modesty, make the dance a procuress, through whom they are able to arrive stealthily at the satisfaction of their desires.

Perhaps this is a tactful bow in the direction of those among the aristocracy who are still shy of the dance, sharing Augustine's general attitude towards its seductions. Then William defines six primary requisites for a dancer, with-out which no one can hope to dance. In the first place, misuro, measure: the ability to keep time, in the musical sense of rhythm and proportion. In the Paris manuscript of his work, done about 1463, a youth in a tabard jacket edged with ermine superciliously leads two ladies, with equally raised eye-brows, and a seated harper accompanies them. Second: Memoria: merely means that you must recollect the steps that you have to make in the things you undertake to dance: Third: Partire del terreno: that is, one's sense of the ground or space in which one dances. It is necessary to observe the physical limits of the chamber or ballroom. Fourth: Aiere: an obscure term, connected with airiness and dexterity, but more particularly it seems to indicate a "certain swaying and upward movement of the body with the corresponding settling down." Fifth: Maniera: linked 'to Aiere, having to do with the adaptation of the body to the movement of the feet.

When one performs a single or a double step he should turn his body, so long as the movement lasts, towards the same side as the foot which performs the step, and the act should be adorned and shaded with the movement called maniera.

Whatever that means; no doubt some subtlety of style or manner obvious to the dancers of the time. It is not easy to indicate the quality of physical movement in words. And finally: Movemento corporeo: carriage, a vague injunction to move gracefully.

There are directions for the beginner, whether or not he knows a given dance well enough to try it.

Let the dancer try a measure or two against the musical time. If he carries it through, it will afford him much pleasure, will sharpen. his intellect, and make him attentive to the music ... for everything is known and better understood by its contrary.

The music for the dance is based on four principal voices, corresponding to earth, air, fire and water, elements comprising the human body. In proper equilibrium, the quartet fills the hearer's ears with such sweetness

So that they ofttimes stand still and listen. For they are constrained by this sweetness and melody to make some bodily movement, some external demonstration that shows what they feel within. The dance is derived from this melody, as an act demonstrative of its own nature. Without the harmony and consonance the art of dancing would be nothing and could do nothing.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, dancing received considerable new impetus from an infiltration of country dances. These were a good deal more lively and vigorous because of their rural origin, than the grave and temperate measures we still see in Burgundian tapestries and Norman miniatures, where dancers seem almost to disdain both the dance and each other. In an early English dramatic interlude of the `Four Elements' there is reference to people

That shall both daunce and spring,

And torne clean above the grounde

With fryscas and with gambaudes rounde, That all the hall shall ryng.

Hence for general deportment, the Jew of Pesaro advises young ladies to be modest, gentle, dignified but sure.

Her glance should not be proud nor wayward, gazing here and there as many do. Let her, for the most part, keep her eyes, with decency, on the ground; not however, as some do, with her head sunk on her bosom, but straight up, corresponding to the body, as nature teaches almost of herself.... And then at the end of the dance, when her partner leaves her, let her, facing him squarely, with a sweet regard, make a decent and respectful curtsey in answer to his.

Antonio Cornazano, William, the Jew of Pesaro's contemporary, gives four general categories of type dances or dance-measures. The Piva consists of double steps only, animated and hurried by the quickness of the tempo. The Saltarello (little leap) is the most jocund. Spaniards call it alta danza, the high-dance, meaning that the feet frequently leave the floor. The Quaternaria is a German saltarello, consisting of two steps and a reprise with a beat between. But the queen of all dance measures is the Bassa Danza, the low dance, dignified, steady, yet active and slower than any of the others. The dancers stepped to the beat, pacing the measure with very slight raising of the feet, low off the ground. As basee dance it will be familiar to us in France in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In Germany it is Hofdantz (court-dance), and the eighteenth century menuet is its lineal descendant.

The dances bear more or less fanciful or poetic titles such as Mignotta, Cupid, Fair Flower, Little Lion, Ring, and so on. Generally speaking; in all of the treatises, the dances fall into two sections; the low dance and the balli. The balli were livelier, with the feet raised high and quick from the ground, perfectly termed saltarello, Springdantz or Huptatif.

The Composers exercised great ingenuity in making their combinations, the dances varying greatly in length, from just a few lines to a whole page or more of descriptive text. Occasionally a few of the livelier saltarello or piva steps are inserted, by way of variety, in a bassa danza; but on the whole the difference is carefully observed. As a rule the headings indicate whether the dance is to be executed by two or three or four persons. Some even go as far as six or eight. Likewise we are informed whether, in the case of more than two or three, the dancers are arranged in couples or in lines, as in the country dance or lancers. Sometimes we also find directions that the partners are to hold hands!

To give at least a rough idea of the complexity of the directions for the dances, as well as their technical jargon and the differences between the two chief types, we can read the beginnings of a bassa danza called Piatosa, and a balli called Colonese; the first is for one couple.

First, two simple steps and a double, commencing with the left foot; then they make a represa (never clearly explained), and the man makes two continenze (balance, or shift from side to side). During the time of the continenze the lady goes from the under hand of the man with two simple steps, beginning with the left foot. Then they take hands and make two riprese, one on the left foot, the other on the right, and then make two continenze. And all that has been said is done a second time, until the man returns to his place. Then they make a riverenza (curtsey, or bow involving foot movements) on the left foot and then two bars of saltarello, beginning with the left foot, and the man curtsies on the left foot.

There is as much again of this dance's description, which we are assured is a fairly short one. The balli, below, is for six dancers, three men and three women.

First, sixteen bars of saltarello. Then they stand still, and the rear couple goes forward with two single and four double steps, crossing through the other couples so that the rear couple finds itself in front, with the lady at the upper hand of the man. While the rear couple does this, the middle couple makes a round turn in two simple and one double step, beginning with the left foot, that is, taking right hands, both of them. Then in the same time they also go around with two simple and a double step taking left hands and starting with the right foot. There they curtsey. Then the middle couples do what the rear couple did, with two single and four double steps. And while that couple goes back, the couple now in the middle keeps making turns with two single and one double step, as was said, until the ladies are all in their places as they stood at first. Then all stand for one bar (and so on and on).

Antonio Cornazano brags that in his youth he needed only to have a dance explained to him once, or even to see it performed once, to enable him to repeat it on the spot, without a hitch. Perhaps he could, but we can easily understand why William of Pesaro stressed memoria as one of the dancer's prime qualifications.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com