Masques developed and became very popular during the Elizabethan and Jacobean rule. Masques were nothing but theatrical entertainment performed by a group of artists.
Masques included drama, dancing, music and poetry. It was basically an indoor performance wherein the artists performed wearing a mask. The actors played the role of mythological characters or figures. During the Jacobean period, emphasis was given on the narrative elements of the masques.
King James I and his wife Queen, Anne of Denmark liked watching masques, and so many masques were performed in the court of James I. Unlike in theatrical plays where audience is a mere spectator, in masques, the audience participates in the masques at the end of the masque.
The royals, aristocrats and members of the wealthy class were the audience for masques. It was thus a royal and personal form of entertainment. The fact that members of the royal families performed along with the artists makes masques a unique form of entertainment. Over the period of time masques as a form of entertainment developed and was later on also performed in public theatres.
Ben Jonson was also very popular for his masques. In fact, the most famous masques were a creation of Ben Jonson. He worked along with Inigo Jones, who designed beautiful sets for the masque artists to perform. It is said that Ben and Inigo worked in partnership for around 30 masques.
Ben Jonson's popular masques were 'Masque of Blackness', 'Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue' and 'Masque of Beauty'. A short masque was included by William Shakespeare in his famous plays titled 'The Tempest', 'Henry VIII' and 'Romeo and Juliet'. Masques like 'Comus' by John Milton were also well-received.