CHARLES I: THE THEATRICAL FAREWELL
Charles I was the king of England, Scotland and Ireland, whose conflicts with the parliament provoked a civil war (1642–1651) and led to the execution of the king in 1649. Following his father, James I, who was fond of the architecture, theatre and music, Charles became the patron of the arts. James commissioned Inigo Jones, the first English classical architect, to construct the Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace. The House caused a sensation becoming the first truly classical building in London. It became the place where the kings would receive visiting ambassadors and hold ceremonies such as state receptions and banquets. Masques were multimedia shows which combined music, dance, stylised language and mime with spectacular costume. Some of them would have moving sets, requiring complex mechanics, painting, lighting and sound. Content of masques was allegorical or mythological, with characters representing virtues and vices, gods and goddesses. Designs for costumes were often painted by Inigo Jones and became real masterpieces. It was Charles I who brought Peter Paul Rubens to England, commissioning him painting the ceiling of the Banqueting House. The paintings became a shrine to the Stuarts dynasty since they symbolised peace, harmony and wealth of the kingdom reigned by the wise kings. Charles I was sincerely religious, and from his father, James I, he acquired a firm belief that kings are intended by God to rule. The views of Charles I on the monarchy were best illustrated in the masques performed during the 1630s. In political terms, the purpose of the masque was to proclaim the authority of the king and celebrate his achievements. Charles I not only supported these productions but he and the queen often appeared on stage as the principal characters. Charles took on roles that displayed his wisdom and justice, while Henrietta Maria was presented as the embodiment of pure love and beauty. Between them they would create order and harmony by subduing the disruptive forces of the anti-masque, such as puritanism and rebellion. The installation of Rubens’s paintings marked the end of the Banqueting House as a venue for masques since these theatrical entertainments required a lot of torches, candles and often included fireworks. The final court masque, the Salmacida Spolia of 1640, was typical, with a closing scene which showed king and queen dancing with their attendants, whilst the chorus sang of their unifying influence.
Still, nine years later, Charles I appeared against his will in the very last masque: the king was led to the scaffold erected at Whitehall, at the window of the Banqueting House. The execution of Charles I attracted attention of the huge crowd of people. In the last dialogue, the king exclaimed, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world”. The bishop replied, “You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown, – a good exchange”.
Keywords: Charles I, reign, execution, Inigo Jones, theatre, court masque, scenery.
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