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Short dramatic entertainment performed by masked actors. It originated in the folk ceremony known as mummery (seemumming play) and evolved into elaborate court spectacles in the 16th–17th centuries. A masque presented an allegorical theme using speeches, dances, and songs, in a performance often embellished with rich costumes and spectacular scenery. The genre reached its height in 17th-century England when the court poet, Ben Jonson, collaborating with Inigo Jones on many notable masques (1605–34), gave it literary force. The masque later developed into opera.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on masque, visit Britannica.com.