The History of England’s Masquerade
The masquerade played a large part in the ideas and themes of England during the eighteenth century. Its popularity spanned most of the century, bringing together people of all classes, from the highest nobleman to the lowest commoner.
Masquerades were a firmly established part of city life in England by the 1720's. Most masquerades were held in buildings especially designed for them, such as the Haymarket, the Soho, or the Pantheon. During the early part of the century, masquerades held at the Haymarket, the most popular location for these events, drew in up to a thousand masqueraders weekly. Later in the century, public masquerades in celebration of special events drew in thousands of people. The popularity of the masquerade is clearly apparent from the appearance of newspaper columns devoted to describing particularly elegant masquerades. Other masquerade literature that circulated through the cities included pamphlets denouncing the masquerade as scenes of promiscuity and impropriety" (3). Such civil and religious censure caused the popularity of the masquerade to fluctuate during the century, but the phenomenon did not wane until the l 780's.
The origin of the masquerade in England is a subject that many scholars have speculated on. When masquerades first appeared, they were called signs of"diabolical foreign influence, imported corruption" (5) The idea for the masquerade may indeed have come from foreign parts. The eighteenth century was a time when many young people traveled abroad as part of their education. Undoubtedly, the excitement of masquerades held in Italy, Spain and France were something these traveling youths wanted to recreate once they came home. Foreign ambassadors were also heavily blamed for the rising popularity of the masquerade.
Another theory for the emergence of the masquerade is that it is an altered form of some ancient English customs, such as Mayday and the All-Hollow's Eve festival. As England became more industrialized, more and more country dwellers flocked to the cities. The period saw a "gradual displacement of folk practices" because of this. The theory that the masquerade stemmed from ancient English customs is held up by many similarities between masquerades and these customs. For example, indoor masquerades, which took place from October to February, clustered around Christmas and New Year's Day. The outdoor masquerades similarly were concentrated around Mayday and Midsummer's Eve. The costumes worn by masqueraders often resembled those worn by participants in ancient English holidays. Animal and transvestite costumes, which were very common at masquerades, had their roots in ancient English rituals.
Besides being a widespread form of entertainment in the cities, the masquerade was also a booming industry. Newspaper advertisements for costume shops became more prevalent as the century progressed. The host of a masquerade was also trying to make a...