This fascinating interdisciplinary study of early modern music theater shows that both the English court masque under the leadership of Ben Jonson and one famous French ballet de cour
may be understood as early modern Mysteries.
Kristin Rygg demonstrates how knowledge about the Pythagorean mystery school of antiquity forms a foundation for the creation of these theater performances and how the role of music and dance in interaction with the other arts comprise the key to appreciating their character as Mysteries.
Rygg starts by discussing the emergence of the English court masque. She focuses upon its hitherto almost neglected nature as MUSIC theater and then goes on to outline the history and structure of the very similar French Ballet Comique de la Royne and its roots in the contemporary Académie de Baïf. Having observed the striking similarities between the two genres and the Pythagorean foundation of this academy, she undertakes to explore the Pythagorean mystery school, particularly in its conception of the world and of the arts and its practice of initiation. Seeking to establish the likely connection between this early school and the development of the court masque, she proceeds to investigate the continuation and metamorphoses of this tradition as it is develops in certain intellectual circles in the Renaissance.
In the last part of the book she presents intriguing readings of Ballet Comique de la Royne and the Jonsonian masque. Ballet Comique de la Royne is shown to act out both the basic history of mankind according to the Pythagorean world view and the various steps of initiation as practiced in the Pythagorean Mysteries. Similarly, a strong interest in and knowledge about the Pythagorean mystery traditions are proved to be prominent in certain English intellectual circles surrounding Ben Jonson. Finally the Jonsonian masques are interpreted as Early Modern Mysteries both in view of their form and their contents, with music and the other musicalized arts as their prime vehicle of transcendence.