The idea of a masque was certainly not a new one in the reign of James I (1603-25), but under him and his son, Charles I (1625-49), it became a specific form of court entertainment: a cross between a ball, an amateur theatrical, a play and a fancy dress party.
The purpose of the Stuart masque was not merely entertainment but to demonstrate the Stuart concept of kingship, delivering messages about royal authority, responsibility and privileges.
The masque was brought to its final form by the fruitful and dynamic partnership of the architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and the playwright Ben Jonson (1573?-1637) who for 25 years produced a series of ever-more elaborate masques.
The masque had two parts.
First was an 'anti-masque' performed by professional actors who generally depicted a world of disorder or vice, often combined with comic elements. The second part involved audience participation when members of the court rose up and danced, banishing disorder and bringing in harmony and courtly graces. This part gradually merged with a ball and the dancing could continue all night. The whole was accompanied by incredible illusionistic sets with mechanical devices and ingenious lighting effects.