The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses

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The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses was an early Jacobean era masque, written by Samuel Daniel and performed in the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace on the evening of Sunday, 8 January 1604. One of the earliest of the Stuart Court masques,[1] staged when the new dynasty had been in power less than a year and was closely engaged in peace negotiations with Spain,[2] The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses stood as a precedent and a pattern for the many masques that followed during the next four decades.


The name of the masque's designer is not recorded in the historical sources; some scholars have argued that he may have been Inigo Jones,[3] who had recently returned to England from the royal court of Anne's brother Christian IV of Denmark, and so had a connection with her courtly establishment. The stage set had clear similarities with Jones's later masque work; the set for The Vision consisted of a large mountain, plus a Temple of Peace and a Cave of Sleep at the opposite end of the hall.

The show[edit]

Daniel's text draws on classical mythology. The presenters are Iris, the Graces, a Sybil, and personifications of Night and Sleep. (These speaking roles were taken by boys and men who were not aristocrats but lower Court functionaries. Aristocratic participants in Court masques generally did not take speaking roles.)[4] The musicians who played Cornets were dressed as Satyrs.

In the masque, Night appears and awakens her son, Sleep, who calls forth a vision for the spectators with his wand (and promptly goes back to sleep). Iris appears at the top of the artificial mountain, and descends to the Temple of Peace, where she tells the Sybil about the coming of the goddesses. The Graces appear on the mountaintop and descend to the floor below, followed by twelve goddesses, descending three by three, to the music of the satyrs. Each goddess is followed by a torchbearer, dressed in white with gold stars. The dozen aristocrats parade to the Temple of Peace as the Graces sing; the main dances ensue.


The performance featured Anne of Denmark, the queen consort of King James I, and eleven of the queen's ladies in waiting. They were attired as classical goddesses and danced in the masque; the Queen, curiously, did not take the obvious role of Juno, queen of the gods, but rather Pallas Athena. The dozen noble participants and their roles were:


The ladies' costumes were sumptuous: "Juno" wore a "sky-colored mantle" embroidered with gold and peacock feathers, with a crown also of gold; "Diana" was dressed a "green mantle" embroidered with silver half moons, "with a croissant of pearls on her head."[5] The costumes were created by ransacking the wardrobe of the dead Queen Elizabeth, who had left some 500 gowns behind her when she died, many of them luxurious, some worn only once. These supplied cloth of silver and cloth of gold for the goddesses' garb.[6]

Even with this frugality, the masque cost between two and three thousand pounds to stage. Lady Penelope Rich reportedly wore £20,000 worth of jewels while appearing the masque – though she was outdone by the Queen, who sported fully £100,000 in gems. (This kind of extreme display became characteristic of the courtly masques during the Stuart era, and was a focus of controversy and deep disapproval by wide segments of the public.) Anne carried a spear and wore a helmet and a tunic, embroidered with cannon and weapons of war, which ended just below the knee, quite an innovation for the time. As courtly humorist Dudley Carleton put it, "her clothes were not so much below the knee but that we might see a woman had both feet and legs which I never knew before."[7]


Attendance at the masque was highly coveted, and grew to be a bone of contention among the Court's foreign ambassadors – another element that would become typical of future masques. The competition was so intense that the French ambassador, the Comte de Beaumont, actually threatened to kill his Spanish counterpart De Tassis in the King's presence if he couldn't attend.[8]


Daniel's text for the masque was published in a 1604 quarto by the bookseller Edward Allde. This was an unauthorised and defective printing; Daniel countered it with an authorised and accurate octavo edition in the same year, issued by the stationer Simon Waterson. That edition bears Daniel's dedication of the work to his patroness Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, who had recommended him to Queen Anne for the commission; the dedication, at 210 lines, is the longest in English Renaissance drama.[9] The text was reprinted in quarto in 1623.


Daniel did well from the masque; he was made, firstly, a Groom of the Queen's Chamber and later a chamberlain; and the Queen gave him the job of licensing plays for the Children of the Chapel, the troupe of child actors that Anne had just taken into her patronage as the Children of the Queen's Revels. His ascendancy was brief, however: later in 1604 Daniel got into trouble with the Privy Council over a performance of his play Philotas, which was seen as a too-friendly commentary on the Essex rebellion of 1601. Daniel bowed out of further masque-writing for the Court – though commentators wonder how voluntary his action was. Ben Jonson quickly took over as the principal (though not the sole) masque writer for the Stuarts. Daniel did make one more venture in masquing prior to his 1619 death; he composed Tethys' Festival for its summer 1610 performance.


  1. ^ A masque for male courtiers was staged two days earlier, on 6 January 1604; the text has not survived.
  2. ^ The masque's theme of peace celebrated the ceasefire with Spain, proclaimed by King James in March 1603, and reflected the intense peace negotiations which were to culminate in the Treaty of London at Somerset House in August 1604 and its ratification at Valladolid the following year. Present at the performance was the Spanish ambassador, the count of Villamediana, one of the Spanish negotiators of the treaty and a future writer of Spanish masques himself. Barroll (ed.), p 175.
  3. ^ Law, pp. 17–18.
  4. ^ For later exceptions to the rule, see The Gypsies Metamorphosed and The Shepherd's Paradise.
  5. ^ In Ernest Law's edition of the text, pp. 59–61.
  6. ^ See Law's introduction to his edition, p. 13.
  7. ^ Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 280.
  8. ^ Chambers, Vol. 3, pp. 280–1.
  9. ^ Bergeron, p. 84.


  • Ungerer, Gustav. "Juan Pantoja de la Cruz and the Circulation of Gifts Between the English and Spanish Courts in 1604/5", in Shakespeare Studies, John Leeds Barroll, ed.; Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8386-3782-5.
  • Bergeron, David Moore. Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570–1640. London, Ashgate, 2006.
  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Daniel, Samuel. The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses. Edited and with an Introduction by Ernest Law. London, Bernard Quaritch, 1880.