If it were an artefact rather than twelve lines of prose in a sixteenth century commonplace book, the rarity and significance of The nyne muses dance would make it a treasure of English culture. It is the only sketch of a choreography for a masque, whether Tudor or Stuart, so deserves much more close attention than it seems to have had to date.
The nyne muses is the last of a group of social dances described in Ms. Rawlinson Poet. 108, probably by Edward Gunter in around 1570. Valuable though it is as a source, the choreography poses several questions. Recent documentation of Elizabethan court and gentry entertainments can illumine the context of the dance, and re-creations of the dance bring some of the issues into focus.
At least nine questions are raised by this mystery document:
1. Why did Gunter write it out?
2. What occasion did it belong to?
3. Who might have danced it?
4. Can we interpret the instructions for the figures?
5. Do we have enough information to propose steps for these figures?
6. What music should go with the steps?
7. What costume and head-dress might have been worn?
8. What can we learn from a re-creation of the dance?
9. Was there any symbolism conveyed by the choreography?
The paper will explore the mysteries of this dance. It will be illustrated by a film of a recent re-creation or by live performance, if practicable.