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Marriage Relationships in Tudor Political Drama.

Michael A. Winkelman. Marriage Relationships in Tudor Political Drama.

Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005. 266 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. $89.95. ISBN: 0-7546-3682-8.

The history of royal marriage in Tudor England is full of irony. Henry VIII seemed willing to destroy just about everything to find a wife who would produce a male heir, while Elizabeth, the female child of one of those ill-fated wives, repudiated her father's sense of the biological imperative, turned her back on marriage, and nonetheless became one of history's most successful monarchs. Marriage Relationships in Tudor Political Drama, which analyzes drama and pageantry from 1485 to 1603, attempts to bring coherence to this extremely varied political and theatrical history. Winkelman builds on some well-drawn and well-worn maps of dramatic history, such as those of David Bevington and Joel Altman, to suggest that the problem of royal marriage deserves a shaping role in this history. Sometimes this venerable critical framework seems to give way to outmoded assumptions about the evolution of literary form, as when Winkelman writes that "one goal of my study is to account for the demise of the serviceable, basically medieval iconography that typified early shows and the concurrent development of recognizably 'modern' subjectivity onstage by the end of the sixteenth century" (2). This movement from the symbolic and allegorical to the Burckhardtian "individualized" personalities of proto-modernity, Winkelman asserts, can be explained by means of the problems of royal marriage, and particularly those of Henry VIII: "Existing [dramatic] techniques proved insufficient for dealing with the bewildering complications that arose with Henry VIII's 'great matter'" (2). The book sometimes relies on conventionally biased accounts of Tudor history, in which Henry "maintained his popular appeal" and "swept his nation through its religious revolution to acceptance, if not to acclaim" (58), while Mary "bloodily reinstituted Catholicism" in an "unpopular" (1) decision.

Marriage Relationships begins with a series of pageants about the new Tudor dynasty and a description of an emergent allegorical figure, Lady Commonweal, who resurfaces in plays such as Bale's King Johan (1538) and Udall's Respublica (1553). The book then addresses the presence of Henry's "great matter" in understudied plays: Godly Queene Hester, a "pro-Catholic, pro-Catherine attack on Wolsey" (37), Calisto and Melebea, which impugns Henry and Anne Boleyn, Udall and Leland's hortatory poem on the coronation of Queen Anne, and two Latin Herod plays, Grimald's Archipropheta and Buchanan's Baptistes, about which Buchanan admits, in a compromised but valuable comment made under interrogation, that he "represented the death ... of Thomas More and set forth before the eyes an image of the tyranny of that time" (50). The book moves to Mary's reign and Respublica, in which Udall "conceives of Mary's relationship to England as one like God's marital bonds to his original elect nation, Israel" (75). Plays advising Elizabeth include: Horestes, by the MP John Pickering, Juno and Diana, about which the queen commented, "this is all against me" (114), and Gorbodoc and Cambises. Winkelman turns from these court productions of MPs and lawyers to the popular stage, reading such plays as Edward II, The Spanish Tragedy, and Hamlet, which is mapped too broadly onto the Tudor dynastic history: where "Gertrude resembles Catherine [of Aragon, and] Hamlet resembles Elizabeth I" (181).

Revising evolutionary explanations of Tudor drama through the problem of royal marriage seems an ambitious goal for a short book, especially given its large historical span. What makes the argument feel a bit procrustean is that Henry's marriages--and other royal marriages--are not an explicitly predominant subject of popular drama, and Winkelman does not do enough to draw links between the interesting pageantry that is more explicitly connected with royal marriages, and the representations of marriage in such plays as Hamlet and The Spanish Tragedy, which seem unconnected to the immediate problem of Tudor marriage, and derive, after all, from classical tragic models that are themselves deeply concerned with dynastic and marital issues. (His comment that Claudius's reaction to the "mouse-trap," for example, is a "hint at some of the ways marital matters could be addressed in political drama" (7) seems farfetched.) In spite of their central place in the book's argument, Henrician plays occupy only a single thirty-page chapter. Although Winkelman's study does not fully execute its argument, it sheds light on a neglected corpus of dramatic literature.


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Author:Fulton, Thomas
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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