Making Make-believe Real

Making Make-believe Real

Politics as Theater in Shakespeare's Time

Book - 2014
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"Shakespeare's plays abound with kings and leaders who crave a public stage and seize every opportunity to make their lives a performance: Antony, Cleopatra, Richard III, Othello, and many others. Such self-dramatizing characters appear in the work of other playwrights of the era as well, Marlowe's Edward II and Tamburlaine among them. But Elizabethan playwrights were not alone in realizing that a sense of theater was essential to the exercise of power. Real rulers knew it, too, and none better than Queen Elizabeth. In this fascinating study of political stagecraft in the Elizabethan era, Garry Wills explores a period of vast cultural and political change during which the power of make-believe to make power real was not just a theory but an essential truth. Wills examines English culture as Catholic Christianity's rituals were being overturned and a Protestant queen took the throne. New iconographies of power were necessary for the new Renaissance liturgy to displace the medieval church-state. The author illuminates the extensive imaginative constructions that went into Elizabeth's reign and the explosion of great Tudor and Stuart drama that provided the imaginative power to support her long and successful rule"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New Haven ; London : Yale University Press, [2014]
ISBN: 9780300197532
Characteristics: ix, 414 pages ; 25 cm


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Jun 12, 2015

Making Make-believe Real: Politics as Theater in the Time of Shakespeare is a text for informed readers describing the direction, ploys and strictures for the players on the political stage in the reign of Elizabeth I. In the religious, dynastic, and political turmoil of 16th century Europe, the English royal court attracted warriors, courtiers, poets and adventurers: a troupe of actors playing out the intrigues and policies of the times in the public forum. They took their scripted parts and schemata from the philosophical and social protocols of the era.

The dramatization of the political world in its arts was conscientious and thorough.
Elizabeth was portrayed as Gloriana, in Spenser’s lengthy poetic allegory of her reign, The Faerie Queen. Jousts and tournaments displayed the martial prowess of Elizabeth’s corps of generals to the foreign diplomats in attendance. Courtly love traditions and enactments limned the dynastic and sexual politics played out in the courtship of Elizabeth by foreign and native suitors. The queen’s progress throughout her kingdom pressed her nobles to entertain her en route while she expressed her love for her subjects. All the Elizabethan court was a stage, where the actors pranced and speechified to a wary audience.

The performance art of the times led to material consequences, at times dire. The Queen’s Progress, in which she led her court and entourage and its impedimenta across her realm, placed huge financial burdens on the subjects blessed with her presence – Lord Burghley endured twelve visitations during Elizabeth’s reign, with all the cost of construction and the damage entailed to his estate. Edward Campion, English convert to Rome, in his clandestine mission to his native land, died a tortured death in the brutal sectarian strife of the age; his rhetorical weapons, artfully wielded in debate, aroused the enmity and rage of the established church. He mounted the gallows offering prayers for prosperity of his Queen and peace in her reign. Our own presidential debates, fireside chats, and town hall meetings engender more reasonable, less fearsome governance.


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