Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship

By Bruce Thomas Boehrer | Go to book overview

Afterword

IN HIS ESSAY "Reflections on Gandhi," George Orwell criticizes the inhumanity of Gandhi's asceticism, a discipline that required the complete elimination of "close friendships and exclusive loves" ( Orwell331). To Orwell, such behavior is "a thing that human beings must avoid" ( Orwell 332), for "to an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others" ( Orwell331). That is, Orwell subscribes as a matter of course to the idea that social structure is differential, based on perceptual distinctions between kin and strangers, natives and aliens, colleagues and competitors, and so forth. Hence the severest censure Orwell can direct at Gandhi is that Gandhi ignored the special needs of his family ( Orwell331-32); where Milton was only superficially opposed to the family, Gandhi seems to have been genuinely (or at least very nearly) indifferent to it. Orwell, himself the exponent of apparently radical ideas, finds this posture to be intolerably radical.

This book has at heart been about the family, and about the social circumstances that determine its structure and that it in turn determines. Thus I may perhaps note one final quality of the incest prohibition, as it has appeared in all the various forms surveyed here: it is a response, of sorts, to Orwell's observation about human love. It assumes that love does mean loving some people more than others, and that society means favoring some people more than others, and it seeks to compensate for those facts without resorting to the summary elimination of all difference whatsoever. That is, rather than attempting to do away with distinctions of family and class and race, the incest prohibition seeks to regulate those distinctions in such a way as to make continued social activity possible. Thus the practice of discrimination, of making a material difference between people, is to a greater or lesser degree built into all systems of kinship, whatever they may be.

All of the texts we have surveyed here, even the most apparently apolitical, have at least one thing in common other than their reference to the theme of incest. They all develop out of initiatives for one kind of social reform or another (reorganizing the line of royal succession, replacing an

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Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • I- Henry VIII and the Political Uses Of Incest Theory 19
  • 2. Incest and Tudor Literary Politics 42
  • 3- James I and the Fabrication Of Kinship 86
  • 4. the End of Kingship? 113
  • 5- Conclusions: the Politics of Incest Theory 138
  • Afterword 157
  • Notes 159
  • Bibliography 173
  • Index 185
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