Amazon Reflections in the Jacobean Queen's Masque
Schwarz, Kathryn, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.
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For six years, from 1604 through 1609, Jacobean court masques stage the bodies and the intentions of women. Four masques in those five years claim Queen Anne as patron, actor, and even author: The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, The Masque of Blackness, The Masque of Beauty, and The Masque of Queens. Beginning with Samuel Daniel's Vision, escalating through Ben Jonson's Queens, masques written in the name of the queen parade female bodies before the king, staging blackness, martiality, and the history of women's power. Anne herself appears in these productions as producer and star player, providing, according to Daniel and Jonson, not only patronage but representational conceits. This reiterated claim of her intervention, perhaps in itself an authorial conceit, has its own power nonetheless, for the alternative ichnographies of the Jacobean queen's masque transform the figure of the queen. As King James's wife, Anne is marginalized in the political transactions of the Jacobean court, representing power once removed. The Jacobean queen's masque removes her instead to the stage, to a space in which female sovereignty, as dramatic fiction, may effect the disruption or displacement of male power. The space between the masque and its royal observer becomes a place of alternatives in which the queen's representations do not obviously defer - or refer - to the king.
Generic conceit suggests that the masque is contained in its referentiality, that women's power, acted onstage, might be resolved into Jacobean compliment. The display onstage is referred exclusively to the royal spectator: the king, occupying the best seat in the house, provides both the masque's justification and its ideal reader, leaving the rest of the audience at one remove from spectacular immediacy. Jonathan Goldberg, in James I and the Politics of Literature, argues for a direct correspondence between the celebration and its subject: "In its form, the masque provides a mirror, too, for it elucidates the spectacle that the king presents sitting in state. The mysteries of the masque reflect the monarch's silent state: the masque represents the king."(1) King James watches that which he already embodies, and the masque, in these terms, is constructed through synecdoche, representing a kingly quality through each masquer's body and cumulatively staging a sovereign whole. Dramatic fiction finds its referent in the audience, creating continuity between the celebration of royal power and its embodiment. The barrier between audience and stage, like the masque itself, is staged only to be discovered, revealed as artificial: the king is reflected in the masque, the audience is drawn into the final celebratory dance, and the space between James and the representation of his power is obscured in the glory of royal celebration.
Jacobean queen's masques reimpose that space, constructing an unbridgeable gap between masque and king. Early Jacobean celebrations - written by Daniel and Jonson, danced by Anne and her courtiers - disrupt the reflection of majesty with the vision of broken boundaries, and these boundaries, unlike the artificial barriers of the masque's reflective trope, are anxiously guarded. Beginning with Daniel's Vision, climaxing in Jonson's Queens, Jacobean queen's masques challenge the discrete terms of power, race, gender, and theatricality. The challenge is posed by images of female excess, bearing no resemblance to the king; the space between James and the stage becomes not conceit but ellipsis, and masquers' bodies, women's bodies, figure opposition rather than compliment. Jacobean queen's masques detach the display of women's power from the referent of the king. Instead power is articulated as martial, exotic, and historically inimical to men, the implications of violence progressing towards the literalism of an armed female body. The …
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Publication information: Article title: Amazon Reflections in the Jacobean Queen's Masque. Contributors: Schwarz, Kathryn - Author. Journal title: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Volume: 35. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 1995. Page number: 293+. © 1999 Rice University. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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