Strange Communion: Motherland and Masculinity in Tudor Plays, Pamphlets, and Politics

Strange Communion: Motherland and Masculinity in Tudor Plays, Pamphlets, and Politics

Strange Communion: Motherland and Masculinity in Tudor Plays, Pamphlets, and Politics

Strange Communion: Motherland and Masculinity in Tudor Plays, Pamphlets, and Politics

Synopsis

Strange Communion concerns the development in Tudor culture of a tendency to identify the common good with the health of the motherland. Playwrights, polemicists, and politicians such as John Bale, Richard Morison, and William Shakespeare, among others, relied on maternal representations of England to evoke a sense of common purpose. Vanhoutte examines how such motherland tropes came to describe England, how they changed in response to specific political crises, and how they came, by the end of the sixteenth century, to shape literary ideals of masculinity. While Henrician propagandists appealed to Mother England in order to enforce dynastic privilege, their successors modified nationalist symbols as to qualify absolute monarchy. The accessions of two queens thus encouraged a convergence of nationalist and patriarchal ideologies: in late Tudor works, evocations of the national family tend to efface class distinctions while reinforcing gender distinctions. Dr. Jacqueline Vanhoutte is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas.

Excerpt

In 1994, the inauguration of the channel tunnel linking France and England occasioned festivities in France, while the English reacted cautiously and skeptically. Despite wide advertising, very few English citizens bought tickets for the historic first ride under the English Channel. the “Chunnel” bridged the geographical gap between these two nations, but it emphasized cultural gaps. the English public viewed the tunnel as a French conception peculiarly threatening to English identity; a month before its opening, the Sun urged its “patriotic family of readers” to “tell the feelthy French to frog off.” British Francophobia found a more decorous if no more rational expression in the request that electric grates be installed at the entrance of the tunnel in order to prevent any determinedly infected Continental animals from traversing the Channel and successfully spreading French diseases in England.

The English novelist and journalist Julian Barnes notes that the fear of invasion by French animals and French culture was a late manifestation of a longstanding nationalistic reaction to the idea of the Channel tunnel. the first time such a project had been discussed in Parliament, in the 1880s, Lord Randolph Churchill opposed it on the grounds that “the reputation of England has hitherto depended upon her being, as it were, virgo intacta.” Churchill thus invited his listeners to view the tunnel as an attempted rape on the chaste body of England. in this formulation, safeguarding English national identity depended on the same protective activities that kept Victorian wives and daughters chaste. Luminaries like Robert Browning, T. H. Huxley, and John Henry, Cardinal Newman apparently found Churchill’s rhetoric convincing; all of them signed a petition opposing the building of the tunnel.

Churchill’s reliance on a feminized image of the nation exemplifies one of the most common ways in which the English, historically, have imagined their identity. On the eve of his death in . . .

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