Erotic Subjects: The Sexuality of Politics in Early Modern English Literature

By Melissa E. Sanchez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
“It Is Consent that Makes
a Perfect Slave” Love and Liberty in the Caroline Masque

For many contemporary and modern readers, the Caroline masque depicts precisely the erotic engulfment and political absolutism that Wroth and others feared. Charles I, however, sought to distance himself from such an absolutist image, not to promote it. Like James and Elizabeth I before him, Charles lacked a standing army and a salaried bureaucracy. He therefore had to rely in large measure on his subjects’ cooperation, a situation summarized in the oft-repeated commonplace that English rulers’ greatest source of strength is their people’s love, which begets obedience and supply.1 And Charles needed to preserve this fiction of mutual affection and voluntary service even more than his predecessors had. When he decided to rule without parliaments after 1629, Charles did not just renounce his only legitimate source of passing statutes and levying taxes; he also eschewed the most widely recognized indication that he governed with the consent of the whole realm. Although, as Conrad Russell has established, there was no such thing as “parliament in the seventeenth century,” only “irregularly occurring events called Parliaments,” these events offered an important symbol of the unity of king and people.2 By calling a parliament, the king showed that, rather than tyrannically

1. See Russell, Unrevolutionary England, 89–109, esp. 91; Sharpe, Personal Rule, 604–605; Martin Butler, “Ben Jonson,” 91–115, esp. 91–92; and Smuts, “Force, Love, and Authority,” 32. Goldie describes the symbiotic relationship between local and central government (“Officeholding in Early Modern England”).

2. See Russell, 5–8, 12–13, 20.

-145-

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