Familial politics and the Stuart court masque.
This thesis contends that the monarch-centred view of the masque, which has
prevailed since the publication in the 1960s and 1970s of Stephen Orgel's seminal
works on the genre, needs to be challenged in the light of recent scholarship on the
cultural agency of other members of the royal family. In my introduction I argue
that while the New Historicism has been crucial in elucidating the theatricalization of
power in the early Stuart court, its insistence on the inevitability of the collusion
between art and sovereign power needs to be questioned.
The masque has long been seen as a monolithic and univocal celebration of
monarchical power, despite the fact that it was promoted at court not by King James
but by other members of the royal family. Adopting a loosely chronological
approach, this thesis retells the story of the 'Jacobean' court masque by recovering
the role played in the commissioning and performance of masques by James's wife,
his children, and his male favourites. The chapters set out to hear voices other than
that of the King, and discover that, while panegyric was part of each masque, it was
rarely as unequivocal as traditional criticism has suggested. On the contrary, the
annual masques were frequently appropriated to express the oppositional agendas of
factions at court, and above all, of members of James's own family.
I argue that Queen Anne set a precedent for the disruptive use of the masque
which she exploited to present herself as independent from the King, and to
emphasise her importance as the mother of the royal children. Prince Henry, and
later Prince Charles, both used the masque to contest the pacifist policies of the
King, while Buckingham's success as a favourite was linked to his skilful
exploitation of the masques as an integral part of his self-fashioning.
Above all by shifting the focus away from King James to consider the more active
participation in the masque of other members of the royal family, this thesis offers a
possibility of moving beyond the current impasse of the subversion / containment
debate to a more nuanced reading of the culture of the early Stuart court which
recognises the delicate process of negotiation and accommodation in which the
masquers and their audiences were engaged.