Title

The masquerade of Mary Tudor : performance and power in sixteenth century England

Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Leigh Straw

Abstract

England, before 1553, had been a country ruled solely by men. Mary Tudor, the eldest surviving child of Henry VIII, would break that tradition by becoming the first woman to reign over England in her own right and not through the power of her husband. Mary‟s reign would transform the power of the monarch, previously masculine, into a power that she, and the female rulers that followed her, could wield. Despite the significance of this reign in English history, Mary has long been considered one of the most ineffective rulers of England because of claims that she persecuted the Protestants and put Spanish affairs before the affairs of her own country. Recent reassessments of Mary‟s reign have presented her in more positive light mentioning in passing Mary‟s use of performance and gender to her advantage. Despite these recent reassessments of Mary her use of performative behavior remains a largely neglected area of historical scholarship on her life. This thesis provides a detailed study of Mary‟s use of performative behaviour throughout her life and reign in order to fill the gap in the understanding of Mary‟s character.

In order to conduct an examination of Mary, through the lens of performance, this thesis employs a theoretical framework that combines Joan Riviere‟s theory of masquerade and Erving Goffman‟s theory of performance in daily life. These theories, applied to this thesis, work together to explain how Mary put on performances of either masculinity or femininity which worked to her advantage. Examining Mary‟s life in this way has revealed that Mary‟s ability to act as a weak woman commenced during her youth as a response to her parent‟s divorce. Mary‟s ability to perform further developed as she learned how to alternate displays of womanly weakness with masculine authority as she continued to face challenges throughout her lifetime. Performance would assist Mary with her dealings with her father, Charles V of Spain, Edward VI, the Spanish and Venetian ambassadors and even her own husband, Philip. Using a framework of performance to examine Mary, and considering the sixteenth-century society that she lived in, this thesis depicts Mary Tudor as a calculating actor who had the ability to perform in both masculine and feminine roles to benefit her personally and politically. As a reassessment of Mary Tudor this thesis contributes to the field of Tudor history and shows how a framework of performance can be used to reveal insights into a person‟s character and actions.

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