“A Mirror of Men”: Sovereignty, Performance, and Textuality in Tudor England, 1501-1559

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Riddell, Jessica
Performance , Textuality , Sovereignty , Tudor England
Sixteenth-century England witnessed both unprecedented generic experimentation in the recording of spectacle and a shift in strategies of sovereign representation and subject formation: it is the central objective of this dissertation to argue for the reciprocal implication of these two phenomena. Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I used performance to legitimate their authority. Aristocratic and civic identities, in turn, were modelled on sovereign identity, which was disseminated through narratives in civic entries, tournaments, public progresses, and courtly pageantry. This dissertation investigates the relationship between ritualized social dramas (a marriage, birth, and coronation) and the mechanisms behind the recording and dissemination of these performances in courtly and civic texts in England from 1501 to 1559. Focussing on The Receyt of the Ladie Kateryne (London 1501), The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster (Westminster 1511), and The Quenes Maiesties Passage (London 1559), this project attempts to understand the role performance texts played in developing conceptions of social identity. Specifically, this dissertation seeks to demonstrate that a number of new hybrid genres emerged in Tudor England to record ritualized social dramas. I argue that each of the texts under scrutiny stands out as a unique record of performance as their authors use unprecedented narrative strategies to invest their accounts with “liveness,” situating the reader as a “spectator” of the sovereign within a performative context. An important objective of these hybrid genres was to control the audience/reader’s response to the symbology of performance. Each monarch attempted to influence social and political identities through courtly performance; however, the challenges of governing differed among reigns. While Henry VII struggled against charges of illegitimacy, Henry VIII had to consolidate the loyalties of his nobles, and Elizabeth I came to the throne amidst religious turmoil and anxieties about female rule. Strategies for the performance and recording of sovereign authority shifted, therefore, to account for the changes in England’s political structure. By examining how performance is textualized in these new genres, I attempt to expose the tensions animating the relationships among the monarch, his/her nobility, and the civic authorities.
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