Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Intellectual and Cultural Context- Power and Politics in Jacobean England

Jacobean depictions of corrupt and decadent Italian courts were not simply criticisms of a far-off culture on the other side of Europe. The court of James I, by 1612 had developed a reputation as a hotbed of vice and favoritism. The king, himself was renowned for his extravagance.

In one five year period he bought 2000 pairs of gloves and in 1604 spent £47,000 on jewels. He often nibbled handsome young men while hearing the presentation of minsters. In 1606 James and his brother in law King Christian IV of Denmark undertook a 'drunken and orgiastic progress' through the stately homes of the Thames Valley with the latter at one point collapsing 'smeared in jelly and cream'.

Events that cemented the shittiness of James's court occured 1613-1616. But 'The White Devil' was written in 1612 so don't be going and making absolute links. Don't be that dumbass.

The first case was Sir Thomas Overbury who was the secretary and close adviser to Sir Robert Carr (James's favourite court).

  • Carr began liasion with Frances Howard, the married Countess of Essex which led to a high profile divorce
  • Overbury opposed the match which led to his rapid demise
  • Fell out of favour with the King + refused an ambassadorial commission from him in April 1613. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he died months later of a mysterious illness
  • Rumours of foul play. The governor of the Tower caught Overbury's keeper Robert Weston bringing him poisoned food. 
  • Weston put on trial and didn't say anything until he threatened with being pressed to death with weights.  Found guilty and put to death
  • Carr and his wife were tried, found guilty but their lives were spared by the King's intervention. 
Widely condemned as an example of gross injustice + of abuse of power + influence. Anne Turner (France's servant) and Gervase Elwes (GOT)  denounced the court. Turner accused the majority of courtiers of 'malice, pride, whoredom, swearing and rejoicing in the fall of others.' 

Occurred after TWD, similarities are striking.
  • Like Overbury, Flamineo is a secretary to a great man who acts as a go between
  • Like Vittoria, Frances Howard was widely condemned as a whore in a public trial
  • Main victims in TWD, as in the Overbury case are the accessories whilst the truly powerful escape punishment 
  • Webster's characters speak out against the court
Webster probs knew Overbury pretty well. He dedicated A Monumental Column to Carr in 1612 and in 1615, he contributed to Characters, a collection of vivid descriptions of contemporary character types which was posthumously attributed to Overbury. 

Arbella Stuart
  • 1610 James's cousin Lady Arbella Stuart married William Seymour without seeking the permission of James
  • James had her imprisoned in the Tower. She never saw her husband again + died in the Tower in 1615 from illness caused by her refusal to eat
This would be fresh in audience psyche. Flamineo seems to directly refer to this incident when he remarks:

"Say that a gentlewoman were taken out of her bed about midnight, and committed to Castle Angelo, to the tower yonder.... would it not show a cruel part in the gentleman porter to lay claim to her upper garment, pull it o'er her head and ears and put her in naked?"

Temporarily collapsing the distance between the fictional Italian court and the real Jacobean one, Webster makes a direct link between Vittoria's abuse as a political pawn and Lady Arbella Stuart's 

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