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Lesson From The 1580’s Still Vital To 2019

March 24, 2019

Clouds and drizzle dominate in Madison as the ice still looks to be holding firm on the lake.  Ah, the weather of late March.  Especially when yesterday was clear blue skies and abundant sunshine.  But it is a great deal more warm and interesting within the pages of a book which I wish to only briefly comment on this afternoon.

One of my pet peeves over the decades has been the idea that movies in the nation are always ‘so political’ or ‘liberal leaning’.  The put-downs about Hollywood are as common, it seems, as those about congress.  Films are reflections of a time and place where added perspective allows for a larger truth to be gleamed.  That makes some nervous, hence the put-downs.

So it was, in a way, during the late 1580’s in England with theater.  Please do not tune out just yet.   The period is most lively and daring as Queen Elizabeth, following her excommunication from Rome, seeks economic prowess and military advantages as she continues dialogues with the Muslim world.  The Sultan And The Queen by Jerry Brotton has revealed a whole new chapter of history I was much unaware of, and in so doing has poked into related aspects of history which intrigue me.

Such as the way issues of a period are viewed, debated, laughed over, and either accepted of rejected.  In the time frame in which the book deals there was indeed much contradiction and lack of clear identification as to how a relationship with places like Morocco should be viewed.  Or how a sultan should be regarded.

While the book goes into the journals and historic record of the queen’s diplomatic moves the author has also settled down into the plays at the Rose written by youthful Christoper Marlowe or later with the likes of George Peele.  What was presented to the theater-loving public often provided no pronounced ‘moral’ outcome or allowed a character to emerge where the audience could easily identify.  The object was not to counsel Elizabeth in some moralizing way, or provide insight as a foreign policy analyst.  Many of the plays were staged, as in an eastern sultanate, so the one watching in London could view the story as if from above.  And in so doing they would walk away needing to draw their own conclusions and observations about the world, religion, power, and the human condition.

That is why writers, actors, and playhouses are so important.  Theater and film have long been a vital link to moving a person forward in how issues are perceived.

While reading today I came across the wood cut-out that Marlowe would have known about as he penned lines about the desire of the populace to trample down an enemy.  In Tamburlaine the public would have felt the verse from Psalms where God says sit on the right hand while your enemies are turned into a footstool.  Mixing those religious views into the issues of their time was an important step to take as the world they knew, even then, was getting smaller.

Pictured below is the cut-out where the pope is suppressed by King Henry VIII, a then contemporary satire on England’s break with Rome, showing the king sitting on his throne with the pope under his feet. Date: 1533.


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