Making Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare's Time

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Yale University Press, Jun 10, 2014 - History - 414 pages
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Shakespeare’s plays abound with kings and leaders who crave a public stage and seize every opportunity to make their lives a performance: Antony, Cleopatra, Richard III, Othello, and many others. Such self-dramatizing characters appear in the work of other playwrights of the era as well, Marlowe’s Edward II and Tamburlaine among them. But Elizabethan playwrights were not alone in realizing that a sense of theater was essential to the exercise of power. Real rulers knew it, too, and none better than Queen Elizabeth. In this fascinating study of political stagecraft in the Elizabethan era, Garry Wills explores a period of vast cultural and political change during which the power of make-believe to make power real was not just a theory but an essential truth.
 
Wills examines English culture as Catholic Christianity’s rituals were being overturned and a Protestant queen took the throne. New iconographies of power were necessary for the new Renaissance liturgy to displace the medieval church-state. The author illuminates the extensive imaginative constructions that went into Elizabeth’s reign and the explosion of great Tudor and Stuart drama that provided the imaginative power to support her long and successful rule.
 

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From Jack Ruby to C. K. Chesterton, John Wayne to Henry Adams -- reading Garry Wills on any one of the diverse subjects he has written about in the span of nearly 50 books can be a humbling experience; it shakes up so much of what one thought one knew about them. This 2014 entry provides a stunning reversal of many assumptions I’ve long held, and consequently passed on to my students, concerning the power Queen Elizabeth actually wielded during the English Renaissance. Here Wills reveals how much our understanding of a person or age in history is often a product of something comparable to a facts-spinning public relations team shaping public perceptions. These perceptions become the facts and the facts become history. Now this might sound like another tired example of New Historicism (deconstructing Elizabeth, perhaps?), but Wills is too reliable and independent a thinker to ever revert to so narrow an approach. (The most amusing section of the book is his particularly caustic indictment of certain New Historicists’ readings of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V.) It is our popular understanding of her actual power that gets the treatment here, not Elizabeth herself. If anything, readers might come away even more impressed by Wills’s description of her political acumen: ever astute, ever cautious, and always a step ahead of her team of advisors. By dispelling certain myths around the Virgin Queen and her age, or at least exposing the sources of these myths, Wills limns a fresh, lively, and immensely readable portrait of a superior political leader.
Once again Garry Wills has produced a book that gives his readers far more than they might expect or even want to learn. Whatever their expectations, readers of this or any of his previous books will invariably find themselves in the assured hands of a superb teacher.
 

Contents

Loved Ruler
13
Loves Rules
34
Transcending the Rules
50
Threatened Queen
72
Antimonarch
91
Searching Monarch
121
The Book
137
Revelation II
157
Rules ofthe War Games
242
Knights of the Sea
251
MakeBelieve Courtier Warriors
261
Leicester
263
Chivalry
272
Pastoral
281
Favorite
289
Rival
301

Stars in Their Courses
182
MakeBelieve Faerie Nation
197
Urban Palimpsest
199
Rural Camelot
209
MakeBelieve Chivalric
219
Warrior Queen
221
War Games
231
The Bacon Calculus
309
Adventurer
316
Prisoner
325
Prince Henry
335
Notes
345
Index
389
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About the author (2014)

Garry Wills, Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University, is an author, journalist, and historian. Among his nearly forty books are the Pulitzer Prize?winning Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, and Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. He lives in Chicago, IL.

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