Leeds Barroll. Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001. 226pp. ISBN 0 8122 3574 6.
University of Texas, San Antonio
Andrea, Bernadette. "Review of Leeds Barroll. Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.2 (September, 2002):12.1-3 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/08-2/barrrev.html>.
The title of Barroll's study signals the concerns he will amplify and complicate. Anna of Denmark, Queen of England stresses this otherwise slighted historical figure's regal genealogy as a daughter and wife respectively of powerful Northern European kings. Barroll's central thesis, however, goes beyond such affiliations to propose Queen Anna (incorrectly known as "Anne") as an innovative and influential force in the cultural politics of the era that customarily has been labelled "Jacobean." Barroll challenges the reduction of the Jacobean era to the "monolithic, hegemonic power" promoted by the ideology of monarchical absolutism (2), a critical fallacy that resulted in the infamous subversion/containment debate within the new historicist camp. Rather, he follows such political theorists as Fernand Braudel, François Chabaud, and John Guy in arguing for "a polymorphic body politic, comprising not one but a number of constituencies" (3). In particular, the queen consort's feminocentric court (which Barroll specifies was defined by her person rather than by a specific place), functioned as a significant site of cultural politics, which in her era were inextricable from the administrative, dynastic and diplomatic concerns that critics have inaccurately limited to James's patriarchal court. Barroll insists, moreover, that Anna's political career must not be located in England only, as she was first a princess of Denmark and subsequently Queen of Scotland. Indeed, the recently calendared Scottish records indicate that Anna was "engaged in startling vigorous political activity" from 1590 to 1603. Such evidence runs counter to the truncated examination of Anna's career in England from 1603 until her death in 1619, which critics have used to argue for her "triviality" (9). As Barroll establishes, though Anna's political circumstances shifted radically after she moved to England in 1603, her political engagement remained constant. Indeed, her savviness as "one of the Stuart court's wiliest 'courtiers'" (143) is demonstrated by the facility with which she appropriated the cultural sphere, which includes but is not limited to patronage and masque production, to advance her political agenda. Barroll nevertheless provides the salutary reminder that artistic production was not the highest end to which Anna (or any other politically oriented figure) might aspire, an imperative that the culturalist bias of literary criticism tends to efface. Hence, Anna's movement away from masque production in her later years falsely has been seen as a failure of her creative energies, which in fact were directed in the more efficacious direction of bolstering her "regnal identity" as mother of the heir apparent (35).
While the first three chapters in Barroll's study establish Anna as a formidable political player in the Scottish and English courts, the last two chapters explore her "invention" of the Jacobean court masque. More particularly, as Barroll argues, in inventing the Jacobean masque Anna was re-inventing herself as she moved from the volatile Scottish to the relatively less factionalized English court. This provocative thesis goes against the grain of much masque criticism - including the influential studies of Roy Strong - which for the most part has parroted the notion that Anna was an insignificant and ridiculous figure. While Barroll slights the contribution of feminist scholars to the reconsideration of Anna as a significant cultural agent - for instance, his comment that early modern women's studies has focused on non-aristocratic women over elite women reverses the actual development of the field (14) - his meticulously documented study of the masque in England from the Elizabethan through the Jacobean era represents a radical shift in conceptualizing the genre. The critical emphasis on Ben Jonson's role as a masque writer, he notes, has dramatically skewed our understanding not only of Queen Anna's role in instituting the Jacobean masque but also of the prominence of writers such as Samuel Daniel in its development. Barroll further corrects the faulty focus on "the written script" (or even "the lavish scenery, or the dancing, or the music in the masque" ) in literary and cultural studies of the genre by establishing that the most meaningful aspect of the masques for contemporaries was the arrangements of the dancers as the masque moved from the initial display of its primary participants to the dances that strategically involved the audience members. Cultural commentators such as Dudley Carleton and John Chamberlain, for instance, interpreted the masque primarily in terms of "the identity of the participants" and the political significance of their presentation" (83).
- By contextualizing the Jacobean masque in terms of the Elizabethan precedent, Barroll further underlines Anna's radical re-making of the formerly all-male masque into a female directed performance. Other notable innovations introduced by Anna include the ensconcing of the masque as a court rather than as a peripheral event and the resultant indispensability of the masque as a tool of diplomacy. Bracketing off formalist and intentionalist approaches to the genre, Barroll meticulously explicates "the social and political court relations that these spectacles displayed and enhanced" (1) in queen's masques from The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, Anna's first masque with Daniel, to Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly, her last masque with Jonson. As Barroll argues, these masques were not focused so much on James as the central sovereign (pace new historicist interpretations) as on Queen Anna's deliberate construction of herself as an indispensable power broker (though Jonson's role in the masque often bifurcated these two goals). In this sense, Prince Henry's coming-of-age through masques and entertainments such as Prince Henry's Barriers, Tethys' Festival, and Oberon marks not the eclipse of Anna as a formidable political force but rather confirms her ongoing agenda "to assert a meaningful royalty into the role of queen consort" (115). The factionalism that emerged after Prince Henry's death accordingly may be seen as a further opportunity for Anna to display her political and cultural acumen as she negotiated shifting circumstances. In sum, Barroll's richly documented cultural history effects a profound re-orientation of the age of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Donne (all beneficiaries of Anna and her circle's patronage) to account for a queen that critics can no longer afford to ignore.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).