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Welcome to Episode #89 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare lived in a time when politics and religion ruled the strategy of Kings and Queens throughout Europe, but perhaps the most notable method of securing peace for the self-styled King of Peace was through marriage. Bringing his own form of stablitiy back to England through his marriage and children on the heels of the infamously virgin Queen and heirless monarch, Elizabeth I, James had marriage as a focal point of both his life and his political strategy. One of the defining moments of his reign was his and Queen Anne’s focus on procuring marriage to his son Charles, and seeking out specifically a Spanish Match for that son.

Today, our guest Mira Kafantaris is here to share with us the history of James “Spanish Match”,what the cultural reception to all of the marriage for peace was in the common realm of England during and just after Shakespeare’s lifetime, and whether we can see echoes of this cultural reality show up in the plays of the bard.

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Mira Assaf Kafantaris is a Senior Lecturer at Ohio State University, where she is currently completing a book manuscript titled Royal Marriage, Foreign Queens and Constructions of Race in the Early Modern Period, which argues that representations of non-English, non-white queens alongside theories of kinship and intermarriage drive early modern constructions of race. She is the recipient of the Presidential Fellowship from The Ohio State University and several grants from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Shakespeare Association of America.

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In this episode, I’ll be asking Mira about :

  • In her paper, Mira suggest that plays such as Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, and Fletcher’s The Island Princess indicate that culturally, 16th century audience members felt royal marriages and the unity they brought to nations were largely an illusion. Mira, does that mean you feel people like Shakespeare held no confidence in the peace brought about by royal marriages?
  •  One intriguing marriage in particular was that of Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I, who married Frederick V, the Prince of Bohemia. What was the reception of this engagement at home in England?

  • During the last few years of Shakespeare’s life, from 1612-1614, James I was consistently trying to marry off his children to forgeign royalty, with Queen Anne taking an active role in what is called “The Spanish Matches” for their son, Charles. Mira, was England wary of a match between the royalty of England and Spain in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and did the plays of Shakespeare, specifically his play about Henry VIII influence the popular opinion concerning Spain at the time? 

  • … and more!

First will I see the coronation;
And then to Brittany I'll cross the sea,
To effect this marriage, so it please my lord.

Earl of Warwick

Henry VI Part III (III.3)

Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) as William Shakespeare's Queen Katherine of Aragon in his play Henry VIII. Dame Ellen is wearing a costume designed for a production of Henry VIII at the Lyceum in London by Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905). Source

Catherine of Aragon vs Anne Boleyn

To a large portion of the population, royal marriage with non-Protestant really hinged on getting rid of diseased bodies (catholics, non-white, people from North Africa in preparation for the second coming) there are some religious zealots, or hot Protestants, they did not see these unions as promoting peace. Shakespeare is an opportunist, and in her essay Mira argues that to Shakespeare it doesn’t matter if the royal consort is a native or not, as long as England had an English King at the helm. Shakespeare seems to give us glimpses into current events, political affairs, and the temperature of the nation regarding international marriages for political alliances in his play, Henry VIII.

Henry VIII was Prince of Wales, which is the title given to England's heir apparent. In Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII the story begins with a strong meeting and Anne Bolyen is marked as an “other” and there is talk of French invasion at court.

Catherine of Aragon, when she shows up as Henry VIII's first wife, is doing something totally different. Mira believes Shakespeare intentionally draws a differentation between Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon and through his portrayal of the two women on stage, also comments on the state of foreign affairs in England at the time. In the play, Catherine is presented as an exemplary person. She is protestant and catholic. Very postiviely portrayed, and the suggestion is that the nation's people generally accepted intercountry marriages and that ultimately, marriage with other nations was inevitable.

…he promised her marriage…
Mistress Overdone

Measure for Measure (III.2)

Charles I portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1631. Source

The Spanish Match

During the last few years of Shakespeare’s life,  James I was consistently trying to marry off his children to forgeign royalty, with Queen Anne taking an active role in what is called “The Spanish Matches” for their son, Charles (pictured above). 

Some historians have suggested England was wary of a match between the royalty of England and Spain in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Shakespeare's play, Henry VIII is one place scholars look for evidence of the popular opinion about The Spanish Matches as a political event, or to see if there were any political influence and propaganda cropping up in the lines. 

Mira says that James I was a huge strategist. He was constantly working his back channels to work out a match for the Prince of Wales. Since Henry VIII was also Prince of Wales, and since Shakespeare often used history to comment on current events, some of the events in the story Shakespeare tells about Henry VIII are not only revealing, but seem to indicate there is perhaps less apprehension and moreso resignation to the idea of intercultural marriage of England's royalty. 

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare's plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
 Download the app here.

This app is an official sponsor of That Shakespeare Life.

              

To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth

Macbeth (V.5)

Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth of Bohemia, ‘The Winter Queen'), 1596–1662, aged seven. by Robert Peake the Elder.National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.  Text bottom: Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia daughter of James the First Source

Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia

Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I, who married Frederick V, the Prince of Bohemia. That marriage was received positively in England, because he was Protestant. 

After Princess Elizabeth ended up in some trouble, she appealed to her father, James I of England, for support. In 1621, James I called his first parliament in seven years to try and raise support for his son in law, Princess Elizabeth's husband, but it would ultimately be through marriage that James sought to bring about the positive resolution he sought for his daughter.

James was the self appointed King of Peace (Rex Pacificus) and at the beginning of his reign, it was marked by the treaty with Spain. Part of this peace treaty was the clause of a royal marriage with Spain as well as tolerance for English Catholics.

Religion, politics, and even financial aspirations took a role in the pursuit of peace because a royal marriage would bring access to all Spanish outposts for James–which he used for both trade and export. Peace was a strategy for him to have opportunities for England, and marriage was a central role in that purpose.

You do amaze her: hear the truth of it.
You would have married her most shamefully,
Where there was no proportion held in love.
The truth is, she and I, long since contracted,
Are now so sure that nothing can dissolve us.
The offence is holy that she hath committed;
And this deceit loses the name of craft,
Of disobedience, or unduteous title,
Since therein she doth evitate and shun
A thousand irreligious cursed hours,
Which forced marriage would have brought upon her.
Fenton

Merry Wives of Windsor (V.5)

From Lavagnino, John and Taylor, Gary: Thomas Middleton The Collected Works, page 11. Oxford, 2007 This image was from the title-page of A Game At Chess. Source

Royal Marriage was the King's Perogative

There are several plays written during this time period by Thomas Middleton, and Thomas Dekker, which were set in Spain, and seem to comment on the marriage arrangements of James I being called Match Me in London by Dekker, for example. When I ask Mira about this relationship between current political affairs and the theater, she says:

Even though the royal marriage was part of the King’s perogative, it was certainly on people’s minds because it was a major current event. MIddleton’s Game of Chess in 1624 was a direct commentary on the negotiations for a Spanish match for Charles in the 1620s.

But if we also survey the sermons of this period, we find that this matter was a huge topic of conversation.

The only Shakespeare play I am aware of which is set in Spain in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and it is worth noting as we explore my next question concerning marriage in Shakespeare's lifetime that most of what occurred between James I, his children, and the Spanish Matches, was after Shakespeare died. So this event, at all, is the tail end of William Shakespeare's history. 

However, as a country, had a collective mindset concerning marriage. Today, we think of the story of Catherine of Valois marrying Henry V as this beautiful love story, but for England and indeed in retrospect for the members of Shakespeare's playhouse audiences, the Catherine of Valois marriage was a result of the win at Agincourt, so it wasn’t neccesarily a political choice. It was viable because military force came first. Yet, since Shakespeare is the primary reason we have the romance to accompany this part of history, one has to at least suspect some, if only Shakespeare, considered romance valuable, too. 

Books & Resources Mira Kafantaris recommends:

Mira's desert island book selection is:


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