By Mark Thornton Burnett, Adrian Streete
During the last century, many sixteenth- and 17th-century occasions and personalities were introduced earlier than domestic, cinema, exhibition, pageant and theatrical audiences. This assortment examines those representations, fresh tv sequence, documentaries, pageantry, theatre and pop culture in various cultural and linguistic guises.
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Discharging a parallel purpose, and also in part filling in for Henry’s obesity, is the attention given to the ulcerated leg. Henry is represented as receiving the wound after a joust goes awry in the first series; as the costuming becomes more excessive, so is the inflamed and pustulemarked limb of the monarch increasingly prioritized until, by the third series, we are treated to frequent scenes of painful suffering and the shocked reactions of the assembled courtiers. This is far from the excited and exciting display of the stripped male body that characterized earlier episodes.
At the same time, the Lear-Fool/Henry-Fool equation alerts us to the missing ‘mother’ in Shakespeare’s play, introducing a variation both on the roles of women and the question of abuses of royal power. That suggestion of the transience of royalty is confirmed in the self-conscious spectacle, pivotally positioned at the centre of the third series, of the Fool sitting on Henry’s throne and laughing insanely. Who or what can occupy the royal seat? What is a king? These and other questions circulate via the performative substitution, suggesting a critical turning point: Henry himself must stand accused of folly, it is implied; monarchs may be replaced; the nation itself now inhabits a condition of distraction.
The theatrical force of the mise-en-scène is in keeping with the series’ self-consciousness about other acts of representation. Above all, the Tudors enlists modalities of writing (letters, records, statutes and Acts of Parliament) as particularly ‘staged’ moments. 27 Aske’s hanging (which is characterized by shockingly low-angled and slow-motion camerawork) is intercut with the far more sedate scene of Cromwell blithely writing about it, driving home the gap between interpretation and experience.