Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"The Tudors:" A lusty study of patriarchy



"Patriarchy in its wider definition means the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general. It implies that men hold power in all the important institutions of society and that women are deprived of access to such power ..." --- Gerda Lerner, "The Creation of Patriarchy"

The final season of Showtime's "The Tudors" is now available on DVD. As a fan of the series, based on the reign of King Henry VIII, I began preparation by rewatching the first three seasons.

The story of Henry VIII and his six wives is common knowledge and is certainly the most intriguing aspect of Henry's public and private lives.

The series itself is stunning to watch -- with beautiful costumes, attractive people, complex plots, romance, and sex. The Tudors has it all.

The series has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies. And, yes, the writers have taken some dramatic license with the characters and plots. Some of it is true and some of it isn't. But then, we should go to Showtime for entertainment and not for a history lesson.

License is also taken and adjustments made for time and flow. The story advances by years.

Although I've seen the previous seasons' episodes before, watching them through feminist's eyes, I see the element of patriarchy that would make for a fabulous content analysis.

Series goes to show how patriarchy is harmful to women -- as well as men.

Thousands of people lost their heads during Henry's reign -- two of his wives -- Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard -- as well as some of his close friends and advisers -- Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell -- among them. Nobody was safe once they fell from Henry's favor.

Throughout the series, the major institutions of patriarchy -- government, church, and, yes, marriage -- are all in play along with its tools of power, wealth, war, and sex.

We also see male/female, man/woman, son/daughter dichotomies firmly in place as well as traditional gender roles. In fact, patriarchy depends on women playing classically defined, feminine roles and things get sticky when they don't.

In Henry's time, royal marriages were made to secure political and family alliances. Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon, after the death of his brother, was done to keep Katherine's dowry and the Spanish alliance in place.

Katherine was one of Henry's most intriguing and intelligent wives, yet he didn't want her opinion on international relations.

In season one, Henry tells Katherine she is his wife -- not his adviser and not his diplomat.

When his second wife -- the sexy, intelligent, and outspoken Anne Boleyn -- became too bold in her reformation beliefs -- and could not bear him a son -- Henry had her framed and decapitated.

Jane Seymour, his favorite wife, was not exempt either. In season three, when she brings up the subject of restoring Henry's daughter Mary to the line of succession, he asks her if she's lost her senses and tells her to "remember what happened to the late queen (Anne.)"

Having a son was very important to Henry.

Even today, sons are valued more than daughters.

In season two, there's a scene between Henry and Anne Boleyn where she apologizes for the birth of their daughter, Elizabeth. Henry says something like, "We're still young and boys will follow," before abruptly exiting the room.

When his son Edward is born from Jane Seymour in season three, Henry's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, are shown talking.

"Father still loves us?" Elizabeth asks, to which Mary replies, "Boys are more important."

Even though they both went on to become powerful queens, they both bought into this essential dichotomy and masculinized politics.

Now, at last the time has come. The story of the Tudors has already been written, so the series must end.

Unfortunately, patriarchy continues.

Other links:

Check out The Tudors Wiki. It links back to the official Showtime site.

Watch a behind the scenes video from "The Tudors" season four. If this doesn't hook you, nothing will:

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