Emasculated subjects and subjugated wives: discourses of domination in John Banks’s Vertue Betray’d (1682)

Emasculated subjects and subjugated wives: discourses of domination in John Banks’s Vertue Betray’d (1682)

DE PANDO MENA, Paula (University of Seville)

Sederi, Vol.16 (2006)


After a modest career as a playwright, John Banks acquired notoriety with his ‘she-tragedies’, plays dealing with English queens as tragic heroes, which proved controversial despite their favourable reception by the public. The Prologue and Epilogue to Vertue Betray’d or Anna Bullen (1682) defend the poet against possible attacks asserting his detachment both from the Tory and the Whig cause. However, critics such as Canfield and Owen have analyzed the links between sentimental tragedy and the Whig faction: the representation of feeble or tyrannic kings on stage was part of the Whig propagandistic strategy to create an anti-monarchic consciousness during and after the Exclusion Crisis (1678-81). Vertue Betray’d is a paradigmatic example of this political use of Restoration drama: Banks’s anti-Catholic portrait of Cardinal Wolsey, his compassion for Protestant Anna, his vindication of Queen Elizabeth and, above all, the denunciation of the king’s tyranny, evidence his sympathies clearly. However, the relationship between Banks’s pro-Whig play and its success with the female public in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries has been systematically neglected by critics. My aim is to show that the discourses of domination which served to create the appropriate frame of mind against popery and arbitrary government also operated on an unexpected field: women’s empathy towards Banks’s female heroes who pioneered a new kind of drama.

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