Sunday, 2 November 2008

I say whip it, Whip it good

I am currently trapped in the 16th century, since watching The Tudors reawakened my interest in that period of history. I've been reading Joanna Denny's biography of Anne Boleyn and enjoying it a lot, although that's possibly because it's not any of the reading I should be doing for my MSc.

Have just been reading her take on Sir Thomas More. When I was young, I saw him as a heroic figure, as he is depicted in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. Certainly, the Church of Rome still sees him in that light. The Tudors gave him a more complicated gloss, with Jeremy Northam's realisation making him slightly less saintly than Paul Scofield's had been. Since I'm a big fan of Anne Boleyn, I tend to see More in a less than saintly light.

Then I read this in the Denny book:
More was a most unattractive character, a dreadful gossip according to Erasmus, and a fanatic where his religion was concerned. Ridley calls him 'a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert' who enjoyed being flogged by his favourite daughter, as he also flogged 'heretics' and beggars.

I wonder how (Jasper) Ridley discovered this tasty gossip. I'd like to have seen that subtext illustrated in The Tudors, echoing the fanaticism and obstinate refusal to bend to Henry's will. Reading all of that has made me think about how sexual behaviour may not have changed so much through the centuries but that the way we name it, explain it and contextualise it will have changed. I expect More's flagellations might have been perceived and described without a scintilla of sexual innuendo at the time.

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