Reminder: WSG seminar 21 November 2020

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 1pm (GMT), 21 November 2020.

This meeting will be delivered on Zoom. All meetings will start promptly at 1pm GMT (with arrivals from 12.30 onward to allow for necessary preparations and administration). We aim to finish by 3.30pm. If you would like to attend, please make sure your membership is up-to-date to receive the Zoom link.

November 21, 2020

Rocio Martinez: To defend a princess’s rights to her father’s throne: Maria Theresia of Austria and the protestations against her renunciation of the inheritance of the Spanish Monarchy.

When infanta Maria Theresia of Austria was married by proxy to her cousin, king Louis XIV of France, in 1659, she was forced by her father to sign a renunciation to all her rights to the Spanish Throne for herself and her descendants. The Spanish Monarchy’s succession law established that women could inherit the throne if they didn’t have any surviving brothers or if they died without any descendants, so Maria Theresia, as the eldest daughter of king Philip IV of Spain, was the first woman called to her father’s succession if he was to die without any surviving sons. Philip IV only had, at the time of Maria Theresa’s marriage, one son that could separate the soon-to-be queen of France from the Spanish Throne, so this renunciation was designed to avoid the possibility that Louis XIV and the recently wed infanta could become one day the legal heirs of the Spanish Monarchy. Despite the fact that the document itself tried to protect Maria Theresia’s rights, saying that, if she became a widow without having any children and came back to Spain, her rights as the eldest daughter of the monarch would be totally restored, the point of it was to prevent the union of France and the Spanish Monarchy under one crown if the scarce male descendants of king Philip IV of Spain were to die without any legitimate descendants. This renunciation was negotiated with the French court, was included in the famous Treaty of the Pyrenees, was considered as a law and treated as such by the Spanish government, and Louis XIV promised his uncle that he would ratify it after the marriage was finished, although he didn’t honour this last promise. In fact, Louis XIV began to protest against the renunciation as soon as the marriage was finished and the new queen was in France. There were numerous legal treaties, diplomatic dispatches and formal documents where the king argued that his wife and, later, his son and grandson, were the rightful heirs to the Spanish Monarchy and that her renunciation was totally invalid from a legal, diplomatic and dynastic point of view. But in this proposal, I want to present a document in which the French king presented more that seventy five reasons why the rights of his wife couldn’t be erased and she was the rightful heiress of the Spanish Monarchy, with the intention of going beyond this specific case and analyse how the royal women’s rights of succession were defended, protected and, ultimately, viewed in the complex scenario of the Early Modern Europe.

Avleen Grewal: Vathek: Gaze, Disorientations and Policing Identity.

This paper examines the brief interactions between Vathek, the protagonist of William Beckford’s Vathek, and the Giaour, a racialized other who travels to Vathek’s kingdom of Samarah. Vathek is depicted as a monstrous masculine figure with a humongous appetite and an ‘evil eye’ that can shock people into a state of unconsciousness. The failure of Vathek’s ‘evil eye’ to police the Giaour’s identity, and orient the Giaour in relation to himself, to make him apprehensible within the particular space of his kingdom, disrupts Vathek’s monstrous power and the disorienting affect of his “terrible,” Medusa-like gaze (Beckford 3)1. This paper juxtaposes Max Fincher’s analysis of Vathek’s fixation on regulation of bodies and his disorienting, and thus queering (Ahmed) gaze with Homi Bhabha’s theorization of the evil eye as it functions to other racial bodies.

Following this, I will then introduce Sara Ahmed’s concept of disorientation and suggest that averting gaze of the subject gives subjective agency to the object and, consequently, disorients the subject. This paper defines the queer under gaze as refusing to be objectified and instead asserting their own subjectivity by rejecting that gaze and its disorienting affects. This paper investigates Vathek’s failure to interpret the Giaour, the Giaour returning Vathek’s gaze by staring back at him, and its relation to Vathek’s inability to translate the inscriptions on the sabres he bought from the Giaour.

This double-failure to translate the sabres puts Vathek in a disoriented state, resulting in his loss of appetite, a metaphoric and literal indicator of his monstrous masculinity. Without translation, there is no degree of intervention by the subject. In that moment of disjointedness, the Giaour’s unreadability threatens the impact of Vathek’s gaze and power. When Vathek stares at the Giaour, and the Giaour gazes back at him, Vathek loses his appetite and fears his wives being seduced by the Giaour’s appetite. Vathek’s identity and orientation become vulnerable to be affected and shifted without his consent.

1 Beckford, William. Vathek, edited by Thomas Keymer. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Eva Lippold: Marriage and Magic Swords: Mariana Starke’s Factual Fairytale.

Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788) is a play which unites two very different worlds. It is a romantic comedy full of fairytale elements, set in exotic India. At the same time, it deals extensively with facts of eighteenth-century life, even those which reflect an uncompromising and often brutal reality – including the marriage market and the slave trade. The play often shifts rapidly between two different tones: the light, entertaining witticisms of eighteenth-century comedy, and incisive political commentary reminiscent of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works.

In this paper, I will show how Starke strikes a delicate balance between romance and reality, using the popular conventions of the London stage to comment on life in the British colonies. The outwardly fictional nature of stage comedy enabled Starke and other playwrights to use it as a vehicle for serious discussions about the real world. The Sword of Peace shows particularly clearly that although entertainment and politics were supposedly two separate spheres, eighteenth-century playwrights and theatre audiences were happy to combine both.

By demonstrating the play’s extensive engagement with contemporary and social issues, I will argue that eighteenth-century female playwrights were especially interested in putting politics on the stage – even though contemporary gender roles and theatre regulations officially prevented this.

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

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