"All art is political, otherwise it would just be decoration.
And all artists have something to say, otherwise they'd make shoes..."
--Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford in Anonymous
While watching Anonymous with my parents the other night, this quote really stuck out to me. If you haven't seen the movie, it's all about the theory that Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays. He hires a relatively unknown playwright Ben Jonson (who would later become famous in his own right), to claim the plays as his own. However, through a series of unfortunate events, an illiterate actor named William Shakespeare takes credit for the work and begins to blackmail Edward De Vere.
Now, the majority of the plot focuses on Edward's desire to inspire people with his words, especially in a political sense. At the time, Queen Elizabeth I was dying without an heir, leaving England, Wales, and Ireland without a monarch. The most obvious choice was King James VI of Scotland, a protestant. However, in the movie, they claim that Elizabeth had numerous bastards and that one of them should become the next ruler, not some backward Scottish king.
With this aim in mind, Edward attempts to sway the populace with his words, trying to prove once and for all that the pen is mightier than the sword.
I won’t ruin the ending for all of you, so I’ll stop there. However, it really made me think about how powerful words are. As a medieval romance writer, very little of what I write is about modern politics. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am trying to send a message to my readers. Aside from the typical meaning of love and romance, I suppose I’m also trying to prove that the romance genre is a real form of literature. For the most part, it isn’t trash. I’ve known college graduates who majored in history and English who struggled to read a romance novel due to the large, unfamiliar vocabulary.
As well, a lot of the historical novels require a lot of research to make sure they are accurate. Off the top of my head, Monica McCarty and Gaelen Foley have some of the most in depth historical romance books I have ever read. Each detail is meticulously researched before it is included in the story. Although the reader is simply reading the book and enjoying the romance, they are also learning European history in a way that is not taught in the classroom.
Having minored in history myself, I can tell you that professors do not teach you about the little things that really make a book successful. They don’t tell you who or what the ton is, nor do they generally mention the Regency era at all! In school, the lifestyle of the upper class throughout history is rarely discussed accurately, except to say that women were oppressed and white men controlled everything. Unless you are in a very specific Scottish history class, they don’t teach you what a cotun is, or what a claymore is. They don’t discuss who or what a laird is, or what clan life was really like.
And yet, in the romance genre, each of these terms or concepts is seen as quite basic. Most romance readers would be able to define or discuss any of the above with little to no thought beforehand.
To be fair, many romance books have also contained historical inaccuracies. If one author makes a mistake and claims something was one way, it can sometimes be passed on through that subgenre as other writers copy the supposed “fact” and put it in their own books. Nowadays, however, this is less and less likely to occur as research has become much easier and the publishing industry demands strict adherence to historical facts.
Either way, I write romance because I love it. I adore the dashing heroes and the fascinating women who capture their hearts. It might not be a literary genre that is respected or studied in university, but it is a powerful genre nonetheless. As Edward De Vere put it, all art is political; it is up to you as the artist to decide what you wish to convey in your work.
*Side note: Anonymous is an amazing movie. If you love the Elizabethan era, you should definitely check it out!*