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Rape, As Fact and In Fiction

Stark or Boleyn?This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 20, 2015.

The discovery and burial of the actual Richard III, the Plantagenet English king killed by the first Tudor, Henry VII, attracted attention because it proved that Shakespeare had been at least partially correct: the man had a seriously deformed spine in an age when such deformity was accepted as a sign of damnation. He'd just been reburied when Wolf Hall began on PBS, something of a disappointment, but still good. Wolf Hall is based upon the first two novels by Hillary Mantel about a major character involved in the Protestant revolution removing England from any control by the Pope in Rome. Thomas Cromwell did all of Henry VIII's dirty work till he himself fell from favor and was beheaded. If you missed Wolf Hall you probably have seen The Tudors on TV or the many books and recent movies about Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Henry was not a lout. He did not envision having six wives, beheading two of them, and being excommunicated. His Protestantism was forced on him by events. He felt deeply his responsibility to the nation to have a legal heir to the throne, which needed to be male and delivered by a lawful wife. This, to prevent another civil war at his death, as the War of the Roses had only just ended.

Henry seems cruel and vain today but, like Richard, Henry was relatively responsible. While only Anne Seymour provided him with a King, he unknowingly had already produced two future queens: the bitter and reactionary Bloody Mary and the brilliant and rather incredible Elizabeth, who alone shattered the assumptions women were not able heads of state. These were years when women largely functioned as legal tender for royal families, so to rise above that was a huge accomplishment.

But last Sunday an HBO show called Game of Thrones supposedly shocked the world because it showed a rape that was not in the books and has been called gratuitous shock by one female Senator from Missouri. Important people and lesser have felt the need to take to the media to damn the show for it. I haven't checked, but will bet the term "rape scene" is, eh, trending this week. Feminists have decried it, revisionist feminists have endured it, and male chauvinists think nothing of it.

That this fictional incident has become a 'thing' is remarkable, given it takes place off screen. There are screams and a visual of a character forced to watch. That's it. Forgive me, but there's far more graphic stuff on broadcast TV and certainly in the movies. So.....why the uproar over this on a pay tv channel seen by relatively few people? It's no more grotesque than a lot of entertainment in the media. And it certainly is not the most grotesque thing on Game of Thrones. This very excellent drama features incest between brother and sister; incest between father and a harem of his daughters; various slaughter of whores, aristocratic women, and children; child sacrifice to the dead, and the usual rapes and pillages of warriors in an imagined land but derived entirely from our own world history. And much of that is shown on the screen, sometimes graphically. Why the uproar over this?

Well, the show is so well done that the characters seem very real and plausible to the viewers. It's a huge cast and landscape, and as art does, you become attached to fictional people. The young lady who suffered the indignity had been forced to marry someone she did not know or like and on her wedding night he raped her. The viewers knew just how sick and sadistic the groom is, having a year past gelded and tortured the man he forces to watch the bride be deflowered. Horrible, but she lives in a horrible world and must do as her family commands or her family needs.

Anne Boleyn, mother of Queen Elizabeth, was beheaded on charges of infidelity and incest with her own brother, who was executed as well. In fact, the charges against her vary little from then concurrent and present charges against witches today. The history of man's treatment of women in the main is fully as repulsive as the worst you can envision. For most of our history, women have been legal tender and slaves of one sort or another. As elections approach and demographic voting blocks need to be motivated, such things come to the fore.

Just remember that Anne Boleyn suffered more than Sansa Stark. And for real. And women are burned alive even today for similar affronts to a man's vanity.