“Swag” is what we would call our present day “Sprezzatura” or Renaissance Court Culture. The Court, in general, was the political head and symbol of power in the British Renaissance. Because of this power, members of the court had to be experts in everything, they ultimately had to have “swag” wherever they went. In our class discussion, we talked about what it means to have the courtly “swag.” In the Courtier, we learn that members of the court must be well learned, well read, must speak a foreign language and be athletic. In other words, “courtiers were expected to be richly dressed and to be generous patrons […] talented all-rounder, skillful in courtly conversations, spoits, dancing and the arts - with an air of easy grace of recklessness.”
Besides the actual qualities of a courtier, the court itself referred to the entourage of the Queen and the actual presence of the Queen during the Renaissance period. It “[court] was wherever the Queen happened to be and was made up of all those who surrounded the Queen from servants to the courtiers themselves.” This suggests that not only was the court a physical way you had to act and be trained, but it was also wherever the court physically appeared. This also suggests that the court demanded a sort of behavior around them and it was expected of them to behave in a certain way.
Court Culture in The Tempest and the Complex Nature of Miranda
In The Tempest, Prospero is introduced as an ex-Duke of Milan. He says, “Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since, / Thy father was the Duke of Milan and / A prince of power” (Act 1?). This immediately establishes a sense of court culture even though Prospero and his daughter, Miranda are not physically in a court-like atmosphere. His mere authority in being an ex-Duke supports the idea that the court was more about where the nobles and royals were rather than the physical structure of a place reflecting a place of high courtier and courtship. Another aspect I would like to bring into this discussion of court culture in The Tempest is the complexity of Miranda as a woman of the court. At this time, there was a lot of skepticism about Queen Elizabeth and her ability and capabilities as a woman in a male-dominated society to rule. This was reflected in many of Shakespeare’s plays, including The Tempest through Miranda. Although Prospero threatens to have fatherly and courtly rule over her, Miranda ultimately leaves her father and goes on to love who she wants rather than who her father would like her to marry. This suggests that she rebels against Court culture and the idea that men held all power.
However, this idea is challenged when she completely submits to her husband. In Act III she says,
“But this is trifling, / And all the more it seeks to hide itself / The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning, / And prompt me, plain and holy innocence. / I am your wife, if you will marry me. / If not, I’ll die your maid.”
This suggests a complete subjection to male authority and an opposition in the previous idea of her rebellion against her father. In court culture there was a constant struggle and complexity between female and male authority in Court culture and how women should behave in the court.
[I’m having difficulty ending here or trying to find an ending. I also think I am going to far into the authority thing…]