Great Political Fictions: ‘Mary Stuart’

David Runciman

This week’s Great Political Fiction is Friedrich Schiller’s monumental play Mary Stuart (1800), which lays bare the impossible choices faced by two queens – Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots – in a world of men. Schiller imagines a meeting between them that never took place and unpicks its fearsome consequences. Why does it do such damage to them both? How does the powerless Mary maintain her hold over the imperious Elizabeth? Who suffers most in the end and what is that suffering really worth?

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