'Sexy kilts-with-attitude' : willfulness as national character in Rona Munro's James Plays (Taylor 2014)

Reid, Trish (2015) 'Sexy kilts-with-attitude' : willfulness as national character in Rona Munro's James Plays (Taylor 2014). In: TaPRA Conference 2015; 08 - 10 Sep 2015, Worcester, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Towards the end of Rona Munro’s James III: The True Mirror (2014), the fifteenth-century Scottish Queen, Margaret of Denmark, whose husband is a bisexual narcissist and a hedonist, and consequently an ineffective leader even by the dubious standards of medieval Stewart kings, makes an impassioned plea to a disaffected Scottish nobility, demanding their help in running the country: ‘You know the problem with you lot? You’ve got fuck-all except attitude’ (Munro, 2014: 285). This extraordinary statement, coming as it did near the end of a major trilogy of new Scottish history plays staged at Edinburgh International Festival in the month before the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014, appeared both startlingly topical and explicitly political. The house lights were raised. There was a good deal of knowing laughter. In this paper I want to use insights borrowed from Sara Ahmed’s recent discussion of ‘Willfulness as a Style of Politics’ to consider the ways in which Scotland is increasingly characterized from within and without as a willful subject, as wayward and deviant – witness, for instance, the Daily Telegraph’s recent labeling of Nicola Sturgeon as ‘the most dangerous woman in politics’ (Archer 2015). In particular I want to follow Ahmed in thinking about how willfulness is taken up ‘by those who have received its charge’ and to consider how this activity is refracted in Munro’s trilogy. Moreover, I want to think about how this discourse of willfulness, for better or worse, has contributed to a growing sense of autonomy and distinctiveness in Scottish culture.

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