Book Review- Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off

The Way Things Appear

Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off, by Liz Lochhead is about two wee, yet strong lassies who are “all now playing roles they have not chosen and scarcely understand” (Lochhead 72) in a world controlled by men and dictated by the conflicts between two religions, Protestantism and Catholicism. This is a story of people, especially two young women who are being used as pawns in a game of dominoes; the pieces may fall where they may, just so that someone gets on top. Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off is about religion, gender, marriage, children, alliances and above all else, appearance. This is a tale about two women who are forced into playing a game. The rules of this game are ever changing; however, this is a game where appearance means everything, attaining power is not the same as maintaining control, and where rumors are the bane of existence which cause misunderstandings and chaos amongst the people involved.

Appearance was one of the biggest motivators for this play. In a drama, such as this one, appearance can mean certain life or death if one is not careful in their presentation of themselves. Presentation, how one holds themselves up, a standard of living that one should not change if one wants to maintain the power they hold. It seems as though every person in that play, or rather, every person in existence is just an actor filling out their role in a script written for them and if they falter from it, or even if they stay completely within its lines, disaster will befall them. In this play, the issues of appearance mostly deal with the conflict between Mary and Elizabeth, however, appearance also plays a role in the conflict between the women of power and of the men. In the play, most of the men were misogynistic and didn’t want the women to hold power, however t is somewhat okay, for this story was about the women, and the men were simple compared to the complexities in which a woman must overcome. In “Physical Appearance and Gender”, the writer made it seem that it is more difficult for women in many ways. The writer said that “According to the sociocultural perspective physical appearance is more important for females than for males because the culture values an attractive appearance more in females than in males” (Jackson). When discussing Mary and Elizabeth appearance is pretty big. In “Physical Appearance and Gender”, Linda Jackson spoke about how facial and bodily looks had a big role in a woman’s self-esteem as well as the job roles they would hold.  Appearance, not just how the two queens hold themselves up in stature, but also beauty is a tremendous factor in the play.

Appearance; beauty is a huge part in how people will view their queens. Mary Queen of Scotts, was described as “tall and fair” (Lochhead 6). One attribute that is always remembered about Mary through all time, was that she was beautiful, pure and simple. Elizabeth may say that her beauty was as good as she was, for clearly, she thought she was better equipped for the job of being queen. Elizabeth also accused Mary of using her beauty to manipulate people into helping her, which is why she was so mistrustful of her. Appearance for Mary was a very good benefit for her and it did help her attain much supporters and marriage proposals, which is something that she wanted. Though it was said that Mary was beautiful and rare, her people were unsure of her, they did not know or trust her; she was of another kind. As her people would say, she was “Frenchified” (Lochhead 6). Not only did her appearance as a “Frenchified” (Lochhead 6) person cause her people to have doubts, but Mary being a woman was not a small thing either, especially for men like Knox, who despised women. Though Mary was known as lovely, her people were starving and her land poor.  Appearance is very important if one is going to be viewed by all.

To be viewed by all, appearance is important, but to look into the mirror and compare yourself to another, appearance can be harmful as well. As far as comparing Mary and Elizabeth, Elizabeth would consider herself wanting. Elizabeth was one queen that was “born- to- be- king” (Lochhead 21), for she knew that appearance, how she held herself up, was crucial for her reign. Elizabeth, when it came to comparing Mary and herself, was not known for her beauty, she was clever as well as older. Though she is compared to Mary as the opposite, concerning looks, her people were prosperous and her land wealthy. Elizabeth, from a very early age knew what it meant to be a woman in power, and knew how people would view her. Her family’s history would be remembered and would reflect on her rule, as well as dictate how people would treat her. The way people would view either queen would determine what power they would hold, if they could have control over anything at all that is.

Both queens, Mary and Elizabeth, though known as rivals, both had to deal with scrutiny based on their appearance and that would dictate what power they could hold. The problem with that is the question of whether or not they actually had any control over the power they were supposedly meant to have. Attaining power through birthright is one thing, but if the people do not believe in you, how can one truly maintain control over any of their circumstances? Was Mary and Elizabeth just meant to be given total power and control and the people would automatically except them, or is power and control meant to be earned? This is something both women had to face and learn throughout their lifetime.

This story is about two lassies, one of which was “born- to- be- king” (Lochhead 21), and while she could rule her kingdom, though with fierce determination in a time where women with power had no control, could not rule her heart, no matter how much she may have desired it. The other lassie could be said of the same thing, only she went rocking the boat, especially in hope for women to sleep ever soundly in their beds at night. Elizabeth was one woman who learned at a very early age that power and control must be taken, whether it is moral or not. Mary appeared to be a very naive girl however, she did try to fight against the system. While Elizabeth was able to maintain her control and power better than Mary, at least Mary was better at controlling her heart. Of the two, it is up to the viewer to decide which was better, maintaining power over a people who did not truly love you, or being able to maintain control over your actions due to how you felt and loved. Both Mary and Elizabeth knew this of each other and used the information against each other because of misunderstandings based on rumors.

This play was about appearance however, because of rumors, circumstances got exaggerated and misinterpreted. This was a time where jealousy, hatred, treason, mischief and manipulation were the ill effects of simple misunderstandings. This was a time where innocence, fear and immaturity were used against one another as to gain strength for oneself. The play was really all about perspective and misunderstandings due to appearance.  Appearance is the key factor to this whole play, and even to existence now. Mr. Sherlock Holmes once said, “What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done” (A quote from A Study in Scarlet). Appearance and reputation, they are all disguises for the truth. The problem with that is that no one bothers to look deeper and discover that truth. Whether Mary or Elizabeth have done things, good or bad, it is not what they have done, but what each other thinks they have done. The whole play was covered in rumors coming from both sides, while Mary and Elizabeth never even met. It was all a manipulation between two cousins who had no control over their circumstances and believed what they were told, while one lassie dared to rock the boat, and thus she had to suffer the consequences. Based on appearance based on rumors; that is the leading force for how the people treat each other in the play.

Treating people based on what they think is the truth is how everyone in this play acts. Based on rumors from her spies, Elizabeth becomes jealous of Mary, not only for her looks, because she looks in the mirror and judges herself, but because she thinks Mary is happy and content. Elizabeth has heard that Mary would wed someone she loved, which is something that Elizabeth believes she cannot do. Though it seems from Elizabeth’s perspective that Mary is happy, she is not. Because of this jealousy, Elizabeth does all she can to manipulate and ruin her cousin’s life. Based on how Mary appears to be, Elizabeth makes rash deceptive movements towards Mary. There are more people in this play that take ahold of the rumors and misunderstandings in order to maintain their power. Knox is another person who seems to be wearing a disguise, or a fake appearance. Knox acts like such a prominent, strong, arrogant, religious man, who strongly despises women and people who will not obey the rules of his faith. The problem with his appearance is that it’s all just a mask that can be torn off within seconds. He reticules people who do not share his faith and scorns people for things he acts like he is above, except that it is implied that he has his hands in some sketchy things himself. He is a hypocrite that will tear someone down, while do the same thing. I believe that there is some deep backstory for Knox that might perhaps explain, though not forgive his behavior. It is suggested that Knox was bullied and ridiculed himself when he was a child, but as a child he could not fight back, now he has become a strong religious figure who holds power and can use that for his advantage. Bothwell is even seen as such a manipulating person, and that’s the appearance he chooses to let people see, because there is always something hidden beneath the surface. It is quite obvious that for the people in this play, they had to act differently, they had to appear the way they must to survive.

Rumors based on appearances were of use to help these characters survive, and survival was all the people wanted. Upholding each person’s appearance was crucial to maintaining their position of power. Each character had an appearance that was crucial to this play, though it could also be said that appearances is what caused all the problems that followed. The problem with these appearances is that the players often become what they are appearing to be. Many times in the play it was suggested that this whole fiasco was that of a game. Darnley even suggested that each person may be a domino that plays its particular role until it is pushed down. Darnley said, “I wonder if there can be a God, he arranges things so unfairly, eh” (Lochhead 55)? The people in the play were placed in that set of dominoes based on their role or appearance, which does make it seem that everyone involved is just playing a game.

Mary Queen of Scotts got her head chopped off, was a story about two queens who were trying to maintain their power in a world where all the odds were against them. These women were powerful forces of nature that were used as pawns, as game pieces and put into a play where they were not told the rules or why they were even there. It wouldn’t even have mattered if they did know the rules, for it seems that fate was stacked against them. This story was about women being ridiculed by their appearance, having power but not control over their lives, as well as rumors becoming the bane of Mary and Elizabeth’s lives, controlling all of their actions until the last domino fell, and so did they.

Works Cited

“A quote from A Study in Scarlet.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.

Jackson, Linda A. Physical appearance and gender; sociobiological and sociocultural

perspectives. Albany: StateU of New York Press, 1992. Print.

Lochhead, Liz. Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off. London: Nick Hern, 2009. Print.


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