What is so special about the fifth of November and why is a man who was arrested in 1605 England still significant today?
Remember, remember the fifth of November…
A BRIEF HISTORY
In the 16th century, England saw itself in an era of political and religious instability due to the Reformation. This resulted in pitting Catholics against Protestants throughout Europe. Read more here.
In late October of 1605, an English nobleman received a mysterious letter that hinted to some form of deadly action at England’s projected opening of Parliment on November 5th. The letter seemed to confirm suspicions that in the largely Protestant country, “members of the Catholic minority were plotting to topple the monarchy and impose a Catholic regime with foreign funding and aid” (source).
With some skepticism, two searches of the Palace of Westminister and its surrounding areas were conducted. In the second search, a man by the name of Guy Fawkes was found guarding a storeroom, dressed in a cloak, boots, and spurs. Inside the storeroom was a large amount of firewood and 36 barrels of gunpowder. It was revealed that the supplies were a part of a conspiracy to blow up the members of both Houses of Parliment, the king, most of the royal family, and important officers of state – essentially it was a plan to overthrow Protestant England with a Roman Catholic regime.
The plan, known as the Gunpowder Plot, failed and Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in London. In 1606, Parliment established November 5th as a day of public thanksgiving. Although he was not the sole leader of the plan, today, Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Day celebrates the Gunpowder Plot through bonfires and fireworks across England.
So, why does this all matter? If you’ve seen any Guy Fawkes masks, the movie V for Vendetta, or read the above story, you may start connecting the dots. Guy Fawkes quickly became a symbol of resistance, celebrated through illustrations in novels, history and in movies. In the 21st century, this symbolism has spread around the world.
The now-popular depiction of his face appeared in the 1980s Alan Moore and David Llyod graphic novel V for Vendetta and its 2005 film adaptation starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. Leaping forward more than 400 years from 1605 to 2018, this mask has become a well-known symbol of protest around the world, transcending political and social boundaries.
In the graphic novel and movie, V is a vigilante who is set out to destroy an authoritarian government in a dystopian future. With this relationship, it’s not hard to see why the mask has been used in so many social movements. It has come to not only represent resistance but solidarity, transparency, and accountability.
Part of the mystery behind the mask is the wearer’s intended message. Blocking all view of emotion and identity, the mask has been used in movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and by the hacking group named Anonymous.
As another November 5th has come and gone, this post is meant to educate readers about the history and meaning of Guy Fawkes and the world famous mask. The graphic novel and movie, V for Vendetta, are best suited for grades 10+. The story and pop-culture material can be useful tools in critically analyzing political and societal relationships.
“Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea… and ideas are bulletproof.” – Alan Moore, V for Vendetta
As global citizens, we have the responsibility to care for everyone in the world and as such a huge task, it cannot be done alone. Guy Fawkes and the current uses of the mask remind us of this, that sustainability must transcend political, social and national differences. While remaining kind and understanding, we are also encouraged to remain critical and create positive and sustainable change.
V for Vendetta is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. It is a “frightening and powerful tale of the loss of freedom and identity in a chillingly believable totalitarian world”. Discover the novel’s symbolism and consider reflecting on the major themes and their possible relevancy today.
V for Vendetta, the film, is set in a futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain. V, a charismatic and skilled fighter is dedicated to igniting a revolution and urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression.
*This movie is rated R and includes some strong violence and some language.
Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
Written by: Keana Rellinger
Posted in: Voice