Did Shakespeare Know Queen Elizabeth I?
As concern about the sovereign's gender formed one of the primary social Shakespeare opens a window on the nature of the Elizabethan world. And at a core gender relations level, was a woman fit to represent the great English nation ?. When Elizabeth I gained the throne in , women began to . any woman would prefer to be subservient in a relationship over one where. Exploring Shakespeare's relationship with Queen Elizabeth. the great Queen translated one of the tragedies of Euripides from the original Greek for . rightly styled the world's Phoebe; among women a Sibylla, among Queens a Saba, how .
Returning to historical fact, we find from the State papers, etc. But it is known that "The Pleasant Conceited Comedy of Love's Labour's Lost" was played before her highness in the Christmas holidays on December 26,and in this and the following year the Queen witnessed the First and Second Parts of King Henry IV, both new plays, and was very pleased with the performances.
Falstaff gave great delight to the royal spectator and her Court, and at her wish to see exhibited the fat knight in love, the poet produced the comedy of The Merry Wives of Windsor; this play gave infinite satisfaction to all beholders. The part of Falstaff was written originally under the name of Oldcastle; some of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to alter it, upon which he made use of Falstaff, a name that now represents the most humorous character the stage or the world has seen.
It is known from the State papers and other authentic documents that the company to which the poet belonged were, in the Christmas holidays ofplaying before the Queen at Whitehall and at Richmond Palace; they also played again before her majesty at the latter palace on two occasions in the yearand at the former palace in the Christmas festivities of the same year, and on February 24,they played before her Majesty at Richmond Palace, and again before the Queen at Whitehall during the festivities of In December 23,it is reported from the Council Chamber, Richmond Palace, in the State papers of that date, that "There is no other news than of dancing, plays, and Christmas pies.
The Court is the only school of wisdom in the world. Elizabeth held court at Nonsuch as early as till her closing years, and we cannot but suppose that the players frequently acted at this favourite royal mansion, as at her other palaces, and Shakespeare would be one of the number. Eventually the palace came into the possession of Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria, both lovers of the drama.
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The last time the company had the honour to perform before the aged Queen, so long and to the last their devoted patroness, was at the palace at Richmond on February 2,her death following soon after a brief illness on March 24th of the same year.
Shakespeare did not forget, though he has been accused of forgetting, his royal patroness; he could not well eulogize her in a set of verses, as his old friend and patron the Earl of Southampton was at the time imprisoned in the Tower, and with the Earl of Essex, who had then suffered his sad doom, he had long been in bitter enmity against the Queen.
Our poet, however, took a better way of recording the praise of his royal mistress, by indicting a most ardent eulogy of the then dead Queen in the last scene of the play of King Henry VIII.
This would be heard merely by the audience at the Globe and not be proclaimed broadcast in print, and that course might possibly have incurred the ill-feeling of the partisans of Essex and Southampton. The poet has most certainly extolled her and sung of the glories of her reign, though some doubtless erroneously think the lines were inserted by another from variations in the style of the verses, forgetting that our protean-poet was all poets in one, sometimes by the very sporting of his genius resembling others, then again giving full Shakespeare, hence Ben Jonson aptly styled him the "Soul of the Age"; he resembles all men's minds, all men's styles.
Here are the lines, and they are fine enough for Shakespeare, and we believe them to be his. Addressing the King on the newly named child Princess Elizabeth, he utters a most laudatory prophecy — "Let me speak, sir, For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter Let none think flattery, for they'll find 'em truth. This royal infant — heaven still move about her — Though in her cradle, yet now promises Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings, Which time shall bring to ripeness: Saba was never More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue Than this pure soul shall be: She shall be lov'd and fear'd; her own shall bless her: In her days every man shall eat in safety, Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours: Shakespeare opens a window on the nature of the Elizabethan world.
Not only does Shakespeare capture some of the cultural currents of the day, his writing has a decidedly political bent. He knows that the happiness of the common man is very much bound up with the question of who has power at the top.
Female rule lacked stability and thus contained an inherent danger. This danger resulted in an undefined anxiety among the English people who questioned whether Elizabeth provided fit rule. In some ways, her gender itself suggested that she did not.
Many of the English reacted with ambivalence to the idea of a woman ruler. The ambivalence centered directly on the conflict between her rule and her femininity. If a queen were confidently to demonstrate the attributes of power, she would nor be acting in a womanly manner; yet womanly behavior would ill-fit a queen for the rigors of rule. Could a womanly queen lead the state through war?
Could a womanly queen rule over male subjects? Could a womanly queen provide an heir without transferring power to her husband and possibly to his family? And at a core gender relations level, was a woman fit to represent the great English nation? Or did the inferiority of her gender debase the state itself? Ultimately, the anxieties produced by these concerns led the culture to yearn for the stability represented by a king, not a queen.
This desire for stability manifests itself in the themes of both Macbeth and Hamlet. In Macbeth, a fantastical suggestion of future kingship leads Lady Macbeth to convince and help her husband to commit treason by killing the king and claiming an offered crown.
The play Hamlet depicts the murder of a monarch by his brother and the subsequent marriage of this brother Claudius to Queen Gertrude. Although neither play is a direct commentary on Elizabeth, each drama reflects social anxieties from decades of female monarchical rule.
Analysis of these plays reveals their specific correlation to the Renaissance world and especially the concerns surrounding the leadership of Elizabeth Tudor. She summons the absent Macbeth with chiding words: Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear; And chastise with the valour of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round.
Tennenhouse describes her characterization in influential political terms: He shows how these might be used subversively. With this ploy, she assumes the absolute power of the state by acting as if she were accountable to none and deserves no censure.
Thus, Lady Macbeth exemplifies a negative anode of female ambition and power within a Renaissance context. In fact, Shakespeare couches these desires in emasculating terms to give them increased gravity. Lady Macbeth repudiates her femininity for power: Come you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here; And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full Of direst cruelty!
By putting these desires in masculine—or gender-neutral—form, Lady Macbeth explicitly suggests their unnaturalness. Wallace MacCaffrey comments upon this disparity between femininity and political strength in his biography of Elizabeth I: Nonetheless, as Levin notes, not even Elizabeth could escape her femininity: Such unnatural positioning created tension in the play and reflected anxiety in the Elizabethan world.
Indeed, Macbeth demonstrates considerably less determination than his wife.
Elizabethan Women : History of Tudor Women : Page 1
As a result, Lady Macbeth scorns him for his weakness. In bloodying her hands in the death of the king, she chastises her husband: My hands are of your colour; but I shame To wear a heart so white. But Macbeth loses his courage at the decisive moment and Lady Macbeth assumes his bloody obligation. Such a reversal carries with it significant social ramifications.
Did Shakespeare Know Queen Elizabeth I?
Tennenhouse comments upon the gender reversal and its political symbolism: Most other Jacobean tragedies presuppose this same connection between sexual relations and the condition of the political body. He allows Lady Macbeth to overrule her husband in order to show that such inversion of sexual relations is also an inversion of the political order. Her possession of illicit desire in its most masculine form — the twisted ambition of the malcontent — leads directly to regicide.
Female rule lasted for a full generation of English people. At the same time a tendency to think about state power as female does not necessarily correspond with a cultural desire for state power in female hands. While the Elizabethan world may have accepted the non-traditional rule of the female monarch, the anticipated outcome was always the return to political stability in the form of a male monarch.
Tennenhouse comments upon this gender restoration as it relates to Macbeth: The same homology between kinship and kingship accounts for the curious means Shakespeare uses in the play to restore the world to its natural hierarchy.
Perhaps most obvious among these is the gendering of patriarchal prerogatives. The female cannot survive in a role of dominion. Her manic fixation with bloodied hands and her final act of suicide indicate a personal trial and conviction.
This thematic correlation transfers to the contemporary culture. The Elizabethan English also anticipated and desired the return of male rule: However effective a ruler Elizabeth in particular might be, the fact that she was a woman was insurmountable.
There never was a tradition envisioning a savior queen. The pattern of the male monarch as savior echoes through sixteenth-century England, so that the fears caused by female rule manifested themselves in a longing for the safety and tradition of the king. Thus, Hamlet reflects the gender and sexuality anxieties prominent within the Elizabethan world. In discussing the sexuality of the Tudor queens, one must consider the connection between the natural body of the monarch and the symbolic sovereignty of the state embodied within the monarch.
This connection determined and restrained the relational activity of the royalty. However, the vulnerability of the symbolic component of the sovereignty within this enhanced natural body produced anxiety within the Elizabethan culture.
Because this sovereignty, in a sense, resided in the physical nature, any sexual activity of the queen created a male claim to authority.