Queen Elizabeth and Elizabethan Era Literature

  1. Queen Elizabeth was considered an icon of her era, glorified as the “Virgin Queen” since she ruled in a patriarchal society without a king or prince ruling beside her and without a serious commitment to marriage. In her own writings and speeches, she spoke about the subject of her gender and lack of a partner as a way to inspire her subjects.

    “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.” (Elizabeth I, Speech to the Troops at Tilbury)

    As a queen, she tried her best to be fair and listen to her councilors, even to the point of not marrying a man that she loved against the wishes of her parliament. (Crofton, 148-149) Elizabeth never married and this sort of romantic ideal of refusing to marry if she could not marry the man she loved seems to be echoed in the literature of the era. The best example of this in her own words would be in her poem, “On Monsieur’s Departure”, “Let me or float or sink, be high or low;/Or let me live with some more sweet content,/Or die, and so forget what love e’er meant.” (16-18)

    2. Literature within the Elizabethan era was full of religious allegory intermingled with the mysticism of the old Gods. Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” was a prime example of the intermingling of religious iconography with the added benefit of making reference to Queen Elizabeth within the epic poem. “And cursed heauen, and spake reprochfull shame/Of highest God, the Lord of life and light;/A bold bad man, that dar’d to call by name/Great Gorgon, Prince of darkness and dead night,/At which Cocytus quakes, and Stya is put to flight.” (Book I, Canto I)

    The transition from the medieval displacement of troubles to devils to the blame upon the people themselves is more evident in Shakepeare’s “King Lear” where the ill luck that falls upon the King are the folly of his own mislaid trust. It is a sharp contrast to the mischief caused by magic and faeries in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

    3. Shakespeare’s humor and love of honesty shines through in Sonnet 130 “I grant I never saw a goddess go;/My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:/ And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/As any she belied with false compare.” And again in “King Lear” with the lovely Coredlia’s statement of plain love for her father, “I love your Majesty./According to my bond, no more nor less.” Shakespeare writes a create variety of characters in all of his plays but it seems that he favors words of wisdom coming from unexpected places, such as from the Fool in “King Lear”. “I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipped for speaking true; thou’lt have me whipped for lying; and sometimes I am whipped for holding my peace.” (Act 1 Scene 4, 186-189) To have the foolish speak wisdom and the wise speak foolishly it says to me that Shakespeare feels that the real wisdom comes from whom you least expect. He also seems to make t plain that often times the truth is a plain thing that cannot be concealed in falsehoods.

    Work Cited:
    Crofton, Ian. The Kings and Queens of England. New York: Metro Books, 2006. Print.

    Shakespeare, William. King Lear. New York: Signet Classic, 1998. Print.

    Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. The Norton Anthology. Ed. Steven Greenblatt. Norton & Company, 2006. Print.

    Queen Elizabeth I. “On Monsieur’s Departure.” The Northon Anthology. Ed. Steven Greenblatt. Norton & Company, 2006. Print.

    Queen Elizabeth I. “Speech to the Troops at Tilbury.” The Norton Anthology. Ed. Steven Greenblatt. Norton & Company, 2006. Print

Loyalty Honored but Betrayal Repaid: Betrayal and Loyalty in “King Lear”

Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” has the main theme of betrayal but also about loyalty.  “King Lear” is a play about King Lear who is so blinded by vanity and madness that he casts out the people who are most genuine and loyal to him to elevate flatterers who ultimately betray him.  The play opens with King Lear asking his daughters to tell him how much they love him and it is from that point it is presented to the audience that the truth is sometimes an ugly, plain thing and that a man would rather succumb to the beautiful allure of a falsehood than to allow himself to hear what might be a bitter ugly truth.  It also seems that the most unexpected betrayals come from those who are closest to us and if we are patient, those who would betray us will receive justice in one way or another.

Betrayal comes in many forms in within “King Lear” from simple lies; to usurpation of power; to infidelity; to murder.  The first betrayal of the play was the most blatant and surprising because it was the condemnation of King Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, for refusing to lie about how much she loved her father. “Why have my sisters husbands if they say/ They love you all? Haply, when I wed,/ That lord whose hand must take my plight, shall carry half my love with him, half my care and duty./ Suce I shall never marry like my sisters,/ To love my father all,” (Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 1, 101-106). King Lear was upset by the fact that his favorite daughter told him the truth of her feelings, that she could never love a husband if she loved only her father and he betrays her by disowning her.  But it is from this first betrayal that the seeds of rebellion are planted in the minds of King Lear’s other daughters, Regan and Goneril, and he soon finds himself stripped of his power and authority.  If King Lear cannot be trusted nor can he trust his family, it brings to mind the question of who is actually loyal.

There are a few acts of loyalty within “King Lear”.  One of the most notable and visible was Kent with his unwavering desire to serve his king despite being banished by that same king for telling him he was wrong to disown Cordelia.  Then there was Edgar of Gloucester who also remained loyal to his father despite being hunted for unwarranted accusations of treachery and guided his blinded father out of Gloucester to safety. And lastly there was Cordelia who remained loyal to her father despite being betrayed and took an army to war against her sisters over the mistreatment of King Lear.  But how was this loyalty repaid?

“Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides,/ Who covered faults, at last shame them derides (…)” (Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 1, 282-283).  Sadly, loyalty does not get to reap its fullest rewards within the play but there is some measure of justice for those who suffered from betrayal.  Each betrayer is punished in some way, the daughters die after betraying their father; the Duke of Gloucester and each other; Edmund dies after instigating the mutilation of his father and the banishment of his brother; and King Lear dies of heartbreak after realizing that he betrayed Cordelia and that his actions led to her death.  The true moral of “King Lear” is that if you betray those around you and surround yourself with flatterers that you yourself will end up betrayed.

 

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. New York: Signet Classic, 1998. Print.