Queen Elizabeth and Elizabethan Era Literature
- 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.
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