Elizabeth I, Queen of England, "The Doubt of Future Foes," "On Monsieur's Departure," Letters of State, especially the "Tilbury Speech" Note--no contemporary first edition or "ed. prin." except for parliamentary speeches and "Tilbury," which appeared in broadsides--MS circulation until modern scholarly editions appeared
Genre: short lyrics, political letters, and political oratory.
Form: poulter's measure (alternating 12- and 14-syllable lines in rhyming couplets), seven-line stanzas of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcc; and, of course, prose, as well as prose intended for a public speech.
Characters: her "future foes" are Mary Stuart, the exiled queen of Scotland imprisoned by Elizabeth, and her allies who scheme to replace Elizabeth with Mary; "Monsieur" is identified in two MSS as the duke of Anjou, who withdrew from marriage negotiations in 1582, and in one MS as Robert Devereaux, earl of Essex, whose long-lived affection for Elizabeth ended in a rebellion that resulted in his execution on a warrant signed by Elizabeth. In the Tilbury speech, Elizabeth, herself, is being constructed as ruler of England, against the threats of foreign domination posed by the duke of Parma and Phillip II of Spain. In fact, all three poems offer a glimpse of Elizabeth constructing her poetic persona at three different times of her life and in opposition to three different struggles, at 35 (vs. Mary), at 49 (vs. the duke d'Anjou), and at 55 (vs. Phillip II's Armada). The letters address Mary Stuart's jailer (Sir Amyas Paulet) and Henry III of France. The "Tilbury" speech addresses the troops and (implicitly) the nation, a concept Elizabeth is in the process of creating out of the multiple chains of loyalties which constituted the medieval English people. The "Golden Speech" (cut from the 8th edition!) addresses a privileged sub-set of the House of Commons whose loyalty Elizabeth is trying to ensure by her rhetorical construction of their understanding of her motives.
Summary: "In Doubt..."'s persona talks to herself about the anxieties of a ruler surrounded by uncertain allies and energetic conspirators. She seems to describe them in theatrical terms, as crowds at a performance which has gotten out of hand, and to which she plans to go with her avenging sword at the ready. The "rusty sword" motif is a commonplace in emblem books where it symbolizes the monarch's reluctance to use force.
"On Monsieur's Departure" sets up a nice interpretive puzzle since it's clearly in the tradition of the Petrarchan sonneteers (though its measure is not a sonnet), but it appears to reveal the actual emotions of a queen tortured by the role her country expects her to play against her own body's and heart's demands. Note the use of the "divided self" motif in line 7, and the prominence of the figure of paradox (love/hate, freeze/burned). If this were a political document (since it was published in her lifetime as an illustration in Puttenham's Rhetoric), what would be her intent in creating this public "revelation" of her inner state?
The letters to Sir Amyas Paulet and Henry III are recent additions to the Norton 7th and of questionable literary merit, but they illustrate a politician labeling her opponents and establishing her allies (and potential enemies) in positions relative to her political objectives.
The "Tilbury speech" may never have been delivered orally, but certainly was widely circulated about the kingdom in the months after the Armada's destruction. In it, she attempts to establish a clear claim to her subjects' loyalty and to her right to rule, and she does so in a tone reminiscent of "The Battle of Maldon."
The "Golden speech" resembles an American president's campaign speech or a State of the Union address in its appeal to its hearers to see the speaker as a selfless servant of the people with no hope of personal gain. Elizabeth helps to invent this kind of political role, complete with all its implausibilities. For instance, consider her claim that "I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a queen as to be a queen over so thankful a people" when the "thankful" people have just made her cough up several lucrative monopolies she had bestowed on her favorites in return for a subsidy Parliament controls and could withdraw at any moment (n. 1 598). Politics as we know it was being invented by Elizabeth, though her successors, the Stuart kings, learned nothing from her example and resorted to totalitarian bombast about the Divine Right of Kings to silence opposition rather than finessing the opposition with rhetorical subtlety. Of the two, give me a subtle negotiator rather than a tone-deaf autocrat any day. I've been "ruled" by both.
Issues and Research Sources:
- How would SIr Amyas Paulet be expected to answer this letter, and what would Elizabeth be looking for in his answer to determine whether she could trust him to contain Mary Stuart.
- Elizabeth's full sense of her identity can be inferred by her representation on the Great Seals which were used to authenticate letters and proclamations made in her name. Their extraordinary size and complexity, like her state portraits' dimensions and construction,
- So what if she didn't deliver it at all, but composed it for later publication to achieve a political effect? Is it any the less effective, or even more so, at mobilizing popular support for her reign?
- Elizabeth's skill at presenting herself as Queen of England is, itself, a poetic act of "self-fashioning" that she controls so well that she teaches her subjects how to imitate her. Spenser's allegorical poem, The Faerie Queene, contains numerous evocations of her as the ruling "Muse" of his craft. The "Ditchley Portrait," a portion of which is reproduced on the cover of your Norton Anthology (Vol. 1), is a visual counterpart to Elizabeth's self-fashioning as Queen of England. Click here to see a web page containing the whole portrait, and pay special attention to the part the Norton cover cuts off--it's important!
For the Luminarium page containing a bibliography, several more poems by Elizabeth, including several attributed to her but so far unauthenticatable, and one which appears to answer a poem by Sir Walter Ralegh, click here.
In 2003, to honor the four hundredth anniversary of Elizabeth's death, the Newberry Library staged "Elizabeth: Ruler and Legend," an exhibit of artifacts related to the queen's life. For the web site containing digital images of those artifacts, click here.
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