I grieve and dare not show my discontent;
I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate.
I am, and not; I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
My care is like my shadow in the sun–
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands, and lies by me, doth what I have done;
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft, and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, Love, and so be kind.
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.
ON MONSIEUR`S DEPARTURE
By Elizabeth I, Queen of England
Women`s voices throughout history are fragile, fleeting things; Elizabeth was Queen of England, but still needed to observe the rules of social engagement. Not to be over bearing, hectoring, or throw her toys out of the pram if she didn`t get her own way; for such things would have confirmed her weakness to a misogynistic world — that she was a woman, and thus unfit to rule over men.
Putting thoughts to paper was primarily a man`s occupation; and this was the great age of the flowering of the English language when poets and playwrights were popping out of the woodwork like linguistic ballistic missiles, causing their target audience to constantly duck for cover with each new work. Did not women have thoughts? Internal debate with thoughts reasoned and supple which came and went as with the seasons?
And so Elizabeth, gathered her considerable intellectual powers, put pen to paper and conveyed to us the queries, preoccupations, desires and contradictions which embraced, circumvented and ruled her world. For a queen is just as much a prisoner as a felon installed in her realm`s deepest dungeon: like a bird in a gilded cage, her out stretched wings and sumptuous plumage showing how opulent and powerful she is, yet trapped she is by convention, time and place.
So she writes private thoughts to herself; for it would be outrageous if even a queen were to allow her inner most thoughts to tread the boards of that greatest playhouse of all — public opinion. Men could write of the implicit sexual desires of a woman, but for a woman to do so would have been a moral outrage — and a queen to boot! A woman`s virtue was chained to her chastity before marriage, and her fidelity to her husband afterwards. A woman admitting to erotic desire (particularly not towards her husband) would be seriously damaging to a woman`s reputation. Everything hinged upon undamaged reputation, and so this is why female parts in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were performed by males; a woman who demeaned herself in public by performing on stage would have been considered no better than a prostitute.
Elizabeth`s poem On Monsieur`s Departure is, like the woman herself, rife with contradictions; she bitches about breaking off a relationship, yet having to keep her feelings under wraps. Around the time it was written, negotiations for her marriage to the French Duke of Anjou had just crashed and burned, and she was feeling decidedly peevish and vexed. She could only continue to rule her kingdom in her own right if she remained single: social propriety dictated that she would have to hand over the real power to her husband; so this contrivance rankled with her, because she quite fancied Monsieur le Duke.
She needed to give a public show of female desire, and to be desired, but remain chaste and virginal at the same time in order to keep her hold on the public`s affection, and by default………. power. For such an obviously sexually charged and intelligent individual, it does seem likely to me that she had romantic “flings” with her favourites; but because she was a queen — and thus an honorary “man” she was constrained by convention to maintain a public virginal image, so putting her country before personal desire, while playing her male courtiers on the end of a very long erotically charged emotional string.
On Monsieur`s Departure shows us that she paid an enormous personal price for the pretense of putting the national interest before herself. It`s a sad and poignant example of self sacrifice on a truly grand scale. Elizabeth may well lay claim to have been the most intellectually and culturally intelligent individual to have ever sat upon the throne of England………..Every day must have been a private hell for her. With the departure of Monsieur possibly left her only chance of genuine happiness………..
How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature`s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee?
That thou will no more wilt thy eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hush`d with buzzing night–flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state
And lull`d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull God, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch
A watch–case or a common `larum–bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship–boy`s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperial surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea–boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
~~ William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Pt2 ~~