(For Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings)
“Q” is for “Queen.”
As you may have heard, William Shakespeare was the top dog in the playwright trade.
And Elizabeth I was unsurpassed in the queen business.
So here’s something interesting.
Both Will and Liz lived in the same town, at the same time, and they knew each other. Thus a natural question would be, what kind of relationship did they have?
The answer appears to be, not much.
Queen Elizabeth was one of the greatest, and most powerful, sovereigns in the history of England.
Will Shakespeare, even though he may have been a genius, was a commoner. Sovereigns did not hang out with commoners.
Unlike today? :-)
But the Queen enjoyed the playwright’s plays and we can almost say that, without her, there would have been no Shakespeare.
It’s difficult for us today to understand the position of the theatre and theatre folk at that time. As you may know, in the seventeenth century a great many people let superstition govern their lives: there was a general belief in such things as witches, ghosts and omens. Another general belief on the part of many was that there was something "wrong" with the very idea of players and playhouses. Those in authority would have closed the theatres, torn them down, and forbidden anything except works of a religious nature - which was pretty well all that English drama had consisted of before the Shakespearean era.
There would have been no point in Will S. trying to fight local authorities; he would have had to surrender.
But they had a problem: Elizabeth.
She enjoyed plays as much as she loved music and dancing (she loved to dance). Whenever those in power tried to close down theatres, they were reminded that such an action would make the Queen unhappy. And they had learned early on that making the Queen unhappy was to be avoided, to say the least.
So William Shakespeare and his theatrical company flourished. They often performed before her at court. She so loved the character Falstaff in “Henry IV” that she let it be known to the playwright that she’d like to see him in another play. So Will S. sat down and speedily turned out “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” loading it with Falstaff and Falstaffian humor.
Elizabeth was gifted in a number of areas, but her knowledge of languages was amazing. She spoke English and Latin with equal fluency, Italian almost as well, and had a fair knowledge of French, Spanish and Greek. Since Latin was the language of diplomacy at that time, she could converse fluently with diplomats visiting England from just about anywhere, even if they spoke no English.
There’s a wonderful story – I’d like to think it’s true – that the Queen had invited the Russian ambassador and his entourage at court to see a Shakespeare play. As the actors performed, she kept up a running translation, in Latin, of what was going on.
1 year ago