Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(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.


Kathe W. said...

Good old Queen Elizabeth! What a great post!

Roger Owen Green said...

I always wonder how Liz and Will fared together.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Meryl said...

Great post and perspective. I think of "Shakespeare in Love" when I think for Will and Liz's 'relationship' (sorry to be so pedestrian).

Berowne said...

Kathe W.: "What a great post!"
What a great comment -- thanks.
I don't feel dull,
I don't feel hollow.
I found myself
In your "Blogs I follow." :-)

Berowne said...

Meryl: >>I think of "Shakespeare in Love" when I think for Will and Liz's 'relationship'<<
Yes, it's interesting that in that film the Queen goes to the theatre.
Never happened.
She didn't go to the theatre, she brought the theatre to her.

Jane and Chris said...

I have to be content with 'The Bard's Bus' touring theatre company. No Royal command performance for me.
Jane x

Kay L. Davies said...

Fascinating, Berowne. I remember knowing Elizabeth I enjoyed plays, including those of Shakespeare, but I didn't know about Falstaff. I hope the bit about her simultaneous translation skill is true — that would be wonderful.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Joy said...

I like the idea of the play going to the palace. Elizabeth is a fascinating person, no wonder there have been so many films about her life and times.

Anonymous said...

I would love to come across the pond and see the rebuilt theatre. Also, this was fascinating info about the Bard and the Broad (oh, sorry, I couldn't help that one!). Queen E-I was one of the most fascinating royals. Real gumption, a oner.

Thanks, as always, Berowne, for the lesson! Amy
...and a little night music

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

lovely tale.

Hildred said...

Great post, Berowne, - what do you think of the theory that is being advanced questioning the authorship of Shakespeare's plays?

I skipped down your list of 'Blogs I follow' and thought what an interesting fellow you must be! All I looked at were so enjoyable and provocative.

Lisa said...

Love your informative post.


Berowne said...

H&C; "What do you think of the theory that is being advanced questioning the authorship of Shakespeare's plays?'
I think very little of it indeed.

jane said...

Great post Berowne - this year at the Ludlow festival the Shakespeare play is Twelfth Night -Ludlow is quite local to us and we are hoping to go to that - We are not to far from Stratford really - but have not been to the new theatre

Cildemer said...

Very intersting entry for Q day!
Had to read Shakespeare when I studied English at the university but found it rather boring!
Except when one of the professors explained the texts and contexts;o)
Thanks for visiting my place and taking the time to comment;o)

Hope you are having a nice and happy week****

Shaista said...

Oh yes I am sure the story is true :) The Queen would have been more than capable of quick Latinate translations - and no doubt she spun her own interpretations along the way!
I like your reference to the Commoner of Today... who is now the Duchess of the city I live in :)

Elizabeth said...

Absolutely spot on, Berowne.An excellent piece.

Liz would certainly never have visited the theatre as a certain tongue-in-cheek movie suggested, but may have asked for the players to come to court to present something. x

Berowne said...

Elizabeth: "Absolutely spot on, Berowne.An excellent piece."
Thanks so much.

"...may have asked for the players to come to court to present something."
No it was more than "may have." Shakespeare's company definitely performed at court, both for Elizabeth and for James.

Berowne said...

Cildemer: "Very intersting entry for Q day!"
And a very interesting comment, too -- thanks.

Berowne said...

jane: "This year at the Ludlow festival the Shakespeare play is Twelfth Night"
Ludlow is a beautiful town. I envy you the chance to see Shakespeare in such surroundings.

vivinfrance said...

Fascinating post, Berowne. She had her sharp side - which saw heads roll. Loved your final paragraph.

Completely off-topic, but I spent my second honeymoon (ie second husband) in Ludlow,all one night of it. The place was full or actors as the festival had just finished. We ate dinner on our wedding night with George Cole and Simon Cadell in a manner of speaking.

Laurie Kolp said...

I really enjoyed this informative treat! When you said nobody wanted to displease the queen, I couldn't help but think of the Queen of Hearts in Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland: "Off with their heads!"

Berowne said...

vivinfrance: "Fascinating post, Berowne."
Laurie K.: "I really enjoyed this informative treat!"
Great to hear from you, viv and Laurie; thanks.

flaubert said...

Berowne, love the bard and Liz. Excellent post, and I still believe in witches :)


Andy Sewina said...

Cool post! Love the way you do this, you give me so much to think about.

Dave King said...

I sometimes indulge in a little fantasy wondering what might have happened if they had changed places...

Great post.

Berowne said...

Very interesting idea, Dave K. Thanks.

Jae Rose said...

Great slice of history Berowne - I think there is still an element of accepted poets and artists - people linked to the establishment and pepole trying their hardest to defy the rigours of establishment and royal favour..to be judged on merit not accesibility..our first female poet laureate seems less keen to fight establishment now..you have to wonder if it's an internal censorship or otherwise..Jae

Kate said...

I often wonder how my field of study (theatre) would have evolved (or devolved) had Bloody Mary lived longer and Elizabeth never taken the throne. Great little history tidbit here.

Berowne said...

Kate: "I often wonder how my field of study (theatre) would have evolved (or devolved) had Bloody Mary lived longer..."
If Mary, not Elizabeth, were on the throne, what would have happened is exactly what did happen in 1642: the theatres were closed down and the dear old Globe was destroyed. Fortunately, this happened years after Shakespeare had left the scene so he didn't know about it.

Anonymous said...

Two of my very favorite historical figures. Elizabeth's mind was said to only be second to her cousin Lady Jane Grey. Great Post.

Elizabeth said...

Apologies, Berowne, although I used the word, 'may', I meant it in the definitive way...! Yes, you are absolutely right, they definately did perform at court. x

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