Is Midsummer A Critique of Queen Elizabeth?

Spotted via Twitter, I had to dig a little bit to get to this interview with Helen Hackett on the subject of Queen Elizabeth.  Definitely check it out for the bits on Spenser’s Faerie Queen, but stay for the Shakespeare.  Here, have a taste:

Once you start thinking about this it is quite obvious – you have Titania the Fairy Queen who is infatuated with an ass. Well, you can’t think about the Fairy Queen without thinking about Elizabeth because of Spenser. Titania is made to be a slave to lust, a comical figure, her powers are mocked and she is brought back under the authority of a husband. That is implied to be the norm.

The connection might be obvious, but I guess I never thought about it.  The way Hackett paints the picture, nobody was happy with Elizabeth at the time (she’d not had an heir, for instance) and Shakespeare was being pretty blatant in his criticism.

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4 thoughts on “Is Midsummer A Critique of Queen Elizabeth?

  1. The argumentation is very convincing.

    I have only recently read an excellent article on Queen Elizabeth by Leah Marcus in which she argued that Shakespeare's Joan la Pucelle can also be read as critique on Elizabeth. She mentions that Elizabeth often referred to herself as Queen of Shepherds or Astraea, two images which are also used in Shakespeare's characterization of Joan la Pucelle, the French warrior who threatens English manhood and masculinity. She also argues that this critique is only possible by fashioning Joan la Pucelle as a foreigner (by emphasizing her Frenchness and her role as "English scourge"). This argument would fit neatly into the comparison of Elizabeth and Titania, who is also a foreigner in her role as Fairy Queen.

  2. There were also devastating storms which ruined the harvests the year Midsummer was produced, which Elizabeth was openly blamed for.

    Titania: The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
    Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
    The fold stands empty in the drowned field.

    Louis Montrose is very good on Midsummer and Shakespeare's oblique criticism of Elizabeth.

  3. I read in the Folger's modern perspective of Hamlet that the court of Denmark bears a striking resemblance. Everyone is spying for the King. His ears and eyes were everywhere. Similarly, Elizabeth has woven into her robes eyes and ears to warn the court that her ears and eyes were everywhere. The oppressiveness of Elsinore has been re-interpreted to be that of Stalin's regime. The beauty of Shakespeare's art is that he is possibly targeting someone contemporary yet hits all of us all the time.

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