Saturday, 27 February 2010

Shakespeare and marriage

Coming back from meetings on hydropower (in the Lake District), I read the end of Walter Scott's "Kenilworth". This draws attention to a speech in "Midsummer Night's Dream" in which Cupid's love arrow fails to make the virgin "Moon" (Queen Elizabeth 1st) fall in love. Instead it is quenched by her "watery beams". Shakespeare mentions Elizabeth again as the "Moon" (Diana e.g. the Virgin) in his Sonnets being "eclipsed" (dying) (e.g. disappearing from sight).

The beauty of his language sometimes draws our attention away from Shakespeare's cryptic images. He was a writer who liked implanting hidden meanings paticularly those that could be read in two or more ways. It seems to be that the hidden implication in this image is that the "Moon" (Queen Elizabeth) is "cold". She did not after all marry but dallied with the man she was indeed supposed to love: Robert Dudley, The Earl of Leicester.

Shakespeare was a passionate supporter of marriage and motherhood. We know this from his writing. We also know this from from the real life legal case in 1612 in which he was caught up. He admits on oath that he sweet talked an apprentice into marrying the owner of the house he was lodging in.

The implication is that behind Shakespeare's seemingly beautiful compliment to "glorious" Queen Elizabeth ("Moon" = glory) is that underneath the shine, she is cold-hearted and therefore, in his view "barren" (like the moon). This is slightly unfair as Elizabeth really wanted to marry the Catholic Duke of Anjou. She wrote a magnificent poem about her broken heart, in her forties, at being prevented from the marriage by her Council, which is as good as anything by Shakespeare.

What I wondered was: why does Shakespeare refer to her "watery beams"? Are the Moon's beams "watery" except in that they are tidal (ebbing in and out) and affect female emotions? Was Elizabeth 1st one of those superficially sentimental people, who wears their heart on their sleeve, cries a lot, but who underneath are as "hard as nails"?

My impression is that Shakespeare, though Elizabeth admired him, did not like her much. Was she too clever, too rational, too controlled, too "puritan" in some aspects, for his tastes? Perhaps he simply disliked her for never marrying? Some men do express feelings like that (but on what grounds I cannot imagine). If they do express such views, they must be challenged, because God's purpose for women is not simply childbearing. Incidentally, Shakespeare's passionate support for marriage is Protestant. The Reformers replaced celibacy with marriage as an ideal.

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