chapter  8
17 Pages

If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody

Most of Part One concerns the persecution of Princess Elizabeth by henchmen of her sister Queen Mary. Elizabeth is first discovered in bed, an invalid, with two doctors attending on her. The later images of her as a figure of power surrounded by spectacle are a recoil from this first impression. In theatrical terms, she is menaced by the entrance of Lord Williams of Thame and Lord Chandos 'with soldiers, -drums, etc.' (iii.166). Later, such effects will buttress her own power; here she is vulnerable and persecuted, and there is a clash between the military effect of the soldiers' entrance and the picture of the female figure in bed. Yet, she has a kind of theatrical authority. The stage direction 'Enter Elizabeth in her bed' (iii.188) means that the audience's first sight of her will almost certainly involve the discovery-space, making a striking first impression. She can be imperious: 'We are not pleas'd with your intrusion, lords' (iii.190). But the main emphasis is on Elizabeth the invalid: 'Oh my heart; I hope, my lords, considering my extremity and / Weakness, you will dispense a little with your haste' (iii.203-4). Her troubles are mental as well as physical: she describes herself as 'heart sick, brain sick, and sick even to death' (v.315). Until near the end of the play, her key emotion is fear: 'Shall I outlive this night?' (xiv.978); 'I fear this Hampton Court / Will be my grave' (xvii.1211-12). This may seem an odd note for a character who is so much the centre of admiration to strike. Seen in realistic terms it is an undignified, even irritating self-pity. But these are not the terms on which such plays operate. The actor is not just interpreting the character but presenting her; the pity is not just the character's feeling for herself but the play's (and the audience's) feeling for her, which the actor invokes.