Gilles Bertheau

Elisabeth ou le personnage impossible : la figure d’Elisabeth Ire dans Chapman et Heywood pp. 291-308

[Abstract]

Rare are the Jacobean plays which offered the spectators the possibility to see the late queen on stage. Thomas Heywood’s two parts of If You Know not Me, You Know Nobody’s stand as an exception, while George Chapman’s Bussy D’Ambois and Byron plays stage Elizabeth I only indirectly. Whereas Heywood transforms the queen into a martyr to the true religion in the first part, and into the very image of royal benevolence towards the developing trading classes of London in the second part, Chapman puts the emphasis on her political role, as seen from France, and on her perfection as a ruler. But these choices reveal ideological attitudes towards Elizabeth’s successor, James I. While Heywood’s naïve praise of the late queen apparently meant no harm to the Stuart monarch, but rather seemed to support James’s claim to absolute power, Chapman’s eulogy must be taken as an indirect attack against him: by enhancing the excellence of the queen, he directed the spectators’ attention to the failings of a king whom he was not afraid of criticizing. Now, as the years passed, Heywood’s extolling of all the virtues of the queen also became “replete with oppositional potential”, as Curtis Perry has written. This leads to the conclusion that Elizabeth could not fulfil a playwright’s expectations as far as characterization was concerned, but rather stood as a form of mediation for veiled or open criticism of the new king.

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