What Ben Jonson Knew about Elizabeth I

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*Some sensitive material

Dear Reader,

One of the most mysterious figures of the Elizabethan period outside of Shakespeare himself is Queen Elizabeth I herself. Yes, it is true that we have a flood of writing from and about her, but there are so many different and divergent depictions of Elizabeth.

Not surprisingly the most common depiction of Elizabeth today is of a strong, proto-feminist who sacrificed her own desires for the sake of England. In contrast to this view of Elizabeth, we have the argument presented by reactionary Catholics that Elizabeth was a childish figure under the control of the Cecils and the emergent merchant class.

There is also the image of Elizabeth Regina Virginia, the slightly flirtatious but ultimately chaste and devoutly Christian queen–this view interestingly is rapidly fading among contemporary scholars who note the frequent references to her relationship with Robert Dudley who was rumored to have visited the queen’s chamber even at night.

Finally, we have the queen who was interested in magic, astrology, and who wrote in curious  ciphers  to her intimates.

What are we to make of all these contradictions?

Perhaps a clue can be found in Ben Jonson’s statement that Elizabeth “had a membrane on her,” which prevented her from normal intercourse, which according to Jonson she attempted with “many” men.  This view is similarly shared by Hilaire Belloc and the notion of a debauched Elizabethan court is hinted at by Shakespeare’s plays as well as (perhaps) even in Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Is it possible that, like her father, Elizabeth was a combination of brilliant strength with wild, uncontrollable passions and deep and pious faith with mocking skepticism and even interest in magic and the occult?

Is it also possible that Elizabeth was both a headstrong ruler, and someone who was manipulated by the emergent forces of heresy, greed, and occultism that had seized power during the Reformation?

Is it possible that Elizabeth was let in on some of the “mysteries” of these occult cells?

 

 

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