Should we pay more attention to James I before he became King of England?
Thomas Cogswell, James 1: The Phoenix King (Penguin Monarchs series), (Allen Lane: London, 2017)
Studying or teaching Shakespeare’s plays, the figure of Elizabeth looms in the background, like the spectre at the feast.
We see it in the ever-present censorship, in the light of the Treasons Acts in 1571 and 1581, outlawing public discussion of the succession. Or, more positively, in the ‘Gloriana’ cult that produced works like Spenser‘s The Faerie Queen, and flattering nods to Elizabeth wherever you look – like links between her and Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We see it in her discomfort with comparisons to Richard II, and the propagandic lionization of Henry VII.
Reading Cogswell‘s short, sympathetic biography has made me reassess the extent to which we / I ignore James until the succession question becomes absolutely critical.
Edward V, like Edward II, like Richard II, like Macbeth, maybe even like Richard III, seems to think that the crown’s enough.Whilst there can be only one, physical possession of the golden round really isn’t a given. Everyone else has to believe you’re king – not just you!
They are but Lewis and Warwick; I am Edward,
Your King and Warwick’s and must have my will. (IV.i.15-16)
That’s all very well, but if it that attitude couldn’t save Julius Caesar:
‘I rather tell you what is to be feared / Than what I fear: for always I am Caesar’ (CAESAR, Julius Caesar I.ii.210-211)
– and he was a dozen times the man you are – then your goose is cooked.You have married in haste, and now you’re going to repent at leisure.Frankly, if Richard says so, it’s good enough for me:
Writing about this act has been an almost painful task.
It would have been too too easy to continue with the ‘Carry On Up the Dolphin’ theme I’d adopted for Act II, but I didn’t feel up to it, aside from referencing the incorrigible overfamiliarity of Charles:
Ay marry, sweeting, if we could do that,
France were no place for Henry’s warriors. (III.iii.21-2)