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Writing Renaissance Queens: Texts by and about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Lisa Hopkins. Writing Renaissance Queens: Texts by and about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press and Cranbury and London: Associated University Presses, 2002. 201 pp. index. illus. bibl. $43.50. ISBN: 0-87413-786-1.

Lisa Hopkins has a good topic and a nice verve; unfortunately, her slapdash book, shaped in part by reaction to the death of Princess Di (25), needs better evidence, better logic, better editions cited, better translations (80, "dessus" becomes "under"), more use of primary sources, fewer slips like including Dante among Spenser's "classical models" (156), and more common sense.

Chapter 1 comments, sensibly enough, that even reigning queens were thought of as placeholders in the transmission of male legitimacy, although it is hard to imagine anyone explaining this to Elizabeth. Chapter 2 is on Spenser. After reflecting on his collateral descendant Diana Spencer, Hopkins reports, she "finally achieved an insight" as to why The Faerie Queene is among "the least convincing and most peripheral" of "Renaissance writings of the queen" (43). Hopkins is vexed by narrative vagrancy: since Spenser gives his poem no "telos" and its hero no definable task, readers do not know where they are going and merely wander about. (Well, sure: that's life in a fallen world.) Some associations, moreover, need rethinking: when St. George emerges from restorative waters "As Eagle fresh out of the Ocean wave," Hopkins sees "Venus rising from the waves" (47). Even with all that armor, facial hair, and a biblical eagle? The chapter ends by remarking that the way wedding pictures of Di have changed meaning over time "disables" Hopkins "from taking The Faerie Queene's own image of its age at its face value" (51). Right, but did Spenser design it to be taken at face value? Chapter 3, on Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, and Marguerite de Navarre, has its own puzzles. Why would a "Protestant perspective" encourage Elizabeth to see prison "in terms of punishment for others," not as a "trial for herself" (70)? Why say that Marguerite's Prisons expresses "a delusory state of spiritual despair" with no "educative experience" (68)? Hopkins seems to know the poem only as quoted by others; reading the original would reveal a male narrator ecstatic to discover his own nullity and God's mercy. Chapter 4, on Mary's Stuart's syntax and desire for control, is better.

The rest of the book hunts for oblique allusions to English queens. Even when absent--a regina abscondita--Elizabeth is omnipresent. True, many have sensed her in the moonlight of A Midsummer Night's Dream, say, or the Cynthia who spies on Spenser in Epithalamion. Sometimes, though, what Hopkins sees is more moonshine than queenshine. She rightly thinks of Agamemnon when lovers in Arden of Faversham plot to immobilize the husband with a towel and then murder him, but when one says to "stab him till his flesh be as a sieve" are we really to recall Elizabeth's "Sieve Portrait" (98)? After examining places where Shakespeare avoids mentioning Elizabeth, Hopkins turns to Cary's Mariam, a play with thoughts on divorce, despotism, and murdered queens that might recall Henry VIII. Again, some arguments leave skid marks. An allusion to Cleopatra (dark and Caesar's) leads Hopkins to Wyatt's Anne Boleyn (dark and allegorized as one of Caesar's deer), to Wyatt on Pompey's head, to Mariam's allusion to that same head and, because beheading was the "standard form of execution for Tudor aristocrats," to Henry VIII (122). Chapter 8 traces missing allusions to Elizabeth's death. Because some said that Elizabeth starved herself after Essex's death, Hopkins looks for images of food, ripeness, and fasting and other verbal recollections of the queen: when Cleopatra says, "I'll set a bourn how far to be beloved," Hopkins thinks of Lear's "Come o'er the bourn, Bessy, to me," evidence that the "bourn" between Cleopatra and Elizabeth/Bessy may be "permeable" (146). But what of Hamlet's country "from whose bourn no traveler returns"? Does Cleopatra's "bourn" suggest Shakespeare's regret--relief?--that Elizabeth was gone for good? Why not, if anything goes? The last chapter is on Paradise Lost, which Hopkins thinks erases Christ's mother in part because "Mary" evokes Catholic queens. Maybe, but she might acknowledge other reasons for the Son's being motherless in 4004 B.C. We end with another go at Spenser: because his evil Duessa "hogs many of the best scenes in the poem," the author was "of the devil's party without knowing it" (157)--that would mean Catholic, which is a stretch.

Hopkins's study is worth a glance for some ingenious readings. With more care and less self-indulgence it would deserve serious attention.

ANNE LAKE PRESCOTT

Barnard College
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Prescott, Anne Lake
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:768
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