In Spring 1575 at Kenilworth, the Earl of Leicester organised a series of pageants in order to entertain Queen Elizabeth I on her progress. The masque of the goddess Diana’s quest for the nymph Zabeta reveals that Zabeta, as Susan Doran and Helen Hackett observe, is a truncated anagram of ‘Elizabeth’ implying that the nymph is the queen’s persona. The masque was not performed at Kenilworth due ‘to lack of opportunity and seasonable weather’, but was published in George Gascoigne’s The Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenilworth (Gascoigne 53).
The masque arguably promoted Leicester as Elizabeth’s ideal husband:
And Jove in heaven would smile to see
Diana set on shelfe….
….where you now in princely port
have past one pleasant day,
A world of wealth at wil,
you henceforth shall enjoy;
In weded state…(Nichols 514-15 cited Hackett 89)
Hackett argues that ‘weded state’ was ‘a metaphor for political favour, just as love-language was deployed in [Christopher] Hatton’s letters [to Queen Elizabeth] of the same period’ (Hackett 89). Doran maintains that the masque presents Leicester’s proposal of marriage to Elizabeth. The above passage, however, is more” /> forceful than a simple ‘proposal of marriage’. The masque encourages Elizabeth to choose Jove (Juno), the goddess of marriage, over Diana the moon goddess who promotes chastity. The personification of Elizabeth’s choice of two proleptic identities indicates she is a split subject, because the masque imagines Elizabeth as both identities. The effect is that the ‘problem’ of the queen’s unmarried status is sublimated into praise of her divinity.
The masque invites the queen to free herself from a chaste unmarried life, and enjoy ‘a world of wealth’ that will be productive through childbirth. The ‘princely port’ becomes a space representing Elizabeth’s womb. It also signifies sixteenth century England’s future through transforming a ‘prince’ into a king, which will mean Elizabeth’s metaphoric death. Her role would be reduced to simply giving birth to heirs. Elizabeth’s desirable image as Queen of England would no longer have unifying formative effects. She would become a fragmented identity animated by aggressive forces, as she finds herself being ruled in a patriarchal society she once ruled herself.
Doran, Susan. “Virginity, Divinity and Power: The Portraits of Elizabeth I”. The Myth of Elizabeth. Eds. Susan Doran & Thomas S. Freeman. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Hackett, Helen. Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. Basingstoke & London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1996.
Nichols, John, ed. The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth. Three Vols. 1823. Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, by Helen Hackett. Basingstoke & London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1996.