Queen Elizabeth I named her favourites after animals – the Earl of Leicester is her sweet Robin, Sir Christopher Hatton her mouton or sheep and Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford her boar (Taylor 42). She recalls the beast fables of the Medieval tradition in which animals personify human traits. For instance, the French, German and Dutch medieval poetry focus on Renard the Fox who personifies ‘human skill, intelligence, and ruthless greed’ (Oram 329). Elizabeth’s fondness for pet names is also ripe for satire.
One possible satirical attack on Queen Elizabeth’s likeness for nicknames is found in Edmund Spenser’s poetry collection Complaints (1591), which contains a long poem called Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale . The poem is believed to have been withdrawn from circulation in manuscript form as early as 1580. In the satire the Fox as a courtier is interpreted as representing Lord William Cecil Burghley, and the Ape is believed to refer to the Duke of Alençon’s envoy Jean Simier who in 1579 negotiated the prospect of marriage between the Duke and the Queen. William Oram notes that Elizabeth gave Simier ‘the pet name of “my monkey”’ (Oram 329). The Ape could even be a monstrous Simier/Alençon hybrid (329). Yet I propose in this short study that Spenser’s use of animals does not allude to specific people. Instead, he uses figurative language to challenge the concept of personification or prosopopoia as being a suitable vehicle for representing human traits that may refer to a particular person(s).
The framing narrative of Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale immediately warns the reader Continue reading