19.11.22 Jankowski, Elizabeth I, the Subversion of Flattery, and John Lyly's Court Plays and Entertainments

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Valerie Schutte

The Medieval Review 19.11.22

Jankowski, Theodora A. Elizabeth I, The Subversion of Flattery, and John Lyly's Court Plays and Entertainments. Late Tudor and Stuart Drama: Gender, Performance, and Material Culture. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications , 2018. pp. 168. ISBN: 978-1-58044-333-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Valerie Schutte
Independent Scholar
veschutte@gmail.com

In her newest monograph, Theodora A. Jankowski makes the point that in all representations of Elizabeth there is both a positive and a negative side; she is both virginal and monstrous at the same time. For example, Elizabeth is a female monarch with a female body, yet with "the heart and stomach of a king." This image of her is monstrous in that she represents herself as a female with male organs, yet was also meant to show her martial strength in the face of gendered stereotypes. Specifically, Jankowski's book is concerned with how in John Lyly's plays he "negotiated between the two Elizabeths: the regal and the monstrous, the light and the dark" (16). Lyly's plays flattered Elizabeth out of necessity, yet Jankowski explores how these positive images fit in with monstrous images of Elizabeth.

In the Publication Acknowledgements, Jankowski notes that material in this book first appeared in five previous publications from the 1990s and 2000. So, this monograph is likely a compilation and expansion of that material, newly put together in monograph form. It consists of an introduction and six body chapters. In them, she looks at Elizabethan allegories in each of Lyly's court plays and also how the images of a light or dark queen figure into Lyly's plot structure centered around debates. Several of Lyly's characters have been viewed as allegories of Elizabeth and Jankowski wants to problematize this by considering how these allegories "both validated the queen and raise troubling issues as to her true nature" (18).

Chapter 2 considers the plays Campaspe and Sapho and Phao andMidas. These plays consider a monarch's political body, allowing for allegories of Elizabeth that are both regal and monstrous. All of them deal with rulership and offer a human allegorical figure for Elizabeth. The queen Sapho is in control of her body politic and her natural body, but then falls in love and it is only through divine intervention does she control her passions. Jankowski notes how this ending is typically seen as representative of Elizabeth ultimately choosing her country over any potential spouse/lover, yet Jankowski points out this is not because the queen's character is strong enough to do so, it is because the gods assisted her. So, while this is meant to be flattering to Elizabeth, it still does have elements that question her ability to separate her gender from her political role. The chapter is primarily about Sapho and Phao, and uses the Alexander character in Campaspe as a foil to show how it was much easier to dramatize a man in power and his ability to balance passion and politics.

The third chapter examines the play Love's Metamorphosis. In its debate structure, it pits the values of marriage against the imperfections of marriage; the queen as virgin cannot help the afflicted state of those unhappily married, but she should marry anyway. Jankowski understands the play to analyze virginity as both desirable and threatening and how marriage is the solution to virginity. So, the question becomes does Lyly's play actually praise the Virgin Queen (as typically thought) or really suggest that she ought to marry and produce an heir. Jankowskoi suggests that virginity gives autonomy to its female characters, but ultimately cannot protect them from the submission, even if by violence, to male bodies.

The fourth and fifth chapters analyze the plays Gallathea and Endimion, respectively. Love's Metamorphosis considers the dark side of perpetual virginity, subversive because it does not allow a man control over a woman, while Gallathea considers the light side of perpetual virginity. There may be many virgins, but only one is the Virgin Queen. It also addresses the personal sacrifices of perpetual virginity--no children or marriage. Yet, one female character undergoes a gender change to become male, perhaps alluding to the unnatural body of the regnant queen. In Endimion, Queen Elizabeth is represented by Cynthia the moon, later Cynthia the goddess, character. Cynthia is distant (as the moon) and powerful (as the goddess), thereby also monstrous and threatening. All men are subject to the moon, yet women were afflicted by the moon (menstrual cycle).

In chapter 6, Jankowski looks at Elizabeth from the point of view of entertainments, especially those on progress or in which she would have participated. In them there are no allegories of Elizabeth because she was actually part of them. They praised the queen, yet also addressed social issues. Lyly wrote some progress entertainments of the 1590s. A progress entertainment at Bisham in 1592, likely written by Lyly and Lady Russell of Bisham, was meant to reinforce both the chastity and courage of her daughters, thereby presenting them as prospects to serve the queen at court. Others subtly addressed social issues such as enclosure, exportation of goods such as wool, and rack-renting.

To conclude her study, Jankowski ends her book with a very brief discussion of Lyly's The Woman in the Moon, featuring the character of Pandora. Jankowski compares Lyly's use of the moon in this text to his earlier uses of the moon as allegories for Elizabeth but comes to no real conclusions, except that it was unlikely it was ever performed at court.

As a whole, Jankowski's book offers an interesting analysis of Lyly's plays that engages with some of the newest criticism of Lyly. Yet, scholars of history, such as Carole Levin, author of perhaps the most influential monograph on the topic of Elizabeth's gendered body and how she subverted masculine roles for herself, are not cited at all. These references would of course be pertinent to a discussion of two sides of Elizabeth. Additionally, there are some historical facts that are incorrect, such as: "Lady Hertford was the sister of Lady Jane Grey, whose severely brief reign prior to that of Elizabeth's brother Edward pointed out a threat, though perhaps not a very strong one, to Elizabeth's claim to the throne" (133). This entire sentence is not just a minor error, as obviously Jane briefly was declared queen after Edward's death, but Jane on the throne was a major threat to the legitimacy and validity of Mary and Elizabeth's claims to the throne and parentage. Jane was already married at the time and could have reasonably produced children, thereby eliminating Elizabeth from the succession, reinforcing Edward's Device, in which he attempted to legally do so. Jankowski also expresses interest in how Elizabeth repurposed distasteful representations of herself, yet she never really explores this idea in the body of her work. It would be an interesting case study, however.

Jankowski suggests that in Lyly's plays he does represent the positive Elizabeth, but it is impossible not to find the dark Elizabeth. For Jankowski, the positives images always carry the negative images with them. This idea by itself is thought-provoking and gives pause to all of the overtly positive images of Elizabeth that were created during her reign. However, Jankowski's artistic examples in the introduction make better examples of light and dark Elizabeth more so than her analysis of Lyly's plays. More often, they reinforce notion that Lyly was trying to flatter his queen, but early modern political thought simply did not have the language or tradition to fully accept a woman as a ruler of men.

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