"This cursed womb": The queen as mother on the early modern stage
Stripling, Mary Kathryn
Skura, Meredith A.
Doctor of Philosophy
While an early modern queen was expected to act as a stabilizing presence by giving birth to heirs and thus securing the line of succession, an examination of the early modern drama reveals that queens who were mothers were, on the contrary, perceived as threats to both domestic and political stability. Dramatic representations of queen mothers illuminate the historical and political contexts in which Queen Elizabeth, in particular, had to negotiate her roles as both a queen and mother. Gorboduc and Jocasta were produced in the midst of the succession debate as part of the widespread attempt to persuade Elizabeth to become a wife and mother. Yet paradoxically, these plays, with their monstrously (self-)destructive mothers, could only have reinforced Elizabeth's notion that biological maternity and queenship were incompatible. Despite Elizabeth's ultimate cultivation of a metaphoric maternity, prevailing fears of a queen mother's power remained, as evinced by two plays produced during the third decade of Elizabeth's reign. Shakespeare's King John demonstrates the ability of savvy political women such as Constance and Eleanor, who mirror the battling cousins Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth, to exploit prevailing fears about maternity in their quests for political power. But they are killed off, just as Zenocrate, in Marlowe's Tamburlaine , falls prey to Tamburlaine's anxieties about her vast influence as both a queen and mother. Queen Anna, the wife of James I, provides an historical example of a young queen mother who capitalized on the power that maternity afforded her before she was marginalized in the Jacobean court. In the last years of her life, she attempted through masque productions, specifically Tethys' Festival, to recover her position as the Jacobean matriarch. Anna, like the other figures of this study, met a premature death. These portraits of maternity suggest that Elizabeth's decision to forego biological motherhood, rather than ending her legacy, instead may well have preserved it. In a culture in which a queen's maternal power was both feared and resisted, Elizabeth, understandably, elected to cultivate a maternity that threatened neither the patriarchy nor her own physical well-being.
Theater; English literature