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Historical Context in On Monsieur's Departure

Historical Context Examples in On Monsieur's Departure:

On Monsieur's Departure

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"what love e’er meant...."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

By ending on the idea of what “love e’er meant” rather than on how the love felt, the speaker focuses on the external implications of her feelings rather than her internal experience. If we read this claim through the historical lens of Elizabeth’s persona, this “meaning” reflects the speaker’s identity crisis. As a queen, she should not have ardent passions that disrupt her countenance. The fact that she experiences this love challenges her persona as the “Virgin Queen.” If the love-stricken version of herself dies and is forgotten, she will not have to think about what the emotion “means” to her fragile, constructed outward identity.

"Or..."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

The lack of decision and resolution at the end of this poem could be read through the historical situation in which Elizabeth lived. As Queen, Elizabeth ironically had supreme power and a lack of power to make decisions on her own. All of her decisions, personal and political, had to be approved and managed by her advisors. This abundance of options and lack of decision suggests that Elizabeth cannot conclusively decide her fate: it will be decided for her.

"soft..."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

In her famous speech to the troops at Tilbury before the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth said: “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.” As the sole ruler of England in a time in which patriarchal social conventions discredited female abilities, Elizabeth carefully balanced her queenly persona. She had the mind and strength of a king trapped in the body of a “weak” woman. She vigorously maintained this persona in portraits, public appearances, and speeches made to the populous. However, here she characterizes herself as “soft,” an adjective that would threaten the entire image on which she had built her monarchical presence. The presence of this word further suggests that this poem was created for private use and reflection rather than for circulation.

"him..."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

The repeated masculine pronoun in this stanza points back to the historical context that ties this poem to Queen Elizabeth’s failed engagement. This “him” could refer to the French Duke of Anjou, a suitor to whom Elizabeth was engaged in 1579 and again in 1581. Both engagements were broken off at the behest of her advisors who saw the match unsuitable due to the man’s young age, French nationality, and Catholic religion.

"too familiar care..."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

As Queen of England, Elizabeth represented her country before herself. She did not have a private life. Her private affairs—marriage, image, feelings, urges, etc.—were dictated by political decisions, formal etiquette, and a team of advisors. She was able to have “familiar care” and wed if it was in the best interest of her country’s politics. However, ardent passions, overt sexual desire, or “too familiar care” would have been seen as violating the mask of etiquette through which relations with the queen had to go. Here, “his” refers either to her lover or her own feelings. Therefore, she is seeing her own passions or the actions of her lover as forbidden intimacy, a violation of the etiquette meant to protect the country from human failings.

"I..."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

The repetition of “I” throughout the first stanza shows the narrator’s obsession with her own thoughts and feelings. Rather than focusing on the love object, as most Petrarchan sonnets do, the speaker of this poem is concerned with her own feelings and the presentation of those feelings. In a way, the version of herself that experiences love becomes her object of obsession. Just as a Petrarchan speaker becomes obsessed with his love object, this speaker becomes obsessed with the external “I” that embodies her feelings. This rhetorical move once again shows that the speaker is divided: there is the rational self and the emotional self.

"forced..."   (On Monsieur's Departure)

When read autobiographically, “forced” suggests the historical context of Queen Elizabeth I’s broken engagement to the French Duke of Anjou in 1579. At the time of the engagement, the Queen was 46 and the Duke was 24. The Queen’s advisers objected to the union because the Duke was Catholic and foreign, and because the Queen was too old to bear heirs to the throne. Plans for a union fell through in 1581 when she sent the duke away, “forced” either by political advice or duty to her subjects.

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