“Elizabeth I gave up her entire life for her people…”

…and for this student, who has a genuinely deep appreciation for and pretty good knowledge of this great queen.

But appreciation and admiration can lead a sentence into deep waters. The portion above is already somewhat hyperbolic; here comes the rest:

“Elizabeth I gave up her entire life for her people but instead of as a mortar, she took it like a man and suffered every day.”

If he were not a student at a Catholic university I might be more tolerant of “mortar”; but I thought the martyrs were pretty much the lifeblood of the Church, literally and metaphorically. I could give him a huge benefit of the doubt and speculate that he knows “martyr” but thinks that applies only to someone who dies for religion, and since that isn’t what he’s saying about Elizabeth he chooses a different word. But I can’t hold onto that speculation for more than an instant before it crumbles into dust.

I do hope he wasn’t getting all Freudian and viewing a “mortar” in contrast to taking “it” “like a man.” He doesn’t seem to be that kind of student. He is hoping, though, to be an English major, in which case he’s going to have to learn to recognize those iconic shapes. Of course if she “suffered every day,” perhaps she felt she was being pounded (oh, dear, by a pestle, naturally, and back comes Freud!) by life, or by the men around her, or by destiny, or by events, or by whatever. Nevertheless, she did NOT give up her life as a mortar.

What she “took” is left unclear; I suppose the “it” is life, or the men around her, or destiny, or…. Whatever it is, she took it “like a man.”

What does that mean? This sentence appeared in an essay wherein my student said again and again that Queen Elizabeth did not want to be viewed as a woman, but as a ruler; she used the term “prince” to refer to herself at least as often as she used “queen.” Well, then, taking “it” like a man would be part of that. But is “suffer[ing] every day” part of being a man, or is it the consequence of taking it?

He is leading up to presenting “On Monsieur’s Departure,” a sonnet of paradoxes written by the queen. He is going to interpret her reference to “my other self,” clearly meaning Monsieur, as a comment on her double life, the inner life of a woman and the political life of a man, her renunciation of marriage for the sake of her duties to England. It’s an interesting reading, but poetic convention and the context of the phrase really work against his idea here.

Enthusiasm. Interpretive efforts. Ambition. I applaud him for all of this, and I wish more students shared these willingnesses. I hope he will soon develop the interpretive and expressive tools necessary to support them.

Meanwhile, beware mortardom!

Elizabeth after the defeat of the Armada. Powerful, solemn. Secretly suffering?  (Wikipedia carries this image of the famous portrait)


About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

7 responses to ““Elizabeth I gave up her entire life for her people…”

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