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Film Analysis: “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” Essay

Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most memorable, most discussed and most written about monarch not only in England, but in Western history (Dobson and Watson 2; Rozett 103). She was the only monarch that historians attributed an entire era of English history after. The film “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” is an example of the Queen’s popularity in literature.

Although much of the film had accurately depicted the life of the Queen as to the reason why the Elizabethan period of England was synonymous to the period of peace and prosperity, there were a number of discrepancies between the information shown in the film against data retrieved from historical records. This paper would be presenting these discrepancies as well as an insight on Queen Elizabeth I’s view towards marriage and psychological profile. The film “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” was set in the year 1565, when Spain was considered as the most powerful Empire in Western history and was under the rule of King Philip II.

In order to achieve his goal to spread the Catholic faith across Europe, Philip II began what he considered as a holy war. This war had allowed him to conquer all the European countries, except for England which was still under the rule of a Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I. Although not directly stated, the film implied that it was in the year 1585 that Philip II decided it was time to purify England from the clutches of the devil ruled by a whore (“Elizabeth: the Golden Age”). The film depicted King Philip II clearly as someone who extremely despised Queen Elizabeth I in her entirety.

However, Campion and Holleran stated that when Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne in 1558, King Philip II in fact proposed marriage to the Queen. Although she politely declined is marriage proposal, she accepted the advice and protection that King Philip II offered to her (2). Meanwhile, in a meeting with her political advisers, Queen Elizabeth I was warned that her country was now divided by religion. Half of the country was now practicing the Catholic faith with the other half practicing the Protestant faith.

They recommended to the Queen that measures must be taken against the English Catholics. This was because her advisers saw the English followers of the Catholic faith as a threat to Elizabeth I’s reign because of two reasons. The first was that since they were practicing the Catholic, this meant that they had allied themselves with both the Pope and the kingdom of Spain, who has been considered in the film as England’s greatest enemy. The second was that the Catholics no longer recognized Elizabeth I as their ruler.

Rather, their loyalty had shifted to Mary Stuart, the Queen’s cousin and whom they regarded as the rightful Queen-in-waiting. Queen Elizabeth I responded to her advisers that she would not punish her people because of their religious beliefs and assured them that she had been told that the people still revered her as their Queen (“Elizabeth: the Golden Age”). The division in England, brought about by religious beliefs, had been a problem that did not occur during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.

Instead, this division was an issue that the Queen inherited from her predecessors, Mary Tudor and her father, Henry VIII. According to historical records, Henry VIII rejected the papal authority in 1534 and assumed the title of Supreme Head of the National Church. With the ascension of Mary Tudor to the throne in 1553, she sought to reconcile the English Church with the Church of Rome. Initially, Elizabeth I was considered to be moderate when it came to religious affairs since she was more concerned in keeping her throne, maintaining the peace and the promotion of the prosperity of England.

Furthermore, Elizabeth I herself accepted three different religions during her lifetime: Anglo-Catholic, Catholic, and Protestant. This was why she did not see the English Catholics as a threat and refrained herself from imposing severe punishments. She did, however, encouraged religious uniformity by setting an example. She had also pressured her subjects to abandon their resistance to the established Church of England (Campion and Holleran 11-14; Cole 2; Taylor-Smither 63).

Sir Francis Walsingham revealed to Queen Elizabeth I in the film that an assassination plot called the “Enterprise of England” was discovered masterminded by the Spanish monarchy. The plot included two armies were situated along the coasts of Sussex and Norfolk. They were waiting for the order to assist Mary Stuart to assassinate Elizabeth I and to put Mary Stuart on the throne of England. When she learned about the assassination attempt, Queen Elizabeth I confronted the ambassadors of Philip II to England.

This caused the ambassadors to end their office in disgrace and to view her as the center of an international Protestant conspiracy inciting a rebellion both in the Netherlands and in France (Doran “Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy, 1558-1603” 8; “Elizabeth: the Golden Age”). Upon the discovery of the assassination plot, Mary Stuart had given the order to execute the assassination plot on the Queen. While she was in church, one of the supporters of the Enterprise of England managed to get through the guards at the front of the church and tried to kill the Queen with the use of a pistol.

However, the pistol used was unarmed, and the Queen survived the assassination attempt. The assassin and the other members of the Enterprise of England were captured, imprisoned and tortured. Later, Sir Walsingham then confronted Mary Stuart with regards to the assassination attempt on the Queen and her involvement to the plot. She was then presented the orders she had given out to the members of the Enterprise of England to proceed with the assassination of the Queen. Mary Stuart was tried for treason and was executed by beheading. It was only after the execution of Mary Stuart that Sir Walsingham realized the true intention of Spain.

Through the execution of Mary Stuart who was both a Catholic and an ally of Spain, England provided Philip II a reason to wage war against England (“Elizabeth: the Golden Age”). Although this served as the climax of the entire film, it also contained the most of the discrepancies on historical documents and records except for Mary Stuart’s involvement in the assassination attempt on the life of Queen Elizabeth I. This did not come as a surprise since there have been numerous documents and literary works where the events of the life of Queen Elizabeth I were re-arranged.

An example of this was the biography made by Sir Walter Scott entitled Kenilworth where he changed the events so that Amy Robsart, the first wife of Robert Dudley which occurred in 1560 would coincide with the entertainment spectacle at Kenilworth which occurred in 1575 (Rozett 104). Mary Stuart, who was also known in history as Mary, Queen of Scots, became the Queen of Scotland after her birth in 1542. She married the Dauphin of France and became the Queen of France when he ascended the throne in 1559. Her reign as Queen of France was only short-lived, since her husband died a year later his ascent to the throne.

She then returned to Scotland to assume her place as the Queen of Scots upon the death of her mother. Her succeeding marriages were met with such scandal. Of these marriages, the most scandalous was her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, who had been considered as the alleged murderer of her second husband. Her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell resulted to a national uprising where she was defeated in 1567. She was then forced to sign a document on the threat of death to abdicate her throne and title of the Queen of Scotland.

She tried to regain her title by raising another army which was also defeated. She then sought protection on her life in England and her cousin, Elizabeth I. Outraged by the actions done by the Scottish lords against her cousin, Elizabeth I protected her cousin and detained her as a prisoner (Campion and Holleran 2-3; Perry 145-46). Since the death of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I’s ascension to the English throne, Mary Stuart had expressed publicly her legitimate claim to the English throne since her mother was the eldest sister of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I’s father.

Even though she was a prisoner in England, she remained to be a threat to Elizabeth I. When reports were brought to Queen Elizabeth I’s attention that her cousin was involved in assassination plots against her, Parliament moved for Mary Stuart’s execution. Initially, Elizabeth I did not consider this option since there was no evidence that proved the allegations against Mary Stuart. That all changed upon when Sir Francis Walsingham discovered the assassination plot against the Queen called the Babington plot.

To gather evidence regarding the involvement of Mary Stuart on the plot, he ordered Mary Stuart to be moved to a house where she could be more closely monitored and appointed a new jailer who was less sympathetic to Mary Stuart. Soon, Mary Stuart began to receive news from Europe which were smuggled to her through waterproof packages inserted in the bungholes of beer kegs. Unknown to Mary Stuart, Sir Walsingham had already intercepted these messages and had managed to decode them before Mary Stuart and her confidantes received them.

It was here that Sir Walsingham discovered that the plotters of the assassination of the Queen were headed by a rich and idealistic Catholic squire named Anthony Babington and that there were sixty thousand Spanish and English soldiers ready to rescue Mary upon receiving her approval. She approved the assassination and her rescue in writing. Sir Walsingham presented to Elizabeth I the directions and approval written by Mary Stuart in her own handwriting as evidence and proof of the allegations made against Mary Stuart.

After protecting Mary Stuart for nineteen years, Elizabeth I was compelled by law to transfer Mary to Fortheringhay Castle where she was tried and was found guilty on the crime of treason. She was executed by beheading in 1587. The betrayal brought by Mary Stuart to attempt to assassinate her, Elizabeth I’s outlook towards Catholics began to change and saw them as traitors and a threat to her life. This resulted in her implementing sterner laws against Catholics were enforced with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, torture and death (Campion and Holleran 11-14; Taylor-Smither 63; Thomas 147-48).

King Philip II launched his Spanish Armada against England a year after the execution of Mary Stuart. This decision was not influenced by the execution of Mary Stuart. Rather, it was a result of the declining relationship between the two countries. Between the years of 1565 and 1566, many members of the Spanish nobles had demanded Philip II to forego the Spanish Inquisition because they viewed his measures against Protestantism as an attempt to extend Spanish control over the ecclesiastical affairs as a drive to undermine traditional privileges of Spain.

This Inquisition was temporarily placed on hold due to the constant threats of the Turks to Spain. The moment the Turks signed a series of treaties with Spain, it gave King Philip II the opportunity to once again pursue his goal to expand Spanish rule over Europe (Doran “Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy, 1558-1603” 6-10). The relationship between Spain and England had begun to deteriorate as a result of a number of events that had occurred between King Philip II’s courtship to Queen Elizabeth I and the war between Spain and England.

Among these events were the voyages of Francis Drake around the world which were secretly supported by Elizabeth I. On top of the products from the New World, Drake also looted the Spanish galleons he came across of which the Queen accepted a portion of when he returned from his journeys in 1580 (Doran “Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy, 1558-1603” 9). The Spanish Armada greatly outnumbered the English army because the population of England was significantly lower than that of Spain which resulted in fewer able men to be enlisted in the army.

Also, the military technology of the English army was far behind than any other European countries and it was impossible for Queen Elizabeth I to maintain an army financially because during the four decades of her reign, most of the financial resources were allotted to the maintenance of the blend of politics, socializing and ceremonies that the Queen accomplished through travels around the kingdom (Cole 1; Doran “Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy, 1558-1603” 7; Frye 100; Thomas 160). As the Spanish Armada drew near, Elizabeth I gathered her small army and encouraged them with a short oration which is now known as the “Oration at Tilbury Camp.

” This short speech was considered by most writers and historians accepted as one of the best speeches composed by a monarch in England’s history. The most striking line in the speech which was mentioned in the film, although reworded, was “I […] come to lay down for my god, and for my [kingdom], and for my people, [my] honor and my blood in the dust […] I know I have the body […] of a weak and [feeble] woman, [but] I have the [heart] and [stomach] of a [king], and a [king] of England too […]” (“Elizabeth: the Golden Age”; Frye 98; Green 424-26).

Perhaps what made Queen Elizabeth I such an enigma for many historians and writers was her decision to remain unmarried, which is why she has been referred to in history as “the Virgin Queen. ” Her decision to remain unmarried stretched down to her ladies-in-waiting and her courtiers such that, in order for them to be married, they must first seek the approval of the Queen. Those who married in secret would have to face the fury of the Queen and might even have to face imprisonment.

Such was the case in the movie when she lashed out against Bess, her favorite lady-in-waiting and Walter Raleigh when she discovered they had not only married without her consent, but were expecting a child. Although there are no documentation discovered regarding the encounter between Queen Elizabeth I, Walter Raleigh and Bess, there are numerous accounts on the outbursts of anger the Queen exemplified upon the discovery of the secret marriages of the members of her court. The most documented was the incident between Queen Elizabeth I and one of her ladies-in-waiting named Mary Shelton.

When Elizabeth I discovered Mary Shelton’s marriage to James Scudamore, she exploded and demanded why Mary Shelton or James Scudamore did not seek her approval before they got married. One eyewitness stated that Mary Shelton was hit profusely by the angered Queen and was attacked by the Queen with a candlestick which caused Mary Shelton’s finger to be broken (Doran “Monarchy and Matrimony” 5-6; “Elizabeth: the Golden Age”; Hammer 80-81). Historical records provided two reasons on why Queen Elizabeth I decided to remain unmarried throughout her reign.

One is that it was her own decision in order to be able to concentrate all her attention to the affairs of the kingdom. This was evident in the speech that she had made at Parliament in 1559 when the members of Parliament presented her a petition to marry. She responded to this petition by stating that she was already married to her husband, the Kingdom of England. This being the case, she did not see any reason why she should still marry a man. Another reason historical records presented in connection to her choosing to remaining unmarried were her cousin, Mary Stuart and the circumstances surrounding her cousin’s marriage.

As mentioned earlier, Mary Stuart’s marriage to her third husband led to a civil uprising in Scotland. After being defeated in the civil uprising, the Scottish lords forced Mary Stuart to abdicate the throne of Scotland and her title as Queen of Scotland. Queen Elizabeth I saw her cousin’s marriage as the primary cause of her cousin’s downfall and feared that should she marry, the same events might happen to her (Doran “Monarchy and Matrimony” 2; King 30-33; Taylor-Smither 61).

Psychologists have also presented studies to explain Queen Elizabeth I’s decision to remain unmarried. Based on their findings, psychologists concluded that Queen Elizabeth I was a damaged human being, based on Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality. This damage occurred during her childhood when she witnessed not only her father, King Henry VIII, accusing her mother, Anne Boylen, of the crime of adultery, but also she witnessed her mother’s execution by beheading after she was tried and found guilty of the crime.

This childhood memory affected Queen Elizabeth I’s personality such that she began to embody the traits of males. It also caused her to identify with males in terms of being dominant and exemplifying traits of fearlessness and being aggressive. Because of these personality traits that Queen Elizabeth I adopted and portrayed, it would make it impossible for her to become a wife and a mother because the personality traits that a wife and a mother during this period included being submissive to her husband and to the needs of her children.

Psychologists have also noted her uncontrollable and sudden bursts of rage and mood swings. An example of this was seen in the film when she found out that her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess, not only married Walter Raleigh, but also is expecting a child. This was also evident in historical records when she attacked her lady-in-waiting named Mary Shelton and James Scumadore upon learning that they married without first seeking her approval for their union. These events led modern-day psychologists to conclude that Queen Elizabeth I was suffering from clinical hysteria.

This hysteria was brought about by the unconscious anxieties that she was experiencing as a result of her witnessing her mother’s trial and execution as well as by feelings of jealousy. This jealously was exemplified in the film when Queen Elizabeth I confided to Bess that she was envious of Bess because although she was a Queen, there were many things that her lady-in-waiting may enjoy which she, as a Queen, can never experience (Doran “Monarchy and Matrimony” 5-6; “Elizabeth: the Golden Age”; Hammer 81).

In general, the depiction of the life of Queen Elizabeth I in the film “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” was acceptable, if not accurate. It showed the two sides of the Queen. On one hand, she was a fearless leader devoted to her country and her duties as Queen that she would rather sacrifice personal joys such as being married in order to concentrate on her obligations to her kingdom. She also proved that, in period where women are considered as inferior to men, a woman did not need a man by her side in order to rule a country.

Her experiences during her childhood allowed her to develop important characteristics that a leader during this period must possess – dominance, ruthlessness, aggression and fearlessness. On the other hand, the film also depicted the Queen as an emotionally weak human being. The same childhood experiences that helped her develop her admirable qualities also caused her to become clinically hysterical based on the findings of modern-day psychologists.

Her condition caused her to exemplify sudden emotional outbursts of rage which affected the lives of those who served her court with her outbursts at times causing harm to those who have remained loyal to her. However, the re-arrangement done in the film with regards on the timeline and reasons for events to occur may have provided confusing information for the viewers of the film since these events have been re-arranged just as Sir Walter Scott had done centuries before in order to correlate the events presented in the film to each other even if historical records showed otherwise.

It can only be assumed that the re-arrangement and changes on the relationship of the events that occurred during the timeline presented in the film may have been done in order for the film to become more exciting to view and to highlight more on the positive qualities of the Queen which made her the most popular monarch of Western history. Works Cited Campion, Edmund and James V. Holleran. A Jesuit Challenge: Edmund Campion’s Debates at the Tower of London in 1581. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999. (4) Cole, Mary Hill.

The Portable Queen: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Ceremony. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999. (2) Dobson, Michael and Nicola J. Watson. England’s Elizabeth: an Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003. (1) Doran, Susan. Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy, 1558-1603. New York: Routledge, 2000. (4) Doran, Susan. Monarchy and Matrimony: the Courtships of Elizabeth I. New York: Taylor & Francis Routledge, 1996. (3) Elizabeth: the Golden Age. Dir. Shekar Kapur. Perf. Cate Blanchett, Geoffry Rush, Abbie

Cornish, and Samantha Morton. 2007. DVD. Universal Studios, 2008. (7) Frye, Susan. “The Myth of Elizabeth at Tilbury. ” Sixteenth Century Journal. 23. 1 (1992): 95- 114. (2) Green, Janet M. “’I Myself’: Queen Elizabeth I’s Oration at Tilbury Camp. ” Sixteenth Century Journal. 28. 2 (1997): 421-45. (1) Hammer, Paul E. J. “Sex and the Virgin Queen: Aristocratic Concupiscence and the Court of Elizabeth I. ” Sixteenth Century Journal. 31. 1 (2000): 77-97. (2) King, John N. “Queen Elizabeth I: Representations of the Virgin Queen.

” Renaissance Quarterly. 43. 1 (1990): 30-74. (1) Perry, Maria. The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I from Contemporary Documents. Rochester, NY: Boydell and Brewer Ltd. , 1990. (1) Rozett, Martha Tuck. Constructing a World: Shakespeare England and the New Historical Fiction. Albany, NY: University of New York Press, 2003. (2) Taylor-Smither, Larissa J. “Elizabeth I: A Psychological Profile. ” Sixteenth Century Journal. 15. 1 (1984): 47-72. (3) Thomas, Jane Rush. Behind the Mask: the Life of Queen Elizabeth I. New York: Houghton- Mifflin Trade and Reference, 1998. (2)


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