little": Boy Company
Representations of a Queen's Authority
Jeanne H McCarthy. Studies in Philology. Chapel Hill: Fall 2003. Vol. 100, Iss. 4; pg. 425
|Abstract (Article Summary)|
Deemed an unnatural ruler by virtue of her sex, Elizabeth I struggled throughout her life with the overwhelming weight of a tradition that associated monarchy and power with masculinity. To resolve this, she asserted her prerogative of patronage to bring companies of boy actors into cultural prominence and then used those companies, in turn, as rhetorical instruments furthering her efforts to legitimate her political authority. McCarthy concludes that the boy actors who had not yet achieved a stable status in the social structure would become the ciphers through which the confused gender hierarchies invoked when a queen ruled in the stead of a king could be explored and reconfigured.
|Full Text (16819 words)|
Copyright University of North Carolina Press Fall 2003
Hamlet: Do the boys carry it away?
Rosencrantz: Ay, that they do my lord-Hercules and his load too.
It is not very strange; for my uncle is King of Denmark,
DEEMED an unnatural ruler by virtue of her sex, Elizabeth I struggled throughout her life with, the overwhelming weight of a tradition that associated monarchy and power with masculinity, a tradition so entrenched by 1558 (despite or because of the brief reign of her sister Mary) that, as Louis A. Montrose has observed, "the political nation, which was wholly a nation of men, seems at times to have found it frustrating or degrading to serve a female prince."2 The queen's "[less] than natural" reign aroused anxiety, so much so that in order to assuage fears that she might threaten established masculinist notions of kingship and to legitimate her claim to authority, she attempted to shape her "performance or construction of herself" as queen by "engaging] and restructuring] the discourses current in her culture that naturalized gender identity."3 Such efforts, as Susan Frye contends, are part of a continually evolving contest with other forces in the culture that were simultaneously trying to inscribe her within more traditional iconography for womanhood, such as "wife" or "marriageable maiden." The sense echoed here by both Montrose and Frye is that Elizabeth's actions and utterances are best understood in the context of a conversation with her powerful court, that is, as participating in "the competition for representation," the terms used in the title of the latter's work.
That conversation, despite a critical tradition asserting her supposed passivity and parsimonious reluctance to spend, extended into the theater, where the embattled queen also attempted to shape the discourse on her rule by selectively promoting and resisting representations of her politics on stage. In particular, she asserted her prerogative of patronage to bring companies of boy actors into cultural prominence and then used those companies, in turn, as rhetorical instruments furthering her efforts to legitimate her political authority. These children's companies and their offerings of diminutive portrayals of adult courtiers, after all, enjoyed such popularity with Elizabeth's court that, according to E. K. Chambers, while the traditional court interluders disappeared and the court masque fell into relative disuse "during the earlier years of Elizabeth's reign, the drama [was] under the domination of the boy companies."4 Although the significance of the relationship between Elizabeth and the boy companies has long been discounted by theater historians and critics alike, including the formidable Chambers, who claimed that she had no "personal" interest in the events shaping the drama during her reign, the boy company performances merit closer scrutiny since they appear to voice the queen's response to the conventional linking of authority with adult masculinity expressed in traditionally male-centered entertainments and masques. More specifically, while courtier-sponsored royal entertainments tended either to encourage romance and marriage or to threaten the queen with unpleasant consequences if she failed to name a consort, and thus imposed upon her a disempowering role, as we shall see, Elizabeth's boy company entertainments tended to define her in more flattering and empowering terms.
ELIZABETH AND THE BOY COMPANY TRADITION
Very little evidence of court drama by the children's troupes prior to Elizabeth's succession exists. Even though the earliest recorded performance by children at court appears in 1515-16, when William Cornish's play Troilus and Pandor was performed by both the Gentlemen of the Chapel and the Chapel Children, the practice, and the effect, of using only children onstage had not yet acquired the status of a convention.5 Neither does an early anti-Luther play performed before Henry VIII appear to have established a precedent for such entertainments, since for many years afterwards there are no more references to Chapel plays. In fact, throughout the period that the two Henry Tudors occupied the throne, gentlemen such as those of the Royal Chapel performed at court as often as did children, and children rarely performed in plays separately from adults. It was not until a company of children led by Nicholas Udall was scheduled to perform as part of Mary's coronation ceremonies that the playing companies themselves seem to have gained any kind of organizational and functional unity.6 But the evolution from a company of children specializing primarily in singing to one specializing primarily in the performance of plays and regularly appearing at court does not take place until Elizabeth's reign.7
Under Elizabeth, two boy companies, the Children of Her Majestie's Chapel Royal and the Children of St. Paul's, began entertaining the queen with such "regularity" that the Children of Paul's "appeared at court more often than any other boy or adult company during the first half of her reign," a sign of favor that Michael Shapiro initially attributed largely to commercial forces and the entrepreneurial skills of various masters.8 Indeed, contrary to prior patterns of monarchic patronage, after Elizabeth I's accession, from 1558 to 1576, the court performances by all-children companies consistently outnumbered those of the adult players: out of 78 performances noted in the Revels accounts for court entertainments in those years, 46 payments (or approximately 60%) went to these two boy companies and only 32 to the more numerous adult companies.9 The numbers are surprising. Their cultural prominence is further confirmed by the fact that virtually all of the major playwrights of the period-except for Shakespeare (so far as we know) definitely wrote for them at one time or another: Richard Edwards, George Peele, John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, John Marston, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, George Chapman, Francis Beaumont, and John Fletcher all authored boy company plays. Even Chambers, who acknowledged that the boy companies dominated the earlier years of Elizabeth's reign, had difficulty accounting for their popularity and appeal.10
Certainly, the transformation of the boy companies into professional players cannot entirely be attributed to the mere imitation of the adult companies, for their successful professionalization (signaled by their movement into permanent playhouses) occurs at the same time as that of the adult companies, follows a period of greater success at court, and does not entirely conform to adult practice. It was after apparently entertaining the queen regularly throughout the 1560s that the two prominent boy companies moved (by 1576) into permanent professional playhouses which, unlike the adults', were indoors. They apparently mounted fewer productions per season than did the adult companies, and while they frequently (if not always) charged admission for their supposed "rehearsals" when not presenting command performances at court, their plays continued to be court-centered. While their dominance as court entertainers temporarily diminished after 1576, ironically enough at the time of their professionalization, they were still receiving a considerable portion of the court awards. Chambers notes that between 1576 and 1583, some 30% (17 of 56) of the recorded rewards for performances continued to be granted to the child players. Most of the remaining 30 payments to the adult companies, moreover, were awarded to the newly established Queen's Men.11 Thus, even when they began competing with the Queen's Men after its formation in 1583, the boy players continued to perform at court once for every two performances given by the men, receiving some 15 of the 45 recorded payments until 1590, so that, as Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean note, the Queen's Men and the amalgamated boy company "became instantly the mainstays of the court holiday schedule."12 After a temporary dissolution of both the Children of Paul's and the Children of the Royal Chapel in 1590-91, in response to their notorious involvement (on the anti-puritan side) in the Marprelate Controversy,13 they were restored to favor once again by 1600 and were once more associated with the queen and her court. Overall, there are 91 recorded court performances of plays by boy companies between 1558 and 1603.14
Towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, the revived boy companies were thriving once more. They were actively competing with the adult companies, challenging them in a "war of the theaters" and contributing to new fads for novelty. They became so popular, and after James's accession so notorious for their satires of him and his court (despite or because of their association with his queen), that they eventually posed a powerful competitive threat to the professional men's companies. Yet, despite the continued use of boy actors in adult company plays after 1603, the renewed faddish interest in the children's company does not last very long: Hamlet's critique of the boys appeared in print in the First Quarto of 1603; the stage at Paul's closed down in 1607; the remaining company, after moving to the Whitefriars in 1608, disappeared as a viable children's company by 1613; and later attempts to revive them by Richard Gunnell (in 1629) and Christopher Beeston (in 1636) failed.15 Having reached the height of their popularity under Elizabeth, then, the boy companies quickly began to disappear, disband, or be absorbed into the adult companies within a decade of James's accession. Their shortlived success requires further explanation, since it would seem that contrary to the critical focus on their Jacobean history, the boy companies were a cultural phenomenon more specific to the Elizabethan period.
A QUEEN'S PATRONAGE: "WHO MAINTAINS 'EM? HOW ARE THEY ESCOTED?"16
Suggestions that Queen Elizabeth may have actively patronized the children's theater have traditionally been dismissed by a rather stringent expectation of direct accounting proof of such patronage and, ultimately, by recollections of her supposed frugality and passivity. Chambers, for instance, having been broadsided, just as he was completing his four-volume study of the history of the Elizabethan stage, by C. W. Wallace's discovery of a diary entry acknowledging Elizabeth as the patron of the revived Children of the Chapel, claimed there was no evidence that Elizabeth "personally financed" either the Chapel plays or "personally directed" the formation of the later Queen's Men "as part of a deliberate scheme of reform [to meet] her 'definite notion of what theatre should be.'"17 Her seeming preference for such companies was, Chambers argued, at most a cost-saving device, motivated entirely by economics rather than politics, and her patronage of the child players was limited to royalties disbursed for the entertainments they provided. Historians have long sided with the formidable Chambers rather than Wallace, and the standing argument has ever since been that the companies were entrepreneurial offshoots of two long-standing, allmale English institutions, the grammar school and the boy choir, whose Renaissance success was largely uninflected by monarchic intervention. Yet given the queen's clear mastery of her public image and theatrical self-presentation in her progresses, receptions of ambassadors, entries, and speeches before Parliament, and her surprising, if temporary, patronage of an adult company of players to serve political ends from 1583 to 1590, it is unlikely that she was entirely uninterested in the effects of her patronage of particular forms of the drama on her self-representation and her power. In fact, the records of payment for her court entertainments and other signs of her patronage that have survived suggest a selective, at times even generous, expenditure towards the children's companies and their masters.18
The most overt evidence indicating Elizabeth's active support of the Children of the Chapel and the Children of Paul's includes not only their preference at court until 1576 and again in the final years of her reign, but a number of generous rewards in the form of land grants, patents, gifts, and stipends to the various masters of both groups. In 1561, for instance, Richard Edwards, the author of Damon and Pithias, was granted a patent that guaranteed him a stipend as it empowered him to impress "well singinge children" for "our chappell royall." Such powers were extended to subsequent masters of the Chapel as well as, in 1584, to Master Thomas Gyles of Paul's. William Hunnis, appointed Master of the Chapel after Edwards in 1567, eventually received "liberal grants of Crown lands ... in 1585."19 In general, an association with the Chapel itself cannot have been unprofitable since, as Suzanne R. Westfall documents, household chapels, in general, were amply funded and furnished.20 Although the Revels Accounts are incomplete for this period, they do record charges for the Chapel's garments between 1559-60, when the Chapel Children were given cloth for "ffurnishinge of a play"; one can assume, however, that such arrangements were not extraordinary--at least thereafter. Evidence that the court was willing to pay for the maintainance of a company of children arises also in the promise of additional "expenditures for board and lodging of childrenactors" in the patents to the masters. Thus, at least one contemporary of the queen seemingly found her directly responsible for the transformation of the Chapel into a performing group. His objection to her activities appears in a colorful pamphlet voicing puritan hostility to the Chapel Children published in 1569. In this pamphlet, only a fragment of which has survived in the records, the author, who attributes the children's opulent costumes to Elizabeth's patronage and seems to consider the children themselves her servants, objects to the fact that "her maiesties unfledged minions flaunt it in silkes and sattens" and further, complains that "these pretty vpstart youthes profane the Lordes day by the lascivious writhing of their tender limbs, and gorgeous decking of their appareil, in feigning bawdie fables gathered from the idolatrous heathen poets."21 The pamphlet writer suggests that Elizabeth was making full use of the Children of Her Majestie's Royal Chapel, keeping them in sumptuous coats and allowing them to perform, on Sundays no less, in plays.
Elizabeth's financial and personal interest in the second company, the Children of Paul's, can be traced in part to her close relationship to its recusant master until 1582, Sebastian Westcote, whose position was preserved "through the personal influence of Elizabeth."22 Although Westcote was periodically under pressure from the Privy Council to renounce his Catholicism, during the years he held his position as almoner and master of Paul's, Hillebrand claims, "he made a fortune; the extent of his possessions, as made known by his will, and the liberality of his legacies show him to have died possessed of ... considerable wealth. The unusual number of household goods was in part due to his keeping a sort of hostelry for the almonry children."23 Like "all of the principal dignitaries of the cathedral," the master of the choristers "either owned outright or had a partial share in various properties in the churchyard during the second half of the sixteenth century." In 1556, moreover, Westcote was granted a "howse messuage or tenement," in the following year "a thirty year lease" to an estate in Essex, and in 1559, "an Almoner howse."24
Indirect evidence of Elizabeth's patronage, and of the dependence of the companies upon her, can be found in the financial hardship endured by the companies and their masters in the periods when they lose their prominence at court, often for political reasons. The career of William Hunnis is a case in point. A Gentleman of the Chapel since 1553, he had previously suffered "an interval of disgrace under Mary, owing to his participation in Protestant plots" and, apparently after offending Elizabeth in the 1575 Kenilworth Entertainments, would no longer receive rewards for plays, a detail perhaps accounting for the decline of the company's prominence at court noted by Chambers: "herewith his active conduct of the Chapel performances appears to have been suspended for some years." The effect of this suspension on his income is evident in 1583--notably, the same year the queen authorized the creation of the Queen's Men--when Hunnis sought to recover funding "for those children whose voyces be chaunged" and for the cost of feeding and housing all of the children.25 While Hunnis's request was eventually satisfied and his "personal grievance must have been fully met" by those land grants given him in 1585, a loss in opulence is evident in both boy companies until their revival at the end of the 15903. The relative decline of the Children of Paul's after Westcote's death in 1582 and after their censure following the Marprelate scandal (1588-90) is apparent in the record made of Bishop Bancroft's visit to Paul's Cathedral in 1598, before the queen's renewed patronage, when he reported that while the choristers of Paul's "have sufficient allowance for meate and drinke" and "come to the Churche in decent order,... they have not their gownes lyned as in former tymes was used."26
More overt evidence of court patronage and its economic significance surfaces again towards the end of Elizabeth's reign. A letter containing court gossip sent to John Chamberlain by Dudley Carleton in 1601 seems to report that Elizabeth had gone to the Blackfriars theater to see a play--"The Q: dined this day priuately at my Ld Chamberlains; I came euen now from the blackfriers where I saw her at the play with all her candidae auditrices"27--and, perhaps more persuasively, a journal entry by a German diplomat, Frederic Gerschow, referring to a visit to the theater on 18 September 1602, suggests that Elizabeth had richly endowed the Children of the Chapel and the Blackfriars theater. In the diary, Gerschow, who had accompanied the duke of Stettin-Pomerania on his grand tour of Europe in 1602, was struck by the fact that Elizabeth was known to be the patron of the children's company at Blackfriars: "[W]e went to the play at the Children's Theatre. . . . The Queen maintains a number of young boys. . . . [I]t is required of them to act a play every week, for which purpose indeed the Queen has established for them a special theatre and has provided them with a superabundance of rich apparel."28
As noted above, the authority of both contemporary references has been attacked. Conflicting interpretations of where Elizabeth actually went when she saw a play at "the blackfriers" stem from the fact that the lord chamberlain, Hunsdon, had an apartment in the Blackfriars liberty. Whereas Wallace assumes logically enough that Elizabeth, like the foreign dignitary, witnessed a performance by her Children of the Chapel at their sumptuous Blackfriars theater in a district that conto be held by the Crown, Chambers and Hillebrand both dispute the assertion that she would ever have gone to a theater (however opulent-though she is known to have attended plays at the Inns, Westminster, and the universities--without drawing more attention than she apparently did. They claim instead that she, accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting, must have witnessed a household performance, performed, curiously enough, by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, at the request of their patron. Such an argument, however, not only dismisses the body of evidence revealing Elizabeth's preference for performances by the Chapel Children, but also selectively ignores Chambers's own discovery that by this time the Children of the Chapel were also allied to the lord chamberlain (since Elizabeth had earlier vacated the post of chapel dean and placed the Chapel directly under the responsibility of his office),29 as well as the odd detail that in 1596 this same lord chamberlain had actually been a signatory to a petition to prevent the Chamberlain's Men from exercising their lease to the Blackfriars Theater.30 Moreover, while subsequent practices of queens certainly cannot necessarily attest to Elizabeth's willingness to attend the theater, it nonetheless seems to have been the case that Elizabeth's successors found attending the Blackfriars less shocking than Chambers and Hillebrand assume it was. There is, for instance, an ambiguous suggestion in a letter from the French ambassador, La Broderie, that Anne may have done so in 1604 "to enjoy the laugh against her husband" in one of the boy company satires of James and his court, and a more certain statement that her successor, Queen Henrietta Maria, did so in 1634, when it was reported that "the Queene was at Blackfryers, to see Messingers playe."31 It is possible that Elizabeth herself may have established the precedent; and at the very least, it is possible that she could just as easily have seen a performance on royal property by the Chapel Children, who were allied to the lord chamberlain, as she could have seen a performance by the company that had been prevented by the same lord chamberlain from playing in the Blackfriars district at all.
The authority of the visitor's claim of the queen's direct interest in her Chapel in his diary was similarly dismissed, this time in disappointingly xenophobic tones, as the consequence of misconstrual of English culture by "a foreigner." After all, Chambers asserts, "This report of a foreigner must not be pressed as if it were precise evidence upon the business organization of the Blackfriars."32 Yet, the stringent insistence on "precise evidence" aside, theater historians, as Oscar G. Brockett acknowledges, have usually found foreign observers' comments on the cultural practices in England particularly useful precisely because "what they see differs markedly from what they are used to in their own country." As a result, such visitors tend to "provide more graphic details of theatrical conditions than native writers who are so familiar with local situations that they consider it unnecessary to record them."33 In addition, there is some indication of a precedent for Elizabeth's possible contribution to a refurbishing of the Blackfriars since she is known to have contributed 1,000 marks, or more than 600 pounds, to the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral after the lightning strike of 1561, a sum much greater than the 11 pounds Evans would spend for repairs to the Blackfriars theater in 1603.34 Moreover, the Blackfriars' precinct itself had also received prior protections from Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth, all of whom had actively resisted efforts by the City to assert its authority over it-a tradition broken when James ceded royal rights to the property to the City in 1608, suggestively enough, in exchange for funds to support an alternative performance site, a banqueting hall at Whitehall, specifically for masques.35 Finding Chambers's counterarguments (and his resort to xenophobia and equally disappointing ad hominem attacks on the American scholar Wallace) troubling and unpersuasive, then, I am less inclined to dismiss Wallace here, and rather to accept his insight since the documents reinforce a growing body of evidence that the queen took an active role as patron of the company.36
Such an interest is further suggested by a court case filed in 1601, when the father of a young boy, objecting to his son's impressment to perform as an actor in the Queen's Chapel, entered a lawsuit against the Chapel masters. In their response to the father's charges, the masters, Robinson and Giles, invoked the queen's protection, as they claimed they had acted under her warrant: "yf the Queene would not beare them furth in that accion, she should gett another to execute her comission for them."37 While such "commissions" could be dismissed as mere formalities codifying (by then) traditional guaranteed privileges, the masters' invocation of the queen's authority in the context of a broader interest in the companies is telling, as it would seem the Chapel masters were boldly impressing boys to meet Elizabeth's renewed demand for entertainments at precisely this time. In her last Christmas revels, for instance, Elizabeth commissioned an unprecedented number of plays (eight as opposed to her more usual three to four). As a contemporary noted, during the final season, "The Court hath flourished more than ordinary. . . . [there is] much dancing, bear baiting and many plays." 38
Even the queen's temporary patronage of the Queen's Men (1583-1603) argues against a dismissal of any political significance to her long-term association with both the Children of "her majesties" Chapel and the Children of Paul's. The apparent novelty of the queen's request that her master of revels form the company in 1583 is underscored by Edmund Howe's insertion of a belated epigraph into the 1615 and 1631 editions of Stowe's Annales, stating that "until this yeare 1583, the queene had no players," and apparently echoed by McMillin and MacLean when they observe that "the founding of the Queen's Men [in 1583] makes the year seem decisive." Acknowledging that "the context of evidence which would allow us to fill in the terms of that decisiveness" is not readily accessible,39 McMillin and MacLean, who have attempted to provide such a background, have nonetheless, by focusing primarily on the context of adult company history, allowed the implied assertion of a lack of precedent to pass unexamined.
After all, Elizabeth's temporary support of the Queen's Men appears to be part of a pattern of concerted breaks with previous Tudor practice. Notably, while attributing various alterations to the practices of her predecessors merely to Elizabeth's budgetary constraints, Chambers records two other such departures: in addition to letting the traditional post of "dean" of the Royal Chapel expire and shifting responsibility for her Chapel directly to the lord chamberlain, as noted above, the queen also failed to maintain the so-called "royal company of Players of Interludes" by refusing to fill the four to eight vacancies that occurred in the traditional group of court players. As Chambers wryly observes, "under Elizabeth, the interlude players were certainly a moribund folk. . . . They were allowed to dwindle away."40 Meanwhile, the Children of the Chapel appeared to flourish. In short, not only does Howe's somewhat belated assertion seem both to ignore the existence of the queen's Children of the Chapel and to reflect the fact that prior to 1583 (and after 1590), Elizabeth consistently made little effort to patronize adult "players"--the children, significantly, seem not to have been commonly referred to as "players"--it also obscures the question of why she did so.
McMillin's and MacLean's work, which has begun to show that the Queen's Men was "deliberately political in origin" and that the company's plays reflected a politics endorsing "Tudor conservativism," has important implications for studies of Elizabeth's relationship to the drama and, more particularly, the children's companies.41 If the Queen's Men were indeed formed primarily as a traveling troupe "to allay . . . vehement Protestant attack," to satisfy the queen's desire to have the "best players" brought into one company to perform before her, and to "curtail the growth of the expanding [troublesome] theatre industry," it is also true that their formation is curiously linked to the children's companies.42 Not coincidentally, the year of their formation, 1583, follows quickly upon the death of Sebastian Westcote of Paul's in April 1582. It also coincides exactly not only with the temporary lack of funding by William Hunnis, nominal master of the Children of the Chapel, in 1583, but the surprising combination of the two children's companies into one and, even more astonishing, the temporary shift of patronage from the queen to the earl of Oxford. After Hunnis seemingly ceded mastership to Westcote's "deere friende" Henry Evans, this amalgamated company was performing Lyly's plays at court by 1584.43 Thus McMillin and MacLean propose that the decision to form the Queen's Men and amalgamate the two prominent boy companies into one group "may well have been related."44 The motive for both actions, I would argue, was political: Elizabeth saw both types of companies as instruments of her court's policies. Certainly, both groups were later prominent participants in the Marprelate stagings, on the episcopal, conformist side, suggesting their involvement (in this instance, overly zealous involvement) in topical controversies in the service of Elizabeth's agenda.
CHILD PLAYERS AND A QUEEN'S MINIATURE AESTHETICS
Indeed, the queen's preferring of the children's companies and their mimicry of adults in their dollhouse-like stagings, prior to and after the formation of the Queen's Men, suggests that they-like another aesthetic fad in the period that she promoted-may have been part of what Patricia Fumerton refers to as an Elizabethan aesthetics of the miniature.45 The popularity of the boy companies during Elizabeth's reign, and with her personally, coincides, after all, with the popularity and the queen's patronage of Nicholas Milliard, who specialized in the painting of miniature portraits. Miniatures, which first became fashionable in the 1550s, "peaked" in popularity in the 15803 when courtiers began collecting or sporting tiny locketed portraits of their beloveds in public.46 Elizabeth cultivated the fad: she kept a collection of miniatures, "divers little pictures wrapt within paper" of her favorites, in a "little cabinet" located in her private rooms.47 These jewelled displays of intimate affections, like the sonnets with which Fumerton claims they are related, reconfigure the private self into an aesthetic artifact. More importantly, in Elizabeth's hands, they were also instruments of clever demonstrations of diplomatic power. As Sir James Melville's account of his introduction to Elizabeth's cabinet of miniatures in 1569 reveals, Elizabeth chose to show him her collection as part of the marriage negotiations between the queen of Scots and Leicester, Lord Dudley. While displaying and then pointedly withholding from him her portrait of Leicester, the queen transformed the miniature into something much more significant than a pretty curio; it became an object of non-exchange between the queen and her rival as they both engaged, via Melville, in "a series of political maneuverings" over the English succession, of which even the great Leicester had become a tiny pawn: "the first [miniature] that she took up ... [I] found to be the Earl of Leicester's picture. I desired that I might have it to carry home to my Queen, which she refused, alleging that she had but that one picture of his. I said, your Majesty hath here the original; for I perceived him at the farthest part of the chamber, speaking with Secretary Cecil."48 Elizabeth was not dealing with the original, however, but rather with the miniature, a well-controlled little pawn that she kept locked in her cabinet. Without denying that her courtiers, sporting miniatures of Elizabeth, might perhaps have tried to assert the same kind of power to diminish and control their queen, I would like to suggest that Elizabeth demonstrates here that she was quite capable of manipulating the rhetoric of the miniature, with all its implications of diminished status or power, fairly skillfully.49
Littleness generally seems to have acquired a particular political significance for Elizabeth.50 Thus, when her diminutive secretary Sir Robert Cecil ordered the queen to bed during her last illness, she reportedly said, "Little man, little man! The word 'must' is not to be used to princes!"51 Cecil's physical size was linked to a criticism of his overreaching, and Elizabeth's remark served as a reminder of his inferiority and her powers to assert her authority over him. Diminutiveness also had a gendered connotation, where littleness was but another attribute of the non-Amazonian woman. It also lent itself, as we shall see, to suggestions of childhood and youth and the rhetoric of infantilization. Elizabeth's sensitivity to the physicality of dominance figures elsewhere in her own proud defense of her height and much of her language of rule and power, particularly when invoking the distinctions between the "body natural" and the "body politic," the latter of which was granted the attributes of being both "ample and large."52 When, for example, she was reported to have said before she died, "My sex cannot diminish my prestige," her remark suggests a certain imaginative construction of her rule in terms of spatial size, and of herself as the body politic, unimpeded by gender.53 The queen also alluded to size in terms of condescending endearment as a means of regulating the relationship between her male subjects and herself. She affectionately referred to the favored Protestant bishop, John Whitgift, for instance, as her "little black husband" and used the diminutive nicknames "frog" and "monkey" or "ape" as terms of affection for the Duc d'Alencon and his marriage negotiator, Jean Simier.54 Clearly, Elizabeth could use such terms creatively to cut her court and courtly wooers down to size.
Indeed, her manipulation of the aesthetics of the miniature to serve her own, different, ends is evident in a contemporary's account of Elizabeth's interest, late in her reign, in a miniature worn by the niece of Robert Cecil. Fumerton discusses the story in terms of Elizabeth's intrusions into her subject's privacy; for my purposes, the anecdote illustrates how she used the miniature's scale to signal the measure of her magnified majesty and to define her relationship to those she ruled differently. According to the account, the queen, taking notice one day of one of her lady's jewels, begged the Lady Derby to reveal her locket's encased miniature. Finding it contained the portrait not of some secret lover, but of the powerful uncle, the account records that Elizabeth "snatched" the locket away and "tyed it uppon her shoe, and walked along with it there," later removing it and pinning it to her elbow. The image of Elizabeth walking about with the semblance of her secretary on her foot and then her elbow suggests an amazing display not only of power, but of her expectations. Cecil, the "little man," becomes the tiny subject always at elbow or wisely keeping step with his giant queen, the personification of the body politic.55
The miniature fad itself was appropriated by Elizabeth in her own practices of gift-giving to her court. In 1585, she presented Catherine Walsingham and Sir Thomas Gresley upon their marriage with a locket bordered with cupids and encasing tiny portraits of the bride and groom. This wedding gift to two powerful courtiers offers yet another perspective on Elizabeth's use of her monarchical power to construct her courtiers's relationship to her: the miniature's tiny representation of the two powerful courtiers reduces them to a toy-like stature, while its inclusion of cupids on its frame fancifully reminds them of Elizabeth's powerful role as match-maker (and the impossibility of resisting her force or will) rather than as an object of desire herself.56 Her choice of gift also offers an interesting point of contrast with the extravagant gift-giving style adopted by James and his court in the form of the wedding masques such as Hymenai (1606), given for the marriage of Essex and Francis Howard, and the later Irish Masque at Court (1613), celebrating Francis Howard's second marriage to Robert Carr, or the series of masques celebrating Princess Elizabeth's betrothal to the Elector Palantine (1613). These large public spectacles, as David Bevington observes, not only constructed James (or less successfully, Anne) as powerful patrons, but rendered their courtiers (Anne's ladies in her masques and James's courtiers in his) "a powerful role in the system of patronage as intermediaries and sponsors in their own right."57 James and Anne used the giving of masques in order to grant their respective favorites "a new ascendency" at court, and according to Leeds Barroll, the queen used them to affirm her "own treasured identity as a queen of substance."58 There is little evidence here of the miniature aesthetic of Elizabeth's reign or of the attempt to invoke the language of scale to diminish the stature of all the monarch's peers, a shift reflected alike in the notorious inflation of honors in the period and in the grand scale of the masque's scenic designs that provided a complimentary backdrop for the courtier participants's elevation to the status of a monarch's companion or "peer."59
It is important to note, moreover, that the imaginative manipulation of proportion and scale evident in Jacobean stagings was already being used to indicate status in such Elizabethan masques as the Kenilworth Entertainments of 1575, authored by George Gascoigne and sponsored by Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester, where Elizabeth was greeted at the castle gate by "sixe trumpetters . . . much exceeding the common stature of men in this age," suggestive of the extraordinary stature of the masque's patron, Leicester.60 In opposition to the tinier scale of the miniature, then, Leicester employed a monumental one. Indeed, Gascoigne claims to have intended his super-sized men to suggest a resemblance between the status of the male resident(s) of Kenilworth and the "men of . . . stature" of the days of King Arthur.61
If, as Marie Axton observes, "the early Elizabethan mask was a political weapon," then the gender dynamics in the courtier-sponsored masques are worth noting. In their stagings of power, such masques typically exaggerated male heroism as they italicized Elizabeth's passive romantic and female identity in conceits that likened her to the pursued woman and reserved the active role for the male in pursuit. It is thus significant that the few courtier-sponsored masques that were staged for Elizabeth throughout her reign tended to invoke conventionally patriarchal themes. For instance, in The Masque of Proteus performed by the law student members of Gray's Inn before Elizabeth and other law students in 1595, the active agent and hero of the masque is not the female ruler, but the lawyer who conquers Proteus and saves his hapless victims.62 Even the apparent exceptions reinforced notions of feminine vulnerability rather than power. In another device of the famed Kenilworth Entertainments cited above, Elizabeth was asked to free the chaste Lady of the Lake from an isle where she had been imprisoned by "the lustful Sir Bruse sans Pite." She acquiesced and freed the Lady, but the scene offered only a weak assertion of female power since the Lady's vulnerability was precipitated by her unnatural resistance to marriage, a position Neptune warns Elizabeth that "the cheefest Gods" opposed.63 The scene is conventionally read as a probable reference to a potential marriage proposal from Dudley that Elizabeth was already resisting.
It is also significant that Elizabeth sometimes actively resisted her courtiers' attempts to co-opt her agency through masques. A possible indication that Elizabeth may have detected something unfavorable to her in the Kenilworth "delights" may be found in her declining the invitation to hear the next day's event that promised a debate about marriage in which the goddess of marriage "Juno was to have the last word." Despite her refusal to attend the entertainment, she was, nonetheless, subjected to a hasty summary of its argument as she was leaving Kenilworth. The author, Gascoigne, dressed as the wood god, Sylvanus, ran beside her departing carriage pleading for the suitors who had been transformed into bushes, "fishes . . . foules . . . huge stony rocks and great mountains" by an unyielding "Zabeta."64 And so, although Gascoigne would claim success in pleasing Elizabeth when he published the Kenilworth Entertainments, the fact that the author had to run alongside the rapidly departing queen, as she rode on horseback, in order to recite the pro-marriage plot of the entertainment she actually refused to attend reveals her active resistance to such insulting efforts.65
Given the masque's apparent utility as a "political weapon," why did Elizabeth resist funding her own versions of them? In her discussion of Gascoigne's difficulties in finding ways "to praise the remote, parsimonious queen," Susan Frye alludes to the customary response that Elizabeth's good financial sense or, to put it more bluntly, her notorious frugality motivated her decision to relegate the costs and trouble of preparing court entertainments to her various courtiers and wouldbe suitors, a point more delicately noted in Stephen Orgel's characterization of the Elizabethan masques as less "lavish in scale" than their Jacobean successors and as "commissioned not by her, but by [her] subjects."66 Barroll, however, proposes an alternative explanation, suggesting that "English custom" -not a reluctance to spend-barred Elizabeth's successful appropriation of the masque to stage her power since, as he observes, "in Queen Elizabeth's time, the masque seems to have been the possession of men, a prerogative reflected in the drama of the period."67 If the early Elizabethan masque was indeed "a political weapon" used often to promote marriage and one that "seems to have been the possession of men," a strong case can be made that Elizabeth's reluctance to sponsor them stemmed from her recognition that they could not be used to promote female authority. The mixed results that attended Queen Anne's later use of the masque during James's reign suggest, after all, that Elizabeth had probably been wise to avoid it.68
Given such a context, that Elizabeth might be inclined instead to encourage playwrights to explore the visual possibilities of a miniaturized, child-centered staging seems plausible enough, for the children's plays and their doll-like, infantilizing aesthetics allowed her to avoid such traditional constraints. By promoting a theatrical space inhabited only by boy actors, she reinforced her efforts to figure her subjects not only as diminutive, but as child-like and dependent. Indeed, boy company entertainments tend to define her as a supernatural mother figure or goddess boldly empowered to rule "the children" of her kingdom as she saw fit, all the while schooling her subjects, in turn, to show her proper deference. The rhetoric and aesthetic of the children's plays thus allows her to employ both the strategic use of scale to regulate status and a particular rhetorical strategy occasionally invoked in her speeches, as in her "answer to [the Commons's] petition that she marry" in 1559, in which she asserts her role as mother to her subjects, whom she reconfigures as her children: "And reproach me so no more . . . that I have no children: for every one of you, and as many as are English, are my children and kinsfolks."69 The children's companies seem to have been instrumental in helping her define that more layered rhetorical stance.
Cumulatively, then, the evidence suggests far more than a casual interest in the boy company by Elizabeth, so much so that it is somewhat surprising that so many critics have asserted that there is absolutely no evidence of Elizabeth's patronage. Even Hillebrand softens slightly on this point and concedes that she "looked with favor on the [boy] company."70 Looking primarily at incomplete accounting evidence, assuming continuities in emergent traditions despite apparent discontinuities, downplaying Elizabeth's agency in her political maneuverings, and employing a perspective that seems all too aware of Shakespeare's successful career, theater historians could not understand why the queen might patronize a group of child players. A less biased look at the plays themselves within the context of competing courtier-sponsored productions and her later use of the Queen's Men, however, offers some insight into her motives while providing further evidence of her support. Indeed, more than marking curious or coincidental historical parallels between her reign and odd bits of popular culture, I would suggest that the flourishing of the boy company tradition under Elizabeth demonstrates that she actively promoted the boy productions-through invitations to perform at court and the granting of various rewards-and used the boy company play, which offered a more appropriately feminine or maternal form of the masque, as the site for configuring and disseminating a non-masculine version of monarchical authority, a practice that James, for similar reasons, understandably rejected. Rather than simply initiating these developments, Elizabeth ensured their popularity through her patronage and capitalized on their existence to use them as vehicles for disseminating her new text of rule, one that played with visual scales that diminished the status of the subject in order to elevate the monarch. As the epigraph to this article is meant to suggest, the metatheatrical references in act 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet highlight this intriguing link between the boy companies and miniatures, and similarly raise the issue of their patronage, when the often-infantilized "son" Hamlet earlier asks, "What, are they children? Who maintains 'em? How are they escorted?" (2.2.343-44). As the play reflects on the child actors' pictures-in-little, it appears to echo an analogy drawn by Richard Mulcaster, who himself was associated with performances by the Merchant Taylor's children, in his Positions [concerning] the Training Up of Children (1581), in which he "continually emphasized the school's role as the nation-in-miniature - 'is not his master his monarch? And the school laws his country's laws?'"71 By offering "pictures in little" of powerful elites, the children's companies, with Elizabeth's support, served to enhance the queen's authority by suggestively infantilizing the Elizabethan subject.
COMPETING REPRESENTATIONS OF A QUEEN IN THE BOY COMPANY REPERTORY
Evidence that the boy companies were participating in a dialogue between the queen and her courtiers can be found not merely in the frequency with which they performed at Elizabeth's court, but in the boy company repertory itself and its obvious, but much-debated, political function. Critical uncertainty over the status and politics of one play, George Peele's The Arraignment of Paris, illustrates well how the inadequacy of current understandings of Elizabeth's strategic self-presentation has led to an exaggerated sense of the opacity of the period's plays. According to the Revels Accounts, the Children of the Chapel, at this point probably referring to the amalgamated group that included the former Children of Paul's, gave six performances at court between 1581 and 1584, all during the December through February season, and R. Mark Benbow argues that one of the plays performed by the Children of the Chapel before the queen on "either January 6 or February 2, 1583/4" was The Arraignment of Paris, whose title page declares it was "Presented before the Queenes Maiestie, by the Children of her Chappell."72
As it tells the story of Paris's ill-fated decision to determine which of three powerful goddesses is the most beautiful, this play blurs the boundaries between the artificial stagings of the masque and the more plot-driven narratives of the typical "play" in ways that are as unconventional as is its gender politics in depicting the most powerful gods and rulers as female. Its masque-like elements include several pageant-like scenes in which the goddesses attempt to sway Paris's decision with gifts, a magnificent council with all of the Olympian gods seated on their thrones, and pastoral stories of unrequited love, all told within a songlaced narrative structure that contains more dialogue and plot than were traditionally seen in a masque. Shapiro's useful summary of the play's more spectacular effects gives some sense of its lavish production requirements: "Peele offers, for example, mythological pageants like the opening scene, in which the country gods and attendants carrying appropriate offerings assemble to welcome the three Olympian Goddesses. . . . Pallas' show, in which nine knights in armor march to drum and fife . . . a wealth of legalistic disputation and formal oratory, and spectacular stage effects like Juno's rising and sinking Tree of Gold."73 Befuddlement over the entertainment's genre, as Shapiro observes, has led to uncertainty over whether the pageantry has political import: is it intended as mere entertainment, or is it a propaeandistic form of courtly criticism or compliment? Can the pageantry be interpreted as producing a political allegory, or is it part of the play's multiplicity of audience-pleasing elements?74 The answers to such questions have varied. In his attempt to situate Peele's Arraignment with the Children of the Chapel within a theatrical tradition, for instance, Benbow suggests that "a close examination of the extant plays and of the Revels Accounts points to the emergence of a new kind of dramatic entertainment in the sixties and seventies, culminating in the work of Lyly and Peele. Growing out of the earlier tradition of expository drama exemplified in the Tudor interludes and moralities, the new drama can be distinguished from its predecessors by its limited, private audience and its specialized subject matter and approach."75 Benbow's review of Revels Accounts and titles of plays points out quite usefully that a kind of drama was being developed for the court and being performed by the children different from that being promoted in the public theaters.
This court drama was often primarily concerned with debates over themes such as friendship and loyalty or the conflict between love and war or between love and duty. As an expository drama concerned with the development of a theme or idea, the children's version of court drama was allied to the courtesy books and novelli, which also dealt with the performance of the nobility and the development of character. The pastoral entertainments presented before the queen also had some resemblance to those presented for her progresses in that they too tended to present "a combination of deities and humans in a dramatization of some problem of love. . . . Mythological plays may well have been produced on the public stage by the adult companies, but they seem to have been more characteristic of the children's companies playing at Court or in the private theatres."76 More importantly, something overtly didactic informs the children's repertory. For instance, in Lyly's play Endymion, The Man in the Moon (published 1591), the schooling or reeducation of Endymion in the necessity of translating his romantic desire for his queen into political devotion employs the common children's play plot device of disciplining courtiers. Endymion's schooling requires a spell or trial of sleep which prepares him to give wholeheartedly his vow of chaste devotion to Cynthia, but in plays like Damon and Pythias, The Arraignment of Paris, Campaspe, Poetaster His Arraignment, and Cynthia's Revels, the disciplining and confrontation often occurs overtly in the form of a trial or arraignment of presumptuous courtiers. The distinctions drawn between goddesses and heroes in the boy company plays differ, then, from those drawn in the productions given by her courtiers, where the goddesses are earth-bound and marriageable and the heroes exceptional and eligible. Such distinctions were extraordinarily important in terms of elevating the queen's status: she presided over a theater that reminded the court of the difference in status of monarchs and subjects.
Given the abundance of historical and cultural narratives supporting masculine rule, it seems likely that boy company playwrights had some difficulty finding a positive icon or iconography with which to represent the female ruler. Perhaps the boy companies' history of short-lived genres -such as their "pathetic heroine" plays, which "the leading London children's troupes of the 1570's and 1580's often performed" and which focused "on pathetic or captive heroines . . . either stalwart matrons or vulnerable maidens" -suggests that their early efforts to flatter a powerful female monarch were not entirely successful.77 On one hand, stories about suffering females such as Patient Grissel may have been hard pressed to satisfy a strong queen's ego, and their relatively short span of court currency implies that Elizabeth's delight in them may have been less than fervent. On the other hand, it is possible that even here the repertory's focus on pathetic heroines and vulnerable maidens may have served Elizabeth's political agenda in forever promoting the possibility that she might marry in order to manipulate not only English suitors, but all of Europe.78 Indeed, in the plays actually performed by the boys before Elizabeth that have survived, anxieties about the gender of the monarch surface and are eventually resolved in not always entirely predictable romantic plots.79 Whereas a pageant by Leicester or any other suitor served an individual subject's attempts at wooing Elizabeth or threatened Elizabeth with dire consequences if she did not marry, the boy company repertory at least served no particular wooer. It tended, rather, to adopt the perspective of the wooed.
But the activation of romance was less a central concern than it was a political tactic. The children's plays performed before Elizabeth appear to invoke romance only in order to offer a masque-like compliment to the queen and a validation of her policies. At the end of The Arraignment of Paris, for instance, the council of gods, following Apollo's advice, relinquishes the responsibility to choose which of the goddesses is the "fairest" to Diana, who sings the praises of the nymph "Eliza," also called "Zabeta," who "governes . . . A kingdome. . . . Ycompast rounde with a commodious sea: / Her people are ycleeped Angeli." Elizabeth is addressed directly and described as a "peereless nymphe whom heaven and earth beloves": someone of both dominions, "not earthly but devine." Because this earthly queen of "Elizium" possesses the virtues of all three-"In state Queen Iunos peere, for power in armes, / And vertues of the minde Mineruaes mate: / As Fayre and louely as the queene of loue: / As chast as Dian in her chast desires. / This same is shee, if Phoebe doe no wrong, / To whom this ball in merit doth belong" (1266-71)- Diana decrees that she is the one deserving of the golden ball. The Fates present her with their emblems as well, indicating their willingness to bless her and establishing a contrast with their previous willingness to condemn Paris with the Trojan War. all the gifts from the Fates emphasize her longevity, how she was blessed at birth by the graces who promised "her life with favour to prolonge." Diana's choice, moreover, reconciles Juno and Athena without giving offense to either.
The play thus offers an elaborate compliment to the queen, although because it treats her longevity as a justification or proof of her sanctity, beauty, and wisdom, the compliment itself may not have been entirely free of unpleasant implications. What it does promote successfully, however, are some of Elizabeth's main objectives: the rhetorical rejection of love, the permanence of the body politic (e.g., her motto semper eadem), the avoidance of war, the elevation of diplomacy, and the tempering of fears of invasion. Warlike preparedness in particular is deemed unnecessary and dismissed when Paris claims that he had little use for Athena's arms since "they dread no foes that sit so lowe / A thorne can keepe the wind from off my backe." The play not only stresses the importance of successful diplomacy since Diana is praised for having given so little offense in her resolution while Paris is punished for speaking his mind so plainly, but it also imagines a separation between mere mortals and the gods who govern their destiny. The courtier-like Paris is put in his place and his manly judgment replaced with a more diplomatic one, suggesting the impassable distance between the ruler and the ruled.
Remarkably, further evidence that the boy company drama actively took up the queen's agenda while participating in a conversation with her male courtiers appears in Peele's treatment of the Paris story. Specifically, Peele's Arraignment reclaims the myth from an earlier application in a masque where it had been in the service of an argument pressuring Elizabeth to marry. The delivery of Venus's apple to a "fairer" maid had appeared in a 1566 wedding masque prepared by a member of the Lincoln's Inn, Thomas Pound, for the marriage of Frances Radcliffe and Thomas Mildmay, a masque Elizabeth attended. In that device, the apple was insultingly delivered to the bride rather than the queen because the bride had made the choice approved by the goddess Juno, "for wedlocke I lyke best." Pound's willingness to oppose Elizabeth's resistance to marriage echoes a stance taken in an even earlier Gray's Inn "comedy," in which Diana's defense of chastity is overthrown by Juno's defense of marriage, attended by Elizabeth and the Spanish ambassador. According to the ambassador, Elizabeth responded to that entertainment given on 5 March 1564/65 with the claim, "This is all against me." Unlike his predecessor, then, when Peele invokes the myth and allows the apple to be presented to the queen, he uses it to defend Elizabeth's anti-marriage, "Virgin Queen" rhetoric and converts the earlier criticism into compliment. As Axton notes, "Two decades after Pound's snub at Bermondsey Elizabeth finally gets her apple. . . . Peele's pattern of figura and fulfilment and his use of political metaphor distinguish this play from Pound's marriage masque."80 The compliment to the queen's "beauty" and longevity is thus coupled with acquiescence to her antimarriage stance.
I would suggest that the inability to read this play's politics underscores less an entrenched resistance to reading the plays in terms favorable to the ruler, or confusion over the distinction between masques and plays, than an inattentiveness to the implications of the gender play enabled by a cast made up entirely of boys. It is a confusion that can be resolved if we acknowledge that the plays performed by the boy companies were in themselves unconventional and functioned as a new type of masque, invoking alternative gender dynamics, in support of Elizabeth's efforts to redefine the terms under which she ruled.
That early modern audiences recognized the real or potential capacity of the boy actor to challenge traditional masculine authority is evident in the reports of audience members' attempts to disrupt a children's performance and being met with the actors' ridicule, and more narrowly, in an account of a Merchant Taylors' school performance. The company, under the guidance of Richard Mulcaster, had performed at court several times prior to 1583 but seems to have had less success in its public performances. Citing a complaint found in the company archives of the Merchant Taylors, Gurr observes, for instance, that "The Merchant Taylors stopped performances by their boys in 1574 on the grounds of wounded dignity." The Taylors' boy company performances, in particular, seemed to be contributing to a breakdown in the social order, instilling such a disrespect "for age or estimation" that the youth, presumably influenced by the performers, assumed "an impudente familiaritie with their betters" in their choice of seats and displayed a "greite contempte of maisters, parents, and magistrats."81 Such complaints anticipate later censorship controversies in the years following Elizabeth's death.
Even if we grant the possibility that audiences, for the most part, tend to accept any given acting convention in a given production without resistance, losing themselves in whatever version of verismilitude its cast asserts,82 it is difficult to ignore the peculiar status of the boy actor convention. After all, to deny the potentially disempowering effect of the use of the boy actor on cultural perceptions of gendered agency, one must give short shrift to the demeaning status of the child in early modern England. As Leah Marcus observes: "until well into the eighteenth century upper-class people regarded children as lower class" while interest in children took place "against a dominant current of relative indifference."83 The inherently disempowered position of the child is, I would suggest, an undeniable element of the boy actor's performance.84 Even when he is meant to be recognized as a transvestite or empowered in his transgressions of cultural norms, the boy is inevitably a passive figure who is valued primarily because he is desired by an actively interested adult. Similarly, echoing an effect similar to that identified by Phillipe Aries in his study of schools of elite portraiture where children are portrayed as miniature adults, a sense of disempowerment is unleashed when a boy performs the part of a courtier, what would normally be perceived as a powerful adult male.85
Recognizing, moreover, that the primary audience for a boy company performance was a queen and her courtiers is extremely important when considering the effect, if not the intent, of the boy company stagings. Court performances, which during Elizabeth's reign tended to occur during the two traditional holiday seasons, Christmas and Shrovetide, could be attended by any number of powerful nobles, household servants including the maids of honor and grooms of the chamber, various wives and children, and foreign ambassadors; in some estimates, the audience could include several hundred attendees.86 Such occasions had social and political implications since they allowed both for the display of favor and power, and especially for the patron of the performance, an opportunity for promoting certain political or social positions.87 Elizabeth's particular tendency to invite the boy actors to court, then, would seem to suggest an interest in the social and political implications of their peculiar performative effects. As critics of the cross-dressed boy actor have long recognized, because the boy actor could embody sexual and gender ambiguity, he was a "construct, always available to interrogate, unsettle, reinterpret the norms."88 In a cast consisting entirely of children, the boy actors' impersonations of male roles (and not merely female roles) could potentially have an effect similar to that which they have been thought to have on femininity: by an extension of the same logic, such performances could "defor[m]," "delegitimfize]," and "hollo[w] out" heroic, heterosexual masculinity, thereby allowing the stage to become a site of "political" resistance to "simulated masculinity," challenging a traditional hierarchy of gender supported under modern "regimes of heterosexuality."89 Such a staging had to be unsettling. As the child actors enacted plots that schooled or disciplined courtiers, they could hardly have been perceived as entirely flattering or empowering "mirrors" of their male audience, particularly as they seemed to subject the male and female court to a "regime of heterosexuality" from which only the queen was free. Thus, while an element of infantilization and disempowerment in a boy company production and a rhetoric of enforced marriage for subjects in a boy company play would have been entertaining to a queen, it would likely have been less so to her male courtiers.
NOVELTY IN THE BOY COMPANY TRADITION: A NEW TYPE OF MASQUE
Our ability to interpret the politics of these plays requires, in short, that we attend specifically to conditions of performance in the children's repertoire and recognize that Elizabeth helped fashion their peculiar blending of pageantry and drama. Boy company authors, after all, seem quite aware that what they were producing was new. Interestingly enough, the use of prologues in which such sentiments are typically expressed was a boy company convention long before it became an adult company convention, at least in the published versions of the plays. What is even more interesting is that in these early prologues, the authors frequently try to anticipate and deflect an audience's resistance to novelty. The prologue to Richard Edwards's Damon and Pithias (published in 1571), for instance, even the one adapted (as the title page suggests) for non-court audiences, includes the poet's assertions of a new aesthetics. It not only trumpets the neoclassical value, later voiced by Polonius and Hamlet, of character decorum-"The olde man is sober, the yonge man rashe"(19)-but when the prologue warns the audience that their lust for "toyes" (3) will probably be frustrated by this new work since "our Aucthors Muse, that masked in delight, / Hath forct his penne agaynst his kinde, nor more such sportes to write / . . . for chaunce hath made this change" (3, 7-9), it appears to define itself as a new type of entertainment. In fact, expressing regret for his past excesses with "masks," the author promises to amend them with his pen by writing a new kind of masque-like "play," one that more satisfactorily meets its new court audience's demands. The prologue also promises that this new play will remedy some of the defects of the former, old-fashioned plays: "as hertofore in commycall wise, were wont abroade to bee" (4).90 Similarly, in the court prologue to Sappho and Phao (1583-84?), another prominent boy company poet, John Lyly, attempts to justify his atypical offering: "We present no conceits nor wars, but deceits and loves, wherein the truth may excuse the plainness, the necessity the length, the poetry the bitterness" (Pro. 7-9).91
The fascinating introductions to the political minefields in Lyly's plays also employ the rhetorical strategy seen earlier in Damon and Pithias of feigning innocence of political and topical relevance. Edwards's prologue to Damon and Pithias, for example, signals his attempts to defuse responses to its potential function as a political instrument by somewhat implausibly denying any connection between the court in the play and that in which the play is performed: "Wee talke of Dionisias Courte, wee meane no Court but that"; "But worthy Audience, wee you pray, take thinges as they be ment" (40,44). Similarly, in "The Prologue at the Court" published in the 1584 edition of Sappho and Phao, Lyly begs the queen to consider "Whatsoever we present, whether it be tedious . . . toyish . . . absolute or imperfect" as no more significant than a "dream" (Pro. 12-16). Writing for a contentious court, Lyly anticilpates objections to the politics in his plays, fragments his audience into dissenters and critics, and pleads with the queen to take his side in a number of his prologues. The court audience is assumed to be-or constructed as -factional, and the poet hopes that his plays will align him not with the courtiers' interests, but with the monarch's. Thus, while in the court prologue to Campaspe (1583-84?), Lyly singles out the queen as his audience -"our hope is your Highness will at this time lend an ear to an idle pastime" (Pro. 9-10) -in the epilogue presented at Blackfriars, Lyly hints at a divided response: "If our pastimes be misliked that have been allowed, you must impute it to the malice of others and not our endeavor" (Epi. 12-14).The epilogue echoes the reference in the prologue to the queen as the arbiter of tastes whose "rising" at the end of the play will encourage all to forgive any imperfections or insults the play may have contained (17).
The prologue of Lyly's Endymion not only warns against reading contemporary allusions, "pastimes," into its plot, but it cleverly claims authorial ignorance of the mystery it is about to plumb: "there liveth none under the sun that knows what to make of the Man in the Moon" (Pro. 1-13).92 The author attempts to avoid having his work classified as a specific genre (and thus constrained by particular generic expectations) in order to support its rhetorical strategy of marking any attempt to draw analogies between the play and the current court as perverse. Refusing to define itself as a tragedy, comedy, or history-"We present neither comedy, nor tragedy, nor story, nor anything" (Pro. 9-10)-it claims to be telling a simple story about the love-longing of Endymion, the Man in the Moon, for Cynthia, the Moon Goddess. Just as Lyly's revision of the plot inverts the original myth (here Endymion pursues Cynthia rather than she him), this new "type" of play is slightly more than "nor anything" because it attempts to revise the gender attributes of rule, reassigning power, authority, and ironically, an epic scale to the female, represented by the moon goddess, Cynthia, and a doll-like scale to the male courtier, particularly in the boy actor's portrayal of Endymion.
The new boy company "masques" under Elizabeth were, then, despite their poets' coy efforts to defuse the misuse of allegorical readings, self-consciously court-centered and politically charged. Indeed, like the title page to Damon and Pithias, printed in 1571, which advertises its court performance as "Neidy Imprinted, as the same was shewed be- / fore the Queenes Maiestie, by the Children of her Graces / Chappell. . . . Made / by Master Edward, then beinge / Master of the Children / 1571" (sig. Air), the plays conventionally publish their christening at court.93 These boy company plays were functioning, in essence, like masques, not only because the boy company productions of such plays as The Arraignment of Paris or Endymion involve spectacle and allegorical or symbolic idealizations of the monarch as a peer of gods and goddesses, but because they were being performed at the queen's request and were intended to flatter the monarch while promoting her propaganda or rhetoric of rule.
Yet, the difficulty boy company authors encountered in attempting to represent a female ruler positively is again illustrated by Lyly's struggle to find the proper iconography with which to do so. His first play written for a Chapel performance before the queen, Campaspe, would seem to fall short, for instance, since it centers on the masculine court of Alexander. In this play, Alexander, between wars, faces a rival in love: both he and his court painter, Apelles, have fallen in love with the captive Campaspe. Alexander's plight seems initially to hold little promise as a compliment to Elizabeth since the plot disregards not only her gender politics, but apparently also her pacifism. Indeed, the choice of this particular model of authority initially appears to register the poet's potential critique of Elizabeth's resistance to war when Alexander resolves his inappropriate romantic interest in the low-born Campaspe by returning to the battlefield. However, a representation that invites an association between the world's conqueror and a queen also has distinctly positive connotations and could serve Elizabeth's political aim of presenting herself as a ruler of imperial stature. Thus, it is possible that the play is merely appropriating and transforming an image of a ruler preferred by those pressuring Elizabeth into a more active engagement with the continent. In fact, Lyly refines the expected image of Alexander--who in actuality raped Campaspe--just as Apelles continually erases and repaints his painting of his beloved, in order to reshape and revise the image of the ideal ruler to reflect more favorably Elizabeth's resistance to marriage. Such, after all, is what happens at the play's end when Alexander realizes that love, his fascination with Campaspe, had been beneath him and hardly appropriate for a world ruler: a position of which Elizabeth would no doubt have approved.
Similarly, while the focus in Richard Edwards's Chapel play Damon and Pithias (performed 1564-65) on taming a tyrant may also initially seem a misstep in such an endeavor to align the play with the queen, potentially tempering the more positive value to Elizabeth of its plot's focus on schooling a courtier in friendship and submission to a ruler's will, the presentation of a bad masculine ruler also could have supported Elizabeth's gender politics. Again, in a play that is primarily focused on male friendships, its exploration of proper governance is ultimately linked to a familiar Elizabethan theme of self-regulation and self-discipline.
Proper governance, the play implies, is temperate and forgiving, a theme developed as Dionysius's tyranny is challenged by claims that gentleness is the better means by which to rule. Pithias's observation, "How happie are the mercifull Princes of their people beloved, / Having sure friendes eueriewheare, no feare doth touch them" (352-53, sig. C1), appears to be an answer to the tyrant's alternative, more warlike stance based on a paranoid anticipation of hostility. Dionysius's own counselor, Eubulus, strikes a similar note of calm restraint when he advises against tyrannical justice and argues a point with which the servant Stephano would concur: that clemency, "mercy and gentilnesse," is the better means for securing the people's love (878, sig. 03). Damon and Pithias offers advice on governance and raises a number of issues (the nature and purpose of justice, the virtues of mercy, the relationship between the ruler and the ruled) that could then become the subject of a debate within the audience after the play is done. It is, in this sense, something like a word problem, offering up a hypothetical instance and inviting affirmation or argument, and as such, it resembles a masque. The reflections on tyranny give the play a didactic tenor that certainly reflects upon Elizabeth. But the schooling may ultimately be directed less at the queen, who seems to have already resisted pressures to punish her enemies severely, than at her own peers who were advocating such preventive intolerance. Rather than schooling her, the play may actually reflect a defense of her own pacifist diplomatic approach and of her strategy of not punishing her enemies too severely.
Using boy company performances to school her courtiers was, I would argue, one of the primary motivations for Elizabeth's patronage. It was in a space partially cleared of adult male prerogative, one that barred adult male as well as female performers, that Elizabeth's ideological aims could be promoted in new plots that argued for the unmatchable (i.e., peerless) superiority of the ruler--the unattainable moon-goddess Cynthia in Endymion, for instance--while simultaneously disciplining the disempowered courtiers into accepting a distant but loving childlike relationship with their maternal queen. On the boy companies' stages, the substitution of adult actors with children would neutralize arguments challenging female authority or access to public spaces; when only children were allowed to perform, a woman's access to the symbolic power of performance was no more restricted than that of the male courtier. At the same time, the diminutive child actors reinforced Elizabeth's rhetoric of maternal rule and aesthetics of the miniature since they suggested an equation between the courtiers being represented and children.
It is, in the end, not so difficult to
imagine why a queen was drawn to such possibilities and endorsed such
an aesthetics. An "anomaly" in the discourses of power simply because
she was female, a queen such as Elizabeth, as Theodora A. Jankowski
notes, "had literally to write her own text of rule or be subsumed
within existing discourse that had a place for her only as a 'subject'
or an Object,' rather than a ruler."94 Because violation of
hierarchy underlay Elizabeth's own negotiation of the definitions of a
woman-king, a theatrical display of indefinite gender attributes carved
out a rhetorical and imaginative space that allowed her to separate her
role-playing from the masculine narrative of kingship that ruled or
guided the interactions within the court traditionally conveyed in the
masque. If she were also worried about maintaining order and the gender
hierarchies throughout her kingdom, she would need to contain her
rewritten text so that its redefinitions applied uniquely to the woman
on the throne, to the body politic but not the natural bodies of other
women. She would need, in short, to create an extraordinary social
identity for the female monarch so that the queen's text could not, by
contagion, undo entirely the discourse on femininity that underwrote
the social hierarchy of her kingdom. By redefining the ruler's playing
space, she made it possible to renegotiate the conventions that
traditionally linked the symbolic space of the stage with male
prerogative.95 The boy actors who had not yet achieved a
in the social structure would become the ciphers through which the
confused gender hierarchies invoked when a queen ruled in the stead of
a king could be explored and reconfigured. Their doll-like stages
served as her own "pictures in little," allowing miniaturized portraits
of both men and women to play themselves out in private spaces, before
elite audiences. In short, patronizing productions that constructed her
powerful courtiers as children was one tactic Elizabeth used to
infantilize them in order to encourage their submission to a new kind
of monarchic authority, one gendered female.