ELIZABETH (1850)
by
Edgar Allan Poe


Elizabeth, it surely is most fit
(Logic and common usage so commanding)
In thy own book that first thy [name9 be writ,
Zeno and other sages notwithstanding;
And I have other reasons for so doing
Besides my innate love of contradiction;
Each poet - if a poet - in pursuing
The muses thro' their bowers of Truth or Fiction,
Has studied very little of his part,
Read nothing, written less - in short's a fool
Endued with neither soul, nor sense, nor art,
Being ignorant of one important rule,
Employed in even the theses of the school-
Called - I forget the heathenish Greek name
(Called anything, its meaning is the same)
"Always write first things uppermost in the heart."

Elizabeth of Russia was the daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife Catherine I. She was born before her parents were publicly married, and later in her life fought some prejudice from Russian nobles because she was the daughter of a woman who was born a Lithuanian peasant. However, Elizabeth was brought up as a princess; Peter originally hoped to marry her to the son of the King of France but this plan fell through, and later to the Bishop of Lubeck, who died before they could marry.

After Peter died in 1725 and Catherine reigned, Elizabeth was a helper to her mother and gained some familiarity with the issues of government. When Catherine died, she had been persuaded to name her step-grandson Peter II as her heir instead of Elizabeth or her other daughter Anna Petrovna. Elizabeth was a great friend of Peter's, though, and continued to have influence in the country. Peter's death in 1730 could have given Elizabeth an opening to take the throne, as she had the support of the Palace Guards, the nobility, and many of the Russian people. However, the Supreme Privy Council thought she was too frivolous and disliked the descendants of Catherine I, so they chose Anna Ivanovna, daughter of Peter the Great's brother Ivan V. Elizabeth and Anna did not get along, possibly because Elizabeth's independent ways scandalized her court. Anna threatened to have Elizabeth put in a convent, but Anna's lover Biron persuaded her that this would not be a good public relations move due to Elizabeth's popularity.

When Anna died in 1740, she had named her baby great-nephew Ivan VI as heir. In barely a year, though, Elizabeth gathered the support of those who didn't like the number of Germans in power in Russia as well as those who had already liked Peter and Catherine's vivacious daughter. In November 1741, Elizabeth was able to lead her father's favorite guards, the Preobrazhensky regiment, and take power without bloodshed. Ivan was imprisoned -- Elizabeth, a religious woman despite her fun-loving attitude, had sworn never to sign a death warrant -- and his parents were exiled from Russia.

Elizabeth generally wanted to restore things to the way they had been in her parents' time. The major government official under her was her father's one remaining favorite, A. P. Bestuzhev-Riumin, but she called councils to advise her often. Her lovers were often given a lot of power also, but no one could override what Elizabeth was set on. She may have secretly married one lover, Razumovsky (nicknamed "the night emperor" at court) but she never publicly married, citing a broken heart at the death of her earlier fiance. To ensure the succession, she summoned her nephew Peter to Russia from Holstein where he lived with his father, and made him her heir. She also found Peter a wife, the daughter of her late fiance's sister, who was baptized into the Orthodox Church as Catherine. After some years when Catherine finally had a son, Elizabeth took over baby Paul's upbringing and Catherine barely saw her son for the first few years of his life.

Elizabeth tried to keep Russia at peace, even though most of Europe was taking sides in the War of the Austrian Succession and eventually the Seven Years' War -- she was officially on the Austrian side of each but did little except occupy parts of Prussia. She tried to keep corruption out of government as well, and secularized the lands of many monasteries toward the end of her reign (though she had earlier taken lands her father had secularized and given them back to the Church).

Elizabeth could be capricious, ignoring state matters for weeks to attend balls and dances while her ministers tried to get her signature. Elizabeth tried to consider every possible consequence when making a decision (and was often accused by others of laziness because of how long she took to decide). She tended to stay up all night, both to have fun as long as possible, and because her own capture of the throne had taken place at night. Though Ivan was in prison, several conspiracies to break him out and make him Tsar again were uncovered and she was a bit paranoid about sleeping. However, she was generally known for her alternation between parties and praying, which lasted throughout her life. By 1760, she was suffering from asthma, epileptic seizures, and possibly diabetes; the combination overwhelmed her on Christmas Day 1761, when she died and was succeeded by her nephew Peter III.

Sources: Gina Kaus' Catherine: The Portrait of an Empress and Donald Raleigh and A.A. Inskenderov's The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs.

Elizabeth (1998)

Director: Shekar Kapur
Cast Notables:

Introduction

The rise to power of Elizabeth I, Queen of England and France, is the intended story, but given the vast liberties taken with history, perhaps it would be better to call this a historical fiction. I won't get too far into the historical deviance, as that would take a book of its own, and would also spoil the movie, but suffice to say that if you go in expecting history you'll be disappointed. If you expect a riveting story line peopled with a superb cast dressed in masterful period costumes and excellent direction, I think you will be quite pleased.

Dramatis Personae

For me, Ms. Blanchett has embodied the role of Elizabeth I. After her sudden (and slightly awkward) transition from giggling princess to Head of State, she is stately, regal, and not just a little feminine. I enjoy studying English history, and now it is with great difficulty that I can banish the picture of Blanchett in my mind when I read of the last of the Tudor dynasty.

Another historical notable, Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster, is carried away by Geoffrey Rush. What is known of Walsingham historically makes him a very interesting character without the personality, but Rush adds an air of intimidating mystery and casual ruthlessness which makes him a highly memorable character.

Joseph Fiennes finally gets the role he was meant for: A snivelling, whining, self-possessed weasel. He did an excellent job of making himself unlikable, and in this movie, he was in character!

Richard Attenborough plays Sir William Cecil, and is quite entertaining as he portrays a man who is driven above all else to convince Elizabeth to marry, and so to continue the Tudor line and secure her throne.

The Review

Elizabeth successfully takes us back to late 16th century England, as we watch the war between the Protestant Church of England--founded by Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII--and the Catholic Church. The entirety of England was engaged in that struggle, and it is portrayed interestingly in this picture, sharply contrasting Queen Mary, Elizabeth's sister, a devout Catholic, and a particularly homely and not terribly bright woman, with Elizabeth, a Protestant, full of intelligence and beauty. Throughout the movie, Protestants are portrayed as the righteous rebel cause and the Catholics are monsters who would stop at nothing achieve their own ends. The Catholic Church did plenty to demonize itself throughout history without moviemakers making overtures to the obvious. It is not so much the struggle that I object to, but the "In case you didn't realize these were the bad guys, here's another reason to dislike them." plot scenarios became stale quickly, and is the only major drawback to the movie.

The setting is done well, and the costuming was excellent. The costuming actually won an Oscar, and rightly so. It is a rare film that can actually make you feel as though you are looking at the 16th century, but Elizabeth manages to pull it off.

The cast, however, is the real shining point in this movie. As detailed above, the casting choices were so good that I would be hard pressed to name another movie with such an appropriate cast. I am not saying that everyone was perfect, as there was more than a little drawn-out melodrama, particularly from the Spanish ambassador, and the Duke of Anjous. My point is that the people fit their characters well, regardless of how well they acted.

All in all, I give this movie 3 stars out of 4. The missing star is from the deviation from the actual (and not uninteresting) story of Elizabeth I, and from the insult to my intelligence regarding the Protestant/Catholic struggle.

The memory of Elizabeth is always associated with the leaky pieces of snow that rested on sewer covers and became moist and gooey as they were absorbed into the rusty grates of the manhole. Elizabeth was like that manhole and we as her male friends were like those pieces of snow. She took our solid structure and melted us down to puny weak liquid. That’s because Elizabeth was more commanding and willful and brave than me and my male friends.. Sometimes I gathered that she thought we weren't people but, like many of her dolls, only glad to take her abusive games.

So there it is then, that game of jump rope. She held that rope like a horse driver in one of those old western movies. She had that angry, nervous twitch when her hand shook the rope, making us and other boys jump up and down along with this rope like crazy fools trying to escape a whipping. Meanwhile her diamond eyes glimmered with their sharp glow, cutting into our flesh like a knife, telling us, "you miserable little colts, how dare you think that you'll escape my wrath." I had an inkling that she knows that we boys liked getting wounded by her mischievous eye. Somehow, and I don't know why, we mistook her torture for pleasure.

One day when Elizabeth got a shiny brand new bike, we all went for a ride. Well not exactly. Let me explain how it all went down. I along with some boys were running around playing tag. We were all so hyper and sweaty at that moment. She decided to make the game into her own twisted creation with rules that benefited her voracious appetites and impulses. She rode onto the scene with a green bike, her red pigtails wildly swaying in the wind. Her inflamed red eyes were revolving in their search for prey. She was like a wolf hungry for meat, the others were like scared little bunnies trying to escape her cruel clutches of death.

As I ran away from her I was entranced: I listened to the smooth whirring sound of the bike wheels as the green glimmer of the bike's body gleefully struck my eyes as if I saw the first green leaf blooming in the spring. The sight warmed up my cold sweaty hands like a crackling fire in the midst of a campsite. And then the devil tagged me. I was told to sit on her bike, hold on to her, and help her catch the rest of the boys. As I sat behind her, my hands rubbed against the fire of her pigtails, warming themselves up so intensely that they were blistering from heat and turned callous.

Over the next few days me and her rode around the neighborhood, tormenting the boys who were formerly our friends. I was the enforcer of her cruel demands. She had me jump down from the bike and give these critters who were our friends their due. The one that got beat up a lot was Lenny, the pathetic wimp who was like an end-of the-season flower: drooping, dried out from the sunlight, and ready to fall apart.

Lenny, you poor sap, how mercilessly did my fist smash into your face. Well I was somewhat merciful: I gave you more than ten seconds to get out of my sight so that I wouldn't hurt you anymore. But you stood there motionless, looking up at her royal highness strutting on the heights of her bike, hoping she'd invite you to jump on.

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