Queen Elizabeth I is one the most revered English monarchs and the longest serving (1533-1603 reigning from 1558). Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (troubled parentage if you know how that worked out), she had a difficult youth where she was in and out of favour with the country and her relatives.
Her elder, half sister Mary took the throne after their mutual half brother, Edward VI, popped his clogs as a teenager. Mary and Elizabeth represented opposing Protestant and Catholic factions and Mary was incredibly worried that Elizabeth would be used to head a rebellion to replace her on the throne.
As a result of this suspicion she decided to imprison Elizabeth, in the Tower of London (a bizarrely named castle in central London) for a year to prevent her being used in this way. This poem was written during Elizabeth’s captivity in her book of prayers, hidden from her guards.
This one is a bit of an odd one out in the anthology. It deals with suspicion and what makes someone beautiful… or rather not.
There is not a lot to be said, so you really should avoid this poem if you can help it as your analysis will be limited. It may be acceptable if used in a comparison essay, but I’m fairly sure you’ll still struggle to write for long.
The opening line is a description of disabilities that limit a person beauty. ‘Crookèd leg’ refers to someone physically disabled or lame, ‘blearèd eye’ are blurred and therefore mean visual impairment or sensory deprivation and the second line is a general expression of abnormal features of an individual (‘no part deformèd’). All of these limits on beauty are nothing like as ‘ugly’ as the ‘inward suspicious mind’, meaning that even these physical or mental deformities do not ruin a person’s personality or appearance as suspicion does when it infects their mind.
Obviously this is linked back to Mary and the imprisonment. Elizabeth is suggesting that Mary has sullied her reputation and what people think of her, by imprisoning her, and the very fact she writes this poem demonstrates she thinks this suspicion was baseless and is not best pleased with her half-sister.
Language and techniques
I’ve already virtually examined every word, but I’d draw particular attention to the final line.
The ‘inward suspicious mind’ suggests that the feeling of suspicion or doubt is something held deep down and grows with time. I think the word inward has been used to show this may not be the publicly held opinion or idea, but suspicion that has been planted privately and is not popularly held. I could, of course, be wrong.
This is an epigram – a brief satirical statement. There is barely anything to mention other than the fact it is written in regular iambic pentameter (8 syllables to the line) and has a regular rhyme of ABAB (though the As are at best half-rhymes). The regularity reflects Elizabeth’s mind; she is not emotional, this is a cold, hard statement of reality and I get the impression of resentment that has brooded during her captivity.
As above. She’s pissed off, but she’s not emotional. She thinks Mary has crossed a line and treated her in an unfair manner considering their relationship and the implicit insult (that Mary is an ugly person – inside (and out if you see the portraits!)) demonstrates she resents her half-sister.