The playwright's opening remarks on the occasion of the first performance of Queen Elizabeth I to a sold out house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, February 17, 2001.
My Lords and Ladies:
Queen Elizabeth I is in many respects respectable history. The Queen was 25, the year was 1559, and she had been on the throne of England for less than four months when we begin. She was very young, in a kingdom fragmented and torn by religious and dynastic upheaval. Her counselors were, indeed, by the names of Norfolk and Canterbury and Cecil. Edward Courtenay did exist and was a love interest of Elizabeth's but his timing is uncertain. Robert Lord Dudley was also a love interest and later became the Earl of Leicester, but at this time was known primarily as in the line of the house of Warwick. He gets into a considerable amount of trouble. The love and the monologues are about as accurate as Romeo and Juliet or As You Like It. The characters Falsteare, Helen, and the Duchess have been made up. Shakespeare did this sort of thing with his histories. Every three or four hundred years a playwright comes along who is authorized to do this.
Now the wider origins of this play.
At the time Elizabeth I came to the throne of England, in November1558, the legal, political and religious subordination of women was moreor less complete and the situation had been embedded for 2,500 years.There were no laws in Elizabeth's' day guaranteeing the right of women to enter university, serve on juries, receive equal pay for equal work,to sue a husband for rape, or even to appear as actors in the theatre.
If one traces the female condition backwards through the witch burnings to Roman times and then to the ancient Greeks, all the way,that is, to the ceremonies outside Athens in the 6th Century BC we find that women's rituals, especially celebrations of passion were conducted in secret. One is tempted to conclude, therefore, that suppression of this part of a woman's experience has been the way in the West for 2500years.
But if one traces even further, back yet another 1,000 years, the trail leads to ancient Crete and the Island of Thera and here we find something startling. Archeologists have uncovered no art, no pottery, no wall paintings, no seal rings from ancient Crete that clearly and decisively show any male god, or any king or list of kings, but we have found extensive evidence that women were honored. They are portrayed in ceremony and in dance, singing, reveling, in glorious color, in ecstasy,and in the center.
We do not call this matriarchy because we do not know. But we can be absolutely safe in saying that the sheer numbers of representations, the paintings, the ceremonial women, far, far outnumber the men. And thereis not one picture of any woman being dragged by the hair, or speared.
The pictures of the spearing and dragging by the hair, the stories of the Amazon women, the women of Troy, the killing and trading of women as chattel slaves begin sometime after the Cretan civilization, or that is,sometime after about 1450BC. From then on, the pots and shards, the stories and the heroes in remarkable number gain their fame by conquering societies of women, or societies in which women's passion wasunbridled. These were the Trojan Women, the Philistines, Delilah'sbunch, and Calypso's, and the women of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios.
One of the Greek myths is of a certain king Cecrops of whom it was said that he founded the institution of monogamous patriarchal marriage.Before Cecrops, monogamous marriage was, according to the Greeks themselves, unlikely. Scholars today generally agree. Chastity and emotional sobriety for women was instituted at a point in time—the time of Cecrops—and it was some time after the fabulous wall paintings ofthe women of Crete and on the Island of Thera.
Approximately coincident with Cecrops and monogamy for women, we get the poets Homer, Hesiod and the author of Genesis. Here in these texts women are dramatically subordinated to men and no longer at the center and those women to be feared are passionate women, the women to be praised are those who, like Penelope, wait circumspectly for husbands and who are married.
Homer, Hesiod, and Genesis are the literature of the patriarchs and this means not only patriarchy, as in kings, but patrilineal descent. Patrilineal descent, I believe, is the key to the condition of women in western society right down to modern times. We could not have widespread female passionate freedom and have patrilineal descent. So there was a cultural shift, and it seems to have come dramatically over a period ofmore or less seven hundred years between 1500 and 800BC. It is signaled,again, by the Greek myths. The Greeks told us what they were doing.
The goddess Athene was allowed to become the patron of Athens if she would give up the idea of matrilineal descent. If property comes down through the mother's line it is easy to trace because mothers always know their own children. They do not have to guess. Men cannot be so sure. Patrilineal descent, that is, descent through the line of sons,can only be maintained if women are married and monogamous. If women are emotionally and passionately free, patriliny is simply impossible.Patriarchy is impossible.
So the picture is this: Before Greece, there were societies whichwere either matrilineal or mixed but could not have been patrilineal because women were not required to be married. Children were children ofthe clan. After Greece and after Genesis, marriage was required, because a male line could not be established otherwise. Marriage was the institution required to enforce that basic property principle. Eve became subordinate to Adam, Penelope waited for Odysseus to come home after 20 years of wandering. When I was growing up in the wheat fieldsof eastern Colorado in the 1940s, I was taught that respectable women were like Penelope, at home, waiting for Odysseus to come.
This research which is being readied for a book entitled In Search of the Lost Feminine, gave rise to tonight's play. It became clear to me that the collision of property systems, matrilineal or patrilineal, was a problem not only for modern women,like Elizabeth, but for women beginning in the age of Homer and ever since. It is also clear that passion, and the limits of passion, areproblems bedeviling men since at least that time. We have had recent public officials for whom the matter is still unclear. Homer was trying to instruct men for whom the salacious appetite got in the way of good government, which, in turn was founded upon predictable property descent.
Queen Elizabeth I is a depiction of a portion of that struggle, a major part of which actually took place.
I will close by showing how Homer—to my mind—intended toinstruct his generation in the foundation values of western civilization. He did it in a poem studied by the Greeks, Romans,English, French and even Americans in the fields of eastern Colorado in the 1940s.
Women in the wall paintings of Crete and Thera are often seen accompanied with the moon. The moon was naturally a women's symbol. Itis a stunning fact that they share a 28 day cycle. The moon, in turn, goes through changes, waxing, full and waning. Three stages. Then it disappears for three days. The return is important. It always returns.It can be a symbol of return, without fail. Month after month. The three nights of darkness are a cross-over time. We know that this three-day cross over and return was important to ancient story telling. Later,Jesus is in the tomb for three days, and then returns. It is the same metaphor.
In the story of Odysseus, Homer's tale of the husband who returns,the hero is lost on a beautiful island with the goddess Calypso. She loves him. She takes care of him. She nurtures him. But Zeus says he must go home to marriage. So he leaves. Calypso clothes him elegantly and helps him sail. Scholars generally agree that he is going back to the real world. He is leaving the world of goddesses, Cyclops and other monsters. He is heading home. He sails for 18 days and his raft is tossed in the sea by Poseidon. He loses all. He is floating, about to drown. A nymph appears and tells him to take off the clothes Calypso has given him. He floats for three days. He washes up on shore of an island where a girl who is preparing for marriage finds him. He is naked. He is cold. He is exhausted. He sees her and makes a speech for marriage. She anoints him with oil. She gives him new clothes made by a married queen.He is as the prodigal son. Homer uses all the old symbols. He has left the passionate island of love, drifted naked in the water for the cross-over time, the three days when the moon is dark, the traditional return time; he has washed up naked on the shores of a kingdom, with laws and queens and marriage, and is anointed. He makes a speech for marriage.
Homer cannot have meant any thing but that the world of passion,Calypso's world, is forbidden or luckless or disastrous and that the world of marriage is blessed.
I have been married for 42 years and to the most wonderful of women.Voluntary marriage can be a wonderful thing. Make no mistake. Most marriages today are voluntary. But as recently as Elizabeth I of England, it may not have been so easy. Telling a little of the story of the past may help us to appreciate the benefit of conditions we live in today.
My lords and ladies I close with this opening, for an end is always a beginning. Let us go back to the 16th century. You are in the pit of the Globe Theatre and the trumpets sound. A crier comes upon the stage. It is I. And now we begin:
Gentle folk of Santa Fe
We welcome you to this our play
Which never before the world has seen.
This is new ground, a grass so green
Never was a Stoppard here nor Marlowe neither
Nor without your kind applause will be again.
This night our first and also last could be.
So drink deep and sigh with us as if to watch
A passing star. You, our first, most loved
And therefore treasured audience are!