“Double Meanings” … “Hidden Truths” … “Concealed Allusions” — Politics-as-Usual in Elizabethan England

“Skill in discovering the hidden truth behind the façade of words and appearances became even more important when the trained rhetorician was himself a master of verbal deception and double meaning.

“The ability to ‘speak one thing and think another’ so that ‘our words and our meanings meet not’ was essential to political survival, and according to [The Arte of English Poesie, 1589], ‘not only every common courtier but also the gravest councilor, yea and the most noble and wisest prince of them all’ [Queen Elizabeth] made use of allegoria and other figures of speech to dissemble their thoughts and protect themselves.

Queen Elizabeth attends a play at the royal court

Queen Elizabeth attends a play at the royal court

“Anyone who has read Elizabeth’s speeches to her Lords and Commons knows the truth of the above assertion, for the Queen was a master at ‘speaking obscurely and in riddles’ with ‘a duplicity of meaning or dissimulation under covert and dark intendments.’ [Arte of English Poesie]

“Gloriana was not only adept at verbal chicanery: she was also constantly on the lookout for it in others, especially in playwrights, whom she suspected of writing about those two prohibited subjects that so closely touched her person and prerogative – her marriage and the succession.
[Emphasis added]

“In March of 1565, the Spanish Ambassador wrote that he had been awarded a display of the Queen’s talents at deciphering concealed allusions to her marriage when he had sat through a dramatic performance at court and had listened to Elizabeth’s interpretation of what he saw…”

Lacey Baldwin Smith, Treason in Tudor England: Politics and Paranoia (1986), p. 114

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