As Brothers and Sisters of The Code well know, Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night….
…asks ‘Caesario’ (Viola in drag)…..
….what ‘he’ would do if ‘he’ were in love with her….
Viola, thinking of her own love for Orsino, answers in one of William Shakespeare’s most beautiful speeches….
Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me…
But what is a ‘willow cabin’?
According to the current proprietors of ‘Anne Hathaway’s Cottage’ in Shottery (a mile from Stratford-upon-Avon) it looks like this:
They have constructed a ‘willow cabin’ out of living willows. Tourists can sit inside it, push a button and listen to a recording of a famous actor reading a Shakespeare Sonnet…
Of course, if Viola in Twelfth Night had constructed her ‘willow cabin’ out of living willows, it would have been some time before she could have taken up residence.
Even her passion might have waned a little…
But what did the Elizabethans mean by a ‘willow cabin’ ?
The late D. A. N. Jones, the literary journalist and novelist…
….argued (privately, to The Code’s Chief Agent) that it would have the same linguistic associations that it has for us. He reported that Viola’s speech always made him ‘weep’ because the word ‘willow’ triggered the word ‘weeping’ as in ‘weeping willow’.
The Shakespeare Code believes that the meaning for the Elizabethans of ‘willow cabin’ is not to be found in linguistics.
It is to be found in politics.
The Shakespeare Code has already argued that the character of Olivia is based on Queen Elizabeth (at her very best).
Viola, dressed as the page-boy, Caesario, pleading her master’s love, would have evoked memories (in the courtly, first-night audience) of Simier, the Duc d’Anjou’s envoy, with whom Elizabeth had fallen in love.
In the end, Elizabeth broke free, both from Simier (‘the monkey’) and his master, Anjou (‘the frog’). She put the needs of England before the needs of her heart.
The Shakespeare Code believes that the image of ‘a willow cabin’ evokes a further memory of the Queen’s selflessness.
The memory of the Armada….
In 1588, England ‘stood alone’ against its enemy Spain.
Lucy Aikin, the great Regency/Victorian historian, points out that not a single Continental power came to Elizabeth‘s aid.
Elizabeth relied entirely upon the people of England - and the people rose magnificently.
Aikin describes how…
…the Corporation of the City of London asked the Queen’s Councillors what was required of them: they replied ‘fifteen ships and five thousand men’. Two days later the city ‘humbly intreated the council, in sign of their perfect love and loyalty to prince and country, to accept ten thousand men and thirty ships amply furnished’. And, adds the chronicler, ‘even as London, London like, gave precedent, the whole kingdom kept true rank and equipage’.
Even the English Roman Catholics, who the Jesuits confidently predicted would join with Spain to overthrow ‘the incestuous bastard’ Elizabeth, found, in the event, that they loved England rather more than they loved Spain.
Some even found that they loved Elizabeth more than they loved the Bishop of Rome….
Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Monatague, the third Earl of Southampton‘s maternal grandfather….
….and one of the leading Catholics in England was…
the first that showed his bands to the Queen (though he was very sickly and in age) with a full resolution to live and die in defence of the Queen and of his country, against all invaders, whether it were Pope, King or potentate whatsoever…
Thanks to the brilliant seamanship of Sir Francis Drake…
….the unleashing of the English fire-ships at Calais against the Spanish….
….and ‘The Winds of God’ that blew the Spanish ships northwards…..
……the enemy was routed at sea.
But everyone thought the Spanish would re-group, return and invade England. If that happened, the English army was finished.
Yet everyone wanted to be part of that army. In fact, so many many men rushed to join the Earl of Leicester at Tilbury (on the Thame’s estuary) that people were begged to stay in their own Shires!
A regiment from Dorset was so keen to face the enemy on the coast that it paid £500 [£250,000] for the privilege of doing so.
A man from Essex not only provided 500 men at his own cost; he seized a musket and insisted on fighting with them himself.
It was all a pre-figurement of Henry V’s ‘Crispin Crispianus’ battle-cry that…
Gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here…
And why, apart from a love of England, did everyone want to be at Tilbury?
Certainly not to be with the hated Leicester…
It was to be with the Queen.
She had made it known she would lead her troops from the front and die fighting with them.
But the Earl of Leicester finally said ‘No’ to the fifty-five year old Elizabeth. He was the only man in England brave enough to do so.
As Elizabeth’s Lieutenant-General he wrote, lovingly but firmly, to the Queen on 27 July, 1588:
Now, for your person, being the most dainty and sacred thing we have in this world to care for, much more for advice to be given in the direction of it, a man must tremble when he thinks of it, specially finding your majesty to have that princely courage to transport yourself to our utmost confines of your realm to meet your enemies and to defend your subjects.
I cannot, most dear queen, consent to that, for upon your well doing consists all and some, for your whole kingdom; and, therefore, preserve that above all.
Yet will I not that (in some sort) so princely and so rare a magnanimity should not appear to your people and the world as it is…..In the meantime, your majesty, to comfort this army and people, of both these counties, may, if it please you, spend two or three days to see both the camp and forts…
To rest you at the camp, I trust you will be pleased with your poor lieutenant’s cabin; and within a mile there is a gentleman’s house, where your majesty also may lie. Thus shall you comfort, not only these thousands, but many more that shall hear of it; and so far, but no farther, can I consent to adventure your person…
On 8 August Elizabeth visited Tilbury…
She was ’‘mounted’ Akin says….
…on a noble charger, with a general’s truncheon in her hand, a corselet of polished steel laced over her magnificent apparel, and a page in attendance bearing her white-plumed helmet. She rode bare-headed from rank to rank with a courageous deportment and smiling countenance..’
William Camden, the contemporary historian, describes how…
the Queen with a masculine spirit came and took a view of her army and camp at Tilbury, and riding about through the ranks of armed men drawn up on both sides her, with a Leader’s truncheon in her hand, sometimes with a martial pace, another while gently like a woman, incredible it is how much she encouraged the hearts of her captains and soldiers by her presence and speech to them…
Dr. Lionel Sharp, attached to Leicester’s forces, also gave an eye-witness account of how…
The Queen… rode through all the squadrons of her army as armed Pallas attended by noble footmen, Leicester, Essex and Norris, then Lord Marshall, and divers other great lords. Where she made an excellent oration to her army, which the next day after I was commanded to redeliver all the army together, to keep a public fast…
Here is Elizabeth’s famous speech, as fine as anything penned by Shakespeare himself….
My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery, but assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people.
Let tyrants fear: I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart of a king and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Paramor Spain, or any prince ofEurope, should dare to invade the borders of my realms. To which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
And here is a verse version of the same speech which James Aske, another eye-witness, reconstructs in his poem Elizabetha Triumphans published in Armada year…
We will them know that now by proof we see
Their loyal hearts to us their lawful Queen.
For sure we are that none beneath the heavens
Have readier subjects to defend their right:
Which happiness we count to us as chief.
And though of love their duties crave no less
Yet say to them that we in like regard
And estimate of this their dearest zeal
(In time of need shall ever call them forth
To dare in field their fierce and cruel foes)
Will be ourself their noted General
Ne dear at all to us shall be our life,
Ne palaces or Castles huge of stone
Shall hold as then our presence from their view:
But in the midst and very heart of them
Bellona-like we mean as then to march;
On common lot of gain or loss to both
They well shall see we recke shall then betide.
And as for honour with most large rewards,
Let them not care they common there shall be:
The meanest man who shall deserve a might,
A mountain shall for his desart receive.
And this our speech and this our solemn vow
In fervent love to those our subjects dear,
Say, seargeant-major, tell them from our self,
On kingly faith we will perform it there…
But what, Brothers and Sisters might well ask, has all this to do with ’the willow cabin’?
Aske, in the same poem quoted above, describes the fields round Tilbury which, being on the Thames estuary, would have been filled with willow trees…
Now might you see the field late pasture green
Wherein the beasts did take their food and rest,
Become a place for brave and worthy men.
Here noble men, who stately houses have,
Do leave them void, to live within their tents.
Here worthy Esquires who lay on beds of down
Do cabin now upon a couch of straw:
Instead of houses strong, with timber built
They cabins make of poles, and thin green boughs….
So when ‘Caesario’ talks of constructing a willow cabin to express his ‘loyal’ love for Olivia, it would evoke the time when the gentry of England constructed their own willow cabins at Tilbury to express their own ‘loyal’ love for their great Queen…
Shakespeare is reminding Elizabeth – and her audience – of a time when love filled the land of England.
It was only days to go before the rebellion of the Earl of Essex…
(See, if you haven’t already, Twelfth Night Decoded Part Five:Orsino as the Earl of Essex. )