Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dancing the Chappaqua panic in Denver

It felt fitting to finish a classic of Elizabethan scholarship to the backdrop of the Democratic National Convention at its most contentious and historic (in my conscious life, at any rate).

I've just read the last pages of The Elizabethan World by Lacey Baldwin Smith, a 1966 staple of Renaissance scholarship (that I seem to have read and annotated - and forgotten - years before; oh well; I guess I'll get to read it yet again, as if for the first time, a few more years down the road).

As the shameless exhibitionism of a modern political convention plays out in the other room, I savor a very private image of Queen Elizabeth I, getting down very much off-camera as she was getting on in years:

"At the age of sixty-six she danced the Spanish Panic to a whistle and tabor, but she did so in the privacy of her closet, 'none being with her but my Lady Warwick.'"

Meanwhile, in Denver, and in living rooms across the country, we are dancing the Chappaqua Panic. The Clinton panic.

How will it go? How will this all end? Historians will have plenty to play with, one day (imagine the endless hours of CNN footage, the acres of newspaper coverage, the billions of pixels of blogs ...). According to Lacey Baldwin Smith, historians will have an easier time making sense of it all if it ends badly:

"With failure, the dark necessity of circumstance and personality stand out and the chain of events leading to despair, death and perdition can be traced back to the first false step. But success is too mercurial, too volatile, to be disciplined by causality. It seems to possess no roots, no history; it merely exists, blooms and dies."

I am rooting for the rootless, for puzzling success, not the fatal, false first step, so easy to understand.

And I sure wish the women who still need to win one for Hillary would look back into history a few centuries further (and glance across the pond) to see that women political leaders have nothing to prove. Elizabeth I was proof enough.


The famous Armada portrait of Elizabeth triumphant was poached from Sir Henry's Gauntlet.

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