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It was at Nonsuch that the Queen usually devoted her leisure hours to intellectual pursuits ; and one cannot imagine any thing of that nature more agreeable to her cultivated mind than the emanations of the all-gifted mind of Shakespeare.
It is most probable that our poet was introduced to the notice of the Queen by the Earl of Essex, and that his introduction to Lord Essex was by his friend and munificent patron, the Earl of Southampton.
As Queen Elizabeth possessed great literary attainments, and delighted much in literature and the drama, so she patronised the superior classes of dramatists, and availed herself of their recreative qualities to divert her mind after the fatigues of regal duties.
The details which have come down to us are very scanty in their elucidation of the times and manner in which her Majesty was entertained with dramatic representations at the palace of Nonsuch ; neither have we been successful in our endeavours to obtain a definite knowledge of the dates when the Queen visited that palace : it is only recorded that, in the latter years of her life, she frequently sojourned there; and that plays and dramatic pastimes formed a part of the amusement of the court there ; but of the names or nature of the dramas, or of the performers, we have no correct knowledge, save that Shakespeare and Tarlton were, at times, honoured with her Majesty's commands to attend.
We feel a gratification in remarking that, however highly honoured Shakespeare might feel by the flattering distinction which he received at the Queen's hands, he fully manifested his sense of it, and repaid it with tributary stanzas of gratitude, of a surpassing kind, which are introduced in his various dramas, breathing a spirit of adulation most refined, without admixture of servility.
First, we find, in “Midsummer Night's Dream,” that, with lofty imagery, graceful flattery, and poetic genius, he compares the Queen to a western star, viz. :
“ That very time I saw (but thou could'st not),
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, ii. 2.
What a fine illustration is this of his own beautiful metaphor of
“ The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,”' &c.
Secondly, in “Henry VIII.,” upon her christening, when Garter King-at-Arms addresses an invocation to Heaven in her behalf, viz. :
“ Heaven, from Thy endless goodness ! send prosperous life, long, and ever happy, to the high and mighty Princess of England, Elizabeth."
HENRY VIII. v. 4. Afterwards, Cranmer pronounces a species of prediction of her rising virtues, worldly eminence, and Heavenly goodness :
“Let me speak, sir,
A pattern to all princes, living with her,
* * * * * * * *
HENRY VIII. v. 4.
Then again, in “The Merry Wives of Windsor :”—
“ About, about,
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, v. 5.
The following is a description of Nonsuch Palace, published by Horace Walpole, at Strawberry Hill, 1757, derived from Camden.
“ Nonsuch, a royal retreat, built by Henry VIII. with an excess of magnificence and elegance, even to ostentation. The whole science of architecture seemed to have been exhausted upon this building ; everywhere so many statues, of exquisite workmanship ; so many miracles of consummate art; so many casts, that rivalled even the perfection of Roman antiquity, that it claimed, and justly so, its distinguished name of Nonsuch, being without an equal; for, as the poets sung:
• This, which no equal has, in art or fame ;
Britons, deservedly, do Nonsuch name.' And also :
• Unrivall'd in design, the Britons tell,
The wond'rous praises of this Nonpareil.' “ The palace was so encompassed with parks, full of deer ; delicious gardens ; groves, ornamented with trellis-works ; cabinets of verdure; and walks, so embrowned by trees, that it seemed to be a place chosen by Pleasure to dwell in, along with Health.”
This is all the information (interesting to Shakespearians) that we have been enabled to collect of that once renowned palace of Nonsuch, where the votaries of Thalia and Melpomene were wont to assemble : Not a vestige of it now remains ;—it has wholly disappeared, and
“ Like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Left not a rack behind.”