In light of ‘Tis Pity’s metaphorical—and ultimately quite literal—fascination with hearts, there is a compelling tidbit currently circulating on the SHAKSPER listserv. The story goes that Queen Elizabeth (first of that name, whom today we might come to know more familiarly as “E-Rex”), following the death of one of her handmaidens, commissioned an autopsy to determine whether signs of the young lady’s love-lorn state could actually be found imprinted on her heart. In a strange extension of the era’s conviction that inward and outward states ought to match (beautiful people have beautiful souls, naturally, as Giovanni argues in the play, and vice versa), Her E-Rexitude wanted to find out whether the experience of love, or being heartsick perhaps, became physically legible.
Even more deliciously, a version of the story has it that she died heartbroken—over her own brother! (And of course her ghost still hangs about, as it might be expected to; here’s a link where you can even catch shots of her from a GhostCam.)
Here are excerpts from the conversation, including two replies to the initial inquiry that include references to some source material, if you find your curiosity aroused. Watch out, though; that might show up somewhere you don’t expect.
from the SHAKSPER online listserv, Hardy M. Cook ed.:
————————————————————————————————-“This source is referred to, and indeed quoted from, in Lesel Dawson, Lovesickness and Gender in Early Modern English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 16-17.”
“The accompanying footnote is very helpful and gives the details of the original source. A copy of the text is available on Google.”
Hope that helps.
Best wishes, C. Bowditch
Editor’s Note: I’m glad to find another subscriber who has learned the useful joys of Google Books:
“The story you are referring to, I believe, occurs in a letter by Philip Gaudy written in 1600 regarding ‘Mistress Ratcliffe,’ one of the Queen’s handmaidens. You can find a reference to this in Lesel Dawson’s book [same citation].”
“The woman, ‘Mistress Ratcliffe,’ was otherwise known as Margaret Radclyffe, and a fuller version of her story (as contained in Gaudy’s
letter) can be found here: