"It Is The Low Man Thinks The Woman Low"

Context: During the 1870's there was a reaction against Tennyson's previously unquestioned leadership in British letters, expressed publicly by Swinburne. In those years when his poetry was reaching a relatively indifferent public, Tennyson turned to writing drama, penning three plays concerned with English history: Queen Mary, Harold, and Becket. Of the three, only the last-named, revised by Sir Henry Irving, had a successful run in the theater. The queen of Tennyson's play is Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry the Eighth, elder half sister of the woman who was to be Elizabeth the First. Mary is portrayed as loving deeply Philip of Spain and fearing, rightfully, that many persons in her kingdom wish to prevent her marriage to the Spanish (and Catholic) monarch. Outside her kingdom, too, Mary learns, through the French ambassador, there is opposition to a union of Spain and England. Despite the opposition, Mary Tudor dotes on Philip, to the point that she falls in trances and sits upon the floor in an unqueenly manner. While the queen is in a trance, Alice, a maid, and Lady Magdalen Dacres, one of the waiting-women, talk to each other:

I would I were as tall and strong as you.
I seem half-ashamed at times to be so tall.
You are the stateliest deer in all the herd–
Beyond his aim–but I am small and scandalous,
And love to hear bad tales of Philip.
I never heard him utter worse of you
Than that you were low-statured.
Does he think
Low stature is low nature, or all women's
Low as his own?
There you strike in the nail.
This coarseness is a want of phantasy.
It is the low man thinks the woman low;
Sin is too dull to see beyond himself.