Queen Elizabeth I Questions and Answers

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What is the main theme of "When I Was Fair and Young" by Queen Elizabeth I?

The main theme of "When I was Fair and Young" is loss. The speaker, Queen Elizabeth I, has come to the sad realization that she has lost the opportunity she once had when she was young and pretty to be loved as a woman. Instead, she'll have to make do with the love of her subjects.

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Elizabeth I wasn't called "The Virgin Queen" for nothing. Despite rumors of romantic dalliances with various courtiers throughout her lengthy reign, she remained unmarried, which, at that time, was a very rare phenomenon among women—especially royal women, who were expected to get married and provide heirs.

If one accepts that Elizabeth wrote the plaintive poem "When I was Fair and Young," it's clear that she deeply regretted having missed the opportunity to love and be loved as a woman. As she looks back on her younger days, the speaker reflects that she was fair—that is to say, beautiful. Note the past tense here. The queen has been forced to face the painful realization that she's no longer beautiful and will therefore no longer be loved as a woman rather than as a queen.

In her younger days, Elizabeth was an eligible young lady. She reflects,

Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.

Again, notice the past tense. The speaker is lamenting over her many losses: the loss of her...

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