Directed by Shekhar Kapur

Discussion Questions

Scene 1: The Stage
1.What advice does Walsingham give to the boy about how he should act? If there is so little beauty and so much suffering in the world, how can one look forward to playing a part in worldly affairs? And is it possible under such circumstances to keep one's innocence?

2. Why does the film show a young boy appointed as the assassin?

3.Why does Walsingham kill the boy after persuading him not to carry out the assassination? If the scene demonstrate Walsingham's own lack of innocence? What does Walsingham's statement that innocence is our most precious possession indicate about his own character?

Scene 2: After the Coronation
1.What problems does Elizabeth face as a new ruler?

2.How would Machiavelli advise Elizabeth in this scene?

3.Why does Sir Walter believe that marrying and producing an heir will secure the kingdom? Who does Elizabeth resist his advice to marry?

4. Is Sir Walter a good advisor?

Scene 3: Elizabeth's Council
1.How does Elizabeth face her first crisis? Does she have the respect of her Council?

2. Why does Elizabeth ask for Walsingham's advice, and why does Sir Walter object to her doing so? What does her turning to Walsingham indicate about her potential as a ruler?

4. Explain Walsingham's advice to Elizabeth: "a prince should watch that he doesn't become afraid of his own shadow."

Scene 4: War's Outcome
1.What does Elizabeth learn from her failed attempt in Scotland? Why does she look at her father's portrait?

2.What does she learn from Walsingham in this scene? Why does she say, with such indignation, "then they are speaking against their Queen!"? What is sedition?

3.How does Walsingham answer her, and why does he answer in the manner he does?

4.What kind of counselor do you think Walsingham is? To what extent does he simply follow Elizabeth's wishes, and tell her what she wants to hear? Would he be a good counselor if he did either? Does he follow Machiavelli's advice about giving advice?

5. How does this scene mark Elizabeth's moving from a reliance on Lord Robert to a reliance of Sir Walsingham? How would you compare the two men? Which has the greater care for Elizabeth? Which has the greater appreciation of Elizabeth?

Scene 5: Princes and their Counselors

1. What kind of deal does Robert make with the Spanish ambassador? What is his motivation?

2. Does he betray Elizabeth by this deal?

3. How does Elizabeth react? What does her reaction reveal about her character? Do you think she would be as likely to react this way when she first became queen?

4. What advice does Sir Walter give to Elizabeth in the next scene? How does it resemble Lord Robert's advice about marrying the Spanish king? Is there any connection between Elizabeth's rejection of Lord Robert and her rejection of Sir Walter as an advisor?

5. Has Walsingham done the right thing by killing Mary of Guise? Has he aided Elizabeth and England? Are their consequences of this murder that might damage Elizabeth's reign?

6. What do you think of the choice Elizabeth makes in this scene of Walsingham over Sir Walter as her closest advisor? Compare the two men as advisors to the queen.

7. Is Elizabeth, in fact, "unfit to rule" as was suggested in Scene 4 when her army was brutally defeated in Scotland? What does her choice of counselors say of her part in Mary of Guise's murder?

8. What does it mean to have the heart of a man? To be afraid of nothing? Is this in fact true of Elizabeth?

9. Sir Walter says his only aim was to secure Elizabeth's throne. She tells him that his policies would make England nothing but the appendage of a foreign power. Are these incompatible - security and being the appendage of a greater power? If one has to choose, which is more desirable - peace and security or liberty and autonomy?

Scene 6: Countering a Conspiracy
1. Norfolk gives voice to what sounds like one of the most Machiavellian statements in this film: "In the future...they will thank me for this act, and forget the manner of it." What crime is he committing? Is he right? Is this a claim Machiavelli would make? Does Norfolk prove more Machiavellian than Walsingham?

2. How adequate is Walsingham's response ("they will forget") to Norfolk? How does the contrast between these two men contribute to our view of Walsingham?

3. Contrast Norfolk and Arundel as traitors. Why does Elizabeth have both of them punished alike?

4. How does Elizabeth's response to Arundel about memory differ from Walsingham's to Norfolk?

Scene 7: Sparing Lord Robert
1. What does Lord Robert mean when he says it is not easy to be loved by a queen? To what does he attribute his corruption?

2. Elizabeth's decision to spare Lord Robert may be the one time in the film that she refuses to follow Walsingham's advice. What does Elizabeth's decision reveal about her? Earlier Walsingham told Mary of Guise that Elizabeth ruled with her heart rather than her head. To what extent is this true here?

3. Would Elizabeth have shown herself to be a better or worse ruler had she followed Walsingham's advice?

Scene 8: To Reign Supreme
1. Walsingham confirms for Elizabeth in this scene that she in fact must be like stone - moved and touched by nothing and no one in order to reign supreme. Will Elizabeth be happy? Would you want to be ruler at this cost? What moves Elizabeth in her ruling England? Will she be a successful ruler?

2. What has moved Walsingham to instruct his Queen in that which is necessary for success? Consider again what Walsingham says to Norfolk in Scene 6. What is the difference between the courage to be loyal and the conviction of one's vanity? Which better describes Walsingham himself? Is there any precedent for this distinction in Machiavelli's Prince?

3. What is Walsingham's understanding of religion? Does it play any role in his understanding of politics? Or in his understanding of human life, more generally? Consider Walsingham's musings to the young boy ordered to assassinate him. Consider also Walsingham's words to the priest while he had him tortured:

You were carrying letters from the Pope. To whom were you told to give them? Tell me, what is God to you? Has he abandoned you? Is he such a worldly god that he must play politics in the filth of conspiracy? Is he not divine? Tell me the truth as if you were face to face with him now? I am a patient man, father.

To what extent might Walsingham be a religious man?

Scene 9: Elizabeth's Marriage to England

1. Why does Elizabeth cut her hair and put on white make-up? Is it an act of hiding or of revelation? What does she mean when she claims that she has become a virgin?

2. Is Elizabeth as a virgin queen compensated in any way for not having heirs?

Paper topics
1. Does Elizabeth's being a woman affect her as a ruler? How do others react to her as a woman ruler?

2. Which characters in this film would Machiavelli praise? Which would he blame? Why?

3. Is there as much a tension between politics and virtue for Elizabeth as there is for Plato, as suggested in the Apology?

4. Socrates says that politics is corrupting. Is Elizabeth corrupted by her involvement in politics? Would Socrates be any more pleased by her and her regime than he seems to be with his rulers and his city?

Elizabeth Readings

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