The Doubt of Future Foes: Summary & Analysis

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

When we discuss the Elizabethan Period of English literature, Shakespeare's name is probably one of the first to come up. In this lesson, we meet one poet of the period many surprisingly overlook. We will summarize and analyze her work, The Doubt of Future Foes!

Summary of 'The Doubt of Future Foes'

From Sir Walter Raleigh to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, lovers of English literature are familiar with a number of noble authors. But did you know that some of the literary elite also happen to be royalty? One of them is Queen Elizabeth I, English monarch and poet of the 16th to 17th centuries, whose poem, 'The Doubt of Future Foes,' serves as words of warning to anyone thinking of crossing this formidable monarch.

This poem of eight rhyming couplets begins with the poet's admission that, 'The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy.' Nonetheless, Elizabeth's wit warns her against getting provoked into squabbles that would be harmful to her position. She also notes the increasing numbers of rumors and rebellious movements surrounding her reign, reckoning that this state of matters 'should not be if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web.'

The 'aspiring minds' that Elizabeth mentions next aren't looking to work toward their dream jobs, but rather conspiring to depose her from the throne. Apparently undaunted by this though, the queen simply attests that the 'clouds of joys untried' that hang over their heads will soon 'turn to rain' as their conspiracies ('all their grafted guile') are rendered 'fruitless' after being discovered 'by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.'

Likewise, Elizabeth then claims that 'the daughter of debate,' referring to her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, will also be foiled in her attempts to breed discord in England. The same goes for any foreign foes who would challenge her, and Elizabeth even strongly suggests 'let them elsewhere resort.' Queen Elizabeth then seals her promise to protect her realm with an ominously confident final couplet: 'My rusty sword through rest shall first his edge employ / To poll their tops that seek such change or gape for future joy.'

Analysis of 'The Doubt of Future Foes'

As a fledgling monarch, Elizabeth grew up with a rigorous and well-rounded education in multiple classical and contemporary languages, literature, and rhetoric. With this sort of academic background, she was well known for her many skilled letters and speeches, and her education is evident in her poetry, as well. However, her poems were never considered as good as her other writings. Nevertheless, Elizabeth's poem 'The Doubt of Future Foes' displays her confidence against her many political enemies in a way seldom seen elsewhere.

We know the poem was most likely written sometime around 1570, because it was at this time that Elizabeth was dealing with some foes at home whom she mentions in 'The Doubt of Future Foes.' One of the longest-running and greatest threats to Elizabeth's reign was her conflict with her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. In Elizabeth's poem, Mary is listed as 'The daughter of debate that discord aye doth sow,' probably owing to the rebellions that had been sparked by her arrival in England in 1568 and her ongoing plots to depose the queen. Nonetheless, Elizabeth lets Mary know that she 'shall reap no gain' in her attempts to cause trouble in England.

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