‘The False Marke of the Shadow of Honour’: The significance of honour in late Elizabethan political culture by Adam Diaper
This article explores the potential, latent within late sixteenth-century discourses of honour, for political and moral dissidence. In a letter to the earl of Essex, urging the latter’s reconciliation with the Queen, Lord Keeper Egerton displays an understanding of honour as the monarch’s esteem for a subject in return for loyal service. Conversely, for Essex, honour does not consist simply in obedience, but is the more general reward and recognition of virtue. In notoriously asking, ‘cannot Princes erre’, the earl suggests that care for one’s honour might dictate refusal to comply with a sovereign’s wishes. The extremes to which Essex’s position might hypothetically lead are demonstrated by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in which the senators justify their assassination of Caesar in terms of honour.