Thursday 1st June. 10 AM The Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral. Continuing the banquet from yesterday. Today we see an allegorical scene an acting out of the motions of the planets by actors, similar to the mechanical solar system models, or orreries, of later centuries.
Elizabethans had a great love of allegory, filling their paintings, plays and pageants with classical and astrological references which might seem obtuse today but which were readily understood by the audience then. In our banquet this takes the form of a masque of the planets. Although this scene post-dates Copernicus, his ideas of a sun centred solar system took well over a century to gain any currency so our system is centred on the earth as in the old Ptolemaic model.
So why an orrery? The allegory works, I hope, on several levels. Firstly it represents the prevailing view of the Solar System at the time as a perfect mechanical system ordained by God. Secondly it represents the motions and characteristics of the planets which were believed to affect human lives. Elizabeth frequently consulted John Dee on matters of astrology (such as choosing an auspicious day for her Coronation) and the position of the planets was deemed to be an important factor determining the outcome of events on Earth.
Finally its an allegory of the Court. A court is like the Solar System at the centre is the queen, and her courtiers and people all circle around her, each in their ordained place. This reflects one of the main themes of the film, the position of anointed monarchs in relation to God and their subjects. Just as God had ordained the eternal orbits of the Solar System so He had created an order amongst people each with their own station in life. And at the top of this Great Chain of Being stood the Queen.