The Queen in the Tower

by Sharon Ashton

The Queen in the Tower

What clipping, what culling, what kissing and bussing, what smouching and slabbering of one another: what filthy groping and unclean handling is not practised everywhere in these dancings…  Philip Stubbes. The Anatomie of Abuses (1583)


From the last window of the long gallery she watches; 

a late July sun slips behind ripening wheat and scorched meadows,

its fire caught here and there by swan-lapped moat water,

and far below, their stage a dust-clouded courtyard,

the Coventry Men cavort for her delight — some as women,

yellow wool plaits flapping at their bulging necks

as they plunge false daggers into ancient Danes.

They wear their women’s guises badly, she thinks.


Laced tight within its corset, her own body trickles

warm salt poolings between breasts and thighs

places no sun, or man, has ever lingered, she thinks,

though he has often tried, and doubtless hopes still to succeed;

beguiling all my ladies with his darkling eyes; pushing

aside the crimson hangings embroidered with my name…


Sword clash and men’s women-screams climb the tower

only to fade as the room behind her sings with lifting silks

and flirtings, and perfume of rose, lavender and sweet bay

mingled with acrid scent of swirling evening bodies 

begin to weave the spell of her undoing,

forcing her toes to point and tap the Cinque passi…

Clap Right

Clap Left

Clap Right

Clap Left

Clap Cadence

sweet, treacherous, longed-for cadence

when they will leap to each other

and he will take her,

right hand low on her back,

left below her breast,

right thigh thrust beneath her

to turn and lift her

and in that moment release her

into the music of spheres…


She turns away from the window.

The players can return another day;

my Lord Robert and I will dance la volta…