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What Not To Say on the GOEs, Part I: Church History

An imaginary exploration of what the world's worst student might say in the General Ordination Exams ...

Describe the Elizabethan Settlement. How was it reached, and what was its importance for Anglicanism?

The Elizabethan Settlement resulted from a complicated and highly politicized series of negotiations; it sprang from a surprising turn of events; it inaugurated lasting consequences in the intricate web of relationships of its major actors; and in the process it played a profound role in shaping Anglicanism, and arguably the whole of the Church in the eyes of the West.

The Elizabethan Settlement occurred when both Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench were nominated for American Academy Awards in 1998 for their portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I. Blanchett in Elizabeth got to bed Joseph Fiennes, who was very much a hottie back then. However, it was Dame Judi Dench's portrayal of a truly virginal Virgin Queen in Shakespeare in Love, made in the same year, that won the Oscar, though in Shakespeare in Love the prize of a night with Joseph Fiennes went to Gwynneth Paltrow. The consequences of the Elizabethan Settlement were profound for all involved. Cate Blanchett’s career has arguably been mostly downhill from there, while Judi Dench not only nabbed the Oscar, but went on to snag even more enviable roles, such as that scheming lesbian hag in Notes on a Scandal in 2006. Cate Blanchett appeared in that film too, of course, but she pretty much got stuck making cow eyes and shocked expressions while Dench stole the film. Arguably, it was the Elizabethan Settlement that led to Dench's resurgence in the consciousness of the American filmgoing public, resulting in, among other things, her winning the role of “M” in the Bond films, which must have been incredibly lucrative, and yet required little more than perfunctory clock-punching from such an accomplished thespian.

The role of politics in the Elizabethan Settlement cannot be denied; Miramax Studios responded to previous Oscar snubs against non-American films and actors with a major publicity push in Variety and in direct-mail campaigns to Academy members urging them to vote for Dench despite her very limited screen time, and although Dench's long and distinguished career certainly deserves recognition, everybody said she pretty much got the Oscar out of sympathy. Frankly, I felt sympathy for her because, unlike the other actors involved in the Elizabethan Settlement, she got pretty much no action as well as very few lines. In this sense, perhaps it could be said that Dench's gains in the Elizabethan Settlement were a triumph for traditional sexual morality.

I would argue, however, that time has proven the real winner of the Elizabethan Settlement to be Gwynneth Paltrow — ironically, since she didn’t actually play Elizabeth. She not only won an Oscar for leading actress, but she also got to roll around with Joseph Fiennes at his peak. The Elizabethan Settlement gave her the respect of critics that has allowed her both to essentially phone in every performance since then and, more importantly, enough “it-factor” eventually to bag Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, who is every bit as talented as Bono — I don’t care what anyone else says about that — and has a far cuter butt and slimmer waistline. (Than Bono has, I mean. Bono’s charismatic, to be sure, but I don’t think either he or Chris Martin has anywhere near as shapely a posterior as Gynneth Paltrow. I have no idea how she manages maintaining that with kids and all — my butt went cottage-cheesy right after my eldest was born, and no amount of time on the elliptical trainer since has managed to get it back into shape. But I digress. Oh geez — I didn’t mean that last sentence to be a pun or anything.)

Why Gwynneth Paltrow went on after achieving such dizzying heights to give her kids weird-ass names like “Apple” is anyone’s guess. However, the most important consequences of the Elizabethan Settlement go beyond individual actors’ careers and their on- and off-screen romances to shape gender politics as well as the Reformation, and with it the character of Western Christianity itself. In the Elizabethan Settlement Joseph Fiennes — the real loser of the Settlement, if you ask me — wasn’t even NOMINATED for an Oscar. Furthermore, his best-known role since then was as Martin Luther in a fairly decent film that, lacking the major studio backing of both Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, never really garnered much attention even though the studio tried marketing it to the fundie crowd. In my opinion, it’s an underrated film, but nevertheless the younger Fiennes essentially hasn’t been heard from since then. Some say that his receding hairline is largely responsible for his ebbing career, but the show biz success and (at least to a certain crowd) sex-symbol status of such follically challenged luminaries as Patrick Stewart and U2’s The Edge suggests another explanation, and in the perspective of many, it’s that the Elizabethan Settlement, and particularly the controversy over dench’s winning an Oscar, seized the public eye for the Elizabethan women in critical, popular, and even business terms such that none of the guys could get anything out of it even though it was really Fiennes’ rakish charm, in my opinion, that made so many women willing to pony up to see yet another movie suggesting that a woman can’t be successful in her career without acting like a man and/or wearing ridiculous amounts of makeup.

And thus, in a remarkable series of coincidences, the Elizabethan Settlement — particularly in light of its long-term repercussions for the actors involved — achieved what many thought was impossible. It made Anglicans, and by extension Anglicanism, seem very sexy indeed in the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium — sexier even than Joseph Fiennes’ dark, smoldering eyes and theological bad-boy demeanor could make Martin Luther. The effect of the Elizabethan Settlement on the career of Coldplay has yet to be seen, but if their performance at Live 8 — particularly in their triumphant rendition of “Bittersweet Symphony” — is any indication, it may be that in the long run, the Elizabethan Settlement will advance the cause of at least one man involved almost as much as of the women.

August 2, 2007 in Churchiness, Just for Fun | Permalink


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I wish I'd written that! Since they don't seem to even read our GOE essays here in a certain west coast diocese, I think I could have submitted it and still be ordained.

It is much more fun to explore here than on Standfirm or T19. May I suggest you see if David Virtue will post it?

God bless you.

Posted by: bill | Aug 31, 2007 2:00:06 AM

Dylan you make church history so much more interesting than I can manage. Let's have more.

Posted by: Fr. Tony Clavier | Oct 13, 2007 10:13:23 AM

Dylan you make church history so much more interesting than I can manage. Let's have more.

Posted by: Fr. Tony Clavier | Oct 13, 2007 10:13:56 AM

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