Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen

By Philippa Berry | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Chapter two

A curious conjunction: discourses of love and political power in the French Renaissance

In both Petrarchism and Renaissance Neoplatonism, the definition of masculine identity through or across a female figure had a secular as well as a spiritual dimension. Petrarch’s Rime Sparse established a metonymic relationship between his private experience of love and the moulding of an objective public identity, as a successful poet. And Baldessare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano founded its definition of a ‘courtly’ aristocratic identity upon the Neoplatonic conception of love. But the impact of the love discourses upon the formation of social identity was not restricted to the poet or courtier; in some contexts it extended to the figure of the ruler. In the first half of the sixteenth century, Petrarchan and Neoplatonic attitudes were assimilated by the aesthetic strand of French absolutist ideology in order to forge a new image of the monarch. Both the biblical Wisdom figure and its medieval equivalent had often been depicted as the attribute of kings; French Renaissance literature and art briefly represented a Diana-like female beloved as the custodian, not merely of self-knowledge or of worldly success, but of absolute political power. The importance of this theme within French culture declined in the latter part of the sixteenth century; however, it was taken up and reformulated in courtly representations of Elizabeth I. In this gynocentric cult of an unmarried queen, the emphasis of the love discourses upon masculine subjectivity was to be seriously undermined. Yet the prominence earlier accorded Diana in French absolutism was an important prelude to this phenomenon.

A central theme which appears again and again in the ideologies of Renaissance absolutism relates to the divinely sanctioned power of their monarchs. As proof of this sacred character of their rule they were asserted to wield an especial authority over the natural world, comparable to that claimed by ecclesiastical authorities for the figure of Christ as a second Adam. Of course an emphasis upon the especial holiness of the Christian ruler was not new; it dated from the reign of the Emperor Constantine, and in France itself had been the basis of a cult of royalty in the high middle ages. 1 But the representation of Renaissance


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 194

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?