Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation

Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation

Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation

Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation

Synopsis

Elizabeth I is perhaps the most visible woman in early modern Europe, yet little attention has been paid to what she said about the difficulties of constructing her power in a patriarchal society. This revisionist study examines her struggle for authority through the representation of her female body. Based on a variety of extant historical and literary materials, Frye's interpretation focuses on three representational crises spaced fifteen years apart: the London coronation of 1559, the Kenilworth entertainments of 1575, and the publication of The Faerie Queene in 1590. In ways which varied with social class and historical circumstance, the London merchants, the members of the Protestant faction, courtly artists, and artful courtiers all sought to stabilize their own gendered identities by constructing the queen within the "natural" definitions of the feminine as passive and weak. Elizabeth fought back, acting as a discursive agent by crossing, and thus disrupting, these definitions. She and those closely identified with her interests evolved a number of strategies through which to express her political control in terms of the ownership of her body, including her elaborate iconography and a mythic biography upon which most accounts of Elizabeth's life have been based. The more authoritative her image became, the more vigorously it was contested in a process which this study examines and consciously perpetuates.

Excerpt

This book was born from the conviction that not enough attention has been paid to what Queen Elizabeth I wrote and said about the difficulties of constructing her power within the patriarchal society that she ruled. As the queen who governed England from 1558 to 1603 through four crucial decades of imperial, constitutional, and literary development, Elizabeth has been the focus of innumerable biographies and histories. None has considered how Elizabeth worked to create herself or how her self-creation as an authoritative, unmarried woman competed with her own society's conviction that women should be chaste, silent, and obedient. Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation emphasizes Elizabeth's self-creation and the process of contestation that this construction necessitated. It differs significantly from the wealth of material available on Elizabeth because instead of assuming either that Elizabeth was in full contol of how she was represented or that she was controlled by the special-interest groups surrounding her, my focus is the very issue of her agency. That is, I concentrate on Elizabeth's actions and words (as nearly as they can be determined) in order to ascertain the conscious and unconscious strategies through which she worked to create an identity beyond accepted gender definitions.

I have organized this examination of Elizabeth's agency to center on three essential moments in her representation at fifteen-year intervals: first, the London coronation entry of 1559, during which her relation to her most wealthy subjects was at stake; second, the Kenilworth entertainments of 1575, which staged a representational battle for England's foreign policy toward the Netherlands; and third, the tension, frustration, and even violence with which courtly artists and artful courtiers met the self- constructions of the aging Elizabeth around 1590. The use of historical materials required by this organization made me realize that all but the most revisionist studies of Elizabeth read the reign backward from the perspective of the achievements of the 1580s and 1590s--much as she and . . .

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