Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective

Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective

Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective

Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective

Synopsis

Elizabeth I is probably the most famous English woman ever to have lived. She has been celebrated as a great stateswoman, during whose reign England acquired some degree of security in the troubled European arena and at the same time began to lay the foundations for its future empire. She presided over a country undergoing a cultural renaissance previously unimagined. By the time of her death at the age of seventy in 1603, she was being heralded as rival to the Virgin Mary, as a second Queen of Earth and Heaven, as a woman more than mortal women. She has provided subject-matter for innumerable books: seventy biographies have appeared since 1890 and it is impossible to list the enormous number of historical novels based on some part of her life.However, among the many books written about Elizabeth I there is none like this one: Bassnett looks at the life and achievements of Elizabeth from a twentieth-century feminist perspective and considers her as writer, politician, scholar and woman. As a result she succeeds in presenting a more rounded portrait of a figure who has fascinated successive generations but whose private and public life has frequently been the subject of fantasy and speculation.

Excerpt

In earth the first, in heaven the second Maid.

Elizabeth I is probably the most famous Englishwoman ever to have lived. She has been celebrated as a great stateswoman, during whose reign England acquired some degree of security in the troubled European arena and at the same time began to lay the foundations for its future empire. She presided over a country undergoing a cultural renaissance previously unimagined. By the time of her death at the age of seventy in 1603, she was being heralded as rival to the Virgin Mary, as a second Queen of Earth and Heaven, as a woman more than mortal women. Yet in the centuries since her death large numbers of historians, writers and musicians have been fascinated not so much by her divine attributes as by her earthly ones. She has provided subject-matter for innumerable books: seventy biographies have appeared since 1890 and it is impossible to list the enormous number of historical novels based on some part of her life. Her epic conflict with Mary Queen of Scots provided inspiration to Romantic writers from Schiller to Donizetti, who dramatised the struggle between what they perceived as two completely different female types, and made Elizabeth a familiar figure on the stage of both tragic and operatic theatre. In the twentieth century there have been film biographies ad nauseam, along with television biographies and plays, so that the image of a red-haired, white-faced woman in lavish gowns and a wide ruff has come to symbolise Elizabeth for millions of people who may never have actually read one of the many books about her.

What is still fascinating about Elizabeth is that all the writing and rewriting of her history, the multi-faceted depictions of a long-dead woman who reigned for forty-five years (a length of time that defeated all possible predictions when she first ascended the throne in 1558 after her sister Mary) nevertheless refuse to yield a coherent, consistent picture of her. We have portraits, some of her letters, some poems known to be hers and others attributed to her, some of her translations, and beyond that we . . .

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