Academic journal article Intertexts

Paper-Doll Queen

Academic journal article Intertexts

Paper-Doll Queen

Article excerpt

As the child of a monarch, Elizabeth had a childhood that was in most regards particular. Taken from her mother's care at a most tender age, Elizabeth was sent to her own household in Hatfield where her humanist education began under the care of Catherine (Kate) Champernon and William Grindal. Mastery of various languages was essential to Elizabeth's curriculum. Her command of Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish was of such high caliber that she composed and conversed freely in each language. She also, of course, read texts in these languages with great ease, and was a skilled translator of Latin and Greek literature. (1) Out of her interactions with these works Queen Elizabeth I gleaned inspiration for her carefully crafted identity. Four stereotypes, domina, virgin, mater, and meretrix, constitute the skeleton of Queen Elizabeth's persona. These stereotypes offer a glimpse of Elizabeth's manipulation of classical iconography, and laid the foundation upon which she crafted her controversial, yet convincing identity. Like a paper doll, upon which one may layer a single identity one after another, the queen took various pieces of four stereotypes found in classical texts, domina-virgin-mater-meretrix, and wrapped them one upon the other to fashion her own particular voice. As both monarch and woman, Elizabeth pushed the boundaries of these stereotypes beyond the limits constructed for them in earlier texts.

Elizabeth recognized the importance of the arts and was a valiant supporter of dramatic art, literature, and fine arts. Cognizant of the influence the arts wielded over the general public, she strove to steadily maintain control of them while allowing space for creative expression. According to Sheila Ffolliott, one area in which she craved complete control was royal portraiture (166-67). She took a personal interest "in how she was represented, insisting upon the trappings and appearance of majesty taking precedence over any attempt at realism" (Weir 238). The queen had to be presented as otherworldly and never-changing; her motto after all was Semper Eadem (always the same). Traces of the domina-virgin-mater-meretrix stereotypes may be found in the three portraits to be examined in this essay: the 1569 painting attributed to The Monogrammist Hans Eworth, Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses; the 1579 portrait by George Gower, The Plimpton "Sieve" Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I; and a parchment from 1603 titled Elizabethan Conceit. These works, produced over the course of Elizabeth's reign, are symptomatic of the ever-changing position of woman in the Symbolic (the dominant system of rules and codes) that traditionally suppresses the marginalized feminine voice. (2)

The theoretical foundation of this work rests upon that of Jacques Lacan, specifically his conception of the Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic as they stem from the mirror stage. The texts of Julia Kristeva, pupil of Lacan and practicing analyst, also inform the arguments which follow. Simply stated, the Imaginary is a moment in life absent from desire, absent from lack. The introduction of language draws the individual into the Symbolic order which governs all measures of subjectivity. The Real is that which can not be expressed through manipulation of the Symbolic's rules. It envelops all and is ever-present. The Symbolic is not static and may be changed, but only from within. In Revolution in Poetic Language, Kristeva discusses the semiotic and its relationship to the Symbolic. Here she calls their relationship a dialectic. The term dialectic implies a battle of sorts. The semiotic represents physical drives imprinted upon the subject, while the Symbolic names the more abstract use of language. It is important to move beyond a discussion of these in terms of a binary opposition. Kristeva stands upon the edge of this but never fills in the gap. I propose that in order to push the Symbolic toward change, the semiotic and Symbolic are part of a triangulum; the third position in this structure is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (chora). …

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