Gloriana: Elizabeth I in Literature and the Arts


Four hundred years after her death, it is not surprising that Queen Elizabeth I has achieved the status of myth. In truth, however, she was already being mythologized during her life: in popular culture, by her courtiers, and not least of all by herself. “The Virgin Queen” was both celebrated and denigrated. She was the uncanny queen of fairies and the wise biblical judge Deborah. She was the chaste Cynthia, moon goddess and ruler of oceans. She was male and female, a figurative mother to her nation and, some said, a literal mother of bastards. Elizabeth’s 45-year reign was a national work-in-progress; the many representations of Elizabeth that circulated during her life and after offer a window on the continuing negotiations of political power, religious authority, and gender necessitated by the anomaly of her rule. This course presumes no prior study of the period and can serve as an introduction to the culture of Renaissance England. Our materials, mostly 16th-century, include biography, history, poems and songs, plays and other dramatic entertainments, paintings, and Elizabeth’s letters and speeches. We will draw on a variety of scholarly disciplines in interpreting those materials when working to understand the achievements of, and the challenges to, Elizabeth’s reign. Conference work may further pursue some of the course’s issues or materials or may center on a topic wholly unrelated, depending on the student’s interests and needs.