Elizabeth I: The Diverse Actress

Queen Elizabeth I was an incredibly accomplished figure and played a starring role in the media of her time. Like an actress, Elizabeth played out various roles with the aim of increasing her status as a Queen. These roles include ones such as her portrayal as a Renaissance prince, as well as a manly warrior and a supreme goddess. Interestingly, this Queen essentially mirrored her royal family’s tradition of using culture to enhance their positions. One of the forms of media that Elizabeth used, and for me personally, the most fascinating, is paintings and iconography.

On one of her pressings of coinage, the Queen was positioned on the front side on a ship, holding an orb and sceptre, and with the Tudor Rose. The ship is a call back to Mary I’s reign when she was put in this exact position, and positioning was used to show her as a warrior, the same as its use for Elizabeth. Therefore, Elizabeth was portraying herself as a warrior, a persona that was echoed in other types of media throughout her reign. The orb and sceptre was simply used to remind her subjects of her royal legitimacy and authority, though was still important as this was the basis of her legitimisation of her power as Queen. The Tudor Rose symbol provided a similar role, reminding her subjects of her successful ancestors and her royal blood. It could also suggest that she was affirming to her nation that she would be just as successful as these previous rulers, allowing people to hold hope in her in ruling them.

In the Ditchley Portrait, Elizabeth is placed on the map of England, reflecting a beam of light. This is a very much humanist painting, and the light represents humanist education and logical thinking, showing that Elizabeth was wise and was bringing this into England. She is also facing the light, with her back to the dark, illustrating that she was bringing her country out of the dark or old ways of thinking. Furthermore, the Queen is wearing numerous pearls and a white dress, emphasising her virginity, the Virgin Queen being one of her personas and arguably the one is remembered best by.

In the Sieve Portrait, Elizabeth is holding a sieve. This relates to the story of Tuccia, the Vestal Virgin, who proved her purity by carrying a sieve of water and not spilling a drop. In this, the Queen is being represented as a goddess and as a virgin. This is a way of combining two personas into one painting, thereby enhancing the Queen’s status double-fold. By being portrayed as a goddess, Elizabeth was also associating with herself the virtues each one held. She was therefore suggesting that she possessed many divine virtues. This was possibly a way for Elizabeth to combat, or even avoid the negative traits given to women by showing herself to hold positive divine ones.

Though just a sample of the types of personas Elizabeth I took upon herself to present herself as being, these examples show that this Queen was a genius in creating a false image that enhanced her status and principally allowed her to rule how she wanted to rule; as a powerful and influential ruler.


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