Friday, October 12, 2007

"The heart and stomach of a King..."

A new film on the life of Queen Elizabeth I, called Elizabeth: The Golden Age, was released today theaters today. Starring Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen, this "sequel" to the 1998 Elizabeth (with Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes) focuses on the struggles of the Queen with continental political powers (namely, Spain) and with her adversarial cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.

Although the critics were disappointing so far (namely because of the numerous and egregious historical inaccuracies of the script), it is apparently as visually breathtaking as the first movie.

Even though this new movie will probably not be as accurate and beautifully rendered as the HBO mini-series on the same topic featuring Helen Mirren in the title role, I am definitely going to see it, just because Queen Elizabeth is such a fascinating historical figure - not to mention a savvy ruler and a groundbreaking woman.


I have just finished a great book titled Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, by Jane Dunn. This book is a thoroughly researched and beautifully written comparative biography of Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin and contemporary, Mary, Queen of Scots. The lives of the two Queens are compared from the (politcal) circumstances of their birth, through their childhood, education and accession to the throne, up to their deadly rivalry and Mary's demise.

Among the main themes of this book, two strike me as being of a particular interest for the feminist reader. First, the author dissects at length Elizabeth's obstinate refusal to marry, and her desire to "keep her options open" by remaining single (which is quite an unusual feat for a 16th century woman and monarch).

Secondly, Dunn attribute the political success of Elizabeth and the political failures of Mary to gender expectations: while Mary was raised as a quiet and loveable princess at the French court, Elizabeth's childhood and education were more masculine, in the sense that she was raised primarily as an intellectual, almost asexual, person, and was taught from a very early age that political survival depends on such "manly" virtues as rationality, courage and occasional ruthlessness. Dunn also details Elizabeth's eagerness to show that a woman could be a dispassionate, just and successful monarch, and her lifelong struggle to show her court, her people, her enemies and the whole world, that, although she was physically a woman, she was, above all, a Queen.

Queen Elizabeth I, in her coronation robes

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