Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Self-Made Queen

The social craft described in The Courtier seemed strikingly familiar to the social craft, though less documented, of today. The concept of Sprezzatura, in particular, caught my interest. As I made my way through the additional readings, the mentality of the courtier shed light on court culture, especially the persona of Queen Elizabeth I.

The most telling element of sprezzatura is its method of self-making. In the Courtier it comes across as a sort of vain trick. It guides you to reluctantly and casually revealing your qualities to give an air of superiority. It manipulates what your peers see and focus on in order to gain favor. Though vain, it is clearly a political tactic. It was a tactic so popular and effective that we know and use it today. From the research I have done, it seems simplistic to characterize Queen Elizabeth’s political strategy as sprezzatura, but her presentation of self and control of how she is perceived by her country derives from the same place.  

Queen Elizebeth walked a fine line as a female monarch. She commanded the job of a man while cultivating the social benefits of a virgin queen. This play and bend of gender roles is her most difficult and important moment of self making.

“I call this rather odd thought construct the "virtual gender" of Elizabeth I. "Virtual" here signifies that she has full potentiality to perform feminine roles as a wife and mother but also that it is valid for her, as sovereign, to leave these feminine roles unactualized, concentrating instead on the office, qualities, and roles of a monarch. I have found "virtual gender" to be a primary component of the rhetoric of Elizabeth's public self-representations”(Meuller 3).

The art depicting Queen Elizabeth clearly shows this claim of both genders. Iconic Images such as the one above show a woman taking up the space of a man. Her femininity is asserted just as her masculinity and dominance is asserted. The video below is a clip from a film dramatization of her life and it is an excellent example of a virgin queen claiming the leadership and loyalty of king.


  1. I like the idea of thinking about gender roles and what roles she may or may not have to take on. How fluid did she have to be, and what did she do to demonstrate what role she was currently in?

  2. Its interesting to think about the culture at the time and how Queen Elizabeth just defied all expectations. Women weren't given much, yet a male dominated society was ruled by a woman. Yet, in some ways she still had to portray a male-like leadership to be accepted.