Beyond Myth:The Memory of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale


  • Michela Compagnoni



Since her death in 1603, Queen Elizabeth I has been remembered in ways that increasingly depart from history (Doran and Freeman 2003). Soon after James I was enthroned, mythical representations of Elizabeth – the warrior queen epitomizing chastity and national glory – were revived in popular recollections and literary eulogies, while the more controversial aspects of her reign were being partly repressed. Shakespeare’s treatment of Elizabeth’s legacy in his Jacobean plays was however different from most of his contemporaries’. Albeit drawing from the renowned androgynous representations and virginal imagery of the Queen (Palfrey 1997) – Shakespeare’s feminine roles do not celebrate the mythologized memory of Elizabeth as an imperishable model of sovereignty. On the contrary, they feed on the paradoxes of her femininity, thereby retrieving the whole complexity and contradictoriness of the Virgin Queen’s myth (Montrose 2006). My paper intends to address Shakespeare’s idiosyncratic recasting of Elizabeth’s myth through an insight into the articulation of gender roles in The Winter’s Tale. As it bears nuanced traces of the lost Queen, such a reshaping of femininity – I argue – polemically targets the widely contested rule of the present King in line with widespread discontent.






Articles (general section) - British and Postcolonial literatures in English