Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare: Image of gender, power, and sexuality

Frederick Schweizer, University of Rhode Island


Queen Elizabeth I's writing is contextually significant; it represents not only Elizabeth's thoughts, wishes and commands, but also Elizabeth herself. During a reign in which she struggles with issues of sexuality and power as a female ruler, her manipulation of language to create an identity and assert power becomes the way in which Elizabeth constructs and re-defines herself. She challenges Renaissance gender expectations through the power of language and expands definitions and/or identities of women in terms of sexuality, marriage, religion, and politics. She adapts male discourse as her own and manipulates language to fit specific audiences, but she must also use images associated with the gendering of women as reproductive bodies and make it appear that not only can she be reproductive, but that she is willing. In analyzing Elizabeth's control over language, it is necessary to identify the systems of signs she creates and the semiotics of Elizabeth's speeches and poetry during her reign, in light of Renaissance cultural beliefs or codes, in order to demonstrate her subversion of Renaissance codes, as she defines not only herself but also her supremacy. Sexuality and power represent two of Elizabeth's major systems of signs. The system of sexuality consists of the signs of marriage, chastity, and virginity, while the system of power is made up of the signs of succession, religion, and politics. Elizabeth manipulates Renaissance codes for gender through her use of language in order to create a connection between the two systems. The goal of this study is not only to identify the signs within Elizabeth's language, but also to analyze the codes within which these signs have meaning. Queen Elizabeth's language and the images she creates represent both the public and private lives of a monarch who rules for nearly fifty years. These images then become crucial in interpreting Shakespeare's Richard II and A Midsummer Night's Dream as the plays set forth the signs of power and sexuality. Work still remains in terms of reading the semiotics of Shakespeare's plays in recent productions, as well as in films of his plays and also Elizabeth I's life. ^

Subject Area

Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Frederick Schweizer, "Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare: Image of gender, power, and sexuality" (2008). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3314460.