Constructing an Early Modern Queen (Dissertation)

Constructing an Early Modern Queen: Posturing, Mimicry, and the Rhetoric of Authority

Dissertation Abstract

As the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, a woman executed for treason, Elizabeth Tudor stood at the center of discourses that often sought to contain or even destroy her. Early on, Elizabeth understood that constant re-invention, performance, and mimicry were key strategies for survival. When she finally ascended the throne in 1558, Elizabeth continued to use these rhetorical methods to retain her autonomy, as far as possible, garnering public support and the loyalty of her court. Although Elizabeth has long been acknowledged as a historical icon and has received considerable scholarly attention, particularly from feminist and feminist-leaning scholars, her status as a skilled rhetor and use of strategic imitation has only been briefly considered.

This project examines Elizabeth as an iconic rhetor, one with the semblance of power and agency within the confines of gendered discourses. Analyzing her performance through the lens of mimicry and historical inaccessibility, as outlined in the theories of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak, this project considers the following lines of inquiry: Tudor era debates regarding pedagogical strategies and their intersection with rhetorical theories; the influence of early instructors, both women and men, on Elizabeth’s rhetorical strategy; and Elizabeth’s emulative self-fashioning as it appears in her speeches, behavior, letters, and portraits. This project suggests that as a seminal figure at the start of the modern moment, Elizabeth’s deft use of mimicry to establish and maintain her royal authority is significant within the rhetorical tradition.

Below, I have included my dissertation defense presentation. I am currently working on publishing material from this project.