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A Body Politic to Govern: The Political Humanism of Elizabeth I.

A Body Politic to Govern: The Political Humanism of Elizabeth I. By Ted Booth. (Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. Pp. xii, 208. $75.99.)

It is a truism in Renaissance scholarship that literary figures and major politicians were much concerned with cultivating and polishing their self-images in order to impress contemporaries and, no doubt, themselves. Elizabeth I of England, not only a major politician but also a noteworthy literary figure, certainly fits the mold. Ted Booth therefore had a good idea when he decided to look at Elizabeth's "self-promotion as a classical humanist," and at "how Elizabeth, as a female monarch in the sixteenth century, used her humanist education to project the image of a competent, learned, and devout prince" and "constructed a political persona or 'body politic' that reflected the influence of the political humanism of her male contemporaries" (1). To do so, Booth divides Elizabeth's life and writings into four periods--before her accession and her early, middle, and late years as queen--and examines for each a wide spectrum of Elizabeth's writings, including both the consciously literary and the relatively mundane. Throughout her reign, he argues, "Elizabeth spoke in the language of the male Members of Parliament using classical styles to project, weave, and secure both her political image and her legacy" (184).

This is an intriguing subject of investigation, though hardly as original as Booth claims. Moreover, it is, unfortunately, not well developed in this work in part because so little attention is paid to "the language of the male Members of Parliament" or any other men that Booth can hardly prove that Elizabeth consciously conformed her language and argument to the predominant, male humanist styles of the day. Nor does his use of "body politic" cast much light on how Elizabeth may have portrayed her personal, female self as governmentally and symbolically male. Early in the book there is a cogent discussion of the image, derived from Carole Levin's book, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power, on the subject; but thereafter this famous term is usually thrown into sentences as a term of cant with little explanation and, sometimes, little warrant. Moreover, the chronological organization of the discussion militates against the development of what might have been arguments about the different genres of writing in which Elizabeth engaged. If the organization had worked to prove that "Elizabeth's own ideas about her image as a classical political humanist were changing and developing," it would have made sense, but there is hardly enough discussion of change over time to warrant that assertion (138). In short, this work, which started out as a dissertation completed in 2011, should have had a much more thorough revision before it was published as a book.

The book also needs thorough copy editing and proofreading. It is distractingly poorly written. Many sentences clunk. Typographical errors abound (see the Latin quotation on p. 30 for a particularly egregious example). Some of Booth's translations from the Latin are dubious. The index is an embarrassment; it is highly incomplete and bizarrely organized.

Emily Zack Tabuteau

Michigan State University

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Author:Tabuteau, Emily Zack
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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