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Alessandra Petrina and Laura Tosi (eds.), Representations of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Culture.

Alessandra Petrina and Laura Tosi (eds.), Representations of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

The editors of this collection, rather than following a traditional direct approach to the much-discussed topic announced in the books title, opted for a multiperspectival method with a temporal twist. "The book envisions the reign of Elizabeth I as a manifestation of Augustine's "eternal present" that both contains the past and promises the future. Indeed, the essays in Part I, explicitly concerned with Elizabeth's self-representation in her writing, resemble in their approach the established discourse of Elizabeth studies. In contrast, the studies in Part II, focused on masques and ceremonies, and at least half of the essays in Part III, dedicated to the fashioning of Elizabeth by her contemporaries, evoke the queen mainly by indirection, through the strategies of parallelism, contextualization, backward and forward tracing of history, and imagining how Elizabeth illuminates certain texts as an audience, a memory, and a fantasy. In many of these oblique explorations, Elizabeth looms so faintly that the reader is bound to lose sight of her altogether. Some contributors, such as Effie Botonaki, make Elizabeth's absence itself subject of analysis and source of thought-provoking inferences; others, such as Yvonne Oram and Kavita Mudan, acknowledge the futility and risks of imagining a one-to-one correspondence between dramatic female characters and the queen and proceed to scrutinize these characters in ways that illuminate Elizabeth in careful and yet convincing ways. Still other contributors, such as Janette Dillon and Sara Trevisan, decentralize Elizabeth as a part of a larger discourse, treating her as a point on a continuum or even, as in Kristine Johanson's study of the rhetoric of nostalgia, a part of the period's collective consciousness. While these shifts of focus may be seen both as a weakness and strength of the collection, they are elegantly justified in Alessandra Petrina's introduction that not only establishes the philosophical framework of the book, built on the lines of Augustine's understanding of the human perception of time, but also recaptures the more obliquely related chapters toward the volume's general purpose of "mirroring the times, backwards and forwards" (9).

The strengths of the book are many, most notably its fresh methodology discussed above, its international scope, its interdisciplinarity, and its presentation of the lesser known textual and visual material. This truly international collection includes contributions by fourteen scholars from France, Greece, Italy, Scotland, the UK, and the USA. The multicultural angle of the discussions is especially evident in the chapters by Guillaume Coatalen and Giovanni Iamartino, which focus on and amply quote relatively obscure French and Italian texts by or about Elizabeth. Coatalen's study also offers a generous appendix of unpublished letters by Elizabeth to Henri IV of France. Discussions of the iconography and manuscripts throughout the book are almost always accompanied by plentiful illustrations, some of them little known. The studies collected here touch upon the visual culture, manuscript studies, drama, ceremonial aspects of kingship and queenship, patronage, diplomacy, prophecy, nostalgia, and the collective imaginary--an interdisciplinary exploration that makes this book especially rich in scope.

On the other hand, some omissions are evident as well. A casual remark is made about the lack of studies of Elizabeth's poetry and speeches, on the evidence of publications from 1975 and 1994 (85), while there have been plenty of studies on the subject in the last two decades, culminating with Ilona Bell's Elizabeth L" The Voice of a Monarch (2010). Likewise, an entire chapter on the personal correspondence between Elizabeth and James VI of Scotland leaves Janel Mueller's groundbreaking work on this matter unacknowledged. Yet this collection constitutes an important contribution to the conversation about the relationship between power, gender, and representation. Its overarching conceptual framework, although not easily grasped without the help of Petrina's introduction, suggests the strategies of enlarging the discourse about Elizabeth I and other historical figures whose representations reach beyond their lifetimes, constructing the past and the future as an Augustinian eternal present. Even viewed outside of this conceptual framework, the brief, focused, and informative chapters in this book achieve a diversity of fascinating subjects and viewpoints, giving the reader glimpses of previously unconsidered vistas.

Reviewied by Anna Riehl Bertolet, Auburn University
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Author:Bertolet, Anna Riehl
Publication:The Upstart Crow
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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