- Elizabeth I, Then and Now
Modestly assuming the guiding role of a docent, Georgianna Ziegler leads readers through the Folger Shakespeare Library's impressive collection of materials related to Elizabeth I, artifacts the library recently displayed in an exhibition commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the queen's death in 1603. By unveiling Elizabethan portraits to library patrons, the Folger exhibition reinvigorated the legend of the iconic queen. Ziegler's book now takes Elizabeth on progress, once again making Her Majesty's official image available to the geographically remote masses.
A monarch known for successful "self-fashioning" through the use of "splendid costumes," Elizabeth emerges resplendent from the oversized, full-color pages (75). The book's arresting front cover features a partial view of her face, a magnified detail of the celebrated 1579 "Sieve" portrait. The queen's steady gaze encourages readers to reconsider the meaning of the title. Elizabeth I, Then and Now suddenly seems less an indication that the editor will present contrasting views than a pronouncement that Elizabeth's motto, "Semper eadem," meaning "Always the same," holds true even after her death (143).
Before encountering any text in Ziegler's work, readers first face thirteen artistic depictions of the queen. Though distinct, these images share sufficient similarities to hint that royal painters necessarily adhered to strict guidelines. Throughout the rest of the book either Elizabeth's autograph or her costume figures prominently on almost every page. Blank except for the highly stylized royal signature, the back cover [End Page 92] reinforces the increasing impression that Elizabeth herself posthumously authorized this work, much as she approved the likenesses painted during her lifetime.
Ziegler gives her work a tripartite structure. As editor, she herself authors the portion of the book central in both placement and theme, the "Catalogue of the Exhibition." In this section Ziegler examines the thematically grouped sets of documents on display at the 2003 Folger Shakespeare Library exhibit. Devoting ten to twenty pages each to a dozen topics, she writes on such diverse subjects as "Leicester and Essex," "Mary, Queen of Scots," "Elizabeth's Progresses," and "Private Prayers." Notably, Ziegler represents not only propaganda supporting the queen but also anti-Elizabethan rhetoric. Her section on "Leicester's Commonwealth" focuses on "a virulently libelous pamphlet" about Elizabeth's friend and suitor (66). Typically, a full-page photograph of a relevant portrait or artifact accompanies a page of written text. In combination with Ziegler's fluid, informative, well-documented prose, such visual richness allows for a delightful reading experience.
It may seem, then, that Ziegler writes nothing more than a standard treatment of a familiar subject with better-than-average illustrations. What sets Ziegler's work apart, however, is her willingness to allow the portraits and writings of Elizabeth to determine the shape of her narrative. For although Ziegler seamlessly incorporates scholarly research into her work, she writes primarily to enhance the documents on display in the exhibition. In a certain sense the materials available in the Folger Shakespeare Library write the book. This explains Ziegler's decision to privilege certain topics. Not editorial preference but available material directs her to treat the subject of religion and Elizabeth's personal faith at length. After all, the queen "spoke of the great mercies of God towards her" in recorded speeches before Parliament and wrote down numerous prayers now in the library's collection (40).
Although Ziegler acknowledges the library's holdings as inspiration, she enhances the scholarship of her book by including the writings of others before and after her "Catalogue." In particular, an essay by Carole Levin makes the life and reign of Elizabeth I accessible to readers with virtually no background in the early modern period. With succinct biographical detail, Levin writes with commendable clarity given the complex religious and political turmoil of the time.
Both beautiful and accessible, this book might find its way into the libraries of people who previously had little interest in Elizabeth I. On the other hand, Ziegler's book should...