This essay explores the Elizabethan cultural construction of the virgin’s ring, construed broadly within various literary, artistic, and historical works. Drawing on medical literature’s negative perspective of virginal bodies, the essay focuses first on the largely unexamined device of the virgin’s ring plot and its pointed relationship to bedtricks in Shakespearean comedy, particularly All’s Well That Ends Well, arguing that the presence of material ring props onstage is deeply informed by the complex cultural understanding of rings as over-determined symbols of both virginity and marital chastity since the advent of the “virgin queen’s” rhetorically invoked “marriage” to England. Turning to the visual arts for examples of portraits that depict rings prominently on their canvases, the essay explains how Elizabethan culture negotiated the queen’s possession of her virgin’s ring even as the aging Elizabeth’s hymeneal integrity threatened to devolve into a useless commodity.


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pp. 101-131
Launched on MUSE
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