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In early modern England, literary representations of miniatures as tools to express either desire or authority correlate with the use of miniatures at Court, where Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers invested the small, jeweled portraits with emotional and social value. Examining the use of miniatures in Philip Sidney's The New Arcadia and Shakespeare's comedies Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, this article argues that the literary examples of portraiture in use, which were inspired by the unique circumstances of Elizabeth's reign, suggest that portraiture was one means for aristocratic individuals to express themselves and exert agency, significantly, regardless of gender.

"With one fool's head I came to woo,But I go away with two."

—Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice1

When, in The Merchant of Venice, the Prince of Aragon chooses the silver casket, he finds inside "The portrait of a blinking idiot / Presenting me a schedule" (II.ix.53–4). Instead of the much-desired counterfeit of Portia, he discovers an image that he feels resembles himself: the fool's head of the portrait is a double of his own. Portia's response to his selection—"O, these deliberate fools!" (II.ix.79)—also suggests that even though the portrait is not an exact likeness of Aragon, it is meant to represent him. Similar to the "schedule" Olivia imagines labeled to her "will" in Twelfth Night, the schedule presented by the fool's portrait points to the juridical context of courting Portia, since schedules were often attached to legal documents, like the will that Portia's father uses to establish the casket game.2 In this game, therefore, portraits have the power to represent the legal and personal interests of an individual, but, as Aragon's experience demonstrates, they can also be a source of mockery or misrepresentation. The unreliable but potent force of images, especially miniature and mobile portraits, makes them a valuable resource in many early modern authors' efforts toward theme and plot development.

In England under the Tudors, miniature portraits expressed both political and romantic devotion, often, as Patricia Fumerton [End Page 1] notes, in overlapping ways.3 The ability of the miniature to produce social capital likely contributed to the miniature craze that was in full force by the 1580s. Because the miniature portrait could serve both romantic and political functions, it was doubly powerful as a source for making and strengthening social bonds. The exchanging, wearing, and admiring of portraits constituted an expression of love and esteem, communicating familial ties and Court loyalties. Because the bonds represented through portraiture were often of political import, the miniature was also a powerful tool for negotiating complex power dynamics. Crucially, miniatures were a fashionable accessory for both men and women, such that women, too, could participate in the expression of their personal and political agency. Images of a woman—as well as the images held by a woman—functioned as elaborate expressions of the woman's romantic desires and her ability to assert her will. Authors throughout Queen Elizabeth I's reign recognized the value of this courtly fashion, which was symbolic of both affection and personal agency. Inspired by Elizabeth's use of miniatures, early modern authors depict portraiture as empowering and expressive, though the subjects and owners of these portraits are not entirely capable of controlling how their images are deployed.

I argue that early modern literary representations of miniatures as tools for expressing either desire or authority correlate with the use of miniatures at Court, where Elizabeth and her courtiers invested the small, jeweled portraits with emotional and social value. Given this courtly fashion, it is no surprise that early modern authors, like Boyet in Love's Labour's Lost, would "retail[ ] [the] wares" of portraiture in text and onstage.4 I will therefore examine the use of miniatures in Sir Philip Sidney's The New Arcadia and Shakespeare's comedies Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.5 Perhaps the most obvious depictions of female agency in these two plays are the cross-dressing plots, through which Viola and the newly married Portia are able to impact the outcomes of the plays. While the cross-dressing characters benefit from the power afforded by their masculine personas, female characters in these plays also endeavor to influence their marriage negotiations by managing the distribution of their images. These literary examples of portraiture in use, which were inspired by the unique circumstances of Elizabeth's reign, suggest one means by which aristocratic individuals were able to express themselves and exert agency, regardless of gender. The source for this rhetorical power of portraiture extends from the Elizabethan practice of imagining and describing the portrait as an extension of the self. [End Page 2] If the portrait is a part of its subject, then the subject may gain power from showing or distributing the image; however, when the portrait becomes detached from its subject and its owner, both are more exposed and therefore more vulnerable to outside parties interested in using the portrait for their own displays of authority. The works of Shakespeare and Sidney demonstrate the tremendous benefit and risk inherent in collapsing the distinction between a body and its artistic representations.

At the Court of Elizabeth, both male and female courtiers could use the miniature as an expression of ownership or mastery. In other forms of representation—as Susan Stewart observes—"The body of a woman … is spoken by her face, by the articulation of … possession," and the woman's "face is what belongs to the other; it is unavailable to the woman herself." Miniature portraiture is unique, however, because "we see this pattern of possession across both sexes."6 In support of this argument, Stewart cites portraits of Katherine Grey, Countess of Hertford, and Lady Walsingham, in which each woman is painted holding a miniature portrait of her husband. While Stewart is correct to point to the distinctive characteristics of the size of the miniature as a cause for this gender neutrality, the fact that she uses examples of Elizabethan Court portraiture to support her claims suggests that the exceptional circumstances surrounding the prolonged rule of a female sovereign may have also contributed to the miniature's unique cultural position in early modern England. Miniatures were a favorite of the queen, and—as she did with many of her favorites—she transformed them to serve her own purposes and express her authority.

During Elizabeth's reign, the miniature portrait became an increasingly significant prop in both state affairs and courtly intrigues. The popularity of the miniature and its association with female agency resulted, in part, from Elizabeth's canny use of the miniature to communicate and achieve her will. As with many aristocratic marriage negotiations, portrait exchange was an important device in Elizabeth's courtships. Elizabeth succeeded in using the conventions of miniature exchange to emphasize the importance of her own desire, particularly in the potential match with the Duke of Alençon. According to Elizabeth's report, Alençon's ambassador asked if she would "allow of the coming over of the duke of Alençon upon the view of his portraiture," but Elizabeth did not immediately consent. Instead, she sent an ambassador of her own to verify the likeness between the miniature and the duke himself.7 Elizabeth's insistence on both seeing [End Page 3] Alençon's miniature and confirming its likeness calls attention to the role that her physical attraction played in the courtship. Elizabeth secured conditions that privileged her response to the suitor, so that the match with Alençon was contingent upon the mutual liking of the queen and the duke.8 In the case of the Alençon courtship, Elizabeth used image exchanges strategically, emphasizing the significance of her own desire in an issue that was both intensely personal and politically momentous. By using miniatures to reinforce the importance of her will on this and many other occasions, Elizabeth fundamentally altered their status and function, exposing their ability to signify agency for women as well as men.

Elizabeth conceived of portraiture as a sign of authority because the concealing, revealing, or wearing of the miniature establishes a boundary, the enforcement and transgression of which expresses agency. The display or exchange of miniatures is the most obvious expression of interest, but Elizabeth and her courtiers also defined social groups in part by allowing only certain individuals to see their miniatures, in a practice similar to that of the coteries whose members shared and circulated poetry. The miniature establishes boundaries, for instance, in the story that Fumerton relays, where Elizabeth creates intimacy with Sir James Melville (an ambassador from Mary Queen of Scots) by allowing him to see into the cabinets containing her personal miniature collection.9 Likewise, Elizabeth's ambassadors used miniatures to create and strengthen relationships—both for themselves and for the queen—abroad. Such a practice is at work when Sir Walter Ralegh shows a coin featuring Elizabeth's likeness to the natives of Guiana, or when Sir Henry Unton reluctantly shows his miniature of Elizabeth to Henri IV. In all these instances, the miniature facilitates a shared experience that enables the possessor and his or her selected viewers to create or express personal bonds. In the cases of Ralegh and Unton, the image of Elizabeth becomes a proxy for the queen herself, invoking displays of affection—such as Henri's kissing and adoration of the miniature.10

While individuals at Court may have attempted to use miniature portraiture in the same manner as the queen, to signify their independence and mark their participation in certain social groups, such attempts were sometimes thwarted by Elizabeth, who could appropriate miniatures belonging to her courtiers in order to communicate her ultimate authority. A letter from William Browne to the Earl of Shrewsbury, for instance, records an encounter between Elizabeth and Lady Derby wherein Lady [End Page 4] Derby resists showing her miniature to Elizabeth: "the young Lady of Darby wearing about her neck, in her bosom, a picture which was in a dainty tablet, the Queen, espying itt, asked what fine jewell that was: The Lady Darby was curious to excuse the shewing of itt, butt the Queen wold have itt, and opening itt, and fynding itt to be Mr. Secretarye's, snatcht itt away, and tyed itt uppon her shoe, and walked long wth itt there; then she tooke itt thence, and pinned itt on her elbow, and wore itt som tyme there also."11 Fumerton notes that Lady Derby's reaction shows how the miniature constitutes a device of "twinned self-revealing, self-concealing," observing that "Elizabeth violates Lady Derby's intimacy in forcing her to uncover it."12 I would add to Fumerton's analysis that Elizabeth ignores Lady Derby's plea for secrecy in order to assert her mastery over both Lady Derby and William Cecil, first Baron Burghley, whose image Lady Derby possesses.

Moreover, Elizabeth's actions demonstrate the potential for miniatures to expose their subjects and owners to derision. Despite Lady Derby's efforts to express a boundary, Elizabeth offers a courtly, humorous show of her power both by demanding to hold and see the portrait herself ("the Queen wold have itt") and by subsequently wearing the image, attaching it to her body in places that make light of Lady Derby's secrecy and devotion to her uncle. While Lady Derby wears the portrait close to her bosom—attempting to conceal the image and signifying its place close to her heart—Elizabeth wears the miniature first on her shoe and, subsequently, on her elbow.13 Confiscating the portrait and attaching it to her shoe enable Elizabeth to transform Lady Derby's public display of secrecy and intimacy into a public display not only of Elizabeth's feet, but also of her mastery over the men and women of the Court. Such instances indicate the intense social value of the miniature, while also illustrating its sometimes contradictory functions. Images in little can constitute a sign of desire, class, or power, but failure to maintain possession of one's miniature—either a miniature of oneself or items from one's miniature collection—could subject one to mockery and to a symbolic loss of power. Depictions of portraiture in Elizabethan literature, I argue, register both the potential for miniatures to create value for either men or women, and the anxiety about the possibility that an image may not signify as intended. The tremendous value of portraiture is apparent from the amount of creative energy devoted to representing the benefits and hazards of circulating miniatures. [End Page 5]

Early modern writers responded to the vogue for miniature portraits by representing them across genres.14 In fact, some authors altered traditional stories of painting and portraiture to incorporate the popular medium. As Marguerite A. Tassi compellingly argues, John Lyly's play Campaspe likely shifted the full-size portrait of the traditional story to a miniature: "Lily's concentration on Campaspe's face reflects his awareness of the new aesthetic of the miniature cultivated by an Elizabethan elite in the 1570s and 1580s."15 In such works of literature and at Court, the exchange of images plays a significant part in negotiating a variety of social situations, from royal gift exchanges to courtly dances to aristocratic marriages. Therefore, one's image becomes a form of currency, or, to use Keir Elam's term, "a transactional object."16 Elizabeth and her courtiers are able to trade (or steal) access to images for the sake of self-expression. In the works of Sidney and Shakespeare, representations of miniatures reflect their complex role in Elizabethan aristocratic society: while portraiture can express personal agency and romantic desire, these attempts at self-expression can backfire.

In the literary and courtly practices of early modern England, the portrait served as a sign of romantic desire, but this romantic desire was also a means for courtiers to express personal goals and display their positive attributes. As was the case with the sonnet, the portrait glorified both the subject and the admirer of the subject, who could use portraiture as a sign of his or her own connections, discerning tastes, wealth, and virtues. Sidney represents the process through which the portrait of one individual serves as an identity-making tool for another individual in The New Arcadia, wherein characters cannot always control how knights and sovereigns use their images.17 In The New Arcadia's most extended examination of portraiture, the knight Phalantus moves from Court to Court, defending the beauty of Artesia as superior to that of any other woman by way of combat. Phalantus fights the champions of other women, and, upon defeating them, takes the portrait of each champion's lady. When Phalantus comes to fight in Arcadia, his procession includes many servants carrying the portraits of women whose knights have been defeated by Phalantus, and, more dubiously, whose beauty has been proven inferior to Artesia's.18 The parade accompanying Phalantus's tilt involves both miniature and full-size pictures of women, but even the full-size portraits have the mobility that characterizes the miniature; rather than remaining static, hanging from a wall (as is the case, for instance, for the portrait of Basilius and his family [End Page 6] that first causes Pyrocles to fall in love with Philoclea), these full-size portraits move with Phalantus, signaling his mastery of the knights who defended them.

Sidney incorporates these images into this lengthy vignette to show how portraiture may function at Court, not merely to publish the beauty and devotion of a lady and her knight, but also to benefit the individuals who hold them, even to the disadvantage of the portrait's subject. For example, Artesia, a proud and vain woman, hopes that these contests will raise her in the esteem of a suitor she prefers. The entire competition is clearly a farce; knights "forfeit[ ] the picture of their ladies to give a forced false testimony of Artesia's excellency."19 Phalantus's tilt depicts portraits as expressive devices, which can be used in Court ceremonies that further the ambitions and reputations of the knights who carry them. Artesia uses not only Phalantus's feigned love, but also a complicated display of portraiture in an attempt to gain the affections of her preferred suitor. Phalantus and Artesia both regard the exchange and circulation of portraits as a means for accruing prestige and popularity.

In the dramatic worlds created by Shakespeare, the miniature similarly functions as a transactional object, especially when no distinction is drawn between the subject and the image. Heroines such as Olivia and Portia participate in the marriage economy as self-advocates by recognizing the power of their images to serve as a proxy for the self. Olivia's and Portia's courtships, especially their deft management of their images, represent how women of means could influence their marriage arrangements, despite the constraints of male-dominated cultures that regard marriage as a tool for creating and strengthening homosocial relationships.20 Despite its expressive and empowering potential, portraiture in both of these plays can also be disempowering or a source of mockery. In these comedies Shakespeare suggests that portraiture offers an opportunity to influence courtship proceedings, regardless of gender, but he also demonstrates the potential for portraits to signify unreliably, undermining the ethos of the individuals they represent.

In Twelfth Night, Olivia's descriptions of and encounters with her own image show how portraiture can both serve as an expressive device and undermine the ethos of its subject. Olivia privileges her will, in part, by being sensitive to how ambassadors use her image as a tool for negotiation. In the course of her initial discourse with Olivia, Viola laments that Olivia is "the cruell'st she alive / If you will lead these graces to the grave / And leave [End Page 7] the world no copy" (I.v.211–3). Viola's word "copy" suggests that Olivia should either have a painting made or make a child to memorialize her beauty. The request for a copy of her graces, especially given Orsino's instructions to Viola to woo Olivia on behalf of the duke, urges Olivia to reproduce herself by marrying and having children. Shakespeare also uses such appeals in the procreation sonnets, encouraging the young man to reproduce for the sake of society:

The world will wail thee like a makeless wife.The world will be thy widow, and still weepThat thou no form of thee hast left behind.21

As in the sonnets, Shakespeare uses forms of representation in Twelfth Night to examine the relationship between physical and artistic reproduction. Viola's advice to Olivia demonstrates how portraiture is intertwined not only with the courtship process but also with a woman's important role in reproduction. Generating copies of miniatures, which are frequently traded in aristocratic courtships, often leads to physical reproduction. Shakespeare thus elaborates on the courtly practice of imagining the portrait as an extension of the self.

In an exchange that playfully examines the practice of describing the portrait as a part of the self, Olivia complicates Viola's courtship because she describes herself (and causes Viola to describe her) as an artistic reproduction rather than the body created by her parents. She responds to Viola's request that she uncover her face using a series of art-related images:


But we will draw the curtain, and show you the picture.

[She unveils]

Look you, sir, such a one I was this present. Is't not well done?


Excellently done, if God did all.


'Tis in grain sir, 'twill endure wind and weather.


'Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on. (I.v.204–10)22

When she reveals herself to Viola, Olivia describes her face as a well-drawn, shrouded picture that commemorates her beauty at a [End Page 8] particular moment ("such a one I was this present"). In response to Viola's suggestion that she make a "copy" of herself, Olivia initially denies the request, offering a critical description of the process through which she would be copied: "I will give out divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be inventoried and every particle and utensil labelled to my will, as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth" (I.v.214–8). Olivia depicts her appearance as a list of physical attributes, removing all personalized descriptors.23 By likening her own itemized list of physical characteristics to the processes of artistic and physical reproduction, she suggests that such practices achieve similar ends: they render the female body accessible to a particular group who can consequently benefit from the body.24

The itemized description thus gives Olivia an opportunity to demonstrate the relationship between traditionally romantic acts, such as admiring portraits, that glorify women's beauty and the legal and economic elements of those processes. Her account draws heavily on terms—schedule, particle, and inventory—used in legal documents such as wills. Contemporary audience members would have associated the term "schedule" with the slip of paper used as a codicil for a will, which would provide any necessary elaboration or explanatory notes.25 Olivia's claim that she shall have the schedule "labelled to [her] will," therefore, carries a double meaning: that Olivia shall have the schedule labeled to her liking and that it shall be literally attached to her will. The dialogue, deeply invested in wordplay, shifts from the romantic subjects of painting and carpe diem courtship appeals to the legal and fiscal possibilities of Olivia's marriage and death.

Olivia's repeated use of "item" as she enumerates her traits represents her physical characteristics as both discrete and quantifiable. As in the blazon and the portrait, the division of Olivia's body into items makes her available for consumption. She becomes a list of her traits that can be scrutinized, quantified, and assigned an appropriate value; her description, therefore, highlights the monetary function of marriages, wherein a woman's beauty can be valued and distributed accordingly from her father to her husband. For aristocratic marriages, the marriage exchange between father and husband often involved an exchange of miniatures, an instance in which portraiture functions as a transactional object. Olivia collapses the forms of reproduction common to marriage proposals, linking artistic reproduction to physical reproduction in order to suggest a connection between [End Page 9] a woman's death and the reproduction of her beauty. In order to make copies of herself in the form of children, Olivia would have to undergo a sexual death; if she undertook to marry and reproduce with Orsino, then such a match would involve much of the same language and practices here associated with the will. For instance, Olivia might present an itemized list of her possessions to the duke, since marriage would render all of her property his. By collapsing the distinction between the consummation (regarded in the Renaissance as a petite mort, or little death) that could result from admiring Olivia's beauty and persuading her to make a copy in the form of children, and the "schedule[ ]" of physical attributes that would accompany her last will, Olivia criticizes the courtly habits of praising and publishing women's beauty for personal and economic gains and for the sake of procreation.

Viola wants to blend the metaphors of artistic creation with the reality of physical reproduction, reminding Olivia that God and Nature—figured as painters and sculptors—are responsible for her body and ultimately concluding this exchange by appealing to Olivia's love for humanity by encouraging her to make a copy (see I.v.211–3). Meanwhile, Olivia's part in the clever dialogue downplays any connotations of physical reproduction, focusing instead on the possibility of artistic reproduction. By literalizing Viola's courtship devices, Olivia disrupts an argument designed to convince her to marry and reproduce. Anticipating Viola's argument that Olivia's image will be lost in the grave unless she makes a copy, for instance, Olivia remarks that her face is "in grain," and will "endure wind and weather." Olivia, therefore, depicts a more stable, long-lasting form of female beauty than Viola's carpe diem argument implies. By controlling the access to her body, particularly her face, and participating in the selection or suppression of the language used to describe her body, Olivia maintains agency and exposes Viola's courtly language as problematic.

However, despite Olivia's savvy response to Viola's courtly rhetoric, her scornful description of her portraiture also makes her vulnerable to mockery. When Viola responds to Olivia's prompt for a compliment—"Is't not well done"—with a suggestion that Olivia uses cosmetics ("if God did all"), she exposes an additional interpretive possibility for the concept of a painted woman. Olivia responds by describing her beauty as both authentic and stable, but in performance her promise that her beauty "'Tis in grain" can sound defensive, like an objection to the implication that she is wearing makeup. Though there is rhetorical power in collapsing [End Page 10] the distinction between oneself and one's image (a power Olivia's "such a one I was" remark harnesses), Viola turns Olivia's representation of the self, painted, into a critique of the painted self.

As Olivia's use of painting metaphors indicates, she recognizes the courtly significance of the miniature and therefore attempts to use this item as a symbol of her affection for Viola. When Olivia presents Viola with her miniature, she commands, "Here, wear this jewel for me, 'tis my picture— / Refuse it not, it hath no tongue to vex you" (III.iv.184–5). While the presentation of the "jewel" is a gesture of Olivia's romantic interest in Viola, the gift also solidifies Olivia's participation in a ritual she has mocked. In her first encounter with Viola, Olivia manifests skepticism about the courtly practice of portrait exchange. Her presentation of the jeweled miniature, however, demonstrates her willingness to succumb to a ritual that may deprive her of some of her power. Even Olivia's acknowledgment that the miniature "hath no tongue to vex you" demonstrates her awareness that losing control of one's miniature can be disempowering: though Olivia expresses agency by marking her desired partner with her own image, she will not be able to control what the silent image expresses to others. Olivia uses the miniature to express her attraction and to emphasize her right to select a partner, and shortly after this scene, she meets Viola's twin brother Sebastian and definitively avoids the oft-refused match with Orsino. While she does not marry the person to whom she initially gifted her image, she does at least accomplish her goals of selecting her own suitor and permanently rejecting Orsino's proposal. The gift of the miniature is a significant expression of Olivia's will, but the miniature is also a source of irony, since Olivia uses it to engage in a process she has mocked and, arguably, failed at, despite her efforts. She gifts her image to Viola, a figure she will not marry, and the miniature disappears from the play.

In The New Arcadia's vignette concerning Queen Helen of Corinth, a character like Olivia in her status as a powerful and unmarried woman, Sidney similarly represents portraiture as having both positive and negative expressive abilities. Helen is beset by suitors drawn by her sovereignty and famed beauty, but Amphialus (the man she loves) is not one of her suitors. Helen communicates her love of Amphialus by getting his portrait: "At length, in way of ordinary courtesy I obtained of him (who suspected no such matter) this his picture, the only Amphialus, I fear, I shall ever enjoy. And grown bolder … I discovered my affection unto him."26 As Helen's account suggests, getting Amphialus's [End Page 11] picture serves as a significant development in her affections and as the catalyst for the confession of her love. Moreover, Helen uses the portrait to ward off unwanted suitors, as when she describes Philoxenus's discovery of her love for Amphialus: "as in truth I cared not much how he took it, he found me sitting beholding this picture."27 The portrait of Amphialus also serves as a symbolic substitute for a husband. As Helen travels, looking for Amphialus, who fled her Court because he did not return her affections, she carries his portrait with her. When she finds Amphialus's servant, Helen gestures at the painting, asking, "here is my lord; where is yours?"28 Despite her failed attempts to win Amphialus as her husband, Helen does not marry another suitor, instead declaring the portrait her "lord." Helen's expressions of devotion, which rely upon the portrait of her beloved, enable her to maintain a great deal of freedom: she can refuse suitors as she wishes, asserting that the portrait serves as her "lord," and leave her kingdom to search for Amphialus (with his portrait in tow). Despite Helen's failure to win her beloved in the course of the completed section of The New Arcadia, the portrait still constitutes an essential expressive device for her, allowing her to deter unwanted suitors and, potentially, to marry the man of her choice. As Joan Rees argues, Helen and Amphialus would likely have been married in the completed version of The New Arcadia. Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, indicated that Sidney had planned on their marriage, pointing to Amphialus's rescue by Helen, following his suicide attempt, as possible evidence of a future match.29

Though Helen's use of Amphialus's portrait is empowering, Sidney uses Helen's own portrait to demonstrate the potential for portraiture to work against the goals of a courtly lady. Just as Amphialus has no control of Helen's use of his portrait, Helen's own image is rendered mobile and unflattering by Phalantus and Artesia. Helen's portrait appears in the parade at Phalantus's tilt because she is one of the ladies whose champion has been defeated. However, Artesia's beauty is inferior to Helen's, despite her portrait's presence in the hollow ceremony. Sidney describes the appearance of Helen's picture: "she that followed conquered indeed with being conquered, and might well have made all the beholders wait upon her triumph while herself were led captive."30 As he does in Helen's description of Amphialus's picture as her "lord," Sidney here collapses the distinction between Helen and her portrait, as if Helen herself is led as a prisoner in the victory procession, thus emphasizing the value of the portrait as an important, but sometimes uncontrollable, extension of the self. [End Page 12] Helen's portrait is subject to the same superficial ceremony as the other more-or-less beautiful women in the procession, and her position as a socially, aesthetically, and morally superior woman demonstrates that portraiture can serve artificial, inauthentic purposes not related to truth or love.31 The women's images are an advertising tool for Phalantus's might and Artesia's beauty, which—like their love—are proven inferior by Phalantus's defeat. Moreover, they serve these courtly functions without the explicit consent of the women. Any knight with an image of a lady can enter the tilt, which is evident from the champions of Gynecia, Pamela, and Philoclea, who fight without any invitation or encouragement from the women whose beauty they defend. The women's reputations are adversely affected by both the actions of men and the presentations of their portraits, neither of which they can control.

The vignettes in The New Arcadia dealing with portraiture, especially in the case of Phalantus's tilt, frequently represent women as subjects: the subjects of the paintings, subjected to the will of the men who hold these paintings. The story of Helen, however, who uses Amphialus's portrait against his will, suggests that images, especially images that are made portable, may express power and desire across gender lines. For Helen and Artesia, regulating access to one's portrait is an important method for self-fashioning and, in particular, for negotiating the ideal marriage.

Portia, in The Merchant of Venice, also endeavors to manage access to her image in order to overcome the incredible limitations she faces in finding a husband. Initially, Portia does not seem capable of influencing the transactions related to her image. Her deceased father—who has devised a game to control the courtship of his daughter—places a picture of Portia within a casket.32 The winning suitor will be granted possession first of Portia's image and consequently of her body and fortunes. Shakespeare illustrates the limited options for women by choosing caskets, emblems that stress the significant position of the father in the courtship process, as the vessel for Portia's fate. The casket is a box that holds jewels or other expensive goods, so Portia is likened to an object of value that her father possesses until he chooses the appropriate suitor, to whom he consigns his property.33 Portia's image exists in a context that signifies both her status as an object of wealth and the public, economic significance of her marriage.

Portia's references to her portrait, which increasingly correlate her image with her body, demonstrate the objectifying nature of the casket game. Portia explains to Morocco, the first suitor who [End Page 13] engages in her father's lottery, that "The one [casket] contains my picture, Prince. / If you choose that, then I am yours withal" and that "if my form lie there, / Then I am yours" (II.vii.11–2 and 61–2). In the next casket scene, however, Portia collapses the distinction between her portrait and her physical body, telling Aragon that "If you choose that wherein I am contained, / Straight shall our nuptial rites be solemnized" (II.iv.5–6). Her language becomes increasingly pressing when she explains to Bassanio, "I am locked in one of them. / If you do love me, you will find me out" (III.ii.40–1). While the casket contains nothing more than Portia's image, finding that image guarantees the winning suitor access to Portia's possessions and her body. Portia is stymied by both the abstract and juridical wills of her father, whose control of her image suppresses or contains the will of his daughter.

Portia succeeds, however, in enabling Bassanio, the suitor she prefers, to access her body through her image. When Bassanio has his opportunity to select a casket, Portia initiates the same proceedings as with the other suitors, but she cleverly alters the outcome by speaking at length with him about the process and by calling for music (see III.ii.40–62). As S. F. Johnson argues, Portia's classical allusions may encourage Bassanio to avoid superficiality and therefore to prefer the lead casket to the gold and silver ones.34 Additionally, Portia's request that Bassanio "Beshrow [his] eyes" urges him not to trust appearances (III.ii.14). While these cues are fairly subtle, the most overt assistance to Bassanio is the song that plays during his casket selection, in which the final word of the first three lines rhymes with lead (see III.ii.63–5). Thus, Portia influences the selection of a partner while mostly adhering to the rules of the game her father has created for her.

In Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare makes the portrait, and especially the miniature, an important tool in the expression and achievement of the heroines' desires. Providing Bassanio with a strategic advantage in the casket game—aiding him, that is, in gaining access to her image—is virtually Portia's only method for securing her preferred suitor. Olivia, whose father has left her to choose freely after his death, feels comfortable expressing her desire for Viola openly and using a variety of methods, one of which is the presentation of her miniature. Though the miniature portrait is featured only briefly in Twelfth Night, it would have still been a significant element in the play, and the audience certainly would have been drawn to the object.35 Olivia endeavors to express some control over her image and, consequently, over her body by gifting her portrait to Viola. [End Page 14] Like Portia's father, who controls his daughter's courtship even after death by regulating who has access to her portrait, Olivia's distribution of her image is symbolic of the agency she demands in her courtship proceedings. Portia's agency is certainly curbed by her father's will, but she, too, works within the confines of his system to achieve a desirable match for herself.

If marriage, as even the practices of some contemporary weddings indicate, involves a man giving away his daughter, then the Elizabethan practice of imagining the miniature as a piece of its subject constituted a valuable tool for characters like Artesia, Helen, Portia, and Viola, who use portraiture to offer themselves to the people they love. Literary representations of encounters that involve miniatures follow the courtly practice of collapsing a person with his or her portrait. This plot device enables subjects of portraiture to extend their power and mark their love objects while also rendering themselves more vulnerable to the will of those who may come to hold their portraits. The portrait may serve as an expressive device for its subject or owner, but attempts to assert one's will through the use of images may, as Lady Derby's experience with Elizabeth and Shakespeare's representations of Aragon and Oliva suggest, invite unflattering, uncontrollable responses. As a popular item, one made even more useful and fashionable by Queen Elizabeth, the miniature gained tremendous rhetorical potential in early modern England. Noting the literary representations of portrait exchange during this period not only sheds light on the import of these small, jeweled objects, but also reveals a valuable device for the expressions of power and desire across the often-constraining boundaries of early modern gender expectations.

Amanda Kellogg

Amanda Kellogg, an assistant professor of early modern English at Radford University, received her Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. Her research on Shakespeare's sonnets has been published in the journal Shakespeare, and she is researching genre and aesthetics in early modern poetry.


I am grateful to Jacqueline Vanhoutte for her continued mentorship; this article would not have been possible without both her graduate class, "The Court of Queen Elizabeth I," and the comments she made on so many drafts. Thank you also to Hella Bloom Cohen and Lindsey Emory Moore, founding members of the "Heart and Stomach" reading group, for their feedback.

1. Shakespeare, The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice, in The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus, 2d edn. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), pp. 1121–75, II.ix.74–5. Subsequent references to The Merchant of Venice are from this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text by act, scene, and line number.

2. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, in The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 1785–846, I.v.214–8. Subsequent references to Twelfth Night are from this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text by act, scene, and line number.

3. Describing a miniature believed to be a portrait of the young Earl of Essex, Patricia Fumerton states, "I do not think that, in accepting a veiled reference to Elizabeth, we need exclude an even more private love" ("'Secret' Arts: Elizabethan Miniatures and Sonnets," Representations 15 [Summer 1986]: 57–97, 70).

4. Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, in The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 767–836, V.ii.317. In fact, in this description of Boyet, Biron complains, "This gallant pins the wenches on his sleeve" (V.ii.321), which may be a reference to the practice of wearing miniatures on the sleeve, as, for instance, Elizabeth does with Lady Derby's miniature of William Cecil, first Baron Burghley (see p. 5 of this article and n11, below). At the very least, Biron's description uses the miniature metaphorically to suggest that Boyet gains favor with women.

5. Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The New Arcadia), ed. Victor Skretkowicz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987). Subsequent references to Sidney's text will appear as The New Arcadia.

6. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 125–6.

7. Queen Elizabeth to Valentine Dale, 1 February 1574, in Elizabeth I: Collected Works, ed. Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 221–3, 221. The ambassador sent to confirm Alençon's likeness was Sir Thomas Randolph (see p. 221n3). Elizabeth was so charmed with the duke's envoy, Jean de Simier, that—after two months of regular interviews—Elizabeth presented de Simier with a miniature portrait of herself for the duke (W. R. Streitberger, The Masters of the Revels and Elizabeth I's Court Theatre [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2016], p. 137).

8. See Ilona Bell, Elizabeth I: The Voice of a Monarch (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 149.

9. Fumerton, p. 57. Significantly, Elizabeth shares her miniature collection with Sir James Melville but refuses to let him hold the miniature of the Earl of Leicester, much less "have" it to take home to Mary ([Melville], Memoirs of Sir James Melville of Halhill, 1535–1617, ed. A. Francis Steuart [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1930], p. 94, qtd. in Fumerton, p. 57).

10. Louis Montrose, The Subject of Elizabeth: Authority, Gender, and Representation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 95–7. Montrose analyzes Sir Henry Unton's description of the exchange as a means of self-fashioning, in which he represents himself as a talented and devoted ambassador. However, Montrose's conclusion that "[b]oth the French king and the English ambassador knew well how to play their parts in the maintenance of the old queen's dignity" undervalues the miniature's substantial role as an expression of political will and disregards the possibility that Elizabeth may have actually been attractive to Unton and Henri (p. 238). Unton's account of his interaction with Henri IV, cited by Montrose, is taken from A Collection of State Papers Relating to Affairs in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, from the Year 1571 to 1596, ed. William Murdin and [Lord] Cecil (London: Boyer, 1759), pp. 718–9.

11. William Browne to the Earl of Shrewsbury, 18 September 1602, in Edmund Lodge, Illustrations of British History, Biography, and Manners in the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth, and James I, Exhibited in a Series of Original Papers, Selected from the Manuscripts of the Noble Families of Howard, Talbot, and Cecil, 3 vols. (London, 1791), 3:146–7; ECCO ESTC T148778.

12. Fumerton, pp. 63–4.

13. The image of Lord Cecil tied to Elizabeth's shoe reminds one of Sidney's sonnet 9, "Queen Virtue's court," wherein the speaker imagines himself under the feet of the queen and her courtiers: "and poor I am their straw" (Sir Philip Sidney's "An Apology for Poetry" and "Astrophil and Stella": Texts and Contexts, ed. Peter C. Herman [Glen Allen VA: College Publishing, 2001], p. 132, line [14]).

14. Miniature and moveable portraits appear in many early modern works, across genres. For instance, Henry Constable wrote a sonnet titled "To Mr. Hilliard, upon Occasion of a Picture He Made of My Lady Rich.," rprt. in Dympna Callaghan, "The Elizabethan Miniature," in A Companion to British Art: 1600 to the Present, ed. Dana Arnold and David Peters Corbett (West Sussex UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), p. 467. As Keir Elam notes, Alan C. Dessen and Leslie Thomson list thirty-five early modern English stage directions that required a picture to appear onstage (see Elam, "'Most truly limned and living in your face': Looking at Pictures in Shakespeare," in Speaking Pictures: The Visual/Verbal Nexus of Dramatic Performance, ed. Virginia Mason Vaughan, Fernando Cioni, and Jacquelyn Bessell [Madison NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 2010], pp. 63–89, 72–3; and Dessen and Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580–1642 [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001]).

15. Marguerite A. Tassi, The Scandal of Images: Iconoclasm, Eroticism, and Painting in Early Modern English Drama (Selinsgrove PA: Susquehanna Univ. Press, 2005), p. 82.

16. Elam, p. 68.

17. Sidney's The New Arcadia is an unfinished revision of his earlier work, The Old Arcadia, which Sidney likely undertook in response to the popularity of The Old Arcadia. The New Arcadia was the first version to be published, in 1590. See Gavin Alexander, "Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia," in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1500–1640, ed. Andrew Hadfield (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), pp. 219–34, 221.

18. See Sidney, The New Arcadia, pp. 90–104.

19. Sidney, The New Arcadia, p. 94.

20. See Karen Newman, "Portia's Ring: Unruly Women and Structures of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice," SQ 38, 1 (Spring 1987): 19–33, 22.

21. Shakespeare, sonnet 9, in The Norton Shakespeare, p. 1949, lines 4–6.

22. Scholars have read this exchange as an allusion to the Virgin Mary, whose image—as a holy icon—was sometimes shrouded. This imagery is just one of the many pieces of evidence that connect Twelfth Night to the celebration of the Annunciation. Such allusions to the cult of the Virgin also suggest that Shakespeare meant for Olivia to serve as a type for Elizabeth. See Maurice Hunt, "Twelfth Night and the Annunciation," PLL 25, 3 (Spring 1989): 264–71.

23. Elam argues that Olivia is imagining herself not merely as a portrait or icon, but as a miniature: Olivia's "indication of her own facial features, especially her 'two grey eyes,' suggests … the miniature mode," and her use of a "verbal tag" ("such a one I was this present") is reminiscent of the suæ ætatis inscriptions found on Elizabethan portraiture, including Nicholas Hilliard's miniatures (Elam, p. 86).

24. This division into iconic elements was particularly the case for portraits of monarchs, since—as Richard Brilliant argues—"public figures are always defined to some degree by the distance necessary to stage the roles they play for a sizeable audience. Allegorical portraiture, by its very nature, tends to make observation abstract, to displace perception from its objects, and to engender emblematic images which transmute the substance of a person into ideas, words, and conceits, gathered around a named persona" (Portraiture [Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1991], p. 104). As Anna Riehl observes in her work on Elizabeth I's facial appearance, the details of the face—particularly those captured through portraiture—"served as a means of providing and soliciting the crucial information in matters of diplomacy and marriage negotiations" (The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Elizabeth I [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010], p. 124).

25. See OED, 2d edn., s.v. "schedule, n.," 29. Shakespeare clearly understood the legal implications of this term and used it accordingly in other plays. For instance, in Love's Labour's Lost the men sign a contract swearing an oath of abstinence:

You three—Biron, Dumaine, and Longueville—Have sworn for three years' term to live with meMy fellow scholars, and to keep those statutesThat are recorded in this schedule here.Your oaths are passed; and now subscribe your names.


26. Sidney, The New Arcadia, pp. 62–3.

27. Sidney, The New Arcadia, p. 63.

28. Sidney, The New Arcadia, p. 66.

29. Joan Rees, Sir Philip Sidney and "Arcadia" (Rutherford NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1991), p. 53.

30. Sidney, The New Arcadia, p. 96.

31. As Arthur K. Amos Jr. argues, the portraits featured in Phalantus's tilt are "a representation not merely of physical appearance but of psychological and social status as well" (Time, Space, and Value: The Narrative Structure of the "New Arcadia" [Lewisburg PA: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1977], p. 59).

32. The portrait of Portia is likely a miniature. As Elam argues, the description of the portrait given by Bassanio emphasizes attributes—facial features, especially the eyes—which "recapture[] precisely the limnist's endeavor to catch the lovely graces and stolen glances of his sitters" (pp. 81–2, 82). Objects introduced on stage in the opening episode, namely the jeweller's jewel and the poet's book" (p. 65).

33. A similar metaphor of exchange is at work in Much Ado about Nothing, when Claudio asks of Hero, "Can the world buy such a jewel?" Benedick responds, "Yea, and a case to put it into" (Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing, in The Norton Shakespeare, pp. 1407–70, I.i.146–7).

34. See S. F. Johnson, "How Many Ways Portia Informs Bassanio's Choice," in Shakespeare's Universe: Renaissance Ideas and Conventions: Essays in Honour of W. R. Elton, ed. John M. Mucciolo, Steven J. Doloff, and Edward A. Rauchut (Aldershot UK: Scolar Press, 1996), pp. 144–7. Specifically, Portia alludes to "the even younger Hercules at the crossroads making his choice of Virtue over Pleasure," where Hercules must choose between a beautiful woman and a modest one (Johnson, p. 145).

35. As Douglas Bruster compellingly argues, "while many of these objects fail to draw extended notice from the plays themselves, they remain integral to their dramatic worlds—not despite but because of their ordinariness" ("The Dramatic Life of Objects in the Early Modern Theater," in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002], pp. 67–98, 77).

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