Long live the queen: 400 years, to be exact

Art

April 20, 2003|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Her shrewdness, singular appearance and sheer staying power have kept Elizabeth I alive in movies, plays and books for four centuries since her death in 1603.

To celebrate her enduring hold on popular imagination, the Folger Shakespeare Li-brary is offering a series of events this spring and summer including an exhibition, a play and concerts. The Folger's collection of Eliza-bethan items, amassed by the library's founders, Henry Clay Folger and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger, is the largest outside Britain.

The exhibition, Elizabeth I, Then and Now, points to Elizabeth's astuteness in dangling marriage in negotiations to keep would-be conquerors from invading England, and in deciding not to subject herself to the dangers of childbirth or to a husband's control, which has made her, for some, a feminist symbol.

The Folger notes Eliza-beth's attraction as an early career woman by including in the exhibition a video, "Eliza-beth I, the CEO," which describes how her strategic skills offer lessons to today's corporate executives.

She was so determined to control her destiny that she transformed herself into what the Folger's director, Gail Kern Paster, described, in the exhibition's catalog, as an "other-worldly icon -- the Virgin Queen." She shaped her image by controlling how she was depicted, including which portraits and likenesses were made public and what clothes she wore. The 1579 "Sieve" portrait by George Gower, in the exhibition, shows a resolute but wary Elizabeth. She is dressed magnificently in red and holds a common sieve meant to invoke the legend of the Roman vestal virgin whose chastity was shown in her ability to carry water in a sieve.

Some of her clothing came from the hundreds of gifts that she received each New Year, scrupulously detailed in minute handwriting on an 11-foot vellum scroll. It is one of four in the Folger's Elizabethan cache. The library also owns 38 documents signed by the queen.

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