Maiden vs. monarch : the roles of Elizabeth I in contemporary depictions
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People have been creating popular culture depictions of historical figures since forever. We, as a species, love telling stories, especially stories about people whose legacies have lasted for centuries. We create narratives centered on bygone people because we long for the past and enjoy delving into time periods we are not physically able to experience. When building these narratives, creators often manage to reflect their own time and culture in some way whether intentionally or not. They adhere to genre conventions and aim to please specific audiences. One historical figure whose story has been told and retold is Elizabeth I, the Queen of England from 1558 to 1603. Modern depictions of Elizabeth are used in part to simply tell the story of Elizabeth, but they are also used to reflect the wants and needs of specific modern audiences. Each pop culture version of Elizabeth is different and serves a different purpose. In this thesis, I analyze four different pop culture adaptations of the life of Elizabeth I and discuss how the creators of the works chose to present Elizabeth. The creators of each work had to choose which parts of Elizabeth’s life they wanted to depict in order to create an overall image. The Elizabeth of each depiction reflects the creators' individual interpretations of her story, and each Elizabeth embodies a different role. Although each work is telling the story of the same woman, they all have very different ways of using Elizabeth as a character. In this thesis, I explore different adaptations and what they are trying to portray through the character of Elizabeth. Each piece I watched or read targets a different audience and falls into a different genre. In this paper I will discuss five Elizabeths: the actual Elizabeth I, the Elizabeth of Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover (2004), the Elizabeth of the CW network's television show Reign (2013-2017), the Elizabeth of Shekhar Kapur's film Elizabeth (1998), and the Elizabeth of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s The Virgin Queen (2005).
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