Matthew Steggle
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Cynthia waning
Cynthia’s Revels imagines the death of the queen
in Goddesses and Queens
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Cynthia, the goddess of the moon, was one of later Elizabethan literature's favourite surrogates for the figure of Elizabeth I herself. Different representations of Elizabeth attempted in different ways to negotiate the gap between Elizabeth's idealisation as a goddess, and the increasingly obvious evidence of her political vulnerability and personal mortality. This chapter is concerned with the political resonances of one of those representations, although the play in the form in which it is usually read could perhaps be better considered as one-and-a-half of those representations: Ben Jonson's comedy Cynthia's Revels. The material about the Earl of Essex is in some ways a distraction from the really politically unsettling content of Cynthia's Revels, namely that it starts to look to a world after the queen. Elizabeth's own iconography can be used as a way of starting to imagine and negotiate politics after she is gone.

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Goddesses and Queens

The iconography of Elizabeth I

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