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Elizabeth's fruitless crown: Ovidian poetry, the end of Tudor genealogy, and the incomplete past

Kevin Petersen, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation asks to what end were so many Ovidian poems written during the last fifteen years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Arguing that the poems have a distinct political subtext, this study situates the poetry within the context of Elizabeth's unsettled succession. The fraught question of who would succeed the Virgin Queen was further complicated with Elizabeth's ban on any discussion of the subject. I argue Tudor historiography ironically helped construct a sense of an ending with its projection of genealogical stability, which linked the Tudor family to England's ancient roots, and its emphasis on paradigmatic structures. Sixteenth-century historians claimed that to know the past was to know the future. At the end of Elizabeth's reign, however, precedent predicted an unsettled succession would precipitate violence and ruin. In the face of rupture, the poets used Ovidian resources to construct an alternative epistemology. They developed a poetic that truncated the exemplar's paradigmatic status to emphasize the constituent role of the material present. In doing so, the Ovidian poem emphasized the role of perspective, contingency, and revision; their response to the dead end Elizabeth came to represent insisted on the gap between the past and any recovery of that past to qualify the providential claims of Tudor genealogy. Following a discussion of Tudor genealogy and historiography, which I organize around the appropriated biblical iconography of the Tree of Jesse, and evidence of English frustration and anxiety over the succession, I turn to case studies of Ovidian poems. Using the examples of Edmund Spenser's Muiopotmos, William Shakespeare's Lucrece, and George Chapman's Ovids Banquet of Sence, I demonstrate how late-century Ovidian poetry challenged recoveries of exemplars and paradigms to disperse sites of authority. The poems collectively underscored the instability of the past and how meaning manifests in collaboration rather than recovery. Reading from a generic rather than biographical point of view, I argue the Ovidian poems written during the 1590s provided a significant method to imagine alternatives beyond the grounds of political crisis.

Subject Area

European history|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Petersen, Kevin, "Elizabeth's fruitless crown: Ovidian poetry, the end of Tudor genealogy, and the incomplete past" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518408.