The complexity that lies beneath the transcendental feminine ideal as characterised in Britten's Gloriana

Jane Vivienne Peacock

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana brings to the foreground the complex and contradicting aspects of Elizabeth I Queen of England by upholding her as a deified female ideal and simultaneously revealing her weak and human flaws. As an historical figure Elizabeth I assumed a focal position within the Elizabethan context and as such incorporated many of the ideas and assumptions of the age. The courtly love tradition was a cultural construct associated with the arts and practices of the Elizabethan court. Elizabeth’s inclination to remain a virgin and unmarried was a trait that required her to construct a feminine ideal by some other means than that of wife or mother, in the form of a virginal deity. Elizabeth was able to overcome the accepted norm of her age by subverting gender and relying upon the Divine Right of Kings. The aristocratic gentry and dignitaries invited to the 1953 premiere of Gloriana witnessed the musical retelling of the full blooded tragedy of Elizabeth I, torn between her illicit love for a younger favourite and betrayer of the state and her duty to uphold the law and execute him. The dismal reception of this coronation opera may relate to the initial audiences inability to warm to the subject material. The subject of Gloriana was based upon a novel by Victorian writer Lytton Strachey, a man who was both an intellectual historian and homosexual. The plot material of an ageing and sexually unavailable queen, resonating with the experience of a respected yet homosexual composer, based upon the work of another homophile, was something the British public were not quite ready to accept. Another reason could be the idea that Britten could relate to the isolation of an icon subscribing to accepted ideals of behaviour and definition, at least within public forums, in order to placate the socially acceptable norms of the time...
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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