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Palgrave Macmillan

The Queen's Mercy

Gender and Judgment in Representations of Elizabeth I

ISBN 9781137371744
Publication Date July 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Queenship and Power

During the Elizabethan era, beliefs about women's susceptibility to emotion intersected with debates about monarchical power and equity in law to make 'mercy' a particularly complex concept. It made frequent appearances in the work of writers of the era such as Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, Daniel, and others who explored the wellsprings of clemency and its role in society. Through a fresh reading of such depictions, author Mary Villeponteaux shows that, under Elizabeth I, mercy was contested both conceptually and in practice and that its cultural representation was directly shaped by tensions surrounding the exercise of judgment by a woman on the throne.

Mary Villeponteaux is Associate Professor of Literature at Georgia Southern University, USA.

1. "By Nature Full of Mercy": The Clemency of the Queen

2. "Proud and Pitilesse": Elizabethan Mercy and the Sonnet Tradition

3. "A Goodly Musicke in Her Regiment": Elizabethan Justice in The Merchant of Venice

4. "A Due Sincerity Governed His Deeds": Equity, Gender, and Privacy

5. "My Nobler Reason": Masculine Mercy After Elizabeth


'Villeponteaux offers us a much-needed first book-length study of the contradictory facets of Elizabeth's royal image as a queen of mercy. In a study full of delicate nuance and artful analysis, Villeponteaux brings together the fields of literature, history, theology, and gender studies to create a panoramic view of the queen that shows how some of the most influential writers of the period—Spenser, Shakespeare, Heywood, and Sidney—presented their queen in images that gave the 'rusty sword' of her peaceful mercy a double-edge. Elizabeth's mercy could be employed to celebrate the queen as a paragon of Christian princely virtue or criticize her judgment as a woman vulnerable to the passions. Villeponteaux's work is as complex as it is accessible, and it gives us a window into the fascinating political world where early modern literature and sovereignty intersect.' - Linda Shenk, Associate Professor of English, Iowa State University, USA, and author of Learned Queen: The Image of Elizabeth I in Politics and Poetry (2009)
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