Elizabeth I, Then and Now
March 21 through August 2, 2003
a Folger exhibition

Curator's Notes

Dr. Georgianna Ziegler, curator

Elizabeth R Steals the Show

Her red hair, white face and ruff are almost as familiar as his bald head and beard, making Elizabeth I and Shakespeare two of the most recognizable figures from English history. Elizabeth ruled during most of Shakespeare's lifetime, and the Folgers began collecting materials about her as they focused on Shakespeare. The collection on English history has continued to expand with the Folger itself, making it today the largest repository of items by and about Elizabeth I in the United States.

Next to Shakespeare, Elizabeth I is still one of the most recognized faces from British history, whether presented in the form of Judi Dench or Whoopi Goldberg at the Oscars, on the cover of a book for CEOs, or as a Barbie doll, a bear, or a rubber-duckie.

Now in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Elizabeth's death in 1603, the library is mounting a blockbuster exhibition featuring manuscripts, books, portraits, and other items from her reign and beyond. Highlights include the Plimpton "Sieve" portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, the Bishops' Bible from her chapel, two letters written in her own hand, a letter written by the Earl of Leicester to her at the time of the Armada, and one of the six New Year's Gift rolls in the Folger collection.

The exhibition is organized to follow the major themes of her reign from her coronation in 1559 through her progresses; her relations with Ireland, France, and Spain; her struggle with religious issues and with Mary, Queen of Scots; the splendid flowering of music and literature during her reign; and her death in 1603 with the accession of James I. But the exhibition does not stop there.

The fascination with Elizabeth by the seventeenth century and the twentieth is recorded in two cases featuring books, films, toys, and other items indicating that her "cult" has continued until today, when we admire her as a politically savvy career woman. Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/ Her infinite variety," and the same might well be said of Elizabeth I.

As a woman, Elizabeth I is especially admired today for her political astuteness over a long, relatively peaceful reign, and her ability to handle a court-full of powerful men. In addition, her difficult early years, her love affairs, and her relationship with her cousin, Mary queen of Scots have long been part of our popular culture, celebrated in novels, biographies, and in movies from Sarah Bernhardt to Cate Blanchett.

Dr. Georgianna Ziegler, exhibition curator, is the Louis B. Thalheimer Reference Librarian at the Folger. Many will remember her 1997 Folger exhibition, Shakespeare's Unruly Women.

Elizabeth I, Then and Now
Exhibition Highlights

Introduction | Elizabeth's Wardrobe | Foreign Affairs | Leicester and Essex | The Scottish Connection | Elizabeth as Ruler | Elizabeth's Funeral | Afterlife, Then and Now

Exhibition Catalogue | Elizabeth For Young People | Elizabeth I Exhibition Home Page