Kenilworth, King Arthur, and the Memory of Empire

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Abstract

This essay challenges current accounts of the revels staged at Kenilworth Castle by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, during Elizabeth I's summer progress in 1575. Critics have argued that Elizabeth was offended by a planned masque on the theme of marriage and prevented its performance, although there is no evidence to support this claim of censorship. While many critics have seen the political situation on the Continent as the key political context to the revels, this essay argues that the appointment of a new lord deputy in Ireland and a skirmish on the borders of Scotland were more pressing concerns for those gathered at Leicester's estate. In staging the revels, Leicester was creating a new mythology for an imperial England, combining elements of Arthurian legend, Ovidian poetry, and folk custom, and grafting this mythology onto a sculpted landscape. The purpose of the revels was to remake Kenilworth as a mental map of empire, and to install this map in the minds of the court. (J.E.)

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