A professor writes a play about Queen Elizabeth I

Historians in the News
tags: Queen Elizabeth I, Carole Levin

Carole Levin is Willa Cather Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska where she specializes in early modern English women's and cultural history.

As a timid child, Carole Levin found solace at the library.

“I’m now pretty outgoing, but as a kid I was quite shy,” the professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said. “The highlight of my week was when my mom would take me to the public library. As well as reading a lot of fairy tales, I was really attracted to biographies.”

She preferred stories about girls and women.

“One day, I picked up one on Elizabeth I and became completely fascinated,” Levin said. “I was about 10 years old, and for me, it started my whole academic life at such an early age.”

This fascination with the queen of England and Ireland, who ruled from 1558 to 1603 during the years of the Reformation, inspired Levin, 69, to write several books and to create a play, “Elizabeth I – In Her Own Words.” The drama highlights the life of the queen using texts Elizabeth wrote during her reign.

A series of events on Thursday will feature the life of the queen and celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation, including a performance of “Elizabeth I – In her Own Words” at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Nebraska Art. Tamara Meneghini, playing the queen, and Bernadette Venters-Sefic as her servant, will perform in the show. Admission is free.

Scholars consider that the Reformation began with the publication of the “Ninety-Five Theses” by Martin Luther in 1517 in Germany and concluded at the end of the Thirty Years’ War in central Europe. The Reformation represented a separation from the Roman Catholic Church and lead to the formation of the Protestant movement in Europe.

“She is an amazing woman from the 16th century who still resonates with us today,” Levin said of Elizabeth I. “She was a woman who at a very young age — she was only 25 when she began her reign — learned how to become queen, when to speak, when to become silent, how to protect herself, how to protect those she cared about.”

The playwright sees Elizabeth as a selfless leader who put her subjects above herself.

“She knew that she made a number of mistakes and did things that were not great, but her goal was to serve the people of England,” Levine said. “I’m well-aware of her flaws; I’m not idolizing her. But I think it is really remarkable that as an unmarried woman in power, she taught us great lessons. And now, 400 years later, we still need those great lessons.” ...

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