Aliens and Englishness in Elizabethan Drama by Lloyd Edward Kermode (review)
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Aliens and Englishness in Elizabethan Drama. By Lloyd Edward Kermode. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xii + 202. $111.00 cloth, $35.00 paper.

In more than one respect, this study of the alien in Tudor and Elizabethan drama from the 1550s to roughly 1600 is a fascinating and useful complement to the now-familiar new historicist and postcolonial trope of otherness in a mostly later generation of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays. To begin with, the earlier or [End Page 116] Tudor end of this dramatic corpus is so much less well known or regarded. Two of the five chapters (and much of an introductory chapter) are devoted to forgotten or marginal “London” plays, to use Kermode’s terms: the anonymous Wealth and Health (1557), Ulpian Fulwell’s Like Will To Like (1568), George Wapul’s The Tide Tarrieth No Man (1576), Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London (1583), and the collectively authored Sir Thomas More (of uncertain date). The first four of these are moralities.

The most riveting aspect of this book is the effort—one might think of it as “dialectical”—of these moralities to engage a process of rampant socioeconomic change within moral categories struggling hard to retain substantive meaning. What is the place of “conscience,” “Christianity,” and “hospitality” in a commercial environment characterized by usury? Is it possible for a Christian to profit while being a rentier? There is something heroic about plays (however aesthetically primitive) agonized by primal questions such as these, and certainly by comparison with the apparently more sophisticated plays discussed in the fourth and fifth chapters—Shakespeare’s second tetralogy and the later trio of “London” plays: William Haughton’s Englishmen For My Money (1598), Thomas Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), and John Marston’s Jack Drum’s Entertainment (1600–1601). The difference might be put as a difference between dialectic in the sense of an effort to seriously confront problems or think them through, and ideology in the sense of simply dressing up or mythologizing what cannot be got rid of (usury) simply because it works.

The problem or problems in question cohere around the figure of the European and/or Jewish “alien.” This figure differs from the “other” of structuralist and post-colonial studies in being seductively similar to the English beneath the danger they present. The alien might be a coreligionist, like the Dutch or Fleming immigrants of the 1550s onward, but also disconcertingly identified with economic malaise, whether in the form of usury or an upward pressure on rents to which the swollen alien population of London contributed. Kermode’s thesis is that the alien traverses two phases in this period, from the viral figure presented in the earlier drama to a figure that is symbiotic with Englishness in the later drama. Underlying this transformation is a mutation in the way “Englishness” is imagined. In a sense, Englishness only exists under pressure from the alien and from runaway social change. Its future lies in an accommodation with the alien not in some desperate rear-guard defensive action.

The first phase of the process is seen in the first four moralities, culminating in Wilson’s Three Ladies of London. In these, the figure of the alien is always objectionable, whether in the form of identifiable national types, such as the pathetically drunken Hance of Like Will To Like, or in allegorically mischievous figures such as Nichol Newfangle from the same play or Lady Lucre from The Three Ladies of London. That the alien can be represented by both types suggests that the force behind the alien image has less to do with alien peoples than with disconcerting economic change. Such change is as nastily apparent in native figures as it is in aliens. Drunks can be native, as well as Dutch (consider Tom Tosspot of Like Will To Like). Middlemen and fixers can be native, as well as Venetian or Jewish (consider [End Page 117] the profiteering Neighbourhood of The Tide Tarrieth or the slimy Peter Pleaseman of The Three Ladies of London). As Kermode puts it, “Recognition of friend and enemy, native and alien, becomes very difficult” (50). Virtues are brought...