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  • Colonial Memories:Anxieties, Environment and Cultural Encounter in Paul Green’s The Lost Colony

“Thousands! A mighty stream—men and horses and ships, moving, flowing, toward the setting sun” (I.iv. 58) is the acclamation made by the main character, Sir Walter Raleigh, in Paul Green’s play The Lost Colony (1937). The Raleigh (c. 1552-1618) of history was a talented person; he was a soldier, explorer, writer, a patriot of England and a courtier favored by Queen Elizabeth I. Raleigh was among the politicians who hoped to compete with Spain; as an adventurer, he enjoyed some success but encountered a lot of failures, especially regarding his attempt at colonizing the New World. Green’s Raleigh was a patriot of England, eager to recruit young people to join his project of establishing a colony beyond the sea. This venture, however, proves one of the most serious disasters in English history since the Roanoke colony was lost, and even now, scientists are still trying to solve the mysteries of Roanoke.1 Long before the English established Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, in 1607, failed European colonies were many; to name a few, Fort Caroline, established by French Huguenots in 1564, the Ajacan settlement, founded by Jesuits in 1570,2 and the Roanoke, established in 1587. Paul Green’s play is set in the period when England commenced competition over the sea with the other European powers. With characters taken from history, such as Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Walter Raleigh, Ralph Lane (1532-1603), and John White (c. 1540-1593), Paul Green builds this collective memory of the lost colony through Queen Elizabeth I and her circle because “the naval and commercial greatness of England, and the queen’s care and attention” contribute to the tragic result, which includes not only ethnic conflicts between the colonists and the local aboriginals, but also the colonists’ maladjustment to the challenging environment in the eastern coast of America (Creighton 135). Long before scientists in archeology, geology, botany, genetics and meteorology of the twentieth century started to engage in finding the lost people, many historians, artists and cultural [End Page 107] critics had probed into this mysterious event of the American colonial period. In his typical dramatic form, Paul Green (1894-1981) also reconstructs colonial anxiety over environment and conflicts, leaving his audience not only a hope for survivors but also a chance to look into the tragic past in a period of migration. Green’s The Lost Colony is the longest running symphonic drama and has become a North Carolina legacy since 1937. Each year, the audience of this drama has a chance to revisit the colonial environment; the First Colony Foundation as well as other projects continues sponsoring research regarding the traces of early colonists at Roanoke. In this paper, I will explore how this Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Paul Green, commemorates migration in his symphonic drama The Lost Colony. By juxtaposing Green’s symphonic drama and the life writing of John White and Ralph Lane concerning their experiences in Roanoke, this paper discusses anxieties as related to the colonial venture and management of the environment in early modern English history.

Green portrays England in the early modern era as a country espoused with venturing spirit and a country with problems of land shortage and the landless poor. In the first act of Green’s play, Old Tom, a masterless and homeless man, is driven out by the landlord. He wears “rotting shoes, ragged breeches and tattered doublet” (The Lost Colony I.iii. 38); meanwhile, at her court, Queen Elizabeth I encourages Captain Ananias Dare to explore Roanoke, striving for a way of “taming of the wilderness” with “sterner hands” (The Lost Colony I.iv. 50). From a historical perspective, early modern England indeed developed some stirring events that promoted national glory, but political conflicts with Spain and the need to find new resources caused accumulating anxieties within the country. As Old Tom, the beggar character in this drama, comments, Queen Elizabeth of England is preoccupied by the Spaniards while Raleigh dreams about the New World (The Lost Colony I.iii. 39). Old Tom implies the outcome of the...


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