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English Renaissance Drama and the Specter of Spain

Ethnopoetics and Empire

By Eric J. Griffin

Publication Year: 2011

The specter of Spain rarely figures in our discussions of the drama that is often regarded as the crowning achievement of the English literary Renaissance. Yet dramatists such as Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare are exactly contemporary with England's protracted conflict with the Spanish Empire, a traditional ally turned archetypical adversary. Were these playwrights really so mute with respect to their nation's Spanish troubles? Or have we failed—for reasons cultural and institutional—to hear the Hispanophobic crosstalk that permeated the drama no less than England's other public discourses?

Imagining an early modern public sphere in which dramatists cross pens with proto-imperialists, Protestant polemicists, recusant apologists, and a Machiavellian network of propagandists that included high government officials as well as journeyman printers, Eric Griffin uncovers the rhetorical strategies through which the Hispanophobic perspectives that shaped the so-called Black Legend of Spanish Cruelty were written into English cultural memory. At the same time, he demonstrates that the English were as ready to invoke Spain in the spirit of envious emulation as to demonize the Spanish other as an ethnic agent of intolerance and oppression.

Interrogating the Whiggish orientation that has continued to view the English Renaissance through a haze of Anglo-American triumphalism, English Renaissance Drama and the Specter of Spain recovers the voices of key Spanish participants and the "Hispanized" Catholic resistance, revealing how England and Spain continued to draw upon shared traditions and cultural resources, even during the moments of their most storied confrontation.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Front Matter

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List of Illustrations

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pp. xi

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Introduction: The Specter of Spain

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pp. 1-26

The remarkable literary florescence we associate with the English Renaissance is exactly contemporary with England’s protracted conflict with the Spanish Empire, an epoch that saw the emerging Protestant nation’s traditional ally transformed as an archetypical adversary. And yet “the specter of Spain” rarely figures in our discussions...

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ONE: From Ethos to Ethnos

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pp. 27-48

When James Anthony Froude closed his twelve-volume History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1862–70) with the signal event of 1588, he gave the English-speaking world what may be the fullest realization of the Whig view of the literary-historical period traditionally framed as the English Renaissance. Of his...

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TWO: A Long and Lively Antithesis

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pp. 49-66

John Foxe did not live to experience the full pressure of the crisis mentality that permeated his nation during the final decade and a half of Tudor reign. Having died in 1587, when the Armada’s approach remained yet a rumor, he did not witness the variety of ways in which the reformation of national memory that constituted his life’s work...

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THREE: Thomas Kyd's Tragedy of "the Spains"

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pp. 67-96

Philip II’s assumption of the Portuguese throne in 1580 sent shockwaves through a Europe embroiled in a military and ideological struggle that would not exhaust itself until well into the next century. Suddenly, the balance of power had swung, perhaps decisively, in the direction of the Spanish Hapsburgs and their allies. The English and...

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FOUR: Marlowe Among the Machevills

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pp. 97-134

No other Elizabethan play explores and exploits English attitudes toward ethnic outsiders so thoroughly as The famouse tragedie of the Riche Jewe of Malta (c. 1589–91).1 Projecting England’s nascent colonialist and mercantilist desires into the Mediterranean, Marlowe unfolds a tableau of early modern anxieties concerning the reflexive...

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FIVE: Shakespeare's Comical History

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pp. 135-167

If comedy can represent a kind of history, history, in turn, may be conceived as a kind of comedy.1 Although his full title has not generated substantial critical comment, Shakespeare marked The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice in terms of this generic crossing. In this seminal Elizabethan drama...

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SIX: Othello's Spanish Spirits: Or, Un-sainting James

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pp. 168-206

It was said of Venice during the sixteenth century, “If you are curious to see men from every part of the earth, each dressed his own different way, go to St. Mark’s square or the Rialto and you will find all manner of persons.”1 Even as Shakespeare was turning his dramatic eye toward the commercial republic, “when Antwerp and many other...

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Afterword: A Natural Enemy

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pp. 207-215

Like so much of Shakespeare’s dramatic achievement, Othello: The Moor of Venice transcends the historical context in which it was born. Othello’s poetry, its characterizations, even its farcical structure, rise above the ethnopoetics in which Shakespeare indulged his early Jacobean audience. We do not need to know that the mud being slung as...


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pp. 217-261


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pp. 263-289


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pp. 291-299

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pp. 301-303

A book this long in gestation accrues many debts. I owe Jerry Singerman special thanks for seeing the value in my initial proposal, and for working with me to bring the manuscript to fruition as a book. Penn’s two anonymous readers, who helped make the end result more solid than it would otherwise have been, also have my sincere...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202106
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812241709

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011