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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.1 (2002) 69-116

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From Ethos to Ethnos:
Hispanizing "the Spaniard" in the Old World and the New

Eric Griffin
Millsaps College


The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it.

—Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting


Why, truly, your great enemy is the Spaniard. He is. He is a natural enemy, he is naturally so, throughout . . . through that enmity that is in him against all that is of God in you, or which may be in you, contrary to that his blindness and darkness, led on by superstition and the implicitness of his faith in submitting to the See of Rome, acts him unto. 1

—Oliver Cromwell, Speech at the Opening of Parliament, 1656 [End Page 69]


S. Ant. Where England?
S. Dro. I looked for the chalky cliffs, but I could find no whiteness in them . . .
S. Ant. Where Spain?
S. Dro. Faith, I saw it not; but I felt it hot in her breath.
S. Ant. Where America, the Indies?
S. Dro. O, sir, upon her nose, all o'er embellish'd with rubies, carbuncles,
sapphires, declining their rich aspect to the hot breath of Spain . . .
S. Ant. Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?
S. Dro. O, sir, I did not look so low.

—William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors


When James Anthony Froude closed his twelve-volume jistory of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada (London, 1862-70) with the signal event of 1588, he gave Anglo-American culture what may be the fullest realization of the Whig view of the literary-historical period traditionally framed as the "English Renaissance." Of his decision to emphasize the episode commemorated in his title as more pivotal than any other, Froude wrote: "Chess players, when they have brought their game to a point at which the result can be foreseen with certainty, regard their contest as ended, and sweep the pieces from the board." 2 This interpretation was not particularly original; Froude reproduced the mythology the Whigs of the eighteenth century had favored before him, just as Interregnum, Jacobean, and Elizabethan historiographers had invoked "God's obvious design" earlier still. 3 "Fifteen eighty-eight" had given birth to the modern English nation: after "the Armada" England was free, in the phrase Richard Helgerson has made current, "to write" itself. 4

A tacit, uncritical acceptance of this view in many areas of academic inquiry, as in public culture more generally, has tended to mask much of the complexity, ambivalence, and contradiction that characterized Anglo-Hispanic cultural relations during the early modern period. Among analysts of English literature and culture, antipathy toward "the Spaniard" is commonly explained either in terms of some vague sense of Spain as England's "traditional enemy," or by appeal to the "natural" xenophobia of an island [End Page 70] people. As a result, we have generally failed to consider the various ways these two emerging nation-states participated together in a larger early modern cultural system. 5 Even when we have been willing to grant that the process of becoming national was far more contested than the Whigs allowed, our narratives tend to share with theirs the re-emplotment of England's history as mainly an internal becoming.

But it is often the case, as Walker Connor has suggested, that "a group of people must know ethnically what they are not before they can know what they are." 6 Any number of textual productions from the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries make evident that from among the range of possible "nots," not-Welshness, not-Scottishness, and certainly not-Frenchness contributed to the realization of a sense of nationality among the people of early modern England. But for a number of historically specific reasons, it was "not-Spanishness"—or rather, not an ideologically motivated "forging" of what it meant to be ethnically Spanish—that for several centuries gave the English their surest...


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