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THE TEMPEST AND THE BRITISH IMPERIUM IN 1611

  • TRISTAN MARSHALL (a1)

Abstract

Recent moves by New Historicists to evaluate theatrical material from the early modern period have been at the expense of what historians would recognize as acceptable use of historical context. One of the most glaring examples of the dangers of taking a play out of such a proper context has been The Tempest. The play has had a great deal of literary criticism devoted to it, attempting to fit it into comfortable twentieth-century clothing in regard to its commentary on empire, at the expense of what the play's depiction of imperialism meant for the year 1611 when it was written. The purpose of this paper will therefore be to suggest that the play does not actually call into question the Jacobean process of colonization across the Atlantic at all, and suggests that of more importance for its audience would have been the depiction of the hegemony of the island nation of Great Britain as recreated in 1603. Such a historical reconstruction is helped through contrasting Shakespeare's play with the Jonson, Chapman, and Marston collaboration, Eastward Ho, as well as with the anonymous Masque of Flowers and Chapman's Memorable Masque. These works will be used to illustrate just what colonialism might mean for the Jacobean audience when the Virginia project was invoked and suggest that an American tale The Tempest is not.

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This paper is an abridged version of chapter 5 of my doctoral thesis, ‘The idea of the British empire in the Jacobean public theatre, 1603–c. 1614’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 1995). Earlier versions of this paper were read to Patrick Collinson, John Morrill, and Mark Goldie's Tudor and Stuart Graduate Seminar at Cambridge in October 1993, and at the British Association of American Scholars Conference at Selwyn College, Cambridge, in Easter 1994. I am grateful to all those present for their comments.

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THE TEMPEST AND THE BRITISH IMPERIUM IN 1611

  • TRISTAN MARSHALL (a1)

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