Courtly mirrors: the politics of Chapman's drama.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis argues that the drama of George Chapman (1559-1634) can be read in light of his deep ambivalence towards the political elite of the Jacobean court. It suggests that Chapman’s lack of success in securing courtly patronage, and his constant battle with indebtedness (which resulted in several court appearances and two imprisonments) left him divided in attitude towards the system of courtly reward – he resented his lack of success but continued to struggle to fit in and gain the approval of the powerful figures of the era. I argue that this gave him a critical perspective on many of the important issues of the time. My work examines the configuration of English national identity in his plays, positing an idea of Englishness which is separate from, and often critical of, the monarchy, and which relies on a structural parallel with the French court in order to imagine English identity. It then considers the ways in which money and debt are dealt with in several plays, arguing that Chapman felt deeply concerned by the perennial indebtedness of Jacobean culture but was also aware of the necessity of maintaining his own credibility and supply of credit. It further examines the representation of patronage, suggesting that Chapman saw the soliciting of aristocratic patronage in distinctly sexual terms, almost as a form of artistic prostitution. It then considers the many situations in the plays where royal patronage towards a favourite breaks down, and argues that this often results in allegations of treason which Chapman shows to originate in the paranoia or suspicions of the monarch. Finally, it looks at the concept of virtue in the plays, arguing that Chapman viewed virtue as fundamentally unsustainable in a corrupt court setting, but that he saw some form of engagement in public life as being a moral obligation on the virtuous man. Throughout I argue that Chapman was deeply radical in his social outlook, critical of inherited privilege and government by personal or absolutist rule. The social tensions and political struggles presented in his plays were to find their full expression in the violence of the Civil War and in the trial and execution of Charles I.
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