Scripting Public Performance: The Representation of Officeholding in Early Modern Literature

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This study argues that early modern English dramatists and prose writers were reevaluating the subject's offices. Officeholders appear frequently on the early modern English stage, in roles ranging from lord mayors to constables to lord chancellors. Widely circulated prose tracts established officeholders' authority and defined their duties. Dramatists who staged officeholders, along with men who wrote officeholding manuals, drew on humanist and classical republican concepts of citizenship in depicting officeholders; they were also responsive to contemporary religious and political pressures. They were redefining the very parameters of office by redescribing officeholding as a site of political representation

I begin by establishing the investment subjects had in officeholding as evidenced by the proliferation of contemporary officeholding manuals. My first chapter canvases the range of manuals as well as their socio-political context. I then focus on William Lambard's Eirenarcha (1581), a manual for justices of the peace. By emphasizing that the justice is duty-bound to God and to the common law as well as to the monarch, Lambard raises questions of obligation and representation for officeholders. In chapter two, I consider representations of justices of the peace in Anthony Munday's Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington, William Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor and Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humor (all three c. 1597-98). By juxtaposing officeholding with quasi-feudal and chivalric models of service, these dramatists define what officeholding was not and what it could be. In my third chapter, I consider depictions of the lord chancellor in Anthony Munday's Play of Sir Thomas More (c. 1592-94) and in Henry VIII (1613), by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. I argue that these plays challenge the claims made by early modern magistrates to be ministers of justice. The last chapter considers scenes featuring London's lord mayor in Shakespeare's Richard III (c.1593), Thomas Heywood's Edward IV (1599), and Heywood's 1 If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody (1604). I read these plays in the light of contemporary disputes over free speech in Parliament. By asking how freely the lord mayor can speak, these plays associate office itself with the representation of subjects.