The New Atlantic World Transformed on the London Stage
At the same time as English noblemen were transforming Bermuda into their home by proxy, English poets were using colonial expansion into the Atlantic world as an opportunity to comment on and attempt to transform their homeland and its imperial ambitions. It was the London stage that reached a critical mass of English people and displayed the new Atlantic world and its colonial subjects, and on that stage England’s colonial exploits and native subjects spoke to the condition and transformation of English culture. This chapter focuses primarily on transformative visions on the English stage, particularly in Ben Jonson’s dramas. However, Ben Jonson is by no means the only English playwright from the early seventeenth century who used the emerging Atlantic world as a touchstone on the London stage. Indeed, as my introduction indicates, most early modern drama is involved with producing English subjects who understood themselves in relationship to that new world. Recently scholars have focused on how Shakespeare’s plays treat Ireland and the related questions of Irish and English identities. Henry V in particular, because of its Irish character MacMorris and its overt reference to Essex’s Irish military campaign, has attracted critical commentary that recognizes the play’s implication in English colonial policy.1 And Shakespeare’s interest in Ireland is not limited to the history plays.
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