Theatre and empire

Great Britain on the London stages under James VI and I

This book looks at the interrelationship between nationalism and theatre in the Jacobean period. It also looks at the creation of a British identity brought about by the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603. The most significant political legacy of James's national project was the creation of an emphatically British identity among the settlers from both England and Scotland who planted Ulster. A series of plays in London's theatres was staging the lives of a group of earlier British rulers. The theatre of the Jacobean period does not rest on Shakespeare alone. What emerges in the study of the London stages in this period is that his work fits into a wider framework of dramatic material discoursing on not just the Union, but on issues of war, religion and overseas exploration. Under James VI and I, the discourse on empire changed to meet the new expansion overseas, and also the practicality of a Scottish king whose person fulfilled the criteria of King of 'Great Britain' in a way that Elizabeth never could. For James VI and I, Shakespeare's play was a celebration of the British imperium that seemed secure in the figures of Henry, Prince of Wales, Prince Charles and the Princess Elizabeth. The repertoire of the theatre companies suggests that in terms of public opinion there was a great deal of consensus regarding the direction of foreign policy.

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