Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

"SPAIN IS PORTUGAL/AND PORTUGAL IS SPAIN": Transnational Attraction in the Stukeley Plays and the Spanish Tragedy

Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

"SPAIN IS PORTUGAL/AND PORTUGAL IS SPAIN": Transnational Attraction in the Stukeley Plays and the Spanish Tragedy

Article excerpt

Spain hath no refuge for a Portingale.

-Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587) (4.4.217)

Exurge, domine, et vindica causam tuam.1

-Standard of the Spanish Armada, 1588

As we are Englishmen, so we are men,

And I am Stukeley so resolved in all

To follow rule, honor, and empery . . .

-George Peele, The Battle of Alcazar (c. 1589) (2.2.27-29)

For all of the ink spilled by early modern writers on the Iberian unification of 1580, the significance of Philip II's ascension to the throne of Portugal rarely registers in discussions of the period's literature and culture. Perhaps because our modern academic disciplines were constituted during an era that embraced the idea of the nation as the lens through which history ought to be viewed-with generations of institutional commitments reinforcing what Roland Greene has dubbed "an almost superstitious obeisance to the category of the national" (26)-scholars have often projected the assumptions of their various national histories onto a world in which these perspectives were much less privileged. If specialists in English culture think at all about the reorganization of the geopolitical map generated by the Iberian union, it is generally in relation to the Spanish Armada, the enterprise made possible by the consolidation. Somewhat less frequently, Portugal's "Spanish" or "Babylonian" captivity (Nowell 135-49; Birmingham 2) is seen as an unfortunate hiatus after which the Portuguese nation could resume its long tradition of self-determination.

The fact is that the crisis surrounding the Iberian succession profoundly affected European dynastic culture, and so it is not surprising that its shockwaves would ripple through the world of the Elizabethan theater. Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy may have been the first English play to register the unification of the crowns, but it does so in a manner more "literary" than "literal" (Griffin, "Ethos" 193). In act 1, Kyd's Castilian King puts it chiastically: "Now, lordings, fall to. Spain is Portugal,/ And Portugal is Spain" (1.4.132-33). Three other extant plays also examine significant aspects of the crisis: George Peele's Battle of Alcazar (1588-89) takes a more factual route while also intercalating, as its title page advertises, "the death of Captaine Stukeley"; the anonymous Famous History of Captain Thomas Stukeley (printed in 1605, though dating from 1596 or earlier) heightens the English connection by shifting the point of view from the genesis of the Moroccan conflict to the adventures of the Catholic renegade himself.2 And The First Part of Hieronimo, printed in 1605, though probably performed as early as 1592, recasts elements of The Spanish Tragedy as a comedy of Portuguese patriotism (Griffin, "Nationalism").3

Taken as a group, these "Portingale plays" throw into relief an important, yet often overlooked feature of the early modern context from which Europe's nation-states eventually emerged. Although literary critics and historians have often located the stirrings of modern nationhood in the early modern period, it was not inevitable that polities such as England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, or Spain would adopt the borders, traditions, or even languages familiar to later centuries. And although these emerging states appear to have been moving toward the goal of distinct geographical and institutional consolidation, we can also observe that in the shorter run they were navigating substantial incorporative counter-currents. Its inclinations toward nationhood notwithstanding, early modernity evidences a persistent tendency to form "composite states" (Elliott 50) or "multiple monarchies" (Koenigsberger 11), political units marked by the inclusion of "more than one country under the sovereignty of one ruler" (Elliott 50). These international movements, which "sustained cross-border relationships, patterns of exchange, affiliations and social formations spanning nation-states" (Vertovec 2), encouraged early modern subjects to think beyond local affinities in terms much like those we have come to associate with transnationalism. …

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