Tyranny and Usurpation

BookTyranny and Usurpation

Tyranny and Usurpation

The New Prince and Lawmaking Violence in Early Modern Drama

English Association Monographs: English at the Interface, 5


February 4th, 2019



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In the middle years of the sixteenth century, English drama witnessed the emergence of the ‘tyrant by entrie’ or the usurper, who supplanted earlier ‘tyrant by the administration’ as the main antihero of political drama. This usurper or, in Machiavellian terms principe nuove, was the prince without dynastic claims who creates his sovereignty by dint of his own ‘virtù’ and through an act of ‘lawmaking’ violence. Early Tudor morality plays were exclusively concerned with the legitimate monarch who becomes a tyrant; in the political drama of the first half of the sixteenth century, we do not encounter a single instance of usurpation among the texts that are still available to us. In contrast, the historical and tragic plays of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods teem with illegitimate monarchs. Almost all of Shakespeare’s history plays, at least four of his ten tragedies, and even a few of his comedies feature usurpation or potential usurpation of sovereign power as a crucial plot device. Why and how does usurpation emerge as a preoccupation in English theatre? What are the political, historical, legal, and dramaturgical transformations that influence and are influenced by this moment of emergence?

As the first book-length study devoted exclusively to the study of usurpation and tyranny in sixteenth-century drama and politics, Tyranny and Usurpation: The New Prince and Lawmaking Violence will challenge existing disciplinary boundaries in order to engage with these critical questions.

'Original scholarship of significant value to the academic study of the intersections between drama and politics in the early modern period; its strengths lie in its wide coverage of dramatic texts, from political moralities to Senecan tragedies, and from university dramas to histories of the commercial stage; its combination of these dramatic texts with the analysis of a variety of political materials; and its dual focus on the historical and political contexts of both England and Scotland.'
Dr Clare Egan, Lancaster University

'[A] perceptive study... [Majumder] examines a span of English and Scottish works, from John Skelton’s Magnificence, through David Lindsay’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis and George Buchanan’s literary and polemical work, to the Richard III plays of the late 1500s, identifying a crucial shift in the ways in which tyranny and its relationship to usurpation were represented.'
Lucy Munro, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

Doyeeta Majumder [provides] a refreshing approach to what has become one of the most discussed topics in Shakespearean studies—that of the expression and negotiation of authority on the stage. [...] It is the final chapter that offers a truly original approach to the issues of tyranny and usurpation in its consideration of three versions of Richard III. [...] Majumder’s analysis takes into consideration the particular audiences and literary conceits employed in each play and offers nuanced and intelligent readings that expose the constant contestation and fluidity of supreme authority.'
Ben Haworth, The Year's Work in English Studies 

Author Information

Doyeeta Majumder is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Jadavpur University. 'Rajpurush', her translation of Niccolo Machiavelli’s 'Il principe' from the original Italian, was published by Jadavpur University Press in 2012.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Note on spellings8
List of abbreviations9
1. The kingly vice: the tyrant in early Tudor drama29
2. Sovereignty, counsel, and consent in Scotland: Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis60
3. Artful construction of the political realm: Buchanan and the legitimacy of resistance80
4. Gorboduc: absolutist decision and the two bodies of the king123
5. Tyranny added to usurpation: Richardus Tertius, The True Tragedy, and Richard III146