By Sarah Ann Brown
PhD Dissertation, Texas Tech University, 2000
Introduction: The Welsh character in Renaissance drama reflects and/or promulgates a stereotype, reflects English discomfort with their Welsh neighbors and the ambivalence that the English felt for the Welsh, and shows the changing status of Wales and the Welsh in England during the late years of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign (1557-1603) and the reigns of James I (1603-1625) and Charies I. The Acts of Union, integrafing Wales into England, initiated a transition of the status of the Welsh in Renaissance England from foreigners to legally recognized English subjects. The Acts created a new situation, calling for new reacfions: the ambiguity of the new Welsh position in English society created a more complicated set of possible reactions than had been necessary before the Acts of Union. The Acts of Union can be compared to the Renaissance marital union: Wales is cast as the wife, who is legally bound to her husband, England, but who does not have equal voice or rights and who must always recognize the superordination of her husband. This analogy fits the evidence of the English attitudes as shown in the dramas.
English reactions to the Welsh varied from accepting and even admiring the ancient Welsh as the original inhabitants of the island and heirs of a history that the English wished to incorporate in their own national mythology, to negatively stereotyping the Welsh as farcically subordinate and inferior to the English. Active hostility on the part of the English toward the Welsh is rare in the literature, but varying degrees of tolerance and acceptance are evident. In addition, the Tudor Welsh heritage of Elizabeth (1557-1603) and James I’s (1603-1625) acknowledgment of his own Welsh ancestry and his use of the incorporation of Wales as a pattern for his project of incorporating Scotland into the English state created a political climate in which things Welsh were politically charged. Treatment of the Welsh in drama reflects the ambivalence and varying reactions of the English. Many playwrights sanction and promote the stereotype of the Welsh, while the portrayal of the Welsh reflects the changing political climate as it moves from generally affectionate and amused toward a more pejorative treatment. The ambiguous status of the Welsh in English society places them in a middle position between “true” English and foreigners, a position that becomes more negatively viewed in the reign of Charles I.