"What think you of this present state?" : Representations of Scotland and Scottish union in Robert Greene's The Scottish History of James the Fourth and John Ford's Perkin Warbeck

Veerapen, Steven (2017) "What think you of this present state?" : Representations of Scotland and Scottish union in Robert Greene's The Scottish History of James the Fourth and John Ford's Perkin Warbeck. Early Modern Literary Studies, Special I. ISSN 1201-2459

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    Abstract

    Given recently-renewed interest in the political union between Scotland and England, it will be the purpose of this paper to investigate the way in the politically-charged early modern English stage engaged with and represented Scotland and Scots both prior to and following the first iteration of union: that of the countries’ crowns. Consequently, investigation will focus on Robert Greene’s remarkably ahistorical The Scottish History of James the Fourth (c1590) and John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck (c1634). Commonalities in both plays certainly exist – not least the theatrical representation of Scotland’s early-Renaissance king (albeit with wildly differing degrees of historical accuracy). In both plays one finds competing narratives of dominance, division, unity, nationalism, unionism, assimilation, resistance, might and weakness. Yet the plays also offer alternative views of history and British union, with Greene’s largely-fictional, teleological study considering the inevitability of monarchical union and the necessity of English-based dominance (via the collapsing of the historical with the contemporary), and Ford meditating historically on thirty years of that union, positing the imperfections of unified and centralised polity across the British Isles, and raising questions about military might at home versus political might on the European stage. As the early modern theatre’s views of history shifted, so too did views of Scotland. Through these plays, one can identify the nation as a potentially problematical neighbour to be secured by English chastisement and one of several British regions possessed of dangerously independent military might but lacking the political might reserved to the English capital