chapter  3
Drama and the Queen: Early English History Plays and the Problem of Succession (1580–1592)
Pages 38

By the 1580s, it was apparent that Elizabeth was unlikely to marry and produce a biological heir, and her repeated refusals to publicly declare her successor led to a state of low-grade national paranoia. Plays offered a variety of solutions to the problem: some insisted on a somewhat hollow assurance in the perpetuity of monarchy; others reminded the audience that primogeniture was unnecessary for the smooth transition of power; still others focused on the importance of baronial or common support for a monarchical candidate. The common thread among all these was a concern with the possibility of civil war-a return to the devastation of the Wars of the Roses from which the first Tudor monarch had ostensibly delivered them. Relying on English history for source material participated in nationalism that was not necessarily (although not infrequently) connected to Tudor propaganda; in fact, the history plays themselves engaged in debate about whether the populace, the nobility, or the monarchy was the most powerful (and important) component of English national identity. As such, the English history play became one of the most influential dramatic subgenres on the early modern public stage, able to interrogate the meaning and significance of monarchy without overtly addressing the government itself.