This dissertation discusses the complex representation of foreigners in sixteenth-century English drama. It relates literary evidence to contemporary implicit and overt allegations that vices brought to England by both immigrant aliens and returning English travelers were corrupting, infecting, or "alienating" England and the English.
My thesis argues that, during the Elizabethan period, the English experienced an increasing awareness of their own "national" identity vis-a-vis immigrant aliens and ideas of the alien "other" in literary representation. Such awareness spawned an English obsession with preserving an imaginary core of "English identity" against alien encroachments.
The "alienation" of the English is both physical and psychological. Aliens buy up property and evict innocent English tenants; they ruin English artisans by importing fashionable trifles and using inferior materials in order to undercut the domestic market price; and they pass on their evil, alien ethics and heterodoxy. The English who remain unaffected by the alien find themselves needing to "colonize" their own country as they feel increasingly identified as the strange "other" in an "alienated" society. The English response varies from calls for expulsion of the aliens to petitions for mass English repentance.
Through an investigation of general trends and specific literary and cultural events, this study finds that English community, although self-assured and proud, effectively loses this battle with the alien. By the end of the sixteenth century, despite the efforts of preachers, polemicists, and prophets, who publish and perform at length in an attempt to reform the wayward island nation, the English are "alienated."
By locating a discussion of the emergence of "national identity" in the sixteenth century, this dissertation provides a foundation for, and encourages rehistoricized reading of, the (post-) colonial studies that engage with English identity in the seventeenth century. Before it was possible for the English to think of (re)defining themselves by means of their seventeenth-century "discoveries," they were creating an idea of Englishness in response to the incoming alien; English identity thus becomes an attribute of the colonial travelers that was radically altered--rather than invented anew--in the process of exploration and exploitation.