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Governing Elizabethan Ireland: Representations of Colonial Administration in Holinshed, Spenser, and Shakespeare

  • Author / Creator
    Wong, Yeang Chui
  • Traditionally, literary studies on early modern Anglo-Irish relations are largely rooted in the analysis of cultural and national differences between the English and native Irish. My dissertation questions the limitations of taking this line of interpretation, which has produced a genre that pits the narratives of the colonizer and the colonized against each other; they must necessarily be opposing, challenging the ways in which we study and examine representations of the Ireland in Elizabethan England. Through a study of the works of Holinshed, Sir Henry Sidney, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, I turn my focus to a study of English representations of Ireland within the context of colonial administration. This study breaks away from earlier works that predominantly focus on the conflict between colonizer and colonized, English and Irish. More specifically, my discussion argues that the difficulty of implementing permanent and sustainable reform in Ireland can be attributed to the division within the English government. By this, I mean to consider the competing ideologies among the Old English in Ireland, the New English military personnel and administrators, and the queen and her Privy Council, or what I describe as the “internal conflict” within the English government. In doing so, I argue that the representations of Ireland the early modern writings were not entirely produced as a result of cultural or political conflict but by the breakdown of authority between the ambitions of the English crown and colonial administrators in Ireland. The division between the queen and her Irish council led to the struggle in the negotiation and the implementation of policies that aimed to extend English rule throughout the whole of Ireland. The administrative complexities that underscore English efforts and Irish resistance were recorded and critiqued in chronicles, memoirs, and literary works. There is a prevailing view that the discourse of difference in these works forms a monolithic historical construct that render Ireland as the “inferior” and “threatening” other, and England as the “superior” and “rightful” conqueror, but these assumptions are undermined when they are examined alongside the administrative machine. England’s Irish policies were never heterogeneous or consistently stable at any given time, and the political landscape in Ireland altered with every change of administration in Dublin. This dissertation asserts that English representations of Ireland, far from producing unified narratives of an unchanging “savage” people, reflected the failure of English government in Ireland, more specifically, the crown’s failure to address the deficiencies of its policies and administrative practices. In other words, representations of Ireland were “invented,” appropriated, and adapted largely from the anxieties of administrative ineptitude. My research analyzes different aspects of the larger administrative framework through literary and historical responses. Through a series of works and figures which include, among others, Holinshed’s Irish Chronicles, Sidney’s Memoir, Spenser’s Faerie Queene Book V, and Shakespeare’s Richard II and Henry IV (I), I investigate the struggle for political power within the Dublin council; the problems of “royal absenteesim” that contributed to the conflict of authority between the English lord deputies and the queen, and England’s anti-war sentiments that stemmed from widespread knowledge of the government’s mismanagement and corruption during the Nine Years War (1594-1603). In doing so, this study calls attention to the importance and immediate relevance of the problems within the English government in its attempt to govern Ireland, and more importantly, it aims to demonstrate how these problems directly impacted and shaped the representations of Ireland in early modern history and literature.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2013-11
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3ZW1967P
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.