Man in his native noblesse? : chivalry and the politics of the nobility in the tragedies of George Chapman
In this thesis I argue that the three plays under consideration - Bussy D'Anbois, The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron, and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois - illustrate Chapman's concern with the role of chivalry in England following the debacle of the Essex Rebel lion in 1601. My contention is that, for Chapman, the Essex Rebellion exposed the fragility and the inconsistencies of Elizabethan chivalry and the political threat represented by its preoccupation with martial values. I suggest that in his plays, Chapman sets out to deconstruct the myth of chivalry by exposing it as a romantic concept which is used by the martial nobility as a means of Emphasizing their political rights. The values of chivalry - prowess, honour, loyalty, generosity, courtesy and independence - are shown, by the plays, to be incompatible with the political ambitions of the nobility. By associating themselves with this mythical concept of chivalry, political figures cane to identify their factions with the values of chivalry. Chapman, I argue, shows haw the myth is established and then exposes it for what it is, by portraying his characters as unable to live up to their expected mythical ideals. Chivalry is stripped of its mythical trappings and exposed as militaristic, aggressive and politically motivated. The thesis is divided into five chapters. In the first, I consider Chapman alongside the Tacitean historians who were connected with the Essex circle in the 1590s and show how, in The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron, the dramatist transformed the providentialist narrative of his source into a play with Tacitean connotations, emphasizing the relationship between chivalry and constitutional political theory. In the second chapter I consider Chapman's interest in chivalry and discuss generally the romantic concept of Elizabethan chivalry and its relationship with the political concerns of the nobility. In Chapters Three to Five I discuss Chapman's portrayal of chivalry and its political impliications.