Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Spring 1995 v35 n2 p271(21)

Thomas Dekker's political commentary in 'The Whore of Babylon.' Krantz, Susan E.

Abstract: English Catholics in 1605 were portrayed as assassins and generally dangerous members of the population in Thomas Dekker's play 'The Whore of Babylon.' The plot was based mostly on sensational accounts of assassination attempts on Queen Elizabeth I's life, but also King James I, of which the Gunpowder Plot against his life may have been the most nefarious. Dekker contrived an allegorical kingdom which implied that English Catholics were allied with Spain in treacherous acts.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 Rice University

Written shortly after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (5 November 1605), Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon - a long allegorical account of the various assassination attempts on Queen Elizabeth (Titania) by representatives of Roman Catholicism (the Whore of Babylon) - is one of the first generation of texts to recast Elizabethan England nostalgically as a form of covert criticism of the contemporary Jacobean court; and it, along with other English Reformation plays of the first decade of James's reign, catered to what Margot Heinemann describes in another context as the religiopolitical mood in London at the time: "These plays were in tune with the strong traditional anti-Papist, anti-clerical, and nationalist feelings of the popular London audience. Based mainly on Foxe's Acts and Monuments . . . they helped to reinforce the Foxeian ideal of post-Reformation England as a united Protestant nation, with a destiny to defeat the Antichrist of the Counter-Reformation Papacy."(1) Julia Gasper, in the most detailed study of The Whore of Babylon to date, examines the play as a comoedia apocalyptica in the Foxeian tradition, using both the Acts and Monuments and Foxe's play, Christvs Triumphans, as pattern.(2) Gasper's reading is generally convincing and insightful; however, because she concentrates on establishing Dekker's ideological consistency as a militant Protestant and because she seeks to place The Whore of Babylon in an established tradition that supports that ideology, Gasper tends to ignore the idiosyncratic qualities of the work, especially its topicality, claiming that, "Although it was written shortly after the Gunpowder Plot, it would be a mistake to see it and its view of events in too narrow a context."(3)

However, without the "narrow context" provided by the Gunpowder Plot and by the related political maneuvering at the Jacobean court, the play cannot be fully appreciated as a sociopolitical document, even with Gasper's elaboration of Dekker's political ideology. Prioritizing topicality need not imply, as some have suggested, that Dekker had no political or religious beliefs except those he could sell to the highest bidder or in the most promising market.(4) Rather, reinstating the historical moment helps the modern reader understand Dekker's selection and manipulation of events used in The Whore of Babylon. In fact, the brief period of emotional intensity following the Gunpowder Plot during which Dekker wrote The Whore of Babylon (as well as his pamphlet on the subject The Double PP(*)) rejuvenated the voices of militant Protestantism and increased their numbers.(5) Topicality, then, ensures audience recognition and interpretation of the play's contemporary political messages. Rather than limiting our reading of The Whore of Babylon as the "definitive militant Protestant play,"(6) the historical moment reinforces that reading by providing us the rare opportunity to locate with certainty the circumstances of political crisis that produce an ideological document.

Although the specific references to the Gunpowder Plot in the play have long been established, no study has evaluated the play as part of the political discourse resulting from the discovery of the treason.(7) In this study I would like to illustrate the apparent effects of the Gunpowder Plot on the shaping of The Whore of Babylon by examining the anti-Spanish, pro-Henrician elements of the play in relation to contemporary events and attitudes and in relation to the theater for which Dekker wrote the play. Such a study not only elaborates Gasper's conclusions of Dekker's militant Protestantism, it also explains at least partially the circumstances under which a politically oppositional text can be officially sanctioned, and further supplies, not simply a negative reaction to Jacobean pacifism, but a positive militant corrective in the heir apparent.

That militant Protestantism found an outlet in anti-Spanish propaganda is small wonder; the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the final event dramatized in The Whore of Babylon, had by the time of the play become an historic symbol of Popish treachery, and the English victory served to illustrate God's protection of Protestantism as the True Church, Protestant soldiers as the army of Christ described in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and England as the chosen leader in an international "war" against Catholicism in which Spain was the chief adversary. And Dekker emphasizes Spanish aggression and treachery in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot to extend the symbolism further. Of the three allusions to the Gunpowder Plot in the play, two are spoken by the allegorical representative of Spain (the third is spoken by the Whore), thus connecting Spain directly to the most recent episode of Roman Catholic treachery against the English-Protestant world. Dekker's Third King (Spain), before he leaves Babylon for Fairie Land (England), instructs his cohorts, "When mines are to be blowne vp, men dig low" (I.i.113), and remains in Fairie Land after the others leave in order to take a key role in other acts of treachery; he promises to be a "Deuill . . . With Deuils within hel freedome, Deuils in Vaults" (I.ii.274-6),(8) referring, of course, to Guy Fawkes's famous nickname.

Surviving records and modern scholarship on the Gunpowder Plot testify that Dekker's simplistic and singular identification of Roman Catholicism with every assassination attempt in England since the Reformation and his conflation of Roman Catholicism with Spain contradict both court policy and the evidence amassed on the conspiracy. Within two months of the plot and while the investigation was still in progress, the Spanish ambassador proudly paraded his king's gift to James of "six jennets . . . with saddles very richly embroidered . . . with the arms of Spain and all furniture suitable" through the streets of London,(9) punctuating with visible ostentation the friendly terms with which the two kings continued to regard each other, although this gaudy display probably reinforced, rather than reduced, the distrust of and hostility toward Spain and the new English treaty among much of the London citizenry. Mark Nicholls, in his exhaustive account of the plot, notes that the investigation into the Spanish connection was initiated as a result of "strong rumour."(10) The court faction, who "were if anything rather embarrassed by the potential for anti-Catholic propaganda inherent in their discovery," refused to exploit even the Roman Catholicism of the conspirators.(11) Aside from their Catholicism, the conspirators' most noticeable characteristic involved their familial and community affiliations: kinsmen, men and their masters, and long-time friends formed what Caroline Bingham calls "almost a family affair."(12) And surviving records indicate the lack of continental support for the conspiracy as well as the official presentation of the treason as a home-bred but isolated incident. Responding to rumor and speculation, Attorney General Coke and other spokesmen for the king questioned the conspirators concerning any connection with Spain, Rome, or other foreign powers. They discovered that the English Catholics who instigated the plot felt betrayed by Spain because they were virtually ignored in the recently completed peace negotiations.(13) Other possible connections to Spain were also investigated and "dropped" for one reason or another. Hugh Owen, the supposed instigator of the unattempted "Spanish" invasion of England earlier in the year (to be accomplished by the extraordinarily small number of 1500 Spanish troops), had been informed of the plot, but was never extradited, and it appears he played no substantive role in it. Similarly, he and other English Catholic emigres were believed to have planned another unsuccessful "Spanish treason" upon Elizabeth's death because they deemed the change in dynasty not sufficiently conciliatory to them; however, it was purported at the time of the Gunpowder Plot that Spain, upon learning of the Stuart succession, reneged on any previous promises of support for a rebellion and instead was set on making peace with the new king.(14) In short, the investigations of the Spanish role in the Gunpowder Plot revealed no major involvement, according to the official documents.

Despite its propaganda value for the militant Protestant faction, allegations of Spanish involvement threatened to prove a political liability to James. In the immediate aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, the king continued to refuse to act with severity against Catholic sympathizers in England, because he associated such severity with the contentious voice of the Puritan opposition.(15) More important to him was maintaining the peace with Spain as established in the Treaty of London, a diplomatic achievement that extended the king's international reputation but backfired at home, where much of the citizenry "had settled into an habitual hatred of the Spaniard and all his works which made them look upon the prospect of peace almost as disloyalty."(16) Thomas Wilson is typical in voicing the anti-Spanish sentiments essential to English cultural elitism. Writing from Spain in 1604 to Cecil in England, he describes "this ill-pleasing country, where a virtuous mind takes small delight, unless it be by learning to abhor vice by continually beholding the hideous face thereof, which here shows itself in every corner and place. Infidelity in men, immodesty in women, hypocrisy in age, ungraciousness in youth, ungodliness in all."(17) It is little wonder that the more militantly Protestant agents of the court as well as the discontented Puritan commoners assumed Spain to be implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and propagated the rumors that the king attempted to quell. In the King's Book of December 1605 (the official publication on the Gunpowder Plot), James mitigates the treason against his life, claiming that it was "onely blind superstition of their errors in Religion, that led them to this desperate deuise; yet doeth it not follow, That all professing that Romish religion were guilty of the same."(18) And during the trial of the conspirators, when the Spanish connection was alluded to, Sir Edward Coke "went about to clear [the king of Spain] of all imputation."(19) Coke insisted that any evidence connecting the conspirators with Spain was "old," intended for a possible earlier attempt on Queen Elizabeth's life, not the king's.(20)

Despite the king's attempts to disassociate Spain from the Gunpowder Plot, the militant Protestant faction in England remained adamant that the recent treason was inextricably linked to Spain. In the flurry of pamphlets printed in the months subsequent to the discovery of the plot, most writers, Dekker included, not only mention the perceived Spanish involvement but also encourage the onset of the promised apocalypse - the violent extermination of Roman Catholicism. I. H. (John Heath) in The Divell of the Vault calls the plotters "Tygrish blood-sworne Iesuites, / Spanized British slaues"(21) and urges a united Protestant Europe in order to ensure the destruction of popery through war. He ends his ballad with a prayer to a militant God:

Inspire the hearts of Christian Kings, t'vnite their force in one: And drag that triple-crowned Beast from out his monstrous rhone.(22)

William Leigh more directly deprecates James's conciliatory gestures toward Spain and Roman Catholicism and argues, like Heath, for the immediate and systematic annihilation of all Papists: "Doe but mention a tolleration of Religion in Rome, and Rome will be ragious: doe but speake of such a thing in Spaine, and it will be thought prodigious . . . [but] whilest we demurre vpon the point, and stand a disputing whether Papists be Idolaters, whether Rome be Babilon . . . Poperie will encrease . . . The Idolator (I say againe) must die the death."(23) Leigh dedicated his pamphlet to Prince Henry as a New Year's gift for 1606, secure, no doubt, that the prince, unlike his father, would approve wholeheartedly of his militant sentiments.

Heath and Leigh typify the vocal, aggressively retributive reaction to the Gunpowder Plot, a reaction that, although contrary to the court's position, cannot easily be censored, implying as it does a Protestant God whose active intervention in the plot in order to save the king and prince proves both the providential scheme and "rightness" of the English monarchy. The tacit credence given to divine right by the anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic pamphlets in circulation immediately subsequent to the Gunpowder Plot may, in fact, be partially responsible for the allowance of their publication by the censuring body, despite their implications that the rightful king makes wrong decisions.(24) Of equal significance, however, is the frequent invocation of Prince Henry - the other member of the royal family to attend the parliamentary hearings and so be targeted by the plotters - who was already mythologized as the Protestant savior. Works dedicated to Prince Henry capitalized on his hatred of "Popery with all the adjuncts and adherents thereof."(25) In temperament Henry was on the side of the militant Protestants, and in his official role as heir apparent, his name lent a needed sanction to anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic tracts. A jingle popular at the time encapsulates the myth of Prince Henry: "Henry the Eighth pull'd down Monks and their cells, / Henry the Ninth should pull down Bishops and their Bells."(26) This brief couplet contains the important elements of the myth of Prince Henry: the Tudor connection, achieved through the name repetition; the antipacifism, encouraged through the verbs of destruction; and the pro-Puritanism, which extends the reform of the church beyond the abolition of Catholicism in England to the elimination of ecclesiastical bureaucracy. Most important in this couplet is the marriage of monarchy with the Puritan concept of the supremacy of individual conscience that can be achieved when Henry becomes king. In other words, for James, the Puritan opposition threatens republicanism; for Henry, it promises loyalty.(27)

James's Spanish foreign policy had previously included another element distressing to many of his subjects, Puritan and moderate alike: his demonstrated willingness to sacrifice their hoped-for Protestant savior, Prince Henry, to the Spanish Catholic world. In 1604, on the advice of Queen Anne, and again in 1605, James had negotiated a marriage proposal between the prince and the Spanish Infanta. To militant Protestants, the king's attempts threatened to undermine England as a Protestant stronghold. Francis Osborne records the negative reaction of the citizenry to the proposed match: "And, if common Fame did not outstrip Truth, King James was, by Fear, led into this Extreme [Jealousy]; finding his Son Henry not only adverse to any Popish Match, but saluted by the Puritans as one pre-figured in the Apocalypse for Rome's Destruction. And, to parallel this, one Ball, a Tailor, was inspired with a like Lunacy, tho' somewhat more chargeable; for not only he, but Ramsey, his Majesty's Watch-Maker, put out Money and Clocks, to be pay'd (with but small Advantage, considering the Improbability) when King James should be Crowned in the Pope's Chair."(28) The anecdote vividly expresses the tension between court and citizen, as well as that existing between father and son. It is unimportant whether the report of the king's jealousy toward his son and his fear of the Puritan opposition was "truth" or "common Fame"; as a widespread rumor, it served to undermine what Stephen Greenblatt calls the "privileged visibility" of kingship - the necessary participation of the subject in perpetuating the quasireligious symbols of power used to define royalty.(29) As James becomes the subject of mercantile odds-making, the "privileged visibility" transfers to Prince Henry, whose refusal to entertain his father's Spanish proposal was well known. In addition, the perceived popishness of the king confirms him as an enemy, doomed by biblical prophecy, to England and his son.

Prince Henry's adamant refusal to marry a doctrinally committed Roman Catholic and the concomitant rumors of the king's popishness serve not only as social context for Dekker's play, but also as a significant political parallel for the initial conflict in the play between the Whore and the inhabitants of Fairie Land. Dekker opens The Whore of Babylon with several proposed popish matches for Titania and uses one of her Catholic suitors, the Spanish king, to capitalize on the English hatred of Spain. Dekker exhibits more poetic license in his account of the Third King (Spain) sent by the Whore than he does for any other character or incident in the play. Spain is the only king who is given a name, Satyrane,(30) and he speaks more lines than either France or the Roman Empire, Titania's other two suitors. Because he is more individualized than any other representative of Catholicism, he is more threatening. Marianne Gateson Riely notes Dekker's more detailed delineation of the Spanish king, calling him a "political Machiavel who comes to Fairie Land complete with innumerable disguises to stir up treason amongst courtiers, soldiers, scholars, and country clods."(31) And Cyrus Hoy finds him the only believable threat to Fairie Land in the play: "in the character of the Third King we come as close as we ever do . . . to a dramatized force of evil - an active power of temptation - that poses a threat which must be countered. The rest is rhetoric."(39)

Dekker's decision to cast Spain, rather than another Catholic suitor, as the principal threat to Protestant Fairie Land has much more to do with political ideology and contemporary events than with allegorical history. Historically, of course, Philip II did launch the Armada against England and had put forth his name for marriage to Queen Elizabeth shortly after the death of Queen Mary - a proposal that never was given serious consideration. Dekker not only gives Satyrane serious consideration; he keeps Spain in Fairie Land for most of the play and further exaggerates the Spanish threat by transferring source material from its historical origins to the Third King. In The Whore of Babylon, Spain is directly responsible for Campeius's (Edmund Campion's) conversion to Catholicism and for the scholar's subsequent treason (II.ii); Dekker completely suppresses all information regarding Campion's time in Ireland (1569-1571) and his open renunciation of Protestantism in Douai. Additionally, Dekker has Spain hire a conjurer to bury a wax likeness of the queen in a dunghill (II.ii). Although similar stories of witchcraft circulated with some regularity during Queen Elizabeth's reign, the culprits were rarely identified. John Stow in his Annales (1605), however, records the arrests and prosecution of two persons involved in such incidents. One was an Irish chieftain named O'Rourke, and the other the English "prophet," William Hacket.(33) The Hacket incident illustrates Dekker's manipulation of source material to expound a political and religious ideology. As mentioned earlier, in the play Dekker uses the double evil of Spain and Catholicism (as depicted in the Third King) to threaten the queen's life; in Stow, not only is the practitioner English and apparently acting on his own, he is a Protestant fanatic, fervently anti-Catholic. That Dekker chose, in a play teeming with treasonous characters, to concentrate so much evil in a single character testifies to the playwright's strong political and religious bias.

As I have noted elsewhere, Dekker probably modeled his Third King on the Spanish ambassador to England at the time of the play, Don Pedro de Zuniga.(34) He arrived at court in June 1605, shortly after the royal confirmation of the Treaty of London, and remained Philip III's envoy in England through 1607. His "Instructions" are extant, including his secret instructions to curry favor and lend support to English Catholics.(35) In much the same manner as Satyrane, he devoted his time in England to stirring up "treason amongst courtiers, soldiers, scholars, and country clods." When Dekker has the representative of Spain allude to the Gunpowder Plot directly, he conflates historical and current events, and his allegory achieves a contemporaneity that helps to articulate the anti-Spanish factionalism in England by confronting the Jacobean court's perceived laxity.

The anti-Spanish, fiercely Protestant sentiments prevalent in the play culminate in the spectacular defeat of the Spanish Armada. Dekker tries to stir the patriotic emotions of his audience through the linguistic ennobling and shared militancy of the commoner. The audience participates in the collective patriotism of the stage English as they are described by Titania's counselors:

Flor[imel]. We with either hand Haue raisde an Armie both by sea and land.

each man in his face Shewes a Kings daunting looke

Men faster came to fight then to a feast. Fid[eli]. Nay, women sued to vs they might be prest. Parth[enophil]. Old grandams that on crutches beare vp age, Full nimbly buckled Armours on their sonnes, And when twas on, she clapt him on his backe, And spake thus, runne my boye, fight till th'art dead, Thy bloud can neuer be more brauely shed.

(V.ii. 166-99)

Following this depiction of English enthusiasm and collective involvement in military action against Spain - men and women, young and old participate gladly - Dekker offers a spirited account of the historic victory, even managing to stage a sea-battle (V.iv), while Titania herself encourages the land forces.

Dekker's spectacular re-creation of the English defeat of the Spanish Armada is obviously meant to glorify the English people and their former queen, and in this sense Dekker merits the approval of court and citizen. However, the overtly militaristic sentiments in the play, combined with the dramatic recital of the entire country sharing those sentiments, undermine the overall pacifism which served James as the cornerstone to his foreign policy and encourage continued opposition toward it by citing historical and religious precedent for militarism. In rekindling the militaristic spirit of the last generation - of Queen Elizabeth and her daring young men - Essex, Sidney, Ralegh - Dekker implies the inadequacy of King James and his supporters in peace. James is no match for Titania; whereas Titania appears in full armor and stirs her troops to victory, the pacifistic James lacks the martial spirit present in even the oldest crippled female in Fairie Land. Robert Kenney echoes the attitude of most of James's biographers when he describes the king as "a man who possessed an almost pathological dislike for physical violence," a man who "found the Spanish war an unwanted burden even though many of his subjects, from his Lord Admiral down, were enriching themselves from it."(36) The father sits in sharp contrast to the son in these matters, for Prince Henry not only hated the Spanish but was particularly partial to all things military. All modern biographers of Henry discuss his personification as a military hero, the "myth of the conqueror," which began at his birth and continued with his wholehearted support throughout his short life. One of his first biographers, Sir Charles Cornwallis, describes Henry's temperament when still a child, claiming that he had "a Noble and Heroick Spirit, no musick being so pleasant in his eares, as the sounding of the Trumpet, the beating of the Drumme, the roaring of the Canon, no sight so acceptable, as that of Pieces, Pistols, or any sort of Armour; all which evidently shew, that (if hee had lived) Mars himselfe would not one day have dared to looke him in the face."(37)

Prince Henry was also enamored of ships and naval operations, and learned much from his friend, architect of the lead-ship against the Armada, Sir Walter Ralegh. Ralegh, in fact, strongly encouraged the young man's militarism, urging him in one letter that "no War could be so necessary, or advantageous for England as one with Spain."(38) Ralegh had earlier given similar advice to the king, but to no avail. In his Discourse Touching a War with Spain (1604), Ralegh, after recalling the Armada and three decades of Spanish infamy, reminds James that the Spanish king is "a child of the pope's" who wants only time to prepare a massive attack against England. Ralegh argues throughout that a treaty with Spain would allow the Catholic threat once again to manifest itself: "but after the Spaniard shall have repaired his losses, I know not how your majesty may be assured of his amity: for the kings of Spain were not want to keep either promises or oaths longer than they may prove profitable to themselves."(39) Ralegh's description of the king of Spain could easily serve as character summary for Dekker's Third King, and the lesson of his experience against the Armada in 1588 is the final lesson offered by Titania after her defeat of the fictional Armada in The Whore of Babylon.

Dekker's military displays and militant Protestantism in The Whore of Babylon would certainly appeal to the prince more than to the peaceable king at any time, but in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot they become all the more pointed. King James not only actively engaged in exonerating the Spanish, but he also attempted to implicate Ralegh in the plot; and, when no evidence materialized, he nonetheless allowed Coke to connect Ralegh with the plot in his perorations: "I say not that we have any proofs that these of the Powder Plot were acquainted with Ralegh or Ralegh with them; but, as before was spoken of the Jesuits and the priests, they all were joined in the ends."(40)

Just as James hoped to link the conspirators with all those discontented with his person and politics, Dekker's Titania, as the ultimate Protestant soldier, symbolically embodies all the anti-Spanish and militaristic proponents of her reign, and Prince Henry is their heir at the time of the play. Roy Strong describes the means used to develop Henry in the mode of Tudor chivalry, which finds its most eloquent expression in the Spenserian poetry Dekker imitates, and provides a double ideological line of descent for the young prince: Henry IX follows his Tudor namesakes, Henry VII and the father of English Protestantism, Henry VIII, through the line of his godmother Elizabeth. Additionally, he stands as the Elizabethan hero, the militant Protestant, who in fictive ideology carries the destiny of St. George to slay the dragon of the new paganism - the Catholic church. This ancestry can be traced as follows: Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester; Sir Philip Sidney; and Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex. As Strong notes, "All three acted as a focus of attempts to introduce the fruits of Renaissance civilization while maintaining an extreme Protestant and anti-Spanish stance [and] . . . Essex . . . more than any of the others is the one who takes us down to Prince Henry."(41) Prince Henry's love of the sports of knighthood - riding, swordsmanship, proficiency with pistols, pike, and lance - contributes to this line of succession, and the combination of militarism as sport with the Protestant imperative encapsulates the character of Titania in war. She regularly echoes the sentiments of the prince:

Trust me, I like the martiall life so well, I could change Courts to campes, in fieldes to dwell. Tis a braue life: Me thinkes it best becomes A Prince to march thus, betweene guns and drummes.

(V. vi.8-11)

A little later, Titania's words again remind us of Prince Henry's military spirit ("no music being so pleasant in his eares, as . . . the roaring of the Canon") and, at the same time, allude to Henry VIII, the ancestor for whom the prince was named, and who, according to the myth-makers, more influenced Prince Henry's life than did his father:

Wh'im'e borne a souldier by the fathers side. The Cannon (thunders Zany) playes to vs, Soft musikes tunes, and more mellodious.


Throughout the play, Dekker celebrates the military spirit of his countrymen in the previous generation. In the heightened, allegorical world of Fairie Land, their militarism is blessed; like the Christian soldiers of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, they don the armor of faith when they rally to the English cause against the Spanish Armada. Dekker depicts the English victory against the purple whore of Rome as magnificent and providential, but he also tempers the celebration with a warning implicitly addressed to the audience of 1606: the peace is only temporary. The Elizabethan victory stunned but did not eradicate Roman Catholic powers in Europe, and Dekker closes the play with an angry Whore whose machinations should never be ignored or tolerated as they were in England, especially in the Spanish peace alliance at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. Titania's comments on the Whore at the close of the play predict the need for a future Protestant hero: "those that most adore her, most are slau'd / Shee neuer does grow base, but when shees brau'd" ( 133-4).

The Whore of Babylon opens with feigned friendship by Catholic powers, particularly Spain, and ends with war against the Spanish forces. As such, the play recounts a segment of history and forecasts unpleasant possibilities for the Jacobean court and the new Spanish alliance at the same time that it looks optimistically to the new Protestant hero, Prince Henry. The center of the play, much criticized for its dramatic inertia,(42) does not attempt to record the incidents leading to the breakdown of international diplomacy that culminate in military confrontation. Instead, it merely repeats with variations the underlying and singular cause of the approaching war - the consummate evil of Roman Catholicism. The various assassination attempts by Campeius (Campion), Ropus (Dr. Lopez), Paridel (Dr. Parry), and others are all more or less set-pieces, a succession of evil portraits.

One of the smaller evil portraits in the center of the play proves problematic in its allegorical identification, although either identification proposed reiterates Dekker's anti-Catholicism as well as his anti-Jacobean sentiments. In act IV, Titania's counselors deliver into her hands a petition of execution for the Moon. Fleay, Hunt, and Hoy believe the Moon should be identified as Mary Queen of Scots;(43) however, Gasper argues for an identification with Essex. Fideli reports to Titania:

The Moone that from your beames did borrow light, Hath from her siluer bow shot pitchy clowds T'ecclipse your brightnes: heauen tooke your part, And her surpriz'd; A jurie of bright starres, Haue her vnworthy found to shine agen: Your Fairies therefore on their knees intreat, Shee may be puld out from the firmament, Where shee was plac'd to glitter.


Titania's response emphasizes her reluctance to authorize the execution, a reluctance Elizabeth felt concerning both her cousin and her favorite.

Tita[nia]. Must we then, Strike those whom we haue lou'd? albeit the children, Whom we haue nourisht at our princely breast, Set daggers to it, we would be content To chide, not beat them, (might we vse our will,) Our hand was made to saue, but not to kill.


However, as the scene progresses Dekker shifts from the feminine to the masculine pronoun. Florimel's reply to his queen's hesitancy and "familial" scruples, "You must not (cause hee's noble) spare his blood" (IV.ii.15), abruptly transfers the criminal activity from a female conspirator (James's mother) to a male conspirator (possibly Essex). We, of course, cannot tell if the pronoun substitution in the latter part of the scene was made before the performance of The Whore of Babylon or inserted later for the printed version, or if the gender confusion is significant at all. If, however, as Hoy believes, Dekker changed the reference for publication in order to avoid censorship, the incompleteness of his revision is certainly noteworthy. Would Dekker have been so careless had he wanted to disassociate his king from Catholic treachery? Would he have inserted such politically offensive material initially had he not wanted to remind his audience of treason in the king's own household? King James was particularly sensitive about this issue. The references to his mother in The Faerie Queene were enough to outrage him in 1596. Robert Bowes, the English ambassador to Scotland, described James's reaction in a letter to Burghley: "The K[ing] hath conceaved great offence against Edward [sic] Spencer publishing in prynte in the second book p[ar]t of the Fairy Queene and [] chapter some dishonorable effects (as the k. demeth therof) against himself and his mother deceassed. He alledged that this booke was passed with priviledge of her mats Commission[er]s for the viewe and allowance of all wrytinges to be receaved into Printe. But therein I have (I think) satisfyed him that it is not given with such p[ri]viledge: yet he still desyreth that Edward Spencer for his faulte, may be dewly tryed & punished."(44)

Dekker could not risk actively courting the disfavor of his king; at the very least, his book would not be approved by the censor. However, if he had intended to remind his audience that the king's line of descent is diametrically opposed to the mythic and ideological line of succession established for his son through Titania, he would certainly strengthen his case for a new Protestant militancy.

The other alternative, advanced by Gasper only, has the Moon representing Essex - popular even at the time of his execution but by the time of the play extolled as Protestant hero of mythic proportions. This reading is much more problematic inasmuch as it demands an identification of Elizabeth as the "arch-persecutor of the True Church" in her execution, albeit reluctant, of her favorite and directly contradicts Dekker's method of promoting Protestant propaganda throughout the play. Gasper recognizes her argument "is extreme," but claims the play "is composed of extremes, everything has to be extreme."(45) Be that as it may, I am not convinced that Dekker inverted in this episode his stated purpose throughout the play: "to set forth (in Tropicall and shadowed collours) the Greatnes, Magnanimity, Constancy, Clemency, and other the incomparable Heroical vertues of our late Queene" (Lectori, lines 1-4).

Nonetheless, Gasper's concept of the play as pro-Essex is correct. It achieves its pro-Essex attitude, however, without sacrificing its pro-Elizabeth stance or compromising its anti-Catholic position. In the relatively short time between the 1601 rebellion and the 1605 Spanish peace alliance, the many Roman Catholic supporters of the second earl of Essex were all but forgotten by the militant Protestants who mythologized him as a general in their army of Christ. But several who had taken part in the 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth reappeared as Gunpowder conspirators, thereby limiting the propaganda value of the Essex rebellion at the time of the play.(46) Not only was the event still politically sensitive to the court, as Gasper suggests, but it also was highly sensitive to the opposition at this time. For Dekker, inclusion of the episode would be counterproductive for another reason: it would destroy the metaphoric conflation of Queen Elizabeth with the other Protestant heroes of her reign which the playwright achieves in the figure of Titania. That conflation, along with the play's nostalgia for chivalry, its anti-Spanish propaganda, and its Spenserian imitation, aligns it with the militant Protestant segment of the Essex faction.

Spenser's Faerie Queene popularized St. George as Protestant hero and reinscribed the dragon of paganism as the Roman Catholic Church, and it was the Spenserian mantle of St. George that Essex wore and that Prince Henry assumed. Spenser not only offended King James in 1596; he continued to offend through the Jacobean Spenserians, who, like Dekker, kept alive a "poetic opposition" by extolling the ideals of Elizabethan chivalry.(47) Jonathan Goldberg in James I and the Politics of Literature describes the king's attempts to "rewrite" the literature reflective and creative of power by changing its style from Spenserian and biblical to Roman and imperial.(48) Roy Strong makes a similar point in his Cult of Elizabeth when he concludes that "James I and his Queen, Anne of Denmark, had deliberately rejected the mythology of Elizabeth" with its medieval chivalric roots and its Spenserian elaboration.(49)

When Dekker joins the Jacobean Spenserians in The Whore of Babylon, he, like many of his fellow poets and citizens, not only laments the bygone glory of the late queen and her flowers of chivalry - most notably Essex - he also implies a rebirth of that glory in Prince Henry, the patron of the company (Prince Henry's Men) for whom he wrote the play. The title page of the printed version of the play reminds the reader that the prince is titular patron of Dekker's grand Spenserian endeavor, and the Lectori reinforces the prince's position by replacing him along with his father at the center of the Gunpowder Plot: "the taking away of our Princes liues, and utter extirpation of their Kingdomes" (lines 6-7). Although it is true that the prince did not offer his players or their regular playwrights the kind of active patronage they had occasionally had under their old patron, the Lord Admiral, in the form of court performances and special playing privileges, Dekker's aspirations in publishing his work probably included some form of recognition from his patron/hero. Dekker certainly was not alone in his hopes for patronage. A few months before the plot, Samuel Daniel added a dedicatory epistle to Prince Henry to the 1605 edition of his Tragedy of Philotas that included a plea for active patronage:

For know, great Prince, when you shall come to know How that it is the fairest Ornament Of worthy times, to haue those which may shew The deedes of power, and liuely represent The actions of a glorious Gouernement. And is no lesser honor to a Crowne T'haue Writers then haue Actors of renowne.

("To the Prince," lines 46-52)(50)

Following the plot, the number of publications dedicated to the young prince increased; many, like The Whore of Babylon, chronicled Roman Catholic corruption.(51) It is also appropriate in this, his Foxeian dramatic exercise, that Dekker would hope to be recognized for heeding the call of the Acts and Monuments to serve the Protestant cause: "players, printers, preachers . . . these three things to be set up of God, as a triple bulwark against the triple crown of the pope, to bring him down."(52)

When he helped compose The Magnificent Entertainment as part of the coronation ceremonies welcoming King James to London, Dekker learned the close relationship between favor and spectacle that would define the new dynasty. In fact, by opening The Whore of Babylon with a "dumb shew" closely patterned on Queen Elizabeth's coronation pageant,(53) Dekker invites the audience to remember his own efforts in that regard. In addition, Dekker no doubt saw the success Ben Jonson was having at court with the queen through the spectacle of the masque. Now, less than three years into the Jacobean age, in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, he again produced elaborate spectacle in The Whore of Babylon, especially in the sea battle that highlights the Armada episode; in part the spectacle signals the degree of importance Dekker placed on the subject matter, but it also caters to the prince's love of the sea and the military and to the theatrical tastes of the royal family. There is no indication that Prince Henry saw the play or that Dekker expected him to view the opening performance. More likely, Dekker had hoped for a popular success and the good report that accompanies it in order to gain favor or commissions at a future date. Unfortunately for Dekker, it appears his plans backfired when the play flopped, probably at its opening performance, which for some reason Dekker missed. In the Lectori, he blames the actors at the Fortune theater for bungling the job, but insists on the merits of the work itself:

How true Fortunes dyall hath gone whose Players (like so many clocks, haue struck my lines, and told the world how I have spent my houres) I am not certaine, because mine eare stood not within reach of their Larums. But of this my knowledge cannot faile, that in such Consorts, many of the Instruments are for the most part out of tune, And no maruaile; for let the Poet set the note of his Nombers, euen to Apolloes owne Lyre, the Player will haue his owne Crochets, and sing false notes, in despite of all the rules of Musick . . . The labours therefore of Writers are as vnhappie as the children of a bewtifull woman, being spoyld by ill nurses, within a month after they come into the world. What a number of throwes doe we endure eare we be deliuered? and yet euen then (tho that heauenly issue of our braine be neuer so faire and so well lymd,) is it made lame by the bad handling of them to whome it is put to learne to goe: if this of mine bee made a cripple by such meanes, yet dispise him not for that deformity which stuck not vpon him at his birth; but fell vpon him by mis-fortune, and in recompence of such fauour, you shall (if your Patience can suffer so long) heare now how himselfe can speake.

(Lectori, lines 24-43)

Even though there is no indication that Dekker succeeded in gaining the favorable attentions of the prince, he seems not to have been discouraged from future efforts along the same lines. There can be little doubt that he looked for royal favor again in his spectacular Troia-Nova Triumphans, the most expensive Lord Mayor's show to that date.(54) According to John Chamberlain, the unusual splendor resulted from the promised attendance of the members of the royal family most attractive to militant Protestants - Prince Henry and the affianced couple, Princess Elizabeth and Count Palatine of the Rhine (letter of 3 November 1612).(55) Leslie Hotson, in fact, speculates that the serious problems with debt that landed Dekker in prison before the end of 1612 were brought on to a large degree by his own extravagance in planning Troia-Nova Triumphans.(56) Dekker, of course, would again be disappointed in his hopes for royal favor. Although the count and princess did attend, the prince fell ill and so was absent. He would die a week later and dash the hopes of militant Protestants all across Europe.

Despite what appear to be Dekker's personal disappointments as a poet seeking patronage and the far greater disappointment of Prince Henry's supporters, the figure of the prince as part of the social and thematic context of militant Protestant texts in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot supplies a positive focus for normally negative oppositional politics. Without him, it is all too possible to conclude that The Whore of Babylon is a sterile text, its messages divorced from any political actuality - as Gasper says, "a product perhaps of wishful thinking, or, to put it another way, of political frustration."(57) With him, "wishful thinking" gains the substance of royal flesh and blood.


1 Cyrus Hoy, in Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to Texts in "The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker," ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980), 2: 303-4, surveys briefly the scholarship on dating the play's composition. Although W. W. Greg (Henslowe's Diary, vol. 2 [London, 1908], p. 210) agrees with Frederick Gard Fleay (A Bibliographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642, vol. 1 [London, 1891], p. 133) that The Whore of Babylon was written earlier and underwent additions subsequent to the Gunpowder Plot, virtually everyone writing after Daniel Dodson first recorded the allusions to the plot in the play ("Allusions to the Gunpowder Plot in Dekker's 'The Whore of Babylon,'" N&Q 204 [1959]: 257) accepts an early 1606 date of composition.

Margot Heinemann, "Rebel Lords, Popular Playwrights, and Political Culture: Notes on the Jacobean Patronage of the Earl of Southampton," YES 21 (1991): 63-86; 75. Other early Jacobean Reformation plays include Samuel Rowley's When You See Me You Know Me (1604) and the two Thomas Heywood plays, If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody (1604/5).

2 Julia Gasper, The Dragon and the Dove: The Plays of Thomas Dekker (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 62-108.

3 Gasper, p. 62. Larry Champion also avoids discussing the specific historical context of the play, although he concedes that "the play was born of the anti-papal sentiment that swept England following . . . the Gunpowder Plot." Champion privileges art over politics and so ignores the political (to him, "ephemeral polemic") in order to discuss the "epic drama" (Thomas Dekker and the Traditions of English Drama [New York: Peter Lang, 1985], p. 75).

4 Una Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation (London: Methuen, 1936), pp. 118-27, seems to have first introduced the still popular attitude that Dekker was a talented hack, with no coherent set of principles. Much Dekker scholarship has accepted her assumptions without further investigation.

5 Dekker published The Double [PP.sup.*] (PoPe) only one month after the Gunpowder Plot; his most noticeable addition to his source (William Segar's Blazon of Papists [1587] ) is "A Papist Vmbreant, or the Moldwarp," "a Sprite / That deales in Fire-workes" (The Double PP, in The Non-Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. A. B. Grosart, 5 vols. [1885; rprt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1963], 2: 177). See F. P. Wilson, "Dekker, Segar, and Some Others," HLQ 18 (1954-55): 297-300, for Dekker's indebtedness to Segar.

6 Gasper, p. 62.

7 References to the Gunpowder Plot occur in the Lectori and in I.i.113, I.ii.274-80, and III.i.155-60. Additionally, Dekker alludes to his own work, The Double [PP.sup.*] in III.i.150. Discussion on the play as response to the Gunpowder Plot has either accepted the "old" historicism's attitude that the drama retreated into ideological conceptions of order in response to crisis (see especially George Price, Thomas Dekker [New York: Twayne, 1969], pp. 69-76) or has accepted the work without further examination as a statement of repulsion following the Plot (for instance, Hoy, pp. 300-2; Champion, p. 75; and Gasper, p. 62).

8 Thomas Dekker, The Whore of Babylon, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1955), 2: 491-592. All subsequent citations from the play and the Lectori are to this edition.

9 G. B. Harrison, A Jacobean Journal, 1603-1606: Being a Record of Those Things Most Talked of During the Years (New York: Macmillan, 1941), p. 261.

10 Mark Nicholls, Investigating Gunpowder Plot (New York and Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1991), p. 36.

11 Nicholls, p. 47.

12 Caroline Bingham, James I of England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981), p. 60. The conspirators included Robert Catesby, the organizer of the plot; his servant, John Bates; his first cousin Francis Tresham; his two second cousins, the brothers Robert and Thomas Winter; their brother-in-law John Grant, his friend Thomas Percy; and Percy's two brothers-in-law, John and Christopher Wright, among others.

13 Nicholls, pp. 39, 41.

14 Nicholls, pp. 38-39.

15 See J. W. Williamson, The Myth of the Conqueror: Prince Henry Stuart, a Study of Seventeenth-Century Personation (New York: AMS Press, 1978), p. 37.

16 Robert W. Kenney, "Peace with Spain, 1605," History Today 20 (1970): 198-208, 199.

17 Quoted in Maurice Lee Jr., James I and Henri IV: An Essay in English Foreign Policy. 1603-1610 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1970), p. 42.

18 His Maiesties Speach in this Last Session of Parliament . . . Together with a discourse of the maner of the discouery of this late intended Treason, ioyned with the Examination of some of the prisoners (London, 1605), C[2.sup.r]. Various sections of the King's Book are reprinted in discussions of the Gunpowder Plot; see especially Albert Loomie, S.J., "Guy Fawkes in Spain: The 'Spanish Treason' in Spanish Documents," Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research (London), Special Supplement 9 (November 1971): 1-67, and Nicholls passim.

19 Harrison, p. 268.

20 See Loomie, pp. 40-2.

21 I. H. [John Heath], The Divell of the Vault; or, the unmasking of Murther. In a brief declaration of the Cacolicke-complotted Treason, lately discouered (London, 1606), A[4.sup.v].

22 I.H. [John Heath], D[2.sup.v].

23 [William Leigh], Great Britaines, Great Deliverance, from the great danger of Popish Powder (London, 1606), E[2.sup.r-v].

24 Both Annabel Patterson (Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England [Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984], pp. 44-119) and Janet Clare ("Art made tongue-tied by authority": Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship [Manchester and New York: Manchester Univ. Press, 1990]) have reexamined the nature of dramatic censorship and have analyzed the kinds of ambiguity dramatists include in plays which are consciously political in order to avoid censorship and the greater threats of trial and imprisonment. Clare misdates Dekker's play and conjectures that censorship would have made The Whore of Babylon "unlikely to have been performed at the time of its composition in the same form as it appears in the printed text of 1607" (p. 108). However, much material that could easily have been deemed censurable appears in the printed version of the play, although the oppositional message of Protestant militantism is frequently mitigated by the appearance of Jacobean dogmatism.

25 Sir Charles Cornwallis, The Short Life and Much lamented Death of that most magnanimous Prince, Henry, Prince of Wales (1644), p. 97.

26 Quoted in Roy Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales and England's Lost Renaissance (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), p. 49; and in Williamson, p. 29.

27 I adopt the term Puritan here, in part because Jacobean court factions often used such a label to oppose the increasing number of people, especially in London and the more industrialized centers in England, who argued for religious and political reform. However, it should be remembered that, even though they shared social, political, and religious concerns commonly associated with Puritanism, those persons were not always doctrinally committed to Puritanism. For these conclusions, I am indebted to Margot Heinemann, Puritanism and Theater: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama under the Early Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 18-47; and Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), pp. 13-29.

28 Francis Osborne, "Traditional Memoirs," in appendix to Cornwallis, Life and Character of Henry-Frederic, Prince of Wales. With a Proper Appendix containing several other curious authentic Testimonies . . . (London, 1738), p. 26.

29 Stephen Greenblatt, "Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion, Henry IV and V," in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 18-47, 44.

30 Although Dekker borrows Spenserian names throughout the play, he seems to do so fairly haphazardly. Satyrane here has no relation to the knight of book 1 of The Fairie Queene. Other names (Oberon for Henry VIII, for instance) are adopted without change from Spenser.

31 Marianne Gateson Riely, ed., "The Whore of Babylon" by Thomas Dekker: A Critical Edition (New York: Garland, 1980), p. 71.

32 Hoy, p. 303.

33 John Stow, The Annales of England. Faithfully collected out of the most autenticall Authors . . . from the first habitation untill the present year 1605 (London, 1605), pp. 1264-6.

34 Susan E. Krantz, "Identifying Dekker's Third King in The Whore of Babylon," ANQ n.s. 3 (1990): 104-6.

35 Charles Carter, The Western European Powers, 1500-1700 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1971), p. 308. Carter chronicles Zuniga's career and includes a detailed summary and partial translation of the ambassador's instructions (pp. 48-65). Albert J. Loomie, S.J. has recently examined the role of Zuniga and other Spanish ambassadors in England during James's reign in "Spanish Secret Diplomacy at the Court of King James," Politics, Religion, and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of De Lamar Jensen, ed. Malcolm R. Thorpe and Arthur J. Slavin, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies 27 (1994): 231-44.

36 Kenney, p. 199.

37 Cornwallis, Short Life, pp. 6-7.

38 Osborne, p. 30. The friendship between Ralegh and Prince Henry further emphasizes the differences between the king and his son. At the time of the play, Ralegh was imprisoned in the Tower. Henry, as evidenced in his now famous quip that no one but his father would dare "keep such a bird in a cage," agreed with many others familiar with court intrigue and Jacobean political expediency that King James was exclusively to blame for his friend's misfortunes.

39 Sir Walter Ralegh, "Discourse Touching a War with Spain and of the Protecting of the Netherlands," in The Works of Sir Walter Ralegh, vol. 8 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1829), p. 307.

40 Quoted in Harrison, pp. 269-70.

41 Strong, Henry, pp. 223-4.

42 Among those who concentrate on aesthetic weaknesses are C. van der Spek, who calls the play "a worthless product" (The Church and the Churchman in English Dramatic Literature before 1642 [Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1930], p. 111), Muriel Bradbrook, who criticizes The Whore of Babylon as "A dramatic poem, which was perhaps not meant for staging" (The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy [London: Chatto and Windus, 1955], p. 122), and Irving Ribner, who believes that Dekker's Spenserian imitation was an "ill-advised experiment" (The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957], p. 288). More kind than Ribner is Champion, who agrees that the play is "a relatively grand experiment that fails," but claims it "is neither trivial nor incoherent" (p. 80).

43 Fleay first identifies the figure in the initial reference as Mary (p. 133). Mary Hunt agrees with Fleay in Thomas Dekker (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1912), p. 37. Hoy reviews the scholarship and makes the strongest case for Mary (pp. 304-5). Hoy also reprints the sections from Holinshed that he believes indicate Dekker's intention of including Mary Queen of Scots in his array of traitors (pp. 35-14).

44 Calendar of State Papers, relating to Scotland, 1589-1603, ed. M.J. Thorpe, vol. 2 (London, 1858), p. 723. Bowes's letter is reprinted in Frederic Ives Carpenter, A Reference Guide to Edmund Spenser (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1923), pp. 41-2, and in Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and Their Contemporaries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983), p. 1.

45 Gasper, p. 95.

46 Robert Catesby, Francis Tresham, John Grant, Thomas Winter, and John and Christopher Wright had participated in the Essex rebellion.

47 David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), pp. 198-9.

48 Goldberg, pp. 1-54.

49 Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), p. 187.

50 Samuel Daniel, The Tragedy of Philotas, ed. Laurence Michel (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1949), p. 98.

51 Elkin Calhoun Wilson surveys much of the literature dedicated to Prince Henry following the Gunpowder Plot in Prince Henry and English Literature (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1946), pp. 3347.

52 John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, vol. 6 (New York: AMS Press, 1965), p. 57.

53 See Hoy, p. 312.

54 Jean Robertson and D.J. Gordon, eds., A Calendar of Dramatic Records in the Books of the Livery Companies of London, 1485-1640. Collections 3 (Oxford: Malone Society, 1954), pp. 84-5.

55 John Chamberlain, The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman McClure, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939), p. 384.

56 See Mary Edmond, "In Search of John Webster," TLS, 24 December 1976, p. 1621.

57 Gasper, p. 108.

Susan E. Krantz is associate professor of English at the University of New Orleans. She has published articles and reviews on Shakespeare, Dekker, and theater history.