Colonialism, politics, and romanization in John
Fletcher's Bonduca; Jowitt,
Studies in English Literature, 1500 - 1900
Colonialism, politics, and romanization in John
Byline: Jowitt, Claire
Publication Date: 04-01-2003
SEL 43, 2 (Spring 2003): 475-494
article explores the ways that John Fletcher's Roman play Bonduca
engages with early-seventeenth-century British colonial ambitions. The
play ends with the defeat of the Britons by a more powerful
civilization and the establishment of the Roman occupation in the
British Isles. The rout of the Britons described in this text might,
initially, seem unpromising material for Fletcher to use to question
the merits of contemporary colonial policies. Yet, through a series of
resemblances between contemporary Virginia and pre-Christian Briton,
between ancient British characters and contemporary or
near-contemporary monarchs, and through the dramatization of questions
concerning the benefits and drawbacks of "Romanization," this is
exactly what the play achieves.1
The difficulties the Romans
face in the hostile environs of pre-Christian Briton in Bonduca possess
considerable similarities to those experienced by the British on the
northern seaboard of America in the early seventeenth century.
Furthermore, the internal differences in the camps, especially that of
the Britons (where Caratach and Bonduca have antithetical styles of
leadership), can be read in terms of the colonial policies of James I
and his predecessor Elizabeth I. This article argues, then, that
Fletcher's representation of the Britons works, simultaneously, in
several ways. On one level, they represent indigenous inhabitants in a
colonial terrain inevitably succumbing to the power and control of a
more advanced civilization. At the same time, the factions within the
Britons' camp, the personalities of rival leaders, and the attitudes of
individual Britons to invasion and processes of Romanization, all act
as ways of measuring the success or failure of the colonial policies
and leadership of the current monarch and his immediate predecessor.
The Romans represent an alien and hostile conquering force finally
overcoming the Britons' independence but, at the same time, they also
imaginatively stand in for the British in contemporary Virginia.
the beginning of act I we are invited to think of Bonduca as a colonial
text. Petillius, one of the Roman captains, discusses with his
commanding officer the reasons why the Roman occupation of Briton is
not secure. He suggests that the problems the Romans currently face-of
ill discipline and lack of food-have "lost the Colonies, and gave
Bonduca / (With shame we must record it) time and strength / To look
into our Fortunes."2 Indeed, as we shall see, because of the
difficulties the Virginia colony experienced in its dealings with
Algonquian Indians in the early decades of the seventeenth century, the
Romans' relatively easy defeat of the ancient Britons in Bonduca can be
seen as a potent fantasy of colonial success in terms of current
British ambitions. Yet, simultaneously, the rout of the Britons also
represents the end of independence from foreign control. Hence, since
these oppositional views are articulated by the text at the same time,
Bonduca continuously questions their merits without offering easy
solutions to the moral conundrum concerning whether the Romans or
Britons possess more honor.3 As the ancient Britons represent native
Americans in the play, the audience is invited to support their
subjugation; as they represent "British" independence, their defeat is,
of course, a mournful affair.
In the critical debate about
Bonduca there has been disagreement concerning which of the warring
sides is shown to deserve the victory. Until recently most commentators
argued that in the military conflict between the ancient Britons and
Romans, Fletcher consistently revealed the Romans to be more honorable,
masculine, and virtuous.4 Paul Green, in particular, suggests, that
although the play's structure presents alternate scenes in the camps of
the two sides, the Roman characters are more numerous and more
individualized than their British counterparts.5 Fletcher's apparent
support for the Romans is read as the "impugning [of] the values of
English society" as Fletcher "contrast[s] the heroic life of a soldier
with the corrupt ease of what can readily be construed as the Jacobean
court."6 However, Andrew Hickman persuasively argues that Fletcher's
sympathies were not unequivocally on the Roman side.7 In Hickman's
view, Fletcher presents his audience with a puzzle concerning which
side possesses the most honor. The play "alludes to an ideal standard
by which both sides have shortcomings" and these "ambiguous contrasts .
. . become the subject of a catechism . . . which the audience is
encouraged to answer."8 But, the mystery is impossible to solve since
upon "meticulous inspection" the play's "facade[s] of antithesis . . .
turn instead into ambiguous parallels."9 Building on Hickman's
analysis, Ronald J. Boling and Julie Crawford have shown, respectively,
that Fletcher's representation of Caratach should be recognized as
satiric and that Caratach's vacillation to Rome at the end of the
play-which casts doubt over his ability to serve Briton-can be seen as
a reference to similar uncertainties concerning James's rule (based on
anxieties about his relationships with male favorites and concerns over
his Scottish or Catholic sympathies).10
Extending the analysis
by Hickman, Boling, and Crawford, this article also argues that in
Bonduca virtue is not located solely on the Roman side. However, the
similarities between the situation of early-seventeenth-century
Virginian colonists and Romans in Briton complicate a topical reading
of Caratach's weaknesses as a reflection of James's monarchical
inadequacies. Indeed, Caratach's, Bonduca's, and Hengo's attitudes to
Romanization can be seen as an extended discussion of the relative
merits of the colonial policy of the reigning monarch, the previous
incumbent, and the hopes that had been vested in Henry, prince of Wales
until his death. In other words, Fletcher's views are not as
unequivocally hostile to James as Boling or Crawford suggest. In this
play, as in other colonial dramas such as The Island Princess (1621)
and The Sea Voyage (1622), Fletcher was, I suggest, persistently
concerned with exploring larger questions concerning interactions
between colonizer and colonized.11
Fletcher's Bonduca portrays
the eventual triumph of Rome over Briton. Fletcher ignores documentary
sources by marshaling three famous, but historically diverse, figures
of British resistance against Rome into one play. Nennius fought Julius
Caesar in single combat, and Caratach and Bonduca took part in
different phases of the subsequent Claudian campaign against Briton.12
Bonduca opens with Bonduca, Nennius, and Caratach celebrating the
successful defense of their homeland against Roman invasionary forces.
The play then switches to the Roman army camp, and we see the hungry,
war-weary Romans and discover that a Roman captain, Junius, has fallen
in love with one of Bonduca's daughters, Bonvica. It is soon clear that
there are as many divisions in the Roman camp as there are in the
Britons': Penius, one of the commanders, fails to marshal his troops
when the general requests them, and Roman foot soldiers break ranks to
go foraging for food. When the Romans are caught by the Britons,
instead of having them executed, as Bonduca desires, Caratach feeds and
releases them. Furthermore, when Bonduca's daughter hears of Junius's
love, she plans to lure him into their camp and ambush him. Caratach
berates Bonvica and her sister for their lack of honor and again
releases the Romans. When the forces finally meet, they do so in Roman
battle formation since Caratach sees only this kind of warfare as "a
Battell worthie of our winning" (III.v.64). Though fighting bravely,
the Britons are defeated; Caratach and Hengo are forced into hiding
while Bonduca refuses to submit to Roman rule and, with her daughters,
kills herself. While in Caratach's care, Hengo is killed by the Romans
and, in his grief, Caratach surrenders and the play closes with him
about to depart for Rome as a "noble friend" (V.iii. 185).
exact dating of Bonduca is problematic since the play was not printed
until 1647 when the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio was published by
Humphrey Moseley, though an earlier manuscript copy in the hand of
Edward Knight, bookkeeper of the rung's Company from the late 1620s,
also survives.13 Andrew Gurr dates the first productions of Bonduca as
sometime between 1611 and 1614, when the King's Company performed it at
the Globe and/or Blackfriars theaters.14 Most recent critics, then,
date the composition of the play between 1609 and 1616, that is, after
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1606/7) to which Fletcher's play is
thematically and structurally indebted. Indeed, Hickman argues for a
date after the death of Prince Henry (November 1612), arguing that,
like Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), Bonduca
was designed through its representation of the character
Hengo-described as "the hopes of Britain" (V.iii. 160)-as a tribute to
the late heir to the throne.15
Such a time frame, then, makes
the play coterminous with, or slightly later than, the setting up of
two new British colonies between 34[degrees] and 45[degrees] north by
James I under royal charter in April 1606.16 The more southerly regions
within these latitudes were colonized under the control of a
joint-stock company established in London who financed the first
Jamestown voyage and sent three ships to America in December 1606. The
founding and early years of the Jamestown Colony are documented in the
surviving accounts of the first colonists which were speedily published
both separately and in later editions of Richard Hakluyt's compendium
and by Samuel Purchas in his continuation of Hakluyt's work. Captain
John Smith, for example, who spent twenty-nine months between May 1607
and October 1609 in Jamestown, published three accounts of the first
years, True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath
Happened in Virginia Since the First Planting (1608), A Map of Virginia
published with Proceedings of the English Colony (1612), and General
Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles (1624).17
vast number of texts that imagined and celebrated the Virginia project
were published in Britain during the first years of the colony. William
Symonds, for example, in his 1609 sermon about Virginia described the
terrain as "a Land more like the Garden of Eden: which the Lord
planted, than any part else of all the earth."18 Michael Drayton's 1606
ode "To the Virginian Voyage" argued that colonists could expect three
overabundant harvests per year from Virginia since the soil was so
"fruitfull," and that they should also expect to find "pearle[s] and
gold."19 As is well known, many dramatic texts of the period include
references to the Virginia project and use them to express support for
or dissatisfaction with current colonial policies or their advocates.
In the first edition of Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston's
Eastward Ho (1605), for example, Seagull praises Virginia while
simultaneously attacking the Scots, and hence implicitly the king, who
are "disperst over the face of the whole earth" even into Virginia.20
Fletcher's Bonduca the key problem the Romans face in their invasion of
Briton is the adequate victualing of their army. At the beginning of
the play the Roman troops are starving, arguing that they are too
hungry to be able to fight:
For mine own part, I say, I am starv'd already,
Not worth another Bean, consum'd to nothing,
Nothing but flesh and bones left, miserable.
troops' complaints are harshly and unsympathetically received by their
commanding officers. Petillius, one of the captains to whom the troops
complain (described in the dramatis personae as "somewhat wanton"),
sarcastically advises the hungry soldiers to do as his own troops do
and consume the indigestible:
Ye rogues, my Company eat Turf, and talk not;
Timber they can digest, and fight upon't;
Old matts, and mud with spoons, rare meats. Your shoes, slaves,
Dare ye cry out of hunger, and those extant?
Suck your Sword-hilts, ye slaves, if ye be valiant.
here refers to the perennial problems of establishing and maintaining
lines of supply for invasive and colonizing forces, and of maintaining
discipline when food runs short. Petillius's unsympathetic response to
the soldiers' plight does not represent the Roman command in a positive
light. Indeed, just moments earlier he had been trying to cajole his
fellow captain Junius out of his obsessive love for Bonduca's youngest
daughter with promises of feasting and carousing with the general's
"new wine, new come over" (I.ii.46). The soldiers' response-which is to
desert their posts and forage for victuals in the Britons' camp-is
certainly not supported by the text, but it is partially explained by
the Roman command's lack of care for their foot soldiers.
early years of the Jamestown colony were characterized by a chronic
shortage of food which continued on and off until the colony was able
to feed itself (which did not occur until the 1630s). In the first
thirty years, then, starvation was a continual problem as the colonists
had to await supplies sent from Britain to supplement their own crops
or trade with the Algonquian or other groups of Indians for food. This
concern over the maintenance of adequate food supplies is repeatedly
revealed in both the instructions dispatched by the London
administration of the Virginia Company and in the accounts of the early
settlers themselves. For example, the stringent Lawes Divine, Moral and
Martial were implemented in 1610 to control the recalcitrant colonial
population who persisted in searching for gold rather than growing
crops.21 Such behavior had led to what has become known as the
"starving time" in Jamestown during the winter of 1609-10 where, when
Sir Thomas Gates arrived in 1610 to relieve the colony, he was greeted
by the pitiful sight of endemic malnutrition: "those wch weare Liveinge
weare so maugre and Leane that itt was Lamentable to behowlde them for
many throwe extreme hunger have Runne outt of their naked bedds beinge
so Leane thatt they Looked Lyke anotamies Cryeinge owtt we are starved
We are starved."22
Captain John Smith's 1612 account of his
activities in Jamestown (Proceedings of the English Colony)
rhetorically manipulated his survival skills-both to provide food for
other colonists through successful hunting or trade and to manage his
own hunger-as signs of his own superiority.23 Indeed, the Algonquians
so esteemed Smith that "every other day brought such plenty of bread,
fish, turkies, squirrels, deare, and other wild beasts, part they gave
him as presents from the king; the rest, hee as their market clarke set
the price how they should sell."24 Importantly, Smith's pre-eminence is
both cultural, that is a reflection of European mastery, and
individual, since Smith has special qualities that the other colonists
do not possess and the Algonquians appear to recognize.
to food is essential to the plot of Bonduca. Judas and his cohorts
desert their posts in order to satisfy their hunger. When they are
captured during their foray, the reactions of different Britons to
their plight act as indicators of their captors' relative moral
standing. Bonduca and her daughters see their Roman prisoners merely as
enemies, treating them like animals by putting halters round their
necks. Bonduca intends to hang the Romans without feeding them after
ordering her daughters first to "Torment 'em wenches" (II.iii.14). In
the lines that follow, appetite for food is replaced by sexual appetite
as the daughters tease the Roman soldiers with promises of sexual
fulfillment prior to death (II.ii.17-32). The sexualized nature of this
interchange (which reflects well on neither group) shows the way
contact with women is associated with corruption and, ultimately, death
in this play. When Caratach enters, he is disgusted by the treatment
meted out to the soldiers by the women and swiftly orders that their
hunger be satisfied with abundant "wine and victuals" (II.iii.57).
Caratach's sense of honor demands that hospitality be offered to the
Romans in order to ensure a good battle when the armies do meet. That
such a policy is admirable does not seem to be questioned by the text.
Though Caratach obviously does not seek a dishonorable "easie conquest
of 'em" (II.iii.114; which the women seek through their plan to lure
Junius and his cohorts into the camp), the military wisdom of
Caratach's scrupulous conception of honor is questioned. First Nennius
demands, "Are they not enemies?" (II.iii.37) and then Hengo asks
Caratach whether the Roman soldiers he is so generously feeding share
his conception of honor: "Do not the cowards eat hard too?"
(II.iii.76). The idea that Caratach's generosity to enemies will not be
matched when he, following the Britons' defeat, is starving, is
prepared for by Nennius and Hengo's circumspection. Caratach blithely
tells Nennius "I'll answer all, Sir" (II.iii.53), which indeed he does,
though not in the way he intended. In different ways, then, both
British leaders' attitudes to satisfying Roman appetites are shown to
be misguided: Fletcher uses both Caratach's generosity with food and
Bonduca's conflation of food and sex as indications of their respective
inadequacies as military commanders and tacticians.
Britons' defeat, the lack of food is also crucial in bringing about
Hengo's death and Caratach's final submission to Rome. Even though they
are hidden in the hills of their own country, Caratach and Hengo are
unable to feed themselves. Caratach expects that he will find stashes
of food secreted by the "valiant charitie" of a "gentle Britain"
(V.iii. 11). However, Judas and Macer appear to know the Britons'
tactics, presumably through their foray into the Britons' camp earlier
and Caratach's obliging treatment. Hence their baited trap-with meat
and a bottle hung over a rock, "as though the Britains / stole hither
to relieve him" (V.iii. 1-2)-is successful since Caratach believes it
to be the action of some "blessed Britain" (V.iii. 100). The Romans'
successful reading of their tactics here negates the advantages the
Britons should expect to enjoy-better access to food supplies based on
superior knowledge of the landscape and help from other indigenous
The difficulties both the Romans experience in the
early scenes concerning the victualling of their invasionary forces,
and the starvation Hengo and Caratach suffer at the end, are noticeably
similar, then, to those experienced by the British in Jamestown during
this period. George Percy describes the resulting desertion of
colonists during the famine: "To eate many our men this starveinge Tyme
did Runn away unto the Salvages whome we never heard of after."25 In
terms of access to food, then, both Romans and Britons have similar
problems. Fletcher, in his representation of starvation for both
colonizer and colonized, is showing the unstable nature of the boundary
between them. Indeed, Caratach who in the early scenes of the play had
been so open-handed with supplies to his enemies, by the end of the
play contemplates eating them as he offers Hengo "a Romane's head,"
provoking Hengo to reply "Good provision. / Before I starve, my
sweet-fac'd Gentleman, / I'll trie your favour" (IV.ii.78-81). The
Britons' threatened cannibalism is similar to that believed to be
endemic among indigenous American inhabitants. More disturbingly, it
resembles the recent outbreak among Jamestown colonists who turned
cannibal in the starving time.26 Here Caratach and Hengo's
contemplation of cannibalism encapsulates their liminal status as they
simultaneously represent both colonizer and colonized.
and Junius find discipline impossible to maintain in the face of
starvation; their troops leave their posts, and both captains become,
at different points in the play, lovesick for Bonduca's daughters.
Junius wants to marry Bonvica and by keeping an assignation with her
almost misses the battle; Petillius finds himself sick with the
"love-bots" (V.ii. 10) with admiration for the bravery of Bonduca's
eldest daughter's death. Colonialists' desires for indigenous women
were believed to represent a dangerous threat to the integrity of the
colony since "going native" in such a way meant that the men's
loyalties were likely to be divided. Such was the perception of the
problem that in 1620 the Virginia Company in London was busily
advertising for English women to be sent over to Virginia to be wives
to the colonists (each woman would cost her prospective husband 150
pounds of tobacco).27 Furthermore, when the colonist John Rolfe was
contemplating marriage to the Algonquian princess Pocahontas, he was
clearly concerned whether the union was beneficial. Rolfe describes his
feelings for Pocahontas in a letter to Sir Thomas Dale of early 1614 as
"intangled & inthralled in soe intricate a Laborinth, that I was
even awearied to unwynde my selfe therout" and expresses his worries
concerning the consequences of miscegenation through "marrienge of
Rolfe obviously overcame his scruples with
the help of "Almighty God whoe . . . opened the Gate and ledd me by the
hande that I might playnely see and dircerne the safest pathes wherein
to treade" since the marriage was designed to improve the cultural
harmony between the colonists and Algonquians.29 As Ralph Hamor records
in his account of the marriage (not published until 1625), "ever since
we have had friendly trade and commerce."30 That Rolfe had the
permission of the governor before undertaking a marriage with
Pocahontas (and that James I was consulted) marks this particular union
as different from the promiscuous intermingling feared by the colonial
administrators and government. Nevertheless, Rolfe's soul-searching and
the soliciting of opinions from notable concerned parties reveals the
depth of the anxiety regarding marriage between people of different
races. Certainly Junius and Petillius's feelings for Bonduca's
daughters have detrimental effects on their military prowess, making
their judgment uncertain and their valor questionable. Indeed, in
or-der to shock Junius out of his intemperate desire for Bonduca's
daughter, Petillius persuades the herald to read out a mock order from
the general stating that "lovers must not come neer the Regiments, for
fear of their infections" and "If any common soldier love an Enemie,
hee's whipp'd and made a slave: If any Captain; cast, with losse of
honors, flung out o'th'Army, and made unable ever after to bear the
name of a Souldier" (II.ii. 58-62).
A Virginian context for this
play is also suggested by the way in which the Britons are described by
the Romans as able to blend in with their environment, take advantage
of their superior knowledge of the terrain, and prevent the Romans from
using their favored military tactics of open battle:
The hills are wooded with their partizans,
And all the valleys over-grown with darts,
As moors are with rank rushes: no ground left us
To charge upon, no room to strike . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
They are so infinite, so ever-springing,
We shall be kill'd with killing.
the introduction in 1610 under Lord de la Warr of more aggressive
instructions from the Virginia Company in London, colonialists'
relations with native Americans were much more hostile and the Indians
were frequently described as "treacherous" ("a daily daring treacherous
people").31 Smith's description in the 1612 Proceedings of the English
Colony of the origin of his Algonquian captivity shows the way the
Indians were able to take advantage of their superior knowledge of the
terrain, using sniping tactics to pick off his men rather than
confronting them in open battle. When his boat became too large to
travel up the Chickahominy River, Smith continued with two Englishmen
and two Indian guides in a smaller canoe, leaving the boat in a safe
place "out of danger of shot" and instructing the remaining men that
"none should goe ashore till his returned." Despite Smith's command the
remaining men disobeyed his orders, "went ashore" giving "both
occassion and opportunity to the Salvages to surprise one George
Casson, and much failed not to have cut of the boat and all the rest."
Meanwhile, further up the river Smith and his companions also suffered
from an ambush attack. While Smith and an Indian guide went searching
for food, the two men he left guarding the canoe were "slaine (as is
supposed) sleeping." Smith himself was captured not through lack of
military prowess but because of the inhospitableness of the terrain
("slipping into a bogmire they tooke him prisoner").32
Bonduca the Romans defeat the Britons precisely because the conflict is
conducted under European warfare conventions of open pitched battle. As
Petillius's speech quoted above makes clear, if the war continued
without such a meeting, then the advantages of familiarity of terrain
and superior numbers were all on the side of the Britons. It is only
because Caratach obligingly insists on fighting using European
standards of warfare, rather than relying on a slow conflict of
attrition gradually wearing down the starving Romans, that the invaders
are successful in their campaign. His adoption of Roman military
tactics, which leads to defeat, shows the text questioning the merits
of the process of Romanization. Like his later contemplation of
cannibalism, Caratach's Romanization here shows the categories of
colonizer and colonized-Roman and Briton or Briton and indigenous
American-collapsing into each other. Bonduca and her daughters' rather
more devious military tactics-which rely on deception, treachery, and
attrition-in fact represent the only way that the Britons could have
successfully defended their territory. Indeed, it is precisely these
treacherous tactics which Judas, a Roman, employs in order to overcome
Caratach by flushing out the starving Hengo with the baited snare.
Romans' descriptions of the marauding Britons as "painted wasps"
(Iii.215) also suggest an American context. Five engravings by John
White of ancient British inhabitants (three pictures of body-painted
Picts, two of Britons) were appended to White's pictures of Algonquian
Indians. These were included in Theodor de Bry's 1590 edition of Thomas
Hariot's A Briefe and True Reporte of the New Found Land of Virginia.33
The ancient Britons' art of body painting, which Fletcher refers to in
Bonduca, was used by other contemporary commentators to indicate
similarities between Native American cultures and those of the early
inhabitants of Britain. Given Fletcher's link with Sir Henry Hastings-a
keen supporter of the Virginia enterprise who was admitted as a member
of the Company in 1612-it is tempting to speculate that Fletcher was
well aware of the parallel.34
This play, then, asks important
questions concerning whether the Romans or the Britons deserve to win
the conflict and comes, I believe, to only a provisional conclusion. We
are shown divisions within both camps-between Bonduca and Caratach on
the Britons' side and between the Roman leader Suetonius and his
tribune Penius, as well as between the leaders and the troops on the
Roman side. These internal divisions are never binary in the sense that
neither side is represented as wholly correct in its conception of
"virtus." The ambivalence of these internal divisions mirrors the
instability of the larger divide between the Britons and the Romans
where honor is not shown as the exclusive moral property of either
side. Furthermore, the fact that honor is so precariously balanced
between the Romans and the Britons resembles the kind of descriptions
colonists were producing about Native American culture in the Virginia
colonies. Gabriel Archer's 1607 comment about the Algonquians captures
this ambivalence well: "They are naturally given to trechery, howbeit
we could not find it in our travell up the river, but rather a most
kind and loving people."35 Similarly, as Peter Hulme points out,
colonists were unable to understand gifts of food as simple kindness on
the part of Algonquians but instead saw it as an example of endemic
inconstancy that was just as likely to prophesy future attack as
continued future support.36 Hence the conclusion to Fletcher's
play-where Caratach is embraced into the Roman fold and he and
Suetonius reach a sort of rapprochement of shared values and mutual
appreciation-can be read as a kind of fantasy concerning accommodation
between different cultures. Bonduca's final lines prior to her suicide
foretell this positive cultural miscegenation: "If you will keep your
Laws and Empire whole, / Place in your Romane flesh a Britain soul"
(IV.iv. 152-3). Ostensibly, then, this is what does occur at the end of
the play; but the neat ending does not answer the central issue of
whether Romanization should be celebrated or mourned.
the play Caratach has been revealed to be the most consistently
honorable character. Yet the idea that he might fulfill Bonduca's call
for a "Britain soul" to strengthen "Romane flesh" is a
misidentification if Britishness is associated with the maintenance of
staunch independence from foreign interference (which is what Bonduca's
policies represent). In fact, Caratach out-Romans the Romans in terms
of honorable and civilized behavior. He consistently behaves with more
Roman "virtus" than do the Romans; that is, he is more "soldierly,
severe, self-controlled [and] self-disciplined."37 The conclusion of
the play, then, where Caratach is embraced as "the valiant Britain"
(V.iii. 174), "Excellent Britain" (V.iii. 178), and described as "the
onely Souldier" (V.iii. 192) by the Romans would seem to harmonize all
differences as he prepares, paradoxically, to be carried off to Rome in
triumph to be treated as a "friend" (V.iii. 179). Yet the play
encourages us to ask both whether Caratach should succumb so readily to
a process of Romanization and what it might mean for the future of the
Britons. Suetonius's and the other Romans' rhetoric of honor has not
been matched by their actions in the play. For example, Judas's
duplicitous murder of Hengo is tacitly condoned by the Roman commanders
who take full advantage of Caratach's vulnerability in the wake of his
nephew's death. Furthermore, the divisions and petty jealousy between
the commanders Suetonius and Penius, as well as those between Junius
and Petillius, prevent the audience from trusting in the integrity of
Roman civilization. Caratach's transfer of allegiance to Rome at the
end of the play presents the audience with something of a problem as he
appears to be deserting his own culture for one which the audience is
not convinced is superior. This ending, then, gestures toward anxieties
concerning the ambiguous merits of "Romanization" and its effects on
British national identity. Similar concerns are also raised if we read
Bonduca as a political allegory about the colonial and foreign policies
associated with James I, Elizabeth I, and the recently deceased Prince
Henry, represented by the characters of Caratach, Bonduca, and Hengo
For the last section of this article I want to
focus on the ways in which the gender of native British leaders relates
to the play's ambivalent dramatization of whether Britain should be
autonomous or acculturated to foreign ways. Bonduca has been seen as
one of the most "subtly misogynist" of all the Beaumont and Fletcher
plays.38 Sandra Clark, for instance, has argued that it concentrates on
a male "world of honor and glory which is closed to Bonduca" and shows
"the elimination of the woman who claims power and enacts violence,"
thus "reinforc[ing] values which are definitively gendered male."39
However, the topical allegory embedded in Fletcher's play complicates a
wholly negative reading of Bonduca and her policies. Although for his
representation of the Iceni warrior queen Fletcher rejected the more
positive "victorious Conqueresse" tradition (shown for example in
Jonson's Masque of Queenes and by Spenser in The Ruines of Time) and
made his Bonduca militarily incompetent, nevertheless when compared to
Caratach's transfer of allegiance to a Roman power that lacks
integrity, Bonduca's staunch independence starts to appear more
Bonduca might be misdirected in her tactics
since her gender precludes her from understanding military matters
(Caratach berates her for "shameful" boasting about her previous
victories and tells her, at various points, to go home and spin), but
she bravely refuses to submit to Roman control even unto her death.
Suetonius offers Bonduca anything ("Make up your own conditions"
[IV.iv. 136]) if she will only not kill herself, but she taunts him
with his fear of death, asserting that it is she who has the victory
since she has no such fears (IV.iv. 140-53). As such, Fletcher's brave
Bonduca represents a retrospective nostalgia for the military
aggression associated in the second decade of the seventeenth century
with Elizabeth and the defeat of the Armada in the 158Os.41 Though
Bonduca's independent Briton fails in Fletcher's play, her policies do
not possess the connotations of weakness associated in the second
decade of the seventeenth century with the Jacobean Rex Pacificus.
Caratach's surrender to Roman control can hence be seen as staging
anxieties concerning James's maintenance of independence from foreign
Indeed, the resemblance between Elizabeth and Boadicea
had been made explicitly in James Aske's celebration of Elizabeth's
Armada victory Elizabetha Triumphans. In Aske's epic the bravery of
"Voada, once England's happie Queene" is described as similar to
Elizabeth's action of surveying her assembled troops at Tilbury.42 In
Aske's text, Elizabeth-unlike Fletcher's Bonducaabdicates her right to
speak directly to her troops. She authorizes her sergeant major to
relate her words after she has departed and she is not present during
the battle, thus, as Jodi Mikalachki argues, "protect[ing] her chaste
persona from public military engagement, both active and rhetorical."43
In Aske's celebration, then, Elizabeth preserves her silence and
chastity in the male military environment and her side emerges
victorious. Fletcher's Bonduca, by contrast, interferes in
inappropriate ways in activities to which her gender only gives her
limited access. Though her indomitable spirit is admirable (signaled by
the bravery of her suicide) her bellicosity and the active role she
plays in the conflict result in defeat. Fletcher's representation of
Bonduca should not be seen as a direct or unambiguous celebration of
the late queen; rather it is only Bonduca's persistent refusal to
compromise her own or her country's integrity in the face of invasion
that is applauded and also acts as a contrast to Caratach's policy of
Both Caratach's and Bonduca's policies, then, are
for different reasons inadequate in maintaining Briton's independence.
Like James, Caratach embraces foreign values too easily and is too
attached to preserving the peace rather than furthering his kingdom's
interests. As Sir Henry Neville wrote In 1606, "the Kingdom generally
wishes this peace broken, but Jacobus Pacificus I believe will scarse
incline to that side."44 In the second decade of his reign, James's
foreign policy was even further out of kilter with those courtiers and
statesmen who wished to pursue policies of military glory, and the king
was frequently attacked for attempting to preserve peace in Europe
when, as a Protestant king, his subjects wanted him to be more
aggressive against Catholic rivals.45 Caratach's rather too easy switch
of allegiance to those that have proved his relations' enemies and
murderers appears then as an analogy with a monarch that might seem to
staunch Protestants to vacillate rather too close to Catholicism, the
religion of Rome, and promote and favor his native Scots at the expense
of English interests.46
Moreover, if Bonduca transgresses the
limits of appropriate actions defined by her gender, so too does
Caratach. In Bonduca military images are persistently described in
homoerotic terms by the Roman commanders, but most noticeably by
Caratach, who from the first scene onwards represents military conflict
sexually and conflates admiration for Roman prowess with desire. For
example, as Suetonius's army advances, Caratach marvels at the sight,
describing it as though it were a beautiful male body: "Now I see the
Body ... a handsome body, / And of a few, strongly and wisely joynted"
and "see how bravely / The Body moves, and in the head how proudly /
The Captains stick like plumes" (III.iii.34, 10-2). Caratach's desire
for Roman militarism here is, like so much else in this play,
ambiguous. On one hand it marks an abdication of the style of British
independence represented by Bonduca's aggression specifically, and
sniper tactics more generally. And his desires lead to defeat. On the
other hand, it means that he is shunning the contacts with women, which
the Romans continually assert result in weakness and military
incompetence. For instance, Junius, when in love with one of Bonduca's
daughters, describes his feelings as "the plague" and then corrects
himself, because his situation is in fact more serious: " 'tis far
worse; Hell" (II.ii. 10-1). Indeed, in the final scenes, behavior
associated with women is represented as a military liability since such
"female" behavior is what finally defeats Caratach. As Mikalachki
observes, Caratach takes on a female, domestic role because "his whole
concern . . . is the nursing and feeding of the boy Hengo."47
Caratach's tender behavior undermines his military prowess as he allows
Hengo to attempt to retrieve the food they see left for them rather
than going himself. Because he is male, Caratach should not be behaving
as though he were a mother. As Coppelia Kahn argues, the demonstration
of the "feminized private realm of emotion" is "inimical to manly
virtue" in Roman plays, and hence Caratach fails.48 Indeed, his
"female" emotions make him vulnerable with the result that when Hengo
is killed he immediately capitulates to the Romans. Bonduca and
Caratach demonstrably swap gender characteristics, but it makes neither
of them an effective leader. The conflation of "masculine" and
"feminine" behavior by Caratach and Bonduca is similar to the
categories of Roman and Briton, as well as colonizer and colonized in
the play. Just as the divide between Roman and Briton is shown to be
unstable, the ambiguities of Caratach and Bonduca's gender behavior
extend and intensify the other cultural ambivalences the play suggests.
character of Hengo, by contrast, does not transgress the boundaries of
gender-appropriate behavior. Hengo is-like Caratach-militarily
competent since, though young, he intimidates Judas into fleeing from
the prospect of single combat and-like Bonduca-he refuses to
acknowledge Roman superiority. Indeed, as Caratach says after Hengo's
death, he represented the "hopes of Britain" (V.iii. 160) and should be
seen as the "British soul" which the dying Bonduca asserted the Romans
needed to preserve their empire. Hengo's untimely death in the play
needs to be seen, then, as a tribute to Prince Henry, prince of Wales
who was associated with Elizabethan Protestant imperialism and from the
time of James's accession had been projected as the heir to England's
military glory.49 According to Sir John Holles, in a letter written
shortly after Henry's death, the prince's imperial interests had been
revealed by his involvement in "all actions profitable or honourable
for the kingdom [which] were fomented by him, witness the North West
passage, Virginia, Guiana, The Newfoundland, etc., to all which he gave
his money as well as his good word."50 The loss of Hengo, the "Royall
graft" (V.iii. 161), represents the final defeat of the Britons'
independence in the same way that Henry's death represented the loss of
a royal sympathizer and figurehead for the war party opposed to James's
pacific policy. If, as Gordon McMullan suggests, Fletcher was by the
beginning of the second decade of the seventeenth century already
firmly associated with Henry Hastings, fifth earl of Huntington-who
frequently disagreed with his monarch over matters of religion and
state-the coded criticism of James in Bonduca was likely to appeal to
This play, then, dramatizes inter-related colonial
issues as both the Romans and the Britons in Fletcher's Bonduca refer
in different ways to the situation of the British in the early
seventeenth century. The problems the Romans experience in their
invasion of Briton are similar to the difficulties experienced by the
Jamestown colonists. The divisions within the Roman camp and the
Romans' lack of integrity make it very clear that imperial expansion is
not a glorious affair and the Britons' defeat has more to do with the
inadequacy of their leaders than innate Roman superiority. The Romans
win the battle because Bonduca is militarily incompetent, Hengo is
killed, and Caratach is acculturated. In effect, the Romans have to do
very little themselves to win and even Penius's desertion does not
seriously jeopardize the victory. As such, the Roman conquest of
Britain is inevitable in the same way that the British colonial
propaganda argued that American land and peoples would inevitably-if
not unproblematically or gloriously-succumb to British control. Yet, on
another level, this is also a deeply pessimistic play: the hopes of
Briton are extinguished in more ways than one. Bonduca, the champion of
an independent Briton, commits suicide; Hengo/ Prince Henry is dead;
and the custodian of Protestant imperial ambitions is a Romanophile
unable to preserve British autonomy. In a broader sense, then, these
readings-situating the play in geographical, political, and "Roman"
contexts-gesture to a larger set of anxieties concerning the extent to
which independent British identity can be maintained in the face of
contact with other cultures. The parallels between the British in
America and the Romans in ancient Briton painfully, but inevitably,
defeating the indigenous inhabitants show the difficulties of
maintaining any form of separation between colonist and colonized. The
fact that the ancient Britons in this play represent both indigenous
inhabitants in colonized terrain and, simultaneously, the officers and
leaders of a colonizing nation, reflects the unstable nature of, and
difficulty of maintaining, boundaries between the two. The persistent
cultural exchange between Romans and Britons in Bonduca points to
contemporary anxieties concerning interactions between Virginian
colonists and indigenous inhabitants and, at the same time, poses
questions concerning whether a specifically British national identity
can be maintained in the face of foreign "Roman" interference. In
America will the British be able to preserve their cultural identity?
Similarly in Britain will national identity be maintained? Fletcher
does not provide a coherent answer to either question, but he shows the
continued relevance of the Roman conquest to contemporary foreign and
The essay first explores the ways in
which John Fletcher's Roman play Bondaca engages with
early-seventeenth-century British colonial ambitions, particularly in
relation to the Virginia colony. Secondly, the article focuses on the
topical political allegory in the play. The leadership styles of the
two Britons Caratach and Bonduca are read in terms of the colonial
policies of James I and Elizabeth I. Fletcher's Britons and Romans are
shown to serve multiple political functions as both groups are seen to
represent aspects of contemporary British colonial concerns.
helpful readings of earlier drafts of this essay I am grateful to
Andrew Hadfield, Paulina Kewes, Tony Parr, Greg Walker, and Diane Watt.
I am particularly indebted to Robert Jones for alerting me to a
possible connection between Fletcher's Roman play and a colonial
1 In this article I use "Britons" to refer to the
ancient British and "Briton" to refer to the geographical terrain
disputed with the Romans, and "British" to refer to both individual
leaders and the nation in the Renaissance. On the transition between an
"English" national identity under Elizabeth and a "British" one under
James see Curtis Perry, The Making of Jacobean Culture: James I and the
Renegotiation of Elizabethan Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.
2 John Fletcher, The Tragedie of Bonduca, ed.
Cyrus Hoy, in The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon,
ed. Fredson Bowers, 10 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979-),
4:149-259, I.ii. 176-8. All references to Bonduca are to this edition
and will be cited parenthetically in the text by act, scene, and line
3 On the politics of Romanization see Coppelia Kahn,
Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women (London and New York:
Routledge, 1997), pp. 1-26, 160-70. See also Clifford Ronan, "Antike
Roman": Power Symbology and the Roman Play in Early Modern England,
1585-1635 (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1995); and Geoffrey Miles,
Shakespeare and the Constant Romans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
See, for example, Paul Green, "Theme and Structure in Fletcher's
Bonduca," SEL 22, 2 (Spring 1982): 305-16; Sandra Clark, The Plays of
Beaumont and Fletcher: Sexual Themes and Dramatic Representation (New
York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994), pp. 85-8; and Jodi
Mikalachki, The Legacy of Boadicea: Gender and Nation in Early Modern
England (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 103-5.
5 Green, pp. 306-7.
6 Green, p. 308.
7 Andrew Hickman, "Bonduca's Two Ignoble Armies and The Two Noble
Kinsmen," MRDE 4 (1989): 143-71.
8 Hickman, p. 168.
9 Hickman, p. 169.
For topical readings of Bonduca see Ronald J. Boling, "Fletcher's
Satire of Caratach in Bonduca," CompD 33, 3 (Fall 1999): 390-406; and
Julie Crawford, "Fletcher's The Tragedie of Bonduca and the Anxieties
of the Masculine Government of James I," SEL 39, 2 (Spring 1999):
11 See Claire Jowitt, '"Her flesh must serre you': Gender, Commerce,
and the New World in Fletcher's and Massinger's
The Sea Voyage and Massinger's
The City Madam," Parergon 18 (2001): 93-117; and Andrew Hadfield,
Literature, Travel, and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance,
1545-1625 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp. 254-64.
12 Boling, p. 395.
For more information, see Hoy's "Textual Introduction" in The Dramatic
Works, 4:151-4; see also Bonduca, ed. Walter Wilson Greg (Oxford:
Malone Society, 1951), pp. ix-x.
14 Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642 (Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980), p. 220.
15 Hickman, p. 143.
A copy of the first charter is reprinted in The Jamestown Voyages under
the First Charter, 1606-1609, ed. Philip L. Barbour, 2 vols.
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press/Hakluyt Society, 1969), 1:24-34. For
recent accounts of the early years of the Jamestown Colony, see The
Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland, the Atlantic, and
America, 1480-1650, ed. K. R. Andrews, Nicholas P. Canny, and P. E. H.
Hair (Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press, 1979); Louis B. Wright,
"Colonial Developments in the Reign of James I," in The Reign of James
I and VI, ed. Alan G. R. Smith (London: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 123-39;
and J. Leo Lemay, The American Dream of Captain John Smith
(Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1993).
Smith's works are reprinted in The Complete Works of Captain John
Smith, ed. Barbour, 3 vols. (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina
Press, 1986). For discussions of John Smith's works and the
similarities and differences between his accounts see Mary Fuller,
Voyages in Print: English Travel to America, 1576-1624 (Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 85-140; see also Peter Hulme,
Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (London
and New York: Routledge, 1986), pp. 137-74.
18 William Symonds,
Virginia. A Sermon Preached at Whitechapel (London: J. Windet, 1609),
p. 26. For a discussion of the divergent contemporary representations
of Virginia, see Michael Zuckerman, "Identity in British America:
Unease in Eden," in Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World, 15001800,
ed. Canny and Anthony Pagden (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987),
19 Michael Drayton, "To the Virginian Voyage," in
The Works of Michael Drayton, ed. J. William Hebel, 5 vols. (Oxford:
Shakespeare Head Press, 193141), 2:363-4, lines 21, 27.
Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston, Eastward Ho, ed. R. W. Van
Fossen (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1979; rprt. 1999),
III.iii.46. See Janet Clare, "Art Made Tongue-Tied By Authority":
Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship, 2d edn. (Manchester:
Manchester Univ. Press, 1999), p. 143.
21 See Zuckerman, pp.
115-59; see also Canny, "The Permissive Frontier: The Problem of Social
Control in English Settlements in Ireland and Virginia, 1550-1650," in
The Westward Enterprise, pp. 17-45.
22 George Percy, A Trewe Relacyon (1612), p. 269; qtd. in Fuller, p. 99.
23 See Fuller, pp. 85-140.
24 John Smith, Proceedings of the English Colony, in Works, 1:214.
25 Percy, p. 267; qtd. in Fuller, p. 101.
See Maggie Kilgour, From Communion to Cannibalism: An Anatomy of
Metaphors of Incorporation (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1990),
27 David R. Ransome, "Wives for Virginia, 1621," WMQ, 3d series, 48
(1991), pp. 3-18.
John Rolfe, "Copy of John Rolfe's Letter to Sir Thomas Dale regarding
His Marriage to Pocahontas," in Barbour, Pocahontas and Her Worid
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), pp. 247-52, 247. See Hulme, pp.
143-7; see also Fuller, pp. 120-2.
29 Rolfe, p. 247.
30 Ralph Hamor, A True Discourse of the Present Estate of Virginia
(London, 1615; rprt. New York: Da Capo, 1971), p. 54.
31 For further details see Hulme, pp. 163-8, 163; see also The
Jamestown Voyages, 1:438.
32 John Smith, Proceedings of the English Colony, in Works, 1:212-3.
For a discussion of White's drawings and the similarities between early
inhabitants of Britain and New World tribes see Hadfield, pp. 113-26.
For further details of the earl of Huntington's colonial activities and
Fletcher's connection with the earl, see Gordon McMullan, The Politics
of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher (Amherst: Univ. of
Massachusetts Press, 1994), pp. 203-6.
35 Gabriel Archer, "The
Discription of the Now Discovered River and Country of Virginia," in
New American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612, ed.
D. B. Quinn, 5 vols. (New York: Arno Press and Hector Bye, 1979), 5:276.
36 Hulme, pp. 163-4.
37 Kahn, pp. 11-15, 13.
38 Clark, p. 87.
39 Clark, p. 88.
For an analysis of representations of Boadicea in the period see
Mikalachki, pp. 126-9; see also Simon Shepherd, Amazons and Warrior
Women: Varieties of Feminism in Seventeenth-Century Drama (Brighton:
Harvester, 1981), pp. 144-5.
41 Anne Barton, "Harking Back to Elizabeth: Ben Jonson and Caroline
Nostalgia," ELH 48, 4 (Winter 1981): 706-31.
James Aske, Elizabetha Triumphans, in J. Nichols, ed. The Progresses
and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, 3 vols. (London: John
Nichols and Son, 1823), 2:570-1.
43 Mikalachki, p. 128.
44 Nichols, 2:50.
For a consideration of the success or failure of James's pacific
policy, see Alan G. R. Smith, The Reign of James VI and I pp. 3-8.
On contemporary concerns about James's attitude to Catholicism, see
David Loades, Politics and Nation: England, 1450-1660 (London: Fontana,
1992), pp. 377-80.
47 Mikalachki, p. 105. Mikalachki sees this
tender behavior as "an imaginative attempt to construct a native,
masculine genealogy preceding directly from ancient Britain to the
Saxon heptarchy, and excluding both women and Rome from the national
past" (p. 105).
48 Kahn, p. 19.
49 See Roy Strong, Henry,
Prince of Wates, and England's Lost Renaissance (New York: Thames and
Hudson, 1986); see also Perry, pp. 153-87.
50 Qtd. in Strong, p. 8.
For further details of the earl of Huntington's politics and the
connections between the Fletcher and Hastings families, see McMullan,
Claire Jowitt is a lecturer in Renaissance literature at the University
of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Copyright Johns Hopkins University Press Spring 2003