“Why speak you this broken French when y’are a whole Englishman?”: Foreign and self-satire in Jacobean city comedy

Sel, A. (Speaker)

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

    Description

    Given the widely multicultural and multilingual context of seventeenth-century London and the central role of French culture and language in Renaissance England, it comes as no surprise that a number of the highly topographical Jacobean city comedies contain French characters and scenes. The fact that several of these French lines are spoken by English characters, however, might be more surprising, especially given the number of French characters in these plays. Additionally, the lack of comedic puns or broken accents in some of these Anglo-French scenes distinguishes them from often-studied similar, purely comic multilingual scenes poking fun at foreigners, for example at Dutch speakers. This paper explores such generally understudied French scenes in three Jacobean city comedies, namely Eastward Ho! (1605), Northward Ho! (1607) and the lesser-known Anything for a Quiet Life (1662). It analyses the use and functions of these lines in the framework of city comedy generic conventions, and explores how they reflect the particular status of French culture and language in England at the time. Drawing on analyses of city comedies’ function as satirical social commentary criticizing flawed citizen behaviour through caricature, it argues that the French scenes analysed are not only used as means of exoticism or realism, but that they also tend to reinforce both the satire and indirect criticism of English behaviours, and xenophobic tendencies found in London at the time. Through the staging of French-speaking Englishmen as dreamy, choleric, effeminate and vain, as manipulative, or as clueless, the plays seem to criticize the behaviour of English citizens influenced by French culture, and, by doing so, to reinforce existing stereotypical, xenophobic views of the French. This paper thus attempts to go beyond previous scholarly tendencies to handle the use of foreign languages and characters in the city comedy genre as merely “non-English” and as interchangeable with other languages and nationalities.
    Period11 Oct 2019
    Event titleI SEDERI International Conference for Junior Researchers
    Event typeConference
    LocationMurcia, Spain