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

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


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 scenes. Drawing on Niayesh’s argument that French often served as a cultural and linguistic mediator between England and further, ‘exotic’ destinations in early modern drama (Niayesh 2008), this paper explores the links between French and travelling in two city comedies, Eastward Ho! and Anything for a Quiet Life. Exploring how and why staged French and Frenchmen are linked to the issue of England’s new, growing role as a colonising, global power and to the consequences of this role on London’s cosmopolitanism, it argues that French, often staged in the plays as spoken by Englishmen, is regularly used to criticize, comment on, or warn against superficial attitudes of Londoners toward ‘Others’. Linking the traditional analysis of city comedies as satirical plays criticizing English attitudes with scholarship on travel drama, it suggests that French in city comedies may be used as a means to make sense of an ever-evolving early modern English society which felt increasingly foreign or alienating. This paper thus follows McManus’s broad definition of the term ‘travel drama’, which is not restricted to plays staging trips in foreign countries represented as ‘exotic’ but also includes any play which is ‘in some way concerned with the motivations and consequences of travel’ (2018), and argues that the inclusion of plays set in London in this category is therefore contradictory solely in appearance.
Period31 Aug 2021
Event titleThe European Society for the Study of English 15th Conference: Polyglossia and Multilingualism in Early Modern Travel Writing and Drama
Event typeSeminar
LocationLyon, FranceShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational