“Why speak you this broken French when y’are a whole Englishman?”: the French borders of England in Jacobean city comedy

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It has often been argued that the early modern era marked the beginning of a sense of unified ‘Englishness’, even the birth of the English nation – with England developing a consistent self-image, partly through comparison with projected images of foreigners. The borders of this English identity, however, may have been more porous than the modern understanding of the word ‘nation’ might suggest. England’s relationship with France, in particular, was ambiguous – marked by fear of resemblance, repulsion, and attraction. The French language and ways were seen as both desirable, and as a negative influence on English people.
This paper explores this double relationship in two city comedies, "Eastward Ho!" and "Anything for a Quiet Life". It studies the uses and functions of French scenes and lines spoken by English characters in the framework of city comedy generic conventions, and analyses how these lines reflect English anxieties about a form of French ‘cultural invasion’ and about the borders of English identity. Drawing on analyses of city comedies’ satirical function as a social commentary on citizen behaviours, it argues that the plays, through the staging of English-speaking gentlemen as having stereotypically ‘French’ characteristics, criticize the behaviour of Englishmen influenced by French culture. By doing so, the plays seem to reinforce existing stereotypical, xenophobic views of the French, and to try and establish norms of proper English behaviour. If these plays thus seem to vouch for fixed boundaries, they also reflect existing anxieties that these limits might, in reality, not be as solid as desired.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUniversity of Durham
PublisherInstitute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies Student Association (MEMSA)
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2020


  • Multilingual studies
  • National perception
  • Early modern English drama

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