Mary I in The Famous History of Sir Thomas Wyat: An Exploration of Power and Supremacy

Averyl Dietering


The ultra-Catholic monarch, Mary I, is typically portrayed in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature as a one- dimensional antagonist, stereotypically bent on destroying the lives of her more righteous Protestant counterparts. This negative characterization is replayed and overplayed in many books, plays, treatises, and sermons of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, regardless of its historical inaccuracy. However, "The Famous Historie of Sir Thomas VVyat," by John Webster and Thomas Dekker, provides quite a different portrayal. On the surface, this early Jacobean play may appear to demonize Mary, but after analysis of religious parallelism, symbols, and themes developed throughout the play, it seems Dekker and Webster support Mary’s authority. Drawing upon primary and secondary research which I conducted in libraries, museums, and various historical sites while studying in London, England, I intend to show through careful literary analysis that though "The Famous Historie of Sir Thomas VVyat" is on the surface, quite anti-Marian, Webster and Dekker consistently make subtle yet powerful hints at a non- traditional interpretation of Mary and her effect on English history. Indeed, the underlying metaphors of power, hierarchy, and religion within the play suggest that even though Mary may have not been a popular monarch, her literary legacy as a historical figure was not wholly negative. Though her reign had its critics, the medieval and Early Modern theories of monarchy, hierarchy, and religion add complex and deepening layers to the process of understanding her reign, her downfall, and her legacy as England’s first queen regnant.


Mary I; Sir Thomas Wyat; Exploration

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