Article Title

Tyrants, Tudors, and the Digby Mary Magdalen


This paper explores the political culture that pervades the Digby Mary Magdalen play. In her journey from temptation to redemption, Mary is presented as a Christian successor to the tyrannical, pagan King of Marseilles. By placing the power of opposition to tyranny in the hands of a woman outside traditional hierarchies of power, this fifteenth-century play addresses issues of succession, of national religious identity, and of female rule in ways that seem prescient of the controversies surrounding the reigns of Henry VIII’s daughters. I therefore consider the play's continued relevance, including its possible performance as late as 1562, among audiences in the mid-sixteenth century.

The “ranting tyrant” was the superstar of the early English stage. Although scholars have conventionally seen these tyrants primarily as comedic figures or embodiments of pride, they have much more to offer. Tyrants invite authors, actors, and audiences to imagine how the role of a king ought to be played, and to participate in a discourse of virtue and self-governance applicable to monarchs and commoners alike. The Digby MaryMagdalen offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to tyrants, making it a perfect crucible in which to consider not only their political significance, but also the ways that early English drama continued to serve as a fruitful site of popular political discourse throughout the sixteenth century.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.