Performing ‘Walter Ralegh’: The Cultural Politics of Sea Captains in late Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Walter Ralegh (c.1554-1618) was a pivotal cultural and political figure. Adventurer, courtier, poet, traitor, he was one of the most charismatic and controversial figures of the English Renaissance. This chapter is the first critical study of the ways in which ‘Ralegh’ was performed on page and stage, in a number of early modern plays that engage with maritime topoi. Through these plays the character of the pirate sea captain ‒ in this period a particularly mobile figure politically and culturally, as well as geographically ‒ is shown as a vehicle capable of expressing covert political allusions, or ‘glancings’ and ‘applications’ as they were known by contemporaries. This chapter focuses on the ways dramatists used sea captains to engage with key events and issues that ‘glance’ at Ralegh’s life, death, and beyond-the-grave influence. To differing degrees, and in contrasting ways, each of the plays under discussion offers a perspective on a man alternatively, sometimes simultaneously, seen as heroic or/and treasonous by his contemporaries, and whose actions and beliefs provoked intense and far-reaching debate about the leadership and political direction of the nation itself.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Maritime World of Early Modern Britain
EditorsJames Davey, Richard Blakemore
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

Publication series

NameMaritime Humanities, 1400-1800: Cultures of the Sea
PublisherAmsterdam University Press

Cite this