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This examines the development of England’s national identity from the middle to the end of the sixteenth century, and specifically the role that its nascent imperial projects in the New World play in that development. As the questions of nationhood surface during Mary’s turbulent reign, these in turn prompt England’s ambivalence in openly emulating a proposed Spanish colonial model. This ambivalence is turned into a positive strength during the reign of Elizabeth I, where the question of her marriage becomes an essential tool to keep foreign powers guessing and hoping for an alliance. My analysis of England’s developing imperial identity turns to the nation’s infamous public rejection of Spain known today as the Spanish Black Legend. By publicly denigrating Spain’s activities in the New World, such as its immoral pursuit of gold, England is able to forge its own national identity. England’s rejection of Spain, and its growing sense of national identity, is encoded on the stage by numerous playwrights, including William Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, and by English adventurers like Sir Walter Raleigh, whose account of his activities in the New World draw on the same discourse as Shakespeare’s casket scene. This thesis thus traces the development of England’s national identity vis-à-vis Spain, and explores the ways England’s ultimate rejection of the Spanish imperial model drives the casket scene in Merchant and underlies the rhetoric of Raleigh’s Discovery of the Guiana.
Adviser: Julia Schleck