Moving Forward, Falling Back, or Staying Put: An Examination of Change and Transformation in Early Modern Drama


  • Jacquelyn Hayek


The Early Modern era in England was a time of great change and upheaval socially, politically, and spiritually. Therefore it is no surprise that cultural authorities and structures of power had a vested interest in urging the population to abide by the traditional roles assigned to them at birth via sex, class, and religion. Three plays of the period respectively demonstrate the necessity of maintaining the status quo and the degradation and ultimate cost of rebellious self-determination. In Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, all of the characters come to their requisite and anticipated ends, reinforcing the current establishment as it stood. Then, though the Everyman title figure does change dynamically along his journey, he changes along the path laid out for him by God without challenging the structures of authority over him or their right to judge and punish him. Finally Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and its journey of degeneration illustrate all the worst consequences for when a man tries to overreach his given role and its expectations. Herein representations of dramatic characters from the stock to the progressive to the regressive and degenerative were manipulated to support the dominance of cultural institutions. Each of these plays addresses the notion of transformation, what it should be and should not be, in accordance with the Early Modern British authorities.