Negative Portrayals of Poles in Elizabethan Literature





Negative Portrayals of Poles in Elizabethan Literature

Cesarczyk, Michael

Master of Arts in English, Stony Brook University, May (2009)

Abstract

Poles and Poland were culturally marginalized and viewed in an increasingly negative light in Elizabethan writing. This was due mainly to differences of views of government and trade between England and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the second half of the sixteenth century. Whereas the former continued to maintain a hereditary monarchy, the latter developed and practiced a form of elective monarchy, the existence of which the Elizabethans viewed as a threat to their own society. The Poles, in turn, protested the English selling arms to Russia and seizing Spanish ships at the port of Danzig, which they viewed as a threat to their security. Although English writers and nobility openly recognized Poland as a fellow member of Western Christendom, they responded by willfully ignoring and portraying the Poles as a violent and politically and culturally immature people.



Before examining depictions of Poles in English literature during the reign of Elizabeth I, a brief summary of Anglo-Polish relations up to that time is necessary. The relationship between the two nations fluctuated for religious and political reasons throughout history. Knowledge of Poland in medieval England was scant and merely geographical; the instability of names for the country, the people and the adjective reflect this lack of contact and information.

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