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Xenophon and Plato in Elizabethan Culture: The Tyrant's Fear Before Macbeth.

When in the Wasps (422 BCE) Aristophanes satirized the Athenians' obsession with tyranny, (1) the state of uncertainty and anxiety provoked by the Peloponnesian War had caused the Athenians to fear that one man or a group of conspirators could take advantage of the situation to overthrow the democracy. As a result, the definition of tyranny, the personality of the tyrant, and democracy in relation to other forms of government became issues of great interest, sparking off a lively debate. Twenty centuries later, Renaissance England experienced a similar theoretical urge: the political, religious, and cultural turmoil triggered by Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy (1534) initiated a heated debate on the difference between a king and a tyrant, the legitimacy of tyrannical rule, and the obedience of the people to monarchical sway. (2) The kings and queens of England in this period were repeatedly charged with accusations of tyranny from different quarters and for different reasons. Henry VIII's personalistic and despotic rule solicited the infamous parallel with the Roman tyrant Nero from Catholics and Protestants alike, who accused him of using the Reformation for his private purposes. (3) Anthony Gilby, a Marian exile in Geneva and a translator of the Geneva Bible, wrote in his Admonition of England and Scotland (1558) that "thus was there no reformation, but a deformation, in the tyme of that tyrant and lecherous monster." (4) Mary's rule led Protestant writers to compare her to such traditional tyrannical figures as Herod, Nero, or Caligula, as the politician John Hales refers to in an oration to Elizabeth (1559) printed by John Foxe, the author of the martyrological The Acts and Monuments of the English Church (1563). (5) In the course of her reign, Queen Elizabeth had to face both Catholic and Protestant threats: the former accused her of being an unlawful sovereign (Pius V, on deposing and excommunicating her, defined her "pretensia Angla regina," and Sixtus V accused her of "exercysinge an absolute Tyrannie"), (6) while radical Protestants manifested their disappointment with her politics in religious matters (the clash became particularly virulent in 1584, with her royal veto on Anthony Cope's Puritan revision of the Book for Common Prayer). (7)

The official ideology of the Elizabethan age replied to this constant state of threat and uncertainty by endorsing a new political theory about tyranny and kingship based on the concept of obedience. Elizabeth and her advisors encouraged the composition of homilies and treatises to instruct the people that rebellion against an anointed king was always a sin, no matter how bad the sovereign was. An Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion, the clearest and most direct expression of this new doctrine, was very explicit on this point: "a rebel is worse then the worst prince, and rebellion worse then the worst government of the worst prince that hitherto hath ben." (8) During Elizabeths reign, this view influenced the way political theory came to associate tyranny with the usurpation of the throne, replacing medieval conceptions focused on the ruler's personality (9) and identifying in illegitimate kingship the only case when revolt could be tolerated. (10) As Maynard Mack has noticed, "England, in contrast [to the Continent], assigned to the king what had been developed by the Church lawyers for clerics, compressing into the doctrine of two bodies united in one being the faceless permanence of an institution and the character of a man," while the royalists moved "toward the theory of divine right." (11) All this, however, did not occur smoothly.

The idea of the tyrant as a bad ruler had been the foundation of medieval interpretations of tyranny, and in the works of such theorists as John of Salisbury (Policraticus 8.7) and Thomas Aquinas (Sententiae 2. quaest.44. art.2), it served to legitimize the peoples right (and sometimes duty) to depose and even kill the tyrant, conceived of as a monstrous beast and Satan's envoy. (12) This theory, still current in Italian humanism, (13) in the Elizabethan age furnished theoretical ground for such "heretical" authors as John Ponet, a Marian exile whose Short Treatise on Political Power (1556) offered a strong confutation of the doctrine of the divine right of kings, and George Buchanan, the Scottish politician and teacher of James VI of Scotland, whose De Jure Regni Apud Scotos (1579) was banned with an Act of Parliament in 1584 because of its dangerous theories about the people as the source of political power and their right to punish tyrants. (14) On the other hand, the idea that the king's power could not be questioned by his subjects engendered preoccupation with the possible development of an absolutist conception, which James VI, later James I, in fact expressed in his political works, starting with The Trew Law of Monarchies (1598) and soon followed by his Basilikon Down (1599-1603). It comes as no surprise that Elizabethan and early Jacobean translations of foreign texts purporting a contrary position to absolutism continued to be in circulation, as famously in the case of Jean Bodin's Les Six Livres de la Republique (first anglicized by Richard Knolles in 1606), where the king and the tyrant were contrasted on the basis of their relation to the law (respected by the former and violated by the latter). (15)

On such a debate Greek political thought on tyranny exerted an important influence. The names and stories of Greek tyrannical figures (both historical and literary) populated political and philosophical writings on the definition of monarchy and the sovereign's relationship with his subjects, as in Sir Thomas Elyot's dialogue Of the Knowlage whiche Maketha WiseMan (1533). (16) Their deeds were also brought as renowned examples in the literary tradition of specula principum and were used as subjects for dramas, as in the case of Cambises, whose story as recounted in the second book of Richard Taverner's The Garden of Wysedome (1559) served as one of the main sources of Thomas Preston's Cambises (printed in 1571). (17) The tyrannical figures of Greek tragedy, known mainly through Seneca's mediation (18) (or read in Latin translations and, more rarely, in English ones), (19) formed one major model for the Elizabethan tragic stage; the myth of Orestes, in particular, exercised so deep a fascination that it was chosen as the subject of the first Elizabethan "revenge tragedy," John Pickering's Horestes (1567)--in fact an "enterlude" which "mingles classical revenge action with morality traditions and also features low, rustic comedy, songs, and allegorical abstractions." (20) Mainly through contemporary French political writings, the Elizabethans learned that the concepts of "tyrant" and "tyranny" were Greek in origin and that their ancient meaning was more neutral than the current one: "Among the auncients," La Primaudaye wrote in his The French Academie (translated into English in 1586), "the name of tyrant was honorable, and signified nothing else (being a Greeke word) but a prince that had gotten the government of the estate without the consent of his subiect... whether he were a wise and iust prince, or cruel and uniust." (21) As we will soon see, the theoretical discussion about tyranny and tyrants as offered by Xenophons Hiero, Plato's Republic (9.574d-579e) and Aristotle's Politics (3.1279a-b) was especially delicate. Xenophon suggested that the tyrant might overcome fear of his subjects (a crucial topic in the definition of tyranny) by ways that could easily be understood as Machiavellian and therefore hardly acceptable by official ideology. Plato unveiled the shortcomings of a ruler dominated by passions, opening to the possibility that a legitimate king, not only an usurper, could also be a "tyrant." Aristotle too hinted at this idea, but only indirectly in his description of the tyrant's efforts to separate his subjects--obvious symptoms of psychological instability due to political anxiety. (22) Interestingly, the Renaissance history of Aristotle's reception differed from that of Xenophon and Plato, and for this reason I will not dwell on it in the present article. (23)

Overall, Greek writings on tyranny did pose political problems, which rendered them potentially troublesome. Many years later, Thomas Hobbes, who carefully studied Greek and in 1629 translated Thucydides, was to deplore that "by reading of these Greek, and Latin authors, men from their childhood have gotten a habit...of favoring tumults, and of licentious controlling the actions of their sovereigns." (24) Much earlier, during Henry VIII's reign, the humanist graeculi who consorted with Erasmus (25) ended up opposing his reformation (Thomas More being the most famous example). Like those intellectuals, George Buchanan too criticized royal politics and saw his own De jure banned by the Parliament for its radical ideas. He was well known as a Latin scholar, but he could also read Greek and translated two tragedies by Euripides into Latin. (26) Indeed, Greek political views on tyranny could pose problems.

As noticed above, the Elizabethans knew that the Greek word for "tyrant" indicated just a man, even an honorable one, who seized the power "without the consent of his subiects," as La Primaudaye had it. This purely "legal" definition, which was alien to Elizabethan conceptions of dynastic kingship, did not question the good or bad rule of the usurper. It followed that even an "illegitimate ruler" could be regarded as good, which clashed with the Elizabethan official ideology of anointed kingship; a "good usurper" simply could not exist. (27) Thus, it does not appear coincidental sthat the political writings directly concerning tyranny in Xenophon's and Plato's corpora did not circulate much in the latter part of the sixteenth century, unlike Aristotle's: they were neither translated into English nor was their definition of tyranny to be found in treatises written by English political thinkers. As I will argue in the following pages, they presented an indirect threat to official politics, suggesting that even a legitimate king could become a tyrant.

Thus, it is all the more interesting that their influence instead remained perceptible in drama. Tyrannical figures abounded, from Marlowe's Tamburlaine (1587-88) to Shakespeare's Richard III (1589-1592) and Macbeth (1605-1606), and some of them deployed more prominent "Greek features" than others: Cambises in Thomas Preston's homonymous play, which was performed before Elizabeth during the Christmas revels of 1560-1561; Mordred in Thomas Hughes's The Misfortunes of Arthur, which was presented during Gray's Inn entertainment offered to the queen in 1588; Solyman in Fulke Greville's Mustapha, a closet drama published posthumously in 1633, but, like Alaham, written in the 1590s. Like other plays dealing with tyranny, they sidestepped Elizabeth's 1559 prohibition against plays treating the governance of the state by locating the action in the past or in exotic places. Criticism has long acknowledged that these last characters, especially, shared some psychological affinities with the tyrants described in the French political treatises influenced by Greek writings that circulated in sixteenth-century England. (28) Bushnell, in particular, has underlined the Platonic derivation, through medieval and non-English Renaissance treatises, of the stage tyrant as a man enslaved to desire. (29) It should be noticed, however, that Plato's undeniable influence on the Elizabethan conception of tyranny was actually more limited than is sometimes suggested: after the experience of the graeculi, his political theory practically disappeared from Elizabethan culture. Like Plato, significantly, Xenophon too was forgotten, although both authors occasionally and indirectly continued to speak to the Elizabethans from the stage. (30) My contention is that only by considering those plays' political and cultural environment alongside the social and political position of their authors can we understand why the figure of the legitimate bad ruler could survive on the tragic stage as a figure of tyranny despite the official ideology.

From this standpoint, I will show how the works of two of the Greek authors I quoted above, Xenophon and Plato, influenced the interpretation of the tyrant in the early Tudor political treatises and how, after flourishing in early sixteenth-century political thinking, they were suddenly almost forgotten in the second half of the century. This is a fact that needs interrogation. Besides, both of them started writing right after what we now consider the final phase of Greek tragedy as a genre: it was inside Greek tragedy that the tyrant assumed the negative psychological features (including fear) which would characterize him in their writings. (31) With this in mind, my second focus will be on a brief examination of how Xenophon's and Plato's explorations of the tyrant and his fear allowed for an indirect dialogue between ancient drama and the Elizabethan one, posing challenging questions for Renaissance England.

With regard to the influence of Xenophon's writings on the Renaissance genre of specula principum, Noreen Humble has pointed out that besides his Cyropaedia, two more works were especially relevant: Oeconomicus and Hiero. (32) The latter was Xenophon's first work to arrive in western Europe, thanks to Leonardo Bruni's 1403 Latin translation, (33) which met with an enormous success and was then included in the first collection of Xenophon's works in Latin edited by Francesco Filelfo (1476). (34) Hiero attracted the attention of such famous thinkers as Machiavelli, who quoted it in his own discussion of tyranny (Discourses 2.2.3). (35) In 1530, a new translation was prepared by Erasmus, who in the dedicatory letter acknowledged that kings might benefit from the dialogue. (36) The translation was later comprised in Henri Estienne's Greek-Latin parallel edition of Xenophon's works (1561), whose second edition, in 1581, was dedicated to James VI.

This succinct summary of the circulation of Hiero in the humanist and Renaissance periods already suggests its relevance also in England. Bushnell mentions Xenophon with regard to the development of the tyrant's figure in Greek thought, recalling that he "has been credited with the first legal distinction between tyrant and king" and that his Hiero "demonstrates the personal consequences of absolute rule" while not portraying "tyranny as a moral condition." (37) His impact upon Renaissance thinking, Bushnell also remarks, is related to his "distinction between the monarch who rules by the law and he who is lawless," which complements "Aristotle's fundamental distinction between the king who rules in the peoples interest and the tyrant who rules in self-interest." (38) Hiero's impact, in fact, was far more important than sometimes suggested. The works of La Primaudaye, La Perriere, and Jean Bodin, which circulated in England fairly early in the Tudor age, were instrumental in disseminating his ideas on the tyrant's fear of his subjects and his need to keep them constantly in check by instilling fear in them. Pierre de la Primaudaye evidently spoke Xenophon's language:
The one [the good king] maketh great account of the love of his
people, the other of their feare: the one is never in feare but for
his subiects, the other standeth in awe of none more than of
them:...the one in time of warre hath no recourse but to his subiects,
the other warreth against none but them: the one hath no garde or
garrison but of his owne people, the other none but of strangers: the
one rejoyceth in assured rest, the other languisheth in perpetual
feare. (39)

In Hiero too the tyrant is always at war with his subjects: "[phrase omitted] [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted] (Hiero 2.11; for tyrants peace is never made with those subject to their tyranny; nor could the tyrant be confident trusting for a moment to a treaty). (40) The tyrant's need to recur to a private bodyguard composed by foreigners, because understandably he cannot trust to arm the citizens, also comes from Xenophon's text: [phrase omitted] (Hiero 5.3; for they [the tyrants] do not rejoice in making the citizens either brave or well-armed. Rather they take pleasure in making strangers more formidable than the citizens, and these strangers they use as bodyguards). Likewise, the tyrant languishing in perpetual fear is lamented by Hiero when he talks about his own lack of serenity under any circumstance: [phrase omitted] (6.4; To fear the crowd, yet to fear solitude; to fear being without a guard, and to fear the very men who are guarding; to be unwilling to have unarmed men about me, yet not gladly to see them armed--how could this fail to be a painful condition?).

La Primaudaye was not an isolated case. In the English translation of Guillaume de la Perriere's he miroir politique (first published in Lyon in 1555, and anglicized by Richard Knolles in 1598), Xenophon is explicitly quoted at the beginning of the brief description the author makes of tyranny:
Many good and approued Authors, as wel amongst the Grecians, as the
Romanes, have written of this monstrous beast Tyranny, hateful to God
and to good men, but amongst the rest of the Grecians, Zenophon, a
Philosopher of Platoes sect,...who for the sweetenesse of his stile,
was in times past called the Muse of Athens. (41)

La Perriere then reproposes the idea that the tyrant "ha[s] reason to feare" his own subjects, since he keeps "them in feare without reason." (42) Fear and hatred go hand in hand and that is why a tyrant should always be "in the midst of armed men, although their guard doth little auaile him, their life alwaies hanging (as it were) by a thred." (43) This passage is followed by the famous example of Damocles's sword (Cic. Tusc. 5.61-62), when, La Perriere writes, "Dennis [i.e. Dionysius] caused a naked sword to be placed ouer his [Damocles's] head as he was at meat, hanging only with one slender hair of a horse taile, as Cicero reciteth very eloquently in the last of his Tusculane questions." (44) This anecdote, from which the proverbial expression Damoclis gladium ("sword of Damocles") derives, gives visual vividness to the message contained in Xenophon's Hiero: the episode is set at the court of Dionysius II in Syracuse (ca 397-343 BCE), where a "flatterer" of the tyrant shows jealousy of his "happiness," but Dionysius proves to him that a tyrant is always under the threat of a sword hanging over his head. The context of Cicero's work offered authority and celebrity to an anecdote which was well known and often quoted in English literary texts at least since Chaucer. (45)

An almost identical formulation recurs in Bodin when he claims that the tyrant "hath no greater warre than against them [the subjects]" and "for the defence of his person,...hath alwayes a garrison of armed straungers to go before him." And yet, he remains "troubled with carefull and contrarie thoughts" and "stil languish[es] in perpetuall feare" because he "feareth nothing more than them [his subjects]." (46)

Hiero was evidently a source of inspiration at the time, but for some reason criticism hardly mentions it with regard to the Elizabethan definition of the tyrant. Although Humble acknowledges its importance in the fifteenth and the early sixteenth centuries, she does not even mention it when she illustrates the reception of Cyropaedia and Oeconomicus in Elizabethan England. (47) Jane Grogan, when talking about Xenophon's relevance in the same period, recognizes that it aroused interest. (48) And yet, the only proof she provides is an English manuscript translation, now held in Cambridge University Library, that has long been regarded as having been penned by Elizabeth I herself. (49) Surely this demonstrates that the dialogue still enjoyed a certain reputation, but if we consider that no English translation was printed until 1691, a single manuscript cannot be regarded as evidence of diffused interest, as Grogan seems to suggest.

This fact invites speculation. Critical silence about Hiero in the Renaissance reflects its actual decline in fortune in the course of the Elizabethan age. According to David Marsh's catalogue, the only translation oi Hiero after that of Erasmus, not included in miscellaneous editions of Xenophon's opera omnia, is the one authored by Jacopo Grifoli in Florence in 1550. (50) This text was never reprinted after its first publication, and it did not circulate as broadly in Europe as Bruni's and Erasmus's translations. It seems, then, that by the second half of the sixteenth century interest in Hiero had drastically dropped, which explains why critics have tended to disregard it as a source of inspiration not only for Elizabethan political thought but also for tragic drama.

Ironically, the influence of Plato's Republic was just as elusive. In fact, it was even less read in the Elizabethan age than Xenophon's Hiero. The only Latin translation available in England for more than a century, apart from Plato's complete works, was prepared by Pier Candido Decembrio at the request of Humfrey Duke of Gloucester (1441-44). (51) This edition was already part of university libraries at the beginning of the sixteenth century and was not supplanted even by the complete Latin edition of Plato's Opera edited by Marsilio Ficino (first arrived in England around 1500-1501). (52) No other translation of the dialogue was to be prepared during the English Renaissance, and those copies remained a property of the university libraries. In fact, the only Platonic dialogue to be printed during the English Renaissance, in a Greek edition with a Latin translation, was Menexenus in 1587. The knowledge the Elizabethans had of Platonic political theory was therefore mediated either by other ancient authors, like Diogenes Laertius, (53) or by translations of Italian and French political treatises which frequently quoted it. (54)

And yet, the Platonic version of the tyrant was not alien to Renaissance England. Henry VIII encouraged and promoted a renewed interest in Greek culture, and Plato was one of the Greek authors who benefited from his humanist cultural policy: some of his works were included in the university courses of Greek and Philosophy, and manuscripts of Plato's dialogues with the Greek text made it to England. (55) As a result, Plato's reputation was high among the intellectuals and humanists of the time, and it is not coincidental that Thomas More's Utopia (1516) was deeply indebted to Platonic political philosophy, especially to the Republic. (56)

More important for the subject of tyranny, however, was Thomas Elyot's dialogue Of the Knowlage whiche Maketh a Wise Man (1533). Here Elyot had Plato himself, back from Syracuse, respond to the philosopher Aristippus's accusation of offering ill-timed and wrongly presented advice to Dionysus. In his response, Plato claimed that "after it happen that the appetites and desyres of the bodie so moch do increase, that they haue the hole possession of the bodie and that the affection of the soule, that is to sai vertues be suppressed or put to silence than the life becometh beastly." (57) Among the examples following, Plato included the tyrant, who for his cruelty becomes similar to a tiger or a lion. This concept, although reinterpreted by Elyot from a Christian perspective, is reminiscent of the Platonic comparison of the tyrant with Lycaon, the man who became a wolf by eating human flesh (8.565d), as a metaphor for man's transformation into a tyrant. (58) It shows close similarities with the Platonic idea of the tyrannical man whose desires have completely prevailed over reason:
(9.574d-e; In all these actions the beliefs which he held from boyhood
about the honorable and the base, the opinions accounted just, will be
overmastered by the opinions newly emancipated and released, which,
serving as bodyguards of the ruling passion, will prevail in alliance
with it--...under the tyranny of his ruling passion,...he will refrain
from no atrocity of murder.)

Although it is often contended that Elyot's real source was Diogenes Laertius's life of Plato, (59) the similarities between the two passages are undeniable and show that the Platonic idea of the tyrant as a man overruled by his passion did find its way into English Renaissance culture. Nor was Elyot isolated in this. Thomas Starkey too, in his Dialogue Between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset (1529-1530), had Cardinal Pole attribute tyranny "partly to the malice of man, who by nature is ambitious and of all pleasure most desirous." (60)

The connection between tyranny and pleasure was destined to become another stable combination in the description of the tyrant in political treatises of the second half of the sixteenth century. La Primaudaye wrote that "we may call that a tirannie, when the prince accounteth all his will as a iust law,...but doth all things for his owne private profite, revenge, or pleasure." (61) Similarly, La Perriere claimed that "tyrannicall power is put into the hands of one alone, who beareth rule, or rather as I may say, tyrannizeth according to his disordinate will." (62) Bodin too remarked that "the greatest difference betwixt a king and a tyrant is, for that a king comforteth himselfe unto the lawes of nature, which the tyrant at his pleasure treadeth under foot." (63) In all these texts, the tyrant's violation of the laws is clearly related to his desire to fulfill his own pleasure in ways that betray a Platonic origin, intertwining desire and law-breaking as the causes of his ensuing fear: "[phrase omitted] [phrase omitted]" (Resp. 9.579e; throughout his life he teems with terrors and is full of convulsions and pains, if in fact he resembles the condition of the city which he rules).

Elizabethan political thought did not ignore all this, albeit mainly thanks to this French mediation. Neither Xenophon's Hiero nor Plato's Republic was translated into English, nor did they receive new Latin translations in England, and they were not mentioned in works by English authors. And yet, this was not due to lack of interest in Xenophon and Plato: the Cyropaedia and the Oeconomicus were translated into English during this period, and Plato's other ethical, metaphysical, and aesthetic ideas circulated widely, deeply influencing Elizabethan lyrical poetry (from his conception of Eros to his tripartite theory of soul and his theory of beauty). This elicits questions on why Plato's political thought on tyranny did not enjoy the same popularity.

Interestingly, Humble recalls that in Etienne de la Boetie's Discours sur la servitude volontaire, which was one of the most explicit and direct affirmations that the power of the tyrant has no other basis than the voluntary subjugation of the subject, Hiero became a "mirror-for-tyrants." (64) In his Discours, La Boetie remarked that "Ce livre [Hiero] est plein de lecons bonnes et graves qui ont aussi, selon moi, une grace infinie. Plut a Dieu que tous les tyrans qui aient jamais ete leussent place devant eux en guise de miroir" (This book is full of fine and serious remonstrances, which in my opinion are as persuasive as words can be. Would to God that all despots who have ever lived might have kept it before their eyes and used it as a mirror!). (65) La Boetie's Discours was published in 1576, years after its composition (1544-1549) and the death of its author (1563). But by that date it had enjoyed a wide, clandestine circulation, and it is not difficult to see why: the traditional distinction between the tyrant and the good king was obliterated, and the only important difference remained the one between the tyrant (who could be any kind of sovereign, lawful or unlawful) and his subjects, who were openly invited to revolt in case of the king's bad rule. Unsurprisingly, it was not translated into English, and it circulated clandestinely in the original French text. (66) Xenophon's Hiero, which originally served to educate the princes, ended up confirming the damages caused by the rule of one man over many, and, at the same time, it warned them against their own sufferings ensuing from tyrannical behavior. In other words, while Erasmus translated Hiero because it contained useful instructions for the prince and could be used as a repository of advice for tyrants, La Boetie found in Xenophon's dialogue the demonstration that the tyrant is always unhappy and used it to support his condemnation of the rule of a single man over many. His position allowed for no mediation: every sovereign, legitimate or not, is a tyrant.

George Buchanan's De Jure Regni Apud Scotos, published three years later, was yet another piece of political writing that contended for the right of the people to depose a bad ruler. (67) The conceptual frame of his argument was the same as La Perriere's, La Primaudaye's, and Bodin's: tyrants are rulers who "neque publicae utilitatis, sed suae voluptatis rationem habent" (pay no regard to the public interest, but to their own gratification), (68) and therefore are the opposite of good kings, whose power is sustained by the respect and the willing obedience of their subjects:
Rex volentibus, tyrannus invitis imperat.... Regni cives excubant ad
salutem eius tuendam, tyranno peregrini ad cives opprimendos. Alter
enim civibus, alter sibi gerit imperium.
(A king rules over a willing, a tyrant over a reluctant
people;...citizens act as sentinels to a king, for the security of his
person; foreigners to a tyrant for the oppression of the citizens. For
the one exercises his power for the benefit of the people, and the
other for his own.)

Tyrants end up living the most miserable life as a result of their rule: "Cum vicinis externum, cum civibus civile, cum suis domesticum bellum semper aut gerunt, aut metuunt, nec usquam auxilia sperant...neque bonos conducedere audent, neque malis fidere possunt." (They always either wage or dread an external war with foreigners, a civil war with their subjects, or a domestic war with their relations, and never expect any assistance...and dare not hire the good not trust the bad.) This shows no major difference from the traditional portraits influenced by Xenophon and Plato, but for Buchanan's belief that authority only resides in the willingness of the subjects to abide by the king's rule. This means that if the king oppresses his people, causing disappointment and hatred, he straightway becomes a tyrant. As a consequence, he loses his right to rule and the people are legitimized to depose and kill him. For this reason, Buchanan claims that tyrants should be considered "in luporum, aliove noxiorum animalium genere potius quam hominum habendos" (entitled to the treatment, not of men, but of wolves and other noxious animals). The same idea (which in La Primaudaye, La Perriere, and Bodin simply provided a theoretical distinction) here is employed to convey a political message whose content was the exact opposite of what the Elizabethan official ideology was trying to impose.

Such examples suggest why the political ideas on tyranny contained in Hiero and The Republic could not meet the favor of Elizabethan thinkers. Both Xenophon and Plato, the one by having Simonides advise the tyrant on how to rule well and the other by describing the tyrant as a man dominated by passions, suggested that tyranny not only could not be defined by illegitimate rule but also, and especially, consisted in the bad rule of the sovereign. As a result, the Renaissance conception of the tyrant influenced by these texts could not sustain an ideology based on the idea that the tyrant was to be identified with the usurper of the throne, since it could also be used to support the right of the people to dispose of the bad ruler. A sort of unofficial censure (analogous to the one effectively exerted upon La Boetie and Buchanan's works) "banned" also those Greek political texts just at the time when the subject of tyranny seemed to be abandoned by English political theorists and could be approached mainly through foreign works which could also be read in translation. (69) However, the issue of tyranny was taken up again by tragic theatre. Interestingly, the figure of the tyrant became prominent precisely when tragedy was born in England as a new autochthonous dramatic genre.

When in 1561 Thomas Norton's and Thomas Sackville's Gorboduc was first performed at the Inner Temple as part of the Christmas and New Year festivities, performances of tyrannical characters were not new. Medieval and early Renaissance mystery play cycles had shown the tyrant figure of Herod as boastful, violent, and assertive--ready to abuse his power and to show "an appetite for pleasures beyond those of self-contemplation." (70) This kind of representation was accompanied by a bombastic and emphatic style of speech and acting that, judging by Hamlet's admonition to the actors not to "[out-Herod] Herod" (Haml. 3.2.13-14) (71) and by Bottoms insistence on his "humour...for a tyrant" as "a part to tear a cat in" (Mids. 1.2.24-25), (72) had become a model for acting tyranny onstage. It also inspired political allegories of Tudor morality plays such as Respublica (probably by Nicholas Udall, 1553) and David Lindsay's A Satire of the Three Estates (1552), where the protagonist, representing England, is drawn into tyranny by various vices, only to be saved by virtues. (73) It also appeared in Apius and Virginia (probably by Richard Bower, printed in 1575) (74) and influenced the representation of the earliest tyrants in Elizabethan tragedy whose most notable example, Preston's Cambises, became another notorious instance of histrionic style, as Falstaff reminds us in the mock-court scene in the tavern ("I must speak in passion, and I will do it in / King Cambyses' vein"; Henry IV Part 1,2.4.376-77). (75) In turn, the influence of Seneca and Machiavelli upon the dramatic construction of the tyrant figure contributed a new focus on Fortune, ambition, perfidy, and "the successful materialism of the superman," as Armstrong put it, (76) which, while reinforcing his traditional traits, guaranteed his survival onstage.

Such a long dramatic tradition had deep consequences for the relationship between the Elizabethan stage tyrant and official ideology. On the one hand, Elizabethan tragic tyrants in some way conformed to the model endorsed by that ideology: many of them, from Thomas Hughes's Mordred in The Misfortunes of Arthur to Shakespeare's Richard III and Fulke Greville's Alaham, are usurpers against whom rebellion is not scandalous. (77) In the few plays where, instead, the tyrant is a legitimate but bad king, as in Preston's Cambises and Greville's Mustapha, the king's subjects do not revolt against him, or if they do, as in the latter case, the revolt occurs offstage and is only reported, significantly remaining unshown. (78) Thus, on the surface, these plays did not defy current conceptions of kingship, locating the difference between the king and the tyrant in the former's legitimacy and in the latter's lack of it. On the other hand, though, the performance traits of the stage tyrant, his over-the-top way of speaking and acting denoting psychological instability, made any character showing those performance features look like a tyrant. (79) This dispensed with questions of legitimacy and favored a broad conception of "tyranny." Besides, tyrant figures not psychologically unstable could still be shown to elude approved doctrines by demonstrating that the origin of their tyranny was not "legal" but "natural." Richard III, perhaps the greatest example of the tyrant-as-usurper in Elizabethan tragedy, is deceitful, evil, and manipulative before seizing the crown, and his own craving for power is grounded in a deterministic conception of his personality: "Since I cannot prove a lover...1 am determined to prove a villain" (Rich. III 1.1.28-30). (80) His being a "natural" tyrant even before becoming one shows that, in the theatre, the question was never simplistically reduced to a clear-cut legal distinction, even in the extreme case of Richard III. This opened a gap between theatre and the official ideology, allowing for the debate on whether tyranny depended on bad rule or on illegitimacy to continue in some way outside of political thinking.

Here I will briefly examine three plays preceding Macbeth which indirectly dramatized that debate on the nature of tyranny, re-proposing some fundamental features of the tyrant, including fear, as defined in the contemporary political treatises influenced by Plato and Xenophon: Thomas Preston's Cambises, Thomas Hughes's The Misfortunes of Arthur, and Fulke Greville's Mustapha. The authors of these plays were not professional playwrights like Marlowe or Shakespeare but respected academic intellectuals (Preston and Hughes) or noblemen directly involved in Elizabethan and early Jacobean politics (Greville). (81) As I will soon argue, they used theatre in order to convey political messages which in different degrees questioned the royal propaganda on kingship and tyranny. The tyrant represented in those plays was either "platonically" determined by his own character, as in the cases of Cambises and Solyman, or belonged to a context more broadly characterized by ruin and chaos (Mordred) where tyranny was shown to be the result of the legitimate sovereigns ill-government. Such positions allowed playwrights to consider tyranny from an unofficial perspective that challenged the straightforward identification of anointed sovereignty with good rule. Recalling the tyrant's character as described in the political treatises considered above, in two cases especially (Mordred and Solyman) fear characterized them in ways clearly reminiscent of ancient conceptions of tyranny

Preston's tragedy is an adaptation of the story of the Persian king Cambyses II, who, as Herodotus recounts in book 3 of his Histories, reigned from 529 to 522 BCE. As already noted, the material was drawn not from Herodotus but from the version of that story included in Richard Taverner's The Garden of Wysedome. Succeeding his father Cyrus the Great on the throne of Persia, Cambises proves himself as a good and virtuous prince: he consolidates his father's military glory by waging war against Egypt and punishes a corrupt judge for his misdeeds in exercising his power. However, he soon displays signs of a tyrannical character: he kills the son of one of his noblemen, Praxaspes, who reproaches him for drinking too much; he has his younger brother Smirdis killed for fear of being overthrown by him; and he marries his cousin (in Herodotus his sister) against Persian laws and then kills her when she mourns Smirdis's death. His subjects, both noblemen and commoners, reproach and condemn his behavior but do not rebel against him. In this sense, like other plays of the 1560s and the early 1570s, Cambises's main focus is on obedience, (82) driving criticism to interpret it as upholding Elizabethan ideology. (83) And yet, Preston's play is the only one in those years also to interrogate the admissibility of legal protest when the king abuses his power to satisfy his own caprice.

Cambises is cruel, (84) suspicious, inclined to drunkenness and lust, and, above all, prone to imposing his own will. (85) As the allegorical character of Shame says to the audience when describing the change of the king's character on his return from Egypt, "he nought esteemes his councel grave, ne vertuous bringing up / But dayly stil receives the drink, of damned vices cup" (4.347-48). His refusal to accept advice is especially foregrounded. (86) Hill has justly remarked that this portrait, clearly indebted to the unofficial political thinking recalled above, contains a clear, if implicit, critique of the rule of both Henry VIII and Mary, and at the same time offers Elizabeth a piece of advice against despotic rule. (87) For that reason, in the final scene of the play Preston emphasizes both the peoples growing disapproval of Cambises's behavior ("There is a sorte for feare, for the King doo pray: / That would have him dead, by the masse I dare say," revealingly says the Vice, Ambidexter, in a direct address to the audience; 11.1139-40) (88) and the king's solitude when, accidentally wounded to death on mounting his horse, he vainly seeks help: "Is there nought to be my help? nor is there nought to serve?" (11.1156). The play unequivocally suggests that being entitled to receive the crown does not allow the king to disrespect the laws of his country and ignore the counsel of his advisors--a message which was of great importance at the time of Cambises's composition (ten years before its printing in 1571) (89) when Elizabeths royal accession and her first political acts engendered hope for a stricter collaboration between the crown and the nobility. (90)

Years later, Thomas Hughes's The Misfortunes of Arthur (1587) was likewise meant to convey a message of prudence to the Queen in the midst of the political crisis that was leading England toward war with Spain. As Curtis Perry has shown, (91) the play constitutes a harsh critique of the imperialistic policy promoted by Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester. The play's action sees Arthur return to England after nine years of military campaigns abroad, only to find his throne usurped by his son Mordred with the help of Arthur's wife, Guinevora. At first, Arthur tries to achieve an agreement with Mordred, offering him his forgiveness if he will repent. But, albeit abandoned by a remorseful Guinevora, Mordred refuses his offer. In the meantime, Arthur is convinced by his advisors to face Mordred in battle despite his fatherly love for him. Mordred dies fighting, but mortally wounds Arthur, who dies lamenting the misfortunes of his country devastated by civil war.

Mordred is a perfect example of the tyrant as imagined by Elizabethan ideology, a usurper driven by an insatiable lust for power and ready for anything: "I like the top, and aime at greater blisse. / You rest content, my minde aspires to more" (Arthur 2.3.132-33), he says to his brother Gawain, sent by Arthur as an ambassador of peace. (92) He has seized the throne and is determined to keep it, even if his title is illegal and the people hate him. "A Kingdom's kept by feare" (2.2.32), he says at the beginning of act 2 in a long exchange with his good advisor Conan, who also tries to dissuade him from fighting; later in that same scene he adds, "Tis my happe that Brytain serues my tourne, / That feare of me doth make the Subiects crouch, / That what they grudge, they do constrayned yeeld" (2.2.71-73). And yet, while he stubbornly insists on fighting and defending what he thinks to be his own, he is also shown plagued by fear of the impending doom upon receiving the news of Arthur's return: "The houre, which erst I alwaies feared most / The certaine ruine of my desperate state, / Is happened now: why turn'st thou (minde) thy backe" (1.4.1-3). (93) Similarly, his last words onstage before his death in battle (which will not be shown but reported by the Nuncius in 4.2) give once again voice to deep fear, echoing Seneca's Thyestes: "my minde reuolts to feare, / And beares my body backe: I inwards feele my fall" (2.4.80-81). (94)

However, if the tyrannical portrait of Mordred is perfectly in line with Elizabethan ideology, the dramatic context framing it is designed to foreground his being the last offspring of a depraved family which is a plague to the country, as the First Chorus says commenting on the deplorable state of Britain: "In Brytain warres and discord will not stent: / Till Vther's line and offspring quite be spent" (23-24). The play not only opens on the apparition of the phantom of Gorlois who recalls how Uther Pendragon killed him and then married his wife, and how Arthur incestuously conceived Mordred with his sister but it also shows Arthur himself, on his first entrance onstage, aware that the cause of the civil war is his own youth "puft up with pride and fond desire of praise," leading him to "adventured all" (3.1.133,135). In addition, Mordred's rebellion is shown to occur in the king's long absence from home due to his military expedition against Rome. "Since Arthur thus hath ransackt all abroade, / What mervaile ist, if Mordred rave at home" says Cador, Duke of Cornwall (3.1.26-27). This is how Cador tries to convince Arthur to fight Mordred, inadvertently suggesting that the civil war devastating England may have originated in Arthur's own lust for glory and consequent neglect of the good of his country. (95)

Thus, in the end, The Misfortunes of Arthur does not reduce tyranny to the "legal" question of usurpation: its insistence on the responsibilities of Arthur and the family curse clearly imply that things are more complicated. Bad government, where the king's desires prevail over the good of the country, generates tyrants, either in the very person of the ruler or in one of his subjects who takes advantage of the king's negligence and makes himself a tyrant. Mordred descends from Uther's lust and becomes a tyrant because of Arthur's negligence. Thus, the responsibility for the civil war ultimately belongs to the legitimate king, an utterly dangerous message in those years, suggesting that preoccupation with tyranny was far from being subdued.

In a similar way, Fulke Greville's Mustapha was to focus once again on tyranny as deriving from the misrule of the legitimate king due to his excessive fear for his own safety. The version printed posthumously in 1633 was the third one of a play written between 1607 and 1610, but a previous unauthorized version, probably composed between 1594 and 1596, had already been printed in 1609. Originally, the play was meant to advise the Earl of Essex on the opportunity for a courtier to support a tyrannical Queen instead of causing social disorder through a rebellion. (96) However, the execution of Essex in 1601 and the subsequent early years of James's reign convinced Greville to change his purpose: Mustapha, together with Alaham, was now meant "to shew in the practice, that the more audacity, advantage, and good success such Soveraignties have, the more they hasten to their owne desolation and ruine." (97) The play dramatizes the famous story of the killing of the Ottoman Prince Mustapha by order of his father, Solyman the Great, at the instigation of Rossa (Solyman's second wife) who plots to have her own son Zanger appointed as heir. The play has received much critical attention, partly because of its representation of the Ottoman Empire, partly because it offers the most direct and thorough study of how a legitimate king may turn into a tyrant once he feels his power to be under threat. (98)

Although he claims that he does not believe Rossa's words because she is ill disposed, Solyman soon begins to worry that Mustapha might in fact aspire to overthrow him. Mustapha has recently received great honor in war and Solyman knows that he is young, brave, and loved by the people. As he says to his good advisor Achmat, this "undermines, or else confounds / Of place, time, nature, all the reverend bounds" (Mustapha, 2.2.28-35)." Most of the play revolves around Solyman's internal conflict between political prudence, which would advise Mustapha's death, and paternal love. "Tyrants they are that punish out of fear" (2.2.112), says the wise Achmat while trying to convince his sovereign to desist from his murderous intent. Solyman himself is aware of the extremities to which fear may lead him: "A King ought therefore to suspect / Fears, fearful counsels which incline to blood, / Wherein, but truths, no influence is good" (1.2.27-29). And yet, throughout the play he is unable to shake it off. The more he thinks about it, the more he falls prey to confusion, terror, uncertainty. He tries in vain to dissipate his dread by talking with Achmat and his daughter Camena, who exhort him not to commit a deed he would later regret. Eventually in 4.1, before being definitively convinced by Rossa to kill his son (4.3), he gives voice to the opposed drives that tear him apart, and at the end of that anguished speech, he proclaims the monarch's autonomy even from God, separating political reasons from those of the Lord; his final decision is to follow in past tyrants' footsteps: (100)
Still king of men but of myself no more.
In my son's death it shows this empires fall,
And in his life my danger still included,
To die or kill, alike unnatural.
The Earth draws one way and the sky another.
If God work thus, kings must look upwards still
And from these powers they know not choose a will.
Or else believe themselves, their strength, occasion,
Make wisdom conscience, and the world their sky.
So have all tyrants done; and so must I. (4.1.31-34, 38-43)

Unable to master his passions as a "platonic" tyrant, he makes an arbitrary decision and will pay a price for it. He will be attacked by the crowd moved to pity and rage for the death of the prince. His yielding to fear destroys not only his own reputation and family but also his reign.

This was a very unorthodox conclusion from a politician who served under Elizabeth and saw the beginning of the reign of the absolutist James. No actual final condemnation of the revolt ensues, and this makes that conclusion even more daring. Recognizing that the "humour of this dotard king / (Who, swoll'n with practice of long government, / Doth stain the public with ill managing)" (5.3.78-80) brought chaos and ruin to the Empire, his good advisor actually applauds the subjects' rebellion: "And shall I help to stay the people's rage / From this estate, thus ruined with age? / No, people, no. Question these thrones of tyrants" (5.3.90-92). Although immediately afterwards Achmat abandons this thought and helps suppress the revolt, still these words hang over the finale of the play, suggesting that, after all, the people perhaps really does have the right to punish tyrants. This is a bleak conclusion indeed, stating that if the power of the king is absolute and exercised badly, his absolutism does not suffice to prevent the people from opposing it. It is no wonder that the play was not to be printed until a decade before the breakout of the Civil War, when the political milieu would become more receptive and even ready to approve of it.


In her analysis of the exchange between Malcolm and Macduff in Macbeth 4.3 on the nature of tyranny, (101) MacGrail sees a crucial presentation of the current debate on whether it is a vicious personality or his illegitimate rule that turns a king into a tyrant. To Macduff (who tries to convince Malcolm to wage war against Macbeth, stating that Scotland cannot bear the tyranny of the usurper any longer), Malcolm replies that he is even less qualified to reign than Macbeth himself because of his pretended personal vices that would make him a terrible ruler. Macduff retorts that even a faulty but legitimate king is better than Macbeth, but he fails to convince Malcolm and finally agrees that such a man as Malcolm has claimed to be is unfit for government and even to live: what had begun as a "legal" question of legitimacy eventually turns into a discussion of moral qualities.

That was not an isolated discussion; it coalesced a long-standing debate in which the reception of Xenophon and Plato played an important role. When in the latter part of the sixteenth century views foregrounding the immorality of the tyrant and his fears seemed to be put aside, a few dramatists revived a "platonic" interpretation of tyranny compounding it with Xenophon's idea of the tyrant's fear of his own subjects. This raised questions on official ideology. In these plays, fear had a pivotal role, being the cause both of the unhappiness of the tyrant's subjects and of the unhappiness he experiences privately due to his bad conscience and despotic personality, which are the ultimate causes of his solitude and tragic fall. Thus, unofficial conceptions of tyranny and tyrannicide continued to circulate, keeping alive a debate that was to have deep consequences on the future of English monarchy.


(1) [phrase omitted] (How you see tyranny and conspirators everywhere, / as soon as anyone voices a criticism large or small! /I hadn't even heard of the word being used for at least fifty years, / but nowadays it's cheaper than sardines.) Aristophanes, Wasps, in Aristophanis Fabulae, ed. Nigel G. Wilson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 488-92; trans, and ed. Jeffrey Henderson, by Aristophanes, Wasps, in Clouds. Wasps. Peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

(2) See William A. Armstrong, "The Elizabethan Conception of the Tyrant," Review of English Studies 22, no. 87 (1946): 161-81; David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 141-67; Robert S. Miola, "Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate," Renaissance Quarterly 38, no. 2 (1985): 271-89; Rebecca Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theatre in English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 29-77; Mary Ann McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare (Boston: Lexington Books, 2001), 7-14.

(3) Greg Walker, Writing Under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 5-7.

(4) Anthony Gilby, "An Admonition to England and Scotland," in The Works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1855), 4:563.

(5) On John Hales's oration and John Foxe's martyrology see Eugene D. Hill, "The First Elizabethan Tragedy: A Contextual Reading of Cambises" Studies in Philology 89 (1992): 404-433 (413-14).

(6) Pius V, "Regnans in Excelsis," in The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary, ed. Geoffrey Rudolph Elton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 414; Sixtus V, "A Declaration of the Sentence and Deposition of Elizabeth I (1588)," in Thomas a Kempis, Of the Following of Christ, trans. William Allen (Ilkley: Scholar Press, 1977).

(7) On puritanism in English society, see Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in PreRevolutionary England (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).

(8) An Homilie Agaynst Disobedience and Wylful Rebellion (London: Richard Iugge and Iohn Cawood, n.d., ca. 1570), Biv; cf. Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 74-79; McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 7,25. From this perspective, a legitimate but tyrannical king could also act as a scourge appointed by God in order to punish the people for its misdeeds: see Armstrong, "The Elizabethan Conception of the Tyrant," 164, and McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 8.

(9) As Bushnell remarks, "From the works of early church writers and late medieval divines right up through the sixteenth century, the tradition is startlingly consistent in stressing the prince's moral virtue and the tyrant's corruption." Tragedies of Tyrants, 39-40. However, Bushnell also points out that "while a focus on character was compatible with the Humanist approach to politics, it hardly originated in the rediscovery of classical political works" (ibid., 39). On the other hand, she also remarks that "to posit the existence of texts of Plato to argue for 'Platonism' in Renaissance statecraft" was not necessary, since Platonism was incorporated in Christian thought (ibid., 39n8). I will return to this question in the following pages.

(10) McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 9-11.

(11) Maynard Mack Jr., Killing the King (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 7. Reference is to Ernst Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957). In this respect, it may be recalled that "in her first words to the Privy Councillors after her accession in 1558 Elizabeth I adopted the familiar vocabulary, speaking of her sorrow for the death of her sister Queen Mary as a function of her 'bodye naturallye considered' but of her power to govern England as proceeding from her 'bodye politique.'" Charles R. Forker, "Unstable Identity in Shakespeare's Richard II," Renascence 54, no. 1 (2001): 3-22 (4).

(12) See Wilfrid Parsons, "The Mediaeval Theory of the Tyrant," The Review of Politics 4, no. 2 (1942): 129-43, especially 139-40 (on John of Salisbury) and 140-42 (on Thomas Aquinas).

(13) See Ephraim Emerson, ed., Humanism and Tyranny: Studies in the Italian Trecento (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925).

(14) On Buchanan's role in this debate see Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 41, 45-46, 53-54.

(15) Jean Bodin, Of the Lawes and Customes of a Common-wealth, trans. Richard Knolles (London: Adam Islip, 1606), 208-12.

(16) Arthur E. Walzer, "The Rhetoric of Counsel and Thomas Elyot's On the Knowledge Which Maketh a Wise Man" Philosophy & Rhetoric 45, no. 1 (2012): 24-45.

(17) See William A. Armstrong, "The Background and Sources of Preston's Cambises," English Studies 31 (1950): 129-35; D. T. Starnes, "Richard Taverner's The Garden of Wisdom, Carion's Chronicles, and the Cambyses Legend," The University of Texas Studies in English 35 (1956): 22-31; Hill, "The First Elizabethan Tragedy," 404-33.

(18) But also occasionally seen performed at University Colleges or Inns of Court. See, e.g., Silvia Bigliazzi, "Chorus and Chorality in Early Modern English Drama," Skene: Journal of Theatre and Drama Studies 1 (2015), 101-33(esp. 106). A comprehensive record of the staged plays may be found in the online Archive of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama (

(19) Translations into English from the Greek were scarce; one of the earliest was Lady Lumley's translation of Euripides's Iphigenia in Aulis (ca. 1550-53), while George Gascoigne's and Francis Kinwelmersh's version of Euripides's The Phoenician Women titled Jocasta (performed in 1566; first quarto published in 1573) was based on Lodovico Dolce's Giocasta (1549), itself an Italian adaptation of Euripides's Phoenissae. See Tania Demetriou and Tanya Pollard, "Homer and Greek Tragedy in Early Modern English Theatres: An Introduction," in "Homer and Greek Tragedy in Early Modern England's Theatres," ed. Tania Demetriou and Tanya Pollard, special issue, Classical Receptions Journal 9, no. 1 (2017): 1-35 (12-13); see also Tanya Pollard, "Greek Playbooks and Dramatic Forms in Early Modern England," in Forms of Early Modern Writings, ed. Allison Deutermann and Adras Kisery (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 99-123. The entirety of volume 9, issue 1 of Classical Receptions Journal (2017) is devoted to a discussion of the history of the reception of Greek texts in the English Renaissance.

(20) Robert S. Miola, "Representing Orestes' Revenge," in Demetriou and Pollard, "Greek Playbooks and Dramatic Forms in Early Modern England": 144-65 (158).

(21) Pierre de la Primaudaye, The French Academic trans. Thomas Bowes (London: Edmund Bollifant, 1586), 636.

(22) [phrase omitted]. (These are both the measures mentioned some time back to secure the safety of a tyranny as far as possible--the lopping off of outstanding men and the destruction of the proud--and also the prohibition of common meals and club-fellowship and education and all other things of this nature, in fact the close watch upon all things that usually engender the two emotions of pride and confidence, and the prevention of the formation of study-circles and other conferences for debate, and the employment of every means that will make people as much as possible unknown to one another [for familiarity increases mutual confidence]). Aristotelis politico, ed. William David Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 5.1313a40-b6; trans. H. Rackham, Aristotle, vol. 21 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1944).

(23) I will summarize the Renaissance history of the reception of Plato's Republic and Xenophon's Hiero in the following pages. Here it may be briefly recalled that the first humanistic Latin translation of Aristotle's Politics, penned by Leonardo Bruni, was printed in Rome in 1492 by Eucharius Silber alias Franck. The same years also saw the publication of the old Latin translation by William of Moerbeke (Cologne: Heinrich Quentell, 1492) and the French late-medieval one by Nicole Oresme (Paris: Antoine Caillaut et Guy Mercant pour Antoine Verard, 1489). Aristotle's Politics enjoyed an extraordinary popularity during the Renaissance and in the second half of the sixteenth century was also translated into Italian (firstly in 1542, by Antonio Brucioli) and French (1568, by Loys Le Roy); from this last edition derived the first English translation published by Adam Islip in 1598.

(24) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. J. C. A. Gaskin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 143.

(25) See Eric Nelson, "Greek Nonsense in More's Utopia" The Historical Journal 44, no. 4 (2001): 889-917.

(26) On Buchanan's treatment of the tyrant, cf. Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 53-54.

(27) Ibid., 42-47.

(28) I refer here to La Primaudaye, The French Academie, 627-39; Guillaume de La Perriere, The mirrour of policie, trans. Richard Knolles (London: Adam Islip, 1598), 19-20; Bodin, Of the Lawes and Customes of a Common-wealth, 208-12.I will return to these texts in the following pages. See also Armstrong, "The Elizabethan Conception of the Tyrant," 168-69, 172, 174-75; McGrail, Tyranny In Shakespeare, 11-12.

(29) Reference is to Bartolo da Sassoferrato, Tractatus de tyranno (ca 1350), Coluccio Salutati, De tyranno (1381), Egidio Colonna, De Regimine Principum (1502), Erasmus, Institutio principis christiani (1516), Johannes Ferrarius (Eisermann), A Worke Touching the Good Ordering of a Commoweale (1553, and translated into English in 1558). See Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 39-52, and Miola, "Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate," 274nl3.

(30) With regard to The Misfortunes of Arthur, see Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 104-5.

(31) This is why I exclude Herodotus from my discussion: although his contribution was fundamental to the definition of tyranny and the political depiction of the tyrant, the psychology of the tyrant was developed by Attic tragedy, to which he was contemporary.

(32) Noreen Humble, "Xenophon and the Instruction of Princes," in The Cambridge Companion to Xenophon, ed. Michael A. Flower (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 424-25.

(33) See Brian Jeffrey Maxson, "Kings and Tyrants: Leonardo Bruni's Translation of Xenophon's Hiero" Renaissance Studies 24, no. 2 (2010): 188-206.

(34) On the translations and editions of Hiero in Latin, see David Marsh, "Xenophon," in Catalogus translationum et commentariorum, ed. Virginia Brown, Paul Oskar Kristeller, Ferdinand Edward Cranz, vol. 7 (Washington DC: Pontificate Istitute of Medieval Studies, 1992), 149-58.

(35) Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, trans. Ninian Hill Thomson (New York: Dover, 2007), 213.

(36) "multa...insunt quae nostris principibus non inutilia cognitu futura sint." Desiderius Erasmus, Erasmi epistulae, ed. Pierce Stafford Allen, vol. 8 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), 361-62.

(37) Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 11.

(38) Ibid., 48.

(39) La Primaudaye, The French Academie, 637.

(40) The Greek text is based on Xenophontis opera omnia, vol. 5: Opuscula, ed. Edgar C. Marchant (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960). All quotations are from the translation of Hiero in Leo Strauss, On Tyranny: Revised and Expanded Edition including the Strauss-Kojeve Correspondence, ed. Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth, trans. Marvin Kendrick and Seth Bernardete (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 3-21.

(41) La Perriere, The mirrour of policie, 19 (v).

(42) Ibid., 20 (r).

(43) Ibid.

(44) Ibid. It should be noticed that an English translation circulated as early as 1561, twenty-five years before this quotation: "Dyd not he (thynke you) declare sufficientlye, that he can have no happynesse, over whom there hangeth any feare." Those fyue questions, which Marke Tullye Cicero, disputed in his manor of Tusculanum: written afterwardes by him, in as manye bookes, to his frende, and familiar Brutus, in the Latine tounge. And nowe, oute of the same translated, & englished, by Iohn Dolman, studente and felowe of the Inner Temple (London: Thomas Marshe, 1561), n.p.

(45) "And al above, depeynted in a tour, / Saugh I Conquest, sittynge in greet honour, / With the sharpe swerd over his heed / Hangynge by a soutil twynes threed." Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 2027-30.

(46) Bodin, Of the Lawes and Customes of a Common-wealth, 212-13.

(47) Humble, "Xenophon and the Institution of Princes," 426-28. On the diffusion and influence of the first one, see Jane Grogan, Persian Empire in English Literature 1549-1622 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 40-48; for that of the second, see Lorna Hutson, The Usurer's Daughter (London: Routledge, 1994), 17-51.

(48) Grogan, "Persian Empire," 40.

(49) Elizabeth's authorship has been disputed by Leicester Bradner in "The Xenophon Translation Attributed to Queen Elizabeth I," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 27 (1964): 324-26. Following Bradner, Janel Mueller's and Joshua Scodel's recent edition of Elizabeth's translations--Elizabeth I: Translations 1544-1589 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009)--does not include it.

(50) Marsh, "Xenophon," 156.

(51) He was the son of Uberto Decembrio who collaborated with Manuel Chrysoloras on the first translation of the same dialogue in Italy (1401-1402). See Sears Jayne, Plato in Renaissance England (Dordrecth: Springer Science+Business Media, 1995), 19; Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 39n8.

(52) Jayne, Plato in Renaissance England, 84.

(53) Cf. Walzer, "The Rhetoric of Counsel," 42n6.

(54) Cf. Jayne, Plato in Renaissance England, 99, 118. In particular, reference is to Baldassarre Castiglione, The courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio diuided into foure books, trans. Thomas Hoby (London: William Seres, 1561); Pierre de La Place, The fyrst parte of commentaries, concerning the state of religion, the state of religion, and the common vvealthe of Fraunce, vnder the reignes of Henry the second, Frauncis the second, and Charles the ninth, trans. Thomas Tymme (London: HenryBinnyeman, 1573); Matthieu Coignet, Politique discourses upon trueth and lying. An instruction to princes to keepe their faith and promise, trans. Edward Hoby (London: Ralph Newberie, 1586); Lodowyck Bryskett, A discourse of ciuill life containing the ethike part of morall philosophic Fit for the instructing of a gentleman in the course of a vertuous life (London: William Aspley, 1606). See for instance his reference to the story of the son of the Tyrant of Syracuse Dionysius, advocating the deposition of a legitimate king if "platonically" lustful: "Dionysius the yonger being borne in wealth and plentie, setting all his thoughts vpon his pleasures, was therefore in the end driuen out of his kingdome. For he thinking it lawfull for him to take all that he would haue, euen in his fathers life time began to defloure certain virgins of honest families: which thing his father vnderstanding sharpely reprehended him for the same; and among other things told him, that howsoeuer himslefe had taken vpon him by tyrannie the kingdome of Sicilie, yet he neuer had vsed any such violences. But his wanton sonne made him this answer: It may well be (quoth he) for you were not the sonne of a King. At which word the father grieuing, replied vnto him; Neither art thou like to leaue thy sonne a King, vnles thou change thy conditions. Which prognostication was verified, in that the sonne following his lewd course of life, shortly after his fathers death was chased out his kingdom by his subiects." Lodowyck Bryskett, A discourse of ciuill life, 203-4.

(55) Jayne, Plato in Renaissance England, 84-91.

(56) See James Steintrager, "Plato and Mores Utopia," Social Research, 36, no. 3 (1969): 357-72; John A. Gueguen, "Reading More's Utopia as a Criticism of Plato," Albion 10 (1978): 43-54; Thomas White, "Pride and the Public Good: Thomas More's Use of Plato in Utopia" Journal of the History of Philosophy 20 (1982): 329-54.

(57) Sir Thomas Elyot, Of that Knowlage whiche Maketh a Wise Man: A Disputacion Platonike (London: 1534), n.p.

(58) Resp. 8.565d: [phrase omitted] (He who tastes of the one bit of human entrails minced up with those of other victims is inevitably transformed into a wolf.) All quotations from the Greek text are from Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903); English translations are from Plato, Republic, in Plato, vol. 5-6, trans. Paul Shorey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969). Among the many versions of Lycaon's story ("lykanthropus"), king of Arcadia, the closest to the one told by Plato tells that his subjects fed Lycaon's son to him together with the meat of some animals that had been sacrificed to Zeus. Hence the transformation into a tyrant of a king who had always been respectful of the law.

(59) Cf. Walzer, "The Rhetoric of Counsel," 1, ln3; John Major, Thomas Elyot and the Renaissance Humanism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964), 228-40; Robert Haynes, "Plato as Protagonist in Sir Thomas Elyot's Knowledge Which Maketh a Wise Man," in The Author as Character. Representing Historical Writers in Western Literature, ed. Paul Franssen and Ton Hoenselaars (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1999) 93-104; Walker, Writing Under Tyranny, 195-217.

(60) Thomas Starkey, A Dialogue between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset, ed. Kathleen M. Burton (London: Chatto and Windus, 1948), 154.

(61) La Primaudaye, The French Academie, 637 (my emphasis here and in the following quotations from La Perriere and Bodin).

(62) La Perriere, The mirrour of policie,\9v, emphasis added.

(63) Bodin, Of the Lawes and Customes of a Common-wealth, 212, emphasis added.

(64) Humble, "Xenophon and the Instruction of Princes," 425.

(65) Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997), 68.

(66) McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 16n29.

(67) Cf. Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 53-54.

(68) All quotations are from De iure regni apud Scotos dialogus, authore Georgio Buchanano Scoto (Edinburgi: Henrico Charteris, 1579), 53-57. Translations are by Robert MacFarlan in George Buchanan, De Jure Regni Apud Scotos; A Dialogue Concerning the Rights of the Crown in Scotland (Colorado Springs: Portage, 2016), 41-44.

(69) Interestingly, even Thomas Smith's "Definition of a king and of a tyrant" in his De republica Anglorum. The maner of gouernement or policie of the realme of England (London: Gregorie Seton, 1583), ch.7, mentions neither the platonic interpretation of the tyrant's psychology nor Hiero, although he tacitly cites Xenophon's Hellenica by referring to Thrasybulus and the Thirty Tyrants. Smith was fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge, and lectured on Greek. Here is his definition of tyranny: "Where one person beareth the rule they define that to be the estate of a king, who by succession or election commeth with the good will of the people to that gouernement and both administer the common wealth by the lawes of the same and by equitie, and doth seeke the profit of the people as much as his owne. A tyrant they name him, who by force commeth to the Monarchy against the will of the people, breaketh lawes already made at his pleasure, maketh other without the advise and consent of the people, and regardeth not the wealth of his communes but the advancement of him selfe, his faction & kindred. These definitions do containe these differences: the obtaining of the authoritie, the manner of administration thereof, & the butte or marke whereunto it both tend and shoote. So as one may be a tyrant by his entrei and getting of the governement, & a king in the administration thereof" (6).

(70) See Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 86; see also ibid., 84-87.

(71) William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Thomson Learning, 2006). See also Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 84.

(72) William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, ed. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Thomson Learning, 2017).

(73) Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 88-89.

(74) Apius and Virginia, in Tudor Interludes, ed. Peter Happe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972); see Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 90-91.

(75) William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, ed. David Scott Kastan, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Thomson Learning, 2009).

(76) William. A. Armstrong, "The Influence of Seneca and Machiavelli on the Elizabethan Tyrant," The Review of English Studies 24, no. 93 (1948): 19-35 (27). Gentillet's Discours sur les Moyens de Bien Gouverner

(1576), first translated into English in 1577 (ibid.), was one major source of French and English anti-Machiavellism, and contains a whole chapter devoted to the representation of the tyrant as an impious and cruel man: "15. Maxim. A vertuous tyrant to maintaine his tyrannie, ought to maintaine partialities and factions amongst his subiects, and to sley and take away such as love the commonwealth." Innocent Gentillet, A Discourse upon the meanes of well governing and maintaining in good peace, a kingdome, or pther principalitie, trans. Simon Patericke (London: Adam Islip, 1602), 235-39. Seneca's translations were published individually since 1551; the first tragedy to be published was Troas (authored by Jasper Heywood), while Thyestes and Agamemnon followed in 1561 and 1566, respectively, in Jasper Heywood's and John Studley's translations; Seneca's works were then edited and collected by Thomas Newton in Seneca: His Tenne Tragedies Translated into Englysh (London: Thomas Marsh, 1581).

(77) Macbeth's case is more complicated, as recent criticism has acknowledged: see McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 28-31, and in this special issue of Comparative Drama (51.4 Winter 2017), Susanne Wofford's pages on the institution of tanistry: "Origin Stories of Fear and Tyranny: Blood and Dismemberment in Macbeth (with a Glance at the Oresteia).''

(78) On the inappropriateness of scenes of revolt and the "suppression of anything tending to cause disorder or contempt of authority," see Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve, Government Regulation of the Elizabeth Drama (New York: Columbia University Press, 1908), 89-90, 94. On the related topic of the killing of legitimate kings onstage see Silvia Bigliazzi, "Linguistic Taboos and the 'Unscene' of Fear in Macbeth" in part 2 of this special issue of Comparative Drama (52.1 Spring 2018).

(79) One for all, Leontes in the Winter's Tale. For a discussion of his "tyranny," see McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, ch. 4.

(80) William Shakespeare, King Richard 111, ed. James R. Semion, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Thomson Learning, 2009); cfr. McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 47-48.

(81) It may be recalled that Thomas Preston (1537-1598) was fellow of King's College, Cambridge, from 1556 and was one of the favorites of Elizabeth since her first visit there in 1564. In 1565, he became proctor. After renouncing the fellowship, he became master of Trinity Hall (1584). Deeply involved in the religious and political matters of the time, in the ballad "A Lamentation from Rome" (1570) he satirized the Pope mourning the failure of the Catholic uprising in the North. Fulke Greville, first Baron Brooke (1554-1628), was a politician and administrator under both Elizabeth I and James I (for whose services he was ennobled in 1621). As a poet, he was a close friend of Sir Philip Sidney's and a member of the "Areopagus," who supported the introduction of classical meters in English poetry. Thomas Hughes (fl. 1571-1623), was a lawyer besides being a dramatist; he graduated from Cambridge University in 1576 and was later a member of Gray's Inn.

(82) See Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, 156-58.

(83) William A. Armstrong, "The Authorship and Political Meaning of Cambises" English Studies 36, no. 1 (1955): 289-99; Hill, "The First Elizabethan Tragedy;" Allyna Ward, '"Whosoever Resisteh Shall get to Themselfes Dampnacioun:' Tyranny and Resistance in Cambises and Norestes!' Yearbook of English Studies 38, no. 1-2 (2008): 150-67; Maya Mathur, '"To all kind of estates I meane for to trudge:' Making Room for the Commoners in Cambises" Early Theatre 17 (2014): 35-55.

(84) Although the judge Sisamnes is corrupt, he shows sadistic pleasure in ordering that he be skinned alive; he has Praxaspes's son killed in retaliation.

(85) For example, he rebukes Praxaspes because he is reluctant to obey his order and bring him his son ("if that I doo speak the woord, how dare ye once say nay?" 5.522); he briskly rejects his cousin's protestations that he cannot marry her: "May I not? nay then I wil, by all the Gods I vow" (9.919). All quotations are based on Robert Carl Johnson, A Critical Edition of Thomas Preston's Cambises (Salzburg: Institut fur Englishe Sprache und Literatur, 1975).

(86) For instance, when Praxaspes is punished "for Councel given unto the King" (5.580) with the death of his son, which marks Cambises's initial transformation into a tyrant; and when Cambises decides to marry his cousin without listening to the noblemen's counsel, whom she suggested that he should consult to verify whether he could lawfully proceed as he pleased ("For counsel theirs I meane not I, in this respect to go"; 9.928).

(87) See Hill, "The First Elizabethan Tragedy," 414-17, 427-30.

(88) The function of the Vice in Cambises is both a relevant and a strange one. On the one hand, he is onstage as much as the protagonist, he is the focus of the comic scenes in the play, and provides all sorts of comments and remarks on the action. On the other, though, his contribution to the action is limited; the Vice neither corrupts Cambyses nor pushes him to commit any crime (with the partial exception of Smirdis's killing, but even there his responsibility is reduced). This has puzzled critics, who have tried to explain his role in various ways: as an allegorical representation of corruption, Karl P. Wentersdorf, "The Allegorical Role in Preston's Cambyses" Modern Language Studies 11, no. 2 (1981): 54-69; as a reflection of the psychological instability of the tyrant, Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 96-102; as a device to focus the attention on the play's true meaning, Hill, "The First Elizabethan Tragedy," 407-9; and as a voice of dissent and protest against the power of the tyrant, Mathur, '"To all kinde of estates,'" 49-51. This is not the place to provide arguments in support of my opinion, but I believe that here the Vice voices the harshest and most explicit condemnation of the tyrant in the play, something he can do thanks to his liminal dramatic status, which frees him from the logic of the action and traditionally grants him liberty to speak out.

(89) Cf. Johnson, "A Critical Edition of Thomas Preston's Cambises," 28-29.

(90) See Stephen Alford, The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis, 1558-1569 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), and John F. McDiarmid, ed., The Monarchical Republic of Early Modern England: Essays in Response to Patrick Collinson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).

(91) Curtis Perry, "British Empire on the Eve of the Armada: Revising The Misfortunes of Arthur" Studies in Philology 108 (2011): 508-37. Aspects of his analysis have been anticipated in Christopher J. Crosbie, "Sexuality, Corruption and the Body Politic: The Paradoxical Tribute of The Misfortunes of Arthur to Elizabeth I," Arthuriana 9, no. 3 (1999): 68-80.

(92) Thomas Hughes, The Misfortunes of Arthur, ed. Harvey Carson Grumbine (Berlin: E. Febler, 1900).

(93) These words are clearly reminiscent of the first words of Aegisthus in Seneca's Agamemnon, in Leon Herrmann, ed., Seneque: Tragedies, vol. 2 (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1961), 226-28. The reprise of Seneca in this play is so evident that "Mordred... is a kind of composite of every Senecan tyrant--in fact, he has almost every tyrant line found in Seneca" (Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 104). On the connection between Hughes and his classical sources, from Seneca to Lucan, see John W. Cunliffe, "Appendix II: Imitations of Seneca in The Misfortunes of Arthur," in The Influence of Seneca on Elizabethan Tragedy (London: Macmillan, 1893), 130-55; William A. Armstrong, "Elizabethan Themes in The Misfortunes of Arthur," The Review of English Studies, 7, no. 27 (1956): 238-49; and George M. Logan, "Hughes's Use of Lucan in The Misfortunes of Arthur',' The Review of English Studies 20, no. 77 (1969): 22-32.

(94) Nunc contra in metus / revolver: animus haeret et retro cupit / corpus referre. (But now agayne thus int feare /1 am returne. My mynde misdoubtes, and backeward seekes to beare / My body hence.) Seneca, Thyestes, in Herrmann, Seneque: Tragedies, 417-19; trans. Jasper Heywood, by Seneca, Thyestes, in Thomas Newton, ed., Seneca: His Tenne Tragedies Translated into Englysh (London: Thomas Marsh, 1581), 27v.

(95) As Perry notices in "British Empire on the Eve of the Armada," 518.

(96) See Seda Erkoc, "Dealing with Tyranny: Fulke Greville's Mustapha in the Context of His Other Writings and of His View on Anglo-Ottoman Relations," The Journal of Ottoman Studies 47 (2016): 265-90.

(97) Fulke Greville, Life of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Nowell Smith (Oxford: Clarendon, 1907), 221.

(98) Fahd Mohammed Taleb Al-Olaqi, "Image of Mustapha in Fulke Greville's Mustapha," International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature 6, no. 2 (2017), 63-72.

(99) Fulke Greville, Mustapha, in Selected Writings of Fulke Greville, ed. Joan Rees (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). Subsequent quotations are from this edition.

(100) peter Ure, "Fulke Greville's Dramatic Characters," The Review of English Studies 1, no. 4 (1950): 308-23; repr. in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama: Critical Essays by Peter Ure (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1974), 104-22.

(101) MacGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 22-26.

University of Verona

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