Bess in Adventure Play: Thomas Heywood’s The Fair Maid of the West; Or, A Girl worth Gold, Part I

김영아 /Yeung Ah Kim

2018, vol.28, no.3, pp. 361-386

Thomas Heywood’s The Fair Maid of the West is unique among adventure dramas, a sub-genre of early modern drama that articulate “both the ambitions and the anxieties of a nation poised to refigure its position on the world stage”, in that it features a female as the protagonist. Adventure play is male-centered not only because protagonists are mostly males but also because an English identity these plays help to form is masculine. Bess, the protagonist of the play, is an allegory of Elizabeth 1. Thus the strange combination of female protagonist and adventure drama testifies to the fact that for Heywood as a popular dramatist, “the variety of theatrical pleasures offered seemed more significant than coherence of plot or theme.” Though Bess is adopted for the praise of Elizabeth, the female protagonist strains the generic structure of the adventure drama, thereby creating fissures in play. This article aims to prove these fissures make this work an interesting adventure play which reveals how gender and race are mobilized for the formation of masculine English identity in adventure play.