To All Kinde of Estates I Meane for to Trudge’: Making Room for the Commoners in Cambises

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Early Theatre

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Thomas Preston’s Cambises combines the tale of a sixth-century Persian tyrant from Herodotus’s History with a series of low-born characters and comic interludes that derive from morality plays and mystery cycles. Despite the presence of elite and popular elements in the text, studies have focused chiefly on the nature of aristocratic resistance to the monarch. When considered in this context, Cambises’s accidental death at the play’s conclusion implies that an anointed ruler could only be removed through divine intervention; his subjects could reprimand him for his cruelty, but they could not depose him. I argue in this essay that the play’s commoners challenge the prevailing discourse of passive resistance by undermining Cambises’s military campaign in Egypt, calling on him to execute his corrupt deputy, and contemplating his death when he fails to meet their expectations. In doing so, they demonstrate that political protest is not limited to the nobility, but available for appropriation by ‘all estates’.


The definitive article is available on the Early Theatre website at: https://doi.org/10.12745/et.17.2.1210.

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