A link to Munro’s edition of Fane’s fragment will appear here when available at Digital Renaissance Editions.

“A classic can only occur when a civilisation is mature; when a language and a literature are mature; and it must be the work of a mature mind.”[1] These words were written by T.S. Eliot in 1944, in a lecture presented as his Presidential Address to the Virgil Society, later published under the title What is a Classic? In 1946, Eliot asked another, related question: “What is Minor Poetry?” In contrast with his confident definition of the “classic,” Eliot opens this essay with the statement “I do not propose to offer you, either at the beginning or at the end, a definition of ‘minor poetry.’”[2] He insists throughout that “minor” and “major” are categories conditioned to some extent at least by personal taste, and that they may be useless as tools for assessing the writing of one’s own historical or cultural moment. “[W]ith our contemporaries,” he writes, “we oughtn’t to be so busy enquiring whether they are great or not; we ought to stick to the question: ‘Are they genuine?’ and leave the question whether they are great to the only tribunal which can decide: TIME.”[3]

The most important writing on “minor literature” in recent decades has not taken Eliot’s criticism as its starting point, looking instead to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s work on Kafka and “those literatures that are considered minor, for example, the Jewish literature of Warsaw and Prague.”[4] Deleuze and Guattari identify as key components of minor literature a set of distinctive, oppositional stances around language, politics and collectivity that have been useful to scholars working with a range of minority, postcolonial and transnational literatures, in particular those interested in canon formation. We might look, for example, to W. Lawrence Hogue’s account of Don Belton’s 1986 book Almost Midnight “as a minor text”[5] or David Lloyd’s analysis of nationalism and minor literature via the work of James Clarence Mangan.

This work brings us back to the assumptions that underlie Eliot’s definition of a “classic.” As Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd crisply formulate it,

minority discourse is, in the first instance, the product of damage, of damage more or less systematically inflicted on cultures produced as minorities by the dominant culture . . . the diverse possible modes of cultural development that these societies represented are displaced by a single model of historical development within which other cultures can only be envisaged as the underdeveloped, the imperfect, the childlike, or — where already deracinated by material domination — as inauthentic, perverse, criminal.[6]

JanMohamed and Lloyd were writing in the late 1980s, but the questions that they raise, and the terms in which Eliot wrote of the “classic” four decades earlier, all have a peculiar charge when they are viewed from the perspective of the late 2010s and early 2020s, when questions around the “classic,” the “mature,” the “underdeveloped,” and the “childlike” have come under strain. These strains are noticeable in the fields of education, culture, and politics, and three areas are of particular interest to me here: student-led efforts to decolonise the curriculum in university English departments; the broader participation of young people in political debate; and the ways in which discourses of youth and immaturity are employed in political discourse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, decolonising the curriculum tends to come to wider public attention when it impinges on prominent institutions, such Ivy League or Oxbridge universities, and it tends to do so in ways that engage implicitly or explicitly with literary hierarchies and canon-formation. In 2016, for example, newspapers in the US and UK commented eagerly on the relocation of a portrait of Shakespeare in the English department at the University of Pennsylvania, and its temporary replacement with a picture of Audre Lorde (see Ferberov; Massarella). A perceived hierarchy between the writers is clear in the headline of an otherwise relatively neutral report in the British tabloid Mail Online: “Students remove Shakespeare portrait at UPenn and replace it with photo of black lesbian writer amid push for diversity at English department.”

Similar oppositions were created in press reporting around events at the University of Cambridge in 2017. More than 100 students signed an open letter, “Decolonising the English Faculty: An Open Letter,” critiquing “a ‘traditional’ and ‘canonical’ approach that elevates white male authors at the expense of all others.”

Like the replacement of Shakespeare’s picture with that of Lorde, the open letter points to the history of canon-formation, arguing that “[t]he history of the canon is a history that has wilfully ignored, misrepresented and sidelined authors from the global south. Sadly, the current syllabus is a result of this history; it is far too easy to complete an English degree without noticing the absence of authors who are not white.” A further connection between the two initiatives can be seen in the fact that one of the letter’s recommendations was “The requirement to spend at least a week of Shakespeare term on an essay that looks at Shakespeare in a postcolonial context.”[7]

In press reporting, however, Shakespeare was positioned as a figure of reaction. Mail Online reported, “Students at the university study a range of ‘period papers’ ranging from 1350 to the present day — including the works of Shakespeare. But campaigners have argued that the English courses focus too much on white men and exclude female authors and those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.”[8] The Telegraph drew attention to the fact that one of the letter’s co-authors, Lola Olufemi, had appeared in a production of Othello at the ADC Theatre, Cambridge, in ways that would make no sense without the perceived hierarchies that also underline the Mail Online piece (Turner). Such reporting also relies on implicit oppositions between the “classic” (in the shape of Shakespeare and/or the literary canon) and the “mature” (in the shape of academic faculty) and the supposedly minor or marginal (Lorde, postcolonial writing) and immature (undergraduate students). In doing so, it animates a set of interlinked hierarchies around race, status, and age.

Reactionary responses to decolonising the curriculum depend on some level on the idea that university students are too young and inexperienced to have a legitimate claim to intervene in canon-formation. In doing so, they draw on a deep-rooted rhetoric that positions young people as politically naïve and incapable, and the child as a figurative construct that restricts rather than enables children’s political agency. In Lee Edelman’s influential formulation, “the image of the Child, not to be confused with the lived experiences of any historical children, serves to regulate political discourse — to prescribe what will count as political discourse — by compelling such discourse to accede in advance to the reality of a collective future whose figurative status we are never permitted to acknowledge or address.”[9] The “image of the Child” allows no space for real children to bring their lived experience to bear on politics, or to question its conservative and heteronormative imperatives.

These linked discourses are employed both to contain young people who enter into the political sphere and to critique adults. For instance, the climate activist Greta Thunberg has been a repeated target of age-related insults. In one especially sustained example, the celebrity car enthusiast Jeremy Clarkson described her in his regular column in The Sun as a “spoiled brat” and her speech at the UN in September 2019 as “a full-on adolescent meltdown,” commenting “Many thousands of people who you had the temerity to blame this week are trying to do exactly what you want. So be a good girl, shut up and let them get on with it.”[10] Thunberg herself commented in June 2020, “People want something simple and concrete, and they want me to be naive, angry, childish, and emotional. That is the story that sells and creates the most clicks.”[11] And the selling of Thunberg’s story seems to entail privileging it at the expense of others. As Kuba Shand Baptiste argues, “she exemplifies the acceptable face of protest. She’s a face and a voice that allows our leaders to go on ignoring other, more marginalised, voices and campaigns too.”[12] In the process, the political campaigns of other young people are erased — Baptiste herself cites the examples of the Native American teenagers leading the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the work of Amariyanna Copeny to raise awareness about the contamination of water supplies in Flint, Michigan.

The flipside of this discourse is the use of terms such as “immature” to attack adult politicians. In 2017, Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, condemned as “immature anti-Americanism” the criticism of Donald Trump by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during that year’s General Election (BBC News). Yet Johnson has been repeatedly accused of political immaturity himself. Even a generally sympathetic piece in the right-wing Spectator by James Forsyth commented in July 2017 that his “Falstaffian coming-of-age moment is overdue,” deploying an allusion to Shakespeare’s Henry IV that Johnson — the on-and-off biographer of Shakespeare — would surely recognize.[13]

Boris Johnson enjoys UK-themed ice cream cone

Two years later, in October 2019, Johnson’s own administration was accused of immaturity in its approach to negotiations with the EU over Brexit. “It’s incredibly immature,” commented an unnamed source, “Kids in the kindergarten behave more maturely than this.” Such jibes are not unique to European politics. In November 2017, the Iranian regime accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia of being “immature and weakminded” after he dubbed Ayatollah Khamenei the “new Hitler of the Middle East.”[14]

The current poster-child for political immaturity is, of course, Donald Trump, dubbed “the Teenage Monarch” by Jeet Heer in New Republic in September 2017.[15] Yet the image of Trump as “the Teenage Monarch” itself raises questions about age and political agency that are implicit in the idea of political immaturity, as it works on the principal that a “teenage monarch” would be intrinsically problematic. In fact, a Google search with the keywords “donald trump immature” (Fig. 1) brings up a set of images which locate Trump’s “immaturity” within a broader set of behaviours and assumptions.

Some of these images invoke directly notions of childishness, such as images showing Trump pulling faces or ones comparing him with the triumphantly crude Eric Cartman from the long-running TV comedy South Park, but many frame as childish more adult prejudices, such as Trump’s treatment of disabled people, or even show Trump deploying children as props for political gain. In fact, even this image of “political immaturity” is personal and partial, given the way that Google draws on an individual’s previous searches and online profiles. If you, the reader, carry out a similar search now, the selection of images may well be different, shaped by the passage of time, future political developments, and your own online histories.

To some extent, the connections that I am drawing here pivot on the double-edge nature of words such as “minor” and “minority” which, depending on the contexts in which they are used, can relate to age, race, nationality and broader forms of marginalisation. As someone whose research focuses primarily on early modern English drama, I am interested in the ways in which such discourses might also be in play in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and their relationship with the processes of canon formation that position one writer of this period as “major” and another as “minor.” But I am aware that this is not a necessary connection to make, and it is one that potentially does violence to the complexities of our own cultural moment. For that reason, I do not want to take the obvious route and turn to Shakespeare, even though the material that I have quoted — in which Shakespeare is repeatedly invoked — leaves that direction open. I do not think that it is enough, in 2022, to return yet again to Shakespeare in thinking about politics and the literary canon. This is not because I think that Shakespeare’s works have lost their value, or that they have nothing to say to the present day, but because it is important in this moment not to close down the range of voices that are available to us, but to open them up.

In the rest of this essay, I would like, therefore, to explore the flip-side of “political immaturity,” considering the history of the place of young people in political debate and their capacity to write literary texts that make political interventions. I do this by looking at the drama of the Caroline poet and dramatist Rachel Fane (1613-80), a writer who is “minor” in many ways — she was female, her works have been generally unvalued, and she wrote her surviving literary works when she was a child. A manuscript now catalogued as Sackville MS U269/F38/3 at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, contains a series of dramatic and poetic works and fragments that appear to have been composed between around 1627 and 1630, when Fane was aged between 14 and 17.

Fane’s work cannot by itself answer all of the questions raised by our present moment: it does not present us with a universal child, but with the very particular childhood experiences of an elite, white, English child who was growing to maturity in a specific set of cultural, economic, and national contexts. Her “minor” status is complicated by her history and biography. While her gender and youth placed her at the margins of early modern political agency and debate, she was from an elite family, daughter of Francis Fane, First Earl of Westmorland. She later married two influential politicians: Henry Bourchier, Fifth Earl of Bath, and Lionel Cranfield, Third Earl of Middlesex.  Her social rank was one of the factors that enabled her to write drama and poetry and enabled it to be preserved — ironically enough by her estranged husband, Middlesex (see Bowden; O’Connor “Entertainments,” 156). It also means that she was repeatedly painted by some of the period’s leading artists — Cornelius Johnson, meaning that she is one of the period’s most widely represented writers.

Cornelius Johnson, Lady Rachel Fane (c. 1630)
Richard Gibson, Miniature Portrait of Lady Rachel Fane, (c. 1640)

Anthony Van Dyck,

Pierre Lombart, after Anthony van Dyck, Rachael Cranfield (née Fane), Countess of Middlesex (c. 1650.)

David Des Granges,

David Des Granges, Lady Rachel Fane, Countess of Middlesex

Fane’s writing does not offer a comfortable alternative to Shakespeare’s, a utopian moment in which children’s agency was prized, nor a retreat from the political questions that our own moment poses around decolonisation and histories of enslavement. It is notable that her surviving writing includes not only drama and poetry but also a set of accounts compiled during her first marriage, covering the period 1639-1654 (see Poppy). These accounts, and Fane’s earlier dramatic work, situate her within an economy of commodities and luxury goods — silks, sugar, sables — that by the 1620s was entwined with English trade, colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. Fane was, moreover, connected with the English colonial project in Ireland through her first husband, who owned large estates in Limerick and Armagh that Fane passed on to her nephew, Sir Henry Fane (Handley). The mid seventeenth century, when she was writing, saw the expansion of English colonisation and its exploitation of enforced African and indigenous labour, increasing attempts to limit the political agency of children, and the reconfiguration of the family and the domestic sphere. All of these developments are reflected in Fane’s work.

I focus here on a single piece: a tragicomedy written in the late 1620s. Only the first four scenes survive, in a loose sheet added to the manuscript; the final scene is itself incomplete, Fane writing “I Lost ye rest” in the margin.[16]  The tragicomedy is “immature” in a variety of ways. Fane was aged between about fourteen and sixteen when it was composed, and it appears to have designed — like her other dramatic work — for performance by her brothers and sisters, the children of the family’s servants, and the servants themselves.[17] It also deals explicitly with questions of age, its young prince Lucidimus asking himself why he has “Liued soe long as to se thy fathers death” even though he has “not / Liued soe long as to gouern thy self” (ll. 102-4). Furthermore, in the form in which it has come down to us the play itself is immature in the sense of being incomplete [https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/91822], and as a result it is replete with both potential and uncertainty.

Fane’s work opens up aspects of early modern dramatic culture that have often been silent or invisible, such as the cultural and political agency of women, children, and the working people who can frequently be glimpsed in the margins of her plays. Tracing the critical and editorial history of her writing also offers insights into the means through which writers do, or do not, become part of the canon. As Marion O’Connor, who became her first editor as late as 2006, notes, the manuscript volume of her plays and poems was overlooked in the Historical Manuscripts Commission’s calendar of the Sackville papers, prepared by Alfred John Horwood and published in 1874.[18] Horwood’s priority was “everything that could illustrate the history and political and social state of the kingdom.”[19] (276), and these criteria did not, for this late-Victorian scholar, encompass Fane’s creative work.

Fane’s work nearly came to light again in the early twentieth century, when Charles William Wallace and his fellow-researcher and wife, Hulda Berggren Wallace, consulted the Sackville papers during an intensive period of archival research into early modern theatre history. Their unpublished papers, now preserved at the Huntington Library, include transcriptions in Hulda’s hand of the items titled by O’Connor “Christmas Prologue” and “Cast List,” and the opening lines of the tragicomedy. However, Hulda did not complete her transcription, which ends after the waiting woman Regera’s first speech, writing, “I did not copy the rest. It is a very poor affair and hard to read.”[20]  Fane’s work does not appear to be mentioned in any of Charles’s published books or essays. Ironically enough, Hulda’s transcription renders the fragment even more fragmentary, her “I did not copy the rest” mirroring Fane’s “I Lost ye rest,” although — as I will explain below — it also appears to preserve a section of the manuscript that is now damaged. Fane’s work was thus marginalized on both political and aesthetic grounds, and it was only in the early twenty-first century that the feminist project of recovering early modern women’s writing led to the publication of her work by O’Connor, first the three complete texts of entertainments in an essay in English Literary Renaissance (2006) and a decade later the complete contents of the manuscript in Malone Society Collections (2016).

If O’Connor’s work has introduced Fane’s writing into the public sphere by making it available for study, scholars in the last decade have begun to explore the insights that it offers into the experiences and cultural engagements of an adolescent girl in Caroline England. Alison Findlay has looked at her work in the context of women’s dramatic authorship and the household as both domestic environment and performance space, while Kate Chedgzoy, Jennifer Higginbotham and Deanne Williams have explored from different angles its treatment of adolescence and girlhood.[21] Building on this work, I consider here the ways in which Fane’s work interacts with the politics of both age and state, setting it against the context of children’s political engagement in the mid seventeenth century.

The idea of political immaturity is used in our present moment to critique adults and dismiss the political agency of younger people. However, in the 1620s, when Fane wrote her tragicomedy, immaturity was not necessarily a barrier to political engagement.[22] All women and the majority of mature men were barred from voting and the legislative process, but Parliament did not pass a law barring elite boys aged under twenty-one from voting until 1696. Before that date the precise rules varied widely, but in some boroughs if a boy was over the age of twelve and met requirements around property ownership and/or income he was able to vote. In 1621, a bill to stop teenagers serving as MPs was brought before Parliament, but it failed; legislation was passed in 1653 with a similar purpose, but it was in turn repealed after the restoration of Charles II in 1660.[23] At the very top of the social scale, children could inherit kingdoms, a procedure that unsettled deep-rooted assumptions around age and status. As Sir Robert Filmer wrote in the 1630s or 40s, “many a Child, by succeeding a King, hath the Right of a Father over many a Gray-headed Multitude.”[24] Similarly, the rights of children of the nobility to their titles and property were only imperfectly curtailed by systems of guardianship and wardship.[25]

Elite children might also exercise political agency through more informal or ceremonial means, such as their participation in theatre. During the reign of Charles I, children featured in masques, entertainments and shows mounted at court and in private households, such as Aurelian Townsend’s Tempe Restored (1630), Ben Jonson’s Chloridia (1631), John Milton’s Comus (1634), William Davenant’s The Triumphs of the Prince D’Amour (1636) and the anonymous King and Queen’s Entertainment at Richmond (1636). Barbara Ravelhofer has suggested that the authors and designers of court masques capitalize on an “aesthetics of innocence,” arguing that “young courtiers, though not yet physically grown to maturity, carry within themselves the full potential of the future.”[26] Masques such as Coelum Britannicum, Tempe Restored, and The Entertainment at Richmond present a fantasy of temporal and familial progression, as the cultural and political values of the elite are passed down from one generation to the next.  In the space of the masque, the child is a symbol of political and social futurity, in a simultaneously rhetorical and performative maneuver that is reminiscent of Edelman’s symbolic “Child.”

The fact that early modern children might genuinely bear political power rather than simply being used as a political symbol does not mean that a version of Edelman’s “reproductive futurism” did not exist in this period. King Charles regularly employed the image of the family for political purposes, not only in masques but also in visual art and court panegyric. Kevin Sharpe has drawn our attention to the positioning of Van Dyck’s 1632 portrait of Charles, Henrietta Maria and their two oldest children [xxxlink to: at the end of the Long Gallery at Whitehall Palace.

Anthony van Dyck, Charles I and Henrietta Maria with their two eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Mary (1632)


For Charles, Sharpe comments, “[t]he representation of his family was the representation of his government.”[27] Similarly, Thomas Carew’s 1631 poem “A New Year’s Gift to the King,” asks Janus to “Season [Charles’s] cares by day with nights / Crown’d with all conjugall delights” and

As a Father let him be
With numerous issue blest, and see
The faire and God-like off-spring growne
From budding starres to Suns full blowne.[28]

Here, the image of the sun — highly favored by seventeenth-century monarchs with absolutist tendencies — is fused with the rhetoric of reproductive futurism, as the King’s offspring are imagined in their future roles as political agents. At the same time, however, the real children that appear within the masques and portraits cannot be so easily contained by this symbolism, and their immaturity may even work to caricature, unsettle and queer the normative politics that their presence is intended to sustain.

It is to this world that Rachel Fane’s fragmentary tragicomedy belongs, one in which the temporal power of anyone who was not an elite, adult man was curtailed, but within which otherwise marginalised groups could in some circumstances gain a political voice and agency. Fittingly, therefore, the play meditates on the capacity of both women and children to exercise authority. Its two most prominent figures are a Duchess, Ortigimus, featured in the first three scenes, and a character referred to only as the Empress, who is introduced in the fourth and final scene.[29] The Duchess — as Fane refers to her in stage directions and speech prefixes — is initially shown ordering her household by directing her waiting gentlewomen, Regera and Pantifelus, in the provision of clothing and foodstuffs. A messenger arrives with a letter from a sergeant who is accompanying her husband at his “camp.” The Duchess reads it “softly” (l. 58) and then exclaims “O my Lo my Lo I wishe my life hade saued / Him” (ll. 61-2). After her attendants have “Lead her yn” grieving, her son Lucidimus appears and, “siting him downe in / a dolorus maner wt his harmes acros,” he laments the death of his father and his likely fate as a “pooer orefien” (ll. 96, 98-9, 107) if his mother should die from sorrow. However, when his mother appears with Lucidimus and a Lord, Arisille, in the next scene, she shows little inclination to do so, declaring that she has an “inuenthion” that will require “our witts & memory” to carry it out (ll. 131, 130). The scene ends as they exit “To th councel rome to pas this thing to bring” (l. 146). The final scene then introduces the Empress, who enters “wit one bearing up her trane / Atended by 2 Lo \tertigimus &/ Filantus” and “sites her downe in her Chayre / Of state” (ll. 149-51). She appeals to the Lords to offer her counsel in the matter of her daughter’s infatuation with “ye Prince of Lecratus” who, one of the Lords states, is “in arcadia” (l. 159). The Empress asks, “Is he doe yo know him” (l. 161), and the fragment then ends with Fane’s note “I Lost ye rest” (l. 162).

As Findlay comments, the “physical domestic space” of the family’s home at Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire, which Fane exploits as part of the tragicomedy’s exploration of female roles, was itself linked to royal authority and national politics through the frequent visits of successive monarchs.[30]

Apethorpe Palace

Thus, through its narrative — in which the Duchess takes control of the household and the Empress stages her own authority — and its use of space, Fane’s play “rewrit[es] the role of housekeeper and the women’s work that threatened to reduce the home to a space of duty and self-erasure.”[31] Findlay focuses on the ways in which Fane’s writings “wor[k] out her future role as an aristocratic householder,”[32] but the tragicomedy also shows Fane meditating on the various forms — domestic, political and narrative — that women’s authority might take. The Duchess not only exercises control over the household, but also over the narrative itself. She is the one who comes up with an “inuenthion” in response to the Duke’s death, and she controls its dissemination by whispering it to Lucidimus and Arisille, concealing it even from the audience.

At the end of the scene, the Duchess exits with the two men to “th councel rome” (l. 146), suggesting that her “inuenthion” does not have a solely domestic focus but encompasses the wider world of politics. Yet the household had its own political resonance in the late 1620s, a time when the new King was attempting to reorder the royal household, “treating it as a microcosm of the ‘order and decency’ that he wished to impose on the macrocosm of the realm.”[33] The early days of the marriage of Charles and Henrietta Maria also saw a prolonged dispute over the composition of the queen’s household, and at least some of her French servants were dismissed in August 1626.[34] In this context, Fane’s representation of the household takes on an additional political charge, as domestic affairs blur into national concerns.

In these respects, Fane’s tragicomedy also offers a child’s eye view of the history of the family. In his influential but controversial 1977 book, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 1500-1800, Lawrence Stone three overlapping phases of family formation that gradually superseded each other: the “open lineage family” (c. 1450-1630); the “restricted patriarchal nuclear family” (c. 1550-1700) and the “closed domesticated nuclear family” (c. 1640-1800). Later scholars have questioned this picture, especially in the relationship that it plots between patriarchal authority, broader family networks and the domestic sphere. Reappraising Stone’s work, Ingrid Tague instead sees in the lives of early eighteenth-century elite women an uneasy coexistence of “[k]in networks, patriarchal power and domestic ideals.”[35] Her description maps neatly onto Fane’s representation of the aristocratic households of her tragicomedy, in which patriarchal authority is (provisionally?) displaced and the domestic is politicised.

The way in which Fane depicts women’s activity within the household also takes her play’s politics a step further, into the international sphere. When the Duchess enters in the first scene, she first asks Regera “how forward is my petycoat / & wastcote” and then questions her on the progress of preparing preserved fruits with sugar: “oringes & lemons ar coming in now & I / would haue ye apels dispatched out of ye way first” (ll. 14-15, 26-7). In their use of fabrics and sugar, the women’s work situates the Duchess’s household in Caroline networks of trade, and exchange, and within the emerging slave economies of the English colonies in the Caribbean. For example, imports of calico by the East India Company were increasing rapidly between the 1610s and 1630s, while cotton was being produced in the English colony at Barbados by the 1620s, and in the Bahamas by the 1630s.[36] The English attempted unsuccessfully to grow sugar cane in Virginia and Bermuda in the 1610s; by the 1640s, they had established sugar plantations in the Caribbean and were transporting increasing numbers of enslaved African people to work on them.[37]

Kim F. Hall has demonstrated powerfully the role of sugar within the gendered work of the seventeenth-century household, noting in particular the ways in which sugar enabled elite women’s creativity through the creation of sweetmeats, and the colonial contexts of the “sweet domesticity of the English cookbook.”[38] Sugar, she comments, has a “transformative presence that connects national and individual fortunes with international sites when cane cultivation and sugar refining move through different circuits in Mediterranean and Atlantic economies.”[39] Fane’s family in fact connects her to a history of female sugar-work: among Hall’s examples is Fane’s maternal grandmother, Grace Mildmay, a “renowned confectioner who at sixty-two had a portrait done that featured her ‘receipt book’ in the background.”[40] Fane’s allusions to sugar-work within the household of the Duchess — composed just at the point at which English sugar-production was about to expand — thus connect her fragmentary tragicomedy with an intensely political world of commerce and exploitation, in which her family was firmly embedded.

Jan Collaert, after Jan van der Straet, Nova Reperta, The Invention of Sugar Refinery, plate 13 (c. 1600)

A similar blurring of the boundary between the familial and political spheres is evident in the treatment of Lucidimus and the Empress. Lucidimus’s anxiety about his fate as a “pooer orefien” focuses not only on his position as child within the family, but his role as a youth thrust too soon into political activity, before he has learned to “gouern [him] self” (l. 103). The question of young people’s political agency returns in the final scene, in which the Empress informs her advisors that her daughter “is latly falen sike loue sike, & wit whome / thinke yo euen wit ye Prince of Lecratus” (ll. 156-7). We do not know if the Empress’s daughter is her heir, in which case the younger woman’s love-life and marriage would be of intense interest to the state; even if she had a brother or an older sister, she would still be subjected to a marriage born less from love than the need to build and maintain political alliances. The fate of Charles I’s sister Elizabeth, married at sixteen to Frederick, Elector Palatine, and in the late 1620s sharing his exile in The Hague, would not have been lost on Fane.

In these ways, Fane embeds her play in Caroline politics, and it is also significant in this context that she titles it a “tragicomedy.” The fragment that survives is itself precisely tragicomic, dealing as it does with a death and the prospect of a marriage, and the reference to Arcadia also suggests that Fane intended to draw on the genre’s pervasive links with pastoral. Both of these forms were associated with female cultural agency and political comment. Fane may not have been aware of Mary Wroth’s pastoral tragicomedy Love’s Victory, written around 1620 and preserved, like her own work, in manuscript; she would have known, however, that Henrietta Maria had produced Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan’s Les Bergeries, known in England as Artenice, at court in February 1626. Moreover, Wroth’s non-dramatic pastoral, Urania, was printed in 1621, sealing the connection between women and English pastoral that had begun with the presentation of Philip Sidney’s Arcadia in print as The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia in 1590. As Walter Cohen notes, Caroline tragicomedy has a tendency to displace state politics onto gender politics, creating a narrative and affective model that clearly appealed to Fane.[41]

Yet as a fragmentary tragicomedy written by a child, Fane’s play has another set of political resonances, hinting at a future that it cannot fully embody. The waiting gentlewoman Pantifelus is given more character than she needs to fulfil her function in the first scene, in the shape of an exchange with the Duchess, who tells her “as for yr part minion I see nothing / com out of yr hands but playbookes & toys / but I troe Il have a beter order with yo show [i.e. sure]” (ll. 42-4). Pantifelus meekly replies, “Yr Grace shall see yt all shal be amended,” only for the Duchess to report, sharply, “doe not giue me faire words only, but let / me se good deeds with all” (ll. 46, 48-9). On one level, this is part of Fane’s representation of the Duchess’s ordering of her household, but on another it points to both an inner life for Pantifelus and a set of possibilities for the development of the narrative. Similarly, Fane deliberately keeps from the audience the nature of the Duchess’s “inuenthion,” and she leaves open the purpose of her husband’s military service and even whether the characters of the first three scenes are the subjects of the Empress depicted in the fourth. Some of these questions would presumably have been resolved in the rest of the play, but this does not affect the way that Fane exploits uncertainty and tragicomedy’s characteristic shifts of mood within the surviving fragment. Moreover, if the fragment is read in its own terms, it embodies an uncanny critique of Edelman’s “reproductive futurism,” anticipating some of his work’s contested reception in the early twenty-first century. Here, a child animates political discourse in her own right, but creates in the process a future that cannot be fully acknowledged or addressed.

Thus far, I have presented a critical reading of Fane’s tragicomedy that traces its relationship with its political contexts, argues for the importance of Fane’s own political agency in its composition, and attempts to untangle something of its complex relationship with the political imperatives of our own time. In doing so, my reading is purposefully diachronic: in arguing that Fane’s writing should be seen as part of a long history of children’s engagement with politics, I have also tried to attend to the ways in which our present moment also lays bare the political limitations of Fane’s work. Yet in doing so I have paid too little attention to the politics of textual culture itself. I have been quoting the tragicomedy from O’Connor’s edition, which means presenting it in a form that reflects the forms and formats of Fane’s own writing. In keeping with the conventions of the Malone Society, O’Connor’s edition is a diplomatic transcription of Fane’s manuscript and is implicitly intended primarily for a scholarly readership. Its spelling, punctuation, layout and lineation follow hers as closely as possible, and it also records Fane’s deletions and revisions. It provides the valuable service of making Fane’s work accessible and available for discussion, and it also gives scholars access not only to Fane’s writing, but also to her writing processes.

However, although old-spelling texts such as O’Connor’s can serve a usefully defamiliarising purpose, bringing readers into contact with visually and aurally archaic forms of writing and reminding them of the alien qualities of the writing and thought of earlier periods, they can also obscure meaning (look, for instance, at the note that I have added above to gloss Fane’s “show” as “sure”) and establish an overly totalizing division between the early modern past and the present moment. These kinds of editions cannot fully serve the purpose of bringing the work of neglected writers to wider audiences, and they can also widen the divide between canonical drama — generally available in modern-spelling critical editions — and its non-canonical counterpart. It is noticeable, for example, that the 2007 Oxford University Press edition of Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, general-edited by Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, which sought to consolidate Middleton’s places as a canonical, “major” writer, did so in part — as Taylor acknowledged — by mimicking the visual style and, with it, the modern spelling, of the Oxford Shakespeare (see Taylor).

The final part of this essay [xxxlink to DRE text] presents, therefore, not further critical discussion but a modern-spelling digital edition of Fane’s tragicomedy, hosted by Digital Renaissance Editions. The edition aims to give the tragicomedy an additional purchase in the present moment, making it easier for readers to engage with this work and to consider it as part of an expanded canon on early modern drama. In the edition, spelling has been modernised throughout and speech prefixes have been modernised. I have taken a relatively interventionist approach to emendation in order to provide a coherent reading text, but have preserved elements of Fane’s style that are at odds with current editorial convention, such as her distinctive use of the past tense in stage directions. Additions to the text are enclosed in square brackets; relocated text or notes are enclosed in braces. In preparing the commentary, I have experimented with embedding textual notes within it rather than presenting a separate collation line, a highly coded feature of edited texts that sometimes baffles less experienced readers.

If you have followed me through this essay, and have followed the link above and read my edition, you have been exposed to Fane’s tragicomedy in two forms: first, through my fragmentary presentation of her work in the shape of quotations in old spelling, summary and analysis; and, second, through the “complete” text in modern spelling, with glosses and critical and textual commentary. Both of these versions of the tragicomedy engage in their own ways with the questions of political immaturity with which this I began. One presents the “immature” text, paying attention to its false starts, emendations and inconsistencies of spelling and presentation; the other presents it in a “mature” form, edited to the standards of an important scholarly edition. In both, I am responsible for mediating Fane’s text and, thereby, her voice, first through standard critical conventions of summary, analysis, and quotation, and then through editorial conventions of modernization, glossing, and commentary. My well-meaning presentation of her work in a modernized format close to that which we use for Shakespeare and other canonical writers may make her more accessible to contemporary readers, but it also obscures some aspects of her own writing process and style. Yet to leave her work in old spelling renders it distant and potentially obscure, preventing her potent version of Caroline domestic and state politics from reaching a broader audience than academic specialists.

Despite these complexities, it is crucial to recover the voices of young people in earlier periods, and their fractured, fragmentary engagements with the political structures of their day, just as it is important to support the political agency of young people in our own moment. In his 1945 meditation on the “classic,” with which I began this essay — “[a] classic can only occur when a civilisation is mature; when a language and a literature are mature; and it must be the work of a mature mind” — Eliot appears to align physical, cultural, and intellectual maturity. Yet as the history of scholarship on “minor literature,” debates over the university curriculum, our own political moment and that of Rachel Fane urgently remind us, age and maturity do not always go hand-in-hand. If we believe that we should listen to the voices of young people in our own time — and we should — we must also pay attention to those of their early modern counterparts.

Four Children of Sir Thomas Lucy III and Alice Spencer (Robert, Richard, Constance, and Margaret) (1619)



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