Semester of Graduation

Spring 2021


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



This thesis analyzes and explores the role of privately sponsored religious theater and dramatic performance in the English Reformation, 1525-1553. In the sixteenth century, most theater was religious in nature, and audiences were accustomed to receiving clear moral and political messaging in the form of dramatic entertainment. Plays that were written and performed specifically for individual monarchs also include these commentaries and moral arguments, and can provide historians with significant insight into what messages were presented to monarchs. These insights are particularly illuminating in studies of the cultural progress of the English Reformation under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I. Playwrights John Bale, John Heywood, Richard Wever, and Nicholas Udall worked in close proximity to these monarchs and presented plays created for them; an examination of these plays can reveal what monarchs saw and how playwrights navigated the changing social and political world of the English Reformation as it progressed.

The plays of Bale, Heywood, Wever, and Udall also provide insight in an examination of the Reformation’s influence on English culture at the highest social levels. Playwrights continued to work in medieval traditions, particularly the morality play genre, even though these customs and structures were part of outdated religious traditions. These medieval genres and literary influences could adapt easily to a Protestant religious message while retaining their medieval character. What messages these playwrights chose to present to their monarchs, and the theatrical traditions and styles used to present them, illuminate the inner thoughts of these pivotal characters during the English Reformation.

Committee Chair

Stater, Victor