Recent years have seen growing interest in the literature of early modern favouritism and the poetry inspired by, and for, one of the period’s most infamous royal favourites, George Villers, duke of Buckingham. This essay explores one relevant text that has received comparatively little attention: The Emperor’s Favourite is an anonymous seventeenth-century manuscript tragedy preserved in the library of the Newdigates of Arbury Hall (MS A414). Probably written between 1627-1632?, and based on the playwright’s reading of classical authors such as Juvenal, Suetonius, and Tacitus, The Emperor’s Favourite superficially dramatizes the tragic rise and fall of Crispinus, corrupt favourite of tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero, but a series of contemporary parallels makes it clear that the play offers an oblique critique of the career of Buckingham and the Stuart court, thus tapping into topical anxieties about Buckingham’s influence and the effects of royal favouritism more generally.

Author Biography

Siobhan Keenan is a senior lecturer in English Literature at De Montfort University, Leicester (UK). She has published a number of essays on theatre history and Renaissance drama, and is the author of Travelling Players in Shakespeare’s England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) and Renaissance Literature (Edinburgh Critical Guides to Literature) (Edinburgh University Press, 2008). She has recently edited The Emperor’s Favourite (Malone Society/Manchester University Press, 2010), one of four anonymous seventeenth-century plays included in Arbury Hall MS A414.