The Cheese and the Welsh: Foreigners in Elizabethan Literature
Growing national consciousness in England was not paralleled by any real change in perception of foreigners in literature; here, if one considers either stereotypical or more realistic portrayals, the role of foreigners remained traditional and the attitude of writers was far removed from cultural nationalism. Writers of pamphlets and travel books were influenced by long-standing traditions of the portrayal of foreign stereotypes in literature, images which continued to be used by dramatists and poets for either comic or moral effect, for example in the ‘casket scene’ in The Merchant of Venice, which also makes particular use of the Jewish stereotype. One of the commonest national stereotypes in both fact and fiction was the Flemish drunkard; Welshness' was often put to comic effect; and Henry V exploits humourously the English perception of the French language. There was little connection between literary representations of foreigners and official diplomatic relations with their countries. Religion was always more important than race in determining attitudes, but a nascent racism can be observed.