Date of Award

Summer 7-1-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Shirilan, Stephanie


Espionage, Intelligencer, Jonson, Labor, Shakespeare, Spies

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | European History | History | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation, "Hell's Black Intelligencers: Representing Clandestine Labor on the Early Modern Stage," builds upon critical scholarship pertaining to early modern service and political theory to interrogate the imagined economic and social functions of clandestine service in the plays of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Webster. Drawing heavily on the works of András Kiséry, David Schalkwyk, Elizabeth Rivlin, and Michael Neill, I look at the exchange of service between spy and spymaster as an accumulation of social and cultural capital. Thinking through spying in this light, this dissertation explores how playwrights represent these service relationships which fall outside of systems of patronage-driven reward. Focusing on the labor of clandestine laborers, a category which I theorize as kinds of servants whose invisibility is the result of conscious craft rather than ideological erasure, I track a political and social dissatisfaction with the promises of social and economic advancement through the performance of government service.Focusing on stage representations of intelligencers and spies, this dissertation looks at the ways in which these plays serve as a form of political education for early modern theatrical audiences. Most scholarship on the theatrical spy has emphasized these stagings through a moral lens, exploring how spies and spying became convenient ways to display decay in social and moral character. My project instead looks at plays that foreground the intelligencer as an instrumental agent existing in a master-servant relationship, operating as an extension of their master's will. Further, I emphasize the economic and social incentives promised to intelligencers in exchange for their labor. In this way, the dissertation emphasizes broader histories of work and state service labor, particularly the ways in which the figure of the spy intersects with other political agents, such as ambassadors and diplomats. Drawing on recent scholarship on early modern service, particularly the work of Timothy Hampton and the New Diplomatic History movement, that examines what it means to "serve" one's government in the early modern world, my dissertation looks at the performance of service as an attempt to accumulate cultural and social capital, intended to demonstrate one's worth and value to the state. My dissertation argues that these stage representations were key in providing theater going audiences with a language in which they could understand, discuss, and demonstrate knowledge about the inner workings of state power and the newly expanding public vision of statecraft and government policy.


Open Access

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