Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2. (Oct., 1973), pp. 61-76.


I WISH TO TRACE an essential likeness between two seemingly
dissimilar plays: the Catholic, twelfth-century German Antichristus
and the rabidly Protestant, sixteenth-century English play, John
Bale’s Kyng Johan. The former, in its deep-rooted concern over the
collective welfare of the state as embodied in its monarch’s wellbeing,
exploits conventions normally associated with the morality
play. The same materials inherent in the legend of Antichrist reappear
in a slightly altered form in Kyng Johan, also in support of
monarchy. The similarities between these two plays in characterization,
plotting, and in fundamental propositions are striking, and
these resemblances, in my view, can be traced back to the central
importance of kingship within the Antichrist legend. By tapping into
such a tradition, Bale is able to convert the cosmic struggle between
vices and virtues over the soul of an individual believer into something
approaching exemplar history. Examining the struggles of a
particular king to maintain his sovereignty in the face of increasing
foreign interference by the papacy, Bale reveals some emerging
notions of kingship in Reformation England, thereby demonstrating
to his countrymen the continued usefulness of the history play.