‘Th'accession of these mighty States’: Daniel's Philotas and the union of crowns



The focus of this article is upon Samuel Daniel's neo-Senecan tragedy, Philotas, a play that has been widely interpreted as a drame à clef about the fall of the Earl of Essex. This article aims to propose an additional, and hitherto overlooked, political subtext in the form of topical allusions to the new king, James I, with Alexander the Great's victory over the Persian king, Darius the Great, and the subsequent conquest of his realms, providing a fitting analogue for James's accession to the English throne. I will argue that contemporary concerns and specific events surrounding the accession – such as James's defence of divine rights, his campaign to unite the kingdoms of Britain, and the excessive number of knighthoods he awarded in the early part of his reign – are interrogated in the play's sub-plot which dramatizes Alexander's assumption of godlike status and the increasing influence of Persian subjects in Macedonian society. This reading thus shows how the play engages with more immediate political concerns alongside certain controversies left over from Elizabeth's reign.