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Tudor play uncovered by Sussex researcher pops up at Universities UK showcase

The past explored: 'Ideas of Foreignness in an Age of Expansion' is being performed as part of Universities Week 2014

An Elizabethan play rediscovered by a University of Sussex English professor is being performed by students this week at a London showcase to highlight the best of UK university research.

A Dialogue, which dramatises the fictional visit of  a messenger from the Emperor of China to Queen Elizabeth I, was unearthed by Professor Matthew Dimmock in Oxford’s Bodleian Library while researching people’s understanding of the wider world during the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Now the ‘knock-about’ comedy, which Professor Dimmock has adapted for a modern audience as part of a project titled Ideas of Foreignness in an Age of Expansion, is being performed by University of Sussex students from 9-11 June at the Natural History Museum as part of Universities Week 2014.

Professor Dimmock says: “The play was commissioned by Elizabeth’s chief minister Robert Cecil and was performed to her just the once in 1602 to mark her visit to Cecil’s house in the Strand in London. It has lain neglected and unperformed ever since.

“It was common practice for plays of this nature to be performed to Elizabeth to celebrate her grace, her learning, and her fame and reputation abroad.  This was how her courtiers demonstrated their loyalty and affection for her. She was often depicted as a goddess.”

The plays were usually accompanied by a gift. In this case it is likely that the queen received a cloak, decorated with embroidered ears and eyes to symbolise fame, which is shown in the famous Rainbow Portrait in Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

While the Tudor period was a time of great exploration and curiosity about other countries and cultures, Professor Dimmock points out that China was still a distant place of “myth and legend” at the time A Dialogue was written.

“The play celebrates the arrival of letters from the Emperor of China that express admiration for Queen Elizabeth and request her friendship.  But it was based on a lie. No such letters had ever arrived in England. However, the English were keen to establish a link with the Chinese Emperor, who they understood to have tremendous wealth and power, and who presided over an advanced culture that produced silks, porcelain and metalwork so fine that it was assumed to be magical.”

The 10-minute performances by Sussex students Cara Dawson, Francesca Croft and William Dalziel, will ‘pop up’ during 9-11 June at the Natural History Museum. The Universities UK showcase, which runs in the Darwin Centre at the museum from 9-13 June, also features a range of especially selected displays, debates and demonstrations by staff and students at 47 of the UK’s universities. 

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, says: “The aim of Universities Week is to inspire the public about the world-leading research taking place in our universities.

“Led by some of the top researchers in the UK, the event at the Natural History Museum will be a fantastic showcase for UK higher education.  By hosting this free-to-attend and high-profile event, we hope that members of the public will be inspired and will leave having learned something new about how universities are helping to solve some of the UK’s, and the world’s, biggest challenges.”

Notes for editors

For more information about the the event during Universities Week, click here

Universities Week 2014 is run by Universities UK, the representative body for all UK universities with Research Councils UK, The Higher Education Funding Council for England and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. A full list of activities and events taking place can be found at

University of Sussex Press Office: Contact Jacqui Bealing, 01273 678888,

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 10 June 2014