Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Andrew Shifflett


My dissertation explores the literary origins of de factoism – the political philosophy which considers any “right” to rule inconsequential to political legitimacy. My work introduces the concept of the “anarchic will,” my term for a literary character that recognizes the growing distance between an authority’s claim to power and the material fact of that power. I locate these figures in early modern drama and epic to demonstrate how their existence threatens the traditional power structures, both on the stage and in the streets of London. I argue that anarchic wills jeopardize political order at the most basic level, in a way completely unlike traditional rebellions. The imaginative literature of early modern England is rife with examples of these anarchic wills, from Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henriad to Chaos, “that Anarch of old,” in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Rather than use de factoism to support the idea of absolutism, like Thomas Hobbes does, I conclude that de factoism produces unresolvable problems, personified in the anarchic will, which cannot coexist with absolute power.