A Liar Tells the Truth: the Dramatic Function of the Vice in Cambises

  • Francesco Dall'Olio Verona


The nature of the Vice’s function in Thomas Preston’s Cambises (1560-1561) is one of the most mysterious and fascinating aspects of this early Elizabethan tragedy. In presenting a new take on the subject, this paper considers some aspects of the figure neglected in previous studies, which set this character apart from others of the same kind. These include the limits imposed by Preston to his role, resulting in the Vice being ‘substituted’ by the tyrant as the source of evil in the play, and the odd sincerity of the critique to Cambises’ rule he expresses in his soliloquies, which is in tune with both literary tradition and the opinion of other positive characters. On these grounds, the paper offers an interpretation of the Vice’s role as a character used by Preston to openly convey the message at the core of the play, the condemnation of the legitimate king turned tyrant: a message that, by the time the tragedy was being written, was a dangerous one to openly utter.