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'Household Business'

'Household Business': Domestic Plays of Early Modern England

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    'Household Business'
    Book Description:

    Household Businesstraces the genre's origins in the cycle plays of medieval England and examines its aesthetic configurations in relation to extra-literary discourses and practices that underwrote Renaissance ideologies of private life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2108-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    The English domestic play originates on the popular stage towards the end of the sixteenth century. Its literary roots are predominantly native rather than classical, and its mainspring is the presentation of domestic conflict among English characters drawn chiefly from the non-aristocratic ranks of society: merchants, housewives, labourers, farmers, shopkeepers. The prologues and epilogues often stress that the plays are fashioning a dramatic form which differs from classical or aristocratic models. ‘Look for no glorious state,’ advises the Prologue of Thomas Heywood’sA Woman Killed with Kindness(1603), ‘our Muse is bent / Upon a barren subject, a bare scene’...

  5. 1 Medieval and Tudor Contexts
    (pp. 27-48)

    Domestic drama has its roots in the literary and cultural traditions of the Middle Ages. While the development of the genre out of the morality play has been widely observed, it is also indebted to other medieval dramatic forms. The oldest analogue of the domestic murder play is ‘Dux Moraud,’ fragment of a fourteenth-century English play. The subject is the story of Apollonius of Tyre and his daughter, a victim of paternal incest. After murdering her mother and daughter at the behest of Apollonius, she murders her father for later abandoning her. Journeying to a foreign land, she continues her...

  6. 2 Fashioning Marriage Codes: Sixteenth-Century Griseldas
    (pp. 49-64)

    The sixteenth-century adaptations of the Griselda legend combine a number of features that are central to the domestic play; these include the trials of the patient wife, the theme of romantic love in marriage, and the tension between private life and public authority.¹ Among the extant sixteenth-century versions, Phillip’s hybrid morality,² the ballad ‘Of Patient Grissel,’ and the 1599Patient Grissilby Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton retain only marginally the symbolic structures of their medieval analogues. Rather than allegorizing the afflicted soul’s progression towards virtue, Griselda’s trials assume a broader social and political significance. The new emphasis is introduced by...

  7. 3 Domestic Tragedy and Private Life
    (pp. 65-109)

    Domestic tragedy flourished during a time when early modern England was undergoing a severe crisis of order. The 1599Patient Grissil, we have seen, speaks to the tensions that contradicted the dominant view of the well-regulated family sustained by companionate marriage. ‘Marital disharmony and unhappiness,’ writes Ralph Houlbrooke, ‘were very widespread according to contemporary observers, indeed commoner than mutual affection or contentment in the view of some.’¹ Disorder in the family was also evinced by numerous case histories of adultery and bigamy; the rise in the number of illegitimate children, which reached a peak between 1590 and 1610; the increasing...

  8. 4 ‘Retrograde and Preposterous’: Staging the Witch/Wife Dyad
    (pp. 110-131)

    An important juncture in the evolution of domestic drama is the emergence of plays dealing with the effects of witchcraft on English communities and, more specifically, on English households.¹ The two extant examples of domestic witch plays are both tragicomedies: Dekker, Ford and Rowley’sThe Witch of Edmonton(1621) and Heywood and Brome’sThe Late Lancashire Witches(1634). In subject matter these texts share the domestic murder plays’ interest in contemporary reportage and the cult of domesticity. The last of the surviving murder plays,The Witch of Edmonton, stages a recent contemporary event, namely the execution of Elizabeth Sawyer for...

  9. 5 Developments in Comedy
    (pp. 132-146)

    Between 1600 and 1608 five comedies performed in the public theatres reconstruct the Tudor Prodigal Son plots by focusing on the fall and redemption of profligate husbands and the trials of the patient wife. These comedies also retain the superstructure of domestic tragedy. Alfred Harbage has observed that ‘the “homiletic tragedies” in which adultery leads to disaster are overwhelmed ... by what might be called, with equal justice, the “homiletic comedies” where a woman’s constancy saves the day.’¹How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad(generally attributed to Thomas Heywood),²The Fair Maid of Bristow, The...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 147-152)

    WhenThe Late Lancashire Witcheswas published in 1634 domestic drama was already in decline. The waning of the genre’s popularity coincides with widespread changes in dramatic fashion and taste, and with increasing social stratification.¹ Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, those plays specifically concerned with domestic conflict increasingly conform to the popular drama of manners with its emphasis on the illicit love duel. In the drama of the Restoration, domestic themes are subsumed within the satirical game of love. The satire revolves around marriage as the catalyst of disorder, although in the end characters usually forgo intrigue in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-196)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 197-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-238)