Broken Boundaries

Broken Boundaries: Women and Feminism in Restoration Drama

Katherine M. Quinsey Editor
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Broken Boundaries
    Book Description:

    This volume of twelve original essays is the first comprehensive study of feminist issues in Restoration drama. The late seventeenth century marks a pivotal era in the history of feminism, when Renaissance assumptions about gender and patriarchy were being directly challenged. For the first time, women appeared onstage as actresses, made their presence felt as spectators and patrons, and wrote a number of the plays produced in theaters. In an unusually direct and probing way, drama of the Restoration period raised radical questions about the place of women in the family and in society, and about the essential nature of men and women. The essays examine feminist issues from a variety of historical and theoretical approaches across a spectrum of plays -- comedies, tragedies, tragicomedies, and heroic drama. By addressing the acute questions of gender raised in the drama, Broken Boundaries presents a vivid portrait of the uncertainties and changing perceptions in all areas of intellectual, political, and social life during the last decades of the seventeenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4783-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Katherine M. Quinsey

    Restoration drama is overwhelmingly concerned with questions of gender identity, sexuality, and women’s oppression, to a degree and a depth not seen in a comparably popular form of entertainment before or since. It stands out among the mainstream literary and artistic forms of its time in its unusually direct, probing, and fluid way of engaging certain radical questions: questions about the place of women in social and familial structures, about male/female relations, about the nature of women—and men—themselves. It is a remarkable index to the centrality of the “woman question” in this period that this most popular verbal...

  6. Part 1 Instruments of Propagation:: Plays by Women
    • Blacker Than Hell Creates: Pix Rewrites Othello
      (pp. 13-30)
      Jacqueline Pearson

      If Hamletwas the Shakespearean play most central to the reading and self-fashioning of readers of the Romantic period—if William Hazlitt and his contemporaries felt that “it is we who are Hamlet” (4:23-24)—then in the Restoration the play most integral to consciousness and culture wasOthello.It was the only one of Shakespeare’s major tragedies to be performed throughout the period in more or less the form that Shakespeare wrote it, with “no important variations from the original printings” (Odell 1:38), whileKing Learappeared only in the fundamentally recast form of Nahum Tate’s version (1681) andMacbeth...

    • Unmanned with Thy Words: Regendering Tragedy in Manley and Trotter
      (pp. 31-53)
      Rebecca Merrens

      Recent feminist criticism has made increasingly visible the intersections between the antifeminism of seventeenth-century tragedies and the repressive conditions of women’s lives in the early modern period (see, e.g., Brown; Jordan). Several critics have read the escalating violence against women on the Jacobean and Restoration stage as a participant in the ongoing negotiation of women’s cultural and economic positions—a process intensified by the sociopolitical instability that dominated the century. Tragedies during this period often construct women as more sinning than sinned against and, thereby, locate them as sources of sociopolitical turmoil. Peter Stallybrass argues, for instance, that female characters...

    • In the Carnival World of Adam’s Garden: Roving and Rape in Behn’s Rover
      (pp. 54-70)
      Dagny Boebel

      Gayatri Spivak represents the development oflanguage as a “fall.” In language, which is binarily structured, she notes, “the superior term belongs to presence and the logos; the inferior serves to define its status and mark a fall” (lxix). The task, Spivak writes, is to “revers[e] and displac[e] the binaries, which constitute a violent hierarchy .... To deconstruct the oppositions is first . . . to overthrow the hierarchy” (lxxvii). This analysis of binaries serves as grounds for the liberation of discourse in Aphra Behn’sThe Rover.Behn in 1677 transformed the setting of Thomas Killigrew’s 1654 closet dramaThomasofrom...

    • Closure and Subversion in Behn’s Comedies
      (pp. 71-88)
      Peggy Thompson

      Early in her monumental struggle with Lovelace, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa wonders “how it will end.” For the rest of the novel, she and her tormentor fight to control the conclusion of their drama. Clarissa, who is greatly moved while viewingVenice Preserved,insists that all violations of the human spirit and body be taken seriously, that their destructive effects be recognized. Lovelace, who must feign being touched by Thomas Otway’s tragedy, prefers and expects an “end” to their struggle more typical of romantic comedy, an end in which all conflicts are simply erased by marriage. “And what is that injury...

    • Lady Fulbank and the Poet’s Dream in Behn’s Lucky Chance
      (pp. 89-110)
      Robert A. Erickson

      The development of English drama in the seventeenth century may be seen as the gradual opening andemergenceof a female space of performance. From the Elizabethan “inner stage,” used for intimate, often secret or sexual representations, to the whole intricate and colorful within-doors elaboration of the masque in which aristocratic women were performing long before 1660, to the final consolidation of the enclosed Restoration stage housed within a theater, women came out of the darkness into fullness of theatrical being. Put another way, as the Elizabethan open theater contracted to the more intimate enclosed space of the Restoration theater,...

  7. Part 2 Chased Desire:: Women and Feminism in Plays by Men
    • Tupping Your Rival’s Women: Cit-Cuckolding as Class Warfare in Restoration Comedy
      (pp. 113-128)
      J. Douglas Canfield

      In war—from the mythical past the Trojan War to today’s all-too-real postcolonial conflicts—conquerors and conquered alike have attempted to demonstrate dominance over their rivals not just by fancied but by actual tupping of their opponents’ women. I choose the verbtuppingnot only because of its Renaissance and Restoration reverberations, especially germane to my topic, but also because of its connotations of animal behavior and of the brutal sexual dominance implied bytopping,or climbing on top. Slavenka Drakulic’s poignant description of systematic rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina gets to the heart of the psychology: an attempt to destroy the...

    • Almahide Still Lives: Feminine Will and Identity in Dryden’s Conquest of Granada
      (pp. 129-149)
      Katherine M. Quinsey

      John Dryden’s playThe Conquest of Granadadoes not immediately strike the mind as a feminist critique of male domination. Its main female characters embody the extremes of traditional myths of the good and evil of woman, and its hero’s name was a byword for bombast on the Restoration stage well before the play’s first appearance in print.¹ The play attempts an essentialist redefinition of patriarchy and kingship, opposing them to a shifting pattern of revolution and counterrevolution wherein the position of king and husband and father is shown to be untenable as exercised by word of law, and wherein...

    • Resisting a Private Tyranny in Two Humane Comedies
      (pp. 150-163)
      James E. Evans

      Let the business be carried as Prudently as it can be on the Woman’s side, a reasonable Man can’t deny that she has by much the harder bargain. Because she puts her self entirely into her Husband’s Power, and if the Matrimonial Yoke be grievous, neither Law nor Custom afford her that redress which a Man obtains .... For whatever may be said against Passive-Obedience in another Case, I suppose there’s no Man but likes it very well in this; how much soever Arbitrary Power may be dislik’d on a Throne, notMiltonhimself wou’d cry up Liberty to poor...

    • The Way of the Word: Telling Differences in Congreve’s Way of the World
      (pp. 164-182)
      Pat Gill

      Wiliam Congreve’sThe Double Dealer(1693) met with critical acclaim but not popular success. Anthony G. Henderson, the editor of the 1982 Cambridge edition of Congreve’s plays, suggests that Congreve’s added dedication, in which he “hectored his critics, and defended in particular his use of soliloquy, the character of his hero, and his satire on women,” further antagonized an already unreceptive audience (93). In this dedication Congreve disingenuously confesses:

      But there is one thing at which I am more concerned than all the false Criticisms that are made upon me; and that is, some of the Ladies are offended. I...

  8. Part 3 The Gaze Reversed:: Theory and History of Performance
    • Rape, Voyeurism, and the Restoration Stage
      (pp. 185-200)
      Jean I. Marsden

      The advent of actresses upon the Restoration stage revolutionized English drama, creating a new climate for sexual display. One extreme form that such display took in the last two decades of the seventeenth century was a new emphasis on the representation of rape. Scenes of rape, carefully staged and lovingly detailed, became a new and erotically potent element of Restoration drama, appearing with particular frequency in the serious drama of the period. Attempted rapes are absent in Shakespeare—the rape of Lavinia inTitus Andronicusoccurs offstage, so that the spectator sees only the gory aftermath—and relatively rare in...

    • Reading Masks: The Actress and the Spectatrix in Restoration Shakespeare
      (pp. 201-218)
      Laura J. Rosenthal

      Samuel Pepys left an invaluable diary full of insights about male spectatorship in the early Restoration. Later in the seventeenth century, Jeremy Collier and scores of others debated the pleasures and dangers of stage plays. While no female diarist has left us the minute observation of a Pepys and no female polemicist the diatribes of a Collier, women playwrights, as criticism has begun to illuminate, also struggled with the erotic, ethical, and political issues raised by the specularized female body. Margaret Cavendish, the duchess of Newcastle, for example, became so mesmerized by a woman player that she rented quarters near...

    • Sticks and Rags, Bodies and Brocade: Essentializing Discourses and the Late Restoration Playhouse
      (pp. 219-234)
      Cynthia Lowenthal

      The late Restoration playhouse was filed with women—women playwrights, women performers, and women spectators. David Roberts disturbs many of the old assumptions about the nature of the late seventeenth-century audience when he constructs a full picture of the Restoration playhouse that was “rich indeed”: in attendance could have been lady’s companions and maidservants; female relatives of members of Parliament, professional men, and merchants; royal mistresses, duchesses, and the wives of the aristocracy; and a “conspicuous minority of women of all classes” who disguised themselves at the theater (94). The powerful influence of these female spectators, especially upper-class women, is...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 235-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-245)