Domestic life and domestic tragedy in early modern England

Domestic life and domestic tragedy in early modern England: The material life of the household

Catherine Richardson
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Domestic life and domestic tragedy in early modern England
    Book Description:

    In a theatre which self-consciously cultivated its audiences’ imagination, how and what did playgoers ‘see’ on the stage? This book reconstructs one aspect of that imaginative process. It considers a range of printed and documentary evidence - the majority previously unpublished - for the way ordinary individuals thought about their houses and households. It then explores how writers of domestic tragedies engaged those attitudes to shape their representations of domesticity. It therefore offers a new method for understanding theatrical representations, based around a truly interdisciplinary study of the interaction between literary and historical methods. The plays she cites include Arden of Faversham, Two Lamentable Tragedies, A Woman Killed With Kindness, and A Yorkshire Tragedy.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-187-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on the text
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    Imagine, for a moment, what it might be like to be sitting in the hall of an early modern house. Say it is timber-framed, three storeys high, the upper floors jettied out over the street in front. What are you sitting on? Is it an old ‘turned’ chair with arms and a back ‘by the fyer sid’, or one of several stools around the table, or a bench along the wall?² Are you sitting on the hard oak or, if you reach down to touch the seat, do you feel a cushion? Perhaps it is one ‘of crymson velvett, and...

  7. 1 ‘My narrow-prying neighbours blab’: moral perceptions of the early modern household
    (pp. 26-63)

    In late sixteenth-century England, domestic life became the subject of scrutiny: just whatwasthe household, how might it be made to further God’s intentions for the world, what ideals should govern conduct within it?¹ Early modern society responded to these questions eagerly, insistently and at length. Homilies, political tracts, sermons, advice literature, ballads, jests and of course plays sought, and questioned, the answers. The results of such investigations informed the moral standards which underpinned legal interest in appropriate behaviour, especially the anxieties about moral honesty and personal reputation which structured the concerns of the ecclesiastical courts.²

    The broad outline...

  8. 2 ‘Choose thee a bed and hangings for a chamber; Take with thee everything that hath thy mark’: objects and spaces in the early modern house
    (pp. 64-103)

    Reconstructing the moral dynamics of household spaces leaves half the story of domestic life untold, of course. Every room that was crossed and every door that was shut enclosed the objects which made spaces into houses. Early modern men and women had a great deal invested in the possessions they used in their daily lives. The things with which their households were furnished were caught up in what Keith Wrightson has called the ‘recasting of the economic world’, a reorientation towards a market economy.¹ Wealth was often invested in objects, but it was alsodisplayedthrough objects. They articulated social...

  9. 3 Arden of Faversham
    (pp. 104-127)

    Arden of Favershamis a seductive play with which to begin to trace the relationship between images of the household and domestic dramas. It is a strikingly material play, in the sense that it insists upon the significance of its locations, pointedly naming places and linguistically producing spaces on the stage. The place in which events occur generates, shapes, affects or complicates action. Human agency is firmly located in the materiality of its surroundings: individuals are brought face to face with the social forces which shape and control the places in which their lives are lived.¹

    Ardenbegins with a...

  10. 4 Two Lamentable Tragedies
    (pp. 128-149)

    The visibility of the print of Arden’s body on the land behind his house for ‘two years or more’ functions, fairly self-consciously in Franklin’s Epilogue, as a metaphor for the moral operation of tragedies. It offers the audience a suggestively material example of how they might begin to interpret the significance of the story they have just witnessed: of how individual events gain a wider visibility, how individuals’ stories become narratives of public significance.

    Although the major source forArdenwas undoubtedly Holinshed, the play was, as Lena Orlin has shown, also related to ballads of the events of his...

  11. 5 A Woman Killed With Kindness
    (pp. 150-174)

    Heywood’sA Woman Killed With Kindnessis a very different kind of domestic tragedy fromArdenorTwo Lamentable Tragedies. It is not based on a historical narrative and its only gestures towards geographical particularity are a few mentions of York and Yorkshire.¹ There is no murder, and hence none of the accompanying tense frustrations of murder’s prelude or aftermath and little of the temporal tightness with which long hours of anticipation are stretched in the other plays.² Neither are the social tensions of competition between men quite the same in Heywood’s play. It is not only that Wendoll has...

  12. 6 A Yorkshire Tragedy
    (pp. 175-192)

    The deathbed scene which endsA Woman Killed With Kindnessprovides a stabilising image of the continuity of ideals of behaviour within the household and of the families which sustain these ideals. Such endurance is, however, unusual for a domestic tragedy, unique to Anne’s distinctively ‘natural’ death. When Pandino and Armenia enter ‘sicke on a bed’ inTwo Lamentable Tragediesthe dynamic of intergenerational continuity is suggested by this strong visual symbol, only to be immediately undercut by Fallerio’s spoken intentions. The murderous brother has to be taught a more fitting morality by his own son, in a move which...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-205)

    In the first major book on these plays, Henry Hitch Adams argued that the realism of domestic tragedies ‘made the moral lesson effective by illustrating, directly in terms of the experiences of the audience, the punishments for sin’.¹ This book has been an attempt to unpick the ways in which that realism might have engaged the experiences of the plays’ first audiences, through a reconstruction of attitudes towards house and household and an extended consideration of staging practices.

    In part at least, this has necessitated an argument about theatrical absence. The opening chapters have reconstructed the extra-theatrical significance of domestic...

  14. Appendices
    (pp. 206-216)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-231)
  16. Index
    (pp. 232-235)