Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England

Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England

Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England

Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England

Synopsis

"According to Holinshed's Chronicles, Thomas Arden was murdered by his wife, her lover, and several accomplices in 1551. Holinshed apologizes for including in his state history what seems to be "but a private matter," although at the same time he asserts that the "horribleness" of the act justifies public retelling. Alice Arden's crime was popularized in Arden of Feversham (1592), a play that initiated the genre of domestic tragedy and thrust private conflict onto the stage of public discourse. Weaving a complex tapestry out of intellectual history and literary analysis, Lena Cowen Orlin examines how the private issues of contentious marital relations and household governance became public - through conduct manuals, sermons, political tracts, and philosophical treatises, as well as domestic tragedies - in the culture of post-Reformation England. Orlin first draws on rich archival evidence in telling the story of the Ardens. Although Arden of Feversham fulfilled the conservative project of confirming patriarchal authority in the home at a time of social upheaval, Orlin finds that later domestic tragedies such as A Woman Killed with Kindness and Othello were less predictable in their aims. And while other forms of public literature provided blueprints for ordering the household, domestic tragedies continued to reveal the tensions lying under the surface there: inconsistencies in the prescribed role of women, contradictions within patriarchal ideology, conflicts between political and economic interests in the household, inadequacies in the old ideals of friendship and benefice, and anxieties about the control of material possessions." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Thomas Arden, known in his own time as Ardern, a gentleman of Faversham in Kent, was murdered in 1551. According to the Faversham Wardmote Book, his killers included his wife, Alyce; her lover, Thomas Morsby; and eight other conspirators. the crime became widely known outside Faversham when this official verdict, much amplified, was transmitted in two other contemporary records: Holinshed 's 1577 Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland and an anonymous play of 1592 based onHolinshed and titled The Lamentable and True Tragedy of Master Arden of Feversham in Kent . Who was most wickedly murdered, by the means of his disloyal and wanton wife (see figure 2). To reopen an investigation into this murder is to operate for the most part independently of—and in many respects against the grain of—the received tradition of chronicle and playscript. But these two redactions of the story remain crucial to the ways in which Ardern's case history advances my thesis concerning the place of the private in early modern England.

The murder of Thomas Ardern placed on the public agenda issues of private contention and consequence, in this way contributing to the reconceptualization of what we would call "private life" in the wake of the Reformation. One public site was the 1592 theatricalization of the story. the other and inaugural site was Ardern's incorporation into Holinshed's narrative, even despite the chronicler's evident unease about interrupting a history of matters of state for an account that is "but a private matter":

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