Shakespeare's Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England

Shakespeare's Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England

Shakespeare's Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England

Shakespeare's Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England


Shakespeare's Domestic Economies explores representations of female subjectivity in Shakespearean drama from a refreshingly new perspective, situating The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, and Measure for Measure in relation to early modern England's nascent consumer culture and competing conceptions of property. Drawing evidence from legal documents, economic treatises, domestic manuals, marriage sermons, household inventories, and wills to explore the realities and dramatic representations of women's domestic roles, Natasha Korda departs from traditional accounts of the commodification of women, which maintain that throughout history women have been "trafficked" as passive objects of exchange between men.

In the early modern period, Korda demonstrates, as newly available market goods began to infiltrate households at every level of society, women emerged as never before as the "keepers" of household properties. With the rise of consumer culture, she contends, the housewife's managerial function assumed a new form, becoming increasingly centered around caring for the objects of everyday life--objects she was charged with keeping as if they were her own, in spite of the legal strictures governing women's property rights. Korda deftly shows how their positions in a complex and changing social formation allowed women to exert considerable control within the household domain, and in some areas to thwart the rule of fathers and husbands.


The theater of property which we have inherited is particularly
limited in women’s parts

Donna Dickenson, Property, Women, and Politics:
Subjects or Objects? (1997)

The history of the word household reflects early modern England’s growing preoccupation with “stuff” with the goods required to maintain a proper domicile in a nascent consumer society. In addition to the more familiar and still contemporary definition of a household as “The inmates of a house collectively; an organized family, including servants or attendants, dwelling in a house,” the Oxford English Dictionary lists the following obsolete definition, which refers not to domestic subjects (husbands, wives, children, servants, etc.), but to domestic objects: “The contents or appurtenances of a house collectively; household goods, chattels, or furniture.” To illustrate this usage, the OED cites Caxton’s 1484 phrase, “Dysshes, pottes, pannes, and suche other houshold.” The early modern conception of what constituted a household was thus defined as much by objects as it was by subjects. In the sixteenth century, the English language gave birth to a new term to designate “The goods, utensils, vessels, etc. belonging to a household”: household stuff. One might wonder why such a term was needed. It was, after all, synonymous with the latter definition of households the suffixed stuff appears merely redundant, reiterating the act of possession, of keeping or holding, already latent in the latter term. An answer presents itself if we consider the increasing value and proliferation of household moveables during the period, which rendered it necessary to distinguish the household-as-container from the stuff it contained. Such a distinction helped to avoid confusion, among other things, in the transfer of property. Thus, whereas an early fifteenth-century will states simply, “Also I will that my wyffe have all my housholde [w]holy” (indicating a bequest not of the . . .

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