Separation Scenes: Domestic Drama in Early Modern England

Separation Scenes: Domestic Drama in Early Modern England

Separation Scenes: Domestic Drama in Early Modern England

Separation Scenes: Domestic Drama in Early Modern England


This analysis of five exemplary domestic plays--the anonymous Arden of Faversham and A Warning for Fair Women (1590s), Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1607), Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women (ca. 1613), and Walter Mountfort's T he Launching of the Mary, or The Seaman's Honest Wife (1632)--offers a new approach to the emerging ideology of the private and public, or what Ann C. Christensen terms "the tragedy of the separate spheres." Feminist scholarship has identified the fruitful gaps between theories and practices of household government in early modern Europe, while work on the global Renaissance attends to commercial expansion, cross-cultural encounters, and colonial settlements. Separation Scenes brings these critical concerns together to expose the intimate and disruptive relationships between the domestic culture and business culture of early modern England.

Separation Scenes argues that domestic plays make the absence of husbands for business the subject of tragedy by focusing not on where men traveled but on whom and what they left behind. Elements that critics have rightly associated with domestic tragedy--adultery, sensational murders, and the lavishly articulated operations of domestic life--define this world, which, Christensen argues, was equally shaped by the absence of husbands. Her interpretations of these domestic plays invite us to historicize and further complicate the seemingly universal binary between a feminine "private sphere" and a masculine "public sphere."

Separation Scenes demonstrates how domestic drama played an active, dynamic, and critical role in deliberating the costs of commercial travel as it disrupted domestic conduct and prompted realignments within the home.


“Fond Chimny Cricket know that travailes way
Is danger, and adventure: and no play.”
—BAPTIST goodall, The Tryall of Travell

“whereas for the man, the house is not so much a
place he enters as a place he comes out of, movement
inwards properly befits the woman.”
—PIERRE bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice

With their husbands halfway out the door, wives in domestic drama implore them to delay business and stay home, sometimes in earnest, more often not, and always in vain. Bianca begs Leantio for “[b]ut this one night” in Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton (1.3.49); Anne Frankford frets, “I hope your business craves no such dispatch / That you must ride tonight” in Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (11.57–58); and Alice Arden assents, “Yet if thy business be of great import, / Go if thou wilt; I’ll bear it as I may” (Arden of Faversham 1.402–3). the husbands leave, the wives commit adultery, and murder (or other forms of violence and death) follows. the absent-husband scenario is a familiar and a seemingly timeless narrative formula, with sometimes comic, sometimes tragic endings. Consider the enduring stories of men who leave wives and families behind as they are called to war or to sea, held in captivity or marooned, driven to mobility by poverty, persecution, enslavement, or their own wanderlust. From the . . .

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