Prostitution in Elizabethan and Jacobean Comedy

Prostitution in Elizabethan and Jacobean Comedy

Prostitution in Elizabethan and Jacobean Comedy

Prostitution in Elizabethan and Jacobean Comedy

Synopsis

"By examining the changing attitudes toward 'the oldest profession,' Professor Haselkorn is able fully to document the changes in Renaissance society; by focusing on the whore she is able to discover a great deal about attitudes towards women in general and toward marriage (which is sometimes regarded as the whore's salvation) and other institutions...."--Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

Excerpt

In opposition to Puritan and Liberal approaches, the Cavalier attitude toward the prostitute was generally "light"--a good- natured cynicism which expected nothing in the way of reform, was uncaring about her condition, and often made the harlot the butt of low comedy. In the Cavalier comedies the portrayal of the punk ranges from that of a foolish female, treated contemptuously or satirically, to one drawn with a larger share of individuality, ambition and pluck. There are many examples of the disdainfully treated whore in the Cavalier drama, such as Sue Short-heels in A Match at Midnight (Rowley), Doll in The Coxcomb (Beaumont and Fletcher), and Constantia in The Chances (Fletcher), but this chapter will generally focus upon the more fully drawn Cavalier portrayals of fallen women in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, The Alchemist and Epicoene; Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Henry IV, Part II, All's Well that Ends Well, Pericles; and Marston's The Dutch Courtesan.

BEN JONSON

The Cavalier vision seems to lie behind Ben Jonson's depiction of the strumpet in his comedies, insofar as she is portrayed as no more immoral--possibly far less--than the married woman who cuckolds her husband and covers her indulgences under the umbrella of marriage. Jonson presents Dol Common, in The Alchemist, as an attractive, intelligent, witty prostitute whose profession, nevertheless, destines her to an ignominious existence; whereas respectably married Mrs.Littlewit and Mrs. Overdo, in Bartholomew Fair, play at prostitution and their none-the-wiser, cuckolded husbands continue to accord them . . .

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