Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama

By Karen Raber | Go to book overview

2
Domestic Drama: The Politics of
Mary Sidney’s Antonie

I

Domestic: Of or belonging to the home, house or household
… attached to home; devoted to home life or duties; domes-
ticated.

Oxford English Dictionary

IN 1592, MARY SIDNEY HERBERT, COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE, PUBLISHED a translated tragedy, which, I argue in this chapter, attempted to claim as a source of authority and agency the domestic domain she ruled as partner in an aristocratic marriage, and which she exploited on behalf of herself and her ambitious, politically astute, and poetically gifted family. Mary Sidney’s Tragedy of Antonie is a text devoted to crossing the boundaries between country and city, between nations, between genders; it deliberately deconstructs those boundaries to further the interests of the aristocratic woman writer.

The primary boundary this chapter considers is that between the domestic space of the aristocratic household and the public spaces of city, court, and theater. Sidney’s case is of primary importance to any study of closet drama not only because she is the first, and most influential, progenitor of neo-Senecan style plays, but also because she writes at a moment of particular instability in the gendering of domestic space. Many critics, especially those who work on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature and culture, use the terminology of public and private to distinguish the locus of gendered subjectivity. Indeed, seventeenth-century England was beginning to establish the association of women with a private, intimate, domestic domain, defined by its distance from public—and hence political—life. Women were increasingly associated with home and hearth,

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