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

By Karen Raber | Go to book overview

5
Margaret Cavendish’s Playes and the
Drama of Authority

ELIZABETHAN AND JACOBEAN CLOSET DRAMA SHARED BOTH THE Senecan style and a constellation of political and class interests. Early Renaissance closet drama required a fairly extensive humanist education in its practitioners, as well as a commitment, signaled by Philip Sidney’s praise of Gorboduc in the Apology for Poetry, to the values of humanism in literary and political service. The closet drama of the mid-seventeenth century, although it continued to serve specific class and political interests, is in contrast created by a single social and political event—the closing of the theaters in 1642. Because there was no stage on which to perform plays, every piece of dramatic writing produced in England during the civil war years was by necessity a closet drama.1 Rather than self-consciously developing a generic difference meant to promote specific ideological concerns in relationship to the theater and its connections with both court and citizenry, many of the closet plays of the Interregnum thus react to their removal from theatricality as part of a broad spectrum of political, social, and material disjunctions. Further, class distinctions that inform sixteenth-century views of the stage and its patrons have, after the long and close relationship between the Stuart court and the theater, changed. Whereas, for instance, a writer like Mary Sidney rejects the theater in order to affirm mutually legitimizing ideologies of elitism and female authorship, Margaret Cavendish achieves the same end precisely by embracing prewar Stuart theatrical history and tradition. The manner in which Cavendish’s plays defend and even celebrate the aristocratic social and political concerns of prewar theatrical production places her work in the company of such staunch royalists as her own husband, who authored portions of many of her plays, and Thomas Killigrew, their compatriot and fellow exile whose closet dramas also attempt to justify a way of

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