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

By Karen Raber | Go to book overview

6
Conclusion: Closets and Stages of
the Restoration

DURING HER EXILE, MARGARET CAVENDISH USED THE COLLAPSE OF social and political structures to assert her own right to participate in dramatic discourse. She made her own husband complicit in her achievement, offering a Faustian bargain—for the affirmation of his values and of prewar aristocratic ideologies generally, she stole his soul, making him “subject to her pen.” Cavendish’s closet dramas exploit a complex and historically different set of relationships between elite literary culture, gender, and theater from those that Mary Sidney negotiates in her early neo-Senecan plays. The implications of domesticity Sidney resists in the 1590s are solidified throughout the 1600s. Women’s place becomes ever more firmly circumscribed within the home—not the grand, public household of the Elizabethan era, but the comforting, familiar, ideologically loaded world of heart and hearth. Yet the boundaries between household and state are breached in some materially absolute ways by the events of the civil war when homes and castles are sacked and women take arms against the invaders. Political theorists during the civil war and Interregnum describe new, more potent interdependencies of the private and public spheres—Puritanism, in the most general sense, affirmed the intensely political function of conscience, for example, and even such a private activity as reading became increasingly politically subversive during the Interregnum. While these changes in part inspire Cavendish’s willingness to imagine women as real military heroes (quite unlike the metaphoric status of Killigrew’s amazons), they also suggest reasons for the limits to her plays’ delineation of women’s power in a “restored” kingdom. Once the forces of faction are defeated, some shoring up of prewar structures must occur, or aristocratic values will have no framework for political enforcement, no source of continued social validity.

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