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Shakespeare, Molly House Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Stage Charles Conaway "Toplease some Friends—and draw the Vulgarin" I. Local Constructions of Literary and Cultural Authority In the early months of 1716, after word leaked out from the rival play house at DruryLane that Charles Johnsonwas atworkon The Cobler ofPreston, a two-act farcical afterpiece adapted from Shakespeare's Induction in The Tamingofthe Shrew, Christopher Bullock, in an effort to upstage the playwright at Drury Lane, rushed to the stage of Lincoln's Inn Fields his own farcical afterpiece, also based on the Induction from The Taming ofthe Shrew, and also titled The Cobler ofPreston. James Spiller,the actor who portrayed Bullock's Christopher Sly character, may have helped Bullock pull offsuch a coup.According to George Akerby's pamphlet,Spilier'sJests(1729),BullockreceivednewsofJohnson'sproject through illicit means when Spiller picked the pocket of William Pinkethman,an actor at the rival playhouse,thus obtaining a copyofthe lead role in Johnson's farce.1 Akerby's account of Spiller and the purloined playscript is widely held to be spurious, however, in part at least because other stories about Spiller—such as the claim that he delivered an epilogue while riding an elephant—remain unsubstantiated,but alsobecause Bullock's farcebears little to no resemblance to Johnson's, which is predominantly concerned with the class and political aspirations of early-eighteenth-century Jacobites. Bullock's farce makes no reference to the 1715 Jacobite uprising in Preston. Rather,Bullockuseshis adaptation ofShakespeare to ridicule the notion that men can tame their wives, burlesque companionate 401 402ComparativeDrama marital relations by suggesting that spousal affections can be cheaply bought and sold,and demystify dominant,heteronormative assumptions about sex, gender, and desire by employing a nearly all-male adult cast that replicates the same-sex subculture of the early-eighteenth-century molly house. Bullock's Cobler not only burlesques, in typical farce-like fashion, traditional notions about marriage and sexuality,but it also embraces its status as a segment of lower-class culture, unabashedly announcing its position in the marketplace when it explicitly states in its prologue that its aim is "To please some Friends—and draw the Vulgar in," and suggesting ,in its enthusiasm for thatstatus,thatlower-class culture is not,as cultural elitists wouldhave us believe,a denigrated culture.2 Building on Laurence Senelick's claim that, in order to ensure its own respectability, the eighteenth-century English stage gradually leached sexuality from its depiction ofsodomites,I argue thatBullock's farceequatesheteronormative interests with elite culture and attacks them both. At the same time, Bullock explicitly attributes to' Shakespeare an ownership interest in the intellectual property ofhis text not in order to try to elevate the literary and cultural status ofthe farce, but to convince the eighteenth-century theatergoing audience that he did not steal from his rival,Charles Johnson. Rather, Bullockclaims inhis preface,he"made use of" Shakespeare.3 Instead of relying on Shakespeare's literary and cultural authority to prop itself up, then, The Cobler ofPreston locates Shakespeare's literary authority in the "popular" and constructs his culturalauthority againsttheheteronormativepolitics ofthe elite and in line with the sexual identity and desires of the molly house. In this instance , we can say that Shakespeare's literary and cultural authority expanded during the eighteenth centuryneither because his texts spoke to any sort ofuniversal human condition nor because they were necessarily appropriated by dominant nationalist interests, but rather through the local concerns with the politics ofsex, gender, and desire, as well as the questions about literary and cultural authority that his Shrew was used to address. Charles Conaway403 IL Hussies,Whores, and Saucy Queens Bullock's hero, renamed Toby Guzzle, is a drunkard cobbler who is first seen mutteringto himselfwhile stumblinghome after a night ofrevelry. His wife Dorcas is outraged that herhusband, a"drunken Beast," is only "reeling home but now": Dorcas:I'll makeyou changeyour Course ofLife: I did not marryyou for this, you idle Rogue; 'tis well known I had twenty good Pounds to my Portion, Sirrah, Sirrah. Guzzle: Dear Dorcas, thou art a Wench of such a Leathern Disposition, that all good Counsel goes against the Grain with thee; prithee let me stamp a good Consideration...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 401-423
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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