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The Aesthetics of Service in Early Modern England

Elizabeth Rivlin

Publication Year: 2012

In The Aesthetics of Service in Early Modern England, Elizabeth Rivlin explores the ways in which servant-master relationships reshaped literature. The early modern servant is enjoined to obey his or her master out of dutiful love, but the servant?s duty actually amounts to standing in for the master, a move that opens the possibility of becoming master. Rivlin shows that service is fundamentally a representational practice, in which the servant who acts for a master merges with the servant who acts as a master. 

Rivlin argues that in the early modern period, servants found new positions as subjects and authors found new forms of literature. Represent- ations of servants and masters became a site of contact between pressing material concerns and evolving aesthetic ones. Offering readings of dramas by Shakespeare, Jonson, and Thomas Dekker and prose fictions by Thomas Deloney and Thomas Nashe, Rivlin suggests that these authors discovered their own exciting and unstable projects in the servants they created.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-viii

Hillary Clinton said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same could be said of writing a book. For me, the experiences of raising children and writing a book have been interwoven. I have many people to thank who made it possible for me to do both. This project began...

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Introduction: The Aesthetics of Service

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pp. 3-25

Servants and masters in early modern literature always seem to be changing places. In The Taming of the Shrew, Lucentio and Tranio hatch a plan so that Lucentio can woo his beloved, Bianca, on the sly. In response to his master’s order to impersonate him, Tranio says: “I am content to be Lucentio / Because so well I love...

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Chapter One: Shakespeare’s Apprenticeship: Performing Service in The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona

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pp. 27-51

While it once was conventional to designate Shakespeare’s early plays as belonging to his “apprenticeship,” that period of his career when “he still has much to learn about the mechanics of his craft,”1 most critics have stopped derogating these works as immature and have begun to analyze them more seriously...

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Chapter Two: Prose Fiction and the Mobile Servant: Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller

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pp. 53-72

If it was Thomas Nashe who attacked Shakespeare as an “upstart crow,” a possibility mentioned at the end of the previous chapter, the gibe is the kind of self-lacerating impulse that Nashe seems not to have been able to resist.1 The invective against Shakespeare suggests that he unforgivably muddled social...

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Chapter Three: “Play the Shoemaker” : Craft and Commerce in Deloney’s The Gentle Craft and Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday

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pp. 73-106

Thomas Nashe looked down on Thomas Deloney, at least in print. In The Anatomie of Absurditie, he mocks: “What politique Counsailour or valiant Souldier will ioy or glorie of this, in that some stitcher, Weauer, spendthrift, or Fidler, hath shuffled or slubberd vp a few ragged Rimes, in the memoriall...

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Chapter Four: “Iterate the Work”: The Alchemist and Ben Jonson’s 'Labors of Service'

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pp. 107-134

In the previous chapter, I argued that Thomas Deloney and Thomas Dekker activated fantasies about service in a nascent capitalist economy, fantasies that were as much about the roles that prose fiction and drama played in a transitional economy as about servants themselves. Ben Jonson follows...

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Chapter Five: Tragicomic Service: The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest

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pp. 135-164

William Shakespeare was famously Ben Jonson’s target in Bartholomew Fair (1614) for his production of “Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries” (BF induction, 125). Jonson’s induction contractually stipulates that his play will not contain a “servant-monster,” nor will he “mix his head with other men’s heels” to give the audience...


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pp. 165-194


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pp. 195-208


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pp. 209-218

About the Author

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pp. 219-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165632
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810127814

Page Count: 220
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Volume Title: 1

OCLC Number: 867784759
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Aesthetics of Service in Early Modern England

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Master and servant in literature.
  • Household employees in literature.
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