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Shakespeare's Domestic Economies

Gender and Property in Early Modern England

By Natasha Korda

Publication Year: 2011

Shakespeare's Domestic Economies explores representations of female subjectivity in Shakespearean drama from a refreshingly new perspective, situating The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, and Measure for Measure in relation to early modern England's nascent consumer culture and competing conceptions of property. Drawing evidence from legal documents, economic treatises, domestic manuals, marriage sermons, household inventories, and wills to explore the realities and dramatic representations of women's domestic roles, Natasha Korda departs from traditional accounts of the commodification of women, which maintain that throughout history women have been "trafficked" as passive objects of exchange between men.

In the early modern period, Korda demonstrates, as newly available market goods began to infiltrate households at every level of society, women emerged as never before as the "keepers" of household properties. With the rise of consumer culture, she contends, the housewife's managerial function assumed a new form, becoming increasingly centered around caring for the objects of everyday life—objects she was charged with keeping as if they were her own, in spite of the legal strictures governing women's property rights. Korda deftly shows how their positions in a complex and changing social formation allowed women to exert considerable control within the household domain, and in some areas to thwart the rule of fathers and husbands.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. vii

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Note on Spelling and Editions

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pp. ix

While I have used early modern editions of the texts cited in this book wherever possible, I have slightly modified spelling, orthography, and punctuation to make these citations more legible to a wide audience of readers...

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pp. 1-14

The history of the word household reflects early modern England's growing preoccupation with "stuff" with the goods required to maintain a proper domicile in a nascent consumer society. In addition to the more familiar and still contemporary definition of a household as "The inmates of a house collectively; an organized...

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1. Housekeeping and Household Stuff

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pp. 15-51

Recent historical research on domestic industry and patterns of consumption in early modern England has largely substantiated the account found in William Harrison's Description of England (1587) of the newly available consumer goods that were infiltrating households at every level of society...

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2. Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew

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pp. 52-75

Commentary on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew has frequently noted that the play's novel taming strategy marks a departure from traditional shrew-taming tales. Unlike his predecessors, Petruchio does not use force to tame Kate; he does not simply beat his wife into submission.1 Little attention...

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3. Judicious Oeillades: Supervising Marital Property in The Merry Wives of Windsor

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pp. 76-110

If the housewife's role as a keeper and caretaker of household cates in The Taming of the Shrew remains in the wings, in that it is merely prepared for, in The Merry Wives of Windsor it takes center stage and is rendered fully—and quite literally—visible. Not only is the housewife's...

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4. The Tragedy of the Handkerchief: Female Paraphernalia and the Properties of Jealousy in Othello

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pp. 111-158

The seventeenth-century critic Thomas Rymer has exasperated generations of Shakespeareans with his suggestion that Desdemona's downfall in Othello results from nothing more than her negligence as a keeper of household stuff: "Why was not this call'd the Tragedy of the Handkerchief?" he asks...

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5 Isabella's Rule: Singlewomen and the Properties of Poverty in Measure for Measure

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pp. 159-191

In Act i, scene 4 of Measure for Measure, Isabella stands poised on the threshold of a nunnery, learning of the "strict restraint[s]" to which she must succumb if she is to join the "votarists of St. Clare" (4-5).1 Yet the Rule that defines and structures the Clarissan Order is left unarticulated in...

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Conclusion: Household Property/Stage Property

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pp. 192-212

The emergent topos of the housewife as keeper, as we have seen, became an apt metaphor in the early modern period to describe the wife's various, often contradictory, duties with respect to the new market goods that were infiltrating the home. This dominant topos presented an image of female...


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pp. 213-262


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pp. 263-271

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pp. 273-276

Looking back, I am surprised that someone who grew up in a household in which status-objects were regarded with a certain haughty derision should have written a book about household stuff. My mother, Reva Korda, to whom this book is dedicated, dismissively relegated such...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202519
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812236637

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011