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Introduction • The Aesthetics of Service 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 Lucentio” (1.1.210–11). His reply encapsulates a paradox of early modern service as it is often portrayed in the period’s literature: the servant is enjoined to obey his master out of love, but that obedience actually amounts to imitating his master, a move that opens the possibility, as Taming and many other texts explore, of becoming him or her. Such moments of servant-master imitation lend an insight that is central to this book: service is fundamentally a representational practice, in which acting for one’s master shades, often imperceptibly, into acting as one’s master.1 Out of these imitative performances emerges what I call aesthetic service. This book argues that the representational possibilities of aesthetic service gave early modern dramas and prose fictions a model for material intervention and textual invention. In both representing and replacing their masters, servants found new subject positions and authors found new forms of literature. Tropes of service took on these valences as neofeudal , patriarchal forms of service began to yield to emerging capitalist forms. Counterintuitively, service became the basis for a subjectivity that was self-determining and even, in contrast to older ideas of the servant subject, self-possessing. It is also true that servant subjects were vulnerable to dispossession, a possibility augmented by the same capitalist system that promised self-possession. Because aesthetic service partook of the deep uncertainties of a transitional period, it became a vital method of subject formation. Examining works by Shakespeare, Jonson, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Deloney, and Thomas Nashe, I suggest that they represent their own exciting and unstable projects in the mixture of excitement and instability that 3 they project onto service. Dramatic and textual production were understood as material forms of service, while service was seen as an aesthetic act. Given these intersections, early modern authors imagined new possibilities for literary and theatrical forms that were often undervalued and marginalized. The self-images that their texts conjure are, like the servants they portray, simultaneously imitative and transformative. If servants have the ability to change their masters through the act of imitating them, as many of my readings suggest, then drama and fiction invest themselves with the power to affect and alter their audiences and readers. Aesthetic considerations, in other words, are embroiled with, even inseparable from, the social, economic, and subjective effects of drama and prose fiction. My argument operates on the premise that early modern aesthetics were not in opposition to material form but, as Joseph Roach puts it, represented “the vitality and sensuous presence of material forms.”2 In many of the works I analyze, servants are analogous to players, playwrights , authors, or even texts. But what I intend in using “aesthetic” to modify service is not limited to an allegorical relationship with the material . In my use, aesthetics refer to performances of service that operate in the realm of sensory perception and that open themselves to judgments on the basis of their perceived beauty and skill. These may be unfamiliar criteria to apply to service, and yet they convey its idealized shapes and affective dynamics, as well as its corporeal embodiment, its material practices, and its integration into everyday social life. The aesthetic properties of service were redoubled in literature, which used service to reflect on the relation between aesthetic practices and material relationships. Service was specially equipped to motivate drama and prose fiction’s self-perception. The manifestation of aesthetic service which I discuss most frequently is “performance,” a word that I use in the sense of Roach’s claim that to perform is “to bring forth, to make manifest, and to transmit,” as well as “though often more secretly, to reinvent.”3 Roach defines performance as an essentially mimetic activity that seeks both to stand in for and to replace that which it represents.4 The doubled dynamic of representation and invention, reproduction and production, instrumentality and agency that Roach describes applies to performances of service in early modern dramas and fictions. Tranio is mandated to offer a performance of his master that will help realize his master’s command. And yet his...


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