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My naked weapon": Male Anxiety and the Violent Courtship ofthe Jacobean Stage Widow Jennifer Panek On the night ofthe nineteenth ofNovember in 1628, a young widow by the name of Elizabeth Bennett was asleep in her house in the London parish ofSt. Olave. Onlyseven months earlier,theWidow Bennett had lost her husband Richard, a wealthy Mercer who had made his wife sole executrix of his estate and heir to two-thirds of it, including their fine house in the Old Jewry and a coach with four horses. As a widow worth twenty thousand pounds, Elizabeth was already besieged by suitors . On that November night, however, one ofthem—a physician named John Raven—figured he would get the jump on the others. He bribed Elizabeth's servants to let him into her bedchamber, whereupon, in the words of the diarist John Rous, the widow awoke to find Dr. Raven "put[ting] his leggeinto thebedde."1 Perhaps thedoctor'smedical training had something to do with why he thought the widow would respond to his methods: "What shall we say," writes Nicholas Fontanus in The Woman's Doctor, concerning Widowes, who lye fallow, and live sequestered from these Venerous conjunctions? We must conclude, that if they be young, of a black complexion, and hairie, and are likewise somewhat discoloured in their cheeks, that they have a spirit of salacity, and feele within themselves a frequent titillation, their seed being hot and prurient, doth irritate and inflame them to Venery.2 321 322Comparative Drama On the otherhand,though, an anti-theatricalist like Phillip Stubbeswould no doubt have liked to have known Dr. Raven's playgoing habits, as they might have furnished somehard evidence that thetheater is a good teacher "if you will learn to become a bawd, unclean, and to devirginate maids, to deflower honest wives." For in intruding into the Widow Bennett's home and assailing her in her bedroom, the good doctor was merely employing tactics which, back in the impressionable years of his Jacobean youth, had proved almost invariably successful on the stage.3 Had Dr. Raven been a patron of the theater some years earlier, he might have seen George Chapman's The Widow's Tears (1604), in which Tharsalio defies theguards set to keephim awayfrom the widowed countess Eudora, bribing and threatening his way into her presence to accost her with irresistible promises of carnal delight. Also on offer were the racyscenes in Nathan Field'sAmendsforLadies (161 1) and in Greene's Tu Quoque (161 1) by J. Cooke, where rich widows' bedchambers are invaded by importunate suitors—disguised as a waiting-woman in the former play, brandishing a dagger in the latter—who attempt to clap up a match by demanding intercourse on the spot. Like Eudora, Lady Bright of Amends and Widow Raysby of Tu Quoque are eventually stirred to the point ofsubmission by their suitors' aggressive virility and gladlybestow themselves—and their property—on the young men in marriage. So too does WidowTaffata of Lording Barry's Ram-Alley (1610), when William Smalshankes bribes a maid to admit him to her bedroom, pulls out a sword, and threatens to "gar [his] whyniard through [her] weombe" (2225) unless she agrees to betrothal and instant consummation, a procedure thatwould constitutea binding,ifirregular, marriage.4Thewidow responds: Ile loue thee while I Hue, For this attempt giue me that lusty lad, That winnes his widdow with his well drawne blade, And not with oaths and words: a widdows woing, Not in bare words but should consist in doing (2247-51). Sexual aggression, to the point of assault, is endorsed by the widow herself as the way to win widows. I want to ask a seemingly simple question—why? Why was it a convention that the remarrying widow ofJacobean comedy—atleast in those JenniferPanek323 plays where she did not eagerly offer herselfin marriage to the young man of her choice—should be shown to have her resistance broken down by explicit sexual advances? The obvious answer is that characters like Eudora and Taffata respond to such wooing because they are drawn along the lines of the familiar early modern stock figure of the "lusty widow"; the young suitor merely has to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 321-344
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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