- 'Household Business': Domestic Plays of Early Modern England (The Mental and Cultural World of Tudor and Stuart England) (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 15, Number 2, January 1998
- pp. 171-175
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews 111 less initiated. Although the author to some extent reteUs the myths, her approach is an analytical one, and the myths and the scholarly Uterature she refers to during her analyses of the myths are mainly supposed as known to the reader. I a m afraid that readers w h o have only superficial knowledge of Old Norse mythology and the scientific literature about this subject wiU not find Prolonged Echoes easUy read. It is a book for specialists, and there is nothing wrong with that. To the more initiated, Prolonged Echoes is highly recommended. Else Mundal Department of Nordic Studies University of Bergen Comensoli, Viviana, 'Household Business': Domestic Plays of Early Modern England (The Mental and Cultural World of Tudor and Stuart England), Toronto/Buffalo/London, University of Toronto Press, 1996; cloth; pp. x, 238; R.R.P. US$50.00, £37.00. Household Business is a book about the early modern dramatic genre now categorised as 'domestic plays': that is, plays that dramatise 'domestic conflict among EngUsh characters drawn chiefly from the non-aristocratic ranks of society' (p. 3), plays which in Thomas Heywood's words draw on home-borne truth', their stories set in the home and 'at home' in England. The first half of the book outlines the critical fortunes of the genre, traces its roots in the medieval mystery cycles, and contextuaUses the genre in relation to contemporary discourses of marriage, the family and private life. In the second hah, ComensoU turns to a discussion of the domestic plays themselves, looking at domestic tragedy, tragicomedy and comedy in separate chapters. In the introduction, ComensoU traces the critical history of the domestic plays, outhrting their early twentieth-century characterisation as a group of plays defined by their homiletic structure and their speaking for an emerging middle class. Drawing on more recent criticism and theory, ComensoU goes on to chaUenge the impUed homogeneity of this 'middle class' as w e U as the theatre's submissive relation to social orthodoxies, setting the domestic play 172 Reviews firmly in the context of contemporary unrest and anxiety in the face of social change and a 'severe crisis of order' (p. 65). The domestic plays, she argues in a famUiar way, h y no means respond uniformly to the ideologies and institutions which entrench the hierarchies of class, gender, and status' (p. 11). Picking up on Madeleine Doran's statement that domestic plays '"suffer distortion if viewed as dramatized homiUes"' (pp. 15-16), ComensoU argues that the domestic plays diverge from both moraUty play and mystery cycle in their interest in the ideology of private life, and they bring into relief 'the instability of the early modern household' (p. 16). The introduction goes on to discuss the social, political and economic significance of marriage and the family in the early m o d e m period, in the Ught of recent research which has pointed to the resistances to official doctrine and to evidence of conflict within the household. ComensoU takes the n o w c o m m o n position that the didactic treatises on marriage, family Ufe, household economy, and such like, are to be read as prescriptive, not descriptive—and that such texts are bound up with a Uterature promoting civuity through 'a vast system of [often contradictory] codes and precepts to oversee private behaviour' (p. 22). The domestic plays, for ComensoU, embody tensions between the ideal of the patriarchal family and civUised household as generator of social order and continuity, and disiUusion with this ideal; the tension, she argues, is evidenced in the plays by 'the tension between personal desire on the one hand and social, discursive and ideological claims on the other' (p. 26). Comensoli's position qualifies the influential view that the domestic plays owe a particular debt to the earUer moralities; she goes on in the next two chapters to explore alternative debts, firstly to the medieval mystery plays and secondly to the sixteenth-century Griselda plays. She points to the scenes of domestic comedy and pathos in the mystery cycles (Mary and son, Isaac and parents, Noah and wife, PUate and wife, the adulterous w o m a n ) and...