'Her flesh must serve you': Gender, Commerce and the New World in Fletcher's and Massinger's The Sea Voyage and Massinger's The City Madam
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 18, Number 3, July 2001
- pp. 93-117
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'Her flesh must serve you': Gender, Commerce and the New World in Fletcher's and Massinger's The Sea Voyage and Massinger's The City Madam Claire Jowitt This essay examines the complex interaction between gender and the N e w World in two early-to-mid-seventeenth-century comedies, Fletcher's and Massinger's collaborative The Sea Voyage (1622) and Massinger's single-authored The City Madam (1632).1 Both texts engage with the Virginian enterprise and the troubled history of the Jamestown venture. Indeed, characters' attitudes towards, and behaviour in, colonial situations are used to measure their conformity to expected gender behaviour. Furthermore, I argue that characters' gender performance specifically their attitude to sexual commerce - figures as a metaphor for a larger set of commercial relations with the N e w World. The m e n and w o m e n in these 1 John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, The Sea Voyage, in Three Renaissance Trav ed. Anthony Parr (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), pp. 135-216; Philip Massinger, The City Madam, ed. Cyrus Hoy (London: EdwardArnold, 1964). All references are to these editions. For a detailed discussion ofthis text see Martin Butler, 'Massinger's The City Madam and the Caroline Audience', Renaissance Drama, 13 (1982), pp. 157187 ; Michael Neill, '"The Tongues ofAngels": Charity and the Social Order in 77ze City Madam', in Philip Massinger:A CriticalReassessment, ed. Douglas Howard (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 193-220; Ira Clark The Moral Art of Philip Massinger (London & Toronto: Associated Universities Press, 1993), pp. 41-49. 94 Claire Jowitt dramas are represented as conforming to, or deviating from, a male or female ideal in terms of sexual congress, which, in turn, acts as a yardstick for their moral, social and cultural worth. The correct management of appetite is crucial in determining commercial/sexual/social position and success. More particularly, as w e shall see, Fletcher and Massinger use their characters' attitudes to native inhabitants - particularly the prospect of miscegenation or the adoption of savage, native patterns of behaviour - as especially significant indices of their relationship with the dominant social order. Though the action of The City Madam takes place in Renaissance London, and that of The Sea Voyage is solely located on castaway islands, both plays engage with the Virginia project. Massinger's The City Madam draws explicitly on a Virginian context in the second half of the play, since the profligate and proud Lady Frugal and her two daughters, Mary and Ann, are threatened with a violent, sacrificial death in Virginia because they transgress accepted class and gender behaviour. Like The Tempest, the play with which The Sea Voyage is most frequently compared, Fletcher's and Massinger's text is less obvious in its engagement with Virginia.2 Nevertheless, The Sea Voyage is full of the most potent but unsettling images culled from recent English explorers' and settlers' accounts: Amazonian women, endemic starvation, fomenting rebellion, European rivalry, and, of course, easy riches represented by caskets of jewels strewn lavishly across the colonial landscape. Although the text's most recent editor, Anthony Parr, suggests that 'the very abundance of analogy . . . refutes any attempt to tie it exclusively to a particular place or venture', the presence of European w o m e n on board Portuguese and French ships is significant in locating this play within a Western rather than an Eastern context, since the former was concerned with permanent settlement and the latter with temporary trading posts.3 Women 2 The colonial context for The Tempest has been extensively explored in recent year for instance, Ronald Takaki, 'The "Tempest" in the Wilderness', in Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan (Boston: Bedford, 2000), pp. 141-172; and, most recently, see Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman (eds.), The Tempest and Its Travels (London: Reaktion, 2000). For an alternate - non-colonial - reading see Douglas L. Peterson, Time, Tide and Tempest: A Study ofShakespeare s Romances (San Marino, California: Huntington Library Publications, 1973), pp. 214-249. 3 Parr, 'Introduction', Three Renaissance Travel Plays, p. 22. On the differences between Eastern and Western European colonial ambitions see A. D. Innes, The Maritime and Colonial Expansion ofEngland under the Stuarts...