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Settling House in Middleton's Women Beware Women Ann C. Christensen Middleton's tragedies, especially in their spectacular climaxes , follow classical tragic form in dramatizing "the fall ofthe house of. . . ." For example, in both the wedding masque closing Women Beware Women and the fires and their aftermath in The Changeling and Hengist, King ofKent, the succession of evil is cut off by the quasi-literal destruction of the offending "house" or family line. In Women Beware Women Middleton stages the fall of the houses of Leantio, the Duke, and the Ward, but, in greater detail, he traces the setting up of households, foreshadowing in these events the inevitable falls to come. In attributing causes Middleton injects into the tragic paradigm a uniquely early -modern concern—that of the emergence of an ideological if not a spatial separation of the domestic sphere from a male professional sphere within an urban mercantile milieu. The son of a bricklayer, Middleton shows keen interest in the minutiae of physical houses and in domestic life in all its versions and perversions . With stage business concerning hospitality on grand and small scales, from palatial masques and banquets to the Mother's pilfering of sweetmeats; with sets depicting household locales and appurtenances, including windows, concealed chambers, and chess tables; with the hero's frequent encomia on his domestic bliss ("I scent the air/ Of blessings when I come but near the house" [III.ii.5—6]);1 and with the ubiquitous food and sex imagery , the play-world is bodied forth in what many consider "realistic density."2 That density conveys a domestic world which is at once realistic and emblematic.3 Houses literally frame the action of the play—from Leantio and Bianca's arrival home to her ill-fated visit to Livia's house, from the dissolution of Leantio's home to the establishment of new ménages, from Bianca's dwelling near the 493 494Comparative Drama palace and Leantio's taking up with Livia—and culminate in the festivities at the Duke's palace meant to celebrate the installation of a new household. Just as household structures and activities frame the action, so architectural metaphors dominate the verbal text, with domestic situations standing for the moral state of their inhabitants. For example, Leantio's secret room, where he intends to sequester his bride, is an emblem of his jealousy and insecurity , while Livia's luxurious estate ironically figures the baseness of her intents, and the Ward's relative "unhoused . . . condition"4 (a bachelor, the Ward has yet to settle a house) connotes his unreadiness for the responsibilities ofmarriage. Throughout Middleton capitalizes on the "visual potential" of domestic spaces.5 This essay focuses on the former—staged and literal representations of households rather than their emblematic functions— and explores the structural, thematic, and dramaturgical uses of houses, household stuff, and housewifery in Women Beware Women. The irony of the play is that despite its ubiquitous attention to the nature and conduct of private dwellings, no domestic economy emerges as either socially viable or ethically sound. Although characters frequently speak of domestic repose, of "dwelling" in peace, of possessing luxury at home, houses are vulnerable and families divided. In fact, as G. B. Shand has shown, Middleton's stagecraft intends "to break down all sense of community" both among characters and between them and the audience.6 While the dramatic economy ofthe play blames tragic events on moral laxity, greed, and sensuousness, the play's domestic economy might be said to blame the improper modes of settling house—one of the many "dishonored" ceremonies— attributable to the emergent phenomena of the separation of the spheres and the feminization of the household.7 Middleton presents the disastrous consequences ofthe incompatibility between business and pleasure, the disintegration of professional and personal obligations.8 In order to address the relationship between domestic and tragic economies, I trace the processes of "settling house" in the play. An exclusively post-nuptial event in early modern England through which a husband was recognized by the community as a householder and a bride became a housewife, settling house was a ceremonious occasion. "Because the household was the central unit of both production and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 493-518
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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