In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

316Comparative Drama Viviana Comensoli. "Household Business": Domestic Plays of Early Modern England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996. Pp. ? + 238. $50.00. Viviana Comensoli takes as her subject the genre of the English Domestic play, those products of the popular stage which flourished in the decades around 1 600 and drew their plots and inspiration from the chapbook, chronicle, or pamphlet reportage of sensational crimes. She focuses chiefly on "those tragedies and comedies that interrogate generic and ideological codes" (16) and offers a reading of these plays which is also a discussion of early modern notions of domesticity and social decorum and of male and female sovereignty in the semi-public sphere of the household. The book begins with a speculative analysis of the origins of these plays and of the apparently modern notions of bourgeois domesticity and individualism upon which they draw. Building on recent research which has undermined pessimistic views about the status ofkinship ties and the existence of distinct notions of childhood in the medieval period, Comensoli points to the affective piety of the Corpus Christi plays, especially their focus on emotionally intense parent-child and marital relationships, as further evidence of"modern" sensibilities in the pre-modern period. In medieval drama's delineation and exploration of domesticity (not only the sorrows of the Virgin and the mothers of the Innocents at the loss of their children, but the mundane nocturnal rituals of Pilate and Procula, and the petty squabbles chez Noah), she argues, one can see precursors ofthe concerns ofearly-modern domestic drama. Further chapters continue the analysis. A discussion of the Patient Griselda story and related texts examines their different treatment of marital codes and ideas of male supremacy, and charts an increasing "scepticism towards the cult of domesticity" (64) which will find its full expression in domestic tragedy. Turning to the plays themselves, the book examines, inter alia, the moralized elaboration of material culture in A Woman Killed With Kindness, in which the lute and bed taken into exile with the adulterous Anne Frankford act as markers of both her sin and her civility, and also display the sheer bourgeois affluence and respectability ofher husband's household as well as her own subservient place within it. More radically, perhaps, Arden ofFaversham, betraying an unease with male sovereignty and bourgeois moral homily alike, allows its adulterous, murderous wife, Alice Arden, an independent voice and desires, prefiguring such later "heroic" women as the Duchess of Malfi. More fundamentally alienated—and consequently independent— are the central female figures in the witch plays, such as The Witch of Edmonton and The Late Lancashire Witches, who are the subject of another stimulating chapter. Honest wives and prodigal husbands, solid householders, misers, mad-women, witches, and whores: early modern domestic society is portrayed in Comensoli's book in guises as various as the plots of the Reviews317 plays concerned. Settings as diverse as the Macbeths' castle, the prosperous bourgeois town-house, and the rural artisan's cottage are taken in within an itinerary that ends with satisfying homiletic inevitability in the House of Correction in Dekker's 2 Honest Whore. The analysis, alive to anthropological as well as literary theory, mixes Mary Douglas and Norbert Elias with Althusser, Foucault, and Freud. In an epilogue, parallels are sought, a little awkwardly, with subsequent domestic dramas, chiefly those of Diderot, Ibsen, and Miller. And here, the profoundly different material, cultural, and theatrical conditions under which the later plays were produced and received makes the attempt to see continuities, rather than simply similarities, a perilous enterprise. Otherwise, however, the book is stimulating and richly allusive. GREG WALKER University ofLeicester Alexandra F. Johnston and Wim Hüsken, eds. English Parish Drama. Ludus: Medieval and Early Renaissance Theatre and Drama, 1. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1996. Pp. 157. $31.00; Hfl 50. Readers can be forgiven if the first mental image that came into their minds on seeing the title of this book was a Christmas play performed by children. A glance at the back cover should be enough to dispel this impression and challenge the same readers to look behind the modest title for a fine collection of essays that will answer many questions about English...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 316-317
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.