Stolen Rings and Sleepwalking: Domestic Work, Spectacle, and Female Agency in Northward Ho.
Before I turn to Northward Ho, I want to focus on female agency and demonstrate how obedience can become a form of female agency in drama. Mistress Mayberry's obedience leads to acquiescent agency: agency that is possible through "deliberate and transactional rather than innate" actions of obedience. (4) At its core female acquiescent agency is a paradoxical entity as female acquiescence is necessary for the continual existence of order and society, but acquiescence is still a purposeful, chosen act. Obedience functions as the kind of consent that Diggs mentions: through obedience, the female character becomes complicit in attempts to control her actions and this complicity gives her the power to approve the existing systems that are meant to control her behavior: "volitional acquiescence" claims Kathryn Schwarz "animates subjects who recognize and choose the roles into which they are prescribed." (5) In choosing willful obedience, the individual is able to establish a reciprocal relationship between self and ideology: she is able to claim a subject position within the spectrum of ideology, and her deliberate response to what Althusser characterizes as "hailing" enables the existence of the very ideology that grants her the position of a subject. (6) The subject's choice to obey prescribed standards of behavior should not be regarded as limiting. Judith Butler argues that the limitations placed upon the subject produce the conditions for its existence and resistance: "the restrictions placed on the body not only require and produce the body they seek to restrict, but proliferate the domain of the bodily beyond the domain targeted by the original restriction... this proliferation of the body by juridical regimes beyond the terms of dialectical reversal is also the site of possible resistance." (7) For Butler, the limitations placed upon the subject both bring about the existence of the subject and create the conditions for the subject's resistance. These limitations do not translate into easy availability of resistance; rather, as we will see, Mistress Mayberry is able to achieve agency through a careful negotiation of the private and public spaces that she occupies. Mistress Mayberry's agency within the family home is possible as a result of a public portrayal of her skillful management of the household. Examining Mistress Mayberry's actions throughout the play from the point of view of acquiescent agency, we may conclude that her willing participation in systems that regulate many aspects of her behavior--including marital chastity, management of the household, and groundless accusations of infidelity--ultimately allows her to exert considerable power over both her husband as well as the community as a whole.
The process of attaining acquiescent agency, while void of disobedient action, is not a passive one. Mistress Mayberry's agency results from the questioning or challenging of her ability to govern the family home and stay loyal to her husband. Although Mistress Mayberry never strays from the societal expectations of her conduct, her reputation is challenged. Mistress Mayberry embraces the challenge presented to her household management skills because of the opportunity this challenge presents to prove her continued faithfulness to her husband and to demonstrate her management skills. In continuing to fulfill her duties as a wife, Mistress Mayberry is eventually able to gain back the power she lost as a result of the challenge. However, Mistress Mayberry is not the only city wife whose sexual activities are examined and discussed in the public forum of the play. Though not completely without fault, Kate Greenshield is accused of infidelity as well, but even in carrying on an affair with Featherstone, Kate is able to keep her household intact. What Mistress Mayberry's agreement to help her husband punish Green-shield and Kate's performance of sleepwalking showcases is the female characters' conscious engagement with societal expectations of their behavior and a public demonstration of their ability to fulfill their wifely duties. In a discussion of female subjectivity Schwarz characterizes attempts to discipline the female subject as ultimately enabling her resistance: "Disciplinary mechanisms are always double-edged: early modern discourses formulate rules only to produce culturally resistant subjects who are culturally literate as well." (8) It is this cultural literacy that enables the female subjects not only to gain agency (which they inevitably do as a result of their involvement with the ideological system that produces them in the process of limiting their actions) but to do so through their own actions. Such disciplinary mechanisms can only become a source of empowerment for the female character if she is able to engage in disciplinary actions without the intervention of her husband. Natasha Korda reminds us that female subjectivity within the household occurs as a result of her ability to self-discipline: "Female subjectivity itself becomes a form of internalized oeconomy." (9) The internalized oeconomy that Korda mentions is akin to a mental checklist of tasks that the housewife is charged with; it is the self-prompted deployment and completion of this checklist that gives the housewife the power to manage the family home without external intervention. The play's depiction of female labor pushes Korda's argument about self-disciplining a step further: within Northward Ho self-sufficiency in managing the household does not warrant female agency. Both Mistress Mayberry and Kate Greenshield must demonstrate their abilities to take care of the family home in a communal setting, comprised of the majority of the play's cast of characters. (10) The situations that create the conditions to make the female character's transgressions possible effectively allow her to regain agency, rendering any external intervention superfluous. (11) My interest in Northward Ho--a representative city comedy--stems from the genre's ability to fully register the social changes underway in the urban realm during the early modern period. In city comedy London's citizens become the protagonists; a phenomenon that does not usually occur in other dramatic works from the period. Fittingly, Northward Ho's inclusion of city women imagines the possibilities of female power and agency. With its depiction of citizen wives--characters that have relative financial security but perhaps lack social acceptance--city comedy imagines the possibility of female agency that does not necessarily operate through obvious manifestations of power; rather, the female characters gain power through willful obedience. City comedy's depiction of willful obedience as a means to agency elucidates scholarly understandings and discussions of agency: actions that do not easily translate as moments of power may still lead to female agency and should be considered in discussions of female agency.
Northward Ho is quite unique in its plot development as it seems to begin where most Renaissance plays about spousal infidelity end. Having been rejected by Mistress Mayberry, Greenshield and Featherstone set out to take vengeance on her by "accidentally" revealing to her husband that she has had an affair with both of them. Predictably, Mayberry's initial reaction is outrage at his wife's potential infidelity to him. Where the play departs from most works that deal with spousal infidelity lies in Mistress Mayberry's ability--with the help of Bellamont--to convince her husband of her innocence. Mistress Mayberry joins her husband in attempting to force a confession out of the gallants, which they do by the end of the play, allowing Mistress Mayberry to prove her innocence in a public setting. In due course, the play pits practically all of the characters against one another: Bellamont is made to believe that he has been committed to Bedlam, Greenshield unwittingly prostitutes his wife, and Featherstone and Greenshield are forced to turn against each other. The issues the play tackles range from deteriorations of friendships and imprisonment to alleged mental illness, but there is one issue that the play cannot take lightly: that of female chastity. (12) In the process of resolving the cheating subplot, the play punishes Greenshield and Featherstone for their attempts to besmirch Mistress Mayberry's reputation. The play forces Featherstone to marry Doll, a prostitute, exposes the discord in the Greenshields' union, and implicates Luke Greenshield as the cause of it. Greenshield's attempts to accuse Mistress Mayberry of cheating on her husband are symptomatic of his overall disrespect for the marital union (as evidenced by his own infidelity to Kate). The play's punishment of Greenshield in the process of resolving the cheating scandal exemplifies Northward Ho's inherent value system: female chastity is valued above anything else because throughout the play it becomes synonymous with the well-being of the household. The play's resolution of issues of female chastity in a public setting testifies to its interpretation of female spousal chastity as crucial to the survival of the community as a whole.
Northward Ho reveals a symbiotic relationship between the female character and the community: spousal chastity is instrumental to the survival of the community and the community absolves the female character of fabricated accusations of infidelity. (13) When first presented with the news that his wife has been unfaithful, Mayberry reacts like most characters from this period would to the news that they have been cuckolded: "Nay, nay Gods pretious you doe mistake mee Maister Bellamont; I am distempered, for to know a mans wife is a whore, is to be resolu'd of it, and to be resolued of it, is to make no question of it, and when a case is out of question; what was I saying?" (1.1.164-68). (14) Mayberry's fatalistic approach to the news of his wife's alleged dalliances places him neatly in the stereotypical category of the cuckolded husband that takes his wife's cheating as a given and admits defeat. It is the reasonable voice of Bellamont that enables Mayberry to disassociate himself from the performance of the cuckolded husband: "O madnesse! that the frailty of a woman should make a wise man thus idle!" (1.1.173-74). Bellamont responds to Mayberry's proclamations of his wife's cheating with disbelief: "yet I protest, to my vnderstanding, this report seemes as farre from truth, as you from patience" (1.1.174-75). Bellamont's response to the news that Mistress Mayberry has been unfaithful is what shifts the narrative of the play into one where the couple joins forces to punish those that spread libelous accusations about the wife instead of believing them and shunning her. While Northward Ho is hardly unique in presenting domestic chastity as a matter of social interest, it is remarkable in demonstrating that just as communal exposure to cuckolding can exacerbate the impact of female infidelity, the community can also intervene in righting a wrong associated with female reputation. It is not enough for Mistress Mayberry to be faithful to her husband; she also must prove this honesty to the community that surrounds the family unit with the help of Bellamont. Because female chastity becomes a socially determined phenomenon, it cannot be proven solely on the basis of sexual relations; as a result, the play invents alternative methods of determining what constitutes female spousal chastity.
In addition to being a socially determined and approved entity, female chastity functions as a stand-in for a number of concepts in the play, including the well-being of the household. For Theodore Leinwand, sexuality is inherently linked with wealth within the urban milieu: "When a gallant captures (or attempts to capture) a city wife, he adopts the surest method of undermining the citizen's social stability, and he strips the citizen of all but his gold." (15) In Northward Ho, the gallants' attaining of sexual favors from the city wife is closely linked to the loss of material goods from the household, as evidenced in Mistress Mayberry's forfeiture of her ring and in Kate Green-shield's propensity to expose the contents of her home as a part of her dalliances with Featherstone. The play's linking of female sexuality with the household's material well-being is further evidenced in Mayberry's response to the news that his wife has been unfaithful. His response is clearly a reaction to the fact that his household has been compromised. (16) Evidence of this can be gleaned from his response to Greenshield and Featherstone. Still pretending that he is not aware that Greenshield and Featherstone are talking about his wife, he inserts himself into the situation of the cuckolded husband: "I warrant her husband was forth a Towne all this while, and he poore man, trauailed with hard Egges in's pocket, to saue the change of a baite, whilst she was at home with her Plouers, Turkey, Chickens" (1.1.115-18). In this instance, he does not address the fact that the wife is being dishonest to her husband or that the husband is being made a cuckold; instead, he focuses on her careless management of the household and his own frugality while she is surrounded by a household of excess. Yet, Mayberry's response to his wife's infidelity directs the audience's gaze to the inner workings of the household and reveals a reciprocal relationship. While Mayberry works outside the family home, Mistress Mayberry's labor takes place in the confines of the home. If Mayberry's work, supposedly, brings money from the public realm into the private, his wife's labor enables him to take the goods of the household--in this case the hard-boiled eggs--out of the household and into the public realm. (17) It is striking that even in his moment of utmost frustration, Mayberry, in an attempt to demonstrate the stark contrast between his life and his wife's, reveals the work she engages in to ensure the prosperity of the household. Mayberry's self-pitying "whilst she was at home with her Plouers, Turkey, Chickens," reminds the audience of the markedly female labor that goes into producing boiled eggs from the chickens. Mayberry's response demonstrates that he values the well-being of the household above all else (including being made a cuckold) and that despite his best efforts Mayberry still gives credit to the work his wife does to ensure the home's long-term survival.
This issue of the home's well-being is also apparent in the ease with which Mistress Mayberry convinces her husband of her fidelity. Because Mistress Mayberry's fidelity becomes synonymous with the well-being of the family home, all it takes for Mayberry to be convinced of the former is to witness the wholesomeness of the latter. Cyrus Hoy praises the play for its original treatment of the possible cuckoldry plot: "Thus while the gallants, Greenshield and Featherstone, have told Master Mayberry that they have both slept with his wife, he has the wit to believe her when she denies the charge, thereby shattering the stereotype of the husband who believes he has been cuckolded that has seemingly threatened to descend on the character in the early scenes; once it is shattered, the way is clear for fresh comic energies to shape the play." (18) Hoy perhaps gives too much credit to Mayberry for his handling of the situation. Mayberry's initial response to the news that he has been cuckolded is far from witty interpretation and, in fact, is perfectly in keeping with the archetype of the cuckolded husband. For Mayberry, the step from suspecting a wife's infidelity to being resolved of it is an immediate one: "for to know a mans wife is a whore, is to be resolu'd of it, and to be resolued of it, is to make no question of it" (1.1.165-67). This formula is at least partly because of the inevitability of containing the information of the wife's infidelity from the community that surrounds the couple. Mayberry's response and Bellamont's subsequent interventions illustrate two important components of the cuckoldry plot: that the wife's potential unfaithfulness affects the well-being of the home and that the only way of undoing this damage is for the wife to prove her innocence to the community that surrounds the couple. Because of his position as an outsider, Bellamont deserves as much, if not more, credit for keeping the marriage of the Mayberrys intact. (19) Bellamont's investment in preserving the marriage--along with his capacity to intervene to save the marriage--demonstrates the play's preoccupation with the integrity of the household rather than the marriage. Ultimately, it is not anything that Bellamont or Mistress Mayberry can say to Mayberry to disabuse him of his conviction of Mistress Mayberry's unfaithfulness; rather, it is his observation that the family and his home--along with all the objects it contains--have stayed intact during his absence. (20)
Mistress Mayberry's skillful management of the home and thorough comprehension
of its importance is evident in the scene during which Mayberry confronts her about the gallants' accusations. Mistress Mayberry smartly places herself at the threshold of the household when revisiting her encounter with the gallants:
that slaue, that damned fury (Whose whips are in your tongue to torture me) Casting an eye vnlawfull on my cheeke, Haunted your thre-shold daily, and threw forth, All tempting baytes which lust and credulous youth, Apply to our fraile sex: but those being weake The second seige he layd was in sweete wordes... At last he takes me siting at your dore, Seizes my palme, and by the charme of othes (Back to restore it straight) he won my hand, To crowne his finger with that hoope of gold. (1.3.103-14) (21)
Mistress Mayberry's account of the encounter demonstrates that Mayberry's earlier predictions about spousal absence leading to infidelity are at least partially accurate. Throughout the play, the Mayberry household may only continue to thrive if both parties are faithful to it: the union of Mayberry and Mistress Mayberry guarantees this strength. (22) Mistress Mayberry's placement at the threshold of the household makes her appear as an extension of the household: a position that enables her to protect the household and be protected by it.
If the household threshold provides some protection to Mistress Mayberry, it is also a liminal space that marks the intersection between private and public spaces. The household threshold does provide some protection to Mistress Mayberry, but her positioning of herself at the threshold becomes complicated when considered in the context of early modern interpretations of public space. Laura Gowing associates the threshold with matters of honor and propriety: "In London, as outside, a prime place for insults and verbal abuse was the doorstep. As the threshold between public and private, household and community, doorsteps carried considerable symbolic weight. They were a good place for attacking and defending honour; and in a culture that understood the walls of the house as the guarantee of female chastity, they marked a special boundary for women. For many women, doorsteps were also a primary workplace, where they sewed, made lace, knitted or nursed babies... Standing or sitting at their doors, women also embodied the authority of neighborhood morality." (23) Gowing's characterization of the threshold as a liminal space between the inside and the outside of the household reminds us that Mistress Mayberry's encounter with the men is quite typical, as in a single transaction she goes through an attack on her honor and effectively defends it. Yet, the threshold's function as a space of female labor necessitates Mistress Mayberry's presence at the threshold where she is susceptible to public attacks. Jean Howard supports this interpretation of the threshold as a space where female reputation can come under attack and argues that the presence of a woman at the threshold becomes synonymous with prostitution:
many popular texts from the late sixteenth century pressure this idea of the automatic or easy legibility of either whores and whorehouses. While women standing in taffeta dresses in the doors of buildings often advertised the whereabouts of suburban brothels, not all whores throve on legibility... [I]n Northward Ho, every house might be a covert whorehouse, a place where loose women perform versions of respectable femininity in order to conduct their trade. In such a world, the place of prostitution is potentially everywhere. (24)
The threshold is potentially hostile to female presence, but female presence at the threshold--in the form of labor--is frequently inevitable. Eleanor Hubbard notes that the threshold is both a locus of sociability for the female subject and a necessity for completing her work: it allows the female subject to keep an eye on her servants, to be apprised of the conversations and quarrels her neighbors might be engaged in, and to forego the cost of candlelight to complete, for example, her needlework. (25) The female subject's presence at the threshold gives her a unique opportunity to occupy both the private space of the household and the public space of the community simultaneously, while also fulfilling responsibilities that come with her occupation of both of these spaces. Mistress Mayberry's presence at the doorstep is in keeping with the aforementioned reasons, but it also reveals that the threshold may threaten female reputation. In the context of the play, Mistress Mayberry's presence at the doorstep becomes a physical hindrance that prevents theft and corruption of the household and the goods it contains, but her protection of the household comes at the cost of a threat to her honor.
Yet, Mistress Mayberry's presence at the threshold is far more complex than the cultural associations of the threshold with prostitution capture. The Mayberrys operate within a material system wherein the well-being of the household is contingent upon its containment of the goods that are a part of it. Tracing the development of middle-class sentimentalities and attachments to objects, Natasha Korda argues that the household takes on this very quality, serving as a kind of repository: "As householders of the middling sort began to furnish their houses with new luxuries... they found new significance in the trope of the household as a hold, not simply in a sense of a 'property held; a possession, holding,' but of 'a thing that [itself] holds something... a receptacle' or repository of goods, analogous to a 'ship's hold' (OED)." (26) The household's nascent capacity to hold material objects translates to new responsibilities of the housewife as a manager:
The housewife's role in managing the household economy, her oversight of its stuff and provisions, is clearly not a passive one, as the term keeper might suggest; for her responsibilities include not only saving, storing, and maintaining, but marking, ordering, accounting, dividing, distributing, spending, and disposing of household property, including both durable and perishable goods... The housewife's... duty as a keeper, thus positioned her in an active, managerial role that required her not only to keep or hold goods, but to deal out, distribute and dispense them, and thereby to 'govern' the household economy. (27)
The household's capacity to hold objects brings about the subjectivity of the housewife who oversees the household; the wholesomeness of the household serves as proof that the housewife has fulfilled her duties.
To better understand the system that governs the family home we may look at a different subplot that deals with the home and its well-being. In an attempt to gain Bellamont's approval of Doll, Philip sets up a household using Bellamont's wares and puts Doll in charge of it. When Bellamont visits Doll, his own wares catch his attention:
BELLAMONT You should be a kin to the Bellamonts, you giue the same Armes, madam. DOLL Faith I paid sweetely for this cup, as it may be you and some other Gentlemen haue don for their Armes. BELLAMONT Ha! the same waight: the same fashion: I had three nest of them giuen mee, by a Nobleman at the christening of my sonne Philip. PHILIP Your sonne is come to full age sir: and hath tane possession of the gift of his God-father. [Comes forward with Chartly.] BELLAMONT Ha, thou wilt not kill mee. PHILIP No, sir, ile kill no Poet, least his ghost write satires against me. (3.1.70-80)
This scene reinforces two notions that the play continually revisits: that the household is vulnerable to the attacks of outsiders or even its own members (as is the case here with Philip and even Mayberry) and that the household is capable of indicating its own well-being. In this case, Bellamont's material goods indicate that his household has been compromised: it is no longer safe against attacks from others, even if the attack is coming from Bellamont's son. Following this logic, the presence of all the items that make up the household indicates its status of well-being. In analyzing Mistress Mayberry's encounter with Greenshield and Featherstone, I would like to focus on two components: the social reputation of the house and its material well-being. While Mistress Mayberry's presence at the doorstep allows for the easy interpretation of the home as a whorehouse, her physical presence at the threshold protects the material objects that the home contains (the exception being her ring that Greenshield and Featherstone snatch away from her finger). In return, the material objects that constitute the household--which Mistress Mayberry essentially protects by sacrificing her reputation--enable her to quickly prove her innocence to her husband. Once Mayberry arrives home and sees that everything at home is intact, he lets go of his performance of the jealous husband because he can glean that his wife has fulfilled her role as the guardian of the household quite well.
For the rest of my discussion of Northward Ho, I would like to focus on Luke Greenshield and Kate, because the Greenshields represent the predictable outcome when it comes to potential female infidelity; the outcome that does not affect the Mayberrys because Mistress Mayberry is able to convince her husband of her loyalty. (28) Like the Mayberrys, the Greenshields go through accusations of cuckoldry, the husband's absence from the household, and the wife's possible dalliance with another man. The main difference between the two couples seems to be Luke Greenshield's seeming lack of respect for the marital union: his own as well as those of others. (29)
Unlike the Mayberrys, the Greenshields do not escape accusations of infidelity unscathed. While Mayberry's earlier formulation of female infidelity might not apply to his own marriage, it is perfectly apt for the Greenshields: "This wit taking of long iourneys: kindred that comes in ore the hatch, and sailing to Westminster makes a number of Cuckolds" (1.1.131-32). As the play reveals, Mayberry is not absent from the family home for extended periods of time, and Mistress Mayberry does not regard his absences as an opportunity to cheat on him. However, this does not seem to be the case for the Greenshields. The cracks in their marriage appear when Greenshield and Featherstone first discuss Kate:
I left my boy to waight vpon her, by this light, I thinke God prouides; for if this cittisen had not out of his ouerplus of kindnes proferd her, her diet and lodging vnder the name of my sister, I could not haue told what shift to haue made; for the greatest part of my mony is reuolted: weele make more vse of him: the whoreson rich Innkeeper of Doncaster her father shewed himselfe a ranke ostler: to send her vp at this time a yeare; and by the carier to; twas but a iades trike of him (2.2.90-98).
Greenshield uses Mayberry's finances to cover his wife's travel expenses because he cannot afford to do so. While the couple's lack of financial stability is not to blame for their imperfect relationship, the scarcity of the family finances may be interpreted as indicative of improper household management. By contrast, the Mayberrys' financial well-being is symptomatic of a carefully managed household (one example of this may be seen in Mayberry's complaint of traveling with hard-boiled eggs to save on food while on the road; presumably, Mistress Mayberry takes care of the home and the family business while her husband is away). Mistress Mayberry's ability to accompany her husband on the trip--and the family's overall financial solvency--is at least partly due to her willing fulfillment of her duties as a housewife, including taking care of the livestock and preparing meals for Mayberry to consume while travelling.
The Greenshields' inability to manage the family's finances is only one part of their marital failure. After Kate is introduced, it is clear that Luke Greenshield has failed to disclose to Mayberry and Bellamont that he is married, as the two express their dismay at the news of Greenshield's marital status: "His wife! Is Greensheild [sic] married? I haue heard him sweare he was a batchiler" (4.1.231-32). The Greenshields' union demonstrates that the well-being of the home is contingent upon the dedication of both parties; in the case of the Greenshields, the husband has forsaken his duties, which has resulted in the wife's seeming failure to follow hers. (30)
Luke Greenshield's lack of investment in the marital union brings about Kate's lackadaisical attitude towards her duties as a wife. In act 3, Squirrel and Leapfrog, servants to Featherstone and Greenshield, respectively, discuss the deception scheme that Kate Greenshield has orchestrated. Squirrel recounts:
I will tell thee, the most pollitick trick of a woman, that ere made a mans face looke witherd and pale like the tree in Cuckolds Hauen in a great snow: and this is it, my mistris makes her husband belieue that shee walkes in her sleepe a nights, and to confirme this beleefe in him, sondry times shee hath rizen out of her bed, vnlockt all the dores, gon from Chamber to Chamber, opend her chests, touz'd among her linnen, and when he hath wakte and mist her, comming to question why she coniur'd thus at midnight, he hath found her fast a sleepe, mary it was Cats sleepe, for you shall heare what prey she watchtut for (3.2.12-21).
Squirrel's anecdote vividly depicts Kate's frenzied actions of going through the house, opening doors and chests, taking items out of their proper places and strewing them around. Squirrel's description of Kate's actions as "politick" and his subsequent "my mistris makes her husband belieue that she walkes in her sleepe a nights" indicates to the audience an aura of suspicion with which Kate's sleepwalking should be regarded. Kate's anticipation of her husband's suspicion results in a "Cats sleepe," which allows her to pretend to be fast asleep when Greenshield inquires about her absence from the marital bed. Kate's performance of sleepwalking enables her to manipulate skillfully the situation around her and turn her husband to her "prey."
In discussing the sleepwalking scene, Jeremy Lopez notes that Kate's sleepwalking is reminiscent of another famous sleepwalking scene which deals with marital struggle for power--that of Lady Macbeth--and argues that both scenes reveal as much as they conceal:
She [Kate] has been pretending to sleepwalk in order to give her cover on those nights, such as tonight, when she and her husband sleep in the same house as Featherstone and she gets up to share Featherstone's bed. But, of course, to perceive the difference between the two scenes, which is the market of genre--comedy conceals and reveals adultery, tragedy murder--is also to perceive their most fundamental similarity: in neither scene is any one really sleepwalking; Dekker and Webster present as acting a repertory of gesture which Shakespeare uses to render acting invisible. (31)
Lopez's argument about Kate's performance as simultaneously concealing and revealing--the revelation in this case being that of sexual frustration--is only one part of the function of Kate's performance. Read literally, the sleepwalking performance allows Kate to sneak into Featherstone's bed when she chooses. However, Kate's performance is not limited to merely sleepwalking. Squirrel notes that "shee hath rizen out of her bed, vnlockt all the dores, gon from Chamber to Chamber, opend her chests, touz'd among her linnen." As she makes her way through the home, she can be seen opening up the household and its various crevices, and even tossing her linen around. As with Mistress Mayberry, Kate's chastity has a twofold purpose: on the literal level, it depicts her loyalty to her husband, but it can also figure for her care for the household. Kate's nightly performance of sleepwalking should be interpreted along these two sets of expectations. As the conversation between Squirrel and Leapfrog reveals, Kate's sleepwalking is a guise for her eventual cuckolding of her husband: by engaging in the performance of sleepwalking frequently, Kate creates the circumstances that would enable her to cheat on her husband. On the material end of the spectrum, Kate's opening of doors and chests while sleepwalking exposes the household and its goods to outsiders.
Kate's performance of unfaithfulness and household vulnerability is just that: a performance. However, this performance of infidelity is necessary for Kate to prove her own skills at managing the family home. Kate must create the conditions through which she can prove her fidelity. Despite Kate's orchestration of the sleepwalking scheme, there is no indication that the household has been compromised. Featherstone admits that Kate Green-shield's reputation has been unjustly compromised: "I protest the gentlewoman is honest, and since I haue wrong'd her reputation in meeting her thus priuately, He maintaine her" (5.1.337-38). Kate claims that since Greenshield believes that she has been unfaithful to him, she will behave in accordance to his expectations: "He be diuorc'd by this Christian element, and because thou thinkst thou art a Cockold, least I should make thee an infidel, in causing thee to beleeue an vntrueth, He make thee a Cuckold" (5.1.339-42). (32) Kate's sleepwalking plot and subsequent interactions with Featherstone demonstrate the ease with which the wife may deceive her husband and her continual choice to remain faithful to the home, her husband, and her responsibilities as a wife. While Mistress Mayberry gains power from the fulfillment of her wifely duties, Kate seemingly gains power from the exact opposite. Kate's performance of sleepwalking, as well as her opening up of the home's spaces enables her to stage the possibility of the threat that the household can be subjected to. Her demonstration of the vulnerability of the household--as represented both in the possibility of her cheating on her husband and not safeguarding the contents of the home--is merely a ruse that enables her to render visible the work that goes into maintaining the household. Kate's staging of the vulnerability of the household while simultaneously ensuring its well-being reminds the audience how easy it is for the wife to betray the household. Kate Greenshield derives her power--which in the context of the play manifests itself in the form of an upper hand over her husband--by showing all the ways in which she could fail to fulfill her role as a wife only to do everything she is supposed to do, even when her husband fails to fulfill his own responsibilities within the household. As is the case with Mistress Mayberry, the female character's power does not come merely from her fulfillment of her duties; rather, it is in her demonstrative (to an audience comprised of the community that surrounds the family unit) fulfillment of her duties coupled with her exposure of the possibilities of her failure to fulfill these duties that brings about female agency.
When asked to explain her sleepwalking scheme, Kate justifies her actions by citing her husband's frequent absences from the family home: "he ran away from me like a base slaue as he was, out of Yorke-shire, and pretended he would goe the Hand voiage, since I neere heard of him till within this fortnight: can the world condemne me for entertayning a friend, that am vsed so like an Infidel?" (2.2.123-28). Kate's representation of her marriage justifies her attempts to stray from her husband even if her extramarital affairs will bring about the demise of the household. Greenshield's shirking of his duties as a husband, his long absences from home, and his attempts to seduce other women all contribute to the play's depiction of the Greenshield union as doomed. Greenshield's refusal to fulfill his duties as a husband quickly spreads to others: Kate cites her husband's absences from the family home as the reason behind her own performances of disobedience. Greenshield's mere presence at the threshold of the Mayberrys' home disrupts the peace between the couple and invites criticism of Mistress Mayberry's ability to perform her duties as a housewife.
Despite the many commonalities that the two couples share, there is a crucial difference when it comes to spousal chastity and dedication to the family home. In the case of Mistress Mayberry, her decision to stay faithful to her husband is not to be confused with powerlessness; rather, it should be interpreted as a moment of willful obedience. Mistress Mayberry chooses to stay faithful to the marital union and this choice, in fact, empowers the couple and ensures its survival. As evidenced in Kate's sleepwalking scenes, the wife's capacity to betray the household is limitless: it is the wife's willful choice to place herself at the threshold of the household rather than open its various spaces in a performance of sleepwalking. Mistress Mayberry and Kate Greenshield derive their powers from the space of the household through a two-step process: by demonstrating their ability to manage the family home and by doing so in a communal setting. Inevitably, through this communal performance of home management the wives expose their husbands' ineptitude (Greenshield) and unreasonable suspicion of the wife (Mayberry) when it comes to matters of the home. The female characters' ultimate investment in ensuring the well-being of the household can be gleaned from the play's continual engagement with the notion of female infidelity, only to reveal that the play's obsessive questioning of female spousal chastity has been futile. Rumors of Moll Mayberry's infidelity are proven false within the initial acts of the play; despite her brilliant plan of sleepwalking to deceive her husband, Kate Greenshield's relationship with her husband cannot be easily categorized as cheating. Kate brings a sense of ambiguity about her activities when she says: "My deare vnkind husband; I protest to thee I have playd this knauish part only to be witty" (5.1.231-32) to which Greenshield later responds with "A pox of your wit and your singing" (5.1.245). Despite her proclamations to the contrary--as demonstrated through her rendering the household vulnerable while sleepwalking--Kate Greenshield has kept the home intact. In this case, she merely chooses to teach him a lesson by demonstrating just how easy it would be for her to betray the household. If the rumor started by Greenshield and Featherstone creates the circumstances that allow Mistress Mayberry to perform her duties as an obedient housewife, Kate is able to achieve a similar effect by creating the circumstances that demonstrate her ability to take care of the family home in front of the community. The dangers that the household may be subjected to give the female characters the opportunity to prove their abilities to safeguard and manage the family home; doing so in a public setting gives them the (frequently temporary) agency over their duties, their homes, and their own actions.
As a city comedy, Northward Ho focuses on the daily lives of London's citizenry, enables its audience to see a representation of the values and goals of citizens and their wives, and allows them to occupy the role of the protagonist. The play's careful consideration of female characters of the middling sort (particularly Mistress Mayberry) enables a broader approach to the critical study of female agency. In examining the actions of Mistress Mayberry, we see a manifestation of female agency that occurs as a result of her willful acceptance of patriarchal expectations. This example of acquiescent agency broadens the criteria through which we should analyze female agency in two ways: agency need not always be accompanied by obvious rejection of societal expectations and the acceptance of such expectations does not automatically lead to a loss of power. In resisting the easy categorization of Mistress Mayberry's obedience as loss of power, I uncover the possibility of female agency that--while working through less obvious means--grants the female subject considerable power.
(1.) Dudley Diggs, The unlavvfulnesse of subjects taking up amies against their soveraigne, in what case soever (London, 1644), 113.
(2.) Theodore Leinwand notes that the revenge scheme is fully Mayberry's doing: "Significantly, it is the merchant, not the wife, who works out (and insists that his wife join him in) an elaborate revenge plot" (154). Leinwand interprets the play's main conflict as "pitting of citizen against gallant [to] reinforce status distinctions" (50) and argues that "the play ends when the citizens have played their last trick" (99). Similarly, Alexander Leggatt labels the play's pursuit of Greenshield as "class revenge, of the citizen turning the tables on the gallant." See Theodore Leinwand, The City Staged: Jacobean Comedy, 1603-1613 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986) and Alexander Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973), 133.
(3.) Here and throughout, my statements about female obedience do not assume an automatic relationship between cultural guidelines of female behavior and actual conduct. Phyllis Rackin cautions against assuming that "representative prescriptions" are "descriptions of actual behavior." See Phyllis Rackin, "Misogyny is Everywhere," in A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, ed. by Dympna Callaghan (Maiden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 49. Similarly, Lena Orlin encourages a resistance against the easy connection between prescriptive literature and actual experiences: "I and perhaps others have been seduced by the mere effort of research into thinking these prescriptions were culturally operative in a way that they cannot have been in many women's daily lives. Even though we have told ourselves that such admonitions would not have been necessary had their strictures been generally observed, we have nonetheless persisted in depicting women as victims of unrelenting misogyny, patriarchy, and oppression." See Lena Orlin, "A Case for Anecdotism in Women's History: the Witness Who Spoke When the Cock Crowed." ELR 31, no. 1 (2001): 74. My discussion of female obedience assumes a sense of purpose: the female character (perhaps unconsciously) follows guidelines that seek to regulate her behavior because this obedience gives her the power of self-discipline and (at least temporarily) frees her from the disciplining eye of her husband.
(4.) Kathryn Schwarz, What You Will: Gender, Contract, and Shakespearean Social Space (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 3.
(5.) Ibid., 26.
(6.) Turning to Althusser's famous example of hailing, we find a process that focuses mostly on how the ideological system enables the individual to become a subject but fails to address a reciprocal relationship: "By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he [the hailed individual turning around] becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was 'really' addressed to him, and that 'it was really him who was hailed' (and not someone else). Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of hailings is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, and one hailed always recognizes that it is really him who is being hailed." The transaction that Althusser describes does not record a crucial step in the process that turns subjects into agents. The individual on the street gains agency by responding to the hailing, but the individual's response to the hailing is necessary to validate the ideology. The ideological system that Althusser describes would cease to exist without the hailed subject's choice to respond to the hail. The subject's attainment of agency depends on the subject's inclusion into an ideological system, and the ideological system that grants agency to the subject is inherently dependent on the subject's choice to participate in it. Thus, the two components that bring about subjectivity are inter-related; one is not possible without the other because ideology cannot exist without the subjects' willful participation in it. See, Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus." Literary Theory: An Anthology ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan (Maiden, Mass: Blackwell, 1998), 118.
(7.) Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), 59.
(8.) Schwarz, What You Will, 10.
(9.) Natasha Korda, Shakespeare's Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 50.
(10.) The play's use of the community is markedly different from common associations between the family unit and the community that one may find in early modern scholarship. Lena Orlin characterizes the community's role in the life of the family unit as a matter of surveillance: "Social regulations of this sort [mandates for public vigilance] militated against privacy; in fact, it engendered a suspicion of the private. In other words, the cultural ambition to champion each householder as lord of his own castle conflicted with the compulsion to manage him through communal surveillance of his personal affairs." See Lena Orlin, Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 7. Karen Newman recounts an example of a communally enforced skimmington against a married couple and notes: "The community's ritual against the couple who transgresses prevailing codes of gender behavior seeks to reestablish those conventional modes of behavior--it seeks to sanction a patriarchal order." See Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 35-36. Unlike the examples that Orlin and Newman cite where the community interferes to restore or reinforce the social order that the family unit has in some way disturbed, in Northward Ho the family invites the community to witness the resolution of the conflict and the wife's skillful fulfillment of her duties within the home.
(11.) I describe the female characters' actions as regaining agency rather than gaining it because they have clearly held the position of power over the household at some point in the past. The process through which the female characters are able to prove their innocence and exercise some notion of agency is one of recovery; hence its relative ease. This process of gaining and regaining agency undermines theoretical assumptions that attainment of agency is finite process. At least for women of the middling sort, agency is slippery and must be continually renegotiated.
(12.) To consider how much the play values spousal chastity, we may look at the fact that no female infidelity occurs in the play, at least not within the marital setting. Even Doll, a prostitute, escapes her profession by marrying Featherstone.
(13.) Wendy Wall argues that the household as a crucial building block of the society as it inculcates valuable lessons of citizenship into its subjects: "As the 'first Societie and 'Seminarie,' the early modem family bore the tremendous burden of inculcating citizenship and virtue in a patriarchal and hierarchical world by structuring the proper dependencies that founded church, state, and body politic. Through this key structure, early modem people learned to rein in chaotic impulses and fantasies and to become full citizens. Representations of domestic disorder on the stage might thus simply be said to anatomize the wayward passions to be mastered or pathologies to be cured so as to ensure the proper ordering of home and polity." See Wendy Wall, Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 2.
(14.) All citations of Northward Ho are from The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker ed. by Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1955). Vol. II.
(15.) Leinwand, The City Staged, 51.
(16.) Korda traces this premise between good housekeeping and chastity to Juan Luis Vives's The Instruction of a Christen Woman: "the danger posed by the unfearful or 'over free' wife is one that the husband has good reason to fear himself: the goods and income 'wyll waste in short tyme,' his 'house muste nedes sone decaye,' and his wife's 'honesty' or chastity will be 'lyghtly' undone." See Korda, Shakespeare's Domestic Economies, 30-31.
(17.) Korda argues that this division of labor is dictated by many of the domestic manuals produced during the early modern period: "Domestic treatises played an important role in denning the precise parameters of this gendered division of labor, in which the husband's duty or 'calling' (in Protestant terminology) became that of getting, and the wife's that of keeping, household stuff." See Korda, Shakespeare's Domestic Economies, 26.
(18.) Cyrus Hoy, "Northward Ho: Introduction and Commentary." Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to Texts in Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker ed. by Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 249.
(19.) Charles Forker credits Bellamont for his ability to "distinguish between appearance and reality, as he proves when he warns Mayberry that Greenshield's story about the ring may be a hoax." See Charles Forker, "Westward Ho and Northward Ho: A Revaluation" Publications of the Arkansas Philological Association 6, no. 2 (1980): 30. Bellamont is believed to be based on the playwrights' colleague, George Chapman, and the character's ability to skillfully navigate the conflicts of the play seems like an homage to Chapman. For arguments about the connection between Chapman and Bellamont, see M. C. Bradbrook, John Webster: Citizen and Dramatist (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 111-12; and Robert Ornstein, "The Dates of Chapman's Tragedies, Once More" Modern Philology 59, no. 1 (1961): 61.
(20.) Leggatt argues that Mistress Mayberry's relatively easy task of convincing her husband of her fidelity is symptomatic of the solidity of their marriage: "The ease with which the usually all-consuming passion of jealousy is killed in Mayberry indicates this; he will simply take his wife's word for it that she is chaste." See Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare, 134. While I agree with Leggatt's assessment of the Mayberry union--and argue that this ease is one manifestation of Mistress Mayberry's power in the home--the well-being of the marriage is only one piece of evidence that leads to Mayberry's conviction of his wife's chastity. That the family home (which the wife is responsible for guarding) has remained safe throughout the gallants' attacks enables Mayberry to quickly assess the situation and verify his wife's performance of her duties.
(21.) Jeremy Lopez notes that Mistress Mayberry's speech attempting to prove her innocence to her husband is among the fifty-seven lines in the play that are written in verse. Lopez interprets Mistress Mayberry's use of blank verse as a "means of gaining control over the free-wheeling illogic of city comedy." See Jeremy Lopez, Constructing the Canon of Early Modern Drama (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 163.
(22.) By contrast, as I will demonstrate later, the union of the Greenshields is compromised because of Luke Greenshield's prolonged absences and infidelity to his wife and Kate Greenshield's (seeming) abandonment of her duties as a wife.
(23.) Laura Gowing, "'The Freedom of the Streets': Women and Social Space, 1560-1640" in Londinopolis: Essays in the Cultural and Social History of Early Modern England, eds. Paul Griffiths and Mark S. R. Jenner (New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), 137.
(24.) Jean Howard, Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy, 1598-1642 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 125-26.
(25.) Per Hubbard: "women also spent many of their waking hours sitting at their doors or in their shops, where they could see and hear what happened in the street and sometimes in neighboring houses. Given the expense and bad quality of candlelight, sitting by the door may have been necessary for eye-straining needlework. In addition to this advantage, however, the threshold simultaneously favored domestic order and sociability. A woman sitting there could keep an eye on her maidservant and see that the apprentice was at work, stand up to serve a customer, watch her children playing in the street, observe any interesting passerby, hail a hawker, and pass the hours of tedious labor gossiping, joking, and quarreling with her neighbors" (149). See Eleanor Hubbard, City Women: Money, Sex, and the Social Order in Early Modern London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 149.
(26.) Korda, Shakespeare's Domestic Economies, 25.
(27.) Ibid, 27.
(28.) Leinwand comments on the play's inclusion of Kate: "It is unusual to find a married gallant in a city comedy, and in Northward Ho it is Kate's affair with Luke's companion Featherstone that leads to Luke's embarrassment." See Leinwand, The City Staged: Jacobean Comedy, 1603-1613, 50.
(29.) Leggatt supports this characterization of Greenshield by describing him as a "lecher... who has been paying court to Mistress Mayberry, a citizen's wife. It is characteristic of his type that his main motive is not love for the woman but a desire to translate into action his cynical belief that all city wives are lecherous." See Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare, 132.
(30.) Leggatt links the failure of the Greenshields' union to the gallant's attempts to corrupt Mistress Mayberry: "The gallant's offence has been that of trying to disrupt a marriage, and the punishment is, appropriately, the disruption of his own. In chasing other women, he has neglected his own wife Kate; in fact, he regards her as something of an encumbrance, and is in the habit of referring to himself as a bachelor." See Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare, 133.
(31.) Lopez, Constructing the Canon of Early Modern Drama, 128-29.
(32.) My interpretation of Kate here and throughout varies from previous critical examinations of the character. For instance, Larry Champion labels Kate "the worst of the lot" in the play and provides the following evidence for his indictment: "Married to one man, she pretends to be his sister in order to cozen a second, meanwhile engaging in an affair with a third and also finding time to offer herself as a prostitute to a fourth." See Larry Champion, "Westward-northward: Structural Developments in Dekker's 'Ho' Plays." Comparative Drama 16, no. 3 (1982): 259. While the play does not offer incontrovertible proof that Kate does not cheat on her husband, it also does not provide incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Featherstone's comments about her honesty, along with Kate's declaration to her husband that she'll cheat on him to satisfy his belief that he's a cuckold, introduce an aspect of ambiguity about Kate's extramarital activities. In discussing Kate, I resist the easy definition as an adulteress, particularly given her ability to ensure the well-being of the family home.
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|Publication:||Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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