The Sempster's Wares: Merchandising and Marrying in The Fair Maid of the Exchange (1607) [*].
If everyday objects take on symbolic significance in courtship, it is because lovers invest certain objects with special meanings. Yet, before courtship exchange translates objects into love tokens, these same everyday objects circulate as commodities. Often, the dramatic lives of love tokens are read merely within an economy of courtship in which objects become the symbolic signs of a shared love, their commodity states elided from view.  However, an object's ability to move between a market economy and a courtship economy allowed early modern dramatists to use love tokens as stage properties in order to explore the tensions surrounding women's agency and social position as production that had once taken place within the household began increasingly to
take place in the market. In the early seventeenth century, London began to grow into what one early modern commentator called "the mart of the world,"  and the separation between home and market created a contradictory position for the marriageable youn g women who lived at home but who worked in the "mart." At home, a young woman was subject to regulation by her family or the head of the household in which she lived; in the marketplace outside her home, a young woman earning her own money could exercise a degree of independence, especially in the choice of a marriage partner.
In The Fair Maid of the Exchange (1607),  the drama of courtship gets played out in the marketplace, and the plot foregrounds the problematic aspects of female presence in the market. In this anonymously written city comedy, two sempsters work in London's Royal Exchange and devise embroidered handkerchiefs not as commodities to sell, but as tokens to give to their lovers. The women's handkerchiefs therefore embody the interpenetration of the erotic and the economic. As opposed to many plays that invite symbolic readings of love tokens because the commodity state of the token remains unclear within the play or resides in the play's prehistory, this play invites its audience to consider everyday objects as both commodities and love tokens when it represents the sempsters merchandising -- i.e., producing and selling -- linens on stage.  The women's positions as sempsters allow tokens to flow initially from women to men, but the play strongly redirects the flow of desire this movement of the love tokens re presents. Peddling wares enables the women to act as erotic agents, and, in the marketplace, they betroth themselves to men of their own choosing. The play, however, registers cultural anxiety -- here gendered as masculine -- about articulated feminine desire by undoing these first betrothals: at the play's end, the women are betrothed a second time to men chosen for them by a male friend and ratified by their parents.
This essay explores how The Fair Maid maps out some of the cultural anxieties about courtship practices and marriage formation that were mobilized by women's participation in early modern England's expanding market economy. I am, of course, neither tracing the historical development of England's market economy nor women's roles in it; others have done that.  Instead, I am looking at how theater participates in negotiating and managing ideological change.
The strawberry-spotted handkerchief in Othello is arguably the most well-known hankie in early modern drama. Yet, its circulation in the play reveals little about the forms, values, uses, and ownership of handkerchiefs in the period. The dramatic lives of handkerchiefs become more meaningful when they are set in context with the various "real" lives of "handkerchers." In 1589, Edward Whalley recorded in the Countess of Shrewsbury's account book a disbursement of twenty-six shillings "for two fayre wrought Cutt handcarcheffes unedged or made upp" and an additional disbursement of five shillings five pence "for twoe garnishe of buttons th[e] one of silver the other of very fyne threede and for lace of silver and of threede to hyme upp the sayde two handcarcheefes."  A 1593 entry in Henslowe's diary records that he lent ten shillings for five "wrought handkarchers." Three were made of lawn, two of holland; three were edged with gold, and two were edged with silk.  The 1612 probate inventory for Master Isaa c Lowden lists "a shirt, two bandes, two payre of custes, a payre of boote hose & an handkercher," valued in total at four shillings.  And a 1621 "note of my maister his wearing Lynen" includes thirteen handkerchers: one "old," three with bone lace, seven of plain holland, and two of cambric.  As these few examples illustrate, the word "handkercher" signified a range of objects greatly diverse in quality, style, and value.
Among the wealthy, handkerchiefs were fashionable accessories during the Middle Ages, and although they came into more general use in England and on the Continent during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially during Elizabeth's reign, handkerchiefs remained fashionable signifiers of wealth and status for both women and men during the early modern period.  Made from the finest and most expensive imported fabrics, edged with lace and/or wrought with silk, "garnished" with tassels or buttons, then perfumed with costly spices, large handkerchiefs were displayed prominently by men and women alike. Few of these treasured objects remain to provide a concrete sense of dimension and quality, but one extant example of a sixteenth-century handkerchief, embroidered with a border of flowers and the initials "P. E.," measures 16" x 15".  Emilia's claim in Othello that Desdemona "reserves [the handkerchief] evermore about her" (3.3.311) finds embodiment in portraiture of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Ca rolinean periods in which many paintings depict noble and gentry women holding large lace-edged handkerchiefs. 
Certainly many of these luxurious handkerchiefs could be love tokens, like the one held by Desdemona; many could serve solely as symbols of wealth. Functioning as props in highly stylized self-representations, their meanings must remain uncertain without specific investigation into the material lives of the particular women who hold them and without knowledge of the portraits' occasions or contexts.  Despite the interpretative challenges these linen squares present, the frequency with which this particular propappears in portraits of early modern women suggests the handkerchief's importance to the symbolic economy of the period's portraiture, and recently art historians have sought to expand the hankie's meanings beyond its important but limited significance as a "luxury article of fashion."  As a portrait attribute, handkerchiefs are related to gloves and fans, for these three fashionable and expensive accessories appear most frequently in portraiture.  Among art historians, according to Stephan ie S. Dickey, the handkerchief--like the glove and the fan--"has also been recognized as a marriage accessory presented to the bride as a token of betrothal or a wedding gift, and displayed, as embroidered gloves often were, as part of the trousseau."  However, handkerchiefs are held by women of all ages, and while hankies might signify appropriately as love tokens in portraits of younger women, this would not be true when held by older women. Seeking an appropriate significance for the wide-spread use of hankies in the portraits of older women, Dickey examines seventeenth-century English consolation literature and demonstrates convincingly how the handkerchief, as an "agent for the wiping away of tears," functions as a signifier of sorrow and consolation.  Traveling from youthful courtship to aged widowhood, the handkerchief's meaning, Dickey argues, is altered by time: "The attribute that once served as a token of betrothal now dries the tears of bereavement and old age." 
Early modern portraiture provides evidence of handkerchief ownership and the symbolic uses associated with them among the wealthy; yet, by the early seventeenth century; handkerchiefs of different qualities were available to meet the demands of different classes of consumers. As Joan Thirsk has shown for a variety of goods, England's domestic market in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries "was capable of absorbing a wide range of qualities," and "goods at many different prices were available to every class of purchaser" (115). Differentiation in textile products resulted not only from the increased availability of imported linens to meet the demands of those who could afford them, but also from the domestic production of differing qualities of textiles that could satisfy a demand for less costly textile products.  In Greene's Tu quoque (1614), for example, a pedlar offers a selection of handkerchiefs from her basket of linens (Fairholt, 2:215). In The Fair Maid of the Exchange, Phillis Flower, the "fa ir maid" of the play's title, offers a gentleman customer a choice:
Of Lawnes, or Cambricks, Ruffes well wrought, Shirts,
Fine falling bands of the Italian cut-worke,
Ruffes for your hands, wast-cotes wrought with silke
Night-caps of gold, or such like wearing linnen,
Fit for the Chap-man of what ere degree.
In her sales pitch Phillis distinguishes between the textiles fit for the gentleman's personal use and those fit for his servants' use. The Yorkshire farmer Henry Best describes some of the linens available from country pedlars, associating them with the degrees of women who would make "handkerchers" from them: "flezy-holland" for "gentlewomen's handkerchers"; tiffeny or cock-web-lawn "used of gentlewomen for hankerchers for the neck"; and Scotch cloth "brought into England by the poor Scotch merchants, and much used here for women's handkerchers and pocket handkerchers" (252-53).
Inventories document wide ownership of handkerchiefs, and Best's account book provides evidence that by the 1640s, handkerchiefs were no longer carried merely by the wealthy as signifiers of wealth and status. Best distinguishes between kerchers worn around the neck, those carried in the pocket, and mere "handkerchers," but documents and portraits provide scant evidence for how these precious pieces of linen were actually used by their respective owners. Sixteenth-century courtesy books instruct their readers to use handkerchiefs rather than tablecloths, sleeves, hats, or fingers when blowing the nose, and handkerchief etiquette is associated not only with manners but with wealth: only a person of means could afford to soil lace-edged linen squares in such mannerly displays of conspicuous consumption. 
While dramatic occasions cannot substitute for historical evidence, and while the values ascribed to hankies in plays do not merely reflect the values or associations handkerchiefs occasioned in "real" life, dramatic uses -- influenced by genre, motivated by plot, and often exaggerated for effect -- nevertheless hint at some uses for hankies. Blood-stained hankies serve as witnesses of murder in The Spanish Tragedy and A Warning for Fair Women, a use that recalls how spectators to executions dipped hankies, cloths, or articles of clothing in blood as souvenirs or tokens. Ferdinand, in The Duchess of Malfi, ironically "bequeaths" his handkerchief to his sister's newborn son. Posthumous waves farewell with his in Cymbeline. The Puritan women attending a christening in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside horde sweetmeats in their tasseled hankies, a scathing but nuanced comment on the women's inability to control their desires in regard both to food and fashion. But typically in dramas, hankies wipe away tears, "real" o r feigned, as Alice Arden does with hers in Arden of Feversham.
Handkerchiefs, however, are most visible in the period as love tokens. Chronicles, court cases, and literature portray their widespread circulation within an economy of courtship. Howe, in his addition to Stowe's Chronicle, records:
Maydes and gentlewomen give to their favorites, as tokens of their love, little handkerchiefs of about three or four inches square wrought round about, and with a button or tassel at each corner, and a little one in the middle, with silke and threed; the best edged with a small gold, lace, or twist, which being doubled up in foure crosse foldes, so as the middle might be seen, gentlemen and others did usually weare them in their hatts as favors of their loves and mistresses. Some cost six pence apiece, some twelve pence, and the richest sixteene pence. 
These hankies sound quite similar to the Countess of Shrewsbury's, but they cost considerably less. In Howe's account, handkerchiefs are gendered objects of exchange, given by women to men, but handkerchiefs could also be given by men to women. Furthermore, his narrative of gifting locates these love tokens within the economies of courtship and market, thus signaling his awareness that these gifts, no matter how sentimental or meaningful to the participants at the time of their exchange, bear not only symbolic but also economic value.
Ecclesiastic depositions for matrimonial cases provide evidence that the participants in these contested cases were acutely aware of both the symbolic and economic values of the tokens they gave and received. These cases demonstrate that marriage formation was an especially fraught process, and tokens simultaneously helped and hindered the men and women who negotiated the path to marriage. In a study of the roles tokens played in shaping and defining social relations in the process of marriage formation, Diana O'Hara examined ecclesiastical depositions for the period 1542-1602 in the diocese of Canterbury and found that the giving of gifts reflected the complexity of the marriage process, a process that involved not a single event but a series of stages. "As the marriage progressed along a line from courtship to church wedding, passing through various more or less clearly defined stages," O'Hara states, "so gifts and tokens, marked that progression or served to confirm, accelerate, or terminate" the relation ship (1992, 19). Tokens and gifts, O'Hara argues, "provided a language to express the actual or desired condition of negotiations which, at the same time, indicated to family, kin, and community, that crucial stages in the economic, social and political transaction had been reached" (1992, 19). Evaluating the kinds of gifts given, O'Hara determined that articles of clothing -- most commonly gloves, purses, and handkerchiefs -- comprised one-third of courtship tokens. By analyzing the specific occasions at which these types of tokens were given, she found they were given typically in the early stages of courtship or friendship, during wedding preparations, and after the betrothal, but not at the betrothal, i.e. the stage of contract, itself (1992. 24-26). While O'Hara did not find any particular object associated exclusively with a specific event in Canterbury, including rings at betrothal, her discovery about the clustering of gifts of clothing and textiles around courtship's early stages provides an historic frame in which to consider The Fair Maids representations of merchandising and courtship practices.
The Fair Maid of the Exchange represents the merchandising of textiles and articles of clothing as a tapestry of productive and social relations. Phillis Flower and Mall Berry, the sempsters who work at London's Royal Exchange, and the respective protagonists of plot and subplot, negotiate the myriad transactions involved in merchandising textiles, and the play's accurate representation of an early modern sempster's activities illustrates the inadequacy of envisioning these women as merely "needlewomen."  In the main plot, for example, the imported lawns purchased from the merchant Master Brooke are delivered to Phillis at the Exchange by Brooke's servant.  In the shop where Phillis works, a boy squares parchment pieces and chastises Phillis for not "witting" the lawns; Phillis waits upon a gentleman and instructs the boy to go to the starchers for some ruffs, bands, and shirts that belong to three different gentlemen. Phillis visits the drawer with a handkerchief, instructs him about the motif he's t o draw on it, and later returns to claim it.  And in the play's opening scene, Phillis and a co-worker deliver goods to a gentlewoman's home. In the subplot, Mall Berry visits the drawer at his shop several times, taking handkerchiefs, ruffs, and stomachers to be drawn, pays him for his services, and retrieves the completed articles, which she then embroiders for her customers.
Much of the play's action centers around the character Cripple, the drawer whose role in early modern embroidery production is not often dramatized. This drawer is not a tapster who "draws" ale in a tavern; he is the draughrsman who quite literally "draws" the image or motif to be embroidered onto either a reusable pattern or the fabric itself, as Cripple does on the women's hankies.  The play offers no explanation for Cripple's lameness, but this identifying characteristic figures importantly in the way desires circulate among the characters, and Cripple's role is considered below in more detail.
While the play realistically stages many facets of textile merchandising, the social standings of the main characters remain sketchy, and it is difficult to determine with precision their social or economic status and how these factors might inflect the dramatic narrative. Master Flower is a merchant who lives with his wife and daughter on Cornhill near the Exchange, and his friend Master Berry seems to be a usurer. Phillis and Mall's positions in their respective shops are similarly vague. Mall's mistress, if she has one, is never mentioned. Although Phillis's mistress is alluded to, it is never made clear who she is; the shop, however, is not run by Phillis's family. It is clear that both sempsters live at home and both work in London's paid labor market. Phillis and Mall eventually espouse themselves to members of the gentry, but these espousals are represented as financially advantageous to the men, not socially advantageous to the women. Phillis and Mall, therefore, are not in the position of "real" ear ly modern sempsters who earned their livings by their needles; instead, their merchandising activities in the plot make possible the erotic independence they exercise in choosing spouses, an independence that "real" working women of the middling sort appear to have had in the period, but one which occasions discomfort in this play. 
Into its web of productive relations, the play weaves elements of danger, mapping the culture's anxieties onto the women who work in this network of exchange and thereby questioning women's participation in London's market economy. In the opening scene, rogues attack Phillis and a co-worker when the women travel to Mile End to deliver ruffs, stomachers, and lawn to a customer. Concerned first for their ware and then for their virginity -- precisely the two things the rogues desire -- the women are saved by the drawer, Cripple. Telling him "My honor you have sav'd redeem'd it home: / Which wer't not done, by this time had beene gone" (109-10), Phillis constructs home into the site of honor, safety, and redemption. From the start, the play presents a conflict between goods and honor, implying that at home, women's honor is safe, whereas in the market, honor becomes yet another type of good. The rogues, however, undeterred by the presence of a lame man, re-attack, knocking Cripple's crutches out from under him. This time, Phillis, her co-worker, and the effeminized Cripple are saved by a young gentleman, Frank Golding. The play's second scene sets up the subplot and is but a variation on the opening scene: Mall goes to the drawer's with her handkerchief, becomes prey for a gallant, Bowdler, when he finds her in the unattended shop; another gentleman, Barnard, enters and saves Mall from Bowdler's sexual advances. These two scenes establish the triangles of desire that motivate plot and subplot: Mall later betroths herself to Bowdler, and Phillis betroths herself to a man whom she believes is Cripple, but who is actually Frank Golding disguised as Cripple; by the play's end, each woman is re-betrothed to the true "hero" of each scene, Mall to Barnard, and Phillis -- this time knowingly -- to Frank Golding.
In the play's shop scenes, the women are endangered by men who treat them as goods. Dramatic representations of women working in shops or selling goods often portray the women as whores or equate them with the ware they sell. In The Fair Maid, Phillis and Mall risk being commodified by the men who would conflate them with their ware, but the play firmly insists upon their chastity and the chastity of other working women. When Bowdler's bravado implies that the maids who visit his chamber with "necessaries" sell their bodies along with -- or as -- their wares, Cripple criticizes him:
Sirra, you are one of those that will slaunder the poore wenches, by speaking liberally of their proneness to love; and withall, bragge how cheap you have bought their ware metaphorically, when indeede they depart as honest as they came thither, and leave you all the day after to sigh at an ill bargaine. (693-98)
According to Cripple, not only are the maids chaste, but they get the better of consumers such as Bowdler because the women know how to manipulate their customer's desires to their own benefit. The repetition of the shop scene in city comedies where women surrounded by goods risk becoming commodities themselves suggests an actual cultural discomfort with real women working in spaces where they are somehow "loosed" from the ideological structures the culture attempts to erect for their "safety," such as the domestic household where parents, husbands, or masters and mistresses are supposed to regulate desire.
Governed by forces of market exchange rather than the ideological forces which seek to shape and control human desire, shops exist both to satisfy and to produce desire for the objects sold in them. In shops, desires circulate almost uncontrollably from object to object, moving easily from the ware to the women who sell it.  In The Fair Maid, a gentleman seeking to satisfy his desire for linens enters Phillis's shop along with his friend, but in response to her requisite "What lacke you Gentlemen?," his desire shifts quickly to Phillis herself:
Faith virgin, in my dayes, I have worne & out-worne much,
Yea, many of these golden necessaries;
But such a gallant beautie, or such a forme
I never saw, nor never wore the like:
Faith be not then unkinde, but let me weare
This shape of thine, although I buy it deere.
Phillis firmly but sarcastically deflects his proposition by pointing to his error: "What hath the Tailor plaide his part so well, / That with my gowne you are so farre in love?" (1237-38). Despite its wit, her response nevertheless demonstrates how the objects which Phillis merchandises facilitate her "metaphorical" transformation. An especially intimate type of "ware," shirts, sleeves, ruffs, and bands -- unlike doublets or cloaks -- touch the body itself. Consequently, these articles of clothing are subject to greater "wear" through repeated use and laundering. Playing upon the word's multiple meanings, the gentleman carefully avoids using "ware" as a signifier for the linens Phillis offers for sale; instead he chooses to foreground the action of wearing or wearing out in the word's sexual sense. 
Women in shops are endangered by men, but in these scenes, Phillis and Mall each demonstrates the power to protect herself -- as long as the threat remains at the level of discourse.  To the gentleman who desires to "wear" Phillis rather than the ruffs and falling bands she sells, Phillis insists upon the firm distinction between her body and her "shop."  Successful shopkeeping in early modern England demanded rhetorical skill because shopping was not a passive activity; it was an active, physical engagement between buyer and seller as they bargained over price and quality, each seeking to maximize her or his own interest. In this play, shopkeeping provides both women with the rhetorical skills needed to overpower, verbally, the men who attempt to conflate them with their ware. Working in any capacity put women in close contact with men, and ultimately it would have been up to the women to secure their own honor. When Phillis and Mall use their rhetorical powers to peddle wares and to protect themselv es from the desires of unwanted suitors, the play demonstrates that women can remain chaste in the marketplace. However, when Phillis and Mall use those powers to articulate and act on their own desires
and to contract themselves in marriage, the play displays its discomfort with women acting as erotic agents in the marketplace.
As sempsters, Phillis and Mall traffic in linens and articles of clothing, including the gloves, purses, and hankies that O'Hara found comprised one-third of tokens given in the early stages of courtship. They are perfectly positioned, therefore, to employ their skills for themselves, which they do by encoding their desires in the embroidery motifs they devise for handkerchiefs. The handkerchief that appears first in the play belongs to Mall Berry. In soliloquy, Mall describes the motif she chooses for her hankie and debates with herself the appropriateness of her aesthetic choice. Because the soliloquy demonstrates Mall's conscious choice of a design and establishes what is at stake in her choice, and because the soliloquy enables her design to be contextualized with extant embroidered textiles from the period, I quote it almost in full:
Now for my true-loves hand-kercher; these flowers
Are pretie toyes, are very pretie toyes:
O but me thinkes the Peascod would doe better,
The Peascod and the Blossome, wonderfull!
Now as I live, ile surely have it so.
Some maides will chuse the Gilliflower, some the Rose,
Because their sweet cents do delight the nose,
But very fooles they are in my opinion,
The very worst being drawen by cunning art,
Seemes in the eye as pleasant to the heart.
But heer's the question, whether my love or no
Will seeme content? I, there the game doth goe:
And yet ile pawne my head he will applaude
The Pescod and the flower, my pretie choice.
For what is he loving a thing in heart,
Loves not the counterfeit, though made by art?
I cannot tell how others fancie stand,
But I reioyce sometime to rake in hand,
The simile of that I love; and I protest,
That pretie pescod likes my humor best.
But ile unto the Drawers, heele counsell me.
Mall Berry's decision to adorn her true love's handkerchief with the peascod and the blossom is fraught with anxiety. Mall defies cultural expectations by choosing the peascod instead of the gillyflower or rose when she rejects as foolish the motifs conventionally used by lovers.  She supplants these fragrant flowers with "the worst": the common peascod.  Read next to the extant English domestic embroidered textiles of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, however, Mall's anxiety about the simplicity of her taste seems disingenuous at best, since peascods adorn waistcoats or jackets, coifs, nightcaps, purses, cushion covers, "pieces," panels, and many other objects. This list appears strikingly similar to the one Phillis recites to her customer, quoted above, precisely because these were the articles early modern sempsters merchandised in their shops. The appliqued peascod motif appears repeatedly on a linen jacket (fig. 1) that displays perfectly the sprigs of flowers, fruits, and vege tables enclosed within scrolling stems which characterize Elizabethan and Jacobean embroideries.  On the jacket, pairs of peascods flank the front opening along the hem, border the inside and outside of both sleeves near the hem and upper arm, and on the jacket's back, they frame the center hem line. Each motif occurs in reversed pairs, and typically one pod in each pair contains plump little peas, creating a three dimensional effect. Such symmetry of detail displays the care exercised in the design. 
Mall's motif could be read as an example of how a "gentry English taste" disseminates to the middling sort who, even without access to the Herbals or other printed pattern books from which these motifs were derived,  could adorn their nightcaps, coifs, and hankies with fashionable designs either by engaging sempsters or drawers to design patterns for them or by recreating on their own the designs they saw embroidered upon the finished goods displayed in London's shops. Some popular motifs from the period appear on the panel in figure 2.  Here, the peascod occupies a place alongside the pink and other flowers, fruits, vegetables, animals, and insects. When read within a context of fashionable taste in embroidered textiles, Mall's anxiety over the peascod cannot be aesthetic, and the early modern audience, familiar with the embroidered objects available for sale in London, would have recognized Mall's concern about "taste" as the red herring it is. Mall's anxiety is erotic, and to the extent that it is erotic, it epitomizes the play's anxiety about articulated feminine desire. As a designer, Mall personalizes her handkerchief by choosing an image specifically for its symbolic currency, a currency which accounts for the propriety of its inclusion on the piece from a bed-hanging (fig. 3), where the peascod joins other signs of betrothal, marriage, or fertility, including grapes, cherries, and pinks. But a design that is appropriate on a bed-hanging adorning the marriage bed might not be appropriate on a courtship token.  The motif unites a flower, symbol of femininity, fertility, and female genitalia, with the obviously phallic peascod, an aspect best exemplified by a contemporary style of doublet known either as the "peascod-belly doublet" or simply as the "peascod doublet." Fashionable in England from 1575-1600, the doublet front was stuffed with padding known as "bombast." Named no doubt due to its similarity to the field pea, "some with tough skins or membranes in the cods," as Gerard documents in hi s Herbal (1044), the doublet accentuated the "privie members," an aspect which Stubbes emphasizes when he inveighs against the style in Anatomy of Abuses:
Their dublettes are noe lesse monstrous than the reste; For now the fashion is, to have them hang downe in the middest of their theighes, or at least to their privie members, being so harde-quilted, and stuffed, bombasted and sewed, as they can verie hardly eyther stoupe downe, or decline them selves to the grounde, soe styffe and sturdy they stand about them. 
By the time the play appeared in print neither the doublet style itself nor the cod-piece, a related accessory was fashionable.  Nevertheless, even if contemporary readers were not fashion mavens, they would certainly associate the "peascod" with the "cod-piece" -- which enjoyed a long life in dramatic jokes, if not on the early modern streets -- and understand that Mall chooses the peascod specifically for its erotic content: As a silken ornament garnishing her handkerchief, Mall can freely "take in hand, / The simile of that" she loves. Kept to herself, the embroidered hankie stands in as a "counterfeit" for her love; given to her lover as a courtship token, the handkerchief functions as a "simile" for Mall in that it reflects her "taste." In choosing the peascod, Mall articulates her erotic desire and signals her readiness to enter herself into a (hetero-) sexual economy with an unnamed "true-love," a reproductive union which the peas-in-a-pod motif also clearly symbolizes.  The embroidered hankie quite literally embodies Mall herself, and as her soliloquy demonstrates, Mall plays a guessing game with her lover, gambling that he will correctly interpret its meaning: "I, there the game doth goe: / And yet ile pawne my head he will applaude / The Pescod and the flower, my pretie choice" (163-65). Here "head" refers specifically to Mall's maidenhead, and "pawne" refers to the shops upstairs at the Exchange where sempsters market their wares and sometimes themselves.  The success of Mall's conceit depends not only upon the lover's reciprocal desire for Mall, but also upon the lover's ability to decipher Mall's encoded message, and here lies the danger in her "game." Having rejected the conventional gillyflower and rose, Mall worries that her lover will not recognize the peascod as an emblem of her love. Mall's choice of motif and the anxiety attendant on it reflect the need to encode her desire so that it is not discernible to everyone, yet remains decipherable to the one she loves.
Phillis employs her handkerchief to similar effect, articulating her desire directly through a "conceit" she invents. Phillis creates her design along the lines of an emblem or empresa much like the emblem "De morte, & amore: locosum" in Geffrey Whitney's A Choice of Emblemes.  Unlike Mall, however, Phillis articulates her desire to the man she loves, the play's drawer, Cripple. Delivering to him the handkerchief that must be "wrought with expedition" (864), Phillis "acquaints" Cripple with an unnamed young "Gentle-womans minde" by explaining the design:
In one corner of the same, place wanton love,
Drawing his bow shooting an amorous dart,
Opposite against him an arrow in a heart,
In a third corner picture foorth disdaine,
A cruell fate unto a loving vaine:
In the fourth drawe a springing Lawrell tree,
Circled about with a ring of poesie: and thus it is:
Love wounds the heart and conquers fell disdayne,
Love pitties love, seeing true love in paine:
Love seeing Love how faithfull Love did breath,
At length impald love with a Laurell wreath.
Suppressing her desire to say more, Phillis quickly leaves the shop. Cripple immediately recognizes the ventriloquized voice as Phillis's own, interprets the symbolic content of the design -- "This Phillis beares me true affection" (886) -- and explains her method:
But modestie checking her forwardnesse
Bids her be still; yet she in similies
And love-comparisons, like a good Scholler
By figures makes a demonstration
Of the true love enclosed in her heart.
Using "similies" or "figures" wrought in silk, Mall and Phillis each consciously manipulates embroidered signs to express erotic desire. This transgressive manipulation of embroidery goes against the grain of prescriptive literature in which a woman's domestic skill in needlework was praised as a feminine virtue. For these sempsters, embroidery serves as a form of female authorship: writing their manuscripts with their needles, Phillis and Mall envision a "private" audience for their work; yet, by capitalizing on their position in the market and employing Cripple to draw their designs, they in effect "publish" their thoughts and subject themselves to the stigma early modern culture attached to printed works written by women.  Cripple voices this stigma, although he recognizes that the sentiment was meant for him alone: Phillis's method may be "modest," yet the act of articulating desire -- even in symbolic form -- marks her as "forward." Phillis admits as much when "shame forbids" her to say more to Cripp le. Mall, too, characterizes her love as "forward" at the close of her soliloquy when, finding Cripple away from his shop and therefore unavailable to counsel her on her design, she moralizes, "See, see, how forward love is ever crost" (175).
While the women fail in these first attempts to solicit their lovers, they later succeed, or at least each thinks she does, when each betroths herself while in Cripple's shop. Offstage and privately, Mall and Bowdler espouse themselves; afterwards, they appear together in Cripple's shop to announce publicly their espousal and to establish its legitimacy before witnesses. Initially Cripple had supported Bowdler's suit for Mall, admonishing him to "court her, win her, weare her, wed her, and bed her too" (lines 1638-39); but when Bowdler and Mall address each other as husband and wife, both Cripple and another character comment on the impropriety. Cripple's comment expresses his opinion -- which is upheld in the play -- that a clandestine betrothal does not constitute a valid marriage. Before leaving the shop to seek Master Berry's "good will," Bowdler, anticipating a problem, instructs Cripple to testify to the espousal's legitimacy if its validity is questioned. However, Cripple never responds to Bowdler's in structions, and later Cripple personally redirects Mall's desires from Bowdler to Barnard. Cripple also stage-manages Phillis's betrothal to Frank Golding by having Frank play the drawer in Cripple's shop. When Phillis returns to the shop for her hankie, she professes her love to "Cripple," and in the presence of Frank's two brothers who serve as witnesses, Phillis marries him: "I give my hand, and with my hand, my heart, / My selfe, and all to him; and with this ring / Ile wed my selfe" (2121-23). "Cripple" reciprocates with an unspecified "gift," and the match is sealed with a kiss.
Handkerchiefs and desires coalesce and circulate in the drawer's shop which serves as the economic and erotic center of the play. Women enter his shop, seeking both his services and his love, or at least Cripple claims that he is "hourely solicited" by women like Phillis (888). Encompassed by the desires of others and intimately involved in the production of love tokens, Cripple adamantly refuses to participate as a desiring subject within these imbricated economies. In his rejection of eroticism and in his deformity, Cripple occupies a singular position among the young men in the play, a singularity which begs for an explanation, especially since his is the dominant voice in the play. From a post-Freudian perspective, Cripple's lameness could cause him to be read as an effeminized or castrated man whom the women love because they can control him. But from an early modern perspective, effeminization results from associating too closely with women. In John Taylor's "The Praise of the Needle," for example, the phallic needle is unmanned through excessive "work":
As a stout Captaine, bravely he leads on,
(Not fearing colours) till the work be done
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And as a Soldier (Frenchefyde with heate)
Maim'd, from the warres is forc'd to make retreate:
So when a needles point is broke, and gone,
No poynt Mounsier, hee's maim'd, his worke is done.
By rejecting eroticism, Cripple avoids such an unmanning; nevertheless, he is "maim'd." Yet, it is only in the play's opening scene, discussed above, that Cripple is effeminized by his lameness. When physical prowess does not count, Cripple has the greatest agency in the play: he controls the plot from his powerful position within the play's productive economy. But what might happen when physical prowess does count? How might an early modern audience read Cripple's lameness in conjunction with his rejection of eroticism?
According to Ian Frederick Moulton, who addresses the early modern "tendency to conflate eroticism and deformity" in relation to the concepts of masculinity deployed in Shakespeare's Richard III, deformity is associated with "excesses and deficiencies in erotic ability." To explain these diverse poles, Moulton examines the writings of Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon. Montaigne offers three theories about deformity and erotic excess in his musings on the topic, one of which suggests that defective hydraulics in the deformed body prevents blood from flowing to the extremities, so "that the Genitall parts, that are above them, are more full, better nourished and more vigorous." Another suggests that deformed men and women save their strength for "Venus sports"; yet another, that the deformity "might adde some new kinde of pleasure unto that businesse or sweet sinne." Bacon, however, does not share Montaigne's view of deformity as sexually enabling; Bacon views deformity as a "sign of perverse desire" assoc iated with socially unacceptable couplings. According to Moulton, "Bacon also contends that, if the genitals do not function properly, erotic energy will circulate in other channels.... That which is unable to raise itself physically may rise socially instead." In other words, if eroticism is not channeled into what Moulton terms "patriarchal economies of reproduction," the physically deformed person, Bacon suggests, will channel his energy in ways which disrupt social order. 
The Fair Maid offers little evidence with which to explain its conflation of eroticism and deformity in the character of Cripple. If Mall were in love with Cripple, her choice of a bawdy peascod to symbolize that love could cast Cripple into the role of Montaigne's well-endowed lover. But Bacon's theosy offers in part a more probable explanation for why Cripple rejects eroticism and for why he is "hourely solicited" by women. Cripple offers his lameness and his "business" as excuses to distance himself from his own erotic desire and the desire of others. Unlike the "Frenchefyde" soldier of Taylor's poem, Cripple sublimates erotic desire, channeling his erotic energy away from "patriarchal economies of reproduction" and into production for the market; and it is Cripple's productive rather than reproductive ability that makes him a desirable commodity in London's marriage market. Ironically for Cripple, rejecting eroticism for work makes him a good "catch" for women seeking husbands: while he lacks both social standing and wealth, marriageable women recognize his economic value as a stable provider. Cripple's industry and thrift -- i.e., his ability to accumulate wealth -- could occasion, therefore, the rise in social standing that Bacon perceives as threatening, but so could an advantageous marriage, an available avenue Cripple rejects for himself while facilitating such marriages for his male friends.
One answer to why The Fair Maid conflates eroticism and deformity in the character of Cripple lies in the teleological intents represented in the play. Comedic conventions demand that Phillis and Mall marry at the play's end, but whom they marry rests in the author's hand. In this play, Cripple performs the author's pedagogic function. In having a drawer -- an artist figure -- for the character who shapes desire, the play follows a long humanist tradition, and Cripple's rejection of eroticism -- here represented by marriage and family -- paradoxically epitomizes the poet-philosopher's choice of a contemplative life. But when reset within a context of merchandising textiles in London's Royal Exchange and inscribed within a discourse of marriage and courtship, the ancient debate between a contemplative and active life produces an odd effect: in rejecting marriage, the drawer does not withdraw to a philosophical life in the country; he actively labors in London's market economy. In having a crippled artist figu re for the character who shapes desire, the mind/body binary sets Cripple even further apart from the other young men in the play who spend their time pursuing pleasure. An important part of the play's productive economy, Cripple nevertheless remains outside its courtship economy. From his singular position -- he is both part and not-part of the community -- he determines how erotic energy should flow.  Yet, as didactic and as authoritative as his voice may be in regulating erotic desire, his personal rejection of eroticism and marriage remains anomalous: Cripple is the only young man in the play who remains "untainted" by erotic desire, and at the play's conclusion, he and the other unmarried men have no clear place in the newly formed community of families.
The Fair Maid questions the validity of women acting as erotic agents and initiating the process of courtship by marking Phillis and Mall's actions as "forward" and by marking the private espousals that take place in the drawer's shop as clandestine. This conservative stance in the play finds support in the diocese of Canterbury's matrimony cases where, according to O'Hara,
Ecclesiastical court depositions are a highly mediated discourse,  and the depositions' assignment of passivity to women should perhaps be expected, since these representations of feminine behavior replicate the gender role constructed for women in conduct literature, a genre written primarily by the clergy. The need to prescribe passivity for women suggests that in practice women weren't the "primarily passive" recipients the depositions present them to be; indeed, the same documents show how women aggressively defended themselves from the unwanted -- and often hostile -- advances of male suitors. The Chronicle account, quoted above, in which maids give tasseled hankies to their lovers, leaves unspecified whether the handkerchiefs were given reciprocally or not; nor does the tone hint at disapproval of the social practice. Nevertheless, most plays support the representation of women as primarily passive in terms of initiating courtship.
the unevenness of the exchange assigned to women the primarily passive role of recipient. The form of giving, while not strictly defined by gender, would probably have rendered overt female initiative sexually predatory. Widows were found to be more forthcoming, but usually women acted in response to their suitors, either in returning tokens and, by implication, terminating negotiations, or in reciprocation, reassurance, and even positive encouragement. (1992, 11)
If decorum required women to wait passively for the man to make the first move, it also required women to avoid accepting gifts from men whose favors they did not return. Writing about gift giving within the economy of courtship, Laura Gowing foregrounds the uneven distribution of power embedded within courtship exchange, even when the exchange was reciprocal: "A man's gifts held, as a woman's did not, the implication of an emotional and, potentially, a marital bond, and a woman's receipt of gifts implied consent to that bond."  Depositions record women's efforts to negate or counterbalance the receipt of unwanted gifts by offering one of equivalent value in return. These exchanges were governed not by a logic of affect but by a logic of market value: women attempted to neutralize effectively a gift of gloves costing twelve pence by reciprocating financially, either with a gift worth twelve pence or with direct payment.  According to Gowing, "[w]omen who accepted tokens and regretted it tried, when t hey came to court, to explain how they were received unwittingly." Elizabeth Cole, for example, claimed that Martin Mullens gave her money which she accepted not as a token of courtship but, Cowing paraphrases, in "payment for lambs from her mother and for butter at the market, where, as Elizabeth was bargaining with a customer, Martin had paid the penny difference between her price and her customer's offer, to persuade Elizabeth to go and drink with him." Narratives such as Elizabeth's, Cowing claims, "reveal also the potential complications of marriageable women's dealings with money and men in the marketplace" (161).
Multiple factors created the conditions for these potential complications: the indeterminacy of tokens themselves; the multivalent meanings articulated in a token's exchange; and the extensive participation by women in merchandising many of the objects that courtship exchange translated into love tokens. As Elizabeth Cole's attempt to fix meaning demonstrates, in the market, everyday objects can move easily from commodity to token, and in that movement the object suddenly rakes on an added, but unwanted and unexpected, significance. Within this particular context, Martin Mullens and Elizabeth Cole contest the meaning of the money they exchanged. Contributing to complications such as this was the practice of giving money as love tokens. O'Hara's analysis of the kinds of tokens given on specific occasions revealed that monetary gifts were clustered primarily around "those stages immediately prior to, and focused upon, betrothal, where the element of contract is evident." She summarizes,
Gifts of money decidedly blurred any distinction between the economies of courtship and market and they clearly marked the "economic aspect" of marriage. O'Hara's hesitation about the progressive movement to financial arrangement, therefore, seems unwarranted, since early modern marriage negotiations were regarded as "business," and they routinely employed a discourse of mercantilism.  The play mobilizes its mercantile discourse primarily around the many men, including Cripple, who act as merchants and love merchants: Master Flower, a merchant whose appointment with Ferdinand Golding to discuss a marriage match with Phillis gets postponed when a rogue masquerading as a ship captain pawns him a diamond; and the Golding brothers, Ferdinand and Anthony, whose thoughts veer toward marriage in the moments immediately following discussions about their ships and their factors. The venturing metaphor deployed in this and many other comedies captures perfectly the volatility of merchandising and marrying in which extreme wealth or financial destitution were potential outcomes of each.
[w]ith few exceptions w hich involved the giving of rings, it was customary, at least within the diocese of Canterbury, to give money. The tolerance and flexibility in the ritual would appear to be least marked at such times [i.e., betrothal], as if the progression through the stages of marriage is a movement from personal gifts to financial arrangement, with the money token imitating the economic aspect, and resembling the token payments and exchanges of business transactions. (1992, 14)
In the culture's imagining of marriage formation, the economies of courtship and market were rarely divorced conceptually, linked by the exchange component of the transactions themselves, the uncertainty inherent in such exchanges, and the economic implications of marriage itself. Henry Swinburne's A Treatise Of Spousals relates the complex, uncertain, and anxious process of making marriage in early modern England. Attempting to explain why the man and woman are not husband and wife at the exchange of de futuro spousals, Swinburne resorts to a mercantile metaphor:
The reason is, because, like as when a man doth promise, that he will sell his Land, the Land is not thereby sold in deed, but promised to be sold afterwards; so whiles the Parties do promise only, that they will take, or will marry; they do not thereby presently take or marry: But deferring the accomplishment of that promise, until another time, the Knot in the mean time is not so surely tied, but that it may be loosed, whiles the matter is in suspense and unperfect. 
Reaching for an example his audience can readily comprehend, Swinburne links, intentionally or not, the exchanges of women and property. Regardless of intent, Swinburne's example is appropriate, for in landed families, land was routinely transferred in the contractual stage of the marriage process; the marriage settlement between the parties governed the specifics of property transfer as well as the terms of jointure and portion. 
Many comedies elide the contractual or business side of marriage, valorizing instead the triumph of love over all obstacles. In city comedies, the economic aspect of marriage typically drives financially disadvantaged suitors to seek wealthy brides, a fairly direct representation of social practice. In The Fair Maid, Phillis's many suitors claim that her beauty not her wealth motivates their desires, yet the almost constant repetition of the word "business" as a metaphor for marriage establishes marriage as the primary business of the play. But in contrast to most comedies, this one actually stages the process of marriage negotiation and settlement, and in its staging the play demonstrates how Phillis Flower's parents covertly commodify their daughter in precisely the way she refused to be overtly commodified by customers while working at the Exchange.
The scenes of negotiation take place at the Flowers' home. Through a series of fairly standard comedic machinations -- deceit, disguise, and forged letters -- that need not be explicated fully for my argument, Phillis ends up betrothed to Frank Golding, the youngest of three gentry brothers who compete against one
another for Phillis. In the competition, each brother enlists a supporter to champion his cause. Master Flower supports Ferdinand Golding, and unbeknownst to his wife he declares he will make Phillis a jointure of 100 pounds per year. Mistress Flower supports Anthony Golding's suit, and unbeknownst to her husband, declares she will provide Phillis a dowry of 1000 crowns.  When husband and wife realize their crossed purposes, and neither will give way to the other, they resolve to let Phillis choose between the Golding brothers. As her mother and father each tries to sell the favored suitor to Phillis, the play shows how men, too, are commodified in the process of making marriage, although not in the same way as women. Phillis, believing she can outwit her parents, dissembles to both her mother and father; each thinks Phillis agrees to marry the suitor she or he supports. But Phillis has already made her choice: "Those Gentles sue too late, there is another, / Of better worth, though not of halfe their wealth, / What though deform'd, his vertue mends that misse; / What though not rich, his wit doth better gold, / And my estate shall adde unto his wants" (1879-83). Phillis refers to Cripple's defining characteristics -- his "deformity," his virtuous industry, and his wit -- but the financial aspect of the description fits almost perfectly the youngest Golding, Frank. In his pursuit of Phillis, Frank equates her with the property -- or "estate" -- she will bring to the marriage, saying in an aside: "What though my father did bequeath his lands / To you my elder brethren, the moveables I sue for / Were none of his" (1980-82). In his suit, Frank is championed successfully by the drawer whose plots deceiv e Phillis into believing she betroths herself to him and deceive the Flowers into believing that Ferdinand and Anthony have withdrawn their suits. With friends on the way to witness and celebrate the formal betrothal, the desperate Flowers individually turn to the conveniently present Frank and offer the conveniently absent Phillis to him. The scene parodies both the bargaining that takes place in shops and the negotiating that takes place between families of prospective brides and grooms. In the closing scene, once Phillis learns that she's been outwitted, and that the "Cripple" she had earlier espoused herself to in the shop was actually Frank Golding in disguise, she agrees to marry Frank. In accepting him a second time, Phillis gives Frank her "store," her "love," and her "self," bringing to fulfillment her earlier assertion, that "As for our strangers, if they use us well, / For love and money, love and ware weele sell" (1281-82).
Whereas Phillis becomes the "moveables" for Frank Golding, in the subplot, Mall Berry becomes the "land" for her second suitor, Barnard. The machinations necessary to undo Mall's earlier espousal to Bowdler require nothing more than for Cripple to convince Mall that she really loves Barnard, not Bowdler. Cripple knows Mall's true affections, he tells her, because he overheard her profess her love for Barnard while she was sleeping. Conveniently, Mall transfers her affection to Barnard on the day he would forfeit his bond to Mall's father. Mall announces her espousal and seeks her father's approval in the play's final scene, immediately prior to Phillis's betrothal, and in front of the officers who have come to arrest Barnard. Barnard, admitting that he lacks wealth due to failed business ventures, persuades Master Berry that as a gentleman, he nevertheless has something of value to offer in exchange for Mall's love: "The difference of our blood supplies that want" (2483). Barnard's financial "want" is consid erable: Mall's dowry will redeem Barnard's mortgaged lands, and Master Berry's canceled bond will save Barnard's credit.
The betrothals now executed in what is represented as "proper" form -- that is, the bride consents to a match arranged by another in the presence of family and friends at home -- the play should end. Instead, the play ends with a failed business venture: Immediately following the betrothals, Master Flower is arrested and led off to trial for receiving stolen property, the diamond upon which he lent the "sea captain" ten pounds. Flower's arrest ties up a loose thread in the plot, but it also undermines a model of marriage formation predicated on a model of market exchange, the exact model the play has just dramatized in the contractual negotiations or "business" surrounding the two betrothals. By ending with a representation of a failed business venture, the financial uncertainty surrounding venturing is recalled precisely at the moment when "firm" marital contracts have been made; this ending disrupts the plot's teleological intents, and opens the possibility that these betrothals -- or these marriages -- wi ll also fail.
Two sempsters, two hankies, two broken espousals, and finally, two "firm" espousals to two men without fortunes. What is going on in this play? Certainly the play needs to stage the betrothals twice because it gets it "wrong" the first time. But what's "right"? Ecclesiastical law recognized three forms of a binding union. "The first and only fully satisfactory form of marriage," according to Keith Wrightson, who provides a cogent summary of these forms, "was an ecclesiastically solemnized union, performed in the face of the church after the calling of the banns, or after the procurement of a licence exempting the parties concerned from this formality" (67).  Two other "irregular" forms were also valid and immediately binding: "A promise to marry expressed in words of the present tense in the presence of witnesses constituted a binding marriage, as also did a promise made in words of the future tense, provided that it was followed by sexual union" (Wrightson, 67). Social historians, however, repeatedly str ess that what in theory seems clear, was in practice often ambiguous. For example, an exchange of promises to marry in words of the future tense, if nor consummated, was revocable, as were "conditional" contracts if the stipulated conditions were not met within a reasonable time; a clandestine or private betrothal, an unwitnessed exchange of vows in the present tense, might constitute a binding union, but without witnesses, one party could refuse to acknowledge the contract;  betrothal customs varied by locale; and the lovers themselves "were not only uncertain of the types of contract discussed, they were imprecise in the wording and probably impulsive in their speech and actions."  A social ritual surrounding betrothal, therefore, helped the couple to contract -- and helped their family, friends, kin, and community to sanction -- a legally binding union.
With the important exceptions of the trick played upon Phillis and the unilateral financial negotiations by the brides' families, the "ideal pattern" for an early modern betrothal ritual corresponds roughly to the second betrothals performed in The Fair Maid. The "business" side of marriage, i.e., the premarital negotiations and settlement establishing portion and jointure, were, in Martin Ingram's words, "'ended' at a prearranged meeting, in the presence of impartial witnesses, between the couple, members of their families and other interested parties.... Matters of property might be thrashed out and agreements made either verbally or -- especially at higher social levels, and increasingly over time -- in writing" (196). After the economic aspects of the match had been agreed upon, the couple, sometimes with the assistance of a neighbor or friend who acted as an honorary officiate or orator, exchanged promises to marry in words of the present tense, often using the words from the Book of Common Prayer.  "The spousals," according to Ingram, "were characteristically sealed with the exchange of tokens, a 'loving kiss', mutual pledging in wine or beer, and sometimes a celebratory meal" (196). Of course it is difficult to determine how widely this ideal pattern was adopted. Amy Louise Erickson claims that "[a]t more ordinary levels of society daughters themselves commonly conducted their own marriage negotiations. Since most young women went out to work while still in their teens, it may be assumed that they acquired sufficient freedom and self-assurance with which to arrange a marriage."  But it is precisely this freedom that generates anxiety in The Fair Maid until the women's choices are approved by their families and friends. 
The Fair Maid of the Exchange works doubly hard at making sense of the social effects created when women act as both merchants and love merchants, thereby reversing the normative gender dynamics of courtship exchange. The play demonstrates how working in shops opens a space between parental control and the marriage market, a space it attempts to foreclose when, after staging the possibility of women acting as erotic agents, Cripple corrects and redirects the desires the women so carefully and consciously articulate with their hankies. Despite the anxiety Mall expends encoding her desire into her handkerchief's design, she is never afforded the opportunity to give the token to her lover. Phillis has two opportunities to articulate her love to Cripple, first when she instructs him regarding her hankie's design, and second when she retrieves the completed article from his shop. From the start, her fruitless pursuit of Cripple is drawn into the hankie's design in which "Love ... impald love with a Laurell wreath " (879), a motif which symbolizes at once the poet's ability to conquer love and the laurel tree's medicinal use as an abortifacient.  When Phillis retrieves the hankie and verbally professes her love to "Cripple" -- Frank Golding in disguise -- he initially rejects both Phillis's hankie and her suit (2012-31). "Cripple" derides her handkerchief as a wanton toy that is symbolic of the fickle love of a novice lover; once he accepts her, Phillis weds "Cripple" by giving him a ring.
A ring -- the ultimate signifier of true love in this play -- displaces the handkerchief as a love token at the moment of betrothal. What happens to the women's hankies is left to the reader's imagination or the stage manager's direction. Yet, the disappearance of these material manifestations of desire is consistent with the discomfort Cripple exhibits toward feminine desire and with his need to redirect the women's desires. Furthermore, their absence at the moment of betrothal corresponds to the absence of articles of clothing used as love tokens at betrothal in the diocese of Canterbury's court cases, discussed above. The handkerchiefs' association with wantonness needs to be read as a serious criticism about the roles tokens and erotic desire play in the process of early modern marriage formation. At the second betrothals, both Mall and Phillis verbally express their desires to marry, but not with the same urgency or intensity with which earlier, employing their hankies, they had expressed their desires for other men. By successfully channeling feminine desire into marriage with "appropriate" partners and through "appropriate" tokens, erotic desire's relative unimportance is acknowledged, and its potentially disruptive effects are neutralized. In this play, marriage is an institution configured primarily around property, not affect.
This reading foregrounds the problems caused by the presence of women in the marketplace, but the social realities of London's growing economy, and women's roles in merchandising the goods flooding into that market, made it impossible to expel women from the sites of early modern commodity exchange. Furthermore, working in the market economy empowered early modern women -- those of the middling sort especially -- by giving them the financial means to marry, the ability to choose their own husbands, and the power to exercise some control over the marriage contract as Phillis and Mall attempt in this play. By staging
conflicting social practices and cultural values, plays function to define, refine, and shape a culture's values, behaviors, and practices. The pedagogic intent regarding early modern courtship practices and marriage formation is revealed in the play's doubling, its reversals, its moralizing, and its choice of an artist figure for the character who redirects the women's desires. In setting this dr ama of courtship in the marketplace and foregrounding the interpenetration of the economic and the erotic, the dense social contradictions embedded within the process of making marriage become visible. These contradictions are exacerbated when women use their position in the market to satisfy not only their customer's desires but also their own. The Fair Maids inability to reach a firm closure regarding a "proper" model for marriage formation leaves unresolved the conflicting practices of courtship it puts into play, and the hankies -- material embodiments of the culture's anxieties about merchandising and marrying -- bear the traces of those conflicts and contradictions. Having dramatized how the handkerchiefs circulate between the women and the drawer as potential commodities and love tokens, their roles in encoding, articulating, and circulating feminine desire cannot be erased. These images flow from the playtext to its audience, and however unintentionally, the play enters these uses into social circulat ion where early modern women could appropriate for themselves the play's use of hankies.
(*.) The research for this article was funded by grants and fellowships from Columbia University, the Folger Institute, and the Huntington Library. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Central New York Conference on Language and Literature SUNY Cortland, October 1997, and The Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, September 1996. I wish to thank Laetitia Yeandle for her patient instruction in Renaissance paleography; the members of the Renaissance dissertation seminar at Columbia and the readers for Renaissance Quarterly for their helpful suggestions; and Lena Cowen Orlin, whose work on material culture has greatly influenced my own, for her advice and encouragement. Finally, I am indebted to Jean E. Howard for her pointed critiques, scholarly guidance, and unwavering support through many versions of this essay.
(1.) My approach to reading objects as "things" capable of having "lives" is informed by Arjun Appadurai, 3-63. In this essay the term "economy" is used primarily to designate a system that operates according to ideological rules. At times, the rules which are at work in one system are also at work -- sometimes with a difference -- in another. For example, in early modern England, the economies of courtship and marriage are interconnected in that both systems attempt to regulate erotic desire and channel it into, or contain it within, heterosexual marriage; yet some rules which operate in a marriage economy, property rules, for example, do not operate in the same way in a courtship economy.
(2.) Speed, H2v. London was "the mart of the world" because "thither are brought the Silk of Asia, the Spices of Africa, the Balmes from Grecia & the riches of both the Indies East and West."
(3.) Authorship of the play has been attributed to Thomas Heywood, but this is uncertain. For a brief history of authorial attribution, see The Fair Maid of the Exchange, vi-vii.
(4.) In Othello, for example, the handkerchief Othello gives to Desdemona prior to the play's beginning was, anterior to the moment of gifting, given as a legacy to Othello by his mother who herself had received it from an Egyptian charmer. Woven by a sibyl of silken threads bred from hallowed worms and dyed using magical preparations, this enchanted handkerchief resists being read as an object of exchange within the bustling textile market such as early modern London's. For this prehistory, see Othello 3.4.57-77. For an alternative reading of the handkerchief and its relation to labor and production, see Bruster, 81-86.
(5.) Much has been written on the historical development of the market and on early modern consumer society. See, for example, Appleby, Braudel, Brewer, Mukerji, and Thirsk. For the economic changes brought by overseas trade, see Brenner. For women in the early modern work force see Clark, Prior, Robert, Wiesner, Willen, and Wright. And for the relationships between the market and the theater, see Agnew, and Bruster.
(6.) Shrewsbury, fol. 5-6.
(7.) Foakes, 110. The money was lent on 24 March 1593 to Frances Hensley.
(8.) Atkinson, 123. Lowden, a graduate of Christ's College, was a member of the clergy (30-33).
(9.) Townshend. Since this note functions as a periodic inventory and not as a probate inventory, the values of the items are not recorded. The "master" to whom the linen belongs is probably Sir Roger Townshend II, son of Anne (nee Gresham) and Sir John Townshend.
(10.) Lester, 426-28. Klein notes that in 1561-1562, nearly half of the approximately thirty gifts of embroidered clothing received by Queen Elizabeth were handkerchiefs (459).
(11.) Wace. The handkerchief appears in plate 29. The handkerchief dares from the second half of the sixteenth century; its initials, Wace conjectures, may refer to Pete Edgecumbe (1536-1607), whose sister Elizabeth was married to Thomas Carew. Another extant seventeenth-century handkerchief, reproduced in Boschma, 561, measures 48.5 cm. x 46 cm., or roughly nineteen inches square.
(12.) Any book on portraiture of the period -- English or Continental -- provides evidence of the handkerchief as a common prop. For published examples which document the use in England, see the following portraits reproduced in Baker: Frances Howard, Countess of Essex (ca. 1614), plate facing 28; Lucy Harringron, Countess of Bedford (1620), plate facing 64; Katherine, Countess of Salisbury (1626), plate facing 66. See also the 1617 portrait of Marie de Medici, widow of Henri IV of France, painted by Frans Pourbus the younger, reproduced in Morse, 79. Woodcuts and engravings in printed books are another source for locating handkerchiefs on display. In Amman's Gynaeceum, many women hold hankies, including a German princess (B2v), a noble maiden of Saxony (C3), and an Ausburg woman of the lower class (E4).
(13.) See, for example, investigations such as Arnold's, in which she compares the clothing recorded in Queen Elizabeth's inventories and gift lists with the clothing Elizabeth wears in portraits.
(14.) Dickey, 333. I would like to thank Emilie E. S. Gordenker for calling my attention to this article.
(15.) My examination of early modern portraiture, while not exhaustive, reveals that women commonly rely on three props to hold: gloves, fans, and/or hankies. Typically, two props are held, a different one in each hand, thereby offering the painter the opportunity to depict the woman's hands to advantage while simultaneously recording her wealth and status--and other meanings--through the objects the woman holds. These observations are supported by Smith, chap. 4.
(16.) Dickey, 334. The research on handkerchiefs as symbols of courtship and marriage that Dickey references is by E. de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw. Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw, cat. exh. Haarlem (Frans Halsmuseum), Zwolle. For the roles of gloves and fans as symbols of courtship and marriage, see Smith, 72-89.
(17.) Ibid., 340. She further claims that social conventions regarding the mastery of male emotion worked to gender the handkerchief as feminine; in seventeenth-century Dutch portraiture, therefore, "the handkerchief remains almost exclusively a female attribute."
(18.) Ibid., 355. Dickey does not consider whether or not the hankie held by the older woman might simultaneously carry with it the significance of betrothal; if the handkerchief was a token of betrothal from the woman's deceased husband, its power as a signifier of consolation in widowhood increases because it carries both meanings.
(19.) The "wearing linnen" appropriate for the lower "degrees" could have been manufactured domestically in the Lancashire Plain or in other areas where flax and hemp were grown and where fulling mills were available to process these raw materials. The textile manufacture taking place in early modern London and its suburbs, according to Kerridge, was limited to narrow wares, i.e., those made and sold in penny-widths up to six pennies wide, such as tapes, ribbons, garters, fringes, tassels, galloons, girdles, inkles, cauls, trimmings, gimps, hatbands, braids and livery and other laces" (24). Some London weavers wove narrow linens, like towels. These narrow linens and penny-widths could, perhaps, depending on quality and cost, satisfy the middling sort's demands for handkerchiefs.
(20.) Citations of The Fair Maid are to lines numbers; as the text is through-numbered, no act or scene numbers are given.
(21.) For the handkerchief's role in the construction of civility, see Elias, 117-25.
(22.) Quoted in Lester, 429-30.
(23.) For sempster, the OED gives "a needlewoman" and "a woman who sews" for definitions. The sempster's activities in The Fair Maid here sound very similar to the services rendered to Queen Elizabeth by her "silkwoman" and "silkman." They sold imported textiles such as lawn, holland, and cambric, as well as laces, points, thread, needles, wire, and other items to the Queen. Additionally they embroidered, laundered, and starched clothing articles including smocks, sleeves, and ruffs. Arnold suggests that "both silkwoman and silkman may have ordered smocks, ruffs, sleeves, coifs and other items from seamsters, but many of the descriptions give the impression that they carried out the work themselves" (224). It would seem, then, that the activities ofsilltwomen and sempsters were quite similar. Arnold does not elaborate on the activities of sempsters, but refers the reader to the works of Middleton and Dekker. See Arnold, 219-27.
(24.) Lawn could refer either to a fine type of linen or silk cobweb lawn from which ruffs, sleeves, and kerchiefs were made. Kerridge, 126, classifies lawn as a broad silk and states that London strangers had introduced its manufacture by 1618. Prior to this it could have been imported from centers where broad silks were woven: Italy, France or the low countries. Linthicum claims lawn, "possibly from Laon, a French city, is named in English accounts in 1415" (98). Quite fine and white, it can also be called "cobweb lawn" and tiffany. Arnold, 366, lists its use in the Queen's wardrobe for smocks, sleeves, ruffs, mantles, kirtles, doublets, and petticoats.
(25.) These activities take place in scene 8.
(26.) Even among embroidered textile experts, the drawer remains an enigmatic figure, perhaps because he was not a member of the Broiderers guild. Early modern embroidered textiles, however, bear traces of the drawer's or embroiderer's handiwork in the unexecuted designs that remain visible on the fabric (see fig. 2). Kay Staniland's text serves as a concise Introduction to embroidery techniques used in the medieval and early modern periods, and she provides a good description of how the repetitive motifs adorning elaborately embroidered textiles were produced quickly "by tracing the design onto paper, pricking the outline, and then transferring the design on to cloth any number of times by pounding with powdered chalk, pumice or charcoal. When the paper was lifted, rows of fine dots of powder lay revealed, and these in turn could be fixed with ink or paint; the surplus powder could then be blown away" (31). The process is depicted in an engraving Staniland reproduces from Alessandro Paganino's Libro primo.. . de rechami (1527), an instruction book for embroiderers; the engraving shows women tracing designs onto cloth.
(27.) For the relative independence among women of the middling sort choosing marriage partners, see Brodsky Elliott, and Erickson, 79-97.
(28.) As Traub has shown, a culture shapes ideologically the expression of individual desire into a particular erotic mode; and as Socrates proves in Plato's Symposium, desire is based upon lack (200b-200e and 204b-208c). Desires, therefore, can be manifested for multiple objects and in multiple erotic modes.
(29.) According to the OED, "ware" refers to merchandise; to women; to "the privy parts of either sex." See also "wear" in Williams and "wear away" in Partridge. In the play, the multiple meanings of the term are made clear by the context. In N. B.'s The Court and Country, the "ravishing" of maidens is associated with linens: "this ravishing is a word that signifieth robbing of wenches of the inner lining of their linnen against their wills" (Clv).
(30.) The women's responses suggest they feel physically threatened while in the shops. Mall tells Bawdler, "Hands off, sir Knave" (182); and Phillis tells the "gentleman," Gardiner, "Get you downe the staires, or I protest Ile make this squared walke too hotte for you" (1265-66), a reference to the ground floor of the Exchange where merchants congregated to conduct business.
(31.) According to Williams, the term shop could be used as a commercial or manufacturing metaphor for the genitals.
(32.) Better known today as the carnation, in the early modern period the gillyflower was also known as "the pink." Gerard rates pinks second only to roses and states pinks are "esteemed for their use in garlands and nosegaies" (478). Smith claims "the pink is probably the flower most commonly associated with love imagery.... It became a sign and seal of betrothal, and appears as such in marriage portraits of both the Renaissance and the seventeenth century" (61). The rose also appears regularly in marriage portraits (Smith, 63).
(33.) Gerard thought the field pea so common that it didn't need description (1044). Cookery books, however, often included recipes for sweets and savories that were enclosed in puff paste formed into the shape of peascods, so something about this motif pleased the early modern cook and embroiderer both. Of course, Mall's rhetoric can also be read as a conventional modesty topos, and as Klein points out in reference to the young Elizabeth's gift of hand-wrought items to her stepmother, Queen Katherine, "a modest reference to one's handwork could ingratiate in order to empower" (480).
(34.) For objects adorned in this fashion that are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Remington, especially plates 1, 7, 9, 26, and 35. The peascod motif appears repeatedly on embroidered textiles held by the Victoria and Albert Museum as well. See Nevinson, plates 7, 11, 54, 56, 60, and 61.
(35.) Morris describes in detail the patterns and stitches on this jacket. I would like to thank Melinda Watt of the Antonio Ratti Textile Center at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who, while I was viewing other objects embroidered with peascods, told me about the design's presence on the jacket. Furthermore, I would like to thank Dennitta Sewell, Collections Associate at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for her help in arranging a viewing of the jacket. An embroidered jacket similar to this one is worn by Margaret Laton, lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, in a portrait by an unknown artist. The portrait and the jacket are reproduced in Abegg, plates 170 and 171. For an informative discussion of Laton's jacket and a similar one owned by Elizabeth Vernon, another of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, see Beck, 15-17.
(36.) The link between the late sixteenth-century fashion for publishing Herbals and the fashion of floral embroidery designs, once a subject of speculation among specialists of embroidered textiles, is now widely accepted. The first to suggest the link was Wace.
(37.) On this panel, unworked areas of drawn designs are slightly visible. For example, the body of the butterfly at the center top is unfinished; so are the feet of some birds and antennae on some insects.
(38.) According to Williams at pease, pease fields were favorite sites for coupling. If the play is referring to what was a common and known practice, the erotic aspect of Mall's agency is intensified.
(39.) Stubbes, E2. Stubbes claims the doublets were stuffed with between four and six pounds of bombast, and that they were "like or muche bigger than a mans codpeece." Stubbes augments slightly his invective against this style of doublet in the 1595 edition. Morse unites Stubbes's 1583 critique with an illustration from Giacomo Franco's Habiti delle donne Venetiane (1610), in which a woman and a man both wear peascod belly doublets (64).
(40.) The peascod doublet was fashionable in England from 1575-1600. The cod-piece, which had become smaller in the 1570s, was worn only by the unfashionable in the 1590s and was discarded completely around 1600; however, while in fashion, men apparently used it as a pocket for their hankies. See Willett, 90, 118.
(41.) Gerard's description "Of Peason" (1044-47) suggests why the peascod can be a rich symbol for marriage: its "clasping tendrels" give support; the roots of the "Everlasting wilde Pease" never die; and pea-pods always grow in twos, from the same stalk, so they are perfect symbols of the unity of two in one at marriage and the reproductive fruits of the union.
(42.) For the distinction between the Exchange and the Pawne, see Eliot, Dlr-Elv. At the Exchange, men discuss foreign news and trade; at the Pawne, men "devise" -- i.e., converse -- with sempsters. I wish to thank Anne Lake Prescott for calling my attention to this text.
(43.) Whitney, R2v. For an account of the use of emblems as decorative patterns for embroideries and tapestries, see Freeman, 90-95. The unnumbered plate between pages 94 and 95 reproduces a detail from an early modern waistcoat embroidered with an emblem from A Choice of Emblemes next to the woodcut.
(44.) The social and political importance of early modern women's embroidery is now being recognized, and my reading of how one play employs embroidery is complemented when contextualized with the writings of Jones, Orlin, and Klein. Jones and Stallybrass explore the conflicting status of women's embroidery in the period, and they examine how women constructed private and public identities for themselves through embroidery, using their needles as pens. Orlin examines the potentially subversive representations of women's stitchery on the stage in a number of early modern plays. Klein looks at how women entered their needlework into a network of gift exchange in order to forge or cement social and political bonds. For needlework's role in the construction of femininity, see Jones, Orlin, and Parker. I would like to thank Patricia Fumerton who, as a reader for Renaissance Quarterly, directed my attention to these studies. I would also like to thank Lena Cowen Orlin for allowing me to read proofs of her then fort hcoming essay, as well as Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass for sharing the manuscript of their chapter with me.
(45.) In their forthcoming work, Jones and Stallybrass use this passage from Taylor to discuss the phallic aspect of the needle.
(46.) Moulton, 264-65. Montaigne and Bacon are cited in Moulton. I wish to thank Patricia Cahill for calling my attention to this article.
(47.) As a marginalized character who is both inside and outside the community whom he serves, Cripple is much like the wise woman in The Wise Woman of Hogsdon who, according to Howard, acts as a mediator for her "community's sexual and social economy" (86). Yet, in The Fair Maid, however self-marginalized Cripple may be by his lameness, sexual regulation is always in the hands of a man.
(48.) Depositions are mediated in a variety of ways: by the clerks who selectively record the testimonies; the witnesses themselves who could be friendly, hostile, antagonistic or biased toward the participants or proceedings in a myriad of ways; and by their context within an arena of contested relations under the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical court.
(49.) Gowing, 160. Lady Mildmay records in her journal her governess' advice about accepting gifts: she "advised me ... to rake heede of whom I received gifts, as a book wherein might be some fine words whereby I might betray myself unawares, or gloves or apples or such like, for that wicked companions would ever presente treacherous attempts; which afterwards I found to be true in some sort" (qtd. in Weigall, 121). I would like to thank Lena Cowen Orlin for directing my attention to Lady Mildmay's journal.
(50.) Klein, who demonstrates the social and political importance as well as the self-interested and unequal dimension of gift exchange in Queen Elizabeth's court, posits a difference between gift exchange and commodity exchange, claiming that unlike economic exchange, gift-giving "entails unspecified obligations" (468, original emphasis). Yet, the courtship exchanges discussed by Cowing appear to correspond to practices surrounding contracts under the law of debt in which either the return of the thing given, the money value of the thing given, or a different thing of equal value would "put things back where they belonged" (Spinosa, 374; original emphasis). In each of these exchange systems, both a logic of market value and a calculative dimension are in effect.
(51.) See, for example, Slater.
(52.) Swinburne, 13. Swinburne's treatise, written in the early seventeenth century, was not published until 1686.
(53.) For the property aspects of marriage formation, see Erickson.
(54.) For the mother's role in contracting marriage, see Ezell, 18-35.
(55.) For the practice in London of marrying by license, see Boulton.
(56.) For the forms not immediately binding, see Ingram, 190.
(57.) O'Hara, 1992, 8. Swinburne's attempts, 55-108, to detangle the linguistic complexity of per verba de prasenti and per verba de futuro spousals record the potential ambiguity of the forms.
(58.) For more detail surrounding the period's marriage customs, see Gillis, chap. 1.
(59.) Erickson, 94. See also Wrightson, 70-79.
(60.) For the importance of securing the goodwill of family and friends, see Wrightson, 70-79; O'Hara, 1991; Gouge, 198-99.
(61.) Gerard, 1224.
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