Nursery Of The Nation

Overview

This dissertation explores how comedy stages pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, and how these representations were reinforced or compromised by the body of the actress who played such roles. The introductory chapter situates the argument within the relevant historical, cultural, and literary contexts. National crises such as the warming pan scandal and the meal tub plot made legible the intimate and sometimes disturbing connection between the 'private' family and the state of the nation itself. Female ...
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Overview

This dissertation explores how comedy stages pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, and how these representations were reinforced or compromised by the body of the actress who played such roles. The introductory chapter situates the argument within the relevant historical, cultural, and literary contexts. National crises such as the warming pan scandal and the meal tub plot made legible the intimate and sometimes disturbing connection between the 'private' family and the state of the nation itself. Female midwifery practices were also increasingly suspect, as representations of drunken, corrupt midwives occupied the English imagination. Mothers and midwives, then, represented a serious threat to the perpetuation of proper English masculinity through their control over the family. The second chapter discusses anxieties over motherhood in William Congreve's The Way of the World (1700), a play which stages women's corrupting influence in a society saturated with foreign goods and affectations. The prologue describes finding "changelings" in one's nest, while the epilogue warns men to police their beds, placing the female body at the center of social instability. The play's proviso scene depicts a witty marriage contract in which Mirabell bans all things foreign from his beloved's life and anticipates her becoming a mother; this is one of the period's only plays which suggest the reproductive future of its heroine. However, Millamant's love for all things foreign, reinforced by her visible doubling with her grotesque aunt Lady Wishfort on stage, and Mirabell's willingness to "love her for her faults," suggests that Mirabell cannot control Millamant's body, or, by extension, his heir. In fact, his power hinges on his knowledge of legal contracts, which he uses to defeat his 'foreign' rival for dominance, and yet his proviso scene with Millamant stands as a parallel mock-contract which highlights Mirabell's inability to enforce his demands. The third chapter explores widows' economic threats to male authority in William Wycherley's The Plain Dealer (1676) and Thomas Shadwell's A True Widow (1679). Wycherley's play stages a rare mother-son relationship, in which the Widow Blackacre's feminizing control over her son Jerry casts her as an "unnatural mother." The protagonists of the play erase her maternal power---and her legal power to squander Jerry's inheritance in the public world of the courts---by replacing that inheritance into more appropriate male hands. Shadwell's Widow Cheatly dupes men into believing she has a fortune by signing contracts in invisible ink, an act which literalizes the unknowability of the female body and unreliability of female claims to legitimacy. Her feigned wealth degrades the male characters into making themselves spectacles in a feminizing performance to win the widow's daughters. Only a strong English male character can expose the truth of the widow's poverty and restore the chaos that her deception has engendered. In each case, the widow's economic independence places her outside of male control, affording her a destructive social power of which she must be stripped to stabilize the proper social order. The fourth chapter analyzes George Farquhar's The Twin Rivals (1702)---the only comedy of the period to feature a midwife---which was staged as male midwives and doctors attempted to discredit female midwives' practices. Mother Midnight, who exploits men's ignorance of the female body to deceive them about their own paternity, lies about the birth order of the eponymous twins to subvert the system of primogeniture. The authority of her position guarantees that, as she says, "none...can tell better than...
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781243491596
  • Publisher: BiblioLabsII
  • Publication date: 9/2/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.51 (d)

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