Renaissance Quarterly, Summer 1997 v50 n2 p526(41)

Margaret Cavendish and the romance of contract. Kahn, Victoria.

Abstract: The history of early modern political thought have indicated the importance of theories of contract obligation. The 17th century debates about these theories must be enriched to further understand its meanings. margaret Cavendish's short prose romance, 'The Contract,' is an example of such political debate. It contributed much to a revised history of theories and suggested that romance is appropriate for the staging of problematic coexistence of coercion and consent and passion and interest.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1997 Renaissance Society of America

All things by war are in a Chaos hurl'd But love alone first made, And still preserves the world.

- Alexander Brome

I have heard [William Cavendish] say several times, that his love to his gracious master King Charles the Second was above the love he bore to his wife, children, and all his posterity, nay, to his own life: and when, since his return into England, I answered him that I observed his gracious master did not love him so well as he loved him; he replied, that he cared not whether his Majesty loved him again or not; for he was resolved to love him.

- The Life of William, Duke of Newcastle(1)

In histories of early modern political thought, the rise of theories of contractual obligation has always played an important role. Yet the usual histories construe contract in an overly narrow way, focusing on the canonical works of writers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau in which contract is imagined as a social and political agreement between equal parties to set up a sovereign. In these modern histories contract theorists offer a simple theory of motivation according to which the parties to the contract are moved by rational self-interest, the consent of the governed is defined in opposition to coercion, and erotic passion is irrelevant to the production of "calculating and calculable" citizens.(2) While some historians and feminist critics have challenged these fictions of contract theory - in some cases by directing us to the widespread use of the marriage contract as a metaphor for the hierarchical, inequitable political relations of sovereign and subject - they have for the most part been content to offer a reinterpretation of the canonical texts of political theory.(3) As a result of this narrowly focused discussion, much of what is interesting and complicated in this history has been overlooked not least of all the role of narrative and of the passions in motivating contractual obligation.

In the following pages I suggest that we can enrich our understanding of seventeenth-century debates about contractual obligation if we turn to some of the neglected literary texts of the period. Contemporary prose romance in particular dramatizes the paradoxical coexistence of coercion and consent that is at the heart of theories of contractual obligation. In recent years historians and literary critics have made us aware of the political uses of romance during the reign of Charles I and the Protectorate. Yet while these scholars have shown how the adventures and set debates of prose romance allegorize the trauma of civil war, they have given short shrift to the passion of romantic love and its role in debates about contractual obligation.(4) Similarly, historians who have analyzed the rhetoric of the passions and interests in contemporary debates about obligation have focused on self-interest, greed, or acquisitiveness rather than on erotic love.(5) I would like to suggest, in contrast to both these approaches, that in the 1640s and 50s the romance plot of love and adventure explicitly engages contemporary theories of contract by helping the reader both to imagine and to ask questions about a political subject who consents to be contractually bound. Margaret Cavendish's short prose romance, "The Contract," provides an exemplary illustration of the inseparability of romance and contract in seventeenth-century English political debate. In so doing, it contributes to a revised history of seventeenth-century accounts of political obligation, one that integrates literary as well as political works and attends to the political dimension of literary genre.(6)

"The Contract," published in 1656 in a volume entitled Natures Pictures, tells the story of a young woman who, orphaned at birth, is betrothed in childhood by her uncle and guardian to the son of a friend.(7) The contract of the title is thus a marriage contract. At issue from the outset are the conditions that make a contract binding; of particular concern is the relationship of contract to consent. To the proposed contract, the uncle of the lady answers that "he was very willing, if [his niece] were of years to consent," and proceeds to agree to the contract in the expectation that she will ratify it when she comes of age. The prospective husband at first urges his father "not to marry him against his affections." Then, torn between allegiance to his father and his own desires, he "seemed to consent, to please his father." "Then were they as firmly contracted as the priest could make them, and two or three witnesses to avow it." Some years later, when the young lady comes of age, the young man (now a duke) falls in love with another woman and marries her. News of this breach of the original contract reaches the uncle, who decides to bring his niece to the city to educate her and present her at court. She meets the duke at a masque and they fall in love. The question the narrative then seeks to answer is whether and under what conditions the original contract is valid, given the fact that the duke subsequently entered into a new marriage contract, with the added complication that the uncle of the lady is arranging a new marriage contract for his niece. As Cavendish was well aware, these are questions that were crucial not only for men and women entering into marriage contracts, but for all adult male citizens who were being asked to consent to the new Cromwellian government.

In the following pages I argue that Cavendish's romance is a commentary both on contemporary gender relations and on contemporary debates about political obligation, and that these two commentaries are entwined in important ways. In taking up what contemporary manuals of casuistry and "domestick economie" called a "matrimoniall case," Cavendish dramatizes a range of concerns that were also central to the current political debate - and were likely to be so understood by her readers. As we will see, Cavendish uses the language of romance both to argue for a more equitable contractual relationship between husband and wife and to present an account of political obligation that is based on love rather than on filial obedience, wifely subordination, or a Hobbesian account of self-interest. In romance Cavendish finds an alternative motive for political contract, an alternative account of interest, and thus indirectly an argument for allegiance to Charles II.

Yet if the arguments about gender and political obligation are mutually implicated in the language of romance, they are also at odds with Each other (how intentionally, it is difficult to tell). Such an emphasis on romance seems to grant more importance to the ongoing consent and affection of the partners to a contract than do royalist or Hobbesian conceptions of contract - both of which involve an initial but irrevocable act of consent. Thus, in striking contrast to previous royalist writers who had used the analogy between the marriage contract and the political contract to justify absolute sovereignty, Cavendish's emphasis on "true romance" threatens to undo the hierarchical, inequitable relationship between the contracting parties not only husband and wife, but also sovereign and subject. Although such an equitable relationship in marriage might be desirable even to a royalist, it could never be the basis of a subject's allegiance to an absolute sovereign. In her critique of the marriage contract, the royalist Cavendish ironically draws near to the parliamentarians' theory of an original and revocable contract between the people and their ruler.

A reading of "The Contract" will allow us to see not only the role of prose romance in constructing arguments for political obligation, but also the inextricability of passion and interest, coercion and consent, categories that too often figure as antithetical in traditional accounts of contract. In confounding the distinction between rational self-interest and romantic love, between a legalistic model of contract and the "discipline" of the passions, "The Contract" exposes the obstacles confronting any analysis of obligation based primarily on the calculation of self-interest. Cavendish's romance thus provides a vivid illustration of the way in which the language of contract is a contested concept or "node of stress" in seventeenth-century English politics and culture - a point where the protoliberal language of contract, consent, and rational self-interest intersects with the languages of coercion, casuistry, and the passions.(8)


Readers of "The Contract" in the 1650s would have been disposed to understand Cavendish's tale in political terms for at least three reasons. First, the marriage contract was a charged metaphor for political obligation in the seventeenth century. Second, the marriage contract was itself an occasion of conflicts of authority and allegiance in this period. And third, the civil war, regicide, and new Cromwellian government posed a series of casuistical dilemmas involving the subject's allegiance to the sovereign that echoed debates about political contract and the marriage contract. In order to understand the full implications of Cavendish's revisionary romance, we need to recover the political connotations of contract in these three contexts.

In seventeenth-century England, as on the continent, the language of political contract emerged partly in response to a breakdown of traditional forms of political allegiance. Contract was one answer to the problem of political obligation for a culture newly skeptical of the claims of tradition, reason, and natural law, a world in which the passions and the interests threatened to run rampant.(9) Most familiar to us is the Hobbesian solution according to which fear of violent death serves as the impetus for the rational calculation of self-interest. This calculation in turn leads us to contract with others to set up an absolute sovereign - a sovereign who has the power to coerce us to obey. Hobbes seems to have agreed with Machiavelli at least in this respect: if you must choose, it is better to be feared than loved.

But there was another, more widely disseminated model of political contract in the seventeenth century, one based on the marriage contract. This was a model of contract that preserved an older sense of status and natural hierarchy while simultaneously addressing contemporary arguments for the voluntary nature of political obligation. According to this model, the relationship between subject and sovereign was not based on fear or coercion but on love and unadulterated consent; the best analogy for sovereignty was the affectionate relationship of marriage. If in the Hobbesian model contract responds to and reconfigures the passions and interests (construed as the baser elements of human nature), in the second model it is ostensibly not base human nature but the most elevated affections that underwrite the contract of political obligation.

Precisely because marriage in the seventeenth century was understood to be a natural political relationship involving the sovereignty of husband over wife, the marriage contract was an important ideological weapon in Stuart propaganda for absolute monarchy. While emphasizing mutuality, such an analogy did not preclude inequality; in fact, one could say that the point of the analogy was to naturalize and romanticize absolute sovereignty by making it seem that the subject, like the wife, was both naturally inferior and had consented to such inferior status out of affection. Yet while such a contract was originally predicated upon consent of the governed (or the wife), once it had been agreed to, the contract was irrevocable. Accordingly, the royalist Henry Ferne described the king as "sponsus Regni [bridegroom of the realm], and wedded to the kingdom by a ring at his Coronation," and he used the analogy to argue that resistance to the king was as illegitimate as divorce: "what our Saviour said of their light and unlawfull occasions of Divorse [sic], non suit ob initio, it was not so from the beginning, may be said of such a reserved power of resistance, it was not so from the beginning."(10)

It quickly became clear that this analogy could work both ways: devised at first to justify royal absolutism, the analogy between marriage and sovereignty could also be inverted to suggest that the king was the wife of his subjects and so subservient to their wills.(11) In his Observations upon some of his Majesties late Answers and Expresses (1642), the parliamentarian Henry Parker remarked that the analogy between king and husband, along with that of king and father, was an imperfect "similitude." Taken literally, it might seem to suggest - since the king occupied the position of husband - that his male subjects were to be thought of as "wives." But such an inference would be incorrect, "for the wife is inferiour in nature, and was created for the assistance of man . . . but it is otherwise in the State betwixt man and man." The only way to restore the citizens' rightful position as husbands was either to abandon or implicitly to reverse the gender analogy by making king subservient to his people: for "the Head Politicall . . . receives more subsistence from the body than it gives, and being subservient to that, it has no being when it is dissolved."(12) Accordingly, in Jus populi (1644), Parker inverted the analogy by comparing the king to the wife rather than the husband: "Man (saies the Apostle) was not made of the woman, but the woman of the man: and this is made an argument why the woman should pay a due subjection to man"; thus, Parker argued, "Princes were created by the people, for the peoples sake, and so limited by expresse Laws as that they might not violate the peoples liberty."(13) One N.T., author of The Resolver Continued, explained: "When my Wife turneth adultresse, my Covenant with her is broken, And when my King turneth Tyrant, and continueth so, my Covenant with him also is broken."(14) Milton, in the famous "Preface to Parlament" appended to the second edition of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, argued the case for divorce by referring to the parliamentary argument for government by consent.(15)

As these quotations suggest, well before Hobbes elaborated his fiction of an original political contract, the language of the marriage contract was appropriated by both royalists and parliamentarians in their debate over the conditions of legitimate sovereignty. For both, in contrast to Hobbes, love rather than fear was the ostensible key to lasting political union; for both, the hierarchy of the marriage relationship had important (if diametrically opposed) political implications. Precisely because of this difference, as Shanley has noted, parliamentarians eventually abandoned the metaphor of the marriage contract altogether, correctly perceiving that it was deleterious to their argument for contractual obligation predicated not only on consent but also on equality.(16)

In the seventeenth century the marriage contract was not only a vexed metaphor for political obligation, but could itself occasion conflicts of allegiance. In particular, the moral and legal status of marriage contracts per verba de praesenti and de futuro was a frequent topic of discussion.(17) This was no doubt in part because there was genuine confusion about the relative weight of canon and common law in disputed cases; but it was also because spousal contracts and the state of marriage were themselves the locus of casuistical dilemmas. All commentators agreed that parents arranging for the marriage of their children should ask their consent; they also agreed that children should not act against the wishes of their parents. Almost by definition, then, marriage contracts posed questions regarding the relation of coercion and consent, conflicts regarding obedience to one's own conscience and to one's superior, whether one's father or husband. Even in cases where no parents were involved, it was not always clear how to define consent or how to distinguish clearly between a promise to marry and the act itself. As Keith Thomas has noted: "Next to politics and religion, the most persistent source of cases of conscience [in the seventeenth century] was to be found in the domestic sphere" (46).(18)

Readers of "The Contract" in the 1650s would not only have recognized it as a domestic case of conscience concerning the validity of spousal contracts de futuro; they would also have had in mind the casuistical dilemma brought about by the change of regime. Of particular relevance in this context is the engagement controversy (1649-52), when parliament sought to secure allegiance to the new government of Cromwell after the execution of Charles I. The statement of engagement, which was eventually required of all male citizens aged eighteen or over, gave rise to a fast and furious pamphlet war debating the legitimacy of declaring allegiance to the new government when one had previously sworn obedience to the king. Thus, like the duke's breach of the original marriage contract, the engagement presented its would-be subscribers with a case of conscience that involved conflicting moral allegiances and legal obligations. Of particular concern to the pamphleteers were the conditions that would allow one to argue that an earlier oath was invalid or still binding. Casuistical concerns of another sort entered into the debate as well, for parliamentarians were anxious that those who declared allegiance not engage in any sort of equivocation by - in Cavendish's words seeming to consent.(19)

The royalist Cavendish, who was married to one of Charles I's most important financial backers and military commanders, Sir William Cavendish, was certainly aware of the drama of the engagement and the more general crisis of royalist ideology precipitated by the civil war.(20) Although she and her husband were in exile on the continent in the late 1640s and 1650s (first in Paris, then in Rotterdam and Antwerp), Cavendish traveled to England in 1651 and remained until 1653, attempting to negotiate with Parliament on behalf of her husband's sequestered estates. When these negotiations failed and Cavendish applied to the Council of State for a pass to return to Antwerp in 1653, she was asked to take the engagement but refused to do so.(21) This experience, along with her exile and her failure to secure her husband's estates, could only have made her more acutely aware of the costs - both personal and financial - of allegiance to the king.

Finally, Cavendish may also have confronted the issues of allegiance and engagement through her acquaintance with Thomas Hobbes, whom Sir William had patronized in the 1630s (Hobbes dedicated The Elements of Law to him) and with whom the Cavendishes associated during their exile in Paris. Notoriously, Leviathan was read by contemporaries as a contribution to debates about the legitimacy of the new government and the nature of political contract. Although in her Philosophical Letters of 1664 Cavendish asserts that she did not read those parts of Leviathan that discussed politics (a subject inappropriate for women), she went on in the same letter to give some of her opinions on government; and in a later letter she briefly alluded to contemporary debates about political obligation, criticizing those who "endearour to cut between command and obedience to a hairs breadth."(22) Here too Cavendish signaled her awareness of the political case of conscience confronting her compatriots in England.


For both formal and historical reasons, romance was an obvious choice of genre for Cavendish as she thought about commenting on the contemporary crisis of political obligation. In theme and plot, mid-seventeenth-century romance - whether in the form of masque, pastoral drama, or prose narrative - involved the politically charged issues of coercion and consent, force and desire. Not only do we find idealizing fictions with simplified characterization, the ethical extremes of good and evil, a tendency toward allegory, and a plot often modeled on the quest(23); increasingly during the civil war years and the Protectorate we find as well a concern with the moral conflicts of passion and interest that confronted royalists and parliamentarians alike. These conflicts are dramatized on the one hand through casuistical debate and on the other through the narrative of love and adventure, including the effort of the hero or heroine to overcome some kind of sexual barrier (in Northrop Frye's formulation, the innocent heroine brings the truculent hero to heel).

Of particular relevance for a revised history of contract is the way in which the traditional romance plot of love and adventure both represents the contingent realm of fortune to which parliamentary rational models of contract were also trying to respond and serves as the vehicle of the ultimate reconciliation of coercion and consent, pleasure and virtue, destiny and choice. In the course of the narrative, characters who were originally coerced into a marriage contract come to love each other "of their own free will," and contingency is simultaneously canceled and preserved in that illusion of self-determination. Here we begin to see why prose romance has traditionally been associated with the assimilation (and hence decline) of the formal discipline of casuistry and the rise of a new ideal of autonomous moral character; we also begin to see how romance could contribute to the "disciplining" in the Foucauldian sense of a political subject who internalizes coercion in the form of her very own passions.(24) These themes and formal devices would be put to good use by Cavendish in her own prose romance about the drama of coercion and consent in England of the 1650s.

But there were political reasons as well for Cavendish's choice of romance. As lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, Cavendish would have been aware not only of the prominence of the marriage contract in contemporary political debate, but also of a more general "politics of love" at the Caroline court.(25) She would also have been aware of the specific prominence of the genre of romance in court entertainments, both in England and in the court exiled in Paris.(26) Charles was known for his love of chivalric romance, as Henrietta Maria was for her love of pastoral romance. For both, romance was a powerful vehicle of political allegory, serving not only to transmute the language of interest into one of love and affection but also to justify contemporary domestic and foreign affairs.(27)

The court masque provides a salient example of the ideological function of romance during the early reign of Charles. As in discussions of the contract between subject and sovereign, here too marriage is a charged political metaphor: the masque's idealizing Neoplatonic fictions included celebrations of the royal marriage as an emblem of political harmony and stability. In a time of peace and prosperity, marriage rather than warfare is the preoccupation of princes; romance rather than epic is the chief genre at court.(28)

So much, of course, had been implicit in the political language of the marriage contract. Yet even more than the language of contract, romance conventions allowed for the representation of the royal marriage as a marriage of love rather than political expediency. The year 1633 saw the performance of Walter Montague's The Shepherd's Paradise, which allegorized away the embarrassing fact that Charles had sought to marry the Spanish Infanta rather than the French Henrietta Maria by suggesting that the former marriage negotiations had failed because Charles had already fallen in love with the French princess when he stopped in France on his way to Spain. In a typical romance plot that includes many of the twists and turns we find in "The Contract," love triumphs over or at the very least obfuscates contractual negotiation.(29) The same was true of the many court masques celebrating the royal marriage.

In later years Charles's parliamentary critics also used the language of romance to describe his misfortunes, although the intention here was clearly ironic. The anonymous The None-Such Charles remarked that the king's "soule was more fixt on . . . Romances, during the time of his imprisonment, then on those Holy Writs." Milton famously made a similar charge in Eikonoklastes.(30) In the republican newsbook, Mercurius Britanicus, John Hall described the 1648 escape of Charles I from his parliamentary captors as "that late fine Romance of the Isle of Wight, a business that carries as much probability as anything that we read of King Arthur or the Knights of the round table."(31) Romance here does not conjure up a world of miraculous constancy in the face of tribulation but rather a world of fiction and improbability, of imitation as a form of deception.(32)

While the royalist Montague had used the plot of romance to revise the political past, royalists in the 1640s and after were particularly interested in using the romance narrative of love and adventure both to stage and to deny any significance to the crisis of the civil war. This is the case with Sir Richard Fanshawe, who translated Guarini's pastoral romance II Pastor fido (The Faithful Shepherd) and dedicated it to the future Charles II. Il Pastor fido must have attracted Fanshawe not only because it begins with a coerced vow (or, as Fanshawe translates, "contract") which is broken off only to be reestablished as a "happy Royall Marriage," but also because it tells a story of a faithfulness that endures in the face of deception and misfortune.(33) In one sense the plot serves both to represent the trials and tribulations of the suffering prince and to deny that they could have any possible effect on his constancy;(34) in another sense, the plot dramatizes the royalists' fantasy that the relation between sovereign and subject could never be one of simple coercion, but will always - also - be one of affection and consent. The contingency of the romance plot is thus the narrative equivalent of the ideological message that we consent, of our own free will, to be coerced: by a series of apparently fortuitous events and individual choices, the protagonists bring about the marriage that has been decreed by an oracle even before the opening of the play.(35) Similarly, Fanshawe implies, if the relation between sovereign and subject must be conceived of as contractual, it should not be imagined as the Hobbesian or parliamentary contract of equal parties, but rather the marriage contract of husband and wife.(36)

Fanshawe's gloss on Il Pastor fido foreshadows the 1650s and 60s, which saw the appearance of a form of romance narrative that was neither chivalric nor pastoral but closer to the Greek romances of Heliodorus, "a form that allowed for adventure and coincidence but not for the improbably supernatural 'marvels' of the old chivalric narratives."(37) Here, too, romance was very often construed as a vehicle of royalist ideology - although the message was no longer the celebration and justification of domestic and foreign policy of the 1630s but rather (as with Fanshawe's "faithful shepherd") the depiction of the "travails" of the royal protagonists and their ability to withstand the vagaries of fortune through strength of character.(38) Crucially important for the revival of this form of romance narrative were the translations of French romances by Madeleine de Scudery, de la Calprenede, and others: whereas the contemporary romances of English authors such as William Sales and Percy Herbert stressed the aptness of romance adventures to allegorize the political upheavals of the civil war, the French works satisfied the reader's desire both for "strange actions" and for the analysis of the passions and development of character, in part through casuistical debate. Such an emphasis, Annabel Patterson has suggested, provided "a role, both in political life and in the new literature, for women" and may have contributed to the popularity of these romances with female readers.(39) Margaret Cavendish undoubtedly had some familiarity with these popular romances in France and with their English translations; as we will see, her own romantic critique of romance involves a similar emphasis on character, casuistry, and women's agency.


Committed royalists such as Davenant and Fanshawe were not the only ones thinking about the relationship of romance to political obligation in the middle decades of the seventeenth century; at the same time that Charles's supporters were elaborating a rhetoric that used the language of the marriage contract to imply irrevocable consent and the language of married love and of romance to obfuscate the elements of self-interest and coercion in politics, Hobbes was developing a different view of political obligation. Central to Hobbes's discussion was an unsentimental view of contract, shorn of the romantic fictions so prominent in the royalist camp. Leviathan can serve as an illustration of one sort of argument Cavendish and other royalists were at pains to combat; it can also help us to see what was at stake in Cavendish's attempt to argue against the new government by reforming romance from within.

In Leviathan Hobbes argued for a model of sovereignty based on the consent of the contracting parties "to conferre all their power and strength upon one Man, or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills, [by plurality of voices] unto one Will."(40) Yet infamously, in Hobbes's analysis, a covenant without force cannot possibly be binding: "The bonds of words," he writes in Leviathan, "are too weak to bridle mens ambition, avarice, anger, and other Passions, without the feare of some coercive Power" (14.196). Thus, while no government is legitimate without the consent of the governed, consent is perfectly compatible with coercion in Hobbes's analysis. Accordingly, while Hobbes distinguishes sovereignty by institution (by the original contract of all parties) from sovereignty by acquisition (or what we would call conquest), he insists that in all important respects these two ways of convenanting are identical. They both presuppose consent, and they are both predicated upon and secured by fear (20.25152). Thus, for Hobbes, contracts that are coerced by fear are not, for all that, less binding: "Feare and Liberty are consistent" (21.262).

Yet, as these quotations suggest, if the power of coercion is a condition of absolute sovereignty, it is also an argument for the legitimacy of de facto political power. Since "the end of Obedience [to the sovereign] is Protection," the covenant may be broken when the sovereign no longer has the ability to protect his subjects (21.272). Conversely, the government that does have the power to protect us is the one that deserves our allegiance. This was precisely the argument that defenders of the oath of engagement made about Cromwell's new government - which helps explain why royalists were less than pleased with Leviathan. For while the goal of Leviathan is to provide a logically compelling model of absolute sovereignty and irrevocable contract, the exception to this rule of irrevocability is the right of self-defense consistently invoked by parliamentary critics of the king.

Before turning to Cavendish's romance, it is important to stress that Hobbes's model of contract is explicitly presented as a demystified account of political obligation - one predicated on the rational calculation of interests. He represents his opponents - whether parliamentarians or royalist supporters of episcopacy - as incapable of sound reasoning. It is well known that Hobbes attributed this incapacity in part to familiarity with classical literature; less well known is his belief that the vainglory and enthusiasm of his contemporaries were also the result of reading "romances." Thus, in his "Answer to Davenant," a text that Margaret Cavendish knew, he criticized the improbable fictions of romance,(41) and in Human Nature Hobbes elaborated upon their deleterious consequences: "The fiction, which is also imagination, of actions done by ourselves, which never were done, is glorying; but because it begetteth no appetite nor endeavour to any further attempt, it is merely vain and unprofitable; as when a man imagineth himself to do the actions whereof he readeth in some romance, or to be like some man whose acts he admireth." In Leviathan, Hobbes implies an even closer connection between romances and the epic ambitions of those engaged in the civil war. Thus he illustrates "compound imagination" as "when a man compoundeth the image of his own person, with the image of the actions of an other man; as when a man imagins himself a Hercules, or an Alexander, (which happeneth often to them that are much taken with reading of Romants) it is a compound imagination, and properly but a Fiction of the mind."(42)

If romance contributes to the self-aggrandizing fantasies of parliamentarians and royalists, it also describes the delusions of the "Kingdome of Darknesse" in book 4 of Leviathan. Here Hobbes blames heathen poets and philosophers, among others, for the current spiritual darkness, arguing that the "ghosts' and "faeries" of ancient poets are based on "false, or uncertain Traditions, and faigned, or uncertain History" (44.629) - precisely the charges brought against medieval romance by its critics. Similarly, he describes the images and idols worshiped by pagans as "meet Figment[s], without place, habitation, motion, or existence, but in the motions of the Brain' (45.665), and remarks further that "a man can fancy Shapes he never saw . . . as the Poets make their Centaures, Chimaeras, or other Monsters never seen" (45.669). Such fictions are politically dangerous when their fictive quality is masked and when claims are made for their validity or efficacy that pose a threat to the absolute authority of the sovereign. In Leviathan the Roman Catholic Church (and the English Presbyterians) are the chief promulgators of such ideological fictions and Hobbes's task is to demystify these fictions as romance and as ideology.(43)


Cavendish was also concerned to demystify romance ideology, but unlike Hobbes her aim was to reform romance from within. As she stated in the preface to Natures Pictures (the volume in which "The Contract" appeared), her goal was to use romance's representation of the passions in order to quench passion or, at the very least, to redirect erotic passion to political obligation: "Though some of these Stories be Romancical, I would not be thought to delight in Romances, having never read a whole one in my life; and if I did believe that these Tales should neither benefit the Life, nor please the Mind, more than what I have read in them, did either instruct or satisfie me; or that they could create Amorous thoughts in idle brains, as Romances do, I would never suffer them to be printed, and would make Blots instead of Letters. But Partiality persuades me otherwise; and I hope that this Work will rather quench Passion, than enflame it."(44)

Simultaneously declaring and denying the romance elements of the stories that follow, Cavendish alerts us to her dialectical critique of the genre most prominently associated with the court and with royalist political propaganda from the 1630s to the 1660s. In "The Contract" she does not oppose romance and contract in the Hobbesian manner, but neither does she simply conflate them in a royalist politics of love. In the process of making what appears to be a traditional royalist argument for the role of love in securing political obligation, Cavendish parodies not only the Hobbesian picture of the passions and the interests, of power seeking after power, but also the excesses of court life; even more important, she uses romance to revise the absolutist model of the marriage contract and, in so doing, suggests a critique of the royalist argument for political contract as well.(45)

Cavendish's intention to reform romance is apparent early on in "The Contract": the uncle keeps his young charge away from "courts, masques, plays, [and] balls," and forbids her to read "romancies," substituting instead moral philosophy and history. She in turn adopts a Jonsonian strictness about the masque of life, and when her uncle asks for her opinion of "the riches and gallantry of the city" (8) in one of many such scenes of casuistical debate, she replies: "As I pass by, I please my eye, yet no other ways than as senseless objects; they entice me not to stay, and a short view satisfies the appetite of the senses, unless the rational and understanding part should be absent; but to me they seem but moving statues" (9). Yet the lady is herself a beautiful orphan who is described in the language of allegorical romance. When she and her uncle debate the wisdom of attending a masque at court, they do so in mock heroic terms reminiscent of Una and Redcrosse confronting the Cave of Error in book 1 of The Faerie Queene. The uncle urges the lady to "arm yourself with confidence, for go you shall," while she worries that she will make "a good assault, but a bad retreat" if she wears her most dazzling outfit the first time they appear at court (10).(46) Having decided to attend a masque, she achieves a suitably Spenserian victory: "pressed . . . to the wars of vanity, where Cupid is general," she strikes the assembled courtiers with "amaze."

As Cavendish's preface and the lady's disparagement of spectacle have led us to expect, this romance victory is achieved at the expense of the court culture of romance. In particular, the uncle's description of the masque reads like the famous account of opera in Tolstoy's War and Peace, an account that Russian formalist critics used to exemplify the device of "making strange." To his niece's inquiry, "Pray . . . what is a masque?" he answers, "it is painted scenes to represent the poet's heavens and hells, their gods and devils, and clouds, sun, moon, and stars; besides, they represent cities, castles, seas, fishes, rocks, mountains, beasts, birds, and what pleaseth the poet, painter, and surveyor. Then there are actors, and speeches spoke, and music; and then lords or ladies come down in a scene, as from the clouds; and after that, they begin to dance" (9). This paratactic description of "speeches spoke" undoubtedly conforms to the way the allegorical program of the masque was often received by members of the royal audience. By pointing up the superficiality of the spectacle and the audience's response, the uncle thus trivializes the rhetorical effect of the masque and, implicitly, the courtly society of which it is an emblem.(47) At the same time, he points to the primacy of event over characterization for which a number of Cavendish's contemporaries criticized prose romance. In the preface to the English translation of Mlle. de Scudery's Ibrahim (1652), we read that "to make [the heroes] be known perfectly, it is not sufficient to say how many times they have suffered shipwreck, and how [many] times they have incountered robbers, but their inclinations must be made to appear by their discourse." In the best romances, the author implies, intention and motive distinguish heroes more than their superficial actions.(48) And this is what happens in "The Contract."

Although the masque itself is criticized for its superficial display, it is also the occasion of "true romance," for it is here that the lady and the duke meet and fall in love. It is also here that the uncle meets the elderly viceroy to whom he hopes to marry his niece. These events then motivate the rest of the plot, for the newly amorous duke must extricate himself from his current marriage, the lady must negotiate her conflicting allegiances to her uncle and her new love, and the uncle must be convinced that the new marriage contract he is negotiating on his niece's behalf with the elderly viceroy is invalid. One thing is clear: a contract that was originally broken for lack of consent begins to be validated through romance, specifically romantic love.

Cavendish then develops her views about the relationship of contract to consent, morality and "nice scruples" to love, in a number of exemplary scenes. These scenes amount to a kind of anatomy of contract, specifically in relation to the passions and interests which contract is intended to reconfigure or represent. In simultaneously stressing the importance of consent and its irrelevance, these scenes suggest that precisely this contradiction is the heart of the royalist argument about irrevocable political contract; at the same time, they dramatize Cavendish's attempt to use the conventions of romance to reconcile coercion and consent in an argument for political obligation that is modeled on romantic love. In the end, however, "The Contract" also illustrates the paradox of using the passions to respond to arguments for the engagement and political obligation which are based on the rational calculation of self-preservation - that paradox, that is, of using the passions to provide a securer foundation for contract. As Hobbes himself had noted in making fear of violent death a cornerstone of his commonwealth, the passions are themselves a source of interest; and as he acknowledged in the conclusion to Leviathan, the interest of self-preservation may ultimately give rise to the same sorts of casuistry and broken contracts that the original contract was designed to avoid. The final scene of "The Contract" shows us that the same is true of "true love."

In the first exemplary scene (really two in quick succession), both the lady and her uncle see contract as an agreement that is based on love and consent. Thus, in trying to persuade his niece to marry the viceroy, the uncle resorts to persuasion rather than coercion. Although the lady suspects her uncle's "design" to marry her against her affections, the uncle initially has no such intention. Instead he urges the lady to put aside passion and to marry "a discrete and sober man" (19-20), and he tells the viceroy that "he could not force [his niece's] affection," although he would try "to get her to consent to marry" (20). When he then tries to persuade the lady of the viceroy's virtues, she protests that they are ill-suited, for he is old and she is young, he will be jealous and she will be restrained "like a prisoner" (22). Obviously, the partner she has in mind is one who will be like her in age as well as station; the contract she envisions is one that will preclude coercion both before and during the marriage. Nevertheless, at the end of this scene, she reiterates that she is "bound in gratitude and duty to obey' her uncle's will, thereby calling attention not only to the case of conscience posed by the uncle's proposed contract but also to the difficulty of making consent a meaningful act in the context of a relationship that is hierarchical and inequitable (23).

Shortly after, the lady experiences pangs of conscience about replying to the duke's love-letter, both because her uncle would disapprove if she responded and because the duke would think her "malicious" if she did not. This case of conscience is explicitly "resolved" by an appeal to her own experience of "charity and love," which persuades her that the duke "speaks the truth" when he claims her indifference will kill him: "I would be loath to murder him with nice scruples [about replying to his letter], when I am neither forbade by honour nor modesty, religion nor laws. Well, I will adventure, and ask my uncle pardon when I have done" (24). In her reply to the duke, the lady similarly conflates conscience and love, stating that "if you have wars with your conscience, or fancy, or both, interrupting the peace of your mind, as your letter expresses, I should willingly return to your side, and be an arbitrator; yet the fates have determined it otherwise" (25). In these and other scenes in which the lady both acknowledges and casuistically evades the authority of her uncle, Cavendish seems to be suggesting that conscientious consent is required for a contract or any other "law" (including the moral law) to be binding.(49) And that consent is figured as love.

In the second exemplary scene, by contrast, the duke describes the original marriage contract in terms of a model of political obligation that is hierarchical, inequitable, and irrevocable, and to which consent is irrelevant. He does so in response to the news that the lady has been betrothed to the viceroy after all. Here and in the following episode, we see the narrative explicitly take up the central question of the engagement controversy: under what conditions is a contract no longer binding? Although the match was arranged "without the young Lady's consent," "the uncle told her afterwards, she must prepare herself to be the Viceroy's bride; and, said he, if you consent not never come near me more" (28). We know that she does tacitly consent because immediately after this the duke, who has heard of the match, appears in the lady's chamber to protest, and she responds that if she were to disobey her uncle she would prove herself "a traitor to gratitude" (29). The duke then argues that the original marriage contract between the two of them is still in effect since "you cannot want an owner whilst I live, for I had, nor have no more power to resign the interest I have in you, than Kings to resign their crown that comes by succession, for the right lies in the crown, not in the man, and though I have played the tyrant, and deserved to be uncrowned, yet none ought to take it off my head, but death, nor have I power to throw it from myself, death only must make way for a successor" (29). Contrary to what we might expect, the duke is not claiming that the original contract is now valid because his consent has finally been secured, but that it has continued to be valid regardless of his consent. Thus, in describing his situation, he draws an analogy between his condition and that of the absolute monarch himself who remained sovereign even when he was a tyrant. The implication seems to be that, as Hobbes argues in De corpore and Leviathan, contracts are legally binding as long as the contracting parties are in a position to perform their obligations (whether they do or not).(50) The application of the analogy to contemporary politics is obvious: Charles II is king and deserves his subjects' allegiance by virtue of his office. What complicates this reading is that the motive for the duke's argument is his passionate love for the lady. To focus on the domestic drama is to see that it is passion that is figured as sovereign, and that the duke now defends the marriage contract because he is in love and it is thus in his interest to do so.

That Cavendish believes love is a more powerful basis for obligation than coercion and self-preservation is dramatically illustrated by the third scene, a parody of the Hobbesian account of contract that mediates between the lady's emphasis on consent and the duke's insistence on its irrelevance. In this scene the duke confronts the viceroy at swordpoint and insists that he swear in writing not to marry the lady. When the viceroy very reasonably asks why, the duke informs him that "she is my wife, and I have been married to her almost nine years" (31). The duke thus argues that the viceroy's contract is invalid because of a prior existing contract. It is not the force of logic that persuades the viceroy, however, but mere brute force; not until the duke tells him "if you do not [swear], you shall die a violent death" does the viceroy agree (31). The scene reads as a textbook illustration of the question at the heart of the engagement controversy concerning whether one can break a prior contract (and sign a new one) for reasons of self-preservation. Whereas Hobbes had answered in the affirmative and had used such arguments to justify the legitimacy of de facto political power, Cavendish strikingly uses the argument for engagement to justify a prior contract and the status quo ante. Here, too, what the scene with the viceroy appears to illustrate for Cavendish is that contracts based on fear and self-interest are weaker than those based on love, for they will always be broken when the contracting party is threatened with force. In marked contrast to the nascent view that a person pursuing his own interest becomes "transparent and predictable," and that "interest will not lie," Cavendish shows us that interest - at least the interest of self-preservation - is the source of inconstancy.(51) The viceroy is forced to "unswear" his recent oath to marry the lady, with the result that the earlier oath of engagement between the duke and the lady is reaffirmed - and thus, indirectly, the earlier oath of obedience to the king.

While, in the encounter between the duke and the lady, the duke argues that contracts are binding even without consent and the episode with the viceroy shows that contracts may be broken for reasons of self-preservation, in both cases these arguments are in the service of preserving the original engagement of the duke and the lady, one now infused with true love. The final scene of "The Contract," however, seems to dramatize some of the problems of granting the affections such a role by linking the royalist interest in true romance with the engagers' worst fears of royalist deception and manipulation.(52)

In this last scene the duke and the lady have consented to marry, but the duke must still extricate himself from his current marriage. Accordingly, the lady and the duke decide "to conceal their agreement . . . and to cover it by the duke's seeming dissent" - a phrase that echoes his "seeming consent" to the first contract at the very beginning of the narrative (37). Lest he seem to have deliberately contracted to marry two women, the lady agrees to pretend to sue for his hand in court. This way the duke can seem to be "coerced" by justice to consent to the original contract. What is politically troubling about this final scene is the obvious casuistry involved in the lady's pleading before the judges: not casuistry in the sense of a case of conscience, for the duke and the lady appear to have no scruples at all about their mock suit, but casuistry in the sense of equivocation and deceit - of romance, we might say, in the sense of improbability and fiction.

First, the lady insists that she was "married" to the duke according to common law (if not canon law), and that her legal status as a minor is irrelevant now that she has consented to the marriage as an adult.(53) She then argues in Hobbesian fashion that the duke was old enough to consent when the original contract was made and "if a coward make a promise through distracted fear, laws that carry more terrors, than the broken promise [carries] profit, will make him keep it, for a promise must neither be broken upon suspicion, nor false construction, nor enticing persuasions, nor threatening ruins, but it must be maintained with life, and kept by death, unless the promises carry more malignity in the keeping them, than the breaking of them" (39). As a result, the duke's "vows" to his current wife could only be "love's feignings, [rather] than really true," "for where right is not, truth cannot be" (40). Affection, the lady argues, cannot itself be the basis of a new marriage contract when an old bond is still in force; to the contrary, it will instead be a cause of "feigning," including the pretense of freedom to contract a new marriage. Yet "he cannot be free, unless he hath my consent, which I will never give" (40).

The lady then protests that, unlike the duke, she is incapable of deceit:

And for dissembling, I have not have had time enough to practice much deceit; my youth will witness for me, it is an art, not an inbred nature, and must be studied with pains, and watched with observation, before any can be master thereof. And I hope this assembly is so just, as not to impute my innocent simplicity to a subtle, crafty, or a deceiving glass, to show the mind's false face, making that fair, which in itself is foul (41).

Yet that is precisely what the trial is designed to do: to make the duke's past foul behavior seem fair - or fairer than it might otherwise seem - through the artful dissembling of his knowledge concerning the validity of the prior contract and of his desire to be rid of his present wife. And part of the lady's casuistry is to invoke the Hobbesian argument for the validity of covenants made for reasons of fear, although the motive for the trial is that the contract is now motivated by love.

This casuistical sacrifice of love to the law only in order to enforce "the law of the heart" is then replayed by the duke, who confesses that in his licentious youth he "sought pleasure more than virtue: but experience hath learned me stricter ways, and nobler principles, insomuch as the reflection of my former actions, clouds all my future happiness, wounds my conscience, and torments my life; but I shall submit to what your wise judgements think fit" (42). The duke portrays himself as a "wounded conscience" - a common phrase from casuistical manuals and treatises concerning political obligation - not because he is faced with a conflict of allegiances (as in the engagement controversy) but rather because his wayward passion and infidelity have been revealed to him by the law. A few lines later, the lady reiterates the fiction that passion forced the duke to break his prior vow, when she urges that the court "excuse the faults of the Duke, since he was forced by Tyrant Love to run in uncouth ways" (43). Yet as the reader knows, the law that reveals the wounded conscience is also the instrument that reconciles "pleasure" and "virtue." Not surprisingly, when the court rules that the lady is his "lawful wife," he "willingly submit[s]," thereby making his legal destiny his choice (43).

One way to read this last scene is as Cavendish's final attempt to rebut arguments such as Hobbes's and the engagers': whereas in Leviathan, irrevocable political contract is predicated on consent and validated by coercion, for Cavendish such coercion will ideally always be staged, since the real relationship between contracting parties is not only one of consent, but also of true love. This argument has obvious gender implications as well: just as the lady in the trial scene recalls the enterprising, independent-minded heroine of Shakespearean comedy - a woman such as Rosalind or Portia who is capable of acting in her own interest - so the contract she defends is one that fulfills her own desires just as much as her husband's.

This fiction of satisfied desire has potentially revolutionary implications. As we have seen, romance in Cavendish's work is the motor and motive of narrative: the narrative of coming to understand one's obligations as willed - not as a matter of self-preservation but of fantasy, desire, and self-fulfillment. Yet to the extent that self-fulfillment requires the "greater equality" (to borrow Eve's oxymoron in Paradise Lost, bk. 9, line 823) of the contracting parties - in the first instance husband and wife, but also sovereign and subject - it threatens not only the traditional understanding of the marriage contract but also the royalist's use of the marriage contract as a justification of political subordination and absolute sovereignty. After all, it is not the wife but the husband who "willingly submit[s]" at the end of the trial, a gesture (however feigned) that recalls the pejorative analogy between obedient and effeminized subjects that parliamentarians such as Henry Parker had used to argue against absolute sovereignty (see above, p. 532). Intentionally or not (or perhaps both, given her characteristically ambivalent claims for the equality of the sexes), Cavendish's defense of a more equitable marriage contract may in the end bring her closer to parliamentary critics of the king than she would have liked.(54)

Specifically, in making the lady's marriage contract the central issue of her romance, Cavendish implies not only that women are the representative political subjects but also that they are the representative dissenters.(55) In narrating a story in which a marriage contract is ultimately validated by the true love of the contracting parties, Cavendish suggests a mutuality between subject and sovereign that is potentially at odds with the irrevocable contract she seeks to justify. In using romance to justify the "marriage contract" of subject and sovereign, she exposes the illogic at the heart of the royalist marriage/sovereignty analogy, for she shows almost in spite of herself that true romance is as much a justification of personal and political divorce as it is of marriage.

Yet other aspects of the final trial scene of "The Contract" are at odds with the radical political possibilities I have just sketched. In particular, the obvious casuistry of lady and duke leaves us with a feeling of discomfort reminiscent of Shakespeare's problem plays - a feeling of the incompatibility of law and romance, coercion and consent, in both the domestic and the political spheres. This incompatibility is illustrated by the fact that the fictions of the final scene - that love is tyrannical and contracts are binding without consent - are at odds with the implicit argument of earlier episodes according to which contract is a vehicle of true romance. In the end Cavendish's romance justification of sovereignty dramatizes some of the same problems we observed in Leviathan. To the extent that she emphasizes the consensual aspect of romance, she runs the risk of justifying parliamentary critics of absolute sovereignty; and, to the extent that she sees romance as a figure of coercion, she runs the risk of apologizing for de facto political power.(56)

There are other ways as well in which true romance is contaminated by coercion and dissembling at the end of "The Contract." As we have seen, for the duke "the wounded conscience" is less a matter of principle than of psychology; it does not involve an application of moral judgment but an experience of guilt.(57) Yet this psychologizing of conscience is not a move that inspires confidence in the duke's reformed character, since we know that he is acting the part of the penitent rake for the benefit of his judges. This dissembling then seems to call into question the resolution of the plot. In particular, our discomfort with the duke's "conversion" and his marriage to the lady is aggravated by the fact that the elderly viceroy makes what appears to be a purely expedient proposal at the last moment to the duke's first wife - "since the law has given away your husband, I will supply his place" (43) - and by the fact that the new marriages seem likely to be as unsatisfactory as the old.

These darker elements invite an alternative reading of the end of "The Contract." According to this reading, the final trial scene is not so much a simple rebuttal of Hobbes and the engagers but rather an adaptation of their arguments concerning the power of self-interest. In this light, the collusion of the duke and the lady appears as a commentary on the difference between the reign of Charles I and the Protectorate, in which the law can never be infused with romance but must instead be casuistically manipulated by royalists. In such a world, Cavendish may be suggesting, true romance must be supplanted by the problem play.(58)

This instability of genre, which we might describe thematically as an uncertainty about the relationship between coercion and consent, passion and interest, returns us to the relationship of the marriage contract to the political contract. As I have already suggested, not the least of the "problems" that the final scene stages is the very incompatibility of Cavendish's critique of the marriage contract with her royalist argument for allegiance to the king - the incompatibility, that is, of the more radical gender argument and the argument for traditional political obligation. What I would like to stress is that this incompatibility reappears within Cavendish's representation of marriage as well. For example, though the lady demonstrates great resourcefulness in winning over the duke and satisfying her own desires, nothing in the plot suggests that her marriage will challenge the conventional hierarchical relation of husband and wife. As she remarks earlier in response to her uncle's plans to marry her to the viceroy, "you give your power, authority, and commands, with my obedience, away; for if my husband and your commands are contrary, I can obey but one, which must be my husband" (22). And, as she remarks somewhat later to the duke, "it is an unheard of malice to me . . . neither to own me yourself, nor let another": self-ownership is apparently not a permanent option for women in this text (29). It is precisely for this reason, I suggest, that the plot of "The Contract" is taken up with the dilatory space of debating the conditions of contract rather than with married life itself; focusing on the time before marriage allows the lady some degree of autonomy, however unrepresentative of the married state that lies before her. It may also be for this reason that Cavendish protests in the preface to Natures Pictures that she never read "a whole [romance]" in her life: it is not good for women to have romances end, for romantic closure is antithetical to female independence.(59)

As "The Contract" illustrates, in mid-seventeenth-century England romance is a vehicle for debates about the proper role of coercion and consent in establishing political obligation. If, as Sheldon Wolin has argued, Hobbes saw himself as the hero of a new kind of epic, combating the Kingdom of Darkness with the weapon of "right method,"(60) Cavendish imagined herself as the heroine of a new kind of philosophical romance - a chaste "She-Anchoret" (the title of one of the other works in Natures Pictures) pronouncing on the central political and philosophical issues of the day. Like Hobbes, Cavendish was concerned to describe a model of obligation that is both irrevocable and consensual; unlike Hobbes, I believe, she was eager to justify the subject's prior allegiance to Charles II. To Hobbes's motives of fear and self-preservation, Cavendish opposes romantic love as a stronger foundation for irrevocable contract. In the process, she also appropriates and revises the language of interest. Ideally, she suggests, self-interest need not underwrite a Hobbesian account of life as nasty, brutish and short, since romantic love is both a passion (one might even say, a form of coercion) to which we readily consent, and an interest which allows us to be faithful to our contractual obligations, even in the face of threats to our self-preservation.(61) In contrast to William Cavendish, who sacrificed his interest to the king's and whose love was unrequited,(62) Margaret Cavendish suggests that passion and interest may together underwrite the contract of political obligation, and that honor and loyalty may not be incompatible with "politic designs."

While apparently at odds with such ostentatiously demystified accounts of contract as Hobbes's Leviathan, Cavendish's prose romance helps us to see that the languages of romance and contract may be related, and often inextricable, approaches to formulating a theory of political obligation. In fact one might say that romance amounts to an internalization of the Hobbesian theory of contract, according to which we consent to be coerced; whereas in Hobbes's account coercion takes the form of the sovereign's power of the sword, in Cavendish coercion takes the form of our very own passions: we are coerced, in short, by ourselves. One might even argue that such coercion amounts to a disciplining, in the Foucauldian sense, of the political subject who paradoxically experiences such constraint as the most authentic - because it is the most inward and self-imposed. Such a reading would make the projected marriage compatible with the argument for allegiance to the king; but, as we have seen, in Cavendish's hands romance is also at odds with the demands of political absolutism since it dramatizes the instability of the passions, the necessarily figurative dimension of any so-called "binding" contract.(63)

In dramatizing the intersection of romance and contract, Cavendish's work contributes to a revised history of theories of political obligation in the seventeenth century.(64) Not only does "The Contract" illustrate the general principle that seventeenth-century political debate was often carried out in terms of competing uses of the same literary genre; it also suggests that romance was particularly well suited to staging the problematic coexistence of coercion and consent, passion and interest, in contemporary theories of contract.(65) This is no doubt in part because, as Hobbes feared, the world of politics is itself "concerned with the imaginary and the fantastic," with "'lived' romance."(66) But Cavendish takes us one step further: if the legalistic language of contract in Cavendish's tale exposes romance as a matter of interest and calculation, romance simultaneously reveals the fictional and affective dimension of contract. This is as true of political contract as it is of the marriage contract: in both cases, as Cavendish shows, contract is predicated on and fosters a kind of pretense, even dissimulation. In Patriarcha Filmer had argued that the notion of the original contract is a ridiculous fiction.(67) Cavendish suggests, with considerably more sympathy, that contract is one of the seventeenth century's most powerful forms of romance.


This essay is part of a book-lenght project entitled The Romance of Contract: Literature and Politics in England, 1640-74. Among the many colleagues who have commented on this essay, I am particularly grateful to Helen Silverberg for her suggestions for revision, to Kevin Sharpe and an anonymous reader for Renaissance Quarterly for their extraordinarily helpful reader's reports, and to Neil Saccamano for conversations about Cavendish.

1 Alexander Brome greeting "the returning general Monck in 1659," quoted by Hirst, 150. Cavendish, Life, 135. Sir William Cavendish was Brome's patron before leaving England in 1644.

2 The phrase is from Tully, 12. On contract, see Gough; Gierke; and Cassirer, chap. 13. As Gierke notes, theories of social contract are often a prelude to or fused with theories of political contract, the act which establishes the sovereign power (10711). For a critique of Gierke's ahistoricism, which nonetheless shares the assumptions I mention, see Hopfl and Thompson.

3 See, for example, Herzog; Pateman; Elshtain; Shanley; and Saccamano for an astute reading of the social contract in Rousseau.

4 Patterson, 1984, chap. 4, offers an excellent account of Renaissance romance theory and the varieties of romance available to writers in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. On royalist romance, see in particular Potter; Smith; Patterson; and Salzman. Salzman discusses the ways in which royalist romances comment on the political upheaval of the civil war and stage "the moral and religious dilemmas" arising from it (166). Like Patterson and Smith, he distinguishes between English political/allegorical romance, which focuses on adventure, and French heroic romance, which focuses on love and reflection; while admitting that elements of the latter make their way into the former, he tends to see the passion of love as playing a minor, mostly decorative role in English romances (159, 192).

5 See Hirschman; and Gunn. Hirschman argues that the seventeenth century saw the emergence of the theory of the countervailing passion - the use of one passion to counteract the deleterious effects of another. Specifically, greed or acquisitiveness was seen as an antidote to the self-aggrandizing, socially destructive passions of ambition and glory. Although initially passion and interest were seen to be opposed, in time the countervailing passion came to be called an "interest." This important argument can be challenged on chronological grounds, since arguments about countervailing passions were certainly available earlier than the seventeenth century. It can also be extended to the representation and political uses of erotic passion.

6 Corns, Patterson, Potter, Norbrook, Salzman, Sharpe, Smith, and Worden, among others, have made important contributions to this revised history.

7 The text of "The Contract" is cited from Cavendish, 1992. The following quotations are taken from p. 4.

8 In using the term "discipline," I mean to invoke and complicate Foucault's distinction between law and discipline, between a "juridico-discursive" model of power, "centered on . . . the statement of the law and the operation of taboos," and a new method of power"whose operation is [ensured] . . . not by law but by normalization" (Foucault, [1980.sup.1], 82, 85, 89). According to Foucault, the legal notion of contract is characteristc of the juridico-discursive model of power (Foucault, 19802, 91-92), whereas our most intimate experiences of pleasure and of the passions are the locus of power in the disciplinary model. Pateman correctly notes in contrast to Foucault that "law and contract, obedience and contract, go hand in hand, but it does not follow that contract is concerned only with law and not also, in Foucault's terminology with discipline, normalization, and control" (16). I borrow the term "node of stress" from Crane.

9 On skepticism about natural law in relation to contract and to new models of statecraft, see, among others, Tuck; Herzog; and the review article by Miller. On the emerging language of interest, see Hirschman and Gunn.

10 Henry Ferne, Conscience Satisfied: That there is no warrant for the Armes now taken up by Subjects . . . (Oxford, 1643), 12; cited in Shanley, 81. Royalist defenders of absolute sovereignty (including James I in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies) also used the argument from conquest (or coercion) but even here consent entered in to ratify the conqueror's rule. On the relation between the marriage contract and the sexual contract, see Pateman, 3-7, 54, 90. Pateman has discussed the erotic and coercive underside of seventeenth-century theories of contractual obligation, arguing that the liberal model of political contract assumed a prior contract of sexual subordination: sexual inequality is the occluded yet enabling condition of supposedly gender-neutral theories of political obligation.

11 Shanley also makes this point, 82-85.

12 Parker's Observations are reprinted in Hailer, vol. 2; I quote here from Parker's pagination, 185.

13 Henry Parker, 1-2.

14 N.T., The Resolver Continued: Or, A Satisfaction to some Scruples about the Putting of the Late King to Death (London, 1649); cited by Skerpan, 147.

15 See Milton: "He who marries, intends as little to conspire his own ruine, as he that swears Allegiance: and as a whole people is in proportion to an ill Government, so is one man to an ill marriage. If they against any authority, Covenant, or Statute, may by the Soveraign edict of charity, save not only their lives, but honest liberties from unworthy bondage, as well may he against any private Covnant, which hee never enter'd to his mischief" (229). For other examples of the political use of the marriage analogy, see Sirluck's introduction to the Divorce tracts, 152-53.

16 Consent, of course, also has an important role to play in Hobbes's theory, according to which we consent to be coerced by the sovereign, as I discuss below. Crucially, however, in Hobbes's model the sovereign is not a party to the contract, and so there is no relationship of mutual consent between subject and sovereign.

17 For the common distinction between spousal contracts defuturo (promises to marry at some future time), and de praesenti (an exchange of vows that constitutes marriage in the present moment, preferably but not necessarily, according to canon law, with witnesses and solemnization in Church), see Swinburne. The treatise was written in the early years of the seventeenth century, although it was not published until later. Under the rubric of "Questions about Marriages or Spousals contracted by Children," Swinburne discusses a case which anticipates the plot of "The Contract": one party is in minority, the other not; the older party doesn't wait for the younger to reach majority and marries another. Legal opinion is divided, according to Swinburne, about whether the older party is bound by the spousal contract; Swinburne argues that the older party's second marriage is good, because minority of first party made the contract only a spousal defuturo (4-36). On marriage contracts, see also Houlbrooke, chap. 4; Ingram, chaps. 4-6. All the major casuists of the seventeenth century (William Perkins, William Ames, Joseph Hall, Robert Sanderson, and Jeremy Taylor) discussed "matrimonial cases."

18 The moral ambiguity of domestic cases was undoubtedly aggravated by the upheaval in gender relations that Cavendish and other women experienced during the civil war and its aftermath. Cavendish herself had dramatized this upheaval in Bell in Campo, a play written sometime after "The Contract," in which a troop of Amazons helps the Kingdom of Reformation defeat the Kingdom of Faction, in the process securing a royal decree for the equality of husband and wife in marriage. See Plays, 588, where the Lady Victoria argues that women are "fit to be Copartners in [men's] Governments." The decree about new marital relations appears on p. 631. While utterly traditional in some respects - women are to have control over servants and household provisions - it also stipulates that women "shall sit at the upper end of the Table above their Husbands," "keep the purse," and "go abroad when they will, without controul, or giving of any account thereof." Both here and in "The Contract" Cavendish may be registering a more general change "in the conceptualization of the marriage contract in the course of the seventeenth century." If in 1640 "to contract a marriage was to consent to a status which in its essence was hierarchical and unalterable," by 1690 "the terms of the [marriage] contract . . . were [themselves] negotiable" (Shanley, 79; see Houlbrooke, 35).

19 In taking the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), members of Parliament had sworn "to preserve and defend the King's Majesty's person and authority." On the arguments pro and contra engagement, see Skinner; and Wallace, 1964 and 1968. Proponents of the engagement presented both scriptural and secular arguments justifying obedience to de facto political power. Among the most prominent arguments were those based on the function of government: that government which preserves peace and protects its citizens deserves our obedience. Although this was a sound moral argument dating at least as far back as Saint Augustine, defenders of the Cromwellian government also cast the argument in purely pragmatic terms, according to which an earlier oath of allegiance may be invalidated for reasons of stir-preservation. Fear that the king might not be able to protect you - fear that the new, de facto political power might be able to do you harm - these were legitimate reasons for judging a prior oath invalid and swearing a new one.

20 On the crisis of royalist ideology, see Corns, chap. 4, including a discussion of "the interrelatedness of Cavalier as lover and loyalist" (77); on loyalism and royalism, see Wallace, 1968.

21 Grant, 132.

22 Cavendish moved to France with the court of Henrietta Maria in 1643. Sir William Cavendish went into exile after being defeated by the parliamentary army at Marston Moor in 1644. Cavendish's life is summarized by Moira Ferguson in Wilson and Warnke. Fuller biographical accounts are offered by Mendelson; and Grant. In The Life of. . . William Caverdish Cavendish recounts a number of conversations between her husband and Hobbes. See also Cavendish, [1664.sup.1], 47, 492. The first part of this text offers a commentary on chapters 1-6 of Leviathan and parts of Hobbes's Elements of Philosophy. The phrase quoted comes from p. 492.

23 I borrow this catalogue of the format and thematic features of romance from Frye.

24 For two stimulating recent discussions of the development of the early modern notion of character, see Leites; and Tully. Leites argues that in the late seventeenth century casuistry was displaced by the idea of autonomous moral character, but that the call to rely on one's own conscience and judgment could be seen as a covert way of having people control themselves in accord with state interest. Leites connects this new "interest in the moral will, [and] non-legal concern over the conduct and character of daily life" with the development of prose fiction, especially the novel (132). (On the connection between casuistry and the novel, see also Starr.) Tully traces the development of "a new practice of governing conduct . . . in the period from the Reformation to the Enlightenment" (12), one that was opposed to the older, potentially subversive idea of conscience. In some ways analogous to Foucault's notion of discipline, this mode of governing conduct is internalized in "mental habits and physical conduct" (70). For a related discussion of contract in the context of the novel, see Armstrong. Armstrong argues that contract declined as a model for political relationships because of contradictions in the theory but had a different fate in the novel, where the social contract lived on as the sexual contract; the female gendering of subjectivity through the novel in turn had important political consequences.

25 See Sharpe, 1987; Veevers; and Butler. According to Sharpe, Charles I's tastes did not preclude "political debate and discussion" and "love was the metaphor, the medium, through which political comment and criticism were articulated in Caroline England" (39). A politics of love was of course also important in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, as we see from contemporary drama, poetry, and political debate. Veevers is interesting on the difference between the Elizabethan and Caroline rhetorics of love (73-74, 186-91). In discussing the politics of love in the 1630s, both Sharpe and Butler have emphasized that "marriage was the ultimate relationship of equals in love" (Sharpe, 288) but, as I have argued above, marriage was a favorite metaphor for royalist politics because it emphasized hierarchy as well as mutuality, subordination as well as consent. Thus, to use an example cited by Sharpe, the king in Davenant's The Fair Favorite who has mastered his tyrannical passion may have learned to love his subjects, but he is not as a result their equal; the idealized marriage of Charles and Henrietta Maria may signify harmony and stability, but no one would assume that this was predicated on the equality of husband and wife, let along ruler and ruled.

26 On Charles's "political reasons for developing his own image in romance terms," see Patterson, 1984, 166-76; Potter, chap. 3. Here too there were precedents in the reign of Elizabeth, in the work of Sidney and Spenser, and the reign of James I, which saw the translation of Honore d'Urfe's prose romance, Astraea, as well the publication of works by Wroth and Barclay. On the latter, see Sandy.

27 In the 1630s both critics and supporters of the crown saw romance as a particularly royalist genre: the genre favored by court patronage but also the genre of royal behavior. While Charles and Henrietta Maria favored the romance of domestic love, contemporaries sometimes appeared to yearn for a romance that was composed equally of love and adventure: Prince Charles's trip to woo the Spanish Infanta had both elements of the typical romance plot; similarly Prince Rupert's trip to Madagascar, a venture that Charles opposed, was cast by sympathetic observers as a romance. In addition to Potter, chap. 3, see Patterson, 1984, chap. 4; Sharpe, 1987, 9596. For examples of the republican use of romance, see Smith, 246-49.

28 On the Caroline masque, see Veevers; and Sharpe, 1987, chap. 5. According to contemporary theorists, if epic was traditionally defined by heroic action, the principal action of romance often took the form of marriage; see the preface to English translation of Scudery's Ibrahim.

29 Montague's work is discussed by Potter, 79-80. Although Potter does not discuss the language of contract, she does observe that "romance allows the major religious differences between the king and queen, and the hostility between their two countries, to be glossed over by the myth of a love which transcends conflict" (80). See also Veevers, 39-47; Sharpe, 1987, 39-44.

30 Quoted in note 28 on Eikonoklastes (793). Patterson, 1983, discusses the romance theory that was current in the early and mid-seventeenth century. Authors such as Milton would have been aware of "the medieval recognition of three types of romance: (1) the romans d'antiquite - de Thebes, d'Eneas, and de Troie; (2) the Matter of Britain, Arthurian legends made significant in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae;, and (3) the Matter of France, Carolingian or crusader stories as exemplified by the Chanson de Roland" (189). Romance theory in the seventeenth century was complicated by the mixed reception of Ariosto as, on the one hand, "the Christian poet' who had redeemed the Matter of France," or as, on the other hand, "the author of Roland's amorous madness" (190). Also crucial was "the existence of a pastoral romance tradition, sometimes closely affiliated with the chivalric, as in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, and sometimes distinguished from it" (192). Patterson traces the political use of the legend of Saint George by Charles I and the dominance of pastoral romance in "Henrietta Maria's personal circle" (193-94). On the importance of pastoral romance at the court of Charles I and the vogue for historical romances during the Protectorate, see also Patterson, 1984, chap. 4.

31 Potter 73; Hughes, 75, cites this passage in a discussion of the Puritan use of romance to suggest the improbability of the royalist cause.

32 McKeon provides a full account of the seventeenth-century equation of romance with lack of verisimilitude; see esp. chaps. 1 and 2.

33 In the list of characters, Silvio is described as "contracted to Amarillis." See also Fanshawe, 210 ("compact") and 211 ("contract").

34 See Bakhtin on the Greek "adventure novel of ordeal," in which "from the very beginning, the love between the hero and heroine is not subject to doubt; this loves remains absolutely unchanged throughout the entire novel" (89). Bakhtin remarks on the relevance of this "chronotope" to the seventeenth century: "In the seventeenth century, the fates of nations, kingdoms and cultures were also drawn into this adventure-time of chance, gods and villains, a time with its own specific logic. This occurs in the earliest European historical novels, for example in de Scudery's Artamene, or the Grand Cyrus, in Lohenstein's Arminius and Tusnelda and in the historical novels of La Calprenade. Pervading these novels is a curious 'philosophy of history' that hands over the settling of historical destinies to an extratemporal hiatus that exists between two moments of a real time sequence" (96).

35 There is, of course, a gender dimension to this argument, for it is only the female protagonist whose yielding to a final kiss is described as "a willing No; an Act / mixt of Conquest and Compact" (Fanshawe, 209-10). For a brilliant reading of an analogous moment in Paradise Lost - the scene in which Eve is led away from the pool by Adam (bk. 4, ll. 488-89) - see Rogers.

36 In the poems and prose appended to his translation of Il Pastor fido, Fanshawe was even more explicit about the relevance of the nicer passions of pastoral romance to the events of the civil war. Writing "To His Highnesse [The Prince of Wales] in the West, Ann. Dom. 1646," Fanshawe urged, "That which the murdring Cannon cannot force, / Nor plumed Squadrons of steel-glittering Horse, / Love can. In this the People strive t' out-doe / The King; and when they find they're lov'd, love too. / They serve, because they need not serve: and if / A good Prince slack the reins, they make them stifle; / And of their own accords invite that yoke, / Which, if inforc't on them, they would have broke." Fanshawe's solution to the crisis of civil war, in which everyone acts according to self-interest, is to replace the language of interest with that of passion or affection- and thus to make a rhetoric of the passions serve the interest of the king. It is in the interest of the king to love rather than directly coerce his subjects because, freed from the legal burdens of political obligation, they will then begin to love him in return. In Fanshawe's anti-Hobbesian romance, in short, it is better to be loved than feared; although there is a suggestion of quid pro quo of the sort that Margaret Cavendish would have appreciated ("when they find they're lov'd, [the people] love too"), Fanshawe also dearly states that consent predicated on the affections - on what Hegel called the law of the heart - is more binding than coercion or than even the Hobbesian perception of self-interest could ever be. The affections are transmuted to obligation in the form of a self-imposed, internalized discipline: "if / A good Prince slack the reins, they make them stiffe." Thus Charles is invited to construct a romance plot along the lines of Il Pastor fido in which "ama, se piace" (love whom you like) is reconciled with "ama, se lice" (love lawfully). Fanshawe thus offers us an unusually explicit account of the politic use of romance to obscure the relations of power between sovereign and subject. On "the law of the heart,' see Eagleton, chap. 2. Patterson, 1984, 174-76 also discusses the relevance of Fanshawe's translation to the events of the civil war, although she does not comment on the narrative strategy of Guarini's text or the issues of coercion and consent. See also Potter, 85-90.

37 Patterson, 1984, 184. Patterson describes the characteristics of this sort of romance as "the survival of chaste and faithful love in the face of all odds; wild adventures and coincidences in an uncivilized environment, where piracy and shipwreck symbolized human and natural anarchy; and a significant difference from chivalric romance, with its casual adulteries and elaborate rituals" (163), noting that Heliodoran romance could of course be combined with other strains of romance.

38 As Potter has suggested, during the civil war Charles I and his son were themselves romance or tragicomic heroes to their supporters. In fact, "the two Charleses acted out virtually every role available to a ruler in romance or drama: the disguised lover, the husband parted from his wife/kingdom, the loving father of his country, the sacrificial victim, the wandering prince" (107). This romance vocabulary persisted: the Boscobel tracts, which recounted the escape of Charles II to Holland after the Battle of Worcester, describe the events in romance terms as "a history of Wonders," and praise God for contriving such "a Miracle" ("To the Reader").

39 See the preface to William Sales's prose romance, Theophania "Or Severall Modern Histories Represented by Way of Romance: and Politickly Discours'd upon" (1655): "you will find Man, and the Passions of Man . . . and (it may be) Traverses of State, set down as in a Mapp or Chart before you." In the preface to Percy Herbert's The Princess Cloria (1661), we read that "the Ground work for a Romance was excellent . . . since by no other way almost, could the multiplicity of strange Actions of the Times be exprest, that exceeded all belief." Theophania is quoted by Salzman, 175-76. See also Smith, 236-37, who argues that Theophania betrays parliamentarian sympathies. For a discussion of the greater realism of character in French romance and its relation to what I have been calling casuistical debate, see Smith, 241-46, esp. 243: "Like the confession of experience or spiritual autobiography, action is described retrospectively, and is that which leads up to the moments of stasis when debate and decision-making take place." For the "decidedly feminist impulse" of French romances, see Patterson, 1984, 186-89.

40 References to Hobbes are to chapter and page number, as here: 17.227.

41 "The Answer to Davenant," in Spingarn, 2:61: "There are some that are not pleased with fiction, unless it be bold, not onely to exceed the work, but also the possibility of nature: they would have impenetrable Armors, Inchanted Castles, invulnerable bodies, Iron Men, flying Horses, and a thousand other such things, which are easily reigned by them that dare." Grant writes that in 1650 Davenant "sent Newcastle a printed copy of the famous preface, bound together with Hobbes's equally famous reply"; Margaret discussed Davenant's Gondibert in her Sociable Letters (Grant, 114).

42 My attention was drawn to these passages by Smith, who discusses Hobbes's antipathy to romance, 159-60.

43 Thus in the final chapter of Leviathan Hobbes compares the papacy to "the Kingdome of Fayries": "The Faeries in what Nation soever they converse, have but one Universall King, which some Poets of ours call King Oberon; but the Scripture calls Beelzebub, Prince of Daemons. The Ecclesiastiques likewise, in whose dominion soever they be found, acknowledge but one Universall King, the Pope" (47.712-13). Compare Milton's linking of romance with Satan in Paradise Lost, bk. 1, lines. 579-86. Patterson, 1994, points out Milton's association of Charles with romance in Eikonoklastes: "Charles is associated both with 'heathen' (Roman Catholic) cultures, and with the dubious epistemological status of romance in previous genre theory. Fiction has, in effect, become political fraud: 'How dishonorable then, and how unworthy of a Christian King, were these ignoble shifts . . . this deception . . . [of] the cheated People'" (179). Of course, it is also possible to argue, as Filmer did, that Hobbesian contract is not the demystification of romance but itself a romantic fiction. See below, note 67.

44 Cavendish was not alone in attempting to reform romance from within: see Patterson, 1984, on the critique of romance and arcadianism in prose romances of 1650s and 60s. William Cavendish's prefatory poem to Natures Pictures also calls attention to Margaret's reformation of romance: "Gallants and ladies, what do ye lack? pray buy. / Tales a la mode, new fashioned here do lie, / So do romancies . . . / But these are innocent" (quoted in Grant, 152-53).

45 See Salzman, 240, on the opposition between English prose romances and the Hobbesian picaresque of power seeking after power. Sharpe, 1989, echoes Salzman, arguing that "the rogue tradition and the anti-romance were the mode of a new society of commerce, interest and experimental science and philosophy" (264). Much of Cavendish's work complicates this distinction since it uses romance to rehabilitate romance as a genre capable of addressing the new society of commerce, interest, etc. See McKeon, who discusses Viktor Shklovsky's notion of defamiliarization as a paradigm for the dialetical development of genre (12). Cavendish's parody of romance is a perfect example of such generic critique and revision.

46 For Jonson's strictures about the spectacular component of the masque, see his preface to Hymenaei in Jonson, 1970. For the discussion between Una and Redcrosse, see Spenser, book 1, canto 1, stanzas 12 and 19.

47 This is only one of the scenes in "The Contract" which suggests an ambivalence about courtly culture. See page 27 where the duke's marriage is described in terms that suggest an anti-masque; and page 41, where nature is described in masque terms, as though to suggest that the court is itself too corrupt to achieve the harmonious resolution of pleasure and virtue traditionally dramatized in the masque. Also pertinent is the example of the viceroy who, although a weak and finally despicable character, is conspicuously represented as a favorite of the king who, in turn, doesn't always reward virtue (22).

48 The author continues, "I have had a care likewise to deal in such sort, as the faults, which great ones have committed in my History, should be caused either by love, or by ambition, which are the noblest of passions, and that they be imputed to the evill counsell of flatterers; that so the respect, which is alwaies due to Kings, may be preserved" (Scudery, "The Preface").

49 While the lady declares that when she is married she will be obedient to her husband (22), love in these scenes licenses disobedience, specifically disobedience to her uncle's rules for her conduct.

50 In the story of the "She-Ancoret" in Natures Pictures, the question is posed "whether it were lawful for a King to lay down his Scepter and Crown?" The She-Ancoret responds, "Princes that voluntarily lay down their Royal Dignity, do either express some infirmity in Power, or weakness of Understanding, or imperfect Health of Body, or Effeminacy of Spirits, or doting Affection, or Vainglory . . . neither the Laws of Honour or Religion allow it; nor can I perceive Morality approves it" (634-35).

51 On the maxim "interest will not lie," see Hirschman, 50, and passim. Not only does the viceroy break off his wooing of the lady; he then proceeds to woo the duke's own wife (33).

52 On this fear, see Potter, 108. As I have noted above, one of the contemporary connotations of romance was fiction or deception.

53 Canon law would have upheld the validity of the duke's current marriage, which had already been consummated, rather than the de futuro spousal contract of a minor which, as Swinburne argues, is not binding without the adult consent of both parties.

54 Rogers makes a related argument about the political implications of Cavendish's shift from the scientific theory of Hobbesian, mechanist atomism to vitalism: "the philosopher . . . who holds this view of self-moving matter, frees herself from a resignation to the physics - and the corollary masculinist ethics - of the rule of force." Instead, vitalism allows for an emphasis on consent which draws near to what Rogers calls protoliberal political principles and to what I have been describing as parliamentary principles. Elsewhere Rogers refers to the "anti-authoritarian, republican structure of [Cavendish's] vitalist philosophy." See also Leslie, who discusses the political implications of another of Cavendish's short prose romances, "Assaulted and Pursued Chastity," and comes to conclusions similar in some respects to my own.

55 See Jordan, 308: "Eve as femina must obey the reduced and de-ribbed Adam as vir, her fallible yet absolute governor. Hers is therefore the position of the quintessential poetical subject, forever bound conscientiously to honor divine law and also assiduously to obey her human superior." One could object that the younger brother (the position of the duke until he married into money) is the representative political subject since he is by definition subordinate to his elder brother, the heir, but in a patriarchal culture the subordinate is also by that very fact, as the quotes from Henry Parker et al. reveal, effeminized.

56 Catherine Gallagher has argued that Cavendish's many comparisons between political absolutism and her own "empire of the mind" suggest that writing was "a compensatory withdrawal [into] . . . the domain of subjectivity": commenting on a passage in Sociable Letters where Cavendish remarks that, because women are not legal citizens of the commonwealth, they cannot be subjects, Gallagher writes, "much in Cavendish's texts suggests that the absolutist desire, the desire to be the sovereign monarch, itself derives from a certain female disability: not from her inability to be a monarch but from her inability to be a full subject of the monarch. Of the two available political positions, subject and monarch, monarch is the only one Cavendish can imagine a woman occupying" (27). In "The Contract," however, Cavendish uses the royalists' own analogy of the marriage contract to political contract not to withdraw into a domain of subjectivity but rather to comment on parliamentary as well as sexual politics.

57 See "The Contract," 18-19, for an example of the psychologizing of conscience as "guilt" and "the miseries and torments of despairing lovers."

58 On the prominence of tragicomedy in royalist literature of the 1650s, see Potter, who describes it as "the dramatic manifestation of romance"; and Smith, 76-87. The genres of romance and tragicomedy were often linked in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

59 In this respect "The Contract" conforms to the formal characteristics Patricia Parker has ascribed to romance in Parker, 1979. On the advantage to women of prolonging the negotiations of the spousal contract, see Iwanisziw, who argues that the "liminal state of 'espousal' . . . conferred a certain sexual agency upon women along with the property rights of an unmarried woman. And it is this matrix of sexual agency, material properties and legal rights that creates the romantic plots of early modem English pastoral tragicomedies" (248).

60 Wolin, 22. Epic, in Wolin's characterization, involves elements of romance: he notes the "uneasy tension" between Hobbes's heroic impulse which defines "a hostile world" in "epical terms," and "a scientific impulse which required that mystery and romance be dropped out of the world so that ratiocination and utility could be made the main business" (32).

61 See pp. 30 and 36 of "The Contract" for use of "interest" to describe love or passion.

62 In The Life of William, Duke of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish portrays her husband as a gentleman and soldier, one whose devotion to Charles I and Charles II was uncontaminated by considerations of personal self-interest: "He never minded his own interest more than his loyalty and duty, and upon that account never desired nor received anything from the Crown to enrich himself, but spent great sums in his Majesty's service. . . . He never repined at his losses and sufferings, because he lost and suffered for his King and country." The duke's old-fashioned values of honor and loyalty in the midst of the civil war are explicitly contrasted to those who have "politic designs," which "tend more to interest than justice"; in contrast to the self-serving courtiers surrounding Charles II, William Cavendish loved the king more than his "wife, children, and all his posterity" (Life, 93,129,135).

63 As Hume was to write some eighty years later in his essay, "Of the original contract," any acquiescence or consent that is truly voluntary is also, precisely for that reason, precarious (1:446).

64 It may also contribute to a feminist critique of contract theory, something I have only adumbrated here.

65 Smith, among others, offers a compelling and richly illustrated argument to this effect.

66 Smith, 235, makes this point about Hobbes's fear and the accuracy of his insight into the fictional dimension of politics.

67 See Filmer, Patriarcha, 21: "The ambition of one man, sometimes of many, or the faction of a city or citizens, or the mutiny of an army, both set up or pulled down princes. But they have never tarried for this pretended orderly proceeding of the whole multitude," i.e. government set up by contract (my emphasis). See also in the same volume, The Anarchy of a Limited or Mixed Monarchy, 132, 139-40, and 153, where Filmer criticizes Hobbes's "platonic monarchy": "The book hath so much of fancy that it is a better piece of poetry than policy."


Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction. Oxford, 1985.

Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin, 1981.

Boscobel: or The History of HIS Sacred Majesties Most Miraculous Preservation after the Battle of Worcester 3 Sept. 1651. London, 1660.

Butler, Martin. Theatre and Crisis, 1632-42. Cambridge, 1984.

Cavendish, Margaret. Hays written by the thrice Noble . . . Lady Marchioness of Newcastle. London, 1662.

-----. Philosophical Letters. London, 1664(11).

-----. CCXI Sociable Letters. London, 16642..

-----. Natures Pictures drawn by Fancies Penncil to the Life. London, 1656.

-----. The Description of the New Blazing Woorld and other writings. Ed. Kate Lilley. Washington Square, NY, 1992.

-----. The Life of William, Duke of Newcastlle. 2d ed., ed. C.H. Firth. London, n.d.

Corns, Thomas. Uncloistered Virtue: English Political Literature, 16401660. Oxford, 1992.

Crane, Mary Thomas. Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth. Century England. Princeton, 1993.

Eagleton, Terry. The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Cambridge, MA, 1990.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Public Man, Private Woman: Woman in Social and Political Thought. Princeton, 1981.

Fanshawe, Richard, trans. II Pastor Fido or the Faithful Shepherd. London, 1647.

Filmer, Robert. Patriarcha and Other Writings. Ed. Johann P. Sommerville. Cambridge, 1991.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York, 1980(1).

-----. Power/Knowledge. Ed. Colin Gordon. Neew York, 1980(2).

Frye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, 1957.

Gallagher, Catherine. "Embracing the Absolute: The Politics of the Female Subject in Seventeenth-Century England." Genre 1 (1988): 24-39.

Gierke, Otto. Natural Law and the Theory of Society. Trans. Ernest Barker. Cambridge, 1934; 1950.

Gough, J.W. The Social Contract: A Critical Study of its Development. 2d ed. Oxford, 1957.

Grant, Douglas. Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Toronto, 1957.

Gunn, J.A.W. Politics and the Public Interest in the Seventeenth Century. London, 1969.

Haller, William. Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution, 1638-1647. 3 vols. New York, 1934.

Herzog, Don. Happy Slaves: A Critique of Consent Theory. Chicago, 1989.

Hill, Christopher. Society and Puritanism. London, 1964.

Hirschman, Albert O. The Passions and the Interests. Princeton, 1977.

Hint, Derek. "The Politics of Literature in the English Republic." The Seventeenth Century 5 (1990): 133-55.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. C.B. Macpherson. Harmondsworth, 1975.

Hopfl, Harro and Martyn P. Thompson. "The History of Contract as a Motif in Political Thought." American Historical Review 84 (1979): 919-44.

Houlbrooke, Ralph A. The English Family, 1450-1700. London and New York, 1984.

Hughes, Christopher. Romance, Probability, and Politics in England, 1650-1720. Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1995.

Hume, David. "Of the Original Contract." In Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. T.H. Green and T.H. Grose, 2:443-60. London, 1875.

Ingram, Martin. Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570. 1640. Cambridge and New York, 1987.

Iwanisziw, Susan B. The Place of Women in Early Modern English Closet Drama. Ph.D. diss, University of Pennsylvania, 1994.

Jonsen, Albert R. and Stephen Toulmin. The Abuse of Casuistry. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988.

Jonson, Ben. Selected Masques. Ed. Stephen Orgel. New Haven and London, 1970.

Jordan, Constance. Renaissance Feminism. Ithaca and London, 1990.

Leites, Edmund. "Casuistry and Character." In Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe, ed. Edmund Leites, 119-33. Cambridge and Paris, 1988.

Leslie, Marina. "Evading Rape and Embracing Empire in Margaret Cavendish's Assaulted and Pursued Chastity." In Menacing Virgins: Representing Virginity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Marina Leslie. Newark, DE, forthcoming.

McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. Baltimore, 1987.

Mendelson, Sara Heller. The Mental World of Stuart Women. Brighton, 1987.

Miller, Peter. "Statecraft and Culture in Early Modern Europe." The Historical Journal 38 (1995): 16173.

Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Indianapolis, 1957.

-----. The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorcce. In Complete Prose of John Milton, vol. 2, ed. Ernest Sirluck. 8 vols. New Haven, 1959.

Norbrook, David. Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance. London and Boston, 1984.

Parker, Henry. Jus Populi. London, 1644.

Parker, Patricia A. Inescapable Romance: Studies in the Poetics of a Mode. Princeton, 1979.

Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, 1988.

Patterson, Annabel M. "Paradise Regained: A Last Chance at True Romance." Milton Studies 17 (1983): 187-208.

-----. Censorship and Interpretation. Madisoon, 1984.

Potter, Lois. Secret Rites and Secret Writing: Royalist Literature, 16411660. Cambridge, 1989.

Rogers, John. The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry and Politics in the Age of Milton. Ithaca and London, 1996.

Saccamano, Neil. "Rhetoric, Consensus, and the Law in Rousseau's Contrat Social." Modern Language Notes 107 (1992): 730-51.

Salzman, Paul. English Prose Fiction, 1558-1700. Oxford, 1984.

Sandy, Amelia. Secret Agents: Politic Ideology and Jacobean Romance. Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1997.

Scudery, Madeleine de. Ibrahim. Trans. Henry Cogan. London, 1652.

Shanley, Mary Lyndon. "Marriage Contract and the Social Contract in Seventeenth-Century English Political Thought." Western Political Quarterly 32 (1979): 79-91.

Sharpe, Kevin. Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I. Cambridge, 1987.

-----. Politics and Ideas in Early Stuart Enngland. London and New York, 1989.

Skerpan, Elizabeth. The Rhetoric of Politics in the English Revolution, 1642-1660. Columbia, MO, 1992.

Skinner, Quentin. "Conquest and Consent: Thomas Hobbes and the Engagement Controversy." In The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement, ed. G.E. Aylmer, 7998. New York, 1972.

Smith, Nigel. Literature and Revolution in England, 1640-1660. New Haven and London, 1994.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. In Spenser's Poetical Works, ed. J.C. Smith and E. de Selincourt. Oxford, 1924.

Spingarn, J.E. Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century. 3 vols. Oxford, 1906; rpt. 1957.

Starr, George. Defoe and Casuistry. Princeton, 1971.

Swinburne, Henry. A Treatise of Spousals, or Matrimonial Contracts: wherein all the Questions relating to that Subject are ingeniously Debated and Resolved. London, 1686. Facs. rpt. in Marriage, Sex, and the Family in England 1660-1800, vol. 3, ed. Randolph Trumbach. 44 vols. New York and London, 1985.

Thomas, Keith. "Cases of Conscience in Seventeenth-Century England." In Public Duty and Private Conscience in Seventeenth. Century England, ed. John Morrill, Paul Slack, and Daniel Wolff, 29-56. Oxford, 1993.

Tuck, Richard. Philosophy and Government, 1572-1651. Cambridge, 1993.

Tully, James. "Governing Conduct." In Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe, ed. Edmund Leites, 12-71. Cambridge and Paris, 1988.

Veevers, Erica. Images of Love and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments. Cambridge, 1989.

Wallace, John M. "The Engagement Controversy, 1649-1652: An Annotated List of Pamphlets." Bulletin of the New York Public Library 68 (1964): 384-405.

-----. Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of AAndrew Marvell. Cambridge, 1968.

Wilson, Katherina M. and Frank Warnke. Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century. Athens, GA, 1989.

Wolin, Sheldon. Hobbes and the Epic Tradition of Political Theory. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1970.

Worden, Blair. "Classical Republicanism and the Puritan Revolution." In History and Imagination: Essays in Honor of H. R. Trevor-Roper, ed. Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Valerie Pearl, and Blair Worden, 182200. New York, 1981.

-----. "Milton's Republicanism and the Tyrannny of Heaven." In Machiavelli and Republicanism, ed. Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli, 225-46. Cambridge, 1990.