Criticism, Summer 1995 v37 n3 p355(36)
Reading the stage: Margaret Cavendish and Commonwealth closet drama.
Abstract: Margaret Cavendish is categorized by the majority of critics as an anomalous minor writer. The pronouncement is based on the fact that she was a Commonwealth closet dramatist. Closet drama itself, in general, is deemed insignificant because it was not performed in public but read in private. This dichotomy is questionable. A closer look at the form would reveal that it conflates both the public and the private theatrical discourse. It attains this by recreating theatrical experience for the reader through textual details of stage direction which includes scenery, mood and costume, among other things. Cavendish ably achieved this and thus occupied a space in which there is a discourse between the author and the multitude.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 Wayne State University Press
"Utterly undramatic," "without an atom of dramatic power," "unstageable": these are characteristic pronouncements on Margaret Cavendish's plays, and, as the negative constructions suggest, they hint at disappointment, if not disapproval.(1) Margaret Cavendish, the most prolific female dramatist before women began writing for the commercial theaters--the sentiment goes--failed to become a landmark author because her plays were never staged. The fact that Cavendish wrote most of her plays in exile during the Commonwealth and that she expressly intended them for private reading rather than public performance has received but cursory notice, usually by way of accounting for her non-professional status. In what follows, I will be arguing that this performance bias fails to do Cavendish justice, and, more damaging, that it actually precludes a full assessment of her achievement in dramatic writing. More broadly, because the performance bias effectively excludes all pre-Restoration women playwrights, none of whom wrote for the stage, from the Renaissance dramatic canon, this article also aims to raise awareness of closet drama as a genre where unexamined theoretical assumptions about gender, authorship, and literary production can obstruct the revisionary work of feminist literary history.
The most damaging effect of the performance bias has been its tendency to construct Cavendish as an anomalous minor writer. Elaine Hobby, for instance, writes that Cavendish's plays "really stand in a category of their own, since they were written during the 1650s when the public theaters were closed, and were not intended for performance."(2) Similarly, in choosing the chapter heading "Margaret Cavendish and Other Minor Female Dramatists," Jacqueline Pearson implies that someone who does not write for the stage cannot be a "major" dramatist, since the only rationale she offers for this particular grouping is that although "[m]edieval nuns and aristocratic women of the Renaissance wrote plays, . . . these were never for the public theater."(3) And while Cavendish is uncritically dubbed "the crazy duchess," a woman of "undoubted strangeness" in The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, Aphra Behn is heralded as "England's first professional woman writer," the "middle-class widow who frankly wrote for money and public acclaim," and whose "groundbreaking career was characterized by remarkable productivity."(4) The theoretical principle implied by these comments is that public and commercial literature is more significant in the history of women writers than other modes of literary production. But, as Margaret Ezell has recently written, this bias in favor of market-oriented writing has been imposed anachronistically on the early modern period by feminist literary historians who work primarily on nineteenth-century novelists and whose chief analytical category is evolutionary progress. This model, Ezell argues, works to the detriment of pre-eighteenth-century women writers because it obfuscates the historical conditions that channelled their literary activity into non-commercial spheres, thus precluding a full recovery of their work.(5)
The persistent belittlement of closet drama is a case in point, originating as it does from the assumption that a woman writer's absence from the public domain of commercial theater signals victimization by a gender ideology that codes "female" as "private." In Pearson's terms, "The conventional view that women's lives should be essentially private worked against . . . the public performance of women's plays, aristocratic women especially wrote plays for the closet rather than the stage."(6) To a large extent, of course, the private/public and corresponding female/male dichotomies framing this historical perception did, in fact, dictate social decorum in the seventeenth century. We have, by now, many studies of gender construction in early modern England demonstrating that women's behavior was coded in such "closet" terms as concealment, withdrawal, and self-enclosure.(7) And the extent to which this gender ideology prevented women from participating openly in commercial theater cannot be underestimated.(8) It is well known that Aphra Behn, unscrupulously blazing the trail for professional women dramatists in the 1670s, endured the condemnation, ridicule, and plain hatred of contemporaries loath to relinquish the security of prescribed norms.(9) But while the stage is without question a public space to which women understandably had difficult access throughout the early modern period, the closet may not be so easily fixed on the other side of the dichotomy, particularly at a time when the existing conditions of literary production, although militating against writing for a commercial market, focused the concepts of publicity and publication around closed literary communities. In other words, the validity of the twin equations theater/public and closet/ private, which are frequently used as transhistorical constants and underly the negative reception of closet drama, needs to be reexamined in the light of detailed historical reconstruction of the specific contexts in which notions of the "public" and "private" take shape.(10)
In seventeenth-century England, to take the present case, there were at least two flowerings of closet drama--the Sidnean closet drama at the turn of the century and the closet drama of the Commonwealth period--which were theorized as public, even political, modes of discourse, and which involved both male and female writers. The closet plays associated with the Sidney circle, including Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedie of Mariam (1613), moralize historical events within the framework of stoicism, a recognized political discourse of the time.(11) In this group of plays, the intersection between genre and politics takes place primarily in the prefatory materials where the stoic ethic of self-restraint is either urged upon the recipient or is offered as a cure for the depositions, murders, intrigues, and wars which constitute the subject matter of the plays and with which the reader is expected to draw contemporary parallels. Although these plays never appeared at any of the commercial theaters, they were anything but detached from the stage of public affairs.(12)
The second flowering of seventeenth-century closet drama was equally politicized. In the eighteen years between 1642 and 1660, usually considered a wasteland of dramatic writing due to the government bans on public performance, some ninety closet plays were written, three times as many as in the four previous decades.(13) The authors and publishers of these plays were without exception royalists, and the plays themselves, together with other published drama,(14) were evidently used as a form of subversive political discourse. (15) The large numbers of plays in booksellers' stocks of the period suggest that the market for such dramatic propaganda was sizeable, although presumably it would have been restricted to those with Cavalier persuasions. The proliferation of closet drama during the Commonwealth is thus part of an emerging cultural practice of play-reading which was, for author and reader alike, an act of political opposition. Setting Cavendish's plays in this context, rather than in the context of women's professional drama, compels us to consider her "closet" plays as public, and, more broadly, to view non-commercial, unperformed drama as an important lateral, rather than inferior, tradition in early women's dramatic writing.
"[N]o text," Roger Chartier has written, "exists outside of the support that enables it to be read; any comprehension of a writing, no matter what kind it is, depends on the forms in which it reaches its reader."(16) Every printed text, in other words, may be said to interpellate its reader, whether this is done by strategies of writing, manufacture of the book, or typographical form. As Chartier's article suggests, this fact presents tremendous opportunities for beginning to write the unjustly neglected history of reading. Both as texts and as material objects, the literary remains of a given time and place record the dominant modes of reading, and the characterization of those modes is "indispensable to any approach that aims to reconstruct how texts could be apprehended, understood, and handled."(17) Chartier's insight about the relevance of reading practices to socio-literary history helps to frame the key question in my inquiry: How does reading a play differ from watching a performance, and what political significance may be attached to that difference?
Although the political significance of play-reading during the Commonwealth is indisputable, literary historians to date have drawn their conclusions more from the plays' subject matter than the way they interpellate their readers. Louis Wright amply demonstrates that plays published during the Commonwealth were "filled with the conventions and atmosphere of a royalist background, or contained outspoken satire of the Puritans and their ideals";(18) Lois Potter shows that the royalist penchant for pastoral tragicomedy may be explained by content which "lent itself to analogies with contemporary events, while such devices as prophecies and oracles enabled the author to gesture towards the future that he hoped to see";(19) and while Derek Hirst acknowledges that play-reading was "fully a partisan gesture," he views that gesture only as symptomatic of a larger pattern in which royalism was equated with high culture.(20) We know, then, that the royalists' choice of genre and content is politicized; what remains to be considered, however, is whether the mode of reading constructed by published plays in any way enabled individual readers to engage in public life without leaving the privacy of their chambers. This is an important inquiry because it facilitates political analyses of Commonwealth plays, like Cavendish's, that were not overtly partisan in consent.
While government attempts to suppress acting during the Commonwealth were never completely successful, the anti-stage legislation did manage to restrict public performances sufficiently enough to make them a rare and dangerous occurrence.(21) Curiously, however, the government appeared not at all to be concerned with the publication of plays, presumably because dramatic propaganda was insignificant compared with the amount of openly subversive material that was being printed. In fact, none of the censorship regulations that were passed during the period specifically singled out plays, and there is "no evidence that the authorities bestirred themselves to check the circulation of printed drama."(22) As a result, forceably unemployed playwrights and actors flocked to print both for financial gain and in an effort to keep themselves in the public eye. Judging by booksellers' advertisements, there was a healthy market for playbooks: the catalogue of printed plays for sale appended to The Old Law (1656), the fullest such list of the period, comprises roughly six hundred and fifty items, and drama makes up about 20% of the stock of Humphrey Moseley, the leading London publisher.(23)
Not surprisingly, the sustained publication of drama for the closet rather than the stage had an important effect on modes of reading, and this is where the "private" nature of closet drama is problematized. The new market for play-reading evidently fostered the development of print conventions that converted the essentially private activity of reading into public engagement and simultaneously re-converted that engagement back into private experience. The prefatory materials of plays published during the Commonwealth insist with obvious political edge on the absurdity of the anti-stage ordinance, and the closet dramas in particular gather such openly political topics as treason, rebellion, tyranny, and regicide within their purview. The published play, although it issues from a private moment of composition and is usually read in the solitude of one's closet, is constructed as surreptitious participation in the prohibited activity of theatergoing, thus doubling as political resistance.(24) At the same time, however, the theatrical experience is contained by the private "perusal" of individual readers. This public/private dynamic situates both author and reader simultaneously in the closet and at the theater, thus guarding privacy while enabling public engagement. While all published plays of the Commonwealth make some use of this strategy, the closet plays in particular develop both the theatricalizing and privatizing techniques to their fullest potential.
To detect the specific textual and formal qualities that set closet drama apart from other species of published drama, it is useful to look briefly at two other groups of plays: those published between 1590 and 1642, when the possibility of performance inhibited the development of privatizing techniques, and performed plays first published between 1642 and 1660, for which there was always the temptation of invoking the public theater as the preferred arena for dramatic experience.
Although the formal properties of printed plays in English were influenced more by the reading of classical dramatists than by performance,(25) until the 1640s published drama exhibits only a rudimentary sense that private reading and public viewing are discrete dramatic experiences. One place where the emerging distinction may be glimpsed is in the familiar claim that the entry into print is a kind of vulgar public exposure to which the authors have only reluctantly agreed, usually to reappropriate their work from thieving printers. For instance, Thomas Heywood explains that the only reason he is willing "to furnish out" an authoritative version of The Rape of Lucrece (1608),is that "some of my plates have (unknown to me, and without any of my direction) accidentally come into the Printers handes, and therefore so corrupt and mangled, (coppied onely by the eare) that I have been as unable to know them, as ashamde to challenge them."(26) Heywood is evidently trying to avert the embarrassing charge of attempting a "double sale" of his labors: "first to the Stage, and after to the presse." "For my owne part," he insists, "I heere proclaime my selfe ever faithful! in the first, and never guiltie of the last." Heywood's allegiance to the stage implies that the published play will be an accurate representation of the performed version, restoring the "savadge and ragged ornaments" produced by aural transcription to their "native habit." But while his point of reference is performance, the very desire to issue authoritative playtexts for purchase by individual readers testifies to an emerging play-reading, as opposed to strictly play-going, clientele.(27)
More specifically, plays published before 1642 begin to construct reading as a private mode of experience by representing the text as the permanent record of a fleeting public occasion newly available for repeated "perusal!" and individual ownership. Long after the time of Lyly's popularity, for instance, Edward Blount brought out an edition of Sixe Court Comedies (1632) and enticed the reader with the following promise: "These his playes Crown'd him with applause, and the spectators with pleasure. Thou canst not repent the Reading of them over: when old John Lilly, is merry with thee in thy Chamber, Thou shalt say, Few . . . are such witty Companions."(28) Along the same lines, Middleton's preface to The Roaring Girle (1611), addressed "To the Comicke, Play-readers," claims that "you shall finde this published Cornedy, good to keepe you in an afternoone from dice, at home in your chambers."(29) The intimacy of "your chambers" is, paradoxically, the place where the play-reader both meets the notorious Moll Cut-Purse and recreates a public performance "As it hath lately beene Acted on the Fortune-stage by the Prince his Players."(30)
Dedicatory epistles, which transfer the play's address from a multiple to a singular recipient, are demonstrably on the rise in published plays of this period and provide further evidence that the reader is beginning to be situated in a solitary, intimate position vis-a-vis the text. In 1607 the publisher Francis Burton very cautiously dedicates The Tragedie of Claudius Tiberius Nero to Sir Arthur Mannering, fearing reprehension "for this my Dedication" because "so many Plaies have formerly been published without Inscriptions unto particular patrons (contrary to Custome in divulging other Bookes)."(31) By 1633 Thomas Heywood makes the gesture far more confidently as he presents Marlowe's Jew of Malta to his friend Thomas Hammon: "This Play, composed by so worthy an Authour as Mr. Marlo; and the part of the Jew presented by so unimitable an Actor as Mr. Allin, being in this later Age commended to the Stage: As I usher'd it unto the Court, and presented it to the Cock-pit, with these Prologues and Epilogues here inserted, so now being newly brought to the Presse, I was loath it should be published without the ornament of an Epistle."(32) The "particular patron," fashioned as the most important single reader of the play, here begins to take over the function of an applauding audience. But for other readers, and this is where the later closet drama will necessarily differ, the value of the play (end hence the reason for buying and reading it) is strictly related to its stage success. Significantly, general prefaces to the reader are relatively rare during this period, suggesting that while an individual patron may be inscribed within the text, mostly as a way of conferring authority on the playbook, the general reader's dramatic experience is configured as public.
The reason for this, I would suggest, is largely economic. In order to sell, the printed text has to be accorded cultural value, and because the independent value of reading plays is not yet established in this earlier period, it is most easily determined by the text's relation to an already valorized social practice, theatrical performance. In other words, the publication of a play is inescapably secondary. One exception that may come to mind is the preface to the reader published in the quarto of Shakespeare's The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid (1609). But even here, although the dominant claim appears to be that the "Eternal! reader" is being offered a play "never staltd with the Stage, never clapper-clawd with the palmes of the vulger," the bulk of the epistle attempts to establish the value of the "new" play by referring to playgoers' experience of previous Shakespearean comedies: "all such dull and heavy-witted worldlings, as were never capable of the witte of Commedie, comming by report of them to his representations, have found that witte there, that they never found in them-selves, and have parted better witted then they came."(33) Thus, as even this example demonstrates, while a discourse of privacy is beginning to emerge around the reading of plays, public performance continues to be the dominant category for coding dramatic experience.
Interestingly, in the years after 1642, when play-reading necessarily became the main substitute for theatergoing, this pattern remained largely unchanged, at least insofar as previously performed plays were concerned. In fact, the prestige of performance actually seems to have grown in response to the ordinance against stage plays. The most obvious sign of this is the regularity with which a play's performance history is trumpeted on the title-page and in prefatory materials. Other, more specific, examples demonstrate the same bias. The publishers of Richard Brome's Five new Playes (1659), for instance, could not be clearer about the second-class status of printed plays:
To the Readers,
--Or rather to the Spectators, if the Fates so pleas'd, . . . We
suppose we bring what in these dayes you scarce could hope
for, Five new Playes. We call them new, because 'till now
they never were printed. You must not think them posthumous
Productions, though they come into the world after the
Author's death: they were all begotten and born (and own'd by
Him before a thousand witnesses) many years since; they
then trod the Stage (their proper place) though they pass'd not
By invoking the authority of "a thousand witnesses" rather than playing up the reader's special relation to the newly published plays, the epistle in effect collapses reader and spectator, thus bypassing an opportunity to discriminate between the two modes of dramatic experience.
Many of the plays published during this period also theatricalize reading by recording specific details of a performance, such as who the actors were and how they performed their parts. Along the same lines, the publication of some plays, such as the monumental Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647, was partly engineered by former actors who took advantage of the authority their professional status could bestow on the volume.(35) Andrew Pennycuicke in particular seems to have capitalized on the prestige of performance more than once.(36) In his dedication of Robert Davenport's King John and Matilda (1655) to the Earl of Lindsey, Pennycuicke writes: "It past the Stage with generall Applause (my selfe being the last that that [sic] Acted Matilda in it) and since through the absurdity of times, it hath laine obscured. My Lord, though it cloth not appeare in it's ancient and full glory, yet it comes drest; first, with an humble regard to your Honour, and then a confidence of it's naked worth."(37) Figuring the printed text as an unclothed body captures the operative difference in all of these plays between the "full glory" of performance and the embarrassing nakedness of print.
While the concept of performance continued, then, to have a superior cachet, and while the printed text was construed as the reader's means of access to the play's original public occasion, the specific concept of "public" at work here has also changed markedly: it is, for the first time, politically charged. These plays differ from the pre-1642 publications most notably in this additional conception of a text's "public" dimension. The prohibition of public theater between 1642 and 1660 inadvertently made it possible for playwrights, actors and publishers to use the prestige of performance in the service of oppositional politics. Emboldened by the relative safety of the "guiltless presse," many authors and publishers used the anti-stage ordinances as a springboard for general attacks against Parliament. For instance, a commendatory poem to Alexander Goughe, the publisher of The Queen (1653), whose own dedication vows to rescue "this innocent Orphan from the Thunder-shocks of the present blasting age,"(38) smoothly moves from outrage at the absurdity of prohibiting acting to a broader political critique:
But wherein States can no advantage gain,
They harmless mirth improperly restrain;
Since men cannot be naturally call'd free,
If Rulers claim more then securitie.
How happens then this rigour o're the Stage
In this restor'd, free, and licentious age?
For Plays are Images of Life, and
cheat Men into vertue, and in jest repeat
What they most seriously think; nor may
We fear lest Manners suffer: every day
Does higher, cunninger, more sin invent
Then any Stage did ever represent.(39)
Such prefatory materials constitute a kind of interface between the private act of play-reading and the political exigencies which have forced previously performed drama into the closet. In this context play-reading continues to be an activity imbued with the significance of civic engagement.
At the same time, however, this group of plays also begins to employ several formal and rhetorical print-related techniques that privatize the play-reading experience, and this is where the unique historical conditions of the 1640s and 1650s appear to be transforming modes of reading drama. As in the earlier period, these conventions are most likely driven by economic imperative, suggesting that the promotion of published plays could no longer depend solely on the prestige of performance. Publishers begin, for example, to foreground the physical qualities of the volume, relating things like print format, size, and bulk to value-for-money, thus openly acknowledging that the book is a commodity for individual consumption and interpellating the reader as a consumer. Furthermore, the major selling feature of a printed play during this period is just as often an authoritative text, derived from original authorial papers, as it is faithfulness to an earlier performance, and in a few ambitious cases it is both. The best example of this tactic is the Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647, "the most noteworthy single landmark in dramatic publication during this period,"(40) which uses both the phenomenal stage success of its authors and the novelty and uniqueness of its text to establish its value. Humphrey Moseley's preface, "The Stationer to the Readers," speaks so frankly to the issue of appraisal that the piece is worth quoting at length:
Before you engage farther, be pleased to take notice of these
Particulars. You have here a New Booker I can speake it clearely; for
of all this large Volume of Comedies and Tragedies, not one, till now,
was ever printed before. A Collection of Playes is commonly but a
new Impression, the scattered pieces which were printed single,
being then onely Republished together: 'Tis otherwise here.
Next, as it is all New, so here is not any thing Spurious or
impos'd; I had the Originalls from such as received them
from the Authours themselves; by Those, and none other, I
publish this Edition.
And as here's nothing but what is genuine and Theirs, so
you will finde here are no Omissions; you have not onely All I
could get, but All that you must ever expect. For (besides
those which were formerly printed) there is not any Piece
written by these Authours, either Joyntly or Severally, but
what are now publish'd to the World in this Volume....
One thing I must answer before it bee objected; 'tis this:
When these Comedies and Tragedies were presented on the
Stage, the Actours omitted some Scenes and Passages (with
the Authour's consent) as occasion led them; and when
private friends desir'd a Copy, they then (and justly too)
transcribed what they Acted. But now you have both All that
was Acted, and all that was not; even the perfect full
Originalls without the least mutilation.(41)
The main task of this preface, as my emphases suggest, is to persuade the reader that the volume at hand is the culmination of two brilliant theatrical careers. In effect, the book supercedes performance, offering instead, to every private reader, the unique opportunity of owning the cherished Beaumont and Fletcher canon. A more abstract aspect of the privatization of reading in this volume is James Shirley's extravagant characterization of it, in what is presumably a commissioned preface, as an enormous educational opportunity uniquely available to the reader:
And now Reader in this Tragicall Age where the Theater hath
been so much out-acted, congratulate thy owne happinesse
that in this silence of the Stage, thou hast a liberty to
reade these inimitable Playes, to dwell and converse in these
immortall Groves, where were only shewd our Fathers in a
conjuring glasse, as suddenly removed as represented, the
Landscrap is now brought home by this optick, and the Presse
thought too pregnant before, shall be now look'd upon as
greatest Benefactor to Englishmen that must acknowledge all
felicity of witt and words to this Derivation.(42)
"Home" replaces the theater as the locus of dramatic experience, a fortuitous shift that enables the reader alone "to dwell and converse in these immortal! Groves." But while Shirley's and Moseley's claims obviously have more to do with such print-related values as leisure, novelty and completeness(43) than with authentic recreations of prior performances, the entire publishing venture is staked on the assumption that Beaumont and Fletcher's stage success warrants a complete works. The printed text is both more and less than a substitute for the theatrical experience. It is perhaps most accurately a supplement to it, and this supplementarily has a curious double edge: it creates an important niche for the printed text without diminishing the status of performance. Put differently, it accommodates the privacy of reading and book-ownership within the performance ethos.
In contrast, the closet drama published during this same period and extending through the 1660s unequivocally addreses the reader in a private mode. The balance between private and public shifts, it would seem, as the need to negotiate a relationship with a prior performance disappears and the reader becomes the sole intended audience of a play. But this is not to say that the concept of performance disappears altogether. Rather, what seems to happen when there is no competition between staging and reading as occasions of theatrical experience is that the stage is transferred to the closet through the representational powers of the text, resulting in an unprecedented conflation of public and private.
This conflation is evident in a number of formal and typographical characteristics found almost exclusively in closet drama during this period. As invitations to the theatrical experience, stage prologues, for instance, are either qualified, supplemented, or simply replaced by epistles to the reader (which are much more frequent among these plays than in play-books of staged drama). In several cases, the author supplies a self-reflexive address to the reader commenting on this shift. William Chamberlaine's Loves Victory (1658) has two such addresses, one written to the play's dedicatee, Sir William Portman, and the other to the generic Reader. In the first, Chamberlaine laments that political contingencies have prevented his play from enjoying "all the advantages of the Publique Stage," and vows to be satisfied instead with the public renown to be derived from Portman's "single acceptance" of the work. The patron's willingness to read and approve the play thus stands in for "the loud applause of a Theater," providing the necessary seal of approval in order that the play "may become worthy the view of others."(44) In his epistle "To the Reader," Chamberlaine makes the transfer of stage to closet discourse even more explicit:
Since by this Active Age't hath been thought best
With their grave earnest to crush Plots in jest;
The mourning Stage being silent, justly I
May change a Prologue to Apologie;
That so in private each Spectator may
Singly receive his welcome to a play.(45)
This epistle is particularly interesting because it performs the invitational function of a stage prologue while translating that function into the terms of a different social practice. The effect of this double move is at once to imitate and incorporate the conventional stage discourse and, with it, the theatrical experience.
Another attempt to recreate the theatrical experience in print for the benefit of private readers may be glimpsed in stage directions. Unless it is in the neoclassical tradition of closet drama, in which stage action is limited to entries and exits, a closet play tends to provide very elaborate stage directions, presumably as a substitute for the visual component of live theater. Stage directions also become typographically distinct in these plays: they are usually printed in italic font, enclosed within some form of bracket, placed (with the exception of entries) at the right margin, separated from the spoken text by blank lines, and occasionally connected to previous speeches by solid lines of type. To the eye of the reader, these textual details put stage directions in the foreground with spoken text, indicating that speech and action are to be understood as complementary elements of the play-reading experience. Furthermore, the frequently protracted stage directions range well beyond the usual basic indicators of action to encompass such matters as costume scenery, mood, motivation, attitude, and even narrative details from earlier in the play. Such descriptive, as opposed to imperative, directions are more characteristic of the study than the stage,(46) and even resemble in several of the plays the introspective techniques of prose fiction.(47)
These are interesting developments, for one might well expect to find such characteristics in play-books that were trying to preserve an original stage performance rather than those designed for private reading. The expansion and visual distinction of stage directions, however, seem to suggest that closet drama fashions reading differently than published stage drama: because it assumes that the reader's only experience of the play will be mediated by print, print must be adapted so as to capture the theatrical effect. The mode of reading fostered by expansive stage directions is, consequently, far more dependent on the printed page, for there is no prior, non-textual visual memory that can be used to supplement the script. The tight fusion thus created between play-book and reader renders the experience of reading closet drama intensely private.
The extent to which such play-reading is both privatized and theatricalized in Commonwealth closet drama is nowhere clearer than in comments on the psychological effect of reading. Where such comments appear, the dominant metaphor for the experience of reading is ravishment, as it is, interestingly, in performed drama of the lkenaissance.(48) A particularly important example is the commendatory verse epistle to the anonymous The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I (1649):
With a sowre aspect, and a Critick eye
I have perus'd, thy well writ Tragedie;
My ravisht soul, grew sicker then the Age
When as I hastned, to the latter page;
Wrapt in a sweet amazement such an one
As dreaming men, sometimes, do thinke upon
Who when they wake, are wroth and vexed sore
They of that sweet delusion taste no more.
I wish thy Play had been more largely writ
Or I had ne're scene, or perused it.(49)
Significantly, "perusal," the standard term for private reading at this time, is preempted here by its theatrical equivalent, "scene." What is registered in this momentary transfer of discourses is the mock-theatrical vividness of the play. At the same lime, however, that vividness is not associated with visual experience alone, and here the special resources of closet drama creep back into the description the play is also likened to the "sweet delusion" of dreaming, a quintessentially private activity. This sense of "seeing," then, not so much replicates the position of the spectator as includes it within a broader spectrum of sentient experience.
Reading closet drama, then, would appear to be a profoundly private activity, one which may resemble the experience of theatergoing but which also requires and prompts the reader to deploy imaginative resources that would be superfluous at a performance. But it is important, in terms of the larger argument I am developing here, to notice the extent to which the closet drama, too, can connect the reader to public events other than performance. Unlike published stage drama, closet plays seem to have been less constrained by the politics of theater, and were thus better able to take advantage of the relative safety of print to comment, often in scathing terms, on the crucial political events of the day.(50) The prologue to The Second Part of Crafty Cr[o]mwell, for example, refers openly to the volatile environment in which reading plays is a less hazardous substitute for performance:
[Hear] then with candar; but be rul'd by me,
Speake not a worde, what er'e you heare or see.
For this Auther, bid me to you say,
Heed live, to see this plaid another day.(51)
Curiously, the sense of danger hen is associated with public display of the author's writing, which his willingness to publish would seem rather to hasten. But the subsequent epistle to the readers insists on the importance of this very publicity in order for the work to have its full political effect:
Once more I come againe, for tis not all
The threats the Members use, can me fore-stall
When mov'd with spleene, I justly on the Stage,
Do whip the crimes of this Vicentious Age.
And tis but requisite, that those who do
Open offences, should in publique too.
See themselves laught at, and be made a scorne
To those Plebeans, have their burthens borne.(52)
The imagined "publique" exposure of parliamentarian vice is, paradoxically, situated in the privacy of the closet. The stage discourse is used, then, not so much to valorize performance over reading, but to imbue reading with the publicity associated with staging, at least until staging can be resumed.
An even more daring piece of propaganda is A New Bull-Bayting (1649), printed "at the sign of the [bull] by the Hill on the whimwham side of the Beare-Garden for the good of the state," in which Cromwell is brutally murdered in a Bull-baiting arena.(53) The play is published with a disclaimer warning readers to keep a distance between themselves and the fearful bull: It is desired, that all Gentlemen, Citizens and others that shall come to see this Bull-bayting, come not within the compasse of his Roape for fear of a mischief, for this Beast is so bloody and dangerous; that he hath with his powrfull homes goared divers to death; therefore if they presume to come within his Reach, (and have a faire warning before hand;) the Bearwards are blameless./Vivat-Rex."(54) Those who are "present" at the bull-baiting, literally the readers of the play, are potentially endangered, but the danger (although quite real in the political arena to which the play alludes) is cleverly muted by the irony resulting from the transfer of stage discourse to the privacy of the closet. While being reminded of real political dangers outside the fictional space of the text, the reader is actually sheltered from those dangers by the very places in which they are anatomized--the public text and the private chamber, both of which secure anonymity.
Closet plays, then, unlike published stage plays, are uniquely capable of conflating public and private discourses. Because they are not tied in any way to previous public performances, which tend in the seventeenth century to overshadow the significance of private reading, closet plays seem to have developed a resourceful double edge: they offer the reader a private perusal and simultaneously imbue that perusal with public and political significance.
For the author of closet drama, this combination of privacy and publicity is equally advantageous. Representing an unstaged theatrical event in print has the unique benefit of enabling the author to participate in an ostensibly public occasion without in fact leaving the security of the closet.(55) At the same time, the publicity of theater can, as the surge of royalist closet drama during the Commonwealth so amply demonstrates, be a form of oblique political intervention. The writing closet is thus a sort of osmotic shell through which a playwright can exert more control over his or her public exposure than would be possible in the theater.
The prodigious output of Margaret Cavendish testifies overwhelmingly that she also wrote with the single aim of putting herself into the public eye. Not only did she publish fourteen original works of poetry, philosophy, science, drama, fiction, biography, letters, and orations, of which all but one are in folio, but she also wrote prolific prefatory comments explaining the reasons for her publishing frenzy and constructing her canon in terms specific to print culture.(56) Her prefaces are legion, running regularly to seven or eight items, and alternately performing the work of self-defense, reader orientation, and critical theory.(57) Many of Cavendish's prefaces also comment explicitly on the material business of publishing, and this is where her deliberate involvement in print culture is clearest. She habitually takes occasion in one work either to announce the imminent publication of another, to advertise the works she has already put out, or to berate her printers for negligence.(58) At the end of her Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (1666), for instance, she avowedly follows the print convention of declaring "what Books one has put forth to the publick view" and provides a numbered list of the titles and formats of her works. Seemingly unsatisfied with the backward-looking nature of the catalogue, however, she also extends the "fashion" to announce that "There are some others that never were Printed yet, which shall, if God grant me Life and Health, be Published ere long."(59) Cavendish also comments on the physical layout of her works, testifying that their innovative arrangement was the product of authorial deliberation.(60) "I must tell my Readers," she writes in her volume of fiction, Natures Pictures (1656), "I do not strive as many do, to put the choice pieces in the first place, to invite or rather to intice the Readers to read their following works, but endeavour to place my works properly and not subtilly." And lest the readers fail to recognize her "choice pieces," she recommends "The Anchoret and "The Experienced Traveller" as "the most solid and edifying."(61)
Another set of print-related comments explain the transmission of her text. She evidently wrote as quickly as her pen could follow her thoughts, then sent individual sheets to be "copied fair for the press," never bothering to look over an entire volume before it was sent to the printers. Although this method of composition and publication results in an inferior product, she worries that proofing will inhibit composition: "I did many times not peruse the Copies that were transcribed, lest they should distrub my following Conceptions; by which neglect, as I said, many Errors are slips into my Works."(62) All of these remarks are, of course, peripheral to the works themselves, but they are so numerous as to command independent attention. They are also the places where Cavendish comes into direct contact with her readers, sharing with them her deliberations, intentions and critical opinions, building a bridge across the potentially anonymous expanse of print. As a whole, then, they testify that "this Action of setting out of a Booke"(63) was for Cavendish a deliberate, considered entry into public discourse.
The reason why Cavendish craved publicity is hinted at in her use of the word "Action" as a term for publication: in an age when civic and heroic action is restricted to men, women have recourse only to publishing if they seek renown.(64) "I write so much," she confesses, "since all heroick Actions, publick Imployments, powerful Governments, and eloquent Pleadings are denyed our sex in this age."(65) Significantly, she expects that her actions "of Contemplating and Writing" will earn her a place in the historical record just as surely as her husband's actions "of War and Fighting," even though his "were performed publickly in the Field land] mine privately in my Closet."(66) It is clear, then, that Cavendish understood writing and publication to be a form of public action, and she was committed to public action because she saw this as the only means of preserving her fame to posterity.(67)
This near obsession with fame underwrites Cavendish's entire ouevre, and it is certainly the thing that compelled her to publish as much as she did.(68) She admits unabashedly that "all I desire, is Fame, and Fame is nothing but a great noise, and noise lives most in a Multitude, wherefore I wish my Book may set a worke every Tongue."(69) But the terrain of "Fame," which Cavendish must negotiate in moving from "I desire" to "every Tongue," is anything but hospitable to a seventeenth-century woman writer. As all of her works reveal, this fixation on publicity aggravates the contradictions inherent in her literary vocation, so that she retreats into a denial of public ambition as often as she asserts it. She often refers to her work demeaningly as the "harmlesse Recreations of my idle time" or again "my harmless pastime of Writing," although she evidently does this only in an effort to defuse the censure she expects will greet her published work.(70) The contradiction is displayed again in her autobiography, where she pictures herself as both naturally reclusive and hungry for public attention. Claiming in one passage that she was "addicted from my childhood, to contemplation rather than conversation, to solitariness rather than society, to melancholy rather than mirth," she goes on to admit that "I am so vain . . . as to endeavour to be worshipt, rather than not to be regarded."(71) This conflicted self-construction especially as it relates to her writing, is the very premise of the poem "The Poetresses hasty Resolution," prefixed to Poems, and Fancies, in which she represents the decision to publish her work as a reckless evasion of "Reason":
For shame leave off, sayd shee, the Printer spare,
Hee'le loose by your ill Poetry, I feare
Besides the World hath already such a weight
Of uselesse Bookes, as it is over fraught.
Then pitty take, doe the World a good turne
And all you write cast in the fire, and burne.
Angry I was, and Reason strook away,
When I did heare, what shee to me did say. Then all in
haste I to the Presse it sent.(72)
The woman writer's desire for a "Pyramid of Fame" invariably collides with the obstacle of public censure, which can, in turn, prevent women from publishing. Cavendish is well aware of these stakes: "those that perform Publick Actions, expose themselves to Publick Censures; and so do Writers, live they never so privately and retired, as soon as they commit their Works to the Press." (73) But while the fear of public censure did not inhibit Cavendish from publishing, it did force her to create a paradoxical authorial space, at once private and public, within which her ambitions could be realized.(74)
In many of her works this paradox produces irreducible contradictions and diminishes the force of her attempt to enter into public discourse. A good example is the dedication of her Philosophical and Physical Opinions to Oxford and Cambridge universities, where she undermines the significance of the dedication by agreeing in advance that her work is not worthy of serious study and asking only that it be accepted without ridicule.(75) This kind of oscillation between membership in and withdrawal from the scholarly community basically produces inertia: the books are published and circulated, they are dedicated to two prestigious institutions, but they ask only to be kept on the library shelves, perhaps dusted from time to time, so as to preserve their author's name to posterity. Cavendish's predicament, and it is entirely characteristic of seventeenth-century women writers, resembles that of a tethered hawk--permitted to fly, but only as a condition of confinement.(76)
In her closet plays, however, Cavendish snaps the tether, at least as far as the imagined effect of her work is concerned. She is able to do so, I will be arguing, largely because of the dual nature of the genre itself. Unlike her other writings, which are represented as the products of solitary contemplation put into circulation only to preserve the author's fame, Cavendish's drama is constructed as writing with social purpose, as "profitable to the Life." The playwright is, in her view, inescapably a public figure, much like a physician, with responsibility for the welfare of her or his readers. although her plays are "harmless and innocent," and avowedly "quickly writ," their intended function is to represent no less than the "practices of the whole World of Mankind" for her readers' edification:
Playes are to present the natural dispositions and practices of
Mankind; also they are to point at Vanity, laugh at Follies,
disgrace Baseness, and persecute Vice; likewise they are to
extol Virtue, and to honour Merit, and to praise the Graces, all
which makes a Poet Divine, their works edifying to the Mind
or Soul, profitable to the Life, delightful! to the Senses, and
recreative to Time; . . . and I do not despair, although but a
Poetress, but that my works may be some wayes or other
serviceable to my Readers, which if they be, my time in
writing them is not lost, nor my Muse unprofitable.(77)
The series of verbs in this passage--"point at," "laugh at," "disgrace," "persecute," "extol," "honour," and "praise"--registers unequivocally the idea that plays are a form of action, that they work on their audience in much the same way as physicians work on their patients.(78) This view is, of course, the classic defense of public theater, and recalls some of the arguments the male closet dramatists made about the necessity of exposing vice to public view. The affinity, however, raises an important question. If in writing drama Cavendish constructs her authorial function in terms that have much broader social consequences than any of her other works,(79) why does she not also follow the tradition of performance, which would surely give her work the kind of public exposure her designs demand?
Cavendish herself cites three rather incompatible reasons for her choice of print over performance. The first has to do with the political conditions under which they were composed: Cavendish wrote the bulk of her plays while living in exile.(80) Although she would have had ample opportunity to see a variety of public and private theatricals in Paris and Antwerp,(81) she never learned French or Dutch well enough to be able to write plays for native audiences. And one of the consequences of writing plays in English during the Commonwealth, while "England cloth not permit . . . of Playes," is that they are unlikely ever to be acted. Rather than hold out for happier times, when her plays might find an English audience, Cavendish prefers to "publish them to the World."(82)
In a different vein, Cavendish admits that her plays "would seem tedious upon the Stage, by reason they are somewhat long" and "might tire the Spectators." While a theater audience is "bound by the rules of Civility to sit out a Play," readers "may read as short or as long a time as they please, without any disrespect to the Writer."(83) This, I think reveals much more the usefulness of closet as opposed to stage drama. Although Cavendish frames this point in altrustic terms, the advantage of publication is as much the writer's as it is the reader's. By removing the author from the scene of cultural consumption, print offers protection from "disrespect."
Cavendish's third reason for choosing print over performance is related to this desire for immunity. The "advantage I have," she writes, is "I am out of the fear of having them hissed off from the Stage; . . . and though I am not such a Coward, as to be affraid of the hissing Serpents, or stinged Tongues of Envy yet it would have made me a little Melancholy to have my harmless and innocent Playes go weeping from the Stage, and whips by malicious and hard-hearted censurers."(84) Judging by the number of defensive and explanatory remarks in her prefaces, Cavendish's plays were, in the event, rather harshly received. But what she appears to be most concerned with here is "a publick Condemnation`," not criticism in general, and print affords her at least some measure of protection from such a risk. Significantly, when she imagines her plays on stage, she figures them as females subjected to corporal punishment. This image, I would suggest registers the aristocratic woman writer's perception of the hazards of public performance.
Unlike commercial theater, then, print shelters Cavendish from public criticism. Print is also a way of avoiding the broad public exposure that performance necessarily entails, and Cavendish's plays provide ample evidence that she viewed the very concept of performance with considerable ambiguity. Many of Cavendish's heroines, for example, fulfill their destinies by "performing" in one way or another, be it in the battlefield or in a lecture theater. One of them, Lady Sanspareile, who delivers electrifying lectures on topics of both private and public interest, explains her choice of venue: "the reason why I choose to speak in publick, is, that I would not speak idely, for in publick I shall take care of what I speak, and to whom I speak, when in private visitations to single persons, my speech may be carelesse with negligence, in which I may throw away my time with my words; For, to speak to no purpose, is to make words useless."(85) The value of public speaking is also openly defended in "The Publique Wooing," where a young woman is courted in public so as to prevent the deceptions characteristic of private betrothals, and at least by implication in "Natures Three Daughters" and "The Female Academy," where learned women, like Lady Sanspareile, also deliver public disquisitions to enthralled audiences.(86) Furthermore, Cavendish does not view, as did many of her contemporaries, aristocratic theatricals as a betrayal of rank. In fact, her comments on performance by "the nobler sort" suggest that she understood acting as a means of self-improvement: those who act "for Honour, and becoming, would not only strive to Act well upon the Stage, but to practice their actions when off from the Stage."(87)
By the same token, however, Cavendish vilifies "mercenary stageplayers," those who "only Act for the lucre of Gain." Unlike aristocratic performers, who act "for the grace of Behaviour, the sweetness of Speech, [or] the increasing of Wit," professional performers "Act as Parrots speak, by wrote . . .; for they receive it into the memory, and no further than for to deliver it out, as Servants or Factors to sell, and not keep it as purchasors to their own use."(88) As the force of this passage suggests, acting for money is unequivocally base, a sign of ill breeding because it exploits the educative value of performance for ignoble "mercenary profit."(89) Unlike her opinion of aristocratic theatricals, then, which is not only tolerant but positively enthusiastic, Cavendish's portrayal of commercial theater is scathing. References in her plays to the stage are most often found in the trio "Plays, Balls, and Masks," a compound signifier for effeminate, time-wasting and perverse amusement. In "The Bridals," attending the theater is one link in a long chain of "deeds of darkness." Adviser explains-to Monsieur Courtly how he has spent the last day and a half:
I'le confess to you, my friend, that the Sermon made me so dull and
melancholy, as I was forced to go to a Tavern, to revive and comfort
my Mind with some Spiritual Liquor; and from thence I went to a
Play to recreate my Thoughts, and to take them from all sad
contemplations, in seeking and hearing a merry comedy acted; and
the truth is, the Play made me so lively, as I became so wanton, that
I was forced to go to a Common-house, and after I had convers'd
with the Woman, I was as dull and melancholy as I was after the
Sermon; so then I went to the Gaming-house for diversion.(90)
"Seeing and hearing a merry comedy acted" apparently has no edifying benefits for this playgoer. In general, appearing "upon the Stage," used metaphorically throughout the plays for appearing in public, is a sign of depravity, entailing as it does unmitigated self-display.
The ambivalence with which public theater is represented may further explain Cavendish's choice of genre. While she believes firmly in the benefits of performance, she is also sensitive to the dangers of public gatherings and, for both writer and performer, of public exposure.(91) It is not surprising, then, that those of Cavendish's characters who choose to read in their chambers rather than go to the theater, who occupy themselves at home or enter a cloister rather than "going abroad" or living in society, are without exception depicted as morally superior, even if they eventuall do give up their sheltered existence.(92) The distinction, complete with moral register, is etched out by Sir Peaceable Studious in "The Second Part of Loves Adventures":
. . . much company, and continual resort, brings great
inconvenience for its apt to corrupt the mind, and make the
thoughts wild, the behaviour bold, tire words vain, the
discourse either flattering, rude or tedious, their actions
extravagant, their persons cheap . . .; but when a man lives to
himself within his own Familie, and without recourse, after a
solitary manner, he lives free, without controul, not troubled
with company, but entertains himself with himself, which
makes the soul wise, the mind sober, the thoughts industrious,
the understanding learned, the heart honest, the senses quiet,
the appetites temperate, the body healthfull, the actions just
and prudent, the behaviour civil and sober.(93)
This is just one of many such passages in Cavendish's plays, and while one always wants to be cautious of collapsing author and character, the frequency with which the moral superiority of solitude is defended and the kind of poetic justice that Cavendish practices virtually demands such transference.(94) Thus, while performance can be both harmful and beneficial, enclosure is invariably positive in Cavendish's plays, and in this light her choice of genre finds an additional rationale.
Enclosure, however, is not necessarily synonymous with ostracism, and this is where the usefulness of closet drama becomes evident. Cavendish portrays enclosed spaces as most admirable when they include rather than reject "the world." The solitude of one's study, far from shutting out the external world, is the ideal space in which to engage with it. As Lady Contemplation, in the play of the same name, explains to her bewildered companion, "though the World draws not my Minde to wander up and down, yet my Minde draws the World to it, then pensils out each several part and piece, and hangs that Landskip m my Brain, on which my thoughts do view with Judgements eyes. Thus the world is in my Minde, although my Minde is not in the world."(95) A similar sentiment informs Cavendish's sense of her own creative activity: "though I do not go Personally to Masks, Balls, and Playes, yet my Thoughts entertain my Mind with such Pleasures, for some of my Thoughts make Plays, and others Act those Playes on the Stage of Imagination, where my Mind sits as a Spectator."(96) Both of these passages suggest that the tensions associated with performance and public appearance do not invade the private study and that freedom from those tensions actually cultivates a better kind of sociability. The closet, then, is uniquely capable of bridging solitude and society, contemplation and conversation, melancholy and mirth.(97)
The same public/private duality that frames Cavendish's authorial position is evident in the techniques of reading implied by her text. Like the politically charged closet drama of her male contemporaries, Cavendish's plays situate the reader on the divide between public and private modes of experience.(98) On the one hand, she uses the resources of performance to situate her readers in public spaces. Most obviously, of course, the plays represent stage action, and Cavendish foregounds this by supplying many of them with stage-like prologues beseeching the "spectators" to applaud the efforts of "our Authoress." Occasionally, Cavendish also provides stage directions which prompt the reader to imagine that the represented events are taking place on a physical stage. For example, scene 34 of "The Second Part of Youths Glory, and Deaths Banquet" opens thus: "Enter the Lady Sanspareile in a bed, as being sick, the bed drawn on the stage, and her Father kneels by the bed-side whilst she speaks as dying."(99) Such techniques require the transformation of reading into a kind of mental spectatorship. Moreover, Cavendish is fond of representing performances within her plays, so that the reader is made, at certain points, to adopt a relation to the text which is shared rather than solitary. As Lady Sanspareile begins one of her disquisitions, for example, and "her audience, which are all Lovers, . . . stand gazing upon her," the reader joins them, becomes in effect a member of the stage audience and thus shares the experience of "hearing" her speak, although she or he is not expected to share their rapture.(100) Thus much is, of course, characteristic of published drama in general. My reason for mentioning it here is to point out that Cavendish does not obliterate the performance scenario in her closet plays, that she tries in many ways to recreate the effect of public performance for the reader, partly to take advantage of the cloak that dramatic writing offers the author, but also to give her readers the full educational benefit of public theater.
On the other hand, Cavendish uses the resources of print to create an intimate, private relation between text and reader, and this is where closet drama is palpably different from published stage drama. For instance, even though her stage directions make use of theatrical discourse to situate the plays' events on an imaginary stage, they are unusually, even unnecessarily discursive. A particularly amusing example is in the sub-plot of "The Religious," in which Mistress Odd-Humour is weaned from a childhood chair. The story begins with Mistress Odd-Humaur asking her maid to bring in the chair, and continues with this direction: "The Maid goeth out, and strait enters with a little low wicker armed Chair; [Mistress Odd-Humour] sits in it, but is forced to crowd her self into it, the Chair being too little for her seat."(101) This is more of a descriptive and explanatory comment for the reader's benefit than a "direction" for stage action: mention of the chair is preceded by a string of adjectives that aid in evoking a specific mental image of the object; the construction "forced to crowd," as opposed to, say, "crowds," is far more descriptive than imperative; and the last phrase is superfluous since the next few lines of dialogue explain why Mistress Odd-Humour needs to apply "force" to get into the chair.
Many Of Cavendish's stage directions are also distinct in that they gather adjacent speeches into their typographical space. In other words, they include--within the description of stage action and in the same font--one or two lines of dialogue. In one of the plots in "The Second Part of Loves Adventures" a young woman, Affectionata, crossdresses so as to enter the service of her beloved, Lord Singularity. She is so successful in her impersonation that she makes herself indispensable and is eventually adopted by him as a "son." The stage direction describing the discovery of her true sex is this:
All the Assembly, Judges and Jurie, seems as in a maze at her
beauty, and stares on her. The Lord Singularity, as soon as he seeth
her, starts back, then goeth towards her, his eyes all the time fixt on
her; speaking as to himself.
Lord Singularity: Sure it is that face.
He takes her by the Hand, and turns her to the light; are not you my
Affectionata, whom I adopted my Son.(102)
I have reproduced the two fonts of the direction to show how Singularity's speech is incorporated into the description of action. This typographical curiosity--it is the only instance of the practice I have come across--suggests that when Cavendish was composing, stage directions and speeches were not always distinct in her mind. She appears to be writing more in the mode of prose fiction than drama here, and for the reader this shift results in something of a dependency on the printed text.
A similar effect is created by the lengthy monologues that many of Cavendish's "professorial" heroines deliver to their stage audiences. As I pointed out earlier, these performance occasions enable the reader to overcome the solitude of reading by joining a communal audience. At the same time, however, the lectures--an integral part of Cavendish's instructional poetic--could only succeed in print, never in performance, for they are protracted dissertations that have very little of the structural coherence aural delivery demands. On the page they are digestible largely because the reader can "peruse" their contents at leisure, perhaps going both forward and backward or even re-reading the lecture in its entirely; on the stage they would be disastrous. Here, then, we see Cavendish using the resources of print and performance simultaneously, and what that simultaneity achieves is, in accordance with her stated principles, a doubly effective lesson in social and moral behavior.(103)
The intricate synthesis of print and performance techniques in-Cavendish's closet plays thus appears to be a means of enhancing the instructional value of drama for the benefit of its individual recipients. At the same time, the synthesis works to the advantage of the writer, enabling her to participate in public discourse without literally appearing in public. If we look, finally, at Cavendish's own instructions for reading the plays, we find that the synthesis is extended even further. As much as her plays imply a private relation between text and reader, Cavendish clearly imagined that they would be read aloud in a circle of friends or intimate acquaintances. In an untitled prefatory epistle to the first collection of plays, Cavendish somewhat apologetically writes that she must trouble her "Noble Readers" with one last matter, and that is the reading of plays. Plays must be read, she urges, "to the nature of those several humours, or passions, as are express by Writing: for they must not read a Scene as they would read a-Chapter; for Scenes must be read as if they were spoke or Acted."(104) When a play is skillfully read, she continues, "the very sound of the Voice that enters through the Ears, cloth present the Actions to the Eyes of the Fancy as lively as if it were really Acted." The invocation of acting here does not, as some have argued, necessarily suggest that Cavendish fantasizes the performance of her plays.(105) What it does suggest is simply that reading aloud was a familiar alternative to performance, perhaps even the normal mode in which plays were enjoyed by the social circles in which Cavendish moved.(106) The significance of this scene of reading, so to speak, is that it reproduces the union of print and performance techniques we sa-w at work in the plays themselves. That is, the plays are meant to be enjoyed neither in solitude nor with the multitude, but in a space between two.
There is a larger cultural framework within which to view Cavendish's closet drama as simultaneously public and private. Reading aloud, as Roger Chartier has written, had emerged over the course of the seventeenth century as a means of social interaction among the literate and leisured segment of urban populations. It was usually conducted in small, semi-private gatherings of friends, and its chief function was to nurture personal bonds. Whether it was in the academy, the salon, the officers' mess, the tavern, or the family, reading aloud was a practice "conducted by those who knew how to read to others with the same knowledge, for the twin pleasures of the exchange and the relationships it secured."(107) This practice differs significantly from the practice of spectatorship, for it involves a group of acquaintances separated from society. While the text, then, is shared by members of a social circle, it is also sheltered from the multitude by a wall or a closed door. For author, reader, and play alike, this practice combines social engagement with withdrawal in a way that public performance could not.
In terms both of their textual qualities and their imagined mode of reception, Cavendish's closet plays are thus poised between private and public, with author and reader simultaneously secluded and socially engaged. Developed in response to specific political contingencies and adopted by disempowered male and female writers alike, this authorial position is at least as complex as that of a professional dramatist. It is also important evidence that "public" writing was not necessarily synonymous with commercial writing in the seventeenth century, and that writing for the closet was not considered solipsistic. Recognizing these nuances may help us better to evaluate the work of early women dramatists who, although they may not have written for the commercial theater, were nonetheless engaged in a variety of public cultural practices.
Queen's University, Kingston, Canada
(1.) See Douglas Grant, Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Durchess of Newcastle 1623-1673 (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957), 161; Virginia Woolf, "The Duchess of Newcastle," in The Common Reader (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1925), 110; and Linda R. Payne, "Dramatic Dreamscape: Women's Dreams and Utopian Vision in the Works of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle," in Curtain Calls: British and American Women and the Theater, 1660-1820, ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991), 30. Other critics try in various ways to "save" Cavendish for the stage, either suggesting how alterations to her plays would make them suitable for performance or arguing that she herself fantasized that the plays would be performed. See Susan Wiseman, "Gender and Status in Dramatic Discourse," in Women/Writing/History 16401740, ed. Isobel Grundy and Susan J. Wiseman (London: Batsford, 1992), 159-77; and Sophie Tomlinson, "'My Brain the Stage': Margaret Cavendish and the Fantasy of Female Performance," in Women, Texts and Histories 15751760, ed. Clare Brant and Diaane Purkiss (London: Routledge, 1992), 134-62. But, as I demonstrate below, "performance" is a vexed concept in Cavendish's dramatic and non-dramatic writing, and she remained skeptical of the unmitigated public exposure that it entails. (2.) Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing 1649-58 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988), 105. (3.) Jacqueline Pearson, The Prostituted Muse: Images of Women and Women Dramatists 1642-1737 (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988), 119. (4.) Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, eds., The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (New York: Norton, 1985), 72, 87. This view of Behn's productivity has become axiomatic (see, for example, Fidelis Morgan, ed., The Female Wits: Women Playwrights on the London Stage 1660-1720 [London: Virago, 1981], 12). But while Behn wrote some fourteen plays in quarto, Cavendish wrote twenty-four in two folio volumes totalling more than 1,000 pages. Even the sheer quantity of Cavendish's work has apparently not been enough to earn her "major" status in the history of early women's drama. That honor most often goes to Behn, whose success with feminist literary historians would thus seem to be due not to the volume of her Output but to the fact that she wrote for a commercial market. (5.) Margaret J. M. Ezell, Writing Women's Literary History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 23. (6.) Pearson, 120. (7.) Perhaps the most influential of these is Peter Stallybrass, "Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed," in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 123-42. (8.) On the hostility and obstacles faced by both amateur and professional actresses in the seventeenth century, see Sophie Tomlinson, "She that Plays the King: Henrietta Maria and the Threat of the Actress in Caroline Culture," in The Politics of Tragicomedy: Shakespeare and After, ed. Gordon McMullan and Jonathan Hope (London: Routledge, 1992), 189-207; and Elizabeth Howe, The First English Actresses: Women and Drama 1660-1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). (9.) See Angeline Goreau, Reconstructing Aphra: A Social Biography of Aphra Behn (New York: Dial, 1980), 12--37. (10). Margaret Ezell's work on seventeenth-century letters, diaries, and patterns of manuscript circulation has demonstrated that these supposedly "private" genres and practices were in fact the preprofessional equivalents to public writing. See Ezell, Writing Women's Literary History, 33-38; and The Patriarch's Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 62-100. See also Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). (11.) On the politics of stoicism in Jacobean England, see J. H. M. Salmon, "Stroicism and Roman Example: Seneca and Tacitus in Jacobean England," Journal of the History of Ideas 50 (1989): 199-225. (12.) I examine the political contexts of the Sidnean closet drama in "'Profane Stoical Paradoxes': The Tragedie of Mariam and Sidnean Closet Drama," English Literary Renaissance 24 (1994): 104-34. (13.) According to tabulations using Alfred B. Harbage, Annals of English Drama, 975-1700, rev. Samuel Schoenbaum (London: Methuen, 1964). The figure for the years 1600-1642 is 32. As with all such figures, there is inevitably a margin of error here. Overall I would guess that the numbers are on the liberal side, since the tabulation includes plays about the auspices of which Harbage is uncertain. However, the tabulation also excludes "Unacted" plays, defined by Harbage as "possibly intended for performance but evidently not performed" (xv; my emphasis), among which may very well be a number of closet plays. (14.) "Closet plays" is used throughout the article, following W. W. Greg, A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration, vol. 4 (London; Oxford University Press, 19$9), to mean "regular plays . . . that were never acted, and were never meant to be" (xii). Closet plays are, however, a subset of published plays, and because much of my argument deals with reading practices in connection with published drama generally, there is a certain degree of overlap between the groups. (15.) Louis B. Wright, "The Reading of Plays during the Puritan Revolution," Huntington Library Quarterly 6 (1934): 86-107. (16.) Roger Chartier, "Texts, Printings, Readings," in The New Cultural History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 161. (17.) Ibid., 166. (18.) Wright, 74. (19.) Lois Potter, "'True Tragicomedies' of the Civil War and the Commonwealth," in Renaissance Tragicomedy: Explorations in Genre and Politics, ed. Nancy Klein Maguire (New York: AMS, 1987), 200. (20.) Derek Hirst, "The Politics of Literature in the English Republic," Seventeenth Century 5 (1990): 149. (21.) On the continuation of performances at the public theaters during the Commonwealth and the government's attempts to suppress them, see Leslie Hotson, The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage (New York: Russell anti Russell, 1962), 16-59 (passim); and Hyder E. Rollins, "A Contribution to the History of the English Commonwealth Drama," Studies in Philology 18 (1921): 299-302, 316-21. (22.) Wright, 74. (23.) Ibid., 77, 84. Moseley was also the leading publisher of playbooks during the Commonwealth. For a full study of his business practices, see John Curtis Reed, Humphrey Moseley, Publisher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1929). (24.) Some of these plays were, however, written with performance in mind, and here it is important to make a distinction between published and closet plays. I exclude from the study plays that may have been performed in private circles. Clearly these can not be considered closet drama." Plays that were read out loud, on the other hand, do belong to the genre because there is a measurable difference--both in terms of experience and cultural coding--between performance and semi-private reading. I comment further on the practice of reading aloud below. (25.) See T. H. Howard-Hill, "The Evolution of the Form of Plays in English During the Renaissance," Renaissance Quarterly 43(1990):132. (26.) Thomas Heywood, The Rape of Lucrece (London, 1608), A2. (27.) In plays published between 1590 and 1642, playgoers are most often represented as the conglomerate original audience of the play, and only rarely as the intended recipients of the text. (28.) John [Lyly], Sixe Court Comedies (London, 1632),A5. (29.) T[homas] Middleton and T[homas] Dekk[e]r, The Roaring Girle (London, 1611), A3. (30.) Ibid., title-page. (31.) The [statelier Tragedie of Claudius Tiberius Nero (London, 1607),A3. (32.) Christopher Marlo[we], The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta (London, 1633), A3.
(33.) William Shakespeare, The famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid (London, 1609), A2. (34.) Richard Brome, Five new Playes (London, 1659), A3. (35.) See Rollins, 294; and Wright, 80. (36.) See Gerald Eades Bentley, The Jucobean and Caroline Stage, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), 524-25. (37.) Robert Davenport, King John and Matilda, A Tragedy (London, 1655), A2v. (38.) The Queen, or the Excellency of her sex (London, 1653), A2. (39.) Ibid., A3v. (40.) Wright, 80. (41.) Humphrey Moseley, "The Stationer to the Readers," in Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Comedies and Tragedies (London, 1647), A4. (42.) James Shirley, "To the Reader," in Ibid., A3-A3v. (43.) On these as characteristic values of print culture, see Julie Stone Peters, "Print-World Ideology and the Double-Natured Stage: Towards an Alliance 1660-1700," Publishing History 19 (1986): 23. (44.) William Chamberlaine, "To the Right Worshipful Sir William Portman," in Loves Victory (London, 1658), A2. (45.) Chamberlaine, "To the Reader," in Ibid., A3v. (46.) Howard-Hid, 122. (47.) In giving tire reader a kind of narrative access to the characters' inner lives, Commonwealth closet plays prefigure an important development in later seventeenth-century drama, when the influence of print and the popularity of prose fiction "encouraged playwrights to try to reproduce the inward struggle on the stage" (Peters, 17). (48.) Paul Yachnin, "Shakespeare, Performance, Theory: Towards a New Theatrical Criticism" (Paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, Ottawa, 31 May 1993). Yachnin also argues that the implicit gendering of the spectator as female reverses the association between spectatorship and power as it has been developed in contemporary feminist film theory. It is interesting, in this connection, that unlike the published stage drama many of the closet plays under study here are addressed to female Patrons. (49.) The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I (1649), A2v. (50.) It should be noted, however, that the most candid of the closet plays were published either anonymously or under pseudonyms, and often had bogus imprints. The "safety" of print thus has more to do with the distance it affords between author and text than anything like a guarantee of immunity from civil authorities. (51.) M[e]rcurius Pragmaticus [pseud.], "The Prologue," in The Second Part of Crafty Cr[o]mwell (London, 1648); 2. (52.) M[e]rcurius Pragmaticus [pseud.], "To the Readers of my former peece," in Ibid., 3. (53.) This closet play demonstrates a particularly sly choice of setting, for bull- and bear-baiting was not targeted by the ordinance against stage plays and in fact continued almost uninterrupted during the entire period. See Hotson, 59-70. (54.) A New Bull-Bayting (Nod-nol [London], 1649), Alv. (55.) Even though critical debates were conducted chiefly through print, playwrights who wrote for the stage were sitting targets for both critics and civil authorities. Judging by the number of rebukes in her preliminary materials, Cavendish's closet drama was also hard hit. Interestingly, the censure appears to have been aimed entirely at the quality of her writing and not at all at her personally, suggesting that closet drama sheltered her at least from the ad hominem attacks endured by professional female playwrights later in the century. (56.) For a chronological list of Cavendish's works, with full titles and imprints, see Grant, Margaret the First, 240-42. (57.) In expounding her critical principles, Cavendish was at the forefront of a new trend in dramatic publication. One of the perceivable changes in published stage drama after 1660 is that playwrights begin to use the preliminaries to defend their dramatic practice and lambaste the critics as did Jonson earlier in the century. This development is an instance of the increasing interrelation between print and stage in the Restoration, something that was conceivably accelerated by the wide-spread practice of play-reading during the Commonwealth. On the symbiotic relationship between stage and page in the Restoration, see Peters. (58.) Cavendish's work does seem to have been blighted by the printers. John Martin and James Allestrye, appointed printers to the Royal Society in 1663, published all of Cavendish's work up to 1662 (on Martin and Allestrye, see Charles A. Rivington, "Early Printers to the Royal Society 1663-1708," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 39 : 1-27). The printer of her first two volumes, the only one about whom there is indignant complaint, was Thomas Roycroft, one of the few English printers who reputedly "did credit to their profession" (Henry R. Plomer, A Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers Who Were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1641 to 1667 [London: Blades, East & Blades, 1907], 158). For Cavendish's c omplaints, see "To the Reader," in Philosophical and Physical Opinions (London, 1655), A4; and Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life (London, 1667), 402. From the early 1660s, though, Cavendish seems to have dealt directly with the printers herself, probably because she was back in England by this time. William Wilson printed three works that came out in 1663 and 1664, and the remainder, twelve volumes, were printed by Anne Maxwell. On women in the print trade, see "Women in the Book Trade," in A Biographical Dictionary of English Women Writers 1580-1720, ed. Maureen Bell, George Parfitt, and Simon Shepherd (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1990), 287-93; Judith E. Gardiner, "Women in the Book Trade, 1641-1700: A Preliminary Survey," Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 20 (1978): 343-46; and Felicity Hunt, "The London Trade in the Printing and Binding of Books: An Experience in Exclusion, Dilution and De-skilling for Women Workers, Women's Studies International Forum 6 (1983): 517-24. (59.) Cavendish, "A Catalogue of all the Works Hitherto Published by the Authoress," in Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (London, 3:666), s1. (60.) See, for instance, the fragments printed at the end of Natures Pictures whose titles include instructions for placement in the volume (393-96). The printer (possibly Roycroft again) evidently misunderstood and printed the instructions as part of the title. Hence, there is "An Epistle, to be placed before my she Anchoret" (393), and a poem absurdly titled "This is to be placed next my Tale of the Philosopher, which my Lord writ" (395). There is also "A Piece of a Play" and a free-floating list of dramatic personae at the end of Plays, Never Before Printed (London, 1668). (Page references are irrelevant in this instance as the plays are not numbered continuously.) (61.) Cavendish, "To My Readers," in Natures Pictures, C4v-C5v. (62.) Cavendish, "To His Grace the Duke of Newcastle," in The Life of the Thrice Noble, High, and Puissant Prince William Cavendishe, Duke, Marquess, and Earl of Newcastle (London, 1667), tel. It seems that Cavendish did what she could to correct errors once they had appeared. James Fitzmaurice reports that of the 43 copies of the Life he has seen, all but one have been altered by the author's hand ("Some Problems in Editing Margaret Cavendish," in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985-1991, ed. W. Speed Hill [Binghamton: Renaissance English Text Society, 1993], 260). Several of Cavendish's other works in the British Library have her hand-written corrections, and she seems to have been responsible for at least one list of Errata (see Philosophical and Physical Opinions, 174). (63.) Cavendish, Poems, and Fancies (London, 1653), A4v. (64.) On Cavendish as a feminist thinker, see Dolores Paloma, "Margaret Cavendish: Defining the Female Self," Women's Studies 7 (1980): 55-66; Payne, "Dramatic Dreamscape"; Jacqueline Pearson, "`Women may discourse . . .
as well as men': Speaking and Silent Women in the Plays of Margaret-Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 4 (1985): 33--45; and Hilda L. Smith, Reason's Disciples: Seventeenth-Century English Feminists (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982). (65.) Cavendish, "An Epistle To my Readers," in Natures Pictures, C1. (66.) Cavendish, "To His Grace The Duke of Newcastle," in The Life, tel. (67.) At the same time, however, Cavendish was well aware of the political implications and attendant risks of her action. In an epistle "To All Noble, and Worthy Ladies," she anticipates that "Men will cast a smile of scome upon my Book, because they think thereby, Women incroach too much upon their Prerogatives; for they hold Books as their Crowne, and the Sword as their Scepter, by which they rule, and governe" (Poems, and Fancies, A3-A3v). (68.) On the concept of fame in Cavendish, see Jean Gagen, "Honor and Fame in the Works of the Duchess of Newcastle," Philological Quarterly 56 (1959): 519-38. (69.) Cavendish, Poems, and Fancies, A1. (70.) Cavendish, Natures Pictures, after 102, and "To His Excellency The Lord Marquis of Newcastle," in Philosophical Letters (London, 1664), A1. Unlike these assorted disclaimers, however, every known detail of Cavendish's career indicates a strong sense of purpose. (71.) Cavendish, "A true Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life," in Natures Pictures, 385, 390. This autobiography was originally appended to Natures Pictures (368 91) where it is characterized, in contrast to the volume's poems and short stories, as a non-fictional document. (72.) Cavendish, "The Poetresses hasty Resolution," in Poems, and Fancies, A8. (73.) Cavendish, "To the Readers," in Plays, Never before Printed, A1. (74.) James Fitzmaurice, "Fancy and the Family: Self-characterizations of Margaret Cavendish," Huntington Library Quarterly 53 (1990): 198-209, finds that even Cavendish's representation of herself in private terms is contradictory: she "liked to depict herself as a solitary genius who depended on the power of fancy to conjure up original compositions. She also liked to present herself as a happy wife, well integrated into a harmonious family" (199). (75.) Cavendish, "To the Two Universities," in Philosophical and Physical Opinions, B2v-B3. (76.) Mary Beth Rose, "Sender, Genre, and History: Seventeenth-Century English Women and the Art of Autobiography," in Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Literary and Historical Perspectives, ed. Mary Beth Rose (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 253-54, argues that this very same ambivalence prevented Cavendish from successfully compounding for her husband's estate during the Protectorate. Although it is debatable whether Cavendish's avowed lack of effort on this occasion reveals something as broad as "the paralysis inherent in her approach to the world," one is certainly struck by the similarity between the conflicted subject space characteristic of her other works. (77.) Cavendish, "To the Readers," in Playes (London, 1662), A4. (78.) Cavendish makes use of this comparison in the same epistle. (79.) Except her Orations, a collection of public speeches which, like the closet drama, is written with a sense of social purpose: "the subjects of my Orations being of the most serious and most concernable actions and accidents amongst Mankind, and the Places most common and publick, it hath caused me to Write my Orations rather to benefit my Auditors, than to delight them." In accordance with this aim, Cavendish sets the orations in a public locale not unlike the theatrical space that is recreated in the closet drama for similar instructional reasons: "Imagining my Self and You to be in a Metropolitan City, I invite you into the Chief Marketplace, as the most Populous place, where usually Orations are spoken" ("To the Readers of My Works," in Orations of Divers Sorts Accommodated to Divers Places [London, 1662], B1, A3v). (80.) Cavendish was maid of honor to Henrietta Maria and followed the court to Paris in 1645, where she married William Cavendish later the same year. Between 1645 and 1660 they lived in Paris and Antwerp, although Cavendish did travel to England in 1651 in an attempt to compound for her husband's estate. A commendatory poem to her Natures Pictures claims to be about "all her Works, which are now all printed, except her Tragedies and Comedies, which will shortly come out" (B2). In the event, the plays did not come out until 1662, and the reason for the delay is found in one of her Sociable Letters: "I heard the ship was Drown'd, wherein the man was that had the Charge and Care of my Playes, to carry them into E. to be Printed, I being then in A. which when I heard, I was extremely Troubled, and if I had not had the Original of them by me, truly I should have been much Afflicted" (CCXI Sociable Letters [London, 1664], 295). Biographical information on Cavendish may be found in Grant, Margaret the First; Kathleen Jones, A Glorious Fame: The Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673 (London: Bloomsbury, 1988); arid Henry Ten Eyck Perry, The First Duchess of Newcastle and Her Husband as Figures in Literary History (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1918). (81.) See Tomlinson, 138-40; and Wiseman, "Gender and Status in Dramatic Discourse," 161-63. (82.) Cavendish, "To the Readers," in Playes, A4. (83.) Ibid., inserted between A3 and A4. The existence of such unnumbered leaves in Cavendish's prefatory materials is an instance of "her penchant for interceding with copies of her books once they had been printed" (Fitzmaurice, 260.) (84.) Cavendish, "The Epistle Dedicatory," in Ibid., A3-A3v. (85.) Cavendish, "The Second Part of Youths Glory, and Deaths Banquet," in Ibid., 159. The citation format used here requires a brief explanation. The plays in the 1662 volume are divided into acts and scenes, but the scenes are numbered continuously throughout a play. The 1668 plays, on the other hand, begin new scene numbers with each act. To simplify matters, all citations will appear as page numbers rather than the conventional act and scene designations. (86.) Cavendish, "The Publique Wooing," in Ibid., 367-421; "Natures Three Daughters, Beauty, Love, and Wit," in Playes, 491-527; "The Female Academy," in Ibid., 653-79. (87.) Cavendish, "To the Readers," in Ibid., inserted between A4 and A5. On the relationship between gender and rank in Cavendish's view of performance, see Wiserman, "Gender and Status in Dramatic Discourse." (88.) Cavendish, "To the Readers," in Playes, inserted between A4 and A5. (89.) Cavendish, "Youths Glory, and Deaths Banquet," in Ibid., 127. (90.) Cavendish, "The Bridals," in Plays, Never before Printed, 43. (The reader should note that the pages in this volume are not numbered continuously.) (91.) The debates about female perfortion practices, however, it is clear that she was not nearly as self-enclosed as both she and her scholars have made her out to be. My aim here is to correct the balance, so that the public dimension of her work may emerge. (98.) Overall, whenever Cavendish comments on drama, she is far more likely to do it in terms of reading rather than playgoing. For example, she refers four fumes to reading and only once to performance in her critical passage on Shakespeare's plays. In fact, she measures Shakespeare's genius by the manner in which his plays are able to reproduce within the reader the experiences represented in the plays: "in his Tragick Vein, he Presents Passions so Naturally, and Misfortunes so Probably, as he Pierces the souls of his Readers with such a true sense and Feeling thereof, that it Forces Tears through their Eyes, and almost Perswades them, they are Really Actors, or at least Present at those Tragedies" (Sociable Letters, 246). (99.) Cavendish, "The Second Part of Youths Glory, and Deaths Banquet," in Playes, 168. Emphasis added. (100.) Cavendish, "The Second Part of Youths Glory, and Deaths Banquet," in Playes, 158.
Interestingly, the power that Cavendish's female performers have over their audiences is attributed to her own plays by William Cavendish. In his commendatory poem to the 1662 collection, the Duke writes:
When we read your each Passion in each P1ay,
No stupid block or stony heart forbears
To drown their Cheeks in Seas of salter Tears; Such
power you have in Tragick, Comick stale,
So we are all your Subjects in each Play, Unwilling
willingly skill to obey Or have a thought but what
you make or draw Us by the power of your wits
(inserted between A6 and A7)
Cavendish herself, in turn, says the same of Shakespeare. See Sociable Letters, 244 16. (101.) Cavendish, "The Religious," in Playes, 530. (102.) Cavendish, "The Second Part of Loves Adventures," in Ibid., 74. (103.) The same argument could be invoked to explain the peculiar structure of Cavendish's plays, something that she defended as key to her instructional purpose ("To the Readers," in Ibid., A4). More than anything else, the loose dramatic organization of the plays has drawn the kind of criticism with which this article opened. But Cavendish herself answers the charge long before it is formulated. To her mind, plays are most beneficial to their readers when what they represent is "Usual, Probable, [and] Natural," and the kinds of strictures that govern stage-oriented drama (mainly the unities, hut also things like the requirement that all the characters be acquainted with one another, that the plots be interrelated, and that the stories climax simultaneously) result in plays that are unrealistic and hence unedifying. (104.) Cavendish, Untitled epistle, in Ibid., A6v. (105.) See Tomlinson, and Wiseman, "Gender and Status in Dramatic Discourse." (106.) In the dedicatory epistle to her husband, Cavendish says she never would have written drama "had not you read to me some Playes which your Lordship had writ" (Playes, A3), and in one of her Sociable Letters, which is devoted to reflections on the practice of reading aloud, she writes that "I never heard any man Read Well but my Husband, and have heard him say, he never heard any man Read Well but B.J. [probably Ben Jonson] and yet he hath heard many in his Time" (362-63). William Cavendish was, of course, a major patron of the drama prior to the Commonwealth period. On the Newcastle circle, see Perry, The First Duchess of Newcastle, Chap. 2; and Sandra A. Burner, James Shirley. A Study of Literary Coteries and Patronage in Seventeenth-Century England (Lanham, Maryland: University Presses of America, 1988), 144--9. (107.) Roger Chartier, "Leisure and Sociability: Reading Aloud in Early Modem Europe," in Urban Life in the Renaissance, ed. Susan Zimerman and Ronald Weissman (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989), 118.