Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More on Arden of Faversham

As I have said in some of my prior blogs, this play really intrigues me and has left me wondering whose tragedy this really is. So after finishing the play I was determined to find some discourse on the subject that might serve to enlighten me. I've already said that I have done some research on Domestic Violence in Early Modern England, so I'm fully aware that Alice's actions constitute Petty Treason. I'm also aware that the narration of the story is meant to comment on the topic and that it reveals the fears and stereotypes surrounding the rebellious woman. Alice's actions obviously disrupt the social and political hierarchy within the home as much as Mosby's actions, along with all of his accomplices, threaten the social and political hierarchy of the community as they are all meant to be subordinate to Master Arden, who has higher social status and should be respected.
Upon researching this matter further I found a very insightful article by Frances Dolan that had been published in the Shakespeare quarterly and that discusses this matter in full detail. The article, "The Subordinate('s) Plot: Petty Treason and the Forms of Domestic Rebellion" cites the play as a story of petty treason that "focuses on the contradictions and fragilities of social status as seen in weak, flawed, or absentee masters and in rebellious subordinates" (319). Dolan also states that "the play inacts how a master can remain central without engaging in either positive or negative action simply by holding the place that stands for privilege and power, the place for which his subordinates compete" (330). This explains why Arden runs away from his responsibility when he is aware of his wife's affair, and also why the story follows him to his every destination. He remains central to the plot because his station or social position is like the golden ring on the carousel, all of his subordinates ride around in circles just for another opportunity to grasp for it. The fact that he does run away from his responsibility also allows the reader to see that he is partially to blame for the situation. He is the absentee master who has allowed his subordinates too much freedom and not enough discipline. His inaction is demonstrative of his inadequacies as a master. Since he is completely oblivious of the plot against him he cannot plan any counteraction. According to Dolan this is why we are left with "a play with not hero, no master plot, and no identifiable form". However, Dolan makes another great point when she states that "Holding Arden's place even after death, the blood stains and the unsettling body print reveal that the subject-position of the landowner and master remains powerful, no matter how inadequate the holder of the position" (332). So even though Arden is flawed, according to the laws of his society his position as master should never be challenged.

Article cited:

Dolan, Frances E. "The Subordinate('s) Plot: Petty Treason and the Forms of Domestic Rebellion." Shakespeare Quarterly 60.3 (1992): 317-340. JSTOR. 3 March 2009

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