Settling House in Middleton's Women Beware Women


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Middleton's tragedies, especially in their spectacular climaxes, follow classical tragic form in dramatizing "the fall of the house of .... " For example, in both the wedding masque closing Women Beware Women and the fires and their aftermath in The Changeling and Hengist, King of Kent, the succession of evil is cut off by the quasi-literal destruction of the offending "house" or family line. In Women Beware Women Middleton stages the fall of the houses of Leantio, the Duke, and the Ward, but, in greater detail, he traces the setting up of households, foreshadowing in these events the inevitable falls to come. In attributing causes Middleton injects into the tragic paradigm a uniquely early- modem concern--that of the emergence of an ideological if not a spatial separation of the domestic sphere from a male professional sphere within an urban mercantile milieu. The son of a bricklayer, Middleton shows keen interest in the minutiae of physical houses and in domestic life in all its versions and perversions. With stage business concerning hospitality on grand and small scales, from palatial masques and banquets to the Mother's pilfering of sweetmeats; with sets depicting household locales and appurtenances, including windows, concealed chambers, and chess tables; with the hero's frequent encomia on his domestic bliss ("I scent the air/ Of blessings when I come but near the house" [III.ii.5-6]);1 and with the ubiquitous food and sex imagery, the play-world is bodied forth in what many consider "realistic density."2

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