Fighting the Kingdom of Faction in Bell in Campo
Agder University College
Holmesland, Oddvar. "Fighting the Kingdom of Faction in Bell in Campo." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 14 (May, 2004): 5.1-25 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-14/holmfigh.html>.
Bell in Campo  ends on a conciliatory note: the parties in the gender warfare reach an agreement on the women's terms -- at least up to a point. The men's thinking is at first constricted by received gender categories. Their bigotry is detrimental to marital unity, and it also excludes women from the world of action. Cavendish, therefore, writing her play during the Interregnum, wages war against the Cromwellian idea of citizenship as based on separate gender spheres. The Protector's reform policy sought to contain a nation divided by factionalism, which led him to force the effete nobility into exile and inaugurate a stout, masculine regime. In "Gender, literature, and gendering literature in the Restoration," Margaret Doody calls Cromwell's policy a "gendered class warfare." His Puritan followers, including the "masculine merchant class," Doody claims, would emphasize the patriarchal role to secure social power, and they would oppose the feminized sophistication and sensibility associated with the monarchy and aristocracy.  To Cavendish, however, this Puritan sternness would aggravate division rather than restore unity. Hence, as an alternative to Cromwell's army, Cavendish, in Bell in Campo, lets a royalist army from the Kingdom of Reformation go against the Kingdom of Faction.
Ironically, the Kingdom of Reformation is itself one of faction, for although it may not endorse Cromwellian machismo, it pays tribute to the masculinity of chivalric romance, excluding women from the pursuit of honour. The fronts are conjugal as well as public. As long as the men fail to recognize the women as equal partners, there can be no viable Restoration on the public battlefield. Inevitably, therefore, the all-male Army of Reformation confronting the Army of Faction is overpowered and fragmented, and thus itself in need of reformation. As this essay will seek to demonstrate, Bell in Campo envisages men and women as mutual citizens in a utopian Restoration England. Cavendish seems to believe in a natural principle of reciprocity between the conjugal and public spheres. On this basis, the play may be seen to represent Cavendish's dialectical quest for mediation -- between gender roles as well as between ideological positions at large.
- Critics, however, have mostly emphasized the women's drive to emulate masculine valour and compete with the men for glory and renown.  True enough, Bell in Campo is about women's masculinized self-realization. Lady Victoria thus mobilizes an Amazonian army, and the women warriors excel the male army in fighting spirit, resoluteness and tactical ingenuity. Speaking to her Amazons, the generalless declares:
Now or never is the time to prove the courage of our Sex, to get liberty and freedome from the Female Slavery, and to make our selves equal with men; for shall Men only sit in Honours chair, and Women stand as waiters by? shall only Men in Triumphant Chariots ride, and Women run as Captives by? shall only men be Conquerors, and women Slaves? shall only men live by Fame, and women dy in Oblivion? (Second Part: Act I, Scene 3, p. 143)
Her rallying call is for the women to employ their untapped resources, not just in war, but in the gender battle of marital as well as public affairs.
And still, Lady Victoria's concomitant aim on the battlefield is to prove the women's capacity to make common cause with the men. There is a paradox in the way Cavendish accentuates both separatist self-realization and unifying companionship. Yet there are grounds for arguing that the two courses come together seeking to repair a society that has fallen from an original unifying wisdom. Hence, the play may be seen to serve as a tutorial in order for the men to regain the wholeness of knowledge which they have lost. Cavendish, like many seventeenth-century writers and thinkers, turned to natural philosophy and the classics in search of an original, less contrived, society, one based on more natural gender combinations and balances. The idea that history was returning cyclically to a time of renewal permeated the century. One example is Bacon's programme for the renewal of learning in order to regain the "pure light of natural knowledge," a fullness of knowledge that had lapsed since the original state of perfection. He entitled his programme "The Great Instauration," a synonym for restoration. Milton shared this belief that learning should aim to recover a lost wholeness of knowledge: "the end, then, of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents," he pronounced in his treatise Of Education (1644).  Another early Cavendish play, The Female Academy, presents precisely such an academy of learning. One of the lady speakers raises the question: "whether Knowledg can be without a partaking thereof?" (Act IV, Scene 24, p. 673). Bell in Campo settles for partaking, dramatizing the renewal of education through the characters' active military experience. The generalless of the female army is appropriately called a "Tutoress" (First Part: Act II, Scene 9, p. 120).
Thus the play looks to ancient Greece and Rome for a lesson on original gender relations. There are examples of women playing heroic roles in the men's world, encouraging the men in battles, nursing them when wounded, and occasionally even participating in the fighting:
There hath been examples; for Pompey had a wife with him, and so had Germanicus, and so had many great and worthy Heroicks, and as for Alexander the great he had a wife or two with him ... and it hath been a practice by long Custome, for women to be spectators in their Battels, to encourage their fights, and so give fire to their Spirits; also to attend them in their Sicknesses, to clense their wounds, to dress their meat; and who fitter than a wife? what other woman will be so lovingly carefull, and industriously helpfull as a wife? and if the Greeks had not left their wives behind them, but had carried them along to the Trojan Wars, they would not have found such disorders as they did at their return, nor had such bad welcome home, as witness Agamemnons; besides, there have been many women that have not only been Spectators, but Actors, leading Armies, and directing Battels with good success, and there have been so many of these Heroicks, as it would be tedious at this time to recount. (First Part: Act I, Scene 4, p. 113)
The women's ambition here is not single-mindedly to emulate male accomplishments. Rather, their self-expansion entails having access to a fuller register of roles, both female and male. Such variety and flexibility, one may argue, is the basis on which mutuality between the sexes grows in Bell in Campo. To Cavendish, then, women's masculinized self-realization is a prerequisite for establishing a shared community.
To Lady Victoria, female bravery is best liberated through lovers' bond: "love doth give me courage," she says (First Part: Act I, Scene 2, p. 111). Fighting together with her husband, the Lord General, will enable her to prove her valour, but also her constancy. In nature, she maintains, this dual motive engenders no contradiction. Her case to him is that "'tis against Nature to part with that we love best, unless it be for the beloveds preservation, which cannot be mine, for my life lives in yours, and the comfort of that life in your Company" (109). She refuses to accept that the bond between lovers is not as vital on the battlefield as in the home. Yet the patriarchal argument in Bell in Campo is that such boldness would go against the "modesty" that nature intended for women. Counter to this traditionalism, Lady Victoria champions the "Law" of "natural effects" against the "unnatural abuses" that men "contrive." She protests: "there can be no breach of modesty, but in unlawfull actions ... but what Law can warrant, and necessity doth inforce, is allowable amongst men, pure before Angels, Religious before Gods" (110-11).
One may argue that Bell in Campo explores this "Law" of Nature as an emancipative, but also a tempering, principle. The balance between emancipation and moderation, between singularity and mutuality, is crucial. Cavendish, that is, encourages singularity within the bounds of natural moderation. Her conception of nature may be seen as drawing on ancient Greek and Roman models, but also on the tradition of civic humanism, as developed in Renaissance and seventeenth-century readings of classical republican texts, which treats human affairs in accordance with a presumed law of the universe. Thus Cavendish often discusses the theme of natural unity in terms of the metaphor of the healthy body politic, and by definition of the virtues that will preserve and the vices that will threaten the commune or state. She can therefore be seen to discourage excessive singularity, for it may disrupt both conjugal and communal harmony -- and so the health of the body politic.
Throughout Bell in Campo, then, Lady Victoria alternates between motives of excelling the men and of winning their respect as worthy companions. Her ambiguous position points to the mid and late seventeenth-century polarities concerning women's roles and rights, in which the figure of the Amazon became important. In her study The Prostituted Muse: Images of Women & Women Dramatists 1642-1737, Jacqueline Pearson writes that "it might be thought that the figure of the Amazon, the woman brought up to a male role as warrior, might radically subvert conventional gender stereotypes." Yet the opposite is true, she claims, "for Amazons are almost always used to endorse rather than to question sexual stereotyping.... In almost every play the Amazon will ultimately give up her masculine role in favour of love and marriage" (87-88). To avoid oblivion in matrimony, therefore, some of Cavendish's heroines, such as Lady Sanspareille in Youths Glory, and Deaths Banquet and Madamoiselle Grand Esprit in Natures Three Daughters, decide to stay single throughout their lives. They give priority to pursuing their intellectual interests, for husbands might seek to curb their wives' ambitions in order to prevent themselves being outshone. Madamoiselle Grand Esprit concludes that:
marriage is the grave or tomb of Wit; for which I am resolved for my part to live a single life, associating my self with my own Thoughts, marrying my self to my own Contemplations, which I hope to conceive and bring forth a Child of Fame, that may live to posterity, and to keep a-live my Memory. (Second Part: Act V, Scene 20, p. 525)
Bell in Campo, however, may be seen to seek a way of enabling female self-realization within marriage.
For this to happen, one may argue, the play finally tempers the Amazons' emulative drive. But it is not to make them resume a subservient role in the patriarchy. That, to Cavendish, would breed division. The play must rather be approached in terms of a mediative inquiry -- a quest to find out how women's natural potential for boldness may expand in loving harmony with men -- to make one healthy body. For this purpose, Cavendish explores a dialectical principle in nature that may balance the competitiveness of, not just women, but mankind. So she writes in The Worlds Olio:
Many will say ... tis the nature of man to be so ambitious, as to strive to be wiser then nature her self, but if nature hath given men ambition, yet nature hath given men humilitie to allay that fiery appetite. ("Epistle," sig. E2)
Natural, temperate reason governs a dialectic between diverse ambitions, desires and impressions. Cavendish suggests in Philosophical and Physical Opinions that "temperance is the greatest pleasure in nature."  Pleasure in nature comes when there is accord between the internal, rational mind and the external world of the senses, for:
All the External motion in a Figure, is, by the sensitive spirits; and all the internal, by the rational spirits: and when the rational and sensitive spirits, disagree in opposite figures, by contrary motion, they oft war upon one another. (Opinions, 15)
Nature proportions the various motions so that any one does not overpower the others. Cavendish maintains in Observations (1666) that "Nature's Actions are infinite, but that they are poised and ballanced, so that they cannot run into Extreams" (sig. c2). The drive of one's own conviction, she cautions in Philosophical and Physical Opinions:
many times blindes the eyes, both of faith and reason, and instead of uniting mankind with love, to live in peace, it makes discords with controversies, raises up faction to uphold each-side. (sig. [a]-[a2])
The message comprises personal relations as well as public affairs, divisions of interest between lovers as well as lovers' separation into gendered armies. Those who remain divided fall prey to the Kingdom of Faction, a metaphor that points to a universal problem for mankind. Nature prefers constancy amid variety, Cavendish suggests in Philosophical and Physical Opinions, since "all regular motion is pleasure, and delight, being Harmony of Motion"; the alternative being "discord of Motion" (15).
To Lady Victoria, being barred from joining the men going against the Kingdom of Faction is an obstruction of "regular motion" in nature:
The Masculine Sex hath separated us, and cast us out of their Companyes, either out of their loving care and desire of preserving our lives and liberties, lest we might be distroyed in their confusions, or taken Prisoners in their loss, or else it must be out of jealousy we should Eclipse the fame of their valours with the splendour of our constancy. (First Part: Act II, Scene 9, p. 118)
As a consequence, the Army of Faction besieges the Army of Reformation, which falls into "confusions" (118). Cavendish reminds the reader in Philosophical and Physical Opinions:
There is not a Confusion in Nature, but an orderly Course therein ... the Eternal matter is alwayes one, and the same: for though there are Infinite degrees, yet the Nature of that Matter never alters. (5)
The Amazon warriors who come to the men's rescue show the stoutness of heart it takes to drive the Army of Faction away. Their outer display of valour feeds on their inner steadfastness. Public deeds find sustenance in boldness within, a virtue that is also associated with their "constancy" in love (First Part: Act II, Scene 9, p. 118). The men fail to recognize this vital inner-outer correlation for what it is, just as they are unaware of their women's capacity when they most need it. Another mark of the men's separateness is their habit of taking a mistress whenever they travel with the army (First Part: Act I, Scene 3, pp. 111-12).
For Lady Victoria, the "splendour" of "constancy" matches the "fame" of "valours." Her mission is to reconcile private and public glory in a higher order. To triumph together on the battlefield is thus to transcend personal divisions and raise mutual minds to spiritual, almost deified, heights: "for Fame makes us like the Gods, to live for ever" (First Part: Act II, Scene 9, p. 118). Public and private splendour alike depend on the ability to open the mind to more of nature's rich potentiality. Women must also be allowed to grow amid nature's variety, rather than being contained by convention. Cavendish writes in Philosophical and Physical Opinions:
We are become like worms that only live in the dull earth of ignorance, winding our selves sometimes out, by the help of some refreshing rain of good educations, which seldom is given us; for we are kept like birds in cages to hop up and down in our houses, not sufferd to fly abroad to see the several changes of fortune, and the various humors, ordained and created by nature; thus wanting the experiences of nature, we must needs want the understanding and knowledge and so consequently prudence, and invention of men: thus by an opinion, which I hope is but an erronious one in men, we are shut out of all power, and Authority by reason we are never employed either in civil nor marshall affaires, our counsels are despised, and laught at, the best of our actions are troden down with scorn, by the over-weaning conceit men have of themselves and through a despisement of us. (sig. B2)
Contrived gender roles give women, but also men, only partial insight into the relations of the whole.
Men and women, Cavendish suggests, are by nature not necessarily so different. What convention takes to be inequality along gender lines, she largely ascribes to individual variety. Though she allows that the two sexes have their respective merits, men and women nonetheless have a great range of variety in common. In her "Preface to the Reader" in The Worlds Olio, she thus maintains that nature has made men superior to women in many ways, while it has made women "fairer, softer, slenderer, and more delicate than they, separating as it were the finer parts from the grosser." But although "the wisest Woman is not so wise as the wisest of Men, wherefore not so fit to Rule; yet some are far wiser than some men ... so Women by Education may come to be far more knowing and learned, than some Rustick and Rudebred men." If nature, to Cavendish, lays down gender differences, nature is also the source of a common potentiality. Bell in Campo champions such inclusive insight. A new order must build on men and women's liberated confidence in their mutual capacities, as well as in women's educability. Constancy, anchored in a bold heart, will then extend its terms into the public scene.
These are terms that pursue natural motion against the Kingdom of Faction. Hence, Cavendish's feminism, rather than inverting the aristocratic, civic humanist discourse, serves as its revitalizer. Her interest in high models appears in her portrayal of the Lord General, commander in chief of the Army of Reformation. He is far from a parader given to vainglorious romance exploits. His person combines diverse traits in noble proportion. Men characterize him as "valiant and well experienced in Wars, temperate and just in Peace, wise and politick in publick affairs, carefull and prudent in his own Family, and a most generous person." Even in war, his mind is in a peace-making state, which makes him choose "well-tempered Arms" (First Part: Act I, Scene 1, pp. 107-108).  His various actions serve the prudent balancing of opposites, hence all the oxymorons: his arms are "light to be worn, yet musket proof; for he means not to run away, nor to yield," and he chooses "such Horses as have spirit and strength, yet quiet and sober Natures" (108). He is in tune with the rhythmic variability of nature and chooses horses that command graceful modulability, "that have been taught to Trot on the Hanches, to change, to Gallop, to stop." And as a sign of his constancy, "he regards more the goodness of the Horses than the Colours or marks." The Lord General is like a good magistrate who cares for the entire body politic. His private and public interests are one and the same; such "a good General doth both for himself and Army" (108). But not until the end of the play does he learn to adapt to the women's terms as well.
To a greater extent than their Lord General, the other male characters live by received opinions that bar them from insight. And so they stake their wellbeing on the separation of spheres: male from female, public scene from home. As a consequence, war and factionalism rend the home, whereas far away from the domestic battlefield:
Army is a quiet, solitary place, and yields a man a peaceable life ... for what with ... the noise the women make, for their tongues like as an Alarum beat up qua(r)ters in every Corner of the House, that a man can take no rest; besides every day he hath a set Battel with his wife, and from the Army of her angry thoughts, she sends forth such vollies of words with her Gunpowder anger, and the fire of her fury, as breaks all the ranks and files of content. (First Part: Act I, Scene 4, pp. 112-13)
A military discourse infuses this passage. It presents married life in terms of a divisive state of mind, from which the army becomes a "solitary" separatist refuge. By contrast, each Amazon follows her natural motions in monistic harmony. Lady Victoria addresses her army: "Noble Heroickesses, I am glad to hear you speak all as with one voice and Tongue, which shows your minds are joyned together, as in one piece, without seam or rent ... a body of about five or six thousand women" (First Part: Act I, Scene 9, pp. 118-19). Cavendish accounts for such natural alliances in Observations (1668): "one Body ... ordering her self-moving parts with all facility and ease, without any disturbance, living in pleasure and delight, with infinite Varieties and Curiosities, such as no single Part or Creature of hers can ever attain to" (4, italics mine).
Most of the men in Bell in Campo, however, have been bred by arbitrary power discourse. It subjugates women as "delicate and beautifull ... compassionate and gentle natured" (First Part: Act I, Scene 9, p. 119). The play does not deny this disposition in women, but demonstrates that the men have but limited access to the full range of female potentiality. Authority tends to rely on a fixed position and perspective. Hence custom's function is a chief concern in the play. On the one hand, custom imposes restrictions on the mind; on the other, however, it encourages the privileged group to expand legitimate capacities:
Custome which is a second Nature will encourage the one and strengthen the other ... for Time and Custome is the Father and Mother of Strength and Knowledge, they make all things easy and facil, clear and prospitious; they bring acquaintance, and make friendship of every thing; they make Courage and Fear, Strength and Weakness, Difficulty and Facility, Dangers and Securities, Labours and Recreations, Life and Death, all to take and shake as it were hands together; wherefore if we would but accustome our selves we may do such actions, as may gain us such a reputation, as men might change their opinions, insomuch as to believe we are fit to be Copartners in their Governments, and to help to rule the World, where now we are kept as Slaves forced to obey. (119-20)
Bell in Campo shows its awareness of custom's dual capacity to either narrow or boost natural potentiality.
Yet custom also works in more mysterious ways. The Amazons in Bell in Campo, partly due to their marginalized status, seem less set in their views than the men. They have no authority to defend. Their remoteness from the discourse of power leaves them with more tentative selves, and they explore a range of alternative roles. Being on the fringe, the women have a freer perspective on society. Their wit is better equipped to grasp the workings of causes and effects. In The Female Academy, a lady speaker images truth as a lady who sometimes comes to the man and "presents him with right Understanding of the condition he is in," and "the several Effects of Causes, or what causes those Effects" (Act II, Scene 12, pp. 662-63). Both plays have a meta-dramatic aim, which is to heighten the reader's, or audience's, awareness of the deceiving ways by which custom works as a "second Nature" (Bell in Campo, First Part: Act I, Scene 9, p. 119). Mental separatism has weaned many of the men from a capacity to see things whole, and hence also to see what causes and effects are at work to distort the relations of the whole.
Lady Victoria's model function is at the service of remedial insight. She heads a unified body of minds, the rationale for which Cavendish provides in The Blazing World: as "it was natural for one body to have but one head, so it was also natural for a politic body to have but one governor; and that a commonwealth, which had many governors was like a monster with many heads." A system with many heads encourages singularity and possible anarchy. The duchess nonetheless announces: "I endeavour ... to be as singular as I can; for it argues but a mean nature to imitate others" (134, 218) . These different terms may appear contradictory, and yet they are not. Too much singularity may cause separateness, but so may imitation or conformity, for it blunts the perception of natural relations. How to best join such opposites into a whole is also the concern of Bell in Campo. Hence the Lord General, like his wife, is anxious not to impose any divisive decision on his army. So when battle is imminent, he calls for the "election of Counsellors, joyning together three sorts" of men to ensure that different opinions are heard. Yet the outcome of democratic rule proves to be disruptive after all: "at this Council many debates there were," which finally leads to the women being sent away with "vollies of angry words" (First Part: Act II, Scene 8, p. 117). There is harsh discord, for the men do not know how to abate nature. By contrast, Lady Victoria will call no council, since "all great Councils, as of many persons, confounds judgments, for most being of several opinions, and holding strongly and stifly, nay obstinately thereunto, as every one thinking themselves wisest, cause a division" (First Part: Act III, Scene 11, p. 125). The Amazons rather follow natural motion in monistic formation. Their unified boldness stems, in Lady Victoria's phrase, from "the splendour of our constancy" (First Part: Act I, Scene 9, p. 118). The men's deficiency in that respect shows privately in their separation from the women, and publicly in the confusion of their military ranks when besieged by the Army of Faction (Second Part: Act II, Scene 5, p. 145).
But Bell in Campo also has women who resist joining the Amazon army. Their motives, like their men's, are typically couched in conventional, and hence divisive, discourse. Prior to the council meeting that sends the women home, for instance, captain and madam Whiffell discuss whether to copy the general's example after he has accommodated his wife's wish to join him going to the war. The captain is prepared to "imitate him in ours, carrying our Wives along" (First Part: Act II, Scene 5, p. 114). She, in return, clings to the standard excuse of being too frail and delicate to face it. Captain Ruffell makes the same proposal to his wife on account that "'tis now the fashion for Wives to march" (italics mine); his wife pleads the standard delicacy in order not having to accompany him. The conformity to which they both subscribe, however, is an implicit power discourse. They bicker for authority within their separate spheres. She thus refuses to copy the new fashion and "follow your Generals Lady as a common Trooper doth a Commander," for, she says, "I will be Generalissimo my self at home." There is an incongruity between her frail self-image and her ungratified need for power. It can be resolved neither within the conventional feminine nor masculine discourse. Captain Ruffell, on his part, makes a customary male repartee by threatening to take the laundry maid along if his wife will not come. To the prospect of his wenching, she retaliates on the same terms, threatening to "ride with my gentleman-Usher in my Coach" (First Part: Act II, Scene 6, pp. 114-15).
Bell in Campo conveys causal links between conventional discourse and unrealized human potential. Minds are closed off from Hellenistic "living in pleasure and delight, with infinite Varieties and Curiosities" (Observations , 4). Equally divisive is the attempt to fence in life as an entity to possess and preserve. It substitutes stasis for vitality. As Doll Pacify remarks, "there is nothing in the World we can absolutely possess to our selves; for Time, Chance, Fortune and Death, hath a share in all things, life hath the least" (First Part: Act V, Scene 25, p. 139). This is why Lady Victoria urges the widows whose husbands have been slain in the war to fight for their spirits and not make themselves sepulchres of grief. Enlisting in her army is to engage in the "Warfare of Life" (Second Part: Act I, Scene 1, p. 142). It is a mission that bears some of the spiritual fervour of Thomas Carlyle's nineteenth-century Captains of Industry. To go on fighting is to quench dependence of the sort that debilitates Lady Jantil, who loses her single possession, her husband, in the war, and never recovers her purpose of life. Her self-effacing loyalty in love is inflexibly set to "live with dead Ashes" (Second Part: Act I, Scene 6, p. 147). Loss of self, and of vitality, also befalls the widowed Lady Passionate who offers herself on the marriage market with what ephemeral attractions she still possesses: neither youth nor beauty, which time has already ruined, but riches. A young suitor besieges her in the "Warfare of Life," after which he claims his marriage rights and wastes her estate, leaving her a slave whom her servants disrespect, for they only follow the master who commands the purse.
Lady Passionate's fate serves as an indictment of a society in which social climbing and mercenary gain prey on the deference holding the feudal order together. Monsieur Comerade opportunistically remarks that "every one bows with respect, nay worships and adores riches." The younger brothers, typically victims of primogeniture, sacrifice love and constancy to obtain the outer accessories of status: "it makes all younger Brothers Sherks, and meer Cheats, whereas this old Ladies riches will not only give you an honest mind, and create noble thoughts, but will give you an honourable reputation in the World." England, anticipating the Restoration, is accused of substituting outer appearance for inner worth: "every one will think you Wise although you were a Fool, Valiant although you were a Coward, and you shall have the first offers of all Offices, and all Officers will be at your devotion" (Second Part: Act III, Scene 12, p. 158). The aristocratic notion of honour as a unity of outward circumstance and inward essence is becoming disjointed. Constancy is giving way to commodified value. Women like Lady Passionate are reduced to objects for mercenary men to exploit and subdue.
With its ancient anchoring, Bell in Campo transgresses contemporary patriarchal codes when letting a woman be general. Still, it is hardly an ideologically subversive trespass. Cavendish, after all, picks her two commanders, the Lord General and Lady Victoria, from the aristocratic rank. It serves, however, as a progressive gesture towards reform, for Lady Victoria, being a woman, will have to prove that her merit lives up to her noble rank. So when the male strategy fails, the Army of Reformation falls back on the heroic and resourceful leadership of the Amazon army. This is Cavendish's ambiguous response to the status inconsistency of her time. The concept of honour is in transition, partly due to aristocratic decadence, partly to progressive social mobility. There is a need for honour to be individually proved through meritorious and heroic deeds.  Madam Jantil accordingly addresses Seigneur Valeroso wanting to know "why you will take an under command, being so nobly Born, and bearing a high Title of Honour your self, and being Master of a great Estate." His reason is: "To let the World see my Courage is above my Birth, Wealth, or Pride, and that I prefer inward worth before outward Title" (First Part: Act II, Scene 7, p. 116). Progressiveness is to revive the original code of honour among the Greeks and Romans.
The end of the play shows women freely engaging in masculine activities: "whilst the Masculine Army is gone to Conquer the Kingdome of Faction, they stay there upon the Frontiers, passing their time in Heroick sports, as hunting the Stags, wild Boars, and the like" (Second Part: Act IV, Scene 14, p. 161). Nonetheless, their widened range of action does not go so far as to blur the boundary between the female domestic and male public spheres. The women engage in their heroic sports staying in and about the fort, while the masculine army handles the actual fighting. Having proved their excellence, the women now seem content to remain in camp as inspirers of their men, a situation that makes all the difference to the Army of Reformation. It ascends from defeat to glorious victory.
There is, then, no inversion of society's gendered structure by the end of the play. The king rewards the Amazons with absolute power within the domestic sphere. They will be seated above their husbands at the table and have the power of the purse and all provisions; they will order servants as they please and have legal possession of domestic items. Beyond the house, they will have liberty to go out wherever they want and in whatever dress they please. Their valour, moreover, raises the Amazons higher in the social hierarchy. At the end, Lady Victoria appears in a glorious masque, and the king decrees that she is to be honoured like royalty, have all her exploits recorded for posterity and be seated next to the king's children. The rest of the heroic ladies will likewise move up from their former rung:
First, All the Chief Female Commanders shall have place, as every Lords wife shall take place of an Earls Wife that hath not been a Souldier in the Army; Every Knights Wife before a Barons Wife that hath not been a Souldier in the Army; an Esquires Wife before a Knights Wife; a Doctors Wife before an Esquires Wife that hath not been Souldiers in the Army; a Citizens Wife before a Doctors Wife; a Yeomans Wife before a Citizens Wife that hath not been a Souldier in the Army; and all Trades-mens Wives that have been Souldiers in the Army shall be free in all the Corporations in this Kingdome, these Acts during their lives, and all the Chief Commanders shall be presented according to their quality and merit. (Second Part: Act V, Scene 20, p. 168)
Notably, the elevation of the women does not alter the positions of the men. The appraisal of the female warriors is solely at the expense of the women who did not join the Amazon army.
Cavendish finally does not push her inversive feminism. The most progressive decree affecting the women is that now "they shall be of their Husbands Counsel" (Second Part: Act V, Scene 20, p. 167). Such reciprocality is at the heart of the women's claim for emancipation in Bell in Campo. It is a play in which pedigree acknowledges honour by merit, and merit is a cross-gendered quality. The Army of Reformation is brought to realize that it depends on the Amazons' noble courage, sound judgement and flexible wit. Female potential transgresses the obstacles of patriarchal convention like a natural force. As Lady Victoria sees it, the women's glorious exploit is a response to nature which it would have been "unnatural to strangle in the Birth by fearfull Cowardize" (Second Part: Act I, Scene 3, p. 143). Female boldness provides the men with insights that are vital to the body politic. The men's ambition is finally inseparable from the mutual course. Lady Victoria addresses her victresses: "those that Commanded your absence, now humbly sue your presence, those that thought you a hindrance have felt your assistance ... with a humble desire they may join their forces with ours" (Second Part: Act III, Scene 8, p. 151).
A reformed, utopian hierarchy emerges at the end of Bell in Campo. The superior figures are those with the readiest access to an original wholeness of knowledge. It takes modulable minds to respond to nature's unconventional challenge. First among the men in this regard is the Lord General. His well-tempered disposition negotiates with the public scene for correspondence. To match him, Lady Victoria leads her female army through a bold act of self-exploration. The female commanders hail their enlightener: "All the knowledge of our selves, the honour of renown, the freedome from slavery, and the submission of men, we acknowledge from you" (Second Part: Act III, Scene 8, p. 152). Classical teaching provides promise of a restored utopian England. It is an England in which public wellbeing rests on private virtues, just as external motion in nature is in exchange with internal, rational motion for balance.  Paternalism and maternalism enjoy synergism of a higher order.
1. Bell in Campo was first published in Playes (London: J. Martin, J. Allestrye & T. Dicas, 1662). All citations in this essay are from Anne Shaver, ed., The Convent of Pleasure and Other Plays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999).
2. Margaret Anne Doody, "Gender, literature, and gendering literature in the Restoration," in The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1650-1740, ed. Steven N. Zwicker (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998), 61.
3. See, for instance, Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing 1649-88 (London: Virago P, 1988), 109.
4. These comments and references are indebted to Graham Parry, The Seventeenth Century: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1603-1700 (London: Longman, 1989), 108.
5. Cavendish, "An Epistle to the Reader, for my Book of Philosophy," Philosophical and Physical Opinions (London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1655), sig. (a).
6. For an analogous belief in tempered arms: when the prince interferes in one of the frays between the Montague and Capulet followers, he rebukes them: "Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground," in William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. Brian Gibbons (London: Arden / Methuen, 1980), I.i.85.
7. For a discussion of this, see McKeon, Politics and Poetry in Restoration England,131-33, 155, 185, 212.
8. Cf. Cavendish, Philosophical and Physical Opinions, 15.
- Cavendish, Margaret. The Blazing World. In The Blazing World and Other Writings. Ed. Kate Lilley. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.
- ----. The Convent of Pleasure. In The Convent of Pleasure and Other Plays. Ed. Anne Shaver. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP.
- ----. The Female Academy. In Playes. London: J. Martin, J. Allestrye & T. Dicas, 1662.
- ----. Natures Three Daughters. In Playes (1662).
- ----. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy . To which is added, The Description of a New World Called The Blazing World. London: A. Maxwell, 1666.
- ----. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, 2nd. ed. London: A. Maxwell, 1668.
- ----. Philosophical and Physical Opinions. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1655.
- ----. The Worlds Olio. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1655.
- Doody, Margaret Anne. "Gender, literature, and gendering literature in the Restoration." In The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1650-1740. Ed. Steven N. Zwicker. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 58-80.
- McKeon, Michael. Politics and Poetry in Restoration England. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1975.
- Pearson, Jacqueline. The Prostituted Muse: Images of Women & Women Dramatists 1642-1737. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988.
- Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Brian Gibbons. London: Arden / Methuen, 1980.
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© 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).