Wife, Whore, or Dutchwoman: Shifting Female Roles in The London Prodigal

Marianne Montgomery


The anonymous play The London Prodigal (1603-4) stages a city in which foreigners mix easily with English characters and in which a wife disguised as a Dutch servant enables the comic return of the prodigal husband. Though critics interested in stage Dutchwomen have focused mostly John Marston's Dutch courtesan, this essay explores a more benign stage representation of a Dutchwoman. Becoming a Dutchwoman in service, the scorned bride Luce can temporarily shift into a liminal space between maidenhood and marriage, between nationalities, and between languages. This shift is made audible by her hybrid speech and visible by her Dutch costume. Though her Dutch disguise allows Luce to wait safely for the return of her errant husband, becoming a Dutchwoman also means that the Englishwoman is always shadowed rhetorically by the possibility of sexual service.


early modern drama; stage language; women; Dutch; London Prodigal

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