‘Parting is such’: Those Who Stay and Those Who Go in Early Modern Domestic Drama

Ann C. Christensen, Jessica Slights


In this paper, we parse scenes of parting for war in order to read wartime female stage presence and agency in William Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV and Othello, Thomas Heywood’s 1 + 2 Edward IV, and Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday. We show that moments of parting for war on stage figure in powerful ways the instability that characterized domestic life in early modernity, particularly for women, and we demonstrate that the various modes of resistance enacted by Kate Percy, Mortimer’s Welsh bride, Desdemona, Jane Shore, and Jane Damport expose not only the threat to domestic life posed by war, but also the broader threat to women’s lives posed by commercial, political, and military decisions from which they are often excluded. While directors and critics often reduce these “partings” to so much “sweet sorrow,” we argue that these charged junctures complicate the assumption that wives are fainthearted or selfish when their husbands are called to war, that they reveal the commercial concerns that often underlie men’s wartime absences, and that they emphasize the marital alienation, economic precarity, sexual exploitation, and physical danger that faces both women who stay and those who go to war in early modern domestic drama. We want our attention to domestic ruptures in drama generally to contribute new ways to expand the particular definition of domestic tragedy: these plays share a pattern in which matters of international politics and commerce are shown to impact directly domestic lives and in which wives respond in a broader range of ways than has previously been recognized.


Shakespeare; Dekker; Heywood; war; marriage; commerce

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