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This analysis of five exemplary domestic plays—the anonymous Arden of Faversham and A Warning for Fair Women (1590s), Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1607), Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women (ca. 1613), and Walter Mountfort’s The Launching of the Mary, or The Seaman’s Honest Wife (1632)—offers a new approach to the emerging ideology of the private and public, or what Ann C. Christensen terms “the tragedy of the separate spheres.” Feminist scholarship has identified the fruitful gaps between theories and practices of household government in early modern Europe, while work on the global Renaissance attends to commercial expansion, cross-cultural encounters, and colonial settlements. Separation Scenes brings these critical concerns together to expose the intimate and disruptive relationships between the domestic culture and business culture of early modern England.
Separation Scenes argues that domestic plays make the absence of husbands for business the subject of tragedy by focusing not on where men traveled but on whom and what they left behind. Elements that critics have rightly associated with domestic tragedy—adultery, sensational murders, and the lavishly articulated operations of domestic life—define this world, which, Christensen argues, was equally shaped by the absence of husbands. Her interpretations of these domestic plays invite us to historicize and further complicate the seemingly universal binary between a feminine “private sphere” and a masculine “public sphere.”
Separation Scenes demonstrates how domestic drama played an active, dynamic, and critical role in deliberating the costs of commercial travel as it disrupted domestic conduct and prompted realignments within the home.