Book Review

Wall, Wendy. Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Reviewed by Weiwei Ren | March 20, 2004

From the limited overlapping of domesticity and stage, each being very small space, Wendy Wall’s Staging Domesticity actually investigates a large variety of topics concerning early modern Englishness, gender and national identification, etc.

The book begins with an article describing the first published English cookbooks and domestic guides, followed by five articles of Wendy Wall’s reading of “less canonical” plays in that context. Noticing that dramatized domesticity defamiliarizes daily life, she argues that their staging nevertheless belies an inner desire, where she sees “a citizenly conception of Englishness”(11) that is formed in household “fantasy.” For example, against Peter Erickson’s reading of the disguised queen in The Merry Wives of Windsor as a symbol of courts control, Wall argues that the presence of domesticity in the fairylore can hardly limit the power of citizen housewives, instead, it consolidates the local community and the ideology of citizen (114). The rest four articles have been devoted respectively to domestic pedagogy of (English/Latin) languages in Gammer Gurton’s Needle, the first play written in English; food and desire in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay; queer physic in Knight of the Burning Pestle; and lastly, kitchen and violence in domestic drama.

The book teases and complicates without subverting the “canonical” ideas of early modern that have been shared among current scholarship, such as “analogy of woman-as-land”(10) and “analogy of family and state” derived from monarchy. Wall sees in these plays with domestic scenes a potential force eroding the state-based theories of Englishness they seem to support.

This book also impresses me by its abundant notes, which provides a clear and fair-minded account regarding some of the current major arguments. Anybody interested in domestic plays, as well as early modern concepts of Englishness, domestic and national identity will find it helpful.

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