Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sarah Joyce Bunker: “Domestic Utopianism”

Sarah Joyce Bunker

“We must see you laid”: Domestic Utopianism & the Marriage Bed in The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy


A1> In this article, I propose that the marriage bed, as it is represented or imagined on the early modern stage, functions as an instrument of domestic utopianism.  In using the term “domestic utopianism,” I refer not to the eu-topic aspect of the utopian enterprise—that is, to the imagining of a better world—but rather to its ou-topic aspect, to the neutrality of utopia, which, as Louis Marin asserts, exists in the intermediate space between being and nonbeing.  I think that a utopian effect—specifically, a sense of the uncanny—informs scenes that involve a subversion of the most intimate of domestic spaces: the marriage bed.  Its mere presence on the stage necessarily places the marriage bed in a position of suspension; the bed on the stage represents a marriage bed, and may indeed be indistinguishable from one, and yet the fact of its staging, its position as the focal point of public spectacle, negates the domestic privacy that is (often but not always) definitive of the “true” marriage bed.  The utopian aspect of the staged marriage bed is further augmented through the cultivation of the audience’s awareness of the distance between the marriage bed as it is and the marriage bed as it should be.

A2> I examine the subversion of the staged marriage bed in three early modern plays: The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy.  Of the scenes that I discuss, only those in The Maid’s Tragedy do not require the presence of a bed onstage; however, I assert that the beds to which multiple characters refer serve as powerful rhetorical loci around which the language of the wedding night is structured.  In Cymbeline, Iachimo’s extension of his proximally privileged observation of Imogen’s bed to the audience grants spectators access to the private space of her bedchamber.  The expansion of or privileged insight into intimate space permits the audience to assume the roles of intimate observers—household, kin, neighbors—often in the absence of a community of observers onstage.  In The Revenger’s Tragedy, the audience joins Lussurioso as expectant observers of adultery.  In all of these plays, the audience is aware of the uncanny space between the marriage bed as it should be and the marriage bed as it is—between beds rightly and wrongly occupied or observed, between permanent marriage beds and mutable beds imagined as or actually transformed into sites of death and adultery.  This awareness facilitates the construction of the bed as an instrument of domestic utopianism.

“We must see you laid”: Domestic Utopianism & the Marriage Bed in The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy

1> “I hop’d thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife; /I thought thy bride-bed to have deck’d, sweet maid, /And not t’have strew’d thy grave” (Shakespeare 5.1.267-69).  At Ophelia’s grave, Gertrude imagines a marriage bed that should have been, and will never be.  Early modern audiences would have understood Gertrude’s desire to decorate the bridal bed with flowers as more than merely the affectionate gesture of a new mother-in-law; such an act signaled participation in the collective ritual of bedding the bride.  The dissonant juxtaposition of two socially significant rituals—strewing flowers on a marriage bed, and on a grave—reinforces the untimeliness of Ophelia’s death while constructing an alternate future that must remain subjunctive, wished-for, but never actualized.  Through Gertrude’s lines, the marriage bed becomes a synecdoche for that which should have been, and acquires neutrality; both the imagined bed and the grave simultaneously are and are not marriage beds.  The marriage bed which Gertrude had hoped to decorate will obviously never exist, and yet it is voiced, and therefore gains a degree of reality through language.  Not only is the grave not Ophelia’s marriage bed, but it also exposes the impossibility of marriage for Ophelia, now dead; nonetheless, certain similarities—the strewing of flowers, the receiving of a young woman’s body—practically force an identification of the grave as a substitute marriage bed.  Whether or not they are actually presented onstage, beds often serve as a locus for the tension between that which is and that which should be.  In The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy, the utopian aspect of the marriage bed (rhetorical or material) is augmented through the cultivation of the audience’s awareness of the distance between the marriage bed as it is and the marriage bed as it should be.

2> As an object that simultaneously is and is not quite a marriage bed, the staged marriage bed serves as an instrument of domestic utopianism.  In Utopia, Carnival, and Commonwealth in Renaissance England, Christopher Kendrick characterizes the early modern playwright’s endeavor as “both anti- and quasi-utopian”; playwrights could not “expose…the superfluity of the ruling class,” and yet the work of adapting the popular tradition to “the fictive nowhere” can be understood as quasi-utopian (Kendrick 217).  The exposure of the ruling class as superfluous, which Kendrick identifies as impossible for playwrights who wished to retain their patrons’ favor, belongs to the realm of eu-topic activity—the imagining of a better world, overtly or implicitly as a counterpoint to reality.  While Kendrick discounts early modern drama as a vehicle for utopianism in its eu-topic aspect, his reference to “the fictive nowhere” evokes the neutral, ou-topic element that Louis Marin identifies as central to utopia.  Marin writes that “the utopic figure is a discursive object, not without reference, but with an absent referent, as its name will tell us: it is not the ‘without-place,’ ‘the imaginary’ or ‘unreal place’; rather it is the no-place, the in-determined place, the neutral figure” (Marin 196).  Marin describes this neutrality as an intermediate state: “neither being nor nothingness, negation nor affirmation” (Marin 25).  Utopia, whether More’s or Bacon’s, is not identical to the world in which it is composed, and yet it is not entirely divorced from that world.  Correspondingly, the staged marriage bed is not entirely unreal; it is recognizable as a marriage bed, but, at the same time, it is clearly not quite a marriage bed.  In both tragedy and tragicomedy, scenes involving the presentation of a marriage bed onstage are difficult to read as eu-topic; one might even argue that the “tragic loading of [the] bed” in Othello, for example, is genuinely dystopic (Shakespeare 5.2.363).  However, scenes involving a marriage bed in The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy are utopian, insofar as they are informed by an ou-topic sensibility.  An awareness of ou-topic neutrality—the realization that the utopic figure is neither real nor wholly unreal—can be discomfiting.  Kendrick discusses the uncanny effect created through the impression of a world simultaneously present and concealed, possible and unrealized: “[The suggestion of this effect] is that Utopian social arrangements are somehow present in the world that we know, yet blocked from appearing as such—that the institutions and customs described are all determined alternatives, in the sense of being forms at once blocked out, that is, inscribed in the field of possibles, and yet finished off, or in other words refused a point of entrance into the sphere of the actual, consigned to extreme subordinacy or quasi-spectrality” (Kendrick 33).  Like Utopian society, the bed that is and is not a marriage bed exists in a “quasi-spectral” state—intimately recognizable, but not quite familiar—and its presence on the early modern stage often evokes the uncanniness of “the no-place.”

3> While early modern narrative utopias are quite literally “no-places,” their coordinates never specified, the bed signals a highly concrete location—a bedchamber—which in turn prompts the audience to construct mentally a setting that cannot be fully staged: the house itself.  By allowing the audience access not only to domestic space, but to the most intimate of domestic spaces, the staging of the marriage bed incorporates the audience into the privileged circle of household, kin, and participant neighbors.  In her discussion of rough music in An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England, Susan Dwyer Amussen describes the treatment of neighbors as an extension of the household: “If families were not orderly, neighbours—an ‘extended family’—were to impose order” (Amussen 50).  Catherine Richardson also discusses the intervention of neighbors in a family’s private affairs: “When a wrongdoing has been identified, neighbours are legitimately allowed to look in, to use windows and doors intended for egress as a point of access, in order to make the domestic public” (Richardon 40).  Both Amussen and Richardson stress extrafamilial intervention as a response to actual (or strongly suspected) transgression; however, a certain level of extrafamilial observation is necessary in order to detect nominally private transgressions, such as adultery.  As Amussen notes, “People were constantly observed by their neighbours” (Amussen 98).  While the intimacy—even claustrophobia—of the villages may seem obvious, one could not simply evade observation by moving to London.  According to Richardson, “the evidence for towns of all sizes shows that individuals could be hypersensitive to the goings on around them.  Even in the unwieldy and ever-developing metropolis, early modern men and women were conscious of belonging to a social unit which was small enough to ensure that such surveillance was possible…Spatial proximity produced intimate knowledge” (Richardson 34).  For “masterless men,” at least, London may have offered an escape from the constraints of kin and service, but one still had to live in close proximity to others, and thus could never completely escape observation. 

4> The anxieties of observation inform early modern drama; in reality, neighbors who watch are themselves watched, but the theatre permits unreciprocated surveillance.  Lena Cowen Orlin notes the one-sidedness of observation in early modern drama in Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England, where she writes that “the drama always, regardless of historically specific staging configurations, associates its audience with a fourth wall” (Orlin 8).  If, as Orlin alleges, one of the major forces operative in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama is the desire “to see through walls,” then the walls that the audience must be most eager to penetrate are those of the bedchamber, not only because the bedchamber is (save for certain occasions) one of the least public rooms of the house, but because the proper occupation of the bedchamber—and the bed—is central to the maintenance of public as well as domestic order (Orlin 8).  Amussen observes that “a clear subordination of wives to husbands provided the model for all relationships between women and men, and order in both family and community was obtained by restricting sexual relationships to marriage. As the wife was subject to her husband, children and servants were subject to the couple which headed the household. This ideal was never fully realized, but it was the vision which early modern villagers struggled to uphold” (Amussen 95-96).  Cuckoldry—the marriage bed wrongly occupied—not only creates (or intensifies) marital discord, but also upsets the entire balance of domestic power by casting into doubt the headship of the household.  The identity of the marriage bed’s occupants can often be inferred—through the gossip of servants, the observation of who enters and exits the house, the public behavior of the couple, and so forth—but absolute certainty can be achieved only through direct observation.  While the invasion of the bedchamber in order to ascertain the bed’s occupants can be spontaneous and potentially violent, as in The Revenger’s Tragedy, it can also be an anticipated part of festive ritual, such as the tradition of bedding the bride, in which friends and neighbors see the newlywed couple laid in bed on their wedding night.  Naturally, the tone of this ritual is celebratory, but it is nonetheless an act of surveillance.  Its message is unmistakable: the marriage bed, as recognized by the community, is the only proper avenue for sexual intercourse, and, although the bed is generally a private space, it is not entirely removed from the public gaze.

5> David Cressy writes, “To help them to their happiness, and to help establish plausible evidence of their consummation, wedding parties conventionally escorted the bridal couple to bed.  Notoriously, the air was filled with sexual jokes and commendations.  The bed itself might be flower-strewn” (Cressy 374).  In describing the festivities that transpire after the wedding, Cressy does not neglect the social purpose of the custom of bedding the bride: to establish that the marriage has been consummated.  Sasha Roberts stresses the importance that the marriage bed acquires: “Precisely because the bridal bed was the focal point of the wedding ceremony it gained considerable symbolic power, and after the ceremonies were over the ‘marriage bed’ became a potent emblem of a couple’s marriage; a marker of the fact of marital sexuality” (Roberts 156-57).  Like Cressy, Roberts is concerned with the public observation of the marriage bed, particularly on the wedding night.  “Above all, the bedding ceremony was, apart from its final consummation, publicly witnessed” (Roberts 156).  The bedding of the bride serves two purposes: the establishment of the marriage bed as a synecdoche for the marriage through the performance of a number of communally accepted actions (some public and observed, some private and assumed) and the imposition of the communal gaze upon the fledgling marriage.  After all, marriage in early modern England is never a wholly private affair, as Michael D. Bristol observes: “The allocation and selection of marriage partners are never carried out exclusively within the private and domestic sphere.  Since traditions of collective life are sustained through the productive and reproductive capacity of marriage, the community retains a vital stake, not only in the matching of suitable partners, but also in the way married life is actually lived” (Bristol 162).  This particular intrusion upon private domestic space is festive in tone, but it is an intrusion nonetheless, an act of surveillance that transforms the bedchamber into a semi-public space.  If the marriage is successful—at least in a reproductive sense—then the next intrusion will ideally occur when the presence of midwife and gossips transforms bedchamber into birthing room.  Commenting upon a “rowdy game with the bride’s and bridegroom’s hose” played when the revelers “crowded into the bridal chamber,” Cressy notes that the custom was practiced even at courtly weddings (Cressy 375).  Clearly, it is expected that the wedding party will accompany the bridal couple into their bedchamber in the court of Rhodes, as it is imagined in Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy.

6> In The Maid’s Tragedy, the audience observes Evadne and Amintor on their wedding night, in the absence of those who should have remained behind in accordance with the tradition of bedding the bride.  The King says to Amintor, “Good night, Amintor; /We’ll ease you of that tedious ceremony. /Were it my case, I should think the time run slow. /If thou be’st noble, youth, get me a boy /That may defend my kingdoms from my foes” (Beaumont and Fletcher 1.2.184-88).  Although women still prepare Evadne for bed, the King’s dismissal of the newlywed couple departs from the traditional ritual script of seeing the bride and groom laid in bed.  The King’s seeming sympathy with Amintor is reminiscent of the lately married Theseus’s complaint concerning “this long age of three hours /Between our after-supper and our bedtime” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the effect of his departure from tradition is to remove the couple from the public gaze of the Rhodesian court—which is, of course, supplanted by the public gaze of the audience (Shakespeare 5.1.33-34).  “We will not see you laid” (Beaumont and Fletcher 1.2.284).  By observing that which the courtiers should, but do not, witness, the audience participates in social ritual, replacing (or at least joining) the onstage community.  The King is not physically present at the bedding of Amintor and Evadne, and yet, with his exhortation to Amintor to “get me a boy,” he nonetheless imposes his presence not only upon the couple’s bedchamber, but upon the marriage bed.  The command to beget a son for the King operates on multiple levels.  By the logic of royal patriarchy, the King may be considered a father to all of his subjects, including Amintor and his as-yet-unconceived son; while Amintor may physically beget children, his progeny will ultimately be subject to two fathers—one, biological and domestic; the other, symbolic and national.  However, the deception inherent in the King’s command soon becomes apparent.  As Evadne has sworn not to consummate her marriage with Amintor, any child born of her marriage will belong, biologically, to the King, but both Amintor’s social role as father and the fiction of his part in the conception must be maintained.

7> While the men who, as members of the wedding party, should have accompanied the bridal couple to their bedchamber remain behind, a number of women attend Evadne, and it briefly seems as though they will preserve the festive, even ribald tone befitting the occasion.  However, Aspatia’s speech disrupts the sexually charged banter appropriate to a wedding night with its evocation of that which should have been.  “This should have been /My night, and all your hands have been employed /In giving me, a spotless offering, /To young Amintor’s bed, as we are now /For you” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.44-48).  Aspatia’s monologue disrupts the tone of the wedding night with its slow tempo, its dissonant invocation of other rituals, and its reminder that everything is not quite as it should have been.  Aspatia imagines herself as a “spotless offering”; only lines earlier, she states, “It were a fitter hour for me to laugh /When at the altar the religious priest /Were pacifying the offended powers /With sacrifice, than now” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.41-44).  The juxtaposition of laughter and sacrifice, mourning and marriage creates a sense of discord that underscores the broken quality of marriage and its attendant rituals in The Maid’s Tragedy.  Amintor’s marriage bed is wrongly occupied; not only has the King usurped Amintor’s role as Evadne’s sexual partner, but the intended bride has been displaced.  “This should have been /My night…”  Relegated to the role of attendant, the almost-bride envisions a counter-narrative of the wedding night, in which the same women prepare Aspatia, not Evadne, to be laid in Amintor’s bed, presumably (since the King would not object to seeing Amintor in bed with a woman who was not the royal mistress) in view of the courtiers.  The utterance of this counter-narrative in close proximity to the chamber where Amintor intends to consummate his marriage heightens the contrast between the wedding night that should have been and the wedding night that is.  The disjunction between what should be and what is grows sharper still when Evadne dismisses her attendants before the ritual of bedding the bride can be completed.  Despite Dula’s protestations that “we must see you laid,” Evadne echoes the King in banishing the proper participant-observers from her wedding night.  The courtiers may attend the wedding, and Evadne’s attendants may prepare her for bed outside the bridal chamber, but the chamber and the bed within it remain inaccessible to the public gaze.  The final act of Evadne’s abruptly dismissed attendants is to facilitate Amintor’s discovery of his bride by giving him a light.  Dula tells the bridegroom, “You’ll find her in the dark,” but even the ritual of a bridegroom discovering his bride in bed is subverted when Evadne, rather than await Amintor in bed, approaches to tell him, “I’ll not go to bed” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.111, 153).

8> “Lay a garland on my hearse /Of the dismal yew. /Maidens, willow branches bear; /Say I died true” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.72-75).  The three songs of the wedding masque—marked by the expression of hope for a long night, the anticipation of the bride’s “tears and her shrill cryings, /Her weak denials, vows, and often dyings,” and the invocation of Hymen—function as epithalamia, but, once the masque has ended and the wedding has diverged from its ritual script, these songs are followed by a fourth song, sung outside the bridal chamber in the manner of an epithalamium, but more reminiscent of a dirge than a wedding-song (Beaumont and Fletcher 1.2.236-37).  Aspatia, who throughout the preparations for Evadne’s wedding night illuminates the divergence between what should have been and what is, first imagines herself as “a spotless offering”; in this song, she envisions her funeral procession and burial.  Her song functions as an anti-epithalamium and complements her disruption of Dula’s sexually suggestive chatter with her “sad talk” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.57).  “Fie on’t, madam!  The words are so strange, they are able to make one dream of hobgoblins” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.80-81).  Evadne’s rejection of Aspatia’s dirge and her request that Dula sing a more ribald song seem to restore levity to the occasion after the funereal interlude, but, even in her dismissal of the “strange” words, Evadne acknowledges the song’s power—specifically, its power to influence dreams.  Although the attendants cannot complete the ritual of bedding the bride, Aspatia’s song will linger in the marriage bed.

9> On the wedding night, the marriage bed is never revealed, and the audience may or may not imagine that it has, in accordance with custom, already been strewn with flowers.  Flowers are, however, worn by and strewn upon Aspatia and her imagined hearse, funeral attendants, and coffin.  When helping to prepare Evadne for bed, Aspatia wears a willow garland; in her song, she requests that a yew garland be placed upon her hearse and that the women in her funeral procession bear willow branches.  Before Evadne enters the bedchamber alone, Aspatia asks all women present to cover her coffin “with flattering ivy” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.104).  Aspatia’s use of floral imagery and her invitation to the women to hold vigil over her corpse underscore some of the possibly discomfiting similarities between weddings and funerals.  A groom might wear a sprig of willow in his hat, and mourners might bear willow branches in a funeral procession; the same women might prepare a friend or neighbor for both her marriage bed and her grave.

10> “Methinks I feel /Her grief shoot suddenly through all my veins; /Mine eyes run.  This is strange at such a time!” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.127-29).  Amintor has not heard Aspatia’s anti-epithalamium, but she again invokes the imagery of burial in her farewell, inviting him to “see the virgins weep /When I am laid in earth” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.117-18).  The intrusion of Aspatia’s present grief and predicted death unsettles Amintor, and he is cognizant of the disruption of festive ritual by somberness and morbidity, “strange at such a time.”  Like Evadne, Amintor acknowledges the affective power of Aspatia’s speech.  Evadne states that Aspatia’s song is “able to make one dream of hobgoblins,” and Amintor has sympathetically absorbed Aspatia’s grief into his own body, even as he questions his guilt: “Methinks I feel /Her grief shoot suddenly through all my veins…”  Just as the King has imposed his presence upon the marriage bed through his claim upon any offspring allegedly conceived there, Aspatia’s influence will also be present in the (imagined) marriage bed, in Evadne’s dreams and in Amintor’s blood.

11> Reality’s intrusion into the ideal script of the wedding night culminates in the failure of Evadne and Amintor’s marriage bed.  “To bed, my love!  Hymen will punish us /For being slack performers of his rights” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.143-44).  In the absence of attendants, who would have participated actively in the ritual of bedding the bride, Amintor must coax Evadne to bed unaided.  His reference to Hymen evokes the masque’s third song—“To bed, to bed!  Come, Hymen, lead the bride”—and yet this gesture, reminiscent of epithalamia, is ineffective; Evadne will not accompany her new husband to bed (Beaumont and Fletcher 1.2.246).  Although Amintor’s statement that “Hymen will punish us” implies that such punishment might still be avoided through a return to the ritual script of the wedding night, it is apparent that Amintor and Evadne are already “slack performers” of the marital rights.  Beaumont and Fletcher’s audience would have been well aware of the traditions from which Evadne’s bedding has diverged.  The wedding guests have not joined the bridal couple in the bedchamber; Evadne’s preparations for bed have been disrupted by the language of death and burial, and she has dismissed her attendants prematurely.  Amintor is left to discover Evadne alone, and even he is, albeit fleetingly, reluctant to do so: “Something whispers me, /‘Go not to bed’” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.132-33).  Critically, Amintor and Evadne meet neither in bed nor in bedchamber, but in the liminal space outside the bedchamber.  Neither public nor domestic, this space exists between what is—an extramarital liaison, a displaced bride—and what is not—a properly witnessed bedding and the subsequent consummation of a marriage.  Once Amintor fathoms Evadne’s refusal to join him in bed—a refusal that he initially attempts to situate within the realm of normal wedding behavior by dismissing it as “but the coyness of a bride”—he agrees to sleep not in Evadne’s bed, but on the floor of her chamber (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.159).  With Amintor’s suggestion, the marriage bed is both expanded and erased; the presence of the sleeping groom transforms the entire chamber into an extension of the marriage bed, but the marriage bed’s status as such is simultaneously negated by the (permanent) absence of a spouse.  Yet the marriage bed is still socially recognized, despite its hidden failure to function as a true marriage bed, as the King’s ire and the jests of the couple’s other visitors on the morning after the wedding demonstrate.  Only the audience comprehends the uncanniness of the unseen bed, which is and is not quite a marriage bed.

12> The marriage bed which is of such central concern at the beginning of The Maid’s Tragedy is not represented as a potential locus onstage, but imagined beds repeatedly serve as rhetorical loci on Evadne’s wedding night.  Robert Weimann argues that the distinction between platea, “a ‘place’ or platform-like acting area,” and locus, “a scaffold, be it a domus, sedes, or throne,” was essential to the staging of mysteries, and that the principles of staging that resulted from the interplay of platea and locus “continued to be meaningful and effective in Shakespeare’s theater” (Weimann 74-77).  He asserts that, while the early modern platform stage was “basically neutral, free of illusion, recognized, even in performance, to be a stage,” the locus was an instrument of localization and representation (Weimann 210).  Acting that centered upon the locus was typically representational, dialogic, and immersed in the world of the play, whereas an actor who distanced himself from the locus might step into the neutral, undifferentiated space of the platea, placing himself closer to the audience than to the illusionistic action upstage.  The neutral platea may be seen as an ou-topic space, fixed neither in the world of the audience nor in that of the play.  As Weimann notes, the word platea was originally used to refer to “the open space between houses—a street or a public place at ground level” (Weimann 79).  The intermediacy central to utopian neutrality is evident in the physical situation of the platea; the spaces between houses, and between locus and audience, are defined by their position as close to, but not quite the same as, these materially fixed places.  Both platea and utopia exist in the space between definite forms.  In scenes that require the presence of a bed on the stage, it is not difficult to envision the bed as a locus.  Roberts identifies the bed as “among the most significant of personal and household possessions in the period” (Roberts 154).  Costly state beds signified high status, and even relatively humble beds figured prominently in wills.  As a marker of status and a reminder of inheritance, the bed would have attracted considerable attention on the early modern stage.  Its significance would have been further increased by the relative scarcity of other major stage properties; in most scenes involving a bed, the bed would have been the primary property onstage.  In considering the placement of the bed, Roberts favors an upstage position traditionally occupied by the locus.  She postulates that beds were typically placed on the rear stage or in the discovery space, but notes that “we cannot rule out the use of the bed either on the front stage or prominently ‘thrust out’ onto center-stage” (Roberts 157).  Whether it is situated in the discovery space or on center stage, the staged bed occupies the role of the locus as a “more or less fixed and focused scenic unit” (Weimann 79). 

13> The interplay between bed/locus and platea may appear rather straightforward when the bed is present on the stage, but Evadne and Amintor’s marriage bed is never actually shown.  While the consummation of their marriage is the principal concern of the lengthy first scene of Act Two, the scene is set not in the bedchamber itself—a setting that would surely necessitate a bed—but rather in the space outside the bedchamber—an intermediate space, readily identifiable (in a physical sense) as platea.  The scene contains no visible locus, and yet it incorporates a number of rhetorical loci—all beds, some real (albeit concealed), some figurative.  Asserting that the contrast between platea and locus is rhetorical as well as material, Weimann relates the variation of elevated and ordinary speech to the interplay of platea and locus on the early modern stage: “The interplay between platea and locus is…reflected in the transition between two distinct kinds of dramatic speech: the representational, illusionistic dialogue related to the domus and the speech that distances the time and place of the action” (Weimann 89).  References to Amintor and Evadne’s specific marriage bed, unseen yet immediately accessible, tend to occur within the sort of “representational, illusionistic dialogue” associated with the locus, but references to an imagined, nonexistent bed distance the speaker from the situation at hand.  Speech of the first sort derives its effect from the close proximity of the bed in question.  When Dula advises Evadne that “a dozen wanton words put in your head /Will make you livelier in your husband’s bed,” when Evadne protests, “I’ll not go to bed,” and when Amintor threatens to “drag thee to my bed and make thy tongue /Undo this wicked oath,” the bed to which all are referring is not in question (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.20-278).  The unseen marriage bed is a displaced locus, and the dialogue that focuses upon it is highly situational.  In isolation, most of the lines that concern Amintor and Evadne’s actual bed are not especially powerful, but they are strengthened through the audience’s sense of immediacy.  The marriage is about to be consummated (or denied consummation), or Amintor is about to attack Evadne, in a bed that the audience must imagine as real, separated from the action by only a wall. 

14> While highly situational speech constructs the absent bed as a displaced locus, other references to unseen beds are, as “speech that distances the time and place of the action,” better suited to the platea.  These references are figurative, not only evoking the unseen bed but transforming it into or juxtaposing it with something dissimilar.  Aspatia imagines Amintor’s bed as a sacrificial altar when she envisions herself as “a spotless offering, /To young Amintor’s bed,” and Evadne declares her preference for “beds of snakes” over the bed in the next room (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.1.46-209).  By speaking of beds (as altars, or of snakes) that are not immediately accessible, Aspatia and Evadne situate themselves, however briefly, within a rhetorical platea, from which they are able to expose the utopian neutrality of the absent locus.  Masses of snakes are not, of course, beds, and yet they can be imagined as such; likewise, it is possible to conceive of Amintor’s bed as an altar.  Illusionistic dialogue creates a sense of reality through immediacy—there is a bed, and it is just beyond the wall—whereas distancing speech highlights the potentiality and neutrality of the unseen.  There is a marriage bed, but there are also a sacrificial altar and a bed of snakes.  All are possible; none are visible.  One begins to suspect that the bed is indeed “quasi-spectral.”

15> In both The Maid’s Tragedy and Cymbeline, the bedchamber (or, in the case of the former, the space immediately outside the bedchamber) functions as a site of invention, and heightens the audience’s sense both of their own privileged perspective and of the utopian uncanny.  Just before the newlyweds enter the room that contains their failed marriage bed, Amintor asks Evadne to “smile upon me when they come, /And seem to toy, as if thou hadst been pleased /With what we did” (Beaumont and Fletcher 2.2.354-56).  The bedchamber is thus transformed into a space both real and fictive; the space that is (a bride in bed, a groom on the floor) exists alongside the space that should have been (a properly occupied marriage bed).  Amintor’s use of the subjunctive—“as if thou hadst been pleased /With what we did”—recalls Aspatia’s futile imagining—“This should have been /My night”—and fulfills a similar function in heightening the audience’s privileged awareness of disjunction.  The fashioning of deception within and pertaining to the bedchamber also occurs in Cymbeline, where Iachimo gathers material for a false narrative of adultery without the sleeping Imogen’s knowledge.  Iachimo observes details of the scene while anticipating the effect that his observations will produce.  His knowledge of the mole on Imogen’s breast is “a voucher, /Stronger than ever law could make: this secret /Will force him think I have pick’d the lock and ta’en /The treasure of her honour” (Shakespeare 2.2.39-42).  Ocular intrusion follows physical trespass; Iachimo’s improper knowledge of Imogen’s body constitutes a violation as grave as his initial invasion of her chamber.  Eve Rachele Sanders comments that Iachimo’s “act of writing an 'inventory' of the distinguishing characteristics of the room and of Imogen's unclothed body ultimately imports no less physical danger to his victim than Tarquin's rape did to his” (Sanders).  Invention is central to the bedchamber in both Cymbeline and The Maid’s Tragedy; however, in the former the space between what should be and what is is complicated by the interposition of “what seems to be,” of a fiction that is neither (commonly) desired nor true.  What seems to be coincides with what should be in The Maid’s Tragedy, as Amintor and Evadne manufacture a narrative that corresponds to the ideal of marital felicity, but Iachimo’s portrayal of Imogen’s bedchamber as a site of adultery conflicts with both the ideal conjugal bedchamber, properly occupied by Imogen and Posthumus, and the bedchamber as it actually exists.  The double nature of the marriage bed’s departure from its proper form further heightens the audience’s awareness of the uncanny on the early modern stage.  Imogen’s bed is and is not both a properly occupied marriage bed and a site of adultery.  Implication is of greater importance than assertion in both The Maid’s Tragedy and Cymbeline; Amintor and Iachimo may claim that they have shared the beds of Evadne and Imogen, respectively, but only certain details—Evadne’s smiles, Iachimo’s accurate description of Imogen’s bedchamber—will convince those who, unlike the audience, are not privileged observers of intimate domestic space.

16> The bedchamber serves as a site of composition in The Maid’s Tragedy and Cymbeline; in Cymbeline and The Revenger’s Tragedy, it functions as a site of observation.  In The Maid’s Tragedy, Amintor and Evadne are concerned with how they will present what has happened in the bedchamber, and the presentation of what has occurred privately is also of great interest to Iachimo.  Yet the scene in which he invades Imogen’s bedchamber revolves around observation as well as invention; Iachimo prepares his deception even as he directs the audience’s gaze.  Domestic space is expanded through mass observation in Cymbeline, when Iachimo extends to the audience his privileged access to Imogen’s bed.  Although audience members may be suspicious of the trunk, they do not join in Iachimo’s intrusion upon Imogen’s bedchamber in the manner of the spectators of The Revenger’s Tragedy, whose perspective is tied to that of Lussurioso during his invasion of the Duchess’s chamber.  However, once Iachimo has emerged from the trunk, he begins to direct the audience’s gaze.  Some of the scene’s contents are already visible to the audience—Imogen asleep in her bed, obviously, and perhaps the arras—and yet other details are too small to be observed unless magnified by Iachimo’s commentary.  “’Tis her breathing that /Perfumes the chamber thus: the flame o’ the taper /Bows toward her, and would under-peer her lids…” (Shakespeare 2.2.18-20).  Through Iachimo, the audience becomes familiar with minute details of Imogen’s chamber, and this familiarity extends the intimate space of the chamber to the entire theatre, allowing spectators to gain a level of access legitimately shared only by the closest members of the household.

17> The bedchambers in The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy are defined by the distance between what is and what should be.  While the audience is invariably aware of what constitutes a proper marriage bed, its knowledge of what is actually happening within each of the three bedchambers (and beds) varies.  The audience of The Maid’s Tragedy attains privileged insight into Amintor and Evadne’s wedding night; in Cymbeline, the audience’s observational powers are enhanced through Iachimo’s speech, which also grants them special knowledge of his planned deception.  In The Maid’s Tragedy and Cymbeline, the audience’s knowledge of what has actually passed allows it to avoid misinterpretation, but, in The Revenger’s Tragedy, the audience joins Lussurioso, Vindice, and Hippolito in their misreading of the Duchess’s bed.  Before Lussurioso tears open the bed curtains, the Duchess’s marriage bed exists in a neutral and indeterminate state.  The Duchess’s bed is doubly subverted—  On the night of Lussurioso’s arrest, Vindice reports that Spurio “shadows the Duchess,” but the Duchess’s bed is soon revealed to contain not Spurio and his adulterous lover, but the Duke and his wife (Middleton 2.2.166).  Within twenty-five lines, the Duchess’s bed is transformed from a conventional marriage bed into a marriage bed marred by adultery, then again into a rightfully occupied marriage bed.  Until Lussurioso reveals the occupants of the bed, the uncertainty of its contents causes the bed to exist in a state of suspension, simultaneously a marriage bed and a site of adultery, but, because it cannot exist as both at once, not yet definitively either.  “The Duchess’ chamber door shall not control me” (Middleton 2.2.176).  To Lussurioso, ocular proof of the Duchess’s indiscretion with Spurio justifies his intrusion into the private space of her bedchamber, and even—when he tears open the bed curtains—almost into her bed.  From the end of 2.2 through the beginning of 2.3, the audience’s gaze is allied with that of Hippolito and Vindice; they observe the “unbraced” Spurio’s apparent passage into the Duchess’s chamber and join Lussurioso in his invasion of the Duchess’s chamber as expectant observers of adultery.  Yet they have no privileged knowledge of the bed’s occupants; for the spectators in the audience as well as the spectators onstage, the Duchess’s bed constitutes an intermediate space of probable yet unconfirmed adultery.

18> As soon as its status as a site of adultery is, for the moment, resolved, the Duchess’s bed is again transformed through language to occupy a new middle space, as a bed that both is and is not a deathbed.  While Lussurioso intrudes upon that which, from his limited perspective, he expects to be an adulterous interlude, the Duke’s incomplete understanding of events causes him to have Lussurioso imprisoned on charges of treason.  The bed on the stage becomes a locus of misreading, as Lussurioso, Vindice, and Hippolito interpret it as a site of adultery, and the Duke and Duchess interpret it as a site of attempted murder.  The Duke’s misreading of marriage bed as deathbed causes him to beg for a suitable death, one that would allow for the possibility of repentance and salvation: “Oh, take me not in sleep!  I have great sins; /I must have days, /Nay, months, dear son, with penitential heaves, /To lift ’em out, and not to die unclear” (Middleton 2.3.9-12).  Although the location of the Duke’s imagined death is appropriate, the temporal qualities of murder—abrupt, with little or no time for repentance, bequests, and the display of virtue suggestive of redemption—are wholly unsuitable, and the Duke’s appeal for a good death would have resonated with early modern audiences.  By imagining first his murder and then the circumstances requisite to an acceptable death, the Duke both heightens the audience’s awareness of the space between good and bad deaths and tacitly enlists the spectators, both on- and offstage, as witnesses to his (in his mind) possibly imminent death.  Again, the meaning and contents of the Duchess’s bed are subverted.  For Lussurioso, Vindice, and Hippolito, the marriage bed is transformed into a site of adultery, suspected to be occupied by Spurio and the Duchess, then back into a marriage bed, confirmed to be occupied by the Duke and Duchess; for the Duke, the marriage bed, which he occupies in reality with his wife, is transformed into a deathbed, in which he imagines himself as an unrepentant sinner.  With the revelation of the Duke and Duchess in bed, the audience realizes the truth of the situation and can appreciate the manifestation of the utopian uncanny in the bed onstage—a manifestation facilitated by the multiplicity of incomplete perspectives.  The bed is and is not both a marriage bed, rightly occupied, and a deathbed.

19> In The Maid’s Tragedy, Cymbeline, and The Revenger’s Tragedy, the marriage bed operates as an instrument of domestic utopianism by exposing the distance between that which is and that which should be.  The point at which the audience becomes aware of what actually occurs in the marriage bed varies among the plays; in The Maid’s Tragedy and Cymbeline, the audience quickly gains privileged insight into false narratives of the bedchamber, whereas the audience of The Revenger’s Tragedy discovers the contents of the Duchess’s bed at the same time as the intruders who imagine that they are about to witness adultery.  While the truth of what happens in the marriage bed is discovered to diverge from that which should happen at a different pace in each of the plays, the audience always acts as a substitute for or supplement to the community onstage.  The audience replaces the court as witnesses to the bedding of the bride after Amintor and Evadne’s wedding; its gaze is linked with Iachimo’s in his invasion of Imogen’s bedchamber, and it joins Lussurioso, Vindice, and Hippolito as intended discoverers of adultery.  Ostensibly private, the bed serves to expand domestic space by extending membership in the privileged circle of family, friends, and neighbors.  The audience as well as the characters might, like Lussurioso, enter a private bedchamber on suspicion of adultery, or, like Gertrude, strew flowers on a young woman’s grave or bed.

Works Cited

Amussen, Susan Dwyer.  An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Beaumont, Francis, and John Fletcher.  The Maid’s Tragedy.  In English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology.  Ed. Bevington, David, et al.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.  pp. 1141-1214.

Bristol, Michael D.  Carnival and Theater: Plebian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England.  New York: Methuen, 1985.

Cressy, David.  Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kendrick, Christopher.  Utopia, Carnival, and Commonwealth in Renaissance England.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Marin, Louis.  Utopics: Spatial Play.  Trans. Vollrath, Robert A.  London: Macmillan, 1984.

Middleton, Thomas.  The Revenger’s Tragedy.  In English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology.  Ed. Bevington, David, et al.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.  pp. 1297-1370.

Orlin, Lena Cowen.  Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Richardson, Catherine.  Domestic Life and Domestic Tragedy in Early Modern England.  New York: Manchester University Press, 2006.

Roberts, Sasha.  “‘Let me the curtains draw’: The dramatic and symbolic properties of the bed in Shakespearean tragedy.”  In Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Harris, Jonathan Gil, and Natasha Korda.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Sanders, Eve Rachele.  “Interiority and the Letter in Cymbeline.”  Critical Survey 12, no. 2.  2000.  pp. 49-70.

Shakespeare, William.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Ed. Brooke, Tucker, et al.  New York: The Century Co., 1927.  pp. 1-36.

—.   Cymbeline.  In Shakespeare’s Principal Plays.  Ed. Brooke, Tucker, et al.  New York: The Century Co., 1927.  pp. 813-868.

—.  Hamlet.  In Shakespeare’s Principal Plays.  Ed. Brooke, Tucker, et al.  New York: The Century Co., 1927.  pp. 483-546.

—.  Othello.  In Shakespeare’s Principal Plays.  Ed. Brooke, Tucker, et al.  New York: The Century Co., 1927.  pp. 547-600.

Weimann, Robert.  Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater.  Ed. Robert Schwartz.  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
Sarah Joyce Bunker is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at the University of Rochester, where she specializes in seventeenth-century British literature.  Her dissertation focuses on the spatial dynamics and domestic anxieties of early modern utopian literature.
APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, VOLUME FIVE (2012): ARTEFACTS

No comments: