Labours of Love: Women, Marriage, and Service in Twelfth Night and The Compleat Servant-Maid.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michelle M. Dowd, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: When Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was first performed around 1600, the institution of service in England was in the process of shifting rapidly, if uneasily, from a feudal model based on loyalty and obligation to a wage labour system based on a desire to protect property rights. Service had always been an economic relationship between masters and subordinates, but the nature of this relationship began to change as England developed a proto-capitalist labour system during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Under the feudal idea of 'universal service', labourers offered their services freely to masters and mistresses in return for protection. These relationships were understood (at least in theory) in terms of loyalty and honour and could often last for many years or even for the entire span of a servant or master's life, as Shakespeare memorably dramatizes in Kent's faithful service to King Lear. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, this model of service was gradually giving way to a wage labour system in which servants negotiated yearly contracts with employers and, as a result, depended upon marketable skills in order to obtain new positions or rise in the social hierarchy. No longer a long-term commitment based on loyalty, the institution of service in seventeenth-century England demanded an economically diverse and geographically mobile workforce that could be employed for temporary labour.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2005
labor, women in literature, marriage, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, English literature, wage labor

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