Contexts

Historical Contexts: Disease

Playing the Whore: Performing and Contextualizing Prostitution in
The Three Ladies of London

Edel Semple

Abstract: This essay explores the literary and social contexts of prostitution in The Three Ladies of London. Drawing on a diverse range of texts from the sixteenth century (including sermons, moral treatises, educational tracts, and drama), I investigate how Wilson represents prostitution not only as a moral evil, but also as a particularly social and economic failing. By the conclusion of Three Ladies, each of the female characters is identified as sexually transgressive; but how exactly is Lucre identifiable as a whore, why does Conscience turn to brothel-keeping, and how does the newly-married Love degenerate into Lust? Ultimately, I suggest that Wilson drew on and helped to establish a series of interlinked social, linguistic, material, and performative markers to delineate and stage the whore and that Three Ladies thus contributed to the development of the whore as a figure of dramatic interest.

Citation: Semple, Edel, ‘Playing the Whore: Performing and Contextualizing Prostitution in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/EdelSemple.htm.

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The Monster in the Corner: Plague and The Three Ladies of London

Matthew Steggle

Abstract: This essay asks: how does The Three Ladies of London relate to the plague, the monster in the corner of the early modern playhouse? Given the association between playhouse and plague, it is not surprising that plague is never directly staged in early modern commercial theatre. Ideas about the plague, however, chime with specific details of Wilson’s play, which participates in two public debates of the early 1580s, about immigrants in London and about public theatre, to which the plague is also integral. Furthermore, and hitherto little explored, plague is bound up in what one might call the fabric of the play. Thus while the pathotext of plague may include, as one of its many layers, the ideas of specifically sexual infection associated with other Elizabethan diseases such as syphilis, these concerns are of distant secondary importance compared to the play's engagement with the arbitrary, terrifying, and rapidly fatal plague.

Citation: Steggle, Matthew, ‘The Monster in the Corner: Plague and The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/MatthewSteggle.htm.

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The Spotting of Lady Conscience in The Three Ladies of London

Andrea Stevens

Abstract: The allegorical figure of ‘Usury’ brings on stage a ‘paynted boxe of incke’ out of which Lady ‘Lucre’ paints the face of Lady ‘Conscience’, possibly in full view of the audience. The ‘painted box’ likely contained black face paint: by 1581, besmirching the face with black paint was a common method for signaling ugliness and moral corruption. In scripting this scenario from beauty to blackness, Wilson was invoking a complex performance tradition, from the symbolic use of blackface in late medieval drama, to the similarly symbolic use of blackness in Tudor interludes and morality plays, and finally to the use of blackface paint to signify racial difference in court masques and popular plays. This paper considers the dramatic analogues for this scene (in performances that both pre- and post-date The Three Ladies of London) before addressing how Wilson exploits the real-world religious, cultural, and medical associations of face paints to reinforce his allegorical narrative of the fall of Conscience.

Citation: Stevens, Andrea, ‘The Spotting of Lady Conscience in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/AndreaStevens.htm.

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