Contexts

Historical Contexts: 1580s London

Religious Tolerance in Wilson and Marlowe

Mathew R. Martin

Abstract: This paper considers the figure of the tolerant Turk in Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London and Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays and The Jew of Malta. Through this figure, Wilson’s and Marlowe’s plays temporarily countenance a notion that early modern culture found as dangerous as sodomy, witchcraft, and atheism: religious tolerance. Although limited by the play’s other concerns, Wilson’s Judge of Turkey demonstrates a religious tolerance that goes beyond demonizing stereotypes of the Turk. Vehicles for more extended explorations of religious tolerance, Marlowe’s Orcanes and Calymath uphold respect for or toleration of religious difference as the basis for constructive international politics. Nonetheless, in the Tamburlaine plays and in The Jew of Malta, the tolerant Turk is only temporarily successful, and the plays conclude with the re-establishment of religious intolerance as the status quo.

Citation: Martin, Mathew R., ‘Religious Tolerance in Wilson and Marlowe’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/MathewMartin.htm.

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The Three Ladies of London and the Pre-History of City Comedy

Roderick McKeown

Abstract: Many considerations of city comedy add an additional distracting modifier: Jacobean. The Three Ladies of London and its sequel, however, are quite manifestly proto-city comedies, drawing on themes and anxieties about city life explored in such Tudor plays as Jack Juggler and Hick Scorner. This brief paper will explore the common thematic elements established in Tudor city comedies, and examine the role of Three Ladies of London in shaping how those elements were transmitted into seventeenth-century dramatic writing. In particular, I will focus my attention on the relationship between financial fraud, disguise, and what we would presently call identity theft.

Citation: McKeown, Roderick, ‘The Three Ladies of London and the Pre-History of City Comedy’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/RoderickMcKeown.htm.

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Ladies of London: Prostitution in the 1570s

Duncan Salkeld

Abstract: In the tenth scene of Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London, Lady Lucre takes ink from ‘the box of all abomination’ and spots the face of Lady Conscience. The action is designed to indicate the moral contamination and depravity of London. The City has prostituted itself to fraudsters, usurers, and foreigners, and allowed itself to be tainted through sordid deals or shameful behaviour. This article draws on evidence of prostitution from the Governors’ Minute Books of Bridewell Hospital to gain glimpses into the lives of London women in the 1570s. Many were vulnerable to exploitation. A few, like Anne Levens, Elizabeth (‘Bess’) Kelsey, and Mary Dornelly, managed to make a living from prostitution until they were prosecuted. Others, like Jane Trosse, Rose Flower, and Black Luce of Clerkenwell, enjoyed a degree of fame, surfacing in literary and dramatic texts of the time. The article illustrates ways in which women either suffered alone, or worked to achieve a measure of solidarity with others despite the risks. In refusing to romanticize London, and the women drawn to it in hope of prosperity, Wilson’s play conceals an implied realism beneath its cover of allegory.

Citation: Salkeld, Duncan, ‘Ladies of London: Prostitution in the 1570s’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DuncanSalkeld.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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‘Consider the lamentable cry of the poor’: Foreign Parasites, English Usurers, and Economic Crisis in The Three Ladies of London

Daniel Vitkus

Abstract: The paper will show how The Three Ladies of London builds on the traditional moral drama of medieval and Tudor England, with its religious condemnation of covetousness and other vices, by invoking a new kind of moral panic inspired by the emergence and expansion in London of financial activity that undertook speculation in foreign trade and benefitted a new class of parasitical financial ‘dealers’ at home. The paper’s analysis of the play will refer to the late Tudor socio-economic crisis, and to the alarm caused by the decline of traditional forms of charity and patron-client relations that were being replaced by a new capitalist trade network reaching from London to Venice and on to Constantinople. The paper will show how the connection between domestic and foreign economies was imagined, and what these representations of a new dependence on invasive and parasitic foreigners had to do with the realities of class tension, poverty, and usurious lending in London itself.

Citation: Vitkus, Daniel, ‘“Consider the lamentable cry of the poor”: Foreign Parasite, English Usurers, and Economic Crisis 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/DanielVitkus.htm.

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A Dramaturgical Study of Conscience’s Broom Song in The Three Ladies of London

Katrine Wong

Abstract: This paper examining Conscience's broom-selling song offers a comparative reading of the structure of Conscience's song with that of other item-selling songs; for instance, market songs by Ancient and his crew (which carry ulterior purposes) in Fletcher's The Loyal Subject, Autolycus's peddling songs in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Nightingale's ballad-selling songs in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, through which we can deduce a formula of musical promotion of products in early modern England. The discussion proposes a theatrical distinction between street cries, typically sung or chanted fragments, and vendor songs, typically full songs. One other aim of this paper is to explore possible tune(s) for Conscience's song, the musicality of which may shed light on stage performance of what were originally impromptu street cries.

Citation: Wong, Katrine, ‘A Dramaturgical Study of Conscience’s Broom Song 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/KatrineWong.htm.

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