Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
E. Semple
Shakespeare Association of America
Paper: "Whoredom and marriage in Dekker’s The Honest Whore, Part 2"
Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
Seminar paper: "Whoredom and marriage in Dekker’s The Honest Whore, Part 2"At the finale of Measure for Measure (1604), the Duke forces the wastrel Lucio to wed a woman he has deflowered and labelled a whore; just such a couple are the focus of Thomas Dekker’s The Patient Man and the Honest Whore, Part II (1605). At the centre of play is the reformed whore Bellafront, living in abject poverty at the mercy of her profligate husband Matteo, and Count Hippolito, who converted Bellafront in Part I, now lusts after her, while his wife Infelice feigns whoredom in an effort to reform him. Drawing on the popular genre of conduct and household manuals, I aim to explore the intertwining identities of whore, wife, and husband in this city comedy to determine how Dekker engages with prevailing ideologies of marriage. Marriage in The Honest Whore, Part II is a fraught institution where the wife’s body is a contested space and husbands are corrupt rulers of the “little commonwealth” (Bellafront’s father is even prompted to ask the audience: “What makes a wife turne whore, but such a slave?”). Against the backdrop of an urban economy where everything is exchangeable, the play lays bare faultlines in marital ideologies, but, I argue, finding no workable solutions to difficult social problems, it falls back on the convention of the disguised duke to restore order. At the finale, powerful paternal figures mend the two marriages, through personal and financial aid, and thus minimise the dangers that marriage poses for women and eclipse men’s culpability for familial disruption.