Title: STAGING THE FEMININE PERFORMANCE OF DESIRE: MASOCHISM IN `THE MAID'S TRAGEDY' ,  By: Alfar, Cristina Leon, Papers on Language & Literature, 00311294, Summer95, Vol. 31, Issue 3


In The Subject of Tragedy, Catherine Belsey notes that in the Renaissance, marriage as an institution was publicly in crisis. "Marriage becomes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries," she writes, "the site of a paradoxical struggle to create a private realm and to take control of it in the interests of a public good" (130). Arising from this crisis, Beaumont's and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy can be read as a staging of female subjectivity constituted by the commodification of Evadne's body in the marriage contract, so that the play unmasks the patrilineal economy's construction of her desire as masochistic.[1] Beaumont's and Fletcher's tragedy is similar to many plays in this period, which work to produce a cautionary tale aimed at encouraging women to internalize the dictates of a patrilineal culture.[2] Like Belsey, I argue that drama provides a public forum in which the stabilizing of marriage, of the patrilineal order's control of women's bodies, is reinscribed. As with the pamphlet debates which raged during the period among writers such as Juan Luis Vives, Erasmus, Barnaby Rych, and Joseph Swetnam, who attempted in different ways to construct an "appropriate" and "moral" female subject, drama can be read as working in dialogue with these pamphlets to construct a similar female subject.[3] With various degrees of vehemence and misogyny, pamphlet writers contribute to the production of a Renaissance female subject who will not threaten the stability of a patrilineal order which depends on her uncontaminated body for its propagation. Whether by advocating "appropriate" education, by scathing critique, or by pretending praise, these writers agree that women's chastity is the basis on which Renaissance civilization will continue to grow in prosperity and moral superiority.[4] To combat the threat against patrilineal interests, drama can stage women's desire in such a way that guarantees the stability of the patrilineal order. I would like to re-read The Maid's Tragedy, then, to demonstrate that Evadne's desire is constructed by her commodification as an "appropriate" female subject in masochistic terms, which Beaumont and Fletcher both reinscribe and resist to the extent that Evadne's masochism--her internalization of patrilineal morality tyrannically enforced--generates her tragedy.[5]

Because women are restricted to and defined by commodification, their desire is limited by specific acts of which they are allowed to become the agent. Critics such as Constance Jordan have emphasized the commodification of women in the Renaissance--in fact, woman as property has become something of a truism.[6] She notes, however, that "in order for these exchanges to happen at all, the women exchanged must agree (or be forced to agree) to compliance with the terms of the exchange, in short to become human commodities, objects" (44). Jordan accounts for women's position as objects in a masculine economy of desire and establishes what can be termed a commodified subjectivity. Margaret L. King agrees, arguing that"perhaps [because women] were seen as possessing a greater sexual appetite, one quite gross and uncontrollable [,] . . . [t] heir violent sexual passions disrupted the sexual order and were seen as an attack on the social order itself" (41). In this light, the mechanism of commodification renders women's desire as "evil," and the process of internalization forces women into representations of their resulting desire as inherently masochistic. I want to make clear that the ontology of female masochism is not a biological imperative but an effect of the woman's being a market good, of never being an agent. Therefore, women are presented in the theater as capable of making choices that are irrevocably masochistic because, as non-agents, as merchandise, women fulfill only the desire of an other. In Evadne's case, we will see that her desire to be a valuable commodity is stronger than her need to live; in this sense, her desire, as a result of her commodified subjectivity, is a drive for self-annihilation. Her desire, therefore, is enacted at three distinct levels. The first we might term "real" desire, that which Evadne might do or want as a result of her own libidinal investments outside the dictates of a patrilineal order.[7] Second, there is what I would call a "phantom" desire, that which the patrilineal order fears Evadne might want: power, outlaw sexuality. Finally there is Evadne's "constructed" desire to be a good commodity, to fulfill the patrilineal order's delineation of "moral" and "appropriate" femininity. The last two forms of desire are what fuel the action of this play, exposing Evadne's need to recoup her honor as a desire for subjectivity as the masculinist structure defines it. Her tragedy resides, then, in the fact that what she experiences as desire can end only in self-destruction.

Act One, scene one opens with the return from battle of Evadne's brother, Melantius. When he is told that Amintor has just been married, the pleasure he expresses illustrates that male bonding, erotically invested, sustains patrilineal interests. Amintor, he recalls, "would gaze upon me / And view me round, to find in what one limb / The virtue lay to do those things he heard" (I.i.52-54). Melantius's admiration and deep friendship for Amintor is based on Amintor's loving worship of his body, of his strength and power in battle. Amintor, "would . . . wish to see my sword and feel / The quickness of the edge, and in his hand / Weigh it. He oft would make me smile at this. / His youth did promise much, and his ripe years / Will see it performed--. . ." (I.i.55-59). Melantius's sustained description of his body's strength and of his weaponry coupled with Amintor's admiring caresses suggest an erotics of male bonding. Jonathan Dollimore argues that "[f]requently . . . the representation of the triangle [man-man-woman] suggests that the desire which bonds men over women is as erotically invested for the men in relation to each other as for each of them in relation to the women" (76). That eroticism reflects "an unspoken understanding: 'I don't desire you; I desire to be like you'" (76). In this respect, Melantius remembers that Amintor desired to "be like" him, a memory which not only gives him pleasure but which sustains the friendship and love between them.

Significantly, because Melantius is at first ignorant of his sister's marriage to Amintor, the relationship between men is presented to us as "prior" to that between men and women. Melantius's pleasure at the news that his sister is Amintor's bride is exceeded only by his elation at being reunited with his friend once more: "I love thee well, Amintor. / My mouth is much too narrow for my heart. / I joy to look upon those eyes of thine; / Thou art my friend, but my disordered speech / Cuts off my love" (I.i.113-117). Once Melantius realizes that Amintor has married Evadne, he is overjoyed. But that delight is expressed some twenty-five lines after the men meet and declare their love for one another. The first scene of The Maid's Tragedy is significant, then, first because Melantius's speech about his friend is charged with tension which suggests that an erotic, homosocial relationship between men acts as a foundation for the patrilineal order. The state or political relationship, in this case a friendship founded by a mutual passion for the military and its accoutrements, masks more erotically and emotionally invested relationships between men? Second, the opening scene suggests that patrilineal interests work to legitimize those bonds through the marriage contract and to veil the eroticism of their relations as well as the violence and competition of political conflict. That a play entitled The Maid's Tragedy should begin its action with Melantius's tender memories of Amintor's admiration for him suggests that the maid's tragedy which is about to unfold is linked to this celebration of marriage, to the union--created as a result of marriage--between the men who celebrate their new bond.

Homosocial bonds are stabilized by the marriage contract because it works to alleviate political and economic rivalries; male-male love is channeled into "appropriate" forms of affection through brotherhood and kinship. Evadne is exchanged, then, through both a politically and erotically motivated relationship, which makes her position as a commodity a double investment. The bonds which she stabilizes, and which she can potentially sever, are constituted not by economics alone but also by emotional and erotic attachments. Consequently, we can begin to understand the male homosocial investment which underlies the marriage contract and which works to construct female subjectivity through commodification. Because the economic bonds made between men never can be guaranteed, Evadne, like many Jacobean female characters, becomes the scapegoat for the instability of homosocial relations. As we will see, the emotional investment which Melantius and Amintor make in the marriage contract will fuel their violent reactions to Evadne's relationship with the King.

When Evadne first takes the stage, however, Dollimore's man-man-woman triangle is significantly absent from her conception of her position in the patrilineal order. She ignores the implicit coercion of the triangle, which demands woman's submission to an economic contract; she behaves, at the beginning of the play, as if she is secure in the possession of her body and in control of its commodification. Motivated by the power her lover commands over the court and relying on Amintor's subservience to him, Evadne miscalculates the power she will (or will not) gain in allying herself to the King. When she reveals to her bridegroom on their wedding night that she will be his wife in name only because she is the King's mistress, Evadne claims a right to her own desire.

. . . . in this heart
There dwells as much desire, and as much will,
To put that wished act in practice as ever yet
Was known to woman; and they have been shown
Both. But it was the folly of thy youth
To think this beauty, to what hand soe'er
It shall be call'd, shall stoop to any second.
I do enjoy the best, and in that height
Have sworn to stand or die! . . . (II.i.286-294)

Evadne controls the scene, blatantly and shamelessly celebrating her desire. By claiming a right to her own desire and asserting control over her body, Evadne transgresses her gender role and violates "appropriate" commodification; she fails to perform her role as a sexually virtuous woman, which makes her, therefore, a desirable bride. However, her mocking references to the lack of modesty in her demeanor, to the passion she has already experienced, underscore Evadne's mistaken belief that she owns her self. Refusing to play the meek, subservient wife to Amintor, she not only claims a right to her body but seeks to declare herself an autonomous subject. She even scoffs at Amintor's belief that she would stoop to love him. Her emphatic confidence in her right to control her body allows her to manipulate Amintor into agreeing to a sham marriage. While he is enraged and humiliated by having been fooled into such an arrangement, Amintor never controls the scene. Evadne's confidence and composure, her ability to reduce a man of war to a cuckold without also rousing a violent response suggests both that she has correctly calculated her bridegroom's dependence on the King's favor and that she possesses a sense of herself independent from that which the patrilineal order permits her.

Tempting as it may be, however, to accept Evadne's view of her control and power, we must recognize that her choice to become the King's mistress does not reflect a revision of patrilineal modes of female commodification. In fact, she invokes the hierarchical basis for patrilineal authority by bragging about her lover's rank. She does not choose the King out of erotic desire for him, which might indicate such a revision. Rather, it seems, her (mis) conception of how best to sell herself in a patrilineal economy motivates her choices; Evadne acts, then, only insofar as she is fulfilling her role, fulfilling the dictates of the patrilineal economy. And her role, she believes, requires her to make both a politically and economically advantageous alliance. Consequently, she believes she has realized success--as a woman, she has achieved honor and value through a contract with the King. In her pathology of desire, mistress to the King is almost as good as queen--certainly better than wife to a mere soldier.

The value Evadne places on rank is revealed when the King pays the newlyweds a visit on the morning after their wedding night. In response to Amintor's pretense that his marriage has been consummated, the King erupts in a jealous rage. When he reminds Evadne that she swore to love no man but him, she corrects him:

I swore indeed that I would never love
A man of lower place, but if your fortune
Should throw you from this height, I bade you trust
I would forsake you and would bend to him
That won your throne. I love with my ambition,
Not with my eyes . . . . (III.i. 178-183)

Evadne assumes that her lover's power will allow her to raise her own social value and power. As the sister of mere soldiers whose power is severely limited, she cannot secure the kind of marriage that would equal the liaison she has arranged with the King; however, that liaison forbids her to marry him. And that restriction dooms Evadne to ostracism from her society and eventually to death. Consequently, we can see that Evadne's choice reflects a sense of independence, but that, as William Shullenberger also argues, it is made within an economy which forces her to remain dependent on it (148). She misrecognizes the political power she associates with the King as a kind of pseudo-power women traditionally gain through marriage. Because her understanding of her value is predicated on a masculinist economy which values women only as sexual commodities, the power she recognizes in the King functions as the value she desires to embody. Consequently, the control over her body's commodification, which we might be tempted to argue she asserts, is not an act of "real" desire, but a desire for value as a woman, a sexual object, in the patrilineal order.

Evadne's celebration of her sexuality and the control over it she claims are exactly what the patrilineal order fears most. Her attempt at self-control forces her to confront what Judith Butler calls "a strategy within compulsive systems [which makes] gender a performance with clearly punitive consequences" (139). The violence to which Evadne is subject from both Amintor and, later, Melantius, illustrates the punitive consequences for women's assertions of desire. In her marginalized position as a sexual woman, Evadne exists within a double bind. First, she is limited by her commodified subjectivity to "the means by which the continuity of society is guaranteed" (Jordan 46) as a wife. But, as the King's mistress, she is doubly condemned, for her choice to accept this role pushes her even further into the margins of woman's sexually objectified existence. She has been forced to choose between roles, one perhaps less attractive than the other, both of which, however, commodify her. In this light, her choices cannot help but be masochistic.

If, as Stallybrass suggests, to be a subject in the Renaissance was "to be subjected, to be under the dominion of a governor," rendering "the bourgeois notion of the free political individual [unable to] challenge the monarchical subject" ("Shakespeare" 593), then we can imagine the dilemma for women who are not just subject to the monarch but also to husbands, fathers, and brothers on a marriage market. Evadne's choices are masochistic because they are made only from within the position of property, the position of being not for herself but for an other. As Guido Ruggiero notes, the honor that women achieve through the marriage contract acts ideologically to ensure women's complicity in their commodification (11). We can see, therefore, why Evadne chooses the King. Who better to help her achieve honor and social status but a King? While we can see the mistake she is making within the masculinist power structure to which she is subject, we can also see how easy it is for Evadne to interpret incorrectly the role she is forced to play. Compromised by her lack of a powerful position and family connection, Evadne accepts her commodification but misinterprets the rules which legitimize the objectification of women in the marriage contract. That misrecognition of "appropriate" commodification denies Evadne the honor she desires.

The destructive nature of her choice begins to become clear once Melantius learns that his sister has lost her virtue; the scene in which he confronts Evadne resonates with the righteous indignation of a patriarchal morality defied. Melantius rages at his prideful and unrepentant sister, predictably threatening violence unless Evadne admits her sin:

Melantius: [Draws his sword]
. . . . Speak, you whore, speak truth,
Or by the dear soul of thy sleeping father,
This sword shall be thy lover! Tell or I'll kill thee!
And when thou hast told all, thou wilt deserve it.

By thou foul self, no human help shall help thee
If thou criest. When I have killed thee, as I
Have vow'd to do if thou confess not, naked
As thou hast left thine honor will I leave thee,
That on thy branded flesh the world may read
Thy black shame and my justice. Wilt thou bend yet?

Perhaps nowhere in the play, except in her suicide, is it more clear just how destructive Evadne's choice to love the King has been. Her brother's wrath underscores the unstable nature of masculine identity, which depends on female virtue for its own power and sense of value. Melantius confirms that Evadne's subjectivity, her very being, depends on her ability to embody that virtue. Not only has she shattered the bonds between Melantius and Amintor, legitimized by the marriage contract, but she has brought shame on the men in her family, men whose honor depends on her virtue. Consequently, Melantius--invoking the tyranny of the patrilineal order's edict on female honor--calls her "whore" three times, comparing the "Contagio [n]" (IV.i.58) of her name to "The burnt air when the Dog reigns" (IV.i.57) and, in truly patrilineal fashion, invoking the image of their dead father whose "honor [she] ha[s] murdered" (IV.i.89). The patrilineal bonds from which father, son, and husband derive their social and class privilege is threatened by Evadne's desire.

With her destruction at hand, Evadne repents and internalizes her brother's view of her as a monster. After Melantius exits, she confesses, "sure I am monstrous, / For I have done those follies, those mad mischiefs, / Would dare a woman. Oh my loaden soul, / . . . choke not up / The way to repentance" (IV.i. 183-87). The punitive consequences for her desire become all too clear to Evadne. She is powerless and remains so because her words do not reverberate with the awareness of past folly that would signify a new, non-patrilineal definition of female subjectivity. Rather, they resound with a deepening sense of horror at the transgression she has committed against the masculinist economy. Instead of rejecting her complicity in her own commodification, Evadne is subsumed once more within that economy when she turns immediately to the husband she never loved and attempts to persuade him that she has rejected her corruption and is, therefore, valuable again. Despite the improbability of his being able to embrace her as his wife, she must attempt to regain her market value. The patrilineal order has successfully constituted in her a desire for exploitation and subservience. Consequently, masochistic choices put on her by a masculinist ideology are the only options open to her.

The symbolic and unstable nature of her value becomes apparent to Evadne when she approaches Amintor because he sees her only as a monster, as a fearful mutation of femininity, threatening to "moral" and economic interests. The sincerity of her contrition cannot sway him because her violation of "appropriate" female subjectivity marks her as an "evil" woman. While he is grateful for her transformation, his perception of having been dishonored forces him to reject her as his wife in everything but name. But even that much pity is elicited from him by Evadne's excruciating self-deprecation rather than by any deep sense of justice on his part:

. . . . I do not fall here
To shadow by dissembling with my tears
(As all say women can), or to make less
What my hot will hath done, which Heaven and you
Knows to be tougher than the hand of time
Can cut from man's remembrance. No, I do not.

I am hell,
Till you, my dear lord, shoot your light into me,
The beams of your forgiveness; I am soul-sick,
And wither with the fear of one condemn'd,
Till I have got your pardon. (IV.i.220-225.231-135)

The significance of Evadne's self-effacing apology is twofold. First, as Shullenberger also notes, she has swallowed wholesale her brother's brutal attack and the patriarchal condemnation of woman's unlawful sexuality and internalizes the archetype of woman as a sexually voracious monster (149).[9] It is not enough for her to acknowledge that she has done Amintor wrong, to show him that she means to end the deception and hopes to reconcile with him in whatever way he may find satisfactory. She must degrade herself; she must confess her sins against the patrilineal order and receive its absolution, submitting her admittedly limited and objectified sense of self to the standard of the masculinist economy's tyranny. Equating herself with hell, with the demonic rather than the celestial, Evadne's internalization of patrilineal morality intensifies. Begging Amintor to penetrate her with his mercy, Evadne identifies herself as a "monster" (IV.i.227), "the foulest creature" (IV.i.229), "[m]ost poisonous, dangerous, and despis'd of men" (IV.i.230).

Melantius's scathing condemnation has clearly done its work, yet I suspect that her consummate skill in that self-effacement--the speech is eloquent and manages to melt Amintor's heart--is well cultivated from a lifetime within a masculinist economy that condemns exhibitions of unlawful female sexuality in the struggle to control women's fearsome and erratic nature. The seductive quality of her speech not only underscores the distinction between lawful and unlawful sexuality which links self-contempt with "appropriate" female sexuality, but reveals as well the submissive nature of female sexuality under the patrilineal economy. In order for a woman's sexuality to find legitimation, it must be expressed only in marriage, and it must be expressed with the humility of one inferior to another. Evadne assumes that humility, attempting to dim the threat that her unlawful sexuality holds for the masculine economy, a threat which she knows now is met by violence.

But there is a second significance to Evadne's attempt to reconcile with her husband, one which exposes her own sense of herself as property. Persuaded that her relationship with the King is wrong and that having sold herself to him was a mistake, site sees more clearly that she must market herself only within the masculine economy of marriage and legitimacy, as a woman of "virtue" and "morality." She understands that her desire constitutes a threat to the patrilineal system, both in her embrace of an illegitimate relationship with the King and, perhaps even more intensely, in her proud and fervent enjoyment and defense of her sexuality. Evadne attempts to regain "appropriate" commodification by repenting for trying to control her body, effectively neutralizing her access to her own desire and rendering her actions masochistic. Consequently, we must understand her seemingly incomprehensible transformation and supplication to a man she presumably does not love not as Ronald Broude would have us believe, as a sudden "substitut [ion] of love for ambition" (255), but rather as the attempt of a woman whose subjectivity depends on her status as a commodity to reinsert herself within the patrilineal economy. Broude's assessment of Evadne as "lacking in moral substance" (255) ignores the significance of the rest of his analysis of her function as an instrument of divine will. For in this reading lies precisely my claim that Evadne's actions are constituted by the patrilineal structure to which she is subject. As an instrument, whether of divine will or of the men who surround her, Evadne's ability to act on her own, to assert her will, is cut off. In fact, Broude's suggestion that she acts not on her own but as an agent of divine will underscores her powerlessness. Her moral substance, consequently, is constructed out of the patrilineal order's tyrannical objectification of women so that she is manipulated in the interest of maintaining a masculinist power structure. Her desire for Amintor and his forgiveness, then, is a desire for subjectivity as defined by the patrilineal order. While Evadne must realize that the tyranny of the masculinist power structure will never again see her as a woman of honor, she must make the attempt at a reconciliation with her husband because otherwise she is nothing.

Amintor's response coincides with the patrilineal order's "moral" imperative which condemns ruthlessly women's unlawful desire. Having heard his wife degrade herself to the foulest of creatures, Amintor is pacified, but he is not persuaded that her value has been restored: "My charity will go along with thee, / Though my embraces must be far from thee, / . . . Go Evadne, / The gods thus part our bodies. Have a care / My honor falls no further; I am well then" (VI.i.269-270, 275-277). His forgiveness is limited and allows her only the appearance of being his wife. Amintor's response reifies the patriarchal notion of male honor through female fidelity--he is not concerned with how Evadne's reputation and honor are affected except insofar as his honor is affected. Because his masculine identity relies on his wife's virtue, her well-being, her sense of honor and self-worth are not at issue. Essentially, Amintor rejects his wife, and, as a result, Evadne becomes more desperate to prove her worth; in a frenzy, she determines to put into action the plan urged by Melantius (VI.i.145-6, 154, 156-7). Perhaps daring to kill the man who took her honor will prove to Amintor that she is still worth the purchase. The consequences of such an action are never a concern for her; Evadne's need to maintain her self-identification as a "moral" woman propels her faster and faster toward self-destruction.

As Evadne enters the King's bedchamber to murder him, she makes it clear that a complete recovery of her honor is at stake:

. . . . Let no woman dare
From this hour be disloyal, if her heart
Be flesh, if she have blood that can fear. 'Tis a madness
Above that desperate fool's that left his peace
And went to sea to fight; 'tis so many sins
An age cannot repent 'em, and so great
The gods want mercy for. Yet I must through 'em;
I have begun a slaughter on my honor,
And I must end there . . . . (V.i.17-25)

Significantly, Evadne's speech acts as a warning to women; women's "disloyalty" to patrilineal interests is subject to fearful consequences. Her references to madness, to the slaughter on her honor she has committed, reflect an awareness of the masochism inherent in the choices she has made. Evadne's sin--desire--demonstrates her disloyalty to patrilineal morality, to gods, brother, and husband. Her disloyalty, we know, is born of a need to market herself, so perhaps the madness she sees is a madness in the ideology that makes women locate their worth in their marketability. In this light, Evadne comprehends the self-destruction inherent in desire outside of patrilineal configurations. Her murder of the King, then, offers her an opportunity to confront him as a symbol of the patrilineal economy which defines her as property. While Bushnell asserts that Evadne's tyrannicide is an act of passion rather than politics (169), I would argue that Evadne's attempt to regain value by killing the King must be read as a political gesture because Evadne's value is set and sustained by patrilineal interests. To assert that Evadne kills like a scorned woman in the heat of passion, then, is to discount the political nature of her powerlessness. At the same time, the action she is about to commit is self-destructive because she cannot escape the consequences of regicide. She believes, once again mistakenly, that her honor, as defined by the patrilineal system, can be regained through daring to commit regicide. Murdering the King is not an act of resistance but of recuperation. While Evadne reacts against the tyranny of commodification by killing the King, every choice she makes is an effect of her commodification.

Significantly, though, Evadne confronts her lover with his role in her lost honor. Unlike her speech to Amintor in which she assumes all blame, Evadne charges her lover with his culpability. "Thou art a shameless villain" she tells him, "A thing out of the overcharge of nature, / Sent like a thick cloud to disperse a plague / Upon weak catching women, such a tyrant, / That for his lust would sell away his subjects, / Ay, all his heaven hereafter" (V.i.90-95). Clearly, women are the subjects to be sold. All female subjectivity lies within that sale, and all female subjectivity relies on desire for sale. She sees the traffic in women in the body of the King who bought her illegitimately, who made her, as a result, a marked down item. Evadne's charges of tyranny against the King emphasize women's paralysis in a masculinist order which renders them subject to a morality of commodification. Poised between honor and ignominy, Evadne desperately seeks "appropriate" and "moral" femininity through tyrannicide. Significantly, her act suggests that in theatrical terms, murder of the King--particularly a King whose tyranny is defined in sexual terms--by a vengeful woman is sanctioned. Evadne, then, as the fallen woman, must be seen as a scapegoat, as the displacement/ locus of responsibility for the instability of the patrilineal order.

Predictably, killing the King does not help her regain the value she once embodied. Amintor sees in her bloody hands only a re-enactment of her "evil" nature and accuses her of having "out-nam [ed her] other faults," of having "no intermission of [her] sins" (V.iii.132.133). Completely rejecting his wife, he proclaims, "Black is thy color now, disease thy nature" (V.iii.135). Rather than perceiving his wife's murder of her lover as an offering to him, a sacrifice made in an effort to regain her value in his eyes, Amintor is horrified by the monstrosity of her crime. The sexual threat she already embodies is exacerbated by killing the King, making her menace twofold; not only does she disrupt the chain of patrilineal succession of property, but she commits regicide (the ultimate disruption of patrilineal succession), threatening to undermine the State. It is no accident that Evadne's erratic and lawless sexuality coincides with the potential breakdown of the kingdom, for the connection between female sexuality and patrilineal annihilation is the basis for control of women's desire. Her act represents, for Amintor, a heinous violation of gender and a diabolical fulfillment of the masculinist economy's worst fears about female subjectivity. Amintor fails to understand Evadne's escalating sense of impotence and confirms that in a patrilineal economy lost honor can never be regained. Evadne's battle, then, is already always lost.

In this respect, Evadne's suicide is more than that which Turner identifies as "grief over her husband Amintor's rejection" (135); it represents her powerlessness to recover the value she once embodied. Because her subjectivity is constituted by her position as a commodity, losing that position makes her a nonentity. Her suicide becomes not just a sacrifice to the patrilineal order, but the only choice left to her. For without the only subjectivity she knows, existence is impossible, as her last words testify: "Amintor, thou shalt love me now again. / Go, I am calm. Farewell, and peace forever. / Evadne, whom thou hat'st, will die for thee" (V.iii.169-171). That she sees her suicide as an act she commits for her husband in no way proves her death is sacrificial; it demonstrates that Evadne must, even in her last moment, commodify herself, act only as an object within the masculinist economy. Dedicating her suicide to her husband is not so much evidence of her repentance as it is of her submission to the patrilineal economy. As not-wife, not-mistress, Evadne is nothing. Unable to endure existence as a cipher, Evadne chooses death.

Suicide offers Evadne a last hope for regaining honor because it is the only mode by which she can stake a claim to her innocence and morality. Her suicide, beyond the sacrifice which she asserts she makes for her husband is another act predicated on her desire for honor as defined by the patrilineal order. Consequently, her desire is always masochistic, always predicated on her suffering. Significantly, her death is upstaged by Amintor's own suicide, committed because of his grief at having murdered, mistakenly, Aspatia--the woman to whom he was originally promised in marriage. Amintor's suicide takes center stage in the final moments of the play as Melantius dismisses his sister's death as "A thing to laugh at in respect of this. / Here was my sister, father, brother, son, / All that I had" (V.iii.266-268). The homosocial bond remains primary. Evadne's death is laughable, incidental compared to the loss which Melantius feels at Amintor's death. Even in her suicide, Evadne fails to regain honor, fails to achieve "appropriate" commodification. Her honor is irrelevant once Amintor dies because the bond which she functioned to legitimize no longer exists.

Beaumont's and Fletcher's play is complex. On one level, the denunciation of the King expressed by his brother, Lysippus, condemning intemperance in monarchs, suggests an indictment of the King that makes Evadne sympathetic as a victim of a lustful and abusive tyrant. Clearly, that indictment exists, and to some extent Evadne's culpability is diminished by it. However, Melantius's speeches to his sister confirm the view of her as a sexually chaotic being in need of control, and Evadne's apology to Amintor resonates with her internalization of that patriarchal imperative. While Beaumont and Fletcher might appear both to interrogate the power structure which subjugates women and to expose the tragedy which ensues from misused power, they also sustain the patriarchal order by exploiting archetypal images of lustful women. Clearly, then, these dramatists both recognize the destruction inherent in corrupt uses of power and participate in the reinscription of existing misogynist views of women. In this sense, ideology within the play, or in Belsey's terms the "signifying practice" (6), is fractured and multiple, not absolute. The cultural injunctions placed on dramatists such as Beaumont and Fletcher--and in which they inevitably participate--to represent women as wholly erratic and emotional in their conduct are not, then, necessarily universal and fixed. As Jordan's and Woodbridge's studies show, the debates conducted by feminists of the time, countered by misogynist pamphlets, are an example of a fractured ideological practice in action.

The concept of a fractured signifying practice also helps us to understand how Evadne is capable of internalizing her "disloyalty" to the masculinist economy and of seeing the King as an embodiment of that economy as she prepares herself to murder him. We can also understand how she makes a reversal from pride in her affair with the King to complete self-degradation and belief in her own monstrous sexuality. A signifying practice that is "never static" but allows a plurality of meaning and therefore of subjectivity, even when subjectivity is commodified and limited, permits Evadne to occupy a more fragmented set of positions than can be explained by the monster-woman archetype within which the patrilineal system would keep her inscribed. Instead, we can see a woman struggling to make ambitious choices and desiring the men who, because of the power they embody, will reflect on her the value she needs to affirm her subjectivity within a patrilineal economy. The fact that her choices ultimately result in her destruction only illustrates the nature of a political structure that limits female desire to the choice to acquiesce. If women are not allowed to act on their own desires, let alone to choose from desirable options, then masochistic impulses must be expected. Evadne's fight to make the most of her market value, both illegitimately as the King's mistress and then legitimately as Amintor's wife, is not the effect of an "evil" and erratic female sexuality, but rather of a desperately masochistic need to achieve the limited subjectivity permitted her by the patrilineal order which makes her nothing more than an object of value.

  1. By the term "commodification," I mean more than prostitution of women in a marriage contract. Indeed, while it can be argued that women are metaphorically prostituted by their exchange in the institution of marriage, as Margaret L. King notes, prostitution implies a greater financial power held by the women themselves than I mean to propose by commodification (77-80). I want to suggest the powerlessness of an object controlled by economic forces which delineate that object's value. In this case, women's sexual honor is coded as value.
  2. Coppelia Kahn argues that "chastity is the supreme desideratum, for maids, wives, and widows. What the marriage treatises imply is that even though a wife's body may be properly enclosed within the locked house, whenever desire is aroused, she threatens to escape ideological confines, and undermines the male authority in which marriage is grounded" (250).
  3. Karen Newman also argues that "drama, as spectacle, provided a peculiarly useful locus for analyzing the production and management of femininity in early modern England" (xx).
  4. For analyses of early modern treatises on women's nature, see Joan Larsen Klein, and Katherine Usher Henderson and Barbara F. McManus. See also Pamela Joseph Benson's book-length analysis of Renaissance texts which construct an ideal woman, Ann Rosalind Jones's examination of early seventeenth century courtesy books and marriage manuals, and Valerie Wayne's analysis of Vives's Instruction of a Christian Woman.
  5. Rebecca W. Bushnell argues that in The Maid's Tragedy "tyrannical lust coincides with legitimate and absolute power" (166). For Bushnell, then, the tragedy ensues from a king's abuse of political power to satisfy his sexual will--revealing male anxieties in the period about absolute and divine right monarchy. While I recognize Evadne's masochism can be read as an expression of that anxiety, I would argue instead that the play also enacts the patrilineal order's tyrannical mandate enforcing virtue in women. I would privilege rather than marginalize Evadne's experience of tyranny, then, as her tragedy. See also Robert Y. Turner's analysis of tyranny in Fletcher's dramas and Philip J. Finkelpearl's study of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, especially 183-211.
  6. "Peter Stallybrass argues that "[i] n early modern England, 'woman' was articulated as property not only in legal discourse . . . but also in economic and political discourse" ("Patriarchal" 127). For an analysis of an ideology of sexuality in early modem culture see Kathleen McLuskie, and for a contemporary account of women's commodification see Gayle Rubin.
  7. I do not argue that Evadne has access to "real" desire because her "real" desire is precisely what Slavoj zizek describes as "something that persists only as failed, missed, in a shadow, and dissolves itself as soon as we try to grasp it in its positive nature" (169).
  8. See Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick's study of male homosocial desire and Bruce R. Smith's analysis of male/male "desire" in tragedy, comedy, and tragi-comedy.
  9. "On the bipolar identities which define female subjectivity in Jacobean drama, see Coppelia Kahn.


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