Staging the Henrician Court : The Laundress - sympathetic or antipathetic?

This page last changed on Dec 07, 2009 by Eleanor Rycroft.

Cannot resolve external resource into attachment.'Wherefore some business I did me provide/ Lest vice might enter in on every side'

The Laundress enters the stage unnoticed to witness the sexualised dialogue between the Gentlewoman and Merry Report and uses this as a jump-off point to ask for her preferred weather in the play.  Her argument therefore has the constant alternative reference point of the Gentlewoman's self-interested request for weather to preserve her beauty.  The Laundress' request is also self-interested; but only to the extent that she requires hot weather to dry her clothes, thereby enabling her to retain economic independence and freeing her from having to rely financially upon men, with the corollary effect of allowing her to maintain sexual virtue.

Segregating the audience into two sides by gender released the female half to show their appreciation for the arguments of this character, and the actor received a round of applause on her exit from the stage on the performance of 4th August 2009.  Something in the quality and nature of her dialogue resonates strongly with contemporary sexual politics and gender debates, both in terms of women's relationship to economic and class structures, as well as to each other.  While approval for her arguments was consistently felt among a modern audience, how dangerous her social position would have appeared to structures of Tudor heteronormativity is unclear, although perhaps her position as a servant of a court would have made her as sympathetic to factions of the original audience as it did to ours today.

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