Staging the Henrician Court : KEY QUESTION - Is The Gentlewoman and Laundress' argument about leisure vs. work?

This page last changed on Jan 20, 2010 by Eleanor Rycroft.

The terms of the debate betwen The Gentlewoman and The Laundress are incredibly compelling.  The audience are confronted with an upper-class woman who describes the sort of feminine lifestyle one might find relayed in The Boke of the Courtyer, and a lower-class female who enjoys a sustained presence in the historical record as a crucial member of the courtly retinue, The Laundress.  Their argument therefore represents a fascinating and distinctly courtly feminine interaction.  That the substance of their debate hinges upon work makes this scene of particular significance from a feminist perspective.  How do the sorts of arguments made by these women interrelate with contemporary ideals of femininity?  And is their disagreement really just about leisure and work, or would this confrontation have perhaps had extra or other meanings for a courtly audience? 

It might have meanings for the actors, if they belonged to a school or other training establishment. I seem to have been encountering laundresses all over the place recently: Inns of Court, college statutes. Impression: they were the only women allowed in a male educational establishment. (Cambridge bedders?) Maternal figure, or sexual opportunity?

Posted by Meg Twycross at Mar 01, 2010 21:11

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