Carnegie Mellon University

Domestic Conflict: Reading Space in Early Modern Drama

Author: Julie Bowman

Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2015

My dissertation project asks how we can understand the early modern experience of domestic space. Through a close reading of early modern dramas—histories, comedies, and tragedies by Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, Webster, and Marlowe—I argue that the early modern conception of domestic space can be understood as a nested sphere comprised of nation, household, and individual bodies. Challenging approaches which view theatrical space materially (i.e., the space of the theater or the city) or domestic space metaphorically (i.e., a man’s home is his castle), I foreground the actual spaces (bedrooms, closets, bridges, gardens) that the plays require audiences to call to mind and in which the action occurs. I focus on those spaces in context with historical spatial realities, practices, and expectations to show how the spatial experiences enacted by the dramas relate to the ideologies of early modern England, though not as uniformly strict enforcers of those ideologies. Fundamentally, I argue that reading space in early modern drama grants fresh insight into the plays’ arguments and demonstrates how space actively structures, and is structured by, the boundaries essential to socially formed concepts like public and private, nation and household, or body and mind.