Languages of Service in Early Modern English Drama


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines representations of service in early modern English drama using primarily a philological approach. Servants in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England have been critically addressed principally in terms of the dynamics of power, an approach that repeatedly reinforces an agonistic portrait of master-servant relations. Interrogating the languages of service, this dissertation argues instead that the varied histories of language illuminate the contradictions of service in early modern England as both freedom and constraint, protection and attachment. These multivalent lexicons of service manifest their diachronic meanings comtemporaneously in early modern England in such key areas of servant life as livery, money and wages, and the circulation of news and knowledge. In so doing, they also shape early modern debates about “nominal servants,” such as actors, at one extreme of early modern England’s service society, and about slaves and indentured servants at the other.