The Representation Of Religious And Social Difference English Literature Essay

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The representation of religious and social difference is undoubtedly important to dramatists in the Jacobean Period, as audiences would be interested in the representations of the social changes engendered in this period. Considering drama is written and performed for the entertainment of audiences, the dramatists would want to portray a realistic yet exaggerated representation of these changes, which audiences could align to and would pay to watch.

With the market economy unfolding, the population in London tripled from 120,000 in 1550 to 375,000 in 1650, to become the 'fastest growing economy in Europe'; life in England was changing considerably, especially London. There was also a rise in social power of the citizen class which ultimately would alter both social morals and beliefs. These changes would have created tensions within society, directly affecting the dramatists' lives, implicating both the way they would write and feel. The dramatists' would therefore be intrigued about the changes in society and consequently would want to respond to the social transformations in their plays.

Shakespeare certainly represented social tensions in his work, for example, in Measure for Measure he represents the tensions of sex before marriage. Yet, I believe the best example emerges from within the new kind of drama produced in the early 17th century called 'city comedy.'

'City Comedy' is 'characterised by its contemporary urban subject-matter and its portrayal, often satirical, of middle-class life and manners.' [3] Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair and Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside are both categorised within the 'city comedy' genre; and both, by some degree of simplification, represent a microcosm of the changes, as well as social beliefs within London. Middleton and Jonson deploy intrigues about social status, sex, marriage and religion within their plays, and both clearly find the representation of social difference and religion vital aspects of their work.

A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is predominantly set in Cheapside in London. Significantly, the side streets are named after market trades such as Goldsmith's Row - the opening setting. The setting of the play clearly relates to the market economy and the representation of Cheapside is all about materialism, as I will discuss later. Middleton's use of settings encourages the audience to comprehend the market place before the play commences.

Middleton was certainly interested in the emergence of the market place, depicting a sense that everything and everyone within Cheapside is marketable. This is illustrated through a family conflict between the character of Moll and her father Yellowhammer. Yellowhammer wants to effectively trade his daughter for personal gain by marrying her to Sir Walter Whorehound, a knight. Through organising the marriage, Yellowhammer would be establishing his family in the social hierarchy, but does not consider the happiness of his daughter. Moll wants to marry Touchwood Junior who is from the citizen class. Touchwood Junior does not have a high social status but has moral values, unlike Sir Walter, a 'whoremaster' [4] . Sir Walter, despite his knighthood is a deceptive, lustful animal. He arranges a marriage for Moll's brother Tim, to finalise the marriage deal between himself and Moll, but is in fact marrying Tim to a welsh 'whore' (5.4.110).

Sir Walter, is also the illegitimate father of Master Allwit's children, this is established when Allwit's describes his ignorant children, stating 'they do not know/ the gentlemen that sits there' (1.2.113-114). Allwit is willing in the corruption and even goes to the extent of describing his appreciation for the knight who 'upholds my wife and me' (3.2.70), purely because Sir Walter provides his family with financial stability. Here, Middleton presents a class interested purely in economical gain rather than morality. Allwit is basically selling his wife to satisfy Sir Walter's pleasures, making her into a high class prostitute. This is heightened by the imagery of a cuckold symbolised by 'horns' (1.2.74) and that of a 'dildo', (1.2.57) clearly relating to Allwit using Sir Walter to keep his family. The reference to 'dildo' would be humorous on the audience, as they are able to imagine Allwit's useless and perhaps unused penis, unlike Sir Walter's well used penis.

Yellowhammer further illustrates that he has no dignity and would rather have economic comfort in Act 4. Allwit's [disguised] informs Yellowhammer of Sir Walter's villainous nature, yet Yellowhammer insists his daughter to marry Sir Walter. Audiences cannot help but question Yellowhammer's morality as a father. Through Middleton's representation of the extent characters would go to gain wealth, he is able to criticise those who try to gain social wealth at any price. Middleton heightens the imagery further to depict Yellowhammer's daughter's chastity as marketable. Middleton's representation creates a remarkable microcosm of a society that is changing due to a growing market economy, encouraging audiences to consider the impact on their own lives.

Similarly, Jonson in Bartholomew Fair represents the growing market economy. Also set in London but in Smithfield, Jonson is able to represent through the setting alone the effect of the growing population in London. Kinney describes how the 'sights, the smells, the noises, the cheating and sweating and pissing...characterise congested Jacobean London.' [5] Middleton's comical representation of the setting has a huge impact on the audience, as they are able to see instantly the effect the growth of population could have; yet at the same time Middleton's comical representation entertains the audience.

Jonson uses a deliberate absence of focus on characters to enable himself to represent a wide variety of people in society, from the gentry such as Winwife to the thieves such as Edgworth. The setting of the fair cleverly provides a place of temporary social levelling, expressing the rise in power of the citizen class as well as the thin line division between the classes. Through the representation of the merchants at the fair, Jonson is able to illustrate how the lower classes in society were able to find new ways to earn a living. Ursula the 'pig women' [6] , I believe is the strongest representation of the lower classes ability to make a living. Ursula and her booth are central to the fair; her booth is the place in which everyone meets. This undoubtedly makes her way of life central and Jonson's representation of her vital to the play's message. Ursula adulterates products to increase her profits, and 'true trick[s]' (2.2.122) her customers by taking away their ale prematurely so they invest in more.

Ursula, Trash, Leatherhead amongst the other merchants, exploit all levels of society cheating anyone regardless of class; they sell some of their goods for 'five shillings more' (3.3.181) depending on the customer. They also manage to thieve from the rich, and at some points in the play make the upper classes appear ignorant. This is demonstrated when Edgworth manages to steal Cokes's purse twice. Coke's unknowing that his 'purse is gone' (3.5.206) stolen by Edgworth, refers to Edgworth as 'an honest gentlemen' (3.5.204) demonstrating his complete cluelessness. Nightingale and Edgworth then steal his sword, hat and cloak symbolising Coke's loss of his gentry whilst in the fair ground. Jonson here represents a world where the lower classes are gaining social power and finding ways to make a living. Through this exaggerated plot Jonson is able to create a condensed yet realist view of how he feared the changes in London hugely impacting an audience of that time.

Jonson's also represents the fair as a place where social status can be levelled yet at the same shows the danger of too much or too little laws. The merchants violate criminal law, they are thieves' whores' and pimps yet they are able to self-regulate laws of their own to create their miniature community. The community within the fair seems to satisfy both basic economic needs such as making money, as well as satisfying human desire such as sex, food and drink but always ends in corruption. Jonson's representation of the merchants creates a contrast to his own society, which was tearing itself apart by both political and religious conflicts; this is particularly depicted through the character Overdo with his 'political brain' (3.5.2), who is a firm believer in criminal law; this is echoed in Trouble-All's rigid lines as he polices the fair stating 'If you have Justice Overdo's warrant, 'tis well; you are safe' (4.1.24-25). Overdo is so strict on the laws that he even adopts 'a disguise' (2.1.3) to establish the 'enormities' (2.1.53) in society; but quickly demonstrates his ignorance in the world of the fair when he mistakes a cutpurse for a 'civil young man' (3.3.19). Within the play Jonson creates two such contrasting images of too much and too little law that the audience cannot help but question which is better. Too strict of laws seem to restrain the freedom in humanity which encourages the citizens to want to indulge in their desires; yet the fair community that can indulge in whatever they wish show pure corruption where they are willing to steal off each other. I believe here Jonson is illustrating that laws should be in place yet there should also be some freedom for human desire as this allows people to self-regulate and learn how to live in a community.

As Moll becomes a materialistic object in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Grace Wellborn in Bartholomew Fair also becomes bound by materialistic considerations. Grace at first is unable to decline Overdo's proposition for her marriage to Cokes because she is scared of losing her property. She later devises a clever plan to test the sincerity of the two men who wish to marry her, she requests that 'If you both love me, as you pretend your own reason will tell you but one can enjoy me.' (4.3.8-9) Here Grace proves she is capable of deciding her own future. Likewise Moll who refuses to marry Sir Walter, and protects her body from the whoremaster by doing so; Grace tries to protect her body from the fair which she has 'no such fancy to' (1.5.134) visit. The fact both women refuse marriage illustrates that the women were resigned to the market economy and were not going to be ruled by it, they both protect their bodies from the chaos of London Life.

The communities presented in both plays, clearly depict a society that appears to recognise 'the price of everything but the value of nothing' [7] , especially that of marriage. Bowers describes how:

material social conditions determine individual consciousness within tough and unsentimental comic truths: Life is cheap. Desire is expensive. [8] 

I believe Bowers summaries materialism perfectly. In A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, the characters do not seem wholly satisfied. The clearest example comes from that of the Kixes. The Kixes desire children, they are financially wealthy but poor in children. This causes marital issues so far so that Lady Kix shouts at her husband to 'Be hanged!' (3.3.58), this of course would create a comic effect on the audience yet still shows Lady Kix's pain. The couple hear of Touchwood Seniors 'magic waters' that never fail to produce a child and pay Touchwood Senior 'four hundred pounds' (3.3.154); clearly illustrating the expense of desire. Of course, it is not just a financial expense, Middleton's use of double entendre in language such as 'yours must be taken lying' (3.3.177) clearly signifies another cost, a cost in which Sir Oliver Kix becomes cuckolded. Interestingly the only chaste union in the play which is between Moll and Touchwood Junior is allowed because of 'the acts of adultery' (p.595); Moll parents are distracted at their son's deceptive marriage, and Moll has betrayed everyone by faking her death. Middleton's representation of marriage and human need for desire, illustrates the transformations in moral and social normality that were happening in London during this time.

It is important to note that Middleton was not alone in the representation of marital struggles. Jonson also depicts in Bartholomew Fair a world where marriage at first seems the value of everything, but then of nothing. The play begins with Cokes visiting the city to obtain a license to marry Grace Wellborn, but ends in good wives such as Win Littlewit turning into whores, and marriage licenses being stolen and changed.

The theft of these licenses represents that fine line between a citizen and a criminal. Quarlous witnesses the theft but rather than reporting it he uses it to his own benefit for a 'piece of service' (3.5.290), blackmailing Edgworth to steal the marriage license. This aligns Quarlous a man of English gentry, to the same level of the low class criminals at the fair. However, the fact that Quarlous is disguised suggests that perhaps he does not recognise himself in the world of the fair.

Bartholomew Fair and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside represent how human desire can also corrupt religion. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is set during Lent; this is significant in the representation, as Lent is a time when people are meant to control their temptations and fast from food and festivities. Despite this religious and devoting time, the people in Cheapside cannot help themselves; the characters are engulfed by consumerism interested in personal gain, and are indulgent in meat. Even the Promoters are happy to take bribes; in Act 2 the audience witness the promoters taking meat off a citizen, but ignoring the basket of meat containing, 'A rack of mutton...[and]...half a lamb' (2.2.135) off their 'benefactors' (2.2.138).

Bartholomew Fair represents religion in a much more interesting way, depicting how the religious were able to find moral reasons to indulge in their own desires. Zeal-of-the-land Busy rationalises his presence at the fair despite it being against all his religious beliefs. Jonson satires against Busy, a Puritan by representing him as hypocritical; Busy is able to 'exceedingly' (1.6.115) eat the pork at the fair to 'process... [his] hate and loathing of Judaism' (1.6.113-114). Busy consumes two whole pigs, clearly demonstrating his hate of Judaism as an excuse for him to indulge in his own desires. Jonson exaggerates the mannerisms of all members in society to demonstrate his anxieties of a changing society.

Through Jonson's use of metadrama at the beginning of the play, he is able to defend the theatre at the end. Busy claims during the puppet show that the show is an 'abomination' (5.6.115) because of the cross dressing, where men are dressed as women. The puppet then lifts up his garment to reveal he is neither male nor female; Busy claims to be 'converted (5.6.135). Again, Jonson demonstrates the importance of representation as here he is able to defend his art.

Middleton and Jonson therefore illustrate the importance of the representation of religion and social difference, not only to convey their own anxieties in society but also to portray their own beliefs. Through exaggerated comical situations both are able to depict the effect that the changes in England, specifically London, were having on civilisation. They also create a sense that if people were able to understand the changes in society, without becoming materialistic and corrupt then perhaps civilisation could remain. This is heightened at the closure of both plays which end in marriage and supper, both images of civilisation.

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