Political friendships in William Cartwright’s The Lady-Errant

Marlow, Christopher (2011) Political friendships in William Cartwright’s The Lady-Errant. In: Discourses and representations of friendship in early modern Europe, 1500-1700. Ashgate, pp. 195-208. ISBN 0754669033

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The vogue for Platonic drama in the Caroline court of the mid-1630s produced a number of plays that consider concepts such as friendship in a serious manner. More often than not, these plays have been dismissed by scholars as both tedious and unconcerned with contemporaneous political or cultural events. However, as Jane Farnsworth has recently suggested, William Cartwright’s The Lady-Errant (c. 1635) uses the genre to disguise the specific intervention it makes into Caroline politics. In this paper, I will argue that Cartwright’s play undertakes a more sustained analysis of the political anxiety prompted by Charles’s personal rule than Farnsworth suggests, and that friendship is central to that analysis.
The play essentially asks friendship a political question: is friendship the best way to bind a community together? As part of this question, challenges are made to Greco-Roman conceptions of friendship as equality and selflessness. These issues are explicitly addressed in discussions by two male ‘perfect friends’ who find their friendship threatened by heterosexual desire. But as well as articulating anxieties about the similitude supposed by the classical world to be the cornerstone of ideal friendship, the play also considers politically relevant questions such as the possibility of friendship in marriage, politically expedient friendship between women, the overlapping discourses of friendship and flattery, and the relative political merits of friendship and love. Cartwright’s royalist sympathies notwithstanding, I will suggest that The Lady-Errant is more than mere propaganda because it uses friendship as a subtle way of opening up questions of community and government.

Keywords:Early Modern Drama, Friendship studies, Gender, Digitised
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
ID Code:8847
Deposited On:10 Apr 2013 20:11

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