Exchanging blows and courtesies : status and conduct in Bonduca, A king and no king, and The nice valour
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This project examines the plays Bonduca (c. 1609-12), by John Fletcher, A King and No King (c. 1610-11), by Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, and The Nice Valour (c. 1615-16), by Fletcher and Thomas Middleton in conjunction with a series of early modern conduct manuals which focus primarily on physical engagement: military manuals, dueling manuals, and manuals describing household correction (i.e. beating). These manuals are part of the larger genre of courtesy literature, and combine the subject of violent encounter with the discourse of courtesy–– that is, they describe ways to inflict violence, the appropriateness of violence, and how to comport oneself in such violent contexts. They bring together "blows and courtesies" by presenting for the reader how one should engage in violence properly, as befits an honorable soldier, a refined duelist, a respected authority figure. The manuals demonstrate for public consumption that appropriately administered acts of violence can be understood as behaviors that mark someone's appropriate place in the social order. Each play depicts violent interactions on the stage: Bonduca presents a military conflict between the Roman and British armies; A King and No King presents characters engaging in duels and beatings at court; The Nice Valour presents characters at court who beat and are beaten, and one character who prints a conduct manual on beating. By examining the manuals in conjunction with the plays, I show that armed combat, duels, and beatings provide ways for participants to express their position in a social matrix by allowing them to exhibit such behaviors as deference and admiration, or disrespect and contempt toward their adversaries. I demonstrate the extent to which the violent conflicts in the plays can be read as expressions of social codes which determine the participants' status in their particular dramatic environments. I show that such codes are also open to manipulation and inversion by characters who are willing to adapt them to their own particular needs, and that such manipulation can disrupt the social hierarchies presented on stage, calling into question the legitimacy of authority figures in the plays.