"I am my master's servant for hire": Contract and identity in Richard Steele's: The Conscious Lovers

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Abstract

In his sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, staged at Drury Lane in 1722, Richard Steele works to recalibrate master-servant relations in the rapidly evolving market economy of the early eighteenth century. By presenting servants who act autonomously in The Conscious Lovers, Steele stakes out an inclusive ideological position - derived from his earlier prose essays - that recognizes a contemporaneous historical shift from feudallyderived to contract-based household labor. In resisting the normative dramatic representation of servants as mere laughing-stocks, Steele moreover positions himself against pamphleteers like Daniel Defoe, whose impulsive response to servants' widening role in the marketplace and in public life was to quash it. This essay explores how Steele's career as an essayist fed into his later work as a playwright, and likewise how his dramatic writing participated in wider public debates about the shifting signifiers of social status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-472
Number of pages18
JournalEighteenth Century
Volume53
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

  • Colley Cibber
  • Daniel Defoe
  • Female literacy
  • Footmen
  • Humane comedy
  • Middle class
  • Richard Steele
  • Servants
  • The Conscious Lovers

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