Dead mothers among the living
in Mothers and meaning on the early modern English stage
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This chapter examines a connection between Jacobean drama and contemporary discourses concerning the Protestant family and its relation to the state. Taking such diverse texts as William Gouge's Of Domesticall Duties and King James's writing on government, as well as the popular genre of mothers' legacies, it suggests that the representation and reception of motherhood in drama is coloured by shifts in religious and political pressures rather than because of a new celebration of affective family relations. William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi revisit the focus upon motherhood and meaning treated in the first chapter. In different ways, the potency of the mothers in The Winter's Tale and The Duchess of Malfi is, to quote Hermione, ‘preserv'd’ and memorialised so that motherhood transcends mortality to offer the unthreatening and unthreatened reassurance of everlasting and unconditional love.

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