Theories, Methods, and Cases
This essay uses an intersectional approach to identify in the drama of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the patterns that Hannah Arendt called “race thinking” and to extend Arendt’s approach backwards in time as early as the seventeenth century. Famously, Cavendish—poet, playwright, personality—prided herself on her “singularity” or originality, from her cultivated eccentricity of dress to her insistence, which anticipates the Romantic movement, that her works come from her alone (down to her punctilious annotation of the occasional lines or stanzas or scenes composed by her husband and included in her plays). The combined authority Cavendish appropriates—rank and individual merit— and that she uses to transcend the restrictions placed on her by her gender makes Cavendish an apt instance through which to investigate how or whether merit and rank—and gender—can produce race thinking. I suggest that Cavendish’s first play, the two-part Loves Adventures, simultaneously queers or questions heteronormative reproduction and the purity of an imagined bloodline or race and yet restricts the ability to transcend race (understood for Cavendish as bloodline and as gender) to those who can demonstrate merit or (to borrow Patricia Akhimie’s invaluable formulation) “cultivation.” Similarly, Cavendish’s later play The Bridals uses cross- or transgender casting and the potential for cultivation not to liberate but to humiliate and racialize its working-class characters. In The Female Academy, wealthy, aristocratic ladies literally become the gatekeepers and guarantors of education and bloodline. The intersectional hierarchies of rank, skin color, gender, and sexual autonomy thus triumph over an imagined innate or even a “cultivated” merit or virtue.
"Race Thinking in Margaret Cavendish’s Drama,"
Criticism: Vol. 63
, Article 9.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol63/iss1/9