Mary Mark Ockerbloom (merrigold) wrote,
Mary Mark Ockerbloom

The Concealed Fansyes: A Play by Lady Jane Cavendish and Lady Elizabeth Brackley

I am happy to announce Celebration Edition # 342:

"The Concealed Fansyes: A Play by Lady Jane Cavendish and Lady Elizabeth Brackley." (Cheyne, Jane, Lady, 1621-1669 and Egerton, Elizabeth Cavendish, 1626-1663) Edited by Nathan Comfort Starr. PMLA, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Sep., 1931), pp. 802-838. Copyright not renewed.

The Cavendishes were a fascinating and multi-talented family, English aristocrats and supporters of the Royalist faction during the English Civil War. Poet, playwright, courtier, athlete, and soldier, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1593-1676) supported James I and Charles I and II with money and men. He received numerous offices and titles, and was created the 1st Marquess of Newcastle-on-Tyne on 27 October 1643.

After a defeat at the battle of Marston Moor, in 1644, William Cavendish became disillusioned, and removed to the continent along with two of his sons, his brother, and other supporters. He left behind several of his daughters, including Lady Elizabeth Cavendish (ca.1626 – 14 June 1663), who had married John Egerton, 2nd Earl of Bridgwater in 1641, but continued to live with her family for several years due to her youth; Lady Jane Cavendish (1621-1669) who married Charles Cheyne, 1st Viscount Newhaven in 1654, and Lady Frances Cavendish (d. 1678), who married Oliver St. John, 2nd Earl of Bolingbroke in 1654.

Jane and Elizabeth were left to maintain the Cavendish properties in England, particularly Welbeck Abbey and Bolsover Castle. England was in the midst of civil war, and the Cavendish sisters were on what was often the losing side. Welbeck Abbey was captured by Parliamentarian forces on August 2, 1644. Although Royalists briefly recaptured the home in 1645, it was back in parliamentary control by November.

It was during this time that the Cavendish sisters wrote "The Concealed Fansyes". It clearly draws upon their experiences during the siege and occupation of Welbeck. Two young women, whose father is in exile, are courted by devious suitors, Courtley and Presumption. Their three female cousins must endure the military occupation of their house. The play is full of glimpses of 17th century life both above and below stairs.

Katie Whitaker dates the play's composition to late 1643 or 1644, given the prologue's reference to the ages of the playwrights as 18 and 22. 1644 would be consistent with its composition during or after the seige and capture of Welbeck Abbey. The manuscript book which contains "The Concealed Fansyes", another play and a variety of poems, is believed to have been prepared as a presentation copy around 1645, a gift to William Cavendish from his daughters, intended for his pleasure and enjoyment.

Early editors, such as Nathan Comfort Starr (1931), read the play as a satire directed against Newcastle's second wife, Margaret Lucas (1617/1623-1673). Margaret was an author and dramatist, like William, and a philosopher-scientist as well. According to Margaret's account, she and William Cavendish met in March 1645, while she was a maid of honour to Queen Henrietta Maria. They were married in December 1645, in a small private wedding, in spite of the queen's displeasure at losing Margaret.

Recent authorities discount the idea that "The Conceal'd Fansyes" was intended to satirize Margaret Lucas. Making a well-suited marriage was a common endeavor in real life, a theme relevant to both father and daughters, with the potential for considerable amusement. The character of the fictional father's proposed fiancee, Lady Tranquillity, may suggest that Jane and Elizabeth felt some anxiety about the possibility of their father eventually remarrying, but Jane Milling (1997) notes that there is little similarity between the fictional Lady Tranquillity and the real-life Margaret. Katie Whitaker's dating of the play (2002) places it before William Cavendish and Margaret Lucas had met, much less married.

Modern readings emphasize the themes of independence, and freedom to speak and act in both the personal sphere (the young women whose suitors hope to control and manipulate them) and the political (the three cousins who are at risk in their own home because of its military occupation.) Both the family and the country are disrupted by war. There is also a recurrent theme of individuals as actors, seeking to influence or manipulate others, and protect themselves. In this context, conversation and the ability to speak out are central. Luceny fears that she may be pressured by a future mother-in-law to "lessen my conversation for hir peece of sobriety", or by a husband who "thinkes husbands are the Rodd of authority". The imprisoned soldiers must monitor their speech and actions because to be "liberall of your tongue ... may do you hurt, and our partie noe good." In the Conceal'd Fansyes, truths are hidden in locked cabinets, protected as secrets, and screened behind dissembling actions. Perhaps only angels -- or those disguised as angels -- may speak plainly.

See also: Milling, Jane (1997) 'Siege and Cipher: the closet drama of the Cavendish sisters', Women's History Review, 6: 3, 411 — 426.
Katie Whitaker, "Mad Madge", New York: Basic Books, 2002.
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