The Hop and the Pole

The Limits of Materialism
  • David Evett


In dramatic moments that construct the idea that the fullest state of human freedom can be found in the freely chosen service of God and others, we find early modern ideals of service at work. Such ideals are not those to which most early-twenty-first-century critics will comfortably assent: our understandings of service and freedom are too radically conditioned by materialist political assumptions and argument. Foucaultian emphasis on power dominated English studies in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and hence animated much of the recent published work on Shakespearean service.1 Indeed, the Marxian and Foucaultian analyses of early modern service carried out by literary scholars, such as Mark Thornton Burnett and Michael Neill, and by a whole host of social historians, will materially assist us in anatomizing Shakespearean service. But an argument that wants to respect both the past and the present must try to open and sustain a dialogue between those materialist analyses and the more idealistic one we have developed to this point. I have already suggested that emphasis on power distorts our view of service, especially the phenomenon of willing submission implied in the Christian paradox.2 The hierarchical structures of early modern society, even more than our own, placed large groups of people in subordinate roles on account of the accidents of birth.


Social Historian Cogent Statement Servant Role Marxist Analysis Binary Hierarchy 
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© David Evett 2005

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  • David Evett

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