“Clubs, Bills, and Partisans”

Retainer Violence and Male Bonding
  • David Evett


If the theatrical discourse of service had some of its roots in the classical drama, others grew in the discourse of retaining (more deeply affiliated to the epic), which arose from feudal and prefeudal sources in the Germanic north, and carried on with relatively modest changes until capitalism and the other modern -isms began to dismantle all the old social arrangements. Retainer relationships are based in the male bonded group. Such groups are disposed toward a rough equality from which a relatively simple hierarchy of leader and follower will emerge, mediated by contests of will, intelligence, courage, and physical prowess. These qualities might seem to keep retaining aloof from the service/freedom paradigm. As the premodern retainer band imaged in Beowulf or The Wanderer developed into a feudal institution, it did not yet amount to the kind of freely chosen service invoked by the Christian paradigm. The element of custom and expectation in it was too strong for that, so that a Justice Shallow would supply soldiers for the king’s wars because the Shallows had always supplied soldiers for their king; indeed, if a Shallow declined to serve in this way, it was altogether possible that the king would send six or eight other retainers to explain why Shallows would be better advised to do so.


Male Group Household Servant Classical Drama Physical Prowess Male Bond 
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© David Evett 2005

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  • David Evett

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