Fidelis Servus …: Good Service and the Obligations of Obedience
During the Danvers-Long episode, Roger Fynch, one of Southampton’s servants, found himself in a moral dilemma.1 His master, to whom in general he owed unquestioning obedience, had entrusted him with a message that would help the fugitive murderers escape the law. His conscience called on him to reveal their whereabouts to the authorities so that the murderers could be brought to justice. Fynch, like Lancelot Gobbo trying to decide whether to leave Shylock, temporized, by taking the trip as slowly as possible, stopping for refreshments, carrying out the order but in a way that could have subverted its intention had not the officers of justice been even slower than he. His ambivalence takes us into the very center of the ethical and practical issues involved in the matter of Good Service—in particular, conflicts between the commandments of men and those of God or the moral code. This theme has been at the center of earlier critical attention to service in the early modern drama, especially with regard to King Lear, and especially in the work of Richard Strier. I propose to deepen those earlier analyses by taking fuller account than they do of the religious elements in early modern thought and life, however, and by looking closely at some plays and characters that have not been much regarded. And also by offering glimpses of ways in which servant relationships might reflect or refract important social relationships of other kinds, familial, economic, even political.
KeywordsCoherence Beach Posit Defend Prefix
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