“A Place in the Story”

Gender, Commodity, Alienation, and Service
  • David Evett


We have previously noted some places where issues of service and issues of gender seem to intersect—in the fact that St. Paul’s injunctions to servants follow shortly on his injunctions to wives, in the fact that increasing numbers of women begin to appear on rosters of servants in early modern English households, in particular relationships such as that between Grumio and Katherine or Lancelot Gobbo and Jessica. And we can further correlate the two sets of relationships by remarking that in almost all the normative paradigms of social relationship in early modern England, both servants and women occupy formally subordinate positions. Moreover, we can note that in this period, English women and English servants began to gain more freedom than they had generally enjoyed before to choose—not the formally subordinate roles they would occupy, which continued to be ineluctably set by the society as a whole, but the particular conditions of their subordination, the particular husband or master they would serve. Historically, these developments are synchronous with the shift, also previously noted, from service mediated by the direct exchange of goods and services, in which servants exchange their labor for food, clothing, and shelter, to service mediated by money, by cash wages—a shift that entailed additional freedom of choice, such that servants who in earlier times would have committed themselves to serve at least through the lifetime of a particular master, now signed on only for a quarter or a year or the stipulated years of an indenture.


Additional Freedom Opening Scene Royal Rule Male Servant Cash Wage 
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© David Evett 2005

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  • David Evett

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