Little white oaths : the representation of the evolving codes of honour in early modern England
Terry, Reta Arlene
Seventeenth century male honour codes, in England, were neither simple nor stable. Men and women struggled to determine what it meant to be an honourable man and what constituted an honourable act. The seventeenth century was a period in which the honour code underwent a significant metamorphosis. This study examines the use of the concepts of seventeenth-century masculine honour and how they were employed by authors to inculcate their audiences in order to instill specific values and elicit certain behaviours. This study further explores the ways in which these authors are themselves a product of a cultural context in which the masculine codes of honour are evolving. The elements of masculine honour can be seen overlapping and interplaying in the literature of the seventeenth century. Shakespeare's examination of oaths and promise, of revenge and ambition in 'Othello, Hamlet' and 'Macbeth', overlap with Middleton's ambitious Black House pieces in 'A Game at Chess'. Moreover, Middleton's exploration of the nexus between masculine honour codes and a sense of nationalism not only takes up Shakespeare's elevation of English honour in Malcolm's creation of Earls in 'Macbeth', but also anticipates the discussion of whether honour is manifest in allegiance to the monarch or the state that we have seen in the writings Davenant, Lovelace and Howell during the Civil War. Moreover, the urgent calls for Stoic control of one's passions and the condemnation of factionalism that form the central theme of the writings of Elizabeth Cary and Margaret Cavendish are evident, also, in the writings of male authors of this period, particularly in Shakespeare's creation of Horatio and in Davenant's expanded characters. This dissertation argues that literature is one of the methods of encoding honour in this period. Moreover, these writings were produced during periods of significant political upheaval, and connections are present between those events and the evolution of masculine honour codes. The Essex Rebellion, the Spanish Match, the ascension of a new monarch and the Civil War all had a considerable impact on the shifting emphasis of masculine honour from a chivalric and violent code to a more moral and civic system.