“Come, what, a siege?” : Metarepresentation in Lady Jane Cavendish and Lady Elizabeth Brackley’s The Concealed Fancies
- Publisher: Humanities Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University
The Concealed Fancies is a play written by Lady Jane Cavendish and Lady Elizabeth Brackley, the two eldest daughters of William Cavendish, marquis (and later duke) of Newcastle, during the English Civil War. We can feel reasonably certain that the sisters wrote it in the hope that it could be performed; however, that would have required the presence of their father, whose return is the climax of the story, from the Continental exile to which he had fled after his comprehensive defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor. Closet drama was in any case a genre with which the play had several features in common, and it is at least possible that the sisters envisaged any performance of the play at one of the two family homes of Bolsover or Welbeck as taking place in a promenade style which would have involved moving to an actual closet for part of this scene. This link between the literal, the symbolic, and the material conditions of possible performance is typical of the radical metatheatricality which characterises and configures the play. In this essay, which like the play itself is co-authored, we combine historicist and formalist approaches to the play with a cognitive pragmatic account of its verbal and non-verbal interactions to fully reveal the extent to which the play’s internal logic writes back against the external circumstances of its authors, and to highlight what a skilled and sophisticated piece of writing it is. First, we introduce theoretical frameworks from cognitive psychology and pragmatics which are used later to explore the intricacies of cognition and communication in the play. After this we offer an account of the play in its wider context before examining the detail and nature of its metarepresentations. The article ends by drawing connections between the play’s apparent preoccupation with metarepresentation and the historical context and conditions in which it was written.
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