The Performance and Experience of Domestic Service

London Renaissance Seminar

Saturday 18 July, 2pm-6.30pm
Room 538, Birkbeck, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX

In early modern England, domestic conduct literature, legal treatises, and state-sanctioned homilies propagated the ideal of the home as a self-contained system of government; the loyalty of domestic servants was therefore of political significance. Performances of domestic service onstage explored early modern anxieties and fantasies concerning the interference, surveillance, and potential insubordination of the early modern servant; and the conflicts of loyalty and illicit knowledge that domestic service entailed. This half-day symposium brings together historians, literary scholars, and actors, to explore the relationship between the experience of servants in early modern England, and the representation of servants in contemporary English households on the early modern stage. Talks will be illustrated by performances of depositions from church court records and scenes from plays.

2pm Welcome

2.05pm Laura Gowing (King’s College London), ‘Performing Service: stories from the London church courts’ (with performances of depositions)

3.05pm Coffee Break

3.15pm Catherine Richardson (Kent), ‘Work and Leisure: domestic behaviour and the quotidian spaces of service’ (with performances of depositions)

4.15pm Coffee Break

4.40pm Iman Sheeha (Warwick), ‘Staging the Servant: The Case of Michael in The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham’ (with a scene from Arden of Faversham)

5.40pm Drinks

5.45pm Roundtable discussion, with all speakers and actors

The organisers for this event are Emma Whipday (Oxford) and Daniel Starza Smith (Oxford). Please contact Emma at with any queries.

The London Renaissance Seminar meets at Birkbeck College, University of London to discuss topics in the culture of the Renaissance. Anyone with an interest in the Renaissance is welcome to attend. London Renaissance Seminar contact:; mailing list contact:

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