Ostovich, Helen. 1999. “The Appropriation of Pleasure in The Magnetic Lady” in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England edited by Susan Frye & Karen Robertson. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-511735-2
Ostovich, Helen. “The Appropriation of Pleasure in The Magnetic Lady”
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So, Ben Johnson is a massive misogynist, we know that, right? This analysis of gendered roles and alliances in his play The Magnetic Lady, reveals a complex feminine world, despite the hatred and disgust shown for any female character who is not a well-born, passive, virtuous cypher. Women acting together, in a variety of strongly female-coded roles such as midwife, nurse, and widowed householder, try to subvert the patriarchal establishment by taking ownership of their own sexuality and acting to further female goals in marriage. This, of course, by the logic of the play, makes them the villains.
The potential relevance of this article to the Project comes in how female-headed, female-centered households of the early 17th century were depicted within misogynistic satirical literature. They must have been a significant enough feature of society to provoke male anxiety. We see themes like widows having an active (if covert) sex life without binding themselves in marriage, female alliances to deal with the consequences of unwed motherhood, and the ways in which male relatives held legal power over women’s finances and strategized to retain that power.