In The Aesthetics of Service in Early Modern England, Elizabeth Rivlin explores the ways in which servant-master relationships reshaped literature. The early modern servant is enjoined to obey his or her master out of dutiful love, but the servant's duty actually amounts to standing in for the master, a move that opens the possibility of becoming master. Rivlin shows that service is fundamentally a representational practice, in which the servant who acts for a master merges with the servant who acts as a master.
Rivlin argues that in the early modern period, servants found new positions as subjects and authors found new forms of literature. Representations of servants and masters became a site of contact between pressing material concerns and evolving aesthetic ones. Offering readings of dramas by Shakespeare, Jonson, and Thomas Dekker and prose fictions by Thomas Deloney and Thomas Nashe, Rivlin suggests that these authors discovered their own exciting and unstable projects in the servants they created.
Chapter One Shakespeare the Servant: The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Chapter Two "My looks were as loftie": Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller
Chapter Three "Playing the Shoemaker": Deloney's The Gentle Craft and Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday
Chapter Four "Iterate the Work": The Alchemist and Ben Jonson's Labors of Service
Chapter Five Tragicomic Service: The Winter's Tale and The Tempest
"Rivlin continually offers new and innovative readings of much-discussed texts… Eschewing what she calls ‘‘catastrophic narratives’’ that focus solely on oppression and disenfranchisement, Rivlin draws a more complex picture: one that allows for both upward and downward mobility, self-possession and dispossession, and an array of new possibilities for early modern subjects and, most particularly, for texts and authors…Scholars of early modern literature and culture will profit from reading Rivlin’s book. It will reward not only students of early modern social history, but readers interested in the literary criticism and aesthetic theories of the period." —Renaissance Quarterly