Dr Tara Hamling (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham)
Decorating the parlour: ‘narrative’ imagery in the middling-level house
Dr Catherine Richardson (Department of English, University of Kent)
“Conferring by the parlour fire”: story-telling and the middling-status house
Catherine Richardson. The particular interests in the subject of ‘domestic things’ which we share at the moment – households and material culture – cluster around the book we are writing together: A Day at Home in Early Modern England: The Materiality of Domestic Life, 1500-1700, due to be submitted to Yale next year. The distinctions in approach to those things come from our different disciplinary perspectives: Tara Hamling is an art historian who researches buildings, interior decoration and crafted objects with a particular focus on iconography and the cultural impact of the English Reformation. Catherine Richardson uses literary and dramatic texts alongside historical documents to study the representation of material culture. Our argument about ‘domestic things’ focusses on the middling sort, a group whose emerging identities in this period were partly shaped by the distinctions they were able to establish between the form and function of their domestic environments and those of their neighbours. As their use of household space was central to the development of their identity, we focus on the way our different methods and kinds of evidence can begin to retrieve these patterns of use, examining the interplay between action, things and spaces. Our case study is the parlour, a room considered crucial to the construction of elite identities because of the way it articulated social differentiation, providing a dedicated space for sociability and leisure time, but rarely considered in relation to middling groups. By analysing a range of visual, material, dramatic and documentary evidence, we examine the transitional nature of the form, use and idea of this space in this period and at this social level.
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