Riches and Class and Elitism, Oh My! Ashley O’Farrell
In Margaret Cavendish’s play, The Convent of Pleasure, Act Two, scene one, contains a description given by Lady Happy with regards to what the Convent will hold in terms of material items. She talks about how the Convent will have “things as are for our Ease and Conveniency; next for Pleasure, and Delight; as I have change of Furniture…” (2.2, p. 224). From here, Lady Happy goes on to list the numerous items that will be in the Convent, such as silk-damask and looking glasses in the spring, Taffety and Cupboards with purseline in the summer, gilt leather and frangipane in the fall, and tapestries, beds of velvet and satin, Turkish carpets, Cupboards of gilt plates, cypress and juniper flooring, and down bedding in the winter. She also states that there will be sheets, pillows, tablecloths, napkins, and towels of pure fine holland and linen of diaper and damask, and their clothes will be from the same fine material as well. She also says that the food and drink to be consumed will be of the highest and purest quality as well (2.2, pp. 224-25). Based on Lady Happy’s description of what the Convent of Pleasure will contain, the women who have the ability to stay in the Convent of Pleasure are certainly going to be living a life of luxury. It is as if the imagery of the Convent without men is one comparable to the luxuries to be found in Heaven, as the ladies ask of Lady Happy if it is “probable a repentance could be in Heaven amongst Angels as amongst us.” (2.2, p. 224). Lady Happy’s description also indicates that the Convent is going to be an experience of sensual stimulation: everything from sight, to smell, to taste. However, despite the underlying theme of luxury and a refuge for women with no men, the lasting dynamic between social classes still exists. There is no mention of or place for the poor in the Convent Lady Happy has imagined, and her use of the future tense in this monologue further emphasizes this dynamic between the privileged and the poor. Lady Happy especially has a fixation on her garden, as she states that “my Gardens to be kept curiously, and flourish, in every Season of all sorts of Flowers, sweet Herbs and Fruits, and kept so as not to have a Weed in it, and all the Groves, Wildernesses, Bowers and Arbours pruned, and kept free from dead Boughs Branches or Leaves…” (2.2, p. 225). In Lady Happy’s eyes, there is no other possible answer for the relaxation of the women then to have the less privileged women be their caretakers as well as the cooks, cleaners, and landscapers of the Convent. This power dynamic is set forth by a society of men and is carried over into a society in which only women exist. This carryover of ideals speaks more to power and status than it does gender. I do believe that during the time in which this closet play was written, patriarchal societies did exist and I do feel that women enjoyed the lavish luxuries, but the thought of Lady Happy’s haven being exclusive to the rich and wealthy is quite bothersome. Lady Happy’s supposed intention of creating a haven for women to escape to without men all of the sudden becomes very elitist as only the richest and fairest can afford to be in the Convent.