Activity: Participating in or organising an event types › Participation in conference
‘Necessity makes me suffer constantly’: Travel as Torment in the Writing of the Galley Slave
In John Webster’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi (1623), the ‘court gall’ Bosola defends his merit and loyalty by reminding his ungrateful and corrupt employer that he ‘fell into the galleys’ in his service. The figure of the ‘galley slave’ is also evoked when the play’s heroine attempts to express the depth of her suffering, explaining that she is ‘acquainted with sad misery/ As the tann’d galley-slave is with his oar’. This paper considers what is at stake in Webster’s use of the figure, by recovering other textual traces of galley slaves from the writings of his contemporaries. In a prayer written for the use of galley slaves, printed in Foure Birds of Noahs Arke (1609), for example, Thomas Dekker gives form and shape to the anxieties of men whose souls are compromised by tyranny, and whose bodies are given over to abuse. In his account of his travels and misfortunes, A True Relation (1614), the barber-surgeon William Davies recounts his experience of his servitude in the galleys, writing that the ‘miserie of the Gallies doth surpasse any mans judgement or imagination’. By reading across a variety of sources, the paper thinks about the relationship between labour, travel and punishment, and between physical, spiritual and psychological distress, evaluating the conflicted movement between an experience Davies claims to be unimaginable, and its textual presence in drama and devotional writing.