Gender, Power, and Politics on the Early Modern Stage

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In this class we will explore the representation of embodiment on the early modern stage, considering as we do so how theatrical embodiment intersects with other treatments of the body in early modern culture.  As we consider the representation of the gendered body on stage or in so-called “closet” dramas we will read both early modern and contemporary theoretical accounts of gender as a performance, investigating among other issues the use of boy actors, the representation of specifically “female” disorders (e.g., “suffocation” or hysteria), the performance of maternity, the portrayal of female “voice” or vocality, and the treatment of same-sex eroticism.  We will also study the dramatic use of related cultural codes pertaining to betrothal, marriage, cross-dressing, and sexual slander.  Primary readings will include: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, Middleton’s The Roaring Girl, and Cavendish’s Convent of Pleasure. Historical sources will include midwifery manuals, conduct books, medical treatises on hysteria, and legal accounts of betrothal and marriage. We will end the semester with a look at how this material plays out on our contemporary political stage, focusing on Hillary Clinton’s performance of the powerful female politician.

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