The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England [*]
Fisher, Will, Renaissance Quarterly
This essay builds on Judith Butler's recent theoretical work in Bodies that Matter by suggesting that the sexual differences that "mattered" in early modern England are not exactly the same as those that "matter" today In particular, it suggests that facial hair often conferred masculinity during the Renaissance: the beard made the man. The centrality of the beard is powerfully demonstrated by both portraits and theatrical practices. Indeed, virtually all men in portraits painted between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-seventeenth century have some sort of facial hair. Beards were also quite common on the Renaissance stage, and the essay goes on to analyze the use of false beards as theatrical props. These are not, however, the only "texts" "from the period that equate being a man with having a beard Similar formulations appear in a wide range of sources: medical treatises, physiognomy books, poetical works, and tracts on gender. In many of these texts, moreover, facial hair is not simply imagined as a means of constructing sexual differences between men and women; it is also a means of constructing distinctions between men and boys. Thus, it would appear that boys were considered to be a different gender from men during the Renaissance. This division had important ramifications fir theater practice. It meant, for example, that boy actors would have been as much "in drag" when playing the parts of men as when playing the parts of women. Finally, we need to bear in mind that if facial hair thus served as an important means of materializing masculinity in early modern England, it was also crucially malleable and prosthetic. As a result, we can say that both masculinity and the beard had to be constantly made (to) matter
Judith Butler's Bodies that Matter attempts to reconceptualize "the body" and gender in a way that will circumvent the current theoretical impasse between essentialists and constructivists. She argues that the body should not be understood as a natural entity that is bound up in an irreducible tension with cultural norms and ideals. Instead, as she puts it, the body ought to be understood as being that tension (66). Consequently, Butler maintains that our current model for understanding the formation of gender roles is inadequate. If we now tend to see masculinity and femininity as being constituted through a process in which preexisting "natural" sexual differences are shaped or modified by social norms and expectations, Butler contends, as the pun in her title implies, that it is really only through the process of making sexual differences matter (i.e., of making them socially significant) that those differences are made matter in the first place (i.e., brought into being, or made material). In what follows , I hope to provide an historical supplement to Butler's theoretical intervention. I want to suggest that the sexual differences that "mattered" in the early modern period are not necessarily the same as those that "matter" today.  In particular, I believe that in the Renaissance facial hair often conferred masculinity: the beard made the man. 
Previous histories of the Renaissance body have largely ignored facial hair. For example, although Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex continues to stand out as one of the most complex and detailed analyses of early modern ideas about the body and sex, he never even mentions facial hair. In fact, despite the purported subject of Laqueur's book, he focuses almost exclusively on medical thought and writing about the genitalia, and thus effectively reduces "sex" to "genital morphology." At one point, he even claims that "the physical appearance of the genital organs was and remains the usually reliable indicator [of sex]" (31). In choosing to single out the genitals as the indicator of sex, Laqueur fails to allow for the importance of other gendered parts, and as a result, fails to allow for the possibility of historical changes in the meaning of the term "sex." In other words, even though Laqueur brilliantly demonstrates some of the possible variations in the way in which genital morphology has been understood, he ends up assuming that sex itself (or rather what counts as sex) has remained historically constant. 
As is probably clear by now, I do not believe that sex was synecdochally reduced to any one particular part in the Renaissance. So when I say that "the beard made the man," I do not mean to imply that it did so in and of itself. Nor do I mean to imply that the presence or absence of facial hair was any more culturally significant than the morphology of the genitals. Rather, I would argue that sex was materialized through an array of features and prosthetic parts. A list of some of these parts would have to include the beard and the genitals, but would also have to include clothing, the hair, the tongue, and weapons such as swords or daggers (to name just a few). 
We can get a sense of the limitations of Laqueur's genital focus by considering, briefly, his analysis of Montaigne's anecdote about Marie-Germain. The story; as told by Montaigne and retold by Laqueur and Stephen Greenblatt,  among others, goes like this: a fifteen-year-old French peasant girl named Marie was chasing after her swine in a wheat field one day. In mid-pursuit, she leapt over a ditch only to find that the sudden exertion had caused a set of male genitalia to pop out of her body. Marie was subsequently examined by a group of physicians and rebaptized as the male Germain.
For Laqueur, Montaigne's narrative demonstrates both the Renaissance belief in isomorphism between male and female private parts and the possibility of transference between the sexes.  Laqueur, however, omits a crucial element of Montaigne's account. Montaigne carefully notes that even before her metamorphosis, Marie was "remarkable for having a little more hair about her chin than the other girls; they called her bearded Marie" (6). Moreover, Montaigne points out that after the transformation, Germain went on to develop "a big, very thick beard." By omitting these elements of Montaigne's narrative, Laqueur ends up simplifying its sexual significance and making it conform more readily to his thesis. But it is not entirely clear, for example, that Marie's transformed genitalia are the sole reason that she is declared a man, or that the transformation is quite as radical as Laqueur makes it out to be. Indeed, Marie's genital shift might be said to bring her private parts into alignment with the beard (and th e humoral constitution that it implies). At the very least, once we have acknowledged Marie's facial hair, the significance of the story becomes more complex.
Laqueur's failure to mention Marie's beard is symptomatic of his more general tendency to ignore non-genital markers of sexual difference. Moreover, this genitocentrism seems to be predicated upon a modern notion of sexual difference in which physiological features are hierarchized (classed as either primary or secondary characteristics) and in which genital morphology often comes to stand in for sex. At one point Laqueur, repeating this schema, dismisses the "secondary characteristics to which one would have reference in lieu of genital organs" (141). While we might agree that sexual difference is now constructed primarily as a difference of genital morphology and that "secondary" characteristics are subordinated to this "primary" difference, I do not think that we can assume that this hierarchy was in place during the Renaissance. Indeed, as I have already suggested, I believe that the beard was as important as the genitals and that it too "made the man."
Portraits provide one of the most striking indications of the cultural centrality of facial hair in the early modern period. Indeed, it is a curious and largely unappreciated art-historical fact that virtually all of the men depicted in portraits from the English Renaissance have beards. In England, starting in about 1540 and continuing for at least a century after that, males over the age of twenty-one are almost invariably represented with some sort of facial hair. Take, for example, the portraits included in a recent exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London -- Dynasties: Painting in Thdor and Jacobean England, 1530-1630. This show assembled sixty early modern portraits of men, and of those sixty, fifty-five had some sort of facial hair (usually a full moustache and beard).  In other words, over ninety percent of the men represented in the paintings in the exhibition had facial hair.
The preponderance of beards in these portraits is by no means atypical. In fact, it is corroborated by the images included in Roy Strong's encyclopedic Tudor & Jacobean Portraits. Strong has assembled approximately three-hundred-and-fifty portraits of men from the Tudor and Jacobean period in this two-volume work, and of those, there are over three-hundred-and-twenty in which the sitter is depicted with facial hair.  Thus, for every portrait of a man without a beard, there are about ten portraits of men with beards. Again this is well over ninety percent. The ubiquity of beards in these paintings is suggested in an encapsulated form by the Somerset House Conference Portrait (fig. 1) where eleven different men are represented together in a single portrait and all of them have some sort of facial hair.
The beards in Renaissance paintings come in a wide variety of styles, known by distinctive names. Charles I, for example, is shown wearing a "stiletto," the Earl of Essex a "square cut," an unknown sitter a "swallowtail," and Sir Thomas Wyatt a "sugarloaf" (see figs. 2-5). John Taylor, the water poet, catalogs some of the different styles in his satiric description of the beards popular at the court of James I:
Some like a spade, some like a fork, some square,
Some round, some mow'd like stubble, some starke bare,
Some sharpe, stiletto fashion, dagger-like,
That may with whispering a man's eyes outpike:
Some with hammer cut, or Romane T,
Their beards extravagant reformed must be. 
Although Taylor's list may itself seem "extravagant," it is by no means exhaustive. In fact, there were at least fifteen distinct and recognizable beard styles worn at the time: in addition to those already mentioned, there were the bodkin, the needle, the fantail, the pisa, and the marquisotte. 
Early modern portraits were not, however, the only place where beards frequently appeared; they were also quite common on the Renaissance stage. Indeed, beards are explicitly mentioned in all but four of Shakespeare's plays; and in As You Like It alone, there are over twenty references to them. Furthermore, even if facial hair is not explicitly mentioned in a play (as in Richard III, Henry VIII, Titus Andronicus, and Pericles), this does nor mean that none of the characters in that play were bearded.
It is worth noting, however, that in addition to the "real" beards of actors, prosthetic beards were also used on the early modern stage. These false beards were probably most prevalent in the boys' companies, but they may also have been used in the adult companies for specific roles: "the greybeard Gremio" (3.2.145) in The Taming of the Shrew, for example, or Abraham Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor who is described as having "a little yellow colored beard, a cain-colored beard" (1.4.22-3).  In fact, the theatrical importance of false beards is dramatized (or rather satirized) in The Book of Sir Thomas More where the players slated to perform the play within the play are forced to postpone their production while one of them goes to borrow "a long beard" (34).
There is some evidence which suggests that prosthetic beards were used quite regularly in the Renaissance theaters (though it is difficult to determine exactly how often, or to what extent, these props were used on account of scant records). Most notably, documents from Oxford University indicate that in 1604, students hired eighteen beards in order to stage a single play -- a production of the (now lost) play Alba for a visit by James I. The list of properties rented for the single performance includes:
1 blewe hayre and beard for neptune.
1 black smooch hayre and beard for a magitian.
1 white hayre and beard for nestor ...
2 hermeits beards the on graye thother white ...
3 beards one Red one blacke th'other flexen.
10. satyers heads and berds. 
It is worth acknowledging that this incident may not be representative of more general stage practices since it involves a production by students. Nevertheless, these records are significant because they are the only documents we have which indicate what props were used to produce a particular play (the other extant lists of stage properties are not linked to any particular play or production). 
The false beards for the performance at Oxford were obtained from Edward Kirkham and …
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Publication information: Article title: The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England [*]. Contributors: Fisher, Will - Author. Journal title: Renaissance Quarterly. Volume: 54. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2001. Page number: 155. © 1999 Renaissance Society of America. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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