Bodies and Their Spaces: System, Crisis and Transformation in Early Modern Theatre

Bodies and Their Spaces: System, Crisis and Transformation in Early Modern Theatre

Bodies and Their Spaces: System, Crisis and Transformation in Early Modern Theatre

Bodies and Their Spaces: System, Crisis and Transformation in Early Modern Theatre

Synopsis

This volume explores the emergence of the distinctively modern gender system at the close of the early modern period. The book investigates shifts in the gendered spaces assigned to men and women in the public & private domains and their changing modes of interconnection; in concert with these social spaces it examines the emergence of biologically based notions of sex and a novel sense of individual subjectivity.These parallel & linked transformations converged in the development of a new gender system which more efficiently enforced the requirements of patriarchy under the evolving economic conditions of merchant capitalism. These changes can be seen to be rehearsed, contested and debated in literary artefacts of the early modern period - in particular the drama. This book suggests that until the closure of the English theatres in 1642, the drama not only reflected but also exacerbated the turbulence surrounding gender configurations in transition in early modern society.

Excerpt

It was with an air of surprise that the Chaplain to the Venetian Embassy in 1617, Orazio Busino, noted that the London theatres were “frequented by a number of respectable and handsome ladies, who come freely and seat themselves among the men without the slightest hesitation”. Somewhat taken aback, he reported: “On the evening in question [at the Fortune Theatre] his Excellency and the Secretary were pleased to pay me a trick by placing me amongst a bevy of young women. Scarcely was I seated ere a very elegant young dame, but in a mask, came and placed herself beside me ….” Similarly, the traveller Thomas Platter, visiting London at the beginning of the seventeenth century, observed that “without scruple” “men and womenfolk” regularly patronized the public theatres. Busino and Platter were among a number of Continental travellers to England during the Elizabethan and Jacobean age who noted with astonishment the unusual degree of freedom enjoyed by English women: Frederick Duke of Württemberg observed in 1602 that English women had “more liberty than perhaps in any other place” and also “kn[ew] well how to make use of it”, and Emanuel van Meteran remarked that they were “not shut up” nor “kept so strictly as they are in Spain or elsewhere”.

Renaissance playwrights consciously alluded to such notions, knowingly exploiting the fact that their audiences would be to a large extent made up of women. Jonson plays deliberately on these commonplaces. His Volpone muses upon the incomprehensible permissiveness of Sir Politic Wouldbe in the context of a Venetian culture where Corvino keeps his wife under heavy guard: “I wonder at the desperate valour

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