The voice of gender
This book is a historical and theoretical study of male appropriations of the feminine voice in English texts of the early modern period. Its focus on voice derives both from post-structuralist preoccupations with authorial presence or absence and from Anglo-American and French feminist concerns with gender and language. This double theoretical orientation provides a framework for exploring a number of classical and Renaissance texts that share a common feature: although written by male authors, they are voiced by female characters in a way that seems either to erase the gender of the authorial voice or to thematize the transvestism of this process. This phenomenon, which I call transvestite ventriloquism, accentuates the issues of gender, voice, and authorial property in ways that illuminate both Renaissance conceptions of language and their relation to the gendered subject, and also twentieth-century notions of the author and their link (or lack of connection) to the gendered body.
My use of the term voice refers in the most obvious sense to the metaphors of speaking that appear so pervasively in Renaissance texts. The trope of voice is frequently metonymized in the tongue, or conversely in silence, and it is often embodied in mythical figures associated with voice or rhetoric—the Sibyl, Echo, Philomela, Medusa, the Muse. These figures possess a reflexive dimension, pointing as they do to an author and to the way he (or she) represents and thematizes the conception or production of the text. This subject has been treated evocatively by Jonathan Goldberg (1986) in Voice Terminal Echo: Postmodernism and English Renaissance Texts, where he explores the complicated intertextual relationship between voices and text, between character and letter, between authorial voice and the imaging of its origin. In his study, Goldberg notes the frequent registering of “the poet’s voice in other voices—particularly in the