Book Launch: The Unruly Womb in Early Modern English Drama
The School of Literature, Art and Media invites you to the book launch of ‘The Unruly Womb in Early Modern English Drama’ by Ursula A. Potter.
Please RSVP for catering purposes.
The Unruly Womb in Early Modern English Drama.
Plotting Women’s Biology on the Stage
Ursula A. Potter
Series: Late Tudor and Stuart Drama: Gender, Performance, and Material Culture. MIP, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. 2019
Distributed by De Gruyter, Berlin.
“This survey of early modern drama which portrays female sexuality and the womb is outstanding. Its argument is very consistent in how it demonstrates the centrality of the womb to the portrayal of female characters on stage.” Dr. Sarah Read, Loughborough University, UK.
How did dramatists represent something so private and hidden, and yet often so integral to the plot, as a womb on the stage? This book brings to light a system of coding evident to contemporary audiences but often overlooked today. Female characters were fleshed out on stage through clues embedded in terminology, colour, age, temperament, behaviour, diet, gesture among others. A chart of 50 plays reveals the extensive use of this system of coding. But this is just one feature of Ursula Potter’s research. The book lays bare the centrality of female biology for Renaissance dramatists. Plays by Shakespeare stand out for their preoccupation with the onset of puberty and the fear this raises in fathers facing a daughter’s developing sexuality, but he is not alone. A survey of English drama between 1560 and 1640 uncovers a remarkable amount of dramatic content dedicated to engaging with female biology. It traces the rise in interest in women’s medicine via the public stage and discloses the surprising agency this bestowed on women in the gender debates of the period. Several of the plays give evidence of high levels of male anxiety towards the womb, rooted in part in religious doctrine and in part in fear of sexual failure. Medical writings of the period did nothing to allay these fears.
Shakespeare’s work leads the discussions, but a number of other works offer insights into specific incidents or events: The Bugbears (1560s) provides the first ever clinical description of green sickness (the disease of virgins) as a tool for religious reform; The Maid’s Tragedy reflects a 1613 court scandal over non-consummation; and The Hollander (1640s) draws on a famous brothel in order to throw doubt on medical services for women.
Written in accessible language and backed by a wealth of fascinating historical material, this book will be useful to HSC and undergraduate students of Shakespeare, as well as to historians of Renaissance drama and material culture.
Woolley Common Room, John Woolley building, University of Sydney