Skip to content Skip to navigation

17th c

LHMP entry

The afterword sums up the conclusion of the collection that the “all male stage” is a myth and an aberration, being true only of certain specific times, contexts, and locations. Women are absent from the stage only when “the stage” is very narrowly and carefully defined. The concept holds true in England only for a narrow range of time between the rise of private professional companies (displacing the earlier tradition of guild-sponsored plays) and the entrance of women into those companies at the Restoration.

“Jest books” and collections of short humorous tales were a staple of the 16th and 17th centuries. [Note: the genre has its roots even earlier, such as Walter Map’s 12th century “Courtiers Trifles.”]

This article looks at one particular example of this genre of recorded vocal performance that has far more evidence for female performance of jests than usual. The book is also unusual in the proportion of original contemporary material as opposed to “reprints” from previously published joke books.

This article discusses the gendered aspects of ballad performance, both in terms of who is singing, and in terms of the gender of the “persona” of the song. The “female impersonation” of the article’s title refers to male performance of songs representing a female “voice.” This is connected very tangentially to the practice of male actors performing female parts on stage. Like the previous two articles, I did not consider it very relevant to my interests.

This article examines the symbolic and philosophical implications of the exclusion of female bodies from the English professional stage, while presenting female characters, as seen through the lens of how Queen Elizabeth I was depicted on stage. Such depictions of women in general relied on stereotypical signifiers. This would apply ever more strongly for depicting a queen as queen (since obviously, there was no actual queen on stage). Though interesting, this article is also out of the scope of my interest.

Margaret Cavendish was known as a playwright—though for reading consumption rather than stage performance—but not as a theatrical performer herself. But both her plays and her political activity can be seen as having significant overlap in communicating her views and promoting her husband’s positions. Both served as petitions for the ear of those in power to convince them of her opinions and wishes. However, as with the previous article, I feel like this one stretches the scope of the collection beyond what is of interest to my purpose.

This article frame is the legal defense of the Countess of Arundel against espionage charges in Venice as a sort of theatrical performance. As context for this, the author reviews the countess’s experience performing in masques at the court of James I. The article feels like it’s stretching the premise of the collection a bit, and feels fairly speculative, using the phrases “might have,” and “must have” a bit too often for confidence.

When we think of dramatic performance by courtiers, masques tend to be the first image, but this article examines the performance of stage plays by the English court under Henrietta Maria, Queen to Charles I. The queen was French and imported French attitudes and expectations to the sphere where she could set the rules. In particular, she greatly increased women’s performance on the court stages, and amateur women’s theatricals became a regular feature of the court.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night draws on two prominent motifs of Italian theater: a cross-dressed heroine who provokes female desire, and the ideal of the Italian actress, who combined beauty and rhetorical skill. Shakespeare and other English playwrights backed off somewhat on the lesbian eroticism, but retained the image of a female character claiming power through performance and improvising, as manifested in Viola/Cesario’s ambiguous teasing banter with Olivia.

The premise of this article is that Shakespeare’s Loves Labors Lost is inspired by, and reflects, the prominence of women in Italian theater and in French salons who—as in the play—treated serious philosophical questions via banter and wit. Thus, even with no actual women on stage, Loves Labors Lost creates a strong female presence in English theater. The “French salon culture” of this era refers to the courts of Marguerite de Valois and Catherine de Medici, and predates the era most closely associated with the term “salon” beginning in the later 17th century.

Actresses were an integral part of the early modern Italian stage, though the focus in theater history on commedia masks has tended to sideline that point. But female stage participation in Italy, not only transformed theater there, but had ripple effects elsewhere, including England.


Subscribe to 17th c