Properties of Desire: Performing Women on the Early Modern Transvestite Stage
Neal, Bernice M
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This dissertation explores how stage properties contribute to the enterprise of depicting the desires of women on the early modern English public stage. It posits a trinity of female character, boy actor, and stage property in performance, the three unified by a shared occupation of subordinate places in the hierarchies that govern the home, the state, and the stage. It considers a Renaissance theatre informed by Pre-Reformation stages that employ religious and salvific objects and variably signifying geographical spaces. I argue that props can shift from locus mode to platea mode as actors do. Catching a spectators attention as props, these objects can contradict their scripted functions in a way that amplifies the resistance of a plays daughter or wife to patriarchal authorities. My project draws upon the work of Frances Teague and Andrew Sofer on early modern stage properties; and upon the work of Erika T. Lin, Richard Preiss, Robert Weimann, and Bert O. States on stage theatricality. Chapter 1 argues that the travels of a salvatory in the Digby Mary Magdalene construct the nature of the Magdalenes erotic desire as the basis of her spiritual authority. It compares this play to A Woman Killed with Kindness, where the journey of a lute foregrounds the damage done to women by male constructions of female erotic desire. Chapter 2 imagines a trial performance of Arden of Faversham in order to introduce a play whose title page condemns Alice for her crimes but whose props offer an affective experience to spectators that would prompt fellow-feeling for her. The final chapter takes up the props in Pericles that drive scenes where daughters resist the identities assigned to them by patriarchs. I argue that these props fail to do what they have been employed to do but potentially afford these daughters a way to negotiate with the powerful for a life in a home conducive to their desires. My coda considers the larger implications of props in the platea that destabilize hierarchies of authority on the stage, in the world, or in the cosmos.