Like a Virgin: Lost and Reborn Ballads
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This essay examines how the early modern period conceived of ballads as both inevitably lost and yet ultimately proliferating. First, it analyzes the reference to a lost ballad in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost as a dramatization of the multifaceted and regenerating existence of ballads. Then, the essay takes up an established metaphor comparing the proliferation of print to sexual reproduction to consider the case of broadside ballads. To characterize broadside ballads as a commodity whose material loss leads to an eventual re-emergence, the essay draws from ballads’ frequent—and often cheekily ironic—representations of virginity as something which not only can be but will be and must be lost. Being so lost results in reproduction, especially when functioning as an object of economic exchange.