Feminized Disability and Disabled Femininity in Fair Em and The Pilgrim

  • Lindsey Row-Heyveld
Part of the Literary Disability Studies book series (LIDIST)


This chapter analyzes plays where women counterfeit disability. Unlike their male counterparts, female dissemblers avoid punishment and achieve the ends for which they feigned disability. Specifically, dissembling disability allows them to marry on their own terms. Focusing on the anonymous comedy Fair Em (c. 1590) and John Fletcher’s tragicomedy The Pilgrim (1621), Row-Heyveld asserts that these plays reveal the mutually constitutive relationship between disability and femininity in the English Renaissance, in particular, the way in which performances of disability were simultaneously performances of femininity. This dual performance mode granted female dissemblers a freedom from suspicion not available to male dissemblers. It also allowed women a unique opportunity to reshape their own feminine identities by exposing both femininity and disability as culturally crafted constructs. However, these plays ultimately encode complications in their ambivalent endings—where feminine and disabled identities suddenly diverge and issues of charity trouble easy resolution.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lindsey Row-Heyveld
    • 1
  1. 1.Luther CollegeDecorahUSA

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