The power of women on stage: the gender enigma in Renaissance England

  • Lesley Ferris
Part of the Women in Society book series


Brought up on the plays of Shakespeare as our main staple of Renaissance drama, we are accustomed to seeing women disguised as men. On the Renaissance stage, however, costume created a complicated, multi-faceted doubling of vision: men playing women playing men. When Viola in Twelfth Night, after a shipwreck, decides to don the apparel of a page and serve the local duke, Orsino, (s)he says:

Conceal me what I am, and be my aid

For such disguise as haply shall become

The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke:

Thou shall present me as a eunuch to him.

(I. ii. 51–3


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  1. 2.
    The anonymous author of Swetnam the Woman-Hater has been the source of much discussion. Woodbridge briefly surveys the possible authors (pp. 320–1) and puts forward her own candidate, John Webster: ‘His fondness of “women in court” scenes … and the motif of one family member seeking the death or ruin of another … is one of Webster’s most persistent themes, occurring in The Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil, and The Devil’s Law-Case.’ After reading the play I was reminded of the title of Mirra Bank’s book which is described as a celebration of the women artists of traditional American art: Anonymous Was A Woman (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979).Google Scholar

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© Lesley Ferris 1990

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  • Lesley Ferris

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