Gesturing toward the Renaissance woman


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Gesturing toward the Renaissance woman
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Birkenstock, Susan-Marie
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Table of Contents
    Title Page
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    Table of Contents
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    Chapter 1. Enclosing the feminine
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    Chapter 2. Weak hands and feeble knees
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    Chapter 3. Two mincing steps
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    Chapter 4. Maskers with vizards and semblances
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    Chapter 5. Obsequye and obedience
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    Biographical sketch
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Full Text







Copyright 1997


Susan-Marie Birkenstock


ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . iv

INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . 1


1 ENCLOSING THE FEMININE . . . . . .. 21


3 TWO MINCING STEPS . . . . . . .. 112


5 OBSEQUYE AND OBEDIENCE . . . . . .. 210

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . .. 227

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . .. 239


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Susan-Marie Birkenstock

December 1997

Chairman: Dr. Ira Clark
Major Department: English

My dissertation researches the early modern woman in

England, how conduct books constructed the masculine ideal

of that woman, and how that ideal was further inscribed

through dramatic representations of women by boy actors.

Gesture in the conventional theatrical representations of

women and the conduct book constructions of the feminine

becomes a language that needs decoding to help one

understand the social sensibilities of the early modern

culture and the way in which women were positioned within

their society.

Gesture as an outward manifestation of one's inward

will became an increasingly important signifier throughout

the reigns of Elizabeth and James. Bodily comportment

reflected a woman's socio-economic position insofar as her

averted glances, blushes, unfurrowed brows, and non-

threatening posture in general demonstrated her non-

authoritative social status and her economic dependence

upon and passive obedience to her spouse, father, or other

male guardian. Gestures were a self-identificatory

mechanism that implied fundamental differences in social

position and, therefore, in degree of power or

powerlessness. While noblemen and aristocratic youths were

instructed in refining their gestures to demonstrate their

superior rank and authority, to mime a language of self-

possession and social power, women were admonished to

refine their bodily movements as well, with the opposite


No matter how disciplined this body became, it would,

nevertheless, be considered materially- and ontologically-

inferior by the male-dominant family/maternal ideology.

Each gesture, therefore, became a tacit mea culpa, an

admission of the female body's deficiency. In essence, a

woman was to wear her soul and her role on the exterior of

her body. From the averted glance of her eye to the

abbreviated length of her gait, she was to demonstrate her

role of virgin, wife, or widow with restraint and without

the slightest suggestion of boldness, pride, or self-

possession. Inherent in this coding of the female body was

its requirement to remain outside the public arena and

inside the cellular home of the nuclear family. Therefore,

a woman was twice-enclosed by the physical structure of her

domicile and by her own feminine gesturology.


During the Early Modern Period, England was

experiencing a vast social and economic transition.

Throughout the sixteenth century, the phenomenon of

"enclosure" deprived farmers of arable lands and,

therefore, their livelihood, and converted the rich

landowners' properties into grazing fields bounded by a

seemingly endless labyrinth of hedges that served to

contain the grazing sheep crucial to the lucrative and

expanding cloth industry.' Other forms of enclosure were

transpiring as well. The Black Death, having begun its

maleficent mission in 1348, had, by the fifteenth century,

reduced the population in England by a third. This

tremendous decrease in the populace devastated the long-

standing feudal economy. Manorial landlords, in order to

1 William C. Carroll, "The Nursery of Beggary," Enclosure Acts, ed.
Richard Burt and John Michael Archer (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 34-47.
Caroll suggests that all lands were not necessarily enclosed for sheep
grazing. In some cases, the lands were enclosed to make them more
arable by employing innovative farming methods that would produce an
improved crop yield. In other cases, lands were enclosed as the result
of personal feuds between members of the gentry. Tenants were not
always opposed to such measures since they, too, profited by them; and
they were not always evicted from the land to become vagrants.
Nevertheless, this does not contradict the fact that land was being
enclosed as a regular practice. Enclosure does not necessarily denote
land being physically walled- or fenced-in. This term applies to the

survive the resultant rising labor costs and falling rents,

began to lease not only their farming land but also their

"mills, marshes, meadows, and parks."2 Meanwhile, many

disgruntled peasants left their plows behind to join the

large influx of the "masterless" who either abandoned or

were forced off the open fields or out of the spacious

manor houses to live in the often small, crowded houses of

London where they sought refuge and employment. For a

variety of reasons,3 sixteenth-century London had become the

largest city of Europe. Because London proper was not a

large metropolis, it suffered the ills of overpopulation.

Many inhabitants faced unemployment, inadequate housing,

unsanitary conditions and frequent outbreaks of the bubonic

plague. Those who could not find work or housing were

designated as "vagrants" or "vagabonds" and placed inside


general practice of the privatization of land by the wealthy owners who
wished to take control of it.

2 John C. Coldewey, "Some Economic Aspects of the Late Medieval Drama,"
Contexts for Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C.
Coldewey (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 79.

3 David Bevington, in his introduction to The Complete Works of
Shakespeare, Third Ed. (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1980), suggests
unemployment was caused by Henry VIII's closing of the monasteries, a
fluctuating wool trade economy, land enclosure, immigrant artisans, and
war veterans returning from the continent. All Bevington's
introductory material to Shakespeare's plays derive from this edition.

This sense of enclosure further manifested itself in

the emerging nuclear family. Lawrence Stone writes that

the "porosity" or sense of openness to external influences,

typical of all class levels of the late medieval and early

sixteenth-century family, was in "contrast to the more

sealed off and private nuclear family type that was to

develop in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."4 The

life-style of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth

centuries included an urbanized family life, one that

withdrew from the "great hall to the private dining-room."5

While England was by and large an agrarian nation at this

time, with an approximately 10% urbanized population, much

of the country's activity was focused in London.

This apparently nationalistic notion of enclosure was

evident in the theater as well. During this period, many

of the changes that affected England economically and

demographically, e.g., the shift of a strong economy from

the North and Midlands of England to the Southeast had a

hand in altering dramatic entertainment. The medieval

guilds, which, for centuries, had been responsible for

producing civic drama, were facing strong commercial

4 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800.
Abridged Edition (New York: Harper, 1979) 69.

5 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 95.

competition from business ventures outside their towns.

Staging plays became a financial burden that many guilds

could no longer sustain. Moreover, the English Reformation

brought its own combinations of social and economic change,

none of which fostered guild productions of plays. Parish

drama, produced either by the members of the parish or by

religious guilds, fell by the wayside as well.6 Parish

accounts show that the proceeds from dramatic productions

frequently were the primary source of income for a country

parish that utilized these funds to maintain their church

buildings. If the performances were financially

successful, the parish took its play on tour to other towns

that for one reason or another did not produce their own

dramas. Beginning around the mid-fifteenth century, it was

not uncommon for troupes of actors to be circulating from

one community to the next, performing in a variety of

venues. One particular record shows a play being performed

in a quarry on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Inn-yards,

dining halls, and guildhalls were converted into

performance sites as well. Occasionally, a large-scale

production was presented in a town with the assistance of a

hired player and perhaps other professionals brought in

from other locales. Additionally, larger towns produced

6 Coldewey, "Some Economic Aspects of the Late Medieval Drama," 77-101.

yearly events that were the collaborations of either craft

or religious guilds. Many of these productions, however,

were a series of pageants or dumb shows, out-of-door

ambulatory events that resembled religious processions and

royal progresses. Performances of both a secular and

religious nature moved within towns and cities and about

the country landscape in response to a mostly rural

audience.7 However, by the last quarter of the sixteenth

century, these "on-the-road" dramas, once performed either

on pageant wagons or in a variety of acting areas within

the towns, were being upstaged by dramas written and played

year-round on a daily basis within the new, stationary

commercial playhouses.8 Once the first permanent theater

was built in London and professional acting companies

remained in that city, the majority of traveling players

would be those who could not find permanent employment in a

professional acting company in London or who were escaping

an outbreak of the plague. London companies did go on tour

once a year or when business was bad; however, as these

7 Alexandra F. Johnston, in "What if No Texts Survived?" in Contexts for
Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 8-10, draws "preliminary conclusions"
from new external evidence gathered for the Records of Early English
Drama (REED), founded in Toronto in 1975.

8 See Harold Charles Gardiner. Mysteries' End: an Investigation of the
Last Days of the Medieval Religious Stage. New Haven: Yale UP, 1946.

companies became more profitable, toward the end of James

I's reign and into Charles I's, the tours lessened.9

Steven Mullaney sees the development of professional

dramaturgy in early modern London as a "troublesome and

potentially subversive social phenomenon that threatened

religious and civic hierarchies."10 Yet, the troublesome

nature of drama was nothing new. Guild representatives who

sat as members of city councils decided whether, for

example, the Chester cycle of plays could be performed.

The records seem to indicate that two or more Protestant

factions were arguing over whether or not certain

representations of religious subject matter were

appropriate. Religious dramas could have been banned or

revised depending upon the objections raised by civic and

religious leaders. Records from York show that between

1568 and 1579, both lay and church leaders ordered

revisions or suppression of plays if they appeared to be

too Catholic or "popish" in nature.11 In 1549, Edward VI,

9 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Player in Shakespeare's Time:
1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984). See especially Chapter 7.

10 Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in
Renaissance England (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988) vii.

1 Lawrence M. Clopper in "Lay and Clerical Impact on Civic Religious
Drama and Ceremony," in Contexts for Early English Drama, ed. Marianne
G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 102-
129, believes the civic leaders of medieval cities were concerned about
the moral and religious well-being of their city's inhabitants and

obviously surmising the subversive nature of drama, banned

all plays and activities "which might be judged

seditious."'12 Mullaney further argues that, because the

permanent playhouses were marginalized, erected in London's

Liberties, alongside brothels and lazariums, that they were

located on a "more ambivalent staging ground,"13 more than,

say, the religious and civic processionals that became

ideological inscriptions within the city walls. However,

Mullaney himself suggests how unambivalent that staging

ground was for the leper:

Leprosy was no longer excluded from
society in any full sense, as it once
had been, but was instead stationed at
the perimeters of cities and towns, set
apart but maintained in ritual
seclusion. Once free (or condemned) to
wander, the leper was now bound fast to
the horizon of community. His role as
a form of marginal spectacle had
commenced. 14

Marginalized or not, the leper has been contained.

Likewise, popular drama, because it was physically located

outside the city walls, was no less regulated. In fact, it

would seem that the popular theater of Elizabethan and

Jacobean London was far more contained than Mullaney

carefully reviewed the plays for their content to ascertain their
scriptural accuracy.
12 Clopper, "Lay and Clerical Impact on Civic Religious Drama and
Ceremony," 121.

13 Mullaney, The Place of the Stage, viii.

14 Mullaney, The Place of the Stage, 33, emphasis mine.

suggests. Like its medieval predecessors, dramas were

subject to the scrutiny of the government officials in

whose locales they were to be performed. From the reign of

Elizabeth I through that of Charles I, a play could not be

performed unless its manuscript was submitted to and

approved by the Master of the Revels whose autographed

official statement was normally placed at the end of the

manuscript. The Office of the Revels, established by Henry

VIII to supervise court entertainment, gradually evolved

into the position of Master of the Revels who regulated all

theatrical productions. Before a performance, theatrical

companies were required to bring their manuscripts to the

Master for inspection and licensing, for which the theater

owner paid a licensing fee. Dramatists, actors, and

managers were subject to fines and even imprisonment if

they failed to meet the requirements of the Master of the

Revels who had the power to order alteration of the

manuscript or to disallow the play's performance.15

Moreover, both new plays and revivals were subject to

the Master's inspection. An acting company could

occasionally violate the law and stage an unlicensed play

or add offensive lines to an already-licensed manuscript.

However, plays could be censored for criticizing the

government, either explicitly or implicitly (often through

15 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's
Time: 1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971). See especially
Chapter 7.

analogous scenes); for unfavorable portrayals of "friendly"

foreign powers; for containing controversial religious

implications; and for the use of profanity or personal

satire. Additionally, a manuscript could be licensed after

a reading and then be censored after its performance, once

the text's dramatization gave the manuscript new meaning.

The Master of the Revels was in a powerful position from

which the official could penalize offenders with varying

degrees of severity, ranging from requiring that

manuscripts be altered to closing a theater or imprisoning

actors and dramatists.16 Consequently, to violate the

regulations would have been foolhardy, indeed, insofar as

the consequences of such behavior could have meant reduced

profits or the loss of an impresario's and acting company's

livelihood. While medieval drama was subjected to official

censorship, it would seem that it was less scrutinized,

especially since so many players belonged to traveling

troupes that performed in such a variety of towns and

venues. Conversely, once playing in London became a

commercial venture, actors remained in fixed playhouses.

It would appear that early modern drama could have been

facilely observed by the officials, enclosed as it was in a

building just outside a city's perimeter. By the time

James ascended to the throne, impresarios were moving

toward the fully-enclosed hall-type "private house," as

16 Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist. See especially Chapter 7.

opposed to the amphitheaters that were only partially

roofed. Shakespeare's company had established a daily

performance schedule in Blackfriars, one of the private

theaters located within the city of London.17

The theater, by Shakespeare's time, had become a

highly-successful commercial venture. It had also become a

political tool with which Elizabeth presented herself to

her subjects as the divinely-ordained monarch who would

shore up and maintain what some theologians perceived to be

a faltering "right ordre" and "degre of people."18

Justification of monarchical privilege by holy degree and

decree was implemented by Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII.

As Louis Montrose puts it,

The Tudor State sought to legitimate
itself by means of its integration into
a providentially ordered cosmos. But
it could not effectively contain the
ideologically anomalous realities of
heterodoxy, nor arrest the social flux,
that it had helped to set in motion.19

In order to extricate itself from this paradoxical bind,

the Elizabethan regime had to interpellate its subjects

into a new nationalistic ideology and away from a "popular

and religious culture. .tainted by the superstitions and

17 Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1987.) See especially Chapter 2.

18 Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience
and Wilful Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition, ed. Ronald B. Bond
(Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987) 61, qtd. in Louis Montrose, The Purpose
of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan
Theatre (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996) 20-21.

19 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 21.

idolatrous practices of the old faith."20 In essence,

Elizabeth produced her own "show" and, more succinctly, her

own "self" by selectively appropriating "popular and

liturgical practices, ceremonial and dramatic forms" and

transforming them into "elaborate and effusive celebrations

of the monarchy...,"21 a process Edwin Davenport terms the

"selective reconstruction of custom."22 As Montrose

effectively argues, the royal processions "affirmed

principles of good government and reformed religion."23 For

Elizabeth to achieve the social harmony to which she

aspired, her regime and, therefore, the presentation of her

person in processions had to appear nationalistic in

nature.24 Far too much tension still existed between those

who embraced Catholicism and its rites and traditions and

20 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 24.

21 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 25.

22 Edwin Davenport, "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of
Manners," ELH 63 (1996): 259. I am grateful to my colleague Tai-Won
Kim for bringing this article to my attention.

23 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 26.

24 Davenport, in "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners,"
traces this customization of ritual, begun with the early Elizabethan
reformers. Various Royal and Episcopal Injunctions sought to remove
the "popishness" from religious practices. Davenport quotes a 1561
bishop's injunction that demands ministers "neither use any gestures of
the popish Mass, in the time of ministration of the Communion, as
shifting of the book, washing, breathing, crossing, or such like" (256-
7). Other injunctions were careful to maintain a sense of gendered
hierarchy in religious processions in which community members could
participate annually "with the curate and the substantial men of the
parish" (263). Davenport writes, "Royal Injunctions were interpreted
to restrict the gender, number, and station of Rogation observers,
redefining the practice by specifying who could participate in it"

those who continued to seek religious reform. While the

Reformation brought Protestantism to England, Elizabeth's

brand of religion was state-sanctioned.25 By utilizing the

forms of religious procession and dramatic presentation,

she created herself as a religio-political icon that

represented the Nation of England.26

While some social historians see this transformation

of the medieval procession as the loss of a popular and

religious culture to the gain of a secular order,27 others

see it as the move from the religio-civic community to the

"disciplinary state hierarchy."28 Montrose reads this move

as "one that incorporates the local within a national

framework and subordinates it to the political and cultural

25 Leonard Tennenhouse, "Playing and Power," Staging the Renaissance:
Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott
Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991). Tennenhouse
says that Elizabeth's coat of arms replaced the religious images of the
English church and that her sexual body assumed the power of those
usurped images. He writes that paintings and engravings of the queen
at times conjoined her body with England's terrain or ornamented it
with symbols of power and wealth.

26 See John N. King, Tudor Royal Iconography: Literature and Art in an
Age of Religious Crisis (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989) and Frances
Amelia Yates, Astraea: the Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century
(Boston: Routledge, 1975.

27 I draw from Louis Montrose who, in The Purpose of Playing, summarizes
the work of Mervyn James in Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in
Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1986) 16-47; and Charles
Phythian-Adams, "Ceremony and the citizen: The communal year at
Coventry 1450-1550," in Crisis and Order in English Towns 1500-1700,
ed. Peter Clark and Paul Slack (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972)

28 Montrose, in The Purpose of Playing, 26, is characterizing an
argument by Miri Rubin in Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late
Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1991).

center."29 While I find all of these arguments valid, I

believe that another issue needs to be addressed. For

Elizabeth, as the odd mixture of woman and prince, these

progresses also became the transmutation of the masculine

into the feminine, an Ovidian metamorphosis of omnipotent

prince into the antithesis of the Renaissance notion of

woman. Elizabeth had to prove that, although she was a

woman, she was, none the less, a prince and the sovereign

of her realm. In utilizing the dramatic form of the

procession to affirm her sovereignty, she subverted a long-

standing tradition. I say this because, although these

medieval religious processions were communal in nature,

they were always led by authoritative male church

officials30 in order to maintain a gendered social

hierarchy. While Elizabeth utilized the procession to

retain the long-established "chain of being" which placed a

monarch above her subjects, she simultaneously ruptured

that chain by placing a woman in a position of ultimate

human authority. From the beginning of time, no matter

where a woman found herself in the pecking order, she was

always subordinated to her male social counterpart. Of

course, Elizabeth was anything but the normative woman.

More like the Virgin Mary than her sister Mary, Elizabeth

29 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 23.

30 Miri Rubin sees these medieval processions as a display and
reinscription of the social hierarchy that "excluded most working
people, women, children, visitors and servants. . ." Qtd. in
Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 23.

became the perpetual virgin whose body was set apart,

unpenetrated and worshipped from afar. Elizabeth, in the

body of a woman, was an oxymoron as a female patriarch,

and, as such, was a woman who appeared accountable to no

one but God. None the less, the queen had to work

diligently to maintain such a position, continually

displaying a body that exceeded its "natural" limitations.

Elizabeth's feminization of the dramatic adumbrates a

stock polemic employed by religious moralists who would

monotonously argue throughout Elizabeth's reign and beyond

that the theater, by its very nature, was feminine. It was

a threat to a male-dominant society because it sexually

aroused male spectators, weakening their moral fiber and

turning them into women. Boy actors, the theatrical

detractors asserted, were feminized when they played women

characters; and male spectators, in turn, were feminized by

the allure of these female characters. Antitheatrical

tracts repeatedly attack the theater as a feminine

institution, one that had progressively been brought

indoors, enclosed, officially observed, and when necessary,

censored by the state.

Obviously, the drama presented on the Elizabethan and

Jacobean stage was not the overtly didactic and moralistic

fare its medieval predecessors had been fed. And, judging

from the vituperative antitheatrical discourse of the later

sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, "stage plays were no

longer appropriate vehicles for communicating Protestant

doctrine"31 or any religious doctrine for that matter.32

Once London playgoing became a commercial venture and

players remained in fixed venues, dramatists established an

intimate relationship with their audiences, supplying them

with constantly evolving repertories. Since playgoers were

paying for their entertainment, their tastes and money

quickly took precedence over the didacticism of morality

plays and the like.33 Eventually, contemporary newsworthy

incidents became the subject matter for plays, including

sensationalized murders, court conspiracies, and witch

trials.34 We know that playwrights took license with their

themes, and sometimes risked offending the ruling monarch,

as Shakespeare in all probability did with his Richard II.

The famous deposition scene is missing from the earlier

quartos of the play, implying that the censor had removed

it because of its "libelous analogy" to Queen Elizabeth I.

31 Davenport, "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners," 255.

32 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England
(New York: Routledge, 1994), writes that while these antitheatrical
tracts gave accounts of the functioning of the Renaissance theater,
they also exposed the writers' own ideological productions. One
author, a preacher, identifies the theater as an anti-religious
institution that destroys the social fabric. However, his primary
concern is for an audience that had the choice of the theater or church
on Sunday. While these antitheatrical tracts assault the theater, the
authors' own interests emerge regarding their desire to retain some
form of power within the social status quo.

33 Gurr, in Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, suggests that education,
social, and political allegiance, and many other factors had a bearing
on what type of play was written for each playhouse, thereby reflecting
to some degree the poets' and actors' expectations of their audiences.
See especially Chapter 4.

34 Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London. See especially Chapter 5.

It seems likely that this play gave Elizabeth reason to

believe she was being compared to Richard II, placing

Shakespeare's company in great jeopardy before they were

ultimately exonerated.35 As a result of censorship, Ben

Jonson was incarcerated, along with his collaborators

Chapman and Marston, for his critique of King James's

"notorious practice of selling knighthoods for thirty

pounds,"36 for a pointed barb aimed at the King's Scottish

accent, and for a critique of James's plan to unite

Scotland and England.37 This was not the first time Jonson

had been censored and imprisoned. Eight years earlier, he

found himself in a similar situation for the material in

his Isle of Dogs.

Boy companies felt the eyes of monarchical vigilance

as well. Famous for their railing against "upstart"

citizens, nobility, and civic and religious authorities,

boy companies had seen a run of popularity, playing in the

private theaters within the city limits. When the private

theaters were closed for almost ten years, the play-boys

were silenced. In 1598, however, they were permitted to

resume performing,38 but the license the young actors

35 David Bevington, introduction, The Tragedy of King Richard the
Second, 757.

36 David Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989)

37 Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life, 122-23.

38 Bevington, introduction, As You Like It, 358.

enjoyed was ultimately curtailed when, in 1613, an adult

company absorbed the last surviving children's troupe. By

this time, James was favoring the court masque, one reason

perhaps for the demise of the children's companies.39 More

than likely, too, the boy players' unrestrained ridicule

stepped on too many noble and royal toes. By the time of

Charles I's accession, plays were politically charged and

hostile toward the frivolous nature of the court and the

King's inattention to the grievances of his loyal country

constituency.40 The professional stage became the venue

from which dramatists expressed their and, perhaps in large

measure, their paying audience's growing discontent with

their monarch.

At the same time that playwrights were dramatizing

political grievances, the religious moralists and

antitheatricalists in general were churning out

publications filled with disdain for the theater.41 While

the Elizabethan government found the bifurcation of the

39 Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels: The Boy Companies of
Shakespeare's Times and Their Plays (New York: Columbia UP, 1977). See
especially Chapter 1.

40 Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1984). See especially Chapter 10.

41 These antitheatrical texts were representative of only one viewpoint.
As Davenport, in "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners,"
cautions, "If a host of theologians and ministers were ready to
disallow a custom for its pagan connections or unsavory character,
others could appeal to tradition or its social utility to preserve it"
(256). I am not suggesting that there weren't as many proponents of
the theater as detractors. I am referencing antitheatrical literature
to elucidate the connection between the feminized and inferiorized
regarding both the theater and a woman's body.

religious and the dramatic expedient, writers like William

Prynne could not achieve such a rupture. The marginalia of

his exhaustive antitheatrical polemic Histriomastix spill

over with biblical references to support his argument that

the theater is effeminate and immoral. Additionally,

Prynne utilizes classical authorities to support his

Christian stand. In regard to the feminine nature of the

theater, Prynne's argument reads as follows:

That whose very action is
effeminate, must needs be unlawfull
unto Christians.
But the very action of Stage-
playes is effeminate.
Therefore, it musts needs be
unlawfull unto Christians.42

In particular, the theater is effeminizing as well as

effeminate because boy actors are transformed into the

"very habit and order of Strumpets, to the great injury and

dishonour of their age and sexe: a thing which Moses doth

much condemne."43 Classical writers, Prynne says, contend


in all scenicall arts. . there is
plainely the patronage of Bacchus and
Venus which are peculiarly proper to
the Stage. From the gesture and
flexure of the body, they sacrifice
effeminacy to Venus and Bacchus; the
one of them being effeminate by her
sexe, the other by his flux, etc.44

42 William Prynne, Histriomastix (London, 1633) 168.

43 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168.

44 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168.

Added to this wicked behavior, says Prynne,

Another equally wickednesse is super-
added. A man enfeebled in all his
joynts, resolved into a more than
womanish effeminancy, whose art is to
speaker with his hands and gestures,
come forth upon the Stage: and for this
one, I know not whom, neither man nor
woman, the whole Citie flocke together,
that so the fabulous lusts of antiquity
may be acted.45

Prynne cites further examples of the depravity that results

from boys being trained to impersonate women, how a "male

might be effeminated into a female" through attire and

gestures, gestures which are "most unchaste" simply because

they are performed and ultimately because they "provoke

lust."46 Even though in one example Prynne discusses a boy

actor who impersonates a "tender virgin," the boy's

gestures continue to be "abominable."47 Prynne asserts that

all feminine and feminizing gestures are tantalizing to

men. Therefore, a boy actor playing a virgin is branded a

"whore" through his feminine gestures.

As Sue-Ellen Case demonstrates, the "female body had

become the site for sexuality"48 when the medieval Catholic

Church banned women from the stage to prevent the theater

45 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168.

46 Prynne, Histriomastix, 169.

47 Prynne, Histriomastix, 169.

48 Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988) 20.

from becoming the "site for immoral sexual conduct."49 Once

young boys became highly skilled in representing the female

body,50 the very mimesis of that body became the material

site of an uncontrolled eroticism, the object of derision

and censure, and the locus upon which to inscribe a

powerful ideology that positioned women as the physically,

morally, and intellectually inferior gender. I will argue

below that feminine gesturology in both early modern drama

and in conduct books for women resurrects and reinscribes

an age-old notion of the female body as inferior in every


49 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 20.

50 While a twentieth-century audience may have difficulty understanding
how an early modern audience could accept such a mimesis, Stephen
Orgel, in Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's
England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), suggests, "Whether boys are
thought to look like women or not depends on how society constructs the
norm of womanliness; clearly it is in our interests to view boys as
versions of men, but the Renaissance equally clearly sought the
similitude in boys and women" (70).


Prior to the theater's closing in London, vituperative

antitheatrical discourse was being disseminated in street

tracts, in sermons preached from the pulpit,1 and in books

like Prynne's Histriomastix. As mentioned above, a good

deal of this discourse denounced the theater for feminizing

its young play-boys and for emasculating its male

spectators. Cross-dressed boy actors, the polemicists

insisted, were arousing sexual desire in the male

spectators who were, in turn, enfeebled and transformed

into women since they lost control of their sexual desire

as they lusted after the ensnaring female characters.

As Levine and Orgel have suggested, men were becoming

anxious over cross-dressing and its ability to either

feminize and disempower them or to accomplish the inverse

in women.2 The fear of emasculation was nothing new in the

1 According to the antitheatrical polemicist Stephen Gosson, in Playes
Confuted in Five Actions (London, 1582), the "abhominable practices of
players in London haue bene by godly preachers, both at Paules cross,
and else where, so zealously, so learnedly, so loudly cried out upon"
(2) that no one has heard the words for hearing them so frequently.

2 Laura Levine, in Men in Women's Clothing: Antitheatricality and
Effeminization, 1579 to 1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1994)
convincingly argues that much of the antitheatrical rhetoric prevalent
during the early modern period was driven by a male anxiety that boys

Renaissance and finds its roots in medieval theology.

Margaret Hallissy writes that because celibacy was

considered a "higher estate," connubial sexual intercouse

was practiced by those considered incapable of "rational

control over a bodily part."3 The theory continued that

women arouse men, making them inferior, and emasculating

them. Augustine states, "I know nothing which brings the

manly mind down from the height more than a woman's

caresses."4 Stephen Orgel concludes that the foremost fear

articulated by antitheatrical writers, such as William

Prynne, John Rainolds, and Philip Stubbes, was the "fear of

a universal effeminization."5 Because the theater, like a

woman's body or its mere representation, aroused men's

sexuality, it had to be contained and controlled.

and men playing the parts of women would entice male spectators,
causing them to lust and to be effeminized. Stephen Orgel, in
Impersonations, carries Levine's argument beyond the theater, positing
that such behavior was culturally ubiquitous. Women, too, through
their dress and comportment, could become men, subjects instead of
objects, posing a threat to a male-dominated society. Richard
Brathwaite, in The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631), suggests that
sloth or sensuality turns men into women, women into beasts, and beasts
into monsters. See also Mary Beth Rose. "Women in Men's Clothing:
Apparel and Social Stability in The Roaring Girl." English Literary
Renaissance, 14 (1984), 139-51.

3 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows:
Chaucer's Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct (Westport, CT: Greenwood
P, 1993) 13.

4 Qtd. in Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 13.

5 Orgel, Impersonations, 29.

Although Prynne's compendious text is the longest

antitheatrical polemic, it is not the first, nor the last,

of its kind. Stephen Gosson, previously a writer and

defender of plays, has been "cured" of the theater, much

like his antitheatricalist predecessor Plato,6 and now

perceives drama as the devil's work. The theater, Gosson

argues, should not be sufferedd in a christian com[m]on

weale."7 In Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582), the

last of his three antitheatrical tracts, Gosson attacks the

players for wearing women's clothes and for utilizing

feminine gestures. He rehearses the well-worn argument

from Deuteronomy regarding cross-dressing:

The Law of God very straightly forbids
men to put on wome[n]s garments,
garments are set down for signes
distinctiue betwene sexe & sexe, to
take unto us those garments that are
manifest signes of another sexe, is to
falsifie, forge, and adulterate,
contrarie to the express rule of the
words of God.8

Gosson continues by attacking players in regard to their

feminizing gestures:

6 Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California
P, 1981). Barish says Plato had an "early passionate apprenticeship"
to the theater but was dissuaded from this attachment to drama "by the
teaching of Socrates" (5).

7 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.

8 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.

All that do so [cross-dress] are
abhomination un[to] the Lord, which way
I beseech you shall they bee excused,
that put on, not the apparrell only,
but the gate, the gestures, the voyce,
the passions of a woman....9

Gosson then likens the players' feminine gestures to the

windinge of a snake,"10 employing an oblique reference to

the Garden of Eden, conflating the theater with the female

body. Because the theater is feminine, Gosson reasons, it

is lewd and evil. Like a disorderly woman, it is a

potential threat to the gendered hierarchy. If enclosure

into a theaterhouse has not sufficiently suppressed drama,

then firmer measures must be taken. History proves this to

be the case in 1642.

Because gesture was deployed, along with costumes, to

transform a young boy actor into a female character, it

became a target for antitheatrical attacks. Gesture,11 like

language, Gosson opines, must be used honestly:

Let us therefore consider what a lye
is, a lye acte executed where it
ought not. This acte is discerned by
outward signes, euery man must show
himself outwardly to be such as in deed

9 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.

10 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4.

11 I will be relying on John P. Hermann's definition of gesture, in
"Gesture and Seduction in Troilus and Criseyde," in Chaucer's Troilus &
Criseyde, ed. R. A. Shoaf (Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Tests &
Studies, 1992) 138-160. Hermann defines gesture as "any expressive
bodily sign, such as a change in bodily position, a movement of the
body, a change in hue, or even a sign" (139).

he is. Outward signes consist eyther
in words or gestures, to declare our
selues by words or by gestures to be
otherwise then we are, is an act
executed where it should not, therefore
a lye.12

Gesture both on and off the boards was taken seriously, as

Gosson points out, so seriously that, if gestures do not

represent a person's inner self, then such behavior is


John Rainoldes, in T'Hoverthrow of Stage-Playes

(1599), continues to tear at the already threadbare concept

of the "abominable evill in Gods sight" of men in women's

clothing. Cross-dressing incites "sparkles of lust" in men

and "may kindle in vncleane affections."13 Like Gosson

before him, Rainoldes perceives all feminizing gestures to

be lascivious. It is bad enough that young men "come

foorth in hoores attire, like the lewde woman in Proverbs,"

but it is worse to teach them "to counterfeit her actions,

her wanton kisse, her impudent face, her wicked speeches

and enticements."14

Again, all dramatic representations of woman fall into

the single category of "whore"; therefore, all feminine

12 Gosson, "The 3 Action," Playes Confuted in Five Actions, n. pag.

13 John Rainoldes et al., Th'overthrow of Stage-Playes (1599; New York:
Garland, 1974) 11.

14 Rainoldes, Th'overthrow of Stage-Playes, 17.

gesturology is wanton and demeaning. As Jonas Barish

reminds us, representation or imitation has been an axe

initially ground by Plato and re-whetted by Renaissance

antitheatricalists. Barish writes,

Consideration of the antitheatrical
prejudice must begin with Plato, who
first articulated it, and to whom its
later exponents regularly return in
support of their proscriptions and
prohibitions. 15

Socrates believed that imitation was the "bringing into

being of an inferior world,"16 a concept he taught Plato.

Following the voice of antiquity, early modern

antitheatricalists easily conflated the inferior, imitative

theater with the second-rate, mimetic woman's body. As

contemporary medical treatises avowed, in spite of new

scientific findings, a woman's body was substandard, a poor

copy of her male counterpart's perfect body.17

15 Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 5.

16 Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 6.

17 Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990). Laqueur speaks of the "one-flesh model"
that existed from classical antiquity to the end of the seventeenth
century. Laqueur says women were perceived as "men turned outside in"
(4) and were, therefore, considered inferior imitations of men.

What is more, Plato18 and his early modern successors

believed that this imitative gesturology was dangerous for

the young actors, for after

much meditation of sundry dayes and
weeks, by often repetition and
representation of the parties, shall as
it were engraue the things in their
minde with a penne of iron, or with the
point of a diamond.19

Of interest in Rainoldes' argument is the concept that

gestures not only reflect the condition of one's soul, but

they also, if imitated with perseverance, transform one's

soul. This idea that one's imagination could transform

one's inner being was the basis of Plato's extreme censure

of the theater. Of Plato, Edgar Wind writes, "Hence he

found miming a most perilous exercise, and he devised

curious laws that would prohibit the miming of extravagant

or evil characters."20 This, I believe, is the crux of

early modern thinking in regard to feminine gesturology and

its performance. Although Rainoldes and his coevals argue

that one's outward material gestures reflect one's inward

spiritual essence, they believe and fear the "truth" taught

18 Barish, in The Antitheatrical Prejudice, writes that Plato believed
actors should only imitate "suitable" models, a paradigm that did not
include women, slaves, villains, madmen, tradesmen, etc. (21).

19 Rainoldes, Th'overthrow of Stage-Playes, 19.

20 Qtd. in Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 30.

them by the ancients that one's outward significations are

capable of altering one's inner soul. While Plato's bias

was toward the imagination, the early modern moralists

directed their tendentious argument at the feminine.

As I will discuss below, the notion of one's gestures

being constitutive of one's moral fiber, of one's soul,

becomes a crucial issue in regard to women and the conduct

books written for and about them. This soul is similar in

nature to the Foucaudian modern soul21 that is constructed

through one's trained, repetitive behavior. For the

writers of conduct books, gestures become the sine qua non

for the expression of a woman's inner self because conduct

books continually admonish her to keep silent.

Additionally, and I believe of far greater consequence,

gestures, more than attire, become the material that

fabricates the passive feminine soul and, thereby,

constructs a woman's docile body.

Like the antitheatrical treatises, conduct books for

women warn against the evils of the theater. Women, these

texts tell us, "take lesse pleasure at a Sermon then at a

Comedy; they go rather to heare a Buffon, then a

21 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979).

Preacher."22 Since the Church was one of the primary

institutions utilized to control women, it became

problematic when they began to attend the theater for two

reasons. First, they were seeing representations of women

on stage who appeared to have a measure of freedom not

normative for the early modern woman, especially women like

Moll Frith, in Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl, who

dressed like a man and circulated freely within her world

of pickpockets and prostitutes.23 Second, until James

banned Sunday performances, women were attending theater

performances instead of going to church services.24 Not

only was church doctrine regarding the "place" of women

being eroded, but the hearing of it was also being avoided.

As Barish succinctly puts it, the mimesis of drama

threatened long-established institutional structures:

By the closeness of the imitative
process, in which it mimes the actual
unfolding of events in time, before the

22 Jacques DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, (London: 1639) 15.
I give the chapter title here and following since the pagination of the
text is irregular and not always continuous from chapter to chapter.

23 Stephen Orgel, in Impersonations, argues, however, that this would
not be a real strategem for upper- and middle-class women regarding the
crossing of gender boundaries. More than likely, Moll represents
lower-class women who oftentimes cross-dressed as a means to gain
employment in jobs that were, for the most part, occupied by men.

24 Martin Butler, Theater and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1984). Butler writes that James forbade playing in non-courtly
theaters on Sundays in response to the objections raised by the
Puritans who were not against the theater but against its competing
with Sunday church services.

spectators' eyes, it has an unsettling
way of being received by its reality pure and simple.
As such, it implicitly constitutes a
standing threat to the primacy of the
reality propounded from lecturn and

Jean E. Howard suggests that the stage not only affirmed

the dominant ideology but that it also cleared space for

marginalized groups, becoming the site of cultural

contestation. Both reaffirming and subversive, the diverse

nature of the theater reflected contesting ideologies whose

struggle for power is located both in the production itself

and also in the audience. Howard argues that the theater

did not simply reaffirm masculine and aristocratic power

any more than it facilely served as a subversive site of

that power. Its diverse nature encouraged discourse that

at once harmonized diversity and exposed particular

ideological interests while opening a gap to create new

subject positions.26

Ania Loomba suggests that in Renaissance drama, the

view of a stable, homogeneous patriarchal establishment is

problematized by the lack of closure found in the plays.

This sense of chaos and resistance to the dominant ideology

25 Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 79.

26 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England
(New York: Routledge, 1994).

is reflected in the portrayal of the disobedient or

problematic woman. Yet, she believes this view of woman is

far from consistent, further problematizing the supposed

patriarchal hegemony. Moreover, that hegemony is called

into question through the female characters' antagonism

toward it and through the resultant conflicts. While on

the one hand, these texts appear to emphasize the

consolidation of patriarchy; on the other hand, they do not

provide an adequate closure to confirm such authority.

Loombia examines the disobedient or disorderly woman in

Jacobean tragedies. In this genre, although women do

subvert the dominant ideology in various ways, they are

almost always punished for their disobedience, often

through torture and death.

With the many social changes affecting early modern

Europe, it was important that the concept of a stable,

unmoving society be more deeply inscribed in the minds of

the people. Most particularly, in light of the changing

social hierarchy, the position of women needed to be

redefined in texts from religious tracts to conduct books

to literature.27 Perhaps this is another reason why conduct

books were appearing in such large numbers during the same

27 Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP,

time commercial theater was reaching its zenith in

popularity. Women, Andrew Gurr believes, would have been

no less affected by their audience participation in the

theater than their male counterparts as they saw both

dominant and emergent ideologies played out in front of

them.28 This, of course, was a concern of the Puritan

theologians as they penned their antitheatrical tracts.

Gurr discusses the many complicating factors that

contribute to the appraisal of what he terms a

"Shakespearean" audience that covers a seventy-five-year

period from 1567, when the first amphitheater playhouse was

built, to 1642, when the theaters were closed. While

research has given us an understanding of the material

circumstances surrounding the performance of a text, it has

not uncovered the interaction between player and playgoer.

The receivers of a performance text, Gurr argues, are an

important ingredient of the "mechanism of transmission"29 of

that text. Therefore, he says, knowledge of the audiences

will augment our knowledge of Shakespearean dramaturgy. As

each new wave of criticism approaches an understanding of

the early modern audience, new information comes to light

28 Andrew Gurr, introduction, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987).
29 Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, 3.

in regard to the material and ideological circumstances

that surround the early modern audience.

Through my study of early modern conduct books for

women, I have discovered an apparent correlation between

the instructions women received in regard to their bodily

comportment and the feminine gesturology female characters

deployed on the stage. As Gurr writes, the social and

mental composition of an audience varied greatly within the

period he addresses. He does add, however, that, while the

Shakespearean audience included persons ranging from the

nobility to the destitute, the rising middle classes,

ranging from urban artisans to scriveners and clergy,

comprised a large portion of the Shakespearean audience.

The women of the middle classes seem to be the object of

discussion for the conduct book writers, and as Gurr

writes, it appears that citizens' wives attended the

theater regularly where they would have had the opportunity

to view male-constructed representations of women. How

representative of, or subversion of, the dominant ideology

they are remains open to question. Ultimately, I find them


While conduct books admonish women to stay indoors to

avoid attending the theater, they also instruct them to

eschew almost every other social function that takes them

away from their domestic duties. Like the theater,

feminized bodies must be enclosed and controlled.30 These

texts find their roots in medieval courtesy books which

themselves are based on the writings of the early Church

fathers and classical authors and were "written by men for

the women under their authority, circulating to other men

for their use in guiding the women of their households."31

They find further strength from the Reformation, which

relied heavily on the reading of scripture, a scripture

written by and about the patriarchy. On the practical

side, if a woman did not choose a life of celibacy in a

convent, then her only other option to economic security

was marriage, since marriage was still the only ground upon

which a woman could achieve any measure of accomplishment.32

A woman, therefore, needed to be socialized appropriately

if her father was to succeed in securing her a husband.

On the ideological side, however, these conduct books

could have been written to maintain a gendered hierarchy of

social, political, and economic domination. During the

30 I follow Loomba's argument in Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama. I see
the enclosure of a woman's body analagous to that of the theater. As
Loomba argues, a woman's mobility and duplicity became a threat to the
status quo, as was the case with the theater. As I have shown in my
introduction, the theater became "housed" much like the ideal wife of
the conduct books.

31 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 19.

32 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 18.

fourteenth century, some women were beginning to achieve a

measure of independent financial success, especially those

who owned a business or worked at a trade in an urban

center. No longer reliant upon the land, or the husband

who had owned it, a woman could have seen the opportunity

to become economically successful on her own. Yet,

Shulamith Shahar wonders whether women were aware of their

inferior position in society, whether they responded to

that status, and, if so, how. There seems to be no

evidence of a woman's movement. Moreover, since women

wrote very little and our knowledge of their lives is

largely from indirect sources, it is difficult to know

whether any significant rebellions against their

subordinate status took place.33

Caroline Walker Bynum writes that misogyny in the

later Middle Ages was evidenced in theological,

philosophical, and scientific theory and incorporated in

male/female binary opposition such as intellect/body,

active/passive, rational/irrational, etc.34 Although

33 Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle
Ages, trans. Chaya Galai (London: Routledge, 1983). See especially
Chapter 1.

34 Julia 0'Faolain and Lauro Martines, ed., Not in God's Image (New
York: Harper and Row, 1973); Vern L. Bullough, "Medieval Medical and
Scientific Views of Women," Viator 4 (1973): 487-93; and Eleanor C.
McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval
Theology," in Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and

aristocratic women were capable of running estates for

absentee husbands, and middle-class women managed

businesses, their roles as mother and wife were demeaned

and even ridiculed. Furthermore, as women increasingly

became the majority of the population, their dowries were

enlarged, deeming the birth of daughters as anything but

fortuitous. Yet, Bynum argues against the traditional

historical belief that women internalized their persecution

and adopted roles of self-abnegation. She suggests that,

alongside the misogynist images of women, positive images

flourished, as evidenced in the worship of the Virgin Mary

and in an increased number of women being canonized.

There were even some instances of female clergy and

deities and the occasional spiritual metaphors that related

to a woman's fecundity as well as her sexual experience and

married life.35 However, as Bynum points out, these female

spiritual models were, in large measure, developed by men,

a conclusion drawn by Weinstein and Bell.36 Bynum continues

that women did not develop a "religious subculture" to

Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1974) 213-66.

35 Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender
and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone, 1992).

36 Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints and Society: The Two
Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000 to 1700 (Chicago: U of Chicago P,

counter misogyny; their religiosity and devotion to Christ

increased, along with that of men. Bynum does say that,

unlike their male counterparts, women emphasized penance,

especially "in the form of food deprivation, self-inflicted

suffering and an interpretation of illness as religious

experience."37 It would seem that these "self-inflicted"

material practices were a means of marking a woman's body

as inferior, an externalization of an internalized

perception of deficiency.

In addition, Bynum says, women's somatic experiences

were encouraged by the clergy and used as proof against

heretical movement while simultaneously keeping women under

a male religious thumb. Half-starved women wouldn't have

had much energy left to found a feminist movement, much

less leave their cells. The practice of marking the

external as inferior is evidenced in early modern conduct

books where secular women are enjoined to employ

specifically feminine gestures to inscribe themselves as

inferior. Bynum does not support the "argument that women

shaped their self-conception either in conformity with or

in opposition to the misogynist image of Eve."38 Instead,

37 Bynum, Fragmentation, 154.

38 Bynum, Fragmentation, 155.

she envisions active religious women whose devotional lives

were filled with visions of Christ and a belief in a

mystical union with him.

This union with Christ becomes a theme in early modern

conduct books as well, but only as a reinscription of a

family ideology in which middle-class housewives find

themselves subsumed beneath male authority figures, both

hallowed and human. Shahar writes that female mystics,

while unique in regard to their elevated status and

respect, won recognition because of their personalities,

not as a result of their ecclesiastical rank. The Church

may have recognized these mystics and their prophetic

power, but it also made clear that prophecy was a gift from

God and not a sacrament. Unlike Bynum, Shahar argues that

female inferiority was not forgotten; women were still

barred from the priesthood.39 In the final instance,

extreme bodily self-discipline40 was a woman's sine qua non,

her agency to the masculine, without which she was nothing.

39 Shahar, The Fourth Estate.

40 While religious men adhered to extreme forms of bodily self-
discipline, Bynum, in Fragmentation, writes that, for men, becoming
female and weak was a requisite to spiritual submission and a sign of
meekness and worldly rejection. Male religious leaders and monks often
describe themselves in feminine terms. However, men who "became" women
considered themselves superior to a natural woman whose gender was not
"chosen," not a sign of conversion. Women had no ability to "become"
female and, as a result, could never fully renounce the world as their
male counterparts could.

Lawrence Stone believes the early modern woman was,

more than likely, as "submissive and as dependent as the

conduct books suggested that they ought to be."41 Using

records of crimes committed by women during the late

sixteenth century, he concludes that women had a "minimal

share"42 in serious and violent crimes. The only areas in

which they displayed resistance were in partaking in food

riots or displaying "dissident religious opinions."43 While

it appears that wives lost status during the sixteenth and

early seventeenth centuries, it is not entirely clear why.

Perhaps, as Stone suggests, the creation of the nuclear

family simultaneously gave the husband more concentrated

power and took from the wife a measure of protection she

may have been afforded as part of an extended family


What's more, once Henry VIII broke with the Roman

Catholic Church, confiscated its holdings, and closed the

abbeys and nunneries, even women of means were left with

little option other than marriage since the alternative

41 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800.
Abridged Edition. New York: Harper, 1979, 141.

42 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141.

43 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141.

44 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141.

life of a cloistered, devout virgin dissolved, along with

Henry's first marriage. Lawrence Stone comments,

Many, but by no means all, of these
[upper-class] girls probably found the
religious life a satisfying alternative
career to an arranged marriage. For
those women who sought power, the life
of an abbess was clearly preferable
even to that of an aristocratic wife.45

With the dissolution of convents came the abolishment of

saint worship. This, says Lisa Jardine, "removed a moral

support from women which went unexpectedly deep."46 She

quotes Natalie Davis:

The loss of the saints affected men and
women unequally. Reformed prayer could
no longer be addressed to a woman,
whereas the masculine identity of the
Father and Son was left intact.47

Ian Maclean argues that, even though the Virgin Mary

and other female saints were depicted as female exemplars,

it "cannot be said...that such praise is to the advantage of

the mass of women, who, by contrast with these saintly

exceptions, remain associated with weaker reason, stronger

passions and greater inherent vice."48 The Virgin Mary, in

45 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 38.

46 Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble)

47 Quoted in Jardine, 50.

48 Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1980) 22.

particular, represents an unattainable womanly ideal, for

she is represented as a fertile and perpetual virgin who,

although married to a man, was impregnated by God, gave

birth without pain, and nursed not just a child but the

Christian savior.49

Although the Reformation took away power from the

Church Fathers, the Holy Father, and Catholic priests, a

new, ever-present power now resided in the father of the

nuclear family. Lawrence Stone writes that perhaps the

most significant result of the Reformation was a new

emphasis on the household which became the

inheritor of many of the
responsibilities of the parish and the
Church; the family head was the
inheritor of much of the authority and
many of the powers of the priest.50

While Keith Wrightson's picture of the nuclear family

attempts to modify the "stereotype of marital relations"51

in which male authority seems a given and which is espoused

in conduct books of the day, he does conclude, however:

49 For the summary, I have utilized material from St. Peter Canisius'
work De Maria Virgine incomparabili (1577), quoted by Maclean in The
Renaissance Notion of Woman. Maclean further comments that Mary is, in
fact, "not of her sex," exempt as she is "from all female vice and
imperfection" and "so remote...from others of her sex" (23).

50 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 104.

51 Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers
UP, 1982) 92.

In the domestic economy, decision-
making, conflict resolution and sexual
behaviour, mutuality in marriage,
within a context of ultimate male
authority, may well have been not only
the conjugal ideal, but also the common
practice among the English people as a

This curtailment of women's freedom surfaces in

medieval drama as well, perhaps reflecting a rising anxiety

about the unusual status female religious figures had been

granted. As Shahar writes, by the twelfth century, the

belief in the Virgin Mary as Holy Mother and mediator

between Heaven and earth was elaborated on from a fifth-

century doctrine. Along with the Virgin Mary, Mary

Magdalene was worshipped and claimed by Abelard to be a

heavenly mediator as well. Even though the virgin nun was

elevated in the eyes of the Church, she was not permitted

to hold any ecclesiastical office or to perform any

ceremonial duties.53 This paradox of the venerated and

contained is evident, for example, in the titular heroine

of the Digby "Mary Magdelene" who is depicted in the drama

from her containment in a patrimonial household to her

period of sexual incontinence and, finally, to her

spiritual conversion. Ultimately she enters heaven where

52 Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680, 100.

53 Shahar, The Fourth Estate. See especially Chapter 3.

she returns to another sort of domestic containment under

the Father of all fathers.

A similar sense of enclosure is evident in pictorial

representations of the Virgin Mary. Margaret Hallissy, in

discussing the "sharp differentiation between male and

female uses of space,"'54 believes that while enclosure could

have been valuable and positive for both sexes, it was the

men who left their walled-in homes and communities to "have

adventures and return triumphant."55 Wandering women were

considered immoral; and Chaucer's Wife of Bath is the

quintessential example of this as the perambulating, five-

time widow. Her antithesis, the Virgin Mary is invariably

depicted, both in literature and the visual arts, in an

enclosed space during the Annunciation scene. In a

fifteenth-century pictorial image, "Mary's modesty is

further stressed by her gesturing hand, lifted in warning

against the intruding stranger [Gabriel].56

Saints and sinners alike, women had to be contained.

In the Digby "Killing of the Children," the mothers of the

babies being slaughtered by Herod and his soldiers rebel,

beating the infanticides with their distaffs. Not

54 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96.

55 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96.

56 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96.

surprisingly, the disorderly women are quelled and forced

to return to their domiciles. Both Digby plays succeed in

"rehabilitating" women and returning them to their domestic

spheres. In the Wakefield Noah play, a wife once more

rebels against her enclosure. In this case, Noah's wife is

depicted as a shrew as she continues to work on her

spinning wheel while refusing to enter the ark.57 At last

Noah's wife, like the animals that preceded her, is whipped

and herded into the ark by Noah,58 one of God's handfuls of

righteous diluvian survivors.

As demonstrated above with the visual image of the

Virgin Mary, perhaps even more can be learned about the

representation of the medieval woman by applying some of

the general principles of the visual composition of the

Middle Ages to its drama. Pamela Sheingorn believes one

57 Interestingly, both needlework and domestic containment are constant
themes in the various early modern discourses, most specifically the
male-authored conduct books for women. In fact, one book containing
needlework patterns was written by a man. Suzanne W. Hull discusses
this phenomenon in Chaste, Silent & Obedient (San Marino: Huntington
Library, 1982). See also Joan Larsen Klein, Daughters, Wives, and
Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640
(Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992). Edmund Tilney, in The Flower of
Friendship (London, 1568), writes that a wife is "not to sit always
ydle;" she must occupy herself with her household duties "even in
things of least importancee" keeping busy "as with hir needle, and
rocke [needlework and spinning]" (137).

58 The concept of treating a wife like a domesticated beast is a theme
that extends itself into early modern conduct books. William Whately,
in A Bride-Bush (London, 1617), writes, "Wee prouender an horse as well
as whip and spurre him, else the best would tyre: and the wife must bee
animated to good things, and not onely withdrawn from euill" (35).

can gain an understanding of how these principles might

have governed the medieval stage picture presented to its

audience by deploying them in a study of that period's

drama. While artistic images changed during the period 500

to 1500, these were not large-scale alterations; and this

period was governed by an "umbrella convention" that

utilized form to communicate content not only for the

artist but also for the dramatist. As a result, medieval

artists and playwrights employed similar visual conventions

to communicate a message to the viewer.59 What is key here

is that, like early modern drama, its medieval counterpart

relied on theatrical iconography and convention to

communicate a message. While histrionic representations

are not genuine depictions of "real-life" persons, they do

provide information about the cultural codes from which a

playwright drew. Through their own conventions, dramas and

portraits suggest something about their society's dominant

ideology and the subjects it has interpellated.

From her study of gestures associated with the elbow

from the late fifteenth to seventeenth centuries in

59 Pamela Sheingorn, "The Visual Language of Drama," in Contexts for
Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 173-191. While Sheingorn's emphasis is
on size and proximity of characters, her study does point to the
importance of artistic convention and how that tradition can be used to
read a period's drama.

Renaissance portraiture, Joaneath Spicer believes she is

able to ascertain something of the subject's degree of

political power. Portraits, she argues, draw from a code

of conduct deployed in everyday life. Just as the early

modern playwright and actor used gesture to communicate a

message to the audience, so did the portrait artist. Like

the painter, the playwright relied on certain conventions

that have been gathered and "distilled" from daily

experience and which convey an unspoken meaning to the

viewer.60 Gestures, Spicer writes, "will usually represent

a distillation of generally accepted societal codes which

rise out of collective experience--otherwise they wouldn't

be recognized--and which convey an impression which the

sitter is content to give off, seen through the prism of

the individual artist's aesthetic sensibilities."61 In her

study of western European art, Spicer notices that certain

body posturing, enhanced by an arm akimbo, is the language

of self-possession especially when other figures in the

same painting are utilizing subordinate body language.

This language of self-possession asserts a sense of

territoriality as well as physical and social authority.

60 Joaneath Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow" in A Cultural History of
Gesture, ed. Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (Ithaca: Cornell UP) 84-

61 Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow," 85.

From the many portraits Spicer has investigated, almost all

of the men she found posing with the "Renaissance elbow"

were either socially and/or militaristically powerful.

While she has found portraits of Queen Elizabeth I with her

arm akimbo, this is, of course, the exception and was not

considered an "appropriate gesture for middle-class women

of good standing."'62

The notion of a woman comporting her body with

restraint to avoid "speaking" power through body language

is evident in early modern portraiture much as it is in

conduct books for women. Marriage portraits seem to bear

this out where masculine posturing expresses dominance and

possession, e.g., the husband's arm resting atop his wife's

shoulder, and feminine gesturology signals passive

obedience, e.g., the wife's eyes averted from the viewer.

Spicer wonders whether some of the work she has

interrogated shows the purposeful inscription of a bodily

comportment that suggests an anxiety on the part of the

dominant in regard to their retention of their power.

Similarly, I wonder if the signs of early modern English

women becoming more assertive bred an anxiety in those

holding power, urging them to write conduct books and

dramas that represented women employing a passive bodily

62 Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow," 100.

comportment, a comportment that reinscribes their bodies as

naturally inferior.

In early modern drama, much of what appeared in a

performance was informed by theatrical convention that

presupposed a tacit and sometimes unconscious agreement

among the playwright, the actors, and the audience.

Gesture was, therefore, a significant constituent of the

methodology that communicated meaning between the

performers and the spectators. Gestures, both on the

boards and off, helped establish one's position in the

social hierarchy and were as traditional as sartorial


Alan C. Dessen points out that a modern-day audience,

whether at a live performance or in a movie theater, also

abides by certain conventions. Often, spectators see only

a portion of a scene, yet they accept the fact that the

action has begun earlier and will continue in their

absence. However, because twentieth-century spectators are

accustomed to a "realistic" approach to representation,

they attempt to employ a sense of verisimilitude when

reading or observing Elizabethan dramas.63 David Bevington

says that today's audience members may have difficulty

63 Alan C. Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions and Modern Interpreters
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984) 11.

"seeing" the way Shakespeare's spectators saw because

modern eyes are trained for viewing films in which

characters are surrounded by a "fully supplied landscape."64

Dessen argues that a Shakespearean audience accepted

conventions that a twentieth-century audience would

consider "odd, illogical, or intrusive."65 Both Bevington

and Dessen believe that if readers can begin to understand

these earlier conventions regarding the performance text,

they will be able to appreciate more fully the literary

text. Additionally, they will gain some insight into what

Keir Elam terms the "performer-audience transaction"66 that

occurred in the early modern theater. For example, the

physical constraints of a nascent commercialized theater

required the audience to use their imagination a good deal

regarding the staging of scenes. Because theatrical

companies had a limited number of actors and no elaborate

scenery, a battle scene, for instance, was synecdochically

represented by a handful of soldiers. Or two actors might

be embroiled in combat with wooden swords. Costumes, sound

effects, dialogue, hand props, and appropriate acting

64 David Bevington, Action is Eloquence (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984) 7.

65 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 11.

66 Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (New York: Routledge,
1980) 2.

helped the audience imagine what could not be portrayed

"realistically" on an open stage with limited personnel.67

Since only scanty accounts of audience response and

limited pictorial evidence of Elizabethan productions

remain, one must rely on evidence within the plays when

examining stage conventions. Yet the surviving stage

directions are often "murky," and it appears that the actor

was left to decide how he would gesture or move about the

platform to communicate meaning to the spectator. What

Dessen does conclude is that actors produced a "theatrical

shorthand," using "a few clear signals" to briefly and

concisely convey to the spectator a previous or continuing

off-stage action.68 Stage directions from extant texts

indicate that a boy actor portraying a distraught woman,

entered the stage with his/her hair loose and disheveled,

visually signaling the audience about the character's

madness, shame, or grief. If an actor came on stage

wearing boots or riding apparel, the audience knew the

characters had recently completed, or were about to embark

on, a journey. Actors appearing "unready," "trussing"

themselves up, or wearing nightshirts or nightcaps, quickly

67 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 33.

68 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 34.

apprised the spectator that it was nighttime or early

morning. A similar effect could be achieved with the

carrying of candles or torches.69

Wfiile all of this information helps both Dessen and

Bevington establish the importance of theatrical

conventions, it does so without addressing the ways in

which gesture genders a performer's or character's body.

Yet, by examining a few examples, it becomes evident that

the containment of a woman's body is directly linked to the

appropriateness of her behavior. Anything out of place on

a woman's body, whether it be her hair, clothing, speech,

or gestures, connoted a woman out of her place, a concept

clearly articulated in the conduct books authored by men

and addressed to women. Gesture becomes a language that

helps one understand the way in which the early modern

woman was positioned within her society through her

representation on stage and in conduct books.

Gestures can accompany speech, giving the

interlocutor's utterance more emphasis; and they can be

just as effective alone. Indeed, the absence of gesture

can indicate a range of emotions as well, from humility to

nonchalance to disinterest. Bodily comportment, including

69 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 52.

facial expressions, establishes social differentiation,

separating persons according to race, ethnicity, social

position, occupation, and gender. In short, gesture is an

indispensable complement to any language.70 For Erasmus, an

adolescent boy could demonstrate his cultivated mind

through his masculine posturing and adherence to a specific

gestural code. He could, as well, appear effeminate should

he, for example, walk with a mincing gait.71

Gesture as an outward manifestation of one's inward

will became an increasingly important signifier throughout

the reigns of Elizabeth and James. Bodily comportment

reflected a woman's socio-economic position insofar as her

averted glances, blushes, unfurrowed brows, and non-

threatening posture in general demonstrated her non-

authoritative social status and her economic dependence

upon and passive obedience to her spouse, father, or other

male guardian. Gestures, however trivial they may seem,

are a self-identificatory mechanism that implies

fundamental differences in social position and, therefore,

in degree of power or powerlessness. Even a blush carries

70 Keith Thomas, introduction, A Cultural History of Gesture, ed. Jan
Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 1-14.

71 Desiderius Erasmus, "On Good Manners for Boys" in the Collected Works
of Erasmus, trans. Brian McGregor, ed. J. K. Sowards, Vol. 25 (Toronto:
U of Toronto P, 1985).

with it a passive bodily comportment--head down, arms close

to or crossed in front of the body, legs together or

crossed--signifying a willing subjection. In fact, a blush

does not necessarily need to appear on a woman's cheek to

be read as such. A blush is less a coloration of the

cheeks and more a passive bodily comportment.

During the Early Modern Period, noblemen and

aristocratic youths were instructed in refining their

gestures to demonstrate their superior rank and authority,

to mime a language of self-possession and social power.

Women were admonished to refine their bodily movements as

well, but with the opposite results. A woman was

conditioned to occupy less physical space and to

communicate with few words, if any. One conduct book says


what is spoken of Maids, may be
properly applyed by an vsefull
consequence to all women: They should
be seene, and not heard: A Travueller
sets himself best out by discourse,
whereas their [women's] best setting
out is silence.72

Paradoxically, even the highly visible gestures a woman was

to perform, helped to further inscribe not only a lack of

power but also an invisibility onto her body. In essence,

72 Richard Brathwait, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 41.

a woman was to wear her soul, not on her sleeve, but on her

entire body. From the averted glance of her eye to the

abbreviated length of her gait, a woman was to silently

demonstrate her role as "shamefast" virgin, dutiful wife,

or eternally-mourning widow. As the physically and morally

weaker sex, she was to comport herself with restraint and

without the slightest suggestion of boldness, pride, or

self-possession. Not only was a woman enclosed by the

physical structure of her domicile, she was also

circumscribed by her own feminine gesturology.

I will be focusing on the early modern woman in

England, how conduct books constructed the masculine ideal

of that woman, and, in later chapters, how that ideal was

further inscribed in the drama of that period through the

use of boy actors whose "feminized" comportment drew the

audience's attention to a woman character's inferiorized

body and subordinated social position. In regard to

conduct books, Ian Maclean believes that two forces may

have been bringing about a change in society:

the modification in social class
divisions which brings greater mobility
between classes and promotes the
emergence of a social group of rich,
leisured women below the level of court
and salon...

and the reflection of that change in

courtesy books of the Renaissance,
suggesting the development of social
life in this new class and its theory
and expectations of social behaviour.73

I refer to and focus on the woman of the middle classes, or

what Maclean labels "this new class." I believe one of the

main purposes of conduct books was to create a woman who

would become the backbone of an economic system that,

ironically, would make wives more economically dependent on

their husbands.74 At the same time, a woman's labor

supported her husband's advancement within a society that

was beginning to allow money, not kinship, to achieve one's

social position. Conduct books attest to this new marital


And if it be true...that friendshippe
maketh one heart of two: much more
truly and effectually, ought wedlocke
to do the same, which farre passeth all
manner, both friendship and kindred.75

73 Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 88.

74 Susan Dwyer Amussen, in "Gender, Family and Social Order," in Order
and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John
Stevenson (New York: Cambridge UP, 1985) 196-217, writes "wives played
a significant role in the family economies of early modern England. In
the kitchen, dairy and brew-house they supervised production; they sold
their own cheese, ale and eggs in the market, where they purchased
other necessaries for their families" (203). See also Amussen's An
Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1988.

75 Robert Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement
(London, 1598) 216.

The women characters in the contemporary drama, while

ranging from royalty to peasantry, were none the less

stereotyped by their speech, behavior, and, I will argue,

their gestures. When I speak of a social position, I

discuss it with the belief that it was framed within a

masculine hierarchy in which women rarely achieved an

individual status, almost never being recognized for their

own achievements. As one conduct book writer succinctly

puts it, "For Shee is Hee."76

Almost exclusively, women were recognized according to

their husband's place in society.77 If a woman married

beneath her station, she was reduced to her husband's rank.

If she married a man of higher social ranking, she was

elevated in society's eyes. A man's social position could

be elevated, too, through marriage; however, if he married

someone beneath him, he never lost his more elevated

position within the hierarchy. As one conduct books says,

For the wife enioyeth the priuiledges
of her husband, and is graced by his
honor and estimation amongst men. His
Nobilitie maketh her noble, though
otherwise shee is base and meane; as
contrariwise, his basenesse and low
degree, causeth her, though shee bee by

76 Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag.

77 Keith Wrightson, in English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, NJ:
Rutgers UP, 1982) concludes, after studying an early modern text that
formulated the "degrees" of people, the "status of women and children
was assumed to follow that of their husbands and fathers..." (21).

birth noble and honorable, to bee by
estate base and meane.78

Ruth Kelso, in her quest for the Renaissance lady,

concludes that such a person never existed. Although many

texts were written for and about this lady, beyond the

theoretical treatises and

the dedications to ladies, duchesses,
or queens, the contents, it is scarcely
an exaggeration to affirm, apply to the
whole sex rather than to any favored
section of it. The lady, shall we
venture to say, turns out to be merely
a wife.79

By gendering household responsibilities and enclosing a

wife within her home, a woman was kept in a private world

that disallowed her participation in the religious,

political, economic, and educational sectors of the public

world.80 As one conduct book says, a woman could leave her

home for four reasons:

First, to come to holy meetings,
according to the dutie of godlinesse.

78 William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie: or, A Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Familie, According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 131.

79 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of
Illinois P, 1956) 1. While Kelso's study focuses on texts written by
Italian, French, English and other European writers, I would have to
agree with her conclusion as it pertains to the English woman in the
early modern period.

80 Joan Kelly, "The Social Relation of the Sexes" and "Did Women Have a
Renaissance," Women, History, and Theory (Chicago: U of Chicago P,
1984) 1-50. Kelly discusses the crucial importance for women of the
separation of the public and private spheres and how that bifurcation
disallowed women to experience a "renaissance."

The second, to visit such as stand in
need, as the dutie of loue and charitie
doo require. The third, for employment
& prouision in household affaires
committed to her charge. And lastly,
with her husband, when hee shall
requite her.81

While she most likely left her home frequently to perform

such tasks, a woman was barred from any significant role in

the formulation of the culture in which she existed,

dislocated as she was from economic activity and subjugated

to household work without remuneration.

This separation and enclosure of the feminine body

becomes more deeply inscribed in early modern conduct

books, in general, and through the gestures a woman was

directed to perform, in particular. In this regard, the

work of Sandra Lee Bartky, who discusses the implications

of feminine bodily comportment within a twentieth-century

milieu,82 is valuable for my own work. Bartky believes that

American women, through stereotyping, cultural domination,

and sexual objectification-three "special modes of psychic

alienation"83-deliver "terrible messages of inferiority"84 to

81 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 225.

82 Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge,

83 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 23.

84 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 23.

women, psychologically oppressing them, weighing them down

with their own burden of a depreciated self, and,

therefore, making them their own oppressors. Conduct books

for the early modern woman, as I will explain in more

detail below, establish a woman's "natural" inferiority, an

inferiority that has existed since the beginning of time,

most particularly the time of the Garden of Eden.

According to Bartky:

Even when economic and political
obstacles on the path to autonomy are
removed, a depreciated alter ago still
blocks the way. It is hard enough for
me to determine what sort of person I
am or ought to try to become without
being shadowed by an alternate self, a
truncated and inferior self that I
have, in some sense, been doomed to be
all the time.85

Early modern conduct books declared this "truncated and

inferior self" to women and inculcated them with household

skills whose primary purpose was to increase her husband's

economic security while at the same time immure her inside

the home and outside of a "male supremicist culture."86 As

Bartky states, "However degraded or distorted an image of

ourselves we see reflected in the patriarchal culture, the

85 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 24.

86 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 25.

culture of our men is still our culture."87 This was even

truer for the early modern woman who, because of her

stereotypical image as an inferior creature, had almost no

say in any aspect of her culture. Any talents she may have

acquired were hidden behind the door of her domicile and

dimmed in the shadow of "woman's work."

This devaluation of a woman's labor further alienates

a woman from herself and her body. Bartky writes, "Since

labor is the most characteristic human life activity, to be

alienated from one's own labor is to be estranged from

oneself."88 Moreover, this estranged body was objectified,

not as the sex object of the twentieth century, but as the

"female breeder"89 of the early modern period. One conduct

book writer explains, "The male is man of superior sexe,

fit for procreation. The female is woman of an inferior

sexe, fit to conceive and beare children."90 The role of

the always-deficient was not only internalized by the early

modern woman, but it was also externalized through her

87 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 25.

88 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 32.

89 Bartky, in Femininity and Domination, sees this as one of many female
stereotypes she discusses.

90 William Perkins, Christian Economy or a Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 24.

bodily comportment, a comportment clearly delineated for

her in the pages of the conduct manuals. Bartky writes,

There are significant gender
differences in gesture, posture,
movement, and general bodily
comportment: Women are far more
restricted than men in their manner of
movement and in their lived

Again, this was all the more the case for the early modern

woman, as I will show below when I begin to discuss

specific conduct books and the regimens within which they

placed women. This restriction of movement began during

childhood. Lawrence Stone writes that after the

"swaddling" period, boys' bodies were allowed to be free


girls were encased in bodices and
corsets reinforced with iron and
whalebone to ensure that their bodies
were moulded to the prevailing adult
fashion. Dressed in miniature adult
clothes, they were expected to conform
to the ideal adult feminine shape and
carriage, and in particular to maintain
an upright posture and to walk slowly
and gracefully.92

Stone goes on to discuss how these restrictive

undergarments caused "distortion or displacement of the

91 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 67.

92 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116.

organs, and sometimes even death."93 He cites an example of

a young, seventeenth-century girl whose iron bodice stunted

the growth of her lungs, broke two of her ribs, and

obviously caused her a great deal of pain. Her severe

bodily enclosure caused her death at the age of two.94

Carroll Camden describes the attire that an

"Elizabethan lady" would put on when dressing for "an

outing or an entertainment."95 She would begin with either

a heavily embroidered or lace-trimmed and a petticoat. A

bodice, or corset, went over the smock and was stiffened

with whale-bone or wooden stays called "busks." Some busks

were constructed completely of iron, as was the case with

the two-year-old child discussed above. The bodice was

tied in place with "busk-points" or laces. These corsets

or busks were meant to flatten a woman's stomach and

abdomen as well as hold her breasts high. Once the corset

was in place, a woman slipped a farthingale beneath her

petticoat, a "device used to hold out the skirts of

succeeding garments."96 A farthingale, like a busk, was

93 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116.

94 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116.

95 Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) 219.
For Camden, an Elizabethan lady is a gentlewoman or the wife of a
merchant, or a woman of the upper class and middle classes.

96 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 220.

stiffened with various different materials such as

whalebone or wood. The point of this device was to make a

woman's waist look small,97 as if the corset hadn't already

achieved this. Over this underclothing, a woman wore a

kirtle or two-piece dress, beneath which she placed a

stomacher and forepart, both accessories that filled the

opened work in the top and bottom portions of the kirtle,

respectively. A gown, worn open in the front, was placed

over the kirtle. Detachable sleeves were sometimes given

shape on a "body of wire" and were often elaborately

decorated. Finally, a cloak could be worn over the gown or

instead of it. Certainly, these many layers of clothing

had a pragmatic purpose: to keep a woman's body warm.

However, it also served to further enclose that body,

circumscribing it with a farthingale. Furthermore, the

message was that a woman's body was defective and needed to

be reconstructed,98 improved upon, by minimizing the waist,

maximizing the hips and buttocks, and lifting up the

breasts. It must have been difficult for a woman dressed

like this to move about, let alone to be able to sit

97 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 220-21.

98 While men, too, "reconstructed" their bodies with enhancements in
their codpieces, for example, these fashion "accessories" did not
restrict their movements and cause them the physical discomfort of a
tightly-laced corset.

comfortably. It would seem that an early modern woman's

mobility and carriage were inflected by her cumbersome and

constricting attire.

Bartky says that women seem to be surrounded by an

invisible space beyond which they are hesitant to move.

This invisible space is evidenced in conduct book

illustrations depicting women seated demurely or standing,

legs together, hands folded on laps or arms by sides.

Observing twentieth-century women, Bartky comments,

"Woman's body language speaks eloquently, though silently,

of her subordinate status in a hierarchy of gender."99 The

feminine gesturology early modern conduct books prescribe

for women creates a comparable yoke between a woman's

inferior social status and her minimalized bodily

movements. The body of the early modern woman bears the

unmistakable signs of a psychological oppression that

Bartky observes inscribed on the twentieth-century female

body. As Catherine Belsey points out,

Culture exists, in a word, as meanings.
But the cultural meanings of man and
woman, experienced at the level of
consciousness, have also been lived
precisely as material practices; not
only as rape and violence, but as the
slower, more tedious and more insidious
oppression of women's bodies by regimes

99 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 74.

of beauty, by corsetry and crippling
footwear, by marital availability,
domestic labour and continual
childbirth. 100

As conduct books become more and more methodological in

their approach, a woman's body is more deeply restrained

with rigid injunctions to control itself through precise

gestures and an economy of movement.

100 Catherine Belsey, "A Future for Materialist Feminist Criticism?" in
The Matter of Differnece: Materialist Feminist Criticism of
Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991)


As the new ideal woman' was being fashioned and

enclosed in her domicile, people, for the first time since

the establishment of the manorial system, were dislodged

from their "place" in the social hierarchy, creating an

historical space crucial in regard to the social position

of women. This space may have afforded women a voice that

caused a male anxiety reflected in a variety of early

modern writings, most particularly in conduct books for

women. During the latter half of the sixteenth and first

quarter of the seventeenth centuries, these texts, for the

most part, were written by male religious moralists who

1 I suggest the conduct book writers were addressing women below the
aristocratic class, most specifically of the middle classes. This is
in keeping with Lawrence Stone's belief, in The Family, Sex and
Marriage in England 1500-1800, Abridged Edition (New York: Harper,
1979), that the patriarchy was being positively reinforced at this
level of society. He makes the disclaimer: "It cannot be proved
conclusively that in reality the powers of fathers over children and of
husbands over wives in the upper and middle ranks most exposed to this
propaganda became greater than they had been in the middle ages... "
(109). However, he says this "seems a plausible hypothesis, given the
fact that patriarchy for its effective exercise depends not so much on
raw power or legal authority, as on a recognition by all concerned of
its legitimacy, allowed by ancient tradition, moral theology and
political theory" (109). Ruth Kelso, on the other hand, in Chapter 1
of Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of Illinois P,
1956), argues that knowing the addressee of the conduct book is a moot
point since women were in a sense "classless." No matter what their
social rank appeared to be, they were always beneath the authority of
their husbands or some other male guardian.

made it "naturally" evident that women--no matter what

their class status--were expected to marry and to be

contained by both the emerging nuclear family ideology and

its concomitant physical structure, the "home." This new

family unit was supported by both the Church and the State.2

As a microcosm within the macrocosmic Chain of Being, a

long-standing religious hierarchy was reinforced: just as

God was the head of the Church and its final authority, so,

too, was the husband the head of the family, having the

final say in all matters. As one conduct book puts it:

Ye Wiues loue your Husbands,
And obedient bee,
For they are your heads,
And aboue in degree.3

The State structure was supported by and reflected in

the nuclear family as well. Here, the husband was the

ultimate ruler over his "castle," just as the monarch was

2 Susan D. Amussen, in "Gender, Family and the Social Order, 1560-1725,"
in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, eds. Anthony Fletcher
and John Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 196-217, writes that
both state and religious discourse draw an analogy between the well-
governed family and a well-ordered society. However, ecclesiastical
officials and state heads did not necessarily agree on the particulars
of that analogy in regard to who was responsible for the "correction"
of a wayward wife. The Puritan writers of conduct books, in
particular, created a rather ambiguous position for the early modern
wife: a woman who was considered her husband's equally-yoked partner
yet a wife who was under her husband's ultimate authority. Amussen
shows evidence of incidents of disorderly wives who obviously did not
adhere to conduct book injunctions. However, when one looks at the
divorce, property, and common laws of early modern England, one can
only conclude that a woman was far from her husband's equal.

3 Francis Seager, The Schoole of Vertue (London, 1582), n. pag.

the supreme ruler of the State. The family, according to

one conduct book writer, "is a natural and simple Societie

of certain persons, hauing mutual relation one to

another, vnder the priuate gouernement of one."4 This

second analogy, however, was a bit strained, especially

when Mary and Elizabeth served consecutively as English

monarchs. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for such an

outpouring of conduct books which comprise a large body of

texts written by men between 1475 and 1640, eighty-five

percent of which were published after 1570.5 The acute

gender differentiation of the sixteenth century, Ruth Kelso

suggests, may be a result of the renewed interest in the

Renaissance of ancient thought.6 Along with a return to the

4 William Perkins, Christian Economy or a Short Survey of the Right
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures
(London, 1609) 2.

5 Suzanne W. Hull, in Chaste, Silent & Obedient (San Marino: Huntington
Library, 1982), has compiled a list of texts written to a new English
early modern female readership. She believes that this phenomenon
could suggest an increasing literacy rate among Elizabethan and Stuart
women. Karen Newman, in Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance
Drama (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991), believes these texts could be an
attempt to more deeply inscribe the family ideology on a woman's body
as the result of women transgressing the established codes of
appropriate feminine behavior, witnessed in historical records. Nancy
Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, in their collection of essays The
Ideology of Conduct (London: Methuen, 1987), argue for a close
relationship between the codification of feminine comportment in
women's conduct books and the endeavor of the middle ranks of society
to achieve economic power.

6 I will argue below that this renewed interest in classical literature
contributed to the success of the all-male casts in England.

Classics was an increased interest on the part of women in

literature and learning. Kelso writes:

It was a disturbing phenomenon, this
rising interest of women in the world
of books and their demand for
education, certain to increase [male]
suspicion and antagonism. It may well
be suspected that the...flood of advice
to wives on marriage, modeled on St.
Paul's pattern, rose in the renaissance
in part from alarm that women were
breaking out of bounds and needed to be
kept or set back in their place.7

In general, all the early modern conduct books clearly

establish that wives are subject to their husbands'

authority and are to love their spouses out of obedience,

not necessarily out of love. They are to maintain the

household and be contained by it, are to forbear their

husbands' shortcomings, and are to comport themselves in a

manner that signifies "weak hands and feeble knees is a

woman."8 Women, in other words, needed to be physically and

ideologically positioned beneath their husbands, fathers,

or male guardians, no matter what their class standing.

Ruth Kelso contends that women were "classless" insofar as

they were always considered second class citizens, no

7 Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, 10.

8 This quote is derived from Thomas Becon's The Catachism, published in
1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP) 343, but originally part of his Workes
written between 1560-1564.

matter what their actual class standing was.9 Lawrence

Stone contends that the household became a "most valuable

institution for social control at the village level."10

Women were ideally to remain enclosed inside their homes,

performing all manner of household maintenance and

nurturing services for which they received no compensation

and which left them homebound as well as socially immobile.

Whether "classless" in Kelso's sense or classed as a

gender, women were exploited as a result of their socio-

economic position. If the conduct books are a glimpse into

real life, then women left their homes only to attend

church, visit a sick neighbor, or partake in a social

function, often accompanied by male escorts.

Since men were more literate11 than women up until and,

for the most part, including the early modern period, men

wrote the conduct books that not only instructed women in

bodily comportment but also "taught" them how to cook, do

9 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance.

10 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 28.

11 Stone, in The Family, Sex and Marriage, says that within the general
population "only one woman in three could even sign her name in a
marriage register in 1754, which was not much more than half the
proportion of men, and there is every reason to suppose that the
proportion was if anything worse in the seventeenth century. Women at
all levels of society were an educationally deprived group compared
with men" (144). Even among artistocratic circles, the notion of a
woman receiving a learned education, as espoused in Castiglione's The
Courtier, survived approximately forty years [1520-1560].

needlework, deliver babies, care for the sick, and even

nurse their children. I put quotation marks around

"taught" because I strongly suspect men often acquired

these skills by observing women, perhaps their own wives

and mothers. Since the majority of the female population

was illiterate, women often could only pass their various

skills onto other women by word of mouth. Literate men,

therefore, were able to appropriate these skills and write

them as their own in the form of instructions to women,

thereby assuming a position of power and authority.

Conduct books also instructed women on how to dress

and "beautify" themselves, when it was appropriate to leave

their domicile, how to behave in mixed company, when and

what to speak, and how to engage in appropriate amusements.

This authority was further inscribed through marginal

glosses and intertexual references to scripture, classical

texts, and medieval medical discourses, all written by men.

One author admits that he received a recipe from a

countriese gentlewoman home I could name [although he does

not], which venteth great store of sugar cakes made of this

composition."12 Plat finds fault with this recipe, however,

12 Sir Hugh Plat, Delights for Ladies (London, 1608) Item B5.

since it "tasteth too much of the sugar, and too little of

the almonds"13 and recites his new and improved recipe.

In spite of the apparently authoritative stance of men

in general and husbands in particular, marriage was often

referred to as a place where men will live a miserable

existence. In a tongue-in-cheek text by Thomas Heywood,

the author retells a poem allegedly written by a man in

great hesitation over whether or not to marry. The poem

finally concludes that there is too much risk involved:

No marriage then, Ile keep my single state,
Since on a wife so many dangers wait.
But if heaven will that I a Consort have,
0 grant me one that's pious, wise, and grave.14

The plethora of anti-marriage doggerals and jest books

depicting the hen-pecked husband did not dissuade men from

marrying; a wife was a "necessary evil." This evil,

according to some authors, placed men under constant

persecution. Richard Brathwaite's Aar't Asleepe Husband?

A Boulster Lecture (1640) and Thomas Heywood's A Curtaine

Lecture (1637) are based on the assumption that women never

cease talking and, therefore, deny their husbands sleep.

The frontispiece of Brathwaite's text depicts a wife

sitting up in bed, talking to her beleaguered and sleep-

13 Plat, Item B5.

14 Thomas Heywood, A Curtaine Lecture (London, 1637) 78.

deprived husband. These texts are, in a sense, facetious

conduct books, perhaps printed not only to give men a few

laughs but also to ridicule women into mending their ways.

Some texts cannot definitively be categorized as

conduct books simply because they masked themselves as

"defenses of women," and were actually exercises in logical

argumentation. More importantly, though, they served as an

ideological site from which to prescribe appropriate

feminine behavior for the early modern woman of the middle

classes. Sir Thomas Elyot, in his The Defence of Good

Women (1540), stages an argumentative dialogue between the

fictional characters Caninius, an anti-feminist, and

Candidus, a supporter of women, to counter a seemingly

perpetual antifeminist discourse rooted in both biblical

and classical writings. The conversation begins with

Caninius alleging that his compatriot is blinded by love

and, therefore, cannot see the treachery and falsehood that

inheres in all women. Candidus counters this assertion by

saying that, through his reading and life's experience, he

has come to a contrary conclusion. He cites the threadbare

examples of virtuous mythical and historical women, such as

Penelope, who was never "by dede word nor countinance in

hir chaste purpose unconstant."15 He declares the

"constance of ladies and damselles" by retelling the

stories of wives who either waited patiently for their

husbands to return home from their adventures, followed

them to the grave, or lived in "sorowe contynuall more

paynefulle than deathe"16 after being widowed. Caninius,

citing Aristotle, posits that women are "unperfit"

creatures, never content and "alwaie unconstant....."17 They

are, he says,

weaker than men, and have their fleshe
softer, lesse heare on their visages,
and their voice sharper, and as I have
redde, they have in some parties of
their bodies, their boones fewer.18

This weakness, Caninius believes, resides in their souls as

well. After critiquing body and soul, this detractor of

women remonstrates the female mind:

And the witte, that they have, is not
substanciall but apish: neuer
florishyng but in ungraciousnesse, or
in trimmying themselves with pratie
deuises, or excusying their faultes
with unstudied answeres.... 19

15 Sir Thomas Elyot, The Defense of Good Women (1540) n. pag.

16 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.

17 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.

18 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.

19 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.

Because inconstancy is women's "most unperfection," in them

"witte littell preuaileth."20 At the conclusion of this

dialectic, Candidus tells Caninius that he has invited

Zenobia to dinner. She is proficient in Greek, Latin, and

Egyptian, teaches her children, and is an eloquent writer

of stories. Zenobia's behavior, Candidus avers, will shame

his friend into the recanting of his misogyny. When

Zenobia arrives, she immediately voices her concern that

"to be out of [her] owne house at this tyme of the nyghte"21

might compromise her sterling reputation. After Candidus

assures her that her honor will not be besmirched, Zenobia

tells Caninius that she has pursued her studies to effect a

more virtuous, constant, and temperate wife and now-widow,

mother, and ruler of her deceased husband's kingdom.

Because of her own docility, Zenobia claims that her

subjects-and even her enemies-followed her example and

became submissive as Zenobia ruled the kingdom in her

deceased husband's stead. This treatise, like the conduct

books that will follow, establishes what would become the

ideal wife of the middle classes: chaste, silent, and

20 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.

21 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag.

obedient.22 This newly-fashioned woman would be unlike her

aristocratic counterpart; she would not be a witty

conversationalist, robed in silks and velvets, whose role

was to look beautiful and alluring while entertaining her

equally witty interlocutors.

This earlier female exemplum is found in Book Three of

Baldesar Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, published

in Venice in 1528 and translated into English by Sir Thomas

Hoby in 1561. The text consists of a rhetorical game in

which a coterie of the wealthy, witty, and educated fashion

the perfect "courtier that never was, nor perhaps ever

could be."23 Once he is designed, the perfect court lady

follows, rather like an Eve following an Adam. The court

lady is required to be in every way like the male courtier,

"insofar as her frailty allows."24 Signor Magnifico, the

"defender of women" amongst these roman a clef characters,

compares himself to Pygmalion and insists that once he has

fashioned this lady to his "own liking," he will "take her

22 I draw this description from Suzanne W. Hull whose thorough
compilation of conduct books for early modern women is found in her
Chaste, Silent, and Obedient.

23 Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. and intro.
George Bull (London: Penguin, 1967) 202.

24 For a full discussion of the perfect female courtier, see Chapter 3
of The Courtier.

for [his] own."25 At the outset, the Magnifico declares

that "above all, I hold that a woman should in no way

resemble a man as regards her ways, manners, words,

gestures and bearing."26 Many of the qualities conscripted

by the Magnifico become requirements of the English early

modern woman and are set down in the conduct books. In

general, the courtly lady must be:

more circumspect [than her male
counterpart] and at greater pains to
avoid giving an excuse for someone to
speak ill of her; she should not only
be beyond reproach but also beyond even
suspicion, for a woman lacks a man's
resources when it comes to defending

However, Signor Magnifico, unlike the male authors of

English conduct books, believes that "much is lacking to a

woman who lacks beauty."28 Moreover, The Courtier's lady

must be proficient in entertaining all manner of man:

I say that the Lady who is at Court
should properly have, before all else,
a certain pleasing affability whereby
she will know how to entertain
graciously every kind of man with
charming and honest conversation,
suited to the time and the place and

25 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.

26 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.

27 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.

28 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211.

the rank of the person with whom she is

These requisites are the antithesis of the English conduct

books in which typically women are instructed to "use few

words, and those low and milde"30 when they are in their

husbands' presence and, indeed, in the presence of any man.

While a wife is to manage her household and family, the

Magnifico says that "this [is] not to be her chief

occupation."31 As the sixteenth century draws to an end,

the English conduct books will opine an opposite view of

the ideal woman. The "quick and vivacious spirit" the

Magnificio desires in his lady is conspicuously lacking in

the later English treatises where a woman is divested of

her wit and imbued with domestic duties.

Edmund Tilney's The Flower of Friendship (1568) helps

comprise a large group of marriage handbooks (both English

and continental) that were adaptations of Erasmus's

humanist Conjugium, one of his colloquies on marriage.

Tilney drew on other humanist writers as well, such as Juan

29 Castiglione, The Courtier, 212, emphasis mine.

30 William Whately, A Bride-Bush or a Wedding Sermon (London, 1608) 42.

31 Castiglione, The Courtier, 214.

Luis Vives and Pedro di Luxan.32 Still following the

continental style, The Flower extends its marital advice in

the form of a narrative within a bucolic setting, peopled

by a group of well-fed and well-heeled Ladies and

Gentlemen. After a dinner seasoned with "exceeding

cheere," pleasantt takee" "melodie," and "sweete cheering

of the Ladies,"33 the group sits beneath a "faire Arbour" in

what the narrator says "might be called a terrestriall

paradise."34 However, although Tilney's fictionalized

characters and setting closely mirror those in

Castiglione's Courtier, The Flower's instructions for

ladies do not. Castiglione and other continental writers

addressed a far more sophisticated audience, offering

advice to ladies regarding their ability to maintain a

witty conversation with their male interlocutors and their

skill to display grace and learning.35 Tilney's agenda is

quite different. Even though the setting implies that the

32 Valerie Wayne, introduction, The Flower of Friendship: a Renaissance
Dialogue Contesting Marriage by Edmund Tilney, ed. Valerie Wayne
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992) 3.

33 The Flower of Friendship, 102.

34 The Flower of Friendship, 103.

35 Hull, in Chaste, Silent and Obedient, says that writers like
Castiglione, La Tour-Landry, and DuBoscq "approached the conduct and
position of women through continental eyes" (32). Castiglione, in
particular, held a more enlightened view of women and, instead of
instructing them to be silent and obedient, "emphasizes the need for
sophisticated conversational talents in women" (32).

guests are members of the aristocracy whose women were

marked by elegant dress and eloquent speech, the

conversation that follows makes it clear that the

articulate, witty wife has been upstaged by the more

containable silent and subordinate spouse.

This trend had already begun with texts such as those

written by Heinrich Bullinger, who, like so many of his

counterparts, begins his vapid treatise by establishing the

Biblical basis for marriage. In The Christen State of

Matrimonye (1541) Wedlock is sacred, as opposed to profane;

it was "ordeyned and instituted" by God, both textually (in

the first book of the Bible) and physically (in

"paradise").36 William Perkins claims that "the only rule

of ordering the Family, is the written Word of God."37

The manner in which the first woman was "created"-and,

therefore, the materiality of her body-is crucial to her

position within the family ideology and gendered hierarchy:

The woman was taken from and out of the
syde of man and not from the erth lest
any man shulde think that he had
gotten his wyfe out of the myre: but to
considre that the wife is the husbands
flesh and bone and therefore to love
her: yet was she not made of the head.

36 Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony (Antwerp, 1541)
Chapter 1, n. pag. I cite the chapter here and following due to
irregular pagination. When copying the text, I use commas in place of
the slash mark found in the facsimile but maintain the same spelling.

37 Perkins, Christian Economy, 1.

For the husband is the heade & matter
of the wyfe. Nether was she made of
the fete (as though thou mightest
spurned her a waye from the & nothing
regarded her) but euen out of thy syde
as one that is set next unto man to be
his helpe & companion. And as the bone
of the flesh is strong so ought the
husband to be the strength helpe and
co[m]forte of the wife. Therefore was
she also taken and created out of the
rybbe or bone and not out of the

Bullinger and his counterparts take great pains to

configure woman within the paradigm of the early modern

household. Because she is taken from the man's side, a

woman is deemed a man's "helpe & companion." More

importantly, however, because she is not taken from a man's

head, a wife must be spatially positioned beneath her

husband's head, signifying both her physical and mental

deficiencies. Curiously, however, as Bullinger continues

forming his analogies, a logical conundrum is created. The

author claims that, since woman was not taken from the

head, she cannot possess those qualities that the head

signifies: a higher social position and a superior mental

capacity. It follows, then, that if woman was not taken

from a bone that is strong, she would be physically weak;

conversely, if she was taken from the bone, she would be

physically strong. But, here, Bullinger argues the

38 Bullinger, Chapter 1, n. pag.

opposite: because woman was "taken and created out of the

rybbe or bone and not out of the flesh," she is physically

inferior. The husband is the one who retains the bone's

strength-not the wife. In order to bestow yet another

superior attribute on man, Bullinger must reverse both his

analogy and his logic. Whatever "proofs" Bullinger or his

contemporaries deploy in their writings, the woman always

comes up "short," standing beneath the man's authority and

within marriage, the only institution deemed appropriate

for her.

Furthermore, a wife is not only married to her husband

but also to God himself: "And addeth therto that they must

esteme this obedience none otherwise then if it were she

wed unto god himselfe."9 A woman's obedience to her

husband is likened to her acquiescence to God: "It

foloweth also that the disobedie[n]ce which wives shew unto

their husbands displeaseth god no less then] whan he is

resisted himselfe."0 Since a husband was often away from

the home, a woman was left with her servants and children,

not immediately accountable to a human authority figure.

Therefore, it followed that if her body was not

39 Bullinger, Chapter 17, n. pag.

40 Bullinger, Chapter 17, n. pag.

accountable, her soul would have to be. While a woman was

encouraged to practice the art of self-surveillance through

reading scripture and through prayer, the conduct books

reminded her that she, or her soul, was ultimately

answerable to God. The only equality Renaissance

theologians afforded a woman was that, she, like her male

counterpart, had a soul, subject to God's grace. However,

she must not forget that her parity was only in Heaven, not

here on earth. Lest she disobey, she was reminded that

hellfire and damnation loomed large, along with her

husband's authority. Although a woman was under the gaze

of her male authority figure only when he was at home, she

was never without the discreet and continuous Holy Gaze

that carried severe and eternal censure.

Invariably, the conduct book writers rehearse the same

theme: the female reader is exhorted to remain obedient

within her home and to maintain the very domestic sphere

meant to circumscribe her, body and soul:

The chiefest way for a woman to
preserve and maintain this good fame,
is to be resident in hir owne house.
For an honest woman in sobernes, keeping
well hir house, gayneth thereby great
reputation, and if she be evill, it
driveth away many evil occasions, and
stoppeth the mouthes of people.41

41 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 136.

Her physical and moral weakness established, a woman was

instructed how to comport this inferiorized body.

The inferiorization of her body was affirmed in

medical discourse, in the guise of conduct books as well.

While most of the instructions to women on the physical

care of their bodies are written by doctors after

approximately 175042, some medical treatises were written

earlier. These texts, while purporting to assist a woman

in the understanding and care of her body, insidiously mark

that body as less proficient than her male counterpart,

often focusing exclusively on female "diseases" that are

reputed to be the result of a woman's physiology. Nicholas

Fontanus43 writes, "The Matrix is the cause of all those

diseases which happen to women" since it has a "Sympathie

with all the parts of the body" and this "consent holdeth"

with the brain, nerves, spine, the "hinder part of the

head," the heart, and the arteries that "lie about the

42 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 24.

43 Fontanus, Nicholas. The Womans Doctour: or an Exact and Distinct
Explanation of all such Diseases as are Peculiar to that Sex, (London:
1652). While this text was not translated into English until 1652, the
fundamental beliefs about a woman's body hadn't changed appreciably
since Hipprocrates or Galen. See Gail Kern Paster's The Body
Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993), for a brilliant discussion of how medical
discourse, derived from Galenic humoral theory, reinscribes the social
hierarchies already in place in early modern England. Medical writers
did not substantially alter the age-old concept of a woman's physiology
in spite of new empirical evidence. In fact, the old theories were

Abdomen at the bottom of the bellie," the liver, the

stomach, the kidneys, the bladder, and the "straight

gut."44 Fontanus does little more than rehearse the already

known "perfect understanding" of Hippocrates and other

ancients in regard to a woman's body.45

Interestingly, the extent and severity of these

infirmities depend upon a woman's married state. Fontanus

divides female diseases into four categories: Those that

(1) are common to all women, (2) are peculiar to widows and

virgins, (3) concern barren women and fruitful ones, and

(4) "befall Women with Childe, and Nurses."46 Fontanus then

asserts that "Wives are more healthfull then(sic) Widowes

or Virgins, because they are refreshed with mans seed, and

ejaculate their own, which being excluded, the cause of the

kept in place to reinscribe the inferiorization of a woman's body and,
therefore, her subjugation within a gendered hierarchy.

44 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 2-3.

45 Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1980). Maclean writes that Plato believed the uterus was an animal
that lived inside a woman because it had independent movement and even
a sense of smell. While Galen refuted this assertion, he agrees that
the uterus does move; however, this motion results from muscle
contractions. Early Renaissance Platonic apologists argued that Plato
used the moving uterus as a metaphor. I suggest that Renaissance
writers continued to utilize this metaphor as a means to suggest
woman's affinity to motion and that whether or not the uterus is an
animal in its own right is a moot point. Although, as Maclean points
out, most Renaissance scholars did not accept Plato's belief in this
particular instance, they still saw the uterus in motion and the cause
of much of a woman's physical discomfort and natural infirmity.

46 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 2-3.

evill is taken away."47 A woman's "evill," therefore, is

removed only when she accepts a man's superior semen and

expells her own inferior seed.

Women, Fontanus suggests, in the interest of their

health and well-being, should marry. Married women have

less painful menses and thereby avoid a putrification of

the blood that leads to "heavinesse of minde, and dulnesse

of spirit, a benummednesse of the parts, timorousnesse, and

an aptnes to be frighted," as well as finding it difficult

to "fetch their breath."48 Like the virgin, the widow is

more disposed to illness. A widow faces an "abundance of

spermatick humour" which Fontanus says, according to

Galen's report, can be "diminished by the hand of a

skilfull Midwife, and a convenient oyntment."49 It follows

that the healthiest of women is not only the married one,

but the fruitful one as well. Childbirth, Fontanus

reports, opens veins and removes excess blood, avoiding all

manner of disease. Indeed, if a woman is concerned about

living a healthy life, Fontanus suggests she must marry and

bear children. This conclusion, in light of the high

47 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 4.

48 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 5.

49 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 6.

incidence of death from childbirth does not seem to concern

Fontanus in the least.

As a consequence of her physiological shortcomings,

conduct books exhort women to carry themselves with

restraint. Thomas Becon, in his Workes (1560-64), writes

that the "wickedness of a woman changeth her face: she

shall muzzle her countenance, as it were a bear, and as a

sack shall she shew it among the neighbours."50 Moreover, a

woman's bodily carriage reflects her socio-economic

position insofar as her averted glances, blushes, and

unfurrowed brows bespeak her lack of authority and her

economic dependence upon her father, spouse, or other male

guardian. A wife was not only to acknowledge her

inferiority to her husband but also was to carry herself as

an inferior to all men. William Whately, in a Bride Bush

(1617), writes,

The whole duty of the wife is referred
to two heads. The first is, to
acknowledge her inferiority: the next,
to carry her selfe as inferiour. First
then the wiues iudgement must be
conuinced, that she is not her husbands
equally, yea that her husband is her
better by farre; else there can bee no
contentment, either in her heart, or in
her house.51

50 Here, Becon, in The Catachism, is quoting "Jesus, the son of Sirach"
51 William Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36, emphasis mine.

Barnabe Rich, in The Honestie of this Age (1614),

warns women against the use of certain "wanton" gestures,

citing the "Prophet Esay" [Isaiah 3:16] who

reprehendeth the wanton gestures that
were vsed by the daughters of Sion in
his daies, at their haugtinesse of
minde, at their stretched out neckes,
at their wandering eyes, at their
walking and their mincing as they passe
through the streets.... 52

Rich's text bemoans the fact that the women of his day were

no longer judged by their bodily comportment as severely as

they were during Solomon's day who believed the "true

markes of a wicked woman" consisted of the

bitterness of a tongue, the pride of a
haughtie heart, the shamelesnesse of a
face, the immodesty of a mind, the
imudency of looks, the rowling of
wanton eyes, the lewdness of manners,
the lightnesse of behauiour, the
looseness of life....53

He insists that a "womans honestie is pent vp in a little

roome, it is still confined but from her girdle downewards"

and that "there is no imperfection in a woman but that of

her bodie."'54

52 Barnabe Rich, The Honestie of this Age (London: 1614) 15.

53 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 16.

54 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 16.

As long as a woman polices her body, Rich says, her

mind and its "deformities" are of no concern. Women, he

concludes, are the more fortunate because men are

answerable for both mind and body. Yet, women are also far

more accountable for their comportment since, Rich claims,

"Our behauiours, our gestures, and our outward attyres are

tongs to proclaime the inward disposition of the mind."55

Calling on mothers to be a good example to their daughters,

he recites an "olde prouerbe": "If the mother trot how

should the daughter amble?"56 The length of a woman's steps

proclaims the degree of her constancy. Therefore, trotting

women are sexually incontinent.

The silent and gesturally-obedient wife's will, along

with her virginity, was to be stolen from her by her

husband as she acknowledged her inferiority to all men and

gendered her body through her restricted motions. The idea

of woman being associated with motion is nothing new. In

his study of Renaissance attitudes toward woman in regard

to the scholarship and scholarly texts, Ian Maclean writes,

From the earliest times, and in the
most far-flung cultures, the notion of
female has in some sense been opposed

55 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 26-27.

56 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 27.

to that of male, and aligned with other

Drawing from a previous study, Maclean demonstrates the

earliest use of polarity in regard to masculine and

feminine attributes:

male female
limit unlimited
odd even
one plurality
right left
square oblong
at rest moving
straight curved
light darkness
good evil58

Maclean goes on to show how this male/female dichotomy,

inherited from Aristotle, was adapted by Renaissance

scholars and utilized to develop their "notion of woman."

Obvious from this list of polarities are the early

modern beliefs, as opined in the contemporary conduct

books, that a woman is excessive and incontinent, a charge

often made in regard to her voracious and insatiable sexual

desire; plural or inconsistent, another well-worn conduct-

book contention; moving, something the conduct books

attempt to correct by incarcerating a women in her domicile

(medical writers also blame a "moving" uterus for almost

57 Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 2.

58 Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, cites a study by G.E.R.
Lloyd entitled Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in

all of a woman's gynecological problems, mentioned above);

dark and evil, a concept supported by theological

references to Mother Eve; and curved, another theological

claim derived from a woman's being formed out of Adam's

"crooked" rib. This "crookedness" can refer to both a

woman's moral turpitude and her physical deformities. The

right/left dichotomy harks back to Galen's elaborate

description of the anatomical structure of the genital

organs in which he purports that the left male testis and

the left side of the uterus receive "uncleansed" blood and

are, therefore, inferior as well as responsible for the

procreation of a female child, also inferior. The right

sides of the genital organs were closer to the liver,

hotter, and therefore, superior. Naturally, the right

sides produced a male heir.59

How any of these qualities, other than "evil," were

assumed to be pejorative in the first place and became the

linchpin of all major premises about the condition of women

cannot be explained, other than the fact that Aristotle

said they were. Renaissance scholars almost never

Early Greek Thought (Cambridge, 1971) in which Lloyd demonstrates how
these opposites were utilized in argumentation.

59 Danielle Jacquart and Claude Thomasset. Sexuality and Medicine in the
Middle Ages, trans. Matthew Adamson (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988).
See especially Chapter 2.

questioned them and continued to employ them in their

discourses, methodically and authoritatively inferiorizing

a woman's body.

Maclean's succinct study traces the historical

development of the Renaissance concept of woman and her

inherent inferiority from classical philosophers and early

Church Fathers and demonstrates how these beliefs became

interdisciplinary in the sense that they were used in

religious, medical, political, social, and legal

discourses. Each discourse "proved" something different in

regard to the inferior nature of a woman's mind and body;

however, they all arrived at the same conclusion: a woman

was, in all regards, inferior and, therefore, could not

engage in public affairs and in the formation of the

culture in which she existed.60 Because a woman was

constitutive of so many negative qualities, a conclusion

justified through the citation of authoritative texts,61 it

was "for her own good" that a wife submit herself to her

husband's rule. If she refused to adhere to his

admonitions, her husband was to "cut her off then from

60 In regard to cultural alienation of women, see Sandra Lee Bartky.
For the separation of women from the public sphere, see Joan Kelly.
61 Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, says that these
"authoritative texts were influential throughout the Renaissance" (5).

[his] flesh, that she do not always abuse [him].'"62 In most

cases, this "cutting off" would have left a woman without

any economic support and in a world in which she had no

place to turn.

A woman's gestures not only became the silent

indicators of her economic dependence and inferior

constitution but also of her inward state. Her soul, in

other words, was exposed through her actions, down to the

focusing of her eye. According to Richard Brathwaite,

The Sanctuary of her heart is solely
dedicated to her Maker; it can find no
roome for an inordinate affection to
lodge in. Shee knows not how to throw
out her loue-attracting Lures; nor to
expose the glorious beauty of her soule
to shame. A moments staine must not
blemish her state. Shee will not
therefore giue her eye league to wander,
lest it should betray her honour to a
treacherous intruder.63

As Michel Foucault points out, the modern soul is the

result of a "certain technology of power over the body,"64 a

duplication of the body similar to that witnessed in the

body of the king as both person and monarch. The modern

soul exists as a reality, functions as corrective power, is

62 Becon, The Catachism, 345.

63 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 203.

64 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979) 29.

born out of "methods of punishment, supervision and

constraint."65 The early modern feminine soul still

maintained some of the aspects of the Christian soul,

harking back to the practices of medieval female religious

figures. A woman's piety was inextricably connected to her

morphology. Her exterior bodily manifestations, while less

extreme than her medieval counterpart's, were her soul's

expression of its spiritual condition. But the early

modern female body also began to assimilate some of the

qualities of the Foucauldian modern soul since it was

beginning to be methodologically generated through a bodily

taxonomy in conduct books that became increasingly specific

regarding a woman's feminine gesturology.66 The exterior of

her body became the signifier of not only her spiritual but

also her social status. While Foucault contends that the

modern soul is imprisoned by the body, I suggest that the

early modern female body was incarcerated by the soul, an

65 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 29.

66 Foucault, in Discipline & Punish, uses the term "bodily rhetoric," to
describe the "signs" of a seventeenth century soldier (135). I choose
the term "feminine gesturology" for two reasons. First, I wish to
indicate how gestures are meant to indicate gender, not just one's
social ranking. Second, I prefer the term "gesturology," as opposed to
"rhetoric," since it indicates an unspoken language and, more
importantly, the unspeaking of women, a goal of the conduct books.