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Voice in Motion

Staging Gender, Shaping Sound in Early Modern England

By Gina Bloom

Publication Year: 2011

Voice in Motion explores the human voice as a literary, historical, and performative motif in early modern English drama and culture, where the voice was frequently represented as struggling, even failing, to work. In a compelling and original argument, Gina Bloom demonstrates that early modern ideas about the efficacy of spoken communication spring from an understanding of the voice's materiality. Voices can be cracked by the bodies that produce them, scattered by winds when transmitted as breath through their acoustic environment, stopped by clogged ears meant to receive them, and displaced by echoic resonances. The early modern theater underscored the voice's volatility through the use of pubescent boy actors, whose vocal organs were especially vulnerable to malfunction.

Reading plays by Shakespeare, Marston, and their contemporaries alongside a wide range of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century texts—including anatomy books, acoustic science treatises, Protestant sermons, music manuals, and even translations of Ovid—Bloom maintains that cultural representations and theatrical enactments of the voice as "unruly matter" undermined early modern hierarchies of gender. The uncontrollable physical voice creates anxiety for men, whose masculinity is contingent on their capacity to discipline their voices and the voices of their subordinates. By contrast, for women the voice is most effective not when it is owned and mastered but when it is relinquished to the environment beyond. There, the voice's fragile material form assumes its full destabilizing potential and becomes a surprising source of female power. Indeed, Bloom goes further to query the boundary between the production and reception of vocal sound, suggesting provocatively that it is through active listening, not just speaking, that women on and off the stage reshape their world.

Bringing together performance theory, theater history, theories of embodiment, and sound studies, this book makes a significant contribution to gender studies and feminist theory by challenging traditional conceptions of the links among voice, body, and self.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


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pp. c-ii


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pp. iii-iii


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pp. iv-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: From Excitable Speech to Voice in Motion

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pp. 1-20

Writing hundreds of years before poststructuralist theory, French author François Rabelais provides an answer to Judith Butler's queries concerning linguistic agency. In book 4 of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, Pantagruel and his fellow sea travelers are startled by disembodied voices they hear in the air. To assuage their fears-"not unnatural;' since ...

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1 Squeaky Voices: Marston, Mulcaster, and the Boy Actor

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pp. 21-65

Perhaps because of the burgeoning industry of Shakespeare films and the late twentieth-century fascination with everything Elizabethan, new students of early modern English drama often are surprisingly familiar with the conditions under which Shakespeare's plays were originally performed, even the very unmodern convention of using boys to play ...

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2 Words Made of Breath: Shakespeare, Bacon, and Particulate Matter

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pp. 66-110

When Philip, the conflicted French monarch of Shakespeare's King John, swears to a peace agreement with England, he gives weight to his words by emphasizing their material composition. It is the physical breath Philip uses to swear his oath of peace that lends authorizing force to his words: "The latest breath that gave the sound of words / Was deep-sworn...

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3 Fortress of the Ear: Shakespeare's Late Plays, Protestant Sermons, and Audience

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pp. 111-159

When Beatrice, the chaste and compromised heroine of Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling, slowly realizes that the servant DePlores is proposing that she give up her virginity to compensate him for killing the man she didn't want to marry, she desperately wishes that she could stop herself from understanding his meaning. Once she is made to hear and ...

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4 Echoic Sound: Sandys's Englished Ovid and Feminist Criticism

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pp. 160-186

In this scene from John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, Delio's advice that Antonio avoid visiting the Cardinal is reiterated by an eerie echo that Antonio admits is "very like my wife's voice" (5.3.26). Earlier in the play, the Duchess unexpectedly revives from (presumed) death by strangulation to call for ''Antonio" and "mercy" (4.2.342, 345) in an echo of Desdemona's ...

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Epilogue: Performing the Voice of Queen Elizabeth

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pp. 187-196

The figure of Echo captures trenchantly the guiding argument of Voice in Motion: that the voice's distance from, rather than presence in, the body can constitute the conditions of agency. As we saw in the previous chapter, a voice that cannot be located firmly in or connected to a speaker's body threatens men's assumptions about their capacity for vocal control, ...


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pp. 197-246


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pp. 247-266


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pp. 267-274


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pp. 275-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201314
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812240061

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Material Texts
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Roger Chartier, Joseph Farrell, Anthony Grafton, Leah Price, Peter Stallybrass, Michael F. Suarez, S.J. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 859160920
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Voice in Motion

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English drama -- Early modern and Elizabethan, 1500-1600 -- History and criticism.
  • English drama -- 17th century -- History and criticism
  • Voice in literature.
  • Sex role in literature
  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Echo (Greek mythology) in literature.
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