This essay interrogates early modern notions of female beardedness in its various literal and metaphoric permutations. If early modern English male facial beards signaled privilege in both economic and erotic registers, then how did bearded women figure for that same culture? By considering representations of the female beard in a variety of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, including the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, personal accounts, illustrations, and paintings, this paper argues that bearded women presented early modern English culture with a profound contradiction that symbolically threatened patriarchal ideology with the specter of both economic and sexual castration. The female beard's subversive power, then, could be mitigated only one of two ways: either through reinscription of the female body or through annihilation.


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pp. 1-28
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