“The writing of women into history . . . implies not only a new history of women, but also a new history. . . . [G]ender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.”—Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
Following Joan Scott’s programmatic case for gender as an analytic category structuring the understanding of history as such, this special issue, Women, Nations, Households, and History, invites readers to ponder the place of history in the creation of the category of woman as well as the place of women in particular histories. The chiasmus in the title draws our attention not only to the links between women and history, or to the conventional association of women with households, but also to the ways in which households might provide a stage for cultural expression suppressed by a particular national dispensation. It also highlights the ways in which the unstable but potent figure of the public woman on-stage or off has functioned as an icon of national identity or as a sign of national decay.
The issue opens with two articles on women in early modern drama. Patricia Badir’s analysis of Lewis Wager’s Life and Repentance of Marie Magdalene (ca. 1566) shows how this militantly Protestant attack on the seduction of appearances “beguiles and deceives by means of the very scenography it condemns as degenerate.” Repudiating the Magdalen as public woman in the name of the penitent Mary, played on the contemporary stage by a boy actor, the play continues to rely on the artifice of theatricality, even as it strips away the trappings of illusion. In “Hymen’s Monkey Love,” Catherine Burroughs not only draws attention to the dramatization of sexual initiation in an aristocratic household in The Concealed Fancies (ca. 1645) by Jane Cavendish and Elizabeth Brackley; she also argues that this and other household theatricals in the English interregnum paved the way for the treatment of female sexual initiation and female desire more generally in the drama of the Restoration and the eighteenth century. Although neither play is about history directly, they both respond to the anti-theatrical and anti-feminist if not outright misogynist prejudices of Protestant elites in their respective periods—the Calvinist clergy and Edwardian court in the first instance, and the Cromwellian authorities of the interregnum and Commonwealth in the second.
The second pair of essays examines the careers of public women in contexts we might recognize as more obviously those of modern public politics as well as national theatres vying with political spectacle for ratification by audience approbation. Maria-Elena Doyle’s account of the dramatic writing and theatrical activity of Lady Augusta Gregory and Eva Gore-Booth shows how two of the most prominent women of the Irish National Revival wrestle with the “gendered ideology of Ireland’s myth of itself” and with the ways in which their masculine counterparts had used female figures as icons of Irish national sentiment rather than agents in a struggle for social and personal autonomy as well as national identity. We close the issue with Janie Vanpée’s analysis of the theatre and political performances of Olympe de Gouges within and against the spectacular culture of the French Revolution. Vanpée revises the by now familiar picture of the theatrical politics and judicial procedure associated with radical republicanism during the Revolution by juxtaposing what might be called the declarative politics of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman with the more ambiguous dramatic engagement between a fictionalized de Gouges and Marie-Antoinette in de Gouges’s play, La France sauvée, which, together with her defense of Louis XVI, provoked the fatal retaliation of the rigorously republican government. The reaction of a robustly masculine republicanism to an aristocratic decadence marked as feminine recalls, albeit in a different context, the allegorical representation of Mary Magdalen as the decadent, tyrannical church, discussed in the issue’s first article, and the ongoing attacks on the morality and legitimacy of public women, which continue today. [End Page iv]
This issue’s reading list consists mostly of articles on the social, sexual and theatrical representation of women in early modern Europe. Castle’s award-winning essay...