Although on-going archival research continues to produce considerable evidence of performance by women in England during the Early Modern period, the perception persists that women’s performance was marginal to the culture and to the canon. This essay presents new primary source material, and offers an expanded definition of what is meant by “performance record.” The growing number of records to emerge clearly shows that performance by women was central within pre-Reformation English culture, but that the reformist effort to criminalize much of English culture (notably its performative and ceremonial features) also rendered women’s performance nearly invisible in England from the late reign of Elizabeth I through the Interregnum. The records show both a judicial effort to demonize women’s performance while theatricalizing punishment of women, on the one hand, and the rise of a cultural resistance which brought critiques of these injustices into the dramatic canon, on the other. This article argues that the near disappearance of women from public perfomance in pre-civil war England is an ideologically-constructed anomaly that needs to be addressed as part of a major re-evaluation in our understanding of the history of women and performance in Early Modern England.


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pp. 9-31
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