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Feminist scholarship over the past twenty five years has shed significant light on the cultural, political and social dimensions of women’s performance in the European Renaissance. This essay proposes that, in addition to these perspectives, we bring aesthetic curiosity and responsiveness to the dramatic texts in which female performance is encoded. As part of that enquiry, it focuses attention on periodicity, finding both historical relevance and stylistic resonance for Renaissance drama in the idea of the Baroque. These issues are pursued through analyses of what Rachel Poulsen has termed an “actress effect” in Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona (c.1590-91), Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy (c.1610-11) and Lording Barry’s The Family of Love (1604-6). In the first two plays, the suffering figure of the lamenting Ariadne stands as an exemplar of the theatrical woman. In Barry’s parodic comedy, citizen wife and witty heroine are united by their theatricality and sensuality, with the innamorata overtly (and uniquely in drama of the period) acknowledged as an “actress.” In each play, the manipulation of an actress effect contributes vitally to the playwrights’ provision of novelty and theatrical pleasure to their diverse audiences.