If she be made of white and red,Her faults will ne'er be known,For blushing cheeks by faults are bredAnd fears by pale white shown.Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1.2.94

In Moth’s ‘dangerous rhyme’ Shakespeare pinpoints the troubling ambivalence of the female face. It is a theme to which he frequently returns, for example when Claudio says of Hero: ‘Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty’ (Much Ado About Nothing, 4.1.40). Shakespeare’s works appear to confirm the idea that there is ‘no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’ (Macbeth, 1.4.11). Yet in the early modern period criminal defendants were routinely denied legal counsel, due to a persistent belief in the legibility of the face: ‘if the partie himselfe defend it, peradventure his conscience will prick him to utter the truth, or his countenance or gesture will show some tokens thereof’ (Pulton, De Pace Regis et Regni, 1609). The blush sits at the fulcrum of these opposing views; at once thought to be involuntary and natural, while also being the stock-in-trade of the early modern actor. This paper explores the Janus-faced blush from both a dramatic and forensic perspective, by examining the appearance of the blush in trial settings. Focusing on Shakespeare’s Othello, Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge, and Webster’s The White Devil, I investigate the ways in which early modern dramatists perpetuate, manipulate and undermine the link between the appearance of a blush and the performance of guilt.


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pp. 233-252
Launched on MUSE
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