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Reviewed by:
  • Gender and Song in Early Modern England ed. by Leslie C. Dunn, and Katherine R. Larson
  • Julie Robarts
Dunn, Leslie C., and Katherine R. Larson, eds, Gender and Song in Early Modern England (Women and Gender in the Early Modern World), Farnham, Ashgate, 2014; hardback; pp. 236; 7 b/w illustrations and 1 music example; R.R.P. £60.00; ISBN 9781472443410.

The edited collection Gender and Song in Early Modern England addresses the intersection of gender with song as text, musical genre, and embodied performance in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English acoustic and social environments. The introduction reviews recent developments in sound studies and musicology in the broader western European tradition and early modern studies. The review essay focuses particularly on studies that have explored gender and sexuality in relation to representations of musicians, musical performance, and soundscapes.

The eleven essays in the collection grew out of a seminar at the Shakespeare Association of America meeting in 2011. Several essays consider poetic and musical genres that ventriloquize female personae, or that women and men performed, including the ayre, broadside ballad, and song within households. These chapters explore the ways in which the gender and social status of the performer, relative to the gender and decorum of the lyric voice, shape reception and transmission of song. Performance of song in public and domestic environments could strengthen or subvert the messages about masculinity and femininity inherent in lyric and popular genres. Of particular note is Linda Phyllis Austern's essay demonstrating the ways in which the male householder's control over male-only and mixed-gender musical performance in domestic environments was a key site of the performance of masculinity. By managing music-making, men regulated a source of communal pleasure and mastered the perceived threats of music as both irrational and effeminate. They also exercised control over the display of female sexuality—understood as an unavoidable element of female musical performance.

Most of the essays in the collection examine the use of song and music in theatrical texts and performance. Jennifer L. Wood shows how the representation of the New World 'Indian', in dramatic texts, travel narratives, and prints, parallels representations of European witches through the association of chant, dance, and harsh sounding instruments. Two chapters explore the ways in which confessional positions informed competing understandings of music, in the performance of masks by schoolgirls, and a public play. Music, especially polyphony, and dance could be praised as Neoplatonic harmony or condemned as sensual; however, the gender and rank of performers or characters modulated the polemic around this conflict. Angela Heetderks applies the insights of early modern disability studies to show the ways in which song marks characters in Shakespeare's corpus as 'hypermarginalised' through the connection with madness or jesting. [End Page 255]

Julie Robarts
University of Melbourne


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