Category Archives: Literature and Drama

Regan & Goneril: The Bestial Daughters of Lear

By Lauryn W.
Shakespeare uses animal comparisons in King Lear to explore how Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril, “sink below the level of beasts” in their actions toward their father (Taylor 532-533). Lear breaks the law of primogeniture when he divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, who claim to love him most. As a result, Regan and Goneril are able to function beyond the laws of coverture, performing injustices upon their father.
After Goneril, Lear’s eldest daughter, denies her father of his wishes, Lear compares her to a creature of prey, hoping to receive more compassion from her younger sister: “O, Regan, she hath tied Sharp-toothed unkindness like a vulture, here” as he indicates his heart (Shakespeare 2.4.134). According to Alan Dent, “the Vulture […] hates us living and loves us dead”, thus Lear’s reference to Goneril as a vulture not only serves to implicate her as bestial, but also indicates her ill feelings for Lear (149). Feelings that she allows to show only after she has married and been given her part of the kingdom.
Regan is also implicated as inhuman, though since few direct animal references are made toward her, inferences must be drawn from her actions to denote her bestial nature. In Act 3 Scene 7, as Cornwall attempts to pluck a second eye from Gloucester’s head, one of his servants interferes: “Hold your hand, my lord!” (Shakespeare 3.7.72). For this outburst of defiance against Cornwall, Regan kills the servant, stabbing him from behind with a sword. In this instance, Regan uses the element of surprise in order to commit the murder, just as a cat would in attacking its prey. However, Regan’s motives for attacking are not defensive or used as a survival tactic as an animal’s attack would be. Instead, Regan is motivated purely by her brash anger toward the situation.Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.11.47 AM
Prior to his misfortunes at the hand of Cornwall, Gloucester, like Lear, also alludes to Regan and Goneril’s animalism, foreshadowing his fate. In speaking to Regan he says, “I would not see thy cruel nails / Pluck out [Lear’s] poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister / In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (3.7.55-57). Regan’s nails are referred to as “cruel”, meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “destitute of kindness or compassion.” As both kindness and compassion are traits of humanness, calling Regan’s nails “cruel” strips her of her humanity. Gloucester’s more blatant reference to Goneril’s “boarish fangs” depicts Lear’s eldest daughter as a vicious animal unwilling to be merciful toward anyone, even her own family. This passage denotes both sisters, as Taylor states, “are the diabolically evil beasts of Shakespeare” (533).
Shakespeare’s King Lear is driven greatly by the idea of bestial man, particularly when the actions of Lear’s two elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, are called into question. Both daughters turn their father away, denying him the rights a former king and father are entitled to. Regan and Goneril’s denial of Lear goes against the laws of primogeniture and coverture, as both women were given halves of their father’s kingdom and took majority control. As each one of Lear’s requests are denied by his fiendish daughters, his patriarchal position depletes, and he too is stripped of his humanness as he descends into madness.
Lauryn. is currently a senior at Ball State University in Indiana, majoring in Creative Writing and double minoring in Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies.
Image: Earlom, Richard. King Lear, act I, scene I. 1792. Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection.Folger Shakespeare Library. Web. 26 April 2014.
“cruel, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 20 April 2014.
Dent, Alan. World of Shakespeare: Animals & Monsters. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1972. Print.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Grace Ioppolo. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2008. Print.
Taylor, George Coffin. “Shakespeare’s Use of the Idea of the Beast in Man.” Studies in Philology 42.3 (1945): 530-543. JSTOR. Web. 5 Feb 2014.

“The Rape of Lucrece”: Female Silence in the Face of Male Domination

By Colleen T.
In Renaissance society, men held a position of power over women. However, male anxieties about women gaining an independent voice in society reflected the fear that women would no longer be under male control. To prevent this, men developed ways of dehumanizing and Othering women to ensure that they remained inferior. In Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, Tarquin accomplishes this as he rapes Lucrece, dehumanizing and silencing her, ultimately showing the ways that men in Renaissance society could control female independence with dominant and animalistic behavior.
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Interestingly, as Sara Quay says in her article, “Feminist scholars have been especially interested in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ because of the extent to which Shakespeare develops Lucrece and explores the impact the rape has on her” (3). Despite Tarquin’s success in dehumanizing and raping Lucrece, she spends almost half of the poem speaking independently. In an attempt to stop Tarquin, she uses rhetoric to persuade him not to ruin his own honor or set a sinful example for future generations: “wilt thou be the school where lust shall learn? / Must he in thee read lectures of such shame? / Wilt thou be glass wherein it shall discern / Authority for sin, warrant for blame” (617-620). Strategically, she attempts to prevent the loss of her own honor by showing concern for his instead.
However, as Katharine Eisaman Maus’ article mentions, the poem has an “insistent concern with the relationship between sex and power” (66). The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare describes what happens when Lucrece tries to regain power and stop Tarquin from raping her: “Challenged, he tells her, drawing his sword, that if she refuses him he will kill her and a slave, making it appear he caught them in bed together, whereas if not she can keep his violation a secret” (Dobson n.pag). He threatens her reputation, using violence and domination to silence her. He then takes Lucrece’s chastity, the quality of humanness which serves as her only real social power, allowing him to dehumanize her and assert his superiority as a man.
Despite Lucrece’s opinionated, educated, rhetorical voice throughout the poem, she still allows Tarquin to silence her in many ways. Rather than blaming Tarquin for her rape, Lucrece remains silent, and instead blames many other factors. She blames Night for her rape when she says, “[v]ast sin-concealing chaos […] O hateful, vaporous, and foggy Night, / Since thou art guilty of my cureless crime” (767-772). She blames the Night’s darkness for concealing the beast within man. She also blames Opportunity and Time, saying, “O opportunity, thy guilt is great: / ‘Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason; / Thou sets the wolf where he the lamb may get; / Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season” (876-879). She implies in these lines that men are not expected to control themselves if they have the opportunity to rape a woman, as Opportunity makes it simple for the man who “plots the sin.” Worst of all, Lucrece blames herself, not for losing her own honor, but for losing her husband’s; she says to Collatine, “Yet I am guilty of thy honour’s wrack” (841). To rid her husband of this shame, Lucrece finally decides to kill herself, allowing Tarquin’s actions to permanently silence her.
Although Lucrece challenges Tarquin’s power through her rhetoric in the poem, she allows him to silence and dominate her through his animalistic, violent behavior, ultimately making this a poem reflective of male dominance and female silence the face of it.
Colleen is a recent graduate of Ball State University with a major in literature and a minor in creative writing.
Image: Faithorne, William. The fates decree, that tis a mighty wrong. 1665. Folger Shakespeare LibraryDigital Image Collection (LUNA). Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <,-that-tis-a-mighty>
Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells. “Rape of Lucrece, The.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference, 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Maus, Katharine Eisaman. “Taking Tropes Seriously: Language and Violence in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece.” Shakespeare Quarterly 37.1 (1986): 66-82. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.
Quay, Sara E. “’Lucrece the chaste’: The Construction of Rape in Shakespeare’s ‘The Rape of Lucrece.’”Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 3-17.
Shakespeare, William. “The Rape of Lucrece.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems. Ed. Colin Burrow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 237-338. Print.

Racial Othering in Shakespeare’s “Othello”

By Allyson H.
In Othello, Shakespeare uses the titular character to explore the Othering that dark-skinned people would have faced in Elizabethan England. Through the story of Othello, Shakespeare simultaneously reinforces and tears down racial Othering. Othello himself is a man of color in a powerful position: a general in the Venetian army. Othello has control over other soldiers, and his men trust him and treat him with respect. By putting the character of Othello into a position of power, and by making him kind and respected, Shakespeare calls to mind the idea that racial Others may not be as bad as the general population believed. By the end of the play, however, Othello has been reduced back into a stereotype. He has fallen from power and is now considered a monster for having killed his wife. In an act of stereotypically violent rage, Othello is reduced back to the dark-skinned Other that Elizabethan audiences had expected to see all along. In the end, Othello has lost the respect of those around him and has been reduced to his “proper” place at the bottom of society. But, by calling those thoughts into question in the first place, Shakespeare questions the validity of stereotypes. His play brings to attention the idea that racial Others were not as inhuman as they appeared; but in an effort keep his audience in a comfortable place, he returns to the stereotypical view of those Others at the end of the play.
A person of color in a position of power was something almost unheard of in Elizabethan England, due to the way in which the general population treated those viewed as racially Other. Those who came from racial backgrounds other than English were seen as lesser than the English people, based mostly on a religious views. People’s “hostility would be encouraged by the widespread belief in the legend that blacks were descendants of Ham in the Genesis story, punished for sexual excess by their blackness” (Cowhig). Racial Others typically had religions that were unfamiliar, causing the Christian public to believe that those Others were from barbaric societies. By calling them heathens, English imposed an image of wildness and inhumanness that justified the poor the treatment of dark skinned people and linked them back to animals.
The stereotype of a violent dark-skinned Other is played up even by the men who played Othello on the stage. It must be remembered that during Elizabethan times, Othello would have been played by a white man. The audience would have been painfully aware of the fact that the actor was white. The actor would have used many techniques to show the audience that he was meant to be playing a dark-skinned Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.02.32 AMperson, one of which being “the covering of the actor’s body with black cloth, its function being to materialize the imagined black bodies of real Africans existing in the world outside” (Smith 4). The men who played the part of Othello frequently spoke of feeling that “Othello’s tremendous passion overtakes and even overwhelms the actor who plays him, and ‘swells’ or ‘surges’ out” (Marks 101).
The men who played the role of Othello fully believed in the stereotype of the angry, passionate, dark-skinned Other to the point where they themselves felt overwhelmed by those feelings while on the stage. This creates an odd juxtaposition of the actors who fully believe the stereotypes against the content of the play that implies that Shakespeare himself felt as though those stereotypes were unbiased and untrue.
Allyson is a graduating senior at Ball State University. She is majoring in Literature, with a minor in Theatrical Studies.
Image: Small, William. Othello, Mr. Irving and Miss Bateman performing at the Lyceum, act IV, scene 2. 1876. Folger Shakespeare Library. Web. 28 April 2014.
Cowhig, Ruth. “Blacks in English Renaissance Drama and the Role of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’.” Shakespeare for StudentsCritical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays and Poetry. Detroit: Gale, 1992. Student Resources in Context. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
Marks, Elise. “”Othello/me”: Racial Drag and the Pleasures of Boundary-Crossing with Othello.” Comparative Drama 35.1 (2001): 101-23. Project Muse. Web.
Smith, Ian. “Othello’s Black Handkerchief.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 64.1 (2013): 1-25. Project MUSE. 26 Feb 2014. Web.

Gendered & Racial Others: Dehumanization in Shakespearean Literature

By Allyson H., Tabitha H., Colleen T., and Lauryn W.
During the Renaissance, high anxieties circulated concerning women and racial Others gaining independence or rising to positions of power. To combat these anxieties, men and dominant racial groups attempted to assert their power by defining what qualities made one person superior to others.
Historically, anxieties about women stemmed from the Biblical condemnation of Eve. As a result, upper class white males in Renaissance society attempted to control women’s independence of voice and action through laws like primogeniture and coverture, which placed women under the control of a man—either her father or her husband. Conduct literature was also produced to teach women how to behave in public.
Anxieties about “tawny-skinned” people in Shakespearean England also stemmed from the Bible story of Ham, who “committed a sin against his father Noah that condemned his supposedly black descendants to be ‘servants unto servants’” (Frederickson n.pag). As a result, feelings of distrust and hostility toward black people were fairly common, causing them to be Othered in society. Black-skinned people of the time had many stereotypes attributed to them, such as being quick to anger but full of pride and courage. Shakespeare calls these stereotypes into question.

During this course, our group focused on these anxieties in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The dehumanization of women and the attempt to combat female power occurs in works like The Rape of Lucrece, King Lear, and The Taming of the Shrew. Additionally, Othello focuses on issues of a racial Other in a position of power, and the stereotypes that can be used to prove the Other’s inferiority. Each text denotes the “inferiority” of Othered groups, ultimately expressing larger anxieties of white males who utilized dehumanization of women and racial Others to prevent their loss of power and superiority within Renaissance society.
Fredrickson, George. “The Historical Origins and Development of Racism.” PBS. PBS, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Folkore, Religion & Revenge: The Transformation of Ghosts in Shakespeare

By Hannah V.

Many of the ghosts portrayed in literature and drama before the Renaissance alluded to the underworld or a certain “hell” of some sort. This folklore linked to Medieval England planted similar ideas into Elizabethan audience members, suggesting that the deceased who allegedly roamed Earth at night were damned, haunting citizens until they could rest in peace. Perceptions changed, however,when  the Catholic Church Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 5.16.50 PM  created the concept of Purgatory to explain this strange “haunting” phenomenon parishioners claimed to see (Moorman 197). While many of the works before Shakespeare’s time referenced a Senecan theme when representing ghosts, Shakespeare gave spirits a more Protestant outlook (196). Most were placed as catalysts for tactical revenge plots, figures bent on correcting the wrongdoings that caused their demises. Thus Shakespeare gave his phantoms more important roles in his theatrical works. The ghosts plaguing Brutus, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III had speaking roles and personality (192). What’s more, the apparitions were claiming revenge for the Greater Good rather than simply personal vengeance; they aimed to uphold social hierarchies, to overthrow the villains that had killed them and to give power to those who were in the right. These themes reinforced other subplots in the plays that the murderers of these spirits were later confronted with; for example, Brutus experiences failure after the ghost of Caesar predicts it. Macbeth and Richard III are both murderers, where both experience a guilty conscience from the appearance of their victims (Stoll, 202).
Prior to Shakespeare’s time, ghosts were portrayed as orbs of light or unrecognizable shapes; they had no human characteristics whatsoever. Shakespeare also changed this conception radically. The ghosts on the Elizabethan stage were human in form, appearing as they did after death just as they would when they were still living. If poisoned, their bodies would be plagued with lesions, if stabbed, the wounds still bloody.  For example, “C. H. Herford states: “More nearly than any other figure…moves with supernatural exemptions from the bonds of space and time, seems ‘not like the inhabitants of earth and yet is on’t'” (Smith, 1004). The human-like qualities these nonhuman figures possessed throughout the plays questioned what happened to a person after death. Some believed a person’s spirit could roam the Earth as long as their body was still available—many criminals’ bodies and such other victims’ bodies were cremated to rid the chance that the spirit could come back (Stoll).
The ghosts in Shakespeare raise many questions about humanness after death. The King of Denmark is portrayed still wearing his armor, as if he were riding into battle. Hamlet’s father shows affection towards Gertrude, even though she was partially responsible for his demise (Moorman, 200). Their ability to speak, persuade, to feel, as well as having an initiative to seek out the ones that murdered them, gave them qualities of humanness and humanity that other literary ghosts before the early modern era did not have. This innovative way of portraying life after death, that one could still remain human even if the body perished, pushed the envelope of acceptable culture in Renaissance England. What began as folklore, then a religious explanation, finally became a major part of Shakespeare’s success. We can see the trail Shakespeare’s ghost began, a trend that is still occurring in literature and drama today, with ghosts and spirits claiming characteristics of humanness with their speech and actions towards other human beings.
Hannah is currently a student at Ball State University studying Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Writing and Emerging Medias. She is hoping to attend graduate school after her graduation next May.She is also an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, and enjoys being outside and reading.
Image: Griffin, Caitlin. “The Ghost of Hamlet.” Digital image. Folger Shakespeare Library. N.p., 28 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <;.
Moorman, F.W. “Shakespeare’s ghost.” Modern Language Review. 1.3 (1906): 192-201. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
Smith, Fred Manning. “The Relation of Macbeth to Richard III.” PMLA. 60.4 (1945): 1003-20. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
Stoll, Elmer Edgar. “The Objectivity in the Ghosts of Shakespeare.” PMLA. 22.2 (1907): 201-233. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.


Fairies in the Renaissance: Excuses for Human Failure

By Melissa S.

Anxieties in Renaissance times allow us to pinpoint how humans create creatures resembling themselves but with ‘non-human’ Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 6.39.41 PMattributes in order to feel superior and to ‘Other’ unfavorable behaviors. Fairly lore can contribute to this conversation. A “Fairy” is defined as “one of a class of supernatural beings having human form, to whom are traditionally attributed magical powers and who are thought to interfere in human affairs (with either good or evil intent)” (OED). This description, which involved both humanoid and non-human attributes, raises the question of what differentiates those categories. Does having a human-like shape define a human? Or does a creature with magic automatically get categorized with non-humans?
Fairies are often further linked to issues of human form, human deformity, and non-physical human spirits in fairyland. The game of blaming any creature but humans is how changeling lore came to be. For example, the changeling, a creature that “could steal human babies and substitute one of their own race” was also a figure that would “never thrive, remaining small, wizened, mentally abnormal, and ill tempered” (Simpson). This changeling creature provided an outlet for parents who had “abnormal” children, in both physical and mental senses, and it provided a non-human agent on which to place the blame. In a time where mothers could be accused of looking too much at an animal if her child came out with animalistic features, the idea of the changeling gave women a way to shake such blame. As Slights – in his article about the changeling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – calls the changeling a “violator of the shifting but ever-present boundary between human and other worlds” we can even see a shift in blame to a completely different world (Slights 269). To them, fairies are so other that they don’t even live in the same world as we do – making them that much more susceptible to blame.
The other anxiety grouped with the fairylore is that of the human spirit and how it could be lost to the other world. As Wilby reports, for example:
Transition into the fairy world was believed to occur either “in body’ (during which, to mortal eyes, the physical body either completely disappeared or was replaced with a fairy or fairy “stock”) or “in spirit.” In the latter case, it was only the spiritual part of the human (which in Christian terms would be called the soul) which went into fairyland, leaving the material body behind, an event which generally occurred when the human was dreaming, sick, or in some kind of trance.     (Wilby 291) 
The clash of Christian beliefs and fairylore created even more tension, and humans wondered what would become of the soul that defined, according to some, their humanity. The long-stereotyped idea of making contracts for your soul came from similar origins and many accounts of fairies will include a trip to fairyland where the human either struggled to make it back or succumbed to the magic – their souls trapped forever there.
Overall, fairies were the creation of guilty humans who needed a non-human creature to place blame upon. They – along with witches, spirits, werewolves, androgynous creatures, and other magical creatures – were put on the stage to humiliate and laugh at so that humans could pretend that the actions they portrayed were strictly characteristic of their non-humanness (Wilby 293).
Melissa is a 2014 graduate of Ball State University with a BA in Creative writing. She intends on opening her own childcare business in the near future and hopes to continue to write and publish.
“fairy, n. and adj.”. OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 4 March 2014 <>.
Simpson, Jacqueline and Steve Roud. “changelings.” A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press, 2003.Oxford Reference. 2003. Date Accessed 22 April 2014.
Slights, William W. E. “The Changeling in A Dream.” Studies in English Literature 28.2 (1988): 259-272.
Swann, Marjorie. “The Politics of Fairylore in Early Modern English Literature.” Renaissance Quarterly. 53.2 (2000): 449-473.
Wilby, Emma. “The Witch’s Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland.” Folklore111.3 (2000): 283-305.

Purposes of Magic in Early Modern Literature & Drama

By Evan P.

Magic in Early Modern literature in drama typically served two main purposes: as allegorical, and as a way to separate humans from other beings in nature, including animals and plants.  Edmund Spenser’s 1596  The Faerie Queene, an epic in praise of the English monarch, participated in popularizing the use of mythological beings as allegories.  For example, scholar Joel Davis makes the case that Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene isn’t a tale of magic at all, but that it is meant to be read as a praise of Elizabeth I (734).
Yet his poem blended the purposes of magical creatures, as he additionally used them to calm anxieties concerning animals’ place below humans in the world.  In this sense, allegory and separation also made magic and mythical beasts a means to elevate humans above animals and nature.
During the time period there was constant anxiety concerning animals.  Did these beings have souls, logic, rationality, and a conscience?  Magic was considered something that an animal could never control in the same ways that the humans portrayed in literature and drama could.  The use of magic was a major way to set humans apart and place them on a pedestal of power that animals could never reach: “magic is first of all, and most basically, a response to the estrangement between the inner life of the self and its ‘external’, material embodiment and relations; or, to put it another way, to the fact that human beings, unlike animals and natural objects, do not coincide with themselves” (Mutter 60).  Humans, unlike animals and natural objects, were in control over the elements.  While animals were strikingly similar to humans especially in allegorical situations, thus sparking the anxiety amongst humans, magic provided a false sense of hope to Early Modern audiences that they had higher intellect and more control.Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 5.04.45 PM
Likewise, we see a surge of other forms of magic to help humans control their environments.  Alchemy and astrology, for example, were both means by which humans in literature and drama of the Renaissance were seen using their control to manipulate forces lower than them.  Alchemy was the Elizabethan search for the elixir of life, a way to cheat death, and also a way to turn metal into gold, a way to gain riches.  Astrology was using the solar system to predict the future, another way for humans to gain a sense of control.  We also see humans manipulating their natural environments.  For example, the higher the landscape, such as cliffs and mountains, the more references we see to the heavens and higher beings.  As Lisa Hopkins writes, the natural settings of these works were often seen as “a collapsing of this world and the world beyond” (424).
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to magic in Early Modern literature and drama.  Magic was used allegorically and as a way to elevate humans above animals and the environment, helping calm the fears of humans in Elizabethan England.
Evan is a student at Ball State University.
Image Permission:
“Alchyma” from Konrad Gesner, The Practice of Old and New Phisicke, 1599. Courtesy of National Library of Medicine​.
Davis, Joel. “Fairy in The Faerie Queene: Renaissance Elf-Fashioning and Elizabethan Myth-Making.” Renaissance Quarterly. 58.2 (2005): 734-35. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.
Hopkins, Lisa. “The Places of the Gods On The English Renaissance Stage.” Philological Quarterly 89.4 (2010): 415-433. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.
Mutter, Matthew. ““The Power to Enchant That Comes from Disillusion”: W.H. Auden’s Criticism of Magical Poetics.” Journal of Modern Literature. 34.1 (2010): 58-85. Print.​

Crossing Boundaries: Androgynous Women in English Renaissance Society & Theatre

By Adrianna M.
During the English Renaissance, gender was an unstable concept. Gender categories were based on the Greek anatomist Galen’s one-sex model, which claimed that “men and women had the same anatomical structures [but that] women were simply less perfect men” (Howard “Introduction” 1595). According to the model, gender could shift depending on individual actions. In order to prevent gender shifts, English society commonly recommended strict guidelines for the masculine and feminine roles that men and women should respectively play. While both genders were affected, my work focuses specifically on women. Women were seen as property and were not to question the authority of their male “owner” (usually their father or husband). If a woman acted against these social expectations then she was considered androgynous because of how she blended physical and behavioral categories. Thus, the belief in unstable gender meant that there was no distinction between being an androgyne (person who exhibits qualities of both sexes) and a hermaphrodite (person who contains organs of both sexes).  Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.50.35 PM
Classical mythology depicted androgyny as a higher state of being; but in Renaissance society, androgynes were viewed more as monstrosities that threatened the desired “norm.” Female cross-dressers, as a result, were severely punished and accused “of being whores”, because not only did they change their dress but they used it to assert themselves in ways typically reserved for men (Howard “Crossdressing” 424).
In this world full of anxiety and restricting rules, “the theatre provided an arena where changing gender definitions could be displayed, deplored, or enforced and where anxieties about them could be expressed by playwrights” (Rackin 29). During the time all actors were male (since women were not supposed to speak in public), all female roles were performed by men. This created a double anxiety when it came to male actors playing female characters who cross-dressed, as in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth NightAs You Like ItThe Merchant of VeniceTwo Gentlemen of Verona, or Cymbeline. Yet androgyny could exist even when cross-dressing did not occur.  Recognition of a female characters’ androgyny “lies beneath the texture of the drama, in the male characters’ attitudes towards [them], and tends to surface when the woman attempts to assert herself, either in thought or action” (Hansen 11).
In The Merchant of Venice, for example, Portia’s and Jessica’s respective androgynous natures differ. On the one hand, Jessica’s cross-dressing hurts her father and, after she leaves (thus disobeying his authority), he cries “She is damned for it” (Shakespeare 3.1.27). She has asserted her own choice by leaving, thus becoming androgynous, and her dress while leaving reinforces this. On the other hand, Portia initially has no living paternal authority to deny. She asserts her own power in telling Bassanio to marry her, even before she cross-dresses. Not only does she assert her own authority later by cross-dressing and acting as a lawyer, but she also dominates Bassanio when he returns from Venice and she returns to her feminine costume. She tricks him into giving her his ring, but then interrogates him about it. In so doing, she dominates the relationship, symbolically taking on the masculine role regardless of her clothing. Portia’s cross-dressing saves Antonio, thus saving the play from overt tragedy, but Jessica’s transgression hurts her father. The difference we can see then is that Jessica went against her preexisting authority, while Portia had the ability to choose her authority. In Renaissance society both transgressions would be seen as monsterous, but Shakespreare makes it known that one is in fact worse than the other.
Adrianna studies Rhetoric and Writing, Literature, and Marketing at Ball State University.
Image: Larique, David. Sleeping Hermaphroditus. 1619. Greek marble. Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.  Apr. 2007. Web. 1 May 2014.
Hansen, Carol. Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code. New York: P. Lang, 1993.
Howard, Jean. ‘Introduction to As You Like It.’ Introduction. Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition.Ed.Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean Howard, and Katherine Maus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997. 1595.
—. “Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England.” Shakespeare Quarterly 39.4 (1988): 418-40.
Rackin, Phyllis. “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage.”  PMLA 102.1 (1987): 29-41.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Leah S. Marcus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006.

Lycanthropy as a Mental Illness in Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi”

By Emily G.
In Renaissance England, werewolves represented societal anxieties about the relationship between a human’s body and mind. Although lycanthropy has many definitions, the most prominent comment upon transformations of man into wolf: a “werewolf.” Yet other definitions move away from the body, referring instead to the “delusion that one was capable of such transformations,” commonly known as lycanthropes (Hirsch). While the two definitions seem separate today, the distinction was less over in early modern England, where the terms were used interchangeably even after the idea of the werewolf fell out of use (Hirsch). By the end of the fifteenth century, the wolf was extinct in England, and the fear of wolves disappeared (Douglas 2); (Hirsch); (Douglas 231). Subsequently, so did the fear of werewolves. Theologians and demonologists admitted that actual animal-human transformation was impossible, claiming that even the devil could not transform a human into an animal (Wiseman 58). Thus, lycanthropy was understood most frequently as a mental illness in which the patient believed he or she had transformed into an animal. Physicians believed this phenomenon resulted from too much melancholy or an unnatural imbalance in one of the four humors of the body  (Douglas 231); (Hirsch).
John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi arrived on stage in 1614 to tell the story of Ferdinand, a melancholy lycanthrope (Wiseman 59). Although Ferdinand alludes to wolves frequently throughout the tragedy, as when he calls the Duchess’s children “cubs,”, he is not diagnosed by the Doctor until the final act: “A very pestilent disease, my lord,/ They call lycanthropia” (Webster 4.1.33); (Webster 4.2.5-6). However, if we assume that Ferdinand’s lycanthropy is induced by an excess of melancholy, we can further argue that his affliction actually begins after the Duchess’s murder in act four, when he says, “I bade thee, when I was distracted of my wits,/ Go kill my dearest friend, and thou hast done’t” (4.2.279-280). Although he ordered Bosola to murder his sister, he gets angry after the fact. When he says “I was distracted of my wits,” his language suggests that his madness has already begun. The illness takes a turn for the worst in act five. The Doctor mentions seeing “the duke, ’bout midnight in a lane/ Behind the Saint Mark’s church, with the leg of a man/ Upon his shoulder; and he howl’d fearfully;/ Said he was a wolf; only the difference was, a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside,/ His on the inside” (Webster 5.2. 14-18).
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Lycanthropy represented many anxieties not only about the body, but the mind as well. If lycanthropy is the result of madness, are lycanthropes still responsible for their actions (Hirsch)? To simply consider the existence of the werewolf was to consider the state of the mind and soul, as well as the possibility of the human brain transcending into an animal one (Wiseman 58).  Many of the images, engravings, or sculptures of lycanthropes feature a horrifying hybrid creature that stands upright like a man but is nevertheless covered in fur from head to foot, with sharp claws and teeth. In the image above, the werewolf even has his jaws clamped down on a young woman. These depictions highlight society’s fear of the illness, and the anxiety that attackers could transform victims into such beasts as well. In fact, werewolves were considered more dangerous than regular wolves because they were a hidden threat (Hirsch). While wolves displayed their violence on the outside, covered in fur, lycanthropes were “hairy on the inside,” like Ferdinand suggests. In a sense, even though lycanthropes do not physically transform, they constantly blur the line between man and beast and the status of being human, causing anxieties about the body, mind, and soul during the English Renaissance.
Emily studies English Literature and Creative Writing as a junior at Ball State University.
Image: Douglas, Adam. “The class image of the bloodthirsty werewolf.” The Beast Within. London: Chapmans Publishing Ltd., 1992. Print.
Douglas, Adam. The Beast Within. London: Chapmans Publishing Ltd., 1992. Print.
Hirsch, Brett D. “An Italian Werewolf in London: Lycanthropy and the Duchess of Malfi.” Early Modern Literature Studies 11.2 (2005): 2-43. Web. 25 February 2014.
Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi. Ed. John Russel Brown. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964. Print.
Wiseman, S.J. “Hairy on the Inside: Metamorphosis and Civility in English Werewolf Texts.” Renaissance Beasts: of Animals, Humans, and Other Wonderful Creatures . Ed. Erica Fudge. City of Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004. 50-69. Print.

Cultural Fantasies & (Un)Acceptable Realities in Literature

By  Emily G., Adrianna M., Evan P., Melissa S., and Hannah V.

The research shaping our series of posts examines the social issues addressed in English Renaissance literature and drama. We have found that what was considered largely unacceptable in the “reality” of Early Modern England was welcomed onstage or in a work of literature, and that the job of art was not only to replicate a semblance of reality, but also to comment on what that social reality lacked. Since strict principles of hierarchy and subordination structured the culture of the time, playwrights and writers had the opportunity  either to challenge or to uphold the public’s expectations. They did this through the inclusion of half-human creatures and magical beings such as fairies, ghosts and spirits, androgynous humans, and werewolves.
All of the half-human creatures that we studied arose from social anxieties about the body; and they reflected a popular desire to separate “the human” from “the animal” and “the non-human.” Humans elevated some creatures above themselves, including as magical beings and fairies; meanwhile they shunned others as lesser, placing in this category spirits, androgynous humans, and werewolves. What tied these categories together is that many of the figures in both challenged anthropocentric views of humanity. What’s more, writers attempted to mitigate some anxieties by positioning non-human figures as plot devices: ghosts were commonly created for the purpose of revenge, androgyny was often depicted in a comedic light, and werewolves were considered human minds doomed to life in the body of an animal as punishment. These issues guided our research and led to questions of how non-human creatures alleviated or heightened the preexisting anxieties and how they were employed by or against humanity. A deeper understanding of these questions shaped our view that literature and drama used these half-human creatures to define humanity. ​

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