Defacing the Carcass: Anne of Denmark and Jonson's 'Masque of Blackness'

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It is proper … that not only arms but indeed also the speech of women never be made public; for the speech of a noblewoman can be no less dangerous than the nakedness of her limbs.1

So Francesco Barbaro wrote in his early fifteenth-century treatise, On Wifely Duties . Although it predates the performance of Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness by almost two hundred years, this statement remains representative of prevalent attitudes towards women in the early seventeenth century; the danger of the female voice and body is powerfully constant. Barbaro neatly encapsulates the perceived connection between public female speech and a dangerously liberated female sexuality in the open display of the gendered body. Denied access to speech in the court masque, the aspects of the genre which allow the female nobility to perform are also those which simultaneously confine this performative presence to the physical. Yet, as Barbaro’s insistence on the danger posed by the female body implies, whether voiced or silent, such a presence constitutes a threat which must be monitored or controlled. From the familiar position of the silenced woman, the noble female masquer finds an expression through the second half of Barbaro’s formulation, in the equally expressive and threatening presence of the female body on the masquing stage. In the course of this process, these tools of apparent restraint are themselves rendered ambivalent and liberating.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRefashioning Ben Jonson
Subtitle of host publicationGender, Politics, and the Jonsonian Canon
EditorsJulie Sanders, Kate Chedgzoy, Susan Wiseman
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781349267149
ISBN (Print)9781349267163, 9780333670729
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 1998
Externally publishedYes

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