Article Abstracts


The Queen's Voice: Elizabeth I and Christian Prayers and Meditations
Jennifer Clement, Vanderbilt University

In this paper I examine the prayers written in Queen Elizabeth I's voice in the 1569 volume Christian Prayers and Meditations to show how the prayers negotiate the problem of Elizabeth's gender through the language of weakness. The prayers repeatedly assert the queen's weakness, sinfulness, and humility, and while these are conventional assertions in early modern religious writing, they strategically place the queen in a powerful position from which she can claim a divine right to the throne and a direct link to God. In these prayers, Elizabeth's female sex becomes a mark of God's favor, through which the divine power can manifest itself even more potently than it might through a male ruler.

Although it seems very likely that Elizabeth did indeed write the prayers published in this volume, as asserted by the editors of the 2000 Collected Works, I suggest that it is more important to read Christian Prayers as a text that produces the effect of Elizabeth as an author, and thus as a contributor to the construction of Elizabeth's public image as a powerful ruler and, like her father, a second David. As in the Psalms, the prayers acknowledges the queen's own shortcomings and sins, but like David, Elizabeth appears as a ruler whom God will always support and love. Finally, the queen's image as an author draws strength from the comparison of Elizabeth with David, the putative author of the Psalms.

The Merchant Formerly Known as Jew: Redefining the Rhetoric of Merchantry in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
Jennifer Rich, Hofstra University

My reading of the Merchant of Venice examines the way in which the play registers key cultural anxieties around the rising merchant class in Shakespeare’s England.  I argue that merchants in England and elsewhere were plagued by their profession’s cultural and historical association with Jewishness, especially those who comprised the burgeoning class of financiers, whose business was primarily lending money at interest—otherwise known, at this time, as usury.  I contend, in my reading, that The Merchant of Venice is an attempt to recuperate this emergent mercantile class --represented in the play by Antonio--from the specter of Jewishness and Jewish usury that haunted its identity.  This recuperation functions through what I call the “super-Jewing” of Shylock, who, contrary to much critical opinion, I see as the embodiment of a particular English conception of the Jew that dates from the early middle-ages.  As such, Shylock is a Jew frozen in time; one that conforms closely to the English historical memory of the Anglo-Jewish community who were expelled in 1290 ostensibly for usury and other crimes against English Christians, particularly the blood libel.   
As such, the readings of Shylock as a sympathetic and humane character which have dominated so much of recent criticism of the play miss a crucial historical analogue which explains Shakespeare’s particular representation of Shylock as manipulative, treacherous and bloodthirsty.  My reading attends carefully to the historical understandings of Jews and Jewishness that predominated in the early modern period and reads The Merchant of Venice against this backdrop as well as the equally relevant context of emergent capitalism and the rising merchant class. 

The Theatricality of Transformation: cross-dressing, sexual misdemeanour and gender/sexuality spectra on the Elizabethan stage, Bridewell Hospital Court Records, and the Repertories of the Court of the Aldermen, 1574-1607
Sara Gorman

Scholarly work on cross-dressing on the Elizabethan stage has tended to conjecture that cross-dressing more often than not expresses a concern primarily with gender. Specific instances of cross-dressing are often interpreted either as female transgression or as reaffirmation of patriarchal power. While Elizabethan staged cross-dressing does of course interact with patriarchal society in complex and often transgressive ways, cross-dressing may evade gender categorizations in a way that makes it difficult to associate it entirely with women and patriarchal structures. Using original findings from the legal records of Bridewell Hospital and the Repertories of the Court of the Aldermen from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this essay examines the discourse surrounding sexual misdemeanour and cross-dressing in Elizabethan England. The legal records repeatedly show that differentiation in the condemnation of male and female sexual transgressors and cross-dressers is surprisingly unpronounced. This study utilizes these findings along with fresh readings of a range of early modern English plays to contend that cross-dressing is not about gender but finds its parallel in other transformative states that are particularly theatrical and often represented on the Elizabethan stage, most notably virginity and boyhood. In all of these cases, the audience speculates on an actor who is arrested in a state of potentiality, always on the verge of transformation.

Commodity Fetishism in Richard Brome's A Mad Couple Well Matched and its Sources
Bradley Ryner, Arizona State University

This paper argues that Richard Brome adapted part of A Mad Couple Well Matched from a narrative tradition known as "lover's gift-regained" stories and that he did so in such a way as to comment on the commodity fetishism of seventeenth-century England. Traditionally, "lover's gift regained" narratives (such as those by Giovanni Boccaccio and Giovanni Sercambi) differentiate illicit sexual transactions from licit economic transactions. Whereas Sercambi's and Boccaccio's tales insist on the rightness of separating the commercial sphere from the sexual sphere by punishing the female characters who try to conflate the two, Chaucer's Shipman's Tale (the most likely source for Brome's play) ends with a merchant's wife successfully defining her sexuality as a marketable commodity. Nonetheless, the tale depends on a distinction between licit financial transactions and illicit sexual transactions in order to produce shock at the ease with which commerce erodes the distinctions between sex, money, and commodities. Brome's A Mad Couple Well Matched represents such distinctions as completely meaningless in a desire-driven consumer culture. Furthermore, he foregrounds the role that accepting a common fiction plays in establishing both financial and moral value.


© 2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).