Femininity and Intention in Early Modern England


ACLS Fellowship Program




This study considers the complicated nature of early modern femininity. The conventions that govern feminine behavior, I argue, become problematic when they are deliberately acted out; women who simultaneously exempify and describe, theorize, or enforce states of idealized femininity do something odd to the terms of power. By inhabiting prescribed conditions--beauty, virginity, sexual constancy, maternity--with intention, female subjects threaten to alter meaning even as they act in good faith. This is not an argument about parody or impersonation, but about knowledge, which confers on women a straitened and perverse but still powerful condition of will.