Representations of Race, Rape, and Consent in English Drama, 1590-1660


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




In sixteenth-century England, the definition of rape transitioned from the abduction of a man’s property to the sexual violation of a woman against her will. This reconceptualization occurred alongside the expansion of the English empire and the country’s initial attempts to enter the slave trade. While rape statutes appeared to enhance the efficacy of female self-possession and consent, the early modern period also inaugurated English involvement in the systematic rapine of slaves, who by definition could not possess their persons. This project examines the relations between these disparate yet contemporaneous approaches to consent by analyzing the performance of black bodies as they intersect with the erotic lives of women in English drama. This research addresses the convergence of rape and race as a problem of consent that was neither independent from nor tangential to an imperialist agenda, but rather central to emerging notions of English nationalism and its colonial trajectory.