Author and Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) Professor Deanne Williams investigates the overlooked roles of girls in theatre – and performing arts in general – from the 10th through 17th centuries in her new book Girl Culture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Performance and Pedagogy (Bloomsbury, 2023).
Williams’ research cites eyewitness testimony, stage directions, paintings and even records of payment to explore girls’ appearance in dramatic performances, as well as their contributions to writing and translating plays, singing, dancing and performing music. While previous histories of the actress have begun with the Restoration in 1660, this book charts this history all the way back to the Middle Ages.
Through its close analysis of plays from this time frame, as well as the broader cultural environments that produced them, Girl Culture demonstrates that girls were active and influential participants in dramatic culture, rather than passive observers.
“Girls have occupied a marginal role in theatre and cultural history, because of the assumption that performance was largely restricted to boys and men,” Williams explains. “But Girl Culture shows that they played an important role in medieval religious drama, Tudor pageants and royal entries, Elizabethan entertainments, and the Stuart court and household masque.
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