Girl Culture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Year of Publication: 2023
Deanne Williams offers the very first study of the medieval and early modern girl actor. Whereas previous histories of the actress begin with the Restoration, this book demonstrates that the girl is actually a well-documented category of performer and a key participant in the drama of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It explores evidence of the girl actor in archival records of payment, eyewitness accounts, stage directions, paintings, and in the plays and masques that were explicitly composed for girls, and, in some cases, by them.
Contradicting previous scholarly assumptions about the early modern stage as male-dominated, this evidence reveals girls' participation in medieval religious drama, Tudor civic pageants and royal entries, Elizabethan country house entertainments, and Stuart court and household masques. This book situates its historical study of the girl actor within the wider contexts of 'girl culture', including girls as singers, translators and authors. By examining the impact of the girl actor on constructions of girlhood in the work of Shakespeare – whose girl characters register and evoke the power of the performing girl – Girl Culture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance argues that girls' dramatic, musical and literary performances actively shaped medieval and early modern culture.
It shows how the active presence and participation of girls shaped medieval and Renaissance culture, and it reveals how some of its best-known literary and dramatic texts address, represent, and reflect upon girl children, not as an imagined ideal, but as a lived reality.