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#early modern lit

outtakes from our gallathea play reading last night:

  • “that’s what my MA stands for. Master Ass”
  • “Venus, you’re on mute”
  • “Diana is everywhere there’s tea to spill”
  • “wait, what does spilling tea mean” 
  • “give him an EGOT!!” 
  • “i was going for ‘Blanche Du Bois as conflicted Diana groupie”
  • “oh she does NOT come to trifle!!”
  • “wow Venus is a terrible mother” 
  • “is that accent supposed to be italian or scottish?” “yes” 
  • “how many costume changes did you plan?” “idk i have a lot of hats”

  • “what would liz [queen elizabeth i] want??”
  • “Diana is just out there with all her single ladies” 
  • “all these crossdressers… smh millennials” 
  • “the ending reminds me of one of my favorite movies, some like it hot”
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Why did no one ever tell me that Ulysses S Grant once auditioned for Desdemona in a staged production of Othello in Texas during the Mexican War?! Grant apparently looked femenine enough that he grew a beard after the production to advoid being called “little beauty” and the person playing Othello couldn’t stop laughing at Grant hence why they had to hire an actress from New Orelans. This is utterly hilarious and things like this is why I love Shakespeare and history so much

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hey! venusofsuburbia said to go to for recs if i like shakespeare AND BOY DO I LIKE SHAKESPEARE!!!! i havent read all of his works but im always left in pieces whenever i re-read 'hamlet' so if u can rec anything related to that (whether they be academic texts or not) along with books u love that would be great thank u!!! and i dont mind if u publish this btw!!

Hey! Of course. 

For other plays you might like, I’d check out Macbeth and King Lear by Shakespeare (if you haven’t already), Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont, Edward II by Christopher Marlowe, and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford. You should also check out Desdemona by Toni Morrison.

For fiction, I’d recommend If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. 

For academic texts, it really depends on what areas you’re interested in. I’ll give a few below, but let me know if there’s a subfield I haven’t covered that you’re interested in reading more about.

For Hamlet, I’d recommend Hamlet in Purgatory by Stephen Greenblatt (even though I’m not a big fan of his). Zachary Lesser’s Hamlet After Q1 is cool if you’re interested in the history of Hamlet. I’d also recommend Hamlet Without Hamlet by Margreta de Grazia.

If you’re interested in race and gender, Things of Darkness by Kim Hall, Passing Strange by Ayanna Thompson (my PhD director!), and Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference by Patricia Akhimie are all excellent.

If you’re into performance, I have loads and loads of suggestions, but to start out I’d recommend World-Wide Shakespeares ed. Sonia Massai, Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance ed. Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern, Itinerant Spectator/Itinerant Spectacle by PA Skantze, Performing Nostalgia by Susan Bennett, Shakespeare and Feminist Performance by Sarah Werner, and Colorblind Shakespeare by Ayanna Thompson.

If you like book history, Selling Shakespeare by Adam Hooks (my undergrad mentor!) and Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor by Sonia Massai (my MA mentor!) are fantastic. You should also look into Sarah Werner, Peter Stallybrass, Margreta de Grazia, and David Scott Kastan. 

If you’re interested in eco things, Veer Ecology ed. Jeffrey Cohen and Lowell Duckert (who are both excellent humans) and Wooden Os by Vin Nardizzi (who is awesome) are both fantastic books.

On a more personal note, I helped edit Ayanna Thompson’s new book on Shakespeare and the director Peter Sellars, so I of course recommend that (which goes on sale in May). 

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Do you know which writers Jane Austen drew inspiration from? I'm struggling to find an answer.


I just sent you a message asking who inspired Austen but I didn’t really make myself clear sorry. I meant which earlier writers inspired Austen. I keep coming across writers around the same time as Austen whom she liked but I’m not able to pin down any earlier ones!

Off the top of my head, Samuel Richardson and Frances Burney.

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A couple of years ago – when I was first figuring out my own gender – I took a course on Renaissance women writers. A lot of them were a little late to be truly Renaissance; much of it was Jacobian, which is debatable, and a number of the playwrights were Restoration writers when you got right down to it. Among the Restoration texts were two plays by Margaret Cavendish – Bell in Campo and A Convent of Pleasure. Closet drama, so never publicly performed and therefore free to be a little more on the radical side. Honestly, if you’re interested in the time period, I'd recommend them both, because Cavendish is a fascinating writer, but it’s Convent of Pleasure I’d like to talk about right now.

The plot concerns the Lady Happy, who decides that she has no desire to marry and instead gathers a group of likeminded ladies to form a convent of pleasure, which no man can enter. Ignoring the obligatory subplot of three men trying to get in disguised as scullery maids, the story is about a Princess from an unnamed land, who comes to the convent and quickly becomes a close companion of Lady Happy. It’s never stated directly, but between the innuendo and the clear disapproval of one of the older women, Cavendish might as well have hung out a flashing sign bearing “LESBIANS” in all caps, but that would have been crude and unlikely in the period.

Anyway, in the final act, after the three gentlemen in scullery maid outfits have been caught and summarily kicked out, and there’s been a fairly massive call from outside forces for the dissolving of the convent, a messenger arrives from the Princess’s homeland and informs the cast that the Princess’s title is technically prince. Marriage plans are made, yadda yadda, standard comedy ending.

My copy is in storage right now, and I miss it and will have to remedy this, but I will be shocked if the Princess is not addressed as “Princess” in the scenes in which she and Lady Happy are alone, and after the big flashing lesbian sign is hung out.

I think I was the only one in the class still referring to the Princess as “she” while we were discussing the last act, but sixteenth-century work or not, it had simply not occurred to me until I was rather rudely “corrected" not to read the character as a trans woman. I continued to stubbornly refer to the character by the pronoun used by the other characters, but that’s a different discussion. Lady Happy, whom it is heavily implied has seen the Princess naked, refers to her as the Princess. I’m not exactly one to argue pronouns with someone’s lover.

So yeah, anyone who’s looking for trans characters – how old a book are you willing to try?

[I’ve actually got a whole list of stories like this, because I have an abiding interest in both the subject and the period, and I’m seriously considering doing a series of posts about more of them.]

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Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, Let’s choose executors and talk of wills: And yet not so, for what can we bequeath Save our deposed bodies to the ground?

richard ii - shakespeare

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