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Reflections on our ATW Workshop: Sex and Marriage: Then and Now

July 9, 2015

Workshop Description

Taking “Taxonomies of Time” as its primary theme, this workshop will explore the similarities and differences between the topics of gender, sexuality, and marriage in the early modern and modern worlds. In particular, the workshop will focus on the regulation and representation of female bodies in relationship to marriage. We are interested in looking at the early modern period alongside our own as well as how ideas about women’s bodies compare when outside of marriage (before and after) or within marriage. Workshop participants will put excerpts from early modern texts, including The Duchess of Malfi, in conversation with relevant current events, including the heated public debates over same-sex marriage and birth control. Our hope is that workshop discussion will encourage participants to think comparatively about issues of sex and marriage across time and across the boundaries of the institution itself (before, during, and after marriage).

Workshop Texts

Liptak, Adam. “Justices Rule in Favor of Hobby Lobby.” The New York Times 30 June 2014. (4 pages)

—. “Supreme Court to Decide Marriage Rights for Gay Couples Nationwide.” The New York Times 16 Jan. 2015. (4 pages)

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet (Act 3, scene 5) from Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition, 2nd Edition. 2nd edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. 949-954.

Webster, John, The Duchess of Malfi  (Act 2) from Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1475-1488.

Workshop Summary

The three small groups with which we opened the workshop discussed 1. the married female body in The Duchess of Malfi, 2. the pregnant female body in The Duchess of Malfi, and 3. sex and the unmarried female body in Romeo and Juliet.

All three groups discovered that the female body functions as a site of interpretation. When Capulet, for instance, first enters Juliet’s room the morning after she has consummated her secret marriage to Romeo, he immediately tries to read the situation through her body. Bosola similarly spends a good portion of the second act of Duchess trying to understand her body.

In the Romeo and Juliet group, we discussed the possibility that Capulet’s use of the term “greensick carrion” is not as silly as it might at first appear. Perhaps he knows it as a way to get his daughter married in a hurry.

The group discussing the Duchess’s marriage focused on the tension between the demands  that her brothers made and her responses to them. The Duchess defies her brothers’ prohibition against marriage, but the Duchess appears on the surface to agree to fulfill their expectations.  The performance of submission is a kind of ritual in itself, and frequent examples exist of a gap between the language of submission and action. The Duchess’s performance works up until the point that her body reveals her secret marriage; her pregnant body reveals the truth of her secret marriage.

The group discussing the pregnant body discussed the fetishization of the symptoms or clues of pregnancy and the men’s bewilderment about women. The legibility of the Duchess’s pregnant body is contrasted with the legibility of the nativity “birth certificate.” It is the men of the play who reveal the pregnancy to the audience, not the women; the audience, too, must “read” both the text and the body.

We came together to talk about the possibilities for cross-period comparisons. One of the questions that seems to be relevant to both the early modern texts and our current-day debates is “Who gets to decide?” A week after our workshop, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Obergfell v. Hodges, arguing that the “Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.” ( The opposition to same-sex marriage continues, and one of its arguments is that the Supreme Court does not have the right to decide this (see, for example, Ken Paxton’s opinion letter to Dan Patrick

Katie Kalpin Smith, Sara Keeth, and Jessica C. Murphy

CFP: Multi-author essay collection Art and the Verdant Earth: The Green Worlds of the Renaissance and the Baroque (8/15/15)

June 23, 2015

From Karen Goodchild, Chair Department of Art and Art History, Wofford College:

Call for contributions to a multi-author essay collection

Art and the Verdant Earth: The Green Worlds of the Renaissance and the Baroque

The green mantle of the earth! This age-old metaphor casts the greening of the earth as a divine marvel while also calling upon poets and artists to re-fashion the greenness of nature into art. Ecological writers like Rachel Carson and E. O. Wilson used the expression as a poetic figure for the terrestrial vegetation we take for granted. The topic of Art and the Verdant Earth is the representation of vegetation in the art of the Old Masters. Its ambition is to reveal the visual poetics underpinning the pictorial expression of greenery in images that are traditionally called landscapes.

We invite essays on the visual poetics of a verdant earth. How did artists in Early Modern Europe compete with poets (and Nature) in the fashioning of natural imagery? How did they manage/ manipulate the infinitude of irregularities that is nature’s way? What can be said of the many types of landscape painting (pastoral, sylvan, rural, wilderness, or even river views, clearings, and distressing wastelands) in light of a poetics of vegetation, and in light of the realities of land use? Artists, we believe, followed a kind of lyrical naturalism, which turns the phenomena of nature into the common themes and recurrent motifs of visual poetry. It also links the inexhaustible treasures of the natural world to the poets whose epithets for green matter served as precepts that directed artists in the discovery of just those traits – be it the obdurancy of an oak or the pliancy of a willow- that turn vegetation into eloquent depiction.

This collection of essays is being seriously considered by Ashgate Publishing. Edited by Karen Hope Goodchild, April Oettinger and Leopoldine Prosperetti, it will draw from art history, literature, gender studies, emblem studies, environmental studies, natural philosophy, natural theology, and botany to treat ideas of verdancy and vegetation in the Renaissance. Topics might include:

  • the technical problem of unstable pigments and the difficulty of achieving a durable color green
  • From Giorgio Vasari and Karel van Mander to Goethe: theoretical perspectives on greenery in art
  • The Renaissance print and the dissemination of vegetal imagery
  • Theologies of greenery: the vegetative argument in theology and philosophy
  • the role of vegetation in the painted landscape
  • the authority of poetry in natural imagery: from Virgil to Goethe
  • No Tree, No Pastoral. Trees and pastoral scenery
  • Women, Luxuria and the color green: vegetative imagery and gender
  • masters of vegetal imagery in the European canon
  • sylvan moments in European art
  • historically envisioning greenery and modern environmentalism

Finally, we welcome articles that address the very topical question, “Was the Renaissance green?”

Art and the Verdant Earth: The Green Worlds of the Renaissance and the Baroque will be an illustrated volume, with individual contributors responsible for any permission and/or art acquisition fees. Final essays, of approximately 8,000 words (incl. notes), and all accompanying b&w illustrations/permissions will be due in spring 2016. For consideration, please send an abstract (max. 500 words), a preliminary list of illustrations (if applicable), and to a 100-word biography to,, & by August 15. 2015. Acceptance notifications will be emailed by mid-September.

Sex and Marriage: Then and Now (ATW 2015 Workshop #21)

June 9, 2015

Please see for the full program for this year’s ATW. Our workshop’s reading has some unreadable pages in it. Please see Sex and Marriage Then and Now Readings for the readings.

The questions that will be guiding our discussion are:

1. What can we deduce from examining the connection between the morning after in Romeo and Juliet and the specific early modern disease of virgins, greensickness?

2. What happens in early modern literature when women, such as the Duchess, do not follow the expected rituals, taking their marriages—and thus their bodies—into their own hands?

3. In what ways does the Duchess respond to her society’s expectations and restrictions? How does she respond to the consequences?

4. How is the pregnant female body portrayed in The Duchess of Malfi? How do other early modern texts treat motherhood and/or pregnancy?

5. What other examples of depictions/discussions/representations of irregular unions from the early modern era can you identify from your own field/background? How do they compare or contrast with these examples here?

6. One thing these texts are all interested in is debating who gets to decide. In what ways are these questions the same across time? In what ways are they different?

7. Do we see today a similar desire to control women’s bodies and sexuality? Compare and contrast our contemporary situation, with specific attention to issues of marriage and birth control, to the early modern period. What can the early modern period teach us about our contemporary situation? How might this discussion be applied to how we live/behave/teach/research now? How can we put what we have learned to work in the classroom?

CFP: Broadside Ballads (6/5/15; 3/31-4/2/16)

May 29, 2015

The 62nd Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America

Boston, 31 March–2 April 2016

We invite paper proposals for a panel on English Broadside Ballads (1500-1800).  In particular, we are interested in new approaches to the ballad culture of the early modern period.

Please email a 150-word abstract to and by June 5th for consideration.
Please see for more information about the conference.

Women Writers Online Free for Women’s History Month!

February 25, 2015

From Julia Flanders:

“We’re happy to announce that Women Writers Online will be freely available during the month of March, in celebration of Women’s History Month. We invite you to explore the collection starting March 1 at:

Women Writers Online now contains more than 350 texts published between 1526 and 1850, including new works by Aphra Behn, Charlotte Turner Smith, and Mercy Otis Warren. We hope you enjoy the collection!”

Call For Papers: “Shakespeare and Dance” essay cluster 5/15/15 |

February 21, 2015

Borrowers & Lenders, The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation, is soliciting contributions to its “Appropriations in Performance” section. B&L is a peer-reviewed, online, multimedia scholarly journal and winner of the CELJ’s “Best New Journal” award for 2007. We publish two issues each year. In addition to the main section, which features articles and article clusters, we regularly run three dedicated sections: Appropriations in Performance, Digital Appropriations, and Book Reviews.

For the “Appropriations in Performance” section, we prefer thesis-driven reviews focused on arguments and observations over more traditional, archival reviews geared primarily to making descriptive or evaluative records.

We are soliciting contributions to a cluster of short essays on the topic of “Shakespeare and Dance.” Potential contributors may interpret this topic in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:

Adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays for the dance stage, across a variety of dance types, including ballet, modern, hip-hop, and others.

Dancing within performances of Shakespeare’s plays, in theatre, film, television, etc.

Dance and movement theories and Shakespearean performance.

Dance as metaphor within Shakespeare’s plays, and its implications for performance.

Essays should typically run 1,000 – 3,000 words, but may be longer. All contributions are subject to editing for length and content. Please send submissions, or any questions, to the cluster editor, Dr. Elizabeth Klett, by May 15, 2015.

via Call For Papers: “Shakespeare and Dance” essay cluster 5/15/15 |

SCMLA Renaissance Literature, Nashville, TN 10/31-11/3/2015, Due 3/31/2015 |

February 21, 2015

SCMLA Renaissance Literature, Nashville, TN 10/31-11/3/2015, Due 3/31/2015 |

We are currently accepting submissions for the Renaissance Literature Excluding Drama panel of the South Central Modern Language Association conference, October 31-November 3, 2015, in Nashville, TN.

The topic is open, but we encourage paper proposals to engage meaningfully with some aspect of the conference theme, “Sound and Story: The Rhythms of Language.” Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words to Kris McAbee ( by March 31, 2015.

For more information on the SCMLA and the conference location, visit


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