Women and Mimesis in Medieval and Renaissance Somerset (and Beyond)


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

An increasing number of scholars now acknowledge that women participated in English drama and related entertainments long before their traditionally ascribed first appearance as professional actresses in the London of 1660. As Glynne Wickham has observed, "women could and did perform both as amateurs and professionals" during the Middle Ages.1 E. K. Chambers long ago described the centrality of women in the May games and other parish mimetic entertainments2 as well as in court masques.3 A growing number of recent studies, many cited below, explore important contributions by women as writers, patrons, and actresses during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yet because of women's apparent absence from the great sixteenth- century companies and London stage, and because the amount of documentable evidence about their theatrical activities has been proportionally fragmentary, the nature, extent, and significance of that involvement remains problematic. There persists a general inclination to think of women as having had at best a peripheral place in the development of the English dramatic tradition. The present article describes several newly studied records of theatrical and other mimetic activities by women in one English county-Somerset-and suggests that in light of the growing body of such material, women's contributions to early dramatic history in England need to be seen as much more significant than has hitherto been acknowledged or understood.4

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.