Subtle weavers, mythological interweavings and feminine political agency
Penelope and Arachne in early modern drama
in Interweaving myths in Shakespeare and his contemporaries
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This chapter shows how Penelope and Arachne resisted a limiting mythographical moralisation through a successful association of gender, political agency and intellectual observation on the stage. It focuses on the re-emergence of the weavers' political function and work in Jacobean drama. The study of Penelope and Arachne necessitates avoiding the trap of seeing early modern imitation as a purely dialectical destruction of antique exempla. Early modern critique is directed at the moralisation of the myths and not at the myths themselves. Hence, the chapter offers a heuristic approach, looking beneath the mythographical cloth of a silent exemplarity so as to retrieve the political 'voice of the shuttle'. It also shows how theatre enables the mythical weavers to retrieve their agency thanks to female characterisation. The chapter further projects the concept of a 'balancing act' out of the strictly domestic sphere by confronting Penelope with her 'bolder face', Arachne.

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