Performing women

Gender, self, and representation in late medieval Metz

Susannah Crowder
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Performing women takes on a key problem in the history of drama: the ‘exceptional’ staging of the life of Catherine of Siena by a female actor and a female patron in 1468 Metz. These two creators have remained anonymous, despite the perceived rarity of this familiar episode; this study of their lives and performances, however, brings the elusive figure of the female performer to centre stage. Beginning with the Catherine of Siena play and broadening outward, Performing women integrates new approaches to drama, gender, and patronage with a performance methodology to trace connections among the activities of the actor, the patron, their female family members, and peers. It shows that the women of fifteenth-century Metz enacted varied kinds of performance that included and extended beyond the theatre: decades before the 1468 play, for example, Joan of Arc returned from the grave in the form of a young woman named Claude, who was acknowledged formally in a series of civic ceremonies. This in-depth investigation of the full spectrum of evidence for female performance – drama, liturgy, impersonation, devotional practice, and documentary culture – both creates a unique portrait of the lives of individual women and reveals a framework of ubiquitous female performance. Performing women offers a new paradigm: women forming the core of public culture. Networks of gendered performance offered roles of expansive range and depth to the women of Metz, and positioned them as vital and integral contributors to the fabric of urban life.

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Winner of the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society David Bevington prize for best new book in early drama studies 2019




‘We need both a deeper examination of theater archives in their local and temporal specificities and a more capacious notion of what constituted performance in medieval settings. That is precisely what we get in Susannah Crowder’s brilliant and utterly readable new book, Performing Women...Crowder paints a remarkable picture of medieval performing women, who were able to write themselves into community and memory through “the cultivation of material and embodied practice” ...Crowder’s achievement in this inspiring and pioneering book is to have placed women back in the spotlight, showing how they “contributed to their worlds in critical ways that often go unseen”
H-France Review

‘…a brilliant and utterly readable new book…
Noah D. Guynn, University of California, Davis
H-France Review

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