Victoria Sparey
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‘A rose by any other name’
Flowering adolescence and the gendering of puberty
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This chapter explores the age-specific, horticultural terminology used to describe and understand adolescence in early modern culture. The chapter unpacks the language of adolescence as a ‘flowering’ and flourishing age, where experiences were understood in relation to an anticipated ‘ripeness’ and fruitfulness of adulthood. The chapter shows symmetry between male and female adolescence and draws upon evidence from a wide range of early modern texts to challenge assumptions about floral imagery being feminine or emasculating in early modern usage. The chapter explores the representation of Shakespeare’s numerous adolescent male ‘flowers’, not least Romeo as an esteemed rose, and posits that adolescent flowering, and associations with beauty, promise, and fragility were largely age-specific rather than gendered in early modern culture. The chapter identifies the common pairing of adolescent ‘flowering’ with the decline of old age to suggest how both positive and negative formulations of the life cycle made use of this cultural motif. In particular, the chapter shows how a disrupted trajectory of the life cycle could be suggested in ideas about premature rotting, where imagery of contaminated blooms and cankers (understood as caterpillars in a horticultural context) are used. The chapter argues, moreover, that the way in which blooms become corrupted realises gendered formulations. The chapter explores several of Shakespeare’s plays and offers extended analysis of Hermia’s representation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the lovely youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, to suggest how the positioning of the pubescent body and the pubescent subject becomes gendered.

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Shakespeare’s adolescents

Age, gender and the body in Shakespearean performance and early modern culture


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