Victoria Sparey
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Beards and blushes
Fertile complexions in Shakespeare’s plays
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This chapter examines the representation of pubescent beards and blushes in Shakespeare’s plays. The chapter considers evidence from early modern medical writings that connect sexual maturation with the overspilling of humoral heat and expulsion of moisture to register symmetry and differences in the symptoms ascribed to male and female puberty. Beard growth in adolescent boys is, the chapter explains, set in parallel with the onset of menstruation in girls. The chapter explores nuances regarding humoral alterations in the pubescent boy and reveals complications in assumptions about feminine facial complexions. The chapter unpacks how age disrupts conflations made between beardless boy players and sexually mature women and explores the subtle but significant distinctions early modern culture made between absent beards, growing beards, absent beards and apparent blushes, and pubic beards/hair. The chapter uses a range of Shakespeare’s plays and early modern sources, but the chapter particularly attends to the representation of beards in relation to age and gender in As You Like It, Coriolanus, and Twelfth Night. The chapter explores the staging practices and meanings involved in the adolescent blushes that are included in As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Measure for Measure.

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Shakespeare’s adolescents

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


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