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Flowering adolescence and the gendering of puberty
Victoria Sparey

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.

in Shakespeare’s adolescents
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Fertile complexions in Shakespeare’s plays
Victoria Sparey

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.

in Shakespeare’s adolescents
Symmetry, difference, and gender in early modern constructions of adolescence
Victoria Sparey

The conclusion offers an overview of the book’s findings, drawing out where aspects of symmetry and difference have been observed in the representation of female and male puberty in Shakespeare’s plays and early modern culture. The conclusion considers a new ‘sign’ of puberty and evaluates the infrequency of allusions to skin complaints in relation to early modern adolescence. The conclusion assesses how and why certain signs of puberty are privileged in early modern culture and how these seem to insistently relate to reproductive assumptions ascribed to bodies. The conclusion also provides tentative conclusions about the trajectory of Shakespeare’s treatment of adolescence across plays performed from the 1590s to the 1610s. Recycled performance strategies and developments in representations of adolescence are connected to theatrical circumstance (including an ageing and changing theatre company) and changes in wider cultural, political, and medical discourses. The conclusion also uses these findings to highlight trends in the textual and performance afterlives of Shakespeare’s adolescent characters that span into the seventeenth century, where, for example, editorial interventions can be seen to modify the vivacity of Shakespeare’s female adolescents.

in Shakespeare’s adolescents
Examining early modern ideas about puberty
Victoria Sparey

This introduction provides an overview of how Shakespeare’s adolescents have been discussed in scholarly fields to date. The book identifies how emphasis has been placed on humoral heat as a disruptive feature of early modern puberty and argues that the vibrancy of Shakespeare’s adolescent characters complicates this interpretation. The introduction establishes the findings of early modern childhood studies, noting the tendency for such investigations to underscore gender difference. The introduction asserts that such an approach, though often appropriate, can underplay how age creates symmetry in constructions of male and female adolescence. Acknowledging such symmetry, the introduction posits, helps to, in turn, reveal tensions in the processes by which gender difference is ascribed to pubescent bodies. The introduction explains early modern life cycle models and outlines distinct humoral characteristics of adolescence as a life stage. The introduction also provides a summary of the shortcomings of Thomas Laqueur’s influential ‘one-sex’ model. This section suggests where assumptions about humoral sameness and difference between the sexes have restricted an understanding of Shakespeare’s adolescent characters by playing down the role of age in ideas about the body. In particular, the introduction observes tensions in the treatment of boy players in Shakespeare studies and argues for a re-evaluation of adolescent roles and the implications of crossdressing practices. The introduction, therefore, reconnects the boy actor with the humorally hot age he was thought to inhabit and outlines how this book’s chapters use humoral models of age and gender to analyse representations of puberty in Shakespeare’s works.

in Shakespeare’s adolescents
Body growth and disparities in height in Shakespeare’s plays
Victoria Sparey

This chapter reimagines the relationship between the ‘small’ child actor and the ‘large’ adult of early modern theatrical environments. In line with the medical discourses explored throughout this book’s chapters, adolescent actors and characters are understood in terms of growing bodies, where energy and transformation are anticipated and utilised, rather than feared as a disruption in theatrical productions. The chapter examines several plays, including Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, but provides extended analysis of the collaborative partnership of the actors playing Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The chapter argues that the energised interaction of Shakespeare’s girl characters in this play takes advantage of the actors’ disparity in height to contribute to its presentation of a central plot about comparative adolescent transformation. The chapter shows how the arguments between Hermia and Helena pick up on early modern anxieties about inadequate body growth and abundant desire in adolescent bodies, only to resist and challenge such judgements through the dynamic interaction of the girl characters (and boy actors). The chapter also considers how the staging of adolescent heights in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is developed in Shakespeare’s gendering of adolescent groups in As You Like It. Here, the chapter asserts, the comparative staging of height between Celia, Rosalind, and Orlando shows further complexity in being a part of the play’s exploration of degrees of adolescent development.

in Shakespeare’s adolescents
Age, gender and the body in Shakespearean performance and early modern culture
Author:

This book examines the representation of adolescents in Shakespeare’s works. By applying early modern medical knowledge, the book analyses the age-specific implications of the humoral heat associated with puberty. Employing a lens attuned to age before gender, the book draws out complexities that surround shared characteristics attributed to male and female adolescents. Chapters investigate how both promise and danger, symmetry and difference, were registered in early modern representations of female and male adolescence. By setting Shakespeare’s adolescent characters within theatrical, cultural, and medical contexts, this book illuminates a prolific counternarrative to negative, and more familiar, interpretations of rash and ‘heated’ adolescent behaviour. The workings of pubescent heat, this book asserts, also underpinned what were perceived as necessary and exciting changes that enabled growth. Chapters use a range of Shakespeare’s plays to explore representations of culturally recognised signs of puberty, including emergent beards and blushes, vocal change, and body growth. Shakespeare’s Adolescents also evaluates how the age and gender of fictive characters corresponded to the ‘real’ bodies of actors on stage, which were similarly subject to cultural constructions regarding age and gender. Shakespeare’s Adolescents often challenges assumptions that position the adult as always privileged over the child, both on and off the early modern stage, and recentres adolescence as a vibrant and commendably mutable stage of life in early modern culture. The book examines, moreover, how the environment of early modern theatre seems to have provided a space where talented adolescent players and characters were regularly celebrated and showcased.

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The heated words of puberty
Victoria Sparey

This chapter investigates changes in voice associated with early modern adolescence. The chapter engages with familiar ideas about breaking voices and the implications these disruptions had for boy players impersonating women. However, the chapter centres upon how vocal alterations related more broadly to the humoral effects of puberty. As such, the chapter examines adolescent voices in terms of cognitive developments understood to result from humoral heat rising in the body. Voices of boys and girls, the chapter argues, were subject to similar changes, where energised thought and linguistic dexterity were regarded as commendable adolescent characteristics. Although girlhood loquaciousness was often encouraged, the chapter registers gendered restrictions on voice, and provides readings of The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It to explore varying degrees of negotiated agency achieved by outspoken girl characters. The chapter engages with critical debates about childhood agency in adult worlds and evaluates the contested position of child actors in theatre companies. By considering early modern education practices and medical writings on age, the chapter establishes that adolescent male speakers were considered particularly adept at performing commanding speeches. The chapter indicates, moreover, how the cultural value attached to adolescent minds and voices can be seen in the supportive training structures of early modern theatrical practices, which appear to include scope to encourage adolescent agency. The chapter consequently revisits well-known moments of metatheatre in The Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra to trouble readings of elision between boys and women.

in Shakespeare’s adolescents
Jonathan Miller and Laurence Olivier
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The spectre of Henry Irving hovered uncannily over the National Theatre's 1970 production of The Merchant of Venice. Jonathan Miller, a theatrical iconoclast with an interest in social history far keener than Laurence Olivier's, located the roots of modern prejudice not in theology, but in economic theory and power relations. For him, as for Irving, The Merchant should not pander to popular prejudices with comic stereotypes, but promote 'a feeling of dignity and austerity'; it should eschew romantic artifice in order to 'search for reality'. By updating the play to 1880, Olivier appropriated Shakespeare's text to explore a society in which the economic and social tensions emergent in Elizabethan England had become more intricate and codified. In order to refashion the play as a realistic portrait of late Victorian society, Miller had to adjust Shakespeare's text.

in Shakespeare in Performance
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Diminishing returns
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

Ten years after his production for the National Theatre, Jonathan Miller had the opportunity to produce The Merchant of Venice again, this time for the BBC as part of its ambitious plan to record all of Shakespeare's plays. Citing the work of recent social historians, he set out to reconstruct the fundamental 'Elizabethanism' of the plays, creating for each one a sort of period verisimilitude that would demonstrate how Shakespeare engaged the social and political attitudes of his audience. Television thus helped Miller to fulfil his ambition of fashioning The Merchant as a naturalistic nineteenth-century drama suitable for Masterpiece Theatre. Miller had elected to sacrifice the public dimension of Shakespeare's traditionally climactic scene in order to achieve the naturalism he thought television required. The theatrical fictions of the play worked against Miller's use of the medium. A number of critics found director Jack Gold's Merchant balanced, simple, direct, and inoffensive.

in Shakespeare in Performance
The Merchant of Venice directed by Robert Sturua (2000) and Edward Hall (2009)
Boika Sokolova
,
Kirilka Stavreva
, and
J. C. Bulman

The chapter discusses two unconventional productions of The Merchant of Venice bookending the first decade of the twenty-first century. Both resonated powerfully with tensions and fears caused by major socio-political and financial catastrophes. Robert Sturua’s Shylock at the Et Cetera Theatre in Moscow (2000) appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the depths of post-communist crises and wars. Nine years later, Edward Hall’s all-male touring company put on the play for British and American audiences in the throes of the global financial crisis of 2008. Devoid of moralising or sentimentality, these productions offered astute diagnoses of the social traumas of their historical moments. Sturua transformed the genre of the romantic comedy into a darkly satirical carnival; Hall replaced comedy with vicious drama. Both productions focused on ruthless power struggles, laid bare the connection between money and violence, gave no chance to hope, and allowed hatred to triumph. An unforgiving, claustrophobic, xenophobic, money-obsessed Venice became the central character. Sturua’s Merchant unfolded in an absurdist theatrical world; Hall’s was set in a prison. Both stagings deployed a distinctly post-modern approach: they featured metatheatrical and metacinematic elements, framing, da capo endings, cut and reshuffled playtexts, and multiple intertextual and intra-textual quotations. The play’s antagonists, Antonio and Shylock, were portrayed as mirror images.

in Shakespeare in Performance