Friday, July 9, 2010

Networking With the Best

After taking a short leave of absence I have returned, ready to blog to my heart's content about gender and the Renaissance!
Phyllis Rackin
In my advanced writing class we were encouraged to network with professionals in the fields of study we are blogging about. One of my favorite writers, Phyllis Rackin, teaches at the University of Pennsylvania where she is an expert on Renaissance studies and takes particular interest in Shakespeare and the role of women in Shakespeare's plays. She recently wrote a book entitled Shakespeare and Women in which she explores the role women held in the Renaissance and its reflection in Shakespearean plays.
So, I googled "Phyllis Rackin," found her email address and decided to give it a whirl. I wrote her the following email.
Ms. Rackin,
I am currently writing a series of research papers regarding the English Renaissance theater's exploration of gender in relation to today's modern social platform, the world wide web, with a particular emphasis on blogging.

There are many similarities:
  1. Both sites serve as a social "watering hole" of sorts where gender exploration was/is accepted under the guise of "pretend."
  2. Both utilize tools necessary to not only play a different gender role, but a visible sex change occurs as well (boys dressing as women in the theater and computer users utilizing avatars to project the desired sex)
  3. Both sites promote the current mode of thinking within society as well as suggest a change to that way.
I was drawn to this comparison by two things,
  1. My studies of Queen Elizabeth Tudor's Tilbury Speech
  2. A quote I read in your article "Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage" which said:
"Recent literary historians have pointed out that the English Renaissance theater was an important site of cultural transformation- a place where cultural change was not simply reflected but also rehearsed and enacted. The theater provided an arena where changing gender definitions could be displayed, deplored, or enforced and where anxieties about them could be expressed"

I was wondering if you have any thoughts regarding the comparison as well as a question:
With all this hype regarding gender in the Renaissance, what with Moll Cutpurse, the Roaring Girls, Shakespearean plays, etc., what came of it? Why was this social platform of the English theater utilized as a means of change? Is the answer as simple as "Because a lot of people went to the theater" or is there something more? I feel like there has to be another element. Just because people gather in one place a lot doesn't exactly make it prime for social change.

I appreciate your time reading this, thank you!
Here's a link if you're interested in reading my blog about this comparison.

The Digital Hermaphrodite
The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender
Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age

Thank you again for your time.
Becca Hay
A few weeks went by and no response. One day I check my email and WA-LA! She answered! I couldn't believe my luck and was very honored that she put thought into her answer. Here's what she wrote:

What an interesting project!

I don't know if I have a good answer to your question, but I do have a comment, which may or may not be helpful. I doubt that the players were using their stages as platforms to advocate for social change. I think they were trying to make money and that their choice of plays that raised touchy questions about gender was largely dictated by popular interest in those questions. I think drama thrives on conflict, sensationalism, and social anxieties, and I think the big point to remember about the playhouses is that they were commercial.

I think another reason for the popularity of plays that featured cross-dressed characters was that they provided a vehicle to showcase the virtuosity of the male actors who played women's roles. I think I discussed this in my chapter on "Shakespeare's Crossdressing Comedies" in the anthology A COMPANION TO SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS, Vol. III, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (Blackwell, 2003). You might also want to look at the chapter entitled "Boys will be girls in my own book SHAKESPEARE AND WOMEN (Oxford, 2005).

Good luck with it!

Phyllis Rackin
Now this sort of contradicts my thesis stating that theatre in the Renaissance time period was utilized for gender exploration. Ms. Rackin believes the heart of the theatre was not social change but making money! So what do I think now? Well, honestly it's the summer and I haven't done any serious thinking (I avoid that like the plague!) but my few thoughts have led me to explore how social networking sites such as Facebook,, myspace, etc., make money, if they do at all. I will continue to explore that and blog about it as well as read the two articles Ms. Rackin referred me to and comment on my readings as well.


  1. I'm so glad you got a response! I know how important that was to you... AWESOME!

  2. That's great that this scholar took your work seriously -- and why not? And I don't think she was really contradicting you. It's just that what might have been a function (exploring gender roles) might not have been the primary motive of the players (which, as she said, was probably economic). People have multiple motives for things, too.

    I like the way that you are applying this to blogs and such. Same thing really does apply. People adopt personas for their blogs just as actors put on costumes, and some do it for money and many do it for the sheer enjoyment.

    So glad to see you blogging again and returning to your very interesting topic.