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16th c

LHMP entry

The focus of this article, in Andreadis’s words is “a class of women and behaviors described by their contemporaries in ways that coincide with our modern ‘lesbian’.” There is still much uncertainty within that description as to how these women and their society understood these concepts, and Andreadis’s thesis is that as such behaviors begin to be framed in public discourse as transgressive, women who engaged in the same behaviors but wished to be viewed as “respectable” developed a coded language to express sexual feelings in the language of female friendship – a shift that Andreadis labe

This article looks at the difficulties of viewing Queen Elizabeth as an example of female lives, and the ways in which she was treated as both an anomaly and as the epitome of female accomplishment by her contemporaries and near contemporaries. The article looks at two 17th century texts written by women that used Elizabeth as the focus of arguments in favor of women’s education. The author points out that women, more often than men, held up Elizabeth as a model for other women, as opposed to viewing her as an isolated exception, or as being essentially masculine in her accomplishments.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, needlework was a strongly associated with the category of “woman” as well as being a significant marker of class in how it was created, used, and imitated. The motifs – both on large and small scale – provided a symbolic vocabulary to express multiple layers of meaning and offered a means of expressing identity, community, and subversion, as well as the more obvious symbolism of the designs. Elite embroiderers might have access to professional designers, but printed design books were becoming more general and patterns were shared within communities.

This paper considers the difficulty of tracing female alliances, due to gender differences in the types of records created and preserved. Women’s bonds are less commonly traceable in formal documents than men’s. Women’s letters provide one source for connections, even though many are written to men. The letter under consideration was written by lady Ralegh after her husband’s conviction for treason.

Drama often draws on contemporary dynamics to depict historic stories, and in this article Brown uses the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her female courtiers to examine the depiction of Cleopatra’s court in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. And, given the focus of this collection, it particularly looks at the types of alliances within the court between a queen and her waiting women. Brown’s position is that these relations strengthened Elizabeth’s position and goals, while Cleopatra is depicted as weak in this department.

Tvordi’s article digs into the importance of female alliances for characters in early modern drama, and how those alliances represent a whole range of relationships including family, friendship, service, marriage resistance, and even desire. [Note: the topic of f/f desire in early modern drama is even more deeply examined by Walen 2005] But given the imperatives of the “marriage plot,” these alliances are often broken or left behind in the play’s resolution.

While other papers in this volume look at relations between upper class waiting women and their aristocratic mistresses (whether in life or fiction), this study concerns itself with in-group relations among ordinary housemaids and women in service. One common life path for young women from rural households (whether of the gentry or lower) was to be placed in service with a large urban household with the expectation that this would not only provide income in the immediate future but would lead to wider opportunities for marriage.

The importance of relations (of all types) between women to society and to women’s lives has tended to be overlooked in favor of the more visible relations between men or between women and men. Due to the nature of society, men could assume that their relationships were stable and long-lasting, but women’s relationships could easily be disrupted by the lesser control women had over their own lives. Or women’s relationships might be temporary alliances across social barriers, established for a specific purpose.

Fisher examines the social and erotic context of the gesture-group known as “chin-chucking”, which is loosely defined as “reaching for, touching, fingering, pinching, caressing, cupping, or clasping of the cheek or chin.” The central version of the gesture involves one person holding the chin of the other person with the fingers of one hand. [Note: although Fisher considers this topic specifically within the context of 17th century England, there is a much wider context involved. See my commentary for further consideration.]


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