Female Revenge on the Early Modern Stage
Bailey Sincox is a PhD candidate in the English Department at Harvard University. Her research interests include early modern drama, performance, genre theory, gender studies, and book history. Also passionate about accessibility, she has worked on four Shakespeare courses for edX, Harvard's open online education platform.
This project situates English revenge drama’s antiheroines in a network of reception, tracing Italian models––and ideas of Italy itself––that influenced the likes of Middleton, Webster, Fletcher, and Shakespeare. Revenge was a favorite plot in the period, not least for its simplicity: someone does something wrong and someone else responds, seeking redress when institutions fail. Famously, Francis Bacon called revenge "a kind of wild justice." Thomas Nashe called it something else: "Italianism." In fact, dozens of plays were set on the peninsula, displacing English concerns with sovereignty, citizenship, and the law onto foreign, Catholic personae safer for public critique. Thus the project asks: What did representations of female revenge mean for early modern English audiences? How did “Italianism” figure in their poetic construction? Tracking representations across media, from Ariosto’s Bradamante to Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith, this project will characterize the ways in which female revengers reimagine both gender and genre, imparting political possibilities in the decades leading up to the English Civil War as well as initiating new aesthetic forms that thrived long afterward.