Though the gender-coded soul-body dynamic lies at the root of many negative and disempowering depictions of women, Sarah Johnson here argues that it also functions as an effective tool for redefining gender expectations. Building on past criticism that has concentrated on the debilitating cultural association of women with the body, she investigates dramatic uses of the soul-body dynamic that challenge the patriarchal subordination of women. Focusing on two tragedies, two comedies, and a small selection of masques, from approximately 1592-1614, Johnson develops a case for the importance of drama to scholarly considerations of the soul-body dynamic, which habitually turn to devotional works, sermons, and philosophical and religious treatises to elucidate this relationship. Johnson structures her discussion around four theatrical relationships, each of which is a gendered relationship analogous to the central soul-body dynamic: puppeteer and puppet, tamer and tamed, ghost and haunted, and observer and spectacle. Through its thorough and nuanced readings, this study redefines one of the period’s most pervasive analogies for conceptualizing women and their relations to men as more complex and shifting than criticism has previously assumed. It also opens a new interpretive framework for reading representations of women, adding to the ongoing feminist re-evaluation of the kinds of power women might actually wield despite the patriarchal strictures of their culture.
Sarah E. Johnson recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship at Queen’s University. She is currently teaching as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queen’s University and The Royal Military College of Canada and is at work on research exploring pride and gender in early modern literature.
'Analyzing an impressive array of dramatic material-- including plays for the commercial theater, court masques, and theatrical entertainments such as puppet shows-- Johnson argues persuasively that the traditional coding of the soul as masculine and the body as feminine could at times be deployed to challenge rather than uphold women’s subordination. This well-written and thoroughly researched study enriches our understanding of early modern gender ideologies and the drama that helped to produce and interpret them.' Michelle M. Dowd, University of North Carolina, Greensboro 'There is much to celebrate in this book, including its close attention to writings about the soul-body relationship, its attention to the effect of performances on an audience (consisting of both women and men), including the effect of using real human remains on the stage, and the plays’ questioning of received gender ideologies.' Early Modern Studies Journal 'Its greater value is its often complex and nuanced examination of the contested relationship between gender and spirit inherent in discussion of the soul and body in early modern culture.' Seventeenth-Century News '... Johnson’s book ably demonstrates not only how pervasively the soul-body stereotype informed cultural representations of women in the period but also how creative staging could deploy the dynamic not only to confirm but also to challenge the gender hierarchy.' Renaissance and Reformation 'In bringing the prominence of the soul-body relationship to the fore, as well as in showing up its many compliations, Staging Women and the Soul-Body Dynamic makes an important contribution to both religious and feminist studies.' Early Theatre 'The complexity of this analysis aptly reflects a period that reveled in paradox, even as it confirms the cultural centrality of the soul-body dynamic itself.' Renaissance Quarterly