Muscular Bodies and Formations of Masculinity and Impairment in Shakespearean Drama Open Access

Doubler, Catherine E. (2013)

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Muscular Bodies and Formations of Masculinity and Impairment in Shakespearean Drama posits that early modern masculinity was defined not just according to and against notions of femininity, but also against emerging notions of disability. I argue that early modern writers, and playwrights in particular, constructed masculinity in ways that valorized or stigmatized certain bodily impairments. These writers, and most notably William Shakespeare, made these value judgments about impairments in two ways that I address in this dissertation: how the impairment affected the athletic, martial, vocational, and sexual ability of the person, and if the impairment showed how the male body possessed both physical and subjective layers. Bodily layers and what they came to represent about a person are critical to my argument in that the layered tissues of the body--skin, fat, and muscle--were not only important considerations of early modern anatomists in spite of the Galenic emphasis on fluids and humors, but also that they were often labeled as the sites in which the bodily ability and thus the masculinity of a person could be observed and determined.

This project analyzes literary and anatomical texts that deploy these discourses of impairment and impairment's relationship to the layers of tissue in human bodies. The first two chapters, which consider Vesalian anatomy texts, Shakespearean actor Will Kemp's pamphlet Nine Daies Wonder, the anonymous Jacobean tragicomedy The Two Noble Ladies, and Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV and Antony and Cleopatra, argue that we can see two types of ideal bodily masculinity in early modern literature. One ideal calls for a form of bodily masculinity that can absorb or incorporate impairments productively into the male body and self; the other ideal anticipates present-day standards of masculinity by defining bodily manliness in contrast to bodily conditions and traits that are deemed socially unacceptable. The last two chapters of this study show how the plays Troilus and Cressida and The Two Noble Kinsmen privilege this latter masculine ideal, pointing to the development of a dichotomy between manliness and disability that prevails in the present day.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction: Considering Gender and Impairment in Early Modern England

II. Chapter One: Conceiving Ability, Athleticism, and Impairment for the Early Modern Man

III. Chapter Two: The Carpet Knight and the Myth of Effeminacy and Muscular Atrophy in The Two Noble Ladies and Antony and Cleopatra

IV. Chapter Three: Muscle and the Distinguishability of Bodies in Troilus and Cressida

V. Chapter Four and Conclusion: Disguises, Skin, and Armor: Surfaces of Masculinity and the Intersection of Gender, Race, and Impairment in The Two Noble Kinsmen

VI. Works Cited

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