\"I Fear She Cannot Love At All\": Unnatural Female Sexuality In The Revenge Tragedy

Liberty Stanavage
2007 Zenodo  
Begins p.125 of pdf The Spanish Tragedy's Bel-Imperia (1585) and Tamora of Titus Andronicus (1594) provide us with examples of the extremes of the early treatment of female sexuality in the revenge drama, powerful and sexual figures who demonstrate similar expressions of agency, but with very different moral bases; although the two women share certain central defining qualities, the plays judge their sexuality very differently. Both exert an active and forceful sexuality that exists outside
more » ... control. This active sexual agency undergoes a marked change across the course of Renaissance drama in which the majority of female revengers become disempowered and desexualized. By examining the women in Hamlet (1602) and The Broken Heart (1633)–-plays written in anticipation of and after (respectively) the return to a male monarchy—with reference to their predecessors, we can discover ways in which this model maintained a central consistency while simultaneously evolving far from the empowered and validated Bel-Imperia. Ania Loomba's suggestion that "In Jacobean drama female transgression is no longer simply a spectre conjured up by the male imagination" (104), denies the aggressive and active agency possessed by the early female revengers, and assumes a trangressive authority on the part of later female characters that the women of The Broken Heart and Hamlet lack. She argues: "The general distinction between Elizabethan and Jacobean drama is that in the latter the aggressive woman does sexually transgress and is not only imagined to do so" (104). However, as we can see, the reverse seems to be true for the women of the revenge tragedies. While Bel-Imperia and Tamora are sexually transgressive and defy male control of their sexuality, the women of Hamlet and The Broken Heart lack the transgressive ability and sexual agency of their predecessors.
doi:10.5281/zenodo.258592 fatcat:7ge6p5szqjhs7f35jqw3jrks4a