Cristine Varholy, “Out of Bounds: Female Spectacle in the Shakespearean City”

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Cristine Varholy, English, Hampden-Sydney College

 “Out of Bounds: Female Sexuality, Narrative, and the Public Space in Othello

Thursday, March 15th, 2018


Room 9205, Graduate Center, CUNY

In most productions of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice (1603), only three female characters—Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca—appear on stage. Additional female presences are verbally constructed through various narratives, particularly narratives about relationships and sexuality, told by other characters.  When presented by male characters, the narratives often participate in masculinist rhetoric that denigrates either individual women or women in the aggregate.  When presented by female characters, however, these narratives are efforts to forge female community or to help women, particularly Desdemona, make sense of their own isolated experiences.  These narratives hold out the potential for Desdemona to develop a sense of herself as a member of a larger community of women; however, they also demonstrate the difficulty of creating stable interpretations once the discourse of sexual activity is released into the public space.

CRISTINE VARHOLY, Associate Professor of English at Hampden-Sydney College, has been the recipient of the Maurice L. Mednick Memorial Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges. She is the author of “‘But She Woulde Not Consent’: Women’s Narratives of Sexual Assault and Compulsion in Early Modern London” in Violence, Politics and Gender in Early Modern England and “‘Rich Like a Lady’: Cross-Class Dressing in the Brothels and Theaters of Early Modern England” in Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies. Her research interests include gender, law, and sexuality in early modern English culture, and she is at work on a monograph project entitled Female Transgression and the Specter of Prostitution in Early Modern England.

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