"Unsex Me Here": Blood, Milk, and Queered Women in Shakespeare

Putnam, Leah, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Maus, Katharine, English
Kinney, Clare, English

This thesis explores and synthesizes a series of questions stemming from a long history of scholarship on the bloody women of Shakespearean drama. Turning to moments across a selection of plays, with particular focus on figures such as Lady Macbeth, Lavinia, and Joan De Pucelle, I reconsider them as queer characters that fracture the gender dichotomy and instead embody a spectrum of gender identities. Blood, alongside associated bodily fluids and functions, valuably operates as a mechanism for this destabilization and provides a site for investigating both tensions and affinities between gender expression and sexed bodies in these characters. Dramaturgically-based scholarship on early modern stagecraft examines the practical effects of presenting bloody bodies on playscripts and theatrical productions; it also explores the effects of blood’s dual nature as fictional signifier and physical material on an audience. Informed by these questions I turn to the theatrical experience Sleep No More, which adapts Macbeth, as a case study. I present Sleep No More as a modern Shakespeare production which contends with how to perform bloody and queer bodies; I believe it sparks possibilities for how scholars can reimagine gender embodiment and queer characters in early modern drama and how theater creators can reimagine performing early modern relationships of meaning for modern audiences. By putting literary scholarship alongside modern theatrical production, I present in this thesis an argument for recognizing queer gender expression and the importance of blood as a site for producing meaning in Shakespearean drama and their worth to scholars and theater creators alike.

MA (Master of Arts)
Shakespeare, Early Modern, Drama, Theater, Women, Blood, Queer, Gender, Sleep No More, Menstruation, War, Wounds, Violence, Sexual Assault, Virginity, Breastmilk, Macbeth, Mother, Maiden
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