Feminist critics of Renaissance drama and culture have argued that the marginality of women is sometimes potentially disruptive. Early modern woman had the power, through disobedience, to subvert the cultural expectations placed upon her, while reminding the patriarchy of her absolute necessity. This assertion seems a more fitting description of the female characters and diarists who Links Of London Charms enacted and constructed early modern maternity, and who is eloquently and insightfully discussed in this important volume of essays.
Moncrief and Mc Pherson’s collection fills a critical gap in the study of women’s history. But this collection would appeal not only to readers of women’s history and Renaissance cultural studies, but also to those who are interested in Shakespearean criticism and the politics of social performativity. The importance of this collection is immediately signalled when the editors set out their argument in the introductory essay: ‘that maternity both public and private, physically embodied and enacted must be considered per formative and that the maternal body, as a result, functions as a potent space for cultural conflict, a site of imagination and contests’. Further to this, the volume achieves its aims of demonstrating the way in which male playwrights and authors of midwifery and child-rearing texts self-consciously present the performativity of the reproductive body. The essays in this volume draw attention to the variety of texts that contributed to early modern conceptions of maternity, which, as the editors point out, is not strictly bound to childbirth and pregnancy, but also to Links Of London Bracelets a wide range of related areas, such as ‘spirituality, medicine and health, politics, the supernatural, as well as the many and complex facets of gender’. Hence this volume does well to identify maternity not just as a biological fact, but, more potently, as an ideological and epistemological phenomenon worthy of deeper, more weighted consideration.
The essays are usefully grouped into four sections: ‘The Performance of Pregnancy’, ‘The Performance of Maternal Authority’, ‘The Performance of Maternal Suffering’ and ‘The Performance of Maternal Erasure’. The essays in the first section, ‘The Performance of Pregnancy’ draw important parallels between the dramatic texts that display the pregnant body and those that attempt to regulate or manage it. They draw our attention to the intertextuality of early modern discursive representations of pregnant bodies and their dramatic counterparts. Equally, they focus our attention towards the political structures that helped to define and shape perceptions of maternity and femininity more generally. In his essay on The Duchess of Malfi, Sid Ray argues that the heroic stature of the Duchess is largely connected to her repeated pregnancies, which manifest as visually potent assertions of her femininity.
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