Plenary III: Violence
Saturday, November 11
9:00 - 10:30 am

Workshop 25. Subverting Masculine Codes of Violence: The Cases of Isabella Andreini, Elizabeth Cary, and Maria de Zayas

Organizers: Lucia Bortoli (Comparative Studies), Maria Luisa Guardiola (Spanish), Maria Reina Ruiz (Foreign Languages)

Abstract: Through the interdisciplinary analysis of Isabella Andreini's La Mirtilla (1588), Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedy of Mariam (1612) and María de Zayas's novella The Judge of Her Case (1637), this workshop intends to address the codes of violence imbedded within Early Modern formulations of manhood and gender as seen by women writers in Italy, England and Spain. A historical, literary, and cultural approach to the texts will help us understand the writers' manipulation of diverse literary genres (tragicomedy, closet drama, and the novella) and questioning of the repressive social and political mores of their times.


Part 1 [view PDF]

Isabella Andreini. La Mirtilla: A Pastoral. (Act Three, Scene One) Translated by Julie D. Campbell (Tempe, Arizona, 2002).

Part 2 [view PDF]

Elizabeth Cary. The Tragedy of Mariam, The Fair Queen of Jewry. (Act One, Scene VI; Act Three, Scene III; Act Four, Scene IV) Diane Purkiss, Ed. In Renaissance Women: The Plays of Elizabeth Cary, The Poems of Amelia Lanyer (London, William Pickering, 1994).

Part 3 [view PDF]

María de Zayas. Ninth novella, "The Judge of her Case," (Unpublished, 16-21). With permission from the translator, Elizabeth Rhodes.

Additional Information: This workshop intends to explore the ways in which Andreini, Cary and Zayas questioned the master narratives of violence and power of their time. How they engaged in the process of rewriting literary traditions, and subverting social mores as male derived and ineffectual in understanding and representing the lives of women. Furthermore, the workshop intends to focus on how Andreini, Cary, and Zayas sought alternative female models of agency that did not promote self-victimization and therefore encouraged women's survival. We will argue about the validity of these models as they embrace the masculine ideology of competition and aggression.

In her pastoral, La Mirtilla, Isabella Andreini imitates-like other authors of her time-Tasso's Aminta. As Julie Campbell puts it, Andreini "creates a pastoral tragicomedy," and adds a new element to the drama: "the voice of the Renaissance female dramatist writing in response to the texts of her male contemporaries." In the scene studied for our purpose, we witness a burlesque twist in the representation of violence. In this case, the nymph Filli tricks the Satiro to avoid being raped by him, and ends up making a fool of him. The nymph subverts the traditional motief of the lady in distress, and is able, not only of saving herself, but of punishing the perpetrator by exposing him to public humiliation. Through this ironic inversion, Andreini revises the rape fantasy of pastoral tradition and questions the accepted codes of violence of her own society. (Reina Ruiz)

Written at a time when women were to be "chaste, silent, and obedient," The Tragedy of Mariam portrays women that are neither chaste, nor silent, nor obedient. Mariam rejects her marriage vows and does not suffer silently the abuse of a husband/lord. Her enemy, Salome, boisterously declares her own divorce and skillfully manipulates Herod into eliminating both husband and rival. In our workshop we will show how key elements of Cary's drama such as slander, intrigue, verbal and physical abuse against women, and the punishment, execution style, of disobedient and vocal wives, describe all too well the conditions of danger and suffering in which women lived, both privately and publicly, in 17th century England. Furthermore, we will consider how Cary manipulated the biblical narrative of Josephus and of the tradition of the closet drama to expose issues of male and female power and to question the practice of violence as government tool. By making her female characters neither good nor bad, but rather more or less apt to use the existing system to survive, and by emphasizing the male character's psychological density, Cary subverted the patriarchal moralism of the closet drama tradition and portrayed real women fending for themselves. (Lucia Bortoli)

María de Zayas' desengaño "The Judge of Her Case" belongs to the literary conventions of the Byzantine peripeteia used by many Spanish Golden Age male writers such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Timoneda. However, Zayas's story differs from her male writer counterparts in the manner in which women are presented as free-acting agents even though, as Charnon-Deutsch points out, "in the seventeenth-century account of things, [a woman's step forward always is] in the guise of a man." Violence in its different manifestations, domination, suicide, rape, etc., is guaranteed by male behavior but subverted by female agency. The cross dressed women invert many gender stereotypes, yet it will be the female character who mimics the dominant categories of virtue, the one who will prevail. The excerpt we will analyze offers an example of Zayas' ambivalent treatment of gender boundaries in a society marked by violent codes of male behavior. (Maria Luisa Guardiola)

Methodologically, in the workshop discussion we will encourage interdisciplinary approaches in order to gain a broader and at the same time sharper understanding of the texts. We will rely on archival studies published in recent years to interpret the cultural milieu in which the texts were written. We will also encourage a close reading of the texts as women's narratives often tell the untold story between the lines. Andreini, Cary, and Zayas functioned in societies of men and therefore engaged in inconspicuous decoding of practices and ideologies hostile to them.

Structure of the Workshop: The workshop will develop through a series of activities and will follow the given timeframe:

First activity, 10 minute: The session will begin with a general statement on the organization and the outline of the workshop. This will be followed by the introduction of all conveners and participants who will have then the chance to state their interest in the workshop.

Second activity, 20 minutes: Each convener will then give a five minute introduction to one author's historical background and literary tradition, will also introduce the selected readings, and offer a few questions to open and facilitate the group discussion (see list of questions below). We ask participants to come to the workshop with responses to at least two questions.

Third activity, 20 minutes: The conveners then will separate and each lead a small group discussion of the texts in relation to the questions proposed in advance. This will be an opportunity for every participant to provide a personal input on the readings and also a reflection on how the materials illuminate their own research and teaching.

Fourth Activity, 30 minutes: All together the participants will share ideas and issues raised in the smaller groups, with the purpose to highlight the communalities among the different disciplinary approaches applied in the text analysis. This activity will also offer a chance to share methodological strategies in teaching these texts.

Fifth activity, 10 minutes: The conveners will conclude the workshop by providing a summary of ideas and a dramatic reading of Isabella Andreini's section of La Mirtilla.


  1. How do Andreini, Cary and Zayas manipulate the literary tradition in which they operate (pastoral, biblical, and courtly love respectively)?
  2. How do the texts question rituals of courtship, and political intrigues within the genres of comedy, tragedy, and the novella?
  3. How do Andreini, Cary and Zayas depict social practices of revenge, street violence, rape, insults, and defamation and how historical and cultural studies help us understand both the authors and their work?
  4. How do the authors question the traditional formulations of manhood as perpetuating violence towards women?
  5. How do Andreini, Cary and Zayas condemn or sanction acts of violence in which women are the perpetrators? More specifically how do they view female violence in terms of class, family position and social status?
  6. How can these texts help further understand women's voices of the past, and how can they help identify codes of violence privately and publicly interrelated within a transnational context?
  7. How can Andreini's, Cary's and Zayas's texts be taught to show a connection between 17th century debates and today's debates on women?
  8. How can technology help us expand our interdisciplinary method of analysis to secure a more vibrant and informative reading of Andreini, Cary, and Zayas's cases?

Further Reading:

Brown, Pamela Allen. Better a Shrew than a Sheep: Women, Drama, and the Culture of Jest in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell, 2003).

Callaghan, Dympna. "Rereading Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedie of Mariam, Faire Queene of Jewry." In Women, "Race," and Writing in the Early Modern period. Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker Eds. (Routledge, 1994), 163-177.

Campbell, Julie D. "Love's Victory and La Mirtilla in The Canon of Renaissance Tragicomedy: An Examination of the Influence of Salon and Social Debates." Women's Writing 4.1 (1997): 103-24.

Clubb, Louise George. "The State of the Arts in the Andreini's Time." Studies in the Italian Renaissance: Essays in Memory of Arnolfo B. Ferruolo. Eds.Gian Paolo Biasin, Albert Manzini and Nicolas Perella. Naples: Soc. Ed. Napoletana, (1985): 263-81.

Cohen, Thomas V. Love and Death in Renaissance Italy (Chicago, 2004).

Cohn, Samuel, K. Women in the Streets: Essays on Sex and Power in Renaissance Italy (The Johns Hopkins, 1996).

Cox, Jane. Hatred beyond the Grave: Tales of our Ancestors from the London Church Courts (London HMSO, 1995), Ch. 3.

Gowing, Laura. Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (Oxford, 1996).

Gamboa, Yolanda. "Architectural Cartography: Social and Gender Mapping in María de Zayas's Seventeenth-Century Spain" Hispanic Review, 71, (2003): 189-203.

Greer, Margaret Rich. María de Zayas Tells Baroque Tales of Love and the Cruelty of Men (Pennsylvania State, 2000).

Jehenson, Yvonne and Welles, Marcia L. "María de Zayas's Wounded Women: A Semiotics of Violence." In Smith, Dawn L. and Stoll, Anita K. Ed. Gender, Identity, and Representation in Spain's Golden Age (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell, 2000) 178-202.

Kermode, Jenny and Garthine Walker, Eds. Women Crime, and the Courts in Early Modern England (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1994), Ch. 2.

Macneil, Anne. "The Divine Madness of Isabella Andreini." Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 120.2 (1995): 195-215.

Ray, Meredith Kennedy. "La castità conquistata: The Function of the Satyr in Pastoral
Drama." Romance Languages Annual 9 (1998): 312-21.

Ruiz, Teofilo F. Spanish Society, 1400-1600 (Longman, 2001), Ch. 7, 8, 10.

Schutte Anne Jacobson, Thomas Kuehn, Silvana Seidel Menchi. Time, Space and Women's Lives in Early Modern Europe (Truman State, 2001).

Sommerville, Margaret. Sex and Subjection: Attitudes to Women in Early-Modern Society (St. Martin's Press, 1995).

Walker, Garthine. Crime, Gender and the Social Order in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2003).

Williamsen, Amy R. "Challenging the Code: Honor in María de Zayas." In Maria de Zayas, The Dynamics of Discourse. Amy Williamsen and Judith Whitenack, Eds. (Associated University Presses, 1995), 133-151.