The politics of courtly dancing in early modern England

Howard, Skiles

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  • Creator Skiles Howard
  • Format Books
  • Publication Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, [1998] ©1998
  • Series
  • Physical Details
    • xii, 222 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
  • ISBNs 9780585083674, 0585083673, 1558491449
  • OCLC ocm43475537


  • Skiles Howard examines the social and semiotic complexities of dancing as it changed over time and performed different work in court, city, and play-house. She shows how dancing reflected and shaped wider social changes: the performance of gender roles facilitated the formation of the patriarchal family, the execution of physical tropes of hierarchy supported the rise of a centralized state, and rehearsals of spatial mastery assisted the project of national expansion. As a visual and kinetic discourse by which social norms were circulated, dancing inevitably became a site of contestation; as elite and popular practices collided, interacted, and were transformed, countervailing social forces found expression through the medium of dancing. Interdisciplinary in its approach, this study draws on court masque and popular drama, dancing manuals, Puritan pamphlets, and educational and medical treatises to explore issues of power and the body, gender and rank, popular culture and European expansion.


  • Includes bibliographical references (pages 159-216) and index.


  • 1. Ascending the Rich Mount: Performing Rank and Gender in Henrician Masque -- 2. Imitating the Stars Celestial: Rival Discourses of Dancing in Early Modern England -- 3. Hands, Feet, and Bottoms: Decentering the Cosmic Dance in Shakespeare's Comedies -- 4. The Nervy Limbs of Elizabeth Cary: Resisting Containment -- 5. Rehearsing for Empire: Dancing in the Early Jonsonian Masque -- 6. Mischiefs Masking in Expected Pleasures: Anti-Courtly Dancing in Two Plays by Thomas Middleton
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