Natasha Korda, “Gendered Footwork on the Early Modern Stage”

Gendered Footwork on the Early Modern Stage
Natasha Korda, Wesleyan University

This paper uses explicit and implicit stage directions, together with evidence of women’s masquing traditions, to explore how gender on the early modern stage was conveyed not only through costume but also movement, particularly footwork. Period etiquette dictated that the female gait should be graceful, with even and moderate steps — an assumption informing Portia’s transformation into Balthasar in The Merchant of Venice, for example, which requires that she “turn two mincing steps / Into a manly stride” (3.4.67-68). The scope of “female” footwork on England’s “all-male” professional stage was enlarged by cross-dressed roles like Portia’s, this paper argues, but also by the nimbleness and visibility of elite women’s dancing feet in court masques by Queen Anna of Denmark.