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date: 16 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The morris dance in The Witch of Edmonton, first staged in London in 1621, leveraged audience affect to transform seemingly subversive sexual desires into socially central festive sport. The play tells of a woman accused of witchcraft, a bigamous marriage ending in murder, a clown playing the hobbyhorse, and the devil appearing in the form of a black dog. Drawing on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century parish records, legal documents, and pamphlet literature, this chapter demonstrates how the morris episodes in the play repeatedly align cross-dressing, bestiality, and sodomy not so much with sexual perversion as with festive inversion. Yoking transgressive sexuality to stage performance, early modern theater ironically generated a field of cultural sanction for its own practices during the crucial era of its formal institutionalization. Marginalized eroticisms and queer desires were not merely represented onstage but were structurally constitutive of commercial theater and essential to its establishment as a profession.

Keywords: affect, animal, clown, devil, festivity, morris dance, queer, sexuality, spectator, witch

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