Bloody, strange, and unnatural women: Advertising on early modern English title pages, 1565-1640

Christina Anne Furtado, Fordham University


My dissertation, titled Bloody, Strange, and Unnatural Women: Advertising on Early Modern English Title Pages, 1565-1640, explores how the notion of transgressive women is used in the titles of early modern texts to draw in readers and viewers. The women described are unchaste, murderous, or merely extravagantly dressed. I argue that by repeatedly deploying the image of the transgressive women, authors and publishers advertised their texts through a disproportionate focus on female transgression. At the same time, works that, based on the title alone, are ostensibly about such women often mask texts that ultimately tell more complex stories. In some instances, these stories are about men who have done just as much, if not more, wrong than the women the title pages draw attention to. My work approaches the study of how early modern English texts presented gender through the examination of advertising techniques used by London's printers and playhouses. Critics such as Michael Saenger, Tiffany Stern, and Zachary Lesser are beginning to explore how title pages and playbills functioned as advertising, which was a field that was just beginning to develop thanks to the advent of printing in the fifteenth century. By the mid-sixteenth century, when my study begins, printers had a well-developed sense of what kinds of title pages (which often included woodcut images along with text) drew potential readers into their shops. Similarly, the playhouses of the 1580's and later had to compete with each other in a variegated, burgeoning market, and intriguing titles were one way of making a playbill stand out on the crowded posts around London. Yet for both kinds of texts, the titles both emphasized the most shocking aspects of a story—often involving a woman's participation in a crime or other sinful action—while both simplifying its complexity and deemphasizing the involvement of men. Early modern London's consumers were fascinated with bad women.

Subject Area

Womens studies|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Furtado, Christina Anne, "Bloody, strange, and unnatural women: Advertising on early modern English title pages, 1565-1640" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3611858.