Acknowledging things of darkness: Race, gender and power in Early Modern England

Kim Felicia Hall, University of Pennsylvania


Examining the trope of Blackness in the English Renaissance, the dissertation uncovers an early and vital link between discourses of race and gender in Early Modern England. This study demonstrates that pre-existing literary tropes of blackness profoundly interacted with the fast-changing economic relations of White European and Native "Other" during the Renaissance. The economic expansion of England into the "Third World" was also an ideological and linguistic expansion as writers and travelers grappled with ways of making use of the foreign material "produced" by colonialism. Tropes of blackness were discovered by both white male and female writers to be infinitely malleable ways of establishing a sense of the proper organization of Western European male and female in the Renaissance and the concomitant English/European division of beauty into "white" or "black" served not just aesthetic purposes, but supported an ideology which still continues to serve the interests of white supremacy and male hegemony. More significantly, the dissertation suggests a crucial interrelationship between race and gender that is deeply embedded in the language deployed in creating the modern--white, European, male--subject. Chapter One focuses on travel narratives and argues that the dissemination of cultural myths of race rests on gendering representations of alien cultures by the submission of those cultures to the discipline of European rhetorical and cultural order. Chapter Two suggests that the English sonnet relies on a process of conversion of Black to white which supported English competition for new world trade and which worked to alleviate anxieties over cultural entanglement wrought by trade. Chapter Three looks at the developmental distinctions between Elizabethan and Jacobean responses to Blackness and shows how the Jacobean court developed its peculiar discourse of blackness from the sonnet tradition which was already organized to work out cultural anxieties over England's imperial expansion. Chapter Four focuses on Mary Wroth to demonstrate one female writers' demystification of various tropes of blackness and to examine her investment in and resistance to England's imperial project.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Womens studies|Theater

Recommended Citation

Hall, Kim Felicia, "Acknowledging things of darkness: Race, gender and power in Early Modern England" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9101167.