Accessibility statement

"All her martyr'd signes": Rethinking Muteness on the Early Modern English Stage

Thursday 2 February 2023, 5.15PM

Speaker(s): Professor Heidi Brayman, University of California, Riverside

This talk explores muteness on the English public stage, placing theatrical vocal silence in the context of Catholic religious practice, emergent sign systems for the deaf, and the period’s literary and penal fascination with dismembered tongues. A central text is Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, whose Lavinia catastrophically embodies a critical oddity of early modern English drama: the near total absence of deaf characters on the English stage and the foregrounding instead of mutilation – and later, deceit – as the cause of muteness on stage.

Mute characters on the English stage, that is, are missing their tongues rather than their hearing. Alongside Titus, I read a contemporaneous crime pamphlet that matches the spectacular lingual gore of Shakespeare’s most gruesome tragedy but offers an alternative fantasy of restored speech.

Location: The Treehouse