The morbid fascination for infanticide

Disclaimer: I am currently writing a chapter on infanticidal queens in early modern drama. It is neither a pleasant topic, nor a pleasant undertaking — particularly at this moment for personal reasons easy to guess — but the topic raises interesting questions about national history, genealogy and perceptions of motherhood.

The topic of infanticide is always great fodder for experts and ordinary folk alike. In the past few years alone, there has been a slew of academic publications on the topic:cover: A History of Infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the Present some regional studies, such as Anne-Marie Kilday’s A History of Infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the Present, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Michelle T. King’s Between Birth and Death: Female Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century China (Stanford UP, 2014), Margaret Brannan Lewis’s revised PhD on Infanticide and Abortion in Early Modern Germany (Routledge, 2014) or Elaine Farrell’s study on Ireland, ‘A most diabolical deed’: infanticide and Irish society, 1850-1900 (Manchester UP, 2013), as well as collections such as Endangered Children: Homicide and Other Crimes edited by Lita Linzer Schwartz and Natalie K. Isser (CNC, 2012), or studies from particular perspectives, as Lyasmine Kessaci’s revised PhD in psychopathology, De la maltraitance infantile à l’infanticide: la mère, l’enfant, le ravage (PU de Rennes, 2015), or Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau’s re-issued and augmented version of his now-classic study on violence against children during the Great War, L’enfant de l’ennemi : viol, avortement, infanticide pendant la Grande guerre (Flammarion, 2013, originally published in 1995)… If I were to quote mass media, a quick search on ‘Google News’ shows that the number of headlines featuring terms such as ‘murderous mom’ or ‘baby killer’ is terrifyingly common. The topic is always ‘hot’. Any contemporary Medea is guaranteed to make the news.1

A recent case in France has, it seems, a series of bizarrely early modern resonances. It concerns Fabienne Kabou, a French-Senegalese mother who  recently plead guilty of murdering her 15-month old daughter by abandoning her to drown in the sea. What makes this sad story an early modern tale are three elements which take on particular relevance when studying infanticide: location, witchcraft and ‘media coverage’. Continue reading The morbid fascination for infanticide

  1. ‘Medea’ is here used as a sensationalist blanket term, as the circumstances involving infanticide are usually much more mundane than the vengeful murder of a forsaken lover plunging the world in civil war. []

Women and the Elizabethan stage

At the IMAGER conference late November mentioned in an earlier post, I also mentioned the misleading assumption that there were no women on the Elizabethan stage. It is a point I stress in class and at conferences with audiences unfamiliar with the realities of Elizabethan drama. It provides endless fodder.

Much has been said about the fact that the stage was dominated by men: playwrights were male, most characters were male, and, more importantly, all actors were male, with female parts performed by boys. Women on the stage were considered ‘monsters’:

In 1629 a French troupe with actresses appeared at the Blackfriars but was “hissed, hotted, and pippin-pelted from the stage” wrote one observer — although, as Stephen Orgel points out, the same players went on to the Red Bull and Fortune, and Prynne decried “the great resort” of Londoners to see “French women, or monsters rayther” (7; also Walker, 389). In Elizabeth’s reign, Italian female acrobats drew crowds in London, prompting Thomas Norton to complain about “that unnecessarie and scarslie honeste resorts to plaies … and especiallie the assemblies to the unchaste, shamelesse and unnaturall tomblinges of the Italion Woemen” (Lea, 354).1 Continue reading Women and the Elizabethan stage

  1. Pamela Allen Brown and Peter Parolin, Women Players in England, 1500-1660: Beyond the All-Male Stage, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008, p. 2. []

Disentangling genre and gender

from title page of 'The Roaring Girl', 1611
Moll Cutpurse, from title page of ‘The Roaring Girl’, T. Dekker and T. Middleton, 1611

A  recent conference on “Genre and Gender” organized by research group IMAGER / UPEC was a great opportunity to reflect on these categories. The CFP stated some of the issues which would be discussed during the three-day conference:

What this conference proposes to discuss is the question of identity at the crossroads between sexual gender and literary genres. Indeed etymologically, the term genus covers two meanings to be found in the dictionary: one concerning origin and the other, category. Genus designates that which separates, divides, identifies and delimits. Continue reading Disentangling genre and gender

Hazardous parallels

A couple of weeks ago, after a few days of intense activity (a.k.a. ‘too much work’), I decided to binge on film, as I am wont to do. Despite my doubts, among the various movies I decided to see was Diana, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, starring Naomi Watts as the Princess of Wales.

diana-affiche1After having thought about what Mary Queen of Scots must have felt as a prisoner before ending up on the scaffold, I sensed there could be a few parallels between Mary’s story and that of the famed Queen of Hearts / People’s Princess, who is portrayed in the movie as a victim living in a gilded cage.

Half-jokingly, I came up with the following list of hazardous parallels between Mary and Diana: Continue reading Hazardous parallels

Stage or Scaffold?

My post on Mary Queen of Scots prompted me to think about why her case seems so dramatic, in the literal sense of the word, and why it gave rise to several theatrical adaptations. In this post, I’d like to provide one answer: Mary was executed on a scaffold and scaffolds were also among the first stages used for theatrical performances1. Contemporary accounts of her trial and execution are telling: both usually picture a square table or scaffold in the center, as if it were a stage in which was performed the final act of Mary’s tragedy. But the pictures themselves are more than just snapshots of a momentous episode of British history: they are actually built as plays with a narrative structure. Continue reading Stage or Scaffold?

  1. On the ‘théâtre de l’échafaud’, see Christian Biet, “Naissance sur l’échafaud ou la tragédie du début du XVIIe siècle“, in Intermédialités, n. 1, printemps 2003, p. 75-105, DOI : 10.7202/1005446ar, and Christian Biet et Charlotte Bouteille-Meister, Théâtre de la cruauté et récits sanglants en France: XVIe-XVIIe siècle, Paris, R. Laffont, 2006. []

Scot Queen Still Hot Topic

It was difficult to not think about big newspaper headlines when walking around Edinburgh this summer, seeing banners promoting the exhibit on Mary Queen of Scots at the National Museum of Scotland on every lampost. Our hosts in Auld Reeky had heard good things about the exhibit, and we were warned that it took over 3h to visit. It did. Continue reading Scot Queen Still Hot Topic

Murderous Queens on Stage

The blog will include chapters-in-progress, biographies, summaries of forgotten plays, annotated book reviews, CFPs, and illustrations for a research project on murderous queens in early modern European drama (from 1550 to 1650 approximately, focusing initially on English, French, Spanish and Italian drama). This project is part of an ongoing book project and a ‘délégation CNRS’ obtained for 2013-2014 at the IRCL (Montpellier).