Inventions of the Skin: The Painted Body in Early English Drama, 1400-1642

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


This book challenges the narrative of Shakespeare's ‘bare’ stage by looking at the ‘ground zero’ of early modern theatrical representation: the painted body of the actor. Organised as a series of studies and considering the impact of the materiality of stage properties on live performance, the four chapters of the book examine goldface and divinity in York's Corpus Christi play; bloodiness in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, including the unexpected use of blood as a disguise device; blackface performance within seventeenth-century court masques and in popular plays performed at the public playhouses; and finally whiteface, death, and stoniness in two King's Men plays of 1611. Not only did dramatists turn to paint to sustain a variety of theatrical illusions, they also strategically manipulated the multiple significations of this technology to create stage characters with complex effects of depth; allude to past and to contemporary performances; and thrill audiences by showcasing actors’ virtuoso transformations. Addressing current debates about the relationship between pre- and early modern subjectivity and embodiment, this book challenges the persistent notion that the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries was built predominantly around a new, ‘modern’ language of interiority. As a whole, the book questions the boundaries of the period categories ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’ by demonstrating important continuities in theatrical labour and theatrical materials from medieval cycle drama through to the popular and courtly drama of the 1630s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages176
ISBN (Print)9780748670499
StatePublished - Jun 30 2013


  • stage paint
  • Shakespeare
  • early modern drama
  • skin
  • body of the actor
  • embodiment
  • disguise
  • inwardness
  • colour symbolism
  • visual aspect of Shakespeare's theatre

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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