Pretending and Performing Gypsy Identities in Early Modern England
This project seeks to investigate the representation of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller peoples in early seventeenth-century English theatre. I am particularly concerned with the roles that pretence and the accusation of pretence played in these representations. Sixteenth-century statutory law worked to configure Gypsy, Roma, Traveller peoples as so-called ‘counterfeit Egyptians’ – English vagrants who had artificially darkened their skin, donned strange clothes, and affected an invented language. On the early modern English stage, I argue, performances of Gypsy identity are thus always inextricably linked to the pretence of Gypsy identity.
My work focuses on four dramatic engagements with Gypsy identity: Thomas Middleton’s More Dissemblers Besides Women (c. 1614); William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1607); Ben Jonson’s Masque of the Gypsies Metamorphosed (1621); and Middleton, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley’s The Spanish Gypsy (1623). I examine the ways in which these dramatists engaged with the relationship between performance and pretence and consider the extent to which attempts to perform Gypsy identities interrupt the early modern theatre’s conventions for representing racial alterity.