Kinship, Race and Embodiment in Early Modern English Drama, 1594-1657
CDA in collaboration with King’s College London and Shakespeare Globe Theatre
This project examines how early modern beliefs about kinship were racialised even as the boundaries of kinship were challenged. In the period’s literature, the biological concept of kinship is repeatedly used to naturalise ideas of racial sameness and difference by suggesting that race is naturally occurring, inheritable and firmly rooted in the body. This project focuses on early modern plays and argues that the period’s dramatists tested the limits of the cultural discourse of kinship as racial and bodily proximity. Though scholars of Premodern Critical Race Studies have explored the relationship between kinship and race, the focus of this scholarship has been on how kinship can be identified as a system of race-as-blood which was an antecedent to a later system of race-as-skin-colour. This thesis contends that these two systems instead overlap in complex and often contradictory ways and considers how the role of embodiment in both systems encourages us to recognise that all bodies, including white bodies, were racialised. Throughout the thesis, I examine a range of racialised identities including Jewishness, Blackness, whiteness and GTRSB identities. Though kinship encouraged kin to recognise each other through ideas of racial, social and bodily proximity, the chapters in this thesis demonstrate that kinship could both expand beyond racial boundaries and break down within racial boundaries. Focusing on these moments allows us to understand how kinship is racialised in more complex ways than have currently been accounted for.