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Music and Gender Relations in Thomas Middleton’s ‘Women Beware Women’

Natalie Roulon

Pages 13 - 36

Although the music used in its original performances has not survived, a reconstruction of the play’s cultural context throws light on the significance of its songs and musical references. On the other hand, the early modern debate about marriage is crucial to an understanding of the way in which gender is represented by the dramatist. The play is found to be ‘a tragico-satiric indictment’ of the patriarchal court culture of Jacobean England, whose underlying power structures are reflected in its use of music. Indeed, music can be employed as an instrument of male domination, and its absence can reveal the silencing of a woman by a male authority figure. The losers in the power struggle associate feminine music — the siren’s song — with sexual betrayal. Conversely, when song and musical imagery are used by a stronger female character, they can provide a countervoice to the dominant discourse. The prevailing motif of broken harmony points to the discordant relationships between human beings and to the disintegration of values which characterise the world depicted by Middleton.


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