Words Like Daggers


Words Like Daggers

Violent Female Speech in Early Modern England

Kirilka Stavreva

Early Modern Cultural Studies Series

230 pages
3 illustrations, 1 index


March 2017


$25.00 Add to Cart

January 2015


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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January 2015


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eBook (PDF)
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January 2015


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About the Book

Dramatic and documentary representations of aggressive and garrulous women, while often casting such women as reckless and ultimately unsuccessful usurpers of cultural authority, simultaneously highlight, in contending narrative lines, their effective manipulation and even subversion of social and gender hierarchies. Words Like Daggers explores the scolding invectives, malevolent curses, and ecstatic prophesies of early modern women as attested in legal documents, letters, self-narratives, popular pamphlets, ballads, and dramas of the era. By examining the framing and performance of such violent female speech between the 1590s and the 1660s, Kirilka Stavreva dismantles the myth of the silent and obedient women who allegedly populated early modern England.

Blending gender theory with detailed historical analysis, Words Like Daggers highlights the capacity of women’s language to shape gender and social relationships in the early modern era. Stavreva not only reconstructs the speech acts of individual contentious women but also examines the powerful performative potential of women’s violent speech, revealing how the stage, arguably the most influential cultural institution of the Renaissance, orchestrated and aestheticized women’s fighting words and, in so doing, showcased and augmented their cultural significance.

Author Bio

Kirilka Stavreva is a professor of English at Cornell College. Her work has been anthologized in High and Mighty Queens of Early Modern England: Realities and RepresentationsWomen, Gender, Radical ReligionCultural Encounters: Critical Insights; and elsewhere.


“Stavreva powerfully contributes to our understanding of the nature of women's violent speech by attending not only to what women say, but how they say it. Most original here is her focus on the acoustics of women's speech and its embodied physicality.”—Deborah Willis, Renaissance Quarterly

“Stavreva’s book furthers the work of many feminist scholars, contributes to women’s history, and advances our understanding of the early modern culture in its textual, sonic, and even physical manifestations.”—Anna Riehl Bertolet, author of The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Queen Elizabeth I

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Bitter Words and the Tuning of Gender
1. Feminine Contentious Speech and the Religious Imagination
2. Gender and the Narratives of Scolding in the Church Courts
3. Unquiet Women on the Early Modern Stage
4. Witch-Speak in Late Elizabethan Docufiction
5. Courtly Witch-Speak on the Jacobean Stage
6. Gender and Politics in Early Quaker Women’s Prophetic “Cries”
Epilogue: Margaret’s Bitter Words and the Voice of (Divine) Justice, or, Compulsory Listening

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