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Inventions of the Skin

The Painted Body in Early English Drama

Andrea Stevens

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Examines the painted body of the actor on the early modern stage

Inventions of the Skin illuminates a history of the stage technology of paint that extends backward to the 1460s York cycle and forward to the 1630s. Organized as a series of studies, the four chapters of this book examine goldface and divinity in York's Corpus Christi play, with special attention to the pageant representing The Transfiguration of Christ; bloodiness in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, specifically blood's unexpected role as a device for disguise in plays such as Look About You (anon.) and Shakespeare's Coriolanus; racial masquerade within seventeenth-century court performances and popular plays, from Ben Jonson's Masque of Blackness to William Berkeley's The Lost Lady; and finally whiteface, death, and "stoniness" in Thomas Middleton's The Second Maiden’s Tragedy and Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale. Recovering a crucial grammar of theatrical representation, this book argues that the onstage embodiment of characters—not just the words written for them to speak—forms an important and overlooked aspect of stage representation.

About the Author

Andrea Stevens is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has published book chapters on Cosmetics, Masques and Early Modern Drama.


Stevens’s sensitivity to the pervasiveness of cosmetics as a theatrical technology and a source of theatrical consciousness allows her to expose unthought of layers in familiar and unfamiliar plays alike. This book offers readers new and profound ways of thinking about theatricality itself as a source of identity.

- Professor Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto

For anyone interested in the early modern theatrical representation of the body, its multiple transformations and the way paint enabled acting companies and dramatists to effect these transformations, Stevens’ book is essential reading.

- Dr. Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Courses and Research, Shakespeare's Globe, London

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