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      Performative Utterances and Gender Performance in Shakespeare's Richard III

      Bethlehem University Journal
      Pluto Journals
      Curse, Speech Act, Gender Performance, Minor Literature


            This article aims to analyze the discourse of cursing and gender performance in Shakespeare's Richard III (1592) through Judith Butler's theory of gender as a performative act in conjunction with J. L. Austin's concept of performative utterances, in order to further a cultural understanding of the beliefs surrounding curses in early modern England. I deploy Richard III as a case study to demonstrate that speech-act theory is applicable in a dramatic text, a context that Austin failed to consider when he theorized illocutionary acts. Since the construction of feminine identities in Richard III is based on performance–in early modern England boy actors impersonated female figures vocally and physically, I argue that curses are gendered feminine despite the fact that cursing women transgress the conventional feminine virtue of silence and despite the cultural belief that curses produce agency of which women are conventionally deprived. As such, the discourse of female cursing can be read as a case of minor literature, a mode of enunciation that challenges and eclipses Richard's discourse, and which emanates from the conventional view that the female curse is a performative speech act that is divinely endorsed. It is an effective means of retaliation, leading to the destruction of villainous figures.


            Author and article information

            Bethlehem University Journal
            Pluto Journals
            1 January 2019
            : 36
            : ( doiID: 10.13169/bethunivj.36.issue-2019 )
            : 115-132
            © 2019 Pluto Journals

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            Education,Religious studies & Theology,Social & Behavioral Sciences,History,Economics,Life sciences
            Speech Act,Gender Performance,Minor Literature,Curse


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