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1. Ben Jonson's Masque of Queens ends with a provocative image: twelve virtuous queens, played by Queen Anne herself and eleven noblewomen, progress in triumph with the antimasque's unruly "hags" or witches bound before their chariots. While mythological creatures pull the chariots, the positioning of the restrained hags before the attendant torch-bearers creates an image of the hags drawing the chariots as well (472-8). [1] Even if they do not actively pull the chariots, the hags' capture is the very reason--the real fuel or energy--behind the queens' stately public procession. This image powerfully suggests, as several critics have noticed, that far from destroying the hags' transgressive energy, vividly expressed only moments before in their dance involving "strange fantastical motions of their heads and bodies," and utterly "contrary to the custom of men," the victorious queens actually harness and make use of that energy (Queens 327-332). [2] 2. In addition to the hags' transgressive sexuality (a quality which the queens, with their revealing costumes, share [3]), anger is a significant component of their unruly energy. The ingredients of the hags' charms, such as "breath" "sucked" from a sleeping child (159-160), an infant's "fat" procured with a "dagger" (162-163), a "sinew" "bit[ten] off" a corpse (166-168), eyes "scratched out" of an owl (184), and so on (142-190), while reflecting popular beliefs about witchcraft, are also the fruits of startling violence. The hags gather to "let rise / Our wonted rages" (123-124), and the Dame's "rage begins to swell" the more her words go unheeded (279). Anger, perceived as a just and often necessary response to provocation when expressed by men, was considered one of two extremes in women, childish and irrational, or dangerously destructive, so that the more openly women expressed their angry frustration, the more easily it could be either dismissed or condemned (Kennedy 3-12; 20-1). The image of the bound hags--figures for transgressive female sexuality and emotion--under the control of the queens, then, arguably represents women's strategic use of restraint and constraint as a source of increased power and agency in their relationships with men. When freely venting their fury the hags appear repulsive and ineffective (their charms never do succeed), but when carefully harnessed, their energies affirm the queens' potency as rulers and increase the queens' mobility within the public sphere. As powerful women who hold on to the witches instead of destroying them or turning them over to the custody of men, the queens essentially co-opt and sequester a negative view of themselves. Beginning with Penthesilia, Queen of the Amazons, Heroic Virtue presents us with eleven female political leaders known for their independence from men and for their military prowess (Queens 375-385). These "brave" and "bold" queens' historic involvement in the political sphere paired with their engagements in violence on the battlefield, both conventionally male domains, might well be interpreted as unnatural, even monstrous (especially given the Amazons' practice of removing a breast to facilitate their use of weapons in combat), and so could easily earn them the title of "hags" had their actions as warrior-queens failed to secure their institutionalized power (375, 385).

1 janvier
Matthew Steggle

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