Ram Alley and Female Spectatorship

Andrew Griffin


Lording Barry's Ram Alley (1608) stages or describes various perversions, oddities, and problems that were often associated with early modern London generally and with Ram Alley - an area notorious for prostitution and gambling - specifically: the play features, for instance, an unruly masterless man, a cross-dressed woman, a prostitute who wears too much makeup, an economically independent and erotically determined widow, and a story about baboons who do tricks at the zoo. This paper draws specific attention to Barry's treatment of the gendered dynamics of spectatorship, visibility, and visuality, arguing that, according to Barry's vision, Ram Alley is a space in which these norms are also troubled. Although watching and acquiring knowledge through watching were generally thought to be masculine prerogatives in early modern London, Barry's play repeatedly stages concealed, disguised, or otherwise inscrutable women who watch the legible bodies of men. This paper also argues that the play's conclusion is marked by a reversion to the "appropriate" gender assignments vis-à-vis spectatorship by ending with scenes in which female bodies are made dramatically visible as objects of specular comprehension.

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