Margaret E. Boyle is the author of Unruly Women: Performance, Penitence, and Punishment in Early Modern Spain. In this first in-depth study of the interconnected relationships among public theatre, custodial institutions, and women in early modern Spain, Boyle explores the contradictory practices of rehabilitation enacted by women both on and off stage.
How did you become involved in your area of research?
I became hooked on early modern Spanish literature during my time as an undergraduate at Reed College, where the close-knit and engaging seminar classes allowed me to deeply explore the period’s culture and its theater. I am a big believer in the transformative experience of the small liberal arts college, and feel fortunate today to offer similar kinds of personalized learning opportunities for my students at Bowdoin. The small classes and rich teaching resources, such as collections of art and rare books, support strong intellectual relationships between faculty and students. I ask a lot from my students, and they ask a lot from me.
My engagement as a feminist scholar was prompted by my first encounters with representations of women, and violence against women, in early modern Spanish texts. I wanted to make sense of those perplexing depictions, both real and as imagined in the Spanish comedias. I studied and formalized theoretical approaches to these interests as I completed a graduate certificate in the Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies program as a part of my doctoral program, and continue my work today through my cross-listed courses with the Gender and Women’s Studies program and participation in the National Women’s Studies Association, the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women, as well as a number of organizations dedicated to the study of women within Hispanism including GEMELA and Letras Femeninas.
What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?
I was most surprised and intrigued to discover the financial dependency between Madrid’s public theaters and a number of custodial institutions for women during the 16th and 17th centuries. Moralists from the period, who championed the custodial institutions to address society’s ills, repeatedly cited theater – and especially actresses and the characters they played on stage – as responsible for a kind of public decay or moral decline or even disease. Meanwhile a number of their institutions were dependent on revenue generated by the theater, by these celebrated actresses who played both sinners and saints.
Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?
I traveled quite a bit within Spain while researching and writing my book. I was fortunate to receive funding from the Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and United States Universities as well as multiple grants from Emory University and Bowdoin College. Primarily, I spent my time in the archives of Madrid’s National Library, the National Historical Archive and the Royal Convent of La Encarnación and my research benefited tremendously from conversations with many archivists and librarians who helped me to locate and contextualize various materials incorporated into my book.
Through the book writing process, I also traveled domestically to present chapters of my project to other specialists, including meetings in Washington D.C. for the Grupo de Estudios de la Mujer en España y las Americas, in Chicago and Los Angeles for the Modern Language Association, in Denver for the National Women’s Studies Association as well as El Paso for the Association for Hispanic Classical Theater. My writing and arguments were bolstered, sharpened and energized from the insights gathered at these meetings.
One travel highlight was my participation in the XXXI Jornadas de Teatro Clásico de Almagro sponsored by the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha during an archival research trip in 2008. There I was able to work with a number of scholars interested in women’s participation in early modern Spanish theater, and see a number of live performances featuring strong heroines. During the writing of the book, I was also able to enjoy live productions of popular and lesser-known comedias at the Siglo de Oro drama festival at El Paso’s Chamizal National Memorial, Georgetown University and GALA Hispanic Theater.
What are your current/future projects?
In the past year, I’ve been exploring the literary and visual representation of actresses during the Hispanic Enlightenment, examining case studies primarily in Peru and Spain. This research is exciting because it extends my examination of some of the issues I address in Unruly Women, but moves geographically into a transatlantic context as well as forward into the 18th century. I’ve recently presented this new material at the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies and the Renaissance Society of America.
I am also interested in women’s participation in the natural sciences in 16-17th century Spain, with a special focus on practices of botany and gardening. I have been especially interested recently in convent gardens, as they were typically a space both designed and maintained by women (although occasionally maintained by male gardeners who would enter and exit through a designated separate pathway). Women have been historically neglected for their participation in the sciences, and I am enjoying current scholarship that examines the relationship between botany, health and healing in the early modern period.
What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?
My area of research is a definitely a good match for my personality, because I find myself devouring new scholarship on early modern Spain, general research on gender and the early modern, and more theoretical contemporary feminist research. Reading and collecting books in the library is far too fun, and I have to remind myself to balance that indulgence with enforced writing time.
For strict out of my research reading, I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami. His language is mesmerizing, and keeps me wanting to learn Japanese someday. I also love to read and experiment with cookbooks. Some of my recent favorites are ones that originally derived from popular blogs: the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, and Dinner: a Love Story. We are a household of two full-time working parents with a toddler. Juggling a full work and family life, I find that shared, intentional meals help us all feel more grounded.