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Rachel Fennell | ‘That this should be my body I doubt’: John Lyly’s Endymion and the grotesque Sleeping Beauty

16 May, 2019 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Rachel Fennell, a PhD student at the University of Durham, will be presenting on her research about the Sleeping Beauty motif in early modern texts.

Sleeping Beauty is one of the most iconic figures of European fairy tale literature today, but the motif of the sleeping corpse also particularly captured the imagination of medieval and early modern writers. From Gower to Dekker, Boccaccio to Middleton, the enduring appeal of the body that inhabits the liminal space between sleep and death haunts their narratives, often in surprising and unsettling ways. For the modern reader, Sleeping Beauty is easily dismissed as an antiquated tale of a man waking a beautiful but passive sleeping woman with a kiss, but this is a gross simplification of the complex nuances of earlier versions of the motif. In this paper, I will therefore be exploring John Lyly’s 1588 stage production of Endymion, a play obsessed with the grotesque body, and at its heart the spectacle of the male sleeping beauty, who over the course of the play is transformed from a figure of youthful loveliness to an aged, decrepit man, and back again. Investigating Lyly’s subversion of the Endymion myth and his ageless sleep, this paper considers how the eternal youth of the sleeping beauty narrative is destabilised and entangled with issues of gender, witchcraft, and body horror to create a play troubled with bodies that refuse to conform to the expectations of either society or genre.

This event is organised by the Early Modern Discussion Group. All welcome!


16 May, 2019
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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Early Modern Discussion Group


Jessop West Seminar Room 3