CALL FOR PAPERS: Women on Trial

“Women on Trial”

Drawing on a wide range of historical and literary examples – from Anne Askew to Mary Stuart, A Warning for Fair Women to The Winter’s Tale – we ask what it meant to be a woman on trial in the early modern period. This session attends to the myriad ways in which women were placed ‘on trial’: by considering the idea of the woman as witness, litigant, and defendant; by imagining the role of the law in shaping female identity; and by examining contemporary literary portrayals of the plight of ‘women before the law’.

Scholarship on slander and defamation has already identified the central role women played in certain forms of litigation, while the figure of the woman on trial is a familiar dramatic spectacle, playing a central role in Webster’s The White Devil, Arden of Faversham, Thomas Tomkis’ Lingua, and the anonymous Swetnam, The Woman-Hater Arraigned by Women (pictured above). Nonetheless, the woman on trial is infrequently discussed in literary scholarship as a discrete category. We aim to assemble experts from a range of fields, pursuing a multiplicity of contexts (such as Inns of Court, ecclesiastical ‘bawdy’ courts, and witch trials) to interrogate this neglected history.

We invite proposals for papers considering how various treatments of ‘women on trial’ can help us better understand the legal, social, and emotional position of early modern women. Please email a 150-word abstract and 1-page CV to panel organisers Dr Derek Dunne and Dr Toria Johnson at, by May 15, 2015.