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MacDonald, Joyce Green

MacDonald, Joyce Green


Education: Vanderbilt University, Ph.D.


Office—Department of English, University of Kentucky, 1215 Patterson Office Tower, Lexington, KY 40506-0027. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Kentucky, Lexington, English department faculty member and director of graduate studies.


(Editor) Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Madison, NJ), 1997.

Women and Race in Early Modern Texts, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2002.


English professor Joyce Green MacDonald has been praised by critics for her 2002 study Women and Race in Early Modern Texts, which analyzes the way non-European female characters are portrayed in literature from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century, and how this had an effect on racial attitudes about women in the West. In early-modern works, MacDonald notes, non-European women are portrayed as increasingly white. For example in Elizabethan-era works Cleopatra is viewed as a white, sexually innocent and pure character in Samuel Daniel's 1602 work The Tragedy of Cleopatra and Robert Garnier's Antonie, written in 1592. On the other hand, William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra brings racial issues to the fore, though this seems to have been the exception. White female authors of the time, such as Katherine Phillips, were no less guilty of holding up white women as morally superior to non-European women. Developing her arguments further, MacDonald explains how such negative racial attitudes as expressed in English theater contributed to racism against African women in particular, and helped justify their enslavement in America. The scholar is also careful to explain, though, how notions of race in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were different from what they have evolved into today. As Cristina Malcolmson wrote in a Clio review, the author feels "that race has a ‘fluidity,’ especially in early modern texts and culture, which requires specific analysis to understand its meaning and effect."

Peter Erikson, writing in the Renaissance Quarterly, had high praise for Women and Race in Early Modern Texts, asserting that "MacDonald combines this attentiveness to detailed micro-interpretation with an extraordinary range in the variety of critical resources at her command, from classical culture to contemporary African American studies, and she coordinates these resources with a firm but deft touch." Malcolmson had a few small reservations about the work, but similarly felt that MacDonald's achievement is considerable: "The book would benefit from the consideration of fewer texts and less condensed writing," observed Malcolmson, adding: "The extraordinary scope of the work made it at times difficult to follow. Nevertheless, it is filled with valuable analysis, and the central argument—that the idealization of white womanhood on stage facilitated the abuse of non-European enslaved women in the colonies—is a model for studies of the intersection of gender and race, and a major contribution to the field."



Clio, summer, 2004, Cristina Malcolmson, "Race and Early Modern Studies: The Power of an Illusion and Its Genesis," review of Women and Race in Early Modern Texts, p. 439.

Renaissance Quarterly, autumn, 2003, Peter Erikson, review of Women and Race in Early Modern Texts, p. 922.

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