Miss Conceptions

by Deirdre Kelly

photography by sofie kirk

“Many in our culture are just discovering girl fabulousness,” says Deanne Williams, a professor in York’s Department of English, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and a world authority on girls in the Renaissance, “but the phenomenon has a long genealogy and history, and I am uncovering that with my research.”

That research started in earnest with her critically acclaimed 2014 book, Shakespeare and the Performance of Girlhood, the first scholarly study devoted to Shakespeare’s girl characters and conceptions of girlhood. It deepened after Williams won a five-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant in 2014 for Girls and their Books in Early Modern England.

In both studies, Williams, a mother of two children, a son and a daughter, looked at the history of early modern girls as performers, patrons and authors, a topic she now will explore in more depth following the receipt of a prestigious 2018 Killam Research Fellowship from the Canada Council for the Arts in May. Williams will use the $70,000 award to undertake the first-ever study devoted to the history of the girl actor from the Middle Ages to the English Revolution, aided by research assistant and former graduate student Bernice Neal (PhD ’18).

“I want to challenge long-held assumptions about girls in Elizabethan times,” Williams says of the groundbreaking study that will take two years – “and a lot of archival research” – to finish. “I also want to look for lost girls, the girls history hasn’t wanted us to look at.”

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