Susan Frye’s excellent work, Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England examines the many ways in which early modern women’s work in text and textiles re-defined femininity. In this passage she examines the ways in which Giacomo and Innogen speak of different material objects to symbolize Innogen and her body in Cymbeline.
“Innogen’s own language picks up on the extent to which textiles have become metonymic of her body when Pisanio shows her the letter in which Posthumus orders her murdered for her infidelity. But Innogen envisions herself as a completely worked garment rather than the blank sheet of chastity on which a man might write. Before she begs Pisanio to carry out her husband’s order, she castigates herself for having lost Posthumus’s faith in her, calling herself “a garment out of fashion,” which, too “rich” to be translated into a wall hanging, must be reduced to rags: “And, for I am richer than to hang by th’ walls,/ I must be ripp’d:--to pieces with me!” (3.4.50-53). As a garment too elaborately made--too complete in its own identity to be cut up and translated into a wall hanging--Innogen must be ritually destroyed, ripped to pieces. To Giacomo, she may be the blank white of the sheet, but Innogen sees herself in terms of luxurious, colorful textiles, even as she imagines herself as that rich cloth ripped to pieces” (186).
In this project we’re looking at ways of re-defining the “blank page” of femininity, and it is exciting to see that redefinition happening as the texts are being written. What other characters use textiles as metaphors for themselves? Or for other characters? And what does it say about them?
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