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Cristina León Alfar

PhD English Literature, University of Washington, 1997

Professor Alfar's research interests include Early Modern Drama, particularly Shakespeare, and the intersections between literature, culture, gender, law, and politics. She teaches Shakespeare, late 15th and early 16th century English Drama, early modern English Women writers, and feminist theory.

Her new book project, entitled ‘Paper bullets of the brain’: Competing Narratives of Marital Betrayal in Shakespeare and Early Modern England, examines the narrative conflicts between men’s accusations of adultery against women and women’s responses to those accusations. William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida, Much Ado about Nothing, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Cymbeline, early modern English court records, marital complaints and private letters, form a series of cultural narratives that disclose the various motives for and strategies of men’s accusations and women’s practical and cogent answers. She argues that men’s and women’s conflicting narratives about marital betrayal give way to bonds between women that are formed by false accusations of adultery. In all the plays, female action and agency is produced out of the moment in which a woman loses the faith of her lover or husband, a moment which, drawing on Elizabeth Gross, Paul Ricouer, and Lisa Jardine, she calls an event.  In other words, just when we might expect women to be at their most powerless, their verbal rhetoric in fact shows them at their most powerful.  This is not to underestimate the power of Master Ford, Troilus, Claudio, Othello, Iago, Leontes, and Posthumus who bring damage, often fatal or near fatal, to their women.  However, it is to bring attention to female power, often enabled by women’s bonds with women, that allow the women steadily and increasingly to work against the violent power of the men and to alter the dramatic direction, energy, and matter of the plays.  Even in their representation of men’s violence against women, the plays stage a discursive shift in the early modern rhetoric on women’s virtue and power in their progression toward a definition of marital betrayal based on male faithlessness.

Her article, "'Let’s Consult together': Women’s Agency and the Gossip Network in The Merry Wives of Windsor” will appear in The Merry Wives of Windsor: New Critical Essays, edited by Evelyn Gajowski and Phyllis Rackin, Routledge, 2014.  For details and discounts, please see: The Merry Wives of Windsor: New Critical Essays flyer.

Professor Alfar served as the department chair from 2005-2014.

Selected Publications:

“‘Proceed in Justice’: Narratives of Marital Betrayal in The Winter’s Tale.” Justice, Women and Power in English Renaissance Drama. Eds. Andrew J. Majeski and Emily Detmer-Goebel. Madison and Teaneck, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson UP, 2009. 46-65.

“Elizabeth Cary’s Female Trinity: Breaking Custom with Mosaic Law in The Tragedy of Mariam.” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 3, (2008): 61-103.

“Looking for Goneril and Regan.” Privacy, Domesticity and Women in Early Modern England.  Ed. Corinne Abate. Aldershot, Hampshire,  UK: Ashgate, 2003. 167-198.

Fantasies of Female Evil: The Dynamics of Gender and Power in Shakespearean Tragedy. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2003.

“‘Blood Will Have Blood’: Power, Performance, and Lady Macbeth’s Gender Trouble.” Jx: A Journal in Culture and Criticism. 2.2 (1998): 179-207.

“King Lear’s ‘Immoral’ Daughters and the Politics of Kingship.” Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. 8.2 (1996): 375-400.

“Staging the Feminine Performance of Desire: Masochism in The Maid’s Tragedy.” Papers on Language and Literature. 31.3 (1995): 313-333.

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