English Department | University of Texas | Arlington

The Hatted Woman and Her Unhurried History in Early Modern Ballads Abstract

Elizabeth Mazzola, The City University of New York

Along with the radical ideas about women’s liberty, resilience, and practical savvy which surprisingly recur in many early modern ballads is the woodcut image of a hatted female figure. Operating quickly and capably, this female figure’s hat seems to seal her up, keeping her safe and guarding her on her way. This essay explores her various appearances in numerous cheaply printed texts which describe female experiences of being lost, hidden, or on the move in open spaces with sympathy, humor, and surprising admiration. The hatted woman’s repeated appearances across a variety of stories challenge assumptions that popular culture is something uniform or homogeneous. At the same time, audiences for these stories see few barriers to early modern freedom and equality on London’s streets, where scores of unchaperoned women wriggle through standard classifications as wives, widows, or maids. Just as remarkable is the way ideas about male power seem to explode or deflate in ballads about the hatted women. Feminism in these early modern ballads stretches its muscles outdoors, sneaks up on men, or sometimes merely flows around them.