This paper examines the reversals of gender in Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger’s play The Virgin Martyr (1622) in light of early modern scientific notions of the female body. Like well-known female martyrs from the period, such as Anne Askew, the protagonist, Dorothea, takes on characteristically male attributes: she assumes the role of the soldier and defies scientific understanding of the female gender by sealing her phlegmatic “leaky” body and exuding divine heat that defies her cold, wet “nature”. These gender reversals, from Dorothea and other characters, illustrate how the act of martyrdom could be interpreted not only as a miraculous performance, a “witness” to the divine, but one built on sensational, seemingly impossible performances of gender.
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