Queer Residue

For our reading group on 14th December we discussed Simone Chess’s ‘Queer Residue: Boy Actors’ Adult Careers in Early Modern England’, chosen by Sam Jermy. You can read about other past reading groups here.

Chess’s article explores the possibility of locating and identifying the residues of queer and trans performances across early modern texts, stages, and historical lives. Considering the limitations of drawing on material archives, Chess attempts to locate the ‘performative affects’ of three early modern boy actresses – Richard Sharpe, Richard Robinson, and Edward Kynaston – as they carry these affects with them into adult roles to consider the ephemeral queer residue that they leave behind that may not necessarily be found in tangible or material archives. 

If you’re short on time, focus on the opening pp.242-247, and the conclusion pp.258-59.   

Some prompt questions:  

  • Chess’s attention towards ephemera, residues, traces and affects suggests and resists some of the potential limitations of material archives, using a piece of blotting paper stained by rouge collected by police in the 1930s as evidence of homosexuality as an example (more details can be found on the National Archives blog). Are there other ways that this focus on ephemeral, limited, and perhaps even speculative evidence intersect with our own work?
Paper with traces of the make-up of William Knox collected by police (1938)
National Archives, CRIM 1/1041
  • Does Chess’s work help us to think of the ways that ‘the archive’ might preserve or erase certain kinds of evidence, as well as the ways that the traces of certain lives or materials can still persist? 
  • Rather than insisting on a core ‘queerness’ to the boy actresses discussed, Chess instead searches for queerness in the gestures, postures, bearing, timbre of voices, and gendered habits of these people. How might this more scattered notion of queerness affect our understanding of the ‘body’ and the ways that it is gendered through material and affective archives? 
  • Chess suggests that Sharpe, Robinson, and Kynaston and the various characters they perform might be reread as transfeminine or nonbinary presences. How might this impact on our understanding of the “crossdressed” boy actor? And, in what ways might these readings complicate the overlap between actors’ identities and the characters they perform? 

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