In the spring of 1468, a special jeu – probably taking the form of a theatrical representation in verse – was mounted in the courtyard of the Dominican convent of Metz. This performance portrayed the life of Saint Catherine of Siena, the charismatic urban visionary and reformer who had been canonised just seven years before. Two living women shaped the play, however, both of them also called Catherine: an actor who played the saint, and a patron who sponsored the performance. This event and its female creators point to a richness of female practice in contrast with the old stereotype of the “all-male stage”. This first section thus introduces the historical Catherines who anchor the book as well as the performance methodology used to access their hidden lives and activities beyond the play. It integrates theories of bodily performance with new approaches to patronage, personal devotion, and drama; this enables a broader picture of women’s contributions to late-medieval public life and urban culture. Women’s lives must be studied within a wider social and cultural framework to uncover the full scope of public performance that the Catherines and other women engaged in.
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