Strange Things Out of Hair: Baldness and Masculinity in Early Modern England


Strange Things Out of Hair: Baldness and Masculinity in Early Modern England

By Anu Korhonen

Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol.41:2 (2010)

Abstract: In the recent history of masculinity, the male body has gained ground as a fresh field of interest, parallel in many ways to earlier emphases on the female body in women’s history. This article explores male baldness as a constituent of masculinity in early modern England. Drawing from printed texts of various genres, combined with evidence from diaries and (auto)biographical writings, it shows that baldness could have many meanings to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Englishmen. The article argues that the key contexts for understanding hair loss were age, health, and physical attractiveness—all linked to questions of honor and shame, but most often discussed with an ironic tone. Matters of outward appearance were deemed trivial, particularly in the case of men, and baldness too emerges as an ambiguous marker of masculinity—one best taken rather lightly.




Introduction: Reading early modern texts on baldness, one cannot escape noticing how insistently it is portrayed as a laughing matter. Is there anything serious to be said about the history of hair in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English culture? Encountered by countless men, and in its natural form gendered as exclusively male, baldness was certainly a constituent element of early modern masculinity. Yet it seems to have been so in a highly ironic way.

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