Ursula Potter

Ursula Potter is an Honorary Associate with the Department of English, The University of Sydney, and an Honorary Associate Investigator (AI 2012–2013) with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Her interest in Elizabethan parenting practices and adolescent behaviour grew out of her early research on the role of drama in the Tudor school curriculum. Plays performed by boys can tell us much about parent-school issues, but they also have much to say about the way boys were introduced to female sexuality via prevailing Renaissance medical theories.  Early modern drama dealing with teenage girls exposes the conflicting aspirations and fears of parents as daughters approach sexual maturity. It challenges the role of the medical profession in England, and censures parents for mishandling of daughters. It also presumes a fascination by the theatre-going public with the young female body and the condition of green sickness, a disease affecting young virgins.

Green sickness shares many similarities with religious anorexia, a condition affecting increasing numbers of pubertal girls from godly families in seventeenth-century England. Historical medical and devotional evidence suggests the rise in religious anorexia at this time was related to Protestant doctrine on original sin and fear of menarche, the bloody issue of sin, as a sign of a corrupt body. The causes of green sickness remain unclear but may also be related to religious anxiety under the Reformation.


The University of Sydney


Interpreting Adolescent Fears in Early Modern Daughters

Green Sickness and Unruly Wombs on the Early Modern Stage

Related Publications

Potter, U. The Unruly Womb in Early Modern English Drama. Plotting Women’s Biology on the Stage. Late Tudor and Stuart Drama: Gender, Performance, and Material Culture Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2019.

Potter, U. ‘Menstruation and Coming of Age’. In Gender:Time, edited by K. Sellberg, pp. 185–200. Farmington Hills: Macmillan Reference USA, 2018.

Akrawi, D., R. Bartrop, L. Surgenor, S. Shanmugam, U. Potter and S. Touyz. ‘The Relationship between Spiritual, Religious and Personal Beliefs and Disordered Eating Psychopathology’. Translational Developmental Psychiatry 5.1 (April 2017).

Potter, U. ‘Navigating the Dangers of Female Puberty in Renaissance Drama. Shakespearean Criticism 168 (2016): 289–98. Reprinted from Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 53.2 (2013): 421–39.

Akrawi, D., R. Bartrop, U. Potter and S. Touyz. ‘Religiosity, Spirituality in Relation to Disordered Eating and Body Image Concerns: A Systematic Review’. Journal of Eating Disorders 3.29 (2015).

Potter, U. 'Navigating the Dangers of Female Puberty in Renaissance Drama'. Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 53.2 (2013):421–39.

Potter, U. ‘“No Terence Phrase: His Tyme and Myne Are Twaine”: Erasmus, Terence, and Censorship in the Tudor Classroom ’. In The Classics in the Medieval and Renaissance Classroom: The Role of Ancient Texts in the Arts Curriculum as Revealed by Surviving Manuscripts and Early Printed Books, edited by J. F. Ruys, J. O. Ward and M. Heyworth, pp. 365–89.  Turnhout: Brepols, 2013.

Potter, U. ‘Pubertal Process and Green sickness in Renaissance Drama'. Australasian Psychiatry 17.5 (2009):380–83.

Potter, U. ‘Elizabethan Drama and the Instruction of a Christian Woman by Juan Luis Vives’. In What Nature Does Not Teach: Didactic Literature in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods, edited by J. F. Ruys, pp. 261–86. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008.

‘Greensickness in Romeo and Juliet: Considerations on a Sixteenth-Century Disease of Virgins’, The Premodern Teenager, Youth in Society 1150–1650, edited by Konrad Eisenbichler, pp. 271–91. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, University of Victoria, 2002.

Parenting and Pedagogy in English Drama, 1560–1610. Thesis, The University of Sydney, 2001

Full list of publications

Book Review

Potter, U. Book Review of Misery to Mirth: Recovery from Illness in Early Modern England, by Hannah Newton (2018). Emotions: History, Culture, Society 3.2 (2019). Forthcoming.

Selected Presentations

Seminar: 'Unruly Wombs in Shakespeare and Fletcher', Shakespeare Summer School, Montpellier, France, 9–13 July 2018.

Conference seminar paper: ‘Women, Shakespeare and Performance’, British Shakespeare Association: Shakespeare Studies Today, Queen’s University Belfast, 14–17 June, 2018.

Conference Panel paper: 'Coding for Unruly Wombs in Shakespeare and Fletcher’, ANZSA 2018 conference, The University of Melbourne, 8–10 February 2018.

Invited Guest speaker: ‘Performing Education: School Drama as Tool and Product’, Theatres of Learning: Education in Early Modern England (1500–1750), Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, 15–17 October 2015.

Conference paper: ‘Conceived in Sin and Born in Sorrow’, ANZAMEMS 10th Biennial International Conference, UQ, 14–18 July 2015.

Presentation: ‘The Rise of Eating Disorders in Reformation England’, Sydney Medieval and Renaissance Group, Sydney, 9 October 2013. Invited.

Conference Presentation: ‘Starving for Salvation in the Seventeenth Century and Slimming for God in the Twenty-First Century: Considering the Historical Role of Religious Anxiety in the Onset of Eating Disorders Within the Australian Context’, 13th Biennial Conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine, ‘Antipodean Health: People, Places, Perceptions’, Darwin, Northern Territory, 2–5 July 2013. Invited.