Schofield, Katherine Butler. “The Courtesan Tale: Female Musicians and Dancers in Mughal Historical Chronicles, c. 1556-1748.” Gender & History, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2012, pp. 150-171.

Abstract: There are many problems in trying to construct a history of female musicians and dancers in Mughal North India. Such women appear frequently in Mughal writings and apparently played an important role in elite society; there is clearly much we can learn from such sources about gender and class in the empire generally, as well as female performers more specifically. However, what evidence we have is written from the perspective of their male patrons and cast according to long-standing rhetorical and cultural conventions concerning the fateful roles of music and love in historical events. In this article I examine how Mughal historical chronicles transform named female performers into stereotyped agents of the downfall of noblemen. Using the stories of several historical courtesans, I demonstrate how stock topoi of desire, enslavement, longing, rebellion, danger, fate and above all musical and erotic power, were used to shape all stories of courtesans into tragic cautionary tales. I aim to show that the ‘fictive’ elements of Mughal courtesan tales furthermore reveal important cultural truths about the role and meanings of music in Mughal male society.


Leave a Reply