Attitudes to women in Jacobean drama
Dusinberre, Juliet (1969) Attitudes to women in Jacobean drama. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.
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The prominence of women in Jacobean drama is
immediately evident. Jacobean dramatists excel in their
depiction of courtship and marriage, in their evocation of London
life and city women, and in their analysis of female character.
This concern with women is new to the drama, and is most marked,
and most fruitful in the plays written between 1590 and 1625.
The major dramatists of the Jacobean period - Shakespeare,
Webster, Jonson, Middleton, Marston, Heywood, Dekker, Chapman,
and Beaumont and Fletcher - share attitudes to women, but their
sensitivity to conflicting ideas, and eagerness to spell out their
own assumptions, suggests that the similarity is not merely conventional.
Their treatment of women implies confidence in their
audience's involvement in the issues on which they focus.
The Puritans, preaching to the same audience as the
dramatists write for, promote liberal attitudes to women by
following through the implications in the Protestant and Humanist
ideal of chaste marriage. The dramatists echo them in disapproving
of virginity as an end in itself, and in exalting sexual passion in
in opposing inhumane practices such as forced marriage,
and in pointing out that a wife's obedience to her husband is conditional
on his treatment of her.
The dramatists hark back to Humanists such as More,
Erasmus and Vives in their distrust of romantic excess, both in
adulterous situations, and in courtship. They portray individual
women who fulfil Humanist convictions about women's rational
and intellectual equality with men.
The drama reflects contemporary uneasiness at women's
liberty in a society where economic change alters a wife's
relation to her husband's work, and where an impoverished gentry
seeking middle-class wealth creates a booming marriage market.
The dramatists expose both female presumption and male
alarmism. They recognize the bid for independence of women
who join Puritan sects (ridiculed as disreputable in the drama),
or who ape masculine dress; their defence of masculine-feminines
is in part a defence of theatrical practice against Puritan extremists.
The abundance of stock medieval satire on women in
Jacobean drama seems at first misleadingly at variance with
liberal attitudes to women. The dramatists give it a coherent
dramatic function by attributing it to groups of characters whose
way of life, or associations for the audience, neutralise its
Convinced that women are as capable of virtue as men,
the dramatists concentrate on the causes of adultery and whoredom,
whether they lie in witchcraft, or in special pressures - the
temptations of money and social status, the corruption of Court life, the condition of womanhood - which operate against women.
They attack the double standard by dividing moral responsibility
equally between seducer and seduced, and by implicating the
husband in the adulteress's guilt.
Shakespeare shares his contemporaries' attitudes to
women, but integrates them into his realisation of individual
character. He shows how preconceptions about women in general
damage individuals, and limit the experience of love.
The dramatists’ close contact with conflicting ideals and
prejudices relating to women outside the theatre contributes to
the richness and vitality of Jacobean drama.
|Item Type:||Thesis or Dissertation (PhD)|
|Subjects:||P Language and Literature > PR English literature|
|Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):||English drama -- 17th century -- History and criticism, Women in literature -- History -- 17th century, Marriage in literature -- History -- 17th century|
|Official Date:||September 1969|
|Institution:||University of Warwick|
|Theses Department:||Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies|
|Supervisor(s)/Advisor:||Hunter, G. K.|
|Extent:||iv, 299 leaves|
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