Attitudes to women in Jacobean drama
Dusinberre, Juliet (1969) Attitudes to women in Jacobean drama. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.
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Official URL: http://webcat.warwick.ac.uk/record=b1732841~S15
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 marriage, 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 venom. 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|
|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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