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Security and Instability: Mary Wroth, the Cavendish Sisters, and Early Stuart Household Plays Open Access


Other title
women's writing
performance theory
seventeenth-century theatre
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Yakimyshyn, Lindsay J
Supervisor and department
Demers, Patricia (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Binhammer, Katherine (English and Film Studies)
Bowers, Rick (English and Film Studies)
Brown, Sylvia (English and Film Studies)
Cormack, Lesley (History and Classics)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The early Stuart household play belongs to a tradition of amateur-produced entertainment, promoting control, security and stability. Yet, it remains distinctive in its intimacy. This project focuses on three women, Lady Mary Wroth, Lady Jane Cavendish, and Lady Elizabeth Brackley, who produced household plays to re-negotiate and perform identity as they confronted multiple insecurities. Wroth’s Love’s Victory and Cavendish and Brackley’s The Concealed Fancies and “A Pastorall” capitalize on the intimacy of household theatre; therefore, these plays become productive case studies in an analysis of this underexamined mode. Performance theory, inflected by New Historicist, Feminist, Theatrical, and Architectural theory, enables the close examination of these plays and the performances associated with them. My analysis begins with a discussion of how intimacy differentiates the household theatrical mode from other contemporaneous forms. The ‘inward’ focus and intimate bonds associated with household plays facilitate limited liberty and mitigate insecurities associated with female participation in theatre. In particular, household theatre possesses a paradoxically inwardly-charged performativity that resolves itself through the intimate relationship between playwright, players, audience and space. The mutual influence of space and subjects becomes key to my analysis, as Wroth and the Cavendish sisters seek stability by re-imagining the patriarch-owned household space as their plays’ settings and theatrical performance sites. The second and third chapters of this thesis examine the ways in which Wroth and the Cavendish sisters explore and construct identity in and through their household plays. Examining the relationship between patriarchal absences and generic choice, the second chapter argues that these female playwrights react to instabilities in their positions by deploying the pastoral mode and harnessing the intimacy of the household theatrical mode. The third chapter continues to analyze identity negotiation and performance, but in relation to play. The meaning of play for a player is intertwined with the development and assertion of a self in a social context and, for Wroth and the Cavendish sisters, play allows for reflection upon and consolidation of shifting social identities. Broadening the study’s purview, the fourth chapter examines potential continuities between Wroth’s and the Cavendish sisters’ household plays and other female theatrical presences in the (extended) seventeenth century. Though the impetus for women to participate in drama and the form of that participation may vary, multiple insecurities pervade women’s early theatrical endeavors. Women’s engagement with dramatic composition and performance does not demonstrate a linear move towards increased gender subversion or towards the more ‘public’ theatrical spaces, and the final chapter of this thesis calls for renewed analysis of the place of women in seventeenth-century drama. Working to better define household theatre, this project presents a ‘thick description’ of three plays that exemplify the mode before considering the wider implications of the stakes for an author in deploying a particular dramatic mode.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Yakimyshyn, Lindsay. “Voicing the Feminine and the (Absent) Masculinity in The Concealed Fancies.” Women and the Gendering of Talk, Gossip and Communication Practices across Media. Ed. Sarah Burcon and Melissa Ames. McFarland Press. 2011. 75-89.

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