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Drama Queens: Performance, Gender, and Power in Spenser and Marlowe Open Access


Other title
Edmund Spenser
Christopher Marlowe
Elizabeth I
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Sheckter, Jennifer L
Supervisor and department
Bowers, Rick (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Gay, Day (English and Film Studies)
Demers, Patricia (English and Film Studies)
Kitchen, John (History and Classics)
Reimer, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
Cheney, Patrick (English, Penn State University)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
As renaissance prince, godly virgin, mother to the nation, and above all, masterful politician, Elizabeth I's multivalent political performances made her the ultimate drama queen. Through such self-conscious performances Elizabeth crafted a composite role formed from gendered images of authority in order to create a conceptual space from which to govern. Like the perennially threatened borders of her realm however, this "conceptual space was inevitably a battleground, because in the performance of her power Elizabeth ... repeatedly crossed her society's unstable gender distinctions" (Frye, Representation, viii). My doctoral dissertation investigates the sovereign’s performative, gendered persona as reflected in the allegorical envisioning of Edmund Spenser, and challenged by the popular, politically charged drama of Christopher Marlowe. Presenting feminist expansion on Patrick Cheney's groundbreaking hypothesis that Marlowe's work was structured in self-conscious competition with his literary rival, Edmund Spenser, I demonstrate that the characterizations of the often-overlooked women in Marlowe’s plays function as direct counter-genre to those of Spenser's female characters in The Faerie Queene (1590). In so doing, I also challenge the widely held assumption that Marlowe presents "a world of relatively uncomplicated gender roles in which emotions are the preoccupation of women, and power the preserve of men” (Gibbs, 164). Extending recent investigations crediting the behavior of Marlowe’s female characters as more nuanced than a series of stereotypical sketches, (Deats, 2002, Chedgzoy, 2004; Hopkins, 2009), I argue that Marlovian women adapt socially-significant behaviors in an aggregate process that anticipates Judith Butler’s description of the performative as a dramatic "construction of meaning ... through a stylized repetition of acts" (Gender Trouble,190; 191). Gendered imaginatively with the contemporary British monarch and responding to Spenser’s precedent-setting typologies, Marlowe presents his female characters as engaged in iterative performances of power. Organized thematically around interrelated aspects of Elizabeth I's public and political persona, my dissertation counterpoints Spenser’s officially sanctioned but nevertheless critical representations of the monarch against Marlowe’s subtly subversive imaginings. Beginning with iii Elizabeth I’s famous image as the virgin queen, I explore Spenser’s virtuous Una in conjunction with Marlowe’s darkly comic portrayal of Abigail in The Jew of Malta. I follow with consideration of Elizabeth’s romantic courtship in relation to the misadventures of Spenser’s Belphoebe and Marlowe’s tragic Dido. The magic of language and the instability of gender are the focus of my third chapter centering on Spenser's Amoret and Marlowe's Mephostophilis, while marriage and identity are the topic of my subsequent inquiry into the representations of Florimell and Zenocrate of the Tamburlaine plays. Figurations of Elizabeth as warrior queen are addressed through Spenser’s iconic Britomart and Marlowe’s bellicose Isabella from Edward II. I conclude with an analysis of Elizabeth’s approach to her greatest rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, examining the characterizations of the Scottish Queen in Spenser’s Duessa and Mutabilitie, and Marlowe’s malevolent Queen Catherine from The Massacre at Paris. Through these gendered, suggestive, and occasionally inter-textual associations, I demonstrate that where Spenser envisioned a multi-faceted woman of power, and in so doing created an epic Elizabethan worldview, Marlowe scripted lines of drama that put such drama queens into political play.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Sheckter, Jennifer L. “Perform to Power: Isabella’s Performative Self-Creation in Edward II.” Marlowe Studies: An Annual 3 (2013): 129-49. Print.

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