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The Fall of the Female Protagonist in Early Modern English Domestic Drama Open Access


Other title
early modern
domestic drama
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Pratt, Stacey
Supervisor and department
Brown, Sylvia (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Lemire, Beverly (History and Classics)
Demers, Patricia (English and Film Studies)
Benson, Sean (English)
Bowers, Rick (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
My dissertation offers an innovative reading of three early modern domestic tragedies, Arden of Faversham, A Woman Killed with Kindness, and Othello, exploring parallels with the archetypal domestic tragedy of Adam and Eve through early modern commentaries on Genesis. Puritans, for whom marriage was godly, nevertheless expressed lingering discomfort about sexuality as fallen. While critics have asserted domestic drama does not follow a homiletic formula, I maintain the domestic tragedies use an early modern understanding of the marriage of Adam and Eve to inform and to convey the import of a new genre. My main concern is the fall of the adulterous wife in a dramatic and a moral sense. I argue the wife is made the primary transgressor in the plays and punished with death. In choosing these plays, I also attempt to account for the paradoxically sympathetic portrayal of the adulterous wife. In my first chapter on Arden of Faversham, I attempt to reconstruct the scene of the crime, Alice’s adultery and murder of her husband, Arden, and the Fall in the context of Faversham as a local producer of apples, with Alice as a scapegoat for Eve. In my second chapter on A Woman Killed with Kindness, I turn my attention to the metaphors of the rib and one flesh, and their implications for marital separation. Anne’s adultery leads simultaneously to a breakdown in marriage and in the metaphor of one flesh. Through the smashing of Anne’s lute and her subsequent starvation, the play suggests the one flesh view of marriage is insufficient in the face of the social problems caused by adultery. In my third chapter, I propose Othello as a variation on the treatment of the adulterous wife. Desdemona is killed despite being completely innocent. I examine references to Adam and blackness to argue the primary concern in Othello is not race, as critics have sometimes assumed, but Othello’s lineal connection to Adam as a progenitor of sin. I hope to contribute to both feminist and genre criticism of the drama, changing the way we read the wives in the plays by showing how they rival the male protagonist in dramatically charged moments for the attention and sympathy of the audience.
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. 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.
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