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

  • Author / Creator
    Pratt, Stacey
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2014-11
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R31834D1K
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. 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.
  • Language
    English
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
    Doctoral
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Brown, Sylvia (English and Film Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Bowers, Rick (English and Film Studies)
    • Benson, Sean (English)
    • Lemire, Beverly (History and Classics)
    • Demers, Patricia (English and Film Studies)