Date of Award

Spring 1999

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Elizabeth H Hageman


This dissertation argues that seventeenth-century drama by women should be analyzed as a public discursive practice rather than as privatized "closet drama." This study focuses on class in order to delineate the texts' participation in public modes of representation and offers post-marxist readings as an alternative to the gynocritical/biographical model that dominates criticism on literature by women of the early modern period.

Chapter one of this dissertation problematizes separate spheres ideology, lest texts by women become separated from the economic sites that inform them. I consider the ideological importance of generic conventions, arguing that conventions of tragedy and comedy are often naturalized into signifiers of female characters' resistance to patriarchal socio-economic conscription. I link the ideas of homology and symbolic capital, both of which serve as a means of articulating the function of class in a study of women's texts. Part one of the dissertation, "Class Difference," considers two dramatic texts by aristocratic women: Mary Wroth's Loves Victory in chapter two and Margaret Cavendish's The Lady Contemplation in chapter three. Both texts strategically pit against each other two characters at opposite ends of the social spectrum. This mode of creating privilege---excluding a lower-class other---in turn constitutes a classed position for the author-functions of the texts. Part two, "Class Consciousness," considers the flip-side. of the notion of difference by focusing on which classed concerns might produce certain representational choices. Chapter four, which treats Elizabeth Cary's Tragedie of Mariam, considers the material bases of the text's ideological investment in its title character's status as symbolic capital by stressing the discursive saliency in the text of the connections among chastity, class, speech, and publicity. Chapter five extends this mode of reading for class by analyzing four restoration comedies---Fances Boothby's Marcelia , and Aphra Behn's The Rover, Parts I and II and The feign'd Curtizans,---each of which notes the role of money in determining a gendered class identity. The availability of both women and money reified as the same circulating object guarantees the (inferior) economic place of the woman within a male economy.