Date of Award

Spring 2006

Project Type


Program or Major

English Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Douglas M Lanier


The dramatic works of Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson register a certain type of male character who is capable of discerning listening, an action that becomes an agent of specific masculine authority and identity. However, rumor's inherent ambiguity and indeterminacy poses the greatest threat to discerning listening. The paradox that emerges is that while the drama posits men as superior authors of information, it is men---and not women---who are responsible for the circulation of unauthorized information and rumor on the stage. Early modern literary and cultural discourses repeatedly pointed to the dangers of loose tongues and transgressive speech, and such idle chatter was consistently gendered female. Male characters continually attempt to disown their own loose speech by placing women and their gossip as the true threat to informational authority. As early modern drama exposes transgressive male talk and a male anxiety of informational access, men must seek to maintain their informational authority from male unauthorized speech. This dissertation traces a shift in concerns about the female tongue to the male tongue and how discerning listening became a necessary component in the establishment and maintenance of authorial identity on the early modern stage.

I claim that rumor is an omnipresent and diffuse cultural, social, political, and theatrical issue with extreme consequences for male sovereignty. As certainty and truth break down through the workings of rumor, so too do the received notions of masculine identity. Furthermore, female characters with their authorizing ears are often seen exercising agency on the early modern stage in what I call female aural environments, where careful listening, rather than excessive speech and gossip, becomes a vehicle for uncovering truth. I contend that the early modern theater is a theater of rumor and early modern drama exposes the cultural reality of male speech gone astray, making the case for the necessity of becoming a discerning earwitness amid the buzz of the realm.