Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Grace Tiffany, Ph.D.
Beth Bradburn, Ph.D.
Scott Slawinski, Ph.D.
Russell Bodi, Ph.D.
Gender studies, insults, Renaissance drama, Shakespeare
On the early modern stage, gendered epithets like “strumpet,” “mermaid,” “minx,” “hobby horse,” “courtesan,” “drab,” and “whore” are not just markers of misogyny. Instead, these insults harm the male user as well as their female target. My cross-playwright and cross-genre connections show the complex, wide use and impact of anti-woman terms. A wide-ranging study of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries reveals that gendered insults signify masculine mental decline in tragedies as well as comedies and tragicomedies. In tragedy, the increasingly violent language of male slur users – like, for example, the frustrated Othello, who declares, of his wife, “I will chop her into messes. Cuckold me?” (4.1.202) – expresses a psychological deterioration that is exacerbated by the use of anti-female epithets and is supported by a toxic system of male supporters. Violent words lead to violent actions. The word “whore” is an especially potent trigger for a male character. Once he says “whore,” he thinks “whore,” and aims to destroy the woman whom he regards as the source of his sexual and social humiliation. Comedies and tragicomedies, however, offer a chance for masculine redemption, and present female characters who can withstand and refute insults. Tragicomedies go so far as to present a benevolent and feminine Providence to which the wise character, abandoning his controlling ways, submits himself.
Xaver, Savannah, "Anti-Woman Invective on the Early Modern Stage: Abuse, Degradation, and Resistance" (2023). Dissertations. 3955.