Date of Defense


Date of Graduation




First Advisor

Grace Tiffany

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Bradburn

Third Advisor

Jill Larson


The Renaissance stage provided a forum for the exploration and validation of strong capable women despite social restrictions that prevented them from being onstage. This claim is verified by the stalwart female characters found in the stage plays The Tragedy of Mariam, by Elizabeth Cary, The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster, and The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton. Though female characters were played by male actors during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods of English history, this didn’t hinder the fact that representations of women onstage defied the cultural expectations and perceptions of their sex. As history suggests, change must come from outside of the minority group if it is to be taken seriously by those whom do not belong to that minority. Since male playwrights had significantly more freedom than women when it came to publishing and performing their works; paradoxically, audiences were more amenable to arguments expanding women’s roles when those arguments came from men. This is evidenced by the English public’s positive reception and acceptance of Webster and Middleton being that they were males writing powerful and intelligent female roles, The status of Cary’s play as a closet drama shows the reality of being a published female playwright at this point in history. The artistic medium of the play enabled an exploration, communication, and questioning of a woman’s traditional “place” in ways that would not have been possible in the world outside of the theater.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Restricted

Works CitedKNSM.pdf (274 kB)
Works Cited