Women and representational practice, 1642--1660

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dympna C. Callaghan


Women, Representational practice, Seventeenth century

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, British Isles | Theatre and Performance Studies


Women and Representational Practice, 1642-1660 , explores the transformation of women's relationship to culture and politics during the English Civil Wars and Protectorate. Setting women's representational practices against the canonical literature of the Renaissance and Restoration throughout, I examine the strategies women used to insert themselves into a temporarily destabilized social order. The marginal texts of mid-century Englishwomen cast into sharpest outline questions of representation and authority implicit in the canon and challenge conventional period demarcations to provide a fresh perspective on both the Renaissance and the Restoration.

In chapter one, "Going Naked for a Sign" I take up women's popular performance and suggest that the legitimization of women's participation in Restoration drama could be achieved only through the suppression of other realms of female performative practice. "Monstrous Births and the Body Politic" explores the representational tactics women used to enter the fierce public debates surrounding the regicide of Charles I and the misogynist reactions against such political engagements. I set Elizabeth Poole's enthusiastic addresses to the Army next to a number of satiric pamphlets that deflate, through ridicule, the specter of women's political participation.

"Enter Ianthe Veil'd" examines the first appearance of a woman on the commercial stage in order to draw out the connections between women's increased cultural visibility in the Restoration and their decreased political agency within the context of burgeoning Empire. "Margaret Cavendish, Shakespeare Critic" looks at women's role in the development of bardolatry examining Cavendish's fraught contribution to a "restored" cultural economy. I emphasize the historically contingent nature of the gendered "aura surrounding "The Bard" as I outline the transfiguration of authorship and canonicity that occurred with the demise of the Commonwealth regime and restoration of the monarchy. "Cleopatra Restored" examines John Dryden's reinvented Cleopatra in order to determine what this radically modified character has to teach us about modern forms of female subjection. I conclude by calling for a reconsideration of the revolutionary potentials of seventeenth-century feminisms.


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