Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Feminism, Gender, Marriage, Queer theory, Renaissance England, Typology
Arts and Humanities
This dissertation illuminates how the hermeneutic of biblical typology influenced the conception of the female life cycle in early modern English literature, especially the social roles of maid, wife, and widow. Reading texts from a variety of genres and by both male and female authors, this dissertation argues that a typological understanding of marriage gave additional, spiritual import to those social roles, thus further upholding ideologies that defined women by their proximity to marriage. However, this dissertation also demonstrates how a typological understanding of marriage and the female life cycle could also be used to critique gender norms. After providing an introduction that overviews the theoretical premise of the dissertation, each chapter offers a reading of a text that demonstrates the purchase for early modern feminist and queer literary criticism of recognizing marriage’s typological implications.
My first chapter argues that Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton’s The Roaring Girl (1611) figures its titular character, Moll Cutpurse, as a secular prophet whose perpetual maidenhood, coupled with her prophetic speech, challenges the typological assumption that marriage advances Christian women towards a spiritually superior life stage. My second chapter argues that Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611) presents spiritual marriage as an alternative to earthly marriages, as well as a means through which her dedicatees might achieve typological spiritual ascent. My third chapter argues that by suggesting her act of publication is part of her performance as a Good Widow (a figure who remains chaste to her deceased husband despite his death), Dorothy Leigh avoids succumbing to the typologically and socially ambivalent associations of widowhood in The Mothers Blessing (1616). My fourth chapter argues that John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) proposes that a true, godly marriage cannot exist unless it adheres to the tenets of what I call “monist marriage”—a marriage wherein couples unite both body and soul for “mutual help” towards spiritual advancement. Milton’s argument also supports the right to divorce if couples find themselves in marriages that do not meet this definition.
Welshans, Melissa, "Wifely Figures: Gender, Marriage, and Biblical Typology in Early Modern England" (2017). Dissertations - ALL. 815.