The representation and development of the early modern subject in the disguised-ruler plays, 1604-1606 : a study of genre, gender and discourses of authority
The thesis offers the first extended study of the disguised ruler plays, which comprise: William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, John Marston's The Malcontent and The Fawn, Thomas Middleton's The Phoenix, John Day's Law Tricks, Edward Sharpham's The Fleer, Thomas Dekker's The Honest Whore, Part Two, Dekker and John Webster's Westward Ho, and the anonymous The London Prodigal, all of which were produced in the years 1604-1606. The thesis argues that the controlling questions of genre, gender, and authority articulate the construction of identity in the early modern period. After an introductory chapter which explores the critical history of the plays, Chapter Two sets out the theoretical basis for the thesis, arguing that the rival modes of expression generated in the plays simultaneously reveal and challenge the network of public discourses which defined the construction of the gendered subject as a dominated self. Chapter Three examines the role of the ruler-figure in the plays, a generic trait that highlights the self-theatricalization of power, examined in the light of contemporary non-dramatic literature and the evidence of speeches, trials, and official documents. Chapters Four and Five extend this argument by studying the role of the Church, and the institution of marriage, in maintaining a gender-specific social order. The thesis argues that comedy, with its emphasis on marriage at its conclusion, generally collaborates with the ideological expression of a social order that demands the visible confession and shaming of those who transgress. Chapter Six examines the substitutions enacted in the plays within the wider economics of exchange, drawing together the thesis' concerns and concluding that the plays reveal that comic order is restored by the denial of selfhood and the maintenance of a gendered hierarchy. The disguised ruler plays - which are themselves drawn together by a generic label that attempts to impose literary conformity - ultimately question the mode of comedy, and the social order in which they were produced.