Older women in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama
This thesis explores the presentation of older women on stage from 1558-1625, establishing that the character is predominantly pictured within the domestic sphere, as wife, mother, stepmother or widow. Specific dramatic stereotypes for these roles are identified, and compared and contrasted with historical material relating to older women. The few plays in which these stereotypes are subverted are fully examined. Stage nurse and bawd characters are also older women and this study reveals them to be imaged exclusively as matching stereotypes. Only four plays, Peele’s The Old Wives Tale, Fletcher’s Bonduca, and Antony and Cleopatra and The Winter’s Tale, by Shakespeare, reject stereotyping of the central older women. The Introduction sets out the methodology of this research, and Chapter 1 compares stage stereotyping of the older woman with evidence from contemporary sources. This research pattern is repeated in Chapters 2-4 on the older wife, mother and stepmother, and widow, and subversion of these stereotypes on stage is also considered. Chapter 5 reveals stereotypical stage presentation as our principal source of knowledge about the older nurse and bawd. Chapter 6 examines the subtle, yet comprehensive, rejection of the stereotypes. The Conclusion summarises the academic and ongoing cultural relevance of this thesis.