Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Re-presenting the female body in seventeenth-century drama : the plays of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, and Aphra Behn
Author: D'Monte, Rebecca Ann
Awarding Body: Birkbeck (University of London)
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2000
Availability of Full Text:
Access through EThOS:
This thesis explores the links between female agency and representations of the body in the seventeenth century, with specific reference to the plays of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (c. 1623-1673), and Aphra Behn (1640-1689). Although one was an aristocrat who wrote unperformed plays from the latter years of the Interregnum onwards and the other can be considered an impoverished adventuress who became one of the first female professional playwrights after the Restoration, both of these dramatists engage with some of the deep underlying anxieties of the age. Taking as my starting point the idea that the female body is a moveable token in society, used to express fears of social and political instability, I argue that Cavendish and Behn show themselves highly cognizant of pre-existing constructs of femininity, such as the chaste, silent, obedient woman, the learned lady, the Amazon and the seductive whore. However, both dramatists also utilize these constructs to re-present the female body as a source of strength and agency. Using a methodology informed by recent critical approaches to the Renaissance, the body and feminism, I look at five specific areas. Two of these - representations of the female body and aspects of bodily harm in the plays of Cavendish and Behn - alert us to ways in which women were disempowered during this period. The final three chapters consider the ways in which the female body is refigured by the two writers in a more empowering way, particularly in relation to the key areas of sexuality, staging and gender. An analysis of their plays thus illuminates for us a number of crucial and related issues: bodily harm in relation to male appropriations of the female body; negotiations of female desire in terms of redefining chastity and marriage; the use of display and performance as a way of re-presenting the body; notions of sexuality and gender, including lesbianism, cross-dressing and androgyny, and how these relate centrally to the role of the woman writer.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available