Date of Award

Fall 1997

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Asp, Carolyn

Second Advisor

Stephens, James

Third Advisor

Rivero, Albert


This dissertation examines the phenomenon of women who disguise themselves as men in three 17th century dramas--Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1602), Middleton and Dekker's The Roaring Girl (1611), and Wycherley's The Plain Dealer (1674). My work employs a dual approach, benefiting equally from textual analysis and from reconstructing performance history. Chapters I through IV offer a close textual reading of each play, using both psychoanalytic and feminist criticism to examine issues such as the female characters' sense of identity, the roles they fulfill within patriarchal society, their quest for autonomy and self-definition, their sexuality, and the impact the above have on the characters' relationships to other characters. Chapters V through VII showcase the results of first-hand performance reconstruction, tracing the evolution of each play's performance and reception. Each play's performance history is then paired with the textual analysis offered in earlier chapters in order to discern whether the textual readings are privileged in stage performance. Although there is a great deal of secondary information on 17th century drama, particularly that of Shakespeare, there is relatively little which focuses on the notions of disguise which are apparent in many Renaissance and Restoration dramas. Feminist and psychoanalytic theories are more frequently applied to 17th century texts than ever before, but much remains to be explored regarding what assuming a disguise says about a female character's own sense of identity and the societal roles that she is either willing or unwilling to assume. This dissertation draws from psychoanalytic and feminist theories of identity and examines what the assumption of male disguise expresses, as well as the larger implications which are found when a woman adopts an alternative gender role. The compiled performance histories of Twelfth Night, The Roaring Girl, and The Plain Dealer complement the textual analysis. Determining the frequency and location of productions as well as the manner in which each of these plays has been produced allows each drama to become multi-dimensional. We are able to see how actors and directors privileged specific readings of the work, sometimes reinforcing the established social order and at other times challenging it. When taken together, textual analysis and performance history allow us to experience each drama more fully and exactly. The full spectacle of drama, with its many potent sights and sounds, begins to rise above the printed text, providing us with a more solid understanding of each play's potency and social power.



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