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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

1-1-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

English

First Advisor

Arthur Marotti

Abstract

Literary scholars consider Jonson's treatment of women "uninspiring" and "misogynistic." Surprisingly enough, however, there are no studies of Jonson's women to verify this categorization. This dissertation addresses the oversight, analyzing the female characters in the plays Jonson wrote during the Elizabethan period and revealing what prevailing scholarship has missed in Jonson's work: his individuated and layered characterizations of women, his playful use of gender and use of playful gender, his destabilization of gender as an identity category. With each play and each female character Jonson created as guides, I dismantle the standard consensus on Jonson and women and challenge the generalizations limited focus on and analysis of his texts continues to perpetuate.

Attention to his representations of women is not only relevant but long overdue. The texts themselves reward that attention: in description and in detail, with the idiosyncratic speech and behavior patterns, the dramatic women differ recognizably from one another and from the idealizing or disparaging stereotypes traditionally populating Elizabethan plays. The interplay between theatrical verisimilitude (staged realism dependent on the layers of identity which include to whom characters speak, the content of that speech, and in which situation in which they find themselves...both in Jonson's plays and in Jonson's career) and social performance construction (the concept of socially manufactured and artificial norms determining gender identity) energizes my analysis of Jonson's theatrical and historical women.

This dissertation provides a first step toward a comprehensive treatment of Ben Jonson's female characters, patrons and performers and reveals that Jonson was much more innovative, open, realistic, and sensitive to gender identity, representation, and agency than has been allowed (or can be expected when so few of Jonson's plays are actually considered.) By presenting the complete spectrum of Jonson's representations and interactions with women in his Elizabeth plays, I not only correct distortions about this major author but also I provide the groundwork to reevaluate feminist Shakespearean commentary. Jonson's experimentation leads to a reconceptualization of representable gender and the evolution of dramaturgical realism, developments that culminate, of course, in modern dramatic art.