Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Arthur F. Marotti


This project hypothesizes that the early modern stage witch's grotesque femininity and her masculine presumption of agency were the effective signifiers of the feminine covert, what men fantasized about the reproductive secrets of womanhood and their control over the feminine activities. My investigation of late Elizabethan and Jacobean drama indicates that the fictional witch is postulated as the negative example of female fertility and feminine nurture: the witch not only interferes in the natural process of fertility in humans as well as in nature but she also contaminates maids and mistresses with her mismanagement and overconsumption of household resources. I suggest that the early modern stage appropriated the historical witch, the anti-mother, and cast her as the anti-housewife whose negative example was to discipline femininity and domesticate housewives.

In "Titus Andronicus and Catering for Bloody Banquets: the Witch in the Kitchen," I postulate Tamora as anti-mother and Titus as anti-wife: while the queen of Goths defiles nature and nurture, Titus literalizes the fright in the feminine by cooking and serving a cannibalistic banquet. The text encodes the witch on Tamora's eroticized maternal body and in Titus' feminine labor and control in the kitchen. In "Is There a Witch in this Text?: the Troubling Provenance of the Witch of Brainford in The Merry Wives of Windsor," I illustrate how the wives, using a local witch's garb and cuckold's horns, dissipate the male fantasies of witchery and cuckoldry while the numen of the "fairy queen" disciplines, remedies, and harmonizes the elements of communal dis-eases. Chapter Three, "Imaging the Witch at the Table: the Abominable Belly of Middleton's Women," examines the gustatory and sexual appetite of indolent housewives--daughters of the witch--who destroy the middle-class aspiration of the fair banqueting house. In "The Covenant Staged: Jugglers, Conjurers, and Skeptics on the Early Modern Stage," I investigate the theater's epistemological dilemma in appropriating the violent fantasies of the witch-hunt, detecting an interpretive agency in staging the witch.