Women's negotiation of power in early modern ballads, prose romances, and plays
This study is an exploration of how women of the middling sort negotiate power in early modern English literature. I am specifically interested in how women of the merchant class within the middling sort negotiated power within the domestic sphere. Women of the merchant class occupied a liminal position in the civic hierarchy. While those from wealthy families were enjoined from both the pulpit and the marriage manual to contribute to the financial well being of the family in whatever capacity they could, their social position allowed them the time to pursue to leisure activities such as reading sonnets, prose romances, and especially the Bible, indulging in shopping sprees in London, attending the theater, or gadding about town, which was particularly frowned upon by religious and civic authorities. In general, I am interested in determining the capacity of women in the middling sort to negotiate the power that they have both as wives and as women within a particular social formation. Their social position clearly provided them opportunities to negotiate power that did not extend to women below their class position.^ In chapter one I discuss how the proliferation of the publication and sale of broadside ballads function as an index of the literacy of the middling sort, especially women who figure centrally in Thomas Deloney's Garland of Good Will. Tellingly, this collection of ballads provides a range of portrayals of women from the middling sort to the aristocracy who asserted their agency by taking up a subject position against early modern patriarchy. These women encompass Jane Shore, the daughter of a merchant, Queen Isabella, who took up arms against the Spensers because of their illicit sexual violation to Edward, her husband, Judith of Old Testament fame who decapitated Holofernes, nemesis of the Israelites, and even Elizabeth herself. Each of these women, with the exclusion of Elizabeth, presented as having highly individuated personalities, who refuse to acquiesce in their patriarchal appointed role in the civic hierarchy.^ Chapter two concerns the representations of women in Thomas Deloney's prose romances depict who are actively engaged in business activities and have a clearly defined of their importance as women of the middling sort who held powerful positions as wives of the merchant class.^ Chapter three concerns women's negotiation of power in Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday and William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. In The Shoemaker's Holiday I contrast the representation of Simon Eyre's wife Margery and that of the much more engaged one in Deloney's The Gentle Craft. In The Shoemaker's Holiday sartorial codes are of paramount importance because they function as an index of one's place in the social hierarchy. Finally, in Much Ado About Nothing, the female body as much as any print text becomes a text to be read or interpreted by men, but they find it unintelligible because they are not good "readers" of the bodily text/sex. ^
History, European|Women's Studies|Literature, English
William Reginald Rampone,
"Women's negotiation of power in early modern ballads, prose romances, and plays"
Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access).