Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Travis Williams


This dissertation analyzes depictions of effeminacy and anxiety surrounding masculinity in early modern drama. Effeminacy is a frequently used term in the literature of the period, occurring seven times in Shakespeare alone. For my research, I combine literary analysis and performance criticism. I consulted the National Theatre Archives in London and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford to analyze performances of early modern plays. Effeminacy is a wide-reaching mode of being that makes several layers of meaning. For royals and men of rank, the presumption of effeminacy is a danger to the realm. In Roman historical drama, effeminacy stands in for the decay of the state of Rome, as well as offering implications for the early modern era in which the plays were written. But for youths and in comedy, effeminacy can be an anxiety-provoking but not always harmful phase that leads men from immaturity to maturity. Chapter One analyzes early modern conduct books in conjunction with Sir Philip Sidney’s The Old Arcadia. This chapter provides an overview of the standards of masculine behavior expected for noblemen. Chapter Two moves to a discussion of Renaissance appropriations of Roman history, with an analysis of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Ben Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall. It builds on the discussion of gender expectations. Chapter Three continues the evaluation of historical drama by examining two English history plays, Shakespeare’s Richard II and Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. By analyzing two English kings often described as effeminate, I interrogate the role of effeminacy in Renaissance audiences’ relationship to the monarchy. Finally, I consider what happens when effeminacy is played for laughs. In Chapter Four, I discuss two Shakespearean comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It. I analyze the subjugation and humiliation of the male characters in these plays and discover how effeminacy can play a role in shaping adult male sexuality.



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