Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Jameela Lares

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Eric L. Tribunella

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Kay Harris

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Mark Dahlquist

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Joseph Navitsky

Committee Member 5 Department



This dissertation demonstrates that Shakespearean boyhood, both in early modern plays and contemporary reimaginings for young readers, critiques patriarchal and hegemonic ideals through the rhetoric and behavior of boy characters. Although critics have called Shakespeare’s boy characters indistinguishable, I find that they provide Shakespeare a unique resource to offer persuasive skepticism about heroic conventions, education, and political instability. This project begins by examining the lexical network of boy in order to chart its uses in early modern England. The subsequent three chapters establish how Shakespeare uses boys to comment on a range of ideal manhoods, such as the chivalrous knight, the Herculean hero, the humanist man of moderation, and several dramatic representations of the monarchy. Having established the diverse ways Shakespeare uses boy characters to negotiate masculine gender ideals, this project then investigates how Shakespearean boyhood is appropriated in contemporary children’s literature. I discover that the gender features regarding Shakespeare’s boys noted in previous chapters find expression in these later adaptations, and that the gender complexities that exist in Tudor-Stuart drama and culture appear in these boy books and point to a more fluid notion of gender identity than critics have hitherto considered.

Methodologically, this project draws on masculinity studies, childhood studies, and social histories of the family, as well as gender and adaptation theories to account for the boy’s analogous function in early-modern plays and contemporary novels. The larger significance of the project is in how it enhances our understanding of how Shakespeare conceived of boyhood in his plays and how such plays have been reconceived in contemporary boy books. By analyzing both the early modern representations and contemporary appropriations of Shakespearean boyhood, I first demonstrate how the playwright’s complex use of boyhood critically engages with some of the most pressing issues regarding early modern masculinity and offers compelling skepticism about conventional ideals of early modern manhood. Then, I establish how Shakespearean boyhood resurfaces in these adaptations when children’s authors likewise depict varied and complicated boys equally in dialogue with contemporary gender debates about boyhood.