Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2021

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

School

Humanities

Committee Chair

Christopher D. Foley, Ph.D.

Committee Chair School

Humanities

Committee Member 2

Jameela Lares, Ph.D.

Committee Member 2 School

Humanities

Committee Member 3

Nicolle Jordan, Ph.D.

Committee Member 3 School

Humanities

Abstract

Sir Thomas More is an English chronicle play that has received far less critical attention than generically similar histories written by Shakespeare. Doll Williamson, the play’s strongest female character, assumes a leadership position in initiating, as well as ultimately quelling, the Evil May Day riots, which provide the play’s initial dramatic impetus. Despite the critical tendency to overlook or diminish the seriousness of her dramatic role in the play, including in the staged insurrection scene, I argue in this thesis that we should take the concerns that Doll articulates and embodies seriously from a feminist perspective. Furthermore, I place Doll’s agential role in the play’s insurrection within the historical context of female civic agents who participated in, and sometimes even led, popular protests and other forms of communal resistance. In so doing, I demonstrate that Doll is not simply a farcical representation of gender-role transgression but a performative embodiment of the civic agency assumed by many early modern English women of the “poorer sort,” particularly in the context of enclosure and grain riots. As I suggest in my conclusion, the feminist reading of Doll Williamson presented herein invites scholars of the early modern period to reconsider conceptions of female agency in the English chronicle history play, especially in examples of the popular genre that fall outside of the traditional Shakespearean canon. Furthermore, in the post-script that follows my conclusion, I suggest that many of the issues considered in this thesis also continue to be relevant in the context of a twenty-first century geopolitics. They are reflected and embodied in the acts of civic agency performed by women organizing community protests worldwide, from the Niger Delta to Standing Rock.

Available for download on Friday, March 31, 2023

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