Women as Threat in French and English Drama ( 1553-1610)

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Leila Goulahsen


This thesis establishes the extent to which theatrical treatments of the notion of women as threat, in England and France from 1553 to 1610, participated in contemporary pro-feminine discourses, and identifies the specificities of female representation in drama as a genre. In studying the diverse theatrical representations of female threat (e.g. political, sexual, ethnic, verbal), it draws on recent studies of gender, sexuality and race in Renaissance France and England. The thesis engages with a broad corpus, which includes relatively little-studied French dramatists such as Etienne Jodelle, Gabriel Bounin, Robert Garnier and Antoine de Montchrestien, and focuses on inconsistencies in representations of femininity, with a view to revealing the ideological tensions and contradictions in the plays' depictions of threatening female characters drawn from Biblical, classical, or more recent history. This research therefore enhances understanding not only of late sixteenth-century drama, particularly in France, but also of early modern concepts of sexual, class, and racial difference. The thesis illustrates the contested nature of the discourses of class, gender and race in contemporary social debate in this period, indicating the differences between French and English cultures in the modalities of the representation of women, acknowledging the plays' ambivalence in this respect, rather than minimizing it or explaining it away. It is an interdisciplinary work, drawing on gender and feminist theory, social history, new-historicism, post-colonialism and theories of sexuality, in order to explore concepts, discourses and representations of normative and non-normative femininity in a number of plays. In the plays the female characters are represented as negotiating and subverting the cultural constraints imposed on women, and the gendering of power, violence, language and sexuality. The first chapter analyses the representation of women and power, through the transgression of gender codes and appropriation of masculine values. The threat that women represent is manifested by their rebellion against, resistance to and subversion of patriarchal power and structures, which enable them both to question and to validate them, as power is both fuelled and destabilised by resistance. The second chapter considers the extent to which certain forms of violence are sanctified and others abhorred, in order to acknowledge the threatening potential of female violence and to understand the strategies of social repression of women's violent instincts and masculine qualities both within the plays and as part of their overall social context. Verbal and psychological violence are addressed in the third chapter which analyses the representation of women as rhetorical threat. Chapter Three demonstrates how women can seduce men with their words, not only to arouse desire but also to provoke action. Seduction can also be physical when the male characters are represented as dependent on women's beauty, as explored in Chapter Four. The preceding chapters point to one common feature, the imbrication of the issue of gender with those of sexuality, race and class; this is the main concern of the fourth chapter, where the issue of female sexuality is tackled through its link with race.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Adrian Armstrong (Supervisor)
  • Jeremy Tambling (Supervisor)
Award date31 Dec 2012