"Royal wench" : investigating gender and power in the Antony and Cleopatra plays of the English Renaissance

Hann, Yvonne D. (2009) "Royal wench" : investigating gender and power in the Antony and Cleopatra plays of the English Renaissance. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

In 1592, Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, published her dramatic version of the Antony and Cleopatra story, Antonius. In fairly quick succession, Samuel Daniel and Samuel Brandon published their own versions, The Tragedie of Cleopatra (1594) and The Tragicomeodi of the Vertuous Octavia (1598), of the ancient and tragic tale of love and politics. This study is an investigation into how these particular plays, using the same source story, illustrate the complex issues of gender and power in early modern England. In particular, I focus on how each writer's construction of the figures of Cleopatra and Antony illuminates how Renaissance cultural constructions of gender and power were made even more complex with the presence of Elizabeth I on the throne. Pembroke's Antonius seeks to subvert the cultural definitions of gender and power. Daniel uses his play to undermine the subversion of gender roles that Pembroke presents by returning to the figures of Antony and Cleopatra the traits with which they were invested in early modern culture. Brandon also resists the alternate reading of gender and power found in Antonius by presenting a positive vision of female power, Octavia, who reasserts the cultural definitions of gender and power. Brandon also explores more intensely the issues of power itself; that is, he moves from issues of gender and power to the issue of a ruler as a private and public person regardless of gender. My study also examines how changes in the power structure affect the use of the Antony and Cleopatra story. William Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra (1606-1608) and Thomas May's The Tragedy of Cleopatra: Queen of Aegypt (1626), and John Dryden's All For Love (1678), all written after the death of Elizabeth I, reveal that the ancient source story continued to be a relevant text for political investigation regardless of the gender of the monarch. By examining the ways in which these plays interact with the cultural constructions of gender and power and how they interact with each other, this study illustrates the complex relationship of literature and culture as well as literature with literature.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9300
Item ID: 9300
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 418-433).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2009
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, d. -30 B.C.--In literature; Antonius, Marcus, 83 B.C.?-30 B.C.--In literature; English drama--17th century--Political aspects; English drama--Early modern and Elizabethan, 1500-1600--Political aspects; Sex role in literature

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