Women and Witchcraft in Early English Literature

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University of Alabama Libraries

This dissertation argues that assessing witchcraft as a central structural feature of early modern English literature allows for a newly expansive interpretation of the ways that contemporary writers critique, debate, and engage with patriarchal hierarchies of social power. This interpretive practice accounts for the ways that power and authority themselves are seen to be gendered and for the consequences of expressing such power and authority. Building on existing literary and historical scholarship on witchcraft, which largely demonstrates that representations of and beliefs about witchcraft are closely linked with anxieties about the upset of social order, this project moves scholarly discourse forward by examining witchcraft as an organizing concept of early English drama rather than as an isolated feature of individual plays. In making this argument, this dissertation proposes the witchcraft play as a distinct subgenre of early modern English drama. Using the witchcraft play as a category of formal analysis, it becomes apparent that witchcraft reflects a feminine-coded power that presents a particular threat to the patriarchal organization of institutional authority–regardless of the practitioner's gender. Understanding witchcraft as a formal feature of the drama calls into question established critical assessments of canonical plays that incorporate the supernatural, such as Shakespeare's Macbeth and The Tempest and provides new methods of conceptualizing the intimate and tangled relationships between gender, power, and authority in early modern English literature and culture.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Drama, Early Modern England, Gender, Shakespeare, Witchcraft, Women