Date of Award

1995

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Theatre

First Advisor

Bill J. Harbin

Abstract

Only with the fairly recent advent of Women's Studies have attempts been made to rediscover neglected works by female authors. This dissertation examines the works of English playwrights Aphra Behn (1640-1689) and Susanna Centlivre (1669-1723) and the uniquely female perception of the Restoration and early eighteenth century they have left us. Both women wrote intrigue comedies, among other genres, within a generation of each other. Each made arranged marriage for profit and the suffering it caused women the primary object of her criticism and satire. But while the women shared a sex, nationality and vocation, not to mention a preoccupation with the rights of women, there are significant differences in the way each handled the same elements. This study focuses on those differences in four areas: themes and conventions, gender issues, portrayal of the same character types and morality. After pinpointing the disparities using their plays as primary evidence, a materialist-feminist methodology is utilized to explore the biographies of Behn and Centlivre and the eras in which they wrote. This exploration attempts to show how dissimilarities in both account for the differences between the two canons. Since Behn was the first Englishwoman to make a living by writing plays, and Centlivre the most important female playwright in England until the twentieth century, the study also documents the evolution of the female playwright in England until women turned to the novel as their primary means of expression. The conclusion of this work is that while superficially it appears that Behn and Centlivre trod the same thematic path, important differences exist in their themes and how they treat them. These disparities can be attributed to the women's different lifestyles and the evolution of England from a quasi-medieval state to a capitalistic, constitutional monarchy.

Pages

345

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